There’s a lack of games that feature horrors from South-East Asian culture, despite the region’s rich history and affinity with scary stories. Indie companies have begun tapping into local myths as material, like Dreadout and Home Sweet Home portraying Indonesian and Thai bogeymen respectively, but recently released Ghostlore moves away from horror and portrays them through the lens of a hack-and-slash Action Role Playing Game (ARPG).
Coined as an “Eastpunk” ARPG inspired by Diablo, the game sees a demon hunting apprentice taking on local cryptids known as Mogui in the region’s various islands. The game’s hub world is called Seaport, heavily inspired by 90’s Singapore and peppered with merchants players can resupply from.
Ghostlore starts you off in character creation, with six unique classes available to pick from. Aside from that, customisation is a minimum: the character’s design is based on their classes and you pick which hairstyle and colour to rock for now. Each class has four unique skills flavoured around exorcisms from different cultures, referencing blood magic and asian talismans.
Where players can sink their teeth in is their skill grid and unique Glyph system. Class skills can be placed on a 7×7 grid, along with passive improvements as long as they align vertically or horizontally. It’s a system that became a puzzle, finding strategic ways to place my skills and squeeze out value from every grid.
The glyph system works almost similarly, except glyphs are dropped by enemies as loot. There are 6 variations of glyphs, each with a different focus, and can be placed on a glyph grid. Stronger glyphs draw power from other glyphs, and give different passive effects for each variation you can fit in their shape. It’s quite an intuitive system, but only made sense after I unlocked more grid space in the glyph system.
This features one of Ghostlore’s barriers of entry: The game provided very little direction early on that made it easy to get lost. There are tutorial speech boxes that give you an idea of where everything is, but, despite a well-designed user interface, the skill and glyph systems only became intuitive to me after a few levels. The map also felt like it could have more visual cues: during my first hour of gameplay, it felt like I was going the wrong way only for me to stumble into the boss I was looking for.
These are potentially frustrating situations for players, but Ghostlore’s gameplay kept me invested long enough to reach the payoff levels. The apprentice’s skills combined with a dodge roll created a gameplay loop where I would create space by rolling away, then use a skill to deal damage and add attacks in-between. There’s a level of skill expression that rewards both aggressive and safer styles of play.
Switching between both is crucial for survival, as there are different types of Mogui that are randomly generated across the map. Early on, fast-moving “Gui-Kia/Toyol” were the main Mogui to tackle, but more enemy types like the “Babi Ngepet” with a rushing attack and slow-moving “Jiang-Shi” that drains health when dealing damage will start to show up. These are common enemy archetypes in ARPGs, but the way they are integrated into the lore is spectacular.
One issue I did encounter was having issues with the controls on PC, Keyboard and Mouse, but that might be due to the platform I was on rather than an issue with the game. Controller players might fare better here but it took some adjusting for me to be satisfied with the controls. It’s also a game that deserves a mobile release, following the path of its predecessors Diablo and Path of Exile, but currently there seems to be no news on that. Yet.
Narratively, the game delivers a simple story, giving most of its lore through loading screen expositions and dialogue with characters. Here is also where the game’s flavours of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia oozes out, through its food system, the language and environmental designs of Seaport. The pixel art worked really well with, highlighting that “Eastpunk” aesthetics through visuals familiar to anyone who has visited South-East Asia. There’s even a simple weather system, cycling through day and night, rain and sun, which added a touch of immersion while exploring.
Overall, Ghostlore presents an ARPG with a lot of heart put into the game, with great system designs that cater to both fresh and veteran players. The setting is a breath of fresh air and hopefully encourages more games to experiment with it. I find myself wanting to explore more of Seaport long after putting down the controls.