‘Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through R’lyeh,
Indescribable reindeer were stirring,
Atop St Nick’s cyclopean Sleigh
Hideous Elves were chanting,
Eldritch summoning prayers,
In the hopes that Cthulhu,
Would wreak death and despair
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS CTHULHU
It’s Christmas time, and Cthulhu wakes up to a present seemingly from Father Christmas. Overjoyed at the treat that lies within, he soon discovers it contains a magical spell that strips him of all his powers. Intent on revenge, he sets out to find Santa and teach him a lesson; however, it soon emerges that he has been kidnapped by the Christmas League of Evil, who also sent our tentacled hero the shitty gift. Begrudgingly, Cthulhu teams up with Santa’s granddaughter, Crystal Christmas, in order to rescue him – with the promise of his world-ending powers gifted back to him should he succeed.
If that setup didn’t intrigue you with its charmingly silly premise, you’ll soon be hooked within moments due to the wonderful writing here. Much like UnMetal, which we reviewed previously, Cthulhu Saves Christmas is a barrage of joke after joke, the vast majority of which hit perfectly. There’s lots of cultural references here too, as well as plenty of fourth wall breaking – heck, the narrator is even basically an NPC! The main cast of characters are all immensely likeable too, which is good considering the game wants you to build your R’lyehtionships with them. No, I wasn’t attempting a pun: it’s an actual game mechanic. In between the main dungeons, you’ll have four days to perform tasks within the town, which will net you with different rewards. There’s no time to do them all, so you’ll have to prioritise the stuff you want. This stage of the game adds a slightly strategic element to the story sections, but you’ll mainly be doing them for all the crazy fun that Cthulhu gets up to. Hanging out with Baba will see you helping her fuse a chicken brain with her hut, for example. Or you could do some charity work at a local soup kitchen to help the homeless. It’s bizarre seeing Cthulhu in all these scenarios, but he never breaks character so you completely buy it. Every single one is a charm, and offer reason to boot up the New Game Plus just so you can see them all.
A CTHULHU CAROL
As for the dungeons themselves, Cthulhu Saves Christmas is a JRPG styled after the 16 bit era. It’s turn based affair with random encounters, although unlike most games in the genre there is a limit as to how many battles you will encounter in each area. Your meter will let you know when you’re getting close to an encounter, or you can force one if you really want. It’s a nice system as there are only 10-15 fights per dungeon, meaning you’ll no doubt get through them all and have time to explore for hidden chests. There’s not a huge amount of exploring to be done, as they’re all just simple mazes with the occasional dead end that may or may not contain a chest to loot. It wouldn’t be much of an issue, except they’re all a little bland and feel completely lifeless and static. It’s a shame as it results in each of the game’s dungeons feeling like reskinned versions of each other. Considering the prior game had you going into caves, exploring houses, and even encountering burned down towns full of zombie NPCS, it’s a real shame that there’s nothing like that here. The closest you’ll get to that kind of creativity is in one of the later stages, that has you ascending (what seems to be) a giant Christmas Tree.
Thankfully the battle system has a little bit more thought put into it. Your crew all have quite unique movesets, which will expand as they level up. With only eight skills equippable, you can pick and choose the ones you think will have the most utility – or you can leave it as the default attacks with an assortment of random attacks (like I did). Newbies like myself will probably prefer the latter option, but if you’re playing on the harder difficulties then you’ll need to choose your loadout carefully. Many skills synergise well when used together, such as an attack that deals damage based on inflicting poison, or one deals massive damage when you’re low on health. Additionally, you can also do a combo attack with one of your other companions (once a fight) that will deal massive damage, or grant you certain buffs. One of the main mechanics of battling is that most of your moves can only be used once before becoming unavailable, requiring you to defend in order to reactivate it. On paper, it sounds like a huge hassle, but it adds a fun layer of strategy that encourages you to use different moves rather than spamming the same attack over and over. This is only scratching the surface, but needless to say that there’s enough here to satisfy the JRPG enthusiast – but the basics are simple enough not to end up being a roadblock for amateurs, either.
One thing that’s particularly surprising is just how good everything looks. The developers have put a lot of work into the visuals to make it look detailed and sharp, and the results are stunning. Right from the start you will be greeted by beautiful snowy mountains, with some suitably upbeat music. NPC and enemy design too is impressive, with the character portraits being especially charming. A few of the dungeons can look a little samey with the Christmas theming, but the others are unique enough for these more generic ones to bother you too much.
As a seasonal JRPG, Cthulhu Saves Christmas does a good job at creating a lighthearted compact experience that you can boot up yearly for a bit of Christmas joy. With varying difficulty settings, it’s even perfect for a JRPG humbug like myself. Whilst it may not have the same level of level design as the original game, it certainly matches it in the narrative. Iä! Iä! Christmas fhtagn!