Review cover One Step from Eden (Nintendo Switch)
Official GBAtemp Review

Product Information:

  • Release Date (NA): March 26, 2020
  • Release Date (EU): March 26, 2020
  • Release Date (JP): March 26, 2020
  • Publisher: Humble Bundle
  • Developer: Thomas Moon Kang
  • Genres: Action, Adventure, Role-Playing, Strategy
  • Also For: Computer

Game Features:

Single player
Local Multiplayer
Online Multiplayer
Co-operative
Does it reach nirvana? Or is it just one step from Eden?

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One Step from Eden is, by its own description, "a deckbuilding roguelike with relentless real-time Battle Network combat," and that's a decent summary of its contents. The passion project of one Mr. Thomas Moon Kang and published by Humble Bundle, One Step from Eden is a much more hardcore, focused version of Mega Man Battle Network's combat, wrapped in a rogue-lite shell with tons of replay value and a high skill ceiling. While replay value is nice, is the game good enough to be worth playing in the first place?

One Mile from Eden

Selecting the single player campaign from the main menu drops you immediately into a character selection menu, where despite Saffron being the only one playable at this time, it shows you a spread of 8 other characters you'll eventually get to choose.

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An incredibly brief tutorial greets you on your first run, instructing you how to play the game in just four screens. Battles take place on an 8x4 block grid, with the left half being your domain and the right half the enemy's. The D-pad is for movement across one block at a time, A and B will cast the spells currently in your right and left slots respectively, ZR fires your standard weapon, and ZL is used to reshuffle your deck, bringing back any spells used in the current fight. Each spell costs a certain amount of mana to cast, represented by a number on the card's face, and your mana replenishes over time. 

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That's it, that's the game, and now you know how to play, but in about 30 minutes you're going to quickly come to the realization that you don't actually know how to play...at least not yet.

One Leap from Eden

The run begins, dropping you immediately into battle. Why are you fighting? You don't know. Where are you? You're only made aware of your location through environmental flourishes in the background; trees, vines, crags, pyroclast, ice crystals, etc. Despite the feeling of being a fish out of water, you defend yourself against the attacking monsters and eventually are given a choice of progression.

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While all roads technically lead to Eden, not all paths are equal. Depending on the route you choose, you can run up against a variety of enemies and situations, some beneficial and others harmful. Some roads lead to hostages, who spawn on the battlefield and award gifts if saved before they're killed by the enemies. Other roads could lead to a comfy campfire which restores your health and a rabbit to increase your luck stat. Yet more could have you meeting the shopkeeper to purchase spells and upgrades to help on your run. Depending on a number of things, even the final boss may change based on how you choose to proceed.

Each icon represents a battle you must overcome, and each battle will reward you with your choice of one of three randomly generated spell cards, as well as some experience relative to the number and type of enemies defeated. While the cards themselves are random, you can influence your probability of receiving cards in a specific group by setting a "focus" in your deck's menu. Experience goes towards your level, and leveling up lets you pick from three artifacts, which give passive bonuses. Levels serve a secondary purpose as well, for once you die in a run, your gained levels go towards unlocking new content to be used in subsequent runs. Every run begins the same, with your level and equipment reverted to default, but unlocking more spells and artifacts for future runs allows for much stronger builds to be made, helping you get further than the first time.

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At the end of each zone, you'll fight one of the game's bosses, all of which serve a dual function as playable characters. The boss' HP, attack patterns, and level of aggression are increased based on how many areas you've cleared previously, with some of the higher levels having insanely quick attacks with wide coverage which necessitate a good deal of learning and practicing. Once you've reached the final zone...well, a lot can happen, as the game has multiple different endings. Bosses can be either spared or executed when defeated, and this plays the biggest role in which ending you'll get. Sparing bosses gives you a bulky health restoration, while also letting them assist you sporadically during battles. Executing them is the much harder route, as while you are given a rare+ artifact/spell, you miss out on the health restoration. That being said, execution is the only means by which to reach the genocide/true genocide endings, the latter of which is required to unlock a special build for Saffron, so you'll have to get comfortable doing runs without that bonus healing after each boss.

One Skip from Eden

While the core gameplay seems simple, you'll soon come to understand how much of a focus there is on smart deckbuilding, since while most cards are roughly equal to each other in base utility, their synergy when used together in a deck can result in something significantly stronger than the sum of its parts.

