“You’re the chosen one!” That phrase has to sound familiar to most of you reading this. Whether it’s discovering that you’re the Dragonborn, being telepathically called into action by Princess Zelda, or finding out that you have the ability to summon a giant key-shaped sword at will, chances are that you’ve been told a fair number of times that your character is special. That, be it by fate or happenstance, you’re destined to save the world. That you’re the chosen one. It’s one of the oldest video game tropes around – and it’s been used more times than I could hope to count – but it’s most definitely here to stay. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s also the very trope that The Swords of Ditto revolves around – but it handles things in a rather unique way.
I wouldn’t quite call The Swords of Ditto a “deconstruction” of the “chosen one” trope, but it certainly unravels it a bit. Rather than showering the player with accolades for being chosen, The Swords of Ditto instead haphazardly (and literally) barges into the room, and begins yelling at you to save the world in three days. Of course, that’s not enough time to do everything that you need to, but this game doesn’t care. Three days is all you’ve got, and you had darn well make sure that it works. On top of that, the game also makes it very clear that you as the hero are playing second fiddle to your chosen weapon. And it’s exactly that serious-yet-satirical approach to its own gameplay (among several other things) that makes The Swords of Ditto so enjoyable.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone
The Swords of Ditto features a narrative of few words (although its actual cast of characters could talk your ears off). Dwelling within the quirky island of Ditto is an evil witch known as Mormo. Being an evil witch and all, Mormo has but one goal; total domination of Ditto. And you can bet that she has the power to reach that goal, too. Fortunately, her reign of terror isn’t something set in stone. Every 100 years, a young hero is chosen to wield the mystical Sword of Ditto in order to defeat Mormo. Should the hero be victorious, 100 years of peace is assured. Should the hero fall, however, then Mormo’s got an entire century to do as she pleases.
Saving Ditto from what essentially amounts to 100 years of torture is kind of a big deal. Because of that you would assume that the hero would get plenty of time to prepare. But, as I’ve already said, we’re not dealing with the likes of Link or Sora here. Instead of giving each would-be hero plenty of time, Puku – a literal floating dung beetle, and the entity responsible for guiding chosen ones toward the Sword of Ditto – instead decides that a little under half a week is enough prep time. You know those montages in shows where the main character wakes up, looks at the clock and says “crap, I’m late!”, and frantically attempts to get through their morning routine so they can get to wherever they’re going on time? That’s basically the running theme of The Swords of Ditto’s narrative. And honestly, I kind of dig it.
It’s easy to take things at face value with this game, but there’s a surprising amount of story-related content if you take the time to dig a little deeper. The overall tone of the game itself is affected by your performance (people tend to get mad when you let a crazy witch rule their lives), and there’s plenty of lore to uncover (albeit at random, to be fair). It can take a while to get into the more serious parts of the game’s narrative due to how it plays out, but it’s definitely worth it in my opinion. Especially once you finally begin piecing everything together.
So Much to do…
The Swords of Ditto’s gameplay is easy enough to sum up. It’s basically a top-down, roguelike Legend of Zelda with a time limit. And no, I’m not talking about anything like Majora’s Mask. You actually want the timer to hit zero – that’s when you get to fight the last boss. …You just need to make sure that you’re prepared, first. And therein lies the challenge.
A major part of The Swords of Ditto’s charm stems from the fact that you’re basically free to do as you see fit. And boy, are there a lot of things to do. The most basic course of action is, as I’m sure you all know, simply exploring – something which could be considered a reward in itself thanks to the game’s incredibly charming visuals and swanky soundtrack. Due to its procedural generation, the island of Ditto undergoes immense changes with each new run. And with each new run, there are new places to discover. Scattered throughout the island are a number of unique locations. Not surprisingly, Ditto ends up being pretty packed with dungeons to explore (more on that later). Even more interesting however, at least in my opinion, are the numerous facilities that you can stumble upon.
