Published on October 1st, 2014 | by John Rairdin0
The Keep (3DS) Review
The Keep showed up on the eShop with no large fanfare, apparently content to sit in its corner waiting to be discovered. It does quite a lot right and yet in a few places stumbles over its own ambition. But for those who take the gamble on this mysterious game, a surprising amount of adventure awaits.
An evil wizard has constructed a large tower over a crystal mine. These crystals are the key to his magic and he is using them to become more and more powerful. As any wandering adventurer would, you decide its your duty to purge the tower of the evil wizard and return peace to the world. While the story is cheesy and generic, its well told. The game features full voice acting throughout both the cinematic and during gameplay. Even signs on the wall are read aloud by the protagonist. The acting isn’t exactly Oscar worthy but its nice to see that the developers went the extra mile.
This Keep is based on late 80’s/early 90’s, JRPG, first person dungeon crawlers combined with the real time combat more common of western RPGs such as elder scrolls. If your having trouble keeping track of all those sub genres in your head don’t feel ashamed. The Keep draws from a wide variety of classic RPG influences and combines them into a very interesting experience. You play from a first person perspective as you wander through the mazelike floors of the tower. You move one grid at a time making the game feel like a modern update of a game like Shining in the Darkness. The mazes are filled with weighted switches, trap doors, gates, and levers that lead to some fairly engaging puzzles. The halls of these dark mazes are also filled with a variety of enemies. In fact every level of The Keep feels like its introducing some large new concept. Whether its a new enemy that requires different tactics to defeat or some new puzzle element, the game feels continuously fresh.
While for the most part this game’s ambition leads to some great experiences, there are some spots in which it would seem that the developers bit off a little more than they could chew. The game’s combat is operated via the touch screen. The player is presented with a 3×3 grid through which they can draw a line to swing their sword. Different enemies are weak in different spots meaning that you’ll need to do a lot of experimenting to deal with enemies most effectively. The problem is that every swing of your weapon uses up a huge portion of your stamina which takes a very long time to recharge, meaning that if you don’t finish off the enemy within the first three or four swings its most likely game over. On top of that the touch screen often times has trouble recognizing your swings if you don’t move at exactly the right speed. All this leads to combat feeling like a gamble even against the weakest enemies. The one other area in which the game runs into trouble is in the absence of an auto-save. This game isn’t easy and you will die a lot. Realizing after you’ve been killed that you haven’t saved since the start of the level is a painfully disappointing feeling. I understand if this was maintained in order to stay true to the game’s source material but handheld games are often played in short play sessions. Making a player feel like the entire play session was worthless isn’t a great design choice. This is something that was excusable in old PC and console RPGs but not on a handheld.
Magic is handled in a similar way to combat though for some reason the magic grid seems much more responsive. Spells are created by activating various tokens in sequence. The strategy comes in when you realize that you can organize the magic grid such that a single token can fit into multiple spells. Its a delightfully complex system that is very rewarding if you take the time to figure it out.
The Keep does a very nice job of interpreting those early pseudo-3D dungeon crawlers into true 3D on the 3DS. While its not pushing the hardware to its limits the game looks nice and smooth. Getting a game that looks this nice for such a low price is a rarity on the 3DS eShop. The Keep sets a high visual standard that future 3DS RPGs will have to work hard to meet.
One area in which I love to be impressed is the sound. I feel like its something a lot of developers take for granted and therefore they don’t put in as much effort as they do with the game’s visuals. Without a good soundtrack your game will not have any atmosphere. Luckily for me, The Keep is not one of those games. The Keep’s music is hard to define beyond it just being really good. It fits the game perfectly. Its not so busy as to distract you from the gameplay but also isn’t so contained as to be buried by it. It reminds me of many of the great PC games of the 90’s. This game oozes atmosphere. As I mentioned earlier the game also features full voice acting, which only adds to the great atmosphere this game creates.
The Keep is not a game for everyone. But if you have a hankering for a very specific type of RPG and don’t mind taking the time to learn some odd combat systems, The Keep might be just what you need. This game is destined to go down as one of the eShop’s greatest hidden gems.
Just don’t forget to save… frequently.
Review copy provided by Cinemax
Summary: A true hidden gem of the eShop. A great title for anyone who loves dungeon crawlers.