Eric Schabel

Din’s Curse: Demon War from Soldak Entertainment is all about atoning for your characters’ past sins; unfortunately it has a few sins of its own as well. An overhead action RPG in the vein of Diablo and Dungeon Siege, Din’s Curse does not bring much new to the table with one notable exception: almost everything is randomly generated. Demon War is a new expansion for the game that brings a new character class and enemy types to the game, but the core is largely unchanged. There is almost no story to speak of, and the presentation and graphics are right out of the late nineties. If you enjoyed Diablo and its dungeon crawling ilk, however, Din’s Curse: Demon War may be a nice way to bide the time until Diablo III is released. 

Basically, the story of Din’s Curse revolved around your character being recalled from the dead by the god of honor Din to fight endless waves of undead and demon monsters in order to make things right for your past misdeeds (what they are, I can only guess). You will only figure out the premise of the game by talking to NPCs in town, if you are so inclined. Even the very first time you play the game, you are plopped into the world with almost no direction beyond a terrible hint system, in the midst of a dozen NPCs and the oversized, deep-voiced god Din himself. You will need to figure out on your own that you need to pick up quests from these characters—and you will need to figure out on your own that failure to do these quests in a timely manner can have dire consequences; most of them are time-sensitive.

One of my first experiences with the game was having my entire town’s population destroyed by invaders within the first half-hour, and I had no idea why. The good news is that failure is not a huge deal: you just generate a new world and start the dungeon diving anew. If you are anything like me, you won’t really know why you are in these dungeons in the first place and you will feel very little attachment to the world and its inhabitants. The only real reason to fight onward is to strengthen your character. When you get down to it, self-improvement is the driving force behind most RPGs, but it is a bit jarring to have any presupposition of a story thrown to the wayside.

The only thing that remains constant throughout the game’s ‘campaign’ (I use the term lightly) is your nameless character and his stats and skills. Every time you fail to succeed in defending your home town, you can start again with the same character in a new world that will look remarkably similar, but different from the old one. All of the RPG archetypes are available for leveling, including but not limited to: Mage, Warrior, Rogue, Ranger, and as of the new Demon War expansion, Demon Hunter. That last one is particularly fun to mess around with. Each class plays differently, and you can even create your own hybrid class, but doing so will sacrifice one of the character’s skill trees. Leveling up and gaining new skills is compelling, and like Diablo you can save up your skill points to invest in the more powerful spells and abilities, foregoing the more basic ones, if you should so choose. There is no doubt that Din’s Curse is all about the gameplay; killing countless enemies, fulfilling quests, and investing skill points in your character are all satisfying to do, and there is definitely fun to be had down underground. The sheer variety of abilities and enemy types provided by the game is undoubtedly enough to keep some people playing for quite some time.

If you are a lover of dungeon crawlers, and wish to be teleported back in time a decade or so, Din’s Curse: Demon War is right up your alley. The game looks and feels like something from that era; the graphics are basic at best, when compared to most games released today—and the same can be said of the game’s UI and presentation. The gameplay is fun when you get into it, but whether or not it is fulfilling is something you will have to figure out on your own. This game, like most RPGs, can be a timesink, and without much in the way of motivating factors such as an engaging story or even a persistent world, you might find yourself wanting to spend your time on something more meaningful. The game does give you the option of increasing the amount of experience you gain, thus quickening the pace of the game, but progress still takes time, as it should. If all you want to do is level up a character by fighting hordes of undead and demons with the click of your mouse, Din’s Curse: Demon War might just do the trick.

Pros: Variety of skills and enemies

Cons: Graphics and presentation are from 1998, lack of story and persistent world may lead to apathy


Secret of Mana

January 25, 2011

It’s like Zelda with heavy RPG elements and two buddies that fight alongside you! If you haven’t played Secret of Mana yet, hopefully that got your attention. The game is a classic, and while the visuals and gameplay of even this newest iPhone version remain unchanged from the game’s first release almost twenty years ago, it is still very much worth playing. Real-time action RPGs have become quite common place in this day and age, but back when Secret of Mana first came out on the Super Nintendo that wasn’t the case.  Unfortunately, due to the touch screen controls of the iPhone and iPod, this doesn’t turn out to be such a good thing for this newest port of the classic. 

First, let’s talk about the good stuff. This adventure cooked up in 1993 is still great fun and features likable characters and great gameplay. You play a teenager named Randi who has been thrust into the role of hero unwillingly. Despite a rocky start Randi soon gets into the groove of things and is eventually joined by two companions, Primm and Popoi, who fight alongside him. Secret of Mana looks brilliant on the iPhone, and makes full use of the screen real estate. The game may be old, but the graphics are still refreshingly colorful and vibrant. The soundtrack is also top-notch.

And now, for the not so good stuff: the cooperative gameplay Secret of Mana is so well known for is nowhere to be seen in the iPhone port. There is no way to play with your friends, which means Randi’s companions will remain CPU-controlled throughout the entire adventure (unless you manually switch roles to play one of them). Obviously providing online co-op support would require Square-Enix to jump through some extra hoops, but considering how many iterations of this game there have been (including a mobile phone port from 2009 in Japan), it would have been very nice to join up with a pal or two for some monster-slaying goodness this time around.

Touch screens are great for navigating menus and playing certain types of games. Real-time action RPGs are not among them. Controlling Randi and company on the iPhone is not an optimal experience. While you certainly get used to playing on a touch screen, it can be a bit frustrating at times. You take the accuracy of traditional d-pad and button-based controls for granted until you struggle to cross a bridge for a full minute on the iPhone’s touch screen, or have trouble facing an enemy thanks creeping up behind you.  It can be especially cumbersome during a boss battle that requires you to hit specific areas of a monster. To Square-Enix’s credit, there isn’t much they could have done to make the game control much better, except for perhaps an adaptive control area that wasn’t anchored to the left corner of the screen, but for me that’s just splitting hairs. Either way it would be fussy and imprecise.

Playing Secret of Mana on a small screen with touch controls isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth picking up, especially if you have never been through the adventure before. If you own an iPhone or an iPod and you’d like to have a classic RPG adventure with you wherever you may go, you won’t go wrong with this game. That said, if you have a Wii, I would recommend picking up Secret of Mana on the Virtual Console instead—if only for the chance at cooperative play.


Rock Band Reloaded

December 5, 2010

The Rock Band series may be best known for its wide array of plastic instruments, but as the original iPhone version of Rock Band proved, the classic gameplay also translates well to touch-based controls.  Rock Band Reloaded is the series’ second outing on the iPhone and it only improves upon its predecessor’s formula. The game is not as feature-rich as its console brethren, but its core gameplay is still very fun and familiar. 

It may be more exciting to stand up and strum a guitar or bang on drum pads, but there is also something to be said for convenience and portability. The iPhone is a perfect device for diving into a game to play a song or two any time the mood strikes you.  Reloaded gives you the option to play the guitar, bass, drums, and vocal tracks, tapping along to the music. Hitting the notes feels very satisfying, especially for drumming. New to the iPhone this time around are vocals, which you can choose to actually sing, or tap. Singing is just as challenging as it always has been. One aspect of the gameplay that doesn’t seem to work so well is shaking the phone to activate overdrive—I often find myself missing notes (and thus losing my point multiplier) attempting to shake the device hard enough to register it in the game.

The game comes with 29 songs, including contributions from Vampire Weekend, Duran Duran, Nine Inch Nails, and more. There are a few instantly recognizable hits (such as Hungry Like The Wolf, White Wedding, and  Kryptonite) sprinkled throughout, but much of the music included with the game or currently available for download is not as exciting or memorable as stuff we have seen from the console outings. Unfortunately, Rock Band Reloaded does not have access to the whole Rock Band Music Store, but there will certainly be a steady flow of downloads coming down the pipe. 

Rock Band Reloaded features a World Tour mode, Quick Play, and a multiplayer mode that lets you search for “gigs” with other players. Essentially, Reloaded’s feature set is the same as Rock Band 2’s, minus stuff like character customization. Reloaded may sound a bit barebones compared to Rock Band 3, but it has the essentials to keep you rocking for quite some time, and that’s not bad for a five dollar game. 

At Nintendo’s 3DS-centric press conference, the company announced it is launching the handheld in Japan on February 26, 2011. It will sell for 25,000 yen (roughly $300). A North American and European launch is scheduled for approximately one month later, but no price point has been revealed for those regions yet. READ MORE

This morning at 10:30 Microsoft held their annual TGS press conference here in Tokyo. Japanese developers showed off several new Kinect games as well as new footage from upcoming games previously debuted at this year’s E3. We’ve got the scoop on what went down. READ MORE