- Lunacid is a first-person indie dungeon crawler developed by Akuma Kira.
- Lunacid emphasizes on the qualities of FromSoftware titles like Shadow Tower and King’s Field.
- FromSoftware’s older titles contrast wildly with their newer titles like Sekiro and Elden Ring.
Very few developers in the industry have maintained a pedigree as strong as FromSoftware. A studio that has not only stood strong in the face of rapidly shifting industry norms but one that has also evolved and honed its craft to an exponential degree. It is of no surprise to anyone that the studio’s rise can be attributed to their Souls series creating a dedicated and passionate community of millions of fans.
Before Elden Ring, before Dark Souls, even before Demon’s Souls. Besides Armored Core, FromSoftware was also known (or more so less known) for its work on slow-paced first-person dungeon crawlers such as King’s Field and Shadow Tower. Games that eventually laid the foundation for the Souls series we know and love.
While many consider those games outdated (and to an extent they are), the atmosphere of these games is truly unmatched even to this day. I will mostly be talking about Shadow Tower here — particularly its sequel, Shadow Tower Abyss — as that is the only one I have played of their classic dungeon crawlers.
Immediately upon starting Shadow Tower Abyss, you get a taste of how the game expects you to play. I imagine almost every player will die immediately upon starting the game thanks to a pillar that falls on your face just after you start walking forward. In any other game, this might be considered bad game design but the way FromSoftware executes these sorts of trips borders on slapstick comedy.
These sorts of moments offer much-needed humor in many of their games, and it’s particularly nice here because you’re going to need that sort of levity because Shadow Tower is a dark and scary game.
It is easy to forget with their recent titles but FromSoftware has always had a history with horror games thanks to titles such as Echo Night and even a pure survival horror game in the form of Kuon. It is why they can so effectively create terrifying such as the Tower of Latria from Demon’s Souls, Lower Cathedral Ward from Bloodborne, and Ainsel River from Elden Ring.
Nowhere is From’s horror background more apparent than Shadow Tower Abyss, which can border on pure terror as you explore its dark, cavernous dungeons illuminated by nothing but a small torch. Shadow Tower does a fantastic job setting up these intense, terrifying situations. Putting you in the shoes of an adventurer scouring through these uncharted lands while solving mysteries and uncovering its secrets.
FromSoftware has always had a history with horror games.”
There is a rising anxiety to this exploration, looking through the eyes of your character, the fear is magnified knowing that anything could jump at you in this pitch-black darkness. It is when you realize that these people know what the hell they are doing.
Combat is simple too, rather, it takes a backseat in order to let the exploration take center stage. Difficulty instead comes from being aware of your surroundings and paying attention to environmental hints that tell you how to deal with threats.
While Demon’s Souls was a slow-paced dungeon crawler-esque title with a focus on cautious exploration and methodical, as the series has gone on the focus has shifted more and more towards brutal action-game style bosses and fast reflex-heavy combat. That’s not to say the newer games don’t reward exploration, but it is clear that priorities changed in between the games.
When playing Lunacid, the latest game by Akuma Kira, the person also behind the indie horror hit Lost in Vivo, there is a point where while exploring a relatively relaxing dungeon, you approach what looks like the entrance to a seemingly bottomless pit. As you get closer the music stops playing, there is a message right next to it telling you to turn back, but as you continue exploring, you realize jumping into the pit is the only option.
This was the beginning of my descent into hell.
The fall into the pit felt like forever, yet it wasn’t that deep. The rocky intestines of the pit felt endless, yet they weren’t that complex. The surrounding bricks entombed me in nothing but pitch-black darkness. I equipped my torch and I started moving forward, excited but equally cautious to see what waited for me.
I stumbled upon a crypt, riddled with corpses alluding to the existence of a possible civilization in this dark, damp hole in the ground. Moving through the crypt, a solemn noise escapes from the moody music, just barely perceptible enough to stand out from the track itself. I ignore it and I keep moving forward. I enter a wide hallway, the noise shows itself once again, I move forward, and then…
There is a rising anxiety to this exploration.
Panic strikes, I collide with what is seemingly just “air”, and then I start taking damage. I smack the air to reveal the health bar of a monster I cannot see. My attack does not do any damage, I run. In my frantic escape to find a way out, I enter a small room with various creepy paintings decorated on the wall. I approach the painting, big mistake. The paintings come to life and start attacking.
I shamble across the crypt armed with nothing but a torch desperately looking for a way out until I find a small alcove in a room. “Thank God” I exclaim to myself as I enter the alcove. It leads to a narrow, maze-like cave. I once again stumble through the cave looking for the next way to progress until it dawns on me…
I have made a horrible mistake…
The narrow cave-like maze is swarmed with these horrid, horse-head demons that chase you around and scream at you, slowly and slowly sapping your health down until nothing is left. I attack, but it does no damage, so I frantically run from the enemies, dodging the ones in front of me and frequently looking behind me to see if I am still being chased (I am). I finally make my way into a new area and breathe a sigh of relief as I finally see that faint, crimson glow.
It’s a save point! I save the game and I also discover a shortcut immediately after. There’s also a door leading to a new area, a sanguine blood-soaked river (lovingly called the Sanguine River), but just as I begin to venture out into another level, an itch stays in the back of my mind … I never explored all of the crypt or the caves.
I turn back, I know that my return into the crypt means venturing back into that cave all over again, and so I do. I open my inventory and I equip a new sword I got while I was running away from the monsters in the cave, said to be infused with holy light and belonging to a vampire hunter.
My second trek into the cave is still scary but less so now that I know what to expect. I see the monsters again, I try attacking them with my new sword to see what happens. Voila! it works, the sword vanquishes the monsters with ease. Throughout my trek, I stumble upon various locked doors, chained by bars worn down with rust yet sturdy enough to hold onto whatever secrets they kept like an oath.
As you get closer the music stops playing, there is a message right next to it telling you to turn back”
Once I find a way to open the bars, I stumble into a dark mausoleum but…it feels different. Every other area I have mentioned up to now was scary and creepy sure, but there was something different about the mausoleum. For one, there was no music. The only sound I could hear was the sound of my own footsteps reverberating throughout the room and the crackling sound of my burning torch.
Fighting my way through skeletons and stumbling through another bizarre maze, I explored through the mausoleum picking up rare items and upgrades until suddenly …
Rarely has a video game left me as frozen and helpless in fear as this one single message appearing on the screen out of nowhere. I finally realize why the area had no music because the music heralds the arrival of the reaper himself coming to take your soul. I run, helpless and desperate, and eventually … the Reaper catches up and takes my soul for himself.
That was the conclusion of one of the most intense and engaging 3 hours I have ever spent in a video game to date. It reminded me of the highlights of many of From’s older titles, with simpler combat with a higher emphasis on the fantasy of exploring an uncharted land that you don’t know anything about. It reminded me of the first time I ventured into the Tower of Latria, desperate and helpless.
I have to add that I do not believe that FromSoftware games are “worse” or “better” than they used to be. FromSoftware is one of the few developers that have perfected a formula that breaks past conventional game design wisdom while being accessible to a wide variety of players. That is arguably what also separates many of their older titles from their newer ones.
Lunacid emphasizes the qualities that made those older FromSoftware games feel special, and in doing so creates one of the most compelling games of 2023. It is a game that deserves to be played by every single person who loves modern FromSoftware games, maybe one day it might result in games like King’s Field and Shadow Tower gaining popularity once again.
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