I’ll be honest, I had to think about this one for a really, really, really long time.
There are some games that strike you as meme or joke games, right? Everyone saw Untitled Goose Game and had a good laugh about it, but it is genuinely a great game with some unique mechanics — like many novelty pieces, it’s just a bit short.
Then there are games that strike you as general sprite-based RPG games, such as Final Fantasy VI. Of course, there’s always room for surprise stand outs when it comes to RPG Maker, like To The Moon and Rakuen, but it’s usually enemy here, attack there, etc.
And then there’s games with dozens upon dozens of characters — loads of moving pieces — Pokemon immediately comes to mind, with the original generation officially featuring 151 to collect (152 in our hearts, though).
So what do Untitled Goose Game, Final Fantasy VI, and Pokemon have in common?
Not much, to be honest, except that if you took some of the best elements from them, you’d pretty much have I Have Low Stats But My Class Is “Leader”, So I Recruited Everyone I Know To Fight The Dark Lord, a comedy RPG available on Steam where you play 99 characters at the same time.
The premise is simple — it’s your 18th birthday, and that means it’s time to get out there and fulfill your destiny, which is, naturally, to defeat the Dark Lord. What, your parents did it already, it can’t be that hard, right?
Except, well, you have low stats. But! Your class is leader, right? So maybe you can recruit some help in your battle against this fated foe.
Or like, all the help.
All. The Help.
All of it.
That’s right — instead of grinding forever to get your stats up, the solo indie developer, Cannibal Interactive, completely turned the extremely tired RPG mechanic on its head and allowed players to coerce the entire town to fight with them right from the get-go, forcing strategy above monotony.
You’ll start in the comforts of your own home, ready to leave on your grandest adventure yet. Of course, upon saying your goodbyes, you’ve learned your grandfather has lost his hat, and that simply won’t do! So, before you set off, you’ll have to find his hat… and some travel buddies, naturally. Players will pick up every class style imaginable, from wizards and warriors to secretaries and succubi. Even a cat will join in on the journey!
After recruiting literally every townsperson possible, you’ll find grandpa’s hat; as a reward, the bald barber will take up arms with your crew, and the whole village sets off with you to fulfill destiny.
Unlike other RPGs of this feel, the only exploring you’ll be doing is in the town — once you begin your journey, the not-so-open world transitions from exploring every nook and cranny to a more linear path like a Super Mario Bros. game, where each region has a set number of levels which you must complete before moving on. Some of those levels are puzzles, like helping a scatterbrained magicks teacher collect ingredients to create potions, while others are more traditional RPG fights where some or all of your party members must do battle. There’s also the option to flee, which I tremendously appreciate.
The level diversity is absolutely delightful, with each one absolutely teeming with its own individual personality. Just when you think the battles are going to become tired and predictable, like fighting a ghost or a scorned lover, the game throws a twist, like a hair-cutting competition or a rival hero wearing magical garments that slowly kill him before you can. Just like the tongue-twister title, there’s definitely a lot going on here.
As for the battles themselves, they do have your standard RPG elements, but again completely rethink them in a dramatically new way. There are regular attacks and items, as per usual, but there are some fresh additions to the skills section — instead of just having your cliche elemental magic and leaving it at that, there’s also occupational, financial, piercing, slashing, legal, shameful, honorable, and what feels like a million more damage types. Don’t get me wrong, the elemental damages are still there — ice, fire, and the rest are spells and skills that mages will have — but these typical skill types are set against some really unique new additions, something that is really rare to see in such games and lends itself really well to the notion that the entire town is fighting.
The writing is really, really clever and very deep for what feels like a quaint little game. There’s a world-building aspect to it that takes tired cliches in a RPG society we normally take for granted and explains them away — for example, the class system. One character I spoke with talked about the difficulties of changing your class and some of the challenges she’s faced when deciding her future, but then pensively adds that it’s different for our main character, whose class was chosen at birth. The game didn’t just hint at a standard fantasy world, it structured it. It framed it in, providing much-needed parameters that didn’t rely on face-value tropes. It was such a flavorful explosion of freshness packed in the space of two or three dialog boxes per tasty morsel, and I couldn’t wait to get my fill of the wonderful twist this game offered.
I would not be surprised if the developer didn’t have a backstory for absolutely every character in the game, and I certainly felt that with each team member I collected. I think my favorite is the Gunner character who fell through a wormhole and ended up in this alternate universe where the world is mythical instead of mechanical, and he’s just running with it, because why not? Every single character has something like this, and every single level just dives head first into party dynamics — someone’s a prankster, someone’s far too serious, someone’s scared easily — just like RPGs of days gone by used to. Each level was a charming little taste of what SNES RPGs were like, and it was so delightful to experience that all over again.
I found myself yearning for one thing throughout this game, and that was some sort of indicator in battle that helped me distinguish classes between each other. While each class was well-defined and each character well-written, it was somewhat painstaking to go through all 99 characters to find a specific damage type; for example, in the hair-cutting level, you’re only allowed to use slashing attacks to cut your customer’s hair. This clever concept could have shown through better if the battle didn’t ultimately play like every one that preceded it — pressing the left arrow to move between characters, searching their skillset for a very particular (and in some cases, seemingly rare) attack, then using it until their focus (mana) drains, only to lather, rinse, repeat.
I’m not knocking the tediousness of the battles, mind you — even in those moments the tedium hearkened back to a bygone era — but if I could, at a glance, tell classes apart, it would help me strategize better and faster. The human brain likes to put like things together, and I was really missing that here when there’s a clear opportunity to do so by skill types. It’s my only complaint, but it’s such a major part of the game that it weighs heavier than it normally would.
Everything else about I Have Low Stats But My Class Is “Leader”, So I Recruited Everyone I Know To Fight The Dark Lord is honestly delightful — the music is superb and really fitting of the title, there’s a massive amount of sprite diversity, and the fighting strategy is easy to learn but hard to master. But where this game absolutely shines is how it’s removed two really tired mechanics — grinding and random encounters — and found really creative ways to compensate for their obvious lack. Instead of several characters progressively getting stronger, it’s the entire town just doing their best and finding even better ways to work with each other; random battles fed into that grinding nonsense, so the developer had the keen insight to drop them entirely, and instead used battles to show party dynamics and personality. It’s really something special.
I may not remember the exact title of this game without looking it up, and I definitely won’t remember every single character’s name, but what I will remember is how I felt when I played this incredibly creative gem — I was delighted by the uniqueness of the mechanics and pleasantly surprised by the world-building it offered, but most importantly, I felt like I did as a kid when I would first get a sprite-based RPG — thinking every single person was important, remembering moves, dynamics, and trying to make sense of a completely new system, wondering if this was the standard going forward. The developer proved with every pixel that they understand to the core what sprite-based RPGs were supposed to be and lovingly added this fascinating twist, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Cannibal Interactive; Developer: Cannibal Interactive; Players: 1; Released: October 29, 2019; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of I Have Low Stats But My Class Is “Leader”, So I Recruited Everyone I Know To Fight The Dark Lord given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.