Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos has a long and somewhat wacky name, but that is intentional as the game is based on the goofy band of heroes from the universe of the same name. This tactics game is a lot of fun, in large part because the story never takes itself too seriously but the tactical RPG gameplay is fundamentally very sound as well.
The oddball humor here struck the perfect balance for me. The voice acting does a nice job of making characters sound very natural despite the frequent hijinks, but the names of skills, items and enemies provided me with a lot of moments where I simply laughed aloud. The comedy might not be for everyone as a lot of people want dark and serious stories, but it’s well enough done here that The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos shouldn’t be dismissed just because it puts such a focus on humor.
Initially, the game can be a bit challenging. Boss encounters provide most of the difficulty throughout the game, and you’re ill-equipped to handle them and some of the tougher enemies right off of the bat. The difficulty spike is probably one of the things that seems the most off to me, as it was fair but challenging to start, but once I started earning some skills and getting better gear, I found almost all of the rest of the game (outside of a couple of specific boss battles) to be pretty breezy.
As for the game’s premise, it has less focus on the overall storyline (though there is one with plenty of side quests to occupy your time as well), and more to do with misfit cast of party members. They are all exactly the kind of trope-heavy, stereotypical characters one would expect – just ramped up to an eleven out of 10. The Ogre is every bit as stupid as you would think, while the Barbarian’s pummel-first and ask questions later attitude is equally dense. The grumpy dwarf shares his thoughts about almost everything and certainly has opinions about the elf, while the Magician is book smart but not necessarily street-smart and so on. You can potentially add another member to your team through the game’s various side adventures as well, which seldom seem important in and of themselves, but provide plenty of experience, loot and laughs along the way.
The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos humor might be the most defining characteristic, but the core gameplay mechanics are quite sound as well. They are seldom surprising, but they are well done and the combat – which is where you spend most of your time – is satisfying. I am a tremendous fan of SRPGs, and that’s what we have here. At its core, you move around the field of battle, making attacks, with heavy influences based on which direction your character is facing and pulling heavily from Dungeons & Dragons in terms of who combat works out. You are in control of several characters from the get-go, which definitely makes things a little more interesting and complex compared to many strategy games that let you sort of dip your toes in the water with a character or two, introducing new characters (and by extension new classes) along the way. That lends itself to the early challenges, but also the game’s more unique elements during combat. The characters all have their strengths and weaknesses, but they have some unique traits that make the strategy elements more compelling as a result.
The actual elements of progression are a bit more of a mixed bag. I enjoyed the overall pacing of the game – I didn’t often feel like there was a lot of unnecessary padding or backtracking, which is a common way for RPGs to lengthen their gameplay in a fluff-filled kind of way. I appreciated that not being the case here. However, character progression is a bit less stellar. It’s not bad – but the gameplay is so heavily focused on whether or not the RNGods favor you or not, that I found myself sinking most of my development points into agility just to make sure they hit more often than not.
After that I leveraged intelligence or strength (depending on the unit) to elevate base damage and… the rest of the stats just don’t prove to be all that interesting. Courage is helpful in trying to get your order of operation sorted out, but I felt like all of my builds were a bit same-y by the end of my adventure. You can get a few pieces of gear slapped onto your characters as well, and that helps to boost their stats, but it’s not a terribly deep equipment system. That said, I appreciated some of the smaller touches, like how changing equipment does change character appearances. The ogre’s Shrek-like use of pans and pots as armor is just one example where humor meets the visual touches rather nicely.
If The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos was content just to tell a goofy story with a bunch of charming humor, it would have been a pretty solid offering. However, this is also a very solid tactics / RPG hybrid that offers a really fresh take on a very familiar genre. The humor and the pacing of the combat probably won’t appeal to everyone, but consider me a huge fan as I hope from some continued hijinks in a future sequel.Score: 8.5 / 10