A bleak experience that can still shine through the darkness
When I first played it at PAX East 2019, Mistover immediately hooked me in with its methodical dungeon crawling and intense, strategic combat. The game has a striking anime-esque art style and colors that really pop despite generally keeping to its bleak aesthetics; narrowly surviving the dungeon and successfully reaching the end of the PAX demo was one of the most satisfying challenges I had overcome in a while. I’ve been eagerly looking forward to the game’s release ever since, and while I’m overall very happy with the game, there are some big issues that dampen the joy I was anticipating.
The majority of your time in Mistover is spent exploring dungeons and fighting the monsters within. Dungeon crawling is on a grid, and your movements are turn-based. Enemies will only move when you move, and getting ambushed when you’re not prepared to fight can lead to a swift and disastrous defeat. Running away and biding your time isn’t an effective option either as you’ll need to keep track of your hunger and light. When your hunger is empty, your units will no longer replenish their health and magic points and will instead lose health with every step. As your light decreases, your field of view will gradually shrink until you can only see the area immediately around you, making you far more vulnerable to an ambush. Both hunger and light can be replenished with items, but your resources are limited, so you’ll be in bad shape pretty quickly if you waste too much time.
Combat is also grid-based, and your positioning matters a lot in a fight. Both your team and your enemy team will be placed on their own 3x3 grids, and all of your attacks will need you to consider both grids simultaneously. Each attack can only be used when your unit is standing in a specific column, and since only three of your five units can stand in a column at once you’ll have to consider which attacks in that column are most important to have access to at any given time. Every move also has a range on the enemy’s grid that it can hit—usually either the front two or back two columns. Some attacks can move their user or target into a different column, and many more can attack entire rows or columns at a time. Your target’s evasion stats are also important to keep in mind, as a missed attack has the chance of moving up its target’s position in the turn order.
Enemy encounters in Mistover are frankly incredible, especially at the tense high-stakes difficulty that the game features. When playing on Normal difficulty, I had to consider every move very carefully, as a single mistake could spell death for my units. Since Mistover employs permadeath and autosaves after every action, you cannot undo your decisions and must live with your mistakes. The difficulty on Normal mode felt very well-balanced, as it was extremely challenging but also felt completely doable at every step. Players looking for a relaxed experience may feel alienated even on the Easy difficulty setting, but I found an incredible thrill in the tense and stressful gameplay.
Unfortunately, this thrill was not entirely sustainable given the game’s random elements. There is a certain degree of RNG that can screw you up in battle, but the most egregious form of randomness that I encountered was in the units that I recruited to replace my fallen allies. My starting team was really well-rounded. I had an even spread of abilities that could cover all three columns with a variety of moves that worked well to cover all the options I needed. My thief could attack enemies from behind to move them one space forward, my paladin could bash monsters with her shield to move them one space back, and my priestess could cast a single-target healing spell that restored a good chunk of an ally’s health.
All three of these units died as a result of my own big mistake, but the replacement units I picked up had a different set of skills that no longer worked as well. My options for pushing enemies forward or backward into different columns were gone, and my healer was now stuck with a multi-target spell that restored significantly less HP overall, making it far more difficult to save units that were in danger. Additionally, I found that across all of my units I had very few options to attack my opponents’ back row. The well-rounded team I started with had turned into a lopsided mess with little synergy, pushing the game out of that tense, exciting balance and into a frustrating mess.
This was exacerbated through a number of quality of life issues. The biggest problem was that learning new abilities—in other words, regaining the ones I’d lost when my allies died—was locked behind another random element. For some reason, units cannot learn a new skill unless you have another unit of the same class already recruited that already knows that skill, leaving you at the mercy of the randomly generated skill sets of freshly-recruited units. It took several arduous missions for me to get my single-target healing back, and I never regained my thief’s skill to move enemies to a closer column. Campaigns into the dungeons were made even more tedious by the slow combat animations and the frequency at which I needed to manually refill my hunger and light—roughly once every 30 seconds of walking.
Mistover’s tense dungeon exploration and positional RPG combat are incredible. In the best of circumstances with a good team, this is one of the most fun dungeon crawlers I have ever played. Regrettably, those best of circumstances are not a guarantee, and the random generation of characters can rob the game of so much of its appeal. The inconsistency brought about by RNG drags the game down from excellent to merely pretty good. Anyone looking for a more consistent or relaxed experience would do best to stay away, but there’s still a worthwhile thrill for anyone willing to put in the time to get a truly great run going in Mistover.