Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Closing 1991; Opening 1992

Transitioning into another year is exciting. It's a time when I look back on the games I played, and those still ahead. The year 1991 saw the largest number of RPGs on console, and that number isn't matched again until 1998. While the numbers slowly decline, the quality is on the rise as we have yet to enter what was considered the golden age.

I was disappointed in a lot of the games I'd never played: Sword of Vermilion, Faria, Sword of Hope, Faery Tale Adventure, and Crystal Warriors. I enjoyed the exploration RPGs Starflight and Uncharted Waters more than I anticipated. Phantasy Star III, while not as bad as the second, continued to drag the series down. Final Fantasy II (IV), didn't quite shine as brightly as I remembered. Other childhood favorites like Magician and Lagoon were still just as good. However, my favorite games were those I'd never played before: Rings of Power had an amazing world, Warsong was a fun strategy title, Final Fantasy Legend II improved on the first title, but Dragon Warrior III takes the highest esteem and is my pick for game of the year. The takeaway here being while the unknown has its downside, there are many titles that make it worth the time.
Welcome to 1992, and we already get to see how Dragon Warrior continues in the fourth installment
1992, the US saw the release of the TurboDuo and SegaCD (although no RPG releases until 1993). Although the TurboGrafx-CD had been released in the US for a couple of years, there seems to be a flood of RPGs at the same time the TurboDuo came out. Ys: Book 1 & 2, which I played at the release date of Ys 1, was the only CD based RPG until Cosmic Fantasy 2. It's possible Dragon Slayer and Exile came out earlier in the year, but without accurate release dates it's hard to say. Given the gap, the release of the TurboDuo may have been the driving force behind releasing these CD based RPGs.

Original Titles
(Source: GameFAQs)
Arcana - Here began my fascination with card based games, or at least the first time I acknowledged it. During (or near) this same year I found out about Magic: The Gathering, and the lesser known Fantasy Adventures. Every time a game had a card game I'd get sucked into it far more than the rest of the story. So much so that I'd often forgot what I was doing, and play the card game instead. Arcana takes an elemental based approach to rock-paper-scissor mechanics, and presents nearly everything on playing cards. This one is a childhood favorite, which I haven't played for at least 20 years.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Cosmic Fantasy 2 - I debated putting this in the with the sequels, but technically this is the first (and last) release in the US for this series, despite its name. I can only imagine Working Designs intended to bring the rest over, but despite critical acclaim, that never happened. I know very little about the game, so I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.

(Source: HardcoreGamer)
Defenders of Oasis -The last Game Gear game I'll be playing, and I know very little about it. It's interesting that this and Exile came out in the same year as they share a similar setting. I like to keep the few unknown games in the dark until I get to play them for the first time.

(Source: GameFAQs)
Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun - One of the first D&D licensed games made exclusively for home console. Unlike other D&D titles, this isn't based on an existing PC game, and it remained on the Genesis only released in the US and Europe. Yet another game I have no experience with, but have heard only good things about. 

(Source: MobyGames)
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest - Here we have another childhood favorite. Seems it's either one way or another this year. I recall being amazed at the ability to jump in a Final Fantasy game. Now while this is technically in the Final Fantasy world, I don't consider it a sequel. It was originally created for the US market to encourage more people to get into RPGs. Instead, it alienated many fans of the main series with simpler mechanics.

(Source: GameFAQs)
Knight Quest - A Game Boy game I've never heard of before, and it's an RPG. I don't remember ever seeing anyone play through this, so I hope that's not an indicator for quality. I suppose at best I could hope for a mediocre experience, one possibly peppered with a terrible mechanic or steep difficulty curve. In any case, I'm warily looking forward to this one.

(Source: Giant Bomb)
Legend of Ghost Lion - A strange NES game that takes a different approach to character development. Instead of experience based levels, or direct combat, the main character collects specific items to increase strength, and summons spirits to aid her in battle. Searching for her missing parents she follows the legend of a white lion.

(Source: MobyGames)
Order of the Griffon - The other one of the first D&D licensed games exclusive to home console. We'll see a few of these over the years, but from what I can tell, only this and Warriors of the Eternal Sun stand out. This title has more in common with the gold box games, and I'm looking forward experiencing it firsthand. The cover taken straight from the Spellfire novel has me curious, even though I suspect it's completely unrelated.

(Source: GameFAQs)
Soul Blazer - A classic, and childhood favorite. I can't wait to play through this one again. Alas, it comes at the end of the year. At the same time, it's so well known that I don't think I really have anything more to add. Borrowing a bit of the world building idea from ActRaiser, Soul Blazer produces a much more cohesive world with a large cast of characters with whom to interact. Character building is mostly fixed, but the depth of the world and story pulls it above the mark.
(Source: MobyGames)

Traysia - Having grown up on Nintendo consoles, I was mostly in the dark on Genesis games, especially the more obscure ones such as Traysia. I've heard it's rather run-of-the-mill, but we'll see how it stands with its peers. It can't be worse than Sword of Vermilion, right?

(Source: GameFAQs)
Dragon Warrior IV - By far my most anticipated game this year, I'm hoping it doesn't fail to improve on the greatness of the previous installment. Done with the Erdrick trilogy, we'll be entering a completely new story, and I've heard this is the best of the Dragon Warrior games on NES. I'm not sure why we never even rented this game. Possibly we'd already moved on to the SNES, and never looked back. Often when moving on from one system to the next we'd miss the later titles, and since we didn't buy the third, I suspect we gave up on the series for other games (i.e. Final Fantasy).

(Source: GameFAQs)
Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes - A port from the Japanese exclusive PC-98, the Dragon Slayer series enjoyed a great success. Although we did see a few of these titles already, the Legend of Heroes is really its own sub-series. Legacy of the Wizard and Faxanadu don't compare with this title. I somehow overlooked this title when I first made the list, but luckily a stream viewer alerted me to the missing title (thanks Morricane). It's obviously an RPG, so it's now added after Cosmic Fantasy as it lacks a definitive release month.

(Source: Hardcore Gaming 101)
Exile - Originally known as XZR, this is a port of the second title in the series. It picks up after the events of the first XZR, so I'm curious about how the localization team accounted for the lack of that game in the US market. This was released on Genesis and TG-CD, but due to some censorship, and picking up the game with the system, I'll be playing on the TurboGrafx-CD version.

(Source: Hardcore Gaming 101)
Might & Magic: Book 1 - There's probably an interesting bit of history to explain why the first game was ported a year later than the second one, but I can't find anything on the topic. Sammy, not EA, was the publisher on the NES. I expect a brutally hard game where I'll struggle for hours just trying to get a foothold in the game. Anything less will be disappointing to the Might & Magic name.

(Source: Escapist)
Pool of Radiance - My favorite gold box title, and the only one ported to the NES; I'm hoping it does well with the game. I have never touched the console version, so it'll be a new experience. Much of the same challenge probably exists, although it's strange to note the party only has five characters. Let's see how much of it I can remember.

(Source: GameFAQs)
Wizardry II: Knight of Diamonds - There's a part of me dreading this game. The first wouldn't have been so bad except that I basically had to play through it twice. Losing my party at the final boss meant playing through the game twice. I'm hoping it's smoother; at least I don't have to worry about playing through all of Wizardry just to get characters to import into this game.

(Source: GameFAQs)
Ys III: Wanderers from Ys - Although a sequel of Ys II, this version is another port from the PC-98. One of the few games released on multiple consoles, I had to make another decision on which version to play. Having owned the SNES version since childhood, I decided to forgo buying another copy. From what I can tell, the Genesis version has much more detailed graphics, and the TG version has CD quality sound. Overall, the game differences are very minor.

Expected Cuts
Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe - A strange side story in the Golden Axe series, the player controls Ax Battler as he attempts to retrieve the Golden Axe from evil. A mix of top-down over worlds and towns are paired with a side view for random combat and cave exploration. There's little character development (new skills are gained, but no stats change), and combat is simplistic.

Cowboy Kid - An RPG? No, definitely not. Although not listed as an RPG on MobyGames at this time, it was at one point, so it could be listed as one somewhere else. There's no character development, some NPCs, but not a lot of story or world exploration.

Gemfire - A strategy game limited to a single map. Released on Genesis, NES, and SNES, it was one of the first to offer generals that had specialized units. With more in common with Romance of the Three Kingdoms than Warsong, it's hard to say why someone would consider this an RPG rather than a simulation-strategy game.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - This was a great game, and I enjoyed discovering every bit of it as a kid. However, I never felt it had very much in common with games I considered RPGs. Maybe that had to do with my experience in Bard's Tale and Wizardry before this time. I enjoy these games a lot, but to compare them to Final Fantasy, Arcana, or even Ys seems a bit off.

Ninja Taro - I'm not sure how this was ever considered an RPG, but someone made a terrible mistake. In fact, I think the mistake was even making this game. The game seems to use the same engine as Rolan's Curse, but somehow manages to have even less features.

Rolan's Curse II - The second in the series doesn't do anything to add to the score for the RPG scale. There are a couple more sub-weapons, but the world is built in the same way.

Spiritual Warfare - An action adventure similar to Zelda once again gets confused as an RPG. This wasn't even technically a licensed title, but I thought I'd cover it. There's no character advancement, and the story is minimal.

Tecmo Cup: Soccer Game - Probably the closest for consideration, I don't think this quite meets all the criteria. This is a turn-based soccer game where the characters gain strength after a game. Using special moves to get past the other team and score goals is the only strategy I see. I believe the game lacks an economy, NPCs, or a world to explore.

Ultima: Runes of Virtue - This appears to be yet another Zelda-like action-adventure. Like others character advancement is minimal, and is reliant more on player reflexes to settle combat. The departure from the standard Ultima model seems strange, and I'm curious to know more about it, but not enough to give it full coverage.

And with that, we're off to another exciting year of RPGs. There's a good mix of games I've played through before, and new ones that I'm excited to try for the first time. I'm not dreading any of the games, and am eager to get back to playing RPGs after this extended break. Look forward to a post on Ys III near the beginning of 2016. Happy holidays all, and have a good New Year.