If you're a fan of anime, then you should already be familiar with the name Record of Lodoss War-it's one of those titles that everyone who loves Japanese animation seems to adore. The story is an epic tale of swords and sorcery, dungeons and dragons, and heroes and villains-all of which makes it a title ripe with potential as a videogame. Does it realize this potential? Read on to find out.
Rise from your grave!
The game picks up some time after the end of the Lodoss War anime. You take the role of an undead warrior from past, resurrected by the wise old wizard Wart in order to save the land from the evil goddess Kardis-a deity who's about to be resurrected and will cast a pall of darkness over the land.
Wart is reluctant to disclose your true identity; although he assures you that you were once a great warrior. However, the time in the grave has dulled your skills. You will need to fight and grow stronger in order to defeat evil and save the land… and fight you shall. You'll begin by giving your warrior a name (don't worry, your true identity will be revealed eventually-and fans of the anime will be familiar with the undead warrior's real name) and then complete some minor quests (which serve as tutorials, really) before launching into the main part of the game.
Along the way you'll encounter several of the heroes of Lodoss, including Parn and Deedlit, who will fight alongside you for a time. Despite this, the bulk of your traveling will be done alone-but you should be more than up to the task.
While the story is a bit thin overall, it serves its purpose. Record of Lodoss War is essentially a Diablo clone. Thus, the story only really serves as a connecting thread to justify all the hacking and slashing action. In its defense, the story does manage to throw you a minor twist late in the game-which is more than I can say for most of the games in the dungeon crawl subgenre.
The game is surprisingly well-written, with each character having a distinctive personality manifested through their dialogue. The text does occasionally become a bit modernized, but it never goes overboard. Unfortunately, there are a fair number of grammatical mistakes littered throughout the game-but they're not so frequent (or awful) that they ruin the game.
As mentioned earlier, Record of Lodoss War is essentially a Diablo clone. At its core, it's a stat-heavy action RPG where the emphasis is placed on hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies and finding various attribute-enhancing items and ever-stronger weapons and armor. If you like Diablo, you will love this game-it's essentially Diablo beefed up for a 128-bit system.
You'll spend the majority of the game traversing across Marmo or exploring any one of a multitude of dungeons throughout the land. Whenever you're out in the world, you'll be fighting-enemies are everywhere.
Battling takes place in real-time, in the same style as Diablo-see an enemy onscreen, run up to him, hit the B button to attack repeatedly, kill it, then move on to the next battle. Fighting is really that simple. You'll also no doubt notice that you can only carry a limited number of items, that your character has a quick-access belt, and that you'll be quaffing a lot of potions throughout the game-again, all like Diablo.
Occasionally, you'll find yourself fighting alongside allies such as Parn and Deedlit. In these instances, you will retain control of your character and the computer will control the extra fighters. The AI is surprisingly good-all of the characters that aid in your quest fight intelligently, casting magic when necessary (including un-petrifying you when the Medusas turn you to stone) and actually aiding you in battle instead of being a hindrance. Bravo.
Your undead warrior can be equipped with a weapon (one or two handed), armor, a helmet, a shield, shoes, and various rings, necklaces, and earrings-all of which will aid him in his quest. The stats of these weapons and items will determine both how much damage you take and how much you dole out. You will find better items as the game progresses, but getting stronger doesn't simply require finding new weapons-it actually involves improving what you have through the ancient system.
The ancient system is probably the most complex element of Record of Lodoss War. Part of the problem is simply because the game and the instruction manual don't explain it as well as they could. About an hour into the game, you'll rescue the dwarf Anvar and set up base at a nearby goblin fort. To show his gratitude, Anvar will fire up the forge and make your weapons and armor stronger by inscribing ancient phrases on them.
These ancient words of power can be found on monuments in dungeons and littered throughout the countryside. You'll want to search for as many of them as you can, because these inscriptions are the real key to surviving the game.
Once you find some inscriptions, you can have Anvar engrave them on your weapons or armor, thereby adding the inscription's power to your item permanently. Inscriptions can be anything from increasing your attack power, making your armor more durable (so enemies can't knock you down as easily), to adding magic or hit points to your stats.
You'll also find some inscriptions that can only be attached to a weapon or armor-not engraved. These give you additional powers or hit points-some make it so you can shoot fireballs with your sword, some double your magic power, etc.
Essentially, every single stat element of the game can be enhanced through the use of inscriptions, which makes Record of Lodoss War a micromanager's dream. You can literally spend hours customizing your weapons and character.
However, engraving inscriptions does have a price-and that price is mithril. Mithril are the blue stones that you'll find scattered throughout the game. Sometimes you'll get it from defeating enemies, sometimes you'll find it by breaking barrels, and later in the game you'll be able to mine huge chunks of it with a pickaxe. Since there's no gold in the game (and no stores, for that matter), think of mithril as Record of Lodoss War's currency-you'll have to spend it to upgrade your stuff.
