I feel like one of the most important moment of LUCAH: Born of a Dream happens right when the game begins, just after you been been prompted to enter your name. It’s a brief moment, but as Colin, the lead developer of melessthanthree, introduces himself in scrolling pixelated text, white on a pitch black canvas, he says the following: “I know it won’t be easy, but…you trust me, right?”
LUCAH is a beautiful, difficult game, full of distress and anger, hope and determination, and at times you’ll feel just as lost and confused as the main characters. But trust Colin, because what he and his team have created is worth experiencing. LUCAH is a wonderful Souls-like adventure into a world of nightmares, with a deep combat system, a rich, if disturbing, world to explore and more than enough to sink your teeth into.
Cursed to have their personal demons come to life as vicious Nightmares, Lucah embarks on a journey to achieve Purification and escape the Corruption consuming them.
I’m not going to lie, I felt very lost as I began LUCAH. You’re tossed right into the game, your only explanation for what’s going on delivered in cryptic, pseudo-religious riddles that would make Hidetaka Miyazaki proud. You’ll no doubt be struck by the game’s art style right from the get go. Everything in LUCAH is depicted in a harsh, aggressive hand drawn style, all done in bright neons. It can take a little time to let your eyes and artistic taste acclimatize to this art style, but I happen to love it. It’s evocative, full of emotion, and does a fantastic job of setting the scene for the kind of game you’re wandering into.
I found the plot (particularly at the start) quite confusing, and you’ll no doubt feel lost for a good portion of your time in LUCAH. The character you play as is a wandering child with vaguely defined powers. You’re one of a group of these children, and you’ve been scattered due to fear or ill-intent. Initially, your goal seems to be to find aid and guidance, and then purification, but this quickly devolves into more of a fight for survival and explanation.
What the game lacks in narrative clarity it makes up for in atmosphere, and just like the times I’ve been lost in the lands of Lordran, Drangleic and Yharnam, I loved being lost in the world of LUCAH. It’s atmospheric, tense and captivating all at the same time.
As convoluted as the plot and goals of the game might be, LUCAH’s mechanics and intricate combat system are crystal clear, but present you with a dizzying array of options and opportunities for experimentation. The game relies on a series of combat combos, all very clearly explained and easy to understand and execute. The depth in LUCAH’s combat system, and there is incredible depth, comes not from actually executing your attacks, but from the choices you make in constructing your own move set and abilities.
In LUCAH, you have two paradigms; think of these as move sets. Each paradigm is made up of a light, heavy and familiar attack. Over the course of the game, you’ll unlock and find different paradigm characteristics, which you’ll be able to assign to your light and heavy attacks (you’ll physically find new familiars separately, but each roughly correlates to one of these characteristics). You’ll need to construct your own move set by mixing different paradigms to create a combat chain that feel right for you, and you absolutely should be switching between paradigms often and quickly in combat.
As an example, I favored a long range Paradigm (AERO/GAEA/BURST) for exploring and starting combat, so I could hang back and learn a bit about the enemy’s move sets before closing the gap. Along side this I had a slower, heavier close combat paradigm (ANIMA/ANIMA/-) to dash in an finish enemies with a burst of heavy damage when they were stunned or broken, swapping out my familiar in this paradigm based on the types of enemies i was fighting or just what I was feeling at the time.
You don’t have just the classic health and stamina to manage in LUCAH, but also a charge bar, which is used by your familiar for their attacks. Stamina regenerates overtime, but charge only regenerates when you land light or heavy attacks on enemies (outside of a few interesting Virtues…more on those in a sec!). This is LUCAH’s brilliant way of forcing you to act aggressively, while also giving you a way to always feel like your contributing to a fight, even if you have to back out of close combat for a second. I found myself settling into a kind of hit-and-run dance in combat, Opening each attack with a salvo of longer range aero attacks and rapid fire from my burst familiar. Once my charge was spent, I moved closer with some gaea heavy attacks (which have a good chance of breaking or stunning enemies), before switching paradigms and wailing on the enemy with my anima heavy attacks. When my stamina was nearly gone, I’d roll back out of combat, switch paradigms and open up with my burst familiar again while my stamina recharged.
