I recently played a game called Elminage Gothic, a remake of a Japanese dungeon-crawler game on the PSP. The game tells the story of a world being torn apart by the higher powers within the universe. A contract between humanity and the gods kept the world safe from dark forces, but as time went on the peace went away.
I was initially supposed to do a review for this game but I’m not going to. There’s a few reasons why. Firstly, after playing for a few hours I still had a very poor understanding of how the game worked. I feel like this would have a huge impact on my perception of the game’s quality. Also there were plenty of design choices I didn’t care for that could be attributed to the original games being designed for a handheld and maybe to the game being a couple years old. Lastly, it seems that this game was made explicitly for people with extensive experience in this particular genre, not someone like me whose first experience with the genre is this game. Based on all of this, I think it would be unfair for me to “review” the game. I will, however, give my thoughts on this.
My biggest takeaway from Elminage Gothic is the massive amount of information that is dropped on players with absolutely no help. When you create your party for your first quest, there are several different characters available to you spanning across several classes, species and loadouts. You can even make your own custom adventurers. The first thing I did was make a couple of my custom characters and it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Like I said earlier, there were a crazy amount of options when it comes to tweaking your character. There are eight species, three alignments and sixteen classes. But I have no idea what any of them mean. Unfortunately these options are absolutely meaningless because I’ve been given no instruction or context. In games like Dark Souls or Skyrim the character creation was set up in a way where you can have an idea of what play-style you’d like to use and the game would make it very clear how to optimize it from the start. In Elminage Gothic I felt like that power was taken away from me because a lot of what I was doing was essentially guesswork.
I’m not asking for a game to hold my hand, but information overload is a real thing and can make for an unpleasant impression. I worked out an extremely basic understanding of the combat and loot systems but any progress I made in learning them was extremely slow. There were times when I thought I learned how something worked but later learned that I was completely wrong. This seems like a pretty deep game. If the game had taken the time to introduce different concepts and systems bit-by-bit, then maybe I would have been able to experience it. I can’t help but be reminded of that Deepweb picture. Because of my simplistic understanding of the combat system all of the fights became repetitive really quickly. I didn’t know enough to make a strategy, so I mostly just made everyone use basic attacks and if I got bored I’d use a spell.
Would you believe it took me hours to learn how to use the map? After feeling like I was making no progress, I decided to ask the internet for help and I found some vague posts about “Magic Maps”. It turns out you need to go to the shop and buy a bunch before you send your party out if you want any hope of not walking in circles. And what happens if you’ve spent a few hours in the dungeon before you realize this? You can either wander around until you find the way you came in, send out a new party or start the game all over. If your game includes an item as essential as a Magic Map, then you should make sure your player not only knows about it, but maybe even require that they have it to play. Otherwise you risk your player feeling like they wasted a massive amount of time.
Do I think this is a bad game? Not necessarily. I think if you don’t understand it then it’s a bad game. People with an excellent understanding of everything in the game might have a blast with it. I wouldn’t know that for sure, of course. It’s the game designers’ responsibility to make sure the player understands how to play. The fact that Elminage Gothic might not be considered an entry-level game for the genre isn’t an excuse. Xenonauts wouldn’t fall into that category either, but I can see newcomers to the turn-based strategy genre having a much better experience with that game. And that’s even if they ignore the extensive manual and quick-start guides that the game informs you of before the game even starts.