The catch is that each time you inscribe an ancient, the cost of inscribing it increases, too. Micromanagement again comes into play because it might cost 9,000 mithril to engrave damage +9 for the third time, but might only cost a total of 8,000 to engrave a damage +5 and a damage +4…sometimes, doing two smaller engravings is more effective than one big one. This becomes particularly important in the later stages of the game when Mithril is available; but the cost of inscribing high-level ancients has become outrageous.
Another source of mithril is from the weapons themselves. Each time you find a weapon or armor, you can take it to Anvar and have him refine it. This will turn the item into raw mithril. Since Anvar's a master craftsman, he can remake these items any time you want them.
Anvar can also transform items for you as well. Say you've got an Oriental sword that you've inscribed hundreds of ancients on, but you need a Wind Hilt later in the game. No problem-Anvar will transform your Oriental Sword into a Wind Hilt while allowing you to keep all the ancients and stats. This same concept applies to armor, shields, and helmets as well.
Not only is the game reminiscent of Diablo, but it's also similar to Planescape: Torment in several ways, too. Like Planescape, Record of Lodoss War features an undead warrior who has no memory of who he was. As both games progress, the characters re-learn (or remember) skills from their previous existence. Each is also completely customizable based on the player's own inclinations.
The common practice is to make your undead warrior in Record of Lodoss War into a strong melee-style fighter-and that's certainly something that can be achieved by pumping up your strength, dexterity, and damage ancients.
However, one can also go the totally opposite route and make the character into a wicked magic user by pumping up the intelligence, magic power, and magic points stats. Or, you can find the middle ground and work on making your warrior well rounded in both areas. Any approach will work, and this allows the gamer to custom-tailor the character to his or her own playing style.
Truthfully, this seemingly endless potential for customization is one area where Record of Lodoss War actually exceeds Diablo. To use strong magic in Diablo, one would generally have to play the wizard, which meant that you'd never be running into a room and slaughtering thirty beasts in three swings of your sword. Of course, you could play as the warrior and do that, but you'd never be using the high-level magic-which would necessitate playing through the game several times for the full experience. With this game, you can have it both ways-a well-rounded character will be able to deal out massive amounts of damage with spells, or get medieval on monsters with the sword.
The one area where the gameplay disappoints is in the fact that Record of Lodoss War is only a one-player title. Even the PSX version of Diablo allowed for two players, which added an extra dimension to the game. I shudder to think how many hours of my life this game would have sucked away had they actually taken advantage of the Dreamcast's online capabilities. I spent over 400 hours on Phantasy Star Online-and this game was actually more fun.
Record of Lodoss War has a fairly short learning curve (the weapon-making and inscribing are the only things that might be challenging at first), and pretty much anyone can pick it up and start playing without any real difficulty.
The game's challenge is harder to pin down. Since the game is so customizable, different situations will give different gamers problems. Some areas are incredibly easy, yet ten-minutes later you'll find yourself getting slaughtered. Of course, a trip back to Anvar's shop and some inscribing can generally fix the problem.
The other factor that makes the challenge hard to describe is the fact that the game is very non-linear. From the start of the game, almost all of Marmo is open to you-you can hit the sidequest dungeons, explore the various environments, and so on. The only thing that will keep you from completing a task before its time is a lack of strength-wander into the wrong dungeon too early and you'll find yourself revived back at your last save point in a matter of seconds.
This relatively non-linear approach also makes pinning down a figure for amount of gameplay hours difficult as well. It took me around forty hours to beat Record of Lodoss War completely-it took me around thirty-two to beat Kardis and finish the main storyline, then another eight or so to go back and beat the optional dragons and a few other areas (and most of that is spent in the cold caves trying to get enough mithril to survive the dragon fights). One could probably beat the game in around twenty-five hours-if you skipped a lot of the side stuff and just concentrated on the main plot. Of course, you'd also be missing lots of cool rare items and some of the really challenging areas of the game.
At any rate, expect an average of about thirty hours of solid gameplay if you pick up this title.
Frankly, for a game on a next generation console, Record of Lodoss War isn't all that impressive visually. The character models are made up of very few polygons and feature little in the way of detail. The character textures are also essentially non-existent, which makes the game look even worse.
The animations could be better, too. Your undead warrior runs like a dork-seriously, the guy looks like he has hemorrhoids. He's stiff and unnatural looking, and granted, he's undead, but I think more of this stems from lazy craftsmanship than from visual aesthetics.
