Mazes of Fate
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Graffiti Entertainment
Developer: Sabarasa Entertainment
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 12/12/06

Graphics: 83%
Sound: 80%
Gameplay: 80%
Control: 85%
Story: 78%
Overall: 80%
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Neal Chandran
Mazes of Fate
Neal Chandran

South America is not the first place people associate with game development. We're used to the lion's share of video game development being in Asia, North America, and Europe. Thus, Mazes of Fate for the Game Boy Advance came as a complete surprise to me. I never thought I'd see it in the US, but both it and its DS sequel made it over here. Although barely a blip on any gamer's radar and certainly not the most refined dungeon crawler, I had more fun with Mazes of Fate than I expected to.

The main storyline is a fairly standard RPG storyline where the world was prosperous under the rule of the gods. But the people eventually took this prosperity for granted and started worshipping archmages instead of the gods. The gods got angry and thrust the world into ruin, but King Harlac vowed to restore favor by leading the people on the path to redemption. Of course, his progress was halted by dark minions and now the world needs a hero to continue Harlac's legacy before the gods' wrathful plague turns everyone into submissive goat people.

The story isn't bad for a dungeon crawler, but its delivery was very choppy. There were times I'd get conversational snippets of stuff and have no idea of their context. Sometimes it felt as if the tale was told out of order since these key story nuggets seemed to occur somewhat randomly and often without a cutscene. The ingredients for a solid story were present, but could have been put together more effectively. At least the writing was decent, if lacking in personality.

Of course, dungeon crawlers are more about the gameplay than the story. Although dungeons are far more expansive than your average RPG dungeon, they're certainly not as maddening as those of more hardcore dungeon crawlers like Etrian Odyssey. Also, the turn-based combat is generally skewed easy. Despite this, there is one annoying programming issue: both hero and enemy attacks miss very often and this needlessly prolongs combat. Otherwise, the tried-and-true RPG play mechanics for exploration, item manipulation, turn-based combat, menu navigation, and character building are all in place. The interface is pretty user-friendly and there is nothing here that RPG veterans haven't seen before. The game is also not very long and can be completed in and around 20 hours. In a nutshell, I would say that Mazes of Fate is a more accessible first-person dungeon crawling experience. It's not a casual RPG by any means, but if Etrian Odyssey is Cannibal Corpse then Mazes of Fate is Megadeth.

Like many first-person dungeon crawlers, it's easy to get lost because all the walls and corridors look the same and don't possess many distinctive landmarks. The automap definitely needs to be consulted often. Another noticeable issue is the slightly choppy frame rate when walking through the dungeons. Granted, the frame rate is more than acceptable given the Game Boy Advance's hardware limitations, but the resulting sluggish movement might annoy some gamers more than others. Two nice conveniences are that enemy encounters are not random and once they are killed, they do not respawn. This makes thorough exploration is more pleasurable, especially since the dungeons often have puzzles to solve and booby traps to evade.

The graphics are not completely first-person, though. Towns have a three-quarter third-person view and the overland has an overhead view. These 2D graphics are quite solid and get the job done, but will not win any style points due to their drab color. What will win style points are the cutscene graphics that look like stills out of a comic book or cartoon. Here, the colors are vibrant and the character design has a distinct style. It is clear to me where the lion's share of the graphical proficiency went, since the cutscenes look fantastic.

Also proficient is the music, which consists of orchestral-style RPG pieces. The sound quality is quite good for a Game Boy Advance game and the compositions themselves lend the perfect atmosphere to the environments. Although the music does not make me want to run out and purchase the soundtrack, it is very good within the context of the game. There were times I stopped and stood still in some dungeons just to hear the music. When a game makes me stop and smell the roses like that, then you know the music is worthwhile.

Mazes of Fate was a pleasant surprise for me and may be an equally pleasant surprise for other gamers. At the very least, it's a good stepping-stone for novices to the first-person dungeon crawler style of RPG who may not be sure if they like this style of game. Mazes of Fate may not be the best dungeon crawler out there or the best Game Boy Advance RPG, but it was a better game than I expected it to be and one I definitely wish had received more exposure.


© 2006 Sabarasa Entertainment, Graffiti Entertainment. All rights reserved.

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