I love Christmas. I love RPGs. I… like Cthulhu… I guess?
Either way, those three ingredients are the recipe for Cthulhu Saves Christmas, the festive RPG from Cosmic Star Heroine developer Zeboyd Games. I don’t think there are enough quality festive video games out there, so it was a treat to see this pop up on the Nintendo eShop just in time for the season of good will and cheer… is it actually any good though?
If the title wasn’t a clue in itself, the tale of Cthulhu Saves Christmas revolves around Cthulhu (yes, THAT Cthulhu) heading on a quest in order to save Christmas. How did that come around? Well, it turns out that there’s a League of Christmas Evil in the world and that they’ve only gone and kidnapped good ol’ Santa Claus, meaning Cthulhu has found himself in an endless loop of Christmas Eves that will only come to an end when the cheery present-delivering fella is saved. He’s had his powers taken away thanks to a seemingly cursed Christmas present too, so that’s also a pretty big incentive. Don’t worry though, you’re not alone in this quest – Cthulhu is not only joined by Santa Claus’ granddaughter Crystal, but also a bunch of ragtag folk that certainly embrace both the festive and Lovecraftian themes of this mish-mash of an adventure.
It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that this isn’t one of those RPGs that features a deep and harrowing tale that revolves around saving the world, with Cthulhu Saves Christmas’ tale focusing heavily on humour and breaking the fourth wall. I mean, Cthulhu wants to use his powers to DESTROY the world… making him the saviour of Christmas is pretty ridiculous in itself (in the best way possible). What compliments the absurdity is some brilliant writing, which doesn’t only help bring the characters to life and set up an array of bizarre scenarios, but also embraces festive cheer. As mentioned, I’m a fan of Christmas and there’s a real feel-good vibe to almost everything that you do throughout the story, even IF Cthulhu may have his own motives behind all of his actions. It’s fun and just makes the narrative all the more endearing to see unfold.
Cthulhu Saves Christmas might adopt a Groundhog Day-like approach given that you’re living Christmas Eves over and over again, but there’s nothing samey about the time you spend playing. You’ll follow a schedule in-game that sees you taking on a new member of the League of Christmas Evil every seven days, with the time in-between that spent exploring your festive surroundings (which are bloody lovely) and getting to know the supporting cast a bit better.
Whilst your ultimate goal is to rescue Santa Claus, a lot of your time in Cthulhu Saves Christmas will be spent building up relationships with the other characters in your party or the NPCs that you meet. This is based around the game’s ‘R’lyehtionship System’, which sees Cthulhu partaking in a series of sequences with each character and typically doing ‘nice’ things along the way (though I’m using that term loosely here… you’ll see what I mean if you play the game). Doing so rewards you with a piece of equipment that’ll help you out in combat, but there’s a catch: the day limit of the game means that you won’t be able to build your relationship up fully with all of the characters in one single playthrough, meaning that you’ll have to play through the game at least two or three times to see everything.
This might sound like a pain, but honestly, each sequence is so well-written and wholesome that it’s hard not to recommend seeing them all. There’s a New Game+ system in place too, so you can carry your progress over between runs in order to max everything out – it shouldn’t take any longer than around five hours to beat the game the first time around either, with subsequent playthroughs taking less time again. In all, you’re probably looking at around eight-to-nine hours to see EVERYTHING, which is a pretty nice runtime for a festive RPG.
It’d be easy to think that the battle mechanics would be pretty simple given that Cthulhu Saves Christmas doesn’t really take itself too seriously, but you’d be mistaken. Battles are turn-based affairs where you’ll use each character’s skills to dish out damage and debuff your foes. You’ll get to choose four skills that each party member uses, meaning you can build them up to play certain roles and establish strategies in battle – however, they’ll also have a wildcard fifth skill that is randomly assigned, adding a refreshing sense of unpredictability to each showdown that might give you an extra spark of power to really dish out the hurt to your foes. You can only use each skill once per battle before you need to recharge them though, which means you have to balance out your attacks and pick the right moment to strike if you hope to survive the Lovecraftian-festive foes you meet on the battlefield. There are other intricacies such as the hyper meter that allow the player to pull off more powerful attacks, but the system itself is easy enough to get to grips with and makes for some fun battling in-game.
If I had to complain about one thing with the battling, it’s that some encounters could drag out a little. It was rare that enemies ever provided TOO much of a threat, but their health could be pretty high and would see you going through the same pattern of attacking and resting over and over before you vanquish them. It wasn’t always the case, but it could make the game feel formulaic in places.
Interestingly, you’ll only face a set amount of random encounters when in a dungeon, with the final one awarding you with an XP boost and then leaving you free to wander around without the worry of hitting a mob of enemies. This alleviates the need to grind in the game, with the player always facing enough enemies in order to hit the levels required to progress – sure, you can initiate more battles from the menu if you want to strengthen yourself up, but it ultimately streamlines the experience so that you only have to face what’s required of you. It’s a neat idea that will certainly appeal to RPG casuals whilst the grinding-masters can do so if they please too… it’s good stuff.
Cthulhu Saves Christmas gets a whole lot of stuff right during its adventure, but it’s with its festive buzz where it truly excels. Between the colourful and Christmassy visuals, the charming soundtrack, and the genuinely funny story, there’s SO much to appreciate about the game if you’re looking to get yourself in the mood for the Winter festivities. I’ll say it again, I LOVE Christmas, and Cthulhu Saves Christmas certainly kept a big smile on my face thanks to how much it embraces the holiday.
Cthulhu Saves Christmas is a festive RPG treat that is sure to keep a big smile on the faces of both newbies and veterans of the genre. There’s plenty to see and discover across the story thanks to the charming interactions you’ll share with characters as you build relationships with them, whilst the battle system is deep and can make for some unpredictable showdowns.
It’d be easy to write Cthulhu Saves Christmas off as just a gimmicky Christmas game, but it’s so much more than that. You definitely won’t want to miss out on this Lovecraftian escapade if you’re itching for some festive cheer…
Developer: Zeboyd Games
Publisher: Zeboyd Games, Limited Run Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PC