Helen’s Mysterious Castle is a Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) made in RPG Maker, which to some might raise a red flag over the game quality, as RPG Maker games are somewhat notorious for being very uninspired. I’m glad to say, that it’s not the case at all here! Once you select a new game, you’ll be immediately in control of the titular Helen, ready to explore the world unknown and discover what lies in it, learning both the game systems and the bigger picture as you go.
The serious parts of the story are very basic, and it won’t really “wow” you with its twists and turns. However, the writing is pretty tongue in cheek as outside of few more serious aspects of it, it’s quite humorous and even parodical, such as with a Hero who wields a legendary sword called “Kugelschreiber”, which takes a jab at the common naming conventions for legendary weapons. Or how Helen is only capable of responding with “!” and “?”, but everyone understands it as if something more than that was said, which, again is taking a jab at the silent protagonist everyone understands. This style of humour won me over.
However, combat and character progression are the real highlights of the game. Helen can only hold eight items in inventory at a time, so you’ll be forced to make decisions on what to keep with you at times. Each item is unique with its attributes and essentially function as the attacks, spells, and abilities of the game – these options being the usual fare for JRPG “menu” combat. The combat system itself is essentially a series of fast-paced duels where you’re trying to outmanoeuvre your enemies. Attributes in combat are split between Efficiency (potential damage), Defence (how much damage gets blocked while using it) and Wait (how long a shield is active / how long it takes to use the item) and your objective is to select the right tool for the job, like stalling your enemy through using a shield so you can have enough time to hit with a weapon instead, only to go back to stalling.
As for the character progression, contrary to the usual fare of levelling up your characters for more power, here you level up your items instead. Levelling up your items grants upgrades to one or some of its attributes and thanks to the unique nature of items, new items do not necessarily mean they’re better. As for your hit points, Helen can smash pots to occasionally find health boosters, get upgrades after beating a boss or from eating steaks. Thanks to this progression system, it’s doable to get through the game without having to stop and grind for experience points, though you probably will at least a little bit on your first playthrough.
If you were to fall in combat, you simply get booted out to the nearest bed and even get a free steak to go with it. That said, for especially later parts of the game it is preferable to save next to a boss and use the reset function (F12) to load the game instead as getting back to the boss fight takes its own time and some areas can be a bit of a hurdle to get through.
Helen’s Mysterious Castle is not a long game, as you can beat it within five hours or so. That, to me, was perfect; the combat doesn’t manage to become stale and there’s no unnecessary padding leaving it as an all-around tight package. However, I must note that there are a couple of parts in the game where the solution for progressing the story is behind minor details that you may not discover, leading to potential frustration and unnecessarily prolonging the game.
Setting aside its relatively minor shortcomings regarding progression in the story, Helen’s Mysterious Castle is a fantastic little game and for the price of a mere 1,99€, it is nothing short of a steal.
Release Date: 18.3.2016
Pictures of the game: Screenshots, taken by the author.
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