How I spent some of my vacation (or: A rant about The Dark Spire)

Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -

 This game hates me. And it hates you too
Yes. I was on Spring Break. Yes, it was nice. But enough on that, instead I'm here to talk about something I spent a decent (but thankfully not overwhelming) amount of time playing during said vacation, usually on a plane of some sort. I'm talking about The Dark Spire. A game that manages to not only define niche, but also manages to be more niche than even my tastes. And that's me saying it. The guy who goes out of his way to look for old games, blog about them, and then get somewhat flustered when his blog about obscure DOS games based on the D&D license doesn't get that many comments.
 
 This is how I play the game. Because it reminds me of what it actually is
But enough on that. For those out of the know, The Dark Spire is a classical style RPG that was released for the DS in 2009 by a company called Success (apparently the other game they've made recently is Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja) and published by everyone's favorite sadi-masochists at Atlus. It's a very deliberate throwback to the earliest Ultima and Wizardry games. Which ones? Like Wizardry 1. While I'm all for the First Person Party-Based CRPG, my tolerance point for that kind of stuff starts around the time mice and VGA graphics started existing, which I mark as being around Might and Magic III. So anyways, what that means is that it's a singular dungeon with multiple floors, a grid based movement system, very limited character choices and the desire to be as artificially hard as humanely possible. Like Etrian Odyssey, but even more of a faux-throwback, which is emphasized even more by the classical graphical style you can pick, which pretty much makes it straight up wire-frames.  While I cannot profess to having played the earliest Wizardry games, I've seen enough of them to tell you that this game achieves it's goal of being totally backwards admirably. 
 
 This is how you could play the game if you wanted to lie to yourself. Nice art style though
There's a whole laundry list of things I could say that make this game totally insane (basically, everyone except fighters are worthless in melee, no transparency to what stats do at all, you have to cast a spell to see where your party is on the map), and while I've managed to get to the 3rd floor after around 10 hours (thus, don't mistake this for a review blog) I don't know exactly how much further I can go. It gleefully throws waves of tough enemies at you, and while you can triumph mostly through a bunch of grinding instead of anything resembling strategy, it's pretty good at being relentless. It's not that it's beaten me, because I could probably finish it if I grit my teeth and continued going the way I'm currently going, but I'm not exactly feeling driven to do so. I admit, I'm a sucker for leveling up and watching my dudes kill other dudes, but there are other games that I like that could do that better for me.
 
But that's not my point. When I was playing this game, I was wondering exactly who these types of games are for, and how a game like this could be financially profitable considering the super niche audience it panders to. Basically: WHO IS THIS GAME FOR AND HOW COULD A DEVELOPER GET AWAY WITH MAKING THIS IN THE PAST DECADE?!?!? This was answered by someone reminding me that the earlier Wizardry games were huge in Japan (in fact, the current license holders of the franchise are in Japan, content to sit on the 8 games made by Sir Tech rather than release them, meaning that you would have to pursue less than legal means to obtain Wizardry 8, my favorite game of 2010 that didn't come out in 2010) and this can be seen in all the Wizardry games up to 7 receiving japan-only PS1 ports/remakes and also the trajectory of some other franchises like Shin Megami Tensei. Which leads to my next question: WHY STOP THERE? Why not get to the era of CRPGs that were good, when they and JRPGs were actually distinguishable from them? If someone made a game like Wizardry 7 or 8 for the DS, I would be willing to pay upwards of $34.99 to obtain it! I know Japan is incapable of making a game like that, but why isn't there a western developer making games like this? I mean, it's not like this style of CRPG is dead or anything (oh wait. It is. Thanks Might and Magic IX, for sucking) and could use a revival. 
 