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There are a number of different effects cards can cause which need to be understood in order to make the most out of a build:

  • Flow: Flow comes in discrete stacks you can hold, and are gained on your character when casting a spell which gives flow. Most cards which cause flow to build up will also benefit from being cast while flow is held, such as giving additional hits, making flow cards synergize with themselves well. One flow stack disappears with each spell cast, whether it utilizes flow or not, making flow builds mixed with other types somewhat less efficient.
     
  • Trinity: Much like flow, trinity comes in stacks, but only three can be held at once. Unlike flow, however, trinity stacks will not go away when non-trinity spells are cast, making it much easier to maintain. When three stacks of trinity are achieved, casting the next spell which can gain a buff from trinity will remove all trinity. The effects triggered by trinity are generally more offensive than flow, but not always. It also has a much easier time mixing with other stacks due to its ease of use.
     
  • Fragile: This is a status effect that can be applied to both player and enemy, and can have multiple stacks at once. When fragile is active on a target, that target takes 1.5x damage from the next hit and removes one stack of fragile. While fragile has an obvious synergy with single-hit, high-damage attacks, (Sera Canon + fragile can be disgusting) there are a number of artifacts and spells with unique bonuses if you/your opponent have fragile applied. Sometimes, you can run a build which actually benefits from you being afflicted with fragile.
     
  • Frost: When a target reaches three stacks of frost, they take an immediate 150HP of damage and lose all frost stacks. Frost has good synergy with specific artifacts (one will slow the target down each time a frost stack is applied, another grants flow upon dealing frost damage), but it has the best use with the character Selicy, who deals high damage when striking an enemy carrying frost stacks with her default build's weapon.
     
  • Root: Holds the target in place for a second. Effective with lining up a high-power shot or trying to gimp a boss's attacks. I personally found it to have best utility when supplementing a trinity build as an added effect on the cards when upgraded.
     
  • Flame: Sets one space on fire, dealing minor damage over time to those who stand on it. Hardly effective on its own, but many spells will spawn projectiles and explosions from enflamed panels, while spreading flames at the same time. You need to focus on keeping flame spreading for it to work optimally, but in the right build it can be effective.
     
  • Poison: Rather than dealing continuous damage over time, poison takes out chunks of HP equal to the amount of poison currently on the one afflicted, with the poison being halved upon each tick. I found it to be most useful as a support effect, since I could never get a pure-poison build to work as well as other builds, though that might just be me.
     
  • Shield: Raw points of defense put on top of your health. If struck, the damage will be deducted from your shield points before dipping into your health. Additionally, there is a spell which will deal damage to the enemy equal to your current shield points by throwing your shield at them. Shield is restored if you both hit the opponent and catch your returning shield. If you miss, your shield is gone. Because of this, an "offensive" shield build is actually entirely viable, and got me through many tough situations.
     
  • Jam: It's just there to jam up your deck and make you spend 2 mana to get rid of it. Or is it...? Many spells increase in power relative to how many jams you've cast in the battle, or how many jams are currently left in your deck, meaning that clogging your deck with jam cards can result in some high firepower if you come across the cards which can utilize them.

These stacks also receive buffs from different artifacts gained when leveling up or beating a boss. One will cause enemies to leave a flame behind on death, another will start you with 40 shield every battle, another restores 0.2 mana every time flame damage ticks on an enemy, another gives a 50% chance to cast flow twice, etc. There are even a few artifacts which mix build bonuses, like creating a flame when frost damage is dealt, or gaining 20 shield when jam is cast.

But it's still not done there, as the shopkeeper can sell "upgrades" which can be used on individual spells to provide added effects which can drastically change how useful the spells are.

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When upgrading, three upgrade types are picked from a pool at random, and you're allowed to choose one to apply to the weapon. While very few upgrade effects will actively make the spell worse (though if not used with intention, it's easy to do), but the "best" effect will differ greatly from run to run depending on the spell and the type of build you're going for.

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This kind of depth, paired with the difficult attack patterns of enemy encounters, makes for a satisfying combat system which is both fun to learn and takes a long time to truly master, encouraging a high degree of experimentation and premeditation.

One Step from Eden

While this all makes for an engaging mix of complex mechanics, favoring a lot of creativity and holding a high skill ceiling, I can't say I don't have a few qualms.

