It’s depressing the number of times I’ve covered the first game in a series, only to then leave the sequel (or unrelated followup in Cthulhu Saves the World’s case) untouched. Call it a bad habit. In my defense, though, it’s only been 4 months since I reviewed Breath of Death VII. That’s quite a bit more defensible than the 3 and a half years it’s been since I reviewed King Arthur: The Role-Playing RPG and its spinoff despite owning the sequel for even longer than that. I think part of the problem is one of expectations; it’s easy for a sequel to play things safe and end up feeling like the same game, just like it’s easy for a game to diverge so much from its predecessor that it fails to embrace the things that made the first game worthwhile in the first place. The latter is what’s seen Lost Horizon 2 sit idly on my desktop for the past few months, while the former is why I had to force myself to jump into Cthulhu Saves the World—I was expecting more of the same, and while I was pleasantly surprised by the number of things that were improved on since the previous game, the biggest problems remain unchanged and render a sizable portion of the game a tedious slog through yet more mazes.
The jokes are a bit different
Breath of Death VII had a lot of humor that centered around references to other games and jRPG staples, but Cthulhu Saves the World largely moves away from that to focus instead on the absurdity of the premise: having had his power stripped upon awakening, Cthulhu overhears the narrator explaining that he can regain his powers by becoming a true hero and sets off to (half-grudgingly) perform a series of heroic deeds. While there are still some moments where your expectations of how to play a jRPG are subverted and bent in amusing ways, that’s mostly side content relegated to the text that pops up as you check every bookcase and dresser, with the main story’s comical moments arising more naturally from the bizarre cast of aliens, necromancers, anthropomorphic swords, and other such insanity.
There are more characters than you can use
While this game starts off like Breath of Death VII in the sense that you wander around and slowly accumulate companions, I was surprised to find that you actually end up with more companions than you can use. It turns out that you can eventually make a party from the 6 you obtain throughout the game, and while I was boring and stuck with the first 3 I got, being able to switch them out gives you much more flexibility when it comes to how you want to play. This is especially true since everyone gains experience with each battle, even if they weren’t part of it, so you’ll never render a possible party member unusable by neglecting them.
Combat is still fast
Everything I said about combat in Breath of Death VII holds true here. Random encounters are still capped at a certain number for each area (but allow you to fight additional enemies from the menu if you so desire), enemies still become more powerful each turn in order to incentivize you to finish fights quickly, HP is still restored entirely after fights in addition to a small bit of MP, and the focus is still on building up large combos that increase the power of combo-ending moves. The only difference is the insanity status effect that Cthulhu and his companions are able to inflict on enemies. While you can pick a couple passive perks during level ups (which are still binary choices between two similar options that you have to weigh the pros and cons of) that give you temporary stat bonuses for each insane enemy, the game also informs you that some enemies become more powerful when they’re made insane, and I think the two managed to balance out in my case because I didn’t once notice a difference between normal and insane enemies. Honestly, the entire mechanic strikes me as being kind of useless.
A little more flexibility in play style
Being able to choose between 6 different characters goes a long way toward giving you more approaches than “X is a melee attacker and Y is a magic-user.” Granted, the equippable weapons still push certain characters toward fulfilling certain narrow roles because of how they only provide bonuses to certain stats (so good luck if you want Umi to be an effective melee attacker outside of the “Cthulhu’s Angels” bonus mode), but being able to swap them out entirely for someone else with a different specialization is a nice middle ground. It’s not a perfect solution to not having much of a say in how characters develop, but it definitely offers you far more freedom than Breath of Death VII ever did in that regard.
More variation, but mazes are still a thing
One of the things that really irritated me about Breath of Death VII was that groups of things would all say the same thing when you interacted with them. Gravestones in particular really stood out, with small clusters of them all sporting identical text that kind of undermined the idea that they were all actual graves instead of soulless joke dispensers. Thankfully, that’s been ironed out in Cthulhu Saves the World, and everything you can interact with says something different, graves included. There’s a lot of flavor text to find now, and this helps the world to feel much more alive.
