2004. Playstation 2 (and others).


Had I written this review earlier today, before beating the game, it would have received a generally bad review. Choked by flaws and unoriginality, I was going to write it off as too annoying to finish. After a short break, I came back to it and played around some more, and realized that I like it alright, and was being harsh on it. It still has several major flaws (I will get to them in a moment) and still has issues of originality, but the gameplay is interesting enough for the length of the game and it's price (it has been in bargain bins for some time) is pretty sweet.

If I had to sum up the gameplay, I would call it a "twitch based horde system". The principle game play mechanic goes like this. You enter into a room. Somewhere from 5-25 monsters come out and you have to beat them down. The PS2 starts chugging along and little graphical glitches crop up. In later stages, this is made even more wonderful by the fact that the monsters are larger than the characters and so block the view of the characters. You beat them down by attacking, which is generally a combination of the X and O and □ buttons with L1 and R3 used from time to time, and some △ for good measure. This is to say, you flail on the X button, sometimes invite the other buttons over to tea, and hope for the best.

The first real flaw that I will bring up is the fact that if you die in battle, two very bad things occur. You have to view cut-scenes all over again (and they are never skippable, being the second huge flaw) and when you replay the battle, the difficulty can be almost completely different. Case in point: the battle with the dragon. The first half of the battle involves long distance attacks on the dragon while enough minions to pretty much fill the platform you are on runs around and smashes into you. The first time I played it, the attacks came in such random numbers than any time I took my finger off of the "block/shield" key I would be beat into the ground and killed. After dying, though, I replayed and the horde was much more tolerable and the attacks were right together, meaning it was much easier to time dodging them (you dodged them all at once, instead of trying to find some random break in between). In the first battle, item drops were rare. In the second time, they were kind of constant. Keep that in mind, if you don't like the current battle, and can stomach replaying a completely arbitrary amount of game (third flaw: checkpoints are without rhyme or reason, a fair amount of the time), then give it a few minutes and try again. It might be a different degree of battle all together.

There are several boss battles, with the general format being a single, powerful boss with the general ability to stun a character (usually the character you are playing, trying to force you to switch characters). Minions crop up. Hitting the boss starts out relatively easy (the first few bosses) but becomes more and more difficult in timing, though never really super hard if you are patient. The last few have many minions, most of which respawn immediately. It gets bad enough that I was laughing through a few of the battles due to the fac that I could not see my characters, nor really do anything besides pump away at the buttons and delight when something seemed to happen.

More annoyingly (fourth flaw) are the "Protect the Mage" missions, which happen a few times. He is up to some magery, and you have to keep him alive long enough to complete it. In theory, it makes sense. In the reality of the game, it involves smashing monsters back and forth and despairing everytime you make one mistake since that might take another half minute or so of fighting to correct. In many of these missions, if the mage gets bumped, his spell gets slightly retracted. I have seen the spell set all the way back to zero after several minutes of fighting. Things like that cause ulcers.

What helps to make these "Protect the Mage" fun times especially painful is the complete lack of team work and cordination (fifth flaw). Half the time, if you are forced to play as the mage to get some shots off at some baddies, your fighter and rogue companion will leave you be to get trampled. If you run one of the characters back to safety, and try switching, there is a good chance that the first character will run right back into the middle of things.

The sixth flaw is going to be the "gamable" quality the final stages start to offer. It is rare that the computer controlled PCs will die. What you can do, then, if the option is available, is to take one of the PCs and run around and hide from battle. In some cases, you can honestly go back out of the room or hop up on a ledge and barely engage in any battle whatsoever. The computer controlled PCs will mow down the enemy, and usually not die. Also, the last few battles allow the mage to become a champion of cheese. His highly effective shield, ability to recharge life by using magic, his quick charge on the hero meter, and his ring of regeneration mean that you can stand back and fling spells at baddies and then pop up the shield. In those missions where there is a ledge, you stand close to it, pop up the shield, and wait for a random teammate to come along and knock the critter over. I beat the dragon's second form by running all the way back, holding down L1 and then casting a pattern of shield, hold, and death ray until well satisfied. Almost no strategy needed.

To speed this up, the seventh flaw is a confusing way that leveling up and acquiring gold is achieved. Not the basis, but how exactly replaying a level works out. And the eighth and final flaw is the lack of multiplayer. This game BEGS for multiplayer.

The fact that the game manages to keep a player into it after all those flaws says something about how an eye for fun was maintained. Whether it is a fear of admitting that a game bested you, or a enjoyment of pressing that X button until your thumb bleeds, the game actually does work as a full package. Partially because the voice acting is wonderful, the characters are pleasantly cookie cutter, the graphics are very nice, and the music has a few sweet gems.

But really...unskippable cut scenes (that you get to see five times due to dying)? Come on!

Final Scores

Interactive: meh

Fiction: eh

Reviewer's Tilt: good

Final Average: eh


How I Did

I beat it in about 6 hours with only about 10 continues.

Hints, Suggestions and Mild Spoilers (for what they are worth

Learn how to use the shield+blast combo as the mage. You toss up a shield, wait for the enemeies to strike you, and then shoot off a blast. Charge it up if you can. This will heal you (assuming you have that skill) and then you can have your shield back up by time they are hitting at you. You can survive whole battles doing just this since the AI will usually keep the other two alive.

Almost all of the secret treasure is found by having the thief jump around. Surprise. One of the better treasure rooms is found, though, by breaking down a wall that looks cracked.

The fighter is hard to charge up for his super attack. One trick to do this is to charge up the mage (the easiest) by a few charged blasts. Then use the mage's special. Chances are, an elixir will drop. Have the fighter get it, switch back to the mage, and then rebuild.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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