Mazes of Fate is an ambitious RPG with too many unresolved problems.
I began Mazes of Fate by doing something I rarely do anymore. I opened up the instructions and read the introductory story and the character bios. I had just finished reading a fantasy novel and was in a reading mood. I was surprised by the depth and complexity of the world and characters described within. So, when I fired up the game, I was expecting, at the least, a good story and good writing. Instead I was treated to another version of the introductory story, this time with about 10% of the words and some added pictures. Some of the details contradicted what I had read in the manual. The character bios suffered a similar fate. They were very detailed and interesting in the manual, but short and shallow in the game. Ultimately, the character bios make no difference anyway. The character you choose (you can also create your own character) won't change the story one bit. Without something better to compare it to, the story in the game isn't bad, but if it had the depth of what was in the instruction booklet it would have been something really special (particularly for a game).
After choosing a character, you'll find yourself in a tavern talking to the barkeep. All character interaction is presented from a fixed first-person view. You'll see a large hand drawn view of the character you're talking to and perhaps the rest of the room. Character interaction is of the branching dialogue kind. You're presented with dialogue options so that you can choose what question to ask next, or the tenor of your response. Unfortunately, the options can be sparse at times.
Upon leaving the tavern, you'll find yourself in a small town. The view is from overhead and your character is very small. There's nothing to do but go into a building or leave the town; all of the meaningful gameplay takes place either in conversation or one of the many mazes. Soon enough you'll find yourself in the game's first maze, a small affair with tutorial messages. The mazes are navigated from a first person perspective, and enemies in the mazes move in real-time. You can approach to fight or wait in place. Running away is a simple matter of turning and moving. The game never enters any kind of “battle screen". Once you clear the first maze and make your way outside of town, you can explore the overworld. This part plays out just like a town except that you enter towns and dungeons rather than houses and shops. The game is quite long, so you'll find quite a few towns and dungeons as you play through.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is spotty. The concepts are good, but the execution is lacking. For example, the combat just isn't very challenging most of the time because character development is poorly balanced. As you gain experience from quests and fighting, you can assigns stat and skill points. Since combat is real-time, it usually favors quick, powerful attacks (as opposed to magic). At the same time, the mazes can become arbitrarily frustrating as you progress through the game. They're full of visible and hidden switches, invisible walls, and other things that just get old really quickly. I couldn't help but wish I was playing the old Genesis game "Shining in the Darkness", which has more carefully focused level design.
On a good note, the game is very strong artistically. The character art is big and detailed. Even the 3D maze engine works fluidly, although individual mazes could use more graphic variety. Unfortunately, the animation is just the opposite. Watching enemies lumber through the maze is like watching a cheap 80's cartoon. When trading blows with enemies, there's little in the way of animation, but the process still manages to flow poorly. In towns, your character's avatar runs around with choppy, inhuman speed. The speed is helpful, although weird, but the choppiness just adds to the overall sloppy presentation.
The sound isn't great, but it works. On the other hand, the music is well above average. It fits the atmosphere and has a lot of variety and depth at times. The one exception is the shop tune, which is a little annoying and makes me think more of a tavern.
Despite some good aspects, I can't recommend Mazes of Fate unless you're willing to tolerate a half-decent game for 20 hours. However, if you have low standards, or think the gameplay formula sounds great, it could keep you entertained for a while.