Orcs & Elves (Nintendo DS) - Review by Chris
The first person action RPG is a genre of games which has somewhat disappeared from consoles over the last decade and a half. It used to be one of the most frequently released genres with titles like Heretic and Bard's Tale being some of the best of a now dying breed. However, a developer who was key to the releasing of many of these titles back in the day, id Software, has decided to return to their roots and bring an old school action RPG title to the DS, in the form of Orcs & Elves, that packs the same fantastic gameplay with an interesting twist.
In Orcs & Elves, you play as a young Elven prince who has been bestowed with a powerful magic wand, known as Ellon, capable of talking to you. It is through this wand that you receive a cryptic but distressing message from King Brahm, the leader of the Dwarven citadel contained within Mount Zharrkarag. Upon receipt of this message, you take it upon yourself to find out what the problem is and head to the Dwarven kingdom in search of the king, only to be greeted with a desolate picture of death and destruction which has come about at the hands of an Orc invasion. With the power of your wand waning, you set out to search the mass of halls and corridors of the kingdom in the hope of finding the king. This story will be broadcast to you at the very beginning of your adventure and for the most part, it's where you'll learn the majority of what is happening, yet there are infrequent instances sprinkled throughout the game where either notes or ghost dwarves will try and provide you with additional information but this information does little to flesh out the story, of which you feel alienated because you play a nameless protagonist whom you can't name nor give specific traits to like other RPGs.
But Orcs & Elves is unlike other RPGs and that is a key thing that needs to be remembered.
The game plays out as both an action RPG, in a similar vein to the likes of the Elder Scrolls series, and a turn based RPG. Throughout the game's many dungeon areas, you'll move around on a grid, with movement restricted to the basic left, right, forwards and backwards with all turns taking place at 90 degrees. At first, it will feel rather restrictive and take some getting used to but after a short period of time, you'll have nailed it down and be using the restricted movement to your advantage when confronted by enemies. Because the game takes place on a grid based system, every move you make or attack counts as a single turn after which you'll have to wait for your opponent to make his move. Yet, the wait is minimal and the progression between your move, your opponent's and then your next move is seamless. Utilising your restricted moveset and the areas within the dungeons will be key to your victory because at many occasions, enemies will come at you thick and fast from all sides and they don't wait till one opponent is dead before they start attacking. They all attack one after the other so you'll need to make judgements on which are your priority targets. It therefore gives a level of strategy which was unheard of in earlier games of this type and makes for a surprisingly fast paced game.
Like other RPGs, here you'll earn experience points for completing tasks and defeating enemies that will eventually equate to an increase in level yet the increase in your stats feels so marginal that it's hardly noticeable unless you use one of the game's wide range of potions which, like your attacks and moves, contributes to one of your turns. There is also a wide range of weapons for you to get your hands on, but these have to be purchased from a large, money grubbing dragon and they are ridiculously expensive. Many aren't necessary to your progression as the most necessary items are made available as pickups throughout the game's run time. Unless you desperately want a blue flamed sword, the majority of items are unnecessary add-ons so save the minimal amount of money you make for more pressing items, such as armor repair kits.
In terms of length, the game may not be as long as other staples within the genre of RPGs but the game is considerably length, with there being a lot to explore and many hidden areas to find. Puzzles help to break up the fighting, with enemies on constant respawn, and large bosses await you at the end of several of the dungeons which will really put you to the test.
You can control the game either by use of the stylus or by the face buttons and while the stylus makes navigation of the item menus much easier than it is with the buttons, you'll general opt to make use of the face buttons to actually play the game as it feels the most natural of the options. The stylus control is missing the option to strafe left and right, which will be a necessary move to use if you are confronted by multiple enemies, with the standard controls offering this method and it just goes to further prove that the game should be played with that setup.
Id Software have made use of the 3d engine used for another of their games, Doom RPG here, yet while that engine is primarily used for mobile phone games, the visuals here are very impressive and seem to have had more work put into them as a result of the extra processing power. Environments look the part and show a decent amount of variety and detail, with the whole game running at a smooth frame rate and never dropping from that. You won't get to see all of the environments fully, though, due to the restrictions on your movement but what you can see if impressive and certainly up there with the likes of other first person titles on the handheld, such as Moon and Metroid Prime: Hunters. Enemies and character models, however, are produced in 2d sprites which show little in the way of animation and are constantly reused, appearing to be a throwback to earlier games in the genre but it does deflate the presentation a little given how good everything else looks.
The music that accompanies the gameplay is never invasive of what is going on, being kept subdued for the most part but it does help to set the mood of the game. Sound effects are more prevalent, though, and while many are repeated, they are generally well done.
The actual gameplay takes place on the top screen with the touch screen used for your inventory, which can be accessed at anytime and accessed while you are moving. It therefore makes good use of the screens by allowing you to keep playing while you search through your inventory for necessary items.
Even with the genre all but dead, id Software have created a fantastic game that works as a throwback to earlier titles and as a gateway to newer ones. With its use fast paced gameplay, dungeon exploring and the innovative use of turn based fighting in a first person viewpoint, Orcs & Elves is a great experience from start to finish that will last you a considerable amount of time and will keep you coming back for more.
Pro: Fast paced and innovative gameplay, fantastic presentation, game's length is pretty substantial
Con: Movement restrictions can be frustrating, character models and sound effects are constantly reused
Final score: 8