Criminal Dissidia is a roguelike deckbuilder with RPG, anime, and visual novel elements. It is developed by a relatively unknown Chinese studio “Binary Star Knight”. As someone who spent a part of their childhood in China, it is always exciting to see a Chinese indie game being pushed out to the West, despite its strong anti-gaming culture. Yet, the only thing I thought after looking at the store page is “this looks kind of generic”. Nevertheless, I wanted to try it out.
Well, it turns out it is pretty generic. But, I see some potential for it to be a good game.
In Criminal Dissidia, you can choose to play as one of the three anime girls, and they fight enemies, get gold, save the world, the typical video game tropes. The one aspect that does stand out is the “narrator”, the one who foreshadows the destruction of the world and seems to have control over your choices and actions, making you question your agency as a player.
The deckbuilding aspect heavily resembles Slay the Spire. You start out with three mana and five variations of Attack/Shield card depending on the character you picked. The mercenary girl is pretty much Ironclad, and Sonohime the princess is a standard mage. It has the same type of deckbuilding choices I see in other deckbuilding games: removing cards, leveling up cards, resting to get HP.
One thing I appreciate a lot is that this game can be easily picked up by newbies. The controls are fairly straightforward. WASD to travel around the map and use the mouse to navigate the rest. The game mechanics displayed in the rookie mode are very simple with obvious synergies, such as “pick up all the cards with Frost” or “pick up all the cards with a lot of fire”. The simplicity allowed me to learn the more unintuitive mechanics quickly, such as “Gears” that give you permanent buffs for the rest of the fight.
As someone who has played a few roguelike deckbuilder games, it is unfortunately far too simple for me. By the time I ended the game, I didn’t feel like I built an interesting deck; it felt as if I only completed one-sixth of a typical roguelike deckbuilder run. Yet, it took longer than the mobile roguelike deckbuilder game Protect the Realm, without the same level of strategic depth. Because Criminal Dissidia is more than just a roguelike deckbuilder, it also has an emphasis on RPG-like exploration.
However, I did not feel that the RPG-like exploration enhanced the gameplay experience. Rather than finding a lot of interesting people to talk to, most characters are just “one-liners” or solely exist to fight you. The only character who is dedicated to having a conversation with you is the “narrator”. There is little sense of exploration since things are relatively linear.
Nevertheless, the game is still fairly technically polished, and I felt no frustration playing it, which is great! The fight animation looks smooth and the user interface does a fine job of giving me the much needed information. The mini-map makes it very easy to travel from place to place. I have not encountered any bugs and the game runs smoothly without any technical issues. The main characters and the narrator are also voiced, which is a nice bonus.
A bad translation can kill years of hard work that the developers put their blood, sweat, and tears into. Criminal Dissidia likely will not suffer the same fate. As someone who understands Chinese, I really liked the translation they have done. The English translations were able to communicate the original meaning without the complexities and heavily context-dependent nature of the Chinese language.
The demo only had a Rookie mode, and it leaves a lot to be desired for the future release. For the full version of the game with an established expert mode, the three aspects that I look forward to the most are the Elves, more types of cards, and a better casino system!
The Elves are so cutely drawn and it is tragic that I never had a chance to use them in a real game. It seems to have a “merge” system where they can combine and become more powerful. Whilst this is a prominent system in other genres, I have yet to see it in a roguelike deckbuilder before.
Criminal Dissidia also promised 500+ different types of cards on their store page. I hope the added complexity will lead to a more strategic depth of gameplay.
Lastly, the casino system is an interesting one. It offers a mega-hard timed jigsaw puzzle game; card memorisation; and a Rock Paper Scissors game where statistical manipulation can be used a bit to help you win. These games are mildly interesting, but horribly balanced. The payouts are never worth the amount of resources spent, and the card memorisation game would be much cooler if it ended after all six attempts are used, rather than ending after finding a single correct match.
Overall, I think it is hard for me to feel excited about this game. Criminal Dissidia is the definition of average. It hasn’t shown me anything impressive, I cannot find any reason to faithfully recommend this to someone, but it is also good enough for me to not hate it.