Sunday, May 18, 2014

Game 24: Sword of Vermilion (Genesis) - Dipping into the Red

Game 24

Title: Sword of Vermilion
Released: Jan 1991 (Dec 1989 JP)
Platform: Genesis
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-person
Combat - Real-time action
Series - Standalone (Might as well be Hydlide)

Sword of Vermilion is an oddity. It seems to be remembered fondly for stretching the genre beyond the standard menu based combat, but it doesn't quite go as far as a full action-RPG. It seems either nostalgia or an appeal to the past are the only way to venerate this game. I just don't get it; it's boring and limited. I generally had more fun with Super Hydlide.
A still-screen intro goes over the back story we'll hear recapped again by Blade
The game gives control over the lost prince of Excalabria. As he turns 18 his surrogate father, Blade, is lying on his deathbed. Blade reveals to the prince that as an infant he was spirited away from King Erik V as his castle fell to the siege of King Tsarkon of Cartahena. Old enough now to claim his birthright, the prince sets out to claim the 8 rings of good and the throne of Excalabria.
Blade and prince for hide 'n' seek champs!
Now I don't normally dig too deep into the story. Most stories are easily glossed over during this era and the game is still enjoyable; however, I'm having a hard time believing there's a need to find these 8 rings. My major problem is they don't do anything. I mean, what's their purpose if they don't grant some kind of magical power or stat adjustment? Tsarkon himself has 8 rings of evil, which I suppose are offset when in the presence of the good rings, but again, they don't do anything.
The prince, now known as Warren, returned from an unspecified visit to the dangerous wilderness completely devoid of equipment. It's a wonder he managed to survive. Everyone in town comments on how Blade is close to death, and how I should return to his side.
Why would you hide the ring in a cave where any adventurer could find it?
Blade clearly lays out my quest; first for the rings, and then to reclaim the land of Excalabria. With his last breath he bestowed on me his life savings. I guess I don't have time to wait for the house to get out of escrow. Our private conversation became village gossip as everyone now knows of my quest. One helpful townie hands me a map of the area, an event that will repeat very often.
Something about an economy based on adventurers killing monsters doesn't seem sustainable to me
The cornerstone feature of this game is how it mixes different viewpoints. What starts as top-down town exploration becomes a first-person view for outdoor and dungeons. It's an interesting curio to switch things up a bit, but I'm not sure how much it really adds to the experience. I found the transitions a bit disorienting. As an example, enemies appear randomly before changing the view to a top-down active combat screen that begins immediately.
One step outside and already a random encounter speaks volumes for the encounter rate
Combat is a fast paced high action sequence of either swinging a two inch sword or using one previously equipped spell. The hitbox for the sword is so small that to get close enough to hit an enemy usually results in being hit, should I miss. Luckily most (not all) enemies will turn and run after receiving a blow, but this means I have to then chase them down in order to kill them. Exiting either side of the screen will run from battle.
Battles often start with the prince surrounded and little time to react
Since battles are so limiting without the use of items or the ability to switch spells, it's no surprise the rest of the game interface fails to innovate past its peers. A menu command to initiate conversations; separate equipment sub-menus for weapons, armors, shields, and magic; and a two step process for collecting treasure chests should all be archaic by this point.
Wouldn't 'take' have sufficed?
Oh, that's why it doesn't