The Magic of Old English Plays!
HIGH Solid strategy RPG mechanics.
LOW I think I’m too old for the humor.
WTF Being yelled at for skipping the transformation cutscenes.
Hi Everyone! Eugene Sax here with another review from GameCritics.com
Performing all of the classic Shakespeare plays by daylight, fighting nightmares to save these same plays by moonlight. They will always put up a fight, these girls of Stratford-Upon-Avon High Drama Society.
Obligatory Sailor Moon reference aside, This Way Madness Lies takes the magical girl trope and gives it an Olde English spin as this High School Drama club attempts to save Shakespeare’s plays — and the rest of the world — from falling into darkness from terrible nightmares.
Zeboyd Games is back with another turn-based RPG, this time with players controlling Imogen and the rest of the drama club as they dive into Shakespearean stories overrun by nightmarish creatures. As they continue to dive into play after play to save them from destruction, they start seeing the nightmares enter their own world, and soon realize they must find a way to stop the problem at the source or else risk the real world being overrun as well.
Players will control a team of four girls, each with their own set of powers and abilities. Imogen, the team leader, will have skills based around light and dark damage, while Paulina is more about ice and healing magic. Players will explore dungeons to find items, fight nightmares, and eventually find the boss of each world and defeat it to bring peace back to the play. Pretty standard RPG setup so far, but the combat is where things take a bit of a different turn.
From the start, I thought this game was going to be similar to older RPGs like Golden Sun and Shining Force based on how it looked in screenshots. While it takes some of that inspiration, it’s functionally very different. Characters can either use an ability, an item, or a Unite skill during combat. They have a defend ability, and up to seven other unique abilities. These can be anything from an elemental spell, a heal or buff spell, or a weapon attack. Each ability has one charge at the start of combat, which is restored once the character uses the defend action. Any items equipped, such as healing items, are one time use per battle.
The other two mechanics are unite skills and the hyper meter.
Each pair of characters have a unite ability that can be used once per combat. Imogen and Paulina, for example, can revive a teammate, while Imogen and Rosalind do massive fire damage to all enemies. When the hyper meter is filled, these abilities will generally be more powerful or have a wider target range. With these systems in mind, there are a lot of different unite skill strategies that players can use to defeat enemies.
As far as other RPG elements go, as characters gain experience, they will also unlock passive traits that change how each character plays. For example, Imogen can get more powerful as team members are defeated. There’s enough depth here to make each party member feel distinct and play differently from each other, while still being simple enough for players of any skill level to easily enjoy this one.
As a bonus, Madness also streamlines a few pain points that RPGs are known for. Players do not have to grind for levels if they don’t want to as the team of characters level at the same time — yes, all characters will be at the same level and have the same levels of traits and abilities through the entire game. If players want to grind up more levels, they can initiate combat from the pause menu whenever they desire extra experience. There are no random encounters, and every character combination seems viable throughout the entire game — this is a good thing, since there are some issues I have with party composition.
While players will control a total of six girls, Madness force specific groups into specific plays, removing the choice of party composition. While this helps get players used to using all characters when they eventually do have the option to select their own party (though only in the final chapter), it did mean that there were areas I enjoyed significantly less because I wasn’t a fan of the abilities the other characters were providing to the group. The other thing about This Way Madness Lies is the humor. Normally, I’m a fan of self-referential humor referencing other games or media, but I found the writing here to be grating. Any time the characters speak in Olde English to quote the play, players can choose to show the “modern translation”, which is in the vein of text-style communication and internet humor, typically featuring words with a bunch of extra characters and Shakespeare’s intent translated intentionally poorly as jokes. There are story reasons for it, but it made the dialogue hard to get through at times.
Despite the issues I had, I would recommend This Way Madness Lies to those who enjoy turn-based RPGs, or those who (like me) were intrigued by the sheer ridiculous nature of magical drama girls fighting nightmare creatures to save Shakespeare’s works. In addition, I appreciated how Zeboyd altered the standard turn-based style of combat and how the characters interacted with each other to create an enjoyable fling.
For me, This Way Madness Lies gets 7.5 magical girl transformations out of 10.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Zeboyd Digital Entertainment LLC. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 7 hours of play were spent playing the game, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game does not currently have an ESRB rating. However, there isn’t a lot of content that would trigger content warnings other than fantasy violence. Enemies attack using elemental abilities, which amount to a small lightning spark on the characters. Enemies fade out of existence when defeated, with no blood to be found. There are no language concerns.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is text in the game, but text is not resizable. Audio mostly serves aesthetic purposes and is not needed for gameplay. There are no audio cues needed for successful play. The game is fully accessible.
Remappable controls: Controls are not remappable.