Combat is a flood of random encounters that never really provide any sort of challenge. It's possible to target the head, legs, or body, but I rarely saw a marked increase in damage for the obviously lower hit-rate. Offensive magic is mostly useless; spell points are better relegated to buffs and healing. Party death isn't much of a deterrent; it results in losing all gold and reviving at the nearest temple.
Enemies have no special tricks beyond their basic attack. Some are quicker than others, some even attack multiple characters, but none cast spells or have other tricks. It's nice there's no instant death, poison, or paralysis; yet, without them there's nothing to fear except low HP. The final boss, the only unique enemy, was equally dull. Rewards for combat quickly fall off as gold, experience, and even dropped items become useless, or worse yet, a hindrance.
|These are the most time consuming battles as the wizards hit all character with each attack|
Beyond the names selected, the attributes rolled, and the classes chosen, there's little distinction between the four adventurers. There's no outward appearance, max stats are universal, and there are no character levels, only a single party level. Spells are found scattered about the dungeon rather than gained upon level-up. About the only positive thing I can mention here is the ability to play any* party you desire. I threw in an extra point for the multi-player aspect, even though I can only imagine it bogging down the game.
*Beating the game requires at least one magician
|Even with starting stats like this Pathos only had 30 HP at max level|
Well this is surprising, one of the highest puzzle scores in some time. This is helped by the riddle like clues spread throughout the dungeon that are pieced together to navigate the final level successfully. There's probably only one that's truly necessary, while the rest of the map could fall to trial and error.
Beyond that, the main quest is clear: kill the serpent. To do so you'll need to collect the ruby treasures, which opens up a teleporter to the final three levels. The bit with the horseshoe and the collection of all the spells also help to prop up this category. The game is still shaky, but it offers enough of an experience to keep it from becoming stale. If only it offered more puzzles.
|Hopefully you've found all the hints|
The story is rather light, but I don't expect much from a dungeon crawler. The collection of equipment, advancement, and overcoming individual challenges are normally what this style of game is all about. NPCs do appear sporadically to offer advice for how to progress.
Really though, it feels less like I'm headed down to defeat the big bad
In the beginning I praised the number of items that dropped from combat. By the end I'd come to curse my constantly full inventory. With four pieces of equipment taking up six available slots plus unequippable ruby items and keys filling up the rest, I only had one or two slots open. Drops are given only to the one that deals the killing blow; however, if they don't have room, then there's no drop. If only there were a place to store items.
This game has by far one of the best examples for equipment stats. Even better would be to see the stats of equipment before purchase. In any case, the efficiency (used in calculating turn order), power, AC bonus, price, and number of attacks are all listed for each piece of equipment, in addition to what character class can use it. It's just too bad most of it is useless junk. For anyone reading for hints, feel free to drop the keys after use.
|"Jewels" turned out to be just useless gold|
Dungeon crawlers often suffer on exploration since the sights to see are rather mundane. About the only thing that changes from one level to the next is the color of the tile. Magic fountains, pressure plates, and stairs are all seen through text. All music and sound effects are passable, except for the title music, which I try not to listen to for long.
As a world, it's not very believable, but exploring every square of it often yields interesting rewards, such as spells or new pieces of equipment. Exploration is really only limited by the strength of party, and how far you want to push them. Although there are literally invisible walls on one level, I'm not going to fault the entire game for it. There are obvious limitations, such as requiring a crystal on level 12 to get the last ruby item, which once all seven are collected opens the final area. It's just too bad there weren't more points of interest.
|Enemies are the only interesting sights|
While not the best game we've seen, it's at least a step above Wizardry. That's not really saying much, but when it comes down to it, I can't suggest this as a game to play. I can only see multi-player adding more frustration than fun.
This review really wouldn't be complete without pointing out the speedrun done in 52 minutes. This is a stream recording; so, while not the best quality, I think it works well enough to ask, "what should I do with the other 11 hours of my time now?"
Next up is Dragon Warrior II. This one shouldn't disappoint, unless the save battery gives out in the middle. If that happens I'll just have to marathon the entire game one weekend. I don't remember if I personally beat the game, but I remember watching my brother do it and I may have played up until the very end. The final dungeon is well known for being difficult.