But whatever. I've gone off long enough. Here are some other random things, in bullet point fashion
  • You know, Final Fantasy V is criminally underrated  
  • I'm glad I live in a state with a low cost of living
  • I'm considering doing a "Ruining my Childhood" on KotOR2. With the cut content added back in. So I can say it still sucks, even if the ending makes sense
  • If not that, then I will continue playing Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, a CRPG you've never heard of because it wasn't very good. 
  • And hey, Neverwinter Nights 2 still exists
  • Alright, I'm done.
  • EDIT: Please note that I haven't gotten enough sleep recently. Jet Lag will do that to you.
#1 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -

 This game hates me. And it hates you too
Yes. I was on Spring Break. Yes, it was nice. But enough on that, instead I'm here to talk about something I spent a decent (but thankfully not overwhelming) amount of time playing during said vacation, usually on a plane of some sort. I'm talking about The Dark Spire. A game that manages to not only define niche, but also manages to be more niche than even my tastes. And that's me saying it. The guy who goes out of his way to look for old games, blog about them, and then get somewhat flustered when his blog about obscure DOS games based on the D&D license doesn't get that many comments.
 
 This is how I play the game. Because it reminds me of what it actually is
But enough on that. For those out of the know, The Dark Spire is a classical style RPG that was released for the DS in 2009 by a company called Success (apparently the other game they've made recently is Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja) and published by everyone's favorite sadi-masochists at Atlus. It's a very deliberate throwback to the earliest Ultima and Wizardry games. Which ones? Like Wizardry 1. While I'm all for the First Person Party-Based CRPG, my tolerance point for that kind of stuff starts around the time mice and VGA graphics started existing, which I mark as being around Might and Magic III. So anyways, what that means is that it's a singular dungeon with multiple floors, a grid based movement system, very limited character choices and the desire to be as artificially hard as humanely possible. Like Etrian Odyssey, but even more of a faux-throwback, which is emphasized even more by the classical graphical style you can pick, which pretty much makes it straight up wire-frames.  While I cannot profess to having played the earliest Wizardry games, I've seen enough of them to tell you that this game achieves it's goal of being totally backwards admirably. 
 
 This is how you could play the game if you wanted to lie to yourself. Nice art style though
There's a whole laundry list of things I could say that make this game totally insane (basically, everyone except fighters are worthless in melee, no transparency to what stats do at all, you have to cast a spell to see where your party is on the map), and while I've managed to get to the 3rd floor after around 10 hours (thus, don't mistake this for a review blog) I don't know exactly how much further I can go. It gleefully throws waves of tough enemies at you, and while you can triumph mostly through a bunch of grinding instead of anything resembling strategy, it's pretty good at being relentless. It's not that it's beaten me, because I could probably finish it if I grit my teeth and continued going the way I'm currently going, but I'm not exactly feeling driven to do so. I admit, I'm a sucker for leveling up and watching my dudes kill other dudes, but there are other games that I like that could do that better for me.
 
But that's not my point. When I was playing this game, I was wondering exactly who these types of games are for, and how a game like this could be financially profitable considering the super niche audience it panders to. Basically: WHO IS THIS GAME FOR AND HOW COULD A DEVELOPER GET AWAY WITH MAKING THIS IN THE PAST DECADE?!?!? This was answered by someone reminding me that the earlier Wizardry games were huge in Japan (in fact, the current license holders of the franchise are in Japan, content to sit on the 8 games made by Sir Tech rather than release them, meaning that you would have to pursue less than legal means to obtain Wizardry 8, my favorite game of 2010 that didn't come out in 2010) and this can be seen in all the Wizardry games up to 7 receiving japan-only PS1 ports/remakes and also the trajectory of some other franchises like Shin Megami Tensei. Which leads to my next question: WHY STOP THERE? Why not get to the era of CRPGs that were good, when they and JRPGs were actually distinguishable from them? If someone made a game like Wizardry 7 or 8 for the DS, I would be willing to pay upwards of $34.99 to obtain it! I know Japan is incapable of making a game like that, but why isn't there a western developer making games like this? I mean, it's not like this style of CRPG is dead or anything (oh wait. It is. Thanks Might and Magic IX, for sucking) and could use a revival. 
 
