The first console my family owned was a TI-99/4A. At my young age, it was hard to enjoy any of the games we had, but one I always came back to was Tunnels of Doom. It was an RPG dungeon crawler that frustrated me to no end. The game expected me to remember what I named my characters, but I always gave them long and complicated names, and I’d forget who was who when it was time to tell somebody to pick up an item. I didn’t touch the dungeon crawler design again for several years. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it. So it’s somewhat refreshing and nostalgic to come across Mazes of Fate (available from Amazon), a game whose design is firmly rooted in the RPGs of old.
Mazes of Fate has spent three years in development, and that time has made sure this is one of the prettier RPGs for the Game Boy Advance. The game is basically tying together three different visual styles. The first is an isometric view of the overworld and towns almost on par with Golden Sun. The camera is pulled back quite a ways, however, so you don’t get to see much detail. But when you enter a building, the view changes to a still, up-close shot of all the characters inside. And the character drawings are some of the cleanest I’ve seen in a GBA game. They convey a great sense of personality and look like they were pulled from an old 2D feature-length movie.
But Mazes of Fate’s main draw is its first-person dungeons. First-person anything on the GBA has rarely worked out, but the effect here is handled flawlessly and recreates the feeling of an old-school dungeon crawler without any hitches. The monsters within are also drawn with the same care as the game’s human characters, but their animations are a tad stifling. With only one or two basic animations per monster, it’s kind of distracting when compared to the rest of the game. But when compared to the rest of the genre on the GBA, I’d say Mazes of Fate is doing very well.
Even the soundtrack isn’t too bad. It’s not nearly as good as other RPGs, but it fits the fantasy theme well without feeling generic. The music in the dungeons is surprisingly catchy, changing between a little kooky, a little eerie, and sometimes even throwing in a cool drum beat. There is always the occasional shriek or wail in the background, too, which makes me jump every time. But the monsters themselves don’t make much noise. In fact, none of the characters say much. Even if this is a GBA game, nobody sighs or grunts to give you any sort of indication that they’re still alive.
When you first set out in Mazes of Fate, you may wonder what the heck you’ve gotten yourself into. Though this is an RPG, it’s not like the rest of the RPGs being made today. This is an homage to what many of us consider the good, old days of dungeon crawlers, games all about navigating through intricate mazes and fighting monsters along the way. But Mazes of Fate recognizes the current trend, and you’ll still find some solid, more “traditional” RPG elements. For instance, the first 30-45 minutes is spent in a city, doing favors for different people before you can finally leave. This becomes a puzzle as you attempt to figure out what item you need before this person will conform to what you want, or even who you need to talk to in what order. The game focuses a lot on interacting with people, so much so that you often have a choice as to what to say. What’s great about these interactions is that they are not definite. I have complained time and time again about games that keep giving us yes/no questions but don’t do anything different for answering either way. Mazes of Fate does. Early on, you are sent into an old woman’s basement to rid it of rats. While down there, it’s possible to steal some of her money. If you don’t, this woman will reward you with a special ring. If you did steal the money, that becomes your reward. In other scenarios, you can turn down people who want to join your party or even pick a fight with (and kill) some random guy in a tavern. None of these events dramatically affect the story, and sometimes things will have to pan out a certain way, anyway. You may only miss out on a side quest or useful bonus item, but having these decisions is such a great addition and makes Mazes of Fate a more real adventure.