"Despite not being overly enthralled with this place, it was paradise compared to the Underground Temple, which started with a lengthy fetch quest. In this sort of game, I might be told to obtain one item or another, but I won't feel like I'm doing some sort of mundane busywork in the process. If some guy says, "
I should have loved the Darkfort dungeon in Mazes of Fate. It had so many of those devilish little touches that make those diabolical first-person dungeon-crawler RPGs my most masochistic pleasure. There were illusionary walls all over the place, fireball-spewing statues, spinning floor tiles and (of course) a horde of monsters. Instead, I was bored. Don't blame it on Darkfort; blame it on what I had to do in order to get there.....
As it's name might suggest, Mazes of Fate is loaded with (drum roll, please.....) MAZES! These dungeons eat up most of the time you'll spend with this GBA cartridge and you'll often find yourself going through one after another in short order. Darkfort was the third consecutive such place I was going through and, unfortunately, the other two weren't particularly interesting preludes.
Since the days of Wizardry and the assorted AD&D Gold Box games, I've lovingly looked at these dungeon-crawlers as battles of attrition. You start out with a pitifully weak party barely capable of besting the assorted rats, slimes and kobalds serving as fresh meat for novice adventurers. Odds are, you'll spend a lot of time simply wandering around the dungeon's entrance, ready to flee back to town for healing at a moment's notice. But after a bit, you'll gain a level or two and be able to explore further. And then you'll amass enough cash to buy better weaponry -- allowing you to see even more of the dungeon. It feels rewarding because you have to scrape and claw for every little thing you accomplish.
Mazes of Fate isn't like that -- it's pretty simple and dull game that combines big maze-like dungeons with a generic plot and the illusion that it just might eventually evolve into the next Pool of Radiance. However, while that game seemingly took pride in overwhelming me with brutal monsters and no shortage of devious tricks, this one gave me every advantage I needed except for the bottle of Vivarin necessary to keep me awake.
Let's look at my underworld trek to Darkfort, as a number of the game's most pressing problems raise their ugly heads during this trip. The initial Underground region wasn't particularly offensive, but still flawed. There is only one type of monster in the entire place and once they've been exterminated, that's it. Mazes of Fate doesn't have respawning enemies or random encounters. Once you've cleared out an area, it nearly always is permanently empty of foes, which leads to many tedious jaunts across empty terrain.
Despite not being overly enthralled with this place, it was paradise compared to the Underground Temple, which started with a lengthy fetch quest. In this sort of game, I might be told to obtain one item or another, but I won't feel like I'm doing some sort of mundane busywork in the process. If some guy says, "Hey, venture to yonder forest and find me a golden mushroom!", I damn well know that standing between me and the 'shroom will be roughly 30 liches and a couple of H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Gods! That's how dungeon-crawlers operate. Not Mazes of Fate, though, as this area consists of a number of ghostly warriors (who can be called off if you talk to their master) and nothing else besides the folks yammering at you to find their book, fetch them a trinket or whatever else pops into their accursed minds.
After finally making everyone happy, I was granted access to the next part of the Temple. Here, my trio of adventurers had to complete four tests to prove their worth. Two were pitifully easy and a third was just pitiful (relaying messages between three statues -- a fetch quest involving memorization! YAY!!!), but the fourth had potential. I had to maneuver through a maze loaded with both illusionary walls and these really tough Dream Demon bastards capable of easily overwhelming me unless I actually utilized caution while exploring. At least until I learned this neat little combat trick that made tough foes like them much easier to trash. Each monster has a handful of animations. When one is in their "pre-attack" pose, it's possible to disrupt them with your own assault, causing them to miss a turn. It might not always work, but it succeeds frequently enough to make things much easier.
Sorry, but I didn't really need combat to be less challenging. Unlike Dream Demons, most enemies don't have long-range attacks, so I could just work them over until they entered their pre-attack pose and.....move one step back. They'd follow, so I'd simply pull the old "float like a butterfly/sting like a bee" thing again. If I desired, it'd be child's play to wipe most enemies out this way, as no matter how many times this (admittedly cheap) tactic is used, they'll still slowly stalk me around the battlefield. If I actually suffered dire injuries in battle, retreating to an already cleared area to quickly restore my life with the "camp" option was simplicity itself. While characters could learn magic, I ignored that stuff to continue boosting their physical abilities, since versatility never became a necessity in kicking ass.
Anyway, after I was done exploiting Dream Demons, the final section of the Underground Temple was little more than a scavenger hunt to find enough keys to get where I needed to go to unlock Darkfort. There's not much more to say about this place, as like many of Mazes of Fate's dungeons, it's little more than filler -- although you at least get a good deal of plot exposition here. That gives it some degree of importance, as opposed to the forest and swamp regions, which only exist to ensure going between two parts of the overworld takes a lot longer than one might expect.
And thus, when I finally reached Darkfort, it didn't matter that I was actually experiencing all the cool stuff I expected from a game like this. I was so beat down by the vast amounts of tedium and busy-work that I didn't feel like doing anything more than simply bullying my way through each maze until I'd reached the end. Mazes of Fate might have been created as an homage to the great dungeon crawlers of yesteryear, but the designers forgot that the appeal of those games was centered around their difficulty. From the really thrilling opening quest where I killed some rats in an old woman's cellar until the bitter end, it just felt like I was being led on rails to an inevitable victory. Where's the reward in that?
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 20, 2009)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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