While it has a few interesting concepts, there is far too much weighing this game down.
The first thing you'll notice is that the visuals look great on the outside. The characters are quite detailed, their animations are smooth, and the textures are well-defined. The enemies themselves are intriguing as far as aesthetics are concerned, though, there is no variation amongst enemies of the same type. (Every skeleton archer will look exactly like the last one, and so on.) The game does suffer from some frame rate issues, however, and can become a metaphorical slide-show when so many enemies appear on the screen. It makes you wonder if the graphical presentation should have been toned down in exchange for a more stable image.
Along the way, you'll travel through areas that are typical of RPG settings. These include ice and lava caverns, forests, etc. Once again, the environments do look great as far as textures are concerned, but they do lack in detail. With the exception of the forest in the beginning, these areas do not go out of their way to look extravagant, and include the bare minimum of props. Also, if you read the back of the case for the game, it brags about destructible environments, which is a flat-out lie. You're restricted to empty paths for the whole game, and the environments just serve as simple backdrops. They have no effect on the gameplay itself. The paths suffer from some passage issues, and you'll find in many spots, usually along the edges, in which there is a clear opening which you should be able to walk through, but you'll just end up hitting an invisible wall.
Circle of Doom's story will probably confuse you. Not because it has been so intricately woven together with depth and twists. In fact, it's the total opposite. It mentions something about two different dimensions, and...well, I would describe it in further detail had I actually understood what was going on. The way in which it's all told out is so vague, and the question, "what's going on?" will constantly pop up in your head. Each character does have their own story, but you'll end up going through the same exact game, save for a variation in quests, (All of which are based on grinding, by the way) and the story never ties in with the action. Poor narration, lack of cut-scenes and no explanation for why you're even going through the many environments of the game really add up for a disappointing, non-engaging plot.
The combat mechanics are, by far, what weigh this game down.You can have two weapons equipped at a time: One for the X button and the other for the A button. There is no defend button and there is no dodge button. You just keep mashing the same two buttons for the whole game and it gets boring very quickly. You also have an SP meter which serves as your energy. It goes down from using your weapons or using magic. If you run out, (which can happen often and quickly.) you have nothing to do but to run around in circles, praying you don't get hit until it recharges, and this is really a problem considering your only way of defending yourself is to relentlessly attack your enemies, keeping them staggered. That means you are either attacking, or doing nothing. The SP meter might as well have been called the fun meter. It would have been more interesting to see some combos or special attacks.
When aiming with ranged weapons, you're limited to approximately a 45 degree window in front of you. This is especially a problem when smaller enemies, such as insect-like creatures, are crawling at your feet and damaging you. The melee attacks wont work on them either, as your weapons are usually swung in a horizontal manner, and it just goes right over them. You have to make sure you are keeping your distance, and that is another problem. To my observation, this game seems to favor ranged weapons far more than melee weapons. A lot of the boss fights require ranged weapons for any sort of effectiveness for at least half of the battle, and even then you'll still find that it's a smart idea to use ranged attacks in the other half. It's a clear balance issue.
You do have some magic attacks which you learn by completing quests. It's nice to have them to offer a little variety. The more SP you use, the more powerful the magic attack becomes. As far as balancing is concerned, this is nice because, as you level up, you'll gain more and more SP. Since you can use SP at the expense of a stronger attack, it's as if the magic itself levels up, and there is no need to upgrade to higher spell ranks. This is also a problem, however, considering that you'll need to expend your entire SP meter to perform a magic attack that will damage foes at an equal level, and by that time, you could have already swung your weapon around four or five times. If it had not been so costly, the magic mechanic would have been quite promising.
There are some decent game mechanics in Circle of Doom, however. There is a weapon synthesis system where you can combine weapons, trinkets, armor and items to blend attack power, the amount of health you gain and different enchantments. There are many enchantments in the game, including a frost enchant, which has a chance to freeze your enemies, and a bloodlust enchant, which increases your attack power with each successive attack. Also, these enchants also have their own levels. For example, if you combine two swords that both have a level one frost enchant, the upgraded weapon will include a level 2 enchant, which increases the likelihood that your enemies will freeze. Some enchants will allow you to regain SP or drain your enemies' health if you press the attack button at the right time. Overall, for a loot crazy game such as this, the synthesis system is great for combining the multitudes of equipment you'll find, and it's implemented quite well.
It truly is a shame that Circle of Doom suffers from so many flaws, as there are some elements in it that really could have shone in a higher-quality game. The 4 player co-op does help ease the brain-cell-killing tedium, but only for so long. With repetitive, bland combat, a muddled plot, and many rough edges in the programming, it all comes together to make up a package that fails to provide a satisfactory experience. The game never truly describes just what the, "Circle of Doom" is and one can only assume it must be the very disc in which this game is on.
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