For this review The Immortal was played on the Sega Mega Drive.
The Immortal, the Marmite of fantasy video games
The Immortal seems to be quite a decisive game. With it’s steep learning curve, unforgiving gameplay and impressively animated death scenes, gamers will either love it or hate it. However, like most sane and rational gamers I can’t stand the Immortal (or Marmite for that matter).
The Immortal takes little time in setting the tone for your entire adventure. You take control of an un-named wizard, seeking out his kid-napped mentor. Taking control of your daring hero you will like head straight for the door in a small room you find yourself in. This is a mistake.
A warning will appear, suggesting that you do not stand in the middle of the room for too long. Failing to heed these words will cause a giant worm to erupt from the ground, dragging your player to a swift death. This is only a taste of what the game has in-store for players as they traverse the deadly labyrinth.
While brutally difficult games still persist to this day, just take a look at titles like Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy, the Immortal never really feels like you ever had a fair chance when playing. Deaths will come out of nowhere, usually with no chance to avoid them short of precognition or memorisation of the game.
This is where titles like the aforementioned Dark Souls differ. While in that title death is common, but also avoidable. You will have likely died due to a mistake that you have made. Deaths in the Immortal usually feel arbitrary, and often as if the game is simply trolling you.
A Trial in Tedium
It’s this inherent unfairness that saps the game of any fun. To get through a stage typically requires multiple game overs as you use trial and error to feel your way through the stage. Eventually players will reach the end of a stage – providing they have the patience to see it through. There is no reward using your skill or creativity to solve problems presented to you.
The Immortal is an extremely linear experience, with very little chance for exploration beyond what the game wants you to do. This turns the game into a memorisation game, with each play through playing out in same way.
Combined with sluggish control these aspects once again add up to a whole that is somehow worse than the sum of its parts.
A Pretty Face But Nothing More
One positive I have to say about the Immortal is that it’s not the worst looking title I’ve seen. For a relatively early Mega Drive/Genesis title, the claustrophobic labyrinth manages to look detailed and convey a sense of hopelessness. From the crumbling floor to the blood stained walls, a lot of effort has gone into imbuing the environments with their own history.
It’s not only the labyrinth that looks impressive. Firstly there’s the animation of your nameless wizard. For a game that will be killing you repeatedly, it thankfully has a variety of well animated deaths. From seeing the wizard eaten, impaled, engulfed in flames, drowned and even his head exploded. Each detailed in all their gory glory.
Secondly there is also the detailed battle scenes. When the player encounters an enemy the game shifts to an over-the-shoulder perspective. In these battles you duck and weave out of the way of your enemy’s attacks, slowly tiring them out. Once they’re sufficiently fatigued you can slice and stab at your enemy, pausing only to dodge their own attacks. Ultimately the enemy will fall to their wounds, at which point the wizard will use one of a number of well animated and gruesome fatalities to finish off their foe.
Unfortunately, the same praise for the graphics can not be said for the music and sound effects. It is worth mentioning that the Mega Drive version of The Immortal is considered to be the best sounding.
Throughout your adventure you’ll be hearing the same grunts and garbled sound effects on repeat. The less said about the music the better. Although if I did have to describe it, I would say a piano falling down a deep pit accompanied by some poorly tuned wind instruments would be a perfectly accurate description.
This game was way ahead of it’s time and is still a classic. I’ve always loved RPG’s and found it a great challenge and truly rewarding if you were smart and played it the right way.
I’d personally much rather play it than the New Elden Ring / Souls experience of dying 200 times and finally geting it right, with zero enjoyment.
Or the new age “rouge lites” that have crap graphics but are nowhere near as immersive or enjoyable as the classic games they are based on as well as being totally unoriginal.
I’m glad that someone got some enjoyment out of this game. I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the game when I first played it in the early-mid 90s, or again when I played it a few years back. I think part of the issue was it was not what I was expecting from an RPG, which up until that point had consisted of titles such as Shining Force, Phantasy Star, and Miracle Warriors. Perhaps had I played it on a computer I would have looked more favourably at it – although now the game and the feeling of disappointment and frustration from my childhood are likely forever linked.