The Serpent Rogue: Well That Was Disappointing

The Serpent Rogue is a game where you play a plague doctor looking fellow and gather up herbs to brew potions. Its systems are all pretty solid except for one fatal flaw: The resource pressure is obscene to the point that the game is stifling.

The potion system is pretty cool. Each ingredient is tied to a keyword, which can be a noun like “vitality” (read: health) or “age,” a verb like “add” or “remove,” or a quantity like “five” or “ten.” If you arrange the ingredients such that they spell out a proper function, you get a potion that does that thing. So, “add five vitality” is a healing potion, “remove five vitality” is a damage potion. Neat! You can also craft weapons like axes or torches or shovels, but these do relatively little damage over your bare fists, much less than crafted potions, and require metal ore resources that are (at least in the early game) hard to come by. So, okay, damage potions are the way to go. You’re an alchemist and you should be brewing your way to victory.

The game’s first boss has 120 HP. Damage potions deal 10 damage each (presumably there’s stronger potions in the game, but I didn’t find any quantity ingredients higher than ten in the three hours I played). So you need to smack him with twelve damage potions while avoiding his attacks or else rapidly recovering with healing potions. So that’s twelve ingredients each of “remove,” “ten,” and “vitality” minimum, plus probably you’ll want two or three extra “ten” and “vitality” to brew up with “add” for healing potions. I forget what “remove” and “add” were because I never seemed to run out of them (one of them is berries, but I forget which or where the other came from), but “vitality” are aloe and “ten” is fish bones. Aloe grows wild out in the dangerous wastelands, and fishbones can be harvested by getting worms out of stumps, then using worms to catch fish.

This is exactly the witch-y gameplay I wanted out of Drake Hollow, with just one problem: You can’t harvest worms and aloe until they regenerate. Using all of the worms a stump produces at once to catch as many fishbones as possible might give me exactly twelve if I’m lucky, but usually it’ll give me slightly less, and then there’s nothing to do except wait for more. Aloe is even worse, because it mainly grows out in the wasteland full of hostile monsters, which means you need to either whittle the random mobs down with your terrible melee attacks or else use damage potions to clear them out and hope that you get enough aloe to balance out your expenditure. There’s other systems for getting pets and allies to help you fight, but they’re very fragile and still require you to expend the same resources you’re trying to gather in the wasteland, so they face the same problem that you will potentially lose resources on net.

I spent three hours exploring the game, figuring out how the potion brewing system works, and then banging my head against resource limitations trying to amass an arsenal. The first part was fun, but the second part was obnoxious. In addition to the frustration of accumulating potion ingredients, it’s also difficult to keep food topped off, which makes everything worse, because the only way to speed up the regeneration of herbs is to sleep, which drains hunger.

Axes and other tools break too quickly, food runs out too easily, and finding the ingredients to brew up enough potions to be effective is all way too frustrating, which is too bad, because this game did all the work of making a great alchemy RPG, but then provided maybe two-thirds of the resources to use those systems.

2 thoughts on “The Serpent Rogue: Well That Was Disappointing”

    1. It’s in the backlog, so hopefully I’ll unearth it eventually. No idea how long it’ll take me, though.


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