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Diablo (PS1) Review
~by tankMage (March 2016)
Score: B (Two Player Experience: B+)
Note: This review is rather old and some of the statements made in it are outdated, particularly those associated with the game’s compatibility with modern PCs. Windows 8,10, and 11 users should be able to run Diablo using the appropriate compatibility mode. There are also two mods available for this game that include tweaks for modern systems: Belzebub and Diablo Hell. While I have yet to try the Hell mod, I highly recommend Diablo Belzebub.
Way back in ‘98 I saw Diablo for the PS1 in EGM magazine and decided to run out and buy it, even though I already had the PC version. Something about playing Diablo on a home console appealed to me. Maybe it was, because I could play it with a controller while chilling out on the couch or take it over a friend’s house for some multiplayer demon hunting fun. Either way, I was tremendously pleased with my purchase and played the PS1 version far more than I did the PC version of Diablo (despite the fact that the PC version was superior). In fact I really had to force myself to be objective while playing through this game and writing the review. Fortunately it’s not difficult to find flaws in this gem and even I can admit Diablo on the PS1 is not perfect, nor is it’s PC counterpart. Having said that, Diablo is an important title in the Hack and Slash RPG genre and the PS1 port is probably one of the best ports of a PC title I’ve seen on a home console.
The PS1 might be known as a 3D console, but it was capable of some beautiful 2D graphics…too bad the term “beautiful graphics” and Diablo don’t belong in the same sentence. The PC version of Diablo is dark, brooding and nicely detailed, while its little brother on the PS1 is just dark and blurry. Of course it’s understandable that the PS1 isn’t capable of generating PC quality graphics, but they really hammered Diablo’s visuals hard in this port and it shows. The main issue is the port’s awful resolution, even for a game made to be played on old CRT TVs. Although, it’s likely that the graphics are in such a low resolution to prevent video lag without drastically changing the way the game functions, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better way to achieve this.
Character models and backgrounds are all very fuzzy, even on a modern high resolution screen. It’s often difficult to tell what you are supposed to be looking at and some objects that drop on the ground are nearly inscrutable. Fortunately the game notifies you when you walk past an item or object. The HUD has also been stripped down to accommodate the PS1, but at least the changes were mostly aesthetic and it still works well. A simplified HUD also allows the second player’s HUD to be displayed without using a split screen or some other tomfoolery. Spell effects also suffered in the port. Some of the spells, like fireball and firebolt were amorphous blobs, while spells like lightning had very little animation. To be fair, spells like firewall and apocalypse actually looked pretty cool in lower resolutions. As poor as the graphics are, the devs did make a valiant attempt to preserve the look and feel of the game. Video lag was also kept minimal, especially when you consider how many mobs and spell effects can occupy the screen at one time.
Music and Sound
Diablo’s soundtrack, while not one of the great iconic works of its time, is quite good and well suited to the game. Haunting cries, exotic rhythms, and eerie instrumental effects make for a BGM that sets the mood of the game beautifully. Tristram’s theme is especially memorable and adds to the dank atmosphere of the nearly deserted town. Monsters emit a variety of strange howls and guttural sounds that are perfect matches for each type of creature. Spells also have excellent sound quality and you can almost feel the impact of a fireball as it smashes through demon flesh thanks to the deep, rumbling sound the explosion makes. Diablo’s VOs are well done and put those of many other games of its time to shame. Even today, Deckard Caine’s memorable Sean Connery-esque sound clips hold up and add plenty of flavor to the game. Of course Diablo’s VOs are not perfect and a fair number of them are slightly amateurish and cheesy, but they add charm to the game rather than detract from it.
The tale Diablo tells is ancient and familiar: a lone hero must venture into the underworld and face an unspeakable evil. This story is cliche to say the least (just ask the Greeks and Egyptians), but there is something about it that seems to resonate with the human imagination and Blizzard capitalized on this masterfully. It’s not so much what transpires over the course of the game that is interesting, rather it’s uncovering the events that brought Tristram to the brink of destruction that is fascinating. There is no real character development and the storytelling is minimal, so if you play RPGs for that sort of thing, you may find Diablo disappointing. The closest thing I can compare Diablo’s plot and story telling style is Dark Souls, since both games revolve more around lore, mystery, and hints given by NPCs than narration through the player character and cast. At any rate, Diablo manages to establish the mythos of a series in a single game, which is no small feat and earns the game some serious points.
I’ll be honest, I’m no fan of pointing and clicking (as much as I love hack and slash RPGs) and I was happy to find out I could play one of my favorite games with a controller. Even so, I have to admit that Diablo’s user interface is no bed of roses. There were no hot keys for potions and scrolls in the PS1 port, only a rather clumsy quick belt option that was more of a hassle than it was helpful. Blizzard did make up for the lack of hotkeys by allowing players to quaff life and mana potions using the left and right bumpers respectively; the AI even prioritizes small potions over full ones, so you at least know you aren’t going to waste a full mana potion when you hit the bumper if you have small potions in your bag.
