Elminage Original (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Gabriel Jones 26.08.2017

Review for Elminage Original on Nintendo 3DS

In the tower known as Dragon's Fang, a barrier protects Ida from the forces of evil. Five sorceresses are intent on collecting the magical rings that keep this barrier active. If they succeed, the entire world will be plunged into darkness by the demon king. Though many can try to seek out these elusive macguffins, only true heroes will be shown the way. Gather your party and set forth into a land fraught with danger. Become the beacon of light that leads the innocent into a new age of prosperity.

"It's not for everyone."

Opening a review with such a tired cliché statement isn't exactly ideal, but what else can be said? If dungeon crawlers are considered a niche genre, then Elminage Original is the niche within the niche. Some developers have taken strides to make their games more accessible. Starfish, on the other hand, tends to view accessibility as shaving the tips off of a star-shaped peg, just so that it can fit into a square hole. Their Elminage series is an unapologetic throwback to the glory days of Wizardry. Players are granted the freedom to do most anything, though it requires many hours of toiling in obscurity.

To grasp the appeal of this 3DS release, one must first be reacquainted with what makes an RPG work. Starting with little more than rags and a wooden stick, a mishmash of nobodies eventually becomes powerful enough to overthrow Gods. It's a simple yet brilliant concept. Imagine the reins of history, back in the hands of man. That's what it's all about right? Unfortunately, far too many developers ignore this concept. They treat RPGs as hamster wheels, forcing players to slay three hundred flavours of rats and crabs for hours upon end.

Screenshot for Elminage Original on Nintendo 3DS

Before the adventure can begin in earnest, a party must be created. A handful of premade heroes-in-training are made available, but it's better to just ignore them. Granted, registering new characters means getting acquainted with the "reroll" function. The starting stats and class are all determined by a roll of the dice. Most anyone can be a fighter or a mage, but advanced classes such as ninja or valkyrie require the right alignment and a little luck.

The freedom to design a party entirely on the player's whims can't be understated. Most are likely to settle for traditional setups such as three frontline warriors, mage, cleric, and thief. Although, it's probably a better idea to test other classes and combinations, in order to give the adventure a better sense of identity. Thanks to the 3DS' camera functionality, one can use snapshots as character portraits. It's entirely possible to create a group filled with heroes from other videogames, such as Mario, Mega Man, and Monokuma. Granted, there isn't a "plumber" or a "bear" class, but it's still a very cool feature. Going further, more experienced gamers might try specialized parties, such as all ninjas.

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One of the most convoluted aspects of the game is its approach to stats. The more attention somebody pays to them, the more likely they'll go insane. After a long day of slaying fiends, it's not uncommon for heroes to get a good night's sleep, level-up, and then realize that they've actually lost stats. This doesn't happen because they chose to sleep in the stables either. The game tends to "normalize" stats that it deems are either too high or too low. This all depends on the race and class, so don't try to think about it too much. Still, occasional soft resets (L+R+Start) are necessary, if only because it's also possible to receive a whopping one HP upon level up.

Each of Ida's many labyrinths is filled with all manner of fell beasts and demonic warlords. After completing a short tutorial dungeon, the player is free to approach these dens of evil in any order they choose. Progression is not represented by a straight line. After getting their feet wet, some might choose to tackle the most dangerous dungeon first. More often than not, their demise is guaranteed, but the option is still pretty nice. Due to the constant fluctuations in levelling, gear often determines the winners and losers of battle. Acquiring equipment involves defeating monsters in specific spots.

Screenshot for Elminage Original on Nintendo 3DS

The open-ended approach is a very clever method for maintaining the player's interest. Whenever they feel they've hit a wall, they can visit another dungeon. Progress is never really lost, even in the worst case scenarios, such as the entire party getting wiped out. The mage spell diomente is especially convenient. It allows for instant teleportation to nearly any explored tile on the map. Although certain elements such as the acquisition of gear heavily emphasize RNG, anyone who focuses their attention on exploration won't pay it any mind. After returning to the inn to rest and recharge, they might discover a rare find among all of the junk they collected during their last excursion.

