The Sealed Ampoule Review – An Alchemic Experiment in Resource Management

    Title: The Sealed Ampoule
    Developer: Cavyhouse
    Release Date: March 4, 2021
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Playism
    Genre: Adventure RPG

The Sealed Ampoule is a Rogue-like game with an emphasis on item collection. You play as Irene, a cheeky alchemist with a mind for business. The gameplay is split into two aspects – fighting for resources in your newly acquired dungeon and using said resources to improve your chance of survival.

The Sealed Ampoule decides to go with the “hard numbers” route of Rogue-like dungeon crawling, with a player level that increases as you defeat enemies. While this is standard for these types of games, it is a bit strange to include with only one dungeon available to rummage around.

The gameplay loop is of utmost importance in this genre. Still, without any level scaling of enemies outside of the floor you are on, the beginning floors become a slow collect-a-thon instead of a tactics-provoking expedition.

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Level scaling does not apply to the beginning levels of the dungeon.

While the fighting may be lackluster, the accumulation of new items and resources is satisfying. You can obtain items that restore your HP and MP for further exploration, but most importantly, you can find elements. These are items used to create other items, increase your own fighting potential, or invest back into your dungeon to increase element production.

The farming aspect of The Sealed Ampoule largely replaces the addicting power scaling of your player character. Rather than simply gaining more powers, you’ll be asked to fight certain enemies and decide which element you would like to farm. The addition of these mechanics is at an acceptable pace to prevent the often dull early game blues of the Rogue-like genre from setting in.

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Leveling up the dungeon’s production is an interesting exercise in resource management.

However, there are some strange anomalies present in the combat formula. Early on, you gain an ability that heals Irene’s HP for every three steps she takes. This is fine, providing much-needed sustainability without being overbearing. But the AI for the enemies works in bizarre ways, often going in the complete opposite direction to where I am headed.

This resulted in an exploitable strategy of walking through empty space near the next level’s exit to heal completely. While enemies are more likely to spawn the longer you take, this was still an odd divergence from normal Rogue-like gameplay.

Furthermore, Irene has an “Accuracy” stat. Numbers-based rogue-likes aren’t anything new, but randomized stats usually are a calculated risk while performing a powerful move. It is frustrating to have a chance to miss every potential attack with no strategic way to counteract this. It is especially fatal when using an attack that requires the use of your limited MP.

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Having no way to control your own accuracy is frustrating.

The graphics are a highlight of The Sealed Ampoule, with a dazzling circus aesthetic. The deep reds and blues paired up with a starry pattern pervade even the shading on the characters and gave the dungeon a sense of motion.

The enemy designs aren’t spectacular, but they were distinct enough to where it’s easy to understand which ones are stronger than others. If an enemy was candy corn shaped, you could potentially take it down with one shot. Conversely, a bubbly mass may take a few MP-powered attacks and dish out staggering damage itself.

On that note, the UI was often confusing and hindering. The aforementioned aesthetic sometimes made it difficult to know which option I was selecting when given a choice. The in-dungeon map can be temporarily hidden but will not stay that way unless you hold a button. This took up a lot of screen real estate, and unfortunately, was quite distracting when I didn’t need it.

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The in-dungeon menu cannot be toggled off and can be distracting.

Rogue-likes are often carried by their characters, as being lost in a dungeon for hours starts to feel a bit lonely. Irene has personality in spades, and her voice acting makes her spunky, commanding presence even more evident. Her hardworking charisma hides the instructions in her dialogue well, as talking to herself about what work she needs to do is natural.

Other than Irene, the only other early game characters are Thomas and Mary Anne, the twin gatekeepers who claim to have “been living in the dungeon” since before you bought it. Their intriguing nature is tied with the apparent murder that had happened right in front of them. Their enigmatic nature is further amplified because they often contradict each other, which makes asking them questions a test of patience. The use of twins in popular media has been popular to exemplify a mystifying duality, and the effect is not lost here.

There is an element of mystery here – namely, who killed the man in this suspiciously cheap dungeon. While it is an interesting development, there were not enough context clues or story development to make this a primary motivation to continue playing. Irene does not seem too bothered by the murder and focuses on developing her dungeon instead. Similarly, the game does not heed much to its elephant in the room.

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The main dungeon theme that you will hear for most of your adventure is a plodding, lonely metallophone. Paired with Irene’s rhythmic footsteps, it is a decent beat to collect elements to. When you are in a combat situation, the theme gets more in-depth, like a wooden xylophone, which helps let you know an enemy is approaching and engaging you mentally in the right mood.

Upon discovering a plot-relevant room, the tone changes drastically. An ominous Capella picks up, letting you know that you should pay attention to what is about to transpire. The variety is enough to lull the player from drowning out the playlist.

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The Sealed Ampoule presents itself as a “Dungeon agriculturalization Rogue-like” game. While the ideas necessary for a rogue-like are offered, some strange deviances from the norm make the gameplay feel less polished than the clean, simple genre usually provides. Some aspects, such as the UI confusion and distraction, nag at the otherwise tidy menu aesthetic. That being said, the “agriculturalization” resource management provides the most fun out of the gameplay loop, which is more in line with what Ampoule seems to aim for.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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