Thursday, July 25, 2013

Game 16: Dungeon Magic: Sword of the Elements (NES) - For the Love of Nostalgia

Game 16

Title: Dungeon Magic: Sword of the Elements
Released: July 1990 (November 1989 JP)
Platform: NES
Developer: Natsume
Publisher: Taito
Genre: Action-RPG
Exploration - First-Person
Combat - Real-time
Series - Standalone
That's an oddly specific saying
I remember having a lot of fun with this game: creating spells with the runic magic system, mapping out all the dungeons, and being immersed in the story. Now that I've begun playing it again I can only assume those are false memories or I'm thinking of a different game. All the details are present (runic magic, mapping, some kind of story), but a lot of the fun is missing. I'm honestly not sure how I enjoyed this game as a kid. Still, I'm eager to get back to it.
You shall rue the day!
The game was developed by Natsume who is best known today for their Harvest Moon series, and has since grown into a large publisher. Dungeon Magic is their only foray into the realm of RPGs I can find. Creating a first-person action-RPG seems like an odd choice, and I can only guess they tried to capitalize on the notoriety and success of Dungeon Master.
Not again...
The story in the manual supplements the three screen intro above (three screens that take two minutes to play). A long time ago, a great warrior, MAGI, defeated Darces with the help of six swords and magical armor. Darces was exiled instead of destroyed. Now, 500 years later, Darces has returned. Time to reclaim Magi's swords and defeat Darces for good (or banish him for another 500 years).
The game starts out in the middle of Granville. The character is a nameless warrior. One of many apparently drawn towards fame and riches, or maybe the good deed of ridding the land of evil...
Definitely the fame and riches
With only the clothes on my back, not even a weapon to my name, I spoke to the townsfolk. Helpfully I was approached by an old man who gave me a compass. Now if only he left me a map as well. Others told me north of town is the castle Grades and the king would give me a sword.
The King and Queen ready to greet all new adventurers
At this point the game didn't really provide any leads. Someone mentioned the town of Deirus and a water spirit, but no one would tell me where that was. Luckily I have the manual, which suggested learning magic from the water wizard Sura (one of the five wizards in Granville), traveling to Deirus through Gran (different town from Granville), and visiting the Sanctuary of Selle with an elemental sword received from a spirit at Sara Spring. By the end of this post I'll have done all this, but getting all this information before even starting the game left me bewildered.
And where is this town exactly?
To get there I needed a map. This game requires a map. Either someone else's or your own, but I don't see any chance of getting through this without one. A map was included with the game, which lays out the general location and names of places, but a map on graph paper is the way to go.
Scanned the original map in case anyone needs it. I have the manual around here too.

I thought about deviating from the suggested path by choosing fairy magic, but I ended up going with water. If I remember correctly fairy magic has a lot of utility spells such as showing a grid based map of the area and displaying player and monster stats. Water magic is suggested for the defensive powers.
Gaining water runes
Only one type of magic can be selected, and once chosen, the other wizards will shun the character. The wizard apprenticed under is the one who will advance levels as the character gains experience. You'll notice the character starts at level 0; very strange to see this in a game. I wonder if there are any other games that don't start at level 1.

I'll dive more into magic once I experiment a bit more with it. Currently I'm using the spells suggested by the manual. One such spell was ||| ||| |||, described as a powerful shield that blocks most attacks. Magic costs HP instead of a separate pool of MP. So I found myself drained of 8 out of my meager 12. My powerful shield somehow failed to protect my flanks.
I guess I need to be a little more careful with what I cast
The majority of my time so far has been mapping the world properly. Most of the area is wide open with only a smattering of forest and ocean. Couple this with active monsters and we have a great recipe for getting lost.
These flies require backpedaling to avoid their shots
I slowly built up my equipment and levels, and then ventured out only to find nearly the same starter equipment in scattered treasure chests. I found it strange just how much starting gear I found: boots, headbands, and gloves. My conclusion, I had stumbled upon the last resting places of failed adventurers. Why else would such pitiful gear be stowed away?
Already two pairs of boots, and the treasure ahead has a headband

