Shadow Tower

released on Jun 25, 1998

Shadow Tower is a first-person view action role-playing game developed by From Software and released in 1998. It shares many similarities with the King's Field series of games.

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Shadow Tower is a very polished version of this game style From had been iterating on. It runs really well and looks better than the King's Field games up to this point, but I didn't find the gothic horror vibe with no real underlying story or lore to be quite as compelling.
The environments are all varied and identifiable and range through five major zones, each split into a number of discrete levels. Each of the zones is ruled over by a boss which you must defeat in order to challenge the King of Demons and complete the game. This is an even more straightforward dungeon crawl than King's Field was.
Smaller levels and lower draw distances add to the claustrophobic feel of the game and are probably what allow the more detailed environment art and enemy models. These environments are varied and make the levels interesting to explore, but don't seem to have much coherency in terms of the world itself. The layouts of the actual levels are intricate and mazelike, although the level design (along with the detail and size) makes things very navigable.
The layout here feels like you are meant to explore the tower in spurts, sallying out from safe areas even though the level design has a lot of back-gating (ascending out of the tower can be overly difficult or impossible) which unfortunately undermines this. It does add to the palpable sense of dread as you become more and more unsure of your path back to safety.
This is the first person melee combat we know from King's Field with some minor differences (including a solid framerate). You move and turn a bit faster and your initial attack range is abysmally low (later weapons mostly fix this problem, but it never feels quite permissive enough). Shadow Tower doesn't feel that good to play until you get a bit in and find a few weapons you like and some magic that works, at which point things smooth out. I never really reached the overpowered status that the end of King's Field games impart upon you, but I felt capable and strong by the end, though death can always come quickly if you aren't paying close enough attention.
Shadow Tower has a lot of magic options, but I didn't find them to be too interesting in the end. You collect rings as you play, each providing you with minor stat increases and the ability to cast a set of spells. Most of the spells are some variation on a projectile attack, the timing of which allow you to weave them between sword swings just like in past games. I didn't find much value in making specific choices about spells, and just kind of used them arbitrarily throughout the game (mostly forced by the resource system).
The most interesting thing in Shadow Tower is absolutely the resource system.
Every weapon, armor, and spell-casting ring has durability which wears down extremely quickly. It isn't uncommon for a ring to only provide six or seven spell casts, a weapon 15-20 swings before they break (temporarily) requiring you to swap to something else. These can all be fixed at special vendors that can use your hit points (their dialog implies they are using parts of your body, which is pretty metal) to repair all your stuff -- you constantly feel like you are making the choice between survival and offensive ability.
Weapons and equipment you don't need can be traded at other vendors for health and magic potions (both of which fill their respective pools to max and can also be found around the tower).
It really feels like you are making purposeful choices about which weapons you need and which you can afford to trade to fuel your hit points and (at least at the beginning of the game) which weapons you need to fix in order to progress and how much of your life you are willing to give up to do so.
Your health as the main resource is so interesting! Since everything in the game ties back to this (not least of which the exploration and combat itself) it is something you are constantly thinking about and further adds to the pervasive sense of horror this game is trying to provide.
Overall this is a very unique and cool system even though your inability to partially fix things can make things awkward and it largely falls away by the end of the game as your health pool and supply of potions become so large that they cease to really be a concern (at which point weapon degradation just becomes a minor annoyance as you switch weapons every few minutes).
This game is almost one hundred percent about the vibes, with no real discernable narrative or lore to be found. Similar to King's Field, you are following a group of soldiers into this dungeon, but there isn't really a motivating factor (the manual has a perfunctory justification about an inn-keeper you are saving/avenging and her cooking). You are in this tower because it is here and it has demons in it because it is evil. Some of the bosses, scant few NPCs, and wall messages hint at greater powers and demonic machinations, but it doesn't really come to much by the end, with the final cutscene being both unclear and unsatisfying.
Alongside the gameplay and combat, the thing I most like about From Software games is thinking about the Why of it all and Shadow Tower just isn't so interested in providing that part of it. I still had fun with the game (it is among the better versions so far of this heavy, purposeful, first-person combat From is perfecting), but it didn't hit for me as hard as the King's Fields or any of the suite of Soulsborne games that are in From's future.

I am oddly enchanted by this game. The controls are pretty bad, but it's still fun and extremely challenging.

comrades who failed in your quest, sleep quietly now in your sealed foundation
a dungeon crawl reduced to its most horrific rudiments. always stubborn, often unwieldy, with an atmospheric pressure and density that feels like you're at the center of the earth
being of king's field lineage it has the same deliberate heft to it that some find unbearable, and a greater sluggishness to match; a hobbling walk, a measured swing, a spell cast on bated breath. the crawl is made to feel literal at times, and in the dead quiet every step turns the screws a bit tighter
the tension rests in my sternum and stomach and the muscles in my jaw as I walk onward and ever downward further through the burrowing tower, unsure of where exactly I've been, where I'm going, or how long I've been wandering. twists and turns made all the more treacherous by conservative use of landmarks and visual inconsistencies; the murky draw distance doubling down further, and the rare exception standing out all the more severely
the backbone of it all, holding the exploration and combat loop's horror upright, is the resource cycle. equipment deteriorates rapidly, repairs are bought with health, and health is finite, gained through bloodshed or sacrifice. each mistake is paid for several times over, all harm a perpetual echo. nearly every action taken comes at immediate or distant cost, and attachment to any particular instrument proves futile. jack of all broken blades, adorned in ragged and weathered cloths and metals
seven worlds jut from the tower's central staircase, each host to innumerable creatures. rarely is a bestiary so large (150) as to feel this shapeless, with any hope for stable familiarity or clarity dashed by its immensity. introductions and parting words often blending together curtly before another bent or squirming something arrives and departs under identical conditions: once slain, twice silent
bats, slimes, skeletons, knights wielding halberds in broad sweeps and piercing lunges, wretched amalgams beyond description, and even nods to wizardry's future tech anachronisms. the effect is one of sickly wonder, where anything could conceivably be skulking just out of view, ready to render you poisoned, paralytic, or cursed without notice
and yet still more curious are the denizens who remain, conscious and communicative or otherwise. one lends a helping hand only to turn sniveling betrayer. one is doomed to bear the weight of the world for his liege. one rests in a glass coffin behind lock and key. others barter, sneer, or taunt in jagged sentence fragments. some might even give decent advice or direct aid
there's an intense magnetism here, a rawer, coarser prelude to the same kind that permeates fromsoft's later work. as relieved as I was to find a spot to save the game, it was never in service of walking away, but continuing further; each mark of progress another opportunity to be a little more thorough and audacious than I'd have otherwise been when on the razor's edge. it's also an opportunity to go back upward, arms full of pilfered trinkets and sundered relics, to make ever greater exchanges in preparation for ever greater hardships. trudging through now empty halls and corridors, I stride along meticulously optimized routes branded into memory in absence of a map, the journey serving as both necessary prepwork and unhurried reprieve
Shadow Tower is impeccable. that it translates classic formulae so deftly is worth praising endlessly on its own, but to do so with such distinct identity and clarity of vision is remarkable. it's no exaggeration to say I found it mesmerizing, nor to say it's the most I've enjoyed a fromsoft title in years
this is what the ideal dungeon crawler looks like

It would be so fucking cool if Fromsoft made these games bearable to play somehow, mainly by them not being limited by old ass hardware.

Somehow this game controls better than Kings Field IV lol but still pretty crappy.

really fun dungeon crawling experience.
story is fun if you are willing to delve in a bit.
combat heavy, even more so than KF or souls.