Have you ever watched a video game trailer or read the synopsis of a soon-to-be-released game and felt an instant connection with it? You inevitably construct a version of the game you hope to play.
The Serpent Rogue was like that for me. The synopsis promises an action-adventure about an alchemist exploring an open world, scavenging for ingredients to craft concoctions to transform into creatures or tame wild beasts to help rid the world of the corruption that has infected it. The trailer goes one step further because we get to see the alchemist in action; an old caravan pulls up and the alchemist steps out like a bad-ass cowboy from a classic Western. The game is broody and spooky (as if taken directly from Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow) and the cute cel-shaded graphics balance out the horror aesthetics.
Well, forget all that! It’s actually a brutal Souls-like and the introduction to The Serpent Rogue is alienating beyond belief, and it boggles the brain how this is intentional!
The first 10 minutes of exploration are great. You’re figuring out where to go and what to pick up. You find your Base of Operations where you’ll be brewing, respawning, and customising the alchemist’s appearance. Using the workbench and research lab have handy pop-up descriptors explaining how they work but at this stage you have nothing to research or brew.
On to the battlefield, I guess.
It’s at this point where you quickly realise The Serpent Rogue has done nothing to prepare you for how the meat of the game works. You’re extremely weak at this juncture, so you’d expect enemies to be similarly weak. This is your first opportunity to collect resources and brew your first potion.
The main checkpoint leads you to a tree guarded by a big monster that will kill you instantly. When you respawn you have zero stamina. You need stamina to perform actions, such as sprinting and fighting, so here is where The Serpent Rogue lost me: how am I supposed to get my stamina back? I know eating food helps but you have to grow and harvest it. I know randomly sitting on a bench worked once but it never regenerated stamina any other time I sat down again. I attempted to get my supplies back but without stamina I was unable to get close enough to my loot without getting killed, and so the vicious cycle continued.
Now, you could argue I’m an idiot. I could simply look it up online if I wanted to. I’ve watched playthroughs on YouTube and other people seem to take to this game like a duck to water. That’s not what I’m here to discuss though. My biggest gripes with The Serpent Rogue are 1) It’s difficult to jump in and start having fun with and 2) The synopsis and the trailer are kind of misleading.
For comparison, let’s take a brief look at two other games: Fae Tactics and Nobody Saves the World.
Fae Tactics is a 2.5D turn-based RPG with an emphasis on positioning characters to deal massive damage each turn. There’s also an elemental combat system similar to that in the Pokémon franchise. With the deep elemental combat system, Fae Tactics is a difficult game because there’s a lot of strategy involved but the game does an excellent job of walking you through it. It’s not hand-holding but it is pointing you down the right path until you feel confident enough to start experimenting. You’d think a game about experimenting with ingredients and potions would have adopted the same principle.
Nobody Saves the World is a 2D dungeon crawler about a shapeshifter with a heavy emphasis on using your shapeshifting abilities to clear dungeons, complete puzzles, and discover new areas. You have to work hard to unlock new forms but Nobody Saves the World encourages you to transform into different characters all of the time, just to see what happens. For example, turning into a muscle man makes you strong but slow. Turning into a rat means you can squeeze into tight spaces and evade enemies with dexterity and speed. The Serpent Rogue could be this fluid if it wanted to be.
After failing to squeeze a single drop of enjoyment from The Serpent Rogue I have come to the conclusion that it’s not entirely to blame. The uninviting structure is intentional and is part of the developers’ vision for the overall experience but I still think the marketing presents a version of The Serpent Rogue that doesn’t actually exist. Saying that though, there’s nothing in the trailer that isn’t present in the final game, and so I have to take some responsibility because it was me who daydreamed about the endless possibilities before the game was playable. I imagined a completely different experience than what was eventually delivered, and it’s not fair to dump the blame entirely on Sengi Games.