Throne of Darkness is an action/RPG that is set within Japan's legendary past and you are in charge of a group of Samurai who must stop the Dark Warlord Zanshin from spreading darkness throughout the lands.
Many gamers have totally bad-mouthed this game simply because it is similar to Diablo and I admit, I noticed that as well. But I believe that Throne of Darkness (TOD) had many unique characteristics that set it aside from most games. I wish these other gamers would quit judging this game so harshly just because it seems like something else they have played. A good game reviewer should judge the entire package, and there are so many games out on the market these days, that you are bound to run into a few that are similar to one another.
I had a hard time thinking of this game as an RPG. There is not much story going on and you are constantly engaged in combat more than trying to complete quests. The main background story is that an evil Dark Warlord (Zanshin) has risen and started raising zombies and skeletons to take over the lands, and your clan of seven Samurai are asked to stop this madness. You have access to seven different types of combat characters, but you can only use four at a time during the game. The following Samurai are available: Leader, Brick, Archer, Swordsman, Wizard, Ninja, and Berserker. If you have played RPG's before, than you can pretty much guess what each one specializes in. There is a wise old man called the Daimyo, who resides in the Shrine room of your home castle, and he controls many things concerning your Samurai. I will go into further detail about the Daimyo interface later in the review.
The graphics were good in this game. Everything was very detailed, the outdoor and indoor environments looked good. Most of the game takes place outside or in caves, and there were a few castles or citadels that you had to venture inside of.
The sound was good as well. There were not too many ambient sounds, but there was a background music score that kept you primed for battle. All the NPC's that you will be dealing with had there own distinct voice, and I could not help but think that some sounded like those old dubbed martial arts movies...LOL
The gameplay was excellent and the interface was very easy to use. Everything was mouse driven, and that is exactly how I like it. There were only two things I used the keyboard for, one was the ESC key to bring up the menu for Saving, Loading, and Exiting the game. The other one was the Left Alt key (which I highly recommend). This highlighted and described all the items that were dropped on the ground, so you would not miss any. Combat was very challenging and easy to initiate, and most of the time you were well rewarded for your victory. There were many quests to keep you busy, and they were divided into two different types, and later I will go further into detail about them. There is also a Multiplayer option available in this game.
For the most part, you had a full screen gaming area, with all needed interface buttons located at the bottom of the screen. From left to right you got the health meter, the Tactics button (which I hardly used), four portraits of the current Samurais, and in a triangular formation located at the center of this bottom part were the following buttons: Daimyo, Inventory, and Character Stats. In the center of these three buttons is the Taskbar button, and when you click that, you get another set of buttons that do the following: Tactics (brings up the Tactics screen), Spellbook (opens/closes list of spells for selected character), Map (one of the best features in the game, and it will constantly stay up if you want it too, which is really nice), Quests (opens/closes a list of quests), and only available in Multiplayer is the Chat button (open/closes the chat screen). Continuing to the right, we also have four belt slots that are used for potions. The first slot holds the health potions, the second holds Ki (mana) potions, the third holds Restorative potions, and the fourth holds Antidote potions. Next to these on the right is the Weapon switch button, which will automatically switch the selected character's weapons from the primary weapon to their secondary weapon, or vice versa. Finally, on the bottom right of the screen is the Ki (mana) meter, and the Spell button.
Whenever one of your Samurai leveled-up in this game, a "+" sign would appear on his portrait. At that point, you could bring up the Character Stat screen and have six points available to use for boosting his Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, Ki, or Charisma. You also would receive a spell point to put in each spell discipline.
Replay value was not considered too high for me in this game, and that is mainly because the only incentive they give you to play the game again is that there is four different clans that you can play, and each one will have different quests to complete. The clans are Mori, Oda, Tokugawa, and Toyotomi (each one also has different names for their Samurai). I think what kind of items you get when you open a chest, or kill an enemy, will also change whenever you play the game again.
The learning curve was very good in this game. Some interfaces had tutorial buttons located right on the pop-up screens themselves, and the quests screen had a button that would actually replay what was said when the quest was given. There is also a few tutorial pages at the front of the manual that go over everything from combat to controlling your characters. When you start the game, your main quest will be to clear your castle of the invaders, and during this first venture, you will be receiving much info from your Daimyo (narrator and watcher of your home shrine) about gameplay.
There are three main interfaces that you will be using most often in this game, and at times you can have two up simultaneously. They are the Daimyo, Priest, and Blacksmith. Each interface has a quick exit button that will allow you to go back to the gaming screen.
