So far, Dreamcast owning RPG fans have had slim pickings at that particular buffet, but you can't accuse Sega of not putting food on the table. Unfortunately, picky gamers haven't exactly been scarfing down copies of E.G.G., Evolution, or Seventh Cross. Climax, the developer of fine RPGs such as Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force, Landstalker, and a few other great games, has a new addition to the menu in the form of it's first DC RPG, Time Stalkers. Is it a feast fit for a king, or simply another plate full of day-old Brussels sprouts? Well, that all depends on your tastes- Climax's last DC title, Blue Stinger ended up being way too ambitious cinematically for its own good, and had some really poor voice acting tossed into the mix. Most of us who know and love Climax are big fans of their RPGs, so they wouldn't let us down, right?
Umm…waiter, there's a fly in my Dreamcast….
The premise itself is interesting enough, as players take on the role of Sword, a young man who gets pulled into a strange world, via a magical book of some sort. The world in question is made up of pieces of other worlds ripped from various time periods, and a few of the people there have resigned themselves to living out their lives there. But Sword has been chosen to free the citizens of this odd world, and unite six other heroes against a hidden threat. Again, an interesting (and well-used) concept, but the game falls flat like a cheap soufflé, thanks to the poor mixing of a bit too many ingredients. There's more on this, after the appetizer…
Graphically, the game is pretty good as far as the environments go, but the characters have suffered a bit from their translation from paper to 3D models. With the exception of Marion, a doll bought to life, all the characters look like…well, dolls bought to life, with too many joints and seams showing. There are some nice touches, like the reflective dress Lady (from Ladystalker) wears, but you'll wish that Climax had cleaned up the models somewhat from the Japanese version. The music is decent, but it seems as if they're using the sound files from their 16-bit games. At least the annoying talking sounds have finally been dropped, but I'm sure that they could have spent a few bucks on some voice actors- the game seems awfully empty without some sound effects to associate the characters with. But, these are minor issues compared to the main course…
First of all, the character development here is pretty weak overall, especially given the strange mixture of personalities that inhabit the game's world. You find yourself not caring too much about the supporting cast, because they have little to offer, other than generic NPConversation. The game sort of craps out on dungeon design by way of using small randomized dungeons instead of actual maps. The battles are not very exciting, since they're all turn-based, with only a few squares to move about in. You can collect some great weapons and items, but you can only carry four back into a dungeon if you exit. So you end up with a ton of nice stuff that's practically useless except as collateral. Worst of all, is that each time you enter or leave a dungeon, you fall to level one, with the exception of whatever skills you've learned in the game. The catch is, to use those skills; you have to get back up to the level you were at before! The control is generally pretty good, except for the game camera- a better zoom feature would have been welcome, or the ability to play the game at a fixed angle throughout. As it is, you'll be constantly fiddling, tweaking and adjusting the camera like you 're Felix Ungar (I hope someone actually gets this joke…).
All this would be slightly excusable if you actually had a party of characters to take along, but you can only use one character at a time while the others simply cool their heels outside. You can, however catch up to seven monsters to aid you in fighting, but this aspect comes off as clumsy, at best, and is itself borrowed from games like Nintendo's Pokemon or Azure Dreams on the Playstation. Speaking of Azure Dreams, TS uses a few more aspects from that game, such as using earned cash from battle to spruce up your digs, and a load of optional mini-games. The mini-games, in fact Time Stalkers itself seems strictly for huge fans of Climax's old output, as longtime fans will recognize a few things here and there. Being one of those huge fans, I was disappointed that the game failed to generate the pure sense of adventure or challenge that the Shining series, Landstalker, or Ladystalker did. It's not that it doesn't try, though. In fact, there's a whole lot of stuff to do in the game- it's just that the game is designed to negate almost all of your accomplishments, which destroys the purpose of actually playing it- no mean feat, that.
The end result is a game that seems to have been overcooked a wee bit too much- as if the developers kept adding more and more spices to the stew, but forgetting to add the meat (or tofu, if you're vegan). As you can probably guess, I'm paid by the cliché, so lets sum up by adaging: Too many cooks hath spoiled the broth, while a watched pot never boils, and an unwatched pot boils over. Had enough? So have I- and all this talk about food is making me really hungry! Time Stalkers is not really a bad game, just one that could have been much, much better, had the chefs stuck to the original recipe….
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