- Original release year: 1996
- Consoles: Saturn
For those that don’t know, Dark Savior is an action adventure (RPG-ish) game made by Climax Entertainment, the developers responsible for famed Mega Drive (Genesis) RPG, Landstalker. This game is often mistaken for a sequel (or spiritual sequel if you will) to Landstalker, but in reality Dark Savior is a very different game. A real sequel to Landstalker was actually released as Lady Stalker for the Super Nintendo and was only released in Japan.
Dark Savior is played from an isometric viewpoint and in that respect plays similarly to Landstalker. You play as Garian, a bounty hunter sent to escort the evil Bilan to Jailers Island to be carbon frozen. When the monser escapes, you must run as fast you can to find Bilan and stop him. From this moment a timer appears on the screen. Dark Savior is unique in that there are actually 4 different versions of the game to be played (known as parallels). Depending on how long it takes for you to reach the captain’s cabin, a different outcome will occur. The game will then take a different route. When you’ve completed the parallel, the game will save and restart to back to the ship in which Garian will awake from a dream. The aim is to complete all 3 parallels and then the final 4th parallel will commence straight after the third parallel. This makes the game very interesting to play, especially since references will be made between the 4 parallels, but you won’t get the full story until you play them all. It’s definitely quite an original concept and adds replay value to the gamer. Each parallel differs slightly in length, but none are more than about 4 or 5 hours. In total the game is about 12 – 15 hours long, so unfortunately isn’t too long despite the multiple stories.
In terms of the gameplay, as previously stated, this is an isometric 3D action adventure game. Isometric games can be quite an acquired taste. Those who find them frustrating will most likely find this game suffers from the same problems. Dark Savior is heavily platform oriented and often you will be jumping from platform to platform. This can be incredibly annoying as one wrong move can lead to you falling to your death. With an isometric viewpoint it can be difficult to calculate exactly how to jump to next platform, especially if you’re on one of those pesky platforms that will quickly collapse under your feet unless you move fast. Luckily, with this being a 32-bit era game, Climax did consider this issue and added a camera control feature. Dark Savior makes good use of the 3D controller, with the analogue stick being used to move the camera around the player. The L and R triggers are also used to move the camera. This does help the problems at times, but it by no means solves them.
Unlike many similar games that preceded this, Dark Savior has a unique combat mode. It may be unique, but it’s not particularly good. Instead of engaging in combat similar to that of Landstalker, Light Crusader or Zelda, when you are approached by an enemy, you enter a fighting mode. This has the camera zoomed in on the players and you must fight the enemy much like how you would in a beat ‘em up. Whilst this is a novel concept, it doesn’t really work too well in practice. It’s not terrible, but it could have been put to better use. The main problem is it’s incredibly easy and very simple. Basically you have A as your attack button, B is jump and you use the direction button to move. If you hold down A your special bar will gradually fill and once full you will be able to perform a special attack. This makes battles both repetitive and a chore. Variety is added by the ability to capture enemies to later use in battle (think Pokemon), but the simple control system really does let the combat down.
Graphically, Dark Savior is quite attractive. The game is made up of a mixture of 2D sprites and 3D polygons. Most of the time the mixture of the 2D and 3D animation works tremendously well together considering the mixture of graphics, but at times it can be fairly ugly. When you are engaged in combat, the camera zooms in and the character sprites are particularly jagged and ugly. In addition, the mine cart scene in the game doesn’t look the best. When Dark Savior does it well though, it does it well. For example, the Silver Castle level features numerous platforms in the sky and the depth is phenomenal. You have to see it to believe it. It’s definitely one of the best parts of the game. Adding to the mood of the game, the music and sound is also above average. Although it is nothing groundbreaking, the sound is never bad and at times can work really well.
Overall, Dark Savior is a good adventure game, but it is marginally let down by occasionally frustrating controls and awkward combat. The story, despite being cheesy at times (in particular the dialogue), is generally very good. and the four different parallels make the game a lot of fun to replay. There’s also a bonus (secret) 5th parallel that can be unlocked, but it’s just a simple fighting game (which, completing, also unlocks a 2 player mode).