Spellcraft can best be described as all out strategy but has some aspects of a good adventure and a little RPG. By far, however, the strategy element is the strongest. (There was another port of this game for the SNES that was more of an adventure game unlike the PC version.)
If you take the time to read the manual from cover to cover you will get a background on the story. That isn’t necessary to enjoy the game. In a nutshell, man’s meddling with nature and determination to destroy himself has created a rift between our universe, Terra, and another called Valoria. In our universe magic has all but died. In Valoria magic still rules. It rules under the direction of a council of powerful wizards. These wizards have noticed the rift and plan on using it as an opportunity to destroy Terra lest their magic be destroyed by our meddling. The leader of the council, Garwayen, opposes this plan and the rest of the council attempts to overthrow him. Garwayen then summons you as the only human able to wield the magical abilities to take on the other wizards and save our universe.
Before you can begin to think of defeating them you must be trained in the powerful magic art and learn to create and modify spells to make them the most effective. When you do get into a real battle you must have the knowledge and instinct to act quickly to survive. About one-half the game is spent with the player being tutored by Garwayen. One of the impressive things about Spellcraft is that even though the game ends up being a little complex with the myriad of spells and variations of spells, it brings you along slowly enough that the complexity is not overwhelming. By games end your spell inventory will become quite large. You will also have created many spell variations through the addition of various ingredients that you find in your explorations or are given to you by your allies on Terra.
The major objective in Spellcraft is in not only finding the spell “recipes” but in experimenting with the spell to adapt it to the many environments in which you will do battle. Every spell consists of an “aspect”, a magic word and up to four ingredients that must be mixed in a precise combination. The aspect is a common item that holds some kind of magical property and must be purchased or found. The magic words are given to you by allies, your tutor (when he thinks you are ready), or a conquered foe. The Spell book (see extras) will give clues and an opportunity to organize what you have learned about spell craft as you progress. You will want to print the Spell book and record everything you learn along the way. That is VERY important.
The geography of the game, as I mentioned earlier, consists in two universes. You will travel throughout Terra (earth) meeting people that will become your allies and provide you with valuable items and information. One really nice thing the game developers did was to weave a lot of our history into the game by linking events on earth to some magical phenomenon that surrounded it. You will deal with events ranging from Pompeii to the Salem witch hunts to Stonehenge. This is how you will learn much of what you need to know. The Valoria universe is divided into seven realms six of which are controlled by a wizard that is bent on your destruction. Four of the realms coincide with earthlike elements. They are earth, air, fire and water. Two more realms are mind and ether. Mind is a strange one in that it takes place in your own thoughts and memories while ether is challenging because you will battle it out in the cosmos.
The final realm is death. The way the game handles death is unique and well thought out. When you are defeated in battle you don’t actually die but, instead, are sent into the death realm where magic does not exist. You must escape the death realm without being killed. If you are killed in the death realm its game over and save-game restore. If you escape you are once again ready to continue your lessons where you left off. There is much to discover in the death realm as well. Some valuable spell ingredients are much more plentiful in there. You may find yourself purposefully taking a stroll through the death realm just to get your hands on some of these.
One interesting feature of the game is that there are many spells used by both you and your opponent that actually change the geography of the elemental realms. Since using the terrain is important in a good strategy this will make the game more challenging as you experience tougher opponents.
The economy of Spellcraft is fairly simple. You are given money by selling the magical artifacts you find. You then use this money to buy spell ingredients. If you play your cards right money will not be a big issue. If you are wasteful in your attempts to create more powerful spells money may become an issue.
Spellcraft’s game play is in the isometric top-down view. Movement is controlled by the mouse. Battle takes place in real time, it is not turn based. Things will get fast and furious as you progress. That is why it is important that you are very familiar with your spell inventory and how each spell performs in a certain environment or against a specific opponent. Thankfully the game does go into freeze mode for a couple seconds when you select the spell menu to choose and cast a spell. The player has to navigate a couple menus to finally get to the spell and variation of the spell they wish to use. It would be unfair, given that constraint, to have the battle raging on. A decision must be made fairly quickly, however, as the game does not have unlimited patience.
Another nice feature that Spellcraft has is that although most of the battles you fight will be waged by magic, the only way to kill a competing wizard is with your sword. That rule requires that you find a way to manipulate your opponents and the terrain in such a way as to get close enough to deal the fatal blow. Much easier said than done.
You will absolutely have to download and print the Spell book to play the game. It provides essential hints and is a record of all that you learn as you progress. There are a couple points in the game where you will need to refer to writings by legendary magicians that are reproduced in the user’s manual. Because the manual is almost 12 MB, I would suggest downloading it to your computer so that it is handier to use. To those unfamiliar with what to do simply right click on the link and select “save as”. The rest is pretty simple.
The game runs fine in DOSBox but you may need to adjust the cycle count upward. Late in the game there is a lot of battle activity taking place simultaneously. The game will play “choppy” at lower speeds.
Run SC.EXE to start the game.