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Learning from beginners

  • calunio
  • 07/09/2012 02:03 PM
Black Shadows is the game I chose to review from the 61 NaGaDeMo entries. This game had drawn my interest before, mainly because of the dark themes and intriguing "features" description on the gameprofile. I have to say, another reason why I wanted to play this game is that subconsciously I thought it had something to do with ~RaZor~, another game that intrigues me (don't ask me why, maybe because I'm weird), though I never got to actually play it.

Black Shadows tells the story of Evan, a demon hunter set on a quest to save the world from a satanic invasion while dealing with his own inner demons. It's a short adventure game with very minimum gameplay, barely enough to distinguish it from a visual novel.

I have to say this upfront: this is not a game I would play just for fun. This is not really a game I would recommend. This is XRazorBlackX's first game, and it has most (gladly not all) faults that beginners make. It's an easy to bash game, because it's full of minor technical problems. It's not a bad game, though. Though I'll say in advance my score for this game will not be very flattering, I'll try to make this review more constructive, focusing on what's good, and how the bad could be improved.

Foreword: I wonder how much the game changed after Ashes of Emerald's review, because I don't agree with most of what he said.

I liked
It's pretty clear that XRazorBlackX focused a lot on story and character development. Evan is a tormented character with a dark past, and his involvement with the plot is not impersonal. Black Shadows is a very verborrhagic game, with a little walking and action sandwiched by lots of cutscenes and dialogs. I like the writing. I didn't connect that much with Evan because he was a little childish and cliched for me, but he's got the qualities to connect with his target audience. His emotional drama is a bit over-the-top, but that's a good thing, because as I see it, in games it makes characters more real, more alive. As XRazorBlackX gets more experient with games, I'm sure his writing will develop greatly, and he has potential to make great stories.

Another thing that caught my attention in this game was music. It's a mixture of fast-paced action themes, black metal and some gloomy tunes. It fits the game perfectly, and it's not something that you can ignore. The music helps creating a proper atmosphere for the game (where graphic fails). XRazorBlackX choice of music was pretty bold in some places, but it paid off. I especially like the title song.

I also like how Black Shadows is easy on the player. There's not much walking, no getting lost, no complicated unnecessary systems, no maps full of objects that give you pointless info when you interact with them. It's not a game that makes you tired. It's not a game that uses cheap beginner's tricks to make it longer, turn into a "OMG 500+ hours of gameplay!!!!". You have the feeling that you're not doing any more than you should in the game. That's something I lot of people could learn from.

There are some small things I also liked. One of them was automatic call for save before important scenes, added to the ability to save anywhere. This is a good idea, it's not punishing the player for forgetting to save. The graphics are fairly decent, there are no huge inconsistencies, and not much repetition between areas. I also liked the shooting minigame, it's fun, and not frequent enough to get boring.

Could have been better
There are some mistakes you unavoidably make when you're making your first game, but you'll never improve unless you know what you did wrong. I'll try and list a few simple suggestions that could have improved this game greatly.

1: Make smaller maps. The maps are already small (seldom occupying more than an entire screen), but they are too empty. They may look better if you just make them smaller, sometimes filling unnecessary area with black impassable tiles. Or just add stuff.

2: Better selection of facesets. There are like four characters with faces, all faces are black and white, and they all look VERY MUCH ALIKE. I had trouble in the beginning of the game distinguishing Evan from Oriot. Ivy and John are also similar. The color (or lack of it) didn't help. But having characters that LOOK different helps with characterization (and not having the player be confused).

3: Drop the menu. There's no equipping, no leveling, no inventory, nothing that justifies accessing menu (except for saving). RM2k3 allows you to disable those items on the menu. You might just disable the entire menu as well, and creating a key (like SHIFT) to call the save menu.

4: Drop the useless dialog choices. There are some choices in the game that just don't make sense. "Do you want to take the item that is necessary to process with the story or not?". Duh? There's a choice at the ending of the game that actually confused me. "Do you want to kill the bad guy that is about to kill you?". I loaded my game to choose "not kill him" to see what would happen. Game Over. Uh?

5: Fine-tune your system. I saw some people saying "it's pretty cool that you use ammo". Ammo is used on cutscenes, even when you're not controlling the character. Well... ok. But, as far as I could see it, it's not used outside cutscenes. So the amount of ammo you use doesn't vary much. There's a single scene where you get to choose whether you kill enemies (and spend ammo) or not, but it's one. Not once I had to actually worry about ammo. It just seemed to be... there. Shooting didn't seem to work the same way on different scenes either. Just drop the ammo thing.

I also found the last battle to be impossible. I had to cheat and add a "SHIFT healing button".

In conclusion
Black Shadows was an interesting game to play. It has the character of a beginner's game, but it's fresh in many ways. I believe XRazorBlackX has the talented to make great games, but he should focus on technical issues and not just on story to make his games more appealing.


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Thanks for the review, I really thought I should have used different soundtracks for a game like this, but it seems you like it, even though Ashes did not. Also, the last boss can be done in a jiffy if you just shoot the barrier protecting him and the others will turn into dust.
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