Targeting is perhaps this version of Diablo’s greatest downfall. Since there’s no mouse to target specific enemies, the game will automatically target the mob closest to you. For the most part this isn’t a big issue, since smart players will either be kiting mobs or leading them into choke points. However, there are times when you may want to target a specific enemy and can’t, because of the clunky targeting system. Some spells use a glowing cursor to target foes or objects manually, which turns out to be a painfully slow process that has gotten me killed in the past while trying to cast firewall or stone curse.
Blizzard did do well with the quick spell book and gave the player the ability to toggle between two spells using the “o” button. Even scrolls and staves with spell charges show up in the quick spell book which is very useful and can save the player the trouble of bringing up and navigating the game’s menu screen. Item storage is another problem in Diablo: there is none aside from the player character’s tiny inventory. About half way into the game most players will probably have littered Tristram with piles of gold, potions, weapons and various other sundry goods they wish to save. Both versions of the game lacked a storage feature, which was an oversight on the dev’s part that made life harder than necessary. Sorting the stuff in your inventory is also quite tedious thanks to the lack of a mouse (Oh, the irony).
Movement is probably the one major improvement this game has over the PC version, since you don’t have to constantly click around the screen while your hand curls into a claw from carpal tunnel syndrome in order to move your character. Another plus is that button presses register quickly in this game and despite their clunky setup, controls feel perfectly smooth and on point. All in all Diablo’s UI is flawed, but bearable, considering the fact that it was designed for a radically different platform. This is a sort of miscellaneous issue that is only vaguely related to the user interface, but it’s also worth mentioning that Diablo takes up a lot of memory card space and I mean a lot due to the fact that it has to save the layout of sixteen procedurally generated dungeons.
This is where Diablo really shines. There’s no shortage of action in this game and thanks to its randomly generated areas, you will always be wondering what is around the next corner while exploring the dungeons below Tristram. While the items and loot are kind of basic by today’s standards, there’s still plenty of variety and players have numerous options as far as weapons and enchantments go. Another interesting twist to Diablo is that every class can use the same spells (of course the Sorcerer is far more proficient at magic than the Warrior), which makes them somewhat generic on one hand, but offers a variety of gameplay options to each class on the other since every character has access to a wide array of abilities.
Diablo boasts a robust bestiary full of enemies that require a mixture of decent equipment and tactics to defeat. Today, Diablo’s line up of undead and demons is familiar to me, but I was often surprised and shocked by some of the beasts the game threw at me when I first played it. Lightning hurling demons, succubae, and insane wizards are just a few of the evil creatures that the player must learn to deal with in this game and each class must use its strengths to overcome great adversity. Unfortunately, there are very few enemies that could be considered bosses. Only about three of the bosses found in this title have unique sprites, while the rest are (you guessed it) palette swaps with enhanced stats. To Blizzard’s credit, bosses (or unique monsters in Diablo jargon) and the packs that accompany them have to be dealt with carefully; some unique monsters even behave in a manner that is drastically different from other creatures of their kind.
I touched on the playable classes in Diablo earlier and they do require some analysis. Mathematically the classes in this game were fairly well balanced, but in execution the Rogue and Sorcerer have a slight advantage over the Warrior. This is primarily due to the fact that the Rogue and Sorcerer have ranged attacks and the Warrior is highly reliant on melee. In situations where the player is fighting enemies that like to run from attackers and fire spells at them, the Warrior is often at a disadvantage, because such enemies have to be chased down and cornered to be killed. Fortunately the Warrior is tanky enough to survive. I should also point out that the Hellfire expansion was not available for the PS1 version of Diablo; this is an issue which I will not hold against the game since the expansion came out only a few months before Diablo was released for the PS1.
To keep things interesting, there are a variety of quests, unique items and oddities in Diablo. Many of the quests are challenging and offer decent rewards. The oddities are random things like shrines (that may help or harm you) or rare occurrences such as rooms filled with treasure. I’ve even found strange dungeon spawns that had rooms filled with gold or in one case an object called “Hero’s Grave” that had a piece of armor. Unique items really spice things up; unfortunately they cannot be saved with your character and turn into gold if you try to start a new game with a saved character, which sucks for collectors or people who want to try to build a character around certain uniques.
In the end it’s the possibilities, which are nearly endless, that make Diablo fun. Never knowing exactly what I’ll encounter and trying different character builds has kept this game fresh for many years.
Gameplay: the Two Player Experience
Diablo got a slightly higher score in this department, because of how much fun it is to play with a friend. It’s especially amusing to play this game with a friend if you don’t know much about it. Any weaknesses the classes may have are generally covered in a two-player game and players can come up with a variety of tactics to deal with threats or even try to kill one another.
Diablo is an excellent game and the PS1 version is one of the better PC ports from this era. Dumbed down graphics and long loading times hurt this version of this game to some extent, although it still manages to be a worthwhile title in the end.
I really love this game and it’s definitely a gem, but can I recommend it to anyone? Yes. From what I have read, people have had trouble getting the PC version to work on newer operating systems, so for now at least, the PS1 version may be the only thing available to those who wish to play. Having said that, hack and slash RPGs aren’t for everyone and I wouldn’t advise people who do not like the genre or are new to it to play this title. Instead, Diablo is better suited to genre veterans or gamers who are looking for an interesting history lesson.
Thanks for reading my Diablo review!