Review by Black Rabite
"One rock. Two rocks. Three rocks. Oh! A Dagger! Four rocks."
Eye of the Beholder, the first title in a trilogy released for the PC, somehow managed to get a port to the Snes. I'm not sure if the Snes version was stripped down or not, but this is definitely not the epitome of a dungeon crawler. From the second I picked up my controller to the second I put it down in frustration, I could find no word better than bland to describe this game. It's supposed to be based on Dungeons and Dragons, something I started to get into years ago, but never committed to the activity because THACO and other such things that made no sense to the outside observer made my mind spasm to even think about. Seeing as the game essentially cut out all the things from Dungeons and Dragons that would confuse the casual gamer, the game that you actually get to play doesn't seem to much resemble Dungeons and Dragons at all.
From the start of your adventure, you're given the task of creating your four characters to venture into the deep, dark dungeon with. You decide their race, class, gender, choose a picture for them and then roll dice for their stats. As with any game where I can choose such things, I made four female paladins. Soon after, I decided making a more versatile party would be beneficial to my plans of conquering the twelve levels ahead of me. However, the choice is yours.
Once you've made your traveling party, you're dumped into the first screen of the dungeon. Make note right now that you don't get a map. I eventually started mapping areas on graph paper, and it saved me a lot of time. Not only are some of the areas hard enough to navigate from memory, there's teleporters, traps, invisible walls and such things to beat your mind into submission as well. If you find yourself lost, and you're about ready to start over from being so utterly frustrated, it's still not too late to map from where you're at, although it can be a little harder without any kind of remarkable starting point to put down.
The game boasts the usual experience system, but as I remember from my little excursion with Dungeons and Dragons in real life, levels are gained slowly. I don't believe I gained a level until at least the third floor of the game. Not only that, equipment in the game is handled in an unfriendly way. When you find weapons, you have to judge if they're good or not mainly by what floor you got them on. A sword found on the fifth floor is going to be better than the sword you start with, but there's no other way to really tell.
Gaining experience is no easy task. Well, killing the monster that walks in front of you is pretty easy, but like I said earlier, don't expect to go up a level after every two encounters. Also, don't expect to find a treasure trove of items in which to heal yourself with. To heal, you must go into your Camp screen and choose to rest. While resting, you regain your health depending on how many hours you spend resting. Of course, having a Cleric in your party will speed things up by allowing her to heal your party at the same time.
While resting, three other things happen. First of all, you could get attacked by wandering monsters, in which you'll wake up and start fighting. This only happened to me once, but be prepared for an ambush. Secondly, as you rest, your Mage can memorize his spells, and your Cleric can petition hers. You see, once you cast a spell, it's gone. You don't get MP here, only a limited supply of uses for each level of magic. When you rest, you regain whatever spells you've decided to memorize, and can use them once again. For the most part though, you won't find yourself starving for that additional M's Acid Arrow or Flame Blade.
The third, and probably most important thing you need to know about resting, is that it reduces your food. As you progress through the game, your characters have a bar representing their food that slowly decreases. While resting, it decreases much quicker. Once you get low, you can just take one of the Rations you've found while wandering the dungeon, and trust me, I always had a full supply, and drag it to the dinner plate located in that characters status screen.
The actual battling is easy enough. Enemies can be seen from a distance, and as they close in on you, they can be hit by your short ranged weapons. While they're at a distance, they're subject to being pelted by your stones and spells like Magic Missile. Once they do get within distance, your two characters that are located at the front of your party can swing their short ranged weapons. Your characters in the back row won't be able to hit the enemy with swords and the like, and you'll get a message telling you that you can't reach the enemy. No worries, though, as your Mage probably isn't going to be a force in hand to hand combat anyhow. After you swing your weapon, it will be grayed out for a short amount of time. While it's gray, you can't take any actions with that weapon. You can, however, still throw a dagger or swing with another weapon your character is holding in their other hand. After two seconds or so, the original weapon will once again be usable.
The first enemies you meet are rather weak. Just finding the right speed and timing to press on the attack commands so your party will never be unarmed will dominate the enemies available at the start. As you go on, it's another story. Although most enemies will still fall to the almighty sword, sooner or later you're going to meet up with an enemy that can actually hit you, and actually does damage. Soon after that, you'll find enemies that can inflict poison and paralysis. Be wary, as those status effects are deadly in this game. Don't think this is Final Fantasy, where when you find a Cockatrice you'll find a Soft directly behind it in a treasure chest.
The game is pretty average on the difficulty scale. I've still yet to beat the game, but I blame the game for that. Trying not to spoil anything, I'll just tell you that at a certain point, you'll be screwed unless you've recruited a specific person and afterwards have located a specific weapon. Other than that particular event, the other enemies will fall pretty easily as long as you manage to avoid poison and paralysis. The dungeons are easy to get lost in, but since enemies don't respawn, it's just a matter of time before you figure out where the exit is.
The controls stink. I know that, when taking a game that is normally played on a keyboard and putting it on a system with so few buttons there's going to be complications, but I couldn't tell you how often I accidentally went into free move and fell into a hole, while all I wanted to do was access my inventory and use my lockpicks. Not to mention that, once in free move, I wander into enemies, and in an attempt to navigate myself over to my characters weapons so I can counterattack, I accidentally run around the floor, eventually into a wall, get stuck between two enemies, and die. Whenever this happens, I can't help but imagine that all my characters turned into Doug and decided to wear their underwear on the outside of their pants, subsequently making them cowards and forcing them to run the hell away. That, of course, makes me laugh, and causes me to die even quicker.
The music in the game will remind you of Dungeons and Dragons. By that, I mean it resembles that friend you had that just wouldn't shut up and had to hum the theme songs to Charles in Charge and Sanford and Son while trying to hook up with the girl in the bar you just entered. Except the game turns the humming into boring midi tracks. There are very few sound effects, and the few there are have generic sounds associated with them. Swinging a blunt weapon results in a sound like ramming your head into a wall, and swinging a sword gives you the sound you hear when you swing a golf club or something really fast. Nothing spectacular to speak of. The background music only changes every few floors, and you'll get tired of it quickly. Please, do yourself a favor and mute the television. Play it in silence or with your stereo on, but don't subject yourself to what Eye of the Beholder has to offer for very long.
The graphics are what you would expect from a first-person dungeon crawl. The walls themselves repeat continuously, with the exception of a shelf or a sewer grate on them. Every few floors you'll get a new wall to go along with the change in music, but those walls repeat in the exact same ways. This doesn't help the no map issue at all. The enemies, items, weapons and what not are well done though. The enemies will exhibit a few frames of movement when they attack, instead of just moving forward a little or shaking back and forth like other games are likely to do. You also get to see the spells work, although they're not really the visual explosions of fire you'll see in other games.
The story is well not really there. The dungeon under the town is where an evil Beholder lives. The town hires your party to venture into the depths of the dungeon to destroy the Beholder and bring peace to their town. Soon after entering the dungeon, your escape route will be blocked by a cave-in. The town, instead of trying to help you out of the cave in case you need to come back for supplies, apparently decides it would be better to go home and do nothing, hoping that four random people they don't know can defeat the monster living under their town. Every so many floors, you're treated to a little snippet of story, but it's pretty meaningless.
You might replay the game a second time. It depends. Without a guide to aid you on your first quest, I'm sure you'll get stuck in the exact same place that I did. Some of you may want to play through the game a second time so that you can get past the above mentioned area, but the story wasn't any good up until then, so I doubt the ending is going to be a heart-warming affair of goodbyes and new found love. The only reason to play through the game a second time would be to get that feeling of completeness.
Eye of the Beholder is not a game I would suggest you play. If you obtain it through dubious means, then you're not out anything, but unlike other games from earlier systems, this one doesn't really offer anything you can't find elsewhere in better form. There's been better dungeon crawlers made since Eye of the Beholder, and there were better ones made before it. Do yourself a favor and try one of them out instead.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Originally Posted: 09/11/04, Updated 09/19/04
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