Elminage Original is a first person PSP dungeon crawler in the vein of Wizardry, and has finally arrived in Europe after a long wait. The translation issues that appeared in the original version of the Northern America release have been patched, though there are still many abbreviations used in in-game menus of which the meaning is sometimes unclear.
Elminage is a PSP game, and it looks like one. Threedimensional dungeon textures are extremely bland. However, this is offset by the sheer amount and variety of dungeons the game offers, both in lay-out and in looks. The real graphical prowess of the PSP can be seen in the 2D sprites, which are a sight to behold; varied, detailed and rich in colour. The enemies facing you range from samurai to dragons and are mostly figures from mythological and medieval folklore, which can be found in places you wouldn’t expect them to be in. The soundtrack of the game is very catchy and fits the dungeons’ moods perfectly, occasionally heightening the feeling of stress and urgency when you are treading difficult grounds.
Elminage’s story is rather disappointing. The King sends you and your band of adventurers on a quest to find a bunch of rings, bring them back to the tower they used to reside in and stop evil sorceress from wreaking havoc along the way. It is quite flat and not very engaging, and the numerous side stories don’t make up for the lacking main quest because they’re not any better. The game mainly consists of ‘fetch and kill’ quests, which have you fetching an item or killing a monster without providing a solid motivation for doing so.
In order to find the rings, you need to gain fame points, which can be obtained through side quests. These fame points can be used to fill up a compass that shows the way to the next ring. The side quests are mostly fetch quests. The neat part is that the game is, after the introductory dungeon, very open. Every location becomes available for you to explore, and you frequently have to revisit previous dungeons to gain items.
The game consists of a hub world and a large set of dungeons. The hub towns are basically menu lists à la the Etrian Odyssey series which can quickly take you to various relevant areas such as shops which should fulfill all your adventuring needs. There are many items and weapons available which allow for a good deal of customization.
The core of the game is good. There is a diverse cast of characters at your disposal and the battle mechanics work very well. Elminage features mostly standard fantasy characters but includes some interesting figures, too, such as the fire-breathing dragonewt. Each race and class has its own attributes. The aforementioned dragonewt can bank on high strength and vitality stats while the fairy relies on high agility. The game also allows you to choose your gender and personality (good ,neutral and evil) which all affect your stats in one or another way; the game doesn’t go out of its way to shed light on this system, but it is not customizable after the initial set-up. On leveling up, additional stat points and skills are added. The magic point system is inspired by games such as Dungeons and Dragons, where each spell has its own magic points.
The dungeons are standard dungeon crawler fare. They are tackled from a first person perspective in which the player can move in four directions. There are temples, forests and many other locales where you frequently battle monsters in turn-based combat and scour every nook and cranny for precious loot. The challenge lies in devising a working strategy to tackle the dungeon, because the game is an old-fashioned challenge; there are many powerful monsters which can wipe out your party in an instant. Elminage Original involves a lot of grinding for experience points and repetitive battles with weaker enemies who always take off more health points than you like the mto.
You can save a large amount of characters but you can only use six in your party at the same time. This can cause some problems, as you might want to steamroll through the game using a perfected team, but some dungeons require you to use specific classes that you then need to level up all the way to use. These, and other outdated mechanics such as random monster selection and appearance make the game extremely difficult at times and a stroll in the park in others.
Elminage Original packs a ton of content, but a shallow story and a lack of proper balance keep it from standing out in the dungeon crawling genre. It is only recommended for fans of the genre who have already played the better alternatives and are still wishing to grind their way through more dungeons.