One of the hardest itches to scratch is deep rooted nostalgia. For a lot of people, there’s a good reason that we keep rebuying the same game from the SNES four times across multiple platforms, and why everyone is outside of Game Freak with torches because it turns out Caterpie didn’t get a Mega Evolution and so on. We like parts of our childhood, but we don’t like people co-opting them in ways that don’t jive with us. For example, people were really happy with the reboot of My Little Pony when that started over a decade ago because, well, it was handled well, scaled up the animation and the concepts and was generally fun. In comparison, the reboot of She-Ra was screamed and annihilated before it even got a chance to air, and, truth be told, it’s a fine cartoon, just not great, but everyone’s got a memory about the original that means it probably won’t get a second season. So when you’re trying to access that deep, core idea of what nostalgia is, you gotta handle it with kid gloves, or you’re going to get burned. The creators of Shadows of Adam knew they wanted to tread this line lightly: pay homage while still being an original entity. Thankfully, it seems that their trepidation was successful, and now we’ve got a modern 16-bit RPG that’s pretty damn fun.
Shadows of Adam takes place in an area called Adam, which can be confusing for anyone who was expecting a person to be at the forefront. Ironically, the common name “Adam” is given to the town, and the much more simple names of Kellan and Asrael are given to our protagonists, because most fantasy adventure names are created from letter salad and we all just accept this. So everything was hunky-dory in Adam until darkness started appearing, and no one knows why exactly, but they know it’s bad. Kellan and Asrael waste zero time in trying to reason anything out, and, instead, dive right into the heart of darkness to try and either reason with or stab through whatever is making the evil encroach. Naturally, as time goes by, they are aided by others in their quest, and we stumble upon the big secret behind what is happening, and I’m not gonna spoil anything because you can seriously bang this whole game out in one day off if you’re determined to do nothing else. The setup and progression of the actual storyline isn’t particularly innovative, but it works well, and it serves as the proper backdrop for the game’s progression, which clocks in somewhere around 11 hours or so.
As you’ve guessed, Shadows of Adam is a JRPG with plenty of inspiration drawn from different areas. You’ve got the mini sprites and plenty of turn based combat to keep you busy, but you won’t have to worry about random encounters here. Taking a page from one of the most misaligned games of all time – Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest – Shadows of Adam props the baddies front and center on the map, so you have plenty of time to change equipment, check inventory, and basically steel yourself before getting into the thick of it. The map also makes sure that all dungeons, castles and swamps have puzzles to work through, but there’s nothing that’s going to stop you dead and make you call the Nintendo Help Line. For example, early puzzles ask Kellan and Asrael to toggle vines up and down based on color coordination, so it takes very, very little thought to figure out how to bypass the thicket and get on with your journey. It’s pretty obvious these puzzles aren’t meant to stump you: rather, they give a bit more of an atmospheric touch to the game, slowing you down and making you think about your world in a way that’s more than just charging forward.
Thinking about the world allows you to appreciate a bit more about Shadows of Adam. While a lot of the storylines and character connections are pretty well trodden and borderline trope-laden, it gives players a chance to reflect on how writing and ideas for popular RPGs were formulated in the 90s and even early 00s. There’s the slight, non-damaging undercurrent about Asrael being adopted, the clipped, brooding espousal from Curtis, and Kellan and Asrael both taking moments to be like “I wonder what dad would think/I wonder what dad would do/I wonder what dad would say” because, hey, dad was a famous hero who “disappeared” years ago. Again, you’re not here for a Saturn Award for writing, but it’s still enjoyable and serviceable, reminding me even of the off-kilter banter that cropped up time after time in Tales of Symphonia.
Combat is the bread and butter of Shadows of Adam, which is good because there is a LOT. Most of your fights allow you to simply slam on the attack button again and again, but the developers have tooled things so that you don’t have to and you can actually enjoy variety and versatility in combat. Removing MP and replacing it with AP (action points), players gain a bit back with every attack, meaning that you won’t be totally hamstrung if you decide to do a quick spell at the beginning of combat. Items to recharge your AP (such as the famous Ethers) exist, though probably not in the capacity that you’re used to, but proper planning means that you can hoard them until you reach the big bosses, who crop up towards the end of nearly every dungeon. Sadly, there isn’t any spectacular choices or evolution with leveling up (gain better stats, add skills, the end), so you don’t have any say between battles as to how you can fully customize your character. However, with both found and purchased loot, you can still outfit your gang in the way you like best, and then just go whole hog in battle with whatever spells you wanna try out. This game is designed to drive you forward in the best way and make it so you can finish out things fast or slow, depending on how much time you want to put into fighting.
The overall presentation of Shadows of Adam is fairly strong in the graphics department. Sticking to the truest aesthetic possible, you end up with a lot of neon colors, slightly rounded pixels and generic but understandable town designs to give you ideas of where you are, what you’re fighting and how different equipment looks. It definitely had influence from additional SNES RPGS, but I felt a bit of Phantasy Star IV bleeding through at certain locations, which kept me intrigued. Additionally, the musical content of Shadows of Adam is versatile, though it can, occasionally, be overbearing. The foreboding tracks during the prologue set the tone well, but then the first score we have when Kellan and Asrael are fighting through the poisoned area came across very loud and occasionally unbalanced. The diametrically different setup here is the pace for the remainder of the game: sometimes you get a track that floats evenly and cool along with the gameplay, and others it’s a jarring reminder that not every song from the 16 bit heyday was a winner. Listen to the soundtrack, because it’s the most fitting, but don’t feel embarrassed if you need to adjust the volume.
Shadows of Adam rests comfortably with a solid presentation, a great execution and enough pandering without going whole ham in getting people to acknowledge the inspiration. It reminded me a lot of another retro game with a lot of heart – Piers Solar – and left me with the same level of satisfaction and enjoyment. While it could never dethrone the games of the past in my eyes (too much of my childhood was invested there), it’s a sincere and positive representation of what gamers from then could produce now, and how they have a clear mind and strong vision for what they could have done in similar circumstances. Absolutely worth a shot if you are a JRPG fan who remembers the simple, predictable times.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.