The higher-level bosses are designed so that it is tacitly impossible to succeed in dodging their attacks the first few times you face them, requiring you at least have some prior knowledge of their patterns to win. This is usually not a problem at all, and even the sign of a fun boss, however the design of the game is such that repeated encounters with the boss you need to practice against are so protracted by up to 30-45 minute buffers that what little muscle memory one gets in a single fight, barely lasting two minutes, is all but gone upon the next face-off. Even more, as the next run comes, the boss you were struggling with might not even appear at the level on which you struggled, meaning you effectively need to wait another 30-45 minutes before you can get a chance to fight that level of boss again. This makes any meaningful progress late-game so slow that, in the latter hours of my play with the game, my impressions of it began to sour.

This is a natural result of the bosses being as difficult and tight as they are, but it needs to be said that I think "solving" the problem by nerfing the fights would do far more harm to the overall experience than good, seeing as the boss fights themselves are some of the brightest highlights of the game. Instead, I'd have really appreciated a means to fight each level of boss on their own, in a mode outside the main campaign, as patterns are much harder to learn when you have to go through a new run each time you want a chance to fight them. Maybe the mode could only let you practice against bosses at or under levels you've met before, letting you unlock more fights as you play through the story. It wouldn't matter to me what kind of basic spells the mode would provide, or if winning against a boss in practice mode yielded absolutely no reward, only that it would give players like me an opportunity to learn how to dodge a boss's attack patterns more quickly and with higher information retention.

This problem became the most evident for me when I was grinding runs to beat the Shopkeeper to unlock her as a playable character. Because shops appear in every area, the Shopkeeper can be challenged in the starting area of every single run, within about 2-4 minutes. Despite being (arguably) one of the hardest fights in the game, I didn't experience any of the burnout with her that I did with the other bosses. On the contrary, I suddenly found myself having possibly the most fun with the game that I've had. Her attack patterns are hellish, and she can kill you in an instant, but because I was able to hold onto what I learned in each run and challenge her again almost immediately, she became one of my favorite fights to practice. The problem is very much not the design of the boss fights. Those are great; rather, it's the slow rate of learning caused by lengthy periods between rematches.

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As an aside, the developer has stated that Saffron's Chrono build, which has a default attack to slow time at the cost of 1 mana, is meant to be there to help "slower players," but I've never found it particularly useful due to just how slow time becomes when using it. Time slows to such a crawl that barely any attacks will come at you during its two second duration, and it only ends up being useful to dodge fractions of just one attack out of many thrown at you at once before it needs to cool down. In all honesty, Reva's parry, which can be spammed with barely any cooldown and avoids all damage (at the cost of some mana, just like Saffron's slowdown), makes her a significantly easier character with which to learn bosses. It's interesting that both this game (inspired by Battle Network) and Mega Man 11 seemingly share the same design intent when it comes to a voluntary slow-motion mechanic, but unfortunately where I felt that MM11's achieved its teaching intent, I think this game misses its mark. It's possible that just tweaking Saffron's Chrono weapon to continuously deplete mana in exchange for slowing time for longer would solve the issue without the need to create an entirely new boss-practicing mode, something which is likely very labor-intensive for the developer, but I can't be sure.

The game also currently has some of what I'd call balancing issues between characters. For bosses, it's usually a hard fact that every pattern of attack can be somehow dodged, provided you execute your movements quickly enough, and it's a testament to their design. For many enemy groups, however, it doesn't always feel like the case. Because attacks made by multiple enemies frequently overlap, it's not uncommon to get frame-trapped between two attacks and take damage you couldn't avoid. Violette is one of the characters who feel the greatest effect from this situation, as her default build is slow-burn playstyle, requiring time and space to set up buffs. With many enemy formations, the most viable option to avoid damage is to take out as many of the most dangerous enemies before they can attack, to thin the herd before a hitbox onslaught, and with Violette often being unable to do that in time, she gets mercilessly beaten down before she can set up. This coupled with the fact that enemies gain shield as fights progress means that she's climbing a steeper hill than most characters, and can often get stalled out.

