LV99: Final Fortress (2020)
Developer: Great Potion Games
Disclaimer: I received this game for free from the developer.
I've really been working through my backlog lately, but now I've got myself in a position where I'm playing too many games at once. I haven't quite stopped playing Animal Crossing and now I added Ooblets in to the mix, alongside another game and then the game I'm actually going to review here! Thankfully, I was able to finish it on time. LV99: Final Fortress is an RPG dungeon adventure that starts you off at the "final" part of a adventure, where you have to defeat big bosses. Despite a lack of introduction, tutorial, and character-building, LV99 is a fun little RPG with some cool bosses and likeable protagonists.
LV99 presents itself with a very interesting and even bold description: "A JRPG that skips the boring stuff and starts with the epic late game." The problem is: I completely disagree with the premise that the early parts of a videogame are the "boring" parts. Maybe it's just me? I don't often play a game just looking forward to the final dungeon or endgame. I love the world-building exposition, tutorial, and getting to know the characters. Then again, I don't play a lot of JRPGs, so maybe that's an aspect of the genre. However, I do respect the fact that when the game says this, it means it. When you start it up and press "new game", you're suddenly in a castle, able to move around, no introduction or opening sequence at all. For a second, I was worried I somehow pressed "continue game", but I didn't have any game file saved already. You play as Ariel, and you arrive at the fortress alongside Billie and Celsia. In that moment, you're given no explanation about why you're here and what you have to do.
Once you journey into the dungeons of the fortress, you encounter big enemies to fight at every turn. It's only in these battles that you actually learn more about the protagonists and their relationships to one another. In-battle conversations mention tidbits about why they're here and what the personality of each of these characters are. I still wish I knew more about each character, but this makes up for a lot of the lack of introduction at the beginning. Not having any sort of introduction of controls or tutorial, however, was a little annoying. The controls are simple enough, but there's things I didn't realize for a while. For example, apparently the interact button also allows you to jump gaps in the ground? I figured I'd have to walk around areas with holes, until I finally stumbled upon this discovery. The dungeon exploration and non-battle aspects actually felt very Zelda-like, pushing blocks around to create paths and solving puzzles to get to the next room.
The pixel art in as well as the character art in LV99 is pretty great and make the world look interesting. I especially like the design for the many big bosses you fight within the fortress. You fight a lot of bosses in this game, so it's good that each one is unique and well-designed. The music reminds me a little bit of the background music in Rakuen, with it's slightly synth and mysterious feel. Most of the writing for the main characters made me interested and invested in them, but some of the other characters in the game had very little dialogue or were weirdly creepy (the shopkeeper).
Every time you defeat a boss, you also gain a new equipment item. It's usually not super clear which item should go to which heroine, so it's a little bit of time spent trying it on different characters. However, at some point you have so many different weapons and equipment that you can switch it around depending on what works best for that battle. I especially liked that items carried specific skills and/or effects in battle. To be honest, most of the battles weren't too challenging, and I appreciate that this game allows you to heal after each one so you could continue to move on. However, suddenly the final two bosses had a huge spike in difficulty. Unfortunately, I think I'm on the very final boss of the game and I haven't been able to beat it. I've tried different combinations of equipment and gotten fairly close, but sometimes the enemy will just randomly do a ton of a damage and it's over. I do wish I'd gotten to see the end of the game, but I'm not sure what more I can do to change up my attack style (if someone plays this whole game and puts it on YouTube, please shoot me a link so I can watch the last part of it). This game definitely gives quite a challenge even for RPG players, although the early part of the game might seem a bit easy.
LV99: Final Fortress is definitely a unique game and sets itself apart with its focus. This approach of playing only the "epic late game" might actually appeal to some fans of JRPGs, but it didn't do much for me. However, despite that, I still enjoyed it and was surprised that it was still able to have some character exposition despite everything. It's a fun and non-punishing RPG with puzzle elements that will take you about 3 hours to play, so it's worth checking out.
LV99: Final Fortress is available on PC.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 3.5 hrs