Review: Warriors of the Lost Empire (Sony PSP)

Warriors of the Lost Empire
Genre: Action RPG/ Dungeon Hack
Developer: Tommo
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Release Date: 12/13/2007

The life of the limited release title is a sad one indeed; released to American shores in small quantities, unloved and unappreciated, at best finding a niche appeal among the hardcore audience, at worst being forgotten before its first week of release. Occasionally a game will buck the trend and become heavily popular in spite of itself, but these instances are rarer than an attractive cosplayer. The problem is that most of these limited release niche games are, to be charitable, really only appealing to a certain group of people. Maybe they’re stylistically interesting, but conceptually flawed… maybe they have awesome gameplay but otherwise barebones presentation… or maybe they’re part of a genre that no one really cares about except for a scant few players.

Which brings us to Warriors of the Lost Empire, a limited release dungeon hack in a sea full of them. WotLE actually had a strong cult following before UFO Interactive took the initiative to bring it Stateside, because of the fact that it had a full English translation available in the Japanese release, thus making it totally import friendly. As a result, this also made it port friendly, thus allowing the rest of us who don’t want to pay insane importing fees to get our hands on a copy and enjoy it. Now, I’m a fan of the old “murder everything in the dungeon for fun and profit” genre as much as anyone, provided it’s done right, but after killing my inner child with entirely too much Silverfall I was leery of WotLE, if perhaps optimistic. Hey, you’d think the genre would be hard to screw up, but apparently there are developers on this Earth that are bound and determined to prove otherwise, so I think a little apprehension was warranted.

So let’s get down to business.

WotLE tells the tale of the fallen empire of Antinopolis, run by benevolent former Roman emperor Hadranius, thus completely flushing the historical accuracy of the game right down the toilet (not that anyone cares). It seems the emperor got tired of his life as emperor and, having found true love in a young man named Antinous, decided to retire and life out the rest of his life in peace and solitude. The problem is, not too long afterward, he and his lover disappeared and their land fell into serious disrepair. You take on the role of one of four mercenaries tasked with exploring the now decrepit ruins of this formerly glorious empire, each with their own small backstory explaining how they came to be there. The story itself is fleshed out enough to be interesting and sparse enough to not overpower the player, and while it’s pretty much by the numbers, it manages to transcend being a stereotype through some strongly written character dialogue. It’s also notable that the emperor and his lover are both male, not because of the nature of the relationship but rather because no one in the game seems terribly put out by this thing; everyone you speak to is fully aware of the nature of the relationship, and no one ever seems to think it odd in the least. I found that fairly refreshing, honestly, because no one really does that; gay relationships are becoming more and more acceptable in games and cinema, but this is the first time where no one in the product makes a big deal out of it, as if it were perfectly natural. Just saying.

The graphics in WotLE are a mixed bag. On one hand, character models look good for what the system is capable of doing and combat animations are solid and flow together well. Your character in particular looks quite nice, and has multiple different types of equipment to choose from to keep them looking spiffy. On the other, the actual movement animations look stiff and odd, and the dungeons themselves don’t look very exciting at all, thought they’re serviceable and get the job done. This actually has a nice side-effect, though; of all of the games I’ve played for the PSP, WotLE far and away spends the least time loading, with most of the game loading instantaneously from one sequence to the next with little to no problems. The in-game music is a largely pretty sounding smattering of “grand epic adventure” styled scores that work well to convey the tone of the game, but there aren’t very many, sadly. Voice acting is sparse and is more akin to the odd grunt here and there than anything else, but it’s not bad. The sound effects are largely of good quality and fairly compliment the game well, both in battle and otherwise. In essence, the presentation is above average, but not spectacular.

That’s not too big of a deal, however; where WotLE shines nicely is in its gameplay. The core gameplay gives you two attack buttons (one weak, one strong), a jump, a guard and a “special attack” button. Chaining the two attack buttons together gives you various strings of attacks to work with that can knock enemies off their feet and stun them and such, and there are a surprisingly large amount of combinations that can be worked out through varying button presses. Pressing the special attack button actually brings up a display that shows you the different special attacks you have assigned (up to four at a time) and pressing one of the face buttons activates the appropriate attack. Special attacks can be any one of a number of things ranging from attacks that cause status ailments to attacks that knock foes down or turn them around to simple heavy damage attacks, and each gains in levels the more you use it. Blocking is, surprisingly, not just used for defending; while holding down the block button you also use your inventory items from your belt, either directly (for curatives mainly) or by throwing them to the ground for an area of effect action (for all items). Your character is directly proficient in one style of combat (two-handed swords, two swords, sword and shield, or archery) that they will use for normal battle, but a secondary weapon can be equipped that can also be used while blocking for one solid strike. The block button, in a bit of annoyance, also focuses the camera behind your character, which can be something of a pain the first few times you end up moving the camera by accident; though you get used to the odd camera, it’s one solid blemish on an otherwise very strong combat system.

