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Review by: Richard Leader
Published: November 7, 2002
There are two words, when used in conjunction, that can reveal bad or lazy game critics for what they are: fast and furious. Seldom can one make it through an entire review without reading those two adjectives extolling the virtues of a release. Indeed, when was the last time a quality title was referred to as slow and pedantic? This lesson hasn’t gone unnoticed by Denyusha, the Japanese developer behind ShadowFlare. They’ve sought to remove what little thinking there is from the popular click-fest CRPG genre in the hopes that their offering will be seen as – you guessed it – fast and furious.
Emurasoft, the publisher responsible for bringing the translated version of ShadowFlare to English audiences, has decided to market the game in a fairly unique manner – by avoiding retail channels. There’s no box, no paper manual and no installation disc to be found. Instead, it’s being sold as four distinct episodes, each of which must be bought separately at the price of $15. This review covers the first episode. The second is to be released in December while the remaining two are slated for January and February of 2003. Episode One weighs in at nearly 100MB and must be downloaded from their website after payment. Broadband users can expect quality transfer rates of around 270 kilobytes per second, though modem users can expect an epic wait to receive the game.
The admittedly thin plot is fairly similar to the standard Japanese take on the steam punk genre, where swords and sorcery rule the day amidst ancient ruins of fantastical machinery. Locations such as the generically named “Remote Town” and the strangely Zen-sounding “Forest Divided Like a Cross” have long been assailed by goblins and golems, though a new threat has recently arisen – that of the gargoyles, who can “fly faster than the eye can follow and is a killer of human beings.” It’s up to the player to defeat this menace.
Gameplay is classic Diablo, except for a few variations that must be mentioned. All characters, both male and female, begin the story as common mercenaries and only transition into true character classes at about level five, depending on how they defeated the bulk of their opponents. This also translates into different attribute bonuses upon gaining levels, as players aren’t given a chance to directly assign points or skills of any sort. Those taking it to the enemy with swords – the only available melee weapon – will transform into Warriors who gain the “triple attack” ability. This allows them to attack three times sequentially, although using the ability locks them into a forward movement pattern. Those who prefer to use the crossbows will become Hunters, and those using magic will develop into Wizards or Witches. Spells are gained automatically as characters increase in level, depending upon their particular class, and each enchantment increases in power as it’s used.
Adventurers are also given a companion to aid them in their travels. In Episode One, all are of a canine variety. There are many to choose from, each having its own experience level and elemental attribute. ShadowFlare uses an elemental system not unlike that of Final Fantasy VIII or “Pokemon.” These elements range from the mundane, such as fire and water, to the exotic, such as metal and gel, which I can only assume is a translation of a Japanese word that means “goopy acid junk.” These elements are oppositional, meaning a fire-imbued companion will do more damage against water or cold-based enemies, but will also receive more damage in return. Because of the complexity of the system and the very minor reward gained from taking advantage of it, most players are likely to stick with one dog throughout the adventure.
Companions have two different modes. When passive, they’re able to regain health and are invulnerable to foes. Setting them to active, which is done with a simple press of the spacebar, will cause them to pursue and attack anything within close proximity, though they’re likely to get hurt in the process. Players can feed them meat or set them to passive to regenerate them, though special equipment worn by Hunter class characters can add to their strength. Each companion has two further abilities activated by the Tab key. A left click used in conjunction with it will cause the dog to pounce, humorously leaping into the air and crashing downward, possibly knocking a cluster of enemies in different directions. Right-clicking will force them into a dash, pushing back monsters in a straight line.
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