Rogue Legacy meet Zelda crossed with The Swindle – Swords of Ditto finds originality by borrowing the best from the best and ditches the rest. The FNGR GNS Review;
The Swords of Ditto is self-described as a “compact action RPG”. In the run up to the release, I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant. I Googled the term and after scrolling through 10 pages of results, I think it’s safe to say that this game is the only one in history to describe itself as a “compact action RPG”. I was still none the wiser on what it could mean – I’ve played plenty of ‘small RPG’s’ but none that would describe themselves as ‘compact’ – but after a few hours with Swords of Ditto, I began to understand what developers One Bit Beyond were intending. This game is tightly packed with content – it’s positively bursting at the seams, jamming a lot of game into not a lot of space – but uses procedural generation and a repeating cycle of play to make this content feel vast.
In this top-down orthogonal RPG, you play a randomly generated player who’s been chosen to become the “The Sword of Ditto”, a hero who’s tasked with defeating the evil Mormo who has been plaguing the world of Ditto. At the start of the game, you retrieve a magical Sword, storm your way into Mormo’s castle, get ready to take on the big lady and – oh, you’re dead. Thankfully, every century, a new Sword of Ditto is chosen. Once you’ve collected the Sword from the grave of your previous incarnation, you’re off on the quest to defeat Mormo again. And again. And Again. The kicker here is that you only have 4 in-game days to take down Mormo and if you manage to stay alive that long and don’t manage to take her down, you’ll be starting from scratch. Those 4 in-game days give you the opportunity to weaken Mormo by collecting Toys from certain dungeons and destroying “anchors” which weaken her in the final battle.
This game’s approach to the roguelike genre is an unsual one, building on what Cellar Door’s Rogue Legacy started – with each new random version of “the sword”, you retain your main “toys”, which are weapons and helpful objects, your cash and your level but everything else is lost to time. I guess it’d be too much to expect a health hotdog to last 100 years. As there’s a century between the loss of your last “Sword” and the rise of the next, the world changes entirely too. The clock resets but the name of the main town changes, the structure of the world changes and the location of the dungeons change. Not only does the structure of the world change, the threat level does too. Last a matter of minutes as the Sword before you’re shifted off the mortal coil and when the next Sword is chosen, the world will contain more enemies and the look of the world will change with structures looking broken, run down and dishevelled.
The iterating mechanics lend themselves to the compact nature of Swords of Ditto. The game is spread out across 20 or so different compartmented environments above ground and plenty more in what felt like an infinite number of dungeons below ground. You’re not expected to be able to clear the game in a single play through (although you can apparently rock up to Mormo’s castle and take a crack at her by sleeping for 4 days instead of adventuring). Instead, the game constantly gives you a new canvas to explore while you discover the constants – there will always be a town, a graveyard, a number of different stores but they won’t be in the same location. Each new version of the Sword will face their own unique challenges but the player (sic. You) learns about the world of Ditto with each new iteration, making each journey forth a tad easier.
The dungeons in The Swords of Ditto each present their own challenge often utilising a ‘toy’ which the game had previously nudged you in the direction of. For example, after delving into a sci-fi themed dungeon to retrieve a magic golf club, I was then directed to a dungeon that featured giant golf balls which were used in puzzles and could be wacked into monsters to cause massive damage. Theres isn’t a single dungeon I’ve visited that I didn’t enjoy although the procedural generation can over cook some of the chambers. There’s some rooms that look incredibly complex at first sight but offer little more challenge than flipping a switch.
The combat in Swords of Ditto is as intricate as the rest of the games mechanics. On the surface, it’s all about hacking and smashing, dodging and rolling, but underneath this are some pretty neat touches. For example, using Stickers (another collectable you can find in dungeons or obtain from NPC’s) you can give your sword certain attributes like poison, crystallisation and fire. If you hit an enemy enough times with these effects activated, a gauge fills and the foe will set on fire/become frozen in crystal/become poisoned. This is another aspect of the game that’s left for the player to discover how to use effectively and when you do, it’s a game changer. Setting a Zombie on fire who then walks through a field of long grass, setting that on fire in the process, which subsequently burns up the other villains too is a sight to behold.
Swords of Ditto also has a pretty unusual personality too, which blends whimsical charm with cold cynicism. As you can see from the trailer and screenshots, the game has a cutesy, lovable art style and the game is full of tiny little touches e.g. the sound effects when moving through a menu go up in pitch (No, YOU spent 5 minutes making a little Ditto Ditty with this). Then there’s the random character generation – I’ve played as a cat lady, a grey haired ninja woman, a robot with a flashing red light on his head and many other great random builds that I just want to take home and feed up and keep safe instead of sending into a dungeon. To fast travel, you play a magical kazoo which summons a portal jumping school bus. Yeah, I know. Cool, huh. In contrast to the charm, Swords of Ditto has this dry cynicism that runs right through it in a refreshing way. RPG’s of this ilk usually have you reading text boxes forever and a day but here, your dung beetle guide Puku keeps things short, saying only what’s necessary and delivers the occasional joke. He even says at one point “I’m going to leave you now because I’m sick of hearing myself talk”. Swords of Ditto is a top down RPG built by people who can see the issues that plague top down RPG’s and that really starts to shine through in moments like that. It’s as if the creators tore apart the staples of a Zelda game, ripped out all the none value adding bits, made the lore optional (through various collectables) and put it all back together into something that feels streamlined and slick.
Unfortunately, Swords of Ditto can be brutally unforgiving at times. I’ve lost 3 in-game days of progress because I’ve been jumped by a horde of zombies that sprung out of the ground, were set on fire by a flying wiziard-thing and found myself cornered. I’ve lost plenty more Swords because of sheer dumb luck or a second of lost concentration. You’ve not felt deflation until you’ve taken out 2 of Mordos “anchors” only to die on the way to face her at her tower. Playing in co-op, your partner can hug you back to life but playing solo, these moments are soul destroying.
Swords of Ditto doesn’t do anything groundbreaking. The roguelite mechanics have been done many times before, the procedural generation has been done before, the limited in-game play time has been done before and the dungeon diving has been around for more than 2 decades. What Sword of Ditto does do differently, however, is wrap all of this together for the first time in such a neat “compact” package that’s bursting with charm and insane amounts of polish. Strangely, while Swords of Ditto borrows the best bits of those that came before it, the combined complexities that they give this game make it feel as original as any of its forebears. Its unforgiving streak aside, Swords of Ditto is a very good game indeed.
The Swords of Ditto is launching on the 24th of April, 2018 for PC (Steam link) and PS4 (Review version).
Developer: One Bit Beyond
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we recieved a review copy of the game from the publishers. For more information, please see our review policy.