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Throne of Darkness Review

Stiletto, 2001-11-05


When Diablo was first released, there's no question that it took the gaming world by storm. It brought together the Action and RPG genres, a great story line, and lots of game play. That blend would make any game a sure hit, and who would know better at recreating that experience than former Blizzard employees that worked on Diablo. Well, when Ben Haas and Doron Gartner left Blizzard to form Click Entertainment, that's what they wanted to do, and what they did, was Throne of Darkness. But did they learn from their previous work? Read on to find out what I thinků.

The World of Throne of Darkness
The main selling point of Throne of Darkness is in its original setting. You get to play in a medieval Japan, thriving with mythological beasts and mystical magic. The world is filled with forests, Eastern castles, and NPC's. And what I like about the game is that Click Entertainment really did their research on everything. All names are accurate, the monsters based on Japanese mythology all look as they were depicted in ancient books, and the equipment was actually used in ancient Japan.

The accuracy of Throne of Darkness, while great, is confusing a lot of the times. There are many different types of weapons in the game, and with actual Japanese names, takes a long time to actually understand and remember the usefulness of each one.

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The Beginning
Throne of Darkness begins with an introductory movie, which is around 30 seconds of nearly illegible speech that explains how the Dark Warlord came about. When that finishes you get another movie, this time it's a battle with your seven samurai in an anime-like atmosphere. Unfortunately, all the cool manoeuvres they perform can't be reproduced in the actual game, which is a bit of a letdown. Once you choose the name of your castle (which will be the prefix for your samurais' names), you get thrown in the middle of a siege, with you on the receiving end of it.

You start off in the shrine room of your Daimyo's (lord's) castle, with three of the possible seven samurai you can use. The Daimyo requests that you rid the castle of the invading General, which is easier said than done. Once you leave the room, you face dozens of undead, armed with swords, hammers, bows and magic. As you defeat them, you get experience points, gold, and the four other samurai to add to your group.

But while you're doing all the dirty work, your Daimyo aids you in your journey, with a completely unique feature. If ever one or more of your samurai get badly wounded, run out of ki (mana), or even die, you can teleport them back to the original shrine room, where their health raises automatically. You will use this feature a lot in your travels, as it would be nearly impossible to even get past the introductory levels without it. Health potions are rare, and when you're being attacked full force, it is much easier to teleport your samurai in and out, instead of clicking on each of them and making them heal individually.

Need some assistance?
You meet up and recruit two supporting characters early in the game, the Priest and the Blacksmith, that help make things much easier in your fight for justice. Finding them is a quest in itself, so there's no chance of accidentally passing them by. What's good about them, is that they can both be accessed through the Daimyo screen (mentioned above), eliminating the need to keep going teleporting back, which was a pain in Diablo.

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The first of the two you meet, the Blacksmith, is the master of metal. Each weapon and piece of armour has a Durability rating, and if that falls to zero, you won't be able to use it until it gets repaired, and that's where the Blacksmith comes in. For a small fee (and an amount of time depending on the quality), the Blacksmith will make it good as new. A new ( but not necessarily better) feature introduced in Throne of Darkness, is that you can't sell the excess equipment you pick up, but you can give them to the Blacksmith, which then get turned into a rating. The more you give him in the three categories: melee, ranged and armour; the bigger and better pieces he can make for them, which after a while, could end up being super weapons.

The Priest will probably be the least used of both the supporting characters. He identifies items, allows you to give items to the gods (which gives you spell points to spend in your spell tree), turning cursed items normal, and buy potions. The Priest is a good idea, but his wares cost too much for any beginning party to take advantage of, and by the later levels its unlikely he would be needed too much.

Gaining Experience
There are eight over-all quests in Throne of Darkness, and all accessible through the same screen, which reminds me a lot of Diablo 2's Quest screen. All the quest icons are blank to start off with, but as you receive information throughout the game, they light up and you get a little description on what you need to do. The quests themselves sometimes add one or two simple tasks once you complete them, which help add a little flavour to the game. The descriptiveness of the quests could have used a little work, as most just give you a little story about why you need to do it, but don't tell you how or where to go. There is little help though in the mini-map, which has large lines indicating where you CAN go, but not where you should go.

