Amazing Cultivation Simulator

I’ve really been struggling with how to review Amazing Cultivation Simulator. I usually open these reviews with a “I Liked It” or “I didn’t like it.” But while Amazing Cultivation Simulator is firmly in the “I liked it” group, every time I try to get screenshots or play more to refresh my memory, I boot the game, look at the menu screen, and then close it again. Not inherently because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it feels like too much effort.

Okay, so enough yammering. Amazing Cultivation Simulator starts out as a settlement management game. In this sense, it’s not unlike something like Dwarf Fortress, RimWorld, or Odd Realm. Unlike Dwarf Fortress and Odd Realm, you can only build on the X/Y Axis, so everything you make will be at most one story tall. This won’t be a big issue in the early game, but it can be become a problem for some reasons later on.

I’m not even showing the menu for making structures and its UI in this screenshot.

The thing that makes Amazing Cultivation Simulator different than any of those management sims is that while it has the typical, “Get food, get water, how did that guy break his leg trying to cook dinner?” sorts of problems and moments, the game is… well, it’s a cultivation simulator. This is a game where you will repeatedly burn down your kitchen and give people permanent disfiguring burns because your kitchen has bad Feng Shui. It’s a game where you will make someone’s dick fall off because you had them learn the wrong magic technique. For those of you who haven’t heard the term before (like me before playing this game), let’s talk about what “Cultivation” is, briefly.

No really. I’m not joking about the dick thing.

“Cultivation” is a term used to describe a type of novels and stories, generally referred to as “Wuxia” stories. I think of “Wuxia” as a setting kind of like “high fantasy” is a setting. If I say something is high fantasy, there are some assumptions you can make about it. Elves will live a long time, and live in forests. Orcs will be violent and brutish. Humans will be a mix in between. In short, Cultivation is a set of story elements/general world building tropes that are consistent between a lot of the stories written in this genre.

An example of the trading menu. There are quite a few different items, and I have no idea how to even get like half of them. For anyone wondering what a “Fortuitous Treasure” rod is, here’s a hint: it’s related to that magic art that makes your dick fall off if you have one.

The rules for Cultivation worlds are completely different from traditional western high fantasy. As part of writing this review, I asked a friend to recommend a web novel that followed general Cultivation themes, and read 50+ chapters of it. I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t love it (sorry buddy). But it was incrediblely useful for understanding the sort of world Amazing Cultivation Simulator is trying to simulate. So let’s talk about these general rules.

  1. People in the world have the ability to train, practice, and meditate to get what effectively amounts to magic powers. These powers are varied, but generally function kind of like spells in the 5E Player’s Handbook. They often require Qi (mana) to use, have specific names and effects, etc.
  2. Different schools of Cultivation have sects that form around the people practicing and studying them. Sects have power structures with practitioners who are strong at the top, and weak at the bottom. The sects also tend to give different abilities / access to different magic spells.
  3. Cultivating and gathering Qi requires sitting really still for a while, so that you can have more mana.
  4. Dragonball Z levels of power scaling. Low tier cultivators get the shit kicked out of them by magic animals that just happen to have magic powers. Mid tier cultivators can paralyze your entire body with like 2 punches. High tier cultivators can just obliterate cities.
  5. Powering up to higher tiers requires you to either have a breakthrough or pass a tribulation. A breakthrough happens when you successfully surpass your own limits, but you will fail a lot while trying to do it. A tribulation is something like literally being repeatedly attacked by lightning clouds or whatever, while you try to survive.
  6. There are also magic artifacts. They range from “neat,” to “secret pocket dimension” levels of bullshit. There are also magic pills and drugs. You need these to get to higher ranks of power, and they follow the same levels of bullshit, except they’re even harder to make. You make these pills and artifacts out of dead monsters, and really old plants.

Okay, so now that we have that all out of the way, let’s get down to talking about video games again.

If we try to assess Amazing Cultivation Simulator in the light of the Cultivation genre, how does it do? My answer would be, “Pretty well.” The game has pill crafting, artifact crafting, ascension to divinity, formations of power structures. There are multiple schools of Cultivation, each with their own unique abilities and quirks.

