Cygames may be known for its success in the mobile space with titles like Granblue Fantasy, Shadowverse, and Dragalia Lost (with which the developer partnered with Nintendo) but the company seems like it has an interest in translating these IPs into more traditional console games. Last year’s excellent Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle showed that the popular card game could work quite effectively in the format of a JRPG, and now Cygames is doing it again by taking Battle Champs—a failed Clash of Clans clone—and repurposing it into a roguelite called Little Noah: Scion of Paradise. Though it’s lacking in new ideas, Little Noah does a fantastic job of giving players a tough, cute, and enjoyable action experience that feels great to play.
The story follows Noah, the chipper alchemist captain of a majestic airship, who quickly finds herself trapped when her airship crashes just outside mysterious shifting ruins. Here, she soon meets a snarky amnesiac cat (who is not named Morgana…) and a creepy villain called Greigh who both seem to have some kind of connection to her lost father. Left with no choice but to scour the ruins for the parts she’ll need to repair her ship, Noah thus sets out on an adventure to save Zipper (the cat) from Greigh and maybe learn more about what happened to her father.
It’s not a particularly deep or compelling narrative, but the occasional brief interactions between characters help to keep things feeling lighthearted and whimsical. Plus, those of you who actually managed to play Battle Champs back in the day may appreciate some references here and there—though we’ll add that you don’t need any background with this IP to connect with the narrative. For better or worse, the story is typical anime filler, but it doesn’t get in the way of the mostly excellent gameplay.
Little Noah could be most closely described as a cuter take on Dead Cells. You explore medium-sized, randomly generated 2D levels and fight enemies along the way, collecting gold and other useful drops as you succeed. There isn’t strictly any ‘leveling up’ that takes place here, but collecting important pickups like new accessories or crystals will alter Noah’s stats and give her access to new moves that help to raise her chances. Every level consists of you either going room by room through a dungeon in search of the door to take you to the next stage or fighting a boss character who acts as a gatekeeper.
Combat plays out in a live action system where you use Lilliputs—Pokémon-like enemies that you’re able to summon—to do all the attacking for you. You can have up to five Lilliputs equipped in your combo chain, and executing a combo is as simple as mashing the ‘Y’ button to consecutively trigger each Lilliput’s action. Some will do a basic slash or stab, while others may cast a piercing beam or an upward swipe that carries both Noah and her enemy upward. Additionally, Lilliputs can be placed in one of two skill slots where they then use more powerful attacks followed by brief cooldowns. Technically, Noah isn’t actually doing anything here, which feels a little weird, but we really enjoyed the opportunities this system opens for setting up combos.
There’s a certain kind of strategy that goes with deciding in what order you’d like to arrange your Lilliputs, as some of the attack types synergize better with each other. For example, an enemy who swings a big club that knocks away foes may be useful as either your combo finisher or as the penultimate attack, followed by lobbing a magic orb that can cross the gap quicker than another melee attack could. Though there are only a few dozen Lilliputs you can possibly have, it can be fun to see how certain combinations work together and this helps to keep each run feeling fresh.
One element that unfortunately doesn’t feel nearly as fresh is the level design, which is resoundingly average throughout. The world you explore certainly looks beautiful, but it’s mostly a strung together collection of rooms with extremely basic platforming sections. Distinct level gimmicks or stage hazards are sparse and, aside from the odd optional challenge room that tempts you to brave a tough platforming gauntlet, it doesn’t take too long for the adventure to get a sense of repetition. This doesn’t strictly make Little Noah feel worse off—the combat really does feel that good—but those of you who are looking for a little something more in addition to the slashing-and-dashing may be left wanting.
This being an action-heavy roguelite, it’s entirely possible to beat the entire game in just a few hours, but you’ll likely take a lot longer than that as you’re re-running biomes and locking in a build on your way to take another crack at a tough boss. When you inevitably die, all the Lilliputs you gathered and any accessories or powerups you found will be lost, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you lose everything. All the lost items will be converted into Mana, which acts as a currency for meta-progression that you can use to build Noah’s power permanently across runs. Mana can be used to bolster basic parameters like attack and max health, unlock new movement options, and give you access to better items and Lilliputs to potentially show up in future runs.
Even when you fail, there’s always something else that you meaningfully made progress on, whether that be getting enough Mana for an upgrade you’ve been eyeing or inadvertently fulfilling the requirements for an achievement that unlocks a new passive boost to how much damage you do. In this way, Little Noah feels like it’s being made more easily accessible to players of all skill levels, without necessarily catering too much to one over another. This is bolstered further by the inclusion of a few difficulty levels that you can change when you’d like (except the hardest, it’s all or nothing with that one) if you feel the game is challenging you too much or too little.
In many ways, it feels like Little Noah plays things a little too safe; there’s nothing that it does particularly poorly, but all the ideas explored here are well-trodden and lack that imaginative spark needed to set it apart from the pack. We enjoyed our time with it and will be keeping an eye on how it grows as the promised post-launch DLC updates start rolling in, but it’s the kind of game that we struggle to see being at the top of anyone’s list for this genre. Those of you who can’t get enough of roguelites are sure to find plenty to love here, but just bear in mind that this is very much a ‘more of the same’ kind of game.
Visually, the graphics feel like a cross between Kirby Star Allies and the Bravely Default series, as chibi characters and enemies battle it out in richly detailed environments with great depth of field effects. The color palettes of each biome are kept nicely distinct from each other, and every stage within a biome usually has some unique qualities to set it apart from its brethren. It goes without saying that it looks much better than the mobile game that preceded it, but even when compared with most genre contemporaries on Switch, Little Noah is certainly a great-looking game with performance to match. Though it’s not 60fps, we experienced very few instances where there were notable frame drops, and none directly affected our gameplay.
The soundtrack does a great job of matching the playful and whimsical kind of tone that Little Noah is going for, though we found ourselves paying very little attention to it as time went on. There’s nothing here that’s particularly catchy or memorable, but it certainly helps add to the atmosphere and stays out of the way of the action.
Little Noah is a game that we can easily recommend, but with the caveat that it’s not really special in any way. The quality of the combat and the design of the progression systems make it clear that the developers are big fans of roguelites and understand what makes them alluring, but Little Noah is rather light on its own ideas. Sometimes that’s enough; not every game needs to reinvent the wheel, and Little Noah certainly feels like it deserves credit for how effectively it delivers on the roguelite formula. This may not be a game to rush out and buy right away, then, but keep an eye on this one and have it in mind when you feel like snapping up another roguelite. If you’re after a solid ‘one of those’, it’s well worth your time and money.