October 4, 2013 6:20 PM | Paul Hack
No, it's not the Citizen Kane of video games,but I've loved every minute I've spent playing this ridiculous RPG. C. Kane, by Paul Harrington (AKA Super Walrus Games), is about the classic movie like Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is about basketball. And, unlike some recent pop culture inspired RPGs, C. Kane has a genuinely good system underlying its gameplay. It's a fairly traditional RPG at heart, but the mechanics have been stripped down to their basics. There are no random battles and there is no grinding. C. Kane is a wickedly funny, old-school RPG minus the tedium.
The game might be a little funnier if you've seen Citizen Kane, but even if all you know is that Kane was an unscrupulous newspaper mogul who uttered "Rosebud" when he died, you're still in store for a treat. The humor is dry and absurd, and the game is rife with geek culture references and satirical commentary on the RPG genre and on media in general.
Your main character is the aspiring media mogul Charles Kane, born without a soul or a clear moral compass. Your adventure begins when your father phones from his rocketship to say goodbye. He's running out of oxygen, but he has enough time to bequeath you $100 and his old sword (the one that contains his soul).
You leave home and soon learn that your childhood friend, the evil necromancer Gettys, is assembling an undead army. The town mayor gives you a couple of marines and asks you to stop him. You have to kill Gettys' 3 "dungeon masters", each named for one of the 7 deadly sins, before you can access Gettys' dark tower. You'll have to climb a volcano, desecrate a grave, and even commit genocide along the way. Eventually, you'll learn the truth about Gettys, the history of your world, yourself, your dad, and the mysterious term "Rosebud".
There's plenty of doubt and questionable morality in this tale, and you even have to make a few moral choices (like which of the two nameless marines to sacrifice. There's also a dating mini-game at one point, but most of your time with the game will be spent reading witty dialogue or engaged in combat.
Maps are small, so there's not much exploration (the entire world map is pictured above), and you always know where you're supposed to go next. Each of the 4 "dungeons" consists of some dialogue (which was, for me, the highlight of the game) and a couple of encounters. Combat is fast, vicious, and just deep enough to be interesting. Enemy attacks can take off a lot of hit points, so keeping your party healed is a fundamental strategy.
Using the appropriate emotional state for each fight is a good strategy, too. You will acquire different emotions (you get the first one, Sorrow, from your father) which bestow different element-based advantages and disadvantages. You can take out your adversaries a lot easier if you figure out their elemental weaknesses, which usually make sense, but sometimes don't. Each party member has a fairly well defined role to play in combat. Charles, for example, is often most useful at buffing his allies and de-buffing his enemies with his Journalism skills.
In between dungeons, you can beat up a shark for money and you can go back to town to spend your loot. You can increase your characters' stats by equipping them with new armor, weapons, and accessories, things like a scratchy wool shirt for Charles and a goofy hat for his faithful but hot-headed beaver companion, Leland (a member of a race that has coexisted with humans for ages).
I would be remiss if I did not mention C. Kane's extraordinary soundtrack of hilarious, hip-hop infused tunes, many of which feature vocals (my favorite selection is the jazzy "World Map").
The revelation of the true meaning of Rosebud and the final confrontation with Gettys make for an epic conclusion. I finished the game in just over 2 hours, but then I spent another half an hour looking around for the keys to decipher Heracles' secret message (you'll find him in town, among the villagers, talking animals, and happy trees). Now I'm working on figuring out what the decoded message means...