But the mazes are still a thing, and they still pretty much ruin the game. Granted, the areas here are slightly less irritating than those of the previous game that forced you to weave in and out of random debris in awkward, roundabout ways to make forward progress (with the exception of an area early on full of zombies that suffers from that exact problem), but they’ve also been made much bigger, and they’re no more memorable. Without recognizable landmarks, that means that it’s embarrassingly easy to lose your bearings and end up wandering aimlessly. The random battles manage to do an incredible job of distracting you long enough to make you lost, so I found myself constantly initiating fights from the menu—a process that proved less than enjoyable—until I reached the cap and the random battles turned off. This was doubly important since there are still chests littered around, and while these sometimes contain money, healing potions, 1-ups (which allow you to retry fights if you fail them), and equipment, others contain random items that raise Cthulhu’s stats, or sometimes the stats of the entire party. In the Cthulhu’s Angels bonus mode, chests also sometimes contain “bromides,” which are basically just party member portraits. Since neglecting these chests means missing out on helpful stat upgrades and bonus content, you’re all but forced to wander around these too-large mazes aimlessly, and it’s just not fun.
Bonus modes and difficulty
Once you finish the game, 4 new game modes open up. There’s the score attack mode that returns from Breath of Death VII, as well as “highlander” mode that gives you increased experience at the cost of only letting you use one character at a time. Then there’s “overkill” mode, which in one battle levels you up to the point where you’re overpowered (I finished the game at level 40 and it claims to bring me to that same level, but I don’t know if that’s a coincidence or if it uses the level you finished the game as). Finally, there’s the more substantive Cthulhu’s Angels mode, which is basically the same game that takes you through the same areas (with the exception of a completely different end-game area), but with a slightly altered story. In this mode, you play as the necromancer October, and Cthulhu delegates his good deeds to her and the rest of the all-female cast.
October only gains 3 allies, however, so there’s no switching anyone out, and this adds greatly to the difficulty. The normal Cthulhu Saves the World experience is one where random battles are a bit challenging and bosses are pushovers, but Cthulhu’s Angels inverts that to where normal battles are brainless and boss fights range from difficult to absurdly cheap. One boss heals himself until he runs out of MP (which is stupid since the game is set up so that enemies get more powerful every turn), while another proved capable of wiping out my entire team in 2-3 turns and required wasting a bunch of the consumable potions just to constantly resurrect characters. Overall, I liked the balance of bosses being harder and normal fights being easier, but some fights were overwhelmingly unbalanced and struck me as being even harder than boss fights after them.
Developer commentary is a nice touch
If you choose to play with developer commentary on, you’ll occasionally see white question marks that you can interact with to get some insights into the part of the game you’re currently playing. I found this incredibly interesting, and the question marks are easily avoided if you get tired of them, so I recommend playing with the commentary on. Not only does it give you more stuff to interact with (which makes certain dungeon areas a little less sparse, though only a little), but the insights are often genuinely interesting and humorous.
Improved graphics and music
The very first thing I noticed was that fights now have backgrounds to them that correspond to the area where that random battle occurred. There’s also a lot of quality art that pops up when story things are happening in a way that reminded me a lot of the Phantasy Star games. The only graphical downfall here would be the dungeon areas, which look far too similar (and often use that fact to make treasure chests appear nearby, when it fact you need to take a complex series of paths to reach them). As for the music, it’s also seen an upgrade, though it occasionally drifts into jRPG cheesiness when it comes to town music and the like. Most of the time, though, it’s of a high quality, and it’s a shame that you only get to hear it in full once you’ve grinded a bit to turn off an area’s random battles. That said, the music still has a bad habit of fading out and starting over again in a distracting way. There are 2 or 3 tracks that actually disguise this decently, but that’s rare.