One of the earlier Playstation releases was From Software's King's Field, an extremely well done, but excruciatingly slow-paced RPG that showcased a great (for the time) first-person graphics engine with and a pretty generic storyline. The game was a huge enough hit to spawn a sequel, King's Field II, that offered improved graphics and slightly easier combat, but again, the story was nothing too special. Shadow Tower, another game to use the KF engine, followed. This game focused primarily on combat, acquiring items, and using "captured" monsters in a sort of fighting arena. Despite a huge improvement in the graphics, this game still moved like a slug going uphill on a hot day. To me, this engine seemed more suited to a well thought out, deliberately paced adventure, horror or detective story. Someone at From must have been reading my mind, because their new release, Echo Night, has elements of all three of the above genres, and despite a few flaws, still manages to be very enjoyable.
You play as Richard Osbourne, a young man who ends up warping through a strange portal to a couple of strange places back in time including an ocean liner, the Orpheus, where most of the game takes place. You have to deal with a number of ghosts, some of who are out to do you lots of harm, and others that you have to set free, and become quite helpful. Since you can't hit a ghost, you have to find some other way to deal with them. Much of the "combat" here is of the "run about until you find the proper item or weapon to use variety", and occasionally you'll die while doing this, usually due to your missing a particular detail or two. There are also a lot puzzles to solve, and they're not too hard, but occasionally you'll come across a couple that really stump you big time, and their solutions make you slap yourself on the forehead because they're so obvious. If you're a careful player, you'll want to speak to everyone you can (there's loads of speech in the game, and the voice acting is pretty good), which is a great idea, as a number of them have information items and clues to help in your adventure.
The graphics are pretty good, although the King's Field engine is showing its age none too gracefully. In other words, the various environments in the game are solid, and excellently textured, but a bit blocky looking, but this isn't a bad thing. The people and ghosts in the game look way too odd, however- but at least they have faces (if you played the King's Field games, you know what I'm talking about!). Musically, the game has a really effective, atmospheric score that has you looking behind you or under the bed for those ghosts that are chasing you. The game does have its share of problems, however. The main bugaboo is with the pacing of the game, which runs a bit toward the sluggish side, even though there is the option to speed things up a bit, but then again, the KF games aren't known for their speedy gameplay. On one hand, the slowness of the game fits at times, but having the ability to run like hell would have helped a lot You can crouch down to avoid being hit, which is nice, but for the most part, there's nothing here that screams innovation. The game has a couple of endings, as well, if you really like games of this type, and don't mind playing over.
If you're a fan of games like Clock Tower, D, Silent Hill, and the like, or are looking for something out of the ordinary, you'll definitely get into From's Echo Night. If this is your first foray into horror adventure gaming, the pace of the game may seem a bit too slow, if you're used to lots of action in your games, but stick with it, and your patience will be rewarded. Besides, variety is the spice of life, even when it comes to videogames!
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