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ScourgeBringer (PSV)

ScourgeBringer (PSV) - Review

by Issa Maki , posted on 15 May 2021 / 2,078 Views

Those of us still trying to field our PlayStation Vitas at the onset of the ninth generation are likened to cultists, a comparison I take particular umbrage at. Granted, the robes and all the Latin are strange at first, but you get used to them eventually. We'd still like to know what happened to the goat though. Sony announced the PlayStation Store was closing; now our pet is missing, Sony has reversed its position, and we're too afraid to ask questions.

Thankfully for the devout, Jefferey's presumed sacrifice was not in vain; for in death, there is life, and ScourgeBringer is out to prove that the ill-fated Vita has one last fight inside it before finally lying down to rest.

On an unknown date, at an unknown time, an alien monolith descended on an unsuspecting planet, obliterating everything in its path. Deemed the ScourgeBringer, nobody alive knows what it is or why it has arrived: all who have entered inside have never returned. Trained from birth in the ways of combat, acolyte Kyhra has been chosen by her people to brave the horrors of the obelisk, survive the 'Ordeal', and change the Judgment. Her fate is yours to decide.

Apart from its intriguing premise, what initially stands out about ScourgeBringer is its minimalist art style. The amount of atmosphere generated by its pixelated graphics is nothing short of impressive, able to contend with the likes of Axiom Verge and Super Metroid. This level of quality not only stretches to every aspect of the game, but is the perfect example of 'less is more'. When the player has to invest a little of their own imagination to fill in the blanks, it can make a game all the more immersive. ScourgeBringer shows enough that you know what you're seeing, but has no desire to reveal itself completely.

A procedurally-generated rogue-like, ScourgeBringer ups the ante by adhering to the side-scrolling style of play adopted by the Metroidvania genre. Players guide Kyhra from room to room, defeating enemies, collecting power ups, visiting merchants, and learning details about the ancient artifact she inhabits. This is a difficult journey where victory comes in defeat, and more often than not you have to learn how to lose before you can win.

Despite her simplistic looks, Kyhra is a devastating force to be reckoned with, overwhelming any enemy with blinding speed and deadly swordsmanship. A dash attack (that can eventually be chained repeatedly) instantly puts players where they want to be. The Blast.32 doubles as a faithful companion and long range option, able to fire on enemies when its energy reserves are full. The overall effectiveness of Kyhra's initial arsenal is augmented by the world around her, which is always familiar but never truly quite predictable.

The instant she enters a world, Kyhra has two objectives: to kill the Guardians and confront the Judge that awaits at the end of each level. Fortunately, the path on the way to each of these destinations has several components that need to be examined before they can be properly completed.

One of the more interesting of these are the merchants that can be happened upon throughout a run, who almost have as much control over the situation as the player. First and foremost is the aptly named Greed, offering anything from HP restoration to weapons and modifications in exchange for blood (money). Xi'pos has similar, more potent upgrades, but requests a much more precious currency: Kyhra's HP. This can occasionally put players in a quandary where they're given the option of increasing their overall maximum health at the cost of what they currently have available. Poppy will quickly become the favorite merchant, randomly giving away great boons at the start of a run, as well as additional items if Kyhra is quick enough reaching the next level. Certain skills bring an additional layer to these interactions, and learning what to buy and when is key to surviving the Ordeal.

Blood Altars grant various blessings upon the player, heavily influencing the outcome of a playthrough. Threat Dampener lowers the health of all enemies, Stun Locker increases damage and stun duration to enemies, Top Predator gives a 50% damage bonus when Kyhra is at max HP, and Lucky Charm increases the chances of receiving an item upon clearing a room. The blessings at each altar differ from game to game, but players will find favorites that cater to their needs. Keep in mind that until Kyhra is properly upgraded, it can be more beneficial not to use an altar and save it for later.

The Chiming Tree functions similar to Dark Souls' Firelink Shrine, where Garo (a guide of sorts) is met, along with the Nexus-5 and a place where Kyhra can upgrade her skills. Though it looks primitive, a wealth of information can be found in the computer if players are willing to examine it thoroughly. Expedition logs are uploaded here when discovered, detailing the fates of the crew originally sent in to research the ScourgeBringer. The backstory never overshadows the gameplay, yet remains intriguing enough that you want to learn more. From Software are kings of indirect storytelling and the lessons they taught have been applied here quite well.

