DarkstoneDarkstone isn't a bad game, it's just that the Playstation port is a bit of a cop-out. When playing Darkstone it is so painfully and conspicuously a *port* that it is impossible to shake the feeling that something isn't quite right with it. It plays like a PC RPG that has been gutted to fit into the console format and all of the things that make RPGs so expansive on the PC were missing in the ported version.
The town you begin the adventure in is lifeless and shallow with only a few stores and virtually no NPC interaction. The world beyond the town is broken up into self-contained areas each structured in exactly the same way: a square-shaped overworld with an artificial and obvious ring of trees around the perimeter to "fence off" the section. The overworld itself is a vast field of empty space, save for one dungeon entrance and one other structure of some kind where you must perform a small quest for whoever lives there. Once you have cleared an area the next one opens up and there is no reason to go back. The entire game is a rinse and repeat cycle with the occasional trip back into town to upgrade equipment and restock items. Instead of quests being random as I gather they were in the PC version, in the port they simply picked a few of the quests and put them in a specific fixed order.
Ok, so Darkstone is a little short in the quests department and is about as linear as they come. But it does do several things well. You are given many different character types to choose from and can specify male or female. Each character has a different way of fighting which makes it well worth your while to replay the game numerous times with different characters. The game uses an overhead perspective and fighting is done in real-time (like Ultima VIII or Diablo). Fighting and exploring the dungeons are the best parts of the game (which is fortunate since most of the game is spent doing this). So what Darkstone lacks in depth and development, it makes up for by supplying pure hack n' slash fun. Your character levels up in the traditional way by fighting and gaining experience points, and there is a nice variety of items and spells to use.
Graphics are quite blocky (another consequence of being a port) but the game is far from awful to look at. The audio is also nicely done with tasteful bits of voice-acting included. For example, when your character levels up you'll year a "Yes!!" and when he is out of mana but tries to cast a spell he'll say "I do not have enough mana." There is a full-length song MP3 which one of the town NPCs will sing if you give her a coin, which was a neat extra touch—almost like having a little music video within the game.
Is it original? Not really. The story of "dragon threatening the land who must be defeated by collecting shards of a crystal" is about as clichéd as they come. Are there similar games that do the same thing only better? Well, yes. But Darkstone is definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of the genre. It probably won't change your life, but it's more than capable of holding your interest for at least one time through. (After that though, you might want to use those 6 blocks of memory for something else.)