In the beginning…the hack and slash game genre started with a simple arcade game known as Gauntlet. It brought together four intrepid adventurers in a quest to live through as many dungeon levels as possible before death overtook them. Purpose? Who really cared at the time? Well, it had a purpose, get the highest score on the scoreboard, but most people I know played it just to adventure with friends through the multitude of boards. Gauntlet II didn’t add much in story or in gameplay, but improved the graphics. Gauntlet Legends and Gauntlet Dark Legacy changed things.
In the place of neverending levels of dungeon, these two arcade games (and the later home console version) set up themed lands, each ruled by a boss creature. Players collected special weapons that would help them out in the short term, and their characters earned experience and levelled up. The basic gameplay was unchanged. Hack and slash your way through the monsters and generators to the level exit. Defeat Death when he appeared, or use the magic ring and steal his life. Triumph over all who opposed you!
Okay, if you haven’t pulled out your broadsword and done the patented Conan the Barbarian loops of doom yet, well…Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows gives you that opportunity now. Let’s take a good look at this new title for the PS2.
The first test of the game is how it looks. I’d have to say that the PS2 version of Seven Sorrows is very nice looking. The levels have a fair bit of depth to them, though objects and textures are frequently reused. For the most part, it isn’t something that you will notice when playing the game, and it doesn’t detract or make the levels look repetitive. Each level is sufficently unique enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re just getting the next board in the game.
The characters also look nice in this version. The scale is changed somewhat, making the characters much larger on the screen than they were in Dark Legacy. The detail that is added to the characters for each armor and weapon upgrade is really nice. The warrior stops carrying a big axe, and moves up to a weapon that no mortal should ever carry. The elf seems to get even more pointy, sharp, and dangerous as he is upgraded. It is a very nice touch to the game.
The attack effects and environment light up the game with just the right amount of magic. The good news is that even with a full screen of monsters pummeling the party, the only times I saw real slowdown was when someone did a mana flare (the replacement for the magic potion). That was only really an issue in the big fights when it was an open area. The game kept the framerate really under control and smooth.
The sound for the game started off really strong, and kept going from there. With Patrick Stewart voicing the Emperor during the cutscenes, and the strong male voice reporting “Red Wizard is about to die!”, the voice work, though sparse, really set the tone for the game. It maintained the dark and brooding feel of the story throughout, and once I sat down and listened to all the cutscenes, I found that I really enjoyed it.
When the game first came up to the main menu, and the music kicked it, it sent a shiver down my spine. They had converted the classic Gauntlet theme into an orchestral score, and it is one I don’t think I will forget for a long time. The music from that point on just keeps improving. The score for this game was very well thought out and another high point for the franchise. In some of the areas the music was almost too quiet, but unless there was a major battle happening that would drown it out, it was there in the background setting the mood.
They made use of both analog sticks in this version of Gaunlet, using the left stick to move you about normally, and the right stick to perform moving attacks. Each character had a mobile attack that was unique, from the wizard teleporting through enemies and knocking them aside to the elf and his “Make me pointy” leaps. These attack moves allow you to rack up the combo attack points during fights.
The characters were given a stronger repitroire of moves in this game aside from the basic attacks. Each character has a basic attack, a hack attack (that can hit through blocking enemies), a launch move (which throws enemies into the air), a ranged attack, and a block. Different combinations of the X, Square, Circle, and Triangle buttons form the advanced attack moves that each character starts with and can buy. There was a flow to the timing in this game for the combination attacks, but it didn’t take long to learn that timing. The controls didn’t hinder the gameplay in the least, and added the options needed to make the game a deeper button masher than it was before.
One of the features that is gone is the automatic attack when you come into contact with enemies. You now have to actively press buttons to engage the enemy, and your ranged attack is now only useful when someone is up there to be a meat shield. This game is much more melee oriented than the previous games, but you aren’t penalized for going melee like you would be in the other games.
Now that I have discussed the controls at length, lets get down to the game itself. There is nothing terribly complex about the gameplay. Move through the level, collect gold, keys, and food, defeat the monsters and/or boss monster, and find the exit. Between levels, you can spend any points you earn for levelling up in attack, health, or magic regeneration abilities. You can also buy new attacks with the gold you collect. Then you move on to the next part of the game.
Sounds simple? Well yes, but the Gauntlet games have never been overly complex. The downside to this formula is that it stays simple. Other than getting stronger and learning a few new moves, there is little new in each level. You can go back and play on different difficulty levels, but it simply changes the statistics on some of the monsters, making them stronger and they block more. I kept waiting for something new to be introduced beyond the next “Sorrow”, but alas it was more hack and slash. Especially once you’ve earned enough gold to buy all the special moves. In a four player game, this can take some time, but if you play any single player at all, you will have the gold you need in the first five areas to buy most of your abilities. Once those have been purchased, all there is left to do is to level up your character. This left me a little cold in the character advancement department.
I would like to mention that the save system for this game is perfect. Each character has its own 66k save file. Each separate game progress save is its own file. It is really easy to tell the different character files apart and move charcters between games. This makes it easy to start a character at a friends house and then copy him to your system at a later date.
The big value point of this game is the multiplayer. I played a five or so hour session of Seven Sorrows with some friends over the New Year’s weekend, and much fun was to be had. The only major complaint we had about the multitap multiplayer was that when the action got really thick, it was hard to tell which character was which. The game did not change the color scheme of the on screen character to match their status bar, and there were no other indicators such as colored rings around their feet to set the characters apart. Even with those flaws, we were riveted to the console collecting gold and making sure the right people got the food they needed to live. Oh, and destroying the evils of the world of Gauntlet.
Online play was much more of a mixed bag. I typically only saw one or two games online, and you could only see games that were setting up. If a game was already in progress, it was not shown in the game lists. This made the lobby very empty, and left me with the feeling that no-one was playing online. I was also annoyed that I had to enter my birthdate every time I started up the game and went online. Play was very laggy, unless I started the game, and I had to play games with my router so that other people weren’t jumping around the screen. In about an hour’s attempt of trying to play online, I grew frustrated and moved on.