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Throne of Darkness

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Click Entertainment
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

Throne of Darkness is not, for the most part, graphically complex. It uses an isometric view, similar to Diablo and Baldur's Gate, and its level of detail is somewhere in between those two. The graphics are locked at the default resolution, which to me felt a little bit too zoomed-in; while the pre-rendered characters are quite detailed, I felt that a little wider field-of-vision would have been nice. The environments are pretty, but they're also repetitive. The spell effects are nice as well, but they're nothing mind-blowing. The game basically looks like most other games in the genre--more Diablo II and less Darkstone.

Fortunately, the game's sound fares better than its graphics. The music is solid, fitting in with the Japanese theme perfectly, and the voice-acting is surprisingly good. I wish that the acting were in Japanese with English subtitles, but the accented English is good enough. The various sound effects are typical of the genre--the whisk of an arrow flying by, the clang of a sword, even the 'flip-flip-clang' as a weapon is dropped or emptied from a chest. You can definitely tell that the designers of this game spent a lot of time with Diablo. [Indeed, they helped create the original Diablo.]


It should come as no great surprise, then, that Throne of Darkness plays quite similarly to the Diablo games. It has a few very noticeable changes, which tend to be both exciting and frustrating. In the end the game isn't quite as engrossing as Diablo II--at least in the long term--but for a while you'll probably find it more appealing, due to the freshness of a number of its ideas.

An evil warlord has taken over the land, and with it just about wiped out the population of the Japanese province you're in. It's up to you, as controller of one of the four clans in the land, to take the countryside back and destroy the influx of evil demons and undead. By the time that you're an hour into the game or so, you will have found all seven samurai that you can control. Each samurai has their strengths and weaknesses--your Brick is a serious tank, so polearms are best for them, whereas your Wizard should have ranged weapons but rely mainly on spells. The classes aren't quite as differentiable as I would have liked, but they're certainly different enough to let you tailor your play style to what you like.

The real difference between Throne of Darkness and the other Diablo-esque games is that you control up to four of the samurai at once. This ends up being both the game's biggest plus and its biggest irritation. Having four of your warriors running around at once can be exciting, and you can switch between them with a simple mouse click or a tap of the space bar.

The problem comes when you start playing with settings and formations. It's non-trivial to get your characters set up the way you want them, and the animal names for the formations, while cute, do little to tell you just what they're going to do. And every single character in the game can use magic, but none of them use it effectively, making a straight brawl much less time-consuming than throwing spells around. It's irritating to have to switch between characters constantly and pick spells to cast, and it's time consuming. What's worse, the formations don't rotate, which means that they're only effective for a particular facing. Ugh. The designation of a 'point man' and basing the formation around them would have been a nice touch, and one that would have made formations considerably more useful.

Still, there's a lot of neat stuff going on in the game. Once you rescue the blacksmith and the priest, you can use them at any time. You can give weapons you don't like to the blacksmith, who will turn them into 'points' that you can use to create new weapons. He can also repair the ones you have. The priest can do the typical priestly things--identification and donating to the gods being the two main ones.

When you tire of the long single-player campaign, you can jump into the multiplayer experience. It's based around beating the Dark Warlord and, effectively, becoming them. Don't think that it's going to be trivial, though--it's probably not too realistic of a game to play over the Internet, unless you have a whole day to set aside. Local LAN games, on the other hand, can have that sort of staying power.


Throne of Darkness is not a trivial game. There are enemies that will whomp you, and you have to be careful so that your entire team doesn't die. Your daimyo can resurrect dead characters, but it takes a while for the Ki to build back up, and the characters heal while they're sitting back at 'base'. Careful character management is necessary for victory, and even then you may find some fights to be very difficult. Remember that running and healing is almost always a viable strategy.

Game Mechanics:

Throne of Darkness is almost entirely mouse-driven, with the requisite keyboard shortcuts to hop between the menus rapidly. It's easy enough to manage, once you get the hang of it. One of the problems with having seven characters is the level of micromanagement necessary--you'll be switching weapons around, shifting armour, and moving your coinage rapidly between your various characters. The tactics and formations need to be tightened up--I want my bow-using units to actually move away from the enemy in an attempt to not get whacked, and the formations should rotate instead of being fixed in one direction. There are also some other dubious design decisions, like the 'always use the Leader to buy stuff' solution to the Charisma problem. Fortunately, because the game is engineered to run on lower-end boxes, the load times are almost nonexistent on more recent machines.

It's got some nice twists on the genre, but Throne of Darkness stumbles almost as much as it shines. Almost. There's still quite a bit going for it, and fans of click-fest action RPGs would do well to check it out--there's a lot to do, and there's a lot of customization possible in the game. Chances are good, however, that most of them will go back to Diablo II not long afterwards. Throne of Darkness is entertaining, even good, but it's not the genre-buster that we were hoping to see.

[Postscript: Ben Haas of Click Entertainment let us know that you can use the F key to adjust your formations in real-time, alleviating a number of the problems associated with handling the direction of your formations. We apologize for the oversight. While this certainly helps one of the main problems with the formation system, it doesn't affect the key problem I had with the groups--that of questionable AI when it came to non-melee attackers. Nonetheless, it does improve the play experience. Were this game rated on a 100-point scale, I would summarily bump it up a notch or two, but I stand by the current score as an indicator of Throne of Darkness' quality. Nonetheless, we thank Ben for taking the time to get in touch with us about our review, and we welcome anyone to send us such well-formed criticism or corrections.]

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

P2 266, 32MB RAM, 100MB HD space, 4x CD-ROM, video card with 4MB VRAM, soundcard, keyboard, mouse

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Survivor: The Interactive Game Windows Tribes 2

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated