going back to you over map talk. the Shiren games are a roguelike, with set floors. they dont need a map, but its nice for the player to know where there breaks are. could you perhaps do that? you wouldnt need to do any more art, just after every 5th battle there is a rest spot.
Thanks for the suggestion, I'll check out some Let's Plays for Shiren. I know of the games, but haven't played any of them. I'm not too worried about the additional art requirements though. The camera would be zoomed out to a birds eye view, so I wouldn't have to go into too much detail with the map. I'm also kind of looking forward to designing the corrupted, blighted land the characters are traveling through. Sounds like a fun exercise.
also with the levels could you call it rage or something, the description reminds me of break limits in final fantasy games. although the mcguffin sapping their life energy is pretty interesting idea. it would be super crazy if you integrated that into gameplay though. can you imagine having to kill enemies to gain levels, all while slowly losing XP mean you need to kills as many guys as fast as possible.
Yeah, I'll probably go with the rage-type thing. I like the limit break type theme too, which fits into the gameplay because every 10 levels the character unlocks a special attack/ability. The artifact (the Dungeon Heart itself) could be the thing that gives them this rage/limit break ability, preying on the character's inner turmoil to give them Hulk-like power. Each of the characters has a very powerful and personal reason to destroy the Dark One that is revealed over the course of the game, so it fits in well.
On a separate note, I think I'm going to have the current endless-rush type gameplay be an additional gameplay mode unlocked after beating the regular story-based mode.