Back in the days of the NES, there was really no such thing as a bad game. If I or anyone I knew was having trouble beating a game, it was just ‘too hard’. If that was the case, there was no end of ways to make it easier. There was Game Genie, cheat codes, Nintendo Power, and plenty of other secrets and shortcuts and guides that made a game easier to beat. RPGs on the NES typically didn’t need cheat codes because you could just grind experience to make it easier. One game proves to be the exception to that rule, and that game is Dungeon Magic: Sword of the Elements.
The Role You Play
Very little information is given about the character you play as. In the center of town, you can see a plaque that says: ‘Wanted…Brave warriors in search of fame and fortune.’
It can be assumed that you are playing as someone answering that call to action. After all, there is no one else in the game who fits the description. You are an adventurer with no name who is summoned by the King and Queen of Castle Grades and given orders to gather the five swords of the Magi. You are meant to use them to summon the Sword of Tores to defeat the Dark Overlord Darces. The adventurer has five main commands at his disposal: Attacking with a weapon, using items, casting magic spells, unlocking doors and treasure chests, and camping, which restores his health with food and water.
One thing I will give this game credit for is that it does have a good plot. It begins setting itself up in its opening cut scene. An evil wizard named Darces has returned to Granville and has promised revenge against the people who sealed him away. The fear that Darces is causing is reiterated by a lot of the townspeople you speak to. They tell you how their friends have been hurt by Darces or that they can’t go outside because it’s too dangerous because of all the monsters that are now roaming the land.
The gameplay in Dungeon Magic can best be described as a first-person dungeon crawler. There are caves and dungeons that you explore to find items that you need to continue your quest. Every aspect of it is incredibly dull and monotonous as a lot of it will simply be you hitting the attack button over and over again and using food or a potion or returning to the nearest inn when your health is low. There is very little strategy that goes into fighting any enemies.
There are sections where you can dodge attacks or use magic you chip away at an opponent’s health or boost your defense. However, it is infinitely preferable to just level up against weaker enemies to get strong enough to overpower anything you’re having trouble with. Using magic can be an easy way to take down a stronger foe. The problem with the magic is that it costs health to use. As a result, it is always risky to use magic to fight an enemy because the combination of fighting an enemy with a powerful spell and getting hit can be enough to get you killed.
Though it’s not a long game, Dungeon Magic has a lot of padding in the most unfair ways possible. Very little in the game is explained about where to go or what to do. There are some vague clues that you will get from the townspeople every now and then. However, unless you’ve played the game before or have a walkthrough open, it’s very easy to spend a lot of time wandering around aimlessly. It’s also easy to wander into an area with monsters excessively stronger than you that can kill you instantly.
Losing progress from dying is another common occurrence. Making up for the time you lost from dying is another way that the game time is padded out. Getting boxed in or surprised by an enemy behind a door can result in death and you can lose a lot of progress that way. Depending on how much progress you have to make up, this game takes anywhere from 6-12 hours to finish.
There is very little music in this game, and what little there is was not meant to be heard much. The tracks you hear while visiting the inn, the grocer, the armorer, and the wizard are all good. Not only that, they work well to add to the atmosphere of their respective shops.
The problem with those tracks is they’re on a very short loop and don’t leave much of an impression. It feels as though they were meant to only meant to be heard for 10-15 seconds at a time. The other tracks in the game don’t really leave an impact either because they’re either also too short or you only hear them once.
There is a HUD display that is constantly on the screen. It shows off your character’s equipment, your commands, and there’s also a space for your health and your opponent’s health. This HUD takes up roughly 75% of the screen, which means that the world you’re exploring is condensed into the remaining fragment of the screen.
You wouldn’t necessarily want to because exploring the rest of the world is as monotonous as everything else you do. All of the textures look the same and there are very few landmarks to let you know where you are. Exploring the dungeons is damn near impossible without a map. Unless you have the right magic, you’re responsible for creating your own.
The Talking Parts
The townspeople in the different towns will offer up information about where you should go and what you should do. They give out new information as you progress through the game, but it’s not always helpful. They will sometimes direct you to a specific town, but they rarely give you any direction. Very often you won’t know you’re in the right town until you arrive and talk to a few people to confirm.
Another problem is that if you’re walking around in town, the townspeople will spawn in front of you. The only way to make them go away is to talk to them. What ends up happening is you hear the same information repeated to you over and over again just to walk through town.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
Dungeon Magic comes from an era of games where you were expected to write a lot of things down. While with some games it was a password or a clue, in Dungeon Magic, it’s nearly everything. From the maps of the dungeons to the proper spells, there are lots of things you are expected to write down. Thankfully there are walkthroughs today, but there are some sections of this game that no reasonable person could figure out, especially the age of the average NES player when this game came out.
From an object you need the right spell to blast open to another where you need a spell to walk through the water, there is zero guidance to learn any of these spells. There is nothing in the manual, and there is no reasonable way you would ever learn them without plenty of trial and error. Even if you did spend enough time with a pencil and paper testing out spell combinations and finding some that were fun to use, the spells you need in crucial areas have to be used in the right place to work, so it’s a huge pain to figure out.
Dungeon Magic: Sword of the Elements is completely irredeemable as an RPG and as a game in general. There is no fun to be had playing it or saying you finished it. It is unquestionably one of the worst games I have ever played.