I want to stress that the game is constructed like a simulator, not like a casual sim game. It shares more in common with Dwarf Fortress than it does with the Sims, in terms of asking you to both learn a billion things, and a cheerful willingness to punch you in the mouth if you don’t.

For example, lets take a look at a what amounts to the stat screen for a single character.

Well that’s not too ba-
Oh.
Oh dear.
Last one.
Psych. Also for reference, that small stats drop down on the side? It scrolls.

Oh, this isn’t even considering the skill menu, for actually selecting passive and active skills for your dudes. Cause that shit looks like this:

There are like 20 of these skill trees, and some can’t even be used together. There is an entirely separate school of Cultivation called Body Cultivation that uses an entirely different interface with options to select individual bones that you want to modify.

Okay, so I played the game for 65 hours. Why am I putting so much into stressing this stuff? Well, because game is incredibly system-dense. And while I suspect this usually wouldn’t be a problem for many of my readers, there’s a situation where your ability to learn things in game breaks down.

And that would be the localization and translation.

Sometimes the translations work well. Sometimes they do not.

This is probably my biggest issue with Amazing Cultivation Simulator that I consider to be an actual problem (as opposed to a “I don’t like how things work” sort of complaint. Don’t worry, we’ll get to those later).

The game has an incredibly dense set of systems for almost everything, from the materials you make your house out of, to the items you craft, to crafting legendary artifacts and drawing talismans.

Did I mistakenly turn my incredibly valuable demon hide into an umbrella? Yes. But is it a great umbrella? Also yes.

But the combination of translations that don’t always hit the mark, genre-specific vocabulary, and systems that just aren’t really localized (looking at you, combat formations) means that the game can become very frustrating to play at points. I suspect that some of this would be mitigated if I was already familiar with the rules of the genre, but I’m not. I had to talk to a friend familiar with the genre, read a sixty-five-ish page guide, and read the aforementioned webnovel to even understand some of what was going on.

I don’t want to be overly down on the game. I think it’s successful at a lot of what it’s trying to be. And compared to many other entries in this genre it does great; I never lost characters to incredibly stupid pathing, and there were no game-breaking bugs that shredded my save file. There’s a lot going for it. But the fact that past a given point you basically have to join a Discord server (or at least follow a guide) takes away some of the joy of discovery for me. Now, to be fair, I could just die and make a new save file, and perhaps that’s how you’re supposed to play the game. Losing is fun, after all. But it feels bad to lose 40 hours of progress because one of the folks in your sect turned into a giant snake after being struck with lightning bolts.

Again, this is a thing that happens.

Okay, so now with all of this done, I want to spend some time complaining about a few specific systems, before I praise the game a bit more, and hopefully wrap up this incredibly fucking long review. It’s a bit rambling, so if you want, you can stop reading here.

No really, you can stop.

Oh, you’re still here? Okay, so let’s get into it.

I’m not sure the concept of Cultivation lends itself well to a video game in certain aspects, specifically in the type of story that it tries to map to games.

Typically speaking, I think a lot of European stories go a certain way. Smarter people then I have written more things about this, but the point I want to quickly make is that generally speaking, in many games, stories, etc, ANYONE, at least in theory, with enough grit and determination can aspire to reach incredible heights.

Cultivation worlds though, do not follow this rule. And Amazing Cultivation Simulator especially does not follow this rule. If you are not a “heaven blessed talent” or just incredibly lucky person, you will not make it very far. Without having what amounts to way higher than average stats, you simply do not have the potential to become a god. You may not reach Golden Core. You may not have the ability to even cultivate enough power to beat up magic animals.

This leads to a situation where you can stagnate and fail if one of two things happen. First of all, if you don’t go out of your way to roll starting characters with insane stats, or if you just get unlucky, and never have anyone with the potential to be godlike show up. While there are ways to increase base stats, they’re all locked behind various tiers of cultivation which you may not be able to reach, so the whole thing becomes a catch-22.

And this would be fine; it would turn into a game of building a stable sect, and then just running the numbers until you get one of these folks, if it wasn’t for one more thing: the reputation system.

