Developer: Ossian Studios
Publisher: Ossian Studios
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: N/A
Score: B+ (85%)
Four years in the making, Ossian Studios‘ first mobile RPG, The Shadow Sun, brings the look and feel of classic PC fantasy role playing games to iOS and Android devices along with a few quirks common to mobile games. It’s a solid enough adventure of a decent length (about 15-20 hours or so if you seek out everything) and for a mere $4.99, it’s a fantastic deal.
While the game is indeed engaging and quite challenging in terms of its combat, it’s also a patch away from being even better than it currently is. You’re certainly getting a heck of a lot more than five dollars worth of gaming here and while in-app purchases are available, none are needed to beat the game.
Ossian’s experience with working on some excellent Neverwinter Nights 2 modules shows here as the developer gets some decent mileage from the versatile Unity engine. That said, the varied environments, while well rendered, could have used a bit more in the way of interactive elements. Character models are decent enough for a mobile game, but could have used some more animation and less campy voice acting for some NPC’s. Nevertheless, the game’s overall presentation is quite impressive as each new area unfolds. While the game world is non-linear past the introductory section, venturing into the wrong area too soon can be unhealthy for your party. Stronger enemies will let you know right away that you’re outclassed and the more hard-headed players will fine themselves reloading saved until they get the point.
Dungeon designs are twisty and well done affairs that require constant map checking and a very good sense of direction. One of the biggest problems with the map system is you can’t see the map as you play nor call it up without diving into multiple menus. This is a big step down from RPGs where finding out where you are and where you need to be takes but a glance at a corner of the screen. It’s not as if there’s not enough real estate on a tablet, so the omission of an on-screen map is a big deal. And don’t even think about consulting the map in the middle of a fight. Still, once you get used to having to stop what you’re doing and consult that map for a “You are here” notation, things get better.
Well, to a point. Another issue is there’s no way to light up the the dungeons. All of them use natural light sources or a few torches placed strategically far away enough that there are plenty of dark passages where you’ll be surprised by roaming creatures or miss secret passages unless you happen to check every wall up close. The game could have used a spell or two that lets you shed light on things if only to make up for the map problem. Movement can also be tricky with the onscreen “controller” thanks to it feeling way too lose in navigation and to some extent, in combat. This is a game that would have been much more fun to play with a keyboard/mouse setup or perhaps one of the optional physical controllers third parties manufacture in order to make mobile games more playable.
Once you get somewhat accustomed to the controls and follow the tutorial and hints, battles go from spastic tapping and flailing to more precise and somewhat thrilling. Your main character has a slew of different moves and skills (unlocked as you gain levels) and supporting characters will auto-attack or can be commanded to attack enemies. Mastering the commands is key for larger packs of enemies as well as the tougher bosses you’ll face off against. Trying to solo the game and rely on the AI to carry its weight automatically is a terrible idea, not because the AI is bad, mind you. It’s because it will tend to attack and defend only to a point and players not using them properly will find battles with more than two or three normal foes frustrating when ranged attacks and magic come into play.
Quests and side quests are doled out on a fairly regular basis, but some won’t be solved in the order you’ve received them. You may also end up picking up assorted quest items in your travels that you won’t know are important until you get the quest to retrieve them. Thankfully, the game doesn’t penalize you or break down if you acquire important items before you’re supposed to. On the other hand, there are some quests where choosing certain responses in the dialog tree or doing certain things in the opposite manner requested by a quest giver can cause you to “fail” certain missions. One of these missions is recovering a specific item from an NPC without using any form of violence. While that can be done, the person you’re getting the item from isn’t the nicest of people to talk to and one slip will get you into a fight that you’ll win, but erases any chance of a reward.
There are a few other quests like that and the party members you meet up with also react to your choice of responses to certain situations. Keeping their trust high also plays into the adventure, but sometimes it pays to be a smart-ass. You’ll also gain a dog as a ferocious fighter and loyal pet during the game and he needs to be very well taken care of. From feeding him assorted bones and other food you’ll come across to playing with him to keep him happy, this adds a nice simulation aspect to things. Then again, pets in games have always made me be automatically nicer to them than I am with certain NPC’s, but that’s just me.
Speaking of NPC’s, there are plenty to deal with in the game and many have side quests for you that can reap some great rewards. A few shopkeepers are on the hunt for adventurers to acquire certain objects or locate certain people, so talking to everyone is highly recommended. One of the nicer things about the game is shopping can be done with earned gold from battles and treasure chests, or special items can be bought with real money if you want to get more of an advantage. The game comes with a free set of DLC goodies that seem to be there to entice you to at least look into the cash shop. However, as noted above, you absolutely don’t need to use it at all. The game has plenty of special gear for sale in the normal shops. All you need to do is earn enough gold to afford them.
Equipping new gear changes the looks of your hero (and why every polygon-based RPG and JRPG hasn’t implemented this, I have no clue), but some of the gear can look a bit dopey. Still, when that oddball helmet and chunky-looking or too shiny armor boost your stats significantly, you’ll swallow your pride and wear that new gear proudly. While the game goes for a more “epic” scale, it doesn’t quite reach those heights, but sure gives it the old college try. Probably due to the mobile format where shorts bursts of play work best, some areas feel less lively than they needed to be while others are packed with citizens who need assistance.
That said, surprises can be found in some unlikely places. You may pop into a random home just to poke around (and grab some stuff from the furniture) only to encounter a room full of lifeless bodies and the assassin who killed them standing above the corpses (oops). Some dungeons hold secret areas that offer up great rewards at the cost of dealing with the powerful creature or creatures guarding them. Oddly enough, some of the larger mid-game to later dungeons end up feeling emptier than some of the earlier areas thanks to the lack of hidden rooms. Then again, it may also be that I missed something in all that wandering thanks to the lack of lighting issue noted above.
Nevertheless, pretty much everything else clicks. The game looks good, the music is decent (but some may find it repetitive) and overall, The Shadow Sun is certainly long enough and entertaining enough to be a must-buy RPG for any mobile gamer looking for a top-notch product. I have not a clue as to what Ossian plans next, but getting TSS onto Steam might be a good idea with some tweaking to the controls and GUI. As for a sequel? Yes, and yes, provided they take any constructive criticism to heart and make an even better adventure as a followup.