Publisher: UFO Interactive
Genre: First Person Dungeon Crawl RPG
Release Date: 11/20/2012
I think anyone who had even remotely heard of Elminage was caught completely by surprised when UFO Interactive brought it to North American PSPs. After all, they did it without fanfare and under the radar of gaming journalism. They also brought it over as a $14.99 digital download only, and for the PSP to boot – a system that is all but dead in 2012. Considering there is a DS and an upcoming 3DS version of games in the Elminage series, this seemed a bit of an odd choice, especially since the core audience for a Wizardry clone either play these types of games on the PC, or more recently, the DS, thanks to the exceptionally watered down Etrian Odyssey series Atlus USA brings over here.
We have a lot of extremely faithful Wizardry fans here at Diehard GameFAN. Guys like Mark B., Joel Rose, Mr. Kennedy and Chuck Platt. As a young lad, I was one of the very few people to actually beat Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna, a game that is almost universally considered the hardest video game ever made. So we’re exceptionally picky and harsh on the games that try to ape Sir-Tech’s legacy. We’ve poo-poo’d all three Etrian Odyssey titles, the terrible Class of Heroes and many others. About the only Wizardry clones that have passed the mustard are Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey and The Dark Spire. Now we have a third in Elminage Original – a game that takes the core trappings of Wizardry and then explodes them with more classes, races, dungeons, skills, spells and even a comprehensive storyline, which we rarely see in this genre outside the original franchise. Sure, there is some noticeable translation issues where UFO Interactive mixed up the names of races and even left some things in Japanese, but the core experience is amazing and when all is said and done, Elminage Original is one of the best games I’ve played in 2012.
Unlike a lot of first person dungeon crawl games, there’s a solid story behind Elminage Original or two stories in fact. The original universe was destroyed by a war between the gods. After all was said and done the gods realized how foolish they were and remade the universe. Then the six gods put a portion of their power into six magic rings to prevent them from ever being powerful enough to destroy existence again. The rings were then scattered across the globe and a magical barrier erected to prevent monsters and evil from seeping into the new world of Halorda Ille. Unfortunately, evil still existed and a group of dark priestesses gathered five of the six rings together in an attempt to destroy the barrier. The rings, imbued with a portion of the gods managed to revolt from their captors and hide themselves anew, but only after the barrier was cracked and weakened. Now monsters roam the world and it’s up to a group of heroes (all silent protagonists) to gather the rings and restore the barriers. Along the way, the large group of heroes (You can only use six at a time) will encounter people in need of their aid in addition to their main core quest. Nothing is truly linear aside from the first dungeon and once you’ve done that, you can set your characters against the most dangerous foes the game has to offer if you really want to watch them die horribly. The entire land of Halorda is open to exploration. You can go to any town or dungeon at any time as you slowly make your way through the core quest and the numerous side quests you’ll pick up. This is pretty different from most first person dungeon crawls these days and although most of the game is exploration over expository, there’s a lot of meat here to the tale of Elminage Original. The story is a throwback where you characters will never speak nor have any personality save for an alignment shift here and there, but it’s still a lot of fun to see all the NPCs scattered throughout the game and hear what they have to say about the world they live in.
Elminage Original is also one of the best looking Wizardry clones I’ve seen in a long time. Of course, that’s not a hard accomplishment since all of them are comprised of static images. There is very little (if ever ANY) animation to this genre and so you have to be prepared for that going in. While Elminage Original won’t be winning any awards for its visual, the sheer number of different player character portraits are impressive by any stretch of the imagination, along with the unexpected delight that comes when you discover you can design your own character portraits as well! The monsters all look great too, even though they are, once again, static images. There are over two hundred different types of monsters, each with their own distinct look that you won’t soon forget. Some of these monsters are incredibly huge, which makes them all the more foreboding. If this game was made in the 80s or 90s, people would be raving about the level of detail to these static images. In 2012 unfortunately, people will be more upset that there’s no animation – especially in North America where this genre seems to be dead to all but a small group of faithful fans.
