This is a game that I’ve felt conflicted about playing. It’s one of those games where I can see what it’s trying to do, but I must concede that it’s not a good fit for me.
Purgatory Dungeoneer is a game by Cannibal Interactive, published under Strange Scaffold. Cannibal Interactive’s whole deal has been taking RPG Maker party mechanics as far as possible; if you don’t know faer works, you might at least be familiar with the absurd GIF of a long line of party members strolling up to an enemy to beat their ass from ‘I Have Low Stats But My Class Is “Leader”, So I Recruited Everyone I Know To Fight The Dark Lord‘.
In Purgatory Dungeoneer (or, My Grandpa Died And All He Left Me Was This 1 Dungeon In Purgatory Filled With Nihilistic Adventurers) you… uh, you’re in the exact situation that alternative light novel title says. From the central guild hall, you form parties of dead adventurers to delve into purgatory’s dungeon to expand the afterlife town – and maybe help these guys find closure while you’re at it.
Aesthetically, Purgatory Dungeoneer is very simple, and it’s a kind of simple that perfectly demonstrates what it is. All the characters are simple one-color figures with very limited animation. It’s very evocative of a roguelike – as in, roguelikes that actually are like Rogue. And it’s very fitting, because Purgatory Dungeoneer feels like a roguelike of that type squeezed into turn-based RPG form in the sense of presenting absurd combinational situations.
There is a massive number of adventurers in the game, composed of different combinations of classes and species. Classes dictate what kind of skills a potential ally can learn, while species dictates modifiers, like vampires having lifedrain added onto attacks and angels having a higher devotion stat.
As for classes, you got some standard stuff. Healers that heal, Berserkers that go berserk, etc. But as you get deeper into the game, you start getting the weirder classes. There’s Saboteurs that can debuff enemies while applying DOT effects – hm, seems normal. But then there’s the Tourists, a unique kind of tank that’s not combat oriented but gives everyone passive health regeneration and a little R n’ R to heal debuffs. There’s also the Onmyoji, who is a logic based support class that can boost someone’s logic every time they use a skill, revive dead allies while buffing them and can petrify allies while boosting their defenses. There’s just kind of a large variety of guys to choose from and some of those guys are Weird.
Which is personally a nightmare for me, as somebody with really bad choice paralysis. Party building in RPGs is kinda hell for me because I never know what to focus on, which is why I usually prefer just having a core small group of characters when it comes to RPGs. Add the massive amount of characters with the stresses of having to outfit them with equipment (and there’s waaaay more equipment slots than standard RPG Maker games) and you get something that’s a personal headache for me.
Now, the good thing about assembling a party is that you can check out their guild card, which gives the general rundown on their class. While the characters need to level up a bit to reach their full potential, having this knowledge in advance allows you to pre-plan teams. So hey, while Purgatory Dungeoneer gives me a bad case of choice paralysis, it’s pretty open and honest about the choices present.
My main team for a time was a strength based team. Fadi, the Mummy Dark Knight, and Mwenye, the Guank Berserker, were the main fighters of the team while everyone else healed or hyped them up. Susilo, the Nezumi Commander, was a strong support that rallies strength characters, buffing everyone’s strength stats and also waving a flag over one ally to buff them by a lot. Raz, the Angel Healer, well, healed, which was valuable for Fadi’s strong strikes that drained their health. Khamisi, the Guank Tempest, was in an awkward place for me… until they learned the ability to give everyone extra attacks. With that, everybody was doing double the swings – especially Mwenye, who already had stacking extra attacks from natural traits and going #Berserkergang. Mweyne getting off four straight attacks with all the buffs from their berserk and everyone else – while also healing off of it from the health steal equipment I gave? That’s free real estate.
Got your team assembled? Got them kitted out? Then it’s time to enter the dungeon.
The structure of the dungeon is a linear set of 5 rooms, with a fight consisting of a random selection of enemies in each one. The interesting part of the dungeoneering comes from going to the next room. You are presented with a choice of two doors that forces the party to take an oath, which will stick with them for the rest of the dungeon. Sometimes, you’ll get an easy choice; like hell yeah, lower my critical damage, I don’t give a shit. But sometimes, you’ll get the truly hard choices: would you want to give enemies a higher evade for a few turns to drag out fights longer, or would you take a debuff to the core stat your whole team’s built on? As simple as the dungeoneering is, the randomized door choices can throw some interesting wrenches into something that should be straightforward.
But now, we get to the actual fights. the real focus of the dungeon. All enemies in the game are reflections of your purgatory denizens, throwing random assortments of guys that may be familiar. The neat thing about enemies having classes is that you can build up an idea of what enemies you should focus on from past experience or even your own parties. It’s easy to focus on the healers, but as you play through, you’ll get acquainted with the classes that you know must be killed On Sight.
Compared to a lot of RPGs, buffs and status effects are king. This is especially the case on higher difficulties, where enemy formations are large with a lot of buffs to throw around – on top of innate auras that enemies could spawn with.One case I can remember is a shielder enemy, who not only was handed innate stat buffs at the start of battle, but also stacked two more armor buffs on to practically become unkillable – and it then used an attack whose damage was based on the armor stat to one-shot party members. So hey, don’t let things snowball – and try to angle for giving your party members insane buffing too.
If I have a criticism of the battle playstyle, it’s that while the game encourages a range of playstyles, it really leans more in favor of guys that can kill Immediately. Like, there’s some equipment, door modifiers and characters whose strength is realized in a few turns, but also, the enemy team will also be building itself up at the same time. Maybe there’s some characters that enable these slow burn playstyles to work without the fear of the enemy team snowballing with buffs, but also, you know, the whole hundreds of characters thing kinda makes the search intimidating.
After each outing you get money, crafting material for more situational and weirder equipment, and level ups. Until you stop getting level ups! At some point, a character needs to go out on a remembrance mission to clear their head so that they feel good enough to level up again.
The remembrance missions kinda remind me of It’s Six Random characters, because besides the character you’re questing for, the rest of the party is a random assortment. And honestly? I’m all for it. It removes the choice paralysis for me and the game instead asks, “how can you make this team work?” It’s a much less stressful gameplay question for me and gives the chance to try out different kinds of characters.
In terms of story with these missions though, I have a big complaint and it’s that a character’s first remembrance mission kinda doesn’t tell you shit? The narration’s usually like “they’re not ready to talk,” which doesn’t really feel rewarding. Personally, I think the initial remembrance mission should give a little bit from the later one, a little tease to encourage you to push on. As for the stories themselves, I guess they’re alright, but keep in mind that there’s hundreds of characters, so what’s there is pretty fair for the scope.
On a technical gameplay level, Purgatory Dungeoneer is satisfying. When you got a good team together firing on all cylinders? That’s pure dopamine. However, it’s all wrapped up in stuff that I personally don’t jive with. Though, I think part of this may be because the last two RPGs I played for this site outside of game jam ones were also heavily gameplay first. I might just be longing for a good story at this point, and while the narrative elements in Purgatory Dungeoneer are there and can be kinda neat, it really doesn’t meet my story desires.
Also, I’m personally at a point where I just kinda hate roguelikes. I see the sequel to Hyper Light Drifter turn into a roguelike and I’m doing the Fire Punch Agni smile at it with malice.
That said: if you’re nutty about party building and min-maxing in RPGs, this is a game for you. As for me, this is a game in the category of “I see how this is good, but it just isn’t for me.”