Beyond the combat, though, there are a bunch of other neat things WotLE does to make the game interesting. Weapon and armor variety is fairly spread out across the game, which is depressing in that it means you aren’t changing gear constantly, but all of your equipment can be upgraded by way of synthesizing items found in the dungeon into your equipment. You’re given three (unspecific) blessings on each piece of gear, each of which has a numerical value between zero and twenty. By fusing items to the equipment, you increase or decrease the value of the blessing, and once at zero or twenty, the blessing imparts statistical improvements to the item of choice. As you combine, stats can raise or lower depending on how you fuse things, giving you a lot of leeway to customize your equipment as you see fit and making weapon upgrading complex, but very rewarding. And you’ll end up with a ton of crafting materials to work with; instead of weighing your character down with a ton of unwieldy crap to carry into town, only consumables picked up in the dungeon are added to your personal inventory… weapons and crafting materials are instead sent to your item box directly. Also, there’s no currency in the game per say; there’s only one shop vendor in the game, and he works off of a barter system, trading items for other items in varying amounts. And for those of you looking for a long, challenging experience, WotLE delivers in spades; while there is no penalty for death in the dungeon (no lost items or experience at all, and you keep whatever you found before you kicked it) the core quest takes about five to ten hours to get through, and there are two additional difficulty levels that unlock as you clear the previous one (complete with stronger enemies and bosses AND better equipment), as well as Dungeon mode (which essentially just lets you clear one giant dungeon of enemies for loot, story not needed), itself complete with three difficulties, AND a final, boss-filled treasure dungeon! You’ll have a lot of stuff to do to amuse yourself, trust me. Oh, yes, and it offers two-player gameplay via ad-hoc wireless play, so if you and a friend happen to have a copy, you can go into the dungeons as a duo of death obliterating everything you see. Good times.

Mind you, it’s hardly a perfect experience, no matter how enjoyable. As noted, the camera stinks, and manually adjusting it is at times an annoying pain in the ass (though you Monster Hunter fans out there probably won’t even notice the difference after about five minutes). Enemies are dumber than dirt, and will often spend their time staring into a corner blissfully unaware of your existence or bumbling into traps in the dungeon just to get to you, though in a novel twist the game DOES have the enemies attack one another when they’re of different types (IE robbers and bugs) because they are also not great friends or anything so much as they’re both equally opposed to your existence. The difficulty of the game itself works more off of the “war of attrition” principle, so instead of a few intelligent, calculating foes you’ll be facing off against hordes of dumbasses who make up for their lack of brains with sufficiently high-powered brawn. The game is also designed with multiplayer action in mind; thus, there’s no quicksave option in the game (though escaping dungeons to go save in town is pretty easy) and you can’t pause in the dungeons… and since there’s no ONLINE multiplay, unless you have a local friend with a PSP and the game, you’re stuck playing a multiplayer-formatted title by your lonesome. And, to be completely fair, while WotLE is an entertaining game, it’s an entertaining game in a genre that has a rather large amount of representation on the PSP (Untold Legends, Dungeon Siege, Monster Hunter and Marvel Ultimate Alliance come to mind) and if you’re already burnt out on running around kicking the crap out of enemies in the good old dungeon hack way, you’re not likely to want to get into ANOTHER one, especially one that, for all that it does right, doesn’t do anything specifically new or exciting beyond the interesting combat and item upgrading/bartering.

Taken as a whole, Warriors of the Lost Empire ends up a greater whole than the sum of its parts. A solid, reasonably interesting story keeps things going long enough to get you into the strong, complex-without-being-confusing gameplay, and a TON of extra combat and upgrades will keep you interested to the end. It’s not the most original game on the PSP, there are a ton of other similar games in the PSP library (though none that are QUITE the same, thankfully), the camera is wonky, and it’s not the prettiest or nicest sounding game out there, this cannot be denied. But if you’re willing to look past what are quite excusable flaws you’ll find a fun, in-depth and enjoyable niche title that might lack in style but MORE than makes up for it in substance.

The Scores:
Story: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 6/10
Control/Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Overall Score: 6.4/10
Final Score: 6.5 (ABOVE AVERAGE).

Short Attention Span Summary
Warriors of the Lost Empire is a strong, if not supremely spectacular, addition to any dungeon hack lover’s gaming library. Strong combat, decent storytelling, some interesting upgrade mechanics and a ton of replay make for an entertaining experience. The only above average presentation and odd camera system may put off some, and if you’ve played all of the ten or twenty other dungeon hacks on the PSP you might feel some déjà vu, but for those willing to overlook that, WotLE is a good time on the PSP, period.



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