As a huge fan of retro JRPGs, Shadows of Adam demanded my attention from the very beginning. What started as a Kickstarter project several years back came to fruition for the computer market in early 2017. Unfortunately, I picked it up right as I was transitioning out of being a PC gamer, with the Nintendo Switch finally serving as my way out from behind the keyboard once and for all. So, when I heard that Shadows of Adam would actually be coming to Switch, I couldn’t wait to finish the quest I had started years prior. From the outset, Shadows of Adam definitely looks the part, easily tugging at the heartstrings of pixel art enthusiasts, but how does it fare beyond its appealing aesthetic?
Shadows of Adam takes place in a time when magic is all but shunned, though there are a select few who can still wield it. A terrible magic-fueled war a century ago forever shaped the face of the world. Living in the town of Adam, Kellan – the son of the legendary hero, Orazio – and Asrael – Kellan’s adopted sister and magic user – have lived a relatively quiet life since their father mysteriously left ten years ago. But today, a darkness that has festered in the background is about to come to a head, and its discovery will not only change Adam and its inhabitants forever, but the entire world as well.
At its core, the story that Shadows of Adam tells is not unheard of – magic is bad, and caused some bad things to happen years ago. Now, some people are seeking said magic once again to fulfill their agendas. Various elemental crystals are catalysts for magic. Sound familiar? My point is not to insult the story though, as I’m only explaining this to drive home another point. It is easy to take an RPG trope and do nothing with it, but Shadows of Adam makes it entertaining by way of its unique cast.
Kellan, Asrael, and Talon all grew up in the same town, but are all completely different from one another. Kellan might appear as a run-of-the-mill stoic warrior type, but his personality matches that of the biggest goober you’ve ever met. As a child, Talon battled a crippling sickness that made him unable to keep up with his friends, which ultimately led him to leave the town at the first opportunity in order to prove to himself (and everyone) that he is not a weakling. Of course, you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh at the frequent “one-up” banter between Kellan and Talon also, playfully fighting amongst each other at every opportunity, and over the dumbest things. As they say, “boys will be boys”.
Adopted by Kellan’s family and being the only magic user in town, Asrael struggles with the power inside of herself while putting on a smile for friends and family alike. Finally, there is Curtis – a man of few words and even fewer known motives. When the crap hits the fan, he’s determined to see the team succeed, but reveals little in the way of his own agenda. The blend of personalities here makes for an experience that is neither overly serious nor too lighthearted. The villains are equally interesting as well, but I’ll leave those for you to discover on your own. As a teaser though, let’s just say that fans of Final Fantasy VI will likely see an obvious nod to a certain psychopath at some point.
The only real blemish to an otherwise great story package is the Kickstarter npcs. Many crowdfunded game campaigns offer a “create a npc” tier, allowing the backers to become a part of the game world, from the character design down to their dialogue. The problem in Shadows of Adam involves their placement, not their presence. The first city you come to is filled to the brim with these backer npcs, to the point where it is a bit jarring to the actual task at hand. Let me be clear that nothing is wrong with their inclusion – in fact, I love that those that helped support the game from the beginning have a way to leave their mark on the world. However, I do feel that these npcs could have been distributed much more uniformly rather than being primarily clustered up in one spot. A minor gripe, but one worth mentioning regardless.
Shadows of Adam takes the tried-and-true turn-based combat we all know and (hopefully) love, and puts a coat of modern paint on top of it. Although billed to feature blazing-fast battles, I wouldn’t say that is completely true. Attacks and abilities fire off instantly, and animations are kept to a minimum in order to cut down on the overall time spent in combat, sure, but the game is actually designed in a way that all but nullifies the “button mash” approach.
Abilities are driven through a clever AP system – a resource which regenerates after successful attacks and at the end of rounds. Whereas other games in a similar vein might recommend backstocking your heaviest firepower for facing the most difficult encounters only, Shadows of Adam more or less encourages a “go all out” approach due to the AP regeneration system. Exploiting enemy weaknesses is key, as sound planning and decision making paves way for much faster encounters than through brute force alone.
Each of the four heroes fulfills a “class”, though all are designed to be able to perform multiple roles (to a certain extent) as well. Kellan, by default, is the tankiest of characters but can also spot heat when necessary, as well as dish out some impressive damage to those susceptible to slash damage. Asrael is the best healer, but can also deal some heavy damage through offensive spells. Curtis utilizes monk-esque Chi abilities, making him an excellent damage dealer that is also capable of revealing enemy weaknesses. Lastly, Talon is a “luck of the draw” type character, but the odds almost always play in his favor rather than the generally mediocre renditions found in similar titles. Each character only has a handful of abilities to their name, but all have a purpose and are expertly balanced in order to make each viable throughout the entirety of the game.
As a quick aside, let’s talk (perceived) inspiration for a moment, because I find it quite fascinating. Surprisingly, in many ways Shadows of Adam feels like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Random encounters are shelved in favor of static, visible enemies on each map. Bumping into these enemies will trigger a battle from an over-the-shoulder perspective, almost identical to Mystic Quest’s own. The soundtrack also seems heavily inspired by the not-so-cult-classic SNES RPG, but we’ll go into that a bit later. Through all of this, Shadows of Adam proves once again that familiarity can be fun and exciting when handled with care. I hope that you – the reader – and the developers know that a comparison to Mystic Quest is not a bad thing whatsoever. If anything, Shadows of Adam feels like what Final Fantasy Mystic Quest should have been – a title simple enough for genre newcomers to approach while simultaneously offering a healthy dose of difficulty to satiate veterans.
Speaking of balance, Shadows of Adam is almost perfect in regards to its difficulty. While it’s true that combat demands you to weigh your decisions, battles never seem unfair or impossible to beat. Additionally, those in the anti-grinding camp will be pleased to know that the base game can be completed with no grinding whatsoever. As a result, the flow of progression is never stagnate, instead new areas open frequently before any one zone ever becomes a bore.
Item and equipment progression is fairly standard in Shadows of Adam, with better stuff becoming available to you the further you go. A light form of crafting is eventually available, but it only applies to a select few items and is not usable until later in the game. Shadows of Adam encourages exploration, rewarding those that go off the beaten path with often immensely useful items. Taking the time to comb every area or search every object is well worth the effort.
The main quest is rather linear in Shadows of Adam, though there are numerous side quests available at certain points, especially towards the end game. Battle arenas and a new game plus also await those looking to get even more out of their experience. At a minimum, you are looking at around a 10 hour experience for a single playthrough, with 15+ hours easily should you complete all of the side content.
Graphics, Sound, and Performance
Shadows of Adam is a love letter to fans of the SNES era aesthetic, and I especially love its “less is more” approach to pixel art. Asset design avoids the grainy, dither-intensive approach in favor of a smooth, simplistic design that makes everything flow extremely well. It is paired with a wonderful soundtrack that exudes nostalgic goodness, very reminiscent of the works found in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Both Race to Stop Malvil and Knights of the Rounded Table nod their inspiration while offering something entirely different in the process.
As beautiful as the graphics and sound design are, they aren’t without some issues – notably on the graphical side of things. Occasionally, artifacting can be seen in the form of white lines in various spots of the screen, but only for a split second here and there. The framerate takes a dip at times, with airship travel being the biggest culprit of them all. I also ran into a singular scripted event where a character was invisible erroneously. Outside of that, there are some formatting issues on some textboxes that make a couple of scenes a little awkward. None of this is game breaking of course, and apparently a patch is already in queue to alleviate these issues. These gripes aside, Shadows of Adam is much more polished than your average budget JRPG.
Over the years, many games have aspired to tap into the nostalgic reserves of retro JRPG fans, but few actually succeed in that endeavor. Shadows of Adam should be the gold standard for modern retro-inspired JRPGs. While some additional polish is needed to buff out some of the minor imperfections present, it is still an excellent achievement as-is – even moreso when you consider the price point. The amount of love, passion, and effort clearly put forth into this $14.99 USD experience is to be commended, and fans of 16-bit era JRPGs itching for their next meaningful experience need look no further than Shadows of Adam.