Throne of Darkness
|a game by||CLICK Entertainment|
|Editor Rating:||7/10, based on 1 review|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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I'll admit I've never wholeheartedly embraced Japanese culture. The films perplex me and if I wanted to eat raw fish I'd run through the penguin pen at London Zoo with my mouth open. Besides, it tastes like eating your own tongue. But before you could say 'konnichiwa', Throne Of Darkness converted me. With its bloody and beautiful depiction of Japanese mythology and a unique take on the isometric hack 'n' slash, it's in some ways - and this is me saying this here - even better than Diablo II. (Although its resemblance to Diablo is not just cosmetic, as it was created in part by members of the original Diablo team.)
The setting of the game revolves around the country's ruling Warlord, who has turned to evil in a most blood-curdling manner, which could only have been dreamt up during those sake-filled nights of old. Now seven samurai from one of the four remaining clans, must unite to destroy the Warlord and his armies of the exceptionally bad-tempered.
Although you can play with all seven characters, you can only use four at a time. The remaining three rest their tootsies and regain health and ki (the equivalent of mana) with the Damiyo, your leader and regenerative ki powerhouse. Swapping between samurai is just a quick point-and-click operation, and your Damiyo has the power not only to heal but also resurrects any fallen samurai, at a ki cost.
The Way Of The Sword
This makes for a rather unique style of gameplay, as you juggle your characters to meet the needs of a particular battle. One of the most interesting aspects of the game is the 12 pre-set strategical patterns which can be adapted to meet your gaming style. The patterns will define the combat nature of each character: defensive, neutral or aggressive, their preferred weapon and spell usage. You control one samurai, while the computer AI follows your pattern instructions and takes care of the rest - and for the most part does a pretty good job.
This isn't one of those RPG parties where you find romance among the elves, or one that gives a damn about your inner turmoils. It's all about getting in there and getting the job done. Devising strategies may seem like a bit of a headache to start with, but once you get the knack it's lots of fun as well as being incredibly effective, especially when you devise a strategy that effortlessly takes down a load of previously troublesome beasties.
Graphically ToD looks pretty sharp, the inside settings are of the period and the outside ones are at times so beautiful you just want to sit down beneath a cherry tree and compose a postcard. 'Dear Mum and Dad. Greetings from feudal Japan. Killed a naked spiderwoman today. Saw someone flayed alive. Wish you were here.' Well, it seems pretty, until you notice that everywhere you go there are impaled bodies, rotting corpses and a healthy amount of painting with entrails. Combat is broken up by Japanese anime-style FMVs, which are incredibly slick, as is the depiction and movement of your samurai. It's like watching your own mini-martial arts film.
Zen And The Art Of Recycling
Thankfully there are no perpetual returns to town to get healing and sell your weapons as you have a permanent telepathic link to the priest and blacksmith. In the spirit of eco-friendliness you don't sell your weapons, you recycle them, by donating your junk to the blacksmith who will turn them into something you might actually need. The priest does the usual identifying and selling of potions, and also provides a link to the ruling four elemental gods who distribute spell points to those who donate the most stuff to them.
ToD creates an intense single-player experience and the multiplayer component within the game (which I doubt will be quite as popular online as Diablo II although it may achieve some sort of 'cult' status) is based on a king-of-the-hill-style gameplay. Eight people assume the roles of the Dark Warlord and the four clans and fight it out. When the Dark Warlord is knocked off his throne the victorious player becomes the Dark Warlord and it begins again.
The marketing spiel of it being 'Diablo with samurai' doesn't really do ToD justice. It may have Diablo parenting, but the initial learning curve is much steeper. You need a more strategical outlook towards combat and in part a Baldur's Gate mentality to cope with the amount of inventory shuffling involved. If you're a Diablo devotee then ToD will offer you more of an opportunity to think about the kind of carnage you wish to bestow before you bestow it, while more traditional RPGers will relish the beautifully played-out Japanese mythology. There's something for everyone and now I'm off to deprive some penguins of their dinner.