Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft came to me as a request from the fabulous Akeashar. I had never heard of it, but my local game shop had a copy in stock. As I browsed the rack of PS1 games, I couldn’t remember the name. I just knew it was ridiculous, and sure enough, I found it based on that fact alone.
I don’t know. Initially, I thought it might not be that bad. There’s a cheesy ‘90s CGI cutscene that seems to go on forever and doesn’t make much sense unless you read the story in the instruction manual, but the presentation seems like whoever made the UI maybe sort of cared. One of the characters is a werewolf, so that’s always a plus for me.
Then I got into the game and a woman with no pants on shook her butt at me, knocked me to the ground, and stabbed my character in the dick.
Looks like you were over-matched, friend
Despite spending so much time playing bad games to the point where it might go past the limits of “hobby” and land in “passion” territory, I’m still sometimes surprised. It’s the same as a good game — you never know what bizarre concoction of mechanics is going to impress you. In order to tell you about some of my favorite games, I usually have to open with an apology. Sometimes, genius hides in the most improbable places. Except, we’re talking about kusoge, so reverse-genius. Or perhaps just a different kind of genius. Something wrought by a mind that can conceive wretchedness on a level beyond us.
Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft has that stunning level of badness. As its full name suggests, it’s supposedly a Dungeons & Dragons game. Except it’s a fighting game, which could be cool. Then you read the controls, and things get a little dicey.
Each face button is a different attack, paired with high or low, so your fighter has a whopping 12 basic attacks. Then it’s like, “you can only hit a prone opponent by using the ‘Hit while down attack’,” which is toward, back, toward, circle. I am not making this up. This is how you strike at the crotch.
I might have been nicer if you begged
I decided to check out campaign mode because I already knew I wouldn’t be able to convince my husband to play this with me. You select four characters and compete against your opponent’s party. Each fight yields rewards, and by that I mean, it always offered either magic power or a new teammate. A dude on the other team got an artifact once, but I don’t remember the voice mentioning it.
Let me tell you something: I’ve read the entire manual, and I still don’t get most of the mechanics. I went into training mode to see if it was a tutorial, but instead, I was faced with a mystery. The AI doesn’t just act like a dummy that you can practice your hit while down attack. It’s completely just a normal fight. One that you can lose. There’s no move list for you to try out. I’m not even sure why it’s a separate mode.
But there are some mechanics that are just completely baffling. I was trying to figure out what was up with artifacts, so I checked the instruction manual and found that they can be toggled in the options menu. Can they? There’s no option there, and the spot where it should be according to the manual is instead taken up by Auto Save.
On my first playthrough of the campaign, artifacts never showed up for me as a match objective. I was puzzled, so I looked them up, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a manual be so coy about a mechanic.
“In Campaign mode, contestants must find and acquire artifacts by first recognizing an object’s unique signal, and then performing the proper button combination to gain the artifact.”
That’s something I would write if I had to pen a manual without ever having seen the game. And if I was trying to meet a deadline of 3pm that afternoon. And if I stayed up the entire previous night playing Harvester.
I scanned the manual again for any mention of this “proper button combination” and it came up bupkiss. Must be simple right? No, I looked up a guide and every character has a different combination. Here’s Kaurik’s, for example: half-circle counterclockwise starting from up, and triangle. To be fair, this is apparently the same combination of his Dervish Attack.
Anyway, are you following so far? Because I’m completely lost.
The Shin Test
It shouldn’t be this complicated. It doesn’t have to be. I have this test I like to run on bad fighting games called “The Shin Test.” It’s simple: crouch and hit the light attack button and see if that’s enough to win. See how far it can get you on the default difficulty, at least. Shaq-Fu rates rather highly on the Shin Test (or Shindex, if you will), but Castlevania Judgment does not. It’s not really a measure of quality, but it’s interesting when applied against kusoge.
How high Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft measures on the Shin Test varies based on the character you pick. Sarah the Werewolf, for example, wrecks shins. Even the gargoyle trashes tibias. The dorky wizard with the dumb thing on his head? Shins laugh at his stupid fire magic. With Sarah, I was actually able to finish head-to-head mode on the default difficulty with only crouching light attacks. The Minion of Chaos’ legbones didn’t know what hit them.
Violence against crotches
I’ve covered a few fighting games in this column, and it’s really hard to say which is the worst. I don’t really want to give up the idea that Transformers: Beast Wars: Transmetals is the bottom of the dish drain, but Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft is right there with it among the caked-on dishwater. Iron & Blood might edge out a win simply because of its enthusiasm for violence against crotches.
I never even mentioned the music, which is… interesting. If Iron & Blood looks like the sort of game that you’d see in a movie or TV show that represents a video game while barely resembling one, its soundtrack sounds like someone making fun of ‘90s techno. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing: a bunch of synthetic music until someone comes in whispering “Xenobia.” Yeah, there are lyrics, and as far as I can tell behind all the grunting, they’re rapping about what’s going on in the game. To be fair, part of the soundtrack was done by Michael Bross, who did the scores for some of the Ratchet & Clank and Oddworld games. This is just not his best work. Or maybe it fits the unfortunate tragedy that is Iron & Blood so tightly that it’s really genius.
I’m absolutely down with the idea of a Dungeons & Dragons fighting game. Unfortunately, it was released during the time when your fighter was either legendary or found at the bottom of the trash bin. Is this Tekken? It is not. The cover says Acclaim on it, so the cards were stacked against it. Acclaim has the hit-to-miss ratio of a Storm Trooper from Star Wars. They mostly did ports of successful arcade titles for years and could barely get those right. Breakfast cereal companies didn’t even hate children as much as Acclaim did. A grave robber allows its victims more dignity than Acclaim.
Oh, sorry, I kind of blacked out there for a moment.