The Dead Keep On Dying

HIGH The plot is surprisingly heartfelt.

LOW The restart mechanic was not explained well.

WTF The sword’s lore is unexpectedly dark and creepy.

At first glance, Grimorio of Games’ newest title, Sword of the Necromancer, seems like a typical top-down roguelike dungeon crawler. However, it’s soon revealed to contain a mix of various elements that elevate it into being a pleasant little package. It’s a small experience that can get repetitive at times, but I appreciated its unexpected levels of heart.

Sword of the Necromancer’s story drew me in from the start. The game follows the story of Tama, a soldier venturing into an unknown dungeon with the hopes of bringing her deceased lover, Koko, back to life with the help of the mysterious Sword of the Necromancer.

The character development is surprisingly strong presented in lovely, pixelated vignettes and the voice acting is beautifully expressive. This lesbian relationship feels authentic and earnest, and Seeing Koko and Tama evolve from begrudging co-workers to devoted partners is a treat — which makes it even more heartbreaking to eventually learn the cause of Koko’s death. Necromancer is certainly focused more on combat than story, but it made me care about their heartbreaking tale nevertheless.

Gameplay has Tama venturing into a series of rooms littered with enemies and traps, attempting to reach the depths of the dungeon. Along the way, she’ll level up, acquire stronger weapons, forage for health, and fight some disturbingly frightening bosses. However, be warned — if she dies, it’s back to the start of the dungeon, with all accrued items and half her levels lost. I found this roguelike mechanic to be well-done once I got accustomed to it, but it’s not clearly explained.

After each boss fight is an option to forge ahead or return to a hub where Tama can improve her weapons and swap out items to increase her chances of success. However, I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to pick up where I left off when choosing to retreat, so I found myself not using my runs effectively. Instead of foraging onward after a boss battle with low health and the risk losing my items and levels, I could have returned to store my materials for a more serious run later, but that tactic is never spelled out.

To make it more accessible, after dying three times there is an option to turn off the loss of items or to start from the floor Tama perished on. This gives players ways to customize the experience, but Necromancer’s most rewarding moments for me came after completing difficult runs on the default settings.

While this roguelike approach is fairly common in recent releases, a mechanic which makes Necromancer unique is the ability to revive fallen enemies to fight alongside Tama.

Enemy variety in Necromancer is solid (but not expansive) with twenty different monster types of varying colors and hit points. Some monsters are bulky, carrying large swords and shields. Others are frail but attack from a distance with magic or bows.While this feature is interesting to experiment with, the enemy UI isn’t the sharpest, and I found myself using my revived foes as meat shields rather than waiting for them to inflict any significant damage.

Boss battles come at the end of each floor and offer some truly terrifying character designs. While these fights are enjoyable, I found myself more concerned with a room full of randomly-generated common enemies, as the same bosses crop up over and over throughout Tama’s runs. Once the movement patterns of a boss are learned, they can be defeated without much trouble.

Sword of the Necromancer is a brief adventure filled with engaging combat and an unexpected amount of heart. Like many roguelikes, repeated runs can grow a bit tedious and a little more visual variety would have been appreciated, but Necromancer is a viable option for someone looking for a bite-size dungeon crawl… And maybe a good cry, too.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

— Alex Prakken

Disclosures: This game was developed by Grimorio of Games, published by JanduSoft S.L and Game Seer Ventures, and available on PC, XBO, PS4, and Switch. Review copy obtained by publisher and reviewed on PS4. The main campaign was completed in 7 hours. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game is rated M and contains Strong Language, Blood, Violence, and Suggestive Themes. While combat isn’t any more violent than other roguelikes, some of the vignettes do contain brief images of blood and some steamy moments between Tama and Koko (though nothing graphic).

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All voice acting is accompanied by subtitles, though they are not resizable or able to be altered. Sound is not vital for gameplay and there are no audio cues necessary, making it fully accessible. 

Remappable Controls: Though movement and dashing are tied to specific buttons, this game’s controls are partially remappable because you can assign weapons and items to whichever button you wish.

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