Attempts at reinventing the classic in film and games has become a pervasive trend in recent years. In particular, indie developers have gravitated toward touching on the fond memories of yesteryear. When thinking of what makes an entertainment product a classic, a list of criteria comes to mind. Comfort and familiarity might make that list, but the true fondness for classics comes from their ability to transcend time. Shadows of Adam, which draws on the trappings of classic JRPGs, is one of the latest titles attempting to pull at nostalgic heartstrings, and though the game succeeds in that regard, the attempt to offer something new falls relatively flat.
Shadows of Adam begins shortly after the events of the Wraith War, a supernatural conflict that recently occurred in the game’s world, causing many citizens to become refugees seeking sanctuary. The town of Adam serves as a last bastion for residents of the world and one of the few safe-havens left after the crisis. In the aftermath of the war, the town’s residents begin experiencing strange phenomena occurring around their once-peaceful haven, including the appearance of the ghost of the town’s former hero, Orazio. Kellan, the son of Orazio and Shadows of Adam’s protagonist, sets off into the tangle, alongside his longtime friend, Asrael, to investigate these disturbances. Upon discovering a mysterious book, the pair, accompanied by a new companion named Curtis, set out to discover the origin of the book in hopes of discovering the truth behind Orazio’s fate.
The story, for the most part, draws the player in and presents some interesting plot dynamics. A wide variety of characters make up Shadows of Adam’s world, and many do well to diversify the story. The game uses flashbacks to expound on particular characters and increase their relevance to the plot’s continuity. Every member of the party gets their own time in the spotlight, creating an attachment to how they are being affected as the narrative progresses. However, at times, the flow of the storytelling is rigid. While dramatic moments are no stranger to the tale being told by Shadows of Adam, neither are attempts at comedic relief. These moments of levity are occasionally welcomed, though at times, they can come out of left field for no reason other than to garner a cheap laugh. This is not enough to dampen the game’s narrative experience, but the unevenness does hinder enjoyment in certain key moments.
Shadows of Adam contains a certain old-school retro motif that pervades the entirety of the game. The design principles are not too different from well-known classics of the past, and Shadows of Adam tries to capture this classic style, along with the charm and nostalgia that follows. The game is presented in a 16-bit graphical style, similar to games such as Mystic Quest and Chrono Trigger for Super Nintendo. Much like those titles, Shadows of Adam features a top-down map that is utilized more for travelling than interaction while key areas can be explored in more detail. Unfortunately, the overworld does not provide a sense of exploration outside of the most basic wandering. The game offers no abilities or special items that aid the player’s progression or evoke a sense of exploration, such as the Hidden Machines from Pokemon. Shadows of Adam’s lack of tangible exploration diminishes the sense of personal discovery when venturing outside of narrative boundaries.
Despite the relatively anaemic experience of exploration in Shadows of Adam, overworld travel is less daunting than most old-school JRPG titles, due to the lack of random battles. Enemies are displayed on the map and will only trigger a combat encounter when the player makes contact with them. This system is a welcomed change from the typical JRPG format, where enemies spawn in front of the party during travel or exploring new areas, and allows prioritization when questing, offering a choice of exploration or combat through separation of the two. The player is given an opportunity for preparation for enemy encounters through managing a party member’s health, armor, or weaponry before taking on a fight.
Most of the time, enemies are placed between choke points where the player must fight them to advance but are sometimes grouped in pairs along the choke point, allowing the player to simply take one out and advance. Neglecting enemies, however, creates under-leveling, which results in tedious enemy encounters as Shadows of Adam offers challenging encounters and assumes the player is at their optimum level of competency at any given time. The game utilizes a turn-based fighting system that involves each member of a party locking in a command before the encounter begins. Enemies and party members will attack in turns before the round starts over.
Shadows of Adam varies in gameplay from the average entry in the genre via a unique AP system. Along with the basic Fight command, party members have their own set of unique skills that give them an advantage in battle. Asrael, for example, is a mage who possesses magical abilities, such as ‘Soothe’, which restores a portion of HP to party members. These moves use a currency known in the game as AP, Ability Points, and are represented as a percentage. For every round the party survives, each character is rewarded with 15% AP. An additional 5% AP is awarded to a party member who downs an enemy. This mechanic is beneficial because the player is encouraged to experiment with different skill combinations and given a constantly regenerating pool of AP to draw from to achieve this objective. On top of this, each party member has a move that lets them regenerate 30% AP in exchange for being vulnerable for that particular round. This AP system marks huge contrast from traditional JRPGs, where stocking up on ethers or other mana-regenerating items becomes an added task to use these skills adequately.
The party system in Shadows of Adam is made up of four main heroes. Unlike other JRPGs, which offer a choice of swapping out party members and composing a team, Shadows of Adam contains an established group of four characters for the entirety of the journey. All party members posses a unique set of skills, ranging from offensive to passive. Talon, for example, is a typical thief/rogue who utilizes tactical moves, such as Poison Shiv, which causes slow poisoning on opponents. Curtis, on the other hand, is a fighter/warrior who uses highly-offensive moves, such as Spirit Punch. The way skills are used, however, is not very different from the likes of Pokemon, where certain abilities are strong or weak against specific enemy types. The AP system allows freedom of experimentation with each character’s unique set of skills to discover enemy weak points and hone battle prowess.
Outside of combat, the majority of gameplay consists of puzzles. Most of these puzzles involve pushing a glowing orb in a particular pattern to unlock something. When pushed, the orb continues to slide unless something blocks the path. In this case, the player can try to push the orb from another angle to achieve the correct solution. Many of these puzzles are surprisingly challenging and players will more than likely find themselves getting stuck on some for a while, which is the degree of difficulty is a far cry from most puzzle challenges that all too often feel more formulaic than difficult. These puzzles normally present themselves as obstacles for the main story and are rarely ever optional. They do not always have a major contextual significance to the story or area of exploration, but serve as an interesting way to balance the gameplay between combat segments. At times, puzzles feel a little repetitive due to most of them revolving around orb-pushing puzzles or mine cart rail switching. All things considered, Shadows of Adam attempts to make each puzzle as unique as possible, bearing these limitations.
All in all, Shadows of Adam is an enjoyable nod to the classics and hammers down the fundamentals that made games of the genre so memorable. The developers definitely know the source material that the game draws from. However, those less enamored with the genre might not find anything they can take away from Shadows of Adam. Overall, the game stays within a particular set of limits that are comfortable, but does not attempt to do much outside of the established formula. Despite this, the good variety of bosses and combat encounters ensures that the game will please anyone itching for another dose from the classic JRPG genre.