Orcs & Elves
Reviewed by Edmund Wong, March 2008
Created by those responsible for giving us Doom, Orcs & Elves was originally a portable game of a different kind. It was originally a game on the mobile phone. Moving to the DS provides the player with a bigger screen, but not necessarily an epic story.
The recipe for this first person RPG is one elf (that's you), one talking wand, one dragon, several dungeons, some ghosts, lots of evil creatures that apparently hate elves, and loads of Old English speak. Mix them together, and you will have yourself a Dungeon and Dragon fantasy game.
The story revolves around an elf Elli, friend of the dwarves, who comes to the dwarf King Brahm's rescue as his clan gets cleansed by the Orcs army. The King is located in the very depth of the mountain, and you are to rescue the helpless ruler. Along the way, you will meet monsters that hate your guts, and want nothing but seeing you breathe your last. Besides the King, there is not a living dwarf inside the dungeon. They are either dead, or join the other seven at Snow White's tea party.
All in the while the Dragon Gaya sits on her lazy behind at her liar, guarding her treasures and being completely ignorant of the commotions and killings that were happening in the dungeons below her. Let's ignore that fact. Orcs & Elves is a typical good vs. evil type of game where you (the good guy), rescue the less fortunate (the victim) from an overwhelmingly powerful foe (the evil). It cannot get simpler than that.
To aid you in your journey, you have a talking wand called Ellon in your possession. It is your translator, long-range magical weapon of choice, and one that talks, something too much.
Orcs & Elves takes on the form of a turn based, grid based gameplay. What that means is that you can only move in one of the four directions (up, down, left, right), and most of the actions that you take is considered as a turn. If you do not take a turn, neither does your enemy. It gives you time to plan ahead. Changing weapons or changing directions does not count as a turn, but moving or using potions does.
Each dungeon may have colored doors that require a color code input, you can find the code from ghosts that used to be dwarves, or on scrolls that you might have stumbled across. There are also simple puzzles like rolling a boulder to block holes so you can access a certain room in the dungeon. The entire game takes place inside the mountain, there isn’t any shop (except for Dragon Gaya) or town in sight. It does lack the epic feel of fantasy games where you get to travel to far-flung places, visiting towns and talking to folks. Considering the origin of the game (being that on the mobile phone), it is understandable. But as a standalone DS game, it is dull. It is nothing more than visiting the same dungeon with a different name. This is the Great Hall and this is the Labyrinth. Wait, they all look alike.
Let's not dwell on what Orcs & Elves is not, and concentrate on what it is. Orcs & Elves is an old school dungeon crawler. You kill enemies, you gain levels, you get items, you kill the boss, next dungeon; rinse and repeat until end of game. It brings back nostalgic feeling of dungeons and dragons games of decades ago. Instead of typing in the command "Go North", you now have a graphical representation of them. Although the game can be controlled with a stylus, it is best to use the control pad. The stylus control feels awkward, with the circle "Use" button in the middle of the touch screen, directional buttons around it and all the other options at the bottom. Using the touch screen for movements also rules out the use of a map, which comes in very handy at times.
Weapons are classified as short range, long range and magic, which is really long range. Once you use magic, it can be restored over time. With bolts and other long-range weapons, there is a set amount you can use before they are depleted, in which case, you must purchase more from the dragon. There are many types of potions for use. All of which are turn based. For example, Potion of Accuracy increases your accuracy for a certain number of turns. But the one potion you will use most is the Health Potion (or its variant, Larger Health Potion). There is no healing magic, so you must use potions to restore your health. Make sure to keep plenty of them around.
One way to reduce damage is, of course, to wear armor. All armors can sustain a certain number of hits before it is rendered useless. Better armor lasts longer. If it is reduced to zero, it is as effective as fighting naked. You can buy armor kits from the dragon to repair it. There are also rings that you can wear that can affect some stats for as long as it is worn. Some can affect the enemy, but most affect you. Only one will fit on your elfish finger at any one time.
Buying things can be as simple as talking to the dragon and buy the item at its suggested retail price. But gold is hard to come by. So the best cause of action is to bargain with the fire-breathing dragon. The better her mood (as indicated by a mood bar), the bigger the discount. If you are really stingy, you can save your game before talking to the dragon, pick what you want and make an offer. If it is accepted, reload and make a lower offer; if rejected, reload and make a higher offer, until such time you find the lowest acceptable price. It works rather well for higher priced items such as weapons, than the lower priced ones like potions. Unfortunately, your elfish backpack is only as big as the hand carry bag that you can bring onto the plane. You can only carry one of each weapon. If you want your Sword A back once you have purchased Sword B, you will have to re-purchase Sword A. The same goes for armor.
The map does not provide much information beyond your whereabouts, the locations of colored doors, and the layout of the rooms. Still, it is handy in most cases. It provides no enemy information and their whereabouts, which makes opening doors a real surprise every time. And let me tell you, monsters love to hide behind doors. It is as if they were expecting you there. Opening door is considered as a turn. If you are facing a fiend that has a long-range attack, you can kiss your butt goodbye. It will attack you as it is their turn to act. And if your health is low, well, I hope you save as often as you save your Word documents.
Going through dungeon is a repetitive process. You kill the same kind of enemies from one dungeon to another, except they are more powerful and possibly in different color. Luckily for this game, it is short. So you do not have the time to feel bored.
For those who are old enough to remember entering commands in a game should be old enough to remember the Doom shareware from over a decade ago in the time of pre-Pentium era. The graphical resemblance between that first Doom and this game is uncanny.
It feels very much like you are transported back to the computer of the early 90's. Given the power of the DS, the graphics could and should have been a lot better. Monsters look better than first Doom game, but they are still blocky, edgy and feel like a cardboard cut out. Again, the origin of the game might have something to do with that, given the computing power (or lack thereof) of many different models of mobile phones. What it has going for it is the environment. It is bright, color is used appropriately, and it does not feel claustrophobic.
Music is lacking, almost to the point of non-existence. However, there are plenty of sound effects. What's better is the stereo surround. If an attack is coming from the left, you can hear it coming from the left. Sometimes you can even hear yourself as you try to steady your feet after a few drinks of ales.
Playing Orcs & Elves once is probably more than enough. You can choose difficulty levels, so you can play it on different levels should you have the desire to play it again. There are no side quests, except maybe finding all the secret rooms and collecting all the gallery images. For most, once is all it takes.
Orcs & Elves takes roughly 5 to 10 hours to complete. It is by no mean long, but as a mobile phone game, it is epic. However, as a DS game, it is on the short side. It lacks depth, the graphics are early Doom-like. Music is lacking, though sound effect is plenty. The control scheme restricts movement freedom and is more suited to the mobile phone users where one hand operation is the norm. Weapons and armors are also severely restricted. The whole package feels unrefined and has plenty of mobile phone origins.
It is more suited to veteran players who have played and enjoyed these types of dungeon games. Ironically, due to its restrictive nature, new comers can easily pick it up. If you are a veteran dungeon game player, you will probably enjoy this. If you are new to the genre, you might want to give it a try.