How Metroidvania is it? . It is tough to rate this one, because the “Feel” is pretty spot on in a lot of aspects, but the procedural generation aspect proved to place a higher focus on combat over exploration in the end, I think. If I had a “Medium High Fit” rating, I’d give it that.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~10 hours
Review Info: Chasm was played on Steam.
Buy Chasm if you like…
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's control scheme
- Beautiful Pixel Art
- Randomly Generated Dungeons
▼ Review continues below ▼
This review is based on the game as of its 1.03 patch. It has not been updated for any subsequent patches at this time
My first exposure to Chasm was when I saw the store page about a year ago, just as I was beginning to recognize the flood of Metroidvania titles hitting the steam store. I was interested in the striking pixel art, but I did not look into much more about the game other than that. I simply added it to my wishlist and eventually my “to play” list once I decided to start the Metroidvania Review project. The reason I bring this up, is because based on some of the other reviews I get the impression there are a lot of “Metagame Politics” surrounding Chasm since it was a kickstarter and a 5 year hype train. I never boarded that train, and while I never claim that my reviews are completely free from bias (because that’s impossible), I at least have no biases resulting from following this game’s development. I went into the game with no prior expectations other than the inevitable feeling of caution that comes from noticing the “mixed” reviews that it was getting; I can’t be disappointed by something I didn’t demand anything from in the first place. With that said, I have definitely have some mixed feelings myself about this game. Chasm would have me setting off some fantastic fireworks celebrating its game design, but they’d be obscured by the game’s cumbersome ambitions.
When I had just begun Chasm, it excited me. As a fan of Castlevania, namely the recently coined “Igavania” style Castlevanias, the controls were immediately familiar to me. The default controller scheme is straight from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SOTN). The right and left face buttons are used for attacking, and the top face button executes the familiar backstep ability, which is still useless to me. Weapon options include a longsword that swings fast with a bit of lag afterwards, and just like its inspiration, you can cancel that lag with strategically timed jumps. In many ways the Knight from Chasm feels more fluid to control – I even loaded up SOTN briefly to be sure in my comparison. The Knight is shorter than Alucard, and more agile with his hitbox. I think that the controls might feel awkward to some people going in, especially if they expect the backstep dodge button to actually be something they’d want to use, but in terms of biases, I felt right at home with Chasm. Combat is slower paced, and there’s a much greater RPG-style focus on leveling up than any of the Igavanias had, but ultimately your own skill will trump any lacking differences-in-scale your stats might have.
When you start your game, you’re immediately notified about one of the game’s primary features – the procedural generation. You’re given the option to choose which seed you want to play; “Share with your friends” it recommends – which I think is great. Procedurally generated “Roguevania” isn’t anything new at this point, but this is the first time I’ve personally seen it done with a map that is permanently generated once for the entire playthrough, rather than randomized each time you enter the dungeon.
Procedural generation is never going to be as interesting as meticulous level design, but Chasm had me fooled at some points. There are enough rooms with platforming challenges and other mix-ups in the seed that it generally maintains a professional feel to it – from a strictly structural level design standpoint. I rarely felt completely lost in spite of the randomness. Point of interest markings on the map and the usual helps like the game marking doors you haven’t entered meant I had little issue finding my way back to areas I could access with new powers I found.
What excites me about the procedural generation is the idea that the “new” feeling you get from playing a fresh Metroidvania can be theoretically experienced every time you play. Chasm adopts the Igavania death mechanics where if you die, you lose it all. There aren’t any instant health drops as you traverse the dungeon’s depths, only the very occasional health item you have to use from the menu. This means if you’re not prepared and you’re careless, your precious health will slowly drain away until you have to start all over again from your last save. The result is a tense anxiety that every hit has to count, and this stress is amplified by not knowing where the next save point is. The balancing factor, and the joy of playing, comes from that sense of relief that you’ve finally hit a point of safety and success. Mind you, this is my experience from playing the game on Hard Mode – and I definitely think catching the vision of the advantages provided by the random level design is best realized by playing on a difficulty setting that challenges you.
With that said, there are a lot of things that bog Chasm down from achieving greatness. I mentioned before that procedural generation is never as interesting as meticulous level design; in Chasm it starts to fall apart when enemies are added into the mix. The enemies are actually good – really good in fact. The problem comes from the overly frequent long hallways with nothing in them but rows of enemies. When you’re introduced to a new enemy type, not knowing how to handle them is exciting. I keep my distance, bouncing back when they telegraph their attacks – all great traits of good combat design. But when you spend a few minutes in this dance and come and come out barely alive, it’s disheartening to see the exact same enemy 5 feet up the passage in a setup that does not require you to change your strategy at all. And when 5 feet later I see the same enemy again, and maybe even AGAIN, the novelty is crumpled up, stomped on, and thrown into a bin where it can ferment and color my perspective on the rest of the game. It seemed really redundant to me that they added an arena area later in the game where you fight wave after wave of enemies (in the often boring fashion that these arenas can have), because the level design so often has you doing that anyway. This is made even harder to stomach in the later sections of the game, where checkpoints become increasingly scarce, culminating in a final boss fight that had two hallways of enemies in them before I could face him. The combat in Chasm is good enough that there can still be joy found in continuing forward, but it certainly was testing the limits of my patience in repeating the same types of challenges, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for walking away at any point.
