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"Greatest Gaming Developers" featuring: Climax Entertaintment.

Although being a small gaming studio and not even as prolific as other small studios, Climax Entertaintment nevertheless is responsible for some of the most memorable games ever made and which have allowed them to write their name in gold in the gaming history books.

Their most stellar set of games are undoubtedly those of the Stalker series which spawned 4 games and a spin-off. Although no less than stellar was also their role in the creation of the Shining series, which also were to become one of the finest series in gaming.

Last but not least, Climax's most distuinguished feature is perhaps their own distinctive artwork **** Their killer character design is what has made them instantly recognizable and has gave them their identity.

Origins and the Shining series:

Shining in the Darkness 1991, SEGA Mega Drive

The first of the Shining games. Set in the kingdom of thornwood, the evil Dark Sol (Mephisto in Japan) has kidnapped princess Jessa and your father, and as you would have expected it, you're the only knight in the kingdom able to do the job of stopping Dark Sol and rescuing the princess and your father.

The game is basically a first person "dungeon-crawler". Even by 1991 standards the game was a throwback to the older RPG **** You'll spend the mayority of the game inside of a long and complex 5 floor dungeon labyrinth which also happens to be filled to the brim with enemy encounters. You are pretty much forced to make a map of the labyrinth to keep track of your progess throughout it as many times you will be forced to leave and go back to town to heal and resupply.

Although the game was a good immersive RPG when it first released, nowadays it's old, archaic even gameplay design has taken a heavy toll on the playability and enjoyment of the game.

Shining in the Darkness is pretty much only recommended to the most patient of RPG players.

The biggest addition to the series found in Shining in the Darkess are the now ****c graphically expressive menus found in all of the Shining games. The appareance of the villain Dark Sol as well as the use of mithril were also featured in some of the later entries in the series.
Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention
1992/1993, SEGA Mega Drive

Being one of the first if not the first game of it's kind to be released outside of Japan, Shining Force quickly became the main reference of the genre as well as a flagship franchise of the Mega Drive library.

The kingdom of Guardiana is under attack by the army of the malicious Runefaust empire that also threatens to ressurect none other than the evil Dark Dragon who was sealed away nearly 1000 years ago. You take the role of the swordsman Max, disciple of the famed centaur Knight Varios. After a set of events happen, Max will be charged to lead a small army named the "Shining Foce" in hopes of stopping the Runefaust army and the resurrection of the fearful Dark Dragon.

The gameplay is by now standard JSRPG fare, the battles are well designed and the game advances overall at a good and enjoyable pace. You can also walk around and explore the towns to interact with NPCs, buy/sell items, manage the Shining Force at you H.Q, and search for treasure.

Unlike Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force has aged pretty good and hasn't lost any of it's playability, although it's not without it's annoyances neither. The most annoying thing in the game is it's inadequate equip and item system. Max is the only one that can pick up treasure in towns, and with a maximun item carrying capacity of 4 items per character and 1 of them will be your weapon, you will have to keep on passing items to other characters so you can be able to pick up new items. This can make getting treasure and handling items a real pain.

One of the best things about Shining Force is the diversity of characters found in the game. You'll have huimans, dwarves, centaurs, harpy-men etc. The character design and artwork is simply superb and it's really one of the bases of the appeal of the Shining Force series.

Shining Force is the second and the last of the Shining games made by Climax. Sonic Software Planning (now Camelot Software Planning) took helm of the series after Shining Force and until Shining Force III. But the influential heritage left by Climax remained throughout all of the series as well as with Camelot themselves, who also were influenced by Climax specially in the artistic design.

The Stalker series:

LandStalker 1992/1993 SEGA Mega Drive

Originally, the game was supposed to be called "Shining Rogue" and it would have continued the adventures of the hero Max from Shinig Force. However, after SEGA took back the Shining Force series, Climax went to finish the game on their own, changed the game's subject and renamed it "LandStalker". This probably worked out for the best.

After a succesfully treasure hunt, Ryle (Nigel in America) met the chased wood-nymph Friday, who supposedly has knowledge of the whereabouts of the legendary lost treasure of King Nole. Ryle decides to protect and partner up with Friday and after expending all of his earnings from his last job on transportation, they both set off to find the famed treasure of King Nole.

