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Elminage Gothic Review

by Edward Wilson (Forgottenlor), 2015-02-18

“Wizardry in Wonderland”
An Elminage Gothic Review


By forgottenlor

Have you ever gotten whole walnuts in their shells? Have you ever had to crack them? If you've had that dubious honor, then you've come across that one walnut shell that doesn't want to be cracked. You squeeze with all your might. You shift its position in the nutcracker. Finally the walnut explodes. Shell and nut fly everywhere. The nut inside is excellent, but somehow you wonder if it was worth the effort. Elminage Gothic is that nut. Many won't understand why people would take the trouble to play it, while others will consider the trouble validated by the results.
    
Normally when critizing anything, I'd start with the good points. I won't with this game, because Elminage Gothic only reveals its strengths to those who have first wrestled with its bad points and intentionally frustrating mechanics. First you have to accept that the UI was designed for a console, which is pretty unelegant on a PC. Even for a console user interface, it is dreadful at times. Exiting the game while in a dungeon, for example, requires to user to press escape, then click pause adventure, which takes you to the world map. From there you have to click on the kingdom menu, then go back to the main menu, from which you can exit the game. Loading a game when your party ended play in a dungeon is just as much work. If party members die (and they will over and over) and you decide not to reload, they will be removed from the party when you enter town. You can go to the temple to have to have them raised. Should the priest not accidently turn them into ash, you can add them back to the party. But how? You'll, of course, need to click the “withdraw” button. This leads me to the language in Elminage. The game was originally in Japanese, and has been translated into functional English. Nevertheless, occasionally you run into awkward translations or small grammatical errors. While Wizardry (with the exception of part 8), which is clearly the game series that Elminage pays tribute to, had only a little writing to provide the framework for the gameplay, it was well written. The writing in Elminage pales by comparison. While one can understand it, it has no art to it. This would be a huge problem if the story in Elimage Gothic was important or if most NPCs added to the atmosphere of the game. Luckily the story is rather an excuse to delve in the game's various dungeons and many of the NPCs one meets are there either to give out side quests (mostly finding items or defeating bosses)  or to give gameplay tips to help with Elminage's extremely complex mechanics.

Dungeons are full of NPCs who give you tips about the game's complex mechanics.

          
Elminage Gothic features a number of complex old school mechanics of the kind where you initially wonder why someone would implement them in a modern game. For example, there is a minimap, but you can only look at it by consuming a magical map. Obtaining these maps is not the problem. They are cheap and in the Kingdom's store, which you repeatedly visit over the course of the game. The problem is your very small inventory. Even if you've expanded it by giving one of your characters the extremely useful magic bag skill, you won't want to be looking at the minimap unless you really have to. Elminage Gothic's many traps profit from this. You will teleported, spun around, slided and have to watch out for pits and chutes until your mage, samurai, bishop, or bard is high enough level to cast levitate. Not too far into the game you will get a side quest, which combined with careful exploration will yield a multiuse but breakable map. This map, however, can be repaired by a mid level alchemist spell. Let me give you another example. Like in the Infinity Engine (Baldur's Gate) or Neverwinter Night games your spell casters only can regain spells by resting. But unlike those games you can only rest in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is your homebase, but it is really just a set of menus, which lets you buy and sell goods, rest, level up, manage your characters, heal them, forge new equipment, and find some side quests. Many dungeons have multiple levels and the player always has to worry about running out of magical maps or spells when traveling too deep. You also have to travel back out and monsters respawn once you reenter an old level or have to reload when your party runs into a deadly trap or is surprised by three rows of enemy spellcasters. If your mage, samurai, bishop, or bard has learned the seventh and highest level of spells, you will gain the extremly useful teleport spell which helps you avoid this problem. Before that, when your priest, bishop, lord, or valkarie learns fifth level spells, you get the one shot spell Honey Restorer, which teleports you to the Kingdom, and then is forever consumed. The frustrating mechanics in Elminage Gothic give you a true sense of dread and danger early on, but there are ways to counter them when you gain levels, and this really gives you a true sense of power and achievement, should you hold out long enough.
          
