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As a demon army besieges his village, a young ninja ventures through a cursed world, to deliver a scroll paramount to his clan's survival.
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The Messenger is a 2018 Retraux Metroidvania platformer video game developed by Sabotage Studios and published by Devolver Digital.

Orginally released only on Nintendo Switch and Steam the game would later receieve releases on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

When a demon army besieges his village, a young ninja must journey through a cursed land to deliver a scroll that is paramount to his clan’s survival. The game is a retro-styled platformer which allows the player to travel through time between an 8-bit styled game and a glorious 16-bit styled adventure.

The game itself is a huge homage to platformers like Ninja Gaiden and its influence is very obvious not only from having a ninja as the main character, but also having carefully designed levels with excellent controls and being very challenging.

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A free Downloadable Content expansion called Picnic Panic was released on July 11, 2019. It involves the Ninja traveling to a tropical island to rescue the Phobekins from Barma'thazël. The area contains three new areas and bosses, as well as a literal Money Sink for extra time gems. Watch the trailer here.

In 2020, Sabotage revealed that they were working on a game called Sea of Stars, a Retreaux Turn-Based RPG set in the same universe as The Messenger, and will serve as a Prequel of sorts. Sea of Stars is currently slated for a 2022 release.

Not to be confused with the French computer game The Messenger.


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Tropes Associated with The Messenger include:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: After the Ninja finishes his duty as the Messenger and passes it along to someone else, he becomes the new Shopkeeper... until his Messenger dies and he has to pick up where he left off, literal minutes later (at least to him, since he spent those minutes in the shop which exists outside of time).
  • Adipose Rex: The Demon King is very fat, although he kind of has to be in order to fit all four of his heads on one body. This may be a subversion, since it turns out most of his body is actually a massive eye.
  • Advancing Wall of Doom: After you collect the note in the Corrupted Future, you have to outrun a giant abomination to the beginning. If you're too slow, it'll kill you in one hit.
  • After the End: After a great flood, the only land left is a single island. Then there's the multiple demon invasions.
  • Alternate Universe: Serving as the framing device for the DLCs, these exist and the Blue Robes are fighting the demons in them too, because if the demons wins in an alternate timeline it will somehow overwrite their victories in the main dimension.
  • All the Worlds Are a Stage: Of the Muscle Memory Lane type. The final level of the game, the Music Box, forces you to use all of your ninja tools (Climbing Claws, Wing Suit and Rope Dart) and master the time travel rift puzzles in order to finish it.
  • All There in the Manual: The wiki has a lot of trivia and facts surrounding the game and its characters that are never even slightly hinted at during gameplay. It helps that most of them are Word of God.
  • Ambiguous Ending: After the credits, there is a stinger which shows the Shopkeeper finishing telling the events of the game to a cowboy Messenger who had asked for a story, leaving it ambiguous as to whether the events of the game actually happened (or perhaps will happen, if the Cowboy was Messenger at some point during the 500 years in between the Ninja's two time periods), or whether the Shopkeeper just made the whole thing up.
  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: A meta example. The final story the Shopkeeper tells you is pretty much a symbolism-heavy description of how the development team got together to make the game, interspersed with text boxes popping up thanking each member of the team individually.
  • Antepiece: The game does a good job at giving the players opportunity to learn how to use their new toys or showcase certain dangers without cheap shots. Whenever a mechanic unique to the area shows up the game also makes sure to have them in safe areas so the players have time to adjust and learn how they actually work.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • Before boss rooms, there will always be a shop checkpoint flanked by two lanterns that contain a health potion and a ki refill.
    • During the second stage of the Emerald Golem boss where you have to chase a green core through freefall, energy shuriken power-ups will repeatedly fly up from below to give you ammo to attack the boss with.
    • During the second half of the game, you have a two-tier hint system. Firstly, the Prophet's vague messages on where to go next will give some hint on an objective you have to complete. If you can't figure out the Prophet's hints, you can pay the Shopkeeper 300 Time Shards to have him just outright tell you what to do next.
    • New upgrades will allow you to have the map mark areas with quest objectives, show how many Power Seals are left in the area, and the location to the Power Seals to make tracking them down less of a hassle.
    • A patch after the release of the game added sparkles to the correct way to the Sunken Shrine in the underwater maze once the player obtains the Shell Horn, as the acoustic solution could be vague as to the correct path, not to mention impossible to navigate for people with hearing disabilities.
    • Most Power Seals have a safe passage to the beginning of their challenge rooms so you're not forced to backtrack through an already tricky area. Most of these let-outs also give you a health and ki refill so you're not forced to limp back to a save point with low health.
      • Also, collecting a Power Seal instantly counts it towards your total, even if you die before reaching a save point after collecting it.
    • Even if you didn't buy the upgrade that allows you to Cloudstep off of projectiles, you'll be able to Cloudstep off of the fireballs of the Cloud Ruins boss, since not having it means the latter part of the fight would be impossible.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: In a world of demons, magic, curses, prophecies, and time travel, the Shopkeeper still thinks the idea of a giant robot butler and a flying sky serpent named Manfred sounds utterly ridiculous and the Ninja must be hallucinating due to oxygen deprivation to have ever conceived of such things.
  • Art Shift: The graphics, music, and sound effects change from 8-bit to 16-bit after the Messenger is sent to the future. After Opening the Sandbox, the rest of the game involves repeatedly going back and forth between the past and future, thus you repeatedly Art Shift between 8 and 16 bits.
  • Audible Sharpness: Ninja's sword makes an audible *shing* noise when used. Even more when he travels to the future.
