I‘ve said elsewhere that the current climate of development has led to a Renaissance of sorts for the gaming world. Development tools have become more accessible than ever, with all platforms encouraging indies. Add the culture of crowdfunding and you have a world where the little guy has room to take chances. Small developer melessthanthree is taking some chances with their current project L U C A H, which they hope to have crowdfunded on or before July 9th via their Kickstarter page. With early notes from those checking out the demo (here you go) calling it a “Soulslike,” it’s only natural to have found its way to the Fextralife radar.
Developed by: melessthanthree
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: June 2018
Price at launch: TBD, although a $15 Kickstarter pledge will reserve a copy of the game
- As one of the Marked, you must use your cursed powers to fend off the Nightmares that hunt you.
- Learn and master the stylish & punishing combat featuring a hybrid of Melee- and Projectile-based styles.
- Customize the action by mixing a rich variety of movesets and character properties to fit your play style.
- Unique Sin & Punishment difficulty system allows you to create the perfect experience for your skill level.
Story & Setting
The first thing I think the reader needs to know, is that I’ve gained a bit of a reputation for enjoying weird games. With that being said:
Holy **** this game is weird.
From the developer: “L U C A H is a style-action role-playing game about finding oneself in a nightmarish world. Trapped and afraid in a world of Nightmares, Lucah must survive the onslaught in order to seek Purification and escape the Corruption that threatens to consume them.”
I won’t do much more than that on story as the product isn’t final, but I will say that this brief summary appears to be quite accurate. The story develops through text narration, brief NPC dialogue and interactions.
I’m going to ask that you really take a look at the included media for this game, as words won’t do it justice. Loading the game presents a very retro feel with narration being text driven over a black screen. Any 80s or 90s kid has seen this setup a million times. As soon as the game proper loads though, it’s quite clear that you haven’t seen L U C A H a million times.
I can pinpoint just about every element and where it’s been “done before,” but the totality of this game is so much different than the sum of its parts. The protagonist and enemies might remind one of neon lights with their emphasis on outlines and sheer brightness. One color per “character” is the rule of thumb and only reinforces the imagery. Animations border on “cute” at times. If you watched the video above, you may have noticed that there’s a similar paradox in the visual aspect of the game. Animations manage to be fluid, yet jerk and shake.
And then there’s the environment. Oppressive black is barely broken by scenery carved out in vivid outlines, with white and red being the mainstays. There’s a focus on minimalism, although I never found myself wondering where boundaries or paths were. It’s executed quite well, and provides a sense of the level truly capturing the player. While both scenery and characters take a minimalist approach, they contrast wildly and it’s not unfair to initially think they’re designed for different games.
Blood and gore adds a gritty touch and seems both out of place and perfectly in line with everything at the same time. Music falls into a similar position where I can’t decide if it’s completely out of place or absolutely perfect. The elements of L U C A H seemingly are all at odds with other elements yet somehow harmonize beautifully.
I’m sure everyone is hoping I’ll say whether or not I “like” the game. We’re not quite there yet.
I’ve seen characters be placed in a “nightmarish” world plenty of times. Games promise things to us, but often it’s the character to which the promise is delivered. With no exaggeration whatsoever, I can say that my first 15-20 minutes with the game were as close to being put in a nightmare as any media has ever delivered to me. The elements of L U C A H combine into a thoroughly jarring experience which led to real anxiety akin to having a bad dream. The entirety is a surreal amalgamation of pieces that had me off kilter.
With that in mind, the answer is “yes.” There’s an intensity to this game that’s difficult to describe. The minimalist approach and near clashes in elements create a powerful vibe. The game feels like a nightmare, but one where’s there no hurry to wake up.
Here at Fextralife, we’ve had countless discussions on the concept of what makes a “Soulslike.” I tend to think that it takes a decent amount of shared mechanics with the Souls series and the presence of “earned victory” to be Soulslike. Under these criteria, L U C A H is definitely one. Stamina management is critical, as is what amounts to a quickstep evasion and customizable character loadouts. They even call the parry mechanic “parrying.” Souls fans will recognize a large amount of the gameplay despite the top-down 2D point of view.
There are numerous tweaks to the formula though and I found levels of complexity that were not anticipated. Some of this is due to volume. There is a good amount of customization for the game already, despite being in a “not sure we’ll even be able to release it” state. Mostly though it’s because of mechanics that are tweaked, twisted or even invented just for L U C A H. I’m sure I won’t capture them all, but let’s highlight a few at least.
Rather than “gear” defining performance, there are “paradigms.” Each paradigm amounts to three slots that determine things such as attack power and range. You can set multiple paradigms and swap on the fly during combat.
L U C A H is more similar to Bloodborne than Souls for defense in that evading and parrying are your big options. Trying to tank enemies in L U C A H will get you killed quickly. In Souls terms, enemies generally have lots of poise which means you can’t just go in and button mash. They’ll retaliate and the starting life bar isn’t very generous to say the least. This means you need to learn attack patterns and find a rhythm of dashing in and out of harm’s way or you won’t be making it to the next room. Like Souls/Bloodborne, death will return you to the last checkpoint, with found items still in your inventory. You do get to keep your “experience” upon death. This might seem like a deviation from the Souls formula (it is) but know that you can’t backtrack to rest if a room got the better of you. It’s forward only despite how badly you’re hurting.
To help offset this, the game has a “rewind” ability which allows the player to start from the beginning of the current room/fight, with the health and “charge” (kinda like MP or mana pool) meter as it was when you entered Rewind has limited uses, and similar to Estus, it resets at checkpoints. They effectively replace healing items. In addition to the normal anxiety of using a healing item without knowing if you’ll need it worse ahead, rewind ratchets it up several notches by making you ask yourself if you can do better this time around.
Another fun element is that the protagonist has an active familiar which allows for projectile attacks, which paradigms also impact. These projectiles give a distinct shoot ’em up flair to the game and combine nicely with the melee attacks. These use the charge meter, as do charged attacks. This meter replenishes with successful melee attacks; which is good since your familiar will burn through it quickly. All of these elements combine to create a Souls and Shoot ’em up hybrid. Using the 2D space to avoid taking damage takes on a distinct old school approach of screen navigation, while at the same time forcing the player to manage stamina and charge meters closely akin to the Souls formula.
There are definitely flaws in L U C A H. The pattern of; enter room, kill enemies, find item, go to next room…does create a repetitive feel. However, as this is very much pre-release; the game shows polish already, and further refinement should be expected. I won’t say this game will appeal to everyone, but it has a shot of becoming a gaming cult classic.