Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone is a high fantasy game set in the popular Wizards of the Coast campaign setting. This world was partially made famous by the dark elf traitor himself, Drizzt Do’Urden. The writer responsible for Drizzt and a large part of the popular fiction surrounding the Forgotten Realms setting also had a hand in this game. R. A. Salvatore provided the backstory for this game, and he did a decent job. They have some good voice talent backing up the story, with Patrick Stewart narrating the story as Khelben Blackstaff, and Michael Clarke Duncan as Ygorl. The shame of it is that the rest of the game is so average that the game just ends up being mediocre.
The game contains a stunning amount of detail on the characters and world that they inhabit. The world has glowing gems in the Gemspark mines, burning houses in the town of Damara, and other little background details that stand out. Demon Stone has found just the right way to detail large armies of Orcs that are sometimes waging war in the distance. The game does a good job of illustrating classic Dungeons and Dragons scenery, ranging from wizards towers to mines, ruins, elven villages, and dwarven fortresses. Some of the scenes started off almost looking like classic Larry Elmore high fantasy paintings, and then the camera zoomed inward to reveal that it was actually the next important scene in the game.
Ahh, all this wonderful detail…and the camera cuts you out of the picture all too often. The designers chose to go with a floating fixed camera that shifts around to try and keep you in the view, but without rotating or changing angle much at all. This hurts the gameplay often. I found myself in the back of the fighting often as the mage Illius, casting spells into the fray. Often, my only indicator that I had someone targetted was the “lock on” line that the game puts on screen when you are performing a ranged attack. My take on this was to keep shooting until the lock on line went away. That led to gameplay that brings to mind a line from the movie ‘Spaceballs.’ This method of using the camera in a fixed location, but having events occuring offscreen in a three dimensional playfield had me reaching for the right analog stick in hopes of changing the camera view. Alas, it was not to be, and I had to learn that sometimes I was not meant to be in the limelight. Well…not my chosen character at least.
The music for the game is appropriately orchestral and grandiose throughout the game. It flows with the gameplay and provides the right amout of background to the action on screen. It also predicts the action properly, and doesn’t give away a properly suspenseful moment ahead of time. All in all, nothing I’ll be whistling as I work through my day, but not jarring or out of place either.
The other half of the sound is the combat sound and voicework. The characters have comments they will make to each other during combat that are just well timed and thought out. A line that puts me in stitches is when one of the main characters says to the backs of his compatriots, “What? I thought she hated wood elves?” This line is so well delivered that it doesn’t fail to bring a smile to my face. Other notes of, “Hey, that was my kill!” and, “Help me over here,” worded in different ways and tones keep them from getting old and make the characters a seem little more than their basic AI would have you believe.
The cutscenes that split up a level do much to tell you about the characters and add to the feeling of looking in on someone’s life. Between levels, you can listen to short stories from each of the characters in the game detailing parts that occurred before the game began, such as Rannock’s telling of the destruction of Nesme, or Illius’ upbringing. The dialog in this game was well thought out, and the whole team behind it deserves a bravo. Not only does the story breathe in this game, but the actors imparted that important little spark to each character that draws you in and connects you to them.
Demon Stone fails in the control department not due to any serious unresponsiveness between the controller or the game, but in the fact that the moves the characters had were so bland and unintresting. All three characters used the X button, or a double or triple tap of the X button as their basic attack. They all had available to them a trip attack executed in the exact same manner. Each had several other moves that suffered the same problem. The only moves that seriously differed between the three characters were Illius’ spells, which are all cast using the ranged attack function, Zhai’s jump attack, and Rannock’s ability to just kick orc tail. In the basic moves department, each character was so similar to the other two, I found it a little annoying. This is a hard category to rate the game on as this seems to be an ‘ease of use’ or ‘system portability’ design decision rather than a lack of ingenuity on the part of the designers. Which leads into my main issues with the game.
The game provided me with about eight hours of interesting gameplay, with some radical ups and downs throughout it. The basic game is similar to what I outlined in the previous section, with some minor variation or a specific goal that needs to be completed, bashed upon, or protected. The game itself is all about hacking and slashing through various stock monsters to get to the end of a level. The levels don’t all end with a boss fight, or for that matter don’t always have much other than a boss fight. Yes, dragon, I’m looking at you. The problem with the basic gameplay is the almost cookie cutter fighting. I’ve seen this before. It was used in several mid-eighties and ninties games, such as Double Dragon and Final Fight. It’s not horrid or amazingly awful. It’s just an average way to do things.
The game progresses with you fighting through a level, usually with varying goals as the story unfolds. As you defeat monsters you earn experience points. There are breakable items throughout the levels that hold gold, health potions, or a refill of your ranged combat items (for Rannock and Zhai). As you defeat these monsters, you earn hero points to reward you for the more stylish kills. These hero points will fill up a meter that appears behind the hero’s portrait and once full, allows you a super attack. When all three heroes have full meters, you can unleash all three super attacks at once. This can help greatly in clearing a room of enemies.
Second on my list of design choices that I cringed at were the win conditions for some of the levels. Several of these battles had requirements for winning that you were not told, or it took trial and error to discover. One of them can kill your whole party and make you play the level over again, for just trying to finish off a boss with a spell. Most of the areas give you some clue about what you need to do to keep the game moving, or to win against a boss with some sound cue such as, “Magician, use your Beads of Force!” The irritation lies with the fact that this is said after you’ve been fighting endless enemies for over ten minutes and can’t figure out what to do to destroy the boss. This occurs more than once in the game, and provides a source of frustration, especially since you’ve probably been playing the level for some time already.
The inventory system deserves some note in the game. Between levels, you can purchase new items and skills for all three characters using the gold and experience you have earned. The gold that you earned previously is given to each of your characters, and they each have their own wallet. So earning 10,000 gold gets each of your characters 10,000 gold, not just a shared pot of that same amount. The characters can upgrade their weapons, armor, and magical items on these screens to improve their offensive and defensive capabilities. A minor complaint here lies in the upgrading of the equipment. Several of the items aren’t obvious as to which is more powerful, or exactly how they change your abilities. For example, once you earn enough gold, you can place several enchantments on Illius’ staff, such as sonic, sonic burst, or wounding. The game gives no indicator which of the enchantments will replace others, or if they will stack with the others.
Spending experience points will allow you to buy new skills for each of the characters, but it forces you to make some annoying choices in the process. For Zhai and Rannock, the choices just result in picking which skills you want to upgrade and how much more damage you want them to be able to do. Not much of a choice here and that’s okay. But Illius learns new spells that he can cast on the enemy and the party which present a conundrum. Initially, he only knows Magic Missle, a staple D&D spell. Charging it up for a ranged attack provides a spell that will hurt a single creature moderately. His first upgrade takes him to Flame Arrow, which is similar to Magic Missle, except that it will hit multiple enemies when charged. So the loss of Magic Missle doesn’t concern most players. Later on down the road, Illius can get several spells, such as Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and Cone of Cold. As you purchase these skills, you lose the ability to cast any of the lower level spells in any form. There is no way for have Illius cast Lightning Bolt once you have upgraded to a higher level spell. Now, considering that the game hides any statistical information on how much damage you do or how many hit points you have, this wouldn’t bother most players. But there were times that the game implied fire was a more useful weapon, and I wanted to cast my fireball again…and could not.Each chapter has several background items attached to it that are dependant on what you collect in the level. Collect more gold and items, you get more background art, story voiceovers, and concept art. It’s done well, but the extras are not worth suffering through the level another time, unless you really need the experience and gold to help upgrade your characters.