by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A group of heroes leave their isolated village to tackle a looming evil that threatens their lives. Travelling through a fantastical world, the heroes defeat many a monster in turn based battles along the way, with retro graphics and tunes to accompany them. While it is a generic description for a JRPG, Shadows of Adam cuts away much of the fat that saddles other games and delivers an experience that is compact, to both its benefit and detriment.
Shadows of Adam does away with tutorials, overly long exposition and random battles in favor of a streamlined experience that gets to the point quickly and effectively. Exploration is relatively straightforward, as there are only a few side paths in each area that reward you with treasure, but it makes up for that with widely different areas with their own mechanics that prevents the experience from becoming stale. The areas themselves also never drag on, with great pacing effectively keeping the game fresh from beginning to end.
Combat is turn based, as these games so often are, but Shadows of Adam executes it far more successfully than many of its counterparts. In a typical battle, you can choose between normal attacks, a character’s unique abilities and items. Happily, instead of an MP or mana based system, the game instead uses an AP system that recharges in the middle of a fight or if certain abilities are used, though one can opt for a classic ether to fully restore it if things get dicey. Using this system, it no longer becomes a case of hoarding all of your spells and abilities for a powerful enemy and instead encouraging liberal use of them to gain the upper hand of normal enemies, many of whom provide a tough enough challenge on their own.
Simple, yet effective
As there are no random battles, there is no need to level grind, as each area is designed to provide a challenge to your party, though not one that would force you to quit. Interactions with abilities, such as using the prototypical warrior Kellan’s buffing skills to increase the damage on Curtis’ martial arts, become the key to winning fights, and it encourages experimentation to find the best strategy for a certain enemy. Boss fights in particular are almost all engaging, encouraging a well-planned strategy to isolate their weaknesses while preventing their powerful offense from overwhelming you. There are no tricks or grind to be found here, and I very much enjoyed how simple the combat itself was.
As refreshing as it is to see a game be this straightforward, it is also its biggest weakness. In terms of customization, there is next to none. Characters do level up and acquire skills at certain levels, but there is little sense of accomplishment for doing so, as many of those skills lack the value of ones that are attained early. Equipment progression is perhaps the worst off, as it boils down to moving to a new town, purchasing all the new weapons and armor and equipping them. While you may occasionally find gear in treasure chests, there is little debate over which gear is better, and it makes acquiring new weapons a lot less exciting and meaningful as it could be.
While the story is well paced, I never felt a connection with the characters or with what was happening onscreen. Kellen, Asrael, Curtis and Talon are not particularly memorable protagonists in their own right, though they are thankfully more than just fantasy archetypes. In addition, as a consequence of its straightforwardness, I was not surprised by any of the story beats, as it felt like I had played this game countless times before. Despite this, the dialogue is on point throughout, and many of the one-off NPCs and bosses in towns and dungeons helped to make for a more enjoyable experience throughout.
It is fortunate then that Shadows of Adam boasts graphics that do much to help create an engaging game. Animations are fluid and fun to look at, with the retro aesthetic managing to be more than just a pixelated background and instead helping to define each area and character Special mention must also be made of the soundtrack, which is a delight to listen to throughout.
For JRPG fans, Shadows of Adam is comfort food. It’s simple, to the point, and does a great job of distilling what made many of us connect with the genre in the first place. The story is not particularly compelling and it may be a bit bland at times, but its firm roots in nostalgia create a pleasant experience that I do not regret playing.
Well paced gameplay, great graphics and soundtrack
Bland progression and story