Combat is quick and especially deadly for the unprepared. There are a wide range of combat spells, but many of them are too inefficient. In addition to damage, spells have an elemental attribute, which all have corresponding shield spells. The player and enemies have equal access to these shields, and learning what enemy weaknesses are is where much of the strategy develops. There many utility spells as well that are helpful for dodging. A variety of enemies keep play fresh throughout the levels. Unfortunately combat is mostly superfluous as enemies rarely are an obstacle to overcome and many times fail to provide a reward for the risk involved.
|By far the most deadly creature, the ogre can kill with a single hit|
The most memorable part of the game is entering the spells by selecting different runic combinations. It's possible to fill in the spell book with all spells by the end of the first level. Paul gains additional mana by completing various quests objectives. This is the only progression in the game. Paul's appearance never changes, and there aren't any options for advancing his skills. Overall control of Paul is good; however, gauging jumps and turning left or right when exiting a building are troublesome.
|Strangely, this spell isn't in the manual, and an attack spells in the manual isn't in the game|
While the main quest boils down to "go right," there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. Searching every oddity is necessary, and progressing without doing so can result in an unwinnable situation. I'm reluctant to name anything a side quest in this game since discovering and solving everything is necessary for the complete ending. Most puzzles fit well with the world, although the puzzle rooms are a bit misplaced. The puzzle rooms don't offer any risk, but the rewards for getting through them are always beneficial. In the end, there's only one way to win completely though, and only one way to accomplish that task.
|Most puzzle rooms are just trial & error|
Poor Paul. Overlooked during the elimination of all wizards it falls on his inexperienced shoulders to defeat the evil wizard Abadon, who was capable of defeating all other wizards. That sounds plausible. There are plenty of descriptions for the various locations, and NPCs are helpful by providing random spells just when Paul needs them. The player's actions don't change the world, and instead feel like excuses to raise his experience (mana) once again.
|Paul left while Abadon was still dying, that's cold|
There are plenty of hidden items, and no limit to Paul's inventory. Gold is necessary, and since it doesn't drop from enemies very often, having a good supply is beneficial during the early game. Late game? It's absolutely useless; there's no where to spend it. I learned that nothing carries over when playing through to the next loop, which makes hoarding gold and items useless. There's little way of knowing if all items have been found unless you check them off from the manual. Finding the items that allow free use of spells is key to getting through the game successfully.
|My save game at the end shows how many objects I'm carrying, and spells learned|
This is one of the best NES musical scores I've heard. It really enhances the atmosphere. The sprite work is unique; it hardly feels like an NES game. It's interesting to see the progression from level to level as a bright promising journey turns into a seriously dark environment. Unfortunately there aren't any unique features to see in the environment. There's nothing awe inspiring; everything flows well, but no one thing is really outstanding. Exploration of the environment is closed within each level, which does give a sense of urgency to move forward, but doesn't allow full enjoyment of the world. Not that Paul could really live off the current food supply.
|Even the final scene is kind of meh|
This game has a special place in my heart. It was one of my last experiences with the NES as we bought SNES later that year, and I quickly became engrossed in the newer console. I did play some later NES titles by renting them, but I believe this was one of the last we purchased. While each individual category above is slightly below average (due to the scores skewing towards turn-based RPGs), I feel this game provides a complete experience for any player.
|I can't imagine wanting to go through this multiple times right away, but maybe some day I'll see the other endings|
The month off has been good, but I'm very eager to getting back into it. For those curious what I've been doing to fill my time, I've been participating in a semi-annual mystery game tournament (finals this Saturday), and idling in the chat of a streamer that goes by the name TheMexicanRunner. He's on an adventure to play through every licensed NES game released with an English language version. Something that he calls NES Mania (www.nesmania.net). He just completed his first 100 games, which are picked by the viewers. Wish him luck in his effort.
Next up is Warsong starting very soon after this is posted. This'll be the first SRPG for the blog, so I hope it's well received.