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Preview: Don't Die, Minerva!

25 Dec 2019

Haven’t you heard? It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The wintertime holiday season is a time that many look forward to every year, regardless of which holiday one celebrates (if any). For some, though, their favorite holiday has already long passed. These people are already counting the days to when their preferred season returns…the season of Halloween.

Developer Xaviant Games seems to be made up of these people, as they waited for the winter holiday season to launch their Halloween-themed game into the world: Don’t Die, Minerva!

Developed and published by Xaviant Games, Don’t Die, Minerva! was released in Steam Early Access on December 5th, 2019.

The game follows namesake character Minerva, a young girl who stumbles across a haunted house deep in the woods. With nothing but a flashlight and some stuffed animals, she enters the house to explore and fight off the ghosts inside.

Don’t Die, Minerva is a blend of action RPG and rogue-like. You’ll be fending off monsters using a twin-stick attack style, exploring randomly-generated areas to find equipment and upgrades, as well as cash and other collectibles that can be used to upgrade Minerva. However, if you die in the dungeons, you start back at the beginning, losing nearly everything you’ve collected.

Not all hope is lost, though. One of the items you can collect in your runs can be spent on upgrading Minerva, and these upgrades are permanent. Upgrades run the gamut from being able to heal your HP at the end of each dungeon floor to unlocking the ability to find loot in random destructible items in the environment. This can only be done at the house’s entrance, but each floor also has a room that allows you to warp back to the entrance to upgrade – however, this function can only be used once per floor.

The game winds up revolving around a sequential grind: push as far into the house as you can, returning to the entrance to upgrade once per floor, die, and start over again. As you slowly upgrade Minerva’s skills, you’ll be able to survive much longer on each run.

I spent a few hours with the game, and each run I made let me push just a bit deeper each time. My first run ended rather quickly, not even reaching the end of the first floor. Minerva doesn’t have much in the way of defense starting out, so I had to use hit-and-run tactics to survive until I unlocked the first upgrade, the aforementioned healing at the end of each floor. This upgrade immediately made a world of difference; from here I was able to reach, at the very least, the third dungeon floor on each run.

Minerva’s initial load-out is rather weak, encouraging exploration to find more and better loot to boost her stats. The only requirement on each floor is to find and clear a “boss room” to get a key, which unlocks the next floor. Just doing this will leave you woefully under-equipped for later challenges, though, so you’ll definitely want to explore each floor to its fullest.

You can find defensive items like backpacks and shoes that boost your stats and health, as well as (infinitely more importantly) more powerful flashlights to increase your offense. Also available are a number of different stuffed animals, which can assist you in your fight in different ways – a stuffed bee flies around you damaging whatever it hits, a stuffed cat slowly trails you and attacks anything in its range, and so on. Various gems can be found as well, which can be attached to your equipment to boost offensive and defensive stats even further.

And…that is Don’t Die, Minerva! at its most basic. This is the type of game that will appeal to players who like a good grind, playing the same basic sequence over and over again just to get a bit further each time. The key will be if this kind of grind clicks with you – while I’m not a fan of JRPG grinding, rouge-like loop grinding is something that I find a bit addictive.

The thing is, though, is that there needs to be enough variety in the experience to keep the addiction up. Don’t Die, Minerva! is still in Early Access, with Xaivant slowly releasing content updates to fix issues and add more to the game. At the time of writing, one content update has been released, but even with that, the game does start to become repetitive quickly. I feel that the key issue lies in enemy variety, and that there just isn’t enough of it yet.

As it stands right now, if you’re a fan of loop-grind rogue-likes along the lines of games like The Binding of Isaac, Don’t Die Minerva! is likely a game worth a look. Xaviant is looking to keep the game in Early Access for at least the next six months, continually updating and adding content up until its full release. What’s available right now, though, is quite solid, if a bit repetitive.

Preview copy provided by Xaviant Games for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Xaviant Games.