Mazes of Fate
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Sabarasa Entertainment
Publisher: Graffiti Entertainment
Release Date: 09/09/08
Depending on how old you are, Mazes of Fate may or may not be a surprisingly familiar experience. The easiest way to describe the experience is to say that it’s something of a throwback to certain types of PC RPG’s, specifically games like Lands of Lore, Eye of the Beholder and Ultima Underworld (mostly Lands of Lore, to be honest). If you know what that means, that should immediately tell you whether or not Mazes of Fate will be something that you’ll be interested in, as it’s… more or less exactly like that. For those who don’t understand that comparison, well, you’re either younger than I am or you didn’t play a lot of nineties PC RPG’s, so to put it simply: Mazes of Fate is a real-time first-person dungeon-crawling RPG that is very reminiscent of the previously mentioned games in both style and substance, and while it’s a solid example of the genre and a solid RPG for the DS, unless you’re the sort of person who remembers these sorts of games with fondness, it might not be exactly your cup of tea.
The story of Mazes of Fate starts off simply enough; back in ancient times, the people worshipped the gods and had untold bounties bestowed upon them, life was grand, the usual… until people began to turn their backs on the gods and began worshipping powerful mages instead. Well, the gods are miffed by this turn of events, of course, and withdraw their blessings, casting the land into despair. A prophet named Harlac promises to show the people how to repent and appease the gods, and he is named king for his efforts… until the Rebels make off with the Stone of Redemption, an artifact needed to complete the ritual needed to appease the gods. Well, Harlac doesn’t take too kindly to this, and goes off in search of it… and is never heard from again. At this point in the story is where you come in; as a novice adventurer, you start off in the city of Sumur, looking to make a name for yourself in the world, only to find yourself directly involved in a quest that will dictate the fate of the world. Generally speaking, the story is quite solid; chances are good you’ve seen similar stories elsewhere, but the story in Mazes of Fate is handled fairly well, and it doesn’t play its hand too soon or bog you down with too much storytelling, instead presenting a fairly engaging story that’s reasonably solid overall. As you’re capable of venturing into the world as whatever character you wish (or creating your own), it’s also good to note that the game does, to a certain extent, feature some choices in the experience that have noticeable effects , as well as the fact that the gender of your protagonist also changes certain dialogue responses and such.
Visually, Mazes of Fate looks… okay. The overworld map and towns you visit are generally well designed and look solid, and the various game menus are easy to navigate and visually uncluttered, which is good. The actual dungeon navigation is fairly unpleasant looking, however; we are all fairly aware that the DS is not really a system that handles 3D particularly well, and as the entirety of your dungeon explorations are rendered in 3D, it’s fairly easy to say that they are not particularly attractive. They’re certainly serviceable, and you can quite easily identify what everything is supposed to be, but had the graphics been sprite-based sprites instead, they would probably look a considerable bit better than they do. Also, the art style is also “okay”Â; it’s serviceable and does the job, but it’s really kind of odd looking and doesn’t entirely fit the tone and theme of the game. The music and effects fare a little better; the music is largely midi tracks that generally sound decent and match the theme of the game nicely, and the sound effects are mostly pretty good, though the odd ambient noises that pop up in dungeons (like demonic laughter and people screaming) are somewhat less fitting when you’ve obliterated everything in the dungeon proper.
