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DS

North America

The Dark Spire

by Lukasz Balicki - June 12, 2009, 8:06 pm PDT
Total comments: 5

7.5

A deep and challenging retro RPG that's very unforgiving.

First-person RPGs were one of the earliest genres to grace the PC in the '80s, defining for some what a role-playing game is. Early first person RPGs are notorious for their difficulty, and they force players to experiment and discover nuances of how their gameplay mechanics function. The Dark Spire allows players to experience this kind of RPG first-hand, since the game replicates the feel down to the very last detail.

The Dark Spire is quite unlike the modern RPG experience which is typically known to feature engrossing, epic stories and memorable characters. The Dark Spire's story can be summarized in one sentence: Four adventurers venture into a tower to complete quests, solve the mystery of the tower, and defeat Tyrhung, the evil villain who has stolen all the town's treasure.

When you start the game, you are given a default pre-made party that consists of a warrior, thief, mage, and priest. You can opt to either use the pre-made characters or create new ones. A new character's stats are determined randomly; if you are unhappy with the result, you can have the game randomly generate a new set as many times as you want. Once you are happy with the results, you can select one of four basic character classes. The only stipulation is that the character must meet the minimum stats and alignment requirements for that class. You can choose your character's race as well during the final step of the process.

Once your character and party are set, the game begins with a very brief and vague tutorial. The tutorial teaches the basic concepts of the game: navigating the tower, battling enemies, equipping armor and weapons, disarming treasure chest traps, and unlocking doors. Following the tutorial you can start to explore the tower, a sprawling labyrinth that spans multiple floors and is where the majority of the game takes place.

While basic survival is explained well by the game, the rest of the mechanics aren't explained at all. Thus, players must experiment, largely through trial and error, to understand the mechanics necessary to complete the game.

The best aspect of the game is the gameplay. While the game is challenging, this challenge makes it feels very rewarding to complete a major quest or defeat a boss. It's also rewarding to find and explore the numerous hidden passages in the tower. Fans of old school RPGs will definitely feel at home while playing this title, and some younger gamers will definitely appreciate the roots of the RPG genre.

As one might expect, the most unique aspect of the game is the presentation. Though it isn't immediately obvious, the game features two completely separate modes of presentation. Players can chose to play with modern cel-shaded graphics, or they can play with classic graphics, where everything is a wire frame and all the enemies and characters are represented by crude 8-bit sprites. Accompanying the classic presentation is a chiptune version of the modern mode's soundtrack. While I was playing the game, I occasionally switched the presentation styles just to hear how different the modern and classic renditions of each song are. They both sounded about the same to me, with the exception that the modern versions sounded cleaner and had more detail when compared to the chiptune counterpart. This dual presentation is an impressive aspect of the title that sets it apart from other similar experiences.

Unfortunately, the game has a few major issues, the biggest of which is the aforementioned difficulty. The game is extremely hard and never gets easier at any point. In fact, the latter part of the game is the hardest, dissimilar to most modern RPG experiences. When I was in the upper levels of the tower, I ended up saving every five steps or so in order to prevent from losing a lot of progress. If you have no idea what you are doing in the game, you will die often.

The game's second major issue is the interface. Because the game is heavily menu-driven, it's disappointing to see such a confusing menu structure. At times it takes a while to find the specific option that you are looking for. Players will also find themselves inadvertently using items on the wrong character, since they have to cycle through the characters with the shoulder buttons.

Finally, character leveling proves to be quite annoying for a number of reasons. To level up a character, players have to earn EP (experience points), which are gained from defeating enemies and completing quests, and then return to the guild in town to spend it. Players can choose to upgrade class levels, stats, or acquire new passive skills. This is frustrating because of the sheer amount of grinding required in order to obtain enough EP to upgrade such traits of your characters. Whenever you increase a character's main class level, this will increase the character's HP anywhere from 1 to 10 HP randomly. This is frustrating, because if you are looking for optimal stats you will have to save and reload a number of times before a level-up to attain a desirable HP boost.

The Dark Spire is a great game. Unfortunately, it will only appeal to a very specific audience due the game's difficulty and archaic style. Fans of old first person RPGs that want to relive that experience should definitely purchase this. For the gamers that are curious as to how first person RPGs were back in the '80s, a rental is recommended. For all other players, avoid this title.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
8 9 6 8 6 7.5
Graphics
8

There are two different graphic styles that can be changed anytime in the options menu. The modern-style graphics are cel-shaded with a dark color pallet. The classic graphics present the dungeon in a retro wire frame style with crude 8-bit sprites for enemies and characters.

Sound
9

The soundtrack portrays the dark and mysterious mood of the game perfectly. There are authentic-sounding 8-bit chiptune renditions of each song in classic mode, which shows the attention to detail the developers put into creating the soundtrack. Atlus was also generous enough to include a soundtrack CD in each copy of the game.

Control
6

While the controls in general are simple and perfectly functional, the menu interface is very clunky. The menus can be very confusing and vague, especially if you are looking for a specific item or action. There are no touch screen controls, but the game doesn't need it.

Gameplay
8

Success nailed the old school gameplay perfectly; the game plays like a first person RPG from the '80s. The gameplay mechanics are incredibly deep, and it's enjoyable to learn all the different mechanics of the game and master them.

Lastability
6

The game is somewhat short, but that is ultimately lengthened by a lot of grinding. The game also encourages experimenting: there are many possibilities with how you can build your party, and there are multiple endings.

Final
7.5

The Dark Spire is a great retro RPG but is definitely not for everyone. The soul-crushing difficulty is very off-putting, especially to players who are used to modern RPGs. Fans old first person RPGs who enjoy a challenging game with deep gameplay mechanics should definitely look into this title.

Summary

Pros
  • Choice between modern and retro graphics and music
  • Fantastic soundtrack
  • Nails the deep, old school gameplay mechanics perfectly
Cons
  • A lot of grinding is required
  • Poor interface
  • Sadistically hard
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

BeautifulShyJune 12, 2009

I was thinking about getting this but I do not like FPRPG's. To disorenting for me.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusJune 13, 2009

My biggest problem with this game is that in lieu of proper game design, the game lets you save anywhere.  An individual fight can be incredibly dangerous at times, but if you save often in dangerous areas it's not that big a deal. If you try to play the game only saving in town, you'll never beat it without excessive grinding.

Every handheld game should have the ability to save anywhere at any time.

StratosJune 13, 2009

Very nice review. You informed me well about everything in this game it seems.
I only have one complaint, I thought this was a Wii game until I got to this part

Quote:

Control:  6.0

While the controls in general are simple and perfectly functional, the menu interface is very clunky. The menus can be very confusing and vague, especially if you are looking for a specific item or action. There are no touch screen controls, but the game doesn't need it.

Maybe listing this somewhere else in the actual review in the future? I typically only go through the forum to read reviews and so I don't get to see the nice little icons that tell me it is DS or Wii.

Keep up the good work :)

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusJune 14, 2009

Quote from: insanolord

Every handheld game should have the ability to save anywhere at any time.

True, but this isn't a suspend feature.  It's the kind of save that you can abuse the hell out of to make the game relatively easy (though tedious).

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The Dark Spire Box Art

Genre RPG
Developer
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: The Dark Spire
Release Apr 14, 2009
PublisherAtlus
RatingEveryone 10+

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