See, you’re not the only group cultivating in this world. There are at least half a dozen other schools, a whole world map with side quests, and whole system for visiting other sects.

Last screenshot of UI, I promise.

Aside from all these incredible features however, there is also a bit of a snag in the reputation system. There is a value called reputation, and the higher your reputation, the tougher the enemies you’ll be attacked by in random events will be. The game is fairly clear about this.

What it’s not clear about is what actions will raise your reputation. Reputation has good/evil/neutral alignment, but all that really matters is score. Are you generous and helpful? Prepare to get attacked by murderous cultivators. Do you turn the souls of visitors to your cult sect into magic gems made out of human emotions, and then reanimate their corpses to sweep the floor? Prepare to get attacked by folks who think that maybe human lives are more important then making a really cool new hat.

The combination of these two systems, reputation and general cultivation, means that if you want to avoid being curbstomped, you are going to have to spend a lot of time waiting around, not attracting any attention, and hoping somebody with godly potential shows up asking to join.

Okay, so that finishes my gripe. Just for the record, let’s summarize what I think of the game very quickly, one last time.

Amazing Cultivation Simulator works as a simulator, or a sort of colony management game. The key difference is it’s management of a group of individuals in a world that has some very weird genre-specific rules. Most of the systems are fairly in-depth and interesting, but the game itself feels hamstrung by questionable localization, and tutorials that don’t always teach enough.

There are a few things I just straight up don’t like about the game, like reputation, and how cultivation works, but those are more system design choices then flaws, if I had to judge. It would be like complaining about how Dwarfs in Dwarf Fortress have to drink to stay happy. It’s deliberate decision about made about how to enforce the rules of the simulated world, even if it isn’t one I like.

I think if you’re big into Wuxia novels, or mildly obtuse colony management sims, this is a game worth checking out. And I feel like I got my money’s worth out the game. It’s just so dense that I’m not sure I’ll return to it unless I have a lot of free time. (And maybe the game gets a few localization patches.)

Didn’t Make The Cut – 12.25.2020

I spent part of this weekend in what I have come to think of as a public service, pruning and hacking my way through through the massive glut of games that is itch.io Racial Justice Bundle. While some might devote this time of year to giving to the needy, feeding the hungry, and other such charitable pursuits, I stayed home and played video games.

Phrased like that, it seems slightly less heroic doesn’t it? Hmm. In any case, here are 3 of the things I played this weekend, and links to the incredibly high quality stream in which I played them. These are all games that didn’t grab me enough for me to really want to continue playing them past around an hour, and I also don’t have enough to say about them to write a full article. So here we gooooo.

Catlateral Damage

In Catlateral Damage, you are a cat, and you must destroy as much stuff as possible within the time limit. You can jump, and you can bat things left and right. And that’s it. That’s the entire game. It’s a cute concept, but it doesn’t feel super well executed. The controls are fairly floaty, and the things you whack around don’t feel like they have much weight to them. Personally, I also really dislike the art. I think these cats are incredibly ugly… and yeah. The game just didn’t feel great, or look good, so I did a single run playthrough and then called it a day for this one. It’s short and chaotic, but I didn’t find it particularly satisfying or fun to play.

From Orbit

If you told me that From Orbit was an early access game, I would believe you. In fact, after writing that sentence, I went and checked to see if it was on Steam, and it is, but it isn’t early access. Where Catlateral Damage has an interesting premise, From Orbit feels like it got to the next stage of making a good game, which was having interesting mechanics. But it kind of falls apart there because then they didn’t really make anymore game. For example, the idea of having your workers being able to shift form based on what you want to use them for is cool! But then it sorta falls apart.

My biggest gripe, though, has to be that you can only have 4 units (5 if you count the spaceship which you can’t actually control), which is strange for a game that bills itself as an RTS. By this standard, playing as Meepo is an RTS.

My other big gripe is that the resources you gather on a given planet are also the resources you use to buy upgrades to improve your dudes, ship, and unlock abilities. So yeah, you could build a auto-miner, if you’re willing to lose 60% of the haul from a planet, or you could just do the whole thing manually. Oh, and the enemies you face are dumb as bricks. (I do like the flashing red outline you get for your units letting you know they’ve pulled agro.)

Everything else I can gripe about with the game is pretty small. The game doesn’t follow standard RTS controls schemes, you can’t queue commands, you can’t make control groups, attempting to select a unit automatically centers the camera on it, even if what you wanted to do was move it where you were looking BEFORE you selected it.

The stream is here, and the itch.io page is here.

Quiet As A Stone

I have a link to the stream of playing Quiet As A Stone here. I say “Playing” but honestly, “interacting with” might be a more accurate summary. My notes for the game have the following:

  • Experimental Photography Simulator
  • Rather Pretty
  • More like playing with actual rocks thana game

Here are some screenshots of Cragthor the Mountain Titan, the only thing I really did in the game before getting bored and quitting it.

Behold his majesty.

I have a few more games I’d like to do writeups for before the end of the year, so keep an eye out for those. One of them might be Depth of Extinction, which is this neat procedural XCOM/FTL style thing.

I’ve linked the names of the games up above, so if one of these looks like your cup of tea, you should go take a look. At the time of writing, I think From Orbit is actually free.

Odd Realm

Odd Realm has promise, but just isn’t finished yet.

I really like Odd Realm. I’ve played a bunch of it prior to writing this review, most likely 10-15 hours and I want to be able to recommend it… Right now, I have two big reasons I can’t, and a few small ones. If you already own the game from the itch.io racial justice bundle, or some other event, you should play it. But if you don’t own it yet, you may want to wait until a full release.

Odd Realm is a colony builder, and has the most in common with Dwarf Fortress. You pick a starting race, pick a place to start, and then proceed to try to keep your settlers alive. Doing so requires making sure they have water and food if you picked humans. Or they might require chambers in which keep their animate bodies forever functional, if you picked the immortal skeleton race. Y’know. Normal stuff.

I mentioned two big reasons I can’t recommend Odd Realm just yet, and they are the following: First, the game is buggy. And second, it feels fairly content-lite compared to its obvious inspiration of Dwarf Fortress.

Let’s talk about the bugs first. 95% of the time, the game runs smoothly. I’ve had no crashes, or straight failures, even if I have had points where stuff gets a bit laggy for a moment.

5% of the time, something weird will happen and the game will just die. I’ve listed a few examples below.

  1. Settlers decide that the most fascinating thing to do is to all simultaneously move back and forth onto a resource deposit zone, instead of doing anything else you might want them to do.
  2. Settlers get stuck in the move action, and refuse to actually move.
  3. Settlers move jerkily and refuse to take any additional actions.
  4. Settlers don’t move resources to appropriate resource deposit zones.
  5. Production queue of items, and information just absolutely dies.
  6. If you make the mistake of digging underwater, prepare to watch as your game slows to an absolute crawl.

The problem isn’t that these bugs are common. They really aren’t. The problem is that they absolutely destroy the game when they occur. I was having a hard time writing this review, so I fired up the game to try to figure out what I wanted to say about it, only to spend more time trying to figure out why I could no longer manufacture glass panes, and spend an hour or so trying to fix the issue.

To the developers’ credit, they seem to be aware of this issue, and fairly active on their Discord in requesting sessions and save states to try to patch the problems, but right now, having your entire fortress just blow up because of of a stupid bug feels real bad.

The second big issue is that the game feels very content-lite at the moment. There are only 4-5 types of ore, and they all function more or less the same, but with better stats. The same thing feels true of most of the plants you can grow. There are only a few pieces of gear, a few spell books, etc. Some types of stone can be used for making roofs, but not for anything else. Right now, once you have rooms set up, there just isn’t a lot to do.

There are a bunch of other little things that I find annoying, like not being able to tell settlers things like “Stay in here, don’t go outside” and the number of random events being exceedingly limited. But these are all minor.

This is why I think if you don’t already own the game, but find it interesting, you should wait until release. Many of the bugs and glitches will hopefully be ironed out. And hopefully they’ll also be a lot more to do. But right now, Odd Realm is a bit buggy, a bit frustrating, and still unfinished.

P.S. If you do have Odd Realm, play the Ancients race instead of humans. They are way more fun.