How much did you like Hollow Knight?
Dear reader, if you're not familiar with the Review FAQ format, please check out some previous examples: Senran Kagura: Peach Ball, State of Mind, and the Mega Man X Legacy Collection Volume 2 (among others). I generally go to this format when I'm having a hard time finding a through-line in a given review when written traditionally. In those instances, I find the Review FAQ format is a good fit.
Oh hello. I didn’t see you there.
That’s my line.
Sorry. I understand you’ve been playing a new Switch game?
I have, in fact. Would you like to hear about it?
I've been playing 3000th Duel, from developer NeoPopcorn.
Can’t say I’ve ever heard of that one.
I hadn’t either, but I’m happy to say it’s a pretty fun time, though not particularly standout. It shares a lot of DNA with Hollow Knight.
I played Hollow Knight for about an hour before I got tired of being brutally murdered by the first boss.
Okay, quitter. Hollow Knight is amazing. It is beautiful, haunting, creative, and incredibly difficult but also supremely satisfying. You probably won’t like 3000th Duel if you didn’t like Hollow Knight, though the former is much more forgiving.
I mean I like the idea of Hollow Knight, but it’s just so long and so hard.
Thankfully, then, 3000th Duel is shorter and not nearly as hard. The gist is that you’re a swordman (swordswoman?) who wakes up with amnesia and goes on a Journey to Remember Who They Are and, in doing so, kill a bunch of monsters and big bosses. Unlike Hollow Knight, you will find various types of weapons and equipment to mix and match, and magic attacks (“Occults”) that increase in power when you find new spell books.
Are the weapons like an Igavania game, where each weapon is different?
Sort of. In modern Igavania games (this includes Bloodstained, of course), weapons are divided into types, but weapons of a certain type perform the same way. So while there may be several kinds of broadswords with different effects or damage potential, they all result in a heavy overhead swing. It’s the same deal here, although there are only three kinds of weapons: swords, lances, and broadswords.
This is one way that 3000th Duel distinguishes itself from Hollow Knight, which depended on you becoming extremely familiar with the Knight’s single “nail” (sword). Each type of weapon has strengths and weaknesses: swords are quick and arc in a sort of half-circle in front of the character, but have poor range. Lances have great range but are limited in their applicability. Broadswords pack a lot of punch but are slow to use and won’t perform well against enemies that don’t stagger. Weapons may also have elemental affiliations. You can perform a “Mortal Blow” attack after building a purple meter. Mortal Blows are big, high-damage attacks. Finally, all three weapons have “charge attacks,” which are activated by holding down the attack button for a few seconds before releasing. Charge attacks have more complicated choreography and might not be wise in all situations.
Okay, that sounds complicated.
It’s really not once you get used to the controls. You can also dash, which is a lot like the dash in Hollow Knight, to the point where you become invincible while dashing, so dashing through enemies is encouraged (and sometimes required).
And how’s the combat? Is there a lot of combat?
There is actually a lot of combat. Normal everyday enemies won’t pose too much of a challenge, but early in the game you don’t have a ton of health, so you’ll want to take things slow. Enemies don’t appear to level up alongside you (thank god) so you do eventually become powerful enough to just plow through pretty much everything in your way, especially when backtracking. How’s the exploration? For all its focus on combat, Hollow Knight and Igavania games are just as centered on getting around and discovering secret areas.
It feels extremely superficial. This is partially because it’s so damn linear, but also because individual environments within the overall map feel like tile sets instead of organic localities. This is something Hollow Knight did extremely well. Igavania and Metroid games, too. Here, the spaces between boss encounters feel a bit like filler.
But don’t you find equipment and stuff?
You do, yes.
So what’s your beef?
It’s hard to describe. Okay, how about this. Have you played any Uncharted games?
I played Uncharted 2, it was great.
How long ago did you play it?
Like when it first came out.
Okay, try going back to it sometime. I think you’ll have a different experience. That game is extremely long, and most of the time, you’re shooting dudes. You spend 90% of that game shooting dudes.
I do remember there was a lot of dude shooting. But there was a great story!
I agree that a story was present, not that it was good. But here’s where I’m going with this comparison: did you ever feel like Uncharted 2 was a CGI movie with gameplay that you had to occasionally endure? Kojima games are the same way, though I find the gameplay much more rewarding. That is to say, did you ever feel like the gameplay was there just to get you from cutscene to cutscene?
Now that you mention it…
That’s how I feel about the level design of 3000th Duel. It exists solely to get you from boss fight to boss fight.
Couldn’t you say that about literally any platformer?
Touché. Look, I’m just saying the level design is dull and obviously isn’t the focus of 3000th Duel.
So the boss fights must be spectacular.
And they are, for the most part. Bosses tend to be large and imposing, with clearly telegraphed attacks and at least two phases. Generally speaking, you’ll be doing a lot of artful dodging and weapon switching to down these foes. I only wanted to throw my controller across the room once, during the Frost Mage fight, because it takes way too long and you can’t get hit. Common enemies wandering the map are much easier to take care of, but you can’t necessarily totally let your guard down.
And you’re just looking for swords and items?
For the most part, yes. Weapons and consumables. Sometimes you’ll find a Memory will tell you a bit about the bosses you encounter—who they were in a previous life. You’ll also find a couple shops where you can buy and sell supplies and upgrade your weapons. But this is where one of the game’s chief flaws is found.
The entire economy is based on karma. You win karma from defeating enemies and finding karma crystals (which award bonus karma). You might think of karma as being similar to red orbs in Devil May Cry or God of War: they’re basically experience points. You sink karma into leveling up your swordsman’s attributes (although this gets a little more expensive each time). If you die—and you will—your karma will remain in the room where you fell as a little floating orb. If you get back to that area and defeat the orb, you get your karma back.
So it’s like Hollow Knight that way.
Yes, exactly. Upon death, you’re revived at the last save statue. Unlike Hollow Knight, the punishment for dying again on the way to your karma orb isn’t as severe, since you can just go wail on random enemies to get your karma back to where it was. In Hollow Knight, your zenni would disappear and zenni is unusually hard to come by in Hollow Knight. Still, it can be a pain. Anyway, when you visit the item shop, everything is bartered in terms of karma. It costs karma to buy a new weapon. You get karma for selling unwanted items. The problem, of course, is that you can leave the shop and immediately lose all your karma by dying. It will take a LONG time (or a lot of grinding) to earn enough karma to purchase the highest-powered weapons in the shop, and even if you have the required materials to upgrade your weapons at the forge, you will also need a good amount of karma.
Sounds like they needed a second money-like resource, separate from karma.
Yes, that would’ve been appreciated. Well, that and a bank, where you can store your money to protect it from your inevitable death.
Anything else you don’t like about it?
I don’t like that the D-pad is for consumable usage. Too often, I press “up” on the D-pad in front of a save statue instead of pressing “up” on the left stick, which means I wasted a consumable. This problem could’ve been avoided by mapping consumable activation to “down” on the D-pad. The camera is just way too zoomed in all the time, especially during some boss fights. Show me the whole playfield, not just what’s right in front of me. Remember in Symphony of the Night how you couldn’t see more than three feet in front of Alucard all the time? No? That’s because it wasn’t an issue in that game.
But I like 3000th Duel overall. The combat is fun and strategic, the hero has a good weight to him/her and control is responsive and fluid. It’s not perfect but it’s enjoyable. It will appeal to the kind of gamer (like me) who enjoys punishing combat in a game that, through practice and sheer force of will, can be overcome and winds up feeling great.
Well that does sound cool. And if it’s not as hard or long as Hollow Knight, I might check it out!
Let me know what you think, disembodied voice!