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DARK HALF / Enix / SNES
Alright first off, there's no formal rating for this one since the only translation patch available for it is hella old and only translates some of the menu and spell text plus the dialogue from the first chapter. I found that to be enough to make the game playable, however, and it's not really a nuanced story. I mean, you talk to a guy, there's a creepy moan and he falls apart in a pile of bones, you have a pretty good idea of what just happened there I think.
So, the story behind this one is that the evil demon Ryuku was sealed away by some Paladins a long long time ago, but now he's somehow broken out of the seal (apparently thanks to the help of his evil minions). Roda is a warrior who now sets out to stop Ryuku before he fully revives and becomes the evil dark lord and etc. A pretty generic and cliched fantasy story, except in this one, you alternate between playing as Ryuku and playing as Roda.
You start out as Ryuku. He's revived but kind of in a weakened state, so his minions suggest he go down to the human world and eat some delicious people souls in order to revive. So the first mission of the game is actually to steer Ryuku into a nearby village and then systematically kill every single person in it. The game takes this all very seriously, and each killing is accompanied by a death groan or shriek as the person's soul is sucked out, leaving only a skeleton that clatters to the floor. Which makes you feel great about yourself, especially when you do it to elderly women and young children.
After Ryuku gets done feasting, you take control of Roda, who is generally a step behind. You might think it wise to leave some people alive since Roda and Ryuku cover the same areas, but not only does the game not even let you do this usually, but it's actually an advantage for Roda to find dead bodies as he loots their bones for their spiritual currency (something called Faita). Whereas, if you leave people alive, they generally just wander around moronically and say something stupid. Ryuku also often bumps off people that were blocking an area that Roda couldn't access in a previous chapter, making Roda's life even easier.
The gameplay is similar for both players - when moving about the overworld and in dungeons, you have a pool of "Soul Points" of which two are deducted for every step you take. Both characters regain "Soul Points" by winning random battles against monsters. However, Ryuku also uses Soul Points to cast spells in combat, and is not able to attack any other way. Roda can attack with a sword, and also cast spells, but he has to find or buy Spellbooks which are consumed each time they are used.
As you play you'll definitely notice there's an imbalance in the characters - namely, Ryuku is kickass, while Roda tends to struggle with his chapters. Ryuku has a lot of advantages - he gets monster companions periodically who fight for him, and he gets a spell in the second chapter that lets him draft an opposing monster off the battlefield into his ranks at a cost of 30 Soul Points. Ryuku also gains health points after every battle, and levels up his spells simply by making monsters disappear (and then choosing to not draft them). Roda also gets companions, who are more permanent in nature, but also harder to keep alive and less powerful. The "Faita" that he loots off of corpses are traded in to some weird priest in the towns, who gives you Soul Points in return for them. There's also another guy in certain towns who you can trade your Faita to for spellbooks. Though Ryuku tends to be more powerful and has these major advantages, he is not invincible. There are certain sections where the enemies are tough, and if you don't have a good team of monsters to protect you you can easily be blitzed and overwhelmed.
The game world is a bit small, with relatively few locales to visit, and Ryuku and Roda tend to travel back and forth through the same places (though when Ryuku passes through he generally leaves it trashed in his wake). The overworld map is stocked with little hidden houses you find by stepping on them; these either contain people (for Ryuku to eat) or treasure (for Roda). Thankfully for Roda, Ryuku regards all treasure as "worthless boxes" and does not use or equip any items. Often, in fact, there will be optional chances for Ryuku to open up paths in his chapters that Roda can later use in his chapters to get to bonus treasure.
The battles look a bit like strategy-RPG style just going by screenshots, but actually they're just typical Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest in disguise. Characters can't actually be moved; all you can do is tell them to attack a particular enemy, and then they will make a beeline for that foe taking the shortest possible path.
Honestly, the game can be a bit turgid and tedious - although I attribute at least some of that to the fact that the story is incomprehensible to me beyond the first chapter. However, it's an interesting concept, and I thought it was a game that deserved a little more "buzz" and thus perhaps a renewed attempt at a complete translation. It's an interesting theme that hasn't really been explored much in gaming (playing as both hero and villain in alternating chapters), and it's unusually dark and grim for an SNES game.
(look under "incomplete" near page bottom)
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