The gameplay of Mazes of Fate largely takes place in 3D dungeons, which are surprisingly simple to navigate; both the d-pad and the face buttons can be used to move forward and backward and strafe left and right, while the stylus is used to turn your field of vision, and the bumpers both as quick one hundred and eighty degree turn buttons. Thus, whichever hand you feel comfortable using as your stylus hand is usable in Mazes of Fate. The top screen acts as a mini-map, showing you the map of the immediate area you’re in, though if you want to look at the full map, a press of the Select Button will accomplish this. Your stylus will be your primary interface with the game world, as it’s used constantly in nearly every menu, conversation, and battle in the game. Combat is a simple matter of tapping on monsters on-screen to cast spells or attack with weapons, depending on the character. Selecting spells or weapon combat is a simple matter of tapping one icon over the character heads on the bottom of the screen; with melee combat, this is all that’s needed, while with spell combat, a menu will pop up that allows you to select your chosen spell to ready it, which can then be cast either by tapping the enemy (for enemy effect spells) or an icon over the head of the allied character you wish to use it on (for ally effect spells). You can access your inventory by tapping an icon in the top left of the screen, which then allows you to drag items from your inventory and use them in the game world as needed. Dragging an item from the game world into this menu adds it to your inventory as well. Clicking the highest button in the top right corner will take you to the main menu, which allows you to check character stats, use items, divide up skill points, save your game (which can be done anywhere, THANK GOD), and other useful functions. The button below that allows you to “make camp”Â; when no enemies are around, you can rest up and replenish health and magic points, though if an enemy comes in range you will be woken up immediately, and you cannot make camp when enemies are in your vicinity.
When you’re not in dungeons killing enemies, you can also use the stylus to move your character around towns and through the countryside, and tapping on locations in the overworld maps will access these locations. Talking to NPC’s and shopping are also stylus-friendly actions; tapping on the touch screen will move through NPC conversations, and tapping on your dialogue choices will move the conversations forward, and in shops, double-tapping an item pops up a dialogue choice to buy or sell the item, and clicking to buy or sell said item does so. You can also use this double-tap method to equip weapons, armor, and other gear from the inventory screen. In short: the stylus does damn near everything, so if you don’t like that, you’re beat.
Now, this being an RPG, it should be noted that your characters are influenced by two sets of statistics. Your base statistics are set at the beginning of the game, and are either dictated by the character you choose (from a cast of seven pre-made characters) or by your own choices if you choose to build your own. Base stats are divided into four categories: Strength, which determines how hard you hit things, Endurance, which determines hit points and general resistances, Dexterity, which governs hit percentages, ranged weaponry abilities and such, and Wisdom, which influences magic points and spellcasting abilities. You are also offered various skills which you can add points to every experience level, which are broken down into four categories: Combat, which includes things like weapon preferences and evasion/parry, Physical, which includes things like healing and maximum hit points, Magical, which includes your spell families and magic point regeneration, and Rogue, which includes perception and manipulation skills. You’re given three points per experience level to add to any of these skills, for both yourself and your party members, though your party members won’t have access to all of the same skills you do for various reasons. How you choose to develop your character in both of these sets of stats is important; do you want to have a magic-using healer who’s light on melee damage but big on spellcasting, or a heavy melee fighter with strong weapon knowledge and lots of hit points? You can build your character any one of a number of ways, and thanks to the variety of skills and ally characters you can partner up with, just about any build is possible, and usable, in Mazes of Fate.
You’ll find a lot of allies in the game too, depending on who you talk to and what questions you ask, though some will follow along with your quest longer than others. You can only have two allies at one time, though when a new potential ally pops up, you can always boot out an old ally to replace them if you so choose. There are also a bunch of different and useful and worthwhile pieces of equipment, items, and so on throughout the game, which should make outfitting your party simple enough, though many pieces of gear can impart benefits beyond their base stats. Again, the question becomes, do you want a dagger with a high Combat (chance to hit) score, a mace with a high Might (damage output) score, a sword with a high Defense (resistance to damage) score, or a bow that’s usable at range? Depending on your skills and the base stats of the weapon, any weapon you find could be more or less useful than what you have presently for a number of reasons, which, again, makes things a bit more interesting. Add to this the large amount of subquests in the game and the general overall length (the game clocks in around fifteen to twenty hours, which isn’t bad for a DS RPG), and Mazes of Fate is mostly a pretty decent little game.
If you haven’t played it already, that is.