  • Bad Future: The Ninja visits a version of the world where the demons won, the level is aptly named Corrupted Future and the results are not pretty. It features eldritch, cosmic-like horrors that may be even more horrifying than the things you saw in the Underworld, and that's not even mentioning the "boss" of the area itself... What makes it truly terrifying is that even with magic wisps transporting the Ninja 500 years into the past Earth is still in the bad future setting meaning humanity lost to the curse a very long time ago.
  • Baleful Polymorph: The bird and caged creature in the Shop turn out to be the Shopkeeper’s colleague after a magic accident and a traveler that kept trying to open the Shopkeeper’s cabinet. Neither like hearing about their incident.
    • The Ninja can be turned into a Quillshroom if the Queen of Quills hits him with a spore. Mashing the buttons will snap him out of the curse.
  • Battle Boomerang: The Windmill Shuriken returns to you after being thrown, which is exactly what you don't want it to do. Instead, you want to repeatedly dodge its attempts to return to you so that it functions more like an Orbiting Particle Shield that continually does damage.
  • Bash Brothers: Colos and Suses. Bonus points for being literal brothers.
  • Beam-O-War: Between the Arcane Golem and the Curse in the ending.
  • Beat the Curse Out of Him: Manfred, the Clockwork Concierge, the Butterfly Matriarch, and Phantom. Although in Phantom's case you're really beating the curse off of him, as it's contained in the mask he wears.
  • Benevolent Architecture: Many areas would be impossible to reach if it wasn't for all of those conveniently placed lanterns and wall rings everywhere for you to Cloudstep and Rope Dart off of.
  • Big Bad: The Demon King, who leads the demon invasion on the remaining human survivors. However he isn't the Final Boss, and while he did place the curse on humanity, there is Ontological Inertia in this setting and you still need to enter the Music Box and rescue Phantom to break the curse at its source.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Western Hero arrives in the nick of time to fend off the demon army just before they attack the Ninja, and as the Western Hero of the next cycle, the Ninja arrives in the nick of time to fend off the demon army just before they attack the Soldier.
  • Big Little Man: As you make your way through the Catacombs, a mysterious necromancer twice your height regularly harasses you with his minions. When you finally face him, he turns out to be a short little pipsqueak, and was using a combination of levitation and a very long cloak to make himself look taller.
    • Parodied in Picnic Panic when it seems like he'll do the same reveal, only to turn around and reveal he's on stilts.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Colos and Suses. They're very buff and fond of a good scrap, but they are also rather bombastic and hammy.
  • Boss Arena Idiocy: The Demon King would be impossible to attack if it weren’t for the conveniently placed rockets in his throne room.
  • Boss Corridor: Almost every boss has this, supplying you with a potion, ki recharge, and access to the shop. The Ninja actually discusses this at one point, though of course when he brings it up there isn’t actually a boss this time.
  • Boss Remix: A good number of the boss battles have their own unique theme which is mostly composed after the area they're at.
  • Breather Level: In-Universe and Lampshaded in Bamboo Creek. After the dark, oppressive Catacombs filled with crusher traps, spikes, and undead, Bamboo creek is a bright and green level with upbeat music, non-threatening enemies, few traps besides bottomless pits, with sparing enemy placement perfect for stylishly cloudstepping through. The lampshades come in with the Shopkeeper's extremely upbeat attitude upon arriving, refusing to tell you a story so you can go out and enjoy yourself, and calling the Ninja paranoid when he cites Suspicious Video-Game Generosity, finding the idea of a boss in Bamboo Creek preposterous.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Quarble does this quite a bit, questioning your skills as a player, suggesting you blame your death on input lag to avoid embarrassment if anyone is watching you play, and even asking you if you are dying on purpose just to see when his quotes start looping.
  • ...But He Sounds Handsome: The Shopkeeper refers to the Western Hero from the beginning of the game as "that cooler-than-you hero". Since you become the new Shopkeeper after you pass the role of Messenger onto someone else, it can be assumed that your Shopkeeper is that same hero. The fact that there is a statue of that hero right outside the first shop in the Tower of Time further implies that the two are the same person.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Right before The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, the Shopkeeper reveals that he has been holding a grudge against the Ninja for the entire game for saying his shop doesn't look like a shop, but since the Ninja is about to save the world, he has decided to forgive him for it.
  • Charged Attack: One of the higher tier upgrades gives the Messenger a charge attack that deals triple damage. Unlike many charge attacks this one is passive, automatically charging as long as you're not attacking. The first (and only) upgrade that your successor receives from your shop before his untimely death is a standard Metroid-style Charge Beam.
  • Collection Sidequest: Collecting the 45 Power Seals is not necessary to beat the game, but unlocks the Windmill Shuriken.
  • Commonplace Rare: To pass the Dark Cave, you need to do a sidequest to get the only available candle in the game. However, the entire game is full of lamps, and the entrance to the Dark Cave has numerous candles standing next to it!
  • Convection Shmonvection: You can even run on lava as if it was solid, harmless ground, assuming you have the right upgrade.
  • Crapsack World: The world has been reduced to one single habitable island as the result of a massive flood. Doesn't sound bad enough? Let's talk about the demons trying to kill all of the few humans remaining. And let's not even get started on what the sheer horror the Corrupted Future, where the demons have won, is.
  • Cryptically Unhelpful Answer: The Prophet delivers these when asked where to go after opening the map to exploration. You can either pay the Shopkeeper for a straight answer, figure it yourself, or look up for a guide.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist:
    • Technically, you never actually die. A small demon named Quarble has been contracted to use his time-manipulating ring to rescue you from death at the last second and put you back at the last checkpoint. However, he expects to be paid for his work, so every time you "die", he will follow you around for a while, and all Time Shards collected will go to him instead of you. He leaves once his fee has been paid, once he gets bored, or whenever a boss shows up, whichever comes first. You can buy an upgrade in the shop that cuts his fee in half. Also, even though "death" may be a slap on the wrist for you, the entire process apparently causes the Messenger himself to suffer agonizing pain every time.
