Book of Mages: The Dark Times
Book of Mages: The Dark Times is the sequel to Nob Studio's RPG Book of Mages: The Chaotic Times. In The Dark Times your main goal is to guide your young mage to the top ranking in the titular Book of Mages. The book is a listing of the top 100 mage sin the world, and you won't make it to number one by just gobbing around. You're going to have to do some real magic, you're going to have to go to arenas and defeat other mages in turn-based combat to raise your rank.
When it comes to combat, you have four basic moves: high attack, low attack and high and low defensive moves. On top of that you'll be able to get higher level magics which can give you additional hits for your attacks or shields for when you defend. Finally, each clan has its own special moves. The most basic is usually a status effect causing attack which will help give you an edge over your opponents if you get locked in a stalemate.
The game isn't all battling and climbing the social-magical ladder. As you go along and particularly when you explore the parts of a city you'll encounter different events. How you respond to these events will effect how people feel toward you, can yield items or skill points and in some cases effect the direction of the story.
Analysis: The Dark Times starts out very slowly. The first time I played it, I was confused about what I was supposed to be doing. When I figured out that I was supposed to repeatedly click on the Mana Cave to get skill points until the story events were triggered I was about ready to give up on it. I'm glad I didn't because once it gets going it becomes a whole lot of fun.
The combat system is well done. There's a decent balance between the clans, each having a nice variety of skills that will give them some kind of advantage in any battle. A few of the clans, such as Chaos Desert or Poison Water can seem like they're kind of overpowered. Players should be warned that if they just try to hammer their opponents with offensive attacks then battles can become a cross between a stalemate and a war of attrition. You and your opponent will fire the same amount of bolts at each other until one of you runs out of mana. This is bad for those who want to take a simple path through the game, but it does keep things from getting stale.
The most fun part of The Dark Times are the story events. The story isn't the greatest and the seemingly-ESL nature of the writing can frustrate those who need perfect writing, but that shouldn't stand in the way of all the fun exploring brings. Most of the events are simple, boiling down to a good vs. bad kind of karma choice, but it's still cool when you find a new one. The choice system also invites at least one more play through, so you can see what results the opposite choice will yield. The White Robe vs. Black Robe conflict does the same. The missions are essentially the same. For instance, the first major mission for each side involves recruiting other mages, but the storyline around them is different.
Book of Mages: The Dark Times has a lot to offer: a solid combat system, a lot of replay value, and variety. It can be a little on the easy side if you're a stat managing super star and the reverse is true if you mismanage your stats. There's not a whole lot to look at and every town looks the same, but you'll be too busy to really notice. All I can say is that if you get into this game, you'll get into it hard. This is one of those games that can ravenously feed on your time and you're powerless to stop it. Not that you'd want to.