Were you ever an @?
Sounds like a silly question, unless you ever played a "roguelike" game way, way back in the day. If you know... you know. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, have you ever played Diablo? If so, then you've tasted the pure joyness that this style of dungeon crawling game can bring.
What's a Roguelike?
It all started with a game called Rogue, a Unix favorite. Surprisingly simple but with incredible depth, the graphics are primitive ASCII characters... your hero denoted by an @, and monsters and items symbolized by various letters and characters. You were tasked with the overwhelming duty of retreiving the Amulet of Yendor at the bottom of the dungeon, and then returning to the surface. This early graphical adventure spawned numerous derivatives, including Moria, iLarn, Hack, NetHack, and others.
What Makes A Roguelike Unique?
Almost everyone has played a role playing game at some point in their life, whether it be the super-popular Final Fantasy series or any of the dozens and dozens of different titles available. However, roguelike games are very unique, and usually have one or more of the following qualities:
- Randomized dungeons that reset every time you play or descend
- Permadeath - no continues
- Turn-based movement
- Mysterious, random items
- Extremely high, unforgiving difficulty level
Wow, when you look at that list, it makes you wonder why people want to play them. Sounds brutal, right? Well, it is.
Why Roguelikes Are Important
It's time for me to get on my soapbox a little here. I think that a lot of modern games are way, way too forgiving. It seems ironic to me that with the level of graphical detail and realism that is available today in games like Assassin's Creed, Grand Theft Auto IV, and others, that you never seem to really die, or be punished very much for dying. This lack of consequence for your actions makes games seem frivolous, the ability to simply restart from where you left off with no punishment making it too easy.
Randomness breeds uncertainty, which brings a certain thrill. Not knowing what's around the corner, ever, can be a nervewracking (yet entertaining) experience. In addition, the threat of "permadeath" (permanent death) absolutely FORCES you to think 100 steps ahead, and the ante goes up every turn you take, as 30 hours of gameplay could be erased with one single stupid move or wrong step.
Their Grand Return To Modern Gaming
Recently, my concerns must be echoed by thousands and thousands of other gamers across the globe, as (possibly unbeknownst to most) roguelike style games have experienced a great resurgence in popularity on multiple gaming platforms. I'd like to share a few of the newest and most noteworthy to help you get your feet wet in the world of Roguelikes. (Of course, if you want to jump right in, download NetHack and get crackin'!)
Persona 3 and 4 for Playstation 2
The Megami Tensei Persona series has been around for quite a while (i.e., back in the NES days) and has been continually growing in popularity. There's been many iterations of the genre, but the most recent, Persona 3 and 4, stand on their own and embody lots of Roguelike qualities.
These role playing gems really blend the best Atlus has to offer, featuring beautiful art, high-quality voiceovers, and an intriguing storyline. All of this is blended with brutal, randomized dungeons that are different every time you enter, an unforgiving death system, and endless customization of "Persona," or spirits that you can call on in battle. I've played about 40-50 hours through Persona 3 and loved every minute of it!
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon for Nintendo Wii
Featuring a much beloved icon from the Final Fantasy series, the bird-like Chocobo, this game is pure Roguelike. Chocobo will need to venture into the dungeon surrounding a mysterious town to recover people's memories, leveling up and becoming more powerful on the way.
Random dungeons and items await - but you can customize Chocobo with familiar jobs from the Final Fantasy series to help you fight the evil. The one thing "non-Roguelike" about this game is that if you die, Chocobo will return with his currently equipped weapon and armor rather than losing all possessions, making this roguelike a little more accessible and less frustrating for most.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time for Nintendo DS
Definitely a departure from previous Pokemon games, the latest installment of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series will lure you in with its open-ended feel. This time, play as the Pokemon, not as the trainer, adventuring through random dungeons that ensure a new experience each time.
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer for Nintendo DS
Based off a game originally released for the SNES, Shiren the Wanderer for DS is probably the purest roguelike to make this list, and definitely the least forgiving. On a journey to discover the Lair of the Mystical Condor, Shiren must journey through random dungeons, forests, and other perilous environments, using classic turn based roleplaying.
This one's for the truly hardcore, though - when you die, you die for real - losing all your equipment and items. A true challenge and not for the faint of heart.Learn More and Buy Shiren the Wanderer for DS
The Future of Roguelikes
I'm guessing that the dungeon crawler genre is going to be around for a long, long time. Upcoming releases such as The Dark Spire for Nintendo DS, Etrian Odyssey II for Nintendo DS, and Diablo III will continue to breath new life into the genre. I, for one, am very happy about the ongoing popularity of these awesome, deep, and challenging games.
Fueled by obscene amounts of coffee and a love for all things 8-bit and shiny, Pete wants to share his experiences with you. He'll try not to twitch and fidget too much, so as to not distract you from sharing his Apple vs. PC thoughts and comparisons, wistful yearning for a return to classic gaming, and focused spout-offs inspired by a life circling around computers, video games, and gadgets.