    • The New Game+ option averts this, you need to have enough time shards on hand to pay Quarble the entire cost upfront or it's game over, adding a lot of stress onto dying, especially if you just bought an upgrade.
    • If you complete the Tiki Mask in Picnic Panic and carry that file over to a New Game Plus, you can sacrifice Quarble to it in return for doubling your health, defense and attack. But since Quarble isn't there for you anymore, it means that the next death you suffer is permanent with nothing to stop it.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Ruxxtin, Manfred and Queen of Quills become allies of Ninja although all of them under different circumstances— Ruxxtin simply gives up on evil after being thrashed by the Ninja, Manfred has his brainwash beaten out of him and the Queen of Quills has to have her curse lifted so she becomes the Monk again.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Colos and Suses have a very Shlubb-and-Klump-esque speaking style, right down to addressing the other by name in every single sentence.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • Normally when you defeat the Queen of Quills you get an exchange between Quarble and her personal life saver, Quillble. However, if you manage to get to that point without dying once, Quarble won’t show up at all, and Quillble simply shows up, saves the Queen of Quills, and teleports away, leaving the Ninja confused.
    • After Opening the Sandbox, there’s a two tier hint system where the Prophet gives you a vague message and the Shopkeeper can simply reveal the location needed for a price. When you access the Definitely Final Dungeon, the Prophet’s hint describes the scroll meeting its maker, obviously referring to Phantom. If the player buys the Shopkeeper’s hint, the Shopkeeper will be completely baffled that you would need a hint for this considering all the build up for the final area.
  • Difficulty Spike:
    • Searing Crags can be a real handful for first-timers since you'll have to get used to the Rope Dart mechanics and the level is filled with inconveniently placed enemies everywhere and has one of the most annoying bosses at its end.
    • And just as you think you're getting into the groove with the game's mechanics, the Tower of Time comes along and smacks you with room after room of Platform Hell, instant death traps that can only be avoided with pinpoint accuracy, and a severe case of Checkpoint Starvation.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Barma'thazël in the Underworld, which only serves as the Opening the Sandbox point for the game turning into a Metroidvania. The next DOFB comes in the form of the Demon King, who seems to be the final boss but is actually followed by Phantom.
  • Disc-One Final Dungeon: The Forlorn Temple. You find it early on in the campaign and you're told that it's where the Demon King is residing, but you can't get inside it on account of the literal Broken Bridge. While you do indeed slay the Demon King inside it, the curse besieging the land is still in effect, and the final Music Note is nowhere to be found, meaning your journey still has a ways to go.
  • Double Jump: The Cloudstep technique allows the Ninja to double jump after striking something with his sword in midair. As long as there is something to hit, he can keep jumping indefinitely.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Barma'Thazel survives the Underworld collapsing in on him and moves to an alternate dimension (The DLC) with the goal of winning there to override the main universe's victories, usurping the role of active Big Bad from the Demon King.
  • Dual Boss: Colos and Suses, though thankfully you only really fight one at a time as the other exercises in the background.
  • Dual-World Gameplay: After Opening the Sandbox, you begin using time portals to switch between the past and future.
  • Dumb Muscle: Colos and Suses, the orc bodybuilders in the game, have an intellect as uneven as their workout regimen. They'd rather starve to death than eat the cauldron of stew they're sitting right next to without adding a strength-enhancing herb to it. After getting said item that will "save" them from starving the game itself call them idiots.
  • Eldritch Location: The Corrupted Future. Everything is as horrific and nightmarish as you'd expect from a world that looks like it wasn't dominated by demons, but rather cosmic abominations. How bad it actually is? The ground seems to be alive, eyes on walls follow you, a shattered moon looms on the back and gigantic tentacles wriggles on the background while what seems to be humans fall to their apparent deaths.
  • Elevator Action Sequence: Bamboo Creek features two of these. In a twist you have to manually make the elevator work while fending off enemies coming and firing projectiles at you.
  • Empty Room Psych: Discussed. There's a literal Money Sink in the game that allows players to dump excess Time Shards into. However, dumping money down the drain does absolutely nothing. The Shopkeeper repeatedly explains this to the Ninja should the player keep doing it, but the Ninja stubbornly refuses to believe that there's no reward for it.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Almost every main character and a few minor characters as well, including the Western Hero, the Ninja, the Shopkeeper, the Demon King, etc.
  • Expospeak Gag: Do a Fetch Quest for the Ninja Elder and he will teach you the Power of True Sight. Or in other words, give you an ordinary candle.
  • Extremity Extremist: Colos only attacks with his arms, while Suses only attacks with his legs (except to whip you with his loincloth), including picking up and throwing things using his feet. This is demonstrated in their designs as well; Colos is a Top-Heavy Guy, and Suses is fat but has muscled legs.
  • Eye Pop: Quarble does this if he enters a boss room with you, followed by him immediately teleporting away.
  • Failed a Spot Check:
    • It turns out the scroll that the ninja was carrying all this time was a map. The Shopkeeper is incredulous that the ninja never checked what was on it, seeing as how it was the focal point of his quest.
    • Once the Demon General has been defeated, the Shopkeeper neglects to tell the ninja the rule of "if your messenger isn't back in ten seconds, it means that he died" until more than ten seconds have passed.
  • Fairytale Motif: The Final Boss is a heroic version of The Phantom of the Opera, complete with an Ominous Pipe Organ.
  • Fighting from the Inside: Despite being compelled to perpetuate the curse, Phantom's true personality was able to push to the forefront long enough to create the scroll and send it out into the world, thereby starting the legacy of Messengers.
  • Final Boss: Phantom in the Music Box. Though there's one more encounter right after that, it's a Cutscene Boss.
