Seal of Evil
|Developer:||Object Software Limited|
|Genres:||RPG / Action Role-Playing Game|
Seal of Evil is a Diablo-esque take on Ancient China which bears a stronger focus on pure action and also a fair bit of fantasy (magical spells, wise elders, skimpy mage girls, etc). The visual isometric style is almost a carbon copy of Diablo, though this isn’t really much of a complaint. Levels are open enough and populated with enough props to make them look organic, but are enclosed enough for one not to get lost too quick. A handy automap triggered with TAB helps one keep their bearing.
The gameplay is simple hack and slash. The pacing is more reminiscent of the first Diablo than the second, though generally you seem to do the same things – kill enemies, explore levels, collect gear, and upgrade your character. A little bit of playing, however, reveals that the game has more complexities than meets the eye. For you see, Seal of Evil is a mix of Japanese console styles as found in Final Fantasy, added with a bit of cross-platform spice a la Summoner, and topped with a serving of Dungeon Siege.
Unlike in most RPGs, you can’t play or roll an initial character. Instead you control two characters, a teenage witch and an older Beastman. Soon three other characters, a young wizard, an assassin and a Paladin will join you. While only three can be involved in combat, all of them travel with you like loyal hirelings. The story will take you through different lands to find magic stones, with twists along the way and many plot-centric and optional side quests to complete.
The game, however, is quite linear. Quests are for the most part local. Often, when you leave an area, you cannot return and any unfinished quests are lost and entered into your quest journal as failed. If you’ve ever played Nox, then you have a rough idea what to expect. To its credit, the side quests don’t always involve hacking and slashing. You’ll solve murder mysteries, cure sickness, save children and talk to many NPCs along the way. The ingame journal does a decent job of keeping track of quests.
As your characters grow in experience, their skills will improve and new ones will be added. You will also find scrolls, which not only teach new skills but also advance those skills. However, you have no control over the learning or development of those skills. In fact, you have very little control over most aspects of the characters’ development. For me this is one of the major weaknesses of the game.
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Only being able to use three characters in combat is also very limiting. Your main character, the witch, with her offensive magic must be there. The wizard is necessary, not only for his healing spells, but also for his summoning skills. That leaves only one slot vacant for one of the three available fighters. If one character’s HP goes to zero in battle, they cannot be replaced until the fight is over. This isn’t a problem early on, but later in the game, you face swarms of seemingly never-ending monsters.
Most characters have several primary combat attacks or spells, which work by default once set, and at least an equal number of secondary attacks, or spells which are controlled by the right mouse button. Some are individual attacks, while others are designated ranged, or group. You choose the attack or spell and that’s about it. You have to select a character and deliberately right click to use their secondary skill, such as casting a healing spell. For most of the battle, you are little more than a spectator. You can change their carried weapon as in Dungeon Siege, but can’t issue more complex orders or behaviors for combat.
One final and surprisingly complex aspect of the game is item creation. It spans several skill levels and covers many items of the game, including weapons, armor and magical jewels. Each of these has special abilities that you can then unlock as well. Along your travels you will discover many elements, which can be combined, to create everything you need, including assorted potions. It’s a system that lets you customize your characters in complex and interesting ways.
Despite the later heightened difficulty, bad acting and easily formulaic main quest, the gameplay in Seal of Evil is decent enough for ARPG fans. It’s linear, the combat can get tedious at times and it’s definitely not the smartest Diablo clone out there, but quality istometric RPGs are so rare that even a half-baked one can become enjoyable if given a chance.
System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 2 GB HDD, Win95
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