Developer: Artefacts Studio
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Genre: Tactical RPG
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Also Available for: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
If you’ve ever been playing Dungeons and Dragons, dear reader, and thought to yourself “I wish everyone in this game was really mean to each other and also that it was more like XCOM,” then The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos is the game for you.
The Basics: The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk is a raunchy comedic fantasy tactical RPG based on the popular French audio series of the same name (or, to be more precise, Le donjon de Naheulbeuk in the original language) by author John Lang. Naheulbeuk belongs to that specific breed of works which parody the epic fantasy genre by making almost all of the characters either a moron, an asshole, or both, and while such things are generally very hit or miss for me this instance is very much a hit. The game follows a band of rookie adventurers (none of whom are given proper names and are instead referred to by their class or race) exploring the titular dungeon for a magical statuette, each with their own particular roles in combat. There’s the tanky Dwarf and Ogre, the hard-hitting Barbarian, crit-focused Thief, all-rounder Ranger, and ranged specialists The Wizardess and The Elf. In addition to these seven, the player also has a choice after the introductory segment to recruit either a Paladin, a Priestess, or a Minstrel or to simply not take on an eighth party member, though this would put them at a notable disadvantage as this game can be pretty tough.
Combat is grid- and turn-based, but rather than rounds alternating between allied and enemy movement turn order is determined by individual initiative. So for instance, you can have two allies take their turn followed by three enemies. Characters both in the party and among the adversaries the player will face have access to basic attacks as well as a slew of fun skills ranging from The Ogre’s stunning area-of-effect burps to mighty leaps that let The Barbarian cover more ground than anyone else in the party. There’s even a half and full cover system and overwatch states due to most characters being able to use bows or crossbows, which was interesting to see in a fantasy tactical RPG. Combat arenas are fun and varied both in flavor and layout, with plenty of different locations to fight through all filled with a wide variety of traps and hazards that can turn the battle in your favor or make things go south very, very quickly. Customizing your party (and even just planning how you’ll customize your party as you gain more levels) is an absolute delight, thanks in no small part to a very crunchy set of stats, all of which makes a recipe for a very deep gameplay system with lots of different optimizations to play around with.
I will note, however, that it takes a bit of time to start optimizing your party; I mentioned earlier that this game can be pretty tough, and that’s certainly true, but especially at the beginning. Once I hit the mid-to-late game I started to steamroll enemies pretty effectively, though I can’t say for a certainty whether that was because I’d hit on some good builds or just because I’d gotten a better sense for the tactics. Whatever the case, I will say that while there were certainly some touch-and-go battles, playing on normal I never actually lost any fights, which lent the game the same sort of tension I’ve felt in some of the better tabletop campaigns I’ve been part of.
It’s also worth noting that I never had any issues controlling things playing on PlayStation 5 as opposed to with a mouse and keyboard on a PC.
Dungeon of Naheulbeuk’s writing and general personality also won me over, albeit slightly less so than its gameplay systems. It should go without saying that a parody of fantasy as a genre never takes itself too seriously, even during the climax (heh) of the story. The characters have fun personalities and dynamics with each other, with plenty of banter during exploration, cutscenes, and battles alike, though the quality of the vocal performances is all over the place. On the one hand, some of the voice actors feel like complete amateurs with weird deliveries that sound nothing like how a real person talks, but then there’s also Felicia Day voicing one of the main party members, fantastic as always. Oddly enough, it felt like the weird line deliveries became less so towards the end of the game, though it’s hard to say whether I was simply getting used to them or what. Either way, the dialogue itself is funny, and it only gets more so as the game goes on, especially after it gets over a mid-game slump where it felt like a lot of the jokes were the same ones being repeated over and over again. And hey, if you get tired of hearing the same barks over and over, you can turn down their frequency in options (including, humorously, the ability to mute The Elf and The Dwarf entirely).
In addition to solid writing, Dungeon of Naheulbeuk has a lot of great little details scattered throughout. Skills, items, and enemies all have fun flavor text full of jokes and references without becoming obnoxious or leaning on my mortal enemy: Empty Nostalgia. Paying attention to backgrounds rewards players with lots of sight gags, too, reinforcing the wacky atmosphere of Naheulbeuk’s world. On the other hand, this attention to detail from the developers makes some of its flaws stick out a bit more, like odd proofreading errors or subtitles that don’t match up to the lines as spoken. Additionally, though this isn’t really an overlooked detail per se, I encountered occasional flashing, screen-spanning graphical glitches which I think were caused by fires.
Taken as a whole, The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos is a raucous good time with lots to offer for tactical RPG veterans and more casual fantasy fans alike. Even if the humor is a little mean spirited at times, the jokes still mostly land – and really, how many writers hit every punchline? Any outright flaws in the presentation are more than made up for by the depth of the mechanical systems which make the game hard to put down, leading to hours and hours of entertainment and lots of replay value. So come on down to The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk – just make sure to watch out for rogue chickens.
The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos
Dungeon of Naheulbeuk is an excellently designed and deeply satisfying tactical RPG with only some slight polish issues in non-gameplay areas.