Putting those morbid thoughts aside, I made my way to Gran, which had very little to offer. Deirus to the west hinted of a demon guarding the water spirit. In reality, it was merely a scorpion monster I had faced many times already.
This spirit was hard to find; turn left and you miss her
I noted early on the general lack of music while exploring. It is dead silent when standing still. If an enemy is close they'll make attacking noises, and walking has footsteps falling, but in general it's quiet. Then all of sudden, the music blasts when entering a shop, or gazing upon the water spirit. It's a bit jarring. All the tunes I've heard so far are nice (although I'm not the best judge), especially the intro music.
Free swords! Free swords for all!
The spirit was really lonely, and she gave me a magic sword for visiting. I can't actually wield the sword, so it doesn't have much use other than as a plot item. People from town changed their dialogue afterwards. They now pointed me towards the Sanctuary of Selle where a strange sculpture was said to reside.
Seems you know more about this sword than I do little girl
Before heading to Selle I decided to explore a little more and found a cave to the south of Deirus.  Well, let's just say I wasn't ready for that location yet. I quickly returned to Selle after exploring a nearby woods.
Nope! Too soon...
Selle was fairly simple. No big surprises. It's three levels deep, and while there are some generic maps in the manual, I made my own. At the very bottom was a sculpture. I couldn't make it out very well as I got hit by a darkness spell, but what I think were eyes glowed red followed by the new sword glowing blue.
Kind of looks like a ... dragon? Demon?
I completed the exploration of Selle with quite a pull. It's sad to see so much equipment just laying about, but it's best use at the moment is to sell it. Back in Deirus someone new suggested a wizard at the town of Bell would take interest in the glowing sword. I guess I'm off to Bell next, so long as my game cart will allow me to play.
I thought it was merely dirty
But on another occasion it locked up completely
Luckily the most time consuming activity is mapping. In fact, during my exploration of Selle I let evil win again an hour in. It only took 10 minutes to get back to where I was. There aren't any random encounters; monsters are in fixed locations per map and don't respawn until the map is reloaded. I believe the maps reload only after staying at an inn. There's no save option; the game is saved every time I stay at an inn.
It was this one that killed my character the last time
I'm still learning about the game. Little things like the longer I stay out, the weaker my character seems to get. Staying at an inn refreshes him, but also respawns monsters. Magic is going to take investigation, but I can't imagine attack spells ever being useful as they quickly drain HP. Defensive spells definitely have a noticeable benefit even if it's hard to tell what that is. Luckily the manual gives me the incantation for a physical shield and a magical shield.
This is a physical shield: note the cyan circle over my character's shield
This is a magical shield: note the cyan circle over my character's shield
I think I'll choose fairy magic as my next school of magic, and hope the information on my adventurer includes these values in addition to the adjustments from spells.

Session Time: 4h16m (Total Time: 4h16m)


  1. Interesting, I don't think I've ever played it.

    1. I don't think many have. Still, attempting to basically port Dungeon Master to the NES takes some guts.

  2. Dungeon Magic's a childhood memory of mine as well, though I never finished it.

    As for RPGs and Natsume, the Lufia games past the first were published by Natsume in the United States, though Natsume had no role in their development I'm aware of. They've also been the US publisher for Neverland's Rune Factory series and recently a PSP port of some iOS RPG that I forget the name of. I don't think they've actually been the developer on any RPGs beyond this one though.

    1. I'm glad someone else remembers this game. Memories aren't living up to the reality for me for this one. I think over time I've blended this with another game. Prior to starting this up again, I've recommended this to a few people and now I'm regretting that without having played through it again.

      Natsume seemed to jump a few genres. They made Shadow of the Ninja, another one of my childhood games, and eventually the first Harvest Moon. I can't find any evidence of development recently. If only there were credits we might be able to track what happened to the developers.

    2. I believe most of what they develop in-house these days is fishing games or something.

    3. Natsume's "River King" series of fishing games are actually fishing RPGs. Level up fighing monsters, and more importantly, level up your fishing ability by getting better fishing equipment.

      One of the River King games is currently available on 3DS eShop. I'm getting nowhere in it, perhaps because I've never really been a fishing enthusiast. Next stop: GameFAQs.

    4. I remember checking out River King and deciding it wasn't quite an RPG. I might give it a shot anyway though since I only really watched a couple videos.

    5. yo so here's a comment outdated by 2 years.

      "Natsume had no role in their development I'm aware of."

      "A lot of people think of Natsume as only a publisher, but that’s not the whole story. It’s not widely known, but we actually worked with Neverland to co-develop Lufia: The Legend Returns for the Game Boy Color." from

    6. I finished it as a kid but the main boss is very very hard. Even max level and best equipment you had to attack hit, use magic then back up turn away use potions then go back to it again. This can be done but it takes forever. The ending was the first one I really enjoyed. The difficulty made me feel like I had accomplished something.

    7. I don't recall the final boss being nearly as difficult as those dragons.

  3. I wasn't expecting to see this style of paper dolling in a console RPG prior to the PSX era, let alone an NES RPG.

    1. That's true. I think this is the only games that had a paper doll always present. Faxanadu and Super Hydlide overlaid the equipment on the actual sprite. There are some things the game did well. Nearly every spell has a unique animation. The paper doll as you mentioned is the best yet. The music that is in the game is good, it's just so sparse.

  4. How many other console RPGs use HP as fuel for magic? I know the early entries of the Fire Emblem series do this as well.

    1. I don't know of many, but I really haven't played a variety. I didn't even know the Fire Emblem series did that. Paladin's Quest on SNES is the only other game that comes to mind. Like timers in games, this type of magic system turned me off from playing.

    2. Microlite 20 does this in the tabletop world.

    3. Okage: Shadow King did this for certain spells the main hero could cast. Making these spells virtually useless, since if the main hero dies it's Game Over.

      Paladin's Quest wasn't so bad once you collected lots and lots medicine bottles (healing items). If you missed finding or collecting too many of them then... ouch. Especially since the game all but demands the hero level up his magic (he's more of a sorcerer than a paladin).

    4. Oh, I guess I didn't play very far in Okage; I don't remember any. I figure for Paladin's Quest I just need to break the habit of casting spells every battle.

  5. I'm trying to play now, but it's impossible to tell where I'm going. Probably not going to keep this one.

    1. It's definitely a rough one. I recommend using maps, at the very least the one that came with the game.