I was fortunate enough to be at just the right age in what many JRPG connoisseurs call the golden age of the JRPG, the Super Nintendo era. I was around ten years old when I got my first Super Nintendo and I had just started to really get into gaming. I was also lucky enough to have an older brother who was into JRPGS and frequently bought the newest releases. Thanks to him I had a steady diet of JRPG goodness and let me tell you that, without exaggeration, I devoured any JRPG that was released in North America with all the gusto of a starving man at the all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut salad bar (this review has not been sponsored by or endorsed in any way by Pizza Hut). From the more famous titles like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Lufia and Earthbound, to the more obscure titles such as Tecmo Secret of the Stars and The7th Saga, I spent many hours of my childhood exploring them all. So when a game like Shadows of Adam claims to be a throwback to that era, I sit up and take notice. So how does it measure up to the shiny, 16bit gods that came before it? Well, that’s what this review is for, duh!
As I mentioned previously, Shadows of Adam is a throwback to the Snes era of JRPGs. The story starts off with our young hero Kellan and his childhood friend Asrael in their tiny, secluded hometown: the village of Adam. There are some dark and foreboding things happening around Adam so it’s up to Kellan and Asrael to figure out what’s going on. After descending into a ravine, they come upon a mutated plant growth. After defeating it with the help of a mysterious fighter called Curtis, they discover an old book left behind by Kellan’s missing father, Orazio. This sets the trio off on an adventure to discover the whereabouts of the missing Orazio and to discover the meaning behind the strange book they found. It’s pretty standard story material. Small town kid ends up going on a grand adventure to see the world. I enjoyed the story overall, but I felt that it fell flat on some notes. There are a total of four characters that you will be journeying with; Kellan, Asrael, Curtis and Talon. Some have better-developed backstories than others, but it’s quite charming to see how they all get along and interact with one another. Kellan and Talon often argue with each other like cats and dogs, while Curtis is the strong silent type that can intimidate others with just one single look. There is one bad guy in the game that gives off a huge Kefka-esque vibe. He is an evil, slightly off-his-rocker prince that hounds the party throughout the game because he is obsessed with Asrael and wants to gain magic powers of his own. I feel like this is a huge nod towards Final Fantasy 6 and I couldn’t be happier about it. So while the story falls short of being truly epic, the characters make the journey quite memorable.
Now it wouldn’t be a true retro JRPG without some good, old-fashioned turned-based battles now, would it? Here is where Shadows of Adam really delivers. Battles take place in a classic turn based-fashion. There are no random encounters. Enemies are placed in predetermined spots in the area you’re exploring, usually at a choke point so you can’t get past them without battling. The only modern twist to the battles is the AP system. Instead of having the typical MP bars, your characters have AP bars instead. It’s a standard amount, 100 for each character (though certain accessories can increase the amount). Each party member has a special selection of abilities to use in battle besides the standard attack button. Each of these cost AP, which can be refilled in various ways. During battle, you can use an ether item, use a character-specific charge ability, or kill a monster to earn back some AP. You also gain back 15 AP automatically every few rounds. The constant recharging of AP encourages you to make good use of each character’s abilities and keeps the action going. The way certain character abilities play off of each other also adds a decent level of strategy to otherwise straight-laced battles. For example one of my favorite strategies is to make Kellan use Taunt, which causes the targeted enemy to attack only Kellan while using basic attacks. I then use Talon’s Blur ability on Kellan, enabling Kellan to dodge almost every attack thrown at him by the enemy. This allows me to effectively shut down an enemy who would otherwise be launching a lot of devastating magic spells at the whole group. It makes for a more interesting pace than the typical JRPG battle would have offered.
Instead of using the authentic 16bit graphics that would be true to the era, Shadows of Adam uses a style of graphics that have a 16bit aesthetic but are much smoother and nicer looking than they should be. I don’t have any complaints about the graphics. The character sprites are nicely detailed, the enemy sprites that pop up in battle are great to look at. What really sticks out in my mind are the excellent area designs. From the spooky Misty Woods to the mystical ruins of the Water Garden, the world is a pleasure to look at and explore. The graphics in the Shadows of Adam do a great job of pulling you in and making you feel like you’re playing a JRPG from the 1990’s even though they look more modernized. The soundtrack is pretty varied. There are plenty of decent tunes in there but some just get a little grindy on the ears occasionally. My personal favorite is the last boss theme, it does a wonderful job of setting up the last encounter.
So now it’s time to wrap this baby up. Shadows of Adam is a fantastic love letter to the bygone era of the 16bit JRPG. The total package of graphics, story, and soundtrack just scream out RETRO. Heck, it’s so retro that it even has a minecart level in it. Can’t get much more old school than that! This game hits all the right nostalgia-buttons for an old-timey JRPG lover such as myself. If you are looking for a game to scratch that retro-JRPG itch then look no further. Just make sure to equip your sword. Hey, don’t be embarrassed: it happens to the best of us.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8.5/10
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