LandStalker is often regarded as SEGA's answser to Nintendo's Legend of Zelda. Landstalker however, doesn't take itself as serious as Zelda, and it's more of an adventure romp rather an an epic quest to save the world. In the gameplay aspect LandStalker can easily match or even surpass Zelda.

The game plays in an isometric point of view and which would remain the series main point of view until Alundra. Unlike Link in A Link to The Past, Ryle can jump, and this serves to give the game more platform action goodness.

LandStalker is still as fun now as it was when it first released and it's clearly one of the best games of the Mega Drive, a must-have.

Currently, Climax is planning to release a remake of LandStalker for the Sony PSP. So far the release date remains TBA 2007.
Lady Stalker 1995, Nintendo Super Famicom

Lady Stalker is the only game of the Stalker series released on a Nintendo Console.

Daughter of a distinguished and rich family. The main character Lady(very original name...) is a natural trouble maker with highly destructive tendencies. So for her own sake her family decided to lock her up in a mansion with a cook and a gardner servants to look after her. Until one day Lady heard of an ancient treasure located in a place called Deathland Island. The prospect of a hidden treasure just laying there waiting to be found was just too much for Lady to resist, and after escaping from the mansion she set off for some treasure hunting.

Just like in LandStalker the game plays in an isometric point of view. There's more RPG elements this time around, while still keeping the fun dungeon action.

Unfortunately, Lady Stalker is the only game in the series which I haven't played as at the time most SNES imports were more expensive than what they were really worth, and after that I sorta just lost interest in the game. I've seen the game's intro sequence however, which is set up kinda like a movie trailer, and it looks like the game has a good amount of humour on it, as well a some good ol' dungeon action, Stalker-****

Lady Stalker looks like it might be worth playing if you can get it at a decent price.
Dark Savior 1996, SEGA Saturn

Regarded as the true spiritual sequel to LandStalker, Dark Savior is another excellent entry in the series.

The bounty hunter Ryu-Ya (Garian in English) is translating his latest hunt: the malicious monster Bilan via ship to a prison island. While on board, Ryu-Ya wakes up from a nightmare only to find Bilan has escaped and it's wreacking havoc aboard the ship.

Dark Savior innovated by introduced a system called Parallel Scenario to carry on the storyline. Basically, depending of what you do in the game you can end up having totally different set of events. Same characters, same scenerario, totally different storyline. For example: at the beginning after Ryu-Ya wakes up, if you can manage to get in time to the captain's cabin, you will be able to stop Bilan from killing everybody in the ship, but if you take too long Bilan will be gone by the time you get there and then you will get a different type of storyline.

The Parallel Scenario system is cooler than what I make it look like and it goes without saying that it greatly enhances the game's replay value.

The game also plays in an isometric point of view, but this time it has a catch. Climax dropped the C++ developer tools that SEGA gave them and instead they introduced in Dark Savior the Hyperion Perspective System, who up till then was the fastest geometric engine for the Saturn according to Climax. And it was capable of zooming in and out, and rotating the screen in any way you wanted, and this supposedly would prevent any frustrating platforming camera issues.

Pretty much everyone took what Climax said with a grain of salt as the game still had somewhat frequent slowdown issues in some parts and even with the fancy rotating camera, the platforming could get more awkward than in LandStalker.
Dark Saviors kinda showed that an ismoetric game with many platforming sequences set in a 3D world and with 2D sprite-based characters wasn't the best of ideas.

Another questionable idea was the battle system. Everytime you encounter an enemy the camera will zoom in and you will get in a 1vs1 fighting match, and just like in fighting games you will have to win 2 of 3 rounds to defeat an enemy. Although you can do some things like capturing enemies to fight as them in battles, the battle system feels totally underdeveloped, and just a bad idea to carry pretty much all of the fighting in the game.
You can still swing your sword outside of battles, but this time it's just relegated to hitting bats and pushing obstacles.

Dark Savior features a different artwork ****than the rest of the series, but still very well designed. The character's sprites are pretty big and detailed, and the 3D enviroments look decent enough.

