Nintendo these days seems to be a company starved for quality RPG titles on their systems. The GameCube was not heavily supported with the genre, and the DS doesn’t have much either. We have gotten some great RPGs like Tales of Symphonia, Fire Emblem and Paper Mario. However, all those games are iterations of extremely popular worldwide gaming franchises. Thankfully something brand new is about to be birthed, and it feeds into the hunger that is the Nintendo system RPG. On a strange note, the game is being brought to us by Konami. These guys are the makers of Dance Dance Revolution and Metal Gear, so RPGs aren’t exactly their forte. But is that stopping them from the risk? Absolutely not.
Tao’s Adventure: Curse of the Demon Seal is a fantasy role-playing adventure straight from Konami for our beloved handheld. The story of the game is fairly common considering most infamous titles included in the category. A big occupation in this game is monster hunting. The town of Mandominio is full of them, and that is how they do business. Each day, these hunters find monster eggs and use the town as their center to trade them for profit. The very center of this town holds a giant tower that is used to seal away monsters, eliminating any possible dangers.
Unfortunately, one day this tower is struck by lightning in a storm. This lightning strike breaks the seal in the tower and releases all that is inside. These monsters then begin to prey not only on the innocent and unsuspecting Mandominions but the entire world that lies outside.
While this is happening, a young boy named Tao who lives on the island of Bente is woken by his little brother. His little brother Lot wishes to go crayfish fishing and tries to convince Tao into tagging along. But since this young fellow obviously wants his sleep, Tao refuses. This causes Lot to go off on this little adventure on his own, with Tao eventually being convinced to get himself up. He decides he will go search for little Lot. However, there is a problem, he has to go to school first. This class is where his father trains him as an air speller, which is the first step in becoming a true master spell caster.
He goes to class and receives the training from his father. With his help, he quickly becomes acclimated with some new skills. Unfortunately, this training is cut short as the session is interrupted by an attack from the monsters that escaped from Mandominio. Tao’s father naturally rushes out to defend his home island from this attack. Then to protect his son who likes to be overzealous, he casts a protective magic spell around Tao to confine him indoors. Tao eventually does free himself of the barrier, but only to dismay upon his next discovery. His eyes open wide as he learns everyone in his village has been turned into stone statues. Well, not everyone actually, there were some survivors. Some managed to encase themselves in a magical protective barrier before being turned as well. Unfortunately, these people happen to be old and decrepit, but coincidentally they know exactly what needs to be done to break this curse. These people have no skills with attacking magic, so Tao takes it upon himself to save his village and this world from the monster curse.
What these people say you need to do seems rather easy. You must make your way to Mandominio and climb the tower from which these monsters came. In doing so Tao must search for the egg of the super rare starter monster. Then to make the game’s timeframe a little more suspenseful, you must return to Bente with this egg by the next full moon. If you fail, those that are encased in stone will be that way forever. This obviously spurs Tao into quick motion to save those that he holds dear.
Curse of the Demon Seal’s adventure revolves around that very tower. It’s so huge that Tao actually has to progress through 40 different levels that increase in difficulty. As you scale this monstrosity, you must collect eggs along the way while searching for your end prize. Obviously, experience and treasure is to be gained and found, and this is done through navigation and battle. Battles are all turn-based, and based on the demo it looks like you’ll be able to recruit a party of your own later on. Turn-based RPGs tend to turn off some people. But hey, you never know if you’ll like something until you try it.
Obviously, this is a fantasy RPG, and with RPGs, you generally have special abilities or spells or some sort. Tao here is an air speller, and his speciality weapon is a rod. This rod is used in combination with a spell book to cast a variety of different magic. This is where the touchscreen actually mainly comes in. You have to initiate and cast spells by “etching” little drawings and symbols into the air. At the beginning, you start off with one spell from each of the five categories. These happen to be earth, wind, fire, water and lightning. Each spell type also has a generally specific use. For instance, fire and earth are usually used for offensive typecasting. Others like the water and lightning categories are used to heal and teleport. Like stated, the touch screen is used to etch symbols. Thankfully these symbols are rather simple, and the game tends to be forgiving if you don’t match them perfectly.
Curse of the Demon Seal is clearly going for a lighthearted type of style in terms of the visuals. The game actually sports fully 3D characters and environments. They are bright and colourful as well, if not a little rough around the edges. The characters themselves have that stereotypical handheld “short and stout” kind of build. But during conversations, you will see a portrait of whoever’s speaking. They do look a little childish though, as they were all taken from an old Aquaman cartoon.
What makes the game pretty nice though, is almost all the control is done exclusively on the touch screen. The only part of it that isn’t is your movement with the D-Pad and sprinting by holding Y. Everything else requires the use of the touch screen and stylus. Unfortunately, it seems like some of the features exclusively programmed into it weren’t necessary. For instance, buying items from a store or talking to other characters requires the touchscreen. It would be just as convenient if not more to have those be simple menu choice selections via the D-Pad and face buttons. When you’re navigating certain areas, different actions will be display on the touch screen as well that you can choose. The spellcasting seems to work well for the touch screen use, although it is rather predictable.
Tao’s Adventure is actually already out in Japan. But it is slated for a North American release in March of this year. This seems like it might be a solid fantasy RPG overall, but we’ll have to see when we actually get it to truly judge. The style seems to be very charming and the core play mechanics appear entertaining. But whether it’s worth the top dollar that most DS games carry in price remains to be seen. Let’s just hope Konami doesn’t drop the ball too much on this endeavour because of their inexperience.