Designing games for the DS must be frustrating sometimes. Creating games for a handheld system is easy enough; the limitations of hits hardware can only give so much free range. The problem is that damned Touch Screen. How do you implement one of the DS’s most key features without making the game come off as some cheap gimmick or tech demo? And even if you figure out how to integrate the Touch Screen into the game, will it prove to be a great idea, or nothing more than a half-assed effort? The gaming community has been treated to all sorts Touch Screen adaptations, be it blasting ice blocks away in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, the occasionally aggravating control scheme in Super Mario 64 DS, or simply menu browsing in Animal Crossing DS. While some of these ideas have been great, few games have made decent use of the Touch Screen. Now it’s time for the debut of Iron Feather, just another in a long line of games with new ideas and looking for attention.
Chances are, you’ve never seen Iron Feather at the local gaming store, let alone heard of it. As with many of the other RPGs for the DS, this game is exclusive only to Japan. Considering how much of the game’s text and scenes are entirely in Japanese, importers may have a tough time understanding what’s going on. Thankfully, the plot of Iron Feather adheres to the typical RPG plot: the world is about to end. Every two thousands years, mankind is decimated by some kind disaster of apocalyptic proportions. Of course, nobody wants that to happen. Enter the protagonist, the blue-haired teenage swordsman prodigy, and the epitome of every cliched RPG protagonist known to mankind. He may not be the most seasoned fighter out there, but he’s got enough moxie (if not outright idiocy) to venture forth out into the world, kill a bunch of random monsters, learn some ancient history and mystical spells, and hopefully save the world somewhere along the way.
Oh, how original.
Too many numbers for my liking
Okay, so you’re playing as a young hero on a quest for the world’s salvation. Fair enough. While this game seems horribly generic at first, it features a few spins on old ideas to keep you interested. Your hero will be able to freely move around a world map, exploring forests, caves, rivers, mountain passes, and anything else you can possibly find. Traversing some of these areas will require the use of the Touch Screen. For example, there’s an early part of the game where you have to cross a chasm by swinging a rope around with the stylus and hopefully latching it onto something on the screen. The range of the rope’s reach depends on how fast you move the stylus; simply drifting it along the screen won’t make the rope travel very far. But if you move the stylus in tight, fast circles, the momentum will pick up, and the rope will travel further. The game is littered with such obstacles, but most of these are no-brainers. Most of the time you’ll use the stylus to pick up items and objects on the ground, hitting switches, and other simple actions.
Should you look around enough, you’ll eventually come across small gangs of baddies practically begging for some punishment. Once the telltale music starts up, the hero will unsheathe his multicolored feather and charge into battle. Yes, you read that right. The kid wields a mystical feather that can somehow morph into an all-purpose sword. While this may seem a little farfetched at first, your character’s combat prowess ought put any doubts to rest. Aside from a few sword swings, you’ll be able to execute some fairly lethal special moves and dash across the screen at incredibly fast pace. You’ll need to make use of all these skills, too; the game’s combat runs on real-time, forcing you to take on small armies of enemies head-on. All you can do is rush into the fray, keep slashing, and pray you can hack all your foes into pieces before dying. Not exactly the most sophisticated battle system ever, but it gets the job done. But just in case the enemies prove too much for a single hero to handle, you’ll get plenty of backup as the game progresses. Aside from the main hero, you’ll eventually team up with two other adventurers and take on the quest together. The AI controlling these secondary characters are remarkably competent; they can hold their own in the thick of battle with little assistance required. However, the computer can be a little too efficient; if unchecked, your cronies will devour all of your health items and resources without a hint of gratitude or care for your well-being.
Peace and tranquility…but what the hell is that on the roof?
Also, all three of these characters can wield a wide variety of spells, all of which can be used on a fairly import-friendly menu. Should you want to cast a spell, you have to do a little menu browsing and contend with a diamond-shaped summoning grid. In one corner of the screen, you’ll see a series of lines that need to be drawn on the diamond to use the spell. However, you don’t have time to gawk at the directions; a timer will force you to rush through the Touch Screen inputs and pray you did it correctly. If you only manage to draw a single line, you’ll only get to wield a small percentage of the spell’s power, whereas completing the entire series of lines will grant you some truly devastating attacks and offensive power. It’s just a matter of seeing the necessary lines, using the stylus to draw them, and completing the spell within the given time limit. In other words, people without lightening-fast hand-eye coordination are screwed.
Though Iron Feather makes great and extensive use of the stylus, it barely utilizes the other abilities that the DS has to offer. The graphical presentation of this game is a strange blend of blocky pixilated colors, lively animations, and bland landscape features. The majority of the game is depicted from a bird’s eye perspective, allowing the screen to center on your character’s movements across the land. Unfortunately, everything seems to be depicted as if it really were seen through the eyes of a bird passing overhead. The landscape is usually flat and green, offering only a few patches of yellow dirt scattered around. There are also massive rivers and oceans cutting into the land, but all of the water seems to be frozen in place; there are no waves, babbling brooks, flowing streams, or anything else you’d expect to see along the waters’ edge. The game unsuccessfully tried to make up for it by including a small variety of atmospheric effects, slightly changing the on-screen color palette to simulate sunrise, dusk, night, morning, storms, and everything in between.
Pikachu! I choose you! Heh, that line never grows old…
Though the main screen looks like an early SNES game, the larger map on the top screen looks like some godforsaken Atari 2600 game. The map shows everything from the smallest trees to the largest hill in giant squares and rectangles, making the whole thing look like a jumbled mess of poorly drawn colored blobs. The wide variety of monsters could use a few touch-ups; the monochromatic cyborgs and horribly deformed mutants lack the kind of polish you’d expect from a DS game. The only thing even remotely decent-looking in this game is the hero himself, who comes complete with flowing blue hair, blinking eyes, flowing scarves, and plenty of other nifty details. The magic spell animations aren’t too shabby either, offering a multitude of psychedelic colors and intricate patterns to admire. And in the middle of this mixed bag of graphics, the Iron Feather stands out in all its glory, its rainbow colors a beacon for hope in a world on the brink of destruction.
Iron Feather has a few things going for it. It’s got a decent (albeit stereotypical) hero and plot, a fairly reliable AI, and a fast-paced real-time combat system. The game makes great use of the DS Touch Screen, allowing you to solve a few simple puzzles, interact with certain parts of the environment, and unleash some magical Armageddon on your hapless foes. However, this game just lacks the personality and soul of a truly appealing RPG; the entire adventure just seems like a stripped-down barebones excuse of a plot complemented with some graphics comparable to the now aged Golden Sun series on the GBA. Konami was on the right track with this game; but the lack of effort and polish greatly hinder its appeal. If there’s ever another addition to Iron Feather franchise, we can only hope that it turns out better than this mediocre attempt at something great.