For Gunner's Manafire build, there's a similar issue of setup, though not in the same way. In order to recover mana to cast spells, Gunner needs to hit someone with his base weapon's attack, a laser which fires in a straight line. With later enemies having such overwhelming attack coverage and frequency, having to be in a specific row in order to regenerate mana, where any other character can do it while dodging, is a big handicap, and it drags fights out longer, which means taking a lot more damage.

Terra's Break build, similarly, has mana regeneration tied to the number of broken panels currently on the field, with her default weapon spending 1 out of her starting 3 mana to break a single panel 4 spaces away. She suffers from both the long setup issue of Violette, the restrictive movement in order to set up regen as Gunner, in addition to having to focus more on the enemy's side of the battle during combat, making avoiding attacks relatively more difficult due to having to split attention. While Terra, like everyone, is interesting to play, her damage output and vulnerability aren't as well compensated for by her boons.

I'm not saying that these weaknesses aren't interesting to play around, because they are, just that the flaws in their utility don't seem to have many upsides to balance things out.

Conversely, some characters feel too powerful and/or safe. Selicy makes for an intense damage-dealer with any basic frost build, as she deals 80 damage per frost stack with her default weapon, with not much aiming required, making it easy to dodge attacks while still hitting the opponent. Reva has a similar problem, as her kit allows her to build up shield very easily without the need to attack, while still maintaining high damage when she does choose to attack by way of her shield throw. This already makes focusing on dodging much easier than most characters, but her spammable reflector which provides invulnerability as her default weapon just makes her all the more untouchable.

There also appears to be a balancing issue among different status stacks, like flame, frost, shield, etc. Trinity builds in particular are consistently the most capable of quick, high damage and among the most easy to use, especially when paired with an artifact which applies a screen-wide root to enemies upon trinity cast. I've been experimenting with other builds, as they are very different to use, but for as interesting as the varied gameplay of other synergies is, I can't shake the feeling that I'm deliberately gimping both my damage and survivability.

Eden's Precipice

In a sense, it's a positive sign that most of my core complaints are regarding inter-character and build balance, as those are the main targets of the developer's frequent patches. Balancing mana costs and damage numbers on specific cards are among the smaller changes which have happened in previous patches, but there have been sweeping changes which alter how the entire game is played across every build. Kunais have had their mana cost increased and given anchor to make them less spammable, flow got a massive buff in that all cards which give flow have had their stacks increased (which for most, means doubling the flow gained from 1->2) making it a much more viable route, frost damage was increased from 100 to 150, Elysium had its chances for double flow cast increased from 25% to 50%, etc. 

In particular, the v1.2 steam update on April 3rd acknowledged how enemy attacks can overlap and overwhelm so easily, and implemented "a new system that calculates the current number of live enemies on the field and increases the time between their attacks dynamically. Chests and minions will also affect this amount but to a lesser degree. This should give you more breaks during the onslaught of the later battles, reducing the need to 'burst' down an enemy at the start of battle, and help keep things strategic while still retaining a 'fair' level of difficulty." While my complaints about this problem have been made post-patch, it's telling of the talent of the developer that he's both aware of the issue and willing to implement a brand new algorithm in order to try and rectify it, instead of doing half-measure tweaks to existing systems. It's not perfected yet, but he said "I highly doubt I'll get this formula exactly right on the first try so please let me know your feedback on it!" The game is not only getting frequent balancing patches, but most importantly meaningful ones based on player feedback, and I think the developer's hard work and transparency post-launch is a big selling point for the game.

For whatever flaws in balance I've noted throughout this review, I can't ignore just how much the game gets right. Every character is fun to try out at least a few times. Due to how much their optimal playstyles differ between each other so greatly, the gameplay changes when switching characters are far from superficial, making it a fun excursion to create builds for each one. Boss fights on their own are extremely tightly designed and delightfully challenging, making them satisfying to learn in and out. Very few spells I found to be completely useless regardless of build, and because they each function so differently, exploring different builds makes for very different experiences. The character art is extremely pretty.

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There's a ton of content to unlock, both through normal gameplay and by completing challenges of various difficulties, in the form of alternate costumes and alternate starting builds. There are a co-op mode and PvP mode with some limitations (co-op can only be played with two of the same character, though the developer is working on changing that, PvP can only be played with default decks, and neither mode can be played online), but they're still an appreciated inclusion.

