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That Post-Game Glow: Sequence

As Conrad recently pointed out, Sequence is a recently-released Xbox Live Indie Game which marries the idea of a rhythm game to an RPG and the result is a pleasant surprise.

This will not be a review, because the math on this is very, very simple: This game is three bucks, and it is ten to twelve hours of solid entertainment. Put bluntly, this does not belong with the Indie games. This could stand with the finest Xbox Live Arcade releases, let alone the few other Indie games worth the time. Had I purchased this game for $15 on XBLA instead of $3 on XBLIG, I would not feel cheated in the least.

And it supports guitar controllers from either side of the fence and DDR pads to boot.

Instead, this will be a reflection on the title from the perspective of someone who just finished the game. However, you need not fear any story spoilers. I'm going to talk about the gameplay, because frankly that's the portion which really has my mind abuzz right now.

A Quick Rundown

For those who haven't played and can't be arsed to download the demo, watch this two minute clip which describes the basics:

And to be honest, for what the game presents, it does it amazingly well. Each floor offers three monsters which gradually eat away at your HP and also offers mid-fight interruptions from the floor's guardian which manifests as some form of gameplay buggery, be it hiding the two inactive rhythm windows from view or draining all your mana. You fight the monsters, grab their loot, and fuse the loot into weapons, armour, and keys to the next floor.

Simple, but effective. And more to the point, elegant: Fusing items costs experience points. The same experience points you need to level up, obviously. So if the cost of fusing the keys is prohibitive, it's probably in the player's best interest to hang back on the floor a bit.

Gameplay Diversity

What really impresses, however, is the diversity on offer. Every spell is useful, and some spells have natural synergy with others which means your tactics can vary wildly from battle to battle. Personally speaking, my own strategy towards the end involved mutually assured destruction fights, with the only healing coming from the spells I had which drained my foe's health to fill my own.

At the end, I had a perfect cycle of converting health into mana, using the mana to cast spells, then trading more health for mana and repeating. I got to the point where I could flat-out ignore the defense and mana rhythm streams because I was doing so much damage. Of course, this high-risk high-reward style did have it's share of downsides: Even grossly over-leveled from trying to pickup all the drops, if I messed up anywhere along the line I was completely toast, battle over.

However, I could easily see how you could build the main character's spellbook in ways which would make for a radically different play-style. Long-term damage spells and an aggressive policing of the defense rhythm stream would have allowed me to play it far safer, allowing me to cast a direct damage spells in the lull between the enemy's attacks. Or I could have traded in a few of my direct damage spells for outright healing spells which would have allowed me time to recover from a potential mistake.

I think the thing that really sticks out here, however, is that this is one of the few rhythm games I've played where I get to dictate the path, making for a unique experience. Unlike Guitar Hero or DDR, where the appeal of a certain course wears thin, even the same monsters could be radically different if approached with different spells. Indeed, sometimes you might find that you have to change your strategy in order to win against a certain type of enemy.

Sequence 2?

To be honest, though, even though this game feels complete as is, I really feel that this game needs a sequel. Simply put, because the gameplay here has the potential to be even more rich and full-bodied than it is.

Equipment, for example, is for the most part a straight progression. You don't have any incentive to keep a weapon or armor or accessory around, because whatever you've just picked up is better. Not better for a given situation, but better all around. Even the accessories show little room for tailoring the main character to a player's needs. Instead of having a single path of Weapon X is better than Y, which was better than Z, it'd have been interesting to have a choice each level, i.e. This weapon gives the best attack, but that one gives more mana and the other one also gives me enough defense that it might be worth taking.

The spells, on the other hand, have so much room for expansion it's hard to fathom. As it stands, the game currently only has one RPG status effect you can inflict on enemies: Poison. Just adding in the bog-standard others would open up more options, tactically speaking. Let alone the various ways you could implement various gameplay features on the player's end. Instead of a barrier which cuts out 1/3rd of the notes, why not one which stops exactly X notes? Or one which reflects damage back on the enemy for every input you nail successfully on the defense portion?

Hell, it'd be nice to double the number of slots and have spells take up more than one if they're particularly powerful. It'd also deepen the customization: Go for a few powerful spells, or a lot of weaker ones which give you variety? Hell, you could even throw in elemental types, just for kicks.

There's a thousand different things the development team could do to deepen the combat mechanics without breaking the core gameplay.

Difficulty could also stand to be scaled two ways. I'm middling when it comes to rhythm games, but I wouldn't have minded if I could make the enemies more difficult on the mechanical side of things without shoving Through The Fire and The Flames-esque inputs down my throat. An option to make things difficult by increasing enemy HP And damage OR by more brutal inputs would be welcome.

In conclusion

I'm hoping that Iridium is just scratching the surface of Sequence as a series, as it has a lot of potential. Right now, Sequence is basically like the first Dragon Quest. It has a lot of potential and the framework is in place for something truly great to be built upon the humble beginnings, and I hope that the creator gets the cash they need to build it.
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About meteorscrapone of us since 11:18 AM on 08.18.2010

My name is meteorscrap.

Occasionally I'll post random thoughts and musings here which are too long, too detailed, or otherwise don't fit in the comments section. Given the length of some of the stuff I've left as a comment, you can well imagine what I consider long.

Do you like words? 'cause I got a lot for you.

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I've written a couple really good pieces which no longer show up on this blog. Check them out below.

02/11 MM Groundhog Day: Final Fantasy Tactics
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Destructoid owes me a six-pack! Woo!