Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Devil Dice

As with any major console release, “homebrew” development exists to allow people to make their own games for a given system in an unofficial capacity. However, it’s not too often that any of said games get an official major release. Such is the case with Devil Dice (XI [sai] in Japan), a dice puzzle game from developer Shift of God Eater and Code Vein fame, originally developed for the Net Yaroze homebrew platform. After stumbling upon Devil Dice’s existence after having already owned its follow-up title, Bombastic, I managed to find it in a used game store on a trip to Texas, though I didn’t get around to playing it until recently. After getting the chance to play it, I found it to be a rather unique and enjoyable title in the puzzle game space.

The main gameplay of Devil Dice involves clearing dice from a board, matching them by the number facing up and with an amount of dice equal to that number (ex. you must have four dice, with the number four face-up, touching each other to clear them). The number one is an exception to this rule, as you must have a die with that number touch a cleared set of dice, which will then clear all “one” dice from the board. When dice are cleared, they slowly sink to the bottom rather than disappear immediately, allowing you to chain more dice together that have a matching number. To help with matching dice, there is a small box in the upper left corner of the screen that gives you an unobstructed view of what the die you’re standing on currently looks like, displaying the three sides currently facing the camera.

You control a devil to roll on top of dice in order to change their number, though there may be situations where you end up on the floor. In this case, you can push dice around, though in most cases you will not be able to change the number. Sinking dice can also be used as stairs in order to get back on top of other dice, allowing you to roll on top of them once more. It should be noted that the game was not made with the DualShock in mind, so you will have to learn how to work more efficiently with the D-Pad. It is possible to still move the playable devil diagonally, though dice themselves move on an isometric grid. As a small bonus, pressing each of the face buttons causes the devil to perform small actions (floating, raising one leg, raising an arm, reaching down) that give it more personality, while Cross also toggles a player marker that’s better used in some modes.

There are a variety of gameplay modes to choose from, including a Manual option that acts as a tutorial, though the one I spent the most time on, and have the most to say about, is the single-player Puzzle Mode. The goal of this mode is to solve 1100 puzzles that follow the above rules of dice matching, all within a set number of moves, though only the first 100 are in a set pattern. Completing all 100 unlocks a Random mode containing the other 1000 puzzles. Solving eight puzzles in a set of 10 unlocks the next set of 10, however completing a full set of 10 unlocks artwork, which cannot be viewed on its own as far as I could tell. This mode can quickly become a bit of a brain teaser, with some solutions more obvious than others depending on your skill level.

Puzzle Mode can be challenging.

In addition to the aforementioned rules, this mode introduces new types of dice that are easily recognized by their appearance. Standard dice act as normal, Wood dice turn even when pushed on the ground, Ice dice continue to slide when pushed until they hit an obstacle, Stone dice cannot be pushed and Iron dice cannot be moved at all. During a puzzle, you can use L1 and R1 to momentarily rotate the camera to get a new perspective, while L2 and R2 change to the next or previous puzzle. I’ve also found that while clearing “one” dice, you have to be on the floor rather than on top of the die in order for it to register.

From my experience with this mode, I will add that a lot of it comes from having to keep in mind that the opposite sides of a D6 equal seven, as well as that if you start on the floor, it can be very easy to get yourself into a corner if you don’t know what you’re doing. If trying to solve the puzzle on your own, it is possible to get some mileage out of using physical D6s to map out solutions, though there was a point where I relied on a guide for puzzles I couldn’t figure out on my own. One complaint I did have though is that this mode lacks an Undo feature, meaning that if you make one mistake you have to start the puzzle over again.

Outside of Puzzle Mode, there are three other modes of play, each with the additional rule that new dice will pop up into the board over time. Trial Mode can be considered the equivalent to Ultra Mode in modern versions of Tetris, in that the goal is to see how many dice you can clear before time runs out (when timed) or the board fills up completely (when not timed). Battle and Wars are essentially multiplayer modes, the former of which is played 1v1 against the AI or another player to see who is able to make a set number of dice patterns (three to five) first. In this mode, it’s also possible to steal dice patterns by running the opponent over with a die, should they happen to end up on the ground. Wars is more of a party mode for up to five players, following the rules of Battle except on a larger grid and being based more around who can survive the longest.

For a PS1 title, the graphics have aged surprisingly well, as the designs are very distinct even by the standards of the time, especially with the different block types and the more cartoonish design of the playable devil. It also helps that the game has a more minimalist presentation, as dice grids are played within a black void even while the color of the grid changes. The music is also designed well, allowing itself to blend into the background during puzzles and emphasizing the dread of a timer running out during Trial runs. The title screen also has a distinct melody that helps it stand out, while the narrative voice used for things such as mode selections and move countdowns sounds synthesized in just the right way that it doesn’t sound too robotic and fits within the tone and style of the game.

Devil Dice is an overlooked PS1 title worth checking out. The gameplay is fairly unique for a puzzle game and the visual design has allowed it to somehow not appear too outdated. While it has a variety of gameplay options, it can be beaten in a fairly short amount of time if you know what you’re doing, however each mode is designed to allow for a decent amount of replay value that can keep you going for some time.

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