Oh, Unholy Night
Some of you out there might be asking yourselves why I’m reviewing Cthulhu Saves Christmas right now. It’s only the beginning of November, after all. That’s a fair enough question, I suppose. But to those of you saying that, I have but one question to throw back at you; has it being November ever stopped anyone else from decking the halls early? I think not! Also, this just happens to be when we got a copy of the game, and it’s not good practice to wait around for almost two months before you review something just so you can make it topical.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the more important questions, like, for example, whether or not Cthulhu Saves Christmas is any good. As it turns out, it is! Despite it regrettably being too short for my liking, I can still say that I had fun with it. It’s got classic RPG action, unique battle mechanics that are neat for the most part, and, of course, that unique brand of humor that many of us have come to appreciate thanks to Cthulhu Saves the World.
Not a Creature Was Stirring, Not Even a G̷͙̩̾͋̔́̑̍̊̑̅r̴̨͚̟̘͈̝̉̽̐̈́̐͌e̶͖͋̆͛̍̕a̴̧̦̦͔̮͔̘̘̯̍͊̏t̶̢͓̞͖̒̋͛ ̴̛̺̜̖̟̗͓̗̠̓Ȯ̸̬̯̈́͝l̵̡̖̓͛̈́͑̑̿̔̕͝d̵̛̗̯̦̃̈́͝ ̶̫͙͉̘̦͇̞̇͌Ö̴̟̠̜̰͈͕́̎̂͒͊n̸̢̧̤̥͉͕̻͉̰̋͘e̷̛͚͙͆̇̐͂
Cthulhu Saves Christmas‘ story follows none other than the tentacled terror himself, having just awakened from his slumber to find a beautiful Christmas present left on his table. Eager to find out what’s inside, Cthulhu opens to the present to find… a mysterious force that robs him of almost all of his power (surprise, surprise). Angry at having been robbed of what’s rightfully his, our ironic protagonist soon finds out that this thievery was pulled off by an ominous group called the League of Christmas Evil—and, on top of that, they’ve captured Santa Claus in order to prevent Christmas from ever arriving! Of course, Cthulhu couldn’t care less about saving St. Nick, but, unfortunately for him, he’s going to have to if he wants his world-destroying abilities back. So, with an ever-expanding group of rag-tag partners in tow, ‘ol octopus-beard sets off to save the world… by saving Christmas.
It would be a lie to say that this game has no plot, because it absolutely does. But it isn’t the plot itself that allows this game’s story to shine, but the way in which it’s delivered. Much like its predecessor (which is also its sequel), Cthulhu Saves Christmas very heavily relies upon comedy to progress its narrative. Now, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I’m not incredibly picky when it comes to comedy-based plots. A lot of the time they feel very forced, which, at least in my opinion, ultimately detracts from the story.
That wasn’t an issue with Cthulhu Saves Christmas, though. While there were a few eye-rollers in there, the game’s comedic presentation was on-point most of the time, with the narrative doing a great job with comedic pacing. Jokes weren’t simply thrown into bits of dialogue for the sake of cheap, shock-value humor. Instead, they appear to have plenty of thought put behind them—which is especially impressive given how they don’t initially give that vibe off. It’s nice to see that, even after all of these years, Zeboyd has still got the magic touch.
Deck the Dungeons
Cthulhu Saves Christmas could best be described as a minimalistic approach to the traditional JRPG, as the game, despite having all of the same trimmings as many old-school JRPGs (plus more!), can be beaten in about 5 – 7 hours even when playing casually. The bulk of the gameplay takes place within the game’s dungeons, of which there are slightly over half a dozen. In terms of visual design, each dungeon is great; they’re all visually unique from one another and have all been given an impressive amount of detail.
Unfortunately, appearance is about the best thing that they’ve got going for them, as these tiny explorable areas barely qualify as dungeons when compared to most other games. There are only a few rooms to each, battles can be skipped entirely if you know what you’re doing, and, aside from a few treasure chests strewn about, they’re entirely linear. They’re not bad, per se, but they’re not exactly good, either; a shame, considering how much creativity has gone into other parts of the game.
Deck the Enemi—Oh, Wait, I Already Used that Pun
Hopefully you like your JRPGs with lots of battling, because that’s what you’ll be doing for about 90% of the game (unless you decide to skip them for whatever weird reason). Despite taking a tried-and-true turn-based approach, Cthulhu Saves Christmas‘ many skirmishes are hardly what you’d call “traditional.” This is primarily due to how the party members work. Ditching almost entirely the usages of staple commands like “Attack,” “Magic,” and “Defend,”(“Item” is still in place, though!) Cthulhu Saves Christmas‘ characters fight using a TCG-esque system. Players are able to freely pick from one of eight available moves during each character’s turn—with moves being character-specific—and are unable to use said move again without using the character’s recharge move.
The TCG elements don’t stop there, though! While players are able to equip some commands to their characters, ensuring that they’ll be there at the beginning of each battle, each character also has 3 “Insanity Ability” slots, with all moves in said slots being chosen at random. Insanity moves draw from a special pool consisting of not only unequipped moves, but special insanity-only moves—most of which are flat-out better than the ones that you can equip. What’s more, insanity abilities are redrawn each time you recharge, meaning that you can’t ever reliably use any of them for the long-term.
Despite how random they are, I actually think that insanity abilities are a neat idea. Having to rely on luck to get good abilities can be a bit trying at times, but the fact that they’re so strong balances out for that. I don’t think that including this mechanic on top of making everything else single-use was the best way to go, however. It works well with attack-focused characters like Cthulhu and Belsnickle, but Crystal, a healer, and Baba Yaga, a magic-user and ailment specialist, are a little frustrating to use due to having to waste time recharging so much.
Although it’s not quite as prominent as the card-based battle system, Cthulhu Saves Christmas also finds a way to be unique through the clever use of insanity. Cthulhu himself has a few particularly special attacks in his bag of tricks that inflict the special status ailment “insane.” Aside from making enemies more terrifying looking, insane enemies gain and lose resistances to certain status ailments, take bonus Dark damage, and, most importantly, flip-flop their weaknesses and resistances! I can’t help but feel that this is the way to implement special character abilities—insanity is important enough that it can quickly help you gain the edge in battle, but not so important that you need to rely on it.
I am Thou, Thou Art I
Squiddly Diddly’s latest adventure may be largely inspired by old-school JRPGs, but it manages to include something that a lot of modern JRPGs have as well. That’s right, I’m talking about building up relationships with your fellow party members—or, as this game calls them, “R’lyehtionships.” No need to worry about them being overly complicated, though; despite the ridiculous spelling, R’lyehtionships are very easy to manage.
Between each dungeon, players will have a handful of days to visit places in town or spend time with their allies. This, in turn, gives the party access to a bevy of useful equipment and items (as well as funny cutscenes). While certain activities give better items, there really isn’t a wrong way to force Cthulhu into participating in social activities—it’s a fun, unobtrusive, and useful mechanic that feels like a very natural addition to the rest of the game.
Ho, Ho, Ho, to R’lyeh and Back We Go!
Cthulhu Saves Christmas is a fun game with great dialogue, a combat system that’s more hit than miss, and an overall amount of content that’s way too short for its own good. If you’re hungry for some JRPG action, appreciate a well-written comedic story, and don’t mind something that’s a quick burn, this is definitely something that you’ll want to pick up this holiday season. Or, you know, sometime in November. Whatever works for you.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC; Publisher: Limited Run Games; Developer: Zeboyd Games; Players: 1; Released: October 28, 2020 (Switch); ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Cthulhu Saves Christmas given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.