The Keep (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 23.11.2014 1

Review for The Keep on Nintendo 3DS

What would the gaming landscape be today without the RPG genre? The simplistic 2D affairs of yesteryear, such as the Final Fantasy games or Chrono Trigger have now made way for such stunning looking affairs as Xenoblade Chronicles X, coming to Wii U in 2015, or the impressive Final Fantasy XV, coming to the other two major home platforms. However, looking back, RPGs in videogame form didn't start right away as highly story-driven experiences like the favourite 8-bit and 16-bit console series that are known and loved. They started primarily as entirely text-driven adventures on university mainframes of the 1970s, paving the way for the first few commercially available home computer versions of the late '70s and early '80s, such as Temple of Apshai, Aklabeth, Ultima and Wizardry, many of which are still familiar to gamers today. Some of these soon took the form of first-person dungeon crawlers, rendered in pseudo-3D - the term "3D" being used very loosely, of course, since just a bunch of white lines on a black background would outline the walls and floors with no textures whatsoever, giving the simple "illusion" of a 3D environment seen through the eyes of the player, within the limitations of the hardware of the time. The technology evolving, textures soon became possible and the genre continued to exist for a while, alongside RPGs in the now more traditional sense of the term. That is the kind of experience that The Keep for Nintendo 3DS eShop tries to replicate.

The basic premise of The Keep is that the player incarnates one middle-aged man, going up against an evil wizard named Watrys. He is rumoured to be behind the disappearance of many children in the region and has locked himself away in his tower where he engages in all sorts of most foul experiments on magic crystals that have been mined by monsters and minions and said kidnapped kids to help him in his quest for power. The nameless hero goes alone into the keep, only to find himself quickly trapped by the wizard and thrown into his dungeon to rot, so one of the first missions is to escape the cell and work through several levels to reach the top of the tower for the true final confrontation with Lord Watrys.

The whole game is divided into chapters, which are essentially distinct levels for the protagonist to explore, and it is not possible to go back to a previous level already visited, limiting freedom of exploration. Themes range from prisons to caves, mineshafts, dungeons, and soldier's quarters. They are roamed by a small amount of different types of enemies, such as trolls, ghouls, dwarves, guards, ghosts, bats, spiders, and rats, all with their few mandatory palette swaps, and every one of them is subject to certain elemental and weapon weaknesses and strengths to mix things up a bit. However, managing the inventory to swap weapons on the fly is not recommended in the thick of battle as opening up the inventory does not pause the game. Enemies left free to attack take a mere few seconds to place enough hits to get their kill. Factoring this in, along with the fairly limited inventory space, means that not so many weapons can be carried around anyway - especially towards the end of the game - so weapon resistances are unlikely to be taken advantage of.

Screenshot for The Keep on Nintendo 3DS

Another problem with mêlée combat gets noticed from the earliest moments of the adventure, which is that hitting an opponent with a weapon is all a matter of pure luck. Indeed, literally two out of three physical hits are either "missed" or "blocked" by the enemy. Augmenting the stats that influence accuracy, or equipping items that do so, doesn't seem to bring any noticeable improvements either, so stat points will be better spent on improving spell performance.

Contrary to typical RPGs, mêlée combat does not allow for spamming with as many hits as possible since the hero has a stamina gauge that behaves exactly like the MP one, so neither type of attack can be overused to kill enemies. Ideally, using both in conjunction will be the best way to quickly take down an enemy, before waiting for the stamina and MP gauges to fill back up on their own over time, but since mêlée combat is not so reliable, magic damage will be the preferred immediate course of action, in most cases. This is because placing hits on enemies with either will increase mastery of either type of combat, but since mêlée hits rarely…hit, whereas ranged magic connects more often, magic combat mastery does seem to increase more easily, which is unfortunate. MP, HP, and stamina gauges can, of course, be restored in the midst of combat by using the corresponding potion, found in the environment and on some vanquished foes. Money is non-existent in the game, however, as nobody inside Watrys' keep will be willing to sell anything, so every potion, piece of equipment, crystal for increasing the power of the magic and other items come in limited quantity as only what's been put inside the tower and its basement will be available for healing and equipping.

