The RPG has come a long way from its traditional roots. Older gamers – or indeed retro enthusiasts – will remember classic first-person dungeon crawlers like Eye of the Beholder with fondness, and indeed such fondness is well-placed. For their time they were the pinnacle of the genre, containing a depth not seen in any other type of game. Sadly, the world has moved on – and made considerable bounds since Starfish SD first released Elminage Original (then going by the much longer, much more Japanese title of Elminage: Yami no Fujo to Kamigami no Yubiwa). It has taken several years for Starfish and UFO Interactive to bring the game to a Western audience, and you have to ask now if it was really worth it.
Primarily a PSP game (though also available on the Vita), Elminage original will only appeal to fans of classic, hardcore, corridor-based RPGs. There’s very little in it to win over the masses, and if you’re not a fan already it won’t convert you. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, it’s just incredibly niche, and had it not been compatible with the Vita, PSP-exclusive distribution might have rendered it almost entirely obsolete.
The story is very generic, and won’t do a lot to grab you. Six rings were created by the Gods and scattered around the rebuilt world of Haldora Ille. In order to prevent the destruction of the world at the hands of a coven of particularly nasty she-demons, your band of merry adventurers must find the six rings and bring them together. While the whole experience is incredibly text-heavy, it’s easy to lose a lot of the exposition because it’s so hard to engage with the narrative in any way. It may be a symptom of the times, but I found it hard to invest in the story at all – and I was raised on The Eye of the Beholder.
Part of the problem with Elminage is that nothing is really explained. Its inherent allergy to handholding may be refreshing to some, but the lack of context and explanation countermands the fun. The tutorial is paper-thin, and I blundered around in menu after menu after menu for a good twenty minutes before I even worked out where I was supposed to go. Likewise, character creation is a nightmare. You can choose a name, portrait, race, and class for each of your six heroes, but nowhere are the classes and races explained.
Some of them are obvious. We all know what Elves and Dwarves are, and Warriors and Wizards have been RPG staples since the Year Dot, but so much of Elminage is shrouded in darkness that most people will simply opt for the races and classes they know and potentially miss out on interesting alternatives. It takes a similar approach to questing, too.
After accepting a mission from the King of Haldora Ille, you select a destination on the world map and travel there, then delve into one of Elminage’s twelve expansive dungeons. Again, exposition and context is kept to a minimum, and for the most part you’ll be trawling around repetitive, unimaginative dungeons killing whatever pops up in front of you. Combat is initially exciting as it recaptures the tactical, turn-based nuances of older RPGs, but it soon becomes dull when you realise that it’s all the same. Elminage does have a tendency to spice things up with sudden and brutal difficulty spikes, but these serve to frustrate rather than excite. Six walk-in-the-park encounters in a row suddenly followed by an impossible fight that results in a party wipe is not something I consider to be a balanced challenge, and in fact it throws into sharp relief Elminage’s janky pacing and inconsistent design.
Graphically it’s very poor, although that owes more to the age of the original than the limitations of the hardware. While the monsters are fairly imaginative here and there, the lack of detail makes everything seem slightly less polished than it should, and the bland environments comprised of several identical “blocks” mean you’ll pass through the exact same areas several times a minute while exploring the dungeons and you’ll need to rely on the map to see you through without wandering in circles.
Being a first-person fantasy RPG, Elminage Original would really benefit from some inspired audio design, but unfortunately it falls flat here. Ambient sound effects are listless, while the music is horribly last-gen and particularly grating.
VERDICT: Elminage is not a bad game, but it feels woefully out of place in today’s market. That said, it does have a very specific target audience, and those particular gamers will lap it up. Slow-paced, dated, and under-explained in every department, the less-than-stellar localisation only compounds all of Elminage Original’s issues and ensures that only die-hard genre fans will truly enjoy it.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.