A common trend I have seen in my indie game experience is the comparison of these titles to the beloved series that they emulate. It’s an easy way to grab a player who might be interested in your game. This is particularly true when your game captures a unique style of gameplay that not many other titles deliver on, or returns to the roots of a series that people believe has lost its way. Whether the game is ultimately well-received or not, the message of who would want to play it remains clear. Wargroove for Advance Wars fans, Mighty No. 9 for classic Mega Man fans, Murder by Numbers for Phoenix Wright fans – and the list goes on. It was this sort of thinking that drew me to the indie title One Step From Eden.
One Step From Eden was presented to me as the game that finally recreated the experience of Mega Man Battle Network. The Battle Network series is my favorite set of Mega Man games, and the unique combat in that series has not really been done anywhere else. Even within the Mega Man universe, the Star Force series tried to riff off of what Battle Network brought to the table but didn’t quite capture the same magic with its different perspective (literally) on the battlefield. So when I saw that colored grid with the little figures holding their cards ready for combat, I knew that sooner or later I’d be picking up One Step For Eden.
As it turns out, comparing Battle Network to One Step From Eden is like comparing paintball to a real firefight – the mechanics are certainly reminiscent of one another but the intensity and the stakes are vastly different. Your experience playing Battle Network is at best a sort of training to give you basic familiarity with what you need to do when playing One Step From Eden. Eden brings to those mechanics a greater complexity both in its physical demands (what you do with the controller) and its mental demands (what you have to think about and pay attention to). In this article, I’ll be sharing my first impressions of the game to help you decide whether or not those mechanisms are something you’re interested in experiencing for yourself.
One Step From Eden is a procedurally-generated bullet-hell card-battle action-RPG. You know, THAT genre. Let’s unpack each aspect of the game one piece at a time. One Step From Eden is procedurally-generated because it consists of a series of battles which are randomly seeded every time you start a run of the game. The title One Step From Eden comes from your character’s ultimate goal: reaching Eden. You’ll start in a random environment like a forest, tundra, or volcano, and fight through a number of combat encounters to reach a boss battle and then push through to the next segment. Each one gets you a little closer – one mile from Eden, one skip from Eden, etc. You have a degree of choice as far as where you go within the random seed, but ultimately each experience is going to be a little different because of the procedurally-generated nature of the game.
Bullet-hell refers to a genre of game where you have to carefully navigate a barrage of attacks coming towards you. If you’ve ever played Undertale, that’s a good example of the bullet hell genre being mixed with other gameplay elements. Avoiding damage requires precise and careful movements through what can seem like an endless wave of bullets from the enemy. There are multiple enemy types in the game and each one has a predictable and avoidable attack pattern. The trick is learning to recognize those patterns through trial and error, and mastering the art of avoiding them even when they are mixed together in more complex combinations.
Now we get to a genre that may draw some skeptical eyebrows: card battle. Card battle games get a bad reputation but there are plenty out there which use the cards in clever ways that keep the game engaging rather than slowing it down. In One Step From Eden, your cards represent spells that your character is able to cast. You have a deck of them that builds in size as you win battles. At any given time you’ll have two cards in your hand – one assigned to the A button and one on the B button (on Switch, anyway). When you use a card, another card from your deck is moved into your hand. Cards have all kinds of effects like putting up shields, doing damage, healing you, or placing objects in the environment. When you’ve gone through all your cards during combat, a few seconds are spent shuffling them into your deck, at which point you can use them all again.
The action-RPG piece of the game refers to the way that all of these elements blend together. As you battle, your stats will increase and you’ll level up, getting access to special cards called artifacts that improve your character and emphasize specific styles of play. Managing the cards in your deck and using them to attack or defend takes place simultaneously with learning enemy patterns to avoid their incoming attacks. You’re watching your side of the battlefield to see where attacks are aimed and avoid them while also keeping an eye on the enemy’s position, waiting for the perfect time to launch your own counterstrike. Once a battle is won, you get to choose your rewards and also your path forward, planning two to three moves ahead to maximize your opportunities for experience points, rare loot drops, or healing.
Within each of the eight segments of your journey towards Eden, you’ll have multiple encounters which take place on a series of paths which converge and diverge at different points. You choose how to proceed based on what types of encounters you want to get. Most of the types involve battles of some sort, but with a different twist. Hazard battles, for example, put some kind of dangerous but neutral hazard on the battlefield for you and the enemy to maneuver around. Distress signals are battles where you’ll have a hostage to protect – doing so successfully may earn you artifacts or a small healing boost. Treasure battles grant artifacts if you can destroy a moving treasure box before it disappears. Minibosses grant artifacts for winning but are more difficult to fight than standard encounters. There are also campsites and shops, the former of which provide healing while the latter give you opportunities to spend money on new cards as well as entering pacts.
