Do you feel most videogames have too many objectives? Can you do without the sense of progress and character development you get from many of the games out there? Well, Atlus has a gem for you. Baroque is a dungeon crawler that doesn't burden the player with goals, purpose, or direction. You simply delve into a randomly generated tower and kill enemies until you die. Then, you lose all your items, go back to level one, and get to do it all over again!
In all fairness, Baroque is not as terrible as it initially appears to be. During my first hour of play, I intensely hated this game. But the idea is, as you die and restart your descent into the tower, details about your situation and the game world are slowly revealed to you. It's actually an experiment in very non-traditional game design, where the player's path isn't carefully plotted out for them by the developers. I commend developer Sting for trying something new, but in practice it doesn't make for a very enjoyable experience. What's worse, when you do start to realize your character's destiny you'll likely be underwhelmed.
There is a certain breed of gamer out there that enjoys these "roguelike" adventures and aren't bothered by having their characters reset every time they die. These brave few may find Baroque to their liking, but most of us will wonder what we ever did to deserve this punishment.
When you first start the game you arrive in a post-apocalyptic world left in ruins after a disaster known as the Blaze. You have no idea who you are, where you are, or what to do. A character called the Archangel says you gotta get your butt in the tower and reach the bottom. Great, so where is the tower? Neither the Archangel nor your map is helpful. Wandering around aimlessly will bring you to a few other characters who recite one cryptic line of dialogue and, eventually, the tower, but a more detailed map would have been nice.
Baroque does feature some decent voice acting, although the translation from Japanese results in some awkward conversations. One character throws "goddammit" into his speech every other word, and while it always made me laugh, it didn't come across as natural. This particular fellow runs a training dungeon where you can practice your dungeon-delving skills, but nothing in the game points you to it so you're out of luck unless you stumble upon it.
So once you get into the tower you'll find you're quite unequipped to handle the monsters dwelling inside. You'll die and then you'll find yourself outside the tower, minus any weapons or goods you picked up inside. And that, friends, is Baroque in a nutshell. Prepare to repeat this little game a thousand times over.
It's true, each time you are killed the various denizens of Baroque will have something new to say. But none of it is helpful. The developers really should have thrown us a bone the first few times we died so that we trusted going through this routine would be worth it. But after many hours of play, you'll be none the wiser about what is going on and you'll have nothing to show for all the work you put into the game. Eventually you'll be able to transfer items out of the tower for use on your next trip, but you can only hold 20 items at a time so this abilitye is of questionable benefit to the player.
The basic mechanics of the game grow old fast. Combat is very shallow, with one attack and one special attack. The game even mans-up to its lackluster combat and tells the player not to worry about blocking or dodging -- "just charge into battle head on," it tells us. You can throw items, so that mixes things up just a bit.
Your hit points are tied to your vitality, and your vitality is constantly falling, meaning you can't take one second to relax. Further complicating matters are the NPCs scattered about the dungeon. It's difficult to tell who is friend and who is foe, so often you'll approach someone hoping for information and end up getting slashed in the face. Uh oh, you died, back to square one. Are we having fun, yet?
Visually, Baroque doesn't have much going for it. There are some cool, twisted character designs, but the environments lack detail and there is a very narrow color spectrum. This looks like a very early PlayStation 2 game. At least your weapons and armor are represented visually when equipped. The music is also that really cheesy techno-metal stuff.
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