The recent release of Triangle Strategy raised an interesting conversation about the role of customization in RPGs. For those of you who didn’t pick it up, progression there is almost entirely linear, with each character having a predefined class that remains rather rigid throughout the whole experience. Some enjoyed having that more ‘intended’ and consistent experience, while others didn’t like feeling boxed in to pre-made cutouts. For those that feel like you would be more in line with the latter group, Nobody Saves the World is absolutely designed with you in mind. This is a remarkably open-ended and thrilling action-RPG that constantly throws surprises and choices your way, enabling you to overcome its challenges on your own terms. It’s gaming ‘comfort food’, plain and simple.
Nobody Saves the World sees you playing the role of a pale, fleshy, zombie creature who wakes up in a small hut with no memory of its past. The villagers speak of a Calamity coming, and it can seemingly only be averted by a powerful wizard in the village named Nostramagus. Unfortunately, Nostramagus is nowhere to be found, and you quickly discover that he left behind his wand with a note asking his bumbling assistant to come save him. To stick it to the annoying assistant, you decide to take the wand yourself—granting you newfound transformation powers—and set out on a quest to find Nostramagus and hopefully put a stop to the Calamity before everything is destroyed.
It’s hardly a deep narrative, but if you’re familiar at all with Drinkbox’s previous work (Guacamelee!, Severed, Guacamelee! 2), then you probably already know that the humor is more of the focus here. Luckily, this proves to be consistently on point, as you embark upon an adventure that rarely takes itself seriously. Whether you’re helping poorly disguised aliens find their way back to their mothership, finding a way to move up in the ranks of a mutant thief guild, or finding a horse’s one true love, there’s no guessing what goofy scenarios your character will be stumbling into next.
The unpredictable and somewhat manic gameplay takes the shape of an action-RPG, as you’re accosted at nearly every turn by myriad monsters and wild animals. Regardless of what transformation you’re using, you’ll have a weak, but effective basic attack that can keep most of them at bay. If you’re overwhelmed by too many enemies or there are a few bigger ones thrown into the mix, you also have a few special attacks you can use that rely on mana generated from your basic attack. It’s a relatively mindless combat system at first glance, then, but things are made much more interesting with the integration of the various strengths and weaknesses of each transformation.
See, each form you can take has a distinct ‘flowchart’ for how to dish out the most damage possible. The slug, for example, leaves a snail trail behind it that damages any enemies that cross it while inflicting the ‘slow’ ailment on any who linger too long. The slug’s basic attack then deals substantially higher crit damage to any enemies that are slowed. Or, in another example, the knight has a few basic sword attacks, but each strike will do additional damage if your current health is below a certain threshold. Every form thus has unique gimmicks and movesets to differentiate them, which imbues the otherwise rote hack ‘n’ slash action with a nice dose of flavor.
Progression advances in a rather interesting non-linear fashion where the only way to accrue experience is through completing various quests. Each form will usually have two or three available quests at a time that ask you to do basic tasks like killing a certain amount of enemies with a given move or inflicting a debuff on a minimum amount of foes in one cast. If you complete a quest, that form will level up slightly and some experience will also go towards a shared level between all the classes. When a form’s rank goes up, new attacks and passives are unlocked for it, while the shared level increase will result in a bump of your base stats across all forms.
What we appreciate about this system is how there’s always some sort of forward motion taking place, while you’re also incentivized to make full use of all the forms available to you. Sticking to just one or two forms means you likely won’t be leveling up much, so you have to keep switching every once in a while to grab some of those easier quests that’ll boost up your character quicker. More importantly, the quests for each form act as a long-form tutorial system that showcase all the unique things you can do with each character. If you don’t like playing as much with a given character, you can choose instead to focus more on others and still be making solid progress.
A couple hours in, you then unlock the ability to cross over skills and abilities between classes, which enormously opens up your options and encourages you to ‘break’ the game. The rat, for example, is based around building up poison through rapid, low-damage attacks, and this is made substantially more dangerous when you equip the archer’s passive ability that ups poison damage on attacks. The slug, meanwhile, has a powerful charge attack that’s quite costly on the mana reserves, but this can be mitigated by putting one of the horse’s abilities on it that increases mana regeneration when objects are broken in the environment. There are shades of the cross-classing mayhem that happens in the Bravely Default series, then; each class feels complete on its own, but the options brought in by mixing class strengths allows you to create some real powerhouse builds. Most importantly, it feels like you’re being actively encouraged by the game to try to find the most broken builds possible.
