The Dark Spire review

  • Amazing soundtrack and accompanying CD
  • Two modes of play
  • The retro charm (if that's your kinda thing)
  • Insane difficulty
  • Clunky interface
  • No stylus support

The Dark Spire centers on the classic first-person, dungeon-crawling style of play made popular by such games as Wizardry or The Bard's Tale, with rules similar to Dungeons & Dragons. It's definitely a refreshing twist on modern role-playing games (like Oblivion), but its blindly faithful reproduction of the classics turn what could have been a nostalgic romp into a rather irritating game.

Your quest begins in typical old-school fashion, providing you with the option of using preset characters or rolling your own. We loved customizing our characters but were disappointed to discover that it's a tedious process. The most interesting part about creating your own characters is spending a little time to roll excellent stats. The Dark Spire makes this difficult; what could have been a lot of fun gets bogged down by a clunky interface (which unfortunately is a recurring theme throughout the game).

Furthermore, freshly created characters begin at level 1 and the four preset characters begin at level 2. This means that the boring ol' preset characters see a significant advantage, especially when 1st level mages have only a few hit points, easily dying from a single attack. It's a baffling design choice when creating characters in other games is so much fun and usually has advantages over the presets.

Next up, you're tossed into a dungeon for training. Here you're taught the basics of the game and introduced to the quirky dialogue which usually lies somewhere between humorous and just weird. After completing the training, you're told that you must go to the Dark Spire tower, defeat the sorcerer Tyrhung and retrieve a stolen royal treasure. From this point, you can select from the few places to visit in town, or enter the tower.

Exploring the tower provides a similar experience to that of other grindy dungeon-crawlers, but again the obtuse interface gets in the way. For example, your movement through the labyrinth is mapped, but there is no indicator showing where you are or which direction you're facing. To get this information, you must cast a spell called "Visum Situs." While this may be a design choice made out of nostalgia, all it made us remember is how obnoxious this was in the classic games too. Would it have killed the developers to include an easier way of charting your progress?

More Info

Release date: Apr 14 2009 - DS (US)
Available Platforms: DS
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Atlus
Developed by: Success
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes


  • vinraith - May 19, 2009 1:59 a.m.

    Thank goodness for the DS. Old school games like this only really exist on this platform in recent years. I understand the low review score, considering how niche the audience is, but for those of us that miss Wizardry and the old Might and Magic games this is an exceptional title not weakened by mainstream compromises. It's a good thing there are still a few developers in the world that appreciate the value of a genuine challenge. I had it preordered, I would advise anyone that likes a good dungeon crawl to pick this one up before it disappears into collector's-item obscurity. Oh and check out Etrian Odyssey 1 and 2 for similar games with a similar design philosophy, they're excellent as well.
  • Danomeon - May 18, 2009 11:14 p.m.

    It looks interesting, but I'm still too obsessed with chrono trigger for the DS to settle with any other game. and the relatively low review score doesn't help, either.
  • richtaur - May 19, 2009 9:24 p.m.

    @iluvmyDS: Me too! I debated the score quite a bit while playing it; I WANTED to give it a higher score, but I just found it too frustrating. I really really do appreciate what Success did, as I'm a hardcore retro gamer as well. And the soundtrack is incredible. (BTW I wrote the review haha)
  • iluvmyDS - May 19, 2009 8:06 a.m.

    I'm just glad people aren't getting pissed at the score, as a 6 isn't failing.
  • Cyberninja - May 19, 2009 12:31 a.m.

    crono trigger ftw now that its $30 recaptcha stinks George

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