Cryptmaster Review | RPG Site

When I checked out Cryptmaster late last year, I was excited for my next chance to go hands-on with the game. Above all else, Cryptmaster leaves an excellent first impression. The idea of controlling a group of revived heroes on an adventure to escape their underground tomb, typing up words to remind them of their forgotten skills, is enticing. The game’s monochrome aesthetic stands out, and character and enemy design is strong, too; for the first few hours of Cryptmaster, it’s enough – alongside its humorous writing – to elevate the concept before it becomes stale. Yet it’s not hard to feel like the devs weren’t quite sure how far to take their concept.

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Let’s take a step back; Cryptmaster’s combat at its core is either an ATB or turn-based First-Person DRPG. By opening chests and guessing what items are inside, defeating enemies, answering riddles or catching fish players can gain letters that will fill in your party member’s latest memory. These letters are your experience; and early on when you’re quickly gaining interesting new abilities with most memories, the system works as it feels like it was intended. At any time outside of conversations or battles you can type out words to guess the next memory for a party member, some of which might unlock new abilities for your party. Before long you’ll have a repertoire of moves to use, enough to hopefully avoid any enemies that block you from using specific letters.

Yet, that’s where the game’s combat more-or-less stops progressing. You’ll have some encounters later that will force you to use moves to eventually guess something about an enemy – which is fine – but the core of your combat doesn’t change from hour 1 to hour 10, especially when your “souls” are the only thing preventing you from using moves that are otherwise a straight upgrade 99% of the time.

Souls are, of course, your MP. You can gain Souls by defeating enemies, squashing bugs – by typing out their names – and by solving riddles. Stronger attacks require Souls to cast; meaning that on paper players won’t want to use their stronger abilities unless absolutely necessary, yet this doesn’t really become an issue when played normally until the very end of the game. On the flipside, while battles revolve around using the right skills at the right time, the vast majority of puzzles outside of battles solely focus on riddles or some other form of wordplay. Early on there will be some instances where you’ll have to find out a word and then relay it to an NPC; but the further into the game I got, the more it felt like the game was retreading old ground. There’s only so many classical riddles you can answer before you get tired of the whole endeavor.

To the game’s credit, the second biome has players tackle a number of boss enemies that turns things on their head – yet they’re the exception, and not the rule. Since Souls are so plentiful, especially if you bother to engage with any side content and pick up bugs, there’s very little reason to not use the same overpowered skills ad nauseum. Especially since the game’s combat, while engaging enough, never really evolves that much from the beginning of the game. It certainly doesn’t help that not every memory a character remembers will give them a new ability to use. Since the only stats applicable to each character is their HP, denoted by their number of letters in their name, player progression feels like it drags to a hault past the beginning of the game. As memories become longer words, it takes a longer time for players to get an idea of what these words might be – and that only exacerbates issues. 


That’s not to say that Cryptmaster is a bad game, by any means. Rather, I had hoped to see the concept taken a little bit further. There are moments that stand out as the developers attempting to make the most of their systems; at the end of the first biome, you help spin a hilariously bad diss track, which you can then play back to the recipient a few hours later. When tasked with chasing down some wayward gods, you’re required to solve a set of riddles to decipher the name of their whereabouts so you can teleport to them. A neat concept, and despite some pacing concerns one I wish the full game had made more use out of. 

There’s a lot to love about what the team has delivered here, and I want to give full kudos for attempting something truly different from anything else on the market. Each of Cryptmaster’s individual pieces stand out, and despite my qualms with the gameplay loop growing stale by the end – I can’t deny the quality of the rest of the project. I mentioned the game’s artstyle earlier, but it merits extra mention for how well it evokes a vibe, reminiscent of games of the past. The obvious comparison would be to Return of the Obra Dinn, even if it’s not an exact match; yet it’s great company to keep. The soundtrack, similarly, is excellent.

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As excellent as the game’s presentation is, however, this does tie into another qualm I had with the game – the level design. I was never able to complete one of the game’s early sidequests, which required me to find a marking denoting where a little ratman had burried something despite looking to and fro throughout the first biome. One unfortunate side effect of the games monochrome visuals was that without strong level design I found it quite easy to get lost in some of the more labyrinthine environments. The later zones solve this by becoming noticeably more linear, but this only exacerbated my feeling with the gameplay loop by the end. For the main story it never became a dealbreaker, but between the already simple gameplay and the level design, I was already beginning to check out hours before I’d reached the ending.

Despite it all, I think there’s some real promise for the team to build on if they decide to pursue the same idea a second time. If the level design and the combat could be expanded upon, there’s a very real chance I’d gel with it much more the second go around. Maybe they could adopt something similar to Pokemon Yellow on the Gameboy Color; offering slightly different color palletes depending on the zone you’re in, while still maintaining the mostly monochrome aesthetic. Maybe they could add equipment that would themselves offer abilities, or some other form of progression? 


Regardless – Cryptmaster was a game I had hoped I would enjoy more. In the end, it’s a solid proof of concept with a few hints of what it could be in the future. Cryptmaster is a game with a lot to say, but much like with the game’s undead protagonists – it feels like its a bit confused on how to say it.

 

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