I’ve finally ascended with a gaming PC. My old laptop has been on its way out and it wasn’t exactly the best at doing what I want to begin with. Now, I can record things properly, the range of stuff that I can cover has widened and I can finally play Final Fantasy XIV in a way that I’m comfortable when I actually get the time to play it.
So to commemorate this occasion, I decided to take a look at a game that I tried playing long ago but was turned off by its choppy performance on my old laptop: Double Fine’s Massive Chalice.
The titular chalice is a mystical relic holding two minds that sits in a land being attacked by the Cadence, a race of creatures born out of negative emotions. The good news is that the Chalice can purify the land of their presence.
The bad news? It’s going to take centuries for the process to complete. So until then, you, as the immortal ruler of the land, have to lead generations of noble heroes to hold back the threat of Cadence until the Massive Chalice is finished.
Massive Chalice‘s defining trait is the time mechanic. Outside of battles, you construct buildings and conduct research that can take up to decades to finish. And so you put time on fast-forward and watch time slip through your fingers. While you are immortal, your characters are not, so you can only sit back and watch as they die while buildings are erected and research completes for the sake of future generations. Aside from battles, you’re sometimes interrupted by events that you send your characters to handle to break up the monotony of eternity.
Having the game take place over the course of centuries and seeing characters be born and die of natural causes creates this sense of scale. The overall war feels large-scale, with heroes fighting till their dying days or retiring to do research, run schools or start families for the sake of future generations. Through its mechanics, the setting of Massive Chalice feels grand.
With your characters dying, how do you keep up to fight the Cadence? One method of replenishing your hero reserves is to dedicate research time to look for new, fresh heroes.
The other way? Eugenics.
When you have a keep, you can retire two heroes who will give birth to new heroes to continue their bloodline and offer more people to the slaughter. Their stats, personality traits and classes will rub off on their offspring, encouraging you to match up heroes to get the best possible offspring. It’s sort of like Fire Emblem Awakening’s marriage stuff, except you’re doing it constantly. It all feels really iffy to me.
I will give the game credit in that the game does kinda recognize that it is fucked up, with the narrators saying that you should consider your characters as people instead of numbers. Like, for instance, it’s entirely possible for you to set up gay and lesbian couples, with offspring coming from chalice adoptions (though the game is still cisnormative). Some events acknowledge the humanity of your characters, with one event I had involving a couple falling out of love but only staying together for convenience, giving them the Passionless trait that greatly reduces their chances of having kids.
However, even with the game’s acknowledgement, its nature as a strategy game discourages you just hooking people up for the sake of it. Like wow, you can create gay marriages – but also, for that to work in the metagame, you’d have to constantly adopt babies to make up for the lost future soldiers (which I realize is fucked up after typing it), which takes up chalice research time that could be used for anything else. There’s also nothing that discourages making the worst decisions of creating incestual hell; in fact, if a family bloodline has good traits, you’ll probably be tempted to pair up family members to keep those traits going. I wasn’t even trying to do that in my playthrough but my bad decisions left me in a world where 3/4ths of the playable roster was Yggroms.
Also, hey game? Hey Double Fine? I don’t think setting the age where characters can start having kids at 15 is a good idea. Just my two cents.
The game presents an overall theme of fighting for the sake of peace and letting characters live their lives, as shown through events and the ending – however, the game’s mechanics end up discouraging that entirely.
So, how does Massive Chalice play? I’m not too into these kinds of strategy games because I keep restarting when characters die. However, as almost all of your characters will die to natural causes, I didn’t feel compelled to do so as I usually do with Fire Emblem and XCOM, so I hopped into the game no problem.
As you watch your nation grow, you’ll occasionally be interrupted by messages of Cadence attacking lands. Two or more places are attacked by Cadence at a time, forcing you to choose what land to protect. Saving a land pushes back the amount of damage already done, but letting Cadence attack a land too many times without pushback will remove that piece of land from play for the rest of the game. It initially doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as there’s no way to clear Cadence influence outside of doing combat (though I feel that some events could do that), it’s a threat that will creep in toward the endgame.
You hop into the fray with three main classes: Caberjacks, Hunters and Alchemists. There are several other classes that are derivatives of these, based on the parentage of a character. Caberjacks are the melee class, Alchemists have limited AOE skills and Hunters are ranged units. At the start of the game, I think Hunters are the best characters to go for due to being able to freely attack from a distance, especially considering the enemies that blow themselves up and leave poison on the floor. Caberjacks initially feel like the weakest and I ignored them for a good portion of the game, but after some level ups gained through parentage and teachers a century down the line (because there’s no way you’re reaching high level with early Caberjacks), they feel like solid additions.
Fights are turn-based with you moving your heroes around a map based on the land you’re defending to clear out all enemies. The enemies feel fair to fight (disclaimer: played on normal difficulty) and Massive Chalice does have a few neat enemy types. My favorite enemy in the game are the Wrinklers, in that a character hit by them are also aged up, which can flat-out kill them if they’re too old – it’s a nice integration of the game’s central mechanic and as simple as they are to fight, you’ll really fear them if you’re leading a team of elderly heroes.
The combat sections of Massive Chalice are pretty alright and easy to get into. There’s a few wonky things in that the camera sometimes doesn’t recenter on the next character and acts wonky for it, but still, generally good. It was one of those games that I could play while listening to something else. Which was good for me, because the game’s music is underwhelming and I honestly can’t stand the quips of the spirits of the Chalice.
Massive Chalice is a neat turn-based strategy game revolving around a time mechanic that gives it a grand sense of scale – though the developers didn’t seem to think too much about the implications of the heroic bloodlines. It’s a weird narrative hiccup for me and not something I felt into, but overall, Massive Chalice was an enjoyable time.