  • Final Death Mode: In New Game+, if The Ninja accepts 'THE DEAL' from the Voodoo Mask and agrees to sacrifice Quarble in exchange for a big stat boost, Quarble will abandon the Ninja. Should the Ninja die, the game's file will reset and start the beginning again.
  • Fisticuffs Boss: The final boss of the Picnic Panic DLC has the Demon General grow into a giant demon, and the Blue Robes and the Messenger Do The Thing in order to fight him - resulting in a Punch-Out!! -esque bout, complete with appreciative audience, appropriate music (the track is named Title Bout, no less!), and rounds.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: The Shopkeeper tells you that "John Gaiden" invented the Climbing Claws, because the game is, so far, similar to Ninja Gaiden. Once you take his spot and the Soldier takes yours, you give him the Charge Beam upgrade and tell him it was invented by "Ray Troid", and shortly after that, the world opens up to become a Metroidvania-style map.
    • Also Played for Laughs the first time Colos and Suses are encountered.
      Colos: Mountain life is a blast, but I miss seeing adventurers pass by.
      Suses: I hear ya; remember humans?
      Colos: You bet I do; they were almost as interesting as obvious foreshadowing.
      Suses: (noticing the Ninja) Oh look, a human.
      Both: WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT!
  • Flash of Pain: Bosses will flash when you damage them and will constantly flash faster and faster the closer you are to beating them.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The Chinese dragon-styled serpent that deals 1-hit-KO damage in the chase sequence and can shoot powerful fireballs is named Manfred. When the Ninja questions this, he admits it's not actually his name, but he would prefer to be called that because he wants to be a butler and Manfred sounds more butler-like than whatever his real name is (which we don't learn).
    Manfred: Well, you should dress for the job you want, and not the one you have, right?
  • Funny Background Event: In Quillshroom Marsh at certain parts of the music you may see the lantern quillshrooms and background ones with faces "singing" to the music.
  • Foreshadowing: The Queen of Quills is stated to be a "previous Messenger". As it turns out, there's been many, many other "previous messengers".
    • Savvy players will note some oddities in the level design which always leave room for backtracking. The game becomes a Metroidvania after a major event and backtracking becomes a necessity.
  • Forest of Perpetual Autumn: The appropriately named Autumn Hills, the first area of the game that’s home to a leaf monster.
  • Fusion Dance:
    • The Order of the Blue Robe members can "do the thing" to become the boss of the Tower of Time. It is an ability that all Messengers share and is what it is used to defeat the Curse for good.
    • At the end of Picnic Panic DLC Barma'thazël, does the thing with the Dark Messenger and becomes a gigantic version of himself aptly named Barma'thething. Naturally the Ninja and the Blue Robes also do the thing to fight him on equal footing.
  • Gang of Hats: From how the Ninja hails from a traditional Japan-esque town of village and the Soldier comes from a futuristic military outpost, we can extrapolate that each Messenger has their own motif and hometown; monks, cowboys, and Mongolian archers form the basis for three other generations of Messengers.
  • Genre Shift: A downplayed example. The game shifts from a straightforward platformer into a more open-ended adventure after completing the Underworld, but it still maintains the general gameplay structure of the games it homages.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The Sun and Moon gods in the Sunken Shrine are very weak after centuries without anybody worshiping them, and use the last of their strength to create one of the Music Notes you need to break the curse and save humanity.
  • Harmless Freezing:
    • Manfred somehow gets frozen at Glacial Peak, though his head is unfrozen so he can still communicate.
    • Ruxxtin’s staff also freezes due to staying at the top of Glacial Peak for 500 years, though seeing how it was already immobile, it’s more annoyed by the cold than anything.
  • Haughty Help: Quarble wastes no time in mocking Ninja's (consequently the player's) skill, or rather the lack of it, after saving him from death. The few times he (sort of) apologizes is if the Ninja dies via crushing because apparently that's a pretty horrible death even for him.
  • Have a Nice Death: Every death is met with a new comment from Quarble, at least until he runs out of unique lines. At one point he gets his identical co-worker Quibble to fill in for him just so Quibble can see for himself how bad you are. (Or so "Quibble" claims...) He also sometimes comments on the exact way you died ("Hey I'll be visiting the shopkeeper later, should I grab something to reduce spikes damage for you?").
  • Heel–Face Turn: After Ruxxtin is defeated, he realizes that evil just isn’t working out for him, and promises he won’t do the world any more harm. True to his word, he actually helps you in the future, leaving behind an amulet that allows you to access the Cloud Ruins again and a note that describes the hidden entrance to the Dark Caves. Oddly, he continues to wear his necromancer outfit despite it being designed for an evil look.
  • Hero of Another Story: As it turns out, many Messengers have taken the journey to carry the scroll eastward. The Soldier could have had his own sprawling adventure to deliver the scroll to the Glacial Peak. Unfortunately, he perishes not too far in, forcing the Ninja back into action.
    • Additionally, at least two Messengers managed two great feats: one of them recovered the Music Box from the Forlorn Temple and another found the first two Musical Notes in order to break its curse.
  • High-Altitude Battle: Happens naturally against the boss of Cloud Ruins.
    • In the battle against the Demon King you must ride rockets upwards to leave him vulnerable to attacks and to deliver the finishing blow.
  • History Repeats: At the beginning of the game, the Ninja given a scroll by the Western Hero of the prophecy, who names him the Messenger and tells him to deliver it to the top of Glacial Peak. It is eventually revealed that this is the endgame of all Messengers. The Ninja travels 500 years into the future, where he becomes the Western Hero of the next cycle and gives the scroll to a futuristic soldier in the exact same spot where he received it himself, names the Soldier the new Messenger, and tells him to deliver the scroll to the top of Glacial Peak. Meanwhile, the Ninja takes over as the new Shopkeeper of that cycle. However, the Soldier eventually dies on his journey (because the previous Shopkeeper neglected to tell the Ninja he was supposed to keep tabs on his Messenger with the shop's Scrying Orb and manually send out Quarble to rescue him from death), forcing the Ninja to become the Messenger again.
