Helvetii - Short Review
By Scottie_J (BAC)
The Cursed Warchief
Our story in Helvetti, an authentic historic Celtic tribe, starts in a world filled with violence, blood, and pride. A young war chief, thirsty for power he never deserved, was led by Octavius The Renegade, to make a pact that would grant him the power of the gods from the corpses of men to wage and win wars. Until the day of the great battle came and what once was a blessing, became a calamity and corruption started to spread from him, firming its roots in the mountains at the east while the rot spread throughout the world. Now, a druid, a beast, and a warrior embark on a journey to stop Octavius and the rot once and for all.
Traditionally stories in beat 'em ups exist mainly to drive your characters from beginning to end, and are only truly enjoyed by die-hard fans. Helvetii is a different beast, however, and I highly recommend taking every opportunity to dive deeper into this amazing world and its characters.
The Beauty and the Rot
Helvetii is a beautiful game, featuring a stunning watercolor design with inspirations from the works of Vanillaware and the results are astounding. From the vibrant colors of the opening area to the dark and infested swamps to the cold and frozen mountains, Helvetii never stops being a visual treat with impressive color choices and strong design elements. The world is beautiful to take in while still existing in a space that would feel right at home in a horror title. Celtic lore drips from every inch of the world and all of its inhabitants and without a doubt, I can say that you will be enthralled with it through your entire adventure. Simply said, I have no complaints about the amazing work on display here in the visuals.
Sounds of a Cursed World
Alongside the impressive visuals, it must be said that the sound design is worth stopping to appreciate as well. The composer Dale North has wonderfully crafted an arrangement that will sweep the player even deeper into this world. Calm and melodic openings suddenly crash with the drums of war as you enter battle, soothing piano to the simply unsettling tones designed to put you on edge, and everything in between. The composition here can only be described as powerful. Here, listen for yourself:
Beyond the music, it must also be said that the voice and various sound effects were not ignored in the slightest. Not even the somewhat repetitive battle quotes can harm this wonderful choice of not only the voice actors but also the quality of the chosen sounds that complement the experience. My one complaint here would be the owl, shop owner, and other heroes where you were greeted with plain text. Be it from a budget or oversight it did slightly affect my experience.
Fighting the Rot
While I wouldn't blame you for wanting to skip the story, I do want to reiterate that it's definitely worth keeping tabs on it. Several times late into the game I had to remind myself to "follow the story" because the gameplay was so addicting, but it is worth the time. The reason I mention this is that while the story is great, the combat is excellent. We are going to be very detailed in this section, so let's dive in with a careful look.
As you already are aware Helvetti is a 2D character action game. Fast, frantic, and combo oriented is the aim of this one.
You will be given the choice of three characters at the start of your journey; Divico, your powerful striker that has reach, power, high HP, and low mana. Rennart. A quick beast with medium HP and MP that focuses on counters and defensive play. Or Nammeios, a ranger druid that uses a raven as his main weapon and has the lowest HP, but highest MP
They all share a standard move pool, but all are very unique in execution. You have your normal attack, which can be charged at the cost of some mana, a secondary attack, that will vary according to the character you choose, a jump, a dodge move, a ranged attack, and two specials that we will detail a little ahead.
Combat follows a universal comparison to the genre. Starring with a standard combo string, you can then change the directional inputs to launch the opponent into the air or to the ground to continue your sequence. The focus here is to efficiently handle the foes in your way with precision, but this is easier said than done. Though not incredibly intelligent, the enemies can become quite problematic due to their patterns for players not maintaining their pressure. How you do this though will vary between characters.
Divico is the most balanced character and is the perfect option for getting familiar with the game's mechanics. Despite having the lowest mana he has excellent reach with both his sword and throwing axe. His charged attack unleashes a powerful bash, and his secondary is a powerful blow that will pin enemies to walls to open up them for combo extensions. Divico can also launch himself downwards for a slam that will make quick work of enemies below.
Rennart the beast can rack up a huge combo count with his high speed. The scythe is his main weapon, and while its reach is low it can be thrown. Be warned though that it leaves you unable to attack until it returns. His secondary attack actually functions as a parry that will launch enemies and open them up for aerial combos. Rennart uses his high speed to hunt for opportunities, and his parry to create some when on the defensive. His charge will teleport him behind a foe with a flurry of blows, and his down aerial attack slices right through your enemies.
And finally, Nammeios. His crow shoots to the opposite end of the screen as you attack leaving you mostly defenseless to your enemies. To recover it you either wait for its return or go to it. Nammeios can also utilize a feather to attack as well as blast enemies away with his special. The special also doubles your strength at the cost of mana. His charge will trap enemies in a short-lived whirlwind. This can be a very powerful tool.
Now that the core of combat has been explained it's time to get into the game's main hook… Helvetii is a rogue-lite. When you die, the run is over. Upgrades however are persistent between games to help you in the future.
The world here is divided into four levels, each one with two sub-areas, guarded by many enemies and a boss. These sub-areas are divided into rooms, like a Metroidvania, but without the backtracking, you will have to explore to find the exit. Most rooms you will enter will spawn enemies and have their exits closed until you clear them.
The rooms are made by hand, but they are randomly organized for each run, keeping things fresh every time. And here is where you will find chests, that also can spawn after a fight, shops, and shrines. The chests come in two flavors, wood and stone. The wooden will spawn after a good fight and will always contain coins, mana, and life. The stone ones always come locked and you will need a key, that can be purchased at the store, and can contain the same as the wooden chests, but also can contain some pretty cool upgrades that will last for the entire duration of your run.
Shops are where you will find not only the keys but apples to replenish your life, and food that can boost your stats, your life, and mana. These will be invaluable for your runs and they can cost a lot of coins so, saving for them will be your best option here. Not only they will largely extend your life which sounds great, but you will need life in exchange for your specials. And no, I am not talking about the special draining your life, oh no. Here, you will get your specials, randomly, from the shrines you will find. And to get the special they offer, you must make a blood sacrifice. It will take 15 from your HP to get your special and 30 and 45 respectively to upgrade it. You also can sacrifice 10 HP to change the offer the gods are making to you. It can be very costly, depending on how your run is going getting these specials, but they can be extremely helpful. They always come in sets of two and are mapped to the triggers on your controller. I admire any keyboard players that can handle all of this. these specials are pretty powerful and some will have lasting effects like burning or bleeding in your enemies. Your secondary special, in most cases, boost your stats or give you a defensive shield for a while. As I said, they can be crucial to your game, and trading them for your own life is a risk/reward mechanic that I appreciate very much.
Between stages, you will have access to the meta-progression system of upgrades that persist between runs. Beating stages rewards you with sigils and can be exchanged for health, lives, keys, and coins for your next runs, or stat boosts. choose wisely because these can get quite expensive later. Here you can also play a dice game, or expand the lore with character conversion. These sigils can also be disabled to raise the challenge. The entire game is actually highly customizable. You can raise or lower the difficulty, and also the power of the enemies. If you are new to the genre this is a perfect place to start. There is even a timer built in for fans of speedrunning.
Helvetii is a truly unique game. Visuals, music and incredibly engaging combat will pull you in for countless hours as you perfect your style and skills. Even with upgrades the game can be merciless, but never unfair. Every death or failure will fall on your shoulders due to the game's sublime design that allows skilled players stripped of all upgrades to succeed. Honestly, this is already a GOTY contender for us.
You can watch our full review of the game by clicking on this link.
The game will be available now on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Steam and will cost you 15 USD.