I don't usually play Xbox Live Indie Games, and I guess technically I still haven't, because it is difficult to determine what is actually worth the time or money. I picked up the Breath of Death VII/Cthulhu Saves the World pack on sale on Steam for two dollars, as opposed the usual three, because I was already buying a bunch of other stuff, so it was hard to find a reason not to purchase it. They were made by Zeboyd Games, a three person team that started making Xbox Live Indie Games in 2009, first with a couple of interactive novels and then with these two parody RPGs.
Considering that I am in the middle of Dragon Quest IX for DS and Final Fantasy for the WonderSwan Color, it doesn't seem like a good time for me to get involved with another RPG, but luckily Breath of Death VII is pretty short, and not particularly grindy. The game is largely in the mold of the NES era Dragon Quest games, but, since it is a parody game, it sidesteps some of the pitfalls of the genre and incorporates some fresh ideas. The writing is generally pretty funny, and while I wouldn't say it had me laughing out loud, it usually could get a smirk out of me. It relies a bit too much on referential humor, but overall I like it.
The retro 8-bit art style works well for the parody aspect. It's not great-looking, but the art is clean and it serves its purpose. Cthulhu Saves the World bumps things up to 16-bit, and it does look quite a bit nicer, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Though the game looks very retro, the mechanics are quite modern in a lot of ways. The random encounter rate is mercifully low, and in the case of dungeons there is a maximum number of random encounters that can happen. This takes out a lot of the frustration that comes along with getting through a dungeon and just wanting to get it over with.
Similarly, battles have been streamlined with a combo system that makes the player's attacks stronger the longer the battle goes on, unless special combo ending attacks, which do massive damage, are done. Also, when after each battle character's HP is completely restored, as well as a small portion of MP. All of this keeps the combat brisk and encourages the use of skills and spells that require MP, which is a pretty interesting take on standard JRPG combat. With each level up, the player is given a choice between two different upgrades, which could be skill or stat increases, which gives the game a simple skill tree that is easy to deal with. It might seem like all of this would make the game really easy, but the enemies are strong enough that each battle needs to be strategically planned, and choosing the right time to use skill or heal is important.
There are a lot of smaller features that are nice. Things like the ability to save anywhere, stays at inns being free, and the reasonable price of gear sidelines some of the annoyances of the genre. If the player wants to grind, it isn't necessary to run around in circles for hours, there is a Fight menu item that automatically initiates what would usually be a random battle. The setting is kind of funny, in that it takes place after a nuclear holocaust and every character is undead in some way or another. This leads to funny little things, like the reason the main character, Dem, is silent is because he is a skeleton, and therefore has no tongue. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning may not be revolutionary, but is a charming little game and a deft parody.