As Andy Williams said in his seminal Christmas Hype Anthem. “It's the most wonderful time of the year!” And by that, I don’t mean the release of a new mainline Final Fantasy game or the most significant lore drop in Destiny’s history as a franchise, although those are pretty important. I’m talking about the quarterly Steam Next Fest, this time detailing the summer slate of demos being shown off for prospective potential players. It also marks the first anniversary since I started doing this as a post format and I've got to say, I like it because it gets at the heart of what this writing is all about: highlighting the good in a lot of games that I think would be interesting to talk about. And let me tell you, there are some pretty big ones here.
LIES OF P
Now now now, before you get on my case and go all “But Mo, Lies of P’s demo was released nearly two weeks before the Next Fest went up, ain’t that cheating?”, I have gotta point out that since the Next Fest started, Lies of P’s Demo is literally at the top of the most popular wishlist tab on the page. So my not covering it would be a massive disservice, and besides, I've been looking for an excuse to talk about this one anyways.
Lies of P is a souls-like Action RPG that is a darker reimagining of Pinocchio. You play as Pinocchio, having awoken in the city of Krat, which is overrun with killer robots, to find Geppetto and potentially become a real boy along the way. That's the standard way of describing it from a narrative and aesthetic standpoint. It's a more liberal interpretation of the original story and I like that because it brings up an interesting instance of free will through the use of the Lies mechanic. As showcased in the demo, you can be given the opportunity to either lie or tell the truth and are the only puppet capable of doing so. While the instances I’ve seen in the demo didn't change things around too much, I’m interested in seeing how it pans out in the full game because they took one of the major plot threads of the original story and turned it into a game mechanic and I’ll always find that cool as heck.
If I had to describe it from a mechanics standpoint? It is to quote a friend, “Bloodborne at home”. I don't mind this because Bloodborne is my favourite of this genre of game and more games need to flagrantly steal from it, we’d be better for it. You get three weapons to choose from; a standard attacking sabre, a weak but quick rapier, and a slow but powerful greatsword. I went with the Greatsword because I like having big fuck off weapons in these games. There are some differences between this and FromSoftware’s output that needs to be brought up. Mainly the blocking mechanic. There are two types of blocks, a regular block and a Sekiro-style parry. These work in ways that feel like they aren't ready for a prime time despite it feeling like there’s a solid foundation. I say that mainly because of it feeling like the timings are off when it feels like I should have landed it, but I guess that’s a thing that can be fine-tuned. It’s most apparent in the one boss fight in the demo, to the point where it felt like it was getting a bit frustrating. Everything else in the demo, is great! The rain-slicked streets of Krat, overrun with out-of-control puppets feel evocative of Central Yharnam in Bloodborne, the grinder attachment that fixes your weapons feels like a good way of fixing the whole weapon durability problem while serving as a nice risk/reward decision, you can refill flasks through fighting, which is limited to only one, but still a real cool idea, and the hotel you use as a base of operations is rad and essentially serves as you Firelink Shrine/Roundtable Hold/Majula/Hunter’s Dream/Nexus, complete with Mysterious Level Up Lady (here being the appropriate Blue Fairy). It all went a long way to actually selling me on Lies of P way more than anything else the game used to promote itself. I’m definitely playing this when it comes out.
If you remember, waaaaaaaaaay back when I first started writing this series, I posted about the much-lauded Wargroove. It was a good attempt at making a Fire Emblem game as they were presented back in the GBA and Gamecube days but with a sillier and goofier sense of humour. Wargroove 2 is looking to be doing more of that, but I won’t know for sure because the demo doesn't have the story in there for obvious reasons. What’s instead included in the demo is an ambitious new game mode called Conquest.
Conquest is Wargroove’s take on the Roguelike genre. You start off with a choice of three commanders and from there, you get your starting choice of three armies. These range based on the different troop types presented in the previous game, like platoons of soldiers, dog scouts, cavalry, etc. From there you are off the races. One of the main things that differ from the standard gameplay of Wargroove in 2’s Conquest mode is that your units don’t heal up in between combat encounters and the if the commander dies, the run is over. This adds an extra layer of decision-making because you need to see if you can go onto separate map points where you can find necromancers that can heal or revive your units with a 50% chance of failure and camps you can use to recruit new units for a cut of your gold and you get more gold the more decisive your combat wins are and it's great.
While I wished that I got to see more stuff from Wargroove 2 proper, what was shared in Conquest mode is a great time for a Roguelike enjoyer like myself. The mode is a new spin on a genre that I was kind of getting tired of despite it still being one that I really enjoy.
Speaking of Roguelikes, I’ll always make room for an FPS Roguelike because the game is still largely dependent on your skill. And I really liked this demo because it’s basically a Mega Man Roguelike, but you play as Doomfist from Overwatch. I add that specific caveat because 30XX is still a thing and fantastic, and this is genuinely how Battle Shapers feels from a mechanics standpoint. Everything you do from moving to shooting to dashing and even the right-click punch attacks evoke that character mashup I mentioned. There are also smaller things like gaining extra currencies from killing blows that are melee attacks, swappable ability load-outs and more. But at the end of the day, it's just a solid execution of its concept and I think it's worth highlighting that alone.
SEA OF STARS
This is the demo that impressed me the most. Developed by Sabotage Studios of The Messenger fame, Sea of Stars is more or less a love letter to old-school JRPGs, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross specifically. There’s only a small slice of the game that’s there but it is more than enough to whet the appetite so to speak. You only have access to three of the six player characters, but they all have a unique range of abilities; The twin protagonists of Valere and Zale are intertwined by their abilities to harness the moon and sun respectively and are joined by their non-powered, but still lovable companion/cook Garl. What story was there was tied up in getting a relic for a group of pirates that could help the trio get to their desired destination before the eclipse. From there you go through and explore an ancient temple, do some puzzles and fight a boss at the end.
The whole thing is well-worn territory, but it’s just done so well. The exploration is in particular because all of the levels are designed with it in mind and it feels great going around these areas. The puzzles were simple but good, which made sense considering that this is a demo, and then there’s the absolute highlight: the combat. Sea of Stars’ combat is very much a modern-day recreation of the combat found in Chrono Trigger. The difference is in the execution. There are still tech attacks, but you need to break through enemy weaknesses to get the points needed to pull them off. And the biggest is that there’s no active time meter filling up, which is a deliberate design choice because the enemies aren't acting unless all of your characters go about their turns first. This gives combat a nice pacing of back and forth. The main thing that also got me was that all of the combat uses timed button presses for bonus effects, not just damage. Which means you can get extra healing and other status effects off. I don’t think I’ve seen it done in this way and it’s absolutely wild. You can also rest at camps and use it as an excuse to cook food and rest. You can only carry up to 10 snacks at a time, but it’s fine because you want to use those snacks because they heal you so much, it's great.
I wasn’t thinking about Sea of Stars until last night, but since getting through that demo, it’s all I can think about. I need it to be August already, please.
And with that ends this installment of the Next Fest posts, I hope this was a good showcasing of some of the stuff that I thought was neat and can even encourage you to get out there and go give some of these a try. I highly recommend them.