But whatever. I've gone off long enough. Here are some other random things, in bullet point fashion
  • You know, Final Fantasy V is criminally underrated  
  • I'm glad I live in a state with a low cost of living
  • I'm considering doing a "Ruining my Childhood" on KotOR2. With the cut content added back in. So I can say it still sucks, even if the ending makes sense
  • If not that, then I will continue playing Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, a CRPG you've never heard of because it wasn't very good. 
  • And hey, Neverwinter Nights 2 still exists
  • Alright, I'm done.
  • EDIT: Please note that I haven't gotten enough sleep recently. Jet Lag will do that to you.
#2 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

Just hope that Hailinel doesn't see that first bullet. If he does, be prepared for a debate with him that's lengthier than my debates with him on Devil Survivor.

#3 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -
@Video_Game_King:  I'm pretty sure we've discussed it at some point previously. But whatever, dumb story aside I find that the Job system is kind of awesome. Then again, I think most of the stories in Final Fantasy are dumb anyways, so that's probably why I like the one that's gameplay first.
#4 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater: 
 
What about FF6? It's like Star Wars and Fragile Dreams jumped into a blender and started having sex. (I'm assuming that they're having sex because seeing Sai's wounds makes me think that self mutilation turns her on. Do I need to explain why Star Wars would be into it?)
#5 Posted by Claude (16255 posts) -

That does seem like an odd game to develop in this day and age. But it's nice knowing some developers are still trying their hand at projects most people would not even touch. I wish the Wii had some quirky RPG type CRPGs or some cool old feel RTS games. I played Dawn of Discovery on the Wii and it worked like a charm. Nice blog, enjoyed reading.

#6 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -
@Video_Game_King:  I've never played Fragile Dreams, but I actually like a lot of what Final Fantasy VI did story-wise. That doesn't mean that any of the characters aren't kind of dull archetypes (being that there's so many of them. Hell, I could argue that Terra stops being the main character at some point), but it is probably still my favorite Final Fantasy game. Espers are cool, even if the end result is that everyone in your party kind of has the same moves. 
 
@Claude: If anything, you've described one of the reasons why my Wii gathers dust for the most part. I'm not really one for JRPGs. I'll certainly play and enjoy one (which reminds me I have to finish SMT: Nocturne at some point.), whereas CRPGs and strategy games are pretty much my bread and butter (thus, why I have far too many games I've bought from Good Old Games). It's unfortunate, but stuff like Super Mario Galaxy 2 reminds me why I haven't sold it (not that my parents would let me).
#7 Posted by endaround (2142 posts) -

Yes but what of rogue-likes?

#8 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -
@endaround:  I'm going to need some specifics. Diablo? Yes. Nethack? No.
#9 Posted by Turambar (6713 posts) -

FFV was alright I guess.
 
Wait, it had Battle on the Big Bridge.  Ok, FFV was fucking awesome.

#10 Posted by Mento (2495 posts) -

A Lionheart retrospective would be timely. Games based on the Crusades are so hot right now. Especially weird Fallout engine ones that don't work particularly well, those are flying off shelves.
 
While recently knocking together a list of JRPGs I'd beaten, I kept thinking that I must've played Dark Spire after you mentioned it a few times and I looked it up, since I definitely recall a "going through dungeons first-person style" GBA/DS game that wasn't the Eye of the Beholder rehash or an Etrian Odyssey of some sort. Turns out it was Mazes of Fate. So, uh, try that if you liked Dark Spire? Which you clearly didn't too much? 
 
In other "Cool Story, Bro" news, From the Abyss and Shining Soul are two different games that are also functionally identical. The GBA/DS has a lot of this sort of thing going on it seems.

