You’ve probably never played the first western release of the Elminage games, and I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t even heard of the name before. It was a PSN-only PSP game that came out long after the system had been replaced. [Ed: that is to say, it’s obscure.] You could have played the game on the Vita like I did, but how many people are gaming on the Vita, right?
Even worse, it had a horrible translation applied to it that resulted in several instances of Japanese text making it into the supposedly English language version. It seemed, at least on paper, to be an unmitigated failure of great proportions and a game that probably shouldn’t have existed.
Which is why I was so shocked when I played Elminage and fell in love with it.
Elminage was a hardcore Wizardry clone that took the classic CRPG formula that Greenberg and Woodhead created, and turned it into a Japanese-style dungeon crawler that had an agonizing amount of content to fight through. So overwhelming was Elminage that it took me a month just to get a party I could survive with, and another four months to actually beat the last dungeon. It was brutal, unfair, and absolutely terrifying.
This sequel, which drops the Vita and makes the jump to the PC, is even more unforgiving. Just about everything in the first game that I took for granted or got used to is now twisted in such a way that I have to work ten times harder than I did in the original.
Slower spell learning rates for casters? Yup. A larger starter dungeon with a more convoluted maze? Gotcha. A drop system even more stingy than the original Wizardry? Ditto. To be perfectly honest, if you played Elminage and thought it was an exercise in RPG endurance, you better gird your loins for the sequel … It holds even fewer punches than its predecessor.
I began to see this new toughness when, after clearing the three levels of the starter dungeon, I ran into a super-powered boss roaming the level that one-shotted my entire party. After losing an hour of work to this monster on four separate occasions, I was finally able to avoid it well enough to clear the dungeon and move onto the next quest—which, sadly, had me going through a dungeon rife with ninja parties and high-level mages.
Slogging my way through the first few major dungeons, I realized that Elminage has a really horrible drop system. Although you can make up for that once your thief hits the higher levels and learns to steal items, even the late-game dungeons have really abysmal drop rates. As someone who has played a ton of these Wizardry clones, I feel very confident in saying this is a design flaw rather than a feature: I’ve never encountered a game so unwilling to dole out gear than Elminage Gothic, and that’s saying quite a bit when you consider I suffered through the penny-pinching gear-hoarder Class of Heroes.
The drop rate and difficulty spikes make the game a bit tiring but Elminage Gothic’s remaining gameplay is so addictive you keep coming back for more, at least if you’re into the old Wizardry style. As in those games, expect the bulk of your play to consist of quick forays into dungeons from which you have to scurry before your supplies dwindle and your spell slots are used up.
It can get tiring (especially due to those abysmally bad drop rates) but when you finally clear a level or find that one new awesome piece of armor, it makes you feel that same fire you did back when you started. It’s a feeling older CRPG fans will recognize and appreciate.
Elminage Gothic has a lot of neat little touches that, much like its predecessor, help to separate it from others of its type. The game’s beautiful soundtrack (except for the horrible battle theme … ugh), the downright creepy enemy artwork, and the class diversity are all distinct enough to make Elminage one of the better Wizardry clones. Although it has a tendency to drag because of the size of the mazes and the slow character progression, it feels good when the game rewards you for your patience.
That’s really why we older folks play these types of games. If you’re the kind of gamer that enjoys testing party builds, mixing character classes, and obsessing over equipment loadouts, Elminage probably gives you more than you can handle. It wraps it all in a plodding maze of corridors and sluggish leveling, but it will steal a hundred or so hours of your time if you don’t guard against it.
People regularly ask me where the good Wizardry games are, and while I want to give them a list of all these obscure little clones that have come out in the past five years, very few of them are of a quality I’d want to be associated with.
Elminage, however, is one of the few I’d encourage you to check out—that is, if you have the patience and the time.
Elminage Gothic was reviewed using a code provided by Ghostlight Ltd. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.