Diablo for Playstation – The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
In Geography class I daydreamed about ring drops and book rooms. After slaying Diablo on normal difficulty I wanted to do it on nightmare mode. I thought of how cool it was sharing the comradery with my best friend as we relied on each others’ instincts to save us from perilous situations. We murdered The Butcher through a great combined effort, and narrowly survived hundreds of skeleton archers protecting King Leoric. I recalled the joy of visiting Griswold, who occasionally offered incredible stat-boosting gear. I remembered creepy sound effects, ambiance, and screams—the type of game you had to play at night with all the lights off. There was the anticipation when the Playstation slowly loaded a new level, especially when reaching the caves or hell for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect on Friday night when Matt and I readied to play for six or seven straight hours, but I knew we’d progress further.
Diablo for the Playstation is not perfect, but it’s one of the most intense gaming experiences I have had. Something calls me back every couple of years—partly its brilliant design and creepy setting, but also its unforgiving challenge. While the PC version was known as a pick-up-and-play online RPG, the Playstation edition had legendary difficulty. Diablo offered unmatchable replay value since the characters, items, dungeons, and enemies are different each time you play. The randomness makes for an exciting adventure. Even though Diablo was simple compared to its sequels, the strategies and methods for success were countless. Over a decade later I am still trying to figure it out.
It is virtually impossible to beat the game on a single run. The leaps in difficulty will torch a player somewhere between level six and ten. Thankfully, you can save your character and grind from the beginning all over again, picking up gear and spell books along the way. With perseverance and innumerable playthroughs you can make magic happen and actually slay Diablo…on normal mode. And if you’re good, on nightmare mode. On hell mode I don’t think a human being is capable of making that happen. But I hope to prove myself wrong.
From the beginning there are three characters to choose from: the stout sword-wielding warrior, the versatile long-ranged rogue, and the crafty spellcasting sorcerer. As one might expect the warrior is the brute almost incapable of effectively using magic, whereas the sorcerer casts spells with the best of them but often is killed in a few attacks. The rogue offers a little bit of everything and a lot of nothing, except for ranged attack. In most of our previous playthroughs I chose the warrior and Matt chose the sorcerer, which put more emphasis on him to make quick changes and smart decisions and for my main responsibility to get in the way, distract enemies, and slice statues in half. We grinded our way through gaining experience and levels, pumping attributes, and reworking our characters to maximize their potential.
Every time we played we seemed to get better, there was no beating Diablo himself, not on hell difficulty anyway, and scarcely ever on nightmare. Just imagining the characters’ death screams makes me shutter. Finally I have come to accept it is an unfair game, which I accept now as its greatest novelty. If you can conquer this unreasonable PS1 adventure you must be one brilliant son of a bitch. Here are my tips for standing a chance in Diablo for Playstation, along with my view on the game’s imperfections.
With a warrior a player can plow his way through most of normal difficulty but become sitting ducks on nightmare and hell. They can absorb more damage, but prove ineffective against succubi and mages. Without maximum resistances their lack of ranged attack means aimlessly chasing ranged enemies, praying they will run into a wall or teleport directly in front of you. In two player a warrior can evolve into an armored hack and slash decoy, maybe even with fire wall or stone curse, but in one-player they stand little chance.
As a rouge or sorcerer success begins with mana shield and stone curse. Mana shield allows a player to absorb damage through their mana points helping a sorcerer (or sometimes rogue) take more than a few hits to kill. Once a player progresses into dangerous territory enemies will swarm and murder them, even with a glorious or holy full plate armor (I have still never seen a godly prefix besides on maybe some of Wirt’s leather armor). Down in level twelve or thirteen projectile casting enemies come from every angle, so the only solution is stone cursing them leaving them immobile, then slash them in half. Some believe stone curse is cheap, but I would say without it the Playstation version is damn near impossible.
Stone curse aside, a frail sorcerer is forced to alternate spamming chain lightning and fireball for the entire game. We only found two chain lightning books in our last playthrough so it was better to employ the economical regular lightning spell than exasperate mana on chain lightning. The immense power and inexplicable splash damage from fireball is a spell caster’s most reliable form of attack, but then fire-resistant enemies appear. Some monsters resist multiple types of magics at higher difficulties, forcing a player to again to stone curse everything to death. What is great and terrible about Diablo is when you feel prepared and unstoppable something else comes along to fuck you.
