One RPG’s cliché is another’s hilarious in-joke.
There’s usually a definitive moment in games that allows you to gauge how you’re going to feel about them, good or bad. That moment in Doom & Destiny is its very first scene: a mysterious villain is attempting to open the demonic Ultraworld via virginal sacrifice, but is thwarted thanks to a party that got a little out of hand the night before. He declares a need for a virgin replacement—cut to our four heroes, on their way to a Dungeons & Dragons game night.
This opening sets the tone for the rest of Doom & Destiny‘s hilarious RPG which parodies the genre, its players, and plenty of pop culture icons. Our modern day heroes—Johnny, Mike, Nigel, and Francis—are sucked into a vortex in their Game Master’s house and transported to a fantasy dimension filled with role-playing clichés. King MacGuffin of Castle Town names them the kingdom’s Heroes, sent to stop the villain The Unnamed from accomplishing whatever evil he might be up to (no one knows what, as previous Heroes have always stopped him before any evil was done). Of course, to prove themselves worthy of such a task, our Heroes must embark on a series of inane quests, like saving a kidnapped princess and collecting a set of magical items from a distant land.
Although the necessity of such quests is called into question by our protagonists themselves, their place in Doom & Destiny is both satirically important and immensely enjoyable thanks to self-aware dialogue and exquisite level design. NPCs that share sprites wonder why they look like the stranger next to them, characters on the world map are afraid to move because invisible random encounters are everywhere, and housewives welcome you to “feel free to steal from my house!” Dungeons themselves are equally charming, featuring plenty of hidden areas to discover and explore, along with wildly varied structures so that each dungeon feels unique. One early dungeon is a perfect recreation of the map from a very famous Nintendo game, which I refuse to spoil beyond that because it’s such a beautiful, surprising area to explore (complete with plenty of in-series jokes).
Those dungeons will pit you in turn-based battles against enemies ranging from common bards and bandits to aggressive boulders and pigs disguised by mustaches. Our heroes’ battle stats are based on D&D-styled abilities: might, charisma, dexterity, and grit, with each of these governing two specific statistics (might determines characters’ strength and hit points, dexterity determines speed and evasion, etc.). Upon leveling up, a character is awarded three points to assign to any of these four base abilities, thereby increasing the two governed stats. Players will also earn “power points” for every seven points put into a given ability—one power point when an ability reaches seven, another at fourteen, and so on—which are used to equip passive and active powers like stat boosts or magic.
This system allows for a variety of approaches to building your party, although each character is “playing” a specific class and specializes in one of the four abilities both stat- and power-wise (for example, “pirate” Mike receives the bulk of the game’s healing spells). An added level of strategy comes from Doom & Destiny‘s “tactics” option, which awards stat increases and decreases to your entire party based on the current leader and each character’s position in battle. For instance, when “warrior” Johnny is the leader, players in the front row will receive a significant boost to strength but a decrease to health, while players in the back row will receive the reverse. Players in the middle row will gain a modest boost to both, with all boosts dependent upon the leader’s level. This system can quickly tip the scales in your favor when fighting a powerful enemy with a dangerous strength and should be kept in mind alongside what weapons, armor, accessories, and powers you have equipped.
The other enhancement that takes Doom & Destiny‘s battles beyond standard turn-based affair is the focus on speed and time used per action. With a setup similar to Final Fantasy X, each character and enemy is illustrated at the top of the battle screen according to their turn placement in the fight. Before an action is taken, the character’s next turn is highlighted on this bar; if they are attacking an enemy with a speed or action-reducing ability, the enemy’s new turn is also represented. Powerful actions take more turns to complete, but high speed characters will receive more turns per battle, making dexterity a critical ability to keep in mind while leveling up.
With its thoughtful and balanced battle system, the critical aspect of fighting in Doom & Destiny is consistently fun and engaging, requiring little to no level grinding. The humor that shows up in snippets in battles—like Mike’s healing spells calling upon the power of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or armor featuring magnificently sculpted nipples—pervades the rest of this near-perfect game.
Although Doom & Destiny is a parody RPG focused on the ludicrousness of the genre—from the fact that world-saving heroes still have to buy their own equipment, to maps that contain inaccessible areas just to “give the impression that our world is vast and interesting”—its humor is not its defining characteristic. That award goes to its quality: its beautifully constructed dungeons, immense number of secrets and side quests, addictive battle system, and humorous jabs and in-jokes are all used harmoniously to further the end goal of a purely fun game.
Although I expected to like Doom & Destiny from its very first scene, it constantly affirmed this assumption at every turn, with every “preposterous mage tower,” every mention of items as “plot devices,” and every NPC whose sole job is to stand in your way: every moment of Doom & Destiny is a gift to RPG fans and anti-fans alike.