Now, some of you may know that there was a release of Mazes of Fate on the GBA a few years back, and might be reading this wondering if this is perhaps a remake or a sequel or what have you, so here you go: this is a remake. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing, as if you enjoyed the first game a whole lot you might well enjoy this updated DS version, but if you were hoping for something a little more involved, you might be disappointed, as the DS version is, interface changes aside, mostly similar to the GBA version. Furthermore, Mazes of Fate feels more than a little bit like the aforementioned Lands of Lore, from the three-person teams to the similar combat mechanics to the ability to light a campfire and rest to regain health and magic… and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Lands of Lore is still a pretty awesome game, the similarities might either be incredibly welcome or incredibly off-putting, depending on the sort of person you are.
That aside, though, the biggest problem with Mazes of Fate is that it’s fairly easy to complete, largely because the enemies are incredibly deficient. Generally speaking, enemies will often get in one swing to your two or three sets of attacks because they often don’t attack very quickly, but the various enemies don’t attack very intelligently, either. By simply backing up after attacking, you can repeatedly beat enemies to death without ever taking damage unless you happen to back into an enemy (which is rare), and since you’ll rarely see more than two enemies at one time, you can pretty much do this forever. Enemies can also easily be victimized by circle-strafing them and beating them down, as it takes most enemies forever to completely turn around, orient themselves, and THEN attack you, meaning that you can essentially run circles around them with little effort. Occasionally you will encounter foes who are capable of working around this sort of gameplay (usually bosses), and when they hit you they will indeed hurt significantly, though with the large amount of healing potions the game offers up, this isn’t usually a big deal, either, especially since characters who are knocked out can easily be revived with a healing potion. The only significant difficulty comes from fighting with the on-screen inventory, which can only display a few items at any given time, meaning that if you need an item buried somewhere in the fourth or fifth menu of your inventory, you’ll be flipping through panels while trying to dodge enemies, which, while not impossible, becomes annoying rather quickly. Also, on the topic of “clunky interface choices”Â, it’s kind of annoying that the game only seems to allow the player the option to sell items one at a time, because of the delay between selling each item that makes selling a stack of thirty items take something like five minutes. This is also not particularly game-breaking, but it IS particularly annoying and could easily have been avoided.
That said, Mazes of Fate is a surprisingly entertaining game that serves as a solid handheld RPG as well as a fond reminder of some wonderful PC RPG’s, and if you’re old enough to remember these games, or you’re not too concerned with dealing with a few issues, it’s a worthwhile investment. The story is solid, the gameplay is quite functional, the systems are in-depth, and the game has a surprisingly large amount of replay value if you’re interested, plus it’s more than a little influenced by a bunch of old PC RPG’s that were great. It’s not terribly challenging, not terribly pretty to look at, and has a couple of control issues that can be annoying at times, and if playing a game almost entirely with the stylus bothers you, you won’t have a lot of fun here. If you can look past these issues, though, Mazes of Fate is both a solid, enjoyable DS RPG and a title whose gameplay elements show its influences, most of which happen to be memorable games in their own right. If you’re a fan of DS RPG’s, or of the sorts of games this emulates, it’s worth your investment.
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Final Score: ENJOYABLE.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Mazes of Fate takes gameplay elements from some notable PC RPG’s and transplants them onto the DS in a mostly worthwhile effort. For those who either love portable RPG’s or love games like Lands of Lore and Eye of the Beholder, Mazes of Fate replicates that sort of play style mostly successfully through use of the DS stylus, and the end result is a game that is generally easy to play, features plenty of depth and replay value, and is mostly enjoyable from start to finish. It’s not a particularly pretty game, unfortunately, and between the less than sensible enemy AI and the occasional interface flaw, the game may either be too easy or too frustrating for some. If you’re willing to overlook these issues, however, you’ll find Mazes of Fate to be worth the investment, especially if you’re a fan of the sorts of games it’s emulating.