Screenshot for The Keep on Nintendo 3DS

Traditional levels of experience are present, not only for every enemy killed but also when releasing children and finding secret passages, and at every level-up, three attribute points are awarded for effort, which may be spent in any stat desired, orienting the hero's progression more towards strength, intelligence or dexterity, making the lead character more proficient in certain areas in battles. Both types of combat occur through the Touch Screen, as is every kind of interaction performed in this game. Slashing an enemy with a sword or hammer is done by tracing lines across the bottom screen, allowing for diagonal, vertical or horizontal... low, medium or high hits to be performed and combined into combos. These usually connect more often than regular slashes but can only be performed after placing a few of the latter to fill a combo gauge, which means they can't be abused unless spending time trying to place hits which don't miss and don't get blocked.

Magic, on the other hand, is done by placing runes, picked up throughout the game, on a 6x5 grid with the stylus, and by tracing lines across them in a certain order. The working combinations are found on scrolls, also scattered throughout the game, and, unfortunately, while they can still be read up if they are kept in the inventory (taking up space...), they are best "remembered" since, again, bringing up the inventory in the middle of a fight does not pause the action. A wizard standing in front of an enemy, rummaging through his inventory for the right scroll explaining which runes must be placed in what order to make one spell, while the enemy keeps hitting, does indeed sound very silly.

Screenshot for The Keep on Nintendo 3DS

The solution is to place those runes in order in advance, kind of like a crossword sort of arrangement of vertical and horizontal alignments, and remember them by heart, which is, again, an unfortunate design choice.

Those aforementioned flaws with combat, however, do not take away from the strange alchemy going on with The Keep, which is that the game does indeed have one heck of an atmosphere going on for it. The graphics and sort of tile-based level design - where every corridor is at a 90° angle in pure dungeon crawling tradition - are not exactly very pretty, and the music is not the most memorable out there either, but the dark corridors and overall moody music, combined with the first-person view in true stereoscopic 3D, all work together to give an incredible sense of immersion in a truly creepy and downright oppressing universe. The clumsy combat, while most definitely a flaw of the game, only increases the sense of vulnerability of the player as nearly every battle becomes a threat, especially when going up against multiple enemies, and the outcome of many battles will either be death or close calls to it... thus, making what is a flaw a contributing factor to an excellent atmosphere. Secrets hidden throughout every stage, rewarding the player with better equipment and spells, also serve as effective incentives to search every level up and down in every detail to achieve completion. It's unknown whether freeing all of the imprisoned children affects the ending or not, as the game does not give away any hint to that effect, but there's that to be done too for all those completionists out there, although that does not make the game much longer.

Screenshot for The Keep on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

The Keep is one of those games that is more than the sum of its parts. It does not sport the fanciest graphics out there and does not impress in any particular area, but all of its ingredients put together work in a sort of alchemy more powerful than the spells it presents in-game. The 3D effect, combined with the moody, if repetitive, environments along with the haunting soundtrack all contribute to a creepy RPG-styled experience, seen directly through the eyes of the hero in full 3D. It's not without its faults: it is not easy to get into because the tutorial doesn't do a great job of explaining things, and even then, mêlée combat is a messy job that will prompt players to rely more on magic damage because the former is more often than not missed or blocked, even when the accuracy has been raised considerably. For all its shortcomings and just decent presentation, though, The Keep is still an intriguing experience that manages to hook gamers hungry for exploration and mild puzzles. Definitely not a perfect game, but a good experience on the whole.






Turn Based RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   


Our member of the week

Should have also mentioned that the game has a perma-death feature, which mean that every chapter must be done in one shot, only allowing for quick saves and should the character die, the player is sent back to the beginning of the level, which is really harsh, and is perhaps not the best option to pick for a first playthrough Smilie.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

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