So maybe it would be better for some players to ignore the difficulty and try Chasm as a relaxing Metroidvania RPG. To me, the value then would come from the game’s story, but Chasm still isn’t winning any rewards for that. The opening is fine; you’re sent to the mine of a dying town alone because of dwindling government resources. It’s a good setup and explanation for why the King isn’t just sending an army to clear the mine instead, but there’s little effort in adding character and personality to the story beyond that point. Most of it is told through wall-of-text exposition dumps you find by reading the notes of an Archeologist, a pair of Thieves, and a few other Journal sources. One of the game’s features is seeking out and rescuing Townsfolk, and while they do have hints of personality, they lack the kind of charisma and character to make them feel like anything more than poorly done MMORPG-style quest taskmasters. It’s truly a lost opportunity, because getting me to care about the village could have been a driving force to push me past the more frustrating portions of the game. Even some simple dialog could have gone a long way to better deliver the game’s themes. You know, an exchange like “Die Monster! You don’t belong in this world!” followed by “It was not by my hand that I’m once again given flesh!”
Ultimately the story isn’t really that important, but looking at Chasm as a sort of Diablo 1 style take on Igavania RPGs brings me to my trademark nitpicking paragraphs where I talk about the game’s leveling system. The primary advantage of random level design is adding replay value, but unfortunately the variety of weapons, spells, and character options was almost not enough for me to enjoy a full single play through. In fact, Chasm has fewer character customization options than the first Igavania inspiration, SOTN. In SOTN you could equip two weapons at once as well as push Up+Attack for your heart items, and in addition you could perform secret streetfighter style inputs to cast spells. Chasm lets you equip one strength-based weapon, and one spell which basically functions as the heart item from SOTN. There were numerous times I wanted to use the one-two punch equip combo that I had in my previous playthroughs of SOTN, where I equip a big heavy weapon in my left slot, and a short-range fast damage-per-second damaging dagger in my right so I could use each weapon in its best circumstance, but alas it isn’t possible. More to the point though, SOTN isn’t meant to be replayed for any other reason than you just want to enjoy its meticulous non-random level design again.
Chasm has exactly two options for how to build your character – you can build up your INT to deal more damage with your spells, or you can build STR to deal more damage with your weapon. In practice though, because spell MP is so scarce, I really just ended up keeping a set of INT based gear on standby which I equipped at the beginning of boss fights only for as long as it took for me to expend all my MP, then I switched back to the standby strength gear to boost the weapon I’d have to resort to anyway. So the only thing that is going to change the way you play Chasm on any repeat play through is getting lucky and having enemies drop weapons or crafting items to get weapons that you haven’t used before. However, because you can only equip one weapon at a time, I was really only interested in equipping whatever weapon let me deal the most damage without putting me into danger. To make matters worse, you can’t even choose how your stats go up. When you level up, I assume it’s either random or it follows a set growth table. You can find items that raise your stats permanently, but that’s also random, leaving you to the whims of the RNG, or to restart your game until you get a favorable result. In other words, to build your character in any way that suits your chosen playstyle, you have to either be really lucky, or you have to grind it out and hope for the best.
Chasm would have really benefitted from a skill-tree system, or even just from copying a system from a later Igavania game – like something similar to Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow’s Tactical Soul system. The game has a crafting system, but it’s really just a shop that takes a different currency – and most of the equipment to be found there was trumped by stuff I found in the dungeon anyway. A crafting system where you upgrade your current weapon so that you can stick to the whip, claymore, or whatever suits your fancy would even be a step-up from the options Chasm gives. But, as usual, I call all this talk about the leveling system “nitpicking” because it’s really about making the game more interesting – and Chasm is actually still interesting without changing anything. However, I think that any value that the procedural generation could have added to Chasm is thwarted by not having enough character customization options. If the full package of replay value isn’t available from these kinds of options, then the randomized dungeon system only serves as a millstone holding the game back from being great.
While not great, Chasm is still good. If you go into it with the right expectations, I think it’s fair for me to recommend it. At the $20 price point, there is a host of other Metroidvania games that I’d recommend instead, but if a more muted and repetitive experience is what you want, it’s fine. There is a high chance that a lot of my complaints about lacking features will be rectified by developer updates over the next couple of years. Perhaps you might consider waiting until that happens before purchasing. Otherwise, if you’re curious right now, you could do worse than Chasm.
The controls are fluid and enemies and bosses are designed expertly. However, the repetitive nature of the level design bogs it down
The procedural seed has some great platforming sections mixed into them
In spite of the random dungeon generation, exploration is mostly intuitive and fun
The puzzles the game does have are simple ''Find the direct answer somewhere in the dungeon'' puzzles. One in particular sticks out as a chore if you happen to visit an answer room before realizing it's a puzzle
The setup is fine, and I like that the hero is just a guy with some conventional gear, but there is a lot of missed opportunity for greatness
The pixel art is beautiful to me, and certainly a highlight of the game
The music is very catchy and ambient, but it's nothing special in terms of melody
Almost great - if character building was actually interesting the random dungeons could provide infinite hours of ''New'' metroidvania exploration
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