Dark Savior - Reader Retroview  

Your Feeble Skills Are No Match For the Power of the Dark Side
by JuMeSyn

Time: 4-5 hours per Parallel


Rating definitions 

   1996 was an interesting year. This was before the great PlayStation RPG drought was broken, meaning that seekers of RPGís on CD systems were SOL if they only owned a piece of Sony hardware. The Saturn was quite happy to cater to RPGamers at the time instead, and among some other titles of the year was one strikingly different action-RPG called Dark Savior. If for no other reason, seekers of an unusual experience should track it down, for the game is not really like any other.

   Dark Saviorís claim to unique status rests upon the Parallels of the gameís story. Its opening area is a cargo ship, and the playerís navigation of Garian through this cargo ship is timed. Three distinct possibilities for the rest of the game emerge based upon the time needed to complete this area, and they diverge very significantly from each other. Garian is a bounty hunter assigned to keep watch on the very dangerous criminal Bilan during his shipment to Jailerís Island. Things promptly go wrong, with Bilan massacring the cargo shipís crew following his amazingly easy escape from confinement. At this point the Parallels kick in. Should Garian take a long time to reach the captainís cabin, Bilan will already have escaped. Reaching the cabin in less time means Garian can engage the monster in combat and kill it promptly Ė but with Bilan dead the suspicions of Warden Kurtliegen, vile master of Jailerís Island, will be directed at Garian. Taking even less time will find Bilan unable to massacre the cabinís crew and destroy communications, instead escaping onto the island. Each Parallel offers a very different storyline, with the third Parallel merging directly into a fourth Parallel that cannot be saved during.

An extraterrestrial! An extraterrestrial!

   Combat is infrequent during Dark Savior, to the point where a fight is welcomed as a break from navigating the environment (more on that later). Battles are one-time-only, also. These fights look rather like a fighting game, and play like a fighting game also. Garian and his opponent will face each other and exchange blows while being able to block and jump with two bars indicating their respective HP remaining go down with connections. Holding a button will leave either participant vulnerable to attack but readies a special attack. Best two-out-of-three rules apply, as in most fighting games. These battles are very simple by fighting game standards but work reasonably well within this gameís context. What is different from a fighting game is Garianís ability to Capture his adversaries: during some battles when the opponent is nearing the end of his second round, there is a Capture Chance. If Garian has a fully charged special attack available at this moment, the opponent can be Captured and used instead of Garian in subsequent battles.

   There is no money at all in Dark Savior, but Garian will find a few items that can be exchanged for services. In particular, he can buy more Bounty Hunter points. These are generally obtained in battle, but do not in any way serve as normal Experience does. If Garian has enough, he can spend the points to have his avian aid Jack give him a HP boost. But Jack also needs 20 points each time he pulls Garian out of a pit, and the player will fall into pits frequently.

   Visuals are alright, not stellar. Everything does look distinct, although a paucity of color sometimes afflicts the environments. Otherwise the 3D sprites get the job done without excelling. Music, on the other hand, is quite good. There is an impressive variety of tunes for the gameís length, and quite a few will pop up only in certain Parallels. The one instance of voice acting in the game works fairly well. Sound effects arenít great but also donít drag the music down.

Midway through the most hellish area of the game.  Be prepared. Midway through the most hellish area of the game. Be prepared.

   The issue I have yet to address, and in an action-RPG it is critical, is the one of interaction. And it is here that any prospective player will encounter grave issues. The controls themselves are fine; jumping is responsive, running is easy. But Dark Savior features something not many games use anymore Ė the isometric view. And the isometric view is represented in the controls by a quirk that will take precious time to accustom one to, that of pressing Ďleftí moving Garian down/left instead of straight left, because the game is built diagonally to accommodate the isometric perspective. Seeing around objects is easier than in older isometric titles thanks to the ability to tilt the camera quite a bit, but once the player stops focusing on the camera controls it snaps back to the standard isometric view. And there are times (horrible times) at which the player cannot see around something while a platform that is either pressure-sensitive or moving will require immediate movement. Frustration will ensue. There is also the infrequent issue of diagonal movement not being allowed. In the (fortunately) rare instances where diagonal jumping is required, the player must hurriedly press one direction and then another, while hoping his/her reaction time is fast enough to prevent falling into a pit.

   Actual combat is rarely challenging thanks to the AI being predictable. Navigating the environment, on the other hand, is frequently very taxing. Also, when the environment possesses hazards that are NOT pits, they will take Garianís HP away, and very quickly. If Garian falls to an environmental hazard, Game Over. There is also a mine cart ride with a spastic camera in Parallels 2 and 3 that will cause stress. The total time for completion does not address the inevitable time spent trying the same area repeatedly. With that factored into the numbers, 20-25 hours is more like the time necessary to complete all parts of the game. But replay in this title is mandatory, because the whole game cannot be seen, or anything close to it, in just one play. Indeed, the first Parallelís story is very disheartening if seen alone.

   Dark Savior is very far from perfect, thanks to the numerous control issues that will plague the player. It is, however, unique. For that reason it deserves a look from anyone seeking a change of pace in the action-RPG universe. If nothing else it provides some groovy music and an appreciation for the lack of isometric perspectives in newer games, and to (hopefully) most players it will offer a bit more.

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