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Helvetii Review

Initial release date: Feb 3, 2023

Developer: Team KwaKwa

Publishers: Team KwaKwa, Red Art Games

Designer: Kevin Peclet

Engine: Spine

Genres: Indie game, Platform game, Fighting game

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Classic Mac OS

"Review Copy Provided By Red Art Games"

Vanillaware's games are beloved by everyone for their stunning visuals featuring attractive female characters, tantalizing food, and exceptional animation, along with their decent gameplay. Their masterpieces, such as 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim and Dragon's Crown, are admired, and gamers eagerly hope for an HD port of Muramasa: The Demon Blade for modern platforms. However, the downside to Vanillaware's heavily art-centric games is their lengthy production times. Nevertheless, while waiting for their next game, some independent developers find inspiration in Vanillaware's work and create similar games. Taking inspiration from Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Odin Sphere: Leifthraisir, Helvetii is an indie game that features side-scrolling action and combat, along with rogue-lite gameplay to enhance its mechanics. Can this Celtic-inspired action RPG avoid the common pitfalls of rogue gameplay? Discover the answer in this Helvetii review.

In ancient times, before the Roman legion conquered Gaul, a warrior received a terrible blessing, a cursed power that spread like a disease wherever he went, infecting the land's flora and fauna. Seeking guidance, he joins forces with Nammeios, a druid and pagan soothsayer, and Renart, a curious man-beast. Together, the trio embarks on a quest to break the curse, confront formidable adversaries, and restore the land to its former glory.

Helvetii justifies its use of randomized environments and monstrous creatures by explaining that the rot has twisted nature and the laws of physics. While this approach offers varied level design, it also prevents the game from having a cohesive world or any sense of pacing. Each run consists of prefabricated rooms that are rearranged, resulting in an experience akin to a half-remembered dream rather than a typical roguelike's random generation. Like Hades, Helvetii focuses on action-oriented gameplay to keep the player engaged, but the rogue elements artificially prolong the game's length. Upon death, the player loses all upgrades, currency, and abilities, with the exception of the hard-to-obtain sigils used to purchase permanent upgrades. Each of the three playable characters possesses unique abilities and playstyles that can be customized depending on the player's good fortune in acquiring boons.

Fortunately, all three characters are enjoyable to play.

Helvetii's combat system is responsive and flexible, with an emphasis on combo-centric and stylish gameplay akin to a 2D Devil May Cry game. Renart is nimble and capable of executing lightning-fast combos, while the druid can keep foes at bay with ranged attacks and special moves. However, special attacks consume limited MP, and restoring it can take some time, depending on the acquired boons. This can be particularly challenging during boss fights, which often have inflated HP and invincibility phases that prolong the encounter.

Helvetii's bosses also suffer from sudden and arbitrary invincibility, which can be frustrating due to the larger than apparent player hit-boxes and the bosses' tendency to launch swarms of bullets with flashy particle effects, making it difficult to discern the projectiles' sizes. Falling in battle can be discouraging, especially since the game requires players to restart from the first area, even with permanent upgrades. Despite the upgrades, victory is not guaranteed, as the RNG can still cause unlucky outcomes.

However, the combat is satisfying, with impactful and weighty hits that deliver a sense of violent gravitas. Basic encounters with fodder enemies are not too challenging for players who stay on their toes and use evasive dashes. Players can also elevate their gameplay by keeping opponents stun-locked in the air, as it is one of the best ways to achieve higher rankings and avoid damage.

Although Helvetii's animation flows smoothly, the individual art pieces lack refinement and come off as amateurish. The character art appears to be of DeviantArt quality, reminiscent of a high school student's work. The background elements are somewhat better, but they too suffer from overly busy or muddy elements, with some areas lacking detail. The game's art exhibits passion, but passion alone cannot build a solid foundation. The character Renart, in particular, looks unappealing, resembling a Fur Affinity avatar. Unlike Vanillaware's games, Helvetii lacks desirable character designs and appealing female characters.

Helvetii's gameplay is enjoyable, with an arcade-like feel that is satisfying in short sessions. However, when played for long periods, the game becomes frustrating due to the rogue-like foundation, which artificially lengthens the game and makes it feel disjointed. While rogue gameplay has its place, using it to lengthen a game becomes obvious, and the illusion of engagement is lost..

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