The Dark Spire: A D&D Player’s Dungeon Crawler

By Louise Yang . May 5, 2009 . 10:34am

image The Dark Spire, Atlus’s latest DS dungeon crawler, may not be for everyone, but for people who enjoy games like Etrian Odyssey 1 & 2, it’s a logical next step. The game’s heart-thumping soundtrack and highly stylized visuals add to the solid Dungeons & Dragons based ruleset.


After rolling (more about that later) a party of adventurers or using the pre-made ones, and a short tutorial on the basics of dungeon crawling, players are thrust in front of the Tower and will need to make their way painstakingly up higher and higher floors. Players must resign themselves to the fact that there will be deaths. A lot. Especially in the beginning.


A prominent difference between the Dark Spire and the Etrian Odyssey games is that the Dark Spire is based on the D&D ruleset. When a character is created, each stat (strength, intelligence, agility, etc.) must be rolled for, which is simulated by pressing a button on some quickly changing numbers. Also in line with D&D, a character’s defense depends on his armor class. A lower armor class means a higher defense, which is why equipment that have negative armor class are good to stock up on.


Players who are used to the conventional RPG’s like Final Fantasy will be shocked to find out that spells like healing don’t always heal for the same amount. Each time a heal spell is used, imagine dice being rolled; sometimes you’ll heal 17 points and sometimes you’ll only heal 2 measly points.


image Members in a party accumulate their own experience point total. Once they reach a certain amount, they can level up in their primary class or gain levels in other non-restricted classes. Each time a class level is gained, characters also gain max HP, but like most other things, how much you gain depends on a roll of a die. Members can also learn skills like dancing and lock picking, which greatly help in dungeon exploration.


It’s the customization aspect of parties which really makes the Dark Spire enjoyable. Dungeon exploration and collecting loot is fun and all, but I don’t really feel attached to my party unless I custom tailor each character from their stats down to what spells they can have.


A couple tips which will make your exploration of The Tower easier:

  • Before leveling up a character, save the game. That way, if you level up the character and they only gain 1 maximum HP, you can reload your save and try to level the character up again. Rinse and repeat until you roll a higher maximum HP.
  • While the map gets drawn as you explore, there’s no actual marker telling you where you are in relation to the map. The mage has a spell that reveals the location. Save before using the spell, use the spell, remember where you are in the map, and then reload to gain that spell point back.
  • To speed through easy battles, just hold down the A button.
  • If you want to create a priest character, remember that they have to have either a chaotic or good alignment. There’s no way to create a neutral priest.

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  • MadMirko

    Regarding the tip of saving before rolling the HP gain: It’s not entirely random. If you deviate from the average HP for your class / level, the rolls will be modified. I found that out after my Fighter gained 10 and 14 HP consecutively. Try as I might, my next level up only got me 1 extra HP, and I tried at least 10 times. I guess this works the other way, too.

    So, don’t worry, you won’t end up with total wimps even if you don’t want to repeat your rolls 20 times.

    • Ah, this explains a lot. I spent half an hour trying to get my mage to have more than 1 max hp after leveling up once. But I guess it’s because she already had a lot of hp for a mage.

    • Misguided

      It recomputes your hp from scratch every time you level. If your new total is lower than the previous one, it simply ads one point. So there’s no reason to reroll a bunch of times, unless you feel a character has way below average hp for their level. It’s a great mechanic and I wish I’d thought of it.

  • This is the only dungeon crawler coming out I’m actually passing on. Not sure why; maybe I just don’t dig the visuals (as neat as they look, I just can’t place why I don’t like them), or the overly-obvious D&D mechanics (like in KOTOR, you could swing your lightsabers and miss several times… then land a hit for 1 or quite a bit more… lame rolling nonsense).

    Or maybe there’s a different reason. I can’t say. Alas.

  • CleruTesh

    I was not previously interested in this game, but the true-to-D&D bit sounds cool.
    Do they even have mages pick their spells beforehand?

    • Yep, the magic users (mage, priest, *cough* other classes) can pick however number of spells their class level dictates, and picks from a list of whatever level spells are opened up. The best part is, you can pick and unpick spells whenever you want when you’re in the guild screen. So if a certain set of spells you thought would be awesome aren’t that awesome after a few minutes in the tower, go back to the guild and re-pick.

  • Yeah, The Dark Spire is a fantastically brutal game if you’re the type who can get into it. Secondary classes, in particular, are really fun to tinker with. While TDS has more than a few flaws, something about the overall aesthetic turn them into charms… Although the ending isn’t what I expected, unfortunately.

    A few more tips:
    – You walk faster in Classic mode. If you only need to move from Point A to Point B, switch over to Classic. And you might find yourself staying in this mode for a while, like me.
    – If you want a surefire-survival starting team, use the Heroic Formation and stick your Warrior in the front with the rest in the back. Get a Longbow for your Thief, too.
    – Is poison bothering you early on? Buy Snake Oil from the Inn. It’s cheap, and if it doesn’t work the first time you can always reload and try again.
    – Definitely abuse the “save/load anywhere” function. I’m pretty sure the game was designed for that, anyway. With this, there’s no reason to tolerate a dead party member unless you’re feeling especially ballsy.
    – Despite what may seem to be the case early in the game, money is really easy to come buy. This is because once you’ve bought the best gear your store has (which you can do before even seeing half of the 2nd Floor), the only thing to really pay off is Inn trips. So don’t be stingy with your spell charges; the cost to replenish them will be next to nothing.

    • MadMirko

      And yet more tips:

      – In the early game, Somnium Dulcis (the sleep spell) is a real life saver. Beside the obvious put a group to sleep then kill them tactic, it also allows you to flee if opposed by multiple groups. Works especially well if they don’t have long range weaponry: Put the front-most group to sleep and run.

      – If you stay to kill them, do not use the default attack, use a specialized version, preferrably one that does more damage (the drawback usually being that the attack is slower, but you don’t care in this case because the enemy is sleeping).

      – Poison will not kill you outside of combat, only reduce you to 1 HP. Don’t waste recovery items when close to the exit.

      – AC reducing spells stack. Cast 2 Divine Fortresses and get a whopping -8 to AC for every party member, f.ex.

      – Don’t forget to pray at the respective temple. You need a high enough faith level for alignment specific spells.

  • John H.

    This is not any more Dungeons & Dragons based than Wizardry or Might & Magic. It’s closer than Final Fantasy, but so are most games.

    How can I tell? The characters in the screen shot have from 130 to 207 hit points. 130 would come in at the higher end of a character’s total. 207 would require vast amounts of experience and Constitution scores. And they have a thousands digit in the display, which are far out of reach of D&D characters, especially when they start earning reduced HP per level later on.

    (Maybe they’re claiming it’s based off of 3E or 4E? Unlikely; those systems grant more HP, but not -lots- more, and they also count AC bonuses going up, not down.)

    • Ereek

      Play the game before you say that. The HP totals are for the testing version only. Once you’ve completely beaten the game and finished every ending, you’ll barely be breaking 100 HP. You speak nonsense.

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