From ZeroDiv, known for their first-person dungeon-crawlers, comes one of Compile Heart’s earliest published Vita titles which was a surprise pick-up for Aksys in the west. Sadly, the game serves as one of Compile Heart’s of their poorer efforts on the console.
World Building & Story
Although based on the ‘Madao Monogatari’ series of dungeon crawlers in Japan, you really don’t need any prior knowledge in order to play this game.
The story follows Pupuru, a student of a Magic Academy who encounters a magical creature named Kuu while on a mission, which leads to a series of events culminating in her being suspended from the Academy and eventually embarking on a mission to find the titular Great Curry God.
For the actual world, you’re not really given a whole lot of background on why things are what they are. You’ll just simply be told about locations or ingredients before you need to go to them and they’ll appear as a new location on your map. There’s no real world-building as the majority of story focuses on interaction between the characters, so it merely provides a setting in order for these comical characters to interact with each other.
In terms of story, the game takes a page out of the Disgaea-esque design of having wacky characters with both evil and good motivations interacting with each other in fairly comical situations. In general you’ll get VN-style cut scenes every few floors while dungeon crawling which will give you different insight into all the characters – in addition to this there’s a separate set of theater-style cutscenes in the town which serves as your base of operations that see characters discussing various items picked up in the dungeons.
Personally, the majority of character building didn’t do anything for me – the cast is forgettable and most of them aren’t particularly likeable aside from Pupuru who acts a serviceable main character – while you’ll occasionally get some laughs from Kuu, the extended cast really don’t say anything meaningful. While something like Neptunia can tell a lightweight story in an amusing world and make it worthwhile by making me smile with each new section of dialogue, I can’t say the same about this game – most of the conversations feel like filler just for the sake of being filler and I found myself skipping most of it by the end.
Presentation & Sound
Graphically, the game employs chibi character models and uses the aforementioned visual-novel style for conversation scenes. The in-game models aren’t particularly good – while Pupuru is detailed enough (in particular visibly showing what new weapons and costumes look like when equipped) and the monsters you’ll come up against have amusing animations, everything has noticeably jagged edges and there’s a general low-budget feel to the whole thing.
This is extended to the environments that are copy-pasted tile sets in each dungeon that you’ll see over and over again. Although you will get some variety across the locations you visit, there’s nothing particularly memorable or visually appealing that you come across and you will get tired of trawling through floor after floor of the same design over and over.
Sometimes, when playing a dungeon crawler like this, you’ll be at least treated to some flashy attack animations, but Sorcery Saga is devoid of this too – you’ll plod around and attack enemies who will hit you back, but you rarely get anything more than a slash effect on screen follower by some damage numbers. While I realise this is pretty par for the course with a roguelike, it’s somewhat at odds with a light, colourful anime-style game like this which usually interject some liveliness through over-the-top attacks.
The visual novel sections are nothing to write home about either – although they are probably the best part of the visual package as all of the characters are well drawn and interact with each other amusingly throughout the scenes. One entertaining addition to the game is the aforementioned theater sections – in these Pupuru and some of the characters interact as if in front of a theater audience. While a good idea in concept, you’ll be treated to the same kind of dialogue as in every other conversation, making me question why they were even included.
One thing I will say is that the in-game menus are well-made and easy to navigate, which is a big plus with a game like this.
Continuing the mediocrity from the rest of the game is the soundtrack, which actually does very little throughout your playthrough – it’s background noise and nothing more. This is particularly evident in the forest sections prior to every dungeon that feature quiet, calm but ultimately forgettable music. Things liven up in dungeons, particularly in boss battles and Monster Houses, but even then there’s really very little I remember about the OST.
Voice acting is entirely in Japanese, and is definitely a highlight – the VA’s clearly enjoy their roles and each character has a specific style of speaking, which is pleasant to listen to. Sound effects on the other hand are dull and repetitive.
Gameplay & Content
Let me get the important part out of the way: you will spend a lot of time in dungeons. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, but for my tastes it was bad purely because what you were doing in those dungeons was so tedious.
Minute-to-minute gameplay inside the dungeons involves moving across a grid-based system and hitting enemies to get loot from them and progress through the stage. Your actions function on a constant turn-based system – whenever you move, enemies can move too, etc. Sadly combat never gets very deep, as you’ll literally hit an enemy one or two times and they’ll die, and your health will auto-heal when you move after this – so unless you get absolutely swamped by monsters, you won’t have to do much planning.
Accompanying you on your adventures is Kuu, a mouse-like creature who will eat almost anything he comes across. You level up Kuu by throwing unwanted items to him, which will either hurt or heal him as well as improving his stats. In actual gameplay, Kuu constantly gets in your way and is a general hassle, either blocking a path you were planning on going down or running off on his own and getting attacked, meaning you’ll have to follow him in case he gets slaughtered (you cannot progress to the next floor of the dungeon without him). Instead of being a fun companion, he ends up being a massive pain which bogs the game down.
Sorcery Saga is a roguelike, which means you only keep your level while inside each dungeon – as soon as you leave, you’re reset back to level 1. More importantly if you leave outside of preset exit points, you’ll lose all of the items you’ve picked up along the way aside from your equipped weapon and shield. To progress in the game you have to try your very best to stay alive, all the while upgrading your sword and shield to ensure you’re ready to face each increasingly difficult dungeon.
Sadly, the difficulty level plateaued fairly early on for me. I did die a couple of times at the start of the game while learning its systems, but as soon as I got a half-decent sword and shield and began upgrading them, nothing in the dungeons posed much of a challenge. Even bosses were a case of having Kuu soak up the damage for as long as possible while you mash away at them, with them likely dying before you need to start thinking of any kind of exit strategy.
Outside of dungeon crawling you’ll spend your time in a set of menus representing your base of ‘Dish Town’ – you’ll get the usual things like shops and a library here, but there’s very little to do and the presentation is particularly sparse, not making any effort to make me feel like I was in an actual place. This is particularly prominent in the ‘talk’ option with members of the town – the same two to three phrases are said by each character throughout the game, making it feel extremely lifeless.
I cannot fault the game on amount of content however – there are numerous story dungeons to progress through that will take you in the region of 15-20 hours to complete, and there’s post game content such as a 100-floor dungeon to keep you grinding for many hours afterwards. Although this content is largely samey, if it is your type of thing then you’ll be occupied for quite some time.
Sorcery Saga is a bare-bones roguelike that doesn’t do anything particularly well – although it can be a serviceable dungeon crawling timesink if you’re looking for that kind of thing, there are much better options available on the Vita.