Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Sorcery Saga: Curse Of The Great Curry God is cute as a button. Everything is colourful, upbeat and utterly adorable, as our cheerful heroine sets out on a quest to save her favourite curry shop with her roly-poly, fuzzy-wuzzly, cuddly-wuddly pink pal Kuu. From the merrily-frolicking Chickmunks (chicken + chipmunks... awww!) to the bop-along background music, the whole thing is delightful and disarming.
It's a trap, of course, but at least I was ready this time. Having reviewed the likes of Fortune Summoners and Eryi's Action, I've learned an important rule about localised Japanese games: the more adorable and disarming the art direction, the rougher its ruthlessly hardcore gameplay will spank you.
Sorcery Saga is no exception, using its beguiling charms to disguise a tough and rewarding roguelike that joins a burgeoning cult library on the PlayStation Vita. If you like your curry hot and your games hardcore, this might be your tikka to gaming pleasure.
Premise time! Magic school dropout Pupuru is horrified to learn that her local curry shop is being put out of business by a major chain, so she summarily sets out to concoct a legendary curry to pull in the punters. On her way, she'll meet a cast of bizarre (and equally curry-obsessed) characters, including an strangely apathetic girl capable of smelling 'curry auras' and a wizard who spends the game trying to convince everyone that he isn't a pervert after a harmless misunderstanding. Told through visual novel-style text and portraits, the story is light and frothy, resonating surprisingly well with us Brits due to our famous love of all things curry-related.
Admittedly Sorcery Saga's competently-localised dialogue does hit a few tonal roadbumps here in the UK, notably around the 'evil' (read: decidedly klutzy and likeable) Lord Gigadis, who spends the game stalking Pupuru with a view to marriage. Pupuru's exact age is never explicitly revealed as far as I can remember -- all we know is that she's a high school student -- so an amusing love triangle can stray into creepy territory every now and again.
We're not really here for the story, though, even if there are plenty of optional skits to discover by way of carelessly-discarded special items. Rather we're here to navigate some randomly-generated dungeons in classic Roguelike style, moving one square at a time, attacking foes, finding loot and generally trying to survive long enough to fight the boss. At which point, Pupuru finds herself one ingredient closer to making her ultimate curry and perhaps even meeting the Great Curry God itself.
Sorcery Saga nails all the basics, providing an experience that's heavily reminiscent of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series at first glance, and that absolutely shines on the Vita's luscious screen thanks to crisp and colourful art direction. Exploring the floors is always tense and nervy, with a vast array of items both helpful and harmful at your disposal forcing you to make tough decisions along the way. As the odds get ever longer and hordes pile up, will you consume your only 'Destroy scroll,' find a choke point, hack away in desperation or use a mysterious potion in the hope of a miraculous escape? It's as unpredictable, punishing and rewarding as you'd want from a Roguelike.
Obviously you can also combine ingredients to make delicious stat-enhancing curries on-the-fly. Doing so at the right time can make the difference between a narrow victory and humiliating defeat.
Curry aside, Sorcery Saga makes some more unique alterations to the sub-genre, chief among which is Kuu. This pink fuzzy
pilau pillow is more than just a mascot, as he'll merrily hop along behind Pupuru, engage enemies and help out as much as he can with randomly-assigned skills. However, his hunger constantly depletes, forcing you to feed him items as you progress through the dungeons. This adds a thoughtful element of sacrifice to the proceedings, as you'll have to constantly destroy your loot stock to keep Kuu fighting fit.
Sorcery Saga also manages to successfully strike a balance between perma-death and permanent progression, not least because killing their cute protagonist would be seriously off-message! As such, Pupuru starts each dungeon at level one, while hitting 0HP robs her of all money, progress and non-equipped items with a ruthless autosave. However, you'll keep your equipped sword and shield, alongside any skills and spells you've learned. Naturally, should you make it out of a dungeon by killing the boss or chickening out via a transport scroll, you'll keep everything.
This allows you to feel like you're continually progressing rather than banging your head against a wall, gradually improving your weapons using a robust augmentation system, banking money and levelling up a devastating selection of spells. It's highly addictive, especially when you discover a sprawling challenge metagame.
Long and replayable enough to satisfy, yet brisk enough to avoid outstaying its welcome, Sorcery Saga is very good indeed. But the ever-fickle lady luck stops it from becoming truly great.
Random chance is integral to any Roguelike, from the dungeon floorplans to the items you find and the enemies you face. Unpredictability keeps us coming back for more punishment, ensuring that each run feels fresh even after multiple failures. Sorcery Saga accomplishes this, but goes too far, to the extent that some enemies can turn a sword you've augmented for hours into a useless item with a simple spell. Every attack has a chance to miss. Every spell has a chance to fizzle. When you're surrounded by foes and read out a lightning bolt scroll, there's a strong chance that nothing will happen.
Crucially, Sorcery Saga doesn't tell us (or even vaguely hint at) the odds. Han Solo might be in his element, but a truly great Roguelike is based on an unimpeachable and reliable set of mechanics that you can trust and grow to understand over multiple runs. They show us or at least hint at the maths, let us into their systems and give us a fighting chance. But Sorcery Saga keeps its mechanics hidden, giving us no idea of how likely it is that an attack will hit, or even how our equipped weapon affects accuracy. Pupuru's stats are buried behind the scenes. Considering that an hour of progress might rest on a single roll of the dice, it could at least let us make an informed guess.
Imagine playing a game of tabletop D&D, only the dungeon master stashes your character sheet and dice rolls behind their screen. Functionally there may be little difference to the overall experience, except that failure feels unfair rather than your fault. You'll have to rely on... good... korma? Sorry.
It's not enough to break Sorcery Saga by any means, nor stop me from wholeheartedly recommending Compile Heart's latest release to genre fans. There are several hours of enjoyable, entertaining and solid dungeon crawling to be found here, and once again, the Vita has yet another cult localised gem to crow about. A console that has yet to find mainstream appeal has become a true coinoisseur's paradise over these last twelve months.
- Rock-hard yet rewarding dungeon crawling
- Addictive progression and unique twists to the familiar Roguelike formula
- Wacky loveable characters and irrepressible personality
- Frequently feels unfair due to emphasis on random chance
- A few tonal mis-steps
- Can become repetitive and even frustrating in parts
The Short Version: Sorcery Saga: Curse Of The Great Curry God is as adorable as it is ruthless, tough and rewarding. This colourful Roguelike's over-reliance on lady luck may often feel unfair, but its compelling exploration and cheerful personality will keep you coming back.
So long as you're patient and partial to punishment, that is.