  • Iaijutsu Practitioner: The late-game Charged Attack ability appears to function this way, since it works by not pressing the attack button for several seconds in order to unleash a single, powerful blow.
  • Info Dump: After you collect all of the Notes, the Shopkeeper goes into a long exposition about the backstory, giving context to everything you've been doing.
  • Interface Screw: The Butterfly/Bat Matriarch's sonic scream doesn't do any damage, but reverses your controls.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: More of a shop, really, but it’s still capable of connecting its entrance to all over the world. It’s even in two separate locations in the building it’s physically in somehow.
  • Invisible Block: The Butterfly/Bat Matriarch flies above you and can only be reached to damage her by jumping on invisible platforms. After dodging enough of her attacks, she will sprinkle pollen that reveals the location of the platforms, but if you already know where they are, you can still jump on them to make the fight go much faster.
  • Ironic Name: The Phobekins are named after their phobias.
  • Irony: The Ninja openly states he hates boring lectures and history lessons. One of the things he can do during his journey? Ask for the Shopkeeper to tell him stories. This is surprisingly not lampashaded at any point.
  • It's a Long Story: How every Phobekin describes their situation on how they arrived at the location of their greatest fear.
  • Laser Hallway: Plenty of these in Tower of Time.
  • Legacy Character: The Messengers, of which the Ninja is the latest. The latest one that's still alive, anyway.
  • The Lost Lenore: The death of his beloved Muse at the hands of the demon army is what drove Phantom to go after the Demon King by himself, carrying the Music Box that his wife created as a Tragic Keepsake. The Demon King felt such stupidity deserved to be punished with a Fate Worse than Death, and placed the curse on humanity, then sealed Phantom inside the Music Box and turned him into the Apocalypse Maiden that maintains the curse.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: The Ninja isn't made aware of nearly anything until it becomes relevant. This reaches a head when, before entering the final dungeon, The Shopkeeper reveals he did it out of spite because the Ninja said his shop didn't look like a shop. He then proceeds to tell The Ninja the entirety of the game's setting, backstory, and the purpose of the Messenger journey over a nearly nine minute long info dump.
  • Malevolent Architecture: Expect to see plenty of spikes, crushing traps and bottomless pits pretty much everywhere but your cozy Ninja Village.
  • Meaningful Name: The Phobekin are a double example. Their species is named as such because they all have a severe phobia of some sort, while on an individual basis they are all named after their respective phobias.
  • Medium Awareness: The Shopkeeper definitely knows he is in a video game, and will make meta-jokes about various games and make remarks like "if you fought the final boss already, we wouldn't have much of a game", which usually confuse the Messenger. However, the Messenger can apparently see the dialog boxes and hear the game's music, and is also Genre Savvy enough to pick up on the fact that a shop with a lantern on each side containing health and ki refills means there is a boss fight in the next room (except that when he points this out, there isn't actually a boss in that area and the Shopkeeper calls him crazy for seeing patterns that aren't there). When he briefly takes over as the new Shopkeeper for the next Messenger, his level of medium awareness increases appropriately.
  • Mercy Invincibility: You get a moderate amount after being hit by anything that isn't a one-hit kill.
  • Mickey Mousing:
    • The machinery of the Music Box is synced up to the background music. It's also inactive during the music's intro, so you can exploit this trope by entering and exiting a shop to reset the music and give you a few seconds to easily get past the next few obstacles.
    • The giant mushrooms in the background of Quillshroom Marsh "sing" along with a certain section of the background music.
  • Money for Nothing: After buying all of the upgrades, there is nothing to spend your Time Shards on except Quarble's paltry revival fee. Well, almost nothing...
  • Money Sink: Due to players complaining about the trope directly above, a literal sink was added to the shop that you can dump your Time Shards into. It does absolutely nothing other than literally flushing your money down the drain. The Shopkeeper repeatedly tries to explain to the Ninja, who stubbornly refuses to believe there is no reward for putting enough money in.
    • Continues in the DLC too, where you actually CAN "fix" the Money sink via a side-quest so that it actually leads somewhere when examined... and it turns out it's the place where you can buy toys of your enemies for ridiculous prices.
  • Multiple Head Case: The Demon King has four heads, although only the one wearing the crown ever speaks.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: The Order of the Blue Robes wear the robes to avoid this.
  • Nice Guy: Even in a world full of demons and death lurking at every corner the Ninja still finds some nice people.
    • The Wisp inside the Emerald Golem is actually a fairly nice guy, he politely accepts Ninja's apologies and holds no grudges to the point he waits the Ninja to be out of his sight to mourn the loss of his golem so he won't upset him.
    • Colos and Suses, the Cyclopses are rather nice guys who bear no ill will against the Ninja and only fight him in order to test him. After defeating them they aid him in reaching the Glacial Peak. And later in the game they help the Ninja find another Music Note after he helps them by growing their Power Thistle.
    • Manfred, the Dragon is quite a chill dude. He's nice and kind and will be very grateful for the Ninja helping him by saving his life after the Underworld collapses and taking him back to the Ninja Village also offering a ride for him to help save the Elemental Skylands.
  • Nice Hat: The Messenger gets a conical straw hat when he is sent to the future. The Shopkeeper thinks it looks so badass that he gets an identical one for himself... and tries to pretend that he had it first and the Messenger copied him.
    Shopkeeper: Ok THAT is a really cool hat.
    Ninja: ...
