Made by a number of ex-Squaresoft US employees, including the influential Ted Woolsey (whose localizations of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger were the best possible localizations given the constraints, fight me!), Shadow Madness was a Western attempt at making a JRPG like Final Fantasy VII.
In a way, the team succeeded in emulating their inspiration a tad too closely. It aims to look and feel like Cloud's adventure, but it misses the mark and ends up looking much worse while not playing as tightly despite being two years older. Unfortunately, the small team at Craveyard Studios just couldn't give justice to the interesting idea that they had.
#A42: Shadow Madness:-
Publisher: Crave Entertainment.
Developer: Craveyard Studios, Lobotomy Studios.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. The recommendation for a game scoring a 7 largely depends on your personal taste.
"An unknown entity was attacking. It used mystic forces to wreak havoc across the land"
Unconstrained by the need for localization, the team at Craveyard Studios, including Ted Woolsey, must have been ecstatic at writing the game's story. That's evident in the dialogue, which flows naturally between characters through their conversations, and allows exposition to flow clearly and dramatically throughout the text.
It's one of the smoothest written dialogue I have seen in a JRPG, and it flows consistently while giving nuance and character to the text. Yet, the quality of dialogue shouldn't be conflated with the quality of the story and characters.
The main thrust of Shadow Madness's story is an interesting cataclysmic event that is wreaking havoc across the land as well as spreading a state of madness to the people. This cataclysm, which starts off as a mystery as the group of heroes survive through the wreckage of their homes and travel for answers, is rooted in the interesting lore of the world.
And occasionally running into ugly creatures that want nothing but to kill them
Unfortunately, while the story is intriguing and there is no fault in the dialogue, I didn't come to care much about the characters except in regards to their humorous banter. I suspect that is due to both their one-dimensional nature as well as some exceptionally ugly character design (except for Godhead, which is just a floating disembodied head that was rocking that looks before Mimir made it cool) isn't helped by the game's ugly graphics.
Say what you well about the generic design of JRPG characters, but they are at least made to be interesting and appealing in some way. Like the world, it's set in, which despite being interesting from a lot and writing point of view is just a bunch of ugly masses, the characters in Shadow Madness are such one-dimensional masses.
"Keerg's blood! Our towns are gone... We have no one left... The dead MUST be avenged!"
Other than its sub-par graphics, Shadow Madness's greatest weakness is its battle system and general gameplay loop. Nominally inspired by the team's previous connection to the Final Fantasy VI Active-Time battle system and Super Mario RPG's action inputs, Shadow Madness somehow manages to mess up both.
In battle, both the enemy and player characters operate on an invisible timer that never stops, even when you are making strategic decisions in your turn. The issue is that enemy and player timers seem to be independent. This means that your player character's timers don't advance while you choose your actions. With a very fast timer, the enemy can hit you three to four times while you are looking for specific magic or item to use.
Frustratingly, this leaves basic attacks as your best option most of the time, which come in different flavors from ranged to aggressive attacks. Ranged attacks use resources, and I didn't figure out any disadvantage to using aggressive attacks in lieu of normal ones. Now, in theory, you could augment your physical attacks by pressing the action button as your attack lands, but I found that the game gives you poor indication on timing, and rarely did see much difference and felt it more as an illusion rather than fact.
Almost half the attacks in any given battle miss their target
Naturally, you would think that these limitations would lead to a difficult and unfair time with the game. Yet, here is where the game's biggest issue becomes obvious, it's extremely and insultingly easy. When enemies don't whiff their attacks, they make single-digit damage unless they use magic (rarely), and I rarely had to heal or use magic at all.
Thankfully, with battles being extremely boring and inconsequential, the game has a reliable method to avoid random encounters, which is to duck whenever you hear monster roars. This won't pull back your experience growth, since you gain enough of it through occasional and mandatory battles.
It's rarely a compliment that the best thing about a game is that it allows you not to play it.
"Listen well, young visitors. I speak for the Greater Body... For all that has come, for all that follow"
Outside of battle, there isn't much to do except going from one place to another. Generally, the game is pretty linear, including its dungeons. The challenge is mostly figuring out what constitutes a path or a doorway in the game's painted background or navigating through the invisible edges of some of the environment's polygons.
Given the game's simplicity, you won't need much preparation before battles other than buying and equipping the latest defensive gear, and there isn't much to do anyway. There is no skill-learning system, crafting, or any other staples of good JRPGs.
Not so in this game
Which is just as well given the game's limited inventory room, which would make a crating system a nightmare, and already is in a way. For some reason, there are hundreds of items that you can find and pick up, but the majority of them are completely useless and should be discarded right away.
As for side-quests, there aren't many interesting ones to speak off. However, it should be noted that the NPCs you meet and the books you read in towns are really interesting. These side stories and characters are often really interesting, especially when the characters react to them with some great dialogue.
"In the name of the One Head! Curse this foul, wooden demon! Aaaiiieee!!! We are undone!"
Sometimes, a game takes its inspiration too literally. In this case, it appears like Shadow Madness tries extremely hard to imitate Final Fantasy VII, it somehow ended up with worse versions of its ugly polygonal graphics, both inside and outside of battles.
Outside of battle, super-deformed polygonal creatures greet each other in front of hand-painted backgrounds. They don't look cute or interesting and do a poor job of imitating the newspaper-style comics of their portraits. It's frankly an achievement that a 1999 PS1 game manages to have worse polygonal models than a 1997 Saturn game would.
Only occasionally does the game betray a sense of artistic vision
Inside battle, the character proportions and animations are better, but it is still a far cry from the standards of the day (or just common artistic sense) and is compounded by the poor and ugly art design throughout the whole game.
It appears that the world design was going for an Eldritch horror kind of thing, but it achieves being horrifying for all the wrong reasons.
One thing that isn't horrifying (unless it intends to be) is the game's soundtrack, which finally shows a degree of competency absent from the rest of the game besides its writing. It is moody and atmospheric where it needs to be, but also has some upbeat battle music and interesting jazzy town themes, making sure the game sounds much better than it looks.
As a freshman effort by a small team, there is much to be proud of about Shadow Madness. It has an interesting story, excellent dialogue, and good music. Yet, it shows a lack of competency (and budget) in the craft of its gameplay system and graphics.
In a way, it reminds me of the interesting experiment that was Secret of Evermore on the SNES. Except, given the generational difference, the lack of competency on the SNES didn't lead to the creation of an ugly and unpleasant game like it would have on the PS1.
Unfortunately, the graphical and gameplay shortcomings in Shadow Madness are so severe that they smother any of its better aspects.
1-Hold the shoulder button to duck when you hear monster roars if you want to avoid random encounters.
2-For ranged characters, choose the engage command for melee attacks without using arrows.
3-Throw away most of the useless junk you pick up (things without value or that heals little HP).
4-In Karillon city, there are thugs you could fight for huge experience boost repeatedly.
5-Don't bother much with using magic, you will rarely need it.
I mean, you ARE a conscious disembodied head
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now reviewing Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
The game painfully wanted to imitate Final Fantasy VII
I always hope to enjoy these little-known JRPGs, and Shadow Madness had its heart in the right place. However, the execution was aggressively off.
Now I am going to write a report about the 50-41 games in the addendum list, then I will go back to the main Top 100 PS1 Games list by Retro Sanctuary, directly to Dino Crisis 2 at #44. However, before that, I will play and review the first Dino Crisis game. Hope it still holds up.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: