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ShadowFlare Review

Knight37, 2002-12-23

Shadowflare is a popular Japanese action/RPG game originally released in October 2001. The game is similar to the extremely popular action/RPG Diablo II. The first two episodes of four of the English version of the game is available for download worldwide at an attractive price of $15 at the Shadowflare web site. Other episodes will be released each month for a total of four episodes. There is also a demo available that allows you to experience the first 25% of episode one for free.

This is quite an unusual way to market a game, but the nice part about it is that it doesn't require a lot of investment for the publisher into the retail chain system. This means that they are able to offer a quality product at a low price. Since the demo is fully functional but merely shortened, interested gamers can learn exactly what they are getting into without paying anything up front. And once you find that the game is to your liking, you can quickly download it and you'll be ready to go immediately.

Your Friend is Quite A Mercenary...

Display full imageIn Shadowflare players start off as either an anime style male or female mercenary with little skill or gear. You begin by defeating lowly goblins that have laid siege to a remote town. As you speak to the various residents of the remote town, you will be given missions, or quests. These missions will typically involve going to a goblin infested area near the remote town and wiping out whatever is there. You may be required to kill a boss monster or retrieve some kind of lost item from one of the NPCs. Since this is an action/RPG with emphasis on the action, the majority of the game is about bashing in the heads of monsters. There are also a few minor puzzles that you may have to figure out but they aren't difficult.

In the remote town there are several people who can help your character out. There is a commander who can give you missions and also start you off with some basic equipment. Then there is a healing witch who can both cure you and replentish your mana. Finally, there's the trader who will have items for sale and also be able to identify magical items for you that you find. In other towns there will be additional NPC characters who can give you quests and also reveal some of the story behind Shadowflare. The story as to how the world became infested with monsters and how the humans fell from a much more technologically advanced society is told by interacting with the NPCs you encounter.

Combat Tactics, Mister Ryan

Display full imageThe gameplay of Shadowflare is pure action. You use the mouse to click on targets for attack or to pick up items that fall to the ground. You use the keyboard to change your attack modes or spells or to perform other special moves. By default you merely walk around, but you can turn on autorun and there doesn't seem to be any disadvantage to leaving it on all of the time. Running is very nice, because you can avoid missile attacks by dodging, or run away, or perform other tactical maneuvers.

One such tactical maneuver that comes in very handy is running around until you have a large group of enemies on your tail. Then you can drop a mine and hit all of them for damage at once. Yes, there are mines and dropping mines is a key tactic in the game. You can even get magic items that will increase the potency of your mines. You can find mines by when they drop from certain monsters or also buy them from the merchants in the towns. It's always good to go into a difficult situation with a full backpack of mines. This aspect of Shadowflare is fun and is one of the things that sets it apart from other action/RPG titles.

My Dog Spot

Display full imageAnother new feature of gameplay that is unique to Shadowflare is the pets. You start the game with a dog companion and you can also find other dogs throughout the game who will accompany you and aid you in many ways. Your dog will fight for you for one thing. You can have them fetch items that fall to the ground for you. They can jump over places that you are unable to reach and press switches or pull levers for you. If you make your companion inactive then they will heal automatically. If they manage to be killed, then you are without them for a little while and then they will reappear next to you.

Using a combination of the dogs and maneuvering can give you a lot of tactical options during the intense combat. For example, you can use your dog to "tank" for you while you fire with ranged weapons or spells. You can also sacrifice your dog so that you can get away from a deadly encounter. The dog can also be used as a focal point for you to set up traps with the mines.

Your dog can also gain in level as you do. He gets experience points only when he is active and helping you fight. You can train up multiple dogs too so that you will have more options on which one to use for what situation. Each dog is attuned to a specific element and so using a fire dog against ice creatures is better than using say a water dog. The animal companions of Shadowflare is one of the best features of the game and helps set it apart from other games.

