Title: One Step From Eden
Developer: Thomas Moon Kang
Release Date: March 26, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Genre: Action Roguelike
It’s pretty common to see countless indie, and even triple-A, games that draw heavily from popular franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, or Castlevania. Comparatively, very few titles come to mind when I think of games influenced by Mega Man Battle Network. One Step From Eden by developer Thomas Moon Kang unabashedly takes the Battle Network gameplay and dials it up to 100 for an intense and challenging rogue-lite gaming experience.
One Step From Eden jumps right into gameplay, with character descriptions being the only narrative background you get. Your course is randomly generated each time with various enemy combinations each round. Playfields are broken into blue tiles, which you can move on and red tiles reserved for your opponent.
Each character has a default weapon unique to them, but what really sets this apart is the deck building mechanic. Unlike Mega Man Battle Network, where you had a bit more time to strategize your moves and the order those moves arrive, One Step From Eden throws that out the window. Your deck is randomized, and gameplay doesn’t pause for you to check what you have in store.
At any point, you are given two cards to utilize, most of which consume mana. Some cards can take up all your mana, leaving you waiting for it to refill before you can use another card. Even some of your character’s unique weapon moves, like Saffron’s Crono ability can take up mana, so gameplay will differ depending on who you’re playing as. With over 200 spells and unique character abilities, it’s a lot for a player to juggle and makes for some insanely hectic and breakneck gameplay. Success comes down to the player familiarizing themselves with and memorizing each spell as well as enemy moves and patterns.
Each battle you win allows you to pick from a new spell to add to your deck. There are some fascinating ideas for spells, and I found myself amazed by the variety. When a spell lands the way you want amidst all the chaos, it’s incredibly satisfying.
Artifacts, which are essentially items and character buffs, can also be selected after some battles. Some of these spells and artifacts have a high risk/reward attached to them. Others seem to mindbogglingly be much higher risk than reward, almost to make sure the player is paying attention to what they’re choosing.
If you aren’t happy with the spells or artifacts offered, you can always opt-out and skip that turn. I found myself doing this a couple of times when the spells didn’t benefit my deck. Once all spells have been exhausted during a battle, you shuffle them leaving you defenseless for a time aside from your primary weapon. Several times I found out a spell just wasn’t working out for me. Luckily you have the option of discarding a spell from your deck during the course.
Like battles, each playthrough is relatively fast. There are eight main levels you need to complete within each course. Each level takes approximately 5 minutes. levels rotate between ice, fire, forest, and ruins. There are three paths at every level, each with their own benefits and hazards. Although enemies are randomly generated, the difficulty is set to climb after a level is completed.
At the end of the level, there is a boss and a potential unlockable playable character. One exciting aspect of the bosses is that you have the option of killing or sparing them after they are defeated. If you save them, they will give you health and occasionally aid you in your journey.
One Step From Eden is an excruciatingly difficult game. Even with all the spells memorized and enemies’ attack patterns on lock, you still need crazy quick reflexes to get through levels. Even after a few hours, I found myself dying over and over again. One wrong step can be catastrophic and ruin your run.
This is where the rogue-lite features come in as an attempt to aid the player. With each playthrough, you level up, gaining an opportunity for better spells. You can also obtain other unlockables just by leveling up as well, like various costumes, play modes, and potential bosses you haven’t already unlocked. But that’s about as much as the game holds your hand.
Levels don’t seem to bring up overall stats, just possible spells you may come across. It’s rough and unforgiving, but because playtimes are so short, I found myself willing to dive back in countless times, hoping I could get that much closer to Eden. Replay value comes not only from unlockables but also from trying to outdo your previous times. The speed, difficulty, and rogue-lite mechanics all make sense, and to take away one of those pieces would probably be a determinant to One Step From Eden’s experience.
For those that don’t want to go it alone, there is also a co-op mode. While this might seem more natural it comes with its own set of challenges. Both players share life and divide spells from the same deck. It’s a whole other experience and one worthy of exploring more in its own right.
During your trek to Eden, you’ll be accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack that suits the feeling of the world and battles perfectly. Melodic synths and tech beats almost sound as if they’re rooting for you as you hop from square to square. It would have been so easy for the music just to be an energetic overbearing mess making the player too anxious to keep playing after long periods. Instead, the soundtrack strikes a perfect balance of enthusiasm and had me humming along even 20 hours in. Character and enemy designs are also cute and look great in both the character display as well as their pixel translation. Designs also show up surprisingly clear with so much movement happening on screen at once.
It feels as though Thomas Moon Kang had a clear vision of what One Step From Eden should be. Each system works well together to provide an experience that only this game can provide, even if another series influenced the core idea. It’s brutal difficulty surely won’t be for everyone, but roguelike fans will find a satisfying game loop of fast-paced action for many hours.
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