One Step From Eden Review – Punishing paradise

Platforms:

Nintendo Switch, PC

Released:

March 26, 2020

Publisher:

Humble Publishing

Developer:

Thomas Moon Kang


Posted March 26, 2020

One Step from Eden is a game that wears its influences, and its heart, on its sleeve. A mixture of Slay the Spire and one of the best Mega Man titles of all time; One Step From Eden bills itself as “a deckbuilding roguelike with relentless real-time grid combat.” And that’s a pretty apt descriptor. In the 10+ hours I’ve spent playing, I’ve done a lot of deck building, and the battles have been relentless. If you like challenging combat and strategic gameplay, then you’re in for a treat.

I want to start off by gushing about how gorgeous the game’s sprite work is. Every player character is meticulously animated with fluid movement and beautiful attack animations. The backgrounds also look absolutely fantastic. And while the work on the enemies is a little limited in contrast, they still look great. Thomas Moon Kang, the lead developer and artist, obviously put a lot of love and care into this game and it really shows.

The music, likewise, is fantastic. It’s a mix of retro synth wave and high tempo electronica. It gives the game a very late nineties/early naughties feel. Unsurprisingly, it reminds me of a lot of Game Boy Advance RPGs. The quick switch from up-tempo combat, to relaxing low energy post-battle, makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Considering One Step From Eden is a love letter to a bygone era of videogames, its choice in music feels fitting.

Narratively, it’s a little bare bone. Players progress through 8 separate worlds, the order of which are determined by a random seed. Along the way, they’ll find themselves managing their encounter paths, all with the goal of getting to Eden. At the end of each level you face a boss, typically one of the other playable characters. Once you defeat them, you get the choice to kill or spare them. Kill them and you collect a fat stack of exp and a currency. Spare them, and you get an ally who will occasionally pop in to help you out. These boss characters eventually become playable once you gain enough player exp.

The game doesn’t have much story beyond that. It’s a shame, but it’s understandable. A structured story would get in the way of the randomised nature of the game. You never quite know what’s around the corner. Will I have to try and protect a group of hostages? Is the next area full of enemies? Will I have to contend with a constantly erupting volcano? Its almost impossible to know, and that lends the game a sense of adventure that’s hard to replicate.

Gameplay-wise, it handles like the lovechild of Mega Man Battle Network and Slay the Spire. These are two styles you wouldn’t think would work well together, but in practice, it’s a match made in heaven. There’s something about the intense combat coupled with the progressive deck building that just works too well.

You start the game with only 4 spells and a basic attack. Each spell has a different mana cost, and mana regenerates over time during battle. As you progress through each challenge you will be given a choice of three spells to add to your deck. These spells are randomised, though you can influence the outcome by choosing a focus in the deck menu. As you progress, you will also earn currency. Your funds can then be used to purchase upgrade and discard tokens, allowing you to fully customise your play style.

Artefacts act as a sort of perk system. You often earn them for rescuing hostages, or opening chests. Though the main way to earn artefacts is through levelling up. These perks are often tailored toward different play styles, and many work well in tandem with each other. Some might give you copies of certain cards each round and others might increase your mana pool or the rate at which your regen works. Either way, I’ve yet to find a useless artefact.

At one point I had a combo of artefacts and cards that had essentially allowed me to go off late game, applying massive damage to the enemy every time I would cast a frost spell or consume a card. These artefacts really help to expand the strategy beyond the deck building and help balance out the battles. This helps as difficulty scales depending on your luck. Luck is a stat that increases after each victory. As your luck goes higher, so does the chance to get better spells and artefacts. But it also means that combat gets progressively more chaotic.

 

Combat is intense, with the basic system taken straight out of Mega Man Battle Network. The battle map is a 4×8 grid split into two sides; one for you, and one for your opponent. Combat takes place in real-time, and your spells will generally be cast 4 tiles ahead of you. Bar a few exceptions, the enemy rarely crosses over to your side, meaning you don’t have to worry about running into an enemy during the chaos.

What you do have to worry about is dodging incoming attacks. While the attacks will are telegraphed, you often get a fraction of a second to get out of the way before you’re hit. This often leads to you setting up an attack, only to have to dodge out of an incoming attack. It’s frustrating, but when you do finally get that sweet spot lined up, it makes it all the more enjoyable. As you can imagine this can lead to some pretty hectic situations, especially during boss battles and later encounters. You’ll find yourself trying to split your focus between trying to dodge and trying to hit. It sounds intense, and it is. But don’t worry, you’ll get used to it after a few hours.

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The most daunting aspect is all the new terms the game starts throwing at you which are introduced with very little context. What context you do get is in the form of a pop-up text bubble that don’t explain much. I still have no idea what effect ‘trinity’ or ‘flow’ have in battle. This problem would be alleviated if there were some form of glossary that goes through each effect. But there’s not. So expect to be doing a lot of in-game trial and error as you try and figure out what each thing does.

If there’s one regret I do have, it’s that I didn’t get a chance to experience the multiplayer. The game features both PvP and a co-op mode. Co-op would see you playing alongside a friend as you try to make your way to Eden together. PvP obviously sees you kicking in that same friend’s teeth as you try to settle who’s the superior spell-slinger. Both modes sound like a blast, and I look forward to trying them out with friends. With how customisable the deck building can be, and the in-depth strategies this game requires, there’s a lot of potential for multiplayer shenanigans.

“One Step from Eden is enjoyable. It’s also one of the most challenging games I’ve played in a while.”

One Step from Eden is enjoyable. It’s also one of the most challenging games I’ve played in a while. You see, in almost every game I play, I almost always favour attack over defence. It turns JRPG battles into a war of attrition, firefights into an arms race, and Skyrim into an absolute breeze. It’s also why I’m terrible at fighting games. But here, my usual methods of all offence all the time didn’t work.

Most of the time, going completely on the attack was a quick road to the game over screen. I had to think about how I was going to approach a situation. Deck building became crucial and dodging an absolute necessity. And, slowly but surely, this approach paid off. I got better. Made it further, got access to better spells. It kept me coming back for more. Progress felt incredibly rewarding. And I think that’s the best way to describe this game – rewarding.

One Step From Eden

One Step From Eden

Nintendo Switch, PC
Strategy, Card Game

Positive:
  • Beautiful Graphics
  • Killer Soundtrack
  • Chaotic Battles
  • Balanced gameplay
  • Rewarding progression
Negative:
  • Sharp learning curve
  • Daunting lexicon
  • Bare-bones narrative
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

8

Great

One Step from Eden is a game that will push you to your mental limits. You’ll need to adapt or die. Think outside the box. And throughout it all, you’ll be coming back for more. It lures you in with fun gameplay and gorgeous sprite art, and then traps you with a gameplay loop that is honestly addictive. You’ll find yourself going through the meat grinder, again and again, reworking decks, tweaking strategies, and managing your approach. All to get one step closer to the end goal.

In the end, One Step from Eden is as fun as it is punishing. If you had told me last month that my new favourite game would be a tough-as-nails deck building rouge-like, I probably would have laughed in your face. But now, I find myself coming back, time after time, for one more pass. It’s easy to pick up, hard to put down, and one hell of an adventure.



Hailey McKay

About the Author

Hailey McKay

When not writing for Checkpoint, Hailey enjoys dungeon delving, stagecoach robbery, and hunting monsters with her friends. She also spends a little too much time reading comics.