The game’s soundtrack is quite excellent as well. It’s a strong collection of tracks that really fit the high fantasy feel of the game. Although none of the tracks is going to stick in your head after you turn Elminage off, you will probably find yourself humming along at points. For a budget PSP game I was shocked at the not just the sheer number of tracks in the game, but the overall quality as well. It’s the kind of soundtrack we’d have fawned over in the 16-bit era of games like Shining Force and Phantasy Star IV. So if those kinds of soundtracks are up your alley, you’ll want to give Elminage a listen to.
There are a whopping nine races in Elminage. You have your standard Human, Elf, Gnome and Dwarf, but there are also Hotlet (bad translation of Hobbit), Fairy, Werewolf, Dragonewt (Dragonborn) and Devilish (Tiefling for you D&D players). Unfortunately they did a bit of a mess-up in the race translation for the US localization. Gnome is actually supposed to be Dwarf, Hotlet is supposed to be Gnome, Fairy is supposed to be Hotlet and Dwarf is supposed to be Fairy. At first you’ll wonder why Dwarves have exceptionally low strength but super high agility while Gnomes are pretty much built to be front line clerics. You’ll discover firsthand the mistake with all the race names when only Dwarves can equip items with the word “Fairy” in the title. Oops. There are also SIXTEEN different character classes, which is insane for any RPG. You have Fighter, Mage, Cleric, Thief, Alchemist (create items in the alchemy lab), Servant (holds lots of stuff), Bishop (Mage/Cleric combo that can also appraise items), Hunter (Distance attack thief), Brawler (Monk/Martial Artist), Entertainer (Bard), Shaman, Summoner, Valkyr (Valkyrie), Lord (Powerful warrior), Samurai and Ninja. You can have tons of characters, but only six in a party at once. Each class is helpful in different circumstances, so expect to go back to base regularly to switch characters out. My core team is a Werewolf Brawler, a Human Fighter, a “Gnome” Cleric, a Devilish Bishop, a Human Hunter and an Elven Mage. It pretty much covers all I need. You can mix and match classes and race in almost any combination. My advice is to definitely take a Werewolf Brawler though. Holy crap is that an amazing combination.
Gameplay is about what you would expect for this genre. You use the D-Pad to maneuver through various dungeons, while you choose your attacks and other battle options from various lists. Towns are similar in that you pick a location and then choose options from a multitude of menus. I should also point out that magic-users of any type need certain items to cast spells, so make sure you purchase and equip those before going into a dungeon. Thankfully the first dungeon has a sign in there to remind you of it, but it still might confound people who make mages, bishops and the like only to find they are level four or so and still aren’t casting spells. The game lacks any real manual at all and the website tells you nothing about how to play the game, so unless you are well versed in Wizardry clones, you’re really thrown to the wolves here in terms of little details like this. Combine it with the various translation errors (like a certain item that has an effect that reduces your age by one but the text says reduces you to a year old) and even moderately experienced Wizardry clones fans might found themselves confused or stumped. Because of the localization issues and a complete lack of explaining ANYTHING whatsoever, this game is pretty harsh especially when you wonder onto a battlefield with creatures way too powerful for you.
Because of the lack of any explanation whatsoever between the classes, the translation job that makes some 8-bit NES games look like they were localized by English professors and the high level of difficulty ensures that this game is not for the faint of heart. With extremely powerful monsters that can wipe out your entire party if you enter the wrong area lurking in every dungeon and puzzles to solve that might not make sense for the same reason Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest stymied so many people, I’d say Elminage Original is up there as one of the harder Wizardry clones out there. Because of this level of difficulty, the complete and utter lack of marketing for this game and the fact Wizardry clones have such a niche audience in North America (ironic considering they genre is as Western style as it gets), there isn’t much of an audience for this product, even with the budget price. Too many gamers these days like to have their hand held at the start of a game and Elminage Original doesn’t do that. As I’ve said, even people who are familiar with the genre might find themselves a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, lack of linearity and the fact you are just thrown right into things. I personally loved it, but again, I’m a big fan of Wizardry IV, so what does that tell you?
