When is something too much? When it reaches the level Dark Spire does. If you thought Etrian Odyssey was tough, you should probably look away. Dark Spire does everything it possibly can to present you with a terrible, difficult look at a first person dungeon crawler. And sadly, it does all this while attempting to hide behind the idea that it’s “retro.”
Available For: Nintendo DS
Release Date: 2009
Rating: Everyone 10+
Archetype(s): Dungeon Crawler, Hardcore, RPG
You knew this was coming. This is my first negative review. Since it will be negative, let me first start with what’s positive in this title. It is cool that they tried to do something retro. It really isn’t, but let’s look beyond that for a second. The graphics and music are nice, both in classic and modern mode. The concept…would be…unfuckaupable…and even though it is, at least initially, it can be fun.
The game is clearly skewed to people that desire a punishing difficulty, well over even that of the Etrian Odyssey titles, so if that’s what you’re looking for, there you go. There are also many backend technical details I like such as the ability to completely customize how your character improves and not having a traditional level up system at all.
That said, that’s literally all I can say that’s positive about this title. Man, where to even begin with the negative. Alright, let’s start with things you notice right away. First off, the interface, in its entirety, is wholly and grossly cumbersome. Sure, at first it just appears that it’s you and the dungeon, then you enter a battle. Let’s see he-HOLY SHIT…how many fucking commands does this one guy have?!
Oh, and when you go to attack, you can specify HOW you want to attack (precision, swift, rage, etc.). Same thing with defense and so on. It’s just ridiculous and unnecessary. But it gets better. Both heroes and enemies miss constantly and when they do hit, it’s almost purely random how much damage they’ll do. Sometimes you’ll go for a precision strike and miss entirely, only do 1 HP damage, or LAND A FUCKING CRITICAL HIT.
If only heroes could do this, I wouldn’t care…but enemies do it all the fucking time. As a result, it’s impossible to gauge exactly how fucked you or they are when you enter a battle. Enemies you think you’d just walk over and get on with it will often kill you without a thought and only because of pure dumb luck. It also takes for-fucking-ever to rack up enough gold or EP to buy anything halfway useful and you’ll often just be reviving your people at the tower of light over and over again, which is fairly costly even from the very beginning.
That’s the other thing. EP is used to buy EVERYTHING interesting, useful, or retarded for your characters. So if you want to improve your class level, EP. Want to learn how to disarm traps better? EP. Want to learn how to dance, do art, or shove five fingers up your ass? EP. Yes, even seemingly useless abilities that the more OCD of us will end up getting because we know, we just fucking know, that somewhere, at some point they will be useful…require EP.
And lots of it. The equipment’s pretty fucked up in the game, too. Often you add armor and it actually reduces your AC. WHAT?! And I double checked the instructions…it doesn’t say AC doesn’t stand for armor class. I’m assuming AC stands for agility or something, but calling it AC is ass backwards. And again, because of bullshit randomness, adding armor or weapons will not necessarily help. At all.
You often have to pick locks and disarm traps, but there’s no inventiveness, creativity, or minigames tied to this. I guess that could be a positive for some people, but I like it when a developer cares enough to at least TRY to emulate picking locks or whatever. Now, there are really only two more things I want to talk about, then I’mma wrap this up: the map and traversing the tower.
In Etrian Odyssey, I stated how some people might get annoyed with the idea of having to draw out the map themselves adding little notations, markers, and whatever to it. In Dark Spire, it…sort of…completely maps it all out for you. With the exception of hidden stuff. That you need to remember. And can’t draw on the map. Oh yeah, and NO PLAYER CURSOR.
Yes, that’s right. You can’t see where you are on the fucking map. Of course, you could use a spell to see your current position, but that requires SP, which is heavily limited in the game and better used for healing or attack spells or whatever. But all this said, these aren’t the reasons I stopped playing the game. In actuality, until I fired it up again recently, I couldn’t remember why I stopped playing, aside from the game just being hard.
Then I was promptly reminded. Gloss over this FAQ real quick at GameFAQs. I never got to the third floor. It wasn’t because the game was hard. It wasn’t because I hated the game. It wasn’t because I didn’t understand how to play it. It was because THERE’S NO WAY I COULD HAVE FIGURED OUT HOW TO GET TO THE THIRD FLOOR WITHOUT AN FAQ.
And if I had, I’d be a goddamn genius. Listen, there are hard games, then there are games that developers make in an attempt to “harken back to the old days” when games were tough…that are actually much harder and more unfair than those titles they based them on. Imagine Ninja Gaiden for the NES, but you can only take one hit and no checkpoints. You get the idea.
As I’m not recommending this title, you can go search for it your goddamn self!