Original Combat System
Limited Inventory System
Here's The Spirit Engine, one of the most popular freeware games among gamers, released back in 2003. I heard it being called an adventure game in some circles, but I have no doubts that it's an authentic RPG. From a total of 9 characters divided in 3 classes (rifleman, mage and priest) you must choose a party of 3 in order to start your quest. There is level progression, class skills, an inventory system... so it offers a true role-playing experience.
The first time I played it, it kind of reminded me of MapleStory, although this MMO was released 3 years after TSE. Both have 2D graphics and RPG elements, a combination that even now is not really widespread in the industry. We'll see later why. When I started playing The Spirit Engine, I was really impressed, maybe even astounded by the art. It departs from the traditional anime influence, adding a bit of retro flavor, a bit of gaming stereotypes, a bit of everything... Natomic and Mark Pay created an extraordinary magical world with a lot of variety, style and originality, where characters are not only believable, but also become someone you'd care for. The colors are intense enough to please your eyes and keep you interested in the upcoming levels and events.
The general plot is relatively simple, with random events and sidequests along the way, which reveals small chunks of information gradually. But I promise, the ending should surprise even the greatest of the skeptics. Every member of your party has a start story, which shows what he was doing right before being teleported into action. Additionaly they have unique personalities, which, by the way, will change certain dialogue lines, making the game worth another try. Your quest starts when a spirit, whose origins you can't determine, gathers all your party members in one place. You aren't able to communicate, so you set out to find the reason why this little supernatural being won't leave your side.
You'll be accompanied everywhere by a nice soundtrack inspired from various international songs (they seem familiar, but I can't say for sure what music was the source of inspiration). Having a distinct retro feel to them, the tracks change with every level. That means there's quite a large selection of songs, and they don't get repeated too often. On the other hand the game never stops "singing", and your ears might start bleeding from the constant noise. If you take too long, I suppose you'll get sick of it eventually, but I wouldn't blame the quality. It's just that people prefer sometimes a bit of silence between concerts.
As I said in the first paragraph your first step will be to select your characters. Basically you can have a party full of priests, but I wouldn't recommend doing that. The Spirit Engine is already unbalanced in this aspect. It favors certain groups, while with other combinations it can take you forever just to finish the game. TSE is also harsh towards balanced party members (developing all skills equally, instead of promoting only 1-2 skills above average). I predict you won't finish the game easily (or you won't finish it at all) from your first time, because you need to find the right party and the right skills (I never finished it with my favourite combination).
Previously I mentioned something about the mistake of combining 2D worlds with RPG. Keep in mind that Spirit Engine is a casual game designed to be finished in a couple of hours. What happens when you screw up the combinations and prefer to keep your party members balanced? Unfortunately, you'll have to rely on gaining levels (you get one more skill point per level). Level progression is not so boring in 3D RPGs, where you have lands to explore, caves to loot and new monsters to disembowel. Here, you'll be forced to walk the same portions and kill the same monsters over and over again, so that you could win some skill points and try your luck with the boss again. This certainly adds a bit of frustration and boredom to the positive sensations.
I've got also a few words on the combat system. The skills aren't just for show. They have a certain element at their core (like lightning, magic, neutral etc), and your enemies will be immune or highly resistant to several attacks based on one of these elements. Others can be weak to them. This is the magic of The Spirit Engine: finding what combinations of skill attacks can defeat your opponents will become very satisfying and rewarding. The entire experience centers around avoiding the immunities and exploiting the weaknesses.
Despite having a limited inventory system (you can't sell back the items you bought, you can only leave them in the garbage bin), being unbalanced and too simple in places, The Spirit Engine is a great game featuring an epic story, beautiful art, original music, awesome bosses and high replayability. As a whole, the game's quality rises to commercial standards. It's no wonder that the second installment in the series is now sold through popular online stores, such as Stardock's Impulse.
Review by: TotalAnarchy
Safe for all ages