Like in many rpgs of the 80s and 90s, combat in Elminage Gothic is deadly. You can petrify, paralyse and decapitate monsters. They can also do the same to you, and if they get a surprise round, it's often time to reload. Monsters are paired randomly and while fighting a row of mages or archers alone is rarely a problem, fighting a row of six spellcasters or archers sitting behind a row of six brawlers or samurai can turn deadly. Tactics are required here and Elminage Gothic gives you access to a lot to choose from. Your characters are set up in two rows. They can defend each other, silence opponents, cast magic resistance, or if you're lucky enough to have a shaman in the party, even reflect spells. When I first entered the Great Tree Yap Gotz, I ran into fungal archers who shot two arrows per turn and almost always attacked before my spellcasters. If three or more of them hid behind a row of close combat monsters, they usually picked off my mage or alchemist in the first round. Finally I came to realize it was better to sacrifice my brawler's attacks (who is a combat monster) and my priest's buffs and have the two of them defend my spellcasters and take all of the arrows. Meanwhile my mage would cast mass sleep and my alchemist would mass paralyse, and then the archers ceased to be a problem. But even the best tactics can't always save you. A surprise round, tons of monsters, or multiple monsters doing maximum damage can always be too much. So you'd better be frustration resistant, and you better see it as a challenge worth trying to overcome, rather than an unfair computer advantage; Elminage Gothic has truly complicated mechanics and it makes the most of them.

The monsters in Elminage Gothic are some of the weirdest and most unique I've ever seen.


Hopefully you like reading game manuals, because like the older Wizardry games, you can ruin your chances before entering the first dungeon by making a poor party from the fifteen available classes. Even if you make a good party, how you do so really matters. Some side quests require a certain class in the party to complete. Also, the loot you find by completing some of these quests only profit certain classes. A servant can brew potions and an alchemist can fuse metals to enchant items. A bishop can identify items, which is excellent considering your limited inventory. Going into the dungeon without a hunter, thief, or ninja to disarm traps in a bad idea. I actually considered taking a ninja, before realizing that ninjas had to be evil, and that prevented good characters from joining the party. You'll also need priest, alchemist, and mage spells which are accessable to a variety of classes. Like in Wizardry 6-8 you can also change classes as often as you like. Here I think Elminage Gothic shines. In Wizardry 6 and 7 it was a great disadvantage not to switch classes, whereas in Wizardry 8, it was rarely beneficial. In Elminage Gothic there are tradeoffs.  If you do change classes, you lose most of your skills and keep about a third of your spell slots, unless of course, you change to a class which can learn the same magic type. However, you level up quickly and classes with a few very useful abilities, like the summoner, shaman, and servant just call out to be the retirement class for an alchemist, wizard, or priest. Also the elite classes like the ninja, samurai, and lord level up really slowly, and are also excellent to switch into midgame. If you don't change class, you can use special innocent equipment. Also every class gets master skills at really high levels. A master thief, for example, is the only class that can steal unique items off of boss monsters. Is that worth passing up spells for and sticking with the thief's rather poor combat abilities? I'd say there's no clear answer, and that makes the class system really interesting. These factors make managing your party very rewarding, even late in the game.

Monsters like these archers teach you to try out new tactics.


The various side quests in Elminage Gothic reward exploration and constantly checking back in at the tavern and the village square. They are entirely optional but give unique and interesting objects as rewards or let you expand your storage area, which is really helpful. Many of these quests are fairly difficult to complete and send you into the furthest reaches of a dungeon. Elminage Gothic is interesting in that after the first introductory dungeon, you are given three dungeons to explore and a lot of side quests. Which you do, when, and how you explore the dungeons is largely up to you. After you have pushed the main quest along another three dungeons open up, again with lots of side quests. This give the dungeon crawler a feeling of nonlinearity even though it doesn't really have any open areas.

The graphics in Elminage Gothic are outdated, but the art direction is really well done. One feels like one has entered a surrealistic world, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. One of this dungeon crawler's great strengths lies in the huge variety of opponents you will face. Most of them are unique to a particular dungeon and many of them are unique to a specific dungeon floor. From turnip riding Santas to electric guitar wielding courtesans to baby dragons sucking on pacifiers or weird fungus archers, Elminage Gothic's creatures are truly bizzare, well drawn, and unique.

This game also offers a lot of content. I'm over 40 hours into the game and estimate that I am just over halfway finished. Elminage Gothic boasts ten multilevel dungeons in the story campaign and another three bonus dungeons. So if you want you could probably spend over 80 hours playing the game. Considering it's only 10 euros at full price, you get a lot of game for your money.

In the end I'm giving this game 4 stars, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it to everyone. Elminage Gothic is a brutally unfair dungeon crawler, with fun and interesting phase-based combat and lots of it. If you are frustration resistant, don't care too much about story, love complex rpg mechanics, and are willing to put up with a terrible user interface, then I can heartily recommend this game.

Box Art

Information about

Elminage Gothic

Developer: Starfish-SD Inc

SP/MP: Single + MP
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Dungeon Crawler
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2014-09-18
· Publisher: Ghostlight LTD

More information


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Summary

Pros

  • Rewarding to those who stick with it
  • Deep and complex mechanics
  • Excellent creature variety
  • Unique surrealistic atmosphere

Cons

  • Terrible UI
  • Cliche story with poor writing
  • Automap and rest mechanics annoying early on

Rating

This review is using RPGWatch's old style of rating. See 'How we review' link below

Review version