Indie Time: Chain of Retribution (part 2)

This is my second post about the “chain game” Chain of Retribution, which was developed by seven people in succession, each passing on their work to the next. If you haven’t done so already, you should probably read part one here.

The mystery is gone. I had been working my way through Chain of Retribution trying to guess where the changeovers were, to see if I could detect the influence of a new author or if it would fit so seamlessly that I couldn’t tell. But then, as I approached the game’s finale, I stumbled upon a room where all was revealed, where the authors speak directly to the player about their roles in the project. Given that trying to suss out each person’s involvement was my favorite part of the game, I don’t want to spoil the reveal here, but I can say that there were indeed some changeover points that I completely missed while playing. Sadly, though, this meant I had to face the endgame already knowing who had been involved in making it. But I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was.

What really grabbed me was what happened just before the end, in the form of an optional and extremely difficult boss battle. This is hardly a new concept, appearing in many Japanese-style role-playing games, but here it really served to show the strengths of the combat system. I covered combat briefly in part one, but I will reiterate the main points: each combat is its own challenge, with everyone fully healed afterwards, and the main strategy comes from the way in which characters’ special abilities are used. Rather than having a set pool of ability points to spend on these special moves, characters start with a certain amount each battle and have specific ways of gaining more. Striker characters gain ability points by attacking, and typically build up for very powerful attack moves. Balanced characters regain a smaller amount of ability points by performing any action, including using items, which makes them good utility characters. Passive characters tend to be mages, and regain their ability points by defending, but also start with the most ability points. In addition to this, character abilities can be altered by equipping different elemental gems; for example, one character might have an ability that increases elemental defense for the whole party, but the element it defends against is determined by what gem he has equipped.

The optional boss fight before the game’s finale was the ultimate test of my ability to plan strategically with these various options. I had to select four party members with complementary skills, be sure to equip them with the appropriate elemental gems, and then use every ability and item at my disposal to survive the long battle. I lost many times, occasionally when I was sure I was inches from victory, but I kept coming back because I found the challenge so engaging. Up to this point I was able to get through all the combat with only basic, rudimentary strategy, but here every move was crucial. It came down to applying several defensive and offensive buffs to the party and then responding as quickly as possible when a character went down. My most powerful fighter could have had a very powerful attack ability if I had given him the appropriate gem, but I had to opt for a different gem instead so he could increase the party’s defense against an attack that could potentially wipe everyone out in one go. My passive character was on full-time healing duty, stopping to defend and increase her ability points whenever everyone was reasonably healthy. The key, however, was a character who could apply speed buffs and physical defense buffs to the party. Many of these buffs could only be added one character at a time, so I had to be very careful in how I doled them out. They lasted until a character was knocked out, which is why speedy revival and the re-application of buffs was critical.

Eventually, I emerged victorious and extremely satisfied. The in-game reward was also excellent, allowing me to deck out my party in super-powerful equipment so they could completely steamroll the final part of the game. I didn’t mind this at all; I’d earned it. And it let me cruise through the ending just to see how the strange, twisting story would resolve. I found the ending and its epilogue to be very fitting, a partly serious and partly silly coda to a game born from the heads of seven different authors.

It’s interesting that it wasn’t until the end that I fully appreciated some of the actual gameplay design that went into Chain of Retribution, rather than focusing on its unusual development method. I’m not sure if others would necessarily respond the same way; the game itself is certainly solid enough to be enjoyable to a fan of the genre on its own merits. But following the storyline and watching it spin off into crazy new directions as new people took the reins was definitely my favorite part, and those who play it more for the game should be aware that things can change, often drastically, at any moment. As long as you’re ready for that, I can wholeheartedly recommend checking it out, especially since it’s completely free. You can grab it here if you’re interested. Brace yourself for a rather unusual ride.

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