Although I really liked Dark Savior, and I consider it one of the best games of the Saturn, I can see the game has the potential to please a good amount of gamers, but at the same time frustrate another with some questionable design decisions, specially concerning it's battle system.

Nevertheless Dark Savior is intriguing enough to warrant playing it and it's great Parallel Scenario system gives it a good replay value.

Alundra 1997/1998, Sony Playstation

Alundra is probably the most known and played game of the series by most post 16-bit era gamers.

After shipwrecking, Alundra finds himself in the village of Inoa, that unfortunately seems to be under a terrible curse. Amazingly convenient for the villagers is the abilty of Alundra to enter people's dreams. And wouldn't you know it, soon enough Alundra finds out that he is the "Releaser" who is destined to save the village, the world and all of the known outer space from Melzas, who like most videogaming villains has a world domination complex.

Alundra dropped the isometric point of view used in the rest of the series and it's played from a top down perispective. The game features arguably the best challenge and dugeon design in the series, but ironically it's also the game in the series that most resembles The Legend of Zelda.

The dungeon design is pretty remarkable in Alundra. All of the dungeons are very fun to play through and they also have some of the best best well thought and challenging puzzles, though nothing that would keep you stuck for a long time.

The colour palette in Alundra is seriosly lacking and the character sprites are significally smaller than the ones in Dark Savior. This is obviously due to the Playstation limitantions for handling 2D games. Howerver the artwork design remains top-notch, and overall the game looks pleasing enough.

About the only negative thing in Alundra is that it didn't came out for the SEGA Saturn where it might have ended up looking better. (although it was originally planned to, but the Saturn demise pretty much everywhere outside of Japan changed Climax mind) However had it come out for the Saturn, the game would have probably stayed in Japan and so in that aspect I'm grateful that it came out for the Playstation.

Alundra is one of the best action-adventure games in the Playstation and in all consoles in general. Just like LandStalker Alundra is simply a must-play game.
Climax Landers/Time Stalkers
1999/2000 SEGA Dreamcast

A Climax fan dream come true!(or is it?) Climax Landers is the spin-off game of the series.

After some bizzare events happen, Sword (lame name I know) the main character (or is him?) finds himself in a strange world made of small pieces of other worlds, where just like Sword other poor souls were being snatched from their respective places and bought there. The reluctant Sword then, gets the typical forced hero role and must investigate who created this world and why, and most importantly: how to leave it.

He's back!

Climax Landers overall was very poorly received by the gaming community. And even here at Game Spot it got a score of 5.2 and the "mediocre" label. Apparently a lot people didn't dig many of it's peculiar gameplay designs such as the slow battles, only be able to control 1 main character at any given time, extremely limited item carry capacity and always starting a dungeon back from level 1, just to mention some of them.
All of those complains are very valid as the game surerly could've used a better gameplay design. However, in my opinion if you can get past some of the games annoyances, I find the game to be enjoyable enough. The game also has a good amount of gaming content with lots of things to do and collect.

She's back!

The game is called Climax Landers for a reason and the best feature is undoubtedly the re-appeareances of some of the past Climax heroes. The most important one is of course Ryle and Friday from LandStalker, but there's also Lady from Lady Stalker and Pyra from Shining in the Darkness.

Climax Landers was undoubtedly developed with fan-service in mind and so Climax fans will likely find the game much more appealing than gamers that couldn't care less about Climax and their characters. Me being a Climax fan, I honestly found the game enjoyable, but I acknowledge my personal pleasure of playing again as Ryle, Pyra and Lady, as well as the many important design flaws the game does indeed have and how they can possibly frustrate many gamers.

Something very positive about Climax Landers is that the game is pretty much dirt cheap. It's by far the cheapest game in the series. The game does have some good amount of gaming content and with it's cheap price there's really no reason why not picking it up and see how you like it.Altough I might be biased in my opinion as a Climax fan, I think the game is worth trying out.


Continued in next post...

EDIT: Due to current Game Spot glitches, all of the censored words mean either "s-t-y-l-e" or "c-l-a-s-s-i-c"