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Impressions: Chantelise

Dungeoneering, ho!

I've spent a few hours nuzzling up to Chantelise, the next Westernised translation/do-over of a Japanese indie title from noble Recettear chaps Carpe Fulgur. Because I appear to be pretty terrible at the game, a full Wot I Think is probably some days off. Meantime though, here's some early impressions ahead of the release on Friday.

It strongly evokes Recettear while being absolutely nothing like it. Obviously much of that has to do with the love it/hate it/be a grown up and not be too fussed either way art style, but even beyond that a confluence of tone (via Carpe Fulgur's extensive and breezily charismatic rewrite of the dialogue), references (many items bear similar if not the same names) and interface design paints this as a clear companion piece.

It's not a game about buying, selling, fleecing and being fleeced, however, and as such loses Recettear's immediate appeal of being a snarky joke about RPGs artfully expanded into an entire game. This, conversely, is something a whole lot more familiar, and indeed immediate. It's a dungeon-crawler, a game about killing and killing and killing and killing - with an occasional spot of shopping in between so you're even better positioned for killing and killing and killing and killing.

At least, so far as I know that's its thing. I'm very early in, currently getting my pasty bottom handed to me by the first boss. Said boss is a witch in a mystic mech suit, and it's a giant leap in difficulty up from what precedes it. As far as I can tell, this is because you're not supposed to carve your way straight through a dungeon run like a laughing maniac, but because you're supposed to repeatedly tackle maps until you're a bit more buffed up and a whole lot more accustomed to the enemy types. Either that or you're presumed to be ten times better than me and can breeze right through, but the brutal ease with which that boss keeps finishing me off suggests I need to grab a whole lot more loot then sell it back in town for more of the potions that increase my max health.

There doesn't appear to be any levelling or experience system here - not yet, at least - but instead you increase your biffability and biff-resistance by buying increasingly expensive upgrades. With a new staff, some gloves and three HP-boosting potions, I'm about as buffed as I'm likely to be able to afford at this stage, so hopefully the next run at mecha-witch (and the preceding 20 minutes of dungeon) will be successful. I might get a bit stroppy if it isn't. You wouldn't like me when I'm stroppy.

As for the combat itself, this is entirely a real-time game, but it doesn't really fall into the button-bashing camp. There are buttons. You should definitely mash 'em a bit. You'll enjoy the results. You should also, however, be choosing your moment to unleash magic attacks (activated by you but unleashed by your non-playable fairy companion) and most importantly collecting the constantly-dropping gems in an order that will activate the most effective combo attacks. One yellow gem means you'll summon a giant wrecking ball that spins around you for a few seconds, but two yellow gems means you'll be clad in mystic armour for a while. So while the temptation is to pick up gems as they drop, in that compulsive loot-hoovering hunger we all know so well, actually you should be picking and choosing, so the six gems you can carry at any one time can be unleashed in the most devastating fashion possible.

The game hints that later on you'll be able to combine more gems for an attack, but where I am it's a max of two. It's much more easily done than it might sound from such reckless talk of combination however - just hold down rather than tap the magic button and the two gems at the front of your stack will be unleased together. Want to get different gems in the stack? Tap the button once to cast whatever's at the top, then wait for the one you want instead to drop. It'll be a matter of a seconds: at least one in two foes seem to drop a gem, and that means you're constantly casting spells rather than peevishly saving them up for harder fights. Like I say, this is an immediate game: drop right in and cause merry hell.

Ah yes - I mentioned buttons. You are going to enjoy this more on a gamepad rather than a mouse and keyboard. I'm fine with that, and it's not to say there's something wrong with mouse and keyboard controls - but it's one of those games that just seems to react better to twin sticks and face buttons. Controls can be rebound, but I'm pretty happy with as-is - a button to stab, a button to magic, a button to jump and a button to target. It's extremely simple to control, but combat mastery requires tactical thinking.

I'm enjoying the look too. I'm not a big fan of that particular art style, but the 3D levels paired with 2D, hand drawn-looking characters is an effective tack, and one that successfully hides the game's years behind appealing stylisation. As for the game as a whole - it's too soon to call it. I don't yet feel the urge to evangelise it as I did Recettear, and having just recently spent so much intimate, debilitating time with Realm Of The Mad God I'm pretty much damned to find any other action RPG pretty tame for a while. I need to see how much Chantelise opens up later, once I'm past that first bloody boss at last. Right now, I'm a little concerned by the apparent need for grind, but don't take that as gospel - there really is every chance I'm just doing it wrong. I do a lot of things wrong, like forgetting to have lunch today then wondering why I've got a headache.

I'm certainly keen to continue clambering up mount Chantelise however - the writing's charming and funny, and the spell system particularly is slick and merrily destructive. Hopefully a bigger choice of dungeons and a town with a bit more to nose at during my downtime are right around the corner. And then, around another corner, more types of mad magic to remotely pummel things to death with.

Chantelise is released on July 29, for $10/€8/₤6.50. There'll be a 10%-off preorder at Gamersgate and a 10%-off weeklong deal at Steam starting on launch day. You can try out the demo here.

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