Moderator
#11 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -
@Mento: Yeah, I get the impression that this stuff is fairly popular with a specific group of people, and handhelds are the ideal platform to develop on. What I've played of Lionheart so far is basically a rote but competent "every RPG made from 1997 onwards" but I am to understand that that goes away after the first 5-10 hours and then it just becomes a dumb hack 'n slash using a game engine not especially well built for that. Yeah. I think I'll go for KotOR 2 for my savaging a not so good game needs. Lionheart is just kind of dull, even in the part that's supposed to be good.
#12 Posted by ZombiePie (5630 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater: @Video_Game_King:  I like Final Fantasy even from a story standpoint for being so mellow, breezy, and easy to follow. I didn't feel like I was being hit over the head with simplistic symbolism about everyday issues that Square feels appropriate to cram into their games.
Moderator
#13 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -
@ZombiePie: 
 
Are we talking about Final Fantasy XIII? Because I will defend that game mercilessly, good sir. * turns on battle music* I mean business.
#14 Posted by ZombiePie (5630 posts) -
@Video_Game_King:  Oh I stopped at X-2. I wont make any judgment calls on something I have not touched nor intend to ever experience.
Moderator
#15 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -
@ZombiePie: 
 
Then what's the obvious symbolism? I can't imagine Kefka's pyramid is obvious, since I had to look that shit up (trust me, it makes sense).
#16 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -
@Video_Game_King: @ZombiePie:  How did this randomly turn into a thread of us talking about Final Fantasy? Oh well, I can see the blatant symbolism in FF, especially in the later ones (yo, the mako reactors are like industrialization and pollution, but instead of raising the earth's tempurature a few degrees they are literally sucking the life out of the planet. That seems blatant to me). I have no interest in playing any of them later than VI (that is, unless that copy of VII stops being the insane price of $45 at my local shady pawn shop). Ok, maybe X-2 one day, but that's only because that seems like the perfect combo of overindulgent fanservice and nonsensical melodrama. 
 
Oh, and to all those who care, I've reinstalled KotOR 2 for my own doom, which means I still can't use this video yet.   
#17 Posted by LordAndrew (14426 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater said:

" @Video_Game_King: @ZombiePie:  How did this randomly turn into a thread of us talking about Final Fantasy? "

Because no one actually cares about The Dark Spire. Who would have guessed? Fake old game is fake old.
#18 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -
@LordAndrew:  Now hey there. I'm entitled to my ranting about a certain sub-genre that the kids on the internet seem to like. Final Fantasy is such a bloated, over-discussed franchise that everything that will be said about it has been said about it already. It's like Star Wars in that regard, but with less expanded universe nonsense and more executive foot shooting. And yet, here I am still discussing it. Blast.
#19 Posted by A_Cute_Squirtle (684 posts) -

KOTOR 2 far from sucks. 

#20 Posted by kalmis (1558 posts) -

I've played The Dark Spire as well, but didn't get too far. Best thing of the game is the soundtrack no doubt.

#21 Posted by Tordah (2476 posts) -

I like how you can play it with just the wire frames. That's hardcore. Graphics and textures are for weaklings!

#22 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -
@A_Cute_Squirtle:  We'll see about that.... We'll see. I haven't played it since 06-07ish so maybe it will be better? I'm sorry if I'm cynical that adding in all the stuff that Obsidian butchered from that game fixes the plot. 
 
@kalmis: Oh yeah. The soundtrack is great. It's a pity I bought it used, because that soundtrack CD would've been an alright collectable. 
 
@Tordah: Oh, but the enemy encounters and NPC encounters have 8-bit esque sprites, so it's not all the way wire frames. It also helps that there's a noticeable lag turning when you're in modern graphics mode.
#23 Posted by Punk1984 (549 posts) -

Your sadomasochistic love for dungeon crawlers has inspired me to dust off my Sega CD copy of Eye of the Beholder. There is just something simpler about the pre-2000 rpgs that makes them feel better than they are.

#24 Posted by apeman (189 posts) -

any time wizardry 7 even gets mentioned, the nostalgia floods back.  my first real gaming love.
 
i pray good old games releases it........please......

#25 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

Being an admitted Xeen fanatic, I can understand the gimmick of doing something VERY retro, but having played a lot of games older than Xeen I still don't feel the desire to play a game that makes me feel extremely alienated. I'd definitely get this if I had a DS, but what I'd WANT is something more varied and...  well, I like color, too. 
 
I played games on monochrome screens, but it wasn't until 256 color monitors and 16-bit consoles that I saw what graphics could really do. Even when NES was one of the top of the line systems I got depressed from those limited colors and warped sound. The arcade was a breath of fresh air, but once the Genesis and the SNES came around, I'm reminded why I never went to the arcades anymore. So having the wireframe, or what appears to be permanent Dutch-angle slanty cam view, doesn't really fill me with awe.  I'd rather have it be text and use my own imagination than have it be so willfully minimal. 
 
Still, like I said, I'd probably get it anyway, and I'm happy that game makers are willing to take these risks rather than just pandering to whatever the market seems to demand the most. 
 
There's something to be said for straightforward mechanics, but that's assuming they give you an idea what the mechanics do. It doesn't even say anything in the manuals about the game system?

#26 Posted by gla55jAw (2687 posts) -

I found The Dark Spire for $5 new sometime last year at a GameStop so I had to pick it up. I was strangely addicted to it for about a week, but I had to stop because it just seemed like I would at the 2nd floor for days trying to level up so I could not be destroyed on the 3rd floor. I am interested in checking out an Etrian Odyssey game at some point, if it's not as brutal. I too get addicted to leveling up and seeing what I can do, but The Dark Spire was a little too brutal.
 
Also, all this Final Fantasy IV talk has reminded me I have to pick up that PSP Port when it comes out so I can play FFIV for the first time. I've always had trouble finishing the SNES era and earlier Final Fantasy games since I started with RPGs in the Playstation era.. I've finished VII - XIII (with XII being the exception, and not because I disliked it), but I need just go and play the earlier ones at some point.

#27 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11588 posts) -
@Punk1984: Yeah, Eye of the Beholder is something that I find more than a little intimidating, mostly due to the way it's heavily puzzle focused, almost being more of an Adventure game than a D&D RPG. I know what you mean about the retro feel though, though I personally would say pre-1997 RPGs (because that's when Fallout 1 came out) are the ones that you are describing.
 
@ahoodedfigure: My first real exposure to this kind of stuff was Might and Magic VI actually, and that was like 4 or 5 years ago at this point, so I can't easily relate to your tales of playing vidja games on a monochrome monitor. But this and probably Etrain Odyssey are both fans of using flavor text to describe something instead of actually showing it. While there's some part of me that appreciates that, I'd chalk it down more to these games being exceptionally cheap to make more than anything else. 
 
@gla55jAw: Yeah, I can understand the oddly compelling thing... until I realized that most of the game is actually just going to be grinding or going back to town to recharge my spells. Not an especially huge fan of grinding. But even I've played Final Fantasy IV. And that game is alright. I think it's sort of overrated and VI is the real star of the SNES, but you can't go wrong with a game that has only been re-released a million times.
#28 Posted by Raven10 (1762 posts) -

They had a copy of this game at my local FYE for about three years. Same copy, just sitting on the shelf, no one buying it. And note that by local I mean the downtown Chicago FYE located in the heart of the shopping district. If your game doesn't sell there it doesn't sell period. I kept waiting for it to drop below $10 but last time I was there I couldn't find it. Seems someone finally bought it. Not sure I could have handled it. The dungeons in the early Ultima games were my least favorite part. And you'll find that Dragon Quest, and in turn Final Fantasy were directly inspired by a game called Black Onyx which was in turn inspired by Wizardry. Virtually every RPG goes back to Wizardry or Ultima.

#29 Posted by ChernobylCow (238 posts) -

Nice write-up.  What other weird games do you play on your DS?

#30 Posted by MuttersomeTaxicab (668 posts) -

Oh man. Reading this just made me want to put Dark Spire back in my DS.

Somewhere, a silicon demon just got its wings.

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