Review – Overrogue

Watching KEMCO develop and continue their gaming journey is like having a friend who’s been on DeviantArt for the better part of a decade. In the beginning, things were wonky and sometimes frankly upsetting. You had never thought of Samurai Pizza Cats in such a way, but your friend clearly did, and you wanted to encourage their attempts at creation without actually looking at it. Yet, as time went on, they got better; more refined brush strokes, better attention  to light and shade and, pretty soon, their work gets recognized by others.

Now, your friend isn’t going to bury their Polly Esther tribute sketches, but it’s not the first thing they bring up in conversation. In that same swing, when we talk about KEMCO games, I’m not going to immediately think of all the simplistic JRPGs that seemed to plague the mobile game stores back in the day. They have clearly evolved, and I will happily point towards more recent titles, including their latest, Overrogue.

Sometimes the screen shots just write themselves.

Sael, our protagonist, is the vampiric son of the current reigning Overlord of the realm, Sagan. Him being a vampire doesn’t mean anything, but it’s nice to know. Anyways, a competition is on to collect seven Sagan Crystals, which are found in the depths of labyrinths, guarded by a bunch of baddies, traps and such. Sael has no interest whatsoever in this event until he happens upon Elize, a living doll with a pendant that mysteriously disappears the second she encounters Sael. Demanding compensation, Elize becomes Sael’s permanent companion, following him until he either replaces the pendant or becomes Overlord so she can marry him and become the queen (do what now?). Partnering with Monty, Sael’s sheep-adjacent butler, and Narba, a fox girl who’s bad with money, Sael reluctantly enters into the contest and finds that he might actually be cut out for this Overlord life.

I wasn’t mincing words, this is exactly what this deranged doll expects of you.

With Overrogue, you have a dungeon crawling card-based roguelike, combining the elements of JRPG, card battling and some truly campy dialogue. Think if one of the Tales of games decided to really boil things down to skits and card combat. You start with a single “theme” of a deck, but then unlock four additional ones (each focused in some theme or combat ideal) and use them to dive into a dungeon. As you go, defeating enemies will earn you gold (for buying cards), add additional cards for you to draw, or passive treasures to add abilities and talents to your run. Each card costs a certain amount of mana, so you need to choose wisely what you can play each turn from what you’ve drawn.

If you’ve played Slay the Spire, Monster Train or the still-not-optimized Castle Morihisa, you get the gist of what needs to happen. The rub, though, comes from the fact that you have a party of characters (initially Sael, Elize and Narba) who each take turns and have their own set of HP and MP. The different treasures you get may affect the party as a whole, though some only affect individual members, such as Sael’s passive treasure that automatically recharges his HP everytime he’s moved into the rear guard.

That’s another strategic rub that comes through in a big way for Overrogue. With characters in three positions (front, middle and rear), it doesn’t affect their attack but it does affect how they get hit. You can use an MP to move a character around, which can, in turn, cause different cards to have different affects. One of my personal favorites is a one MP card that does six damage and then heals whoever is in the rear for 4HP, which is a big deal in games so heavily inspired by Spire.

As you might have guessed, HP doesn’t auto regenerate after small scale combat and only returns when resting or after defeating a boss, so being able to pick up the fortitude to sustain one additional hit is essential. It’s a smart choice for a game that is so clearly trying to appeal to a mass audience instead of a niche one, and that’s something that KEMCO has always been quite good at.

I mean, not the most amazing card names, but that’s really not the biggest thing to consider.

When you think of games like Slay the Spire, the idea is that they’re initially a bit punishing, then it gets better, then it gets punishing all over again. Either by luck or by design, Overrogue never has those moments of impossibility mounting against you. First and foremost, none of the enemies, even the bosses, are particularly intimidating, though I do enjoy the way they are visibly designed. Very Hot Topic goth by way of Sanrio. Since you have three characters on your party, you often get to attack two or three times in a row before the enemy makes a move, which allows you to position whomever is the tank this round up front and still do a fair amount of damage.

If that wasn’t enough, a majority of the status moves that enemies do aren’t really worth being concerned over. Oh no, next time this character takes damage they’ll take twice as much damage! Well, move them to the back, never let them be up front again and just keep wailing on the enemy with Second Arrow and Rough Chain. It’s not really an issue.

