9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil
Developed By: Valorware
Published By: Valorware
Category: Action, Adventure, Role-Playing
Release Date: 10.06.20
Composers: Tom from Valorware
As I obsessively made my way through today’s game, 9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil for the Nintendo Switch, I was continuously amazed by the fact that it was put together by just one guy. Tom from Valorare (no last name given in the credits… unless his name is Tom Valorware? But that seems unlikely) has been making games for a few years now, most notably the 9th Dawn series, and he’s been doing it all by himself. He managed to pack in all kinds of systems and features you’d expect to see in a massive AAA release from Bethesda. And while he doesn’t quite match a triple-A studio aesthetically, the gameplay is exactly as addictive as Skyrim or a Fallout game.
The Just Decent Part
Sadly for me, 9th Dawn III’s weakest element is its story – I value narrative more than pretty much anything in the games I play. The good news is, the story isn’t anywhere close to bad; it’s just a tad bland. After creating your character in a surprisingly robust character creator and a short tutorial dungeon, the head of your village sends you off to a neighboring town that has requested aid. This basically sets the tone for the main quest; you go to a new town, and the leader of that town sends you to the next town to figure out what’s going on there. You can pick up side quests from different people in town for some variety, but the main quest just boils down to moving from town to town without really adding a bunch to the story until you get to the king’s castle, where the king finally tells you the point of your main quest.
As for the writing, it’s fairly snappy. It’s perhaps not the most elegant or sophisticated writing you’ll ever see in a game, but it’s clever in places and always clearly gets the job done. The main quest dialogue is serious enough to convey the sinister sense of the world’s major goings-on, but the game reserves the right to not take itself too seriously, either. There are plenty of side quests assigned to you by quirky NPCs whose dialogue made me chuckle. As far as character development goes, though, there isn’t any. Your main character is a blank slate throughout, and all of the NPCs are just there to say their few lines of dialogue and that’s it. As I said, it’s a bit of a disappointment for a narrative-phile like myself, but don’t fret; the big game world and numerous activities packed into it kept me too busy to have time to dwell on it.
The Good Parts
What I really liked about 9th Dawn III, and something that really, really impressed me about it, was the sheer number of skills and abilities there are to develop. In combat alone, you can build your skills with a bunch of different melee weapons, ranged weapons, armor types, and magic schools. Combat itself is fairly simple; you just use the right thumbstick to choose the direction in which you attack, and then you do. Magic and items can be used through an intuitive interface to either heal yourself or deal damage in addition to your base weapon damage. It’s ridiculously simple, yet I found myself addicted to it nonetheless. Something about the way you could just lay into mobs of enemies and cut them all down at once conveyed a very satisfying feeling of power.
But the gameplay doesn’t stop at just developing the myriad combat abilities available. 9th Dawn III also features a surprisingly robust system of crafting and resource-gathering. You can mine rocks and ore to create dozens of different types of weapons and armor. You can collect reagents and food from defeated enemies or broken containers to alchemize into potions or gems to apply to equipment or cook for food. Like every good RPG in the last five years it has a fishing minigame. You can even capture and train any of the game’s enemies to form your own war party! The game even finds positive ways to encourage you try out all of the different skills if you want to; every single one of the game’s skills has multiple side quests that require you to develop them. Whatever the story may lack, the gameplay is well-planned enough to keep things addictive the whole way through.
The Mildly Inaccurate Part
I have one small nitpick with 9th Dawn III’s classification of itself as an open world game; sure, it’s a big, big world – especially for a one-man developer – but its world is not exactly “open.” In an open world game, you can go anywhere, anytime, with few, if any, impediments. The different areas of the world in this game, however, are very literally gated, forcing players to follow a predetermined path around the world and through the story. Sure, there are optional dungeons and side quests galore, but the main quest’s progression, and the player’s progression through the world, are very linear. I mean, that’s probably for the best as you’d get torn to tiny little pixely pieces if you tried to head directly to the final area with a level one character, and it doesn’t really detract from the game’s appeal, but it bugs me when buzzword terms are applied to games that don’t really fit that bill.
The Audiovisual Part
I said in the opening that 9th Dawn III lacks the high-end graphics of a triple-A studio release, but I don’t want that to be interpreted as the game looking bad. The game’s 8-bit inspired graphics give the game an authentic old-school look, which is an era I adore aesthetically. Especially impressive is the array of unique weapons, armor, and enemies discovered throughout the game. Combined with the game’s many varied biomes and dungeons, the visuals never get stale or repetitive. Somehow Tom from Valorware is even a pretty darn good musician; the soundtrack doesn’t have that many different songs, but the ones there are hit the ear just right all the time. I particularly like the forlorn but adventurous wilderness adventure theme. Overall, the game’s art direction is just as strong and varied as its gameplay elements.
The Concluding Part
My major recurring reaction to 9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil is “how did one guy pack all of this into one game?!” A game with gameplay this smooth, this many gameplay systems, and such great aesthetics would be impressive if it was produced by even a small indie team. But for one person to accomplish this much in one game? That’s pretty darn stunning. Even despite a slightly bland story, Tom from Vaporware has successfully created the scale of a big-budget, epic RPG release all by his lonesome. And I haven’t even mentioned it yet but you can play with a friend online if you want. If you’re into series like The Elder Scrolls or Fallout, you should definitely give 9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil a try.
Buy 9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil
Digital – $15.99
The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.