Review: SFD: ROGUE25 Apr 2019 2
Review: SFD: ROGUE
Released 08 Apr 2019
Sigma Finite Dungeon is a difficult game to hate, if you have any affinity for tactical turn-based rpgs. As a focused expression of mechanics, it’s a no-frills dose of gridded goodness. As literally anything else - something visually impressive or narratively curious - it fails.
Part of the initial disconnect in my first several runs was just getting over the fact that there was no story. TRPGs are well known for them, and some of the best are often hoisted among some of the best video game stories ever told. That there really was nothing here but a basic “kill the guy at the end of the dungeon” trick felt weird. You definitely get over it, but not before reminiscing over the Final Fantasy Tactics and Ogre Battles of yesteryear.
There is a certain brilliance in stripping the genre down to its basics. As the best roguelikes are want to do, you start to gain a real appreciation for the core pillars of the genre’s they help deconstruct. TRPGs, even with rousing narratives, tend to be very systems-forward engagements, so I was surprised to find that they could even be isolated and manipulated the way they are in SFD.
Starting with a hero character with its own special class, you’re tasked with delving through eight floors of procedurally-generated dungeon in order to slay the dark elven god at the very bottom. On your way, you will hire allies, collect weapons and armor, fight various types of enemies, and try not to die. If you, the hero, is killed in battle, then the game is over.
None of this sounds all that new, but every system you interact with is both completely transparent and almost fully customizable or interactable. All of the six classes of characters you’ll run into can be upgraded into higher, more specialized forms. There are no gear restrictions to each class, but the sorts of special abilities you’ll learn while using certain weapons will be limited. Sometimes, it’s not a terrible strategy to deck out one character in heavy armor and a shield, while giving the rest of the squad bows to attack monsters from a distance. It encourages you to try something weird to fit a playstyle, or to discover a whole new one.
For all of its freedom, it could be more forthcoming as far as guidance and tutorialization. There are a set of screens that point out important HUD and menu options that serve as a help guide, but most of the nitty gritty you’ll learn by doing. As a game reliant on replaying it a bunch to learn how it ticks, there’s still a limit to what you should know going in and have to learn on the fly. And even speaking to what they do outline, I wished SFD found a more engaging way to teach you the ropes, instead of sending you the equivalent of PDF files to study yourself.
How characters are geared largely determines the abilities they can learn by leveling up, but for the main hero, you can find many opportunities to teach him things he wouldn't have normal access to, even further diversifying your team’s capabilities. This doesn’t extend to your hirelings, which is a bummer. You buy their attendance from one of the assortment of shops you may find on your journey, where they are populated at random. You’ll have a hard time having back to back runs with identical team composition, which is par for the rogue-like course.
Navigating any giving dungeon floor involves a lot of tapping. You tap on the floor. You tap on crates. You tap on lanterns. Exploration is very mind numbing, as you spend much of the time just touching stuff and hoping gold falls out. The randomized rooms don’t even bother making much of a labyrinth to navigate. Rooms are often full of objects that look like someone reached into a bag and just tossed whatever was in their hands at it. I found myself wishing there was no exploration at all. If 70% of the rooms are going to just be empty, why even let me aimlessly tap around them?
The ones that aren’t empty are full of monsters. This is where the real action happens, and where the game most resembles every other member of the genre. Characters all have movement ranges (in squares) determined by their class. There are action points, magic points, attack templates determined by weapon, etc. The things this game does like all the others isn’t the interesting part. It’s the goofy stuff SFD lets you do outside of it that’s cool.
For me this usually starts and ends with the push mechanic. Any character and shove moveable objects or units into squares or obstacles next to them. If I want a character who would otherwise be a square away from range on an enemy to get in close, I might have the previous guy in line push them. If I want to hit an enemy on the other side of a friendly without risking full weapon damage on them, I push my buddy into him. Push monsters into spike traps, or on buttons that activate flame traps on their own friends. Push crates into unwitting skeletons and watch them explode. I can’t tell you how much mileage I got out of such a little mechanic.
This is mostly to do with how so much of the map can interact with each other. In small ways, of course, but all the small ways equal a menu of big ways that make every battle a tactical smorgasbord. SFD doesn’t have unlockable secrets that change the gameplay or add options to some sort of meta tally like other roguelikes - these little encounters are the reason you re-roll and start again after an untimely death.
That said, the replayability of SFD suffers because of its severe lack of goals to reach outside of the main line. As roguelikes have evolved over the years, they’ve all found ways to keep you playing that don’t involve just beating the game. It’s disappointing to see SFD not heed this pattern, and it might be hard to see anyone staying engaged after finally beating the last floor.
There are some elements of other tactics games that are whole missing from this one, as well. Backstabbing is a thing, but that’s one of the few ways to gain any positional advantage over the enemy. There’s no elevation or flanks to use to your advantage. Nor is there cover options to mitigate ranged attacks. The numbers and chances to hit on your profile are, more often than not, the only sort of damage you’ll do.
People won’t be sharing screen shots of the game either. As the hand drawn sprites are individually cool, the sum-of-their-parts areas they create are visually bland. The menus are basic and ugly. Character sprites are pretty one note no matter what gear you deck them out in. Monster sprites, on the other hand, look great and are easily the best visual elements in SFD.
As a whole package, Sigma Finite Dungeon feels like an illuminating, if unfinished, experiment. There is a very good set of basic tactical elements that make playing the game a good time. I just wish there was more here that would keep me playing for a long time, or a presentation that didn’t make me feel like I was QCing the thing instead of playing it.