Victims of Fashion

Display full imageIn Shadowflare you do not have very many ways to customize your character. You gain power and abilities automatically based on a set path for your chosen class. You are able to change classes only by practicing the arts of that class. For example, if you wish to be a wizard, you need to use magic as much as possible and then you will be able to select wizard as your class and your level advancements will be geared toward the wizard path. If you wish to be a hunter, you need to use ranged weapons as much as possible and then you will be allowed to choose that path as you level up.

One thing you do have a lot of choice about is what type of gear to wear. You will find a lot of magical items in Shadowflare. Different ones will offer different kinds of benefits and the next one you find may not be obviously better than what you are wearing. So if you want to sacrifice regular defense for magical defense, you put on gear that gives a higher magical defense. If you're going for more offense, you put on gear that grants bonuses to offense. You are able to wear armor, a shield, a helmet, and boots, and each of those slots is an opportunity to customize your abilities.

You can also have a choice of a variety of weapon types and weapon special abilities. Weapons can vary by how much damage they do, how fast they hit, how accurately they hit, and other special effects. Finally, there is also crests and magic stones and other accessories that you can wear which will grant certain bonuses. One type of bonus it to give you a certain affinity for one of the elements. So if you are going up against ice goblins, you could equip some accessories that will give you a bonus to fire attacks and use fire based attacks to kill them faster. The element affinity is a sort of puzzle so that you can figure out the right kind of gear to use for killing what types of critters.

There are lots of different types of "modifiers" you will find on magic items which will grant bonuses to different abilities, so the real customization of the game is in your gear rather than your skills. Since items are a big part of the game, you are given a rather large stash at town where you can store your spare loot or alternate gear for use in special situations. There is even a handy feature where you can drop items into your stash directly from your inventory screen so that you do not have to manually travel to the stash. Getting something back out, though, requires a trip to town, naturally.

Immitation Is the Best Flattery

Display full imageThis brings up the topic of the game's interface. In a nutshell, the game has an excellent interface. The screen is layed out well, there are multiple ways of performing most tasks. The hotkeys are well laid out and for the most part intuitive. There is a handy help screen for when you're learning the game. The game borrows the best parts of Diablo II's interface, such as the health and mana meters, and the "potion" quick-belt (only they are pills in Shadowflare). If you've played Diablo II you may have to make some minor adjustments but overall you will feel right at home. They even have made it easier to click on things by giving you a customizable "cursor box" instead of just a small cursor.

Shadowflare also offers a multiplayer mode which is nice and lets you work in teams with other players. There is a lobby client that you can download which will help you find online games with other players. Unfortunately this isn't built right into the game but it's pretty easy to figure out how to use, if you know to go and download it. You can only play games with people who have the same "episode level" as you do. So if your installation includes Episode 2, then you can only join in games with other people that have episode 2 also and the people who just have episode 1 can't join in. Fortunately the lobby program lets you know which games are for what version of the game.

The multiplayer mode works very similar to the single player but allows for much more tactical options using teamwork with the other players. There is also an external utility to let you view and organize your character's equipment. This is very handy if you are interested in the aspects of trading with other players using the multiplayer game. You can switch between the single player and the multiplayer sessions with the same characters. This lets you advance on your own when you want to or go in with groups.

Nothing is Perfect

Display full imageSome of the flaws of Shadowflare have to do with game balance issues, but there doesn't seem to be anything glaringly wrong. Overall the gameplay is well balanced and fairly addictive. The game is pretty difficult at the beginning which could put off newcommers to the action/RPG genre, but if you're a seasoned Diablo-aholic, you shouldn't be overwhelmed after a short while of learning the controls.

The way the save system works is identical to the way it works in Diablo II. Monsters respawn every time you restart the game. Some players may see this as a flaw, however, it is critical to the way the game balance works. You need the flexibility of being able to go back and repeat sections to gain more experience or get better gear in case you find that your progress in the game forward is becoming too difficult for your current abilities. The game does have a very similar system of waypoints and also a town portal spell which every character can cast so getting to and from the front lines isn't hard, and as long as you play your game sessions from waypoint to waypoint, you don't have to repeat much of the earlier game unless you want to.

