Combat is very basic. It always comes down to an equal exchange of blows. Both sides have a chance to dodge attacks, but there aren't any spells to enhance combat. Items take the place of spells, but they're limited to damage, silencing enemies, and healing. It's easy to know if you'll win or lose after the first hits.
Enemies are definitely challenging, and sometimes overly so. The ones that can sleep-lock the party are just plain unfair. Using stones to silence them isn't guaranteed, and the cost doesn't balance out. The final battle in particular demands a lot of preparation and planning to win if you haven't gained extra levels.
Gaining levels do give a small bonus to attack and defense, and more importantly a bump in HP. The difference between levels isn't very noticeable though, and you may not notice the increase in damage. Each level becomes longer and longer because gaining experience is based on either damage inflicted or a set amount each hit, and has little to do with the enemy you're fighting. In other words, you always gain the same amount of experience throughout the entire game. Having only one character able to gain experience from attacking each turn slows things down to a crawl.
All of the enemies are unique to this game, and I don't think I saw anything resembling a goblin or orc. It's interesting to note that this and Phantasy Star maintained a unique set of enemies that are refreshing even after playing through multiple RPGs. Rewards for each enemy is all over the place, one will give 300 Guilders while another in same area gives 2,000. Later on, the enemies in dungeons only give a small number of fangs.
|Items from battle are rare; rarer still is the game telling the truth. The potion heals, it doesn't resurrect.|
I really don't expect much from older games, so I hope everyone understands this section is going to be very low for the majority of games over the next few years. Experience is gained by each hit landed, and gaining enough experience raises a character's HP, attack, defense, and the amount of exp. necessary for the next level.
Individual spells don't exist. In fact, spells are only used to unlock certain areas, or to recruit the companions. Nothing about the companions is customizable, but you do get to pick the name of the main character. There's no equipment options, and the experience will be the same for all players. Controls are good enough, although they seemed to stick some times. This may have been due to using an emulator, so I'm not going to knock it for that. With the lack of pretty much all options, this area is the weakest for the game.
|At least there are a couple of screens to check out the characters|
The main quest is the only quest available here. It stays in clear view, and the next step is usually hinted at by the random travelers and merchants the party can talk to just in case it's been a while since you received the actual directions (which aren't usually repeated). There are a couple of treasures on the side, but I wouldn't really call them side quests.
The only riddle I can come up with is the scroll that gives directions to the final dungeon. It was a bit unclear where to start, but really it only makes sense that it was on the final continent. Any other place for the final dungeon would open up the possibility of early discovery.
|I think this is the only puzzle in the game|
One thing that made the above puzzle so difficult was the lack of location information. I found out that Medi's town (home town?) was where I needed to start from, but I found no dots to connect between this clue and the actual town I needed to start from. In every other case, the hints from the random NPCs and towns were enough to lead me in the right direction.
The story maintained the same straightforward story about getting to the seal of the dark lord. There aren't any twists to this plot and no way to influence the story.
|The elders of each town will only talk to you if you donate some money to the town|
There are a couple of optional items that make the game a bit easier. One is the mask that illuminates the dungeons 1 square. There's also a helm that allows the party to see messages on the walls of the dungeon. Only two messages exist, one shows a hidden crystal that increases the visible area once again. Also, there's a mantle that's supposed to reduce encounters with weaker enemies, but it only works on enemies that I'd never see anyway unless I visited the first continent.
The inventory fills up well enough, although there is room for more. By the end of the game it's pretty obvious there isn't anything more to find, which is nice for a sense of completion. The economy is a little bloated, although I still felt there I could run out of money if I wasn't careful about my purchases and picking the most rewarding fights.
|My inventory before completing the game|
The graphics are better than anything I remember seeing on the NES, so it's sad there weren't more RPGs on the SMS. Music is catchy, and sound effects are fitting. The dungeon music was actually a bit familiar. If anyone has heard this before and could place it in another game I'd appreciate it.
Exploring the world map is interesting, and finding the various locations is rewarding. Especially when those locations aren't mentioned in anyway. It doesn't happen enough for my taste though, and the viewing window is a 5x5 tile, which is extremely restrictive. The huge portion of the view that shows the party seems like it'd better be used to show more of the world. It would be nice to have some more variety in dungeons and towns.
|One of the hidden squares; the only obvious ones|
Final Rating: 20 (33%)
As an early RPG, it stands up well as a game, although it's rather shallow in comparison. I enjoyed it, but it's not going to make any list of games to play again. I wouldn't really recommend the game to anyone, there are better ways to spend your time. It was good for the time, but even Phantasy Star is better.
Next up are some even older games, but first I'll be cutting a few from the list.