Do you remember those old text-based PC adventure games, the ones that only told you what to do? Everything was based on memorization, attention to detail, and intuition. No, I don’t remember them either, but that’s because I was born in 1985 [editor’s note: I’d like to thank Sean for making me feel old with this comment]. My Dad still recalls a couple of them though (something about a pyramid and reincarnating orange smoke), and the game I’m reviewing today is the great-great-grandson of those old text adventures. Mazes of Fate, an RPG from Graffiti Entertainment, harkens back to the days of the old-school American RPG, before Cloud got involved with his goofy hair and ridiculously huge sword and messed everything up.
The story starts off as pretty average; choose one of three main characters or make up your own, and head off on a personal mission to become a great warrior. Before long a winding plot involving displeased gods, arcane magic and corruption crops up, and by the end of the game the storyline gets pretty involving and interesting. Learning the complex back story of each playable character reveals a little about their personality, but doesn’t have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
Gameplay is an interesting combination of RPG conventions and first-person action. The overworld and its various towns and locations are played from an overhead, third-person view, which is pretty traditional. Once inside a dungeon the view switches to first-person, a unique take on an RPG to say the least. These labyrinthine sequences are the reason the game is called Mazes of Fate, and the later ones get pretty complicated. Combat happens in first-person too, and feels like those old text adventures as a result.
Attacking creatures or bosses is accomplished through sub-menus, which become filled with diverse spells and attacks as the game progresses and the characters level up. Strategy is required to defeat the stronger enemies, by balancing one character’s abilities against another’s. An interesting feature is the ability to run away from enemies, and they’ll actually pursue you through the halls of the dungeon as you flee. These options made the game feel more cerebral, and I liked that it didn’t let me take the shortcuts found in more common RPGs.
Gameplay is hampered, unfortunately, by somewhat low production values. Graphics are well drawn and the sprites are clearly defined, but animations are jerky and that takes some of the intimidation out of the bosses. The dungeons aren’t true, real-time first-person, but play out in sections that scale forward as you move. It reminded me a little of Myst, but made the levels more disorienting than they needed to be. In spite of these issues, I really liked the game’s art style when it was crisp and un-pixilated.
Music and sound are pretty drab. The midi pieces loop a great deal and the battle sounds were too generic and low quality to make the fights very immersive. With a story that has so much character, it would’ve been nice if the music and sound were appropriately grand and sweeping.
Despite some technical limitations, Mazes of Fate is a very solid RPG for the end of the GBA’s lifetime. Literally hundreds of items and spells give the combat variety, and the myriad side quests and dynamic story add hours of replay value. The ability to save anywhere was a great convenience, too. If you’re not too hung up on pretty visuals or a majestic musical score, this quality RPG will keep you busy for quite a while.
Mazes of Fate isn’t the most technically impressive GBA game, and its shortcomings are more glaring this late in the handheld’s life, but the gameplay is as solid old-school RPG as you can get. Pick this one up if you want an enduring, challenging quest and some real gameplay depth.
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