LUCAH: Born of a Dream

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Nightmares advance toward Lucah, abstract limbs prepared to strike. Lucah chants a mantra and takes a fighting stance more befitting of the situation. They break through a nightmare’s guard and their familiar companion shoots it apart as a finisher. The nightmares are gone.

The darkness creeps up behind Lucah, urging them forward. A corruption grows within them, but it’s still too early for them to worry.

They walk over to a statue depicting a divine mother and present her with her sword. The world shifts. The statue has become a Harbringer with the same energies as the nightmares, striking with scythe like swipes that mimic Lucah’s own. They brace themself to stand against the horror.

But Lucah is not strong enough. They were foolish to even try.

And so, you, as Lucah, are unceremoniously tossed to the side and you descend, further into a world of nightmares and despair.

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Lucah: Born of a Dream is a game made by melessthanthree, led by Colin Horgan. Lucah is the result of what happens when you plop a character action game into a survival horror setting, where your best tools against an unrelenting world is flashy combat.

The demo for Lucah has been out for a while on itch.io, though I have not played it. However, I have previously played Sacraments i and iv for this blog and while their gameplay isn’t indicative of the stuff in Lucah, they are tone defining. The overall world of Lucah is an unsettling one, ruled by abstract horrors and traumas. A vague religious order exists, but they are of no help – if anything, they could be the cause of the problem. Friendly faces are few and the ones that don’t belong to this order struggle alongside you. It’s a depressing world, which is an interesting contrast to the fast-paced, energetic gameplay.

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Now, a thing that I was mixed about on the Sacraments was the art style. While I thought the style was interesting, I found it to be messy, especially in comparison to the careful writing. However, it’s in Lucah where the game’s art really flourishes, no longer relegated to standalone stills but expanding to large environments and flashy animations. Character designs are much clearer than those in Sacrament iv, but they still have this messiness that creates a sense of ambiguity about them. Characters and enemies pulsate along with parts of the environment, giving a sense that the world isn’t right and indeed, it is not. Scribbles add texture to the game’s world, the absence of clean lines in a lot of cases gives a decayed aesthetic.

Combat becomes a mix of streaking lines and curves, cutting across each other. Screenshakes and camera close-ups accentuate the game’s combat to grant a stylish intensity. The losers are left behind as corpses, red spray-painted over where you fought as a lasting reminder (…at least until the spawns reset). The art of combat is simple yet fluid, messy yet purposeful. While I feel some of the cutscene art is as weak as I found it in the Sacraments, the overall art style of Lucah is wonderful, giving the game an identity through its unique aesthetic that captures the game’s atmosphere.

On the subject of aesthetics, the music is also greatly improved. Nicolo Telesca’s music was already full of ethereal bangers and strange beats, but the different contexts and situations that Lucah presents provides a more action-oriented variety, even if it’s untraditional. Music is dynamic, the atmospheric music of the world suddenly being accompanied by a heavy beat, dramatic hums or ominous drones as nightmares make themselves manifest. Whether the songs are calm or intense, most of Lucah‘s soundtrack has this oppressive vibe that’s rather fitting for the game’s world.

I’ve been dancing around it for a bit, so let’s finally talk about the combat.

Stamina dictates everything you do in fights, be they swings or dodges. You can combo together light and heavy attacks, but going overboard can lead to a punish as you won’t have enough stamina to dodge. Attacks build up charge, which lets your familiar fire alongside you and can also be used for charge attack finishers. Taking risky play is rewarded in that attacking an enemy as they wind-up for an attack or dodge toward them as they’re attacking breaks their defense, stunning them and making them more vulnerable. If you’ve been too risky, you can use a limited heal or a cool rewind function, which rewinds conditions back to how they were at the start of the fight.

How you fight is very customizable. Your fighting styles are referred to as Mantras, with different attributes that can be combined for light and heavy attacks. You get a small selection of familiars to accompany you, with different firing modes and abilities. There is also the Virtue system, which lets you equip various passives like allowing you to withstand one fatal hit or restoring your stamina on a change in Mantra sets at the end of a combo. At save points, you can level up your attributes however you want until you hit your level cap, opening the way for glass cannon builds or builds where you’re always full of energy. While I wished that you got the ability to reset your level up choices earlier in the game, I appreciate that there’s a lot to play around with.

