Back in ye olde dark ages of video games, when the Super Nintendo fought the Sega Genesis for domination of the living room, there was a game known as Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. This much maligned game was made particularly for western audiences in mind. See, we weren’t buying and playing as many JRPGs, so they figured that part of the reason was that the games were too hard for our brains. So they made this one.
Nowadays there’s a bit more mixed feelings to it. Most people brush it off, because the whole premise of the “easy game for Westerners” is kinda insulting on pretty much every level. But others have pointed out that the game has an incredibly earnest story, really great music, and interesting ideas. For example, every enemy encounter is shown on screen. Sure, those enemies would sometimes be locked into place in the only path forward, but you could still see them and choose to engage. And there was at least some level of customization involved.
Why spend two meaty paragraphs talking about an old game? Simple: Shadows of Adam is clearly heavily inspired by it, and it’s a weird inspiration to take. Usually if these retro RPGs borrow from older games, it’s the ones that are more universally loved: Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound, etc. They don’t pick a divisive and often derided game. Yet the creators behind this game did precisely that.
What I mean by this is that Shadows of Adam is an RPG with really good music, a short story that could be completed in about 10-12 hours, max, with enemies on screen and spritework that looks a bit more compressed than normal. It even has a similar looking combat screen to Mystic Quest, with your party on the bottom looking up at the various enemies.
The story does a few interesting things. For the most part, it’s fairly standard. Kellan and Asrael, two teenagers from the small village of Adam, are essentially pushed by the village into exploring a creepy hole where purple thorny vines have appeared. They use Asrael’s magic, which is something unique to her that causes the village to ostracize her, and Kellan’s blades to fight the source of the vines, running into Curtis, the monk, when they do. A spectral image of Kellan’s father appears, and he swears to find the truth.
The story does a handful of interesting things, mostly in how it takes the time to develop the various leads (there’s a fourth character who shows up a bit later). There are a few twists there, some of which are pretty obvious, others of which are fairly interesting. Naturally the story has you running all over the surprisingly small world looking for answers. For some reason you only need to find the crystals of fire, water, and fire; earth gets left out. It almost feels like they ran out of budget and clipped things.
The writing does have a certain sense of humor to it. Sometimes this hits alright, but a lot of the humor relies on lolrandom stuff you’d expect out of immature writers and/or those attempting to put together an amateur game in the 00’s or early 10’s instead of 2017, when this game released. A lot of it made me cringe, with so much just flatout unfunny. They’d often think that simply referencing something would count as humor, or silly jokes.
There’s also an enemy character that’s clearly inspired by Kefka from Final Fantasy 6. As an absolutely rabid fan of that game, I’d be someone who’d appreciate that homage. The character does mostly work, but he also often feels just a bit too unoriginal, with too many of Kefka’s mannerisms. I wanted to like him, and I did on some level, but he ended up being a disappointment… which sort of sums up my feelings regarding this game.
The combat system has some real potential. As earlier stated, your characters show on the bottom of the screen, enemies on the top. Each character has their own set of HP to show how much damage to take and all that, whereas AP is the stat used for magic and the like. There’s 100% of that stat at the beginning, and it mostly stays there unless moved by certain pieces of equipment. This means that various abilities always cost a set percentage of AP, which means that most abilities have uses stretching deep into the game.
What’s also kind of interesting is that each character has their own ability to charge AP. I actually used each of them in that screenshot above, which shows the characters taking the stance that matches. The charge ability also grants some additional benefit: one character dodges better for a while, another counterattacks and so on. Being able to charge and actually get some benefit adds to the combat, making you far more likely to use abilities and experiment than not.
For the most part, the combat was engaging and fair. The only time I got truly frustrated by the combat came later in the game during optional superbosses and, well, those are optional superbosses: they’re supposed to be hard.
No, what will stop me from ever playing this game again are the “puzzles.”
Early on they introduce you to puzzles, and it seems like there may be some variety. There’s this fairly simple puzzle involving vines being in the way to reach certain places, and you have to press a certain flower to get them to move. It’s moderately interesting, and certainly easy enough.
Then comes the sliding block puzzles, and they never stop. I spent probably 30-40% of my total game time working at these things. I’m moderately good at puzzles: no genius, but usually able to figure them out. About the dozenth time I ran into some variation on the same sliding block puzzle though, I lost interest. Each and every one involves putting the blocks into a certain pattern, then knocking around a floating orb to sink in an eye. This shows up everywhere.
Water Gardens? Sliding block puzzle.
Fire Volcano? Sliding block puzzle.
Secret Dungeon? Sliding block puzzle.
Final Dungeon? Sliding block puzzle.
They are obsessed with these things, and they just stop being fun after a while. At one point during the final dungeon they combined sliding block puzzles with the earlier vine one, and it was actually kind of interesting, a nice change of pace. They went right back to sliding block puzzles immediately after, of course.
And most of these puzzles have these sort of crafty solutions. They were designed to be completed in only a few moves, usually by moving only one or two blocks once or twice. So it becomes a sort of trial and error to deduce which ones to move. The pattern makes it marginally easier to figure out, but they are still incredibly monotonous, frustrating, and uninspired. They are so bad that they will prevent me from ever playing this game again, and they almost made me quit the first time around.
I actually really like when RPGs include puzzles. Rise of the Third Power did that, and while one type was a bit frustrating (the blue fireballs), the rest were pretty well done and, more importantly, varied.
What we have here is a game with some potential. It’s kind of interesting that their inspiration comes from a game that most people would ignore (along with the usual). They’ve got a battle system that shows some real potential and can be engaging. But the cringeworthy writing and “humor” mixed with utterly monotonous sliding block puzzles just drags the whole experience down.
4 Skip it unless you’re absolutely rabid about classic JRPGs, and even then, there are several better ones out there