Updated Thoughts on Prodigal

I should specify that the “Updated” in the title is due to already having a Prodigal review published on another website. This post will cover all that the linked review did not, which includes content added since the game’s release in late 2020.

Let me also specify that my thoughts / opinions on this title are not influenced by my good standing with the team behind it. My goal is to be as objective as possible, regardless of whether or not I have an NPC modeled after me in-game.

Now, some close to me are already aware that I enjoy Prodigal quite a bit. It was my Game of the Year in 2020 and is currently my fourth-most played game on Steam in terms of total playtime. Discovered by complete chance, the impact it’s had on my life is a rarity that I try not to take for granted. Games that fit your preferences almost effortlessly well do not come along often.

Quite a bit of content has been added since my initial review—which, until this past week, I had never gotten around to playing. Extended story elements, lots of postgame content, and menacingly difficult challenges make up most of what’s now on offer. At this point, Prodigal feels truly complete. Did it carve out a fate worth diving into?

Overview

Prodigal sees main protagonist Oran returning to his hometown after spending some amount of time in “The South.” Once there, he’ll become reacquainted with people from his past, along with new faces that will alter his life’s trajectory. Some welcome his return; others hold a grudge against Oran for actions he made in his youth.

What players can expect is a heavy dose of puzzles, secrets, and dialogue. Mostly a story-driven title that has a vibe and aesthetic reminiscent of old GameBoy Color games. Dungeons will likely make up the most of one’s journey, with seeking to romance one of the characters being another time-consuming option. With all that’s present in the game, it should take newcomers (depending on skill level) 20-30 hours to complete everything.

This room seems eerie.

Actual Review

What becomes evident at a certain point in Prodigal is its desire to build a bountiful, content-laden world. Back before its current v. 1.4 state, there were areas and monuments along the way that had no meaning—just signs of things to be implemented later. Because of this, there were various moments during the adventure where it became hard to gauge whether the vagueness implied that something could or couldn’t be activated. This is no longer an issue with a basically complete game.

Even without player-beneficial purposes, some secrets reveal a lot about lore contained in the backdrop. Hidden chasms containing books, documenting wars and mages and all sorts of wild fantasy stuff. Developer Colorgrave is clearly setting a foundation for something larger than just a story of one boy’s redemption. The entire second half of the game, though with a clear objective, is shrouded in a thick fog of questionable actions.

On the note of questionable actions…

Ambiguity

Where this all ties into is how the vagueness is still a little too pertinent. Multiple times I came across new dungeons and fixtures that required something to awaken them, but I had no idea what. From what I could gather, there were no clues, no hints as to what all was possible to find or unlock. Talking to people garnered nothing; no prompts arose. It truly is reminiscent of old-time titles, where the player was expected to run around aimlessly, discovering things just upon luck.

Substantial aid came in large part due to the fan-made Prodigal Wiki, which details step-by-step processes for these unmarked quests. If not for the knowledge obtained and detailed by fans of the game, I probably wouldn’t even know how to get to half of the postgame shenanigans. It doesn’t have to be blunt, but something; anything to nudge one in the right direction. Although, I never checked if Nora provided hints to unmarked quests…

Fun item, this is.

Narrative

From a narrative standpoint, the vagueness also hurts the overall impact of the reveal of certain characters or events. Namely, there’s a lot of content packed into dialogue that is only mentioned in minimal whispers. Reading up on the books present in the aforementioned hidden chasms becomes essential; even with it, certain details are hard to grasp.

How very amusing when I would do something and a character would chastise me for it, stating: “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” I would simply think, “No, not really.”

Given much of this riddled-in-world-bending-consequences content occurred after the initial release, it’s easy to assume it was just thrown in for the sake of it. Though I’m more willing to guess that it was originally intended to be in the base game; they just couldn’t fit it in in time.

I dunno, lady. I’m just exploring.

Unfortunately, this, too, affects the seamlessness of its implementation. Many things do feel “thrown in,” completely deserving of the “extra content” moniker. It’s postgame stuff, but its importance and / or development isn’t as nurtured. All of this business with gods and seals and what-not—it ends up paling in comparison to the more simple, personal story of Oran’s redemption arc.

Characters

The new characters one can romance—Tara, Siska, Tess, and Kir Hasa—similarly lack the same depth as most of the original options. Whether because there’s less interaction or they go for more sympathetic stories rather than developing ample chemistry, it rarely ends up as fulfilling. I like them more as characters afterwards, though the “romance” aspect falters. They’ll have an entire arc that fleshes out their ambitions and / or insecurities, further tying them to their place in the town. Then at the end, they’ll go, “By the way, I love you.” Okay.

Props to Kir Hasa, though, for having the most unique design and being the best character among the four new romanceable options. If I’m marrying anyone outside the main six, it’s her.

Big cutie.

Breakdown (of Negatives)

Quite a bit of negativity so far, I’m aware. To condense these thoughts into easily digestible bits, re-purpose all the things I’ve said already and remember these three points:

  • Some aimless wandering due to missing a piece of the puzzle.
  • Gargantuan, detailed background story squeezed into a little package.
  • New characters aren’t fleshed out romance options, although fleshed out generally.

