One of your party members is a disembodied head. Let that sink in for a minute.
The story tricks you into thinking that Stinger is the protagonist, as the game starts out with Stinger, generic rogue that dresses in red, narrating how his hometown is now a crater, his family dead, and grouping up with Windleaf, generic native-american girl that doesn't like to wear clothes, and Harvester-5, a robot with a barrel for a torso, a Scythe for harvesting enemy heads and a very dark sense of humor, there will be death indeed. Stinger and his friends eventually get involved with the Magi, sorcerers of great power, as they set out to save the world from an otherwordly invasion. Remember how I said that the game tricks you? As soon as you get your fourth party member, the party will start splitting up and taking different routes, with different objectives, Stinger is not the protagonist, this is an ensemble cast, and they get more or less the same development(Which means to say not a whole lot). This also means that, unlike most other RPGs, the rest of the cast is not on stand-by twiddling their thumbs, they are actually fighting alongside the rest of the characters, albeit on a different mission! The rest of the party is made up of a disembodied head that can talk and spit fireballs, he is Xero, the last of the Mage Warriors who lost his body years ago, Clemett, a gadgeteer, robot-like beings who you will soon become familiar with, and Jirina, an Org from the lands below that likes to dress up just like Windleaf, except that her thong is made out of iron instead of cloth.
And now the game falls apart. This is an RPG, so you will be travelling from town to town, but instead of going through an overworld, you go through a map. A map, as in a real map, a flat, hand-drawn map. It's better than a list, as most RPGs now a days use, but at the time it was fairly underwhelming. It does have a very neat twist in the form of landmarks, you may see drawn symbols, like a sun with a face, an upside-down crow or what have you, you can examine each of them for little pieces of lore surrounding the area, which is very cool. Towns are made out of pre-rendered backgrounds, the norm for the time, but they are very low-quality, and while most towns get it easy by showing places you can enter with yellow lights, some dungeons make it hard to see just where you can enter. Movement is also pretty dorky, characters love to bump into things, and walking through narrow places can be a bit of a pain sometimes. There's also a lockpicking minigame, there are like 5 places where you need it, luckily, and most of the time, there are Skeleton Keys that let you bypass it nearby. Why luckily? It's a Simon-says type minigame, the right pick is controlled with the four face buttons, and the left pick is controlled with the keypad, there are four levels to the minigame, and according to the level, is how many moves there are. Level 1 has you memorizing one move at a time, for a total of four, while level 4 has... four moves at a time, for a total of 16. WHAT?! If that wasn't obnoxious enough, some of the moves the pick does look very similar, particularly down and left on the DPad, it's very easy to make mistakes when trying to do a 16-move chain. Don't ever bother with anything above level 2, luckily, there are not many of these, I think there's not a single Level 3 lock for Stinger to pick, god bless.
Spells and Items is where it gets annoying. You can't get any spell or item description in-battle. So just hope that "Swarm" is an attack spell and not a Poison spell. Even worse, you have to go through a list in order to pick your spell of item, and you must go one by one, on 20-item plus lists. Clemett gets it worse, as he attacks with a cannon that has 20 different types of shots.... except that there are no description for them anywhere on the game. All his shots look the same, even if they behave differently, He-At was probably a fire attack, but what does the player make of "BNG-50"? With Clemett, just stick to the 25 mana shots. Oh, and remember how combat is in real time? Enemies will get free shots at you while you go through the lists! Except that it doesn't really matter. The level cap in the game is 15, and the game provides the best leveling spot... on the second town of the game. These four guys can be fought at any time, give money after each fight, and give out from 500 to 800 experience points(Depending on how many last hits the character got) per fight. I had maxed Stinger at 5 measly hours into the game. How does this tie into the game? The difficulty is a straight line, enemies take more or less the same amounts of damage, and deal the same amounts of damage, the whole time. New area? Enemies are just as weak as the ones in the area before. Sometimes even weaker. The game doesn't get any harder, but it might as well get easier as you go along. And the bosses are just pathetic, the last boss has two forms(One for each party), one that is fought thrice and the other one twice, but it's really, really easy. I just had to use a mana potion(First time I used an item in the game) on the mages, but that's about it.
Most bad games tend to have really good graphics, this is not the case. The game has aged very, very poorly, characters look as pixel vomits, so to speak. Some NPCs look like Final Fantasy VII potions, I kid you not. The animation is very choppy as well, and the FMVs don't fare any better. Hilariously enough, spells have very... picturesque descriptions, say "a spiritual snake appears and bites the enemy", but it's just a small yellow "hit" sfx over the enemy, every spell is like this, more or less. To be fair, the 6 Summon spells do have FMV sequences, but they are the exception. While the music won't be considered a classic any time soon, it's very, very good. There's also a lot of different songs used throughout the game.
What does one make out of Shadow Madness? It is not a good game, that much is clear, but so much work was put into the setting of the game, I'd say it's worth a look if, and only if, you happen to enjoy JRPGs, especially the old ones.
4.0 out of 10.