The era of the Samurai is one that has been little covered by the gaming industry, at least outside of the video arcades and console fighting games. Take a bit out of the gaming classic Diablo and mix it with the Japanese Middle Ages and what do you get? An interesting era of history added to an already successful RPG/action game perhaps? This is exactly where Throne of Darkness is trying to go.
Does it go well? Well, let’s start with a little background on the game. Starting out with three out of the seven samurai (although these seven no way relate to the popular Kirosawa film) of legend, your first task is to rescue the remaining samurai and chase the enemies from your territory. The first thing you’ll notice is that each of the samurai has slightly different attributes. From the huge barbarian to the thin mage, each one has certain abilities to make them unique from the others. The next thing you’ll notice is that you have control over up to four of the samurai at a time. The others remain at your base where they can be teleported instantly back and forth to your party. While you only control one samurai at a time, the other three are controlled by the AI similarly to the characters in Diablo 2.
Much of the gameplay is directly taken from Diablo. The left mouse click is your attack button while the right is designated to the use of spells and items. The inventory system is also patterned after Diablo as well, with the usual compartments for placing items as well as a good bit of space for carrying items. Also included is an encumbrance system, similar to games like Baldur’s Gate.
The ability to control up to four samurai at a time may seem like a boon, but soon after the fighting becomes intense, you’ll start to see how hard it is to manage four different characters and keep them from getting killed. I died numerous times just trying to teleport characters back and forth in heavy combat. There’s too much micromanagement of your units when the action gets rough. The mindless clicking of Diablo is overshadowed by the constant attempts to remove injured comrades from battle.
The most unique and possibly best idea this game has to offer is the item system. The blacksmith in the game can build many items for you, but you need to bring him other items with which to build them from. It’s a points based system, so for each item you give him, you are awarded points, and these points allow him to make bigger and better equipment for you. This seems like a fantastic idea and really works well for getting weaponry and armor for your characters.
The graphics themselves are an interesting sort. Like the paintings and scrolls from the Shogunate era of Japan, everything is sort of browned out, like it was drawn on brown parchment. I see where they were going with this style of visuals, but I don’t particularly like how it turned out. It feels somewhat like all the bright colors have been muted into the brown background and it feels unfriendly to the gamer. Spell effects and combat isn’t all that exciting either as the animations seem somewhat limited and uninteresting.
Throne of Darkness really fails to meet many of the expectations I had for it. It sounded like a terrific idea, but somehow got extremely muddled along the way. The control, while based off the simple designs of Diablo, has somehow managed to turn into a manipulation battle just to live through any major confrontations. It’s not an easy game to get into and many gamers will easily find themselves put off by the management. I became very impatient with the game before I had even gotten far into it. Throne of Darkness could have been a great game, but its convoluted controls and unappealing gameplay really tore down the fundamentals that make a good game.