Sometimes it’s worth taking a second look at something with fresh eyes in order to appreciate the brilliance you missed the first time around.  When I first began playing Rosenkreuzstilette from [erka:es] , Darksquid Media and AGM PLAYISM, I wanted to dismiss it as a Mega Man knockoff despite it’s gorgeous visuals and it’s cool storytelling.  The (at the time) frustrating level of difficulty (I couldn’t get past the boss in the PROLOGUE) had me so flustered that I was tempted to quit.  However, I persevered, consulted an online guide, and PAID ATTENTION the second time around.  Because of that, I realized just how good the game is, and how I almost sold it short because I didn’t notice a boss’s subtle tell.  I’m glad I rectiied my mistake, because I’ve now played a TON of Rosenkreuzstilettewhich is why this review is delayed.  I didn’t want to put it down to actually write about it.

I’m genuinely impressed with the aesthetics on display here.  Far from being rehashes of Mega Man levels with static backgrounds, Rosenkreuzstilette features lovely gothic images, stunning sky and water levels, and a good variety of memorable enemies to fight.  I wish the team had done a little more to differentiate itself on occasion, especially with door and death animations which are almost directly lifted from their more famous CAPCOM counterpart, I enjoy the way the game pays homage to the Blue Bomber while creating a style all it’s own.  I am impressed with the character portraits which give Spiritia and her opponents even more personality, and the individual sprites are colorful and detailed.  The music is pitch-perfect, providing a pulse-pounding backdrop for each level while also being extremely listenable in its own right.  Weapons sound powerful, and other sound effects are solid, if not awe-inspiring.  There is some voice-over work, but other than a few phrases here and there it’s not particularly noteworthy.  The story is surprisingly heartfelt and well-written.  I like that Spiritia’s goal isn’t to destroy her enemies, but to convert them to her cause, and it’s interesting that she feels violence is truly a last resort.  It’s not surprising because she’s fighting against her former friends and comrades-in-arms as magic users (who had been persecuted for millennia are now grudgingly accepted as part of a defense force) rise up against the common people who fear them (perhaps rightly if this is how they’re going to behave!)  The dialog is solid, and each character has her own reasons for choosing sides, some compelling, some stemming from greed or arrogance, which makes for far more nuanced villains than in more standard platform action fare.  Rosenkreuzstilette creates a world I want to learn more about, and certainly want to revisit, which is the sign of good storytelling.

Of course, it helps that the game controls incredibly well, with Spiritia responding instantly to controller inputs.  You are able to make intricate jumps with (relative) ease as well as battle swarming foes.  I wish some of the commands (such as quickly switching weapons with the shoulder buttons and sliding by pushing down and jump) were described in-game rather than leaving me to fumble around learning them, but once you get the hang of them, they quickly become second nature.  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the commands aren’t laid out, but it has been quite awhile since I’ve picked up a Mega Man game, so I was a bit rusty going in.  The level design is inspired, and I love the fact that some boss’ lairs are more than just jumping puzzles.  Some actually have dead ends and trick floors designed to kill you just as quickly as falling into a spike trap or into a bottomless pit.  Intriguingly, some of these bottomless pits lead to hidden areas, while other levels have multiple paths which lead to slightly different boss battles.  This encourages exploration and replays once you get through the game the first time, as you may never know certain areas exist.  Some levels are just… weird.  I’m not sure why there’s a Mario-inspired section (complete with collectible coins that do… something?), but I love that it’s there.  Pinpoint accuracy is required to maneuver through some obstacles, and there’s a great feeling of accomplishment when you navigate a particularly tricky section.  Of course, I wish you didn’t have to backtrack quite as far when you inevitably get killed, and the password system for saving progress is hopelessly outdated, but these annoyances are overcome by the sheer charm of the level design.  The boss battles are a treat as they’re just like those in Mega Man, with each mage having her own weakness to a specific power or ability.  Figuring these out can be tricky, so I recommend consulting a guide once again.  I was surprised by some of the subtleties of some of the boss’ tells (a wave of a hand indicating an attack versus something more dramatic, for instance), which is why I found the early going so confusing.  Once I retrained my brain to watch more closely, things fell into place, and I made much faster headway.

Rosenkreuzstilette belongs in every gamer’s library.  Its solid combination of charm and challenge make it well worth your time, and it’s just a blast to play.

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