    Shopkeeper: Seriously, wow!
    Ninja: Any idea what happened?
    Shopkeeper: Sorry, I just can't get over the hat.
  • Ninja Run: The Ninja, naturally! Later in the future, The Soldier also has a more or less ninja-esque type of run too.
  • Noble Demon: The Queen of Quills. If you return after defeating her she begrudgingly admits your victory but doesn't try to attack you anymore. Though she will admit her quillshrooms will still try to get you.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The lack of a boss in Bamboo Creek can throw you for a loop, especially since there’s two rooms after the Boss Corridor that would be perfect for a Boss Room.
    • Late-game, a stage functions like this. The Corrupted Future. There is never an actual explanation of what happened there, whether there are any survivors (or any sane being) alive. Besides one brief exposition from the magic wisp there are no lines of dialogue here.
  • Not Quite Flight: The Wingsuit allows the Messenger to glide in the air by holding Jump, allowing him to ride air vents and slow his descent. An upgrade also allows him to do a down slash attack while gliding.
  • No Name Given: All of the game's human cast with the exception of Muse and Phantom are only ever referred to by their titles, with bosses and non-human NPCs being the ones to get names.
  • Numerical Hard: Each run of New Game+ increases enemies' damage and bosses' health. The one non-numerical change is that you now have to pay Time Shards up front if you want to continue after dying; otherwise, it's game over.
  • One-Hit Kill: Pits, crushing and a few other things will instantly make Quarble show up to save Ninja's ass.
  • One-Winged Angel: The Demon King transforms into a giant floating eyeball after you deal enough damage to him.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • The Shopkeeper gets uncharacteristically panicked when he realizes he messed up and forgot to tell Ninja (acting as the Shopkeeper) that he must send Quarble to save the current Messenger, or else the guy dies for real. This even allows Ninja to get some jabs in which the Shopkeeper has no dry or witty comebacks for them.
    • The Ninja tends to have some lines of dialogue after every part of his quest is done but he's almost catatonic after returning from his experience in the Corrupted Future. He also engages in some serious jabs with The Dragon and the Big Bad.
  • Oddly Small Organization: In spite of being formed out of uncountable Messengers across many millennia, the Order of the Blue Robe at the time of the game consists of precisely three members (plus one hiding inside the sink). No real explanation is ever given about what happened to the rest.
  • Only Sane Man: The Shopkeeper is clearly exasperated with his fellow Blue Robe members, as one constantly yells out ambiguous prophecies, while the other won’t shut up about "doing the thing". The Ninja, meanwhile, plays this role to the Shopkeeper; he's forced to put up with his repeated abuse of the fourth wall, general snarkiness, and his ridiculous grudge over being told his shop doesn't look like a shop.
  • Our Ogres Are Hungrier: Colos and Suses fit most of the stereotypes around ogres to a tee; they're even introduced sitting by a big cauldron. However, they aren't actually villainous and show no signs of wanting to eat people - the cauldron is for making soup, and they only fight the Ninja for fun and exercise.
  • Overly Long Gag: If you repeatedly attempt to open the cabinet in the shop, the Shopkeeper will have a seemingly endless amount of dialogue as he attempts to discourage you from opening the cabinet, eventually trying to bore you with a long and philosophical speech that you can’t fast-forward through. He even has three unique cabinet rants over the course of the game depending on the situation, the last one even parodying the first rant when you are supposed to open the cabinet but try to leave the shop instead. The cabinet returns in a secret area in the Picnic Panic DLC, with even more of the same.
  • Painting the Medium: The past era is rendered in an 8-bit style, but the future era is rendered in a 16-bit style.
  • Passing the Torch: What eventually happens to every Messenger that succeeds the journey to the Glacial Peak and defeat the challenges of the Tower of Time. They must pass the scroll to a new Messenger so the cycle can continue. However, the Ninja's Shopkeeper neglects to tell him that he has to send Quarble out to save the current Messenger, and the Messenger after the Ninja actually dies.
  • Physical Hell: The Underworld. It’s even easily accessed through a cave in the Searing Crags.
  • Plot Hole: We learn from defeating the Cursed Monk that each Messenger also has their own Greed Demon to revive them. Once the Soldier rolls around, though, the Shopkeeper tells the Ninja that he had to send his own Greed Demon to revive the Soldier.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • The Emerald Golem boss could have been avoided if the Emerald Golem just said it was mining and not actively trying to kill the Messenger.
      • In the Picnic Panic DLC the same scenario happens, except this time the wisp was trying to conjure a spell from his Voodoo Totem to prevent the nearby volcano from erupting.
    • The Shopkeeper forgets to inform the Ninja that one of his duties as the new Shopkeeper is sending Quarble to save his own Messenger from death, causing the Soldier to die permanently. Oops.
  • Power at a Price: Accepting 'THE DEAL' from the Voodoo Mask means getting double maximum health and triple attack power. However, 'THE DEAL' requires sacrificing Quarble, meaning you get only one life. Actually, Quarble ends up surviving, but he's so mad at the Ninja for being willing to sacrifice him that he refuses to save the Ninja anymore. Gameplay-wise, it makes you much stronger, but if you die even once, it's game over and nothing can save you.
  • Power Glows: Accepting 'THE DEAL' will give you a shadowy appearance and a menacing red aura, along with glowing red eyes. While in this form, you have double health and triple attack power.
  • Punny Name:
    • The Phobekins are named after the thing they're afraid of, and the kind of place you find them in, e.g. Pyro is found among lava and Acro is found high in the sky.
    • Colos and Suses, the two giant ogre brothers. Colossuses. (Although Suses should change his name to Si if they want to be grammatically correct about it.)
    • There's also Octo and Pi, the adoptive octopus parents of Ruxxtin from the Picnic Panic DLC.
