Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode 1 Tides of Fate
It begins with a young boy. Well, as far as these things can ever be said to begin - some might argue that it began with the war between the Light and Dark Gods that split the continents asunder. But that was long ago. This tale begins with a young boy. His name is Magus Lee, and he's a Dark Lord, or on the way to being one. With his family at war with the kingdom of Verana, Magus wanted to prove himself to his father. Spurned on the battlefield, the Dark God Hazeezus heard his plea and granted him the powers of a demigod. It was a slaughter.
Skip forward many years. The boy is now a man, and controls a mighty empire. His powers have faded now, his patron deity abandoning him. This is a happy empire, with dark and light creatures actually cohabiting to some extent. Magus Lee and his family rule the people strictly but fairly. And yet... something new is arising. The empire is under threat. Magus must head into battle once more.
Chronicles of a Dark Lord is an RPG in the style of the early Final Fantasy games. You control a party of adventurers (up to four at any one time) as they explore a variety of locations, battling monsters and taking on quests. As they win battles, they gain experience and levels. New levels boost their stats and make them more powerful, and can also grant them new abilities. But you probably already know all this stuff. There's little here that's particularly unusual.
Controls are keyboard, and very simple. You move around the game maps with the arrow keys, and you have an "action" button to search, talk and so on in the form of the enter key. You can enter the menus with Escape, which also backs you out of menus, and the only other key is a "dash" option that moves you around at double speed, perfect for those larger maps. (I switched on the auto-dash feature fairly quickly, I must admit.) In combat, you have an ATB system - each character on both sides has a gauge that fills up and they can perform an action when that gauge is complete. Actions include plain attacks, guarding against enemy attacks, using items and performing special skills. There's also an option to escape combat, but this doesn't always work and is not available in boss fights.
Early Final Fantasy is the best way of describing the graphical style. It's instantly familiar - I suspect an RPG-making engine has been employed, because I've seen several RPGs looking very like this now. While this must save a lot of work for developers, it does make these games look rather samey. I am pleased to say that the location maps are a good size and highly detailed - be sure to look at everything, because you never know what might be hidden inside that crate or barrel. Magus and his friends, along with most characters you encounter, are rendered as retro sprites. In combat, most of your generic enemies will be more realistic renderings that do not animate - however, some "special" fights will be against animated sprite-like foes. A good range of retro sound effects accompanies gameplay, especially in combat. There's a good range of music too, though as the background tracks are tied to locations or events they can get rather samey when exploring the same area for a long period.
Chronicles is very easy to pick up. The controls are so simple that they are quite intuitive. There are some options for volume, etc, as well as for things like text speed, though I'd like to be able to set that BEFORE starting a new game, when there's a lot of text to get through! The opening prologue is an excellent opportunity to learn how to play, in which Magus is equipped with top-quality equipment and has some pretty nifty abilities. It's difficult to lose here and allows the player to explore and learn without impacting on later gameplay. You have ten save slots available, and the game manual recommends using them all - this is sound advice when you get into the game proper, as you'd hate to find you've wandered into dangerous territory for an hour and aren't prepared to get out again.
There is some variability in gameplay. Battles are random, after all, and the range of characters and abilities means you can try a range of different strategies, but there are no difficulty settings. As often with these games, if you're struggling you can level up on some easier monsters until you're stronger. There's only one main plot to follow, though there are side quests - however, if you're keen to carry on with Magus, there are other titles in the Chronicles series for you to pick up. Even one game is estimated by the developers to take fourteen hours to play through (so, understandably, this reviewer has only made limited progress). RPG fans will find plenty of gameplay in this one.
One thing I've found very helpful is the official Companion Guide, provided with my review copy. I'm not clear whether this is provided with the retail version. It features useful guidance on what to look for and where to go and of any secrets and side quests. Without this I might have been struggling a little more in the time available, but I'm pleased to say that it most certainly isn't essential. The game manual is quite detailed, though I still didn't quite follow how everything worked until I tried some fiddling about myself. The game holds together well, however I did spot a weird bug in the item screen. My biggest complaint is that there is no "quests" screen, which would be a useful reminder for players of what they are actually doing, especially if they're reloading a saved game after a short break.
Chronicles of a Dark Lord is proving to be a diverting and rather fun game. It has enough complexity to make it a challenge without being so complicated that you can't figure out what you're doing. I hope the fairly generic graphical look doesn't prevent it from standing out in the market, as it's a good game in its own right and an excellent way to get into RPGs if you're not already a fan of the genre.
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