Congratulations are in order for developer Dreadbit for being the first company that I have experienced the pleasure of seeing its game through from Early Access to full release. The indie developer gave us at Geeks Under Grace the opportunity to check out its work-in-progress back in July, and here we are finishing up what was started in September…1,000,000 copies sold!
For this review, I will do my best to address features that I have not already.
Seraph is all about gunplay: sparks fly when bullets strike and enemies explode into collectible items and nothingness when defeated. The story can be sparse at times, but I do not recall encountering words that could not be heard in a PG movie.
The bulk of what some might “consider too close to home” is the game’s imaginative approach toward All Creation—not the story of creation, but rather, how the spiritual realm interfaces with the physical realm. In Seraph, heaven is Origin, earth is Reality, and Terminus is hell. In a fashion similar to Tyrael of Diablo lore, an angel (the Seraph) decides to intervene in the affairs of humankind, and this interference correlates directly with a demonic invasion. The Seraph possesses a vessel, a brown-skinned woman of Middle Eastern descent named Talia, and resolves to destroy the demons and absorb their (negative?) power so that it may survive its return to Origin, which is indeterminately perilous. The enemies encountered along the way are comprised of monstrous humanoids without faces, but not repulsively grotesque; almost all of them are conventional unguligrade-type demons, and one bears a liking to Baphomet.
What anyone reading should take away from this is that Seraph could very well be a biblical metaphor without explicitly declaring itself as such.
To continue with the story, players who begin the tutorial in Seraph will be introduced to Talia as she is released from her chamber of imprisonment. A “Guide,” who refers to the Seraph as “sibling,” does precisely as its namesake suggests, revealing the necessity of scaling up the floors of the Corangelus, an (apparently colossal) nautical vessel in which this entire game takes place. As the Seraph advances, it is contacted by the last surviving friend of Talia’s, as well as Talia herself within her/its/their own mind. A single normal playthrough of Seraph reveals just enough of the game as to suggest that the Seraph-as-Talia may not be a completely righteous being; the fine details are left for players to discover at consoles that can be activated within game. Thankfully, Dreadbit has doubled the probability of encountering these since the Early Access days. After all there are seventy-five entries, and I am currently just shy of fifty. Combined, the texts that can be found within Seraph equal the length of a short story and greatly anticipate finding each. The weak ending is to be expected of a SHMUP because the genre is hardly known for great conclusions, yet Seraph exudes lore, so the finale strikes me as brusque.
The gameplay has not changed since the Early Access version. Please allow me to paraphrase myself:
I am pleased to say that Seraph provides great satisfaction, fusing components of several genres such as action, run-n-guns, RPGs, platformers, rogelikes, and RPGs, to produce a formula of procedurally-generated goodness in a cyberpunk setting. Unlike every shooter that I can think of, auto-aim in Seraph is not an easy mode-activated option, but is a necessary core mechanic. This is because the game offers a skill ceiling that begins with shooting dumb, slow, near-harmless enemies, yet ultimately ascends into bullet-hell where evasion is as important as vanquishing enemies. Even as a fan of SHMUPs, I am alienated by bullet-hell games because I feel they limit players to only one “correct” to play, however Seraph may very well be the most entertaining prolonged introduction to the sub-genre that I have ever experienced. The difficulty of the game actively but slowly scales upward as the player slays demons, yet declines dramatically every time the Seraph gets hit, down to a base level that continuously calibrates itself based upon the player’s overall performance. During Early Access for example, I started at a difficulty of 1 and by the time I neared completion of the game, I was at a 5-point-something; for the official release of the game, I am now skilled enough to have pushed the difficulty its hardest, a 9, before dying and having to restart story mode. Eventually, I decided to try a unique feature that became unavailable to me during the Early Access version due to a nasty bug that deleted all of my save data, ironically, before I could manually “delete” it myself: REBIRTH!
The number of options for customization are borderline preposterous. There are too many collectibles to name, but oftentimes, monsters drop fragments of themselves that can be transmuted into arsenal upgrades. Unlike during my Early Access session, I did not create the shotgun for fear that it would proc in weapons cabinets out of proportion to the other weapons. I simply find close-range combat counter-intuitive to its design as a game revolving around frantic evasiveness, but those who prefer direct approaches can do so. Among the other options are the SMG, assault rifle, rail gun, auto-pistols (Uzis), and revolvers. Like any other game, each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of accuracy, power, ammunition, and penetration. One class of weapons must be held with two hands and can only shoot in a single direction; dual-wielded weapons can shoot in multiple directions simultaneously. The auto-pistols are by far my favorite due to their great DPS and ability to proc passive skills.
Charms are another category of upgradable pick-ups, sorted by degree of gemstone preciousness. Rather than dealing damage, they aid in damage reduction. One must be careful in upgrading these, because not only are they much rarer than weapons, but they also consume the same drops the weapon upgrades. In Seraph, it is best to never get hit. Reliance on charms over skilled double jumps and blinks is unwise.
Miracles encompass the last upgradable category requiring large numbers of drops. It would be best to compare these abilities to spells in other games since they enter a cooldown period after use. The Seraph can equip two at a time, with “smite” serving as a default miracle that cannot be unequipped due to the fact that it is the only skill that can destroy stronger enemy types. It is possible to take passive skills upon a rare level-up that grants the ability to do damage and heal with this “basic” miracle. Orb is a default miracle, a projectile that behaves like a swift boomerang, dealing double damage if it strikes an enemy upon its return. Lightwell is my favorite because I am constantly fading away from enemies, and this skill behaves like a pillar, damaging all enemies that pass through it. I have been able to herd enemies through the light beam several times before it fades.
Everything in Seraph comes together well, and I often find myself admiring its polish during a session of gameplay. Although the proceedurally generated stages and limited variety of foes appear to highlight a lack of creativity in visual design, Seraph executes the philosophy of “less is more” with acumen. Even with my screen becomes swarmed with foes, I never witnessed a single frame drop, and the game maintains its fluidity at all times. With the exception of one track that plays during the post-mid boss levels, the music is surprisingly jammin with its techno beats. Players will get out of Seraph what they put in, and its target audience is for those who appreciate feats of skill. This is precisely the kind of game that SHMUP fans should not pass up under any circumstance.
The Bottom Line