For those that like this sort of game and with an actual degree of challenge attached to it, you’ll find Elminage is an amazing deal. The game offers literally a hundred hours or more of play time, you can make dozens upon dozens of unique character combinations and the ability to explore however you see fit. This last part is an extreme rarity for this genre as they tend to be highly linear. This much openness may be invigorating to some but also challenging to others. After all, it’s not like a lot of sandbox RPGs where you are given a quest and a point on the map to walk to. Instead you’re just given the barest of ideas on how to complete a quest and then it’s up to you to figure it out. There are places where you can buy hints for a lot of money, so the game does throw that bone to people who aren’t veterans of the genre. At the same time, gamer swill have to deal with the fact that as you level up stats might go DOWN as well as up. You could have a character start off as a fighter but by level four or six, their stats might be better suited to a different class. That character isn’t screwed thankfully; you can always change his class. Still, this aspect, along with alignment changing based on one’s actions and the need to micromanage a large number of characters might be too intense and/or in depth for a person used to games like Final Fantasy where your team or three or four character takes a step, does an attack and steps back.
I had a very hard time putting Elminage Original down. I’ve been playing the Wizardry games since well, I started playing video games. They were a wonderful Dungeons & Dragons homage and while many games have tried to ape the series, it’s surprising how hard it is to make a good clone. If Elminage Original had a better localization team behind it, this would have been a game worthy of mainstream acclaim. The translation isn’t god awful, but when names of races are mixed up, some effects are translated to have a very different or the exact opposite description of what they actually do and some things were left in Japanese, the average gamer who picks this up is going to be a bit perplexed. Long time fans of this genre will take it in stride as the story is still an interesting one, and you’ll quickly learn what’s been mistranslated through trial and error. Plus, it’s a full length dungeon crawl with the most customization I’ve seen in this genre since Sir Tech was still putting things out. That’s crazy impressive. I’ll happily take this over any of the Etrian Odyssey games any day. Hell, I’ll take it over ALL of them, and for half the cost of a single game in that franchise. Would I rather have a portable Wizardry game? Of course I would. I’d love to see something like Tale of the Forsaken Land out for the PSP or Vita, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, especially stateside.
Aside from possibly The Dark Spire, Elminage Original is the closest and the best thing to an authentic portable Wizardry experience that you are going to get. Besides the translation issues that have occurred I really, REALLY hope UFO Interactive brings over some of the other games in the genre because I absolutely adore this game. While playing, the translation issues dissipated rather quickly and I loved trying to build a multitude of characters to see what was the best class/race combination, exploring dungeons, and seeing how far I could get before having to turn around and recharge my spells and hit points. Still XSeed brought over and translated a Wizardry game for the PS3 last year and did a wonderful job with the localization and that was only five dollars more than Elminage Original. So there’s no reason for the localization in Elminage to be this error laden. At least the core gameplay experience is still top-notch, but there’s no denying that the game would have a been that much better with a quality translation job.
At the end of the day, translation issues aside, Elminage Original is one of the better Wizardry clones out there. It’s a hard game with an amazing amount of options that should leave any fan of the genre giddy. The game looks good for the genre (while still being overshadowed by most PSP games) and the soundtrack is pretty good. The open world nature of the game is a breath of fresh air for a dungeon crawler, yet Elminage Original still holds true to all the trappings and trademarks that makes people love Wizardry clones. At only fifteen dollars, it’s hard not to recommend Elminage Original, especially as it will be one of the last games released for the PSP. If you’re a fan of first person dungeon crawls, than you really do need to download this to your PSP or Playstation Vita. It’s well worth the money and you will get an inordinate amount of time out of playing it.
Story: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Elminage Original really could have used a better translation team, but the core experience and the sheer number of races and classes makes this the best Wizardry clone to hit US shores since the Dark Spire or well…the last Wizardry game. It’s a lot more open world than nearly every other dungeon crawler ever produced and the sheer number of options open to you will be intimidating and confusing to some while equally exhilarating and liberating to others. The game is as tough as veterans of the genre might expect and you’ll want a wide range of min/max’d characters to constantly rotate in and out of your party lineup to truly master the game. While it won’t replace Shining the Holy Arc or any of Sir-Tech’s games in my heart, this was one of the few games of 2012 that didn’t disappoint me, and that’s saying something. With a little more emphasis on a quality localization, I would love to see UFO tackle one of the many other games the Elminage franchise has waiting for us back across the Pacific.