When we were younger Matt and I used to fill our character’s belts and maybe ten more inventory spots with potions, taking trip after trip to town to buy more. Matt mitigated this pain during our last playthrough deciding we may as well fill our entire inventories to save time, knowing at least six spots would quickly become available to pick up item drops.
Unfortunately, depending on the character class, certain attributes given to a character max out after a certain number of points. Notably, the sorcerer cannot naturally bring his strength past 45 (which is a bummer since decent armor requires a minimum of 90 strength to wear). To get these extra forty-five points, essential to the sorcerer are items with “+ to all attributes” suffixes like “of the heavens” (+11-15) or if you’re lucky “of the zodiac.” (+16-20) Matt’s sorcerer successfully had +60-something to all attributes from four or five of these types of items. It looks strange when a sorcerer is carrying around what appears to be a splintered piece of wood, but it’s actually a +14 to all attributes club of the heavens! These suffixes allow players a fairer chance considering Matt’s +60 to all attributes is an aggregate +240 which would equate to 48 character levels. Though still, the game manages to be difficult.
To be able to stock up on weapons, armor, and accessories to give yourself the best chance, you need to pick up and sell as much valuable junk as you can. This can be tedious, but it helps to have two players for the extra inventory space, and the opportunity for additional quality random items Griswold sells in town. Money stacks max out at 5,000 gold pieces so to make inventory space a giant money horde should be kept in town. A good trick is to save, quit, and reload, so Griswold can offer six new items (or twelve if you’re playing two player). When you find something worth buying it could cost up to a half of an inventory of gold, but it’s worth it if you want to survive.
One of the great criticisms of the Playstation version of Diablo was that it took an entire memory card to save a game and characters. One game and two characters takes up twelve memory card slots, when the typical memory card has fifteen. When Matt and I were in high school I had one memory card for Diablo and one memory card for everything else. It never bothered me since Diablo was such an addictive game, but apparently it attributed to crushing the game’s reputation.
That and the load time. But, to be fair, it was a Playstation game. As a Nintendo kid, though, I didn’t know what load time was. Matt and I feel the game transitioned okay to the Playstation but that a significant problem is that you can only toggle through two spells, which doesn’t help a sorcerer effectively employ the five or six he would commonly cast.
I would describe Diablo for Playstation as a genius game which is rough around the edges. Maybe its greatest flaw are the enormous leaps in difficulty when suddenly a player gets murdered by acid beasts in level six after blowing through levels one through five. A character is apparently expected to go from no magic resistance to 50% or higher immediately.
Similarly, level nine houses storm lords casting lightning from beyond the screen quickly draining health unless you have near maximum lightning resistance. With bad luck and a couple of wrong corners you could be swarmed by two bosses at once with their expansive entourages filling the screen pushing each other over to kill you, still swatting at the air even after your lifeless corpse has hit the ground.
How come when you die all of your items drop individually? In Diablo II they rectified this with a corpse only the player could pick up, but in the first game a player has to nervously rummage around the bloody floors to find that one amulet that landed on the other side of the wall since there wasn’t enough ground space for it to drop nearby. Too much time is spent resurrecting your teammate, scrambling to put yourself back together, then buying a million potions again. Often, while rummaging for your belongings, something else will come along and kill you leaving an even more frustrating mess.
One time we were marching right along down to Diablo’s lair when we suddenly got stuck in a doorway and could not move our characters. This glitch forced us to restart the game, and angered Matt and I to the point where we walked away from the game for almost three years. When you think you have figured out Diablo it pulls shit like that.
Still, I look forward to the next go-around. I’m throwing caution into the wind and encouraging Matt to try a double rouge run, where one of us would specialize in lightning magic and the other in fire magic. I cannot predict what will be the death of us this time, and on what level or difficulty that will be, but I am almost assured we will reach a point where the game becomes impossible. Maybe this time we will unearth the fabled King’s Bastard Sword of Carnage, or maybe a Obsidian Tower Shield of the Zodiac. You never know.