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   Time Stalkers - Reader Retroview  

Too Much Time on Its Hands
by JuMeSyn

PLATFORM
Dreamcast
BATTLE SYSTEM
3
INTERACTION
1
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
2
MUSIC & SOUND
4
VISUALS
2
CHALLENGE
Luck-derived
COMPLETION TIME
10-24 hours
OVERALL
1.5/5
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Climax has an interesting development history, and the bulk of it in the 90's was on Sega consoles. For its swan song on a Sega console, Climax developed a game that is certainly different from most. If novelty was enough of a ground upon which to recommend a title, Time Stalkers would qualify. Some things are better read about than experienced in depth, however.

   The tale told in Time Stalkers is not particularly deep, but manages to remain reasonably interesting during the allotted time. It begins with a man named Sword being sucked into another world, whereupon a fellow who insists upon going by the moniker of Master lays down the ground rules. Sword is a hero, and must run about this new world with persons and pieces constantly being added ridding it of evil. Sword doesn't take to philanthropy very well, and neither do the other heroes who pop up. Rao is another original character, but Nigel from LandStalker, Pyra from Shining in the Darkness and Lady from Lady Stalker all show up eventually as heroes in their own right. Sega did a good job with the translation and story sequences are fairly fun to scroll through.

Sword learns the horrible truth: once you pop, you just canít stop. Sword learns the horrible truth: once you pop, you just canít stop.

   Ridding the land of evil is accomplished via entering randomly generated dungeons and advancing to their end, where a boss will be waiting. Inside these randomly generated dungeons enemies run about, and can sometimes be avoided if the player does not wish to engage in battle yet. Battles are turn-based with a few twists. The major twist resides in the grid system the battlefield takes place upon, as enemies sometimes like to switch positions and thus make an attack aimed at their prior position useless. The player cannot do this without equipping something to enable it.

   Another twist in the battle system lies in a bizarre decision someone at Climax made. Upon exiting a dungeon, a character's level resets to 1. The implications of this should be obvious enough: every time a character re-enters a dungeon, fighting essentially everything must occur in order to have a hope of survival. All skills learned as levels go up must be re-learned also. The only thing that is permanent is title: each character will gain a different title after enough combat, which increases the starting spells and skills in a dungeon. Some spells and skills require some leveling in order to use, however - as do some weapon skills.

   Another oddity of the battles is the inability to have more than one of the main characters in use at once. To build up a party of three characters, the player must use the 'Capture' command within dungeons. Doing so can nab a monster, which can between dungeon floors be commandeered into the player's party. Monsters gain levels also and can increase their titles if used enough. There are two problems here however. One is that monsters are not the most reliable of allies, and will frequently ignore the player's input to do something else. Two is that, if the player is unable to revive a fallen monster, it is gone forever at the end of the dungeon. And reviving a fallen monster is subject to luck above all else.

Covered with mold and insects from the cave, this is nevertheless totally edible. Covered with mold and insects from the cave, this is nevertheless totally edible.

   It is subject to luck partly thanks to the random dungeon design, meaning that the item necessary to revive a monster may sometimes be needed and never found, and partly thanks to the item carrying capacity of a character. This capacity increases as levels are gained, but upon entering a dungeon each character is limited to a single-digit number of items which includes equipment. Pyra, for example, can take four items into a dungeon at the beginning. If she has four pieces of equipment, then nothing else can be taken and the player must rely upon luck to find items necessary to progress.

   Another variance from the norm in Time Stalkers is hunger. While exploring the random dungeons orange areas will constantly be encountered, and the player can search these orange areas to uncover either an item, a trap, or (most frequently) nothing. Even if the player chooses to forgo searching, however, the hunger meter will gradually deplete. The only way to recover it is by finding one of several items. Absent any of these, once the hunger meter is emptied a character's HP will slowly drain.

   Visually Time Stalkers is adequate, not superlative in any way. It does not look ugly but neither is it a good advertisement for the Dreamcast's hardware. The random dungeons also look the same from floor to floor, which certainly does not improve its aesthetic qualities. At least aurally the game delivers. The music is good and worth hearing, with some catchy tunes present. Sound effects, aside from one of the more irritating option confirmation noises ever created, are good. There is no voice acting.

   Strictly speaking the game is not hard at all, because there is no real death: if a main character falls in battle the dungeon is forcibly exited and all items not equipped are lost, but the character survives. Some dungeons will probably require multiple attempts thanks to a need for adequate supplies, however, and if the player had a pair of very useful monsters that were lost the blow is sizable. Again thanks to the luck factor, completion time will vary: if one could blow through each dungeon without any repeat trips it would probably take around 8 hours. As to replay, finding uncommon things in the dungeons and exploring with different characters does offer some incentive to anyone intrigued enough to attempt it.

   Time Stalkers is a unique title, but that does not make it a good title. The frustration felt by a player suddenly blindsided by an enemy that hits the main character on a high dungeon level strongly enough to knock the character out at full health, forcing the dungeon to be replayed, will be great. The Climax fan-service is fun to behold admittedly, but something is not right with an RPG in which that aspect is the best part. Sadly, Time Stalkers is not worth the time.

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