Lost in an infinite abyss of inspiration
Chasm is a gorgeously pixeled metroidvania that is very clearly inspired by the bona fide classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. So much so that it ends up feeling uninspired, or at the very least oblivious to the myriad of new spins and takes on the genre over the past few years. It’s a competently crafted game, but the procedurally generated horse that was bet on, seems to have been the wrong one to tow the cart.
You play as a rising star among the new recruits of the Guildean military and are sent out on your first assignment, to investigate what is assumed to be a trivial plea from the small town of Karthas. When you arrive, however, the plea seems much more urgent. Everyone is missing except for a lone old man, who says monsters have taken everyone else into the depths of the mines. It is now your task to rescue the missing persons from the mines and further investigate the old man’s claims of monsters lurking in the depths below.
Chasm’s straightforward tale of good and evil told isn’t particularly memorable, nor are its characters. However, those characters you rescue do have their own requests which will unlock certain shops or special gear upon their completion. It’s too bad the quests themselves aren’t anything more than happening upon a specific item lost in the mines and returning it to them. There is a fair amount of lore to dig up regarding the game’s world, but none of it seems to have a meaningful resonance in the context of Chasm’s basic good and evil premise.
The world beneath Karthas features beautifully drawn pixel art. Between the enemies and all the animations, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t look good. However, areas are so long and few that even though they look great at first, they grow boring long before you’re done exploring them and especially as you backtrack. The music is fine, but as there aren’t too many areas and they are long, it also isn’t varied enough to make the exploring and backtracking any less tedious.
Regarding its mechanics, it’s not an exaggeration to say it plays exactly like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or one of its handheld follow-ups. Chasm has the flow of the combat and platforming nailed down tight, but that really underlines a key issue that Chasm has. It put its influence on too high of a pedestal to a point that it can’t reach.
Chasm’s menus and UI are all very evocative of Symphony of the Night. Dying even kicks you back to the main menu in much the same manner. It also features the same sort of watered down RPG elements, but with even more water. The association is so easy to make, that it highlights how thin the experience Chasm offers is by comparison. The only place Chasm shows its own spark is in its bestiary, as there’s a good variety of enemies with different attack patterns. Even then, it still isn’t nearly as robust and works in much the same way as it did in many Castlevania games.
It’s unfortunate that where Chasm tries to distinguish itself does it no favors. Its procedurally generated nature is much the same as the original Diablo, in that within a save the map will stay the same, but upon starting a new game a new map is created. And like Diablo, there doesn’t appear to be any significant differences between maps, but it worked in Diablo because of its robust loot system. Chasm has loot, but it’s far more limited and more deliberate. Key upgrades are doled out in the same order, as are the challenges you will face, all at the same slow pace. Sometimes, within in the same map, rooms can be exact copies of each other, right down to the enemies that reside within, and most rooms in general feel like one or two screens longer than they needed to be. The result is a padded world that feels more disjointed than interconnected.
So much was riding on the procedural generation being the hook of the game, and it just falls short. Too many rooms feel like needless padding, and the differences between new runs are negligible. Genre staples like exploration and backtracking feel dull in its bland world, and it’s not doing anything else to push a genre forward that continues to expand and grow in new ways year after year. Though it is very competently made, it comes across as a game too married to its Castlevania influences to take risks and lost in a design philosophy placing too much emphasis on creating the infinity game.