Recently we’ve seen a surge in popularity in roguelike games. It seems like you can’t look at a storefront page without seeing at least one or two new roguelike games. Early this month an anime roguelike game called Zengeon came out on the Switch and I wouldn’t blame anyone for missing it. Zengeon was originally released on Steam back in 2019 and it wasn’t released on the Switch until August 6th, 2021. It’s a big-time gap but with everything that has been happening I can understand why. What that does not excuse is a very poorly made port. I’m a fan of roguelikes and I was excited to get my hands on Zengeon but after playing the game for more than 10 minutes I felt that excitement start to fade. I can see why PQube didn’t advertise this game heavily for its release unlike some of its other titles.
Zengeon’s story is pretty basic: during a lunar eclipse a great power broke through a protective seal and brought dark emptiness to the land causing the demon god to return. This is often pushed away and not focused on. Only at the beginning of a run it’s mentioned whenever you pick your playable hero. Their stories are mostly similar so it doesn’t matter from a story aspect which one you choose. There are five heroes that you’re able to pick that all play differently, so the game is sure to have a type of character that you would want to play as. I personally really like the way that Yuqin Murong plays compared to the other characters so I ended up spending most of my time with her. To Zengeon’s credit, the character designs and the look of the game are good. Each of the five characters has a unique look and have distinct personalities. Outside of the character designs, Zengeon is lacking.
The game is super stiff in both movement and combat. The movement is controlled with just a single stick making it awkward in both movement and aiming. Multiple times, in many playthroughs, I found myself getting hit by enemies that I could have easily dodged or killed if I could have just used the second stick to aim or dodge. Some of these might be personal preferences but it could make for a more enjoyable playthrough. This game feels more like an anime version of Gauntlet than something like Hades.
Zengeon is not necessarily a hard roguelike either. I played both difficulty modes offered and didn’t see a distinct difference in either one. I don’t even know if the difficulty spikes on hard mode compared to easy mode at all. Balancing seems very off at points in this game. Skills either do too much damage or not enough damage and can easily be overpowered with some item combinations. It doesn’t seem like some things were thought out very well. It does have multiplayer but I didn’t have a chance to experience it as nobody was online. There is another mode that’s like a base defense type of game and that was pretty fun for a little bit but it didn’t add anything to the experience for me.
What I can’t excuse is that the Switch port of Zengeon is filled with game-breaking bugs that make it feel like a chore to even play one round. Whether it’s an item set that completely crashed the game or systems that didn’t work properly, it all adds up to a pretty terrible experience. For example, there is an item called reflect armor and it’s a pretty useful item; for all the damage you take, it reflects back to the enemy at 200%. However, simply activating the item doesn’t cause the glitch but being hit by the enemy crashes the game. It doesn’t necessarily ruin the run as it will autosave at the beginning of that floor but it’s simply unacceptable that it hasn’t been addressed up to this point. Though I do have to admit that if my run was going bad I used this to my advantage and would crash the game to restart that floor.
There are certain mechanics in this game that don’t even function properly when you get a duplicate of an item. It is supposed to level up that item but it just it doesn’t work so when you think you’re going to get something that makes you stronger, it just is a waste. I’ve had times where one of the items that I bought from a merchant just wouldn’t show up in my inventory. It made it frustrating because any progress that I thought I was making would just be taken away by glitches that should have been addressed quickly. It doesn’t look like the developer cares that much. When looking over the Steam community pages, it has been quiet for almost a year and a half.
Now to its credit, Zengeon is not unplayable, but with a mixture of its stiff and boring combat, game-breaking bugs, and systems that don’t work right it feels like a chore to play. I’m all for sticking to games through to the end but I just couldn’t find myself enjoying my time with Zengeon. Every time I would start to enjoy it something would happen and it would ruin my playthrough at no fault of my own. I feel bad for this game because the character designs are great but it’s muddled down by factors that keep it from being a truly enjoyable roguelike. I would not recommend this game. However, if you’re looking for a quick budget experience to play with your friends, this is $20 on both Switch and PC. You can find worse experiences out there.
A Light that is Outshined by the Dark Emptyness
Zengeon is a chore to play with a mixture of its stiff and boring combat, game-breaking bugs, and systems that don't work right.