Exploring the Villainous Narrative of Penny Blood: Hellbound
Playing as the villain can often lead to unique interactions within a game’s narrative. Whether it be the careless attitude of the anti-hero protag or the act first, ask questions later mission structure, I find the setup to be fun and interesting. In that same breath, if I can switch gears for a second, I love the Shadowhearts series, and the spiritual successor, Penny Blood, currently has a roguelike spinoff in Early Access called Penny Blood: Hellbound. In this adventure, you experience a narrative that takes place before the events of Penny Blood through the lens of six very troubled individuals as they fight their way through a hellish prison. A prison, I should add, that they do belong in.
Penny Blood: Hellbound opens up with a girl named Clara who finds herself in a strange place, and then she’s quickly attacked by demon dogs. However, she’s saved by a group known as the Hellhounders, who are essentially terrorists that only do things for their benefit, which involves a quest for a powerful material known as Malice. Anyway, looks aside, they are all rather powerful characters, save for Vito, who is so insignificant to the group that he didn’t even get his own illustration. Regardless, they’re your only friends in this strange world. Still, there’s a path to salvation, but only if you follow the orders of a group known as the Celestrial Rainbow, who wish to cleanse the members of their sins by putting them through a series of trials.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Playing as the villain can often lead to unique interactions within a game’s narrative.[/perfectpullquote]
Unveiling Characters and Setting in Penny Blood: Hellbound
With that in mind, the short time I had with the early moments led to the introduction of several NPCs who fill out your base of operations and act as means of powerups and customization. I should say that the difficulty is quite high for this vertical slice of the experience, but I believe that’s by design, given that every death usually leads to a new action or area of the base unlocked. Still, it was annoying to die in 2 hits, and I couldn’t figure out the resurrection feature, but I know it’s possible because skills talk about it. Anyway, each run you select two characters and try to fight your way through hell.
The dungeons resemble a game board where you can choose your path towards the objective. This allows you to pick whether you wish to fight for money, skills, or abilities. Further, there are areas where you can help NPCs who will join up with your crew if you’re successful. Yes, this game is a roguelike, and I generally don’t mind dying and restarting, but the artificial difficulty in these early areas forces you to continuously die early on if only to unlock needed abilities such as a blood surf dodge or customization options. I’m not too worried about this because the developers have already lined up a roadmap of what they intend to add and even saved room for addressing player feedback.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The difficulty is quite high… but I believe that’s by design, given that every death usually leads to a new action or area of the base unlocked.[/perfectpullquote]
Things like voice-over, new areas, new facilities, and new bosses are all in the pipeline alongside online multiplayer systems, which leads to my biggest issue with the action gameplay. Each character has their preferred attack style, but honestly, Dr. Eugene’s attack is pretty broken. You’re able to stun-lock enemies and even push them back with a charge blast that allows him to stay out of danger most of the time. On the other hand, characters like Clara use melee swords, forcing them to get close to enemies. During each run, you can bring two characters into the dungeon with you, but the AI assistant is a hit or miss. I noticed sometimes they wouldn’t even help, so I wouldn’t rely on them too much.
Engaging Combat and Boss Battles in Penny Blood: Hellbound
The general action gameflow is cathartic and challenging for the most part. You don’t spend too much time in the arenas, but they do feature unique gimmicks and layouts that make return visits easier to get through. The boss battles are incredibly fun, with multiple forms and attacks that telegraph their trajectory, giving you a chance to dodge out of the way.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The general action gameflow is cathartic and challenging for the most part.[/perfectpullquote]
I’m eager to follow the development of Penny Blood: Hellbound as it sets the stage for the universe of the main Penny Blood adventure, which doesn’t currently have a release date. Still, Matsuzo Machida tailored this experience with art by Miyako Kato and music from Yoshitaka Hirota and Noriyuki Iwadare. Do I need to say more? There’s a lot to look forward to in this clever little roguelike, and while I’m not sure these villains will ever truly be redeemed, they have enough personality to see this adventure through.
Penny Blood: Hellbound has a release window set for Summer 2024.
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