I don’t know if this is a general thing, as I played the game with keyboard and mouse, but there does seem to be some slight lock-on to enemies. It doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but it’s inconvenient when it kicks in when you’re surrounded by enemies. One moment you’re breaking an enemy’s guard and the next you’re suddenly whaling on a different one nearby, preventing you from taking advantage of it. This problem ended up making one certain boss fight drag on for way longer than it should have. I also wish that the rewind function briefly froze enemies after it’s used to get your bearings, because I often found myself getting hit right after using it, which sometimes made using the rewind in the first place pointless.

But honestly, those are my only issues with Lucah‘s combat. Aside from NieR: Automata, I haven’t really played any character action games, so I was surprised by how much I got into it. Fights are for the most part fun and fluid, Lucah‘s scratchy aesthetics granting an unusual style to it all that I really like.

Part of why I enjoyed Lucah‘s combat and why I think other people will get into it is the welcoming difficulty options. You can adjust the strength of your enemies and your own vulnerability, either to give yourself a smooth ride or to challenge yourself further. On top of this, you can activate modifiers like making enemies more vulnerable, giving yourself infinite stamina, etc. All this without any punishment or condescending messages. I played on Lucah’s default settings, though I’ll admit that I used a few modifiers for some of the harder stuff toward the end of the game, because uhhh I’m still a dipshit at these kinds of games. If you’re a player that just wants to experience the game’s atmosphere and story but awful at action games, Lucah‘s got you.

So, how about that story? Lucah (who can be named whatever you want) is a cursed child, whose unknown personal traumas manifest as physical nightmares. To deal with it, they go on a pilgrimage to the Null Sun, in hopes of salvation. Lucah not only has to worry about the nightmares, but a corruption that spreads inside of them. A percentage slowly ticks in the corner of the screen, which receives huge increases whenever you die. It’s interesting because huge increases not only means that you’re probably getting frustrated with a bunch of deaths, but it represents your own character’s frustrations with their failings, dying over and over until it hits 100%, leading to the bad ending. A later mechanic allows them to decrease this percentage through fighting monsters in a score based system, with good scores delaying the spreading corruption; as the Cardinal proclaims, your sins can be redeemed through blood.

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There are a few characters like your own that wanders the dream world, fighting and coping with it all. The most frequent face you meet is Christian, who tries to seek redemption through the church. However, Lucah’s presence denies him his shot at salvation, setting him up as a rival character throughout the rest of the game. And goddamn does he have satisfying rival fights.

Now, the general story might be a bit hard to follow. Characters treat you as if you should know your place in the world, acting without context. There are side areas and side stories that may hint at things, but the ways they connect is not clear.

And that doesn’t even get into the interpretive stuff. Your place in the world is not just vague, but so is, well, everything else, being a dream world. Which characters are real and which are just mere figments – and figments of who? How do all these characters connect with each other? What is the exact nature of the nightmares? Just who is Lucah? I wouldn’t say that the story is as vague and mysterious as Yume Nikki‘s (a game that promotional tweets compared Lucah to), but it’s definitely not straightforward. While you can probably get a general sense of what’s going on in the main story, much of Lucah is something that’s up to interpretation.

However, even if the overall storyline is muddied, the themes of the game come across well. Trauma and suffering are cast as sins and corruption under the world’s religious undercurrents and characters search for “redemption” in a world of suffering. Characters try to achieve salvation from their troubles, either through the church or making a pilgrimage toward the Null Sun, battling their corruptions.

Many characters, however, don’t make it, and in their despair, they turn to wrath, as the rival battles with Christian demonstrates. Alternatively, people choose to embrace their despair to cope. You too can succumb to your corruption, embracing your frustrations and finding comfort in not having to struggle anymore.

Of course, giving up leads to the worst ending. The closest thing to a golden ending is through the path of most resistance, a metaphorical journey. It’s hard to forgive yourself, to let go of past traumas, but in the end, confronting all that and learning to embrace yourself will be worth all of that.

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So, I’m a depressed piece of shit living in a religious household and I’ve been finding myself in a lot of bad head spaces lately, so Lucah ended up hitting me more than I thought it would. I thought the Sacraments were already downers, but jeez. As abstract as the story is, the themes and emotions shine through and I definitely feel that your ability to enjoy Lucah‘s story depends on how much the themes resonate with you.

Lucah: Born of a Dream is an interesting game, mixing in artsy narrative with fast-paced action, giving a little something for everyone. I played more than 10 hours of the game and had a great time, so the game’s default price of $19.99 feels like a sell for me. If I actually bothered keeping yearly top 10 lists or whatever, Lucah would be up there for sure. Feel the motion; feel the violence!

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