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Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: May 15, 2000
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. While this might hold true in some situations, imitation within a free-market economy tends to have its ulterior motives. Initially, when a product proves to be a financial or critical success, it usually draws curious glances from fans and industry peers alike. Eventually, however, this innocent curiosity tends to develop into capitalist opportunism, as countless imitations are then produced in hopes of profiting from the original’s popularity. This creates a trend, and generally floods the market with suspiciously similar yet weaker titles. The movie industry, for one, is a classic example of this; consider the close release dates of Volcano and Dante’s Peak, Deep Impact and Armageddon, and The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan, and you’ll get the general idea.
As would be expected, the gaming industry fares no differently. Doom and Command and Conquer have both spawned any number of hopelessly inferior imitations, as have Super Mario Bros. and Ultima 7. In recent years, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII have equally been victim to such aping, with titles such Silver and Septerra Core doing their best to bring enough new material to the table to mask their obvious digital influences. It then becomes obvious that while the venerable Final Fantasy series has unquestionably revived the American public’s taste for a good, solid anime-style game, the industry’s attempts at providing such offerings have been notably lacking. In an attempt to break free from this particular mold, Blaze & Blade enters the fray, hoping that it can present enough innovations to distinguish itself from its copycat brethren.
In any given RPG, the story must be sufficiently original and engaging for the player to be motivated to spur his characters through the hordes of foes, traps and near-certain death that will assuredly await them. The two recent Final Fantasy titles have had plot and character development in spades, and as such the standard has been set. Although not particularly original, Blaze & Blade features familiar plot elements, set in a magical land where magic and combat are part of your standard day-to-day lifestyle. As the story is told, the north of the Mabressian continent was once home to a land called Foresia. It was ruled by a council of twelve Wisemen, elected not only for their unique insight but for their boundless magical powers as well. These powers were used for the greater good, until one day the Wisemen decided that it would be beneficial to all if demons were summoned to be used as slaves. In the standard hubris that followed the use of hell-spawns to tend to their chores, the council then began to summon increasingly powerful creatures. Eventually, the summoned overpowered the summoners, and destroyed all human life in the area. After many, many years had passed, the area came to be known as The Forbidden Land, home to monsters and demons. Despite the inhospitable condition of the region, some adventurers still seek to wade through ankle-deep hordes of enemies in hopes of discovering even a few of the twelve Wisemen’s artifacts and treasures. You are one such adventurer, performing quests in different areas of The Forbidden Land in the hopes of acquiring some of the time-forgotten items scattered about the landscape.
Before exploring the untamed wilds of The Forbidden Lands, you must first create your character as well as the party that will fight alongside you and keep you alive throughout your travels. Flipping through a rotating character wheel, you must first select your character’s class and gender from a list of 16 possible combinations. This works out to eight different classes in either male or female form, with no benefits or penalties accorded per gender. There are considerable differences between the classes however, as each possesses their own particular advantages and specials skills. Warriors and Dwarves, as would be expected, excel at close combat and defense, and have the added bonus of being able to use an impenetrable shield to defend themselves from oncoming attacks. Hunters are proficient with the bow and arrow, and use their knowledge of the outdoors to track down animal trails and apply healing herbs to party members. A Rogue’s smaller frame enables him to sprint, while the mastery of his trade allows him to destroy simple door and chest locks. Magical ability usually costs an individual their strength and combat abilities, as is the case with Priests and Sorcerers, although their magic is often necessary to the party’s survival. Elves are the first exception to the rule, as they are average both in magic and combat-related skills, and have the additional ability to break weak barriers. The second exception is the Fairy, which not only wields some magic but is invulnerable to land-based attacks as a result of its constant levitation. Considering that each character possesses abilities and faults that will affect combat, as well as the fact that characters cannot be added or deleted throughout the course of your travels, it is suggested that you choose your party carefully.
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