PUBLISHER/DEVELOPER: Data East
RELEASE DATE: 02/08/1991 (JP)
Dark Lord is certainly someone’s cup of strange brew, but even after giving it a fair shake, I’m not sure it’s mine. I respect the hell out of its strange design choices, though. On its surface, the game looks like another swords-and-sorcery RPG epic, the kind the Famicom had become inundated with since Dragon Quest‘s unbelievable success in 1986. The battle between a dark god and a light god in the game’s opening cutscenes also suggest that players are in for some hard fantasy.
Gettin’ JRPG serious now.
But then the game starts, and there’s no overworld to explore. No random battles to annoy you. You explore the town via a menu. So instead of walking to the inn to save your game, you select the “Inn” sign on the menu and you’re there! It saves time, even if it’s not as immersive as walking around the town.
To the Park!
Your quests are given to you by random townsfolk, job boards, and the king himself. The quests range from seemingly important “universe-saving” stuff to… cleaning a woman’s wine cellar; lots of wine stains down there. You fight enemies during the quests, but they’re few and far between. When battles do occur, you’re able to move each warrior manually around the enemy in order to attack, which is awesome; no tiresome first-person turn-based action here, thank God. Once you complete a quest, you go to the king and if you have enough experience points, he’ll level you up because… only he has that authority? So strange!
Why am I not surprised, Marno?
There’s also a job system, for some reason. Choosing certain jobs will increase different stats and potential to learn additional skills. The more you level up, the more jobs unlock, jobs like Key Maker, Thief, and Ninja. The jobs aren’t implemented in the quests, however. Once you choose a job, you select the “Rest” option and work your job for a whole month! This sounds like a long period, but as far as I could tell, time isn’t important in this game. For that matter, I didn’t see that working jobs made much of a difference in your characters or the quests themselves. Still, if you want to beef up your stats the easy (and grindy) way, working a job could be beneficial.
She’s really laying it on thick…
Dark Lord is different and weird and a genuine reprieve from other absurdly serious 8-bit fantasy RPGs. And yet… there’s something missing here. While I appreciate how low stakes the game feels (opening cutscenes aside), Dark Lord lacks serious meat: namely, there is no main quest. Essentially, Dark Lord consists of eleven side quests that happen to be what you have to do in order to finish the game. This might be fine for some folks, but the end result is a very short experience. If you’re playing the game blind for the first time but you’ve played an old RPG or two, it’ll probably take you 5-6 hours. If you’re using the FAQ on GameFAQS to guide your play? 3-4 hours tops.
Lenny Kravitz, no!
If you’re a fan of old fantasy JRPGS, and particularly offbeat takes on a stale genre, Dark Lord is worthy of your time. You’ll remember what it does differently, but little else.