Shadow Madness (PlayStation) review
"Throughout the early history of console role-playing games, one common failing was that a game's plot and story just weren't up to par with the actual gameplay. You'd be playing a game with a great battle system, good challenge, cool enemies and challenging gameplay — but the storyline would fall under a generic ''save the princess/slay the bad guy who's taking over the world for reasons unknown'' theme and the most in-depth dialogue would be ''Talk to the King.'' "
Throughout the early history of console role-playing games, one common failing was that a game's plot and story just weren't up to par with the actual gameplay. You'd be playing a game with a great battle system, good challenge, cool enemies and challenging gameplay -- but the storyline would fall under a generic ''save the princess/slay the bad guy who's taking over the world for reasons unknown'' theme and the most in-depth dialogue would be ''Talk to the King.''
Shadow Madness, an RPG released by Crave for the Playstation, is the exact opposite of that, though. A decent story (with many subplots) involving evil beings from an underground country teaming up with a rogue wizard and a diabolical demon to take over the overworld using a diabolical plague to drive everyone insane. Amazing dialogue which stretches from hilarious to poignant. Characters that (through the game's use of the dialogue) actually seem like they are more than one-dimensional works of fiction.
So, does the game sound like an instant classic so far? Well, sad to say, it falls far short of even being considered quality. Why? Because the dialogue and story-telling were the ONLY things that the designers got right with this one.
Some of the flaws are forgivable -- such as the muddy and simple graphics. RPGs weren't known for their graphical excellence until recent years, so I find it hard to condemn a game in that genre for looking a bit primitive as long as it delivers in other fields of play.
Unfortunately, Shadow Madness doesn't. Here is what is wrong with it in a nutshell.
1. Challenge. Early in the game, as your main character is exploring a mountain and navigating a cave on said mountain to fight the first boss, you might be fooled into thinking that this is one tough game. To have a good shot at winning that first boss battle, it is necessary to spend a wee bit of time leveling up on the mountain --- and it still can pose a threat. Sadly, that part of the game just might be the last thing you find challenging. As the game goes on it just gets easier and easier, turning the final battles with the main villains of the game into anticlimactic yawn-inducing dominations of overmatched foes.
2. Game balance. So, why does the game get so easy? The answer to that lies in how quickly your characters can reach their maximum level. Whenever the game decides it's time for a random encounter, it gives you a warning beforehand (in the form of an audible growl). At this time you have the option of fighting the battle or hitting a button to ''duck'' and avoid conflict. When I played the game, I didn't go out of my way to gain levels (i.e. staying in one area to harvest enemies for hours), but I didn't make a habit of avoiding conflict, either. The end result was that roughly half of my characters were maxed out at the end of the first of the game's two discs. Under no circumstance should a player be able to max out a character that early in an RPG without going through extraordinary inconvenience to do so. But in Shadow Madness, it was simplicity itself and led to me being able to essentially bully through every single encounter in the game after a certain point.
And let's face it -- that just isn't fun. No matter how well each character is personified. No matter how entertaining the story is. No matter how many extras the game tries to throw in (the Doom-style mini-games, the alternate ending obtained by using a secret item, etc.). No matter what positives the game has, it all just gets buried under the simple truth that this game's balance and challenge problems are too detrimental to the overall product to make it enjoyable.
I can't say that I would never recommend this game to anyone, as the story and dialogue alone are worth experiencing. But I can warn you that if you do play it, you had better have a high tolerance for boring game play -- because after a certain point, that's all you will find.
Community review by overdrive (January 25, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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