The Dark Spire Review

When a reviewer’s best (and only) analogies for a game come from 1980s classics, one can be certain that the title is decidedly niche. Such is the case with The Dark Spire, a dungeon-crawling first-person role-playing game from Atlus and Success, which frustrates, delights, and disappoints all at the same time.

The Dark Spire is most similar to early Wizardry titles, and makes no effort to try to be anything more, adhering more closely to genre conventions than anything gamers have seen in years. Still, the game manages to fall short of the classics in some ways, while surpassing them in others.

Players begin by custom-tailoring a party of four adventurers, rolling base stats with a slot-machine style number generator, and choosing spells (if applicable) from a short list. After receiving beginners’ equipment and playing through a brief training session as an introduction to the menu-driven gameplay and unforgiving turn-based combat, the party is thrust into the titular Dark Spire, and for the most part, to their doom.

Many gamers will loathe this game; in order to play and enjoy The Dark Spire, one must possess incredible patience, unwavering resolve, and an understanding that the greater journey is comprised of many smaller steps. Anyone expecting to blow through each floor of the tower at attention-deficit speeds will find the game’s pace to be laboriously slow, while those who appreciate the methodical exploration of dark, disorienting rooms and corridors will revel in the challenge. It is an exercise in trial and error much of the time; many dead ends make for a fair amount of backtracking, and the frequently encountered and very dangerous enemies will kill off party members left and right.

Better than many horror games, The Dark Spire instills real fear in the gamer — fear that the party’s next step may be their last. This fear is partially allayed by the game’s save-anywhere system, a necessity for any handheld rpg. However, players relying too heavily on this feature and not enough on careful preparation may end up sapping the life out of the experience.

Beyond it’s very daunting barrier to entry, The Dark Spire is indeed an engrossing and rewarding videogame. Amid the high-contrast ink style of the tower’s stark halls, the mobs of graphic-novel-rendered enemies, and the synthesized, polyphonic acoustic atmosphere, players will find well-written, detailed descriptions of certain aspects of their surroundings, secondary characters, puzzles, and other objects scattered sparingly throughout. The game, though encased in a claustrophobic shell, reveals itself as an open environment to explore and discover. Without excessive guidance, the player’s own adventurousness becomes the way forward.

For all it achieves, however, The Dark Spire leaves much to be desired. Party options are severely limited, offering the initial choice of only four races and four classes — numbers that were eclipsed in this genre more than two decades ago. There are many skills available to each character, each of which finds some obscure and clever use later on, but including only four starting classes is underwhelming. The weapon system is difficult to wrap one’s head around, as the game is never clear what distinguishes one from another in terms of damage, though this could also be considered part of the game’s “work-for-it” appeal. More frustrating, however, are the delayed text response when activating or examining objects, and the menu setup, where players are asked to dance a ballet of d-pad and shoulder buttons in order to equip their party, cast spells, use items, etc.

The Dark Spire is an undoubtedly niche, uncompromising title that will earn the ire of the many players who aren’t interested in the classic gameplay found within, but put smiles on the faces of those who are. With a fitting audio/visual presentation, intense challenge, and do-it-yourself design, this is a throwback to a bygone era, and a good one, at that.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Myspace
  • Google Buzz
  • Reddit
  • Stumnleupon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Technorati
Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

Leave A Response

You must be logged in to post a comment.