  • Real After All: Although the Shopkeeper insists all of his stories are pure fiction and mere fairy tales for children, you can actually find some of the things mentioned in them around the game world, such as the frozen couple who attempted "The Trek", Madam Misery's house with Death trapped in the pear tree, and a crystal pumpkin, which shows that at least some of his stories are true. Of course, it's possible that the game itself is just one of his made-up stories (see Ambiguous Ending above).
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Colos and Suses, two huge bodybuilding cyclops creatures also enjoy things like cooking and botany.
  • Remixed Level: After the events in the Underworld the world becomes open to explore and you'll be forced to use time rifts to travel through it giving the previously visited levels different layouts with trickier segments that can have spikes or bottomless pits that weren't there in the previous timeline.
  • Reverse Grip: How the future Ninja wields his sword.
  • Running Gag: Stories. Shopkeeper tells one and Ninja tends to ruin or make a commentary on it which pisses off the Shopkeeper more often than not.
  • Scenery as You Go: The floor of the shop floats up to meet you as you step on it. Except in the Tower of Time, where the floor is normal, since that's the actual physical location of the shop.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Quarble has this reaction if he's with you when you enter a boss fight.
  • Sequel Hook: The game ends on a "To Be Continued" screen, after the Cowboy asks to hear a second story.
    • The Picnic Panic DLC ends with Barma'thazël successfully stealing a powered up Voodoo Seed and fooling Colos and Suses (granted it wasn't difficult) into growing it for some future nasty purpose...
  • Shoot the Messenger: Quarble references this if the Ninja is killed by a projectile.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sibling Team: Colos and Suses, although the game doesn't specify that they're actually brothers until you acquire the Power Thistle.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Colos has a muscular upper body and scrawny legs, while Suses has a fat belly and muscular legs.
  • Skewed Priorities: After the Ninja returns from the Corrupted Future, the Artificer is much more excited to hear about the horrifying Eldritch Abomination therein and winning his bet with the Shopkeeper than he is about the Ninja making it back alive, much less finding the MacGuffin he went in there to get. When Phantom is rescued, the very first thing the Artificer asks him is if he'd like to try the Tower of Time gauntlet.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Between the Ninja and the Shopkeeper. The Shopkeeper tends to have the last word, but every now and then the Ninja does manage to get in a few good jabs. Like when the Shopkeeper neglects to tell him that he has to send out a Greed Demon for his Messenger.
  • Spoiler Title: One of the Shopkeeper's stories lacks a title. The Ninja suggests one that spoils the ending, and is berated for it.
  • Stock Ninja Weaponry: Barring a couple of exceptions, a katana and a few shuriken are the only weapons the Ninja has at his disposal to deal with enemies and bosses.
  • Surprise Creepy: The game is lighthearted and silly from the very beginning, with even the more macabre-looking characters and places given enough humor to keep them from feeling too scary. Then you get to the Corrupted Future. It's an utterly nightmarish world, with the landscape consisting entirely of some kind gruesome Meat Moss that has eyeballs randomly growing out of it, there are giant tentacles flailing around in the background, and the moon appears to be shattered. And then you reach the boss, which is a massive eldritch thing so enormous you can't even see what it looks like in its entirety, and which you can't even kill, only run away from. On top of all that, the jokes are completely absent, and they don't come back until you finish what you came there to do.
  • Suspicious Video-Game Generosity: Before almost every boss fight, there's a shop entrance with a lantern on each side containing a health and ki refill. The Ninja lampshades this at the end of Bamboo Creek when he asks the Shopkeeper about the upcoming boss, only for the Shopkeeper to say there is no boss, and imply that the Ninja is a crazy person who sees patterns where they don't exist. Naturally, the pattern continues to repeat for the rest of the game. And that one time in Bamboo Creek? There really is nothing there. No boss fight.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: The Ninja can stay underwater indefinitely without harm.
  • Tactical Suicide Boss: The leaf monster’s one and only attack leaves it completely vulnerable.
  • Take Up My Sword: This turns out to be a central part of the cycle. Each Messenger passes the Scroll down to his successor and then guides him as the next Shopkeeper. Unfortunately, the Shopkeeper's poor communication skills result in the Ninja's successor being Killed Off for Real, forcing him to jump back into action.
  • Talking Weapon: Ruxxtin the Necromancer's magic staff is alive, and is the one calling the shots of their operation... at least until Ruxxtin quite correctly points out that it can't do anything without him carrying it, to which it has no comeback.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: One of the Shopkeeper's stories is the joke on the trope's main page about the cauldrons in Hell. In his version, the Acceptable Targets for whom no guards are needed to prevent them from escaping the cauldron because they keep pulling each other back in are "people who think the order doesn't apply anymore when another line opens up at the market".
    Ninja: ... Okay, now you're just using the platform to vent!
  • Tennis Boss: One of Phantom’s attacks has him launch a projectile at you that both of you can reflect. If you win the tennis duel, Phantom will be stunned, allowing you to deal some heavy damage. If you mess up the timing, however, the projectile will explode and likely damage you. Phantom also doesn't make the same mistakes as other Tennis Bosses and will reflect the projectile away from you to make it harder for you to hit, sometimes even curving it.
  • Theatre Phantom: Despite his name, Phantom was originally not this trope, but the Demon King fixed that by placing a cursed mask on him and imprisoning him in a music box to play the pipe organ for all eternity.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The Corrupted Future, a terrifying world where the very ground seems alive, tortured humans are seen falling to their doom in the background, and the moon is completely shattered. It’s also home to an invincible Eldritch Abomination capable of instantly killing you that chases you back to the entrance.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Colos and Suses refuse to eat their stew until they add the final ingredient, the Power Thistle. They predictably starve to death waiting for it to grow, until you bring back the fully grown thistle from the future and give it to them. The Flavor Text upon obtaining the thistle even calls them idiots.
  • Took a Level in Cynic: The Ninja, after delivering the scroll to the Soldier and becoming the new Shopkeeper. It's pretty clear he isn't thrilled about not going out for adventuring anymore and his new portrait even depicts him with cynical half-closed eyes.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The game's trailer makes no attempts at hiding the Art Shift, and the game even has the Shopkeeper make a joke about it. How it happens, on the other hand, is kept completely secret.
  • Transflormation: Travelers cursed by the Queen of Quills are transformed into the mushrooms of Quillshroom Marsh.
  • Turns Red: Almost every boss will change their patterns the closer they are to being defeated, either becoming more aggressive or doing something else to make the battle trickier.
  • Unexpected Shmup Level: The Elemental Skylands, where you ride Manfred to each of the floating islands, eventually facing off against the Clockwork Concierge.
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: The Music Box, the source of the curse and the reason the time-traveling cycle exists, is the final level of the game.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: If you complete the Tiki Mask by getting all of the collectibles in Picnic Panic, you can offer to sacrifice Quarble to it in return for doubling your health, attack and defense. It's less cruel than it sounds because the mask just needs to use Quarble's fear of genuine mortal peril and doesn't actually kill him, but Quarble is so furious and upset at the Ninja being willing to do it that he refuses to rescue you from then on, meaning death is death.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: See Overly Long Gag above. If The Ninja persists in trying to open The Shopkeeper's closet, he will be forced to listen to a very long exposition without being able to skip through the dialogue. Similarly this occurs again if the player refuses to open the closet when told to. As mentioned above, Quarble will decide to terminate your working relationship if you accept "THE DEAL," meaning that if you die, you die.
  • Waiting Skeleton: If you go to Colos and Suses' hangout spot in the future, you'll see their skeletons sitting in the exact same relaxed poses they were in during the past, having waited for centuries for their thistle to grow until they died. To address this, you need to take the now fully-grown thistle to the past so they can add it to their stew.
  • Video Game Settings: Given this game is practically a homage to the 8-bit and 16-bit, once you start Opening the Sandbox era of games, this is to be expected:
  • Wake-Up Call Boss:
    • The Emerald Golem in Howling Grotto. It has some difficult attacks to deal with, you have to break its chest gem before exposing the core and the boss also has a second phase. If anything it more often than not sends the message that the game is done pulling punches.
    • If the previous boss wasn't enough the next one, the Queen of Quills, will be. She's extremely nimble, has some annoying spore attacks and a whip attack that HURTS. She's basically how the game says to you: "No, you can't just walk forward, mash attack and win."
  • Walk on Water: The Lightfoot Tabi allows you to run across the surface of any liquid, including water, quicksand, and lava. The catch is that you can't stop running, or else you will instantly sink.
  • Warm-Up Boss:
    • The Leaf Monster has vlow health and a very simple pattern, and is mostly there to make sure the player is getting comfortable with the controls.
    • Ruxxtin can be actually challenging since he loves teleporting around the arena and has some dangerous attacks, but is mostly there to teach the player that you can't just wait for the boss to come at you, you have to be on the move constantly or you're dead meat.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: The Soldier was set up to be the next messenger, and was ready to go on his own journey, complete with his own upgrades. Unfortunately, he bites it not too long after his introduction.
  • Weakened by the Light: The Demon King is ultimately killed by destroying the ceiling of his arena, causing sunlight to shine onto him, which fries him to a crisp and causes him to dissolve. Word is out on whether this killed him because he was a demon... or because he just turned into a giant eyeball and then looked directly at the sun.
  • Wham Episode:
    • After finishing the Tower of Time once you travel to the future changing from 8-bit to a 16-bit style, both visually and acoustically.
    • Once you defeat Barma'thazël and after a rather long exposition you open the world for exploration in order to collect the MacGuffins scattered around the world.
    • The final one is after finishing collecting all Music Notes. The Shopkeeper explains in full detail who created the scroll and also detailing why it's needed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • The Shopkeeper calls The Ninja an animal after learning he never bothered to open the scroll after receiving it to find out it was map which would have made his traveling a lot more simple.
    • The Ninja gets it hard should he agree to sacrifice Quarble to the Tiki Mask for a Stat-Power-Up at the cost of starting Final Death Mode. Quarble lives, but he's so angry at the Ninja that he flat-out refuses to save him anymore. Compared to his sarcastic commentary he makes on every other death, his quote for you right before the game over is so calm it feels like Tranquil Fury.
  • Whip It Good: The Queen of Quills uses a whip as a weapon. And continues to do so after you break the curse on her and she turns back into the Monk.
  • World of Snark: The only characters who aren't Deadpan Snarkers are Colos and Suses, [[Adorkable Manfred]], and the Clockwork Concierge
  • Xanatos Gambit: Barma'thazël pulls a rather elaborate on in Picnic Panic. He lures the Ninja by kidnapping Phobekins and using their fear to activate the Voodoo Altar creating the Dark Messenger, then he uses the Voodoo Idols in the Voodoo Heart in order to kill Quarble and try kill the Ninja for good. When that fails? Barma'thazël also wanted that, as he needed to unlink Dark Messenger from his greed demon and "do the thing". After he's defeated again, he also planned for that, and uses the energy of the fallen Dark Messenger into a Magic Seed and manages to run away. He then tricks Colos and Suses into growing the thing for an unknown purpose.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The shop is located in the Tower of Time, which exists outside of time. Therefore, no matter how long the Ninja spends outside the shop between visits, from the Shopkeeper's perspective, it's only been a few seconds. This is what clues the Shopkeeper in that something went wrong when the Soldier doesn't enter the shop again right away after leaving it.

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