I have fond memories of playing Aaron Bishop's earlier project, Egoboo, a few years ago. So I was overjoyed to find out that his latest game was released as freeware (or niceware) and that the source is now open to the community. Secret of Ultimate Legendary Fantasy Unleashed, which we will just refer to as SoulFu from here on, is a Nethack inspired 3D action/adventure role playing game. The game features immersive action, stylish cell-shaded graphics, and randomly generated encounters or events. Up to four players can adventure together on the one machine.
Before you jump into the action, you must first generate your character. There are eight distinct classes to choose from (only Soldier and Wizard are available if you have not unlocked the full game) and should cater to whatever your playing style is. Usually character creation isn't my favourite part of any RPG as it takes me so long to decide on specifications. However, with SoulFu you can get this part over quickly enough and with charming ease. Four slider bars determine your skin tone and hair/hat, hair colour, primary outfit colours, and secondary outfit colours. Attributes are randomly generated by cycling forward or back, but if you're really lazy, you can randomise the entirety of your character.
The town is every character's starting point. It serves as the primary trading hub where you will barter for armour, weapons, pots, spells and food. What I really liked here though, was the fact there was no NPC guide waiting to take you by the hand, tell you how great and unique you are, and send you on some dull tutorial quests. Rather, you have a book in your possession that gives a few vague hints on survival, which attests to the "just jump in and play" nature of the game.
Your first few times playing through the game, and dying, will be your guide to how the world of SoulFu operates. While this could have been very frustrating, it instead spurred me on to continue playing so to familiarize myself with the system and learn from previous mistakes such as smashing the chests open for weaker items or forgetting to feed my character. Oh yes, your character can starve. Before you ever journey out, you must stock up with at least one food item. Monsters can also be killed for meat, but be warned, they don't stay fresh very long.
Another very interesting part of this game is the virtues. The five virtues are compassion, diligence, honour, faith, and courage. Depending on your actions in the game, each of the virtues can be raised or lowered. You receive a badge for each virtue you raise to 100 points and this also means the virtue can no longer be raised or lowered. Characters are normally limited to a maximum level of 5, but each badge gained allows you to exceed this by 1 level. However, each virtue will impose restrictions unique to its badge. This feature will undoubtedly be appreciated by more advanced players.
Combat is fairly straight forward. You have four action keys that you can assign weapons, shields, actions and spells to. You can choose to focus on close and personal fighting or long ranged or a combination of both. As you progress in level and statistics, more advanced weapons and armour will be available for use. Most levels items and monsters are randomly generated. I was quite impressed by the variety of monsters in the dungeons and their methods of attack. For example, the Imps and Spiders are reasonably easy to take on their own. But when an Imp mounts a spider and starts jumping around the battlefield like a lunatic, then you got yourself a problem.
Playing cooperatively really adds to what is already a very solid and enjoyable game. With a little help from a friend or two, your chances of delving deeper into the dungeons increase greatly. But don't worry; even if a buddy isn't at hand you can hire NPCs to accompany you by standing on the wooden posts. I found they don't seem to last too long under my care, though I might just be a negligent master.
Graphically, the game is a treat for freeware. Its chunky character designs are reminiscent of his earlier work, Egoboo, but are more refined in the delighting cell-shaded style. Thankfully it isn't too cutesy like a lot of modern games done in the same vain. The enemy monsters have real menace to them and don't look like they just want a hug, even if you do. The sounds are adequate and there isn't really much music, except for the boss battles, defeats, and victories. When playing RPGs I like to have a dynamic soundtrack to help get me into the game, but it's not a major loss.
What more can I say? SoulFu is a well thought out and excellent game. It does lack a save feature and death does result in losing a level (unless you have a wunnup cup equipped) which some people may find frustrating. But remember, Aaron Bishop intended that this game would be played for repeated short bouts only. So I say, job well done! And if you haven't done so already, download it!