Strewn about Ditto’s many iterations are a number of unique facilities and structures that the player can potentially come across. Some of these, such as the blacksmith, are fairly straightforward and don’t require much thinking on the player’s part. And, while those were nice and all, I was personally drawn to Ditto’s more unique structures. An ancient structure that claims it can turn back time in exchange for a mysterious currency. A (seemingly) sentient altar that demands sacrifices. What exactly do these things do? And just how am I supposed to get them to work in my favor? As much as I liked the straightforward “Zelda-ness” that this game is primarily comprised of, I couldn’t help but be especially drawn to its more cryptic elements. Mystery has always been an important part of roguelikes, and The Swords of Ditto has that aspect down pat.
…So Little Time
Of course, it’s not just about what you decide to do, but how you decide to do it. It’s safe to say that time is definitely not on your side in this game (pun intended). There are lots of things to do, but almost never enough time to do them all. Ultimately, this puts the player in a panicked rush from the very get-go, forcing them to adapt to both the gameplay and the unique curveballs thrown at the player within each run. Fortunately, the player isn’t destined to stay in this panicked frenzy forever. After a few rounds (and a little bit of luck), The Swords of Ditto does open up a way to extend your time. And, although the game is still fun in the beginning, the ability to give yourself some breathing room makes things so much better.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite give character progression the same praise. As with most roguelikes, there isn’t much that gets transferred between runs. Outside of your character level (which doesn’t matter quite as much as you’d expect) and a scant few key items and events, everything gets reset. Being the diehard Binding of Isaac fan that I am, I’m used to having to start from scratch. But The Binding of Isaac and The Swords of Ditto are two entirely different things. Unlike with most roguelikes, a single playthrough of Ditto can take anywhere from 1 – 4 hours. That’s a lot of time and effort to put into a single playthrough. As much as I enjoyed this game, I generally wound up doing only one or two playthroughs per session, just because I found how much the game took away from me at the end – win or lose – somewhat disheartening.
As I’ve already said, you can pretty much do what you want in The Swords of Ditto. But that doesn’t mean that you should. Although there are plenty of things that you can do before fighting with The Wicked Witch of whatever direction Ditto is located in, the most advantageous thing that you can do is to destroy physical manifestations of Mormo’s power known as “Anchors”. Mormo’s Anchors aren’t just lying out in the open, though. They’re hidden at the bottom of giant dungeons. Giant dungeons that are, not surprisingly, filled with traps, puzzles, and monsters galore. Oh, you also can’t just waltz into those dungeons as you please. Before even attempting to destroy an Anchor, you must first acquire the proper Toy of Legend (Ditto’s version of sub-weapons). And those, of course, are hidden away in a dungeon all of their own.
The all-important dungeons populating The Swords of Ditto are unique in that their strengths and weaknesses both stem from the same thing; their procedural generation. On one hand, procedural generation means near-limitless dungeons. This is further enhanced by the fact that the procedural generation isn’t so lazy that it only switches a few rooms around or adds in an extra monster here and there. Each new dungeon actually feels unique. Ditto does a great job overall varying dungeon layout as much as possible. I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten even close to playing the same dungeon twice.
On the other side, procedural generation also means a general lack of ingenuity. While I can safely say that each dungeon is unique, none of them have ever particularly stood out. Because roguelike games essentially “design themselves”, this means that extra-tricky dungeon segments are typically a no-go. As much as I like the constant aroma of that “new dungeon smell”, I’m also aware of the fact that I’m doing the same things over and over. “New” and “unique”, sadly, are not the same thing.
The Swords of Ditto isn’t entirely free of flaws, but those it does have are largely overshadowed by its better characteristics. Between its classically inspired gameplay, whimsical story, and charmingly cartoonish graphics, chances are you’ll most likely find at least one thing about this game to like. If you’re a fan of roguelikes, or are just looking for a game that’s relatively easy to pick up and play — whether alone or with a friend — then this one’s probably for you.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 ; Publisher: Devolver Digital ; Developer: onebitbeyond ; Players: 1 – 2 ; Released: April 24, 2018 ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of The Swords of Ditto given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher