Repetition is the name of the game. Well, the name of the game is Roguebook, but repetition is a big part of the experience. Prepare yourself to try and fail, and then try again only to fail again. This process shouldn’t discourage you from trudging on though. You’re supposed to lose. Only a great mind or near impossible RNG could hope to get you a win on your first run.
Welcome to the Roguebook
You’re trapped in the Roguebook, the name of the book you’re imprisoned in, as well as the game you’re playing. A handful of heroes all find themselves captive within the Roguebook’s pages. The only hope for escape is to overcome the challenges and hordes of enemies residing in the book of lore. Which there is no shortage of. Even when you’ve beaten the game for the first time, you’re far from done. That’s if you want to see and do it all.
Roguebook is a roguelike (Hence the name, I’d imagine) deckbuilder where your death means something. Not just by way of your death being permanent between runs, but also through its role in progression. Failure is a part of Roguebook’s gameplay loop. It’s expected of you to take a good couple L’s if you want to get anywhere. That’s because with every death you gain an advantage for the next run.
The roster of characters level up at the end of every trip into the book, provided you’ve selected them for your party of two. As they level up they gain cards which are permanently added to their inventory. Such as Seifer’s Absorb Soul card which when dealing the killing blow to an enemy, will replenish some HP. As the group levels up they gain access to more powerful gems that you can either buy with gold, or find in gem stones by chance out in the field. Either way, you’ve got to get out there. Fight and explore till you come back with something to show for it.
Ink and Blood
Roguebook is interesting in the way that it requires you to explore the world, or more accurately, the book. The only way to move around is to fill in the blanks so to speak. The world has empty squares that are inaccessible to you until you reveal them with the tools essential for filling in the pages of books. Paintbrushes and ink. The only way to step on a block and traverse the tome is to make use of these tools. And the only way to get your mitts on some ink and paint is to fight. Every normal battle has a chance to drop a type of ink or paintbrush effect. Whether it reveals three or four spaces in a straight line, or allows you to pinpoint or expand a brush’s area of effect. Elite battles, however, always drop paintbrushes, giving you a fitting reward for the increased risk and challenge.
Now of course you’re not shoehorned into this explore and fight loop. You could make a beeline for any given chapter’s boss battles and use your default number of paintbrushes to dodge the fights leading up to them. However, it’s always in your best interest to slowly reveal the world and the secrets it holds. So unless you’re going out of your way for a challenge, the game works best as a journey to find everything.
Paintbrushes and ink are your best friends. Without them you’ll be going nowhere fast. And without the ability to explore the environments, you’ll be missing out on a lot. Like new cards, relics, gems, gold and health canisters. Through your travels you’ll also be picking up pages of the roguebook itself, called embellishments. Though, I couldn’t really wrap my head around how you’re in the book, walking across it’s pages while picking up it’s pages. Anyway, these pages you collect act as attribute points for a skill tree. Spending these points grant permanent buffs, and increase the chances of finding useful items in game, such as health canisters. Everything you collect in your many runs will be vital if you wish to have any hope of becoming powerful enough to escape the Roguebook. You’ll need every advantage you can muster.
Once Upon a Time
However, Roguebook is not just filled with relics that grant heroes advantages, and gems which you slot into cards for extra benefits like, reducing its cost to play. It’s also brimming with stories ripped right out of the roguebook. These are small narratives in the form of scrolls, which pose dilemmas to you. One story, for example, might have you choose between sharing a drink with an ogre at a feast or gorging yourself with food. The former has an equal chance of a bad or good outcome, as do many nights of drinking. The latter however, increases your max health, but you draw one less card every turn during your next battle.
These narratives do not always have a pleasant option though, some come with all risk and no reward. This leaves you with the choice of whether or not to interact with the scroll at all. You could potentially gain an invaluable gem, or end up in an unexpected fight for your life.
In terms of story though, its a little paper thin. You get a short cut scene before you start, hyping up the roguebook. A little bit of basic dialogue about where you are and that you need to escape. However between that and the little slices of story found in the narrative scrolls, it didn’t feel like enough. At least not enough to get me engage in any kind of plot.
Each run is procedurally generated. So while you might see familiar cards, gems and narrative scrolls. When and where you find them are different for each expedition. However, at times it can feel like you’re at the mercy of RNG and in those cases the generation did feel a little questionable. Some runs there might be a health canister drought, and others will see lackluster relics strewn all across the field. Therefore in the early stages it becomes a lot harder to achieve victory on your own merits. While the key word in RNG is random, the runs where nothing went my way, lost some of the balance I felt should be present in every playthrough.
Read ’em and Weep
The battles in Roguebook are unsurprisingly where the game is at its best. The wonderfully large number of cards (around 200) across the four playable characters make it so that each and every playthrough has a different array of options available to you. Even when those presented to you, aren’t your first choice, they still give you a fair shot at success. I can’t think of any instances where cards felt completely useless. Everything gave you a leg up. Everything had a purpose and every hero had a range of cards suited to them and their play style. Be it Seifer’s rage-based offensive capabilities, or Aurora’s buffs and frog ally cards.
However, on the downside, I felt that there could have been more synergy between heroes and their cards. Outside of Aurora’s buffs to increase the power of her allies there was very little interplay between cards. The best of the bunch, and my favourite hero was Seifer. When on the receiving end of damage, he goes into a rage, revealing a secondary effect for his cards. Most of the cards available did one of four things for the most part. Inflict damage, block damage, summon allies, and add power to yourself/reduce an enemies power. There are exceptions to the rule like inflicting bleeding damage or ensuring the next hit is critical. But a little some more variation in what unique cards did, or how heroes could play off of one another would have been highly appreciated.
So Much to Do, So Little Time
This title is generous in its variation of layout, number of gems/relics and the cards you add to your arsenal. However, it’s even more generous with post-game content. New game plus is where you’ll be spending most of your time. Once you’ve beaten Roguebook for the first time, you find that there are modifiers that add a little extra challenge. When you stack that modifiers increasing the levels of your new game, they present a considerable challenge. There are 20 levels of epilogue to enjoy that add challenges. Such as one that removes any clear path to a boss, forcing mindful exploration, lest you strand yourself in the book’s pages. You can combine these modifiers in a number of ways, allowing your to curate your own personal Roguebook hell.
The repetition of exploring, fighting and dying sum up Roguebook fairly well. Yet, it never felt aggressively repetitive. I always felt a sense of progress between each dive into the book. The procedurally generated world, and plentiful new game plus, held enough variation that I could confidently say I enjoyed every dip into the book of lore known as the Roguebook. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely worth it.