With so many roguelikes coming to market these days, it’s important to stand out.
When it comes to Helvetii, it’s perhaps the art style that will draw you in. It’s impossible to look at it and not be reminded of the games of Vanillaware: Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown, and such forth. It has an inky, bold fantasy aesthetic that’s a pure delight to linger on. The only things that are missing are the heaving chests and bulging muscles. But most will see that as a positive.
Scratch beneath its beautiful exterior, however, and you’ll find that Helvetii doesn’t really try to break the mould. If you’ve played any other 2D roguelike in recent years, such as Scourgebringer or Neon Abyss, nothing in Helvetii will surprise you.
With a campaign split into numerous stages, each one consisting of a couple of acts, this is a game in which you move from screen to screen, engaging in battles as you go. Along the way you’ll pick up ability-altering perks and make pacts with deities in order to gain access to special abilities. Play your cards right and you’ll end up with a formidable mix that puts you in good stead for the battles ahead. Die, perhaps by the hands of a powerful boss, and it’s back to the start you go.
There are numerous ways in which Helvetii tries to give you a lifeline, though. For one, you have three characters at your disposal. All intent on stopping a mighty cataclysm, there’s Divico, a warrior who has unique access to powerful special attacks; Renart, who’s nimble on his feet and can parry enemy attacks to gain the advantage; and Nammeios, a magic user who’s better suited to attacking at range. While you can’t change between them willy-nilly, you can switch between them when starting a new stage. Perhaps some are more effective when encountering a stage’s specific threats. That’s for you to find out.
Ultimately though, failure is what drives Helvetii. Each time you die in battle with just one of the three available characters, you’re thrown back right to the beginning of the game with all of your perks and upgrades stripped from you. Thanks to the tokens earned by playing, however, a range of permanent Sigils can be unlocked, boosting your starting health, providing revives and a whole lot more. The more you play Helvetii then, the greater the chance you have of succeeding.
Unlocking Sigils can soon start to feel like a grind, though. It’ll take a fair while before the permanent upgrades you’ve acquired feel like they’re really making an impact. But thanks to the combat being fun, giving you plenty of leeway to create lengthy combos, you probably won’t mind jumping in time and time again. And the fact that each character plays differently is a huge plus.
The only other thing that might take some of the fun out of Helvetii for some players is the lack of unpredictability in each of the game’s acts. There are no challenge rooms to switch up the action, for example. And the boss of each act remains the same every time you play. It just makes Helvetii a little less exciting to immerse yourself in than the heavy hitters of the genre.
With repetitiveness being part and parcel of the roguelike genre, those familiar with it probably won’t be too aggrieved with the lack of randomness in Helvetii. Some, though, may come to appreciate its combat and visuals but perhaps wish they’d been served up in a straight-up action game. In any case, perhaps its greatest crime is that it doesn’t try to do anything original. But you can tell that developer Team KwaKwa has put some love into this release, and the end result is sure to delight roguelike fans eager for something new to sink their teeth into.