One issue is that your animal companion starts off the game as a very powerful ally but eventually becomes so weak relative to the monsters you're fighting that you can't really use him very effectively. There are some magic items you can find that you can wear which will help your animal companion's abilities so if you like the pets you should find those. A hunter seems to be the class that is more geared for using the animals but they also are essential for the weaker magic using classes as a buffer so you yourself don't get into melee much.

Another potential problem with the game is that the mines are relatively useless as you gain in power unless you can find the rare items which will increase their potency. They are devastatingly useful at the beginning of the game but they grow less and less potent as you encounter more powerful enemies. It would have been nice if there were some rarer mines that you could find or buy that would keep this aspect of the game a central gameplay mechanic.

Retro RPG

Display full imageThe graphics for Shadowflare are quite dated, but they do have a certain anime charm about them. If you are the kind of gamer that can appreciate good gameplay over eye candy then you shouldn't have any problems with it. The resolution is a fixed 640x480. The graphics are 2D sprites and tiled backgrounds instead of a 3D engine that most modern games use. A lot of the graphics get reused over and over, so that you will encounter a bunch of types of goblins before you start to see any new creature graphics. It might have been better if they had done a bit more artwork and have more variety in the graphics, but since this game is a downloadable game, space for artwork was an important consideration. Having said that, the artwork that is there is competently done and the game is by no means ugly. It is just sort of a retro feel to it. One very nice feature about the game is that you can run it in a desktop window, which means it's a great game for playing off and on while doing other things.

The sound effects, on the other hand, are not only retro, they are also pretty annoying and repetitive. The music isn't too bad even though it's like an old NES tune or a midi file, but it never changes so you eventually get very tired of it. By the same token, the sound effects themselves aren't aweful, but they are too repetitive and a few of them are highly annoying, such as your dog's incessant howling and the annoying blinky-blink sound that the teleporter pad makes over and over while you're in town doing your shopping and such. Since high quality sound and music is usually very large in size, they probably had to cut some corners here to keep the download size down to something reasonable. The end effect is that after a time you may decide you like playing the game better with the sound turned off and the mp3 player turned on.

Not Bad For the Price

Display full imageIn conclusion, Shadowflare isn't quite up to commercial retail standards in terms of production values, but in terms of gameplay, it comes in well above the curve. There is a whole lot of replay value to the game and the game itself offers a lot of hours of play. This game is not going to appeal to a story oriented RPGer, though, it's strictly an action/RPG much in the same vein as the Diablo series. It's almost a mix of an arcade game with a few RPG elements such as the item collecting and leveling up. For fans of that sub-genre of RPG, though, it should please very well.

Considering that you can get the demo for free and try it for yourself, there's really no reason not to give it a try if you think you might like action oriented RPG games. The nice part about this type of RPG is that it's very easy to start up and get something done in it without having to try and remember much. Plus it's great fun when you can play it online with others. While it's not going to wow you with fancy effects, it will keep you glued to your desk chair with its addictive gameplay.

The Verdict
Graphics (15%) 60%
Sound (15%) 40%
Control (25%) 92%
Fun (45%) 88%
Overall 78%

The ups and downs:
Dogs add a tactical elementDated graphics
Use of mines is uniqueRepetitive sound effects
Good cursor-box aiming systemMusic has a retro feel
High replay valueGameplay highly repetitive
Windowed play possibleQuests & story underrated
Well designed interfaceChar development limited

Reviewer's System
Version: 2.002
CPU: AMD Athlon 850MHz
RAM: 512MB
Graphics GeForce2-MX (64MB)
Sound SB Live 5.1
OS: Windows XP Pro w/ SP1, DX 8.1

Average Reader Ratings: 8.57 (7 votes)
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