The humble bullet hell genre hasn’t always received its due time in the limelight of the public. The notoriously difficult, screen-spamming challenges of dodging and weaving through endless waves of bullets are intimidating for anyone. Not to mention, it’s not the most popular genre out in the market right now. While I’m not much of a bullet hell player myself, I can appreciate the swarm of anxiety that swells inside me as I traverse through a minefield of glowing projectiles. The breathlessness you feel after conquering a wave of seemingly impossible to dodge missiles is a fantastic feeling, which is why a bullet-hell game is always welcome in my heart. Archvale is a tremendous addition to my library.
It’s a dexterous bullet avoiding game that acts as a way to introduce newer players into the genre. With cute, retro, 16-bit graphics and a charming setting, Archvale manages to appeal to both veterans and casuals of the genre. It’s not just the adorable graphics that help players settle in, however. You’ll probably hear this everywhere, but Archvale is truly what you get when you cross The Legend of Zelda with a bullet hell. It isn’t just a kinetic shoot-em-up game, but an accomplished role-playing game of its own.
It’s an RPG!
One of the greatest aspects of any role-playing game is the progression system and watching your character grow stronger as you overcome different challenges. There’s something inherently satisfying about how simple it can be to progress in this game. The map system is uncomplicated, with a grid map that’s easily digestible. Exploring the area allows you to find loot, unlock fountains, and obtain materials to craft for better gear. Exploring the world of Archvale is a treat, and the simplicity of it is charming on its own. You’ll want to scour every nook and cranny possible.
Not to mention, playing around with all the tools in Archvale is incredibly fun. It’s a blast to equip up to ten or so different weapons and swap your gear around depending on the situation. The way you unlock different weapons and armor is elementary. Mining rocks, defeating enemies, and opening chests allow you to expand your inventory. And trust me, there are a lot of different weapons in this game. What makes role-playing games fun is the amount of customization options available for your character, and Archvale has plenty. Not to mention, there’s a certain freedom in it that allows you to run different kinds of builds at the same time.
Aren’t bullet hells hard?
I know what you might be thinking. Bullet hells are marked by a nearly impossible cascade of thousands of projectiles on the screen at the same time. It’s unfun, unrewarding, and an infuriating time. But Archvale is accessible and not overly destructive with its difficulty. I enjoy a good challenge, so I opted to pick the ‘Hardcore’ option, and I never felt like a fight was too hard or unfair. Overworld fights don’t shove hundreds of impossible to dodge enemies in your face, and bosses aren’t overwhelming with impossible to interpret patterns. (Damage can feel pretty high, but I probably did it to myself.)
Even so, it’s not like the game is easy. Many dungeons took me several times to traverse through as enemies piled up and things to dodge got out of hand. As a trademark of the genre, it’s nice to have a good challenge every now and then. If you aren’t confident in your abilities to dodge all these projectiles, there are different difficulty settings as well. I can’t speak to how well balanced they are, but ‘Hardcore’ provides a good challenge without feeling impossible.
The game itself certainly feels well-balanced. Across your journey, Archvale gives you many different abilities at your disposal to help you get through fights easier. You have plenty of dashes to dodge projectiles, and throughout the game, you’ll unlock offensive tools that you can employ during battle. Healing flasks help you refill hearts that you lose during battle, and they refill after every checkpoint.
Speaking of checkpoints, you can teleport between fountains that not only refill your health but give you a reward for unlocking them for the first time. It never feels like there are not enough checkpoints to go around. The fountains are smartly placed between areas and help with the pacing of the game.
A whimsical setting
Personally, a big draw for the game is how retro it looks and feels. The Legend of Zelda comparison is apt, with its charming, medieval setting and well-designed 8-bit graphics. You get a little bout of nostalgia as you play the game, as something about it feels familiar and inviting. Enemies, NPCs, and bosses are designed to look old, yet the game never feels dated or stale. Even the music of the game reminded me of something like an older Pokemon game.
And it’s always nice to have a game in your Steam library that feels like it won’t nuke your computer, or require all of the latest super-parts. It has a non-demanding, relaxing presentation. Everything about the game is graceful, from the UI to the customizable controls. Archvale fits greatly in my Steam library, but it also feels like something I can take on the go with me and enjoy all the same. (Which is fitting, as the game is also releasing on the Nintendo Switch. Steam Deck, when?)
Good times to be had
Archvale is a well conceived RPG bullet hell, and overall, a tremendous time. It’s truly an addicting time sink and a satisfying adventure. It has fun and charming fights, it runs well, and doesn’t have the same sort of hair-pulling difficulty you might see in a similar game. There’s still so much more for me to discover, with different weapons, builds, and badges for me to still unlock. There’s not much more I can ask of a game with such an affordable price tag. Overall, give it a shot. It’s a cute, addicting, fun time.