This is bolstered even further by the skill upgrade system, which lets you power up the abilities and attacks you use most. Upgrade tokens are doled out as rewards for beating dungeons or killing certain enemies, and these can then be spent on abilities to improve things like damage, charge times, and cooldowns. The economy for these upgrades feels well handled; you never feel like you have enough to do everything you want, but you also don’t feel like they’re necessarily hard to come by. Plus, this slightly decelerated form of progression help to apply some brakes to your favorite classes becoming too powerful too soon.
The world itself is laid out in a notably open, almost Zelda-like fashion that encourages exploration and going off the beaten path. Not only are you given control over what order to do the main story quests in, but there are a smattering of side quests and optional dungeons you can attempt along the way to help boost your overall level. You can even join a few guilds spread across the land that have exclusive quest chains which boost both your character and your overall standing in the organization. Meanwhile, there are things like mana fairies and hidden treasure chests liberally scattered around each area that require you to use some forms’ special abilities to get to them, like squeezing into tight spaces as the rat or crossing a river as the mermaid.
Much like the radiant class system, this kind of world design ensures that there is always something interesting to do or get caught up in no matter which direction you go. There’s not any dead air or lulls in the action in Nobody Saves the World, you’re constantly jumping from one meaningful thing to the next and finding new things to pull you forward. Plus, it’s almost certain that a given area will have some segments that you can’t access yet because you’re too low level or don’t have the right form unlocked, giving you plenty of good reason to backtrack later and see where those additional rabbit trails may lead.
Though enemies don’t give out any experience themselves, they do often drop coins and other valuables that you can then trade in at the shop for various goodies. Here, you can buy things like permanent boosts to specific stats, new skills and abilities that are exclusive to the shop, and endlessly repeating quests that’ll give you experience for doing things you already do, like opening chests or killing enemies. In many ways, it feels like the shop is another side of the skill upgrade system; you’re not really buying any consumables or typical shop items here, just more upgrades and permanent bumps to your character.
Those of you who don’t like playing alone will be thrilled to learn that two player co-op is supported, and there’s even online if you don’t happen to have a friend nearby. Though we didn’t get to test the online co-op during the review period, the couch co-op certainly hits all the right notes. We were feeling some mild Castle Crashers vibes playing through it with someone else, as there’s that same scrappy, goofy, vaguely RPG-like experience here. Plus, the controls are simple enough that single Joy-Con play is even an option, making this a perfect game for impromptu lunch break co-op sessions if you’re so inclined. Though it does feel like Nobody Saves the World is primarily designed as a single player game, we appreciate the effort here towards including others if desired.
It’s really tough to find many things to criticize about the game design in Nobody Saves the World, as it remains varied, dynamic, and action-packed for virtually the whole adventure. One element that does feel a little lackluster, however, is that the difficulty seems a little lower than ideal. Once you’ve figured out some great setups for various classes, you can steamroll over the hordes of foes a bit too quick. Even so, this is perhaps the point of giving the player so much agency over building characters, and it does feel pretty good to have an almost Dynasty Warriors-like level of power over a screen full of enemies. So, those of you who are looking for a deeper challenge may not be fully satisfied by Nobody Saves the World, but do bear in mind that this drawback is comfortably outweighed by the many positives of the experience.
Nobody Saves the World is presented in what looks like a modified version of that signature angular art style that Drinkbox utilized for both of the Guacamelee games, characterized by a thick outlines and highly contrasting colors. Ambient lighting in most places helps to provide more atmosphere, and we especially liked how it felt that different areas of the map stuck to different color palettes to help differentiate them. Best of all, performance is top notch, with nary a frame drop even when the screen is loaded up with foes. It feels like fewer and fewer games these days are running at 60 FPS on Switch, and it’s nice to see when developers clearly put in the work to have their visually enticing games still running at peak performance in docked and handheld mode on Nintendo’s humble hardware.
The soundtrack, though carrying over some elements from the Guacamelee games, is interestingly low-key for most of the adventure. At some points, it can feel a bit odd setting out on a grand quest or fighting hordes of foes to reasonably chill music, but it’s the kind of thing that grows on you more as the hours roll by. After all, it’s nice to hear developers of a game like this trying something a little more distinctive and memorable than just aping the vibe of the Zelda overworld theme and calling it a day.