The experience point system is slightly different from other games. You get experience for hitting the enemy, as well as killing them. The points add up, and you get levels, where you can raise your statistics by a set number of points, as well as one point for each of your spell trees. The statistics in the game are standard Role Playing Game fare, and include Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, Ki, and Charisma. Strength affects how hard you hit; Dexterity affects how well you can handle weapons; Vitality raises your hit points; Ki raises your mana; and finally, Charisma gets you discounts when you spend money.

A Little Bit of Magic
The magic system in Throne of Darkness has to be the weakest point of the game, since it is practically non-existent. Even though there are four sets of spells, Earth, Fire, Water and Lightning that each character can use, there's really no difference between them, other than the casting animation. There are a couple other down-falls with the system, including how the AI handles magic.

Unless you're controlling a samurai and personally casting a spell, you will rarely ever see your samurai do it. And when they do, it doesn't quite make sense; I've seen my Berserker cast much more than my Wizard, which is quite confusing. In a way, that doesn't particularly matter though, most spells barely dent monsters, and as you get higher level spells, the enemy get much stronger as well, so it evens out again.

Anyone that has played Diablo 2 will instantly recognize and be comfortable with its spell-tree. Each element has 4 tiers of spells, and as you gain levels and more spells open up to you, the ones directly below, which are more powerful versions of their former ones, can be picked.

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About Gold and Waypoints
Gold in the game plays a fairly large role, but is hard to come by. The only form of income in the game is directly from monsters, which drop a random amount once dispatched. The gold though, has to be used to repair weapons and armour, identify rare items, adding gems and other items into your equipment and buying potions just to name a few. I wouldn't mind doing all this for each of the samurai, but unfortunately the gold isn't pooled automatically, so if the character you have needs a repair but has no money, you need to go through a process which shouldn't really have to be there.

The waypoint system was made with the same basics as found in D2, but even this has its short comings. You originally get waypoints added to your list when you step on them, but they don't come in any particular order, so if you ever need to go to a certain place, unless you have a great memory you won't get it on the first try. Not only that, but you won't even use the waypoints all that much, apart from in a multiplayer game, and when finished in an out of the way place.

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Graphics and Music
While I believe the graphics in a pure RPG doesn't have to be of the greatest quality, an action/RPG hybrid that has such close ties to the Diablo games needs to at least come close to them in looks. Unfortunately, Throne of Darkness falls short of the mark. Even though the characters you play are bland, with hardly any detail, they are still the best parts of the game. The monsters are quite pixelated, and some you can barely tell if they are skeletons or not. The terrain itself is dark and repetitive, and there hasn't been anything that I've really bothered to look at for a period of time.

The sounds and music in the game aren't great, but they aren't horrible either. When engaged in fights, you'll hear a lot of grunts and screams from both sides, and the swinging and connecting of weapons to the enemy. That has to be the only time you will hear a sound, when running around there is no sound. The music is very low, but moody, setting the atmosphere quite well, but unfortunately there isn't much of a variety in the game.

The Verdict

Graphics: 6.5 (30%)
The graphics in the game could have been much better, and with computers out there getting more and more high-tech, its not like people couldn't handle anything better. A bit more touching up on the characters and the NPC's would have gone a long way.

Sound: 6.0 (20%)
As I said, the sound could be better. It's not inspiring; I never really got into the medieval Japan kind of mood with the music. The sound is adequate, screaming samurai sound like they should (I think), and everything else sounds fine too. There aren't really many environmental sounds, which could have been used to beef up the atmosphere.

Control: 8.5 (25%)
Anyone that has played the Diablo games before will get into the game quite quickly, and since I'm sure most people have, there shouldn't be much of a problem. The newer features are very easy to use, requiring a couple of clicks (or pressing of the hot-keys) to get to them, and 30 minutes should be plenty of time to learn and be comfortable with everything you need to know.

Fun: 7.5 (25%)
For me, the game is fun. I kept going back to it, just to see what was around the next corner, to raise the stats of my samurai, and just to play a Diablo-like game without actually playing Diablo.

Over-all: 7.1

Throne of Darkness is a game hidden behind minor design flaws and slight graphical inferiority. The game itself is very playable and extremely stable (a rarity in games nowadays), but little annoyances get in the way. The music and graphics won't impress you, but the gameplay should, even with the problems. You will come back to play the game, it might take a few minutes, or it might take days. So if you don't mind a game with many similarities, but not quite as good, to Diablo 2, this could very well be your game.





Average Reader Ratings: 6.64 (14 votes)
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