Of course, in all this traipsing about, it's entire possible for the heroes to forget the purpose of their adventure. Essentially, the goal is to recover all of the hidden rings. However, they're not hidden in the sense of "deep within the orc stronghold" or "at the bottom of a volcano". No, these macguffins are actually hidden in random locations. Either somebody can painstakingly investigate every tile on every map, or they can take on quests. Completing these tasks will result in fame. Much like currency, fame is then invested into a magic compass, which points towards the elusive jewellery. This unique setup highlights the freeform nature of the game. Quests can also award special items and perks, further incentivizing their completion.

The battle system is standard fare, particularly for those familiar with Wizardry. Six party members are arranged into the front and backrow. The enemy party will also consist of rows. Their ability to attack each other is limited by their equipment and spells. Rarely is there some grand overarching strategy. Although it is wise to consider the opposition's strengths and weaknesses, there aren't too many complicated sub-systems or mechanics. If the player is sufficiently prepared and accurately reads the current situation, then they shouldn't have too much trouble.

Screenshot for Elminage Original on Nintendo 3DS

Putting together a strong party is not a process that occurs overnight, or even over several nights. Just bear with it, because the results are entirely worthwhile. With enough level-ups, every class will unlock master skills. At first, the extent of a thief's usefulness is in disarming traps. When they achieve mastery, they can disarm enemies, and even steal their weapons. Brawlers eventually graduate from "drunken pugilist" to Kenshiro, raining dozens of blows upon hapless monsters. A high-level summoner will make unbreakable contracts with the mightiest of fiends. Imagine having Beezlebub in your back pocket. Let's not forgot the elite ninja, who can slice the head off of a God, even when he's barehanded.

Whereas other videogames have levels of difficulty, Elminage Original offers levels of commitment. How far is one willing to go to for a challenge? This is perhaps the most open-ended aspect of the game. Undoubtedly, mishaps will occur. A trapped chest can spew petrifying gas, explode, or teleport the entire party into a wall. Consider it an instant burial. An evil archbishop might ambush the heroes, laying them all to rest with an instant death spell. The one ninja that got away might also be the one that decapitates the only person who knows diomente, and it's a long walk back to the dungeon exit.

Are you the type of role-player that saves before and after every battle? Do you prefer to throw caution to the wind, knowing that death is usually just a few tiles away? The very thought is liable to make someone squeamish, while another is perfectly okay with dragging several of their corpses back to the temple. There's also the matter of permadeath. A failed revival results in the body turning to ash. If the revival fails a second time, then absolutely nothing will remain. Is it possible for someone to be so committed that they'd be willing to recruit new party members? If need be, gold and equipment can be handed down to the nearest survivor. Even in the worst possible scenario, the adventure is never truly over. Still, seeing as how it's possible to save practically anywhere outside of battle, even the slightest fatal misstep can be undone.

With its rudimentary 3D graphics and Spartan presentation, this game certainly won't impress at first glance. The translation is also problematic, though sometimes amusing. Whenever a Bishop becomes stricken with fear, while trying to appraise an item, a message stating "You touched it!" is displayed. Thankfully, the brilliant sprites more than make up for the lack of polish. The art direction is more reserved, which helps make it palatable. The larger foes give off a very imposing air. Some are so huge that the screen has to scroll upwards to catch a glimpse of their face. There's not much atmosphere when exploring, but battles give off an unmistakable vibe. These fiends will show no mercy to any that oppose them. The well-drawn images convey so much.

Screenshot for Elminage Original on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

When it comes to dungeon crawlers, this is one very strange yet intriguing beast. Hints to quests and other necessary information are freely available to the player, but coming to grips with everything else can be troublesome. For the crowd that loves building legendary heroes from nothing, this game is ceaselessly entertaining. Not everyone will have the patience for the grind, especially when their hard-earned level-ups turn out to be massively disappointing. In the long run, this is a small price to pay. There is so much to see and slaughter that time is liable to lose all meaning. Minutes, hours, and days alike will pass as if they never actually occurred. Perhaps this is less a recommendation and more a warning. Elminage Original is dangerously addictive.

Developer

Starfish

Publisher

Ninja Games Japan

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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