Darkstone Comes Up a Bit Short

Any person who has played a lot of fantasy, role-playing games has heard plenty of tired game storylines similar to this one; "The evil Draak has acquired an incredible power and has transformed himself into a dragon and now has plans to destroy the world. You must journey across the lands to find seven ancient magic crystals which will help you defeat the villainous Draak."

That is the opening sequence to Take 2 Interactive’s title Darkstone, an action/fantasy role-playing game for the Sony Playstation. Darkstone is part of Take 2’s $9.99 line up of games.

Players in Darkstone choose from eight different characters in four categories, warrior, thief, holy person, or sorcerer. You will guide your character through creepy dungeons, castles, forests and caves in your efforts to save the world. During your quest for the magic crystals you will encounters Draak’s minions; skeletons, amazons, giant wasps, and hordes of other creatures trying to deter you from your task.

As you progress through the game your character will acquire experience points, which you can allocate to your characters four attributes, strength, magic, dexterity, and vitality. There are skills you can learn and also there is the town where weapons and magic items can be had for a price.

In order to collect the crystals, each level of the game you have to perform some task. For example, at the beginning of a level, you encounter a woman crying that monsters have taken her son and fled into the caves. Of course, she begs you to go in the caverns and save the little brat. Upon completion of the task she gives you one of the crystals as a reward.

The thing that is neat about Darkstone is that each time you start a new game the entire game reconstructs itself. Every area, dungeon, item placement and monster is different each time you play a new game. Which means that the first time you play Darkstone you run into that woman blubbering about her kid on level three, while the next time you play a new game, you may deal with her and her little beast on level eight. While the location of the chest that holds the magic-resistant armor may change, the way you solve the level may not.

Remembering the controls was a minor obstacle. X is attack, circle is action (picking up items, doors, talking, etc.), square is access to the inventory screen, and triangle and the analog stick are camera controls. R1 and R2 are spells or skills that you select from the inventory menu. L1 and L2 are for items that you select for quick use during battle, such as health vials or magic potions.

The problem that I had with the controls was that I would forget which buttons were for spells/skills and which ones were for items. Maybe I’m getting old, but a few times I wasted that last crucial health potion instead of casting that Ray o’ Agony spell on the 12 monsters bearing down on my poor bewildered thief. Other than that, the menu options, maps, and inventory screens were easy to navigate.

The graphics, for today’s standards, are kind of poor. The look of the whole game reminds me of the games first released for the PlayStation. Please remember that this is a $10 game. The graphics are not going to be like the last Final Fantasy. If you play the game with the camera zoomed far away, the graphics are okay, when you zoom in close to the characters they all seem oddly misshapen.

The storyline is terrible. Bad guy gets powers. Bad guy can now turn into a dragon. Bad guy wants to destroy world. Why even bother with one if it’s going to be this lame?

In a way, though, this game reminds me of Gauntlet, because you spend most of your time exploring mazes, opening chests and battling monsters. Come to think of it, Gauntlet didn’t really have a story either. The monsters are just tough enough to keep it interesting and the game is long enough so that you won’t finish it in a day.

The minor problems that I have with Darkstone are to numerous to go through, so I will just point out a few. There is no map on the main playing screen. Instead, you have to pause the game every time you need to get your bearings. When your character is not qualified to use a certain weapon, you find that specific weapon in abundance; As soon as you become qualified, you can’t find a one. This game is constantly loading. When you move from the forest to the cave it’s loading. When you move from forest to town it has to load. When you move from one level to the next inside a dungeon it has to load. Loading, loading, loading, loading, loading. I watched this game load more than I actually played it.

I give Darkstone 2 out of 5 GiN gems. Even though at that retail price it’s cheaper than renting it twice at the local Blockbuster, I advise leaving this one on the shelf.

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