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SummaryBalance between good and bad.
The GoodNever before have I stumbled upon any similar game to this one. This one is strong enough to define a new dimension of adventure and role-playing genre by itself, as it borders with so many similarities to as-we-know-them isometric hack & slash RPGs (by simply being played throughout such a viewport), and with royal 3rd-person point and click adventure genre (as it has more dialogues than in any pure adventure genre I know, more text that in some pure text-only adventure, too). So what's so special about this game in general and why is it worthy spending couple of months playing it (and that's bare minimum you'll need of your time), let's see...
You're playing a big, muscled character, who simply cannot remember his name. Awaking in the mortuary, on a slab pushed here by some mindless zombie drone, you find your only help to be a babbling skull, Morte's the name. For some strange reason you yet need to discover, you are immortal (at least in general), and your wounds heal very quickly. However, your body does look like you've pased through some serious series of battles and got skewered and hacked quite a lot. Yet another thing is making you a drawback in this game, your memory. You've seen to lost it. As a matter of fact, you seem to lost a part of it every time you die. So, that's all you find out from the story epilogue, but it gets more and more complicated as you progress, with a series of sub-stories aside as well.
A typical mark of an RPG is a character skill level upgrading system. Well, here you have all the needed, charisma, which improves your look and help you when talking to strangers, or at least they're more pleasant. Wisdom, which helps you regain your memory faster, and makes you smarter, or should I say, wiser, so you get more options in dialogues with everyone. Intelligence whih can be good if you decide to orient your character into a mage. Dexterity which comes in handy for thief's hands, raw strength for a warrior class, and so on. Or, you can try making a ballance of them all, and have good part of all, but none to be the best.
Dialogues are really enlarged and I bet the script for this game was at least twice the size of some encyclopedia, but the fact is that the text isn't just babbling in the wind, it actually makes sense, all of it (well, most of it), and is funny, sad, annoying, ordinarily, and basically resembles the situation of the game to fit it in its own style. Battle system is also nicely done, especially when you have to control all six of your characters, it work efficient, more or less. Dunno if it could be done any better (except for the speed). Music is very nice to listen in the background, but isn't the stronger side of the game, especially since it's rare and you won't remember hearing more than just a couple of different songs throughout the whole game, even though your music directory on your hard will tell you otherwise.
I dunno what's happening nowadays, either we're getting too much or horror games out there, or is the graphic just getting better? Anyway, I don't think some "Ghost 'n' Goblins" or "Castlevania" or even "Alone in the Dark" could scare anyone, but today's games, hehe, man, that works even too good. Must've been the graphic and the bigger power our machines can achieve. Well, the thing I mention these is not because this game's a horror, it's most certainly not! But comes to think of it, if all those things you'll encounter by playing this game, and all things that'll be described or heard in the dialogues would be done a bit better visually, or at all, "Phantasmagoria" would seem like a child's toy comparing to the level of yuckness this game could achieve. Why am I saying this under the 'good' section? Well, because you won't get a feeling you're in some gruesome place at all, hehe, it's all so well made to show such nonesense not a bit. It really sticks to story instead of the atmosphere, and they achieved that quite wonderful, I must say.
The BadSo, is there anything bad about this game? Well of course there is, and no, don't just tell me "every game has bad things", because that doesn't have to be true in every case, and every player can count at least two games that have no flaws in his/her eyes.
I) All dialogues (99,99999% of them) is not done by voice-acting at all, which begs to ask, why employing such a known people for voice-acting when there's barely something you may hear. Only speech you hear is when you try to take someone's armour or a weapon off, or the first sentence in their dialogue with you. And yet, game is on 4CDs, but this really looks terrible. I mean, once you hear them talking, and next 100 paragraphs you must read yourself, and not to mention there are as many descriptive talks as actual parts of conversation. I mean, Sierra did make their "Phantasmagoria" in 16 colors only just because the FMV took 7CDs, but if they removed speech, they'd at least spare one more CD on that game, too.
II) Game that comes on 4CDs and barely has any animations and speech is doing something wrong. Even though game has so many paths you can finish it, play it, and do certain things in it, should fit on one or two CDs. And as much as it may seem big, it is not. That small map you see at the start is the entire territory of the game, and all those planes that are mentioned in the game are just a few you will be, and can be at. The game is smaller in places than "Revenant" or maybe even "Nox", which both come on a single CD only, and yet both of them have more animations than this one. Not to mention fully speech. And they're all made pretty at close distance to each other, so comparing can be allowed and fair.
III) This game is dragging its butt like a wild boar who was shot with a sleeping injection. It's so slow that it's intolerable. As soon as some magic is used, or more enemies comes to the screen, it almost looks as it'll crash. The fact that this game is released three years ago, and that I was playing it on 1GHz processor with 384MB of RAM is very bad to accept. I mean, back in 1999 even best computers weren't this strong, so for who did they make that game? Or maybe they made it be equally slow on 30GHz CPU or some old 486 just as well.
IV) The entire sound and music quantity in this game is terrible. Of course, this is all shadowed by the story, but it's terrible if you focus on that thing, only. Also, if you battle, and the music is fast and furious, and then you go talking to someone, you may end up talking for half an hour, while having same annoying fast attacking song in the background. Sometimes, my only choice is to switch to some radio station until I'm through reading some dialogue. Man, how would it only be if this game WOULD have speech ;)
V) The game is too filled with bugs, as if they rushed its release before some serious must-testing. Since game constantly fills its 'temp' directory with infos about all the rooms and places you were onto, it may slow down every now and then, and that happens rather too often to neglect. Or sometimes you may just end up wihtout seeing your mouse cursor or selection lines and windowses.
I could say a few more annoyances, but I could also say a few more good things about this game, and I'm bordered with the size of this post, so this should suffice as general pointer.
The Bottom LineThis is one of those games that manages to fascinate you with its creativity level to being unbelievably good. However, no matter how much you may like it, it also gives you an open view to all of its downfalls, so you can either choose to neglect them, and keep being angry inside yourself, or you can shift your opinion about this game all the time, going from "whow, what a treasure" to "ah crap, is there anything good about this game". The thing is, that no matter how deep this story may seem at first, second or ever at fourthyfifth attempt, it is a cover for a simple story in which your main nemesis is your own life, nothing we didn't see in many other games before it, but the fact is that this game separated your life from you, so it can be shown as a physical battle, not just a battle of good and evil inside someone's mind and body.
Unless you're determined to finish this game without any subquests, and do the only things you must to finish it, you'll need couple more months for it, and being on four CDs should speak for itself about the game's length, especially since there's not much of a voice-acting in it, all text, vast army of letters. It has quite a balance of story, adventuring, strategy and action, but how well is the game balanced between thee, it's up for everyone to decide on their own. Truth is that I enjoyed immensely at some part of this game, considering it the best game ever... but then I got over it, as soon as it showed me how annoying it can be sometimes, and patience was never my virtue, unfortunately. But then again, it's hard not to like a game which gives you so many questions, is it not? ;) Find out for yourself, I can't say anything that would attract or repel you to this game. It's great, buy it. It's a crap, toss it away if you get it as a present. Nope, nothing solid like this can I offer you, nothing but to say, 'try it'.