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Developer:
Delphine Software International
Publisher: Gathering of Developers
Platform: Windows, Playstation
Release Date: 1999

by Adam Rodman




There is a surprising lack of games like Darkstone--games that are simple enough for the average gamer yet complex and immersive enough for a veteran RPG fan. Darkstone deposits the player in a mysterious fantasy world. Controlling either one or two characters, he or she must begin an epic quest to free the land from evil...


Apparently, the Land of Uma (that would be the place where the game takes place) has had quite an interesting history. Thousands of years ago, the Primeval Battle took place between Life and Death. Though Life emerged victorious, Uma was left ravaged, decimated like a nuclear wasteland. Fortunately, from these ashes, mankind arose and harmony swept across the land. These ancient humans continued Life's fight against Death, which relatively pleased Life. Life took on the human form of the Goddess Kaliba. Of course, Death would not be defeated so easily. Through his divine powers, he made men jealous and hateful and just generally mean people. Mankind started to fight among itself, killing, stealing, and doing things that mean people do. Kaliba, distressed, created the Time Orb to once again defeat Death. After his defeat, the Time Orb was broken into seven crystals, and each crystal was entrusted to a guardian so it could never be used for evil purposes. A thousand years of harmony and peace passed, but it was bound to end sometime. A monk turned evil, Draak, decided that the peace-loving Kaliba followers would be better off worshiping him and Death. After summoning his evil minions to conquer the lands of Uma, he rested assured, knowing the only thing that could stop him was the Time Orb. The player's characters are the Pure of Heart; their mission is to stop Draak by recovering the crystals and reforming the Time Orb ... Can you say cliche? Yes, the plot is lame. However, after the game is started, the plot is nothing but an excuse to kill everything in sight.


Darkstone sports the most easy-to-use interface I have ever seen in a game. Everything can be controlled by the mouse, though there are keyboard shortcuts that make navigation easier. A left click on the screen moves your character, and a right click on the portrait brings up that character's inventory, a right click on the screen casts a spell, etc. The system is so intuitive that the player will totally understand it in under a half-hour. Since the game is also in 3D, the camera view can be easily changed just by using the arrow keys. Peeking around dark dungeon corridors has never been easier! As was stated earlier, the player can control either one or two characters. If two characters are selected, one is always controlled by the computer, while the other is controlled by the player. The player can switch between the characters at any time. The AI character is quite impressive. It will cast spells, attack monsters, and get out of the way when needed. Mana reserve level can be set so it will only use up some of its magic. However, monster AI isn't quite as good as character AI. Though some monsters will run away if hurt (the Amazons come to mind), most just charge the player regardless of how weak or injured they are. The biggest squabble I have with the AI is that the baddies can't open doors. In a dungeon, a popular strategy to wipe out tons of powerful monsters that would otherwise kill you instantly in a room is to place the two characters on either side of the door to that room. Once it is opened and a monster passes through, the door is closed again and the monster slaughtered. Repeat until all monsters are dead. This makes some sections of the game quite easy. Combat is all real-time. All that is needed to attack a monster is a left click on it; for a spell, all it takes is a right click. Combat frequently ends up as a click-fest. Overall, however, the gameplay is far superior to most of the real-time combat RPGs of its time.


Throughout the journey to create the Time Orb, the player will have to complete numerous quests. Uma is chock-full of people too pitiful to help themselves. These people are the guardians of the crystals. Helping them is the only way to recover the pieces you need to recreate the Time Orb. The average quest requires the player to talk to an NPC, enter a dungeon, retrieve an object, and return it to the NPC. Essentially, Darkstone is a dungeon crawl. Fortunately, the game is different every time it is played. There are twenty quests available, and seven are chosen every time a new game is started. Even if the player receives the same quest twice, the dungeon structure is different and monsters are placed in different locations. In theory, this creates unlimited replayability. In practice, though, while it does not create unlimited replayability, it ensures that Darkstone will be played quite a few times. Lots of nice features have been added to place this game above its competition, namely Diablo and clones. No more leaving thousands of gold coins laying around--there is now a bank to place them in. No more dumb characters--even a warrior can learn spells, just as a mage can learn to fight. There are a few features that could've been left out, though. Eating is one. The characters get hungry a lot. Food takes up much space in the limited confines of the characters' bags. Therefore, the player will be taking many a trip back to town to buy food. The other is aging. As the characters get older, they gain experience much more slowly. Though the Fountain of Youth can take years off their lives, aging is something that could've been omitted.


The graphics in Darkstone are all rendered in 3D. Though the characters and monsters might seem a little too polygon-shaped, it allows for realistic sword fights, death throes, and character movements. Darkstone also looks quite good--even on its minimum system requirements. The sound is another matter, though. The voice acting is horrendous. The voices in the game are totally devoid of emotion. Fortunately, characters don't talk that often, and when NPCs do, they get straight to the point.


Overall, Darkstone should not be missed by any RPG fan. Though it lacks a decent plot and there are some minor gameplay issues, Darkstone remains one of the best RPGs released. Do yourself a favor and buy it.


Final Grade: A


System Requirements:

  • Pentium 233 MHz
  • 32 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM
  • 170 MB hard drive space
  • Keyboard and mouse
  • Direct 3D compatible, 4 MB 3D accelerator board
  • DirectX 6



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