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Score: 79%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Rockstar/Take 2 Interactive
Developer: Delphine Software
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:
Let's be blunt -- Darkstone is a visually weak game. The graphics are choppy, blocky and uninspiring. That is, until you get into a few of the dungeons. When the coloured lighting pops up, you'll start to rethink your opinion of the graphics. They're still not pretty, to be sure, but they certainly get the job done, and the choppiness is definitely bearable. Just don't expect Vagrant Story quality and you'll be fine.

The music in Darkstone is solid, fitting the various locations that the game takes place in. There's nothing here that completely masks the gameplay, nor is it so quiet as to be unnoticeable. The same goes for the sound effects, although a few of the fanfares are a little annoying. The sound mostly consists of sword-swings and arrow-shots, though, so you won't be hearing much variety. It's nothing that will make you turn the sound down, though, which is more than I can say for a few recent releases.

Here are a few important things to note:

Point the First: I played this game nonstop for a few days before I actually got down to reviewing it.

Point the Second: It retails for 9.99USD.

The fact that I spent more time with it than many of my $40 purchases says something. Either it says that the game is really good, or that I'm a glutton for punishment. So, which is it? I'm both happy and sad to say that it's somewhere in the middle.

Darkstone is basically an enhanced Roguelike game, the most visible of which is the Diablo series from Blizzard. Instead of the 2D isometric style of the Diablo titles, however, Darkstone uses a fully 3D world. This has both benefits and drawbacks. The environments can't be quite as detailed as they could be in a 2D world, but Diablo's environments were never all that detailed to begin with. The enemies are also by necessity a good bit clunkier. But the gameplay's all there, and those of you who liked old-school clickfests will feel right at home with Darkstone.

There's a plot here somewhere, about Bad Guy taking over the World and You being Pure of Heart and The Only One To Save Us. Whatever. Each game consists of a series of quests, picked from a pool so that the game doesn't play the same every time through. This definitely helps with the replay factor. When you start, you can play as a male or female Warrior, Thief, Wizard or Priest. Sound familiar? The gameplay itself is very similar to Diablo, although it has an overworld and separate dungeon areas much like Diablo II.

Each character plays quite differently, and mastery of your character type is key to the game. Unfortunately, you can't play with two characters at once like you could on the computer, and as such, the Warrior is something of a weaker class in the PSX port. The inability to have a ranged fighter help you can make some of the later scenes damned near impossible, and you'll find yourself struggling. But the other character classes should have a much better time delving in the dungeons of Darkstone.

Red and blue potions, scrolls of Town Portal . . . err, Magic Door, and other such claptrap absolutely abound in Darkstone. The quests are generally a little more involved than their Diablo brethren -- there's usually more to it than just killing the foozle -- but you won't be hurting your brain any time soon when you play. The automap is a lifesaver, as is the 'Jump To' ability that warps you to any exit in an area. This is great for traversing long distances in the wilderness when you've got to make it back to camp.

All characters start out in Novice mode. As they gain levels, they open up new difficulty levels to play in. Beating the game with a character doesn't mean that you can't play with that character again, and you can always pull them out of a quest and put them in one of higher (or lower) difficulty. Beware, though, as the characters age, and you may have to do something about that before you do too much questing.

Game Mechanics:
Instead of having to aim with a mouse, the game does a liberal amount of auto-aiming for you. Whenever there's an enemy that could possibly be in range, its name appears on the screen. Pressing X has you attacking that enemy -- although you may have to get close enough to actually hit it. It works like a charm most of the time, and eliminates the need for the mouse. The O button picks stuff up, and the Square pulls up your inventory/menu. From there you can set items for your belt (two shoulder buttons), spells and skills for your quickspell list (the other two shoulder buttons), and equip and de-equip stuff. The screen is dense with information, and you'll have to read the instruction book to understand it all. Otherwise, things work well. Saving takes forever, but that's because the game uses six blocks. The game also has atrocious load times, which is unfortunate. There are also a few bugs, notably with keeping track of things on the ground and saving the game -- occasionally I'd get a save error, and I'd have to save again for it to work properly. And I lost quite a few items on the ground because the game seemed to lose track of them.

PS2: Fortunately, those with PS2s will alleviate a good deal of the load time agony. Putting the game on 'Fast' makes the load times considerably more bearable. The graphics 'smooth'ing option helps a little, but don't expect to be terribly impressed with the results. There are a lot of sprites in the game, and they all get the Black Box of Doom from the smoother. You may as well leave it off.

It may not be perfect, but for under ten American bucks you can hardly go wrong with Darkstone. If you can get past the lackluster graphics and annoying load times (a PS2 helps a lot here), you'll find a whole lot of gameplay here for not a lot of buck. Fans of roguelikes in general and Diablo in particular owe it to themselves to pick up this game, and anyone hankering for a cheap RPG fix can't do much better than this.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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