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January 22, 2012

Prophecy of the Shadow - Review

This is my fastest completion and playtime so far. In less than two weeks I completed the game. If I would guess, I would say I spent around 20 hours with this game. Normally - If I would have bought this game at the time and had unlimited playing time - I would have thought it was too short. Now I am just grateful to be able to enjoy and complete the game in a reasonable amount of time.

This game came out in 1992. At that time the game concept was not unique. It is clear this game took inspiration from games like Times of Lore (1988) and The Faery Tale Adventure (1987). Still in around 1992 the RPG market was quickly beginning to make games in true first person 3D like in Ultima Underworld (1992) and Legends of Valour (1992). Prophecy of the Shadow (PotS from now on) did try to vitalize the genre by including digitized animations of characters met and a streamlined interface without any need to use the keyboard. In its relatively simple GUI it was probably meant to target the more casual RPG gamer. There are no technical reasons why this game would not be released for the Amiga platform. A pity.

Even in Times of Lore on the Commodore 64 the game included day/night cycles and animated water. Something that is not even included in this game on the PC. Ok, enough of comparisons. Let´s get over to the review itself.

Gameworld & Story
The gameworld is relatively small compared to Faery Tale but I don´t find it too small in anyway. I got lost a few times so the map in the manual helps a lot. The world is filled with forests, towns, swamps, deserts and oceans. There are no mountains, hills or arctic places and you will never travel on water. You use teleportation or the spell equivalent to transport fast over long distances. 

The world have moderate distances between interesting places. The balance is good. Not like in Faery Tale where you could wander for 10-15 minutes without encountering anything interesting.

The story might appear quite cliché but I like it. You start out alone, knowing only that someone has killed your master and it is up to you to figure out why. It is obvious great things are in motion so you better have to prepare yourself. For the size and type of game PotS is, I think it is easy to grasp and give you a clear goal from the beginning. Personally I hate long background stories that have no effect in the game anyway.

The whole worlds seems to consist of the two continents shown on the map and everything spins around that kingdom. In that respect the developers have defined the game world.

Rating: 3

Economy
The first 2/3 of the game you are in constant need of Silver (the only currency in use). You have a limited stock to choose from and shops and its intermutual variety of items is very small. You don´t have to buy food or torches (I never bought torches, but used the ones I found instead) but you do need to upgrade your weapon. There are however only a few different melee weapon, no armours and a few range weapons (which I found quite useless). You need the money to upgrade your weapon and perhaps to buy healing potions.

I did not end with much gold (around 700 or so) but had bought the best I could get for that. Though, the best  weapons in the game will be found rather than bought. The balance is still quite good. The minus it gets is for the poor variety in buying items and the plus is for the good balance of it.

Rating: 3

NPC & Interactions
You meet a lot of different NPC:s in this game and many of them have their own digitized image and animation. You communicate by keywoards but you never have to enter anything by yourself. When you discover new topics they will be available for you when you return to previously talked to NPCs. This system works quite ok. 

If one would be really careful, one would have wroten down the names of all NPC:s met and where they are found because you will have too look up certain persons from time to time. You will never be able to choose your answers. In fact you never say anything. It is only the NPC who talks. That is quite simplistic but is in alignment with most game of the time.

Rating: 2.5

Monsters & Tactics
There are few different monsters in the game (I don´t think it is more than 10 actually) and the only obvious difference is that some could cast area spells and the rest attacks in melee. There are no tactics whatsoever to use since all combats are in realtim. You just get in, target your opponent, and watch who will die first. You could use an item during combat however but it is most of the time not practical because things goes so fast.

I am a little dissappointed that I could circumvent the obstacles of defeating Cam Tethe, the spectres and Abraxus by just leaving the level, rest and return. But the game don´t allow for much more varietions in combat. Sure there are a few spells, but I have never used them. It feels they are not worth it. First you have to switch item to your catalyst, then cast a spell, switch back to your sword and then issue the attack command on your foe. In that time you would probably be hit a few times and the spell does not do more damage than having a lucky throw with your sword.

One more thing. There are a fixed number of wandering enemies. There is no such thing as random encounters. That means that you can´t go slaying monsters in hope of increasing your attributes and then return to try to defeat your strong foes. I don´t know how I would have defeated my hard enemies without my special tactic above.

I find ranged weapons worthless,since the gaming area is so small. You manage one shot and then the enemy is upon you and before then you need to be fast to switch back to your ordinary melee weapon.

There are no A.I whatsoever in the enemy. They just run to you and attacks until killed. Your only way to affect the combat is to kill many lesser enemies and hope to increase your levels or to try to use a spell/item in the midst of the less than 10 seconds long combats.

Rating: 2

Map design
Apart from the map in the manual you do find an orb to use that shows you a bird´s view of your immediate surroundings. I found it quite useless because the distance it shows is too small.

Underground maps are irregular and you could easily get lost. Maps within buildings are built upon logic with guard barracks, sleeping rooms etc. The overland map is also quite ok. In total the map design stand the test. 

Rating: 3

Graphics, Sound & Interface
The graphics in the game was nothing to write home about even in 1992 but it is clean and functional and does what it have to do. There are very few animations at all, except in the digitized photos. Even Faery Tale Adventure could match this game on the Amiga but was released 5 years earlier.

I did not manage to get any descent soundcard working on DosBox so I had to endure the built in speakers. As you surely understand it would be better for me not to mention anymore about it.

The interface is clear and works pretty well. You have keyboard shortcuts for most things and that really speeds up things in the midst of combat. You could decide the speed the character will move throughout the land and that is very useful. The inventory interface is a little clumsy. It takes a awhile for the mouse pointer to recognise what it hovers over and clicking is slow as well. That might be remedied by increasing the cycles in DosBox.

You have all the information you need on the screen at once like your abilities, amount of silver, food, torches and most of your frequently used inventory. The only thing which is lacking is a quick way to cast spells by shortcuts not only to open up your spellbook.

Rating: 3

Manual
I only had access to the manual in textform but its 26 pages is pretty good and tells you everything you need to know to play the game, including description of spells and monsters.

Gameplay
I got immediately hooked by this game in the beginning. Mostly due to the simple but funtional interface and the uncomplex underlying game mechanics. You can move quickly and there are not too many people or places to visit which just slows your progress down. You have full freedom in how you will proceed or where to begin, although things come down to the same place sooner or later anyway. You could roam around killing bandits to gain experience or go directly against your major foes. The dialogues - albeit simple - does bring atmosphere to the game.

It is a perfect casual RPG in which you dont need to take notes or draw maps. That being said, the combats are not easy and if you are not experienced enough or have found the correct weapons you will have to wait until you can progress. But problem-solving wise this is not a particularly hard game although I needed to check out some hints from now and then mostly because of the extremely time consuming part of revisiting all places to see if you had forgot anything.

The tone is light and the world is really black-and-white. The hunger for more silver or better items keep you exploring the unknown and you never know what you will find since there are not automap function. Every fight has the chance to increase your skill values so you gradually get better. Most - if not all - puzzles are quite logical.

This game kept my interest to the end and I appreciated it all the way.

Rating: 4

Here follows a list of links with important information if you want to play this game:

4 comments:

  1. This game was next on my play list, but I've decided to skip it.
    So now I've enjoyed all your blog entries about it.
    Apart from the simplistic combat it sounds reasonably fun. But having to resort to cheating, by swinging at an enemy, exiting the area, rest and return, and then repeat the process until the enemy is dead, is a giant turn-off for me.

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    Replies
    1. I am sure you could find a way to defeat certain enemies without using the same tactics as I :-)

      Btw, did you ever complete Dark Heart of Uukrul without cheating ?

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    2. Maybe spells would help? Oh well, the combat looks too simplistic and non-tactical for my taste anyway.

      Yes, I completed Uukrul. Only cheating I did was using a walkthrough for some of the puzzles; a lever puzzle and a crosswords puzzle, and perhaps a few more. I just don't have the patience for trial and error puzzles, or puzzles that are too hard/illogical, which is why I gave up on Adventure games decades ago.

      Uukrul was a brilliant game, and you really should finish it. It's not that long.
      I'm looking forward to the CRPG Addict playing it soon(ish).

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