December 31, 2011

Shell Monsters Story - Ranking

Story & World

Nice large world with a high number of towns to visit which is good considering the lack of dungeons to explore.  Terrains are varied enough to give each area a distinctive look which was helpful when getting lost.  The history of the events leading up to the main quest are covered well at the beginning of the game but not much else was revealed during play until the final confrontation.  The open-ended nature of the world combined with the ability to split and reform groups added much to the epic factor.

The large number of towns and castles to visit ensured a lot of NPCs to talk to.  Most were quite helpful and many would give information that only became relevant much later in the game.  Sometimes the translation would have some serious grammar and spelling issues but nothing that hindered progress in the game.  As is the norm, most people give a one-liner of info but a few offered up a Yes/No branching dialogue option.

Almost all the quests were of the item fetching nature and there are a good number of them.  Some were quite easy with the targets being very close to the initial quest location and others required travelling halfway across the world, o'er land and sea.  The quests, while being very basic, were well described and only once or twice did the group reach a stage of not knowing what to do next.  11/20

Character Development

All four characters are static in starting stats and level development.  However, being able to group the characters into different combinations gives some level of customization.  Early levels are gained quite quickly and become very infrequent at higher levels.  At no point did I feel like the characters became too overpowered even though a lot of inadvertent grinding was done due to wandering.

Characters have room for a single weapon and three slots of armour (body, helmet, and shield).  All arms must be purchased from towns and many items can only be worn by a certain character.  There is no option to just carry a non-equippable item so many a town had to be revisited when the proper hero had been added to the party.  Characters have a limited five slots for other inventory which can be doubled when a Sand Rat is purchased from one of the villages.  A high number of quest items that need to be lugged around at any one time leaves few slots for other items.  This is not so bad when all four characters are together but when going solo, it means very little space for essential healing items.  8/20

Combat & Monsters

The final static encounters were pretty much the only ones that required some tactics in order to survive.  Most encounters were just brute force attacks with the only tactic being to spread out the characters' attacks among the enemy to maximize damage.  Monsters all fought in the same manner, randomly spreading attacks amongst the party.  Magic was not implemented very well.  Most attack spells did no more damage than a regular melee attack and the healing spells were the only really useful spells.  Some defensive magic came in handy against the final encounters but was not used for the majority of the game.

Chock full of unique and sometimes downright weird monsters (such as the low-level Comical Santa).  Most monsters are melee only and only a sparse few have any other types of attack (usually poison).  Most encounters are of the random kind; a few static encounters existed in the final dungeon.  6/20

Graphics & Sound

Impressive amount of monster sprites with each one having a "wounded" depiction as previously mentioned.  Palette swapping was kept to a bare minimum which was nice to see.  Town and terrain tiles were very blocky but were at least distinctive.  The music was slightly below average but generically appropriate for each area.  Sound effects were few and what few there were were grossers.  8/20

Gameplay

Surprisingly balanced, the party income stayed at an acceptable level throughout the game.  Upgrading weapons and armour generally took up most of the party's pearls (golds), giving them a motivation to fight on.  Even near the end, the party could use excess funds to buy the extremely expensive Calico Fruit (restores a dead character to full health).

With a big world and four different character starting points, the game certainly has a strong nonlinear feel to it.  A replay is unlikely but it would be possible to attempt to solo it after the initial four sunken treasures are found.  A solo run would also increase the difficulty of this rather easy game.  The game moved along at a fine clip with very little grinding required.  The malleable party structure is the most outstanding feature of the game.  Forcing the party apart at times really kept things interesting.  The tension felt after the party was broken up for the final dungeon had me wiping the sheen off my brow.  14/20

Final Ranking:  47/100