Baroque is a unique game and a difficult one to understand, which is likely the reason it has gotten the mixed reception that it has. Most people come into Baroque expecting an action-rpg which puts them into a certain mindset. The exact opposite mindset needed to understand the game, quite honestly. Baroque has more in common with the Mystery Dungeon games than it does with any true rpg as your death basically resets the game for you; sending you back to the first floor and starting back at level 1. Fortunately, you are able to save at each floor.
Yes, there is experience to gain and there are levels to work towards but the game isn’t about grinding to beat the boss. The game is more about just killing enemies for their item drops and hoping to make it to the next floor of the dungeon. This is where Baroque will lose a lot of fans. Most people simply are not used to the roguelike dungeon crawler. When you are told that Baroque is an action rpg, you’re expecting to level up your character, equip him with the best stuff and plow through the boss and while this is somewhat true, it is also looking at this game the wrong way. The mindset necessary to enjoy this game is something more akin to Gears of War 2’s Horde mode. The point of the game is more about survival than it is linear progression.
Speaking of progression, Baroque also has a unique method of advancing its story. Your nameless character finds himself in a world that is only a shadow of its former self. Ravaged by an incredible calamity known as ‘The Blaze’, not only has the world been decimated, but so has reality itself. As a result, people’s bodies have begun to distort and change to reflect their psychological ‘ticks’, in this world referred to as Baroques. With no memories of his own, your protagonist is charged by the Archangel to descend the Neuro Tower and correct the sins you have committed. What these sins are, you are only given vague hints and that is true for the majority of the narrative in this game.
Many reviews cite this lack of clarity as a flaw, but I consider its veil of mystery part of the game’s mise en scene. You are not playing this game to be told a story, you are playing this game to become the protagonist and slowly recover pieces of your memory, which may, or may not unfold into a single, coherrent tale. Baroque’s narrative is truly a non-linear experience, unlike what is typically considered non-linear, which is a linear story with breaks in between scenes to let you go do other stuff. No, practically all of Baroque’s narrative threads are optional. During your descent of the tower, you may encounter characters which may reveal something, however cryptic, you may die and have a fragment of your memory returned to you, you may not speak or see anything as you descend the tower, or you may see a character or scene more than once. Baroque’s narrative is more a discovery of context as all the plot points you find are not revealing a single linear story but a hazy collection of events, exchanges, and even confrontations. Its a daring experiment, and not one that everyone will be able to digest well.
Now, while I may be fascinated with this game because it dares to be different, and in some ways unique, on a different level, it is seriously lacking. The graphics are fairly unimpressive and the dungeons have little personality as they are randomly generated, and the combat system is downright primitive. Combat consists of a regular attack, a charged attack, and a special attack which chan be chained into slow, extremely limited combos. There is no block and there is no jump.
The combat system is not a total loss, however, as you are able to throw almost any item in your inventory, including equipment, for damage, and many items have special effects when thrown. Also, you are able to brand yourself and items for additional effects, as well as fuse yourself and items with parasites that further augment your abilities. Torturers are special items that have a variety of effects and can do anything from generate a wave of fire, summon all enemies on the floor into your rooml or even heal you, which you will definitely need as, with many roquelike games, your time in the dungeon is always limited.
In Baroque, you are limited by a stamina/health meter. As long as you have stamina, your HP will regerate, but your stamina is constantly depleting. Once depleted, your health will deplete. There are, of course, items to recover as well as increase your hp and your stamina, so there is that aspect to manage.
In conclusion, Baroque is simply a unique game; call it niche if you wish. The genre, the roguelike dungeon crawler, is not the type of game that many people are drawn to. The is story itself is vague and is conveyed in a fashion that I have not experienced anywhere else. On a more basic level, the game is lacking as combat, graphics, and movement feel primitive, but primitive they may be, they still work and I think that the fact that this game is so different is enough to cut the less impressive elements a little slack.