RPGs fans waited with bated breath as Seattle developer Craveyard worked on their domestic RPG masterpiece, Shadow Madness. The Japanese stranglehold
on RPG development would be broken, hoped gamers, and U.S. fans would have
an RPG company to call their own. After years in the making, Shadow Madness
has seen the light of day. Unfortunately, reports indicate that Craveyard
has been dissolved before their first title saw release - not a promising
sign. Looking at the finished product, you can't help shaking your head at
what might have been. Shadow Madness is a strong beginning for a
development team. Unfortunately, it's little more than a strong beginning;
as an independent game, it's extremely flawed. It does as many things
fantastically as it does incompetently, and in the end this dichotomy tears
the game apart.
Shadow Madness begins, in traditional RPG fashion, with an upstanding youth,
Stinger, returning home just in time to see his hometown be destroyed by a
mysterious, powerful force from above. Stinger leaves for the capital to
seek answers to the devastation of his town and family - hooking up, of
course, with a motley crew along the way. His search for answers unveils
more than physical destruction - a mental illness, the "shadow madness," is
sending the citizens of Arkose into schizophrenic rages. Who or what is
causing this disease? And how can it be stopped?
Dialog by hot-headed Americans, for hot-headed Americans
The story of Shadow Madness is undoubtedly its strongest point. Written by
native English speakers for an English-speaking audience, it has a
maturity, naturalness, and wittiness found only in the best RPG
translations. Just as players of Working Designs games find themselves
seeking out NPCs and townsfolks because they're so funny, Shadow Madness
players seek out books and pamphlets because they're so interesting The
library becomes a favorite hangout spot; the history of Shadow Madness'
universe is rich with detail and nuance, and it's clear a lot of work went
into the game's script and writing.
Unfortunately, this compelling storyline is populated by some of the most
atrocious character designs in all of RPG history. Stinger is the offspring
of Final Fantasy VII's Cloud and a Village Person; Harv-5 had a former life
as the mascot of some second-run Mexican restaurant. And while not every
RPG female need be a ridiculous caricature of femininity, Windleaf is just
unattractive. The rest of the crew is just as miserable - it's a painful
parade of Saturday morning cartoon rejects.
A variety of attack options
The graphics are a decidedly mixed bag. The rendered backgrounds are sharp,
detailed, and get the job done just fine. The battle models aren't
half-bad, but spotty camera work somehow manages to always find the most
distant, least interesting angle. Spells and special attacks are straight
out of the school of "uninspired polygonal effects." Character art for
party members and NPCs is almost ridiculously bland. Field map character
representations somehow look blockier and less human than Final Fantasy
VII's infamous "popeye people" - they seem "modeled" entirely from geometric
primitives. And the FMV is pretty rank, with poor modelling and a choppy
frame rate. When Final Fantasy VII's in-engine summons look superior to
Shadow Madness' FMV summons, something is amiss. The sound is universally
quite good. The music is suitably moody and restrained, perfectly matching
the title's darker tone, and sound effects often do a great job in creating
an environment's atmosphere.
The gameplay itself is subpar, aping Final Fantasy VII at every turn. The
field exploration is just as you would expect from the super-deformed school
of pre-rendered backgrounds. The battle engine unfortunately falls into the
"attack, attack, attack, heal" school of "strategy," although elemental
effects are more useful than in most titles. The game's interfaces are
glaringly clunky; awkward and unintuitive, they don't offer nearly enough
complexity while removing functionality.
In the end, Shadow Madness isn't good enough to recommend, but not so
terribly bad that it should be avoided outright. Despite being highly
flawed, it has a lot going for it - and just as much holding it back. Like
the American-made Secret of Evermore, Shadow Madness goes through the
motions of Japanese RPGs without ever understanding what makes the games it
copies so popular in the first place. If RPGs were dating prospects, then
Shadow Madness is the ugly girl with the great personality. And no one
wants to make it with a personality. Some gamers will
dismiss the game before even playing it; others will find it one of their
favorite RPGs ever. Shadow Madness is a diamond in the rough that you've
got to mine yourself - interested gamers should at least give it a chance.
Review by Andrew Vestal, GIA.
|Shadow Madness released
|6 new screen shots
|World map / 6 character designs