Pacts are agreements with the shopkeeper which put you in greater danger or limit you in some way in exchange for a reward. For example, you might have to survive two battles where casting spells deals damage to you in exchange for an upgrade for one of your spells. Or maybe you’ll be given multiple stacks of the fragile status in exchange for a boost to your maximum HP when you survive. Along with expanding your deck and earning artifacts, the pact system will help you to improve your character and become strong enough to make it all the way to Eden. Well, theoretically. I’m five hours in and haven’t successfully completed a run yet!
One Step From Eden is a challenging game, so let’s unpack a few of the things that make it so. For one, the core structure of the game makes the experience a battle of attrition. Your starting deck doesn’t include healing cards, and since your loot drops are random there’s no guarantee that you’ll get much healing power in your deck as you progress. Most routes will give you maybe one campsite to visit, and these campsites only heal between 200-300 of your missing health (so 20-33% of your maximum before upgrades). There are other healing opportunities in the form of artifacts or rescued hostages, but since all of these forms of healing take place between battles, that means that you may not have any resources for recovery in the middle of a difficult fight.
If you’re not good at fast movements or if you find it difficult to take in a lot of action happening on screen at once, One Step From Eden can certainly be an adjustment. For me, I tend to panic when there’s a lot of stuff on screen for me to try to absorb. I’m used to turn-based RPGs where I can take my time to think up my tactics and to observe the situation without time pressure. So dodging a hail of bullets while also trying to put my character in the right place to use a tricky card in my deck is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s taking a lot of practice for me to make meaningful progress, and lots of practice also means lots of dying.
The good thing is that One Step From Eden makes unsuccessful runs still worth your while. Every battle you win in the game gives you experience points which help to build your character level. When you die, the levels you gained as your character contribute towards a metagame reward mechanism which unlocks additional spells, artifacts, and even characters for you to use in future runs. While you start the game with only one character who has only one combination of starting gear and spells, as you complete more runs (either successfully or unsuccessfully), the levels you gained in the process contribute to unlocking more. These additional characters have very different strategies from one another and generally lean much harder into one of the game’s many mechanisms, whereas the starting character Saffron can use any type of spell and isn’t locked into a single strategy.
If you’re the kind of person who likes it when games feature unique characters with different playstyles, One Step From Eden certainly delivers on that front. The mechanical complexity may be a turn off for some players but if you enjoy other deckbuilding games or any RPG where customizing your character’s suite of abilities is a core feature, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Spell cards have a variety of different types with unique statuses, and learning to utilize each one can alter your play style quite a bit. Let’s discuss just a couple of examples of the many mechanics you can engage in the game.
Spells with ice properties can inflict a status called Frost which stacks on your enemies. Individual units of frost don’t do anything on their own, but when a target hits three frost they’ll instantly take 150 additional damage. A frost-based strategy not only incorporates multiple cards that inflict frost but also cards that buff the capabilities of frost. One artifact also causes frosted enemies to move more slowly. Another instantly gives enemies a unit of frost as soon as the fight starts. A third makes it so that you recover a point of mana whenever you inflict frost on an enemy. You can build your entire deck around frost and even can choose a character for whom frost is a key part of her strategy and design, but frost can also just be one of many other tools in your belt.
I really enjoy cards that utilize the game’s Flow mechanic. Certain cards grant a status called flow when you use them, and when you have flow, other cards may have additional effects. Some cards do more damage when cast using flow, while others may cast a second spell in additional to the core spell. Some cards get reshuffled into your deck immediately instead of being discarded when you have flow. And there are artifacts that give you points of defense when you have flow, or let you start the battle with flow already active. With so many card types and unique mechanics to engage, One Step From Eden makes each experience unique not just with its procedural generation but also with the creative possibilities available to you during a run.
One Step From Eden may be a challenging experience that’s quite different from what I anticipated when I heard it was inspired by Battle Network. However, while I may not be gifted at avoiding a barrage of attacks in real time, my fascination with mastering the many game mechanics keeps me engaged. It’s fun to plan your route through a segment and to take risks based on your remaining amount of health and the types of cards you have at your disposal. It’s engaging to see two cool artifacts that would each push you towards a different type of deck and to decide which one you want to emphasize for your current run. And it’s satisfying to reach a boss that previously wrecked you having learned their patterns so that this time you can teach them a lesson and progress a little further than you did before.
I’ve still got a lot of One Step From Eden to play. I haven’t tried any new characters yet because I want to beat the game at least once with the starting character Saffron. There are card types I haven’t really experimented with yet because I feel like they don’t fit my style, but I still want to try on a future run. I have plenty of artifacts to unlock as well as new spells and costumes for the characters. I haven’t made it to Eden yet, but I know I’ll get there. After a skip, a hop, and a jump, and through a lot of trial and error, I’ll master the skills I need to see the end of the game. And I’m eagerly looking forward to the journey there.