‘Loop Hero’ will ruin your life but you really need to play it

Excavating the archaeology of Four Quarters’ eternal roguelike apocalypse.

I did a decent job of avoiding Loop Hero at first. As my friends raved about its compelling gameplay, inimitable art style and killer music, I simply pretended that it didn’t exist. They would tell me grand stories of how they stayed up all night obsessed with finding the ultimate build, foolishly promising themselves that they’d quit after just one more loop. I laughed it off, masking my burning curiosity –“I’ll never get anything done,” I said.

Last night I caved. I couldn’t take it anymore. My Discord sidebar is full of friends playing it day in day out and I needed to know why. As my friend extolled its virtues, I quietly opened Steam and, almost on auto-pilot, tuned him out as I put my money into the hands of developer Four Quarters. In the shame-filled post-purchase refractory period, I blurted out what I had done, admitting that I’d been defeated by the hype.

Loading it up, I was kind of hoping that I’d hate it so that it wouldn’t take over my life. Maybe it’ll just be a flash in the pan?, I thought – something that we’ll talk about for a week and forget for the rest of the year. But no, dear reader, I must tell you that I love this game, it has taken over my life, and I think it’s here to stay.

In Loop Hero, you play as a young boy in fluted armour who has forgotten what the world looks like. This is a consequence of its eternal destruction at the hands of an evil Lich, who has trapped the realm in a recurring cycle of disorienting chaos. As you venture out to try and break the spell, you start to remember what life was like before this tragic flashpoint, and with that knowledge you can imagine a better tomorrow, by helping to build a new society with the resources you pick up as you chart a never ending path.

It’s quite a melancholic little narrative, isn’t it? Perhaps its greatest bit of flair is that when you meet new enemies, the game gives you their backstory. Harpy’s will tell you about how the loop is hurting them and their families, justifying their hostilities as you try to reason with mobs that you wouldn’t think twice about decapitating in other games. But humanising its enemies is just a small part of the superb set dressing – Loop Hero excels because of its juicy genre polyglot core.

See, Loop Hero is not just a Roguelike – you should have seen my irises widen when I saw the deck-building screen… It’s a bit of everything really, with flavours of tower defence, RPG, strategy and collectible card sims coming together to create a novel parcel of fun-filled sustenance. The basic gameplay loop is as follows. Your character spawns into a procedurally generated loop dotted with slimes. You leave your campfire and conquer the loop, killing the slimes and earning resources – but what’s this? Every time you kill an enemy, you receive cards.

These cards are the boy’s memories coming back to him, and you can place them in the game world to affect the environment that surrounds the loop, and the enemies that spawn within it. It’s all about carefully placing more challenges for the player without overwhelming them, curating a build out of the gear your enemies drop, and finding card combinations that lead to health buffs and other boons for the protagonist.

It’s an absolute triumph in motion, a game that has a masterful command over its own novel ideas. It immediately capitalises on our short attention spans too – the responsibility required to play Loop Hero is low –you could easily leave it on a second screen and only intervene when things go awry. And much like Hades, every time you fail you’re getting a new conversation, and a chance to make things better for the next loop. It’s living in my head rent-free, and so is the soundtrack. Composed by blinch, who also worked on the game’s design, the score is full of melancholy chiptune brilliance that speaks more to the moody narrative than the eponymous loop.

“Of course a game soundtrack is always a ‘loop’, hehe,” blinch told me over Twitter. “But I did not try to reflect looping in the OST. Because even though the Hero is ‘in a loop’ everything around him is constantly changing, and this would not reflect his feelings and mood,” they added. “Melancholy tunes come from the general decay of the world.”

Blinch says that they “tried to make the music fit the gameplay as much as possible.” “I didn’t care how the music sounded on its own – every note had to be a continuation of the game,” they added.

As well as selling over half a million copies in a week, blinch’s Loop Hero Soundtrack has also been extremely well received by fans, becoming the fastest-selling soundtrack in publisher Devolver Digital’s history. “I don’t know how to respond to that. It’s very surprising, thanks to every player,” blinch said. “I will add new music for the game, and it will be free updates, and automatically uploaded for everyone who bought the OST.”

‘Cosmic Temperance’ is blinch’s favourite track from the OST, the Lich boss theme that shocks the player with its head-banging brilliance when the evildoer’s portal truncates the loop. “When I sketched it, we didn’t know where to put it, and I forgot about that track for a month,” blinch tells me. “Then our artist proposed that the Boss Portals could play their own music — I remembered my sketch, and it fit that perfectly, so I finished it and now it’s my favorite track in the game.”

As for when you can expect the Loop Hero soundtrack on Spotify, blinch is hoping that will happen “soon.” Four Quarters’ Loop Hero is available on Steam. I would say don’t sleep on this one, but how could you when it’s going to keep you up all night…

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