More hardcore dungeon crawling, this time for the PSP and Vita.
After the retro delights of Etrian Odyssey IV on the 3DS, fans of the old-school dungeon crawling genre may well be looking to sink their teeth into something even more reminiscent of gaming gone past. Publisher Ghostlight Games have, after a mighty long wait, brought Starfish SD’s Elminage Original to the PSP here in the UK, and it may well satisfy that need for town hubs built with menus, dungeons explored one tile at a time, and fighting against pictures of monsters.
But hang on! It may be that you are looking for a retro game, but don’t have a retro system to play it on (Can the PSP be classed as retro yet?). Fear not, PSP challenged player, along with bringing Elminage Original to these shores, Ghostlight Games have also ensured that the game is compatible with Sony’s new handheld, the PlayStation Vita. This means that players can enjoy Elminage Original while out and about without having to suffer a decline in street cred. Huzzah!
That being said, if passersby were to glance at what you were playing, they may question your sanity. Elminage Original is a pure, old-school dungeon crawler for the hardcore fans of the genre, those gamers who have been around long enough to remember when this type of game was at the pinnacle of its popularity and who can happily fumble around the game with very little explanation of what they are supposed to do or how to do it. From the very start of the game, the player is thrown unceremoniously into the thick of it with very little by way of instruction.
Should they venture forth into this unknown territory, the first thing that they will have to do is create a party of heroic adventurers ready to take on the dungeon-based challenges ahead. There are plenty of choices regarding the type of hero to include in the team, with a nice range of classes and races, many of which players will recognise from the generic worlds of fantasy, but with a few new faces thrown in for the players to take a risk on.
From here, the player is thrust into the first hub area, which can be explored through a series of menus. The hubs in the game will provide access not only to the main quest, but also stores, inns, temples and castles, offering the chances to buy and sell equipment, heal, recruit and pick up missions. It is all very simply done, but stays faithful to the games of yesteryear that had players stuck in front of their monitors for hours on end.
When it comes to the story, everything revolves around retrieving some rings and basically saving the world. The story is forgettable, and will likely be dismissed by the time the player approaches the first dungeon and starts wandering. It is here that the real draw of the game lies.
With muddy textures and a huge amount of visual repetition, the dungeons may not be much to look at. But the player is exploring, looking for treasure and monsters, not sightseeing and once things get moving, it really doesn’t matter what the dungeons look like. Step by step, the dungeon will unfold before the player, and the thoughtful pace of the game serves to build up the tension. The player will come across hidden passages and traps, that will handily be noted down on the map that the game creates for the player (no drawing your own map here…). All manner of monsters will confront the player, in their unmoving, drawn state, and have to be vanquished by the team in turn-based combat. The combat is quite involving and enjoyable, but the relative lack of variety does mean it gets old more quickly than it should.
Elminage Original is aimed at a very specific audience, and there is very little in the game that will serve to expand that audience. The things that many gamers would find frustrating, such as the lack of direction or explanation and the frequent difficulty spikes for no reason, are part of the charm to seasoned players of this genre, so it is difficult to suggest that these are problems or flaws in the game.
For the given audience, the old-school dungeon crawling fans, Elminage Original will be gratefully received. Players who have enjoyed the recent release of Etrian Odyssey IV on 3DS may well come over to Elminage Original and have a good time, albeit even more retro. However, gamers who have yet to dip their adventuring toes into the old-school dungeon crawler would do well to keep looking as this particular pool is unwelcoming to newcomers. Elminage Original is good at what it does, but feels far too dated for anything more than niche appeal.