The action-based battles are the main source of combat, and while it serves some purpose it's never challenging. The only way it doesn't spill over into being laughably easy is the level cap for each chapter. Turn-based battles are on the opposite end of the spectrum; I started to dread them. At first, I did my best to fight each of these, unless it was going to be a complete wipe. Enemies usually took their turns first, and other party members had very limited actions. There were special formations that would increase the party's power, but I didn't notice a difference. With the level cap--and max money--all fights lose their rewards, and thus their appeal. The only redeeming point of fighting enemies are boss battles.
Bosses are more of a puzzle, figuring out their weakness before you run out of magic or health. The magician class is obviously more powerful than the other two when fighting bosses, which takes away the fun of experimenting. Select spells are a necessity for each boss, so certain character levels need to be reached before even considering defeating a boss.
You get to choose your class, and name the hero at the beginning. Yet, no matter which class you choose, the level progression is the same (same stats and spells at each level). Most likely this is because you can change your class at any time by visiting a mosque. In fact, there are times where you'll be forced into each class, at least for a short time. Armor upgrades will change the overall color of the hero, and swords will look different in the hands of a fighter, while rod attacks appear different when used by a magician. Only one spell and one action are active at one time, so there is some customization to what you want to use, but in most cases there's an obvious or required best. Controls could use some more work; like most NES games, sticking on corners or trying to get past NPCs takes a bit of maneuvering.
|Crystal Rod shoots stars, only the magician can shoot three at a time|
There are quite a number of puzzles, hidden areas, and logic involved in completing the game. Unfortunately, most of it doesn't matter because you're spoon fed the answers. Only one time I was hung up on Rainy needing a brave fighter. All other puzzles have the answer presented on a silver platter. There's some side quests to get some "Great Magic" spells, which I never used. Some of these are pretty powerful like Monecom, which fills all consumable items and money, and Libcom, which brings everyone back to life at full HP and MP. I never had a need to use these though, as money isn't a problem with Rupia trees giving half of max gold, and the fact they can only be used during one of the Alalart solar eclipses. There's only one way to solve things in this game, and figuring that out is where most puzzles come from.
|Why remember when you're just going to tell me again?|
The story was very straightforward, although I never felt like an active participant. It seemed more like an action game with a story on the side only to explain why we're in the next area. Questions kept creeping up like, why did Sabaron do all this, or why are the bosses just waiting with the princesses, with no answers given. NPCs are helpful, but many repeat each other (especially look-a-likes on the same screen). I will give the game some credit for being the first RPG to have time travel. I'm supposedly Isfa's descendent, but in the past people were calling me Isfa, which I still haven't quite wrapped my brain around. Maybe it was just a case of mistaken identity; other things lacking are a way to influence the story, good descriptions for people and places, and a feeling of immersion.
|This is apt considering my goal|
The game boasts a very nice compact view of player inventory, and organizes the menu screen in such a way that it should be easy to guess what items might be missing. This is the first game where even though I hit max gold a couple of times, I still spent most of that money by the end (you can see above I only had 100 gold at the end of the game). This is helped by enemies not dropping much in the way of gold, but also in the number of consumables like the magic carpet used for warping between towns. I was able to easily find everything by exploring all screens, so there isn't much challenge complete the game, but it's always nice to see a full inventory.
|Only missing the consumable R. Seed|
Once again, the graphics and music are decent, although each world just swaps the color palette of the previous to show it's different. The only area this isn't true is the past in chapter 4 that finally has different NPCs in towns. The companions and enemies in the turn-based battles are well drawn, and fit well with the world. It's at least passingly interesting to explore, but the worlds are rather small, and once you've seen one town you've seen them all. There aren't many barriers to exploration except in the cases where certain items or party members are necessary to proceed. Bigger than anything else is the lack of variety. There aren't any major landmarks to look at in awe, and the sense of discovery is muddied with one of the companion characters always pointing out "hidden" locations.
|This dungeon is different because it's green|
Final Rating: 24 (40%)
Strangely the points match up with Phantasy Star, which I definitely wasn't expecting. There are things I enjoyed more in PS, and on the whole I'd put it above this game. At the same time, this game does have a lot going for it in originality.
For those interested, a speedrun exists of this game, and clocks in at a quick 1 hour and 20 minutes. That's about six times faster than my first time playing. Coming up next is me returning to the roots of the genre as I enter the world of emulation. I haven't looked into it yet, but will shortly, to find out how intellivision, collecovision, and atari 2600 emulators work. Hopefully I don't run into too much trouble.