Seven Scrolls, developed for Android by Jesse Venbrux and inspired by the works of prolific indie dev Michael Brough, is a roguelike dungeon-crawling puzzle game that puts you in control of a funky little purple monk who shoots lightning from his head. Seven Scrolls presents a singular, unforgiving experience whose artwork walks the line between heavily stylized yet muted and subtle. Its absurdist, almost surrealist take on a mythological setting looks like a doodle ripped straight from the margins of an edgy grade schooler’s composition notebook. To describe it as charming hardly scratches the surface.
The story is sparse but effective. Seven Scrolls’ narrative is derived mostly from its aesthetic choices. Surreal creatures and spells enchant not only the eponymous Scrolls but the world itself. You’ll find charmingly bizarre enemy types such as one that resembles the disembodied head of a minotaur with a purple man emerging from its agape maw. Or who could forget the depressed snake-worm with horns and a mermaid tail that loses its heart upon death? What Seven Scrolls lacks in story it makes up for in visual appeal that sparks questions from the player. This allows them to fill in the blanks and craft a fantasy tale all their own.
Halo Fans Rejoice!
Ask any hardcore gamer and many might tell you the same thing: any soundtrack predicated on the chanting of monks is an instant three out of five stars minimum, guaranteed. That’s just science. And, boy, Seven Scrolls does not disappoint! In addition to the title screen throat chants, the in-game sound design is atmospheric as all get out. Everything about the sound design is dank, dungeon-y, and damn creepy!
If this game does one thing right, it knows how to immerse the player in a setting and keep them there. Nothing seems out of place, and nothing is too obtrusive. Every graphic, every sound keeps the player drawn into the mystical world presented to them. To maintain an uninterrupted, immersive experience, the devs even chose to forego microtransactions. During my time with Seven Scrolls, I found no ads and no invasive donate button.
Secret of the Scrolls
The straightforward yet challenging gameplay of Seven Scrolls keeps you engrossed and entertained for hours. The monk, controlled by swiping in any cardinal direction, starts each floor in a random location. Monsters will spawn endlessly one at a time after every few moves the monk makes. Monsters move in turn with the monk. The monk’s sole goal is to survive the gauntlet of monster-infested dungeon floors by unlocking each floor’s escape exit. He accomplishes this using nothing but the power of magic scrolls. Oh, and his innate ability to summon lightning from his mind whenever the player swipes towards monsters in their path.
Seven Scrolls offers a harmonious blend of action and puzzles, and the mechanics are deceptively simple. It’s turn-based, every monster drops a specific item upon death, and you can collect up to seven scrolls that give you random abilities that arbitrarily help or hinder either the monk or monsters. That last mechanic adds layers of chaos, complexity, and nuance to an otherwise banal fighting system indistinguishable from checkers. An interesting and wholly unique system of randomized modular scrolls that act as modifiers keep gameplay varied and fresh while also keeping you on your toes.
To clarify, every scroll has three randomized components: a trigger, a target, and an effect. For example, when the monk is healed (trigger), an enemy (target) will be teleported to a random location (effect). The scrolls can either be used passively–whenever its trigger is activated–or you can tap on a scroll to manually activate its effect, but it will be burned upon use. The game consists of seven rounds containing seven floors each. (Are you noticing a theme?) If the monk survives seven floors, you can choose one of your scrolls to keep for the next round, and the madness begins anew.
Finding Beauty in the Chaos
As with many roguelikes, RNG and plain ol’ dumb luck play a significant factor in success. But it’s the player’s ability to plan around the chaos that adds a chess-like complexity to Seven Scrolls. This truly separates it from countless other entries in the genre. Its difficulty is derived from navigating a floor’s grid without being overwhelmed by the ever-spawning monsters and the increasingly confusing amalgamation of scroll effects.
To excel–or make it to round three for that matter–one needs to not only be three steps ahead of every enemy on screen but also keep track of up to seven scroll modifiers at a time. It becomes a grueling challenge to constantly keep in mind that, say, every time an enemy takes damage, a bolt of lightning will strike above them. Or that each time you take damage, your doppelganger will appear next to you. Moreover, multiple scroll triggers often sync up due to the effects of one scroll triggering another. This creates unavoidable chain reactions involving anything from lightning, teleporting enemies, or creatures exploding at random. It’s unadulterated mayhem.
I’m sure there’s some obscure, untranslatable German expression that perfectly encapsulates the notion of “meticulously structured rules and formulas specifically designed to create as much random chaos as possible.” But until I learn what that word is, I’ll just call it Seven Scrolls.
Is it Hardcore?
You better believe it.
A breath of fresh air in a genre otherwise flooded with generic, cookie-cutter cash grabs, Seven Scrolls is a roguelike deserving of the title. Keeping true to its roots and built upon a solid foundation of a distinctive mechanic, it rises to heights far above the rest. It’ll have you swearing under your breath and coming back for more.