Tao's Adventure: Curse of the Demon Seal Hands-On

We try our hand at collecting monster eggs in the US version of Tao's Adventure: Curse of the Demon Seal.

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Tao's Adventure: Curse of the Demon Seal is a fantasy role-playing game from Konami for the Nintendo DS. We recently played through the introduction of the US version of the game, and based on what we've seen, it looks like Tao could be a fun little adventure for DS owners.

The story of Tao's Adventure is fairly standard role-playing game fare. In the town of Mandominio, monster hunters gather and trade monster eggs for profit. In the center of town there's a huge tower where all the monsters are sealed. One day Monster Tower is struck by lightning, and the seal is broken, releasing ancient and powerful monsters on the unsuspecting people of Mandominio and the world beyond.

Meanwhile, on the far-off island of Bente, a young boy named Tao is awakened by his little brother, Lot, who wants to go fishing for crayfish. Tao refuses, and Lot runs off by himself. Eventually Tao is coerced from his slumber, and he decides to go find his little brother. First things first, though: Tao has to get to class where his father trains him as an air speller, which is the first step on the road to becoming a spell master.

With the help of his father, Tao quickly learns a few magic spells. However, the lesson is soon cut short by an attack from the ancient monsters that escaped from the tower in Mandominio. Tao's father rushes out to defend the island from the attacking monsters, and before the overzealous Tao can lend a helping hand, his father casts a magic protection spell to keep Tao safe (and confined) indoors. When Tao finally breaks free and runs outside, he is horrified to find that everyone in the village has been turned to stone. Well, not quite everyone. There are a handful of survivors who managed to cast protective magic on themselves before being turned to stone. Conveniently, they happen to know exactly what needs to be done to lift the curse from the village. Inconveniently, they're all old and weak, and they possess no attack magic. As a result, young Tao is the only hope for the villagers, so he gladly takes on the task of saving his homeland (and probably the rest of the world).

The solution to all these problems sounds simple enough: Tao must travel to Mandominio and scale the Monster Tower in search of the egg of the ultrarare straitser monster. And just to give the game a sense of urgency, Tao has to return to Bente with the monster egg by the next full moon, or his friends and family will remain petrified forever. Tao sets sail for Mandominio and what will surely be the adventure of a lifetime.

The game revolves around Monster Tower, which contains 40 progressively harder levels to clear. As you move up the tower in search of the elusive straitser egg, you'll collect other monster eggs, as well as experience and treasure. The battles in the game are turn based, and it looks like you'll eventually be able to recruit other characters or monsters to join your party.

Because Tao is an air speller, his weapon of choice is a rod, which he uses in conjunction with a spell book to cast various types of magic spells. You cast spells by "etching" symbols into the air. You start out with one spell from each of the five elemental categories: earth, wind, fire, water, and lightning. Some spells, like fire and earth, are used for attacking enemies. Others, like water and lighting, are used for healing and teleportation, respectively. Each spell requires you to trace a simple shape on the touch screen to cast it. The symbols are simple enough, but the game is also pretty forgiving if you don't draw a perfect match.

Visually, Tao's Adventure is clearly going for the look of the lighthearted role-playing adventure game. The 3D character models and environments are bright and colorful, and although it's a bit rough around the edges, the game looks fairly good overall. The characters are all squat and round, and each one has a static portrait that appears during dialogue sequences. These portraits look a bit cheesy, as if they were taken from an old Aquaman cartoon.

The controls in Tao's Adventure are almost exclusively limited to the touch screen. You can move around using the D pad and sprint by holding the Y button. Everything else requires you to use the touch screen. As you move about the environment, choices will appear on the lower screen, and you can choose what you want to do by touching the appropriate selection. It's kind of annoying that you're forced to use the touch screen when doing something as simple as buying items from a store or talking to other characters; it would be nice if there were an option to use the face buttons for these tasks instead. The spellcasting works fine with the touch screen, though, and it seems like a good--if predictable--use of the DS touch-screen features.

Tao's Adventure is already out in Japan, and it's scheduled to arrive on US shelves in March of this year. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more coverage of the game, and be sure to check out the recently posted screenshots and movies on the gamespace.

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