There is no shortage of action roguelike games in today’s indie game market. However, what is in short supply are 3D third-person roguelikes, especially ones that look as visually stunning as Rogue Spirit. When we previewed its demo during the Steam Next Fest, we couldn’t praise it enough. Unfortunately, now that we’ve tried the full game, we’re not so sure we can say the same. Despite some refreshing stealth mechanics and a unique take on the genre, Rogue Spirit is, unfortunately, a stale and unpolished Early Access title.
“For fans of the genre, fear not, Rogue Spirit features all the trappings of a roguelike and more.”
In Rogue Spirit, you play as the ghost of the Prince of the Kingdom of Midra. After your untimely death, you are resurrected by monks of the Forgotten Monastery. You’re tasked with exploring the lands of Midra in order to disperse and cleanse the evil presence that has corrupted your land.
Roguelike games are often marked by procedurally-generated environments, randomised items, and most importantly, permanent death. These core factors make roguelikes about dealing with the hand that you’re given. Dying is expected, and each subsequent playthrough should build on your knowledge of the prior run. Permanent progression is limited, and usually, comes in the form of a skill tree or starter kit. For fans of the genre, fear not, Rogue Spirit features all the trappings of a roguelike and more.
“Not only does the stealth mechanics offer the player a more tactical experience when approaching combat, but they also heighten exploration and make it a genuinely delightful task.”
However, where it sets itself apart from other roguelikes is its central gameplay mechanic. Players will be able to possess defeated enemies and use their skills and abilities. This is essential because, due to your corporal form, you can’t physically interact with anything. So, you have two options. You can either possess an enemy and explore in a physical form or roam around in your weakened spirit form. This is where the stealth mechanics come in.
While in your spirit form you can move faster and enemies cannot detect you from the offset. This allows you to explore undetected and get the drop on any prospective enemies. Additionally, if you attack an enemy out of stealth you will deal bonus damage. However, as you explore you have to be wary of any enemies as they have a cone of vision that fills up the longer you are in it. Once it’s full, they’ll discover you and you’ll be forced to run.
The spirit form mechanic isn’t just tied to stealth, but also exploration. In addition to sneaking around, you’ll find that certain treasure chests are only visible to you while in spirit form. Furthermore, throughout each run you can also come across “familiars”. These can be caught and used as pets which will fight alongside you in future runs. It is an excellently implemented mechanic that helps differentiate Rogue Spirit from all the other roguelikes out there. Not only does it offer the player a more tactical experience when approaching combat, but it also heightens exploration and makes it a genuinely delightful task.
“Unfortunately, both melee and ranged attacks feel clunky and unpolished.”
Outside of stealth is the main component of Rogue Spirit: combat. Unfortunately, its combat mechanics are rather basic. You have a primary attack, secondary attack, parry, and a dodge. Additionally, your parry must be correctly timed and your dodge is limited by a stamina gauge. Unfortunately, both melee and ranged attacks feel clunky and unpolished. Each melee swing you perform is slow and each ranged attack feels inaccurate. To make matters worse, the lack of audio output makes each attack feel unimpactful and bland. You can discover blueprints that unlock permanent skills to use in each run. However, even these did little to improve my experience.
While the full game will feature 20 enemy types to possess and control, the Early Access build, unfortunately, lacks a decent amount of enemy variety. Currently, the enemy types vary from a kunai throwing geisha and a staff-wielding monk to a clawed brute. While their designs are certainly striking, fighting the same group of enemies over and over again eventually gets stale. Furthermore, it lessens the joy of the possession mechanic when you’re repeatedly discovering the same few enemy types.
Throughout each level, you will also discover pillars that grant passive buffs. This is an essential mechanic in roguelike games as it is generally what dictates the character build you will work towards. Unfortunately, Rogue Spirit’s buff upgrades are just vanilla stat boosts such as dealing 10% more damage or gaining 5% more health. The lack of a unique upgrade system that would allow things such as builds revolving around a particular enemy type makes each run feel that much staler.
“Fortunately, one aspect where Rogue Spirit excels in is its visuals.”
While the base combat feels rather uninspired, I had at least hoped that the boss fights would be enjoyable. Unfortunately, they too feel gimmicky and unrefined. For example, certain attacks cannot be parried and must instead be dodged. Getting hit even just a few times will likely result in your death, and as you are unable to possess another body, there is no way of healing during a boss fight. This meant that each fight generally boiled down to me hitting the boss once or twice.
Fortunately, one aspect where Rogue Spirit excels in is its visuals. I enjoyed the cel-shaded quality of its lush and detailed environments and exploring each one was incredibly enjoyable. Unfortunately, each environment does tend to reuse a lot of the same assets, meaning after a while I found they blended together. Environments are changed after every two stages at which point you engage in a boss battle. This meant that you’re stuck seeing the same things repeatedly without much variation for quite some time, especially if you’re struggling.
“Overall, it is clear that beneath its clunky combat, Rogue Spirit brings enough creativity and uniqueness to differentiate itself from other roguelike games.”
In regards to replayability, Rogue Spirit somewhat succeeds. Each run that you embark on grants you green shards which you retain upon death. You can use these to purchase permanent upgrades that may help aid you on future runs. This ensures that you are constantly feeling some sense of progression, or at the very least your goals are somewhat more obtainable.
Currently, there are 6 stages and 3 bosses available, with the full launch promising to contain 10 stages and 5 bosses. While I felt there was a level of replayability given the various characters you can possess and all the purchasable upgrades, Rogue Spirt would nevertheless greatly benefit from some form of online cooperative play.
Overall, it is clear that beneath its clunky combat, Rogue Spirit brings enough creativity and uniqueness to differentiate itself from other roguelike games. The refreshing possessing mechanic and well-implemented stealth lay a solid foundation for Rogue Spirit’s Early Access debut. However, the gameplay does get stale due to the lack of enemy and environment variety and isn’t always fun due to its unpolished melee combat and shallow upgrade system.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.