Massive Chalice isn’t perfect. I could spend 30 minutes complaining about poor enemy placements, stupid house mottos and enemies that just aren’t fun to fight. But after finishing a campaign and failing to save the kingdom, what I’m left with is an appreciation for the terrifying enemies, the intricacies of arranging marriages and the strategy that goes into deciding whether I should force one of my fighters into the Sagewright Guild to aid in research instead of leaving him on the roster in case I need his battle expertise in a few years.
Forgetting is, at its very core, a scary thing. To be certain, it is merely annoying to walk into my home office, scratch my head and wonder what I came in to do. It is an altogether different thing to watch a person with Alzheimer’s Disease deteriorate, to watch them interact with family members as if they were strangers, to answer repeatedly “who are you?” and “where am I?” Those fears are what the Lapse is made of. It’s a ranged fighter whose attacks not only knock off hit points but experience as well. My alchemist forgot how to throw a jar of bees. In the moment, that’s annoying, because it’s a useful skill. In my imagination, though, what else has he forgotten? How many hits can he take before family disappears? How long until everything around is foreign and frightening?
The Wrinkler is no better. We all watch our friends and family age. Growing older is a part of life. If you’re facing Wrinklers, it’s also a part of combat. Their hits age the target when they connect. Each strike makes you five years older. Not only does this mean that my favorite caberjack might perish before the next fight, it means dying of old age on the battlefield is a real possibility. I saw a man with full health take one hit from a Wrinkler and just keel over. His time had come. He left no children behind, he contributed nothing to the nation’s scientific pursuits and, since his demise came early in the fight, I was essentially starting the fight at four-fifths strength.
Other units are bothersome. Bulwarks can only be hit once per round before they develop thick armor. Ruptures run at your units and explode, sacrificing themselves so that other Cadence units might win the fight. Cradles create an endless parade of seeds until you take them out, while Twitchers swap positions with your units and muck up any formation you had. But none of them hold a candle to the Lapses and Wrinklers. It’s easy to formulate a plan against a foe you understand, but how do you confidently fight an enemy that takes bits and pieces of you away as a side effect of physical attack?
Between battles, the perspective shifts to that of a kingdom management simulation. It’s up to you to decide who marries whom, where new keeps are built and who will give up their family name and devote themselves to research. I, completely without realizing it, ran out of caberjacks and hunters after a generation, because I was more concerned with passing down good traits than I was with maintaining a balanced roster. I was up to my ears in alchemists and brewtalists.
If you needed a potion thrown, then my kingdom was the one for you. If you needed somebody precisely shot with an arrow or knocked across the map with a giant log, though? No can do, pal. I accidentally killed all of those folks off. All that remained were ranged units with limited ammunition, and the only way out of the hole I’d dug was to forego other research to recruit new heroes and then do so again to build a new keep where those new heroes could form a new house that produced melee units.
I screwed that up by caring too much about the offspring class, and then everyone had the shortened lifespan trait. I was left with an empty house and one shadowjack (a hunter-caberjack hybrid) for my trouble. A few years ago, however, I sent one caberjack out to convince her mentor to leave his house and come to the capital. He lived in a region where the Cadence were set to invade, and he wasn’t going to make it. Mary convinced “The Walrus” to return, but she died on the return trip. Mary was 27 when she set out to retrieve him. “The Walrus” was 85 when he came into my service. Granted, he was level 8 while my other units were level 4, but it stings to have an FTL-esque event go sideways like that.
“The Walrus” became regent of the now-empty house and married the only female (the aforementioned shadowjack) available. I felt terrible marrying an 85-year-old man to a 19-year-old girl. It felt gross and wrong, and yet I clicked confirm and watched the birth announcement pop up on my timeline three times before “The Walrus” passed away shorter after his hundredth birthday. His legacy kept my roster full enough to fight for a few more years, but I’m still not sure it was the right thing to do.
Massive Chalice is all about hard choices. My marital planning failures meant I had to put off armor and weapons research. After that I spent years researching pillar pitchers for my alchemists, timefist cabers for my caberjacks and blunderbows for my hunters, only to realize that I only really like the blunderbow. It would be years before I could outfit my caberjacks with ramcap cabers, and I never did complete boom slingers for the alchemists. 300 years of progress, and they marched into the final battle using their stock weapon because it was easier to aim and has a more efficient area of effect.
When I play again, I’ll know not to waste my time researching those weapons that I don’t like. I’ll know to pay better attention to traits and class as I’m installing regents in keeps, and I’ll only induct into the Sagewright Guild when I have asthmatic drunks to spare. This time, though, I’m quite proud of the fact that I made it to the final conflict, and if it weren’t for the missed achievement I’d think that the final battle was meant to be lost. There’s a scene for it and everything. There’s no game over screen, just the knowledge that my kingdom ended not quite able to go the distance. We lasted 300 years and beat back the Cadence at every turn, but it just wasn’t enough. My journey through Massive Chalice’s world is going to stick with me for quite a while.
Pros: Interesting and thought-provoking enemies, FTL-inspired random events, fun tactical combat
Cons: Enemy spawns are brutal, advanced cradles are nearly impossible, final battle far too difficult