Special attention must be given to the Bestiary, which easily ranks among the most useful I've come across in a game. This is due in no small part to ScourgeBringer's high difficulty; players must become intimately familiar with every enemy and their attacks in order to best approach each battle. Almost everything needed to survive the Ordeal can be found in the Bestiary, but in the end it's only a piece of the puzzle.

The Skill Tree found in ScourgeBringer is another major highlight, branching into some exotic disciplines. The standard HP increases and special moves have their usual places, but it's the passive abilities that truly stand out. Gyroscopic Compass gives the Blast.32 the ability to point in the direction of Guardians and Judges, potentially saving time and resources by avoiding unnecessary rooms. Let's Roll allows players to re-roll Blood Altar offerings at the cost of HP (an addictive, risky proposition). My personal favorite, Bet, lets Kyhra smash a vendor's wares, transforming them into a more powerful item up to three times. Living Dangerously allows a dropped item to be smashed with a 40% chance of upgrading it, or else it becomes blood/currency. It's not too often that passive skills can outshine their active counterparts; but when they do, you know you're onto something.

Another area where ScourgeBringer deserves praise is for its accessibility options, which eschew traditional difficulty settings in favor of a small customization system that tweaks various aspects of the gameplay. The overall game speed can be reduced (or increased), as can enemy bullets. There are also two HP assistance options - one that increases HP item drop rates and the other being complete invulnerability. The latter obviously breaks the game, but it can be used as an educational tool for learning a boss' patterns or adjusting to the environmental changes each world brings. Whether it's in-game or out of it, this is a well crafted labor of love from top to bottom.

In fact, it almost feels like nitpicking to find flaws in ScourgeBringer, as it has an answer for almost anything that might be a problem. The only legitimate gripe I have is with the spikes that pop out of the floors in The Entangled Ingress. When you're playing on a screen that's only a few inches wide, having a hazard that can be measured in millimeters is a little much in the heat of battle. The game's difficulty might be an obstacle for some, but not only does ScourgeBringer have that covered in spades, high difficulty is both the blessing and the curse of the rogue-like, so it's to be expected. By default, the Blast.32 is mapped to the right side of the touchpad which, due to its sensitivity, can cause the gun to prematurely fire at inopportune moments. However, this is easily remedied by swapping it to the circle button (where the map is), negating the issue entirely. As I said before, this is one tightly packed suitcase.

Vita fans rejoice, for your faith has been rewarded. A Hades equivalent has arrived at a time when it was least expected. I never would have thought I would be reaching for my Vita and leaving Returnal and Resident Evil Village on the back burner so I could squeeze in a few more runs after work, but here we are. Sony's recent announcements concerning the Vita Store only served to highlight the company's complete lack of commitment to the system over the years, and it's thanks to developers like Flying Oak Games that the torch has been carried on for as long as it has. Those who supported this Little Engine That Could have one final trip to embark on, and it's more than worth the fare to go out on one last ride.

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of ScourgeBringer for the PSV, provided by the publisher.

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Jaicee (on 15 May 2021)

I got ScourgeBringer for the Switch back in January when there was a lull going on. The lull died and I used its blood to buy upgrades.

The review here unforgivably failed to mention this game's outstanding metal-electronic fusion soundtrack, so let me just say that ScourgeBringer's music is among its top highlights. Seriously, it's quickly become one of my favorite game soundtracks ever, like in the top 5 for me. (The competition's the Crypt of the NecroDancer, DKC2, Gone Home (cassette tapes), and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams music. There needs to be more legit punk rock and metal in games for my taste.) It's appropriate because this is among the most satisfyingly, awesomely metal games out there. It absolutely revels in the mystical and in its endearingly pixelated, gory excess. Doesn't know the meaning of the word "temperance" and I'm fucking glad! The rush you get from getting into an aerial flow...hell yeah!!

Also, despite how fast this game runs, I've never experienced a single frame rate drop. The controls are also absolutely flawless, like Celeste quality. Actually, I'd go as far as to say that Celeste was obviously an influence on some of the design choices here, and I mean that very much as a compliment. The frenetic action, the air time, the stiff-but-honest (not unfair!) challenge approach it brings to this genre, is a combination I didn't know I was looking for.

Bottom line: I agree with this review and think I might even score it higher. Obviously haven't played it on Vita, but you know what I mean. This is one of the best roguelikes out there and, frankly, among the very best games released in the last year, IMO. As long as you don't mind the genre and what it naturally entails (dying and starting over a lot), get it!

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