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    previewed by Falcon

    System Requirements:
    P2 450+
    Win 95+
    128MB Ram

    ShadowFlare is a role playing game, which was originally published by Denyusha for the Japanese market. Having taken off there, Emurasoft plans to bring an English version of the game into the US and the rest of the world.
    ShadowFlare is planned to be released in 4 separate chapters, and after a year out in Japan, chapter one will be available for sale in the US from October this year.

    The setting for ShadowFlare is not unlike many other RPGs already on the market. It is fantasy based, with human hero units, and a variety of mystical monster enemies such as goblins and other demons.

    Contrary to most RPGS, the story actually takes place in the future. However the type of weapons and spells are still consistent with the traditional medieval fantasy realm. The story starts from a cataclysmic event, the human civilization was almost destroyed by a horde of demons. These demons appeared though a portal from another world, almost destroying the human race. Now humanity is taking a stand and fighting back, where warrior and magical heroes are engaged in a war to take back their control of the world.

    The background for episode one takes place in a small town, where mercenaries have been called for into battle against a new kind of demon – the gargoyle. You, as the mercenary hero have to complete a series of missions given to you by your commander, or a variety of other NPC units in the game. This mission-based system will take the player along though the storyline, where there will be further plot developments as well as further information relating to the background of the story of the game.

    As a conversion from a Japanese to English language game, some aspects, including character dialogue can seem strange due to the nature of the language conversion. These issues, should however be fixed by the final release. Apart of this though, the gameplay remains unchanged from the Japanese version.
    There are also some different concepts from typical English based games such as “capsules” and “tablets” in the place of health and mana potions.

    Most aspects of any other RPG are evident in ShadowFlare. You control a hero, who can level up by gaining experience through killing enemy units. There are a variety of weapons at your disposal including swords and bows, as well as many offensive and defensive magical spells. There is a base town, where you can purchase, sell and repair items, as well as visit the witch who can give advice and heal you. Items can be purchased, found throughout the map, or dropped by slain enemies, and can be either normal or magical. Magical items can provide stat or ability bonuses to the hero.
    The developers have also added in a GUI which includes the character inventory as well as a minimap to make the gameplay easier. ShadowFlare also uses the typical point and click interface with hotkeys available, which is easy to learn and manage.
    Where the game differs is in the introduction of several unique features.

    Firstly is the way in which a profession is chosen – rather than picking a character type at the start of the game, you start off with a generic male or female mercenary, and as you level up you can branch into one of three fields – the warrior, who is adept at melee combat, the hunter, who is skilled in long range fighting, and the wizard/witch, who specializes in spell casting. As the character levels up, a profession can be chosen, and possibly changed with further experience increases. The character’s profession affects the changes to the characters statistics, such as attack rate and spell abilities, but it would also have been nice to be able to manually distribute some of the bonuses when leveling up.

    Another unique feature is the “buddy system” in which you can have an animal companion to help attack the enemy, or perform acts such as opening a door or picking up an item. The game is at a fairly high difficulty level so the introduction of a helper unit is welcome, although can be slightly unbalanced in that a dog can kill an enemy as fast as the hero, and seems to live a lot longer as well. Although the difficulty of some monsters may be difficult, it is also very hard to die due to the ease that a character can flee a battle, significantly outrunning any of the enemies. Death is also not too much of an inconvenience – you will spawn back in the town minus one item you had been carrying, which will have to be picked back up from where you died.

    A feature that is slightly out of characteristic with the rest of the game is the ability to lay mines. These mines are powerful explosives that can destroy several enemies at once, but they do feel a bit out of place when combined with swords and magic spells. They can also be slightly overpowered, for example I managed to run into the middle of a large group of goblins, lay a mine, and run out in time to watch about a dozen of them fall from the blast.

    In terms of depth of gameplay, there are additional features in ShadowFlare, such as the tower of ordeal where a hero can practice battling against demons in order to level up and find magical items. Additionally there is the “card game” where you can play blackjack against a wizard in the tower in order to win gold or magical items.

    The graphics in ShadowFlare are unfortunately quite dated. Not only is there a significant lack of customizability, the game looks like it is running with graphics technology from several years ago. The game runs on a 2D engine with low 640x480 resolution with low graphics detail, and there are no options available to modify the resolution or quality. The reason for this is that the game was originally released as shareware, so the developer had to keep in mind the file size, as it was to be distributed online. Hopefully the future chapters will be released with a more advanced and better-looking graphics engine.

    There are both indoor and outdoor scenes, including wilderness and dungeon areas. These are however, quite limited in scope and only have a small variation though the game. The wilderness areas include trees and copper piping, while dungeon areas are all made of stones with some decorations.

    The characters do change visually between the character classes as well as with different pieces of equipment, but the pixels are fairly large leading to badly defined animations of the characters and their inventories. The game could also have done with a larger variety of monsters, and enemy models could also do with more work, for example the goblins look like little clay-molded men.

    The audio consists of fairly standard sound effects of weapon attacks, spellcasting, deaths, etc. There is also background music, which consists of a few different music files. Which one is being played will depend on the scenario that the character is in. Usually a music track will subtly enhance a game by adding to the atmosphere, as in to immerse a player into the game. While the tracks in ShadowFlare do complement the environments and player situations, I found the tracks to be a bit repetitive and somewhat annoying after a while. 

    ShadowFlare also boasts a multiplayer capability for up to 4 players to play cooperatively against the monsters. The game is able to be run over TCP/IP, and in the future Emurasoft plans to set up a website where players can meet and play together, or exchange items and tips.

    Overall ShadowFlare is a welcome attempt by Emurasoft to enter the RPG market. There are several innovative and interesting features, and the variety of gameplay, including an array of spells and weapons and an unfolding storyline should be enough to keep a gamer occupied. However, while graphics does not mean everything, it would have been nice to see some better looking graphics even taking into account the attempt to keep the game size small. Many MMORPG’s have been released with far better looking graphics within the 100-150MB size bracket. With an improvement in this area, as well as the audio effects, ShadowFlare could well make it’s mark on the US market.

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