I was big into Dance Dance Revolution and other games of its ilk in the mid-to-late 2000s–the subtitle for this site still mentions “smashing arrows”, and I made an attempt at a metal song called “Arrowsmash”. I’ve also loved RPGs since playing the original Dragon Warrior on the NES when I was about 6. On the surface, these two things couldn’t be more different. Today’s Game I Beat In 2014 proves that wrong.
Released in 2011 by Iridium Studios, Sequence revolves around a graduate student named Ky. Ky wakes up on the first floor of a tower with no memory of how he got there. Soon, he meets Naia, his “shepherd”, who informs him that he has to fight his way through the seven floors of the tower to win his freedom…or die trying. As you progress up the tower, you find out more about who Naia is and why you’re in the tower, with everything becoming clear when you escape the seventh floor.
I enjoyed the game’s story, but if you’ve heard of Sequence, it’s because you’ve heard of “The DDR RPG”. And that’s Sequence’s gameplay on a basic level, although the arrows go from top-to-bottom rather than bottom-to-top as DDR does. Also, Sequence has three separate fields to keep track of. The red field is your defensive field, where failing to hit the arrows results in losing Hit Points. The purple field is your mana field. Here, you hit the arrows to recover mana. You use the mana to cast spells, which leads me to the third field. This, the spell field, is green, and when you cast a spell, arrows appear here. You have to hit all of the arrows for the spell to go off, and this is the only way to damage your opponent. Other spells can heal you, or put up some kind of defensive front like removing some of the arrows from the defensive field. Smoothly switching between the fields, and knowing the best times to cast your spells and when it would be preferable to defend or hang back and recover mana, are the keys to victory.
Winning battles earns you materials which you can synthesize into other items, and these items can have beneficial effects, or allow you to advance in the game. Synthesizing items brings a twist to the typical give-currency-get-item formula of most RPGs, though. In Sequence, your Experience Points also function as your currency. Plus, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll successfully synthesize the item on the first attempt–if you fail, you keep the raw materials, but lose the experience you gave up. The better the item, and the higher the chance you want to succeed in synthesizing the item, the more experience you’ll invest. In the game’s version of “selling” items, you can also de-synth the materials, or even completed items, to acquire additional experience points.
Each floor has three monsters, whom you’ll fight multiple times to acquire the materials you’ll need to move on and battle the Guardian of that floor. In other words, Sequence is effectively Grinding: The Game. This isn’t a bad thing in itself–multiple MMOs break down to this basic model when you think about it–but it’s important to know what you’re in for. The monotony is broken up by the fact that your spells will follow the same rhythm of notes each time, but the notes themselves are different with each cast. Additionally, when arrows do and don’t appear in your defensive field is random, meaning each battle is different from the one before.
In a game where rhythm is an integral part, you need some good music to hit arrows in a pattern to. Sequence delivers big time in terms of the music quality. Most of the battle music is by Ronald Jenkees, whose music you should check out (“Disorganized Fun” is the intro music for my stream, and several other songs of his are used as intro and outro music for The BS Report and the Grantland Network podcasts). The rest of the battle music, and the between-battle atmospheric music, is done by Michael Wade Hamilton, AKA DJ Plaeskool.
The quality of the music is great, but there’s not enough of it, which makes the grind-to-win gameplay more conspicuous. As one example, “Derty” by Ronald Jenkees is used for three of the monsters in the first four floors. It’s a quality song, mind you, but its quality wears off when you hear it that often in the first half of the game.
The game has full voice acting, which you can turn off if you choose. There are some issues with the voice acting, one technical, and one subjective. Because the voice acting follows a written script when the text is at its default speed, it gets jarring when one character is supposed to interrupt another. What ends up happening is that the first character will cut off mid-word, there will be a pause, and then the second character will begin to speak. The pauses, while brief, are enough to pull you out of the story as you wait for the second character to speak up. Subjectively, I found there was a periodic lack of emotion in the voice acting, particularly with Ky and Naia when they would end sentences. Still, I never wanted to turn the voices off, and the rest of the voice acting is better (It’s worth noting that Ky and Naia have by far the most lines in the game).
For some context on the challenge section, I played through the PC version of Sequence. While I don’t believe there are content differences between the PC and XBox 360 versions, that does mean I used a keyboard to play it, which turned the game into a three-boarded Stepmania. I also played through the Hard difficulty, which was the second-hardest. Given my previously-stated love for rhythm games, this difficulty level felt fair for the most part, and it wasn’t until Floor 7 that I had to grind for experience independent of my quest to acquire items. The leveling curve is also well-balanced, especially if you de-synth everything you don’t need for more experience. Even when you need to grind, you won’t be stuck on one experience level for very long.
According to my Steam profile, Sequence took me about 12 hours to beat. That’s short by RPG standards, but feels about right for the gameplay, which distills the gameplay portion of an RPG down to what I consider the important parts, with some DDR thrown in for good measure.
It’s rare that a game blends two disparate genres with the end result being a high-quality product (I’ve speedrun some less successful attempts at genre-mashing). Sequence is an example of what happens when doing so succeeds. While more variety in the battle music would have been nice, what there is is great, and the rest of the game is engaging as well. The game is $2.99 for the XBox 360 version, and $4.99 on PC. Even the more expensive version works out to about 42 cents per hour of gameplay. If you like rhythm games, or RPGs, that’s an awesome bargain, and one you should take advantage of.