However, this thankfully doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the game. Overrogue has such a massive variety of cards and there’s no straightforward, fast way to unlock them all. Keeping true to their roots, KEMCO has implemented not one but two lottery systems, two different currencies and a set of paid DLC that, thankfully, doesn’t break the game, it just allows you to have one additional choice when getting a reward or treasure (3 bucks per decision, easy pass). One currency is used just for a gatcha machine to unlock additional cards and treasures for future runs, but it doesn’t automatically guarantee them in the next fight (unlike Dead Cells, for example).

You just use Demon Coins to allow the possibility of these new things to be a part of your run. Additionally, the Blightstone currency IS used to unlock permanent things, but they’re not terribly unbalanced. The biggest thing is a permanent increase to your mana pool, and that costs 3000 Blightstone. For context, after over twenty hours of gameplay, I barely had 1000, so this isn’t something that you just grab on the way to the supermarket. It’s more worthwhile to either get the permanent decrease in normal cards (helping to boost stronger card pulls) or to add the Death Ticket, which gives you a once-per-labyrinth instakill of any enemy (with no EXP or Gold gained).

Plus, I get to feed my gambling addiction in a healthy way!

What’s really fun about Overrogue is the low stakes engagement that comes with it. Even being in the thick of a dungeon, it takes no time at all to choose a deck and jump in to knock off a few battles, and the game really tries to “randomly” generate pathways for you to either indulge your combat side or your event side, which I appreciated. Additionally, the treasures never feel like you can hang your hat on the one that’ll defeat everyone and everything for all time. You might get some good ones (deal six damage to everyone whenever Sael rotates to the back), but nothing is going to suddenly make you OP enough to disregard the strategy of card selection. In that same effect, if you just want to stomp through the game without caring about strategy, always choose the Everdark deck theme. It’s purely combat, and no one in their right mind can stand up to a constant Blood Blow/Sorrow Blow combo.

Also, it’s managed to make the endlessness of the KEMCO formula work. Unlike RPGolf Legends, which just had you on quest after quest all over the different islands, Overrogue gives you a new deck theme and then has you flushing Demon Coins down the toilet to try and unlock all the treasures and rare cards that appear for each theme. If you can’t get them, jump back into a labyrinth and fight more dudes to get more coins. But don’t worry! It’s not boring and repetitive: taking a page from Hades, you can add levels of “Karma” to each dungeon, increasing enemy difficulty with the payback being better rewards if you can survive. I found out that Scream Peak, the very first labyrinth, pays handsomely once you get up to about five Karma ticks, so keep grinding if you want!

Oh, and you can just skip the treasure chests and get gold, but who the hell wants that?

The only thing I will say wasn’t totally attractive to me was the story itself, and I feel horrible for saying that. It’s not even like Overrogue’s story is bad, it’s just it wasn’t as essential to me as the gameplay itself. It was so much fun to just dive in and do some good, strategic card fighting that I didn’t care when Elize and Sael were bickering, or Narba pulled yet another sack of gold from nowhere, or when Morty was found to be an even bigger two faced rat than you can imagine. It was all funny and very trope-heavy, but the “skip” button at the top wasn’t actually a skip: it was just a fast forward. So I still had to see Sael sigh and fight with his mother or the group of them chitter about until I was finally someplace where I could do my daily lotto drawing (c’mon, 100 Blightstone Reward!) and then dive into the dungeon to stomp around for a bit.

Tears, she means tears, Morty is crying.

Yet that’s somehow my only complaint. Full of side quests for more coins and cards, a pretty kickass metal soundtrack and plenty of replay value, Overrogue is what I was looking for in a contender versus Slay the Spire. No, it isn’t very serious, and I’m sure the people who enjoyed One Step From Eden or Ring of Pain will complain that it’s too easy or just not engaging. But this is a game that has clear mobile shades while still being fully fledged, engaging, funny and full of content.

I plan to keep playing because it takes so little to try and unlock new cards, and yet, like all great roguelikes, you want to see what those new cards/abilities will bring to the table for a game you already understand inside and out. This is a monumental day: I can honestly say that this is a formula that rivals the inspiration and, in some ways, can surpass it. Well done to everyone involved.

Graphics: 6.5

Simple anime avatars and decent card design, Overrogue doesn’t impress but it also doesn’t offend.

Gameplay: 8.0

Excellent card strategy balanced with party placement and passive pickups, there’s quite a bit to be gleaned the deeper you dive with this game.

Sound: 7.0

When the guitar really kicks in during the boss fights, you know you’re going to have a good time.

Fun Factor: 9.0

Charming, addicting,  expansive without being overwhelming and it scratches the itch without holding its hand out for more money. It’s frankly excellent.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Overrogue is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, Switch and mobile.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Overrogue was provided by the publisher.