reviews\ Oct 2, 2001 at 8:00 pm

Throne of Darkness - PC - Review

Ever play a game where each session scream past, where time becomes a blur because you are so wrapped up in the challenge and intrigued by the game play?

Sierra and Click Entertainment have released such a game for the PC, and it is called Throne of Darkness. At first glance, Throne has some of the elements found in Blizzard’s Diablo and BioWare’s Baldur Gate series. The game play is amazing similar to Diablo (with good reason, some of the developers for Click worked for Blizzard) while incorporating some of the tactical elements and treasure locations of the BioWare series.

What it all combines to deliver is a wonderful gaming experience, full of quests, conquests and challenge.

The setting for ToD is ancient Japan. The Shogun Tsunayoshi is punished by the gods for his excesses and he knows he is dying. That is when a mysterious monk appeared, bearing an elixir that would grant the Shogun immortality. The weakened Tsunayoshi drank the potion and within minutes was restored to full health. But something had changed. Malevolence burned inside the Shogun, and it was believed that from that time forward he was no longer human, but rather was the demon Zanshin, the Dark Warlord. Raising an army of undead, and abominations, the Dark Warlord begins his conquest of Japan.

As the game opens, the troops of the Dark Warlord have invaded a castle, and the daimyo has called his trusted fighters together for a final stand. His orders are simple, repel the invaders and kill the general leading them. The quartet – a leader, archer, swordsman and the Brick (he’s the strongest) – begin the task. Soon the ranks swell as a wizard, ninja and berserker are at hand, ready to be called upon to help with the task. Free the castle, find the blacksmith and priest to aid in the fight to rid Japan of the foulness, which threatens to destroy the Land of the Rising Sun.

The game play of ToD is unique in that you have four members in the combat party, but only control one at a time. The other three will act according to that character’s AI. If you are in charge of the leader, the archer will stand back and deliver arrow after arrow at the enemy. You can swap out any member of the party by teleporting them back to the daimyo for healing, and pulling up a reserve character. If a party member dies, teleport him back to the daimyo, and if the daimyo has enough mana at the moment, he can resurrect the dead member of the party, who will begin to heal and can rejoin the group.

The blacksmith, once located and freed, though he does not travel with the party, is accessible throughout the course of the game. He will repair, customize or make weapons for the war party. The priest acts in much the same way. Accessible through the inventory screen, he will purify cursed items, identify, buy items or accept offers to the gods – which can increase elemental spell points.

This is a game incorporating the Japanese weaponry and magic. Each character is capable of casting spells, and each can – much like Diablo II – be equipped with two weapons, which the game player can switch between with a keystroke.

The player interface is very simple to operate, and the learning curve for understanding which hot keys will perform what actions is perhaps 12-15 minutes. The only reason it takes that long is because the combat is seemingly nonstop. From the moment your party leaves the chambers of the daimyo, you will be besieged with all manner of foe. The game ends when all members of your party are killed. If you are getting pummeled by the enemy, but can get one character away and back to the daimyo, you can rebuild the party and the game without having to start at the previous save point.

If you have played a game such as Diablo II or Baldur’s Gate, you will have the basics down. The inventory contains items that can be equipped or carried. You can only carry so much and it is wise to spread around the wealth, so to speak.

The sound quality of Throne is excellent. The music is well scored; the sound effects are, perhaps, not as surprising but only because they deliver exactly what you expect to hear. The game also is rich with the language of Japan.

Visually, this game is eye candy. The environmental graphics and animations easily equal the best RPG games on the market. Each character moves with a grace and ease that would befit a warrior. The map isn’t quite the overview that helps game players, but the inventory screens, and priest/blacksmith interfaces are very well done.

This game does not feature quite the amount of blood of some other RPGs, but does have a lot of slice and dice action. Then again, what would you expect when you have warriors armed with razor-sharp katanas making precision cuts on the foe. The magical spells are exquisite effects.

This game is well supported in the multiplayer mode. You can play through an online or multiplayer option. Online will go through the Sierra servers for people to play with or against, while multiplayer allows you to hook up with someone else over a LAN for a game. The multiplayer game is a ‘king of the hill’ style contest with up to eight people playing, each aligning with one of four castles with the goal being to defeat the Dark Warlord. The latter has seven lieutenants guarding him, which must be defeated.

This game is rated Mature for violence, blood and gore.

Throne of Darkness is an intense RPG that is sports excellent visual and audio elements. Combat-heavy, it nonetheless asks players to use their brains in determining how to advance a party. Each quest gets successively harder, the opponents nastier and the obstacles bigger. When you only have four active members in a party, you had better plan ahead how to level them up, and what attack patterns work in certain situations.

This is a terrific game, and clearly one of the best RPGs of the year.

Install: Medium.
This game will take up a bit of room on your hard drive – 923 megs for a typical installation.

Gameplay: 9.5
This program moves along at a rapid pace – even the game save option takes the blink of an eye. The only pausing between elements is when you pause the party for repair, recovery or just to catch your breath. You will have to make split-second decisions – and therein is the source of a lot of the fun.

Graphics: 9.5
The animations are excellent, and the environmental elements are exquisite.

Sound: 9.
The combat sounds are exactly what one would expect, the music is wonderful and the whole audio feel of the game supports the mood very well.

Difficulty: 8
Learning to switch weapons, and swap active party members on the fly is perhaps the biggest thing you will need to learn. The cerebral elements are taxed when leveling party members up. Do not expect a lot of mind-numbing puzzles.

Concept: 8
The plot is the basic evil-trying-to-overrun-the-world theme, but the setting gives it a new feel, and there are some twists that make the evil even more malevolent.

Multiplayer: 8
The game tries to jazz up the ‘king of the hill’ theme, and does so with some success. This game is well supported online.

Overall: 9.5
There was a time when Sierra’s line of Action/RPG titles seemed to wane. Nothing much was out there, but Throne of Darkness is a proclamation that Sierra is back. This is a terrific title; it is entertainment-rich, and one of those games that makes a mockery of time because it will fly when you play.


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