Madness? This is… uh, shadow!

Working on GameSpite Quarterly 8, our PlayStation anniversary issue, has set me to thinking about a lot of the games of that era, both good and bad. I’ve revisited several games and found that some have held up beautifully (The Misadventures of Tron Bonne), some are good but a lot different than I realized (Parasite Eve), and some are… not so great as I used to think (Strider 2). These rediscoveries have set me thinking about other games of the era, and I’m curious to revisit them. So I dropped a couple of bucks on eBay to pick up one of the strangest works of the PS1: Shadow Madness.

Screenshot courtesy of MobyGames, whose contributors are classy and intellectual folks.

The circumstances of Shadow Madness’ birth made for an inevitably odd creation. The people behind it were Square expats, left alone in the cold and dark when the company shut down its Washington development branch after a single game (Secret of Evermore). Evermore had its issues, but it also had its moments! Certainly it wasn’t so terrible as to necessitate shutting down the entire studio behind its creation. Nevertheless, Square axed that arm, and from what I understand a bunch of its crew established a company called Big Rain, which then metamorphosed into Crave’s Craveyard studio, which created Shadow Madness, which was one of the PS1’s many games that really, really wanted to be Final Fantasy VII.

I don’t remember it being great, but I certainly found it a lot more tolerable than peers like Legend of Dragoon and Zill’Oll. Something tells me we’re pretty unlikely to see Shadow Madness on PSN anytime soon, so I went ahead and picked up a cheap copy in physical media. Who knows when I’ll actually have time to revisit it, but it should be an interesting experience. I suspect it’s probably not a game to whom the past 12 years have been particularly kind… but stranger things have happened. Right, Whore?

10 thoughts on “Madness? This is… uh, shadow!

  1. I can’t say I found playing Shadow Madness to actually be any fun, but I loved how its overworld map was a hand-drawn map with little pictures you could examine for flavor text about the world.

  2. A friend showed me Shadow Madness back when it was new and I was really intrigued. I played it for a long while but never finished it. I’ve wanted to go back to it for some time now but never got around to it. I remember liking that it would give you warning (in the form of a roar if memory serves) of random battles and you could hold town L1 + R1 and duck to avoid it. Maybe once GSQ8 is out I’ll buy it and a copy of SM the same day.

  3. True story: I’ve beaten Shadow Madness four times. And for the life of me, I have no damn clue where that screenshot came from.

    For the record, I’m pretty certain Craveyard knew they had a stinker on their hands. Your level cap in the game is a mere 15, and they made a big deal out of the fact that you can dodge almost every single battle in the game.

    But, hey, it’s got great music, some pretty fun details, awesome flavor text (my favorite is the Painting simply titled “Tortured Shades of Gray”), and some actually pretty decent atmosphere. And no, Shadow Madness will never be as obnoxious as a generic JRPG. Ever.

    • Actually if I remember correctly from interviews back at the time, the game was developed as to fix all the criticisms people had of FF7

      Random Battles?

      You can dodge them!

      Don’t like battles?
      No need to fight them, your are already at max power!

      Summon spells take too long?
      You can skip them!

      Writing is non-sensical and at times offensive?

      -Get Ted woosly to write it!

  4. Strider 2 not aged that well? Really? Shame, always wanted to give it a go. I’ll still give it a blast, only really played a small bit on mame.

    As for Legend of Dragoon, the only thing worse than that game is it’s fans and defenders. There’s justsomething so soulless and, I don’t know, corporate and designed by commitee that it does nothingbut makeme hate it for the 50 hours of my life it stole. I hope there’s a section in the new gamespite quartley ripping it apart!

  5. Gah, I actually enjoyed Legend of Dragoon. Although it did have a bit of a soullessness, probably stemming from the very literal nature of the localization. I mean, most people would never speak like that. And the actual gameplay is pretty dang good. It really was the best Final Fantasy that wasn’t Final Fantasy at the time.

    As for Shadow Madness, I enjoyed it, too, but for completely different reasons. The gameplay itself is horribly unbalanced, in that the first boss you hit is really the hardest in the game. Seriously. It’s a cakewalk for the rest of the way, but the story and humor keep you going. Harv-5 was hilarious.

    So, would it be safe to say that Shadow Madness with the gameplay of LoD would rock?

    • There wasn’t much gameplay for me. Having to slog through areas with a high encounter rate fighting battles that lasted way too long since you had to gaurd to regain health and take part in a terrible rhythm action game every time you attacked wasn’t much fun. Also said rhythm action was laggy because of the 15 fps or below the battle engine ran at meaning you had to press X well before it was indicated on screen to make it work wasn’t fun either. Calling the translation literal is giving it too much credit. It’s just plain bad although I’m sure with how generic the story was it wasn’t much better in japanese.

  6. I bought Shadow Madness when it was new, well knowing that it was not going to be as polished as say anything by Square at the time. The writing, characters and music (Jeremy Soule was involved with this, right? It’s been a long time, so I forget.) are what stand out to me. The music the most. I rather liked it. The writing really displayed to me the difference between a game written in English vs. a game in written in Japanese and localized into English.

    Also this is weird since at my local game store they have a copy of the game for sale for like 6 bucks… I’m almost tempted to buy it again, as I sold it some 11 years ago or so.

  7. Man, I remember trying to play this game at least three times and giving up. It probably has the most unappealing lead characters ever created for any video game – which is kind of tough, considering everyone loves a fat plumber with a mustache (so much so that we more than tolerate his brother, his arch-nemesis, and… whatever Waluigi is.)

    I also remember liking Legend of Dragoon a lot – thought the gameplay was fun and was impressed with the plot twist near the beginning, with the warrior dying and the King joining. I respected that, figured it would be the other way around.

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