The one nice feature is that your character's appearance changes with each weapon or armor change. Put on red armor and a blue helmet and you'll run around on screen in red armor and a blue helmet. Be careful-you can wind up looking like a real fashion nightmare if you don't color coordinate.
In another nod to Diablo, the game borrows the 3rd person ¾ overhead camera view. The camera is decent, if relatively unremarkable. It's rotatable, but only in what seems to be 90-degree increments-meaning that in any given situation, you have the option of several different views, but they all have to be from behind or the side. Fortunately, that's the view you'll want most of the time, so the lack of mobility never really becomes an issue.
The backgrounds, dungeons, and overworld are all fairly impressive. Marmo is a dark and dreary place and the graphics highlight that time and again. While different areas have different appearances (there's a dark forest, mountains, a desert, etc.), a lot of them still look needlessly drab. Occasionally a collision detection glitch, clipping, or a polygon tear will turn up-but those things are pretty infrequent.
There's a fairly wide variety of monsters, but as usual, later stages feature enemies that are simply palette swaps of earlier creatures. Sure, occasionally the attributes change, but in many cases it's the same monster with a different colored skin.
The game also features several FMV (full motion video) sequences. These segments are a nice touch-they're few and far between, but they do add to the story nicely. As a whole, they look decent-if not unlike early Playstation FMV segments. Don't expect Square-style video and you should be okay.
By far, the biggest problem in the game is the dreaded slowdown. If you wind up fighting thirty or so monsters at once, the game will slow down considerably-even to the point where timing your overly simplistic attack (mashing the B button) is a challenge. Now, we're not talking major slowdown, here-but it is significant and can affect gameplay in spots. While the perfunctory and rather under-whelming graphics are forgivable, the slowdown isn't.
Ultimately, if you want breathtaking graphics, this game will disappoint you. If you want average graphics with solid gameplay, then this is a game you should consider picking up. It's not pretty, but it's fun.
Since this is an action RPG, control is definitely an issue. You're going to be moving around, hacking and slashing away in real time, so the controls need to be as responsive as possible. I'm happy to report that the controls here are pretty much flawless.
Your undead warrior is controlled by using the analog stick on the Dreamcast controller. He moves quickly and responds to your command with no hesitation at all. Attacks are launched with the B button, items in your belt are selected with the D-pad and used by pushing Y (you can even take potions while paralyzed), and spells are cast with X.
In one interesting new wrinkle, spells actually have to be 'prepared' before you can cast them. Preparing a spell means that you have to hold down the X button to bring up the menu, push in a series of buttons to activate the spell, then you can cast it repeatedly with the X button. Preparing a spell requires you to stop moving while doing it, which brings some challenge to switching spells while under attack. I like this particular innovation and think it brings a little extra strategy to the game.
Holding the left or right trigger and moving the analog stick rotates the camera. The camera moves easily enough, but there are instances where it's hard to get it exactly where you want it-it's almost too responsive.
Holding down the left and right trigger along with the start button will bring up the map. The map is a useful feature, particularly in dungeons. The environments here are large, and it's easy to lose your way. Thanks to the map, you can not only find your way, but hit any areas that you haven't yet explored.
Finally, the start button will access the status screen. Here you can re-equip yourself (provided you're carrying stuff), use the book of transformation (to turn one weapon or armor into another), or monitor your stats. Everything here is spelled out clearly, so gamers should have no problem analyzing their character information or changing items.
Aurally speaking, Record of Lodoss War shines. The game's music alternates between majestic and atmospheric, depending on the location and situation. While there seems to be only a small number of tracks, they're all solid and memorable.
The sound effects are also decent-although not quite as good as the music. Different armors and boots make different noises-some are so quiet you can barely hear them. Others are obnoxiously loud. Weapons make different noises depending on what it is, too, and you'll be hearing those sounds a lot.
Ambient noise is unobtrusive-it's not 'stand up and take notice' good, but it's there, and generally in the background…like ambient noise should be. It rains a lot on Marmo, and you'll hear the wind, thunder, etc.-all of which adds to the overall mood.
The game also features a fair amount of voice acting. Unlike most games, the voice acting in Record of Lodoss War is quite good. Anvar is by far my favorite character, with his heavy accent. He sounds sort of like a dwarf version of Wolfman Jack, I guess. At any rate, here's another example of how voice acting can actually enhance a title.
Ultimately, it's a shame that Dreamcast owners have ignored Record of Lodoss War. While the game certainly has a few flaws that keep it just shy of greatness-namely the lack of online or even two-player mode--it compensates for them with some solid and addictive gameplay. This is one of those games that has all the earmarkings of a cult classic, a game where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, a title that most gamers will ignore until it's no longer easy to find. While not for everyone, fans of the anime series and games like Diablo should certainly check this one out. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with what you find.