Modern Review: Helen's Mysterious Castle (PC)

After an English release on Playism in 2014, Helen's Mysterious Castle- an ultra-charming, pocket-sized RPG- makes its way to Steam, so here's a little primer on why you should give this one a look.

Developed by Satsu, maker of several small-scale RPGs in a tool called RPG School 2000 (which is a different version of the well-known RPG Maker, not released outside Japan- ta for the correction, Amarthar!), Helen's Mysterious Castle has a recommended play-time of about 4 hours, so you might be thinking what the point is. That's not long enough for an RPG! Good things come in small packages, though, and none here are smaller than Helen herself. A small girl who only speaks in ! or ? and can't even read at the beginning of the game, she sets off for ~adventure~ in the mysterious tower she lives in, hoping to learn about her origins and beat up a lot of monsters on the way.

The structure and story are mostly what you expect- just march onwards, beating up bosses on each floor, occasionally solving a small puzzle by talking to people in the lone town- but while 90% of the game is pretty plain sailing, there's a few bits where you might get stuck and the way to progress isn't totally obvious. All I'll say is, be sure to talk to people in the bar, and check for hidden passages in the walls. While the plot gets a bit more serious in the second half of the game, it gerenally keeps a sense of humour and goofiness throughout, with highlights being the Undead Knight saying hi to you politely and the staggering incompetence of the Demon King and his four servants. The graphics and music help with this too, with some nice sprite art on display and catchy little tunes (especially the battle music).

The ultimate battle machine!

Where the game shines is its battle system, which does things very differently from the norm. All your battle options- which is basically your entire inventory beyond the few power-boosting items you'll find- have a specific 'wait' time allotted to them, and the same applies to enemy actions, which you can see on the status bar, so whoever has to wait the least amount of time goes first- if your enemy has a spell queued up with 50 ticks on its wait time, you can squeeze in a few hits with yout 18-tick Flamberge sword. This turns battles into encounters where you really have to think out each and every move- whopping your enemy with the Wrath of Zeus spell is tempting, but in the time it takes to charge up, they might wallop you to an early grave.

There's four basic weapon types- bows that are fast to use but weak, swords that have a little wait but defend you as they charge, shields that are pure defense, and spells that have various effects but take a long time to use- and while there's only a few of each type, you'll still develop a favourite strategy with certain weapons. Additionally, while you can grind if you like, it's not quite in the traditional sense- EXP earned in battle doesn't go to Helen's level (she doesn't have one) but you can freely assign it to your own weapons, increasing their effectiveness and somtimes lowering the wait times. Again, this allows you to tailor your weapons to your liking, focusing on the stuff you'll use the most, and combined with its other elements makes the battle system really engaging and enjoyable.

Can't wait to see you get crushed!

The game also does a lot of things to make things easier for new players, or people who aren't great at traditional RPGs (that would be me, of course). The most notable feature is every time you fall in battle, Helen wakes up to find some steak to eat, which permanently raises her HP by one point. Seems minor, but it does help a lot when combined with the HP Boosters you can find (but it won't last forever- eventually, steak will stop having an effect). Even if you're doing well, your HP gets boosted at certain story points to different degrees depending on your HP level. Other features make the game very player-friendly, such as a prompt appearing allowing you to leave before initiating a boss battle, an area that holds on to items you drop on a floor (with stats retained) so you don't lose things forever, saving anywhere, and a stat system that's simple to grasp. I'd hardly say the game holds your hand- it can get tough, especially the penultimate boss which requires a specific approach- but it does its best to be as player-friendly as possible, to make sure you can get to the end, and I'm OK with that. Experts aren't left behind though- there's a secret extra dungeon full of the nastiest monsters in the game, if you're up for it.

As a quick note, this Steam release is mostly the same as the Playism release, albeit with a different font (the original Playism release asked players to switch their AppLocale setting to Japanese due to its RPG School 2000 roots, whereas this Steam version doesn't ask players to do this) and linked discussion forums and Trading Card support. There's no achievements though, and no taking screenshots with the Steam interface.

Gameplay Footage

Hello there, Helen! 

In the end, Helen's Mysterious Castle is absolutely worth a try for the fun, engaging battle system and overall charm. It's just the right length so it doesn't overstay its welcome nor does it feel like there's not enough in it, with a cast of goofy and likeable characters, neat sprites and artwork, and its player-friendly nature makes it an ideal choice for people who normally don't enjoy RPGs (which includes me!) or are fans of the genre just looking for something short and sweet to play about with.

If you're interested, here's the Steam Page for Helen's Mysterious Castle.

Last Updated ( 13 April 2016 )  

Tepid Snake

Wait, what do I put in this box again? Oh, it's about me. I like playing weird and unusual games- the sort you're likely to forget about- and I hope you like reading about them because they're what I write about. And game trivia too. Please look forward to it!

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(Link to this comment) Amarthar 2016-04-13 11:16
I just want to point something out. This "RPG School 2000", you speak of, is RPG Maker. It's just an earlier version that wasn't officially released outside Japan.
(Link to this comment) Tepid Snake 2016-04-13 20:53
Aha, thanks for that! I was getting mixed up- I knew there was one game out there made in something people assumed was RPG Maker but wasn't (I was actually thinking of Corpse Party though, which is as far away from Helen's Mysterious Castle as you can get). Text corrected, ta!

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