It seems like getting consistently good at the game comes down to how well you can rob the shopkeeper. I'm the same, the furthest I've ever gotten was with the jetpack and shotgun. But it's strange, once you get items like that it turns into an entirely different game.
It wears the influences on its sleeve, but from playing I feel like there's enough difference to make it a bit special. Not just the setting, but the combat is based on combos and special moves, almost like a mix between Dark Souls and Bayonetta or something, set in weird supernatural demon-infested anicent Japan. It also feels more-difficult than a souls game, and that's quite interesting.
I've been reading all the updates and it's looking great! I'm excited to play it, good luck with the continued development.