Rogue-likes and Rogue-lites have been pretty hot for some time now. Many of their mechanics are creeping into other genres, much in the same way RPG levelling systems can now be found in everything from shooters like Call of Duty to racing games like The Crew. This time, though, it’s procedural generation and iterative gameplay loops that are cropping up all over the place, from platformers like Just Get Through, to FPSs like Ziggurat, to survival-horror games like Monstrum.
The one domain seemingly immune to Rogue’s influence is that of story-focused games. Dreams of infinite monkeys and infinite typewriters aside, we have yet to teach computers to spit out Shakespeare on demand. Creativity remains exclusive to our organic brains - but that doesn’t mean narrative experiences can’t make use of Rogue’s formula. They just need to take a different route to go about it.
Enter 80 Days.
80 Days, as you might have guessed, is inspired by Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in 80 Days. Its setting, however, is distinctly different: the world resembles a steampunk vision of the future, with steam-powered automatons roaming the streets and luxurious airships dominating the skies. For as intriguing as its aesthetic is, though, 80 Days might have been just another straightforward visual novel were it not for its Rogue-ish structure.
The story of 80 Days unfolds piece by piece as you endeavour to cross the globe in fewer than 80 days. To accomplish your mission, you seek passage through opulent cities, decrepit towns, barren outposts, and mysterious ruins, each location just one of over 150 scattered across the world. You will see but a fraction of these in a single run - especially if you aim to make your deadline - and there are numerous outcomes to their many narratives contingent on your decisions.
These narratives vary in size and scope, but each is wonderfully entertaining. You might come across an old man sitting alone at a broken-down jetty, lamenting the lack of employment available to someone of his age and nationality. Or perhaps you stumble into a city devastated by war, whereupon you find yourself embroiled in a conflict you know little about, and suddenly your travel plans take a distant backseat to simple survival. These stories do not just stand alone; often, characters you meet and choices you make early on in your travels send ripples through later events. Play the game multiple times, and the same routes can produce wildly different outcomes.
To offset the pain of losing everything when you die, most Rogue-lites incorporate some form of permanent upgrade system. 80 Days takes a slightly different approach. Information is the commodity of progression: routes travelled in previous playthroughs remain visible on the world map, annotated with reminders of various events encountered along the way. Subsequent journeys can take advantage of this knowledge to seek out good fortune and avoid the bad, while past mistakes can be rectified in the hopes of more favourable outcomes.
For the more assiduous player, making note of the trading tips gleaned in one playthrough can set the next one up to reap the rewards. A tidy profit can be amassed by buying and selling goods between cities - and money is more than a luxury if you plan on securing the swiftest and safest routes across land, air, and sea. Alteratively, for those intent on uncovering every secret the game has to offer - and there are no shortage of secrets - knowing what routes have and haven’t been taken allows them to steadily explore every nook and cranny.
The final feather in 80 Days’ cap is how intimately its iterative structure and persistent progression are woven into its narrative. Failure to reach your destination within the 80-day deadline does not end the game; you simply truck on with a little less enthusiasm, knowing that your return to London will now only bring shame and disappointment from your master, Phileas Fogg. Upon your arrival, though, Monsieur Fogg spares no time for remonstrations; you and he must try again, and this time, you will succeed!
While I might not have the fortitude to survive the claustrophobic caves of Spelunky or descend the demonic dungeons of The Binding of Isaac, I find I cannot stop valeting my way through 80 Days again and again. Each circumnavigation brings with it new characters and fresh predicaments to puzzle my way out of. I may have accomplished my titular quest long ago, but I have no intention of settling down any time soon. There are too many stories left untold, too many treasures yet to be discovered. Just one more trip, Monsieur Fogg! In the name of science!