Battles are fairly typical turn-based fare. They're fun and easy to play and reminded us of the earlier Dragon Quest games (or Dragon Warrior, if you’re an NES fan). The headache point is that random battles range dramatically from easy to almost impossible. Particularly when you first begin the game, you may fight two bats that are fairly weak, or a dozen thieves that can kill everyone in a single round. The only real workaround for this is to save constantly. Mercifully, it's quick and easy to save the game.
One really cool feature is the ability to change the display mode. The default is "Modern" which features attractive hand-drawn graphics, catchy and complex music, and slick, attractive menus. The other option is "Classic" which downgrades the game's audio and video to something similar to 8-bit. This is fantastic for true fans of the games Spire is mimicking. The menus become basic white bars and text over a black background, and the enemies' graphics are redone as smaller, simpler sprites and the music has been remixed in chiptune style. It almost feels like a different game and it's a great way to toss-up the gameplay.
Switching between the two modes is fine and well, but we can’t help but think there’s a missed opportunity here. Rather than merely providing an option to change the display, they could have made small changes the entire game. Classic mode would feature the current spell names like "Impetus Ardens" while Modern mode could use the more easily memorable "Fireball." Classic mode could retain the brutal random battles, and Modern could throw enemies your way that don’t utterly destroy your party. The game could appeal to more gamers this way, while still remaining attractive to its target (i.e. unashamedly hardcore) audience.
The Dark Spire certainly attained its goal of creating an homage to classic dungeon-crawling RPGs. But its confusing design choices and unforgiving gameplay may turn off anyone born after 1990.
May 18, 2009