On top of this already solidly rich combat system, Virtues are another level of customization you have in LUCAH. You have a certain number of Virtue Points (VP), which can be increased through prayer beads found or bought in the game. You’ll find Virtues in the world, or have them available as certain level up rewards on occasion. Each virtue gives you a distinct ability or advantage, though they are usually passive or reactive, as opposed to offering direct damage or defensive increases.
For instance, the Perceptive Virtue allows you to see enemy health indicators (though I’ll admit it took me longer than I would care to admit to realize what those health indicators were. Kudos for that bit of UI design.), while the Untethered Virtue slows time briefly when you execute a perfectly timed dodge (Note: there is no cooldown on this virtue’s effect, nor is there a limit to how often it can be used. Get good at dodging and you’ll start feeling like Neo in no time! Hopefully this isn’t unintended, because it feels incredibly rewarding!).
LUCAH honestly may have one of the best forms of combat customization in gaming. The systems are complex without being hard to understand. They let you tailor your experience, and in some ways tailor the difficulty of the game, on the fly. The Paradigm and Virtue system is innovative, complex and has incredible depth, adding variety and replayability to the game while not bogging it down with the minutia of statistics and min-maxing numbers.
And we haven’t even talked about rewinds yet. Early in LUCAH you find an item called a rewind. This is a consumable item that acts as LUCAH’s Estus Flask; it’s a core part of the gameplay, and managing your rewind charges is incredibly important. Unlike the Estus Flask, the rewind isn’t a simple health item. When you use a rewind, the combat stops, and you’re transported back in time to the beginning of the current encounter. Your health is reset to where it was when you began, and the fight starts all over again. Rewinds make each combat feel a bit like gambling: Do you keep fighting after you’ve taken a few hits, or use that last rewind to try and fight a little bit better and save a bit more health? LUCAH isn’t generous in it’s save points were you can refill your rewinds either, so it really is a choice you have to consider, usually right in the middle of an intense combat against some sort of horrible nightmare beast.
With such a fantastic combat system, fights in LUCAH are an awesome experience. Even combats with low level mobs are fast paced, a tense dances between close and long range, balancing risk and reward. Boss fights feel even more epic than they’d normally be. Particularly early on in the game, there are a few brutally difficult boss fights that are built more like cinematic encounters, with your death moving the plot forward. I can tell you now that I cannot wait to watch a YouTube video of someone much better at video games than me uncovering the result of successfully completing those battles at those early stages.
LUCAH isn’t without it’s missteps. While the game’s art style is evocative and atmospheric, it does sometimes make it hard to actually navigate through the world. The fact that you’re never directed to the map, which itself is a bit more hidden than I’d expect, means that I found it very easy to get frustratingly lost at times. Luckily, there’s a menu button that will return you to your last checkpoint at the cost of a little progress.
The pacing of the game also felt a bit off at times, flip-floping from panicked terror to miasma-tic doldrums, even if each section of the game is incredibly atmospheric. I’ve come to the conclusion this was probably intentional, as it follows the progression of the story fairly well and does do a great job of putting you in the same shoes as your character.
I should also note I’ve not seen everything in LUCAH. I didn’t find every virtue, nor did I rescue every familiar, I’m sure I missed areas in the game, and I haven’t even touched New Game +. But I’ll say this in closing: I’m not putting LUCAH down. I not only intend to keep playing LUCAH, but I’m eager to. Even with a long list of games I want/need/intend to play and review, I really want to just keep exploring this world, and cannot wait to find new things to experiment with.
I think that’s perhaps one of the strongest recommendations I can give.
If you want to learn more about the development of LUCAH, check out our interview with developer Colin Horgan!