|It always takes a long time for a new console system to come out
with its first great RPG, but its a gold mine once they finally do. Final
Fantasy VII made a mint and single-handedly sold about a bijillion PlayStations, and you
better believe that little tidbit of information is tucked away in the minds of game
developers and Sega executives everywhere, to say nothing of Dreamcast owners everywhere,
who have been foaming at the mouth in anticipation of an RPG since they first saw what a
next generation system could do.
To fill the gap between console launch and epic RPG launch, gamers are generally hit with a slew of mediocre games that arent designed to make waves, but to capitalize on gamers' hunger and satiate their RPG desires until the real games come out. Unfortunately, Time Stalkers definitely isnt the epic success, and its not even very satisfying.
You play Sword, who is mysteriously transported to another time/dimension when he opens a magical book. He is cast into a piece-meal floating-land-mass populated with other such outcasts who had the same experience and were taken from their respective planets. An old wise man immediately dubs Sword a hero and even gives him a hero crest to prove it. Sword then proceeds to solve various problems and vanquish various foes while following a story that only qualifies as such by the most liberal definition of the word.
Swords world initially consists of an area roughly equal to a city block, and gets a little bigger as land gets sucked into the new dimension and tacked on. To say that the world is small is a severe understatement. Located throughout the small floating landmass are various dungeons that have to be cleared in order to progress through the "story".
Graphically, Time Stalkers disappoints. It fails to harness the power of the Dreamcast and looks instead like a very good PlayStation game. The character models are just plain ugly, and their exceptionally large joints make them look a lot like marionettes. The monsters suffer a similar problem; they have little detail, and not enough variety. Time Stalkers uses randomly generated dungeons under the guise of "infinite replayability." This might be an excellent device if you were playing Pac Man, but in an RPG the focus should be on quality rather than quantity. The randomly generated dungeons look uninspired and repetitious as you travel through level after level of unchanging, unengaging scenery. The surface world is the one area that shows graphical prowess, as the buildings look great and you are treated to a variety of wacky things like a landmass that floats on the back of a giant floating turtle. Unfortunately the area is obscenely small and little time is spent in it, usually just long enough to pass through on your way to another boring dungeon.
Some of the greatest RPGs of all time have succeeded despite bad graphics because of their stellar gameplay, but Time Stalkers comes up way short in that department as well. The most fundamental aspect of an RPG is a sense of advancement and progress. The protagonist is a little wussy boy fighting the good fight, who gradually gains more and more power as the game goes on. The player is rewarded for his vigilance with a badass warrior who can smack talk all the monsters he finds, develops cool looking special attacks, and uses them to whoop up on evil. Time Stalkers has replaced this time honored system with a frustrating, nonsensical pattern of constant advance and retreat. You enter a dungeon at level one, and an hour later when youre facing the dungeon's boss you will be around level fifteen to twenty. When you defeat the boss you will exit the dungeon and be demoted to level one again. You can earn titles for your work in the dungeon which can slowly earn you new abilities, but you are still reduced to a shadow of your former glory with a fraction of the ability scores and hit points. You then find another dungeon and repeat the process. This is, quite simply, lame. Did Aragorn whoop up on a bunch of orcs only to turn into a wuss for a week afterwards? Did Luke Skywalker start fighting like a little girl after he whooped ass on the Rancor? No, he found bigger things to go chop up with his lightsaber. Thats what heroes do. Time Stalkers offers little sense of progress or advancement and without that the player is hard pressed to find a reason to continue playing the game.
While you have a variety of characters you can take adventuring, you can only have one in your party at a time. The other two spots are filled with monster allies that you have captured on the course of your adventuring career. This boils down to having one cool character and two generic and shallow ones in your party at a time. Why? If you're going to use a party system in the first place, why not have a party full of interesting characters, especially since all those characters are already in the game? Every RPG in history that has used a party system has executed it more successfully than Time Stalkers. The monster allies are boring characters that can do nothing more than attack and be attacked, while the barbarians and wizards sit at home and wait to be tagged in.
You cannot enter a dungeon with more than four items, so even though you will find a variety of items and equipment, most of it will have to be used before you leave the dungeon. In addition, more powerful items require a high level to use. Since you begin each dungeon at level one, you will have to allot some of your precious four slots to weapons, armor, or items that you wont be able to use until later in the dungeon. You will soon have a storehouse full of weapons and items that cant be used, and cant even be brought into the dungeon with you. You can sell them, but you cant use the money to buy better stuff because the stores offer little of interest. While shopping is sometimes one of the greatest parts of an RPG, I dont think I ever bought anything at all from the store in Time Stalkers, which offers only basic equipment that is obsolete almost immediately. The only remaining avenue to spend money are a few of the more exotic shops that appear later in the game that allow you to purchase VMU games. This had potential, but was too little, far too late.
Time Stalkers is an experiment gone wrong and Dreamcast RPG fans are advised to let this one slip by. After a few hours of play, the novelty had worn off and playing just wasnt much fun. Be patient, better things are coming.