If analyzed outside the context of the original game, I actually find this of somewhat lesser quality than the base adventure. Some quests flesh out Oran’s relationship with the town and develop Hugh, a minor-turned-major character, adequately enough. And as mentioned, Kir Hasa is a cutie-patootie. What it lacks is that same convenience of time that the base game provides, allowing for further development of a now much bigger plot and larger cast of characters.

I wonder what I get here…

Gameplay (Lots-a Dungeons)

That’s enough about story and characters—what about gameplay? With new updates come new dungeons, items, and areas to uncover. Per the Wiki, twelve additional dungeons were added over the course of 2021. While not all have the same amount of appeal, the sheer variety is nonetheless impressive.

For example, there are new secondary dungeons—including a whopping six that can be found inside or just outside major dungeons. One will have to collect specific items necessary for access, of course, but the rewards are often worth the trouble. And traversing through these new areas often prove pretty difficult.

Okay, so let me complain for just a moment. This doesn’t have much bearing on my overall thoughts on the quality of these dungeons; I just have some traumatic experiences. Nestled within some of these dungeons are “crystal keys,” which one is required to carry with them through rooms to access crystal key locks. Only thing is that these keys are “fragile.” If you get hit once, the key breaks; you’ll have to go back to the original room and pick it up again. A test of flexibility and awareness. I hated it so much.

This dungeon was pain the first time around.

Thankfully, replaying some of these dungeons make them more bearable. I remember with the first go-around, these crystal-key requirements had me gripping my controller mighty fierce. The second and third times they were slightly annoying, but rarely much of a hassle. (Additional item upgrades helped.) It’s a matter of knowing the layout of the dungeon and manipulating it to your whims. And just blazing through with reckless abandon. Sometimes that helps more than you think it would.

Alas, the crystal key stipulation is just one aspect to these new, harder dungeons. And that is a common theme within the postgame: everything is harder. Puzzles are more complex, the enemies are more annoying, and rooms have more pitfalls in general. I’ve played Prodigal so many times that going through the base campaign is almost like playing through Level 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. Much of the postgame is like taking a warp pipe straight to 8-1.

Another notable point is that they’re generally shorter. This is most often the case with dungeons found within major dungeons, where the length often feels kind of compact. While they are dungeons, it feels almost weird to refer to them as so—they’re more like mini-dungeons. Nevertheless, their boost in difficulty gives credence to the old saying, “Big things come in small packages.”

Absolutely love the Crystal Caves.

Fortunately, some of my favorite dungeons in the entire game are packaged within the postgame. The Crystal Caves sports not only neat puzzles and my favorite item (upgrade) in Prodigal, but a really soothing alternating color aesthetic and lovely music. I’m also quite fond of the Haunted House and the Crocasino Backroom. These two dungeons have a very coordinated appeal to their puzzles that are both sufficiently challenging and satisfying. I adore when places take full advantage of every item at one’s disposal.

Oh, and you can replay the game with specific challenges that make the adventure harder, too. Playing through the game at least once will unlock these “shrines” that one can break before the next adventure. These range from preventing dropped items from appearing to having lightning bolts strike down on you for no reason. There’s even a randomizer mode. Y’know, if you need a little spice in your life.

Haha, I’m in danger!

Daemon’s Dive

Reading up on it beforehand, one thing I was not looking forward to was Daemon’s Dive. A gauntlet of challenges, accentuating everything learned throughout the journey. Essentially, one plays through the entire standard game’s dungeons (including bosses), only on a much harder difficulty scale. Given the already slightly arduous nature of the dungeons in the postgame, I was preparing myself for some obscenely obnoxious difficulty spikes.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about; I had a blast. Daemon’s Dive does have its fair share of garbage difficulty implementations (just throw in a bunch of enemies all at once!), though it also has a lot of fun, clever puzzles. I enjoyed seeing through all the classic dungeons a second time with a harder coat of paint. And due to how many times I completed them beforehand, it ended up being just the right spot of a difficulty boost compared to what I already knew nearly by heart. It ended up my favorite part of the postgame.

Well, seeing myself actually in the game was cool, too.

OHSHI—

Closing Thoughts

It feels kind of weird to award this with any sort of numerical score. This isn’t some packaged DLC deal that costs and money—it’s content added over a period of time for free. Rating this would be like rating something that isn’t intrinsically tied to playing through the whole game itself. So… I won’t.

What I will close on is that there are a sufficient amount of both positives and negatives with this crop of content. Some may be thankful for any new content whatsoever, which lengthens the game and encourages replayability all the more. Trying to put together all the pieces of a grander narrative, stirring in history and background context, may be better served in a Discord server with fans than within the game itself.

If you’re already fond of Prodigal and wish it was just five times more challenging, these content updates will bring you right back.

Prodigal is available to purchase on Steam for $9.99 (USD).

For more reviews on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.

Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.

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