Eden in Your Hands

While everything mentioned above applies to the game on any platform, are there any Switch-specific nuances worth mentioning? Performance-wise, it runs at an almost constant 60fps, however hitches can happen when there's a lot happening on screen. Particularly there is one attack the Shopkeeber boss does which produces a massive hitch 100% of the time, and eats your input, killing you. It's infuriating, but outside that one situation, it's very rare. Still, the pick-up-and-play nature of the console suits the game's roguelike design, making it easy to bring the Switch out of sleep mode, finish a run or two, then sleep it again for later.

Most Switch games, with very few exceptions, have at least 5 frames of input latency, and unfortunately One Step from Eden isn't one of those exceptions. In fact, the game has a higher latency than many others, ranging from 6 frames at the minimum to 7.5 as the max (measurements taken when moving from one panel to another on an empty screen). I almost want to say that the input latency doesn't hurt this game quite to the same degree as many other action games, as many attacks already seem unreactable without prior knowledge, but I wonder if the latency is what made those attacks feel unreactable in the first place. Regardless, this means that the PC version is guaranteed to feel more than twice as responsive as the Switch version, so be aware of the compromise. As an aside, while the Steam version receives very frequent updates, the Switch version is made to wait a bit longer before being patched, likely due to Nintendo's screening process.

Verdict

What We Liked ...
  • Tons of spells and build types
  • 9 different playable characters with a large variety of playstyles
  • Lots of room for build creativity and learning powerful synergies
  • Character art is super pretty
  • High replayability
  • Challenging combat
  • Frequent patches based on player feedback
What We Didn't Like ...
  • Some balancing issues both between characters as well as build focuses
  • Unable to practice later boss fights, which require a lot of retrying, without spending 45 minutes starting a new run
  • Switch version has high input latency and one consistent hitch issue vs. the Shopkeeper
8
Gameplay
Characters and spell types need more balancing, but even with lopsided utility, each type of build is still fun to play. Bosses require a lot of learning and quick action to beat, which is fantastic, but many mob attack patterns can overlap in ways that seem to frame-trap you. I also really needed some way to practice boss fights without needing to spent another 45 minutes going through a new run.
9
Presentation
Character art is gorgeous, and spritework is clean and easy to discern. Music is catchy but fervent, complimenting the frenetic gameplay.
9
Lasting Appeal
While unlocking all the spells can be done very early on, it takes a lot of practicing to fill out the challenge menu and unlock everyone's alternate builds/costumes. After 130 hours myself, I've still not unlocked it all.
8.5
out of 10

Overall

While I can't say it perfectly achieves everything it goes for, One Step from Eden provides a style of game that I can't get anywhere else. It does well to differentiate itself from its inspiration, Mega Man Battle Network, through its challenge, its style, its pacing, its gamefeel, its gameplay variety, its skill ceiling, and its tone. While there are still some frustrations I have while playing, I can't say that I don't have predominantly positive feelings about the game.
^ not all pixel art needs to be low res, but show me your pixel art, I bet it's great
Anyways, I bought this game and thoroughly enjoy it.
They've already fixed a lot of balancing issues and as long as you play well enough you can get to the end almost every time.
 
So I noticed you said you can't play online multiplayer, but you actually can through remote play. It works very well and is made for it specifically.
 
^ not all pixel art needs to be low res, but show me your pixel art, I bet it's great
Anyways, I bought this game and thoroughly enjoy it.
They've already fixed a lot of balancing issues and as long as you play well enough you can get to the end almost every time.
I'm not a professional pixel artist (doing some as a hobby and for random commissions from time to time), but I know one who does that for a living, and I bet he could underline lotsa flaws with presentation of the game. It's not horrible per se, but does look kinda janky and unfinished.
 
Switch was made to hold a library of all the best roguelike games, and like many other quality releases (Slay the Spire, Dead Cells), I've bought this one twice. :lol:
 
You used the same joke too many times.. Not enough water.. 7.8/10

In all seriousness this actually looks somewhat interesting.
 
Review cover
Product Information:
  • Release Date (NA): March 26, 2020
  • Release Date (EU): March 26, 2020
  • Release Date (JP): March 26, 2020
  • Publisher: Humble Bundle
  • Developer: Thomas Moon Kang
  • Genres: Action, Adventure, Role-Playing, Strategy
  • Also For: Computer
Game Features:
Single player
Local Multiplayer
Online Multiplayer
Co-operative

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