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Shadow Madness - Review

Crave's first RPG, and it shows

By Mike Tidwell, RPGamer Writer


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 5.5
   Gameplay 6.0
   Music 8.5
   Originality 3.5
   Plot 8.0
   Replay Value 7.0
   Sound 8.0
   Visuals 6.5
   Difficulty Variable
   Time to Complete 25-30 hours 
Overall
6.5
Criteria

    Potential. If there was one word to describe this game, that would be it. Crave's first RPG has many aspects that many other companies should really look into using. However, it also has many more aspects that give Shadow Madness an almost unfinished feel to it. Shadow Madness pulls in the gamer with its mystery of destruction at the start, but has a hard time keeping the game interesting as it progresses through the story.

    What makes an RPG truly worth playing is the story, and Crave did a superb job. The story itself is very well done, but very dark and sometimes even depressing. As the madness continues to infect everyone you meet, you begin to feel more and more on your own. Add to the story a complete background to the entire world accessible from multiple libraries throughout the game. By spending 20 to 30 minutes in each library reading books, the gamer learns about the history of Arkose. Once the reader knows the full history, the rest of the story falls into place.

    The music through the game does a very good job of setting the mood for each part of the story. If there was a soundtrack, I would definitely recommend it. By having at least three different battle themes for each area, it also succeeds in not being overly repetitive, as it is the basis of the game. So much in fact, that sometimes it felt like more of a hack'n'slash type game, instead of an RPG.

    Alas, these are all the good qualities Shadow Madness has to offer. The most glaring problem is that the characters themselves have no development at all. With the surrounding story being as complex as they come you learn very little about the characters themselves, except for some minor details (where they came from, and why they're on the quest). While most of the characters can almost be believed, the idea of female characters going on a huge quest to the ends of the earth in tight bikini outfits simply ruins the whole scene of a serious confrontation. It didn't work with Tifa, and it really didn't work here.

Do you really want in?  

    The second main problem is balance. I like hard games. Games that require strategy and some occasional level building. Shadow Madness has a variable setting on how tough the game should be. However, the average setting doesn't require more than three heals in the entire game, and that's only if you max out your levels too soon. Every time a character gains a level, HP and MP are filled. Then you have the hard setting, where every fight is a battle to the death. Not only do the enemies hit 10 times harder, but they hit three times faster as well. Gaining levels appears to have little effect, since half of your characters will be maxed out with more than half of the game to go, yet the monsters continue to gain strength.

    The battles are kind of tricky to get a hang of. Each time the camera swoops in on the field, and the bad guys on the left, and the good guys on the right. No surprises here. Stinger, Harv-5, and Jirina each have the ability to double the damage given in each attack, by pressing the action button right at the point of contact -- at least that's the idea. There is a point where it works, and where it doesn't, but especially with Jirina, it's not always right at the point of contact, since they didn't account for different sized monsters. The player has to learn where in the motion of attack to press the button, and they'll have little difficulty hitting it almost every time.

Hired goons? No problem.  

    The controls in battle are straight forward. By using the 4 buttons on top of the controller (R/L 1/2), you chose between 4 different actions, but you only need attack. Magic is used very little until you have earned the most powerful spells, which are the first to deal more damage then an attack. An amazing amount of damage. One of the most powerful spells will do over 400 damage to each enemy, while the next highest spell does around 125 to one. The summons are good for dealing damage, but not very creative as they do not even interact with the environment.

    My personal pet peeve of the game was timed escapes. Load times should never, ever be included in the countdown. Consider, if you will, that you have 3 minutes to escape. Even if you run from a battle, you lose 30 seconds off the clock due to load times alone. This is also true when you run from one room to the next. In three minutes, if you have more than 3 battles, and 5 rooms, you're done for. There is simply nothing you can do about it, since there are mandatory battles in each room. Your only chance was once you got past the set battles, that you would be able to avoid the random ones as well. A highly frustrating section, since almost all of it was beyond your control.

    Overall, the game starts out well, but except for a few rays of hope, plummets from there. The story is the only thing that really kept me going, even if only in small doses at a time. If it were a novel, I'd recommend it to anyone. I told others many times I felt like I was reading something from Stephen King. As a game however, it has a few too many flaws to earn such an honor.

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