Ever since the overwhelming success of the original Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System, video game developers have been trying to tap into whatever magical combination it was that Shigeru Miyamoto harnessed. The top-down, ridiculously challenging, dungeon-exploration puzzle game has been done so many times that for a developer to take on this genre, they really have to bring something new to the table. In a first- or third-person dungeon crawler, the entire room isn’t immediately visible, so some part of the 'puzzle' has to do with searching the room to find and understand the elements that you need to solve the puzzle. A fifth person game is unique because the player can see the whole room at once, and the puzzles are accordingly more difficult.
If a modern top-down dungeon crawler does not boast an interesting, humorous, or, at least, charming storyline, it will struggle to set itself apart.
Kronos, by Uroburo Studio, doesn’t seem to take any of these aspects into consideration. The typical player that is interested in a dungeon-crawler puzzle game thirsts for the mystery and adventure that comes from organic exploration. It is nearly impossible to achieve this sensation in Kronos, however; it feels a lot closer to your mother squeezing your squirming wrist as you navigate a crosswalk. The game begins by shoving a fifteen-page manual in your face, dragging you through the already self-explanatory game mechanics. On top of the manual, the main character also seems to patronize the player by narrating the problem, the environment, and the possible solution to the problem. This would be less annoying if any of these narrations or explanatory scenes were skippable, but, alas, they are not. By the way, the fifteen-page manual is not introduced to the player only once, either. If you mistakenly investigate possible avenues, the game automatically pops-up a page of the manual which pertains to whatever you are investigating. For example, I clicked on a door, and my little character tells me, “It’s locked.” The game then pulls up the part of the manual about pulling keys from inventories and using them on locked doors. Kronos didn’t even allow me the satisfaction of opening my own door. After a grueling tutorial and obvious remarks by the character, Kronos then found it necessary to inform me that the first level will be a tutorial level, wherein I shall continue to learn how to play the game.
So continue I did, and I then realized: there were more pressing issues than a patronizing tutorial.
The controls have the finesse of a sawed-off shotgun. It isn’t completely clear where the hitbox lies, which means that both the player’s character and the enemies have the accuracy of a Stormtrooper. After my first clumsy battle, my character had the audacity to say, verbatim, with breathtakingly poetic dialogue, “That was a really good fight.” No it wasn’t, Generic Knight Character. It was a garbage fight. You can’t trick me. The ambiguous controls transcend the battlefield, however: every time you have to grab a potion or weapon, it turns into an old-school game of Operation. I found myself lightly tapping the WASD buttons for a full ninety seconds before I could be accurately close enough to have the option to pick up a potion. In a game with such simple design and mechanics, it should not take Olympic-grade accuracy and dexterity to navigate a doorway.
You should just be able to go through the door.
After my first few enemies, I realized that dying is really, truly difficult. Each hit is laughable in the amount of damage it deals, and the player’s life bar starts regenerating immediately after every attack. In light of this, I changed the music (which consists of a thirty-second loop of generic dungeon music) to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumpin.” For experiment’s sake, I rushed into every room, clicking the action button like a madwoman, and somehow still remained at a reasonable amount of health. (I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.) That said, the difficulty ramps up from boringly simple to actually impossible in a matter of seconds. That might seem contradictory, and that is because it absolutely is. Though there are save points, marked as open books, Kronos seems to pay no mind to where the player has last saved. It regenerates the player in arbitrary, random places in the dungeon, sometimes in a room that the player has not even uncovered. To my growing frustration, the game saw fit to regenerate me right in the middle of fire pits or poison clouds or multiple enemies. I found myself twiddling my thumbs through multiple deaths before I was regenerated in a position that wouldn’t murder my character in a matter of seconds. Sometimes, even without the sweet embrace of death, the player will teleport to another part of the room with no reason or rhyme at all. You will just be hacking and slashing along, and then: Poof! You are now across the room.
More than any of these criticisms, some main mechanics of the game are just plain broken. There are all kinds of potions and equipment and weapons that claim to have certain effects on the character, and they seem to work only half of the time. The potion of invisibility either does nothing or keeps the player invisible for maybe five seconds rather than the promised twenty seconds. I took off a ring that was supposed to be boosting my maximum eter (the magic bar in Kronos), and my maximum eter actually grew by at least fifteen percent. Another issue with equipment is that there is a serious misunderstanding of the difference between “immunity” and “resistance.” It appears that the developers view these words as synonyms, meaning that a potion which will give the player “immunity” to fire for sixty seconds will actually mean that walking through fire (which is sometimes unavoidable) will hurt your character slightly less so, rather than not at all.
Misnamed equipment is not the only language issue that Kronos has. If it only seemed to be slight discrepancies in translation, the dialogue and text could be excused. Many very impressive games are developed in non-English-speaking countries, and direct translations can be clunky or strange. Kronos, on the other hand, has obvious typos, missing words, and oversimplified dialogue. It doesn’t seem like it was translated poorly, but instead written without being proofread, or edited in general.
At first glance, the art seems simple and unoriginal. At second glance, the art looks like a poorly-done rip-off of Prison Architect. Though there have been many a game with simple art that still prove to be complex and interesting, like Mike Bithell’s Thomas Was Alone, Kronos doesn’t have the charm, nor the chops, to justify its oversimplified, overused art style.
Were Kronos literature, it would be a rough draft; were it artwork, it would be a sketch. Though it has the skeleton of a fun, interesting, and challenging game, there is no originality, nor is there much character. Criticism for Kronos can’t even be reprieved by its art style, storyline, or dialogue - all of these elements seem to be recycled from various other titles. Beyond the aesthetic issues, the bugs in Kronos are too much to ignore. Maybe with more work on bugs and glitches, Kronos could be playable enough to enjoy; for now, Kronos doesn’t come close to standing out in an already competitive genre.