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Written by  :  D Michael (232)
Written on  :  Dec 15, 2006
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars

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A very rich and complex classic

The Good

Originally known in Germany as 'Das Schwarze Auge' (the black eye), Star Trail was released in the United States only after huge success in Europe in 1994. Sir-Tech was behind the release, a company known for being a pioneer in the PC RPG genre. Having been told about the successes of the series (vol. 1 being Blade of Destiny and the final volume 3 being shadows over riva), not to mention the fact that many hardcore RPG'ers have laid claim that this is one of the best rpg's of all time, I figured I'd have to look into it and see what the hype was about. Now I can see why this game is such a big deal.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away, and I hate spoilers, so I just discuss some of the basics here. You begin by forming a party either through the existent computer made characters or building characters from scratch. Your party will consist of up to 6 people. I highly recommend using all 6 spaces thus creating a full party because you will need a wide variety of character abilities to play the game.

While the computer characters aren't bad, you'll want to create your own for several reasons. The main reason is the number of different statistics for any given character. There are a LOT. By building your own characters you tend to remember who is good at what, which makes decision making throughout the game a little easier for when you're starting off.

Character creation is no joke. You will likely spend a couple of hours creating and fine tuning your characters before seeing any adventure (that is, if you're serious and meticulous, otherwise casual gamers can have the computer assist with character creation). The downfall here is that you may perceive to need a certain ability over another only to find out later on in the game that you were wrong. For example, who would take the skill of 'geography' over the 'sword' skill? At some point or another, and often over and over again, each various skill will be used. Although not all are REQUIRED, there is opportunity to use any special trait. A good thing to remember is that this attention to detail in the creation and logistics of your characters doesn't stop once you have your party formed, you must maintain a high level of awareness to every little aspect of what is going on in your environment and with your characters. For example you need to remember to have your best nature skilled person in front when traveling. Make sure you have warm clothing before going into the mountains. Oh yeah, it's a good idea to check the hunger and thirst level of each of your characters and remind them when to eat. Yes, you even manage something as minute as food and water. Don't forget to buy supplies when the market is open, because they are only open certain days of the week...

Early in the game, you are given a quest to retrieve the salamander stone from the dwarven pit. At this point the thing to do is get supplies (the market is open on the first day) and head south. You'll have an amazing amount of adventure and frustration before you even come close to the dwarven pit.

Travel outside of the cities/dungeons (and first person view) is quite interesting. You basically select which direction you wish to travel in and set off. Of course you can do route planning but I usually don't mess with this as at times I find myself changing directions. As you travel around the map, various random events will pop up. You might find a group of knights asking for directions during which you are given multiple choices for responses. Perhaps you'll find other travelers doing their own thing or that need your assistance. There is a wide variety of scenarios that pop up requiring your attention, and it seems that each of these promise the possibility of reward or punishment for your party. It's quite interesting.

The combat in Star Trail really sets it apart from other RPG's of this time. Where as in most RPG's you select the appropriate action for each member of your party and then watch them attack a picture of a monster, star trail is worlds apart. A high level of strategy is required in order to conduct combat effectively, even against relatively weak opponents. Your characters' position, movement points, and abilities must all be considered in order to prevail with minimum loss in combat. In combat, your are set up on a grid system with tiles comprising the battle area. To move to the next tile requires 1 movement point, attacking requires 3 movement points, and other various actions require their own amount. You may not move or use melee diagonally but can use missile weapons or magic in this fashion. The monsters follow the same rules, and you must take care to keep weaker opponents strategically situated as to remain out of harms way. A nice twist is that the developers have, at certain points in the game, made the battlefield cumbersome to require the player to use higher and higher levels of tactics in order to carry out battle effectively. Because the battle system is so advanced and dynamic thereby leaving a world of possibilities and approaches, the more powerful character or team does not always win the fight. You may elect to have the computer complete the whole fight for you, but having experimented with this in the past I find that I either lose fights I would have won or come out seriously hurt from a battle that should have bothered me little.

It is rather difficult to review the game while at the same time giving almost nothing away about it. I for one really hate spoilers especially in an rpg. I find that the less I know about a storyline or secrets, the more enjoyment I have with the game. The same holds true for movies. Nevertheless I will disclose one event. After leaving the starting town, there is an opportunity to help an npc that is engaged in battle against a few monsters. I opted to help this individual and it was the first combat experience to be had in the game. The fight took a good 7 or 8 minutes! Finally vanquishing the foes, there was a huge xp gain which put all of my characters at level 3. When a character levels up, you go through the same sort of ordeal encountered with character creation; deciding how to advance the character, which stats to improve, etc. Being that there was 2 levels gained for each character, this took a really long time. I spent about an hour carefully improving each character manually. There is the option to allow the computer to assign the stat increases but this is a bad choice. I allowed the computer to delegate the 'points' to one character, my warrior, and it made horrible decisions like improving wisdom instead of strength and improving skills in a field that my warrior was seriously lacking on that I had assigned to another character to excel at instead. The bottom line is, you never want the computer to automatically improve your characters.

The Bad

I have few complaints about this game, but the gripes that I do have are of issues that rear their head throughout the entire game. For one the visibility is poor. You can never see more than 2 steps in front of you in first person mode. I understand this is an old game that can play on a 386, but still the view distance could have been better. Lighting in a dungeon means little other than making what you can see already a bit brighter, but will not increase how far you can see ahead of you. This makes getting lost much much easier. Another thing that didn't sit well with me is the inability to see any real stats on weapons or armor. The best way to see if one dagger is better than another is to have a character use the evaluate skill to see how much it can sell for. If one weapon will fetch a higher price than another, then it is PROBABLY more powerful. With armor you can find the better piece by equipping it on your character and seeing if it improves AC. Another thing that is frustrating is the inability to see spell effects on a monster. For example if I use Lightning to blind a foe, I have no way to tell when the spell wears off other than observing the actions of this foe. This makes for difficulty when fighting multiple enemies and trying to keep a few on ice, or determine which ones you have already casted a detrimental affect on.

The Bottom Line

PROS: Rich story line, unparalleled level of depth and intricacy, unique combat system for its time, high level of character customization, few if any bugs, has a very open ended feel, wonderful atmosphere.

CONS: Too complex for all but the most hardcore rpg players, inventory management consumes far too much time, extremely high difficulty level, low visibility makes you feel as if you're walking around blind, weapon and item effectiveness often a mystery.

Bottom Line: Star trail is a very complex and mentally demanding rpg that stands in a class of its own. This game should be very rewarding to the serious gamer. Casual rpg players may not enjoy the frustrations that accompany this level of complexity. This game separates the true rpg'er from the dabbler.