Review | Letter Quest : Grimm’s Journey Remastered

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Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered (often referred to as Letter Quest Remastered) is a word-assembling RPG where you defeat monsters with your vocabulary, your scythe, and bacon.  

I was introduced to LQR by two of my friends, who assumed that I would enjoy its celebration of verbal geekery. I’m happy to say that they were correct. 

In LQR, titular young reaper Grimm must battle though the foes who are blocking him from his desired treasure … pizza. Battling is carried out by finding words in a board of Scrabble-style letter tiles; your score for each valid word becomes damage to the current enemy, who will then retaliate with attacks of their own. Each defeated enemy and completed quest awards Gems, which you use to strengthen Grimm’s selection of scythes and to buy skill upgrades and equipable books that offer bonuses. 

This is my best word so far. 11-letter words are uncommon, but they output tons of damage.

At first, I ignored the RPG aspects and relied solely on my word choices and health potions to navigate the early levels. But at around level 20, I realised that approach was making the game less fun for me and instead explored the available skills and books. My favourite tactic was to combine a book that converted a small percentage of dealt damage back into health for 5+ letter words with one that dealt extra damage for 6+ letter words, to get a double benefit from using my preferred longer words. 

The combinations of abilities and modifiers available – choosing a scythe and upgrading its specific abilities, equipping up to 3 books, upgrading skills, plus extras like seeing each word’s potential damage in advance – let you prepare Grimm for success in your preferred style of play. Do you want to focus on dealing maximum damage? Do you want to focus on healing and shielding, refilling your health easily? Do you want a “knowledge is power” strategy, where you can preview how much damage you’ll dish out so that you can choose the optimal word every time? Or do you want a more chaotic, RNG-based approach, where you ramp up the chance of seeing high-scoring crystal tiles or of dodging enemy attacks outright? Each of these styles has upgrades and skills to support them. 

The first few levels demonstrate a basic principle of spelling longer and more complex words to deal greater damage. But later levels present you with situations where the longest word isn’t always best. Many enemies have special conditions on which words can most effectively defeat them. An enemy might take double damage from words that use corner tiles, or they might be immune to words longer than 5 letters. These enemies challenge players to adapt to the tiles in their current board, rather than to rely on familiar go-to words.

LQR also features special effect tiles that change up the board. Whirlwind tiles change letter every turn, while plague tiles do zero damage if they are used but infect nearby tiles when unused. Modified tiles add an extra layer of strategy, as you weigh up whether using affected tiles and taking damage is worthwhile, or whether unused tiles might trap you in the next turn.

Colourful crystal tiles have helpful effects, while the sludgy green poison tiles make you take a percentage of the damage you deal.

However, as LQR is turn-based and without time limits, your turns are not panicked scrambles for the nearest available word but relaxed explorations of the letter board. It’s a low-stakes and gentle game, at least on the standard levels at Normal difficulty. However, each level has 2 more difficult variants – a timed trial and a challenge mode which adds a condition. Completing all three versions of a level unlocks its Crystal Star challenge; this adds an overall condition on the level and specific conditions upon enemies, while increasing enemy health and damage output.

After 10 hours of play on the default Normal mode, I’ve completed the initial play-through of every level and most of the time trials. I’ve also tried the Expert mode, where I’m currently stuck on level 8. Expert mode is a major difficulty increase – surviving these levels requires players to focus on their puzzle and strategy skills, and to invest more attention into the RPG side of LQR.

In every aspect other than gameplay, there is less to say about Letter Quest Remastered. Grimm’s journey is shown via brief comic-book-panels after every few levels. Depending on how quickly you progress, you may have forgotten the previous panel by the time you read the next one. (However, all unlocked comics can be revisited from the main map screen). Although a story is unnecessary for this type of game, it does establish that this particular Grim Reaper is sympathetic – the only thing he wants to murder is pepperoni pizza.

Graphically, LQR uses a clean and widely-appealing 2D style that is instantly familiar as a cartoon-style RPG world. Backdrops and enemies lack unnecessary flourishes or distractions; they simply do what you expect them to do. Its user interface is also practical and clear, making the game welcoming for novice gamers or younger players. HUD elements like the current enemy’s attack values and the button prompts for healing potions always stay on-screen, allowing players to focus on the task of spelling words and refer back to other information as needed. Pressing the help button displays a question mark over every aspect of the current screen which has a help dialog. This makes finding information about any on-screen element, such as what a specific modifier tile does, easily accessible.

Help dialogs give detailed information about each status effect.

According to its Steam page, the dictionary used for LQR contains “over 192,000 English words”. This dictionary is very accepting: it’s fine with archaic stems like MORN for “morning”, letter sounds like ZEE, acronyms like LASER and even pop-culture terms like BORG and BAZINGA. Both American English and British English are accepted, as are well-known loanwords such as PETIT, AMIGO, and GELATO. This means that you are rarely left lost for words.

After a valid word is used, its definition appears on-screen. I liked this feature as it let me discover the meaning of words that I’ve used simply because I’ve seen them before. However, the dictionary has some unexpected quirks. Wherever possible, the dictionary uses a verb form of each word, even when the verb is obscure or rarely used. For example, the word DEVIL is defined as “[Verb] – to prepare a food with pungent seasoning“. I’ve heard of “devilled” foods before, but I’ve never seen anyone use “devil” as a verb. Similarly, GEEK is included, but under its historical meaning of a circus performer. (I’m a language nerd who likes seeing how words have changed in meaning over time, so this feature was a bonus for me.)

While I doubt that LQRs verbal challenge is enough to class it as edutainment, it definitely feels like it could be “accidentally educational” for fans, in the same vein as Kerbal Space Program and Portal 2.

Overall 

Like many great puzzle games, LQR focuses on executing a small set of concepts and mechanics effectively. Although the core gameplay idea doesn’t fundamentally change throughout its 40 levels, the game does get more complex, while both the puzzles and your abilities get more varied. 

LQR reminds me of the last game I reviewed, Aaero, in terms of design rather than content. They are both focused, polished indie games made by a two-person team. Both games stick with a narrow set of core ideas and mechanics throughout their short technical length, but then offer lots of replay value for people who love those mechanics. 

As with many small games, players will be able to tell almost instantly whether they’ll only want to spend a few minutes with Letter Quest Remastered, or to spend hours challenging themselves and finding new words. Although it is a lighthearted and friendly chill-out game, it also offers up a surprising degree of customisation for players who want to invest more attention in its RPG aspects.

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