The Daimyo interface will be mainly used for transporting other characters in and out of service. This Daimyo remains in the shrine room of your home citadel, and he is more or less the watcher and healer of the entire party of seven Samurai. When you click on the Daimyo button, a row of portraits will appear at the bottom of the screen that shows you what characters are currently resting in the shrine room. Now when these characters are in the shrine room, and not active in the game, then their health and Ki are automatically being restored. The Daimyo also has the power to resurrect any Samurai who have fallen in battle. Once they are dead, their portraits will be blackened out, and at that point you just need to bring up the Daimyo interface and click on the fallen character, and he will be automatically transported to the shrine room. Once there, you can click on the portrait again and he will be resurrected. Now you need to keep in mind that any of these actions require some Ki to be done, and just like each individual has a certain amount of Ki to use, so does the Daimyo. When the interface comes up, you will see the Daimyo Ki meter, and if it is completely out of Ki, then you cannot heal or resurrect any characters, and you must wait until the Daimyo replenishes its Ki.
The Priest interface has four buttons on it that can be used. They are the following: Buy (can purchase potions), Identify (some items in TOD need to be identified before you can use them), Purify (some items in TOD will be cursed, and need to be purified before you can use them), and Offer (any item that you no longer want can be put into the four different spell categories in order to gain more spell points). There are four different magic disciplines that can be used in this game. They are the following: Fire spells, Lightning spells, Earth spells, and Water spells. One of the great things about using magic in this game, was that any character class could use magic, it was not just for the Wizard.
The Blacksmith interface has four buttons on it that can be used. They are the following: Give (any non-magical or non-cursed item can be placed here to boost the amount of resources the blacksmith has to make things, it will automatically go into one of three categories, Melee, Ranged, or Armor), Make (for the right amount of gold, the blacksmith can make Melee or Ranged weapons, or sturdy Armor), Repair (once again for the right amount of gold, items can be repaired, any item that has a durability amount associated with it, can be worn down during combat), and Customize (only weapons and armor can be customized).
I left the customize feature last on this list, because I need to go more in detail about it, and it is the coolest feature that this game has to offer. I highly recommend that you make full use of this feature, because as the game goes on, you will be able to make some amazingly powerful weapons and armor. All characters in this game will be able to equip the following items: head (any helmet or head band), arms (gloves, grieves), mask (contain magical attributes), left weapon (considered primary weapon), body (basic body armor), right weapon (considered secondary weapon), jewel (enhances stats, looks like sea shells), medicine case (can boost many things), legs (protects the leg area), talisman (can boost gold and charisma), and rosary (beads that will boost Ki level). Do keep in mind that only weapons and armor can be customized.
If one of these items can be customized, then it will have a magic slot number associated with it when you bring up its description. There are certain items that you will find in many places throughout this game, and even off of your dead enemies, that are used as component pieces to customize weapons and armor. These are the items that go into those magic slots that are mentioned when you look at a piece of armor or a weapon. There will be four different kinds of component pieces that correspond to the four different magic disciplines (Earth, Water, Lightning, and Fire). Some examples of component pieces include gems, feathers, or blood. In addition to these items, you can also find other pieces that will in turn enhance the component pieces themselves, and they include steel bars or mercury.
So you can customize a piece of armor or a weapon by bringing up the blacksmith interface, clicking on the customize button, placing the item in the box at the top of the screen, and once you do that, then at the bottom of the blacksmith screen should be a bigger box that will show you how many spaces can be used for component pieces. This is where you place the component pieces you want to use and then click on the button that has an arrow on it, and the customization process will start. This brings me to what I thought was one of the problems with this game. The process of enhancing weapons and armor sometimes took awhile, anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes (yes, actual minutes). Although you could argue that it added to the realistic aspect of gaming, I think it was a pain to deal with, especially if you were doing some major upgrades that did take several minutes to complete. But still, overall, I really enjoyed the process of making better weapons and armor. It makes you feel more interactive with the game when you can create your own magical items.
As I mentioned before, there were two different types of quests in Throne of Darkness. They are Strategic and Personal. There are 12 Strategic quests and they drive the main plot of the game. There are only 3 Personal quests and they are given to certain members of the clan, and change with each different clan. Some of these quests will have movie sequences associated with them, and there will be a button on the Quest interface that can replay that movie at anytime.
I think the last thing about TOD that I would like to explain is the Portal Gates. There were many forests, castles, and caves in this game to explore, and thankfully there was a quick way to get from one area to another. This is what the Portal Gates were used for, but you must find them first, and activate them by clicking on them. Once you have done this, then you can use that gate to teleport your entire party to any other gate that has been activated. It is always nice when there is a quick way to travel in a game, don't you agree?
If you can put aside the similarities that this game has with Diablo, and just try to enjoy its unique oriental spin on RPGing, then I think you will enjoy it. It definitely lets you create some of the most powerful weapons and armor that I have ever seen in a game.