I need help.

For real, there’s a problem here. I have work to do. Things to write about. People to talk to. I have a new gaming laptop and should be benchmarking it. I could be reading books! Instead, I’ve sent about 40 hours of my life down a drain and I’m afraid of how much that number’s gonna change in a few weeks.

I can’t stop playing The Sealed Ampoule; I am no longer in control of my impulses. But seriously, The Sealed Ampoule, from PLAYISM and CAVYHOUSE, has officially wormed its way into my brain in a way I never expected. I first saw it during this year’s New Game Plus Expo, where it looked like a quirky mix between a farming game and a dungeon crawler.

That’s mostly true, but it gets more dangerously complicated than that.

The Sealed Ampoule Review

It’s easiest to describe The Sealed Ampoule as a deadly concoction mixing Mystery Dungeon together with a “clicker” game, with the farming aspect merely a disguise for the more sinister machinations at play.

I’m being a little hyperbolic of course, but this game has a strange and terrifying power over me that I don’t fully understand. Is it fun though? Yeah, kinda. The premise is cute. Irene is dealing with a major loss, and has made an impulsive dungeon purchase.

Yes, she bought a whole dungeon because that’s a thing you can do in Irene’s world. The dungeon was supposed to be cleaned out of any supernatural oddities, but upon checking the palace out Irene finds a monster-ridden void that changes every time she enters.

And there’s some real heinous stuff going on deep in the depths that Irene unwittingly becomes wrapped up in.

Mystery Dungeon is a series, not a genre, but it’s also a useful descriptor. You move Irene around grid-like dungeon floors, and each move you make is a “turn,” meaning enemies play by the same rules.

This game is generally much kinder than most of its peers, as not only is your level persistent, you also don’t have to content with things like hunger, breaking equipment or deadly traps. Instead, you’re gathering resources. Forever. As you make your way through your new dungeon, beating eerie, polygonal faeries to death with your shovel, you’ll find all kinds of resources.

This stuff ranges from mundane plant life, to pieces and excretions from the local wildlife you’re murdering en mass. The twist is, you can spend those resources not only to make Irene stronger and more capable, but also to “agriculturalize” the dungeon itself.

This involves paying your resources to upgrade the “farm” and “magic” levels of each floor. The requirements get tougher and more specific as you go on, making deeper and deeper dives necessary.

But as you really get going and the game’s gimmicks start rolling out, you come to realize there’s a strange genre inversion taking place. In declawing the dungeon’s dangers and converting the floors to underground farmland, you’re making it smaller.

Related: The Biggest Highlights from NGPX2

Dozens of floors begin crashing into each other, until at one point I realized I had condensed nearly 30 floors into a single space. As you do this, those combined floors calculate the kinds of spoils you’d get before, but dumps them all for you to collect thanks to your demon tube man of a caretaker.

Thus, your time in the dungeon remains productive, scaling up with your abilities and needs. 

As she explores, Irene is also encountering a mystery, perhaps a conspiracy, perhaps some malfeasance. Even before the farming stuff kicks in, you’re rewarded for your courage with little tidbits of story, the mystery unraveling as you reach certain depth milestones.

Each encounter ends on a small cliffhanger, giving you drive to seek out the next tidbit. It’s an interesting story too, considering everything else being so mechanical. The biggest… “problem” is the grind. There is so much grinding in this here videogame.

You’re building a farm, but this isn’t like Story of Seasons, in which you’re cultivating your land and getting your hands dirty. All you do is shovel violence; the farm cultivation is behind the scenes. So, like a clicker game, you’re just kind of dumping numbers into other numbers to change even more numbers. 

There’s a story developing and Irene is getting stronger, but your role in the dungeon’s transformation is fairly hands-off. That isn’t a huge deal, until you start to hit the second or third chapter and progress slows down big time.

Often, you’ll get through a run, come back home before you get murked, and you’ll only have gathered enough crap to feed one upgrade. Many times I’ve had to choose between pumping up a dungeon floor, or a small bonus to Irene’s stats or skill pool. 

But despite the glacial pace, I just keep playing The Sealed Ampoule. The loop is fast-paced and kind, giving you plenty of opportunities to dip out, get stronger or find something new. And even if you do get bopped you only lose some of your gains.

The initial rollout of features is intriguing, and once you’re deep enough in the game’s tendrils tighten into your brain and it’s a wrap.

It helps that the enemies are so fun to deal with. Each new enemy has something distinct about it, from their movement patterns, aggro behavior to what status ailments they dish out.

Meanwhile you’re trying to get through each floor as safely as possible, so juggling your MP, HP and healing item inventory involves moment to moment calculations. 

You can get a good feel for which enemies take specific kinds of offense to deal with, and the way you move around the dungeon seems to organically adapt. Then a new kind of enemy or stronger version of an earlier one shows up, and your plan shatters to pieces.

While farming the dungeon can be slow, you really feel your progress in how capable you are of surviving combat rooms, which can feel pretty good! Overall, The Sealed Ampoule is a specific kind of game that will make you feel a specific kind of way.

If you’re interested in weird dungeon crawlers with strange gimmicks and stories, this game is for you. But if grinding numbers for the sake of grinding numbers isn’t, then we’re sorry to say this ain’t it. Either way, this game is absolutely fascinating, if only for how gracefully it tries to drill into the addiction-prone parts of your gamer brain. I fear and respect The Sealed Ampoule’s powers, and I even think I enjoy playing it sometimes.


Pros:

  • Strange style
  • Progression you can feel
  • Addicting gameplay loop

Cons:

  • So much grinding, oh so much
  • The farming part is disappointingly hands-off
  • Only one skill shortcut makes choosing others cumbersome

Score: 7

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review