Publisher: Crave Entertainment Rated: Teen Released Year: 1999
- Sony Playstaion 1
After a long time of silence, a great evil rips apart the land, destroys several villages, plagues it with monsters and afflicts the population with a madness that even makes people scared of their own shadows. Join an odd cast of 6 as they struggle to survive the odds and overcome the evil.
"'Oddball' describes it. Very unpolished, but full of potential. A game that could have been so much more than it was.
Now, before anyone flips at me, let me say I actually do like this game, despite what I gave it for a review. I enjoyed the storyline and many aspects of what helped make this game interesting. However, I still stand by the rating because I believe the gameplay could have used a lot more effort."
Plot / Concept: 9 / 10
Probably not the most original in terms of storyline or plot, Shadow Madness' strength is in the characters and their interactions with others.
So we start with a cast of two (quickly becomes three) who find all their home towns have been wiped off the map by a powerful evil entity. To top it off, the fields (and even towns) are filled with monsters and the population at large is being overcome by a strange madness that makes their speech very weird and their skin turns blue-ish (the very obvious clue something is wrong with them). It only gets worse from there.
I don't think I have ever seen an RPG with so much negative attitude towards cast members, important or otherwise. The verbal abuse and insults were always on the go, which added a rather perverse layer of charm to how the scenarios developed.
While interactions between main characters themselves and with enemies are sour at best, they tend to be a lot more diplomatic when dealing with townsfolk. Villagers generally have a lot of different personalities and did not strike me as being simply 'generic people to talk to to gain clues on what is going on'. Instead we have people who are nice, mean, arrogant, depressed, um... interested in providing inappropriate 'services' and such. Some are paranoid, delusional, simply off the wall, boring, curious, the list goes on. It also helped that the majority of them also have little portraits. I found interacting with non-regular characters to be far more appealing in this game than in many others. I also like how in some towns, like the one you are based out of for most of the quest, the characters do change what they say as the game develops.
The storyline was borderline between overly serious and overly comedic. It tends to flip back and forth to help keep things from getting silly or boring. Sometimes too much of one emotional mood can ruin a story, too.
"There will be death". What a classic line by one of the characters. Often it was used to describe an ominous situation or to predict an enemy's... uh... status soon.
One big nit about halfway through the game is the entire story devolves into a series of 'Fetch quests' where you gotta keep zipping back and forth between places or continually re-visiting areas you have already been through. While it works for series like Metroid, for RPGs there should be suitable gaps between visits, especially for 'Fetch quests'.
One thing I really liked was the insane amount of in-game lore that can be read at your own convenience. It is not required reading (unless you want to sneak in a little bonus inventory) and it is not forced on you, either. It is simply there. You may ignore it or you may look it up. Your choice.
Also, we have an RPG that actually makes good use of the Party Leader concept. In some situations, who you have as your Pointman will affect what goes on in gameplay and your interactions with certain characters in the story.
Gameplay: 3 / 10
The game starts off strong, but quickly blows up in your face.
Navigating around the map is okay. It uses pre-rendered maps you move through; rooms, world maps, etc. The speed is also good, assuming you keep your character on run the whole time.
The battle system works decently well for the first 1/4 of the game, then it just becomes ridiculously easy to the point you question the need for things like spells, items or anything else. When you are halfway through, I think you would only be playing for the plot as the game battle system is a ridiculous pushover. Someone was not paying careful attention by that point. To add to problems, I found the load times of before and after battles to be a bit sluggish. Maybe that is due to lack of effects, but it also wrecks havoc on your countdown timer if you need to escape a place in time.
The item system: 30 spare items? That's it? That adds to a level of frustration since it requires you to continually have to deal with how much you can fit in your pockets on such a regular basis. It also makes it difficult (if not impossible) to hold onto any special stuff along the way. And to top it off, there are so... many... different ... items you can end up collecting. Different stores offer good prices on some stuff, but odds are you will never get the chance to exploit that opportunity.
The mini games added an interesting touch, given they were located in some odd places (a torture chamber and an odd Gadgeteer office). There was also a lock picking minigame where you followed a set of commands. For so much attention to be put into this, it saw very little use. However, I am glad there were not a lot of licks to pick beyond level 1. (Two level 3's and one level four, and if you play your cards right, you could even have keys for those).
TAKE HEED: I found a spot in the game where it 'crashes'. In Gogarin Keep, where you can use the Lv. 4 Skeleton Key to unlock a door, I found (twice) when given the option to use it, the O,X,T,S buttons were disabled so it was not possible for me to do anything but be stuck with the options of using the key or not. There was no way to back out of it, so the only option left was to reset the game. The third time did work for me, so this will not happen all the time. Still, before you unlock that door, go outside the keep and save first.
Controls: 4 / 10
Battle controls can be rather tricky and take some getting used to (Using the L&R buttons to navigate around your options). Also, item and spell selection can be tedious, given the lack of shortcuts to help smooth things along (Instead, you have to scroll through every item along the way to get to the one you want).
It was nice to see that Dualshock support was added on, but would have been more nice if you could more carefully navigate your character around, instead of being stuck playing it like a directional pad.
Music: 9 / 10
Music is good. Right design, right time, right place.
Brad Spear did too good a job for Shadow Madness. 170+ music tracks in the game, 27 of them alone are battle themes.
Some battle music can seem a bit 'over dramatic' at times, but it is not a mood killer. I have nothing to complain about the music at all.
Sound Effects: 5 / 10
Very few and out of touch with reality, it seems. Not something to be impressed with. The monster roars were interesting and useful (if only to tell us to expect a random battle).
The effect for the summons were decent, at least.
Graphics: 6 / 10
For 1999, the graphics were not bad. Interesting use of movies along the way, though I feel they were used (for the most part) to highlight odds and ends, rather than purposeful plot elements (except for the stuff at the end of the game).
The maps worked out well and were suitably well designed, aside from a few odd spots. The 3-D models were never designed to be seen up-close (except the final villain who actually looked alright because he WAS made to be seen up-close), so they look rather... badly designed, especially the girls who looked like they had twigs for arms and legs.
Low: Once you have beat it, there is little incentive to go back to it. The game does offer a couple mini-games, but nothing substantial to help you get back into the entire game.