Once upon a time, traditional JRPGs were ten a penny. Even a few generations ago we were inundated with riffs on that very familiar formula, from Shadow Hearts to Shin Megami Tensei and beyond. Today, that recipe has evolved in all manner of directions leaving those more classic JRPGs as more curio than common. In both gameplay and presentation, Shadows of Adam attempts to hark back to those glory days on the SNES, only making a few slight changes rather than overhauling its core tenants entirely.
The story follows the young lives of Kellan and his adopted sister Asrael, who awake to find their titular home of Adam is now being poisoned by a vine-like infestation known as the Tangle. As the children of famed hero Orazio – who disappeared into the surrounding forests a decade before, never to be seen again – the people of the village look to Kellan and Asrael to accept the mantle of their father’s exploits and ‘deal’ with the Tangle once and for all. Eventually joined by two more party members – the punch-happy Curtis and the roguish Talon – our heroes soon find themselves dealing with more than just angry purple vines.
All the classic elements are here. The hokey story full of monsters, magical books and hidden destinies. The quick-fire banter between party members. The top-down overworld and dungeon exploration in that timeless 16-bit art style. The chirpy chiptune soundtrack. And, of course, the turn-based battles. Shadows Of Adam does everything it can to feel like its emanating from a rectangular grey cartridge sitting in a SNES, and to that extent, it looks, sounds and plays just like something from Nintendo’s early ’90s JPRG output.
What sets it apart is the speed of its battles and the way it keeps you constantly empowered. It does this by effectively restoring your AP (Ability Points) to a certain extent after each battle. This means you’re afforded the chance to go all out in every encounter, fully utilising the unique skills and attacks each member of your party possesses. Classic JRPGs are often about caution, using items and skills sparingly in order to survive the more tougher battles in your way. Shadows Of Adam, on the other hand, wants you to have a little fun and mix things up – and that’s where it really shines.
Having a much more abundant source of AP enables you to constantly change your tactics mid-battle, rather than having to actively reload from a previous save in order to apply new information retrospectively. Find normal attacks from Kellan aren’t working? Why not give Asrael’s Lightning strike skill a few shots to really soften up that big enemy. You’re afforded the opportunity to continually evolve your tactics on the fly, which makes Shadows Of Adam a far more attractive prospect to younger players who missed out on the genre’s heyday over two decades ago.
As you level up and progress through the story, you’ll unlock new abilities so the elements at play are always in a position to be utilised. The diversity of monsters and enemies you encounter also keeps evolving, so new strategies are always being formed. Should you mind read the biggest foe on the battlefield so you can learn their weaknesses and reveal their health bar, or do you keep your focus on the support enemies that are buffing its health with every turn? Whatever your choice, you’re usually given just enough grace to find the right solution. The only caveat is that consistent reliance on support items – such as potions for your health – becomes less of an issue now you have more AP per battle.
Because it’s a little shorter than other ‘traditional’ JRPGs (it takes about 12 hours or so to finish up its main story), you’re bound to the four main members of the team. While it takes a little while for everyone to join your adventure, there’s no way to mix-and-match party members as you’ve done with the likes of Final Fantasy and Xenoblade Chronicles before. However, all four members are different enough to present very distinct skills. Curtis is the tank with a power Spirit Punch that strikes every enemy on screen, Asrael can Soothe (which means heal, basically) party members, Talon can poison enemies with stealthy strikes and Kellan will hack most things to bits with his sword. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it works.
Overworld exploration isn’t too complicated either, divided between opening chests to add new items to your inventory (even though you’re less likely to use them) and engaging/avoiding enemies as you progress through the story. There’s a relatively open approach to the overworld’s design, so you can backtrack to find secrets, with obstructions such as giant plants that can be activated in order to open and close vine-like gates. Again, it’s not particularly groundbreaking, but it keeps the time spent between cutscenes and battle interesting enough.
While its runtime is noticeably short for a JRPG of this style – especially when compared to the classics it so closely resembles – Shadows of Adam is still a really enjoyable experience while it lasts. The constant topping up of your AP makes every battle less challenging than other similar games in the genre, but it does give you far more options to be creative in the midst of combat. With a strong menagerie of monsters to battle, a really catchy soundtrack of chiptunes and a set of funny if not wholly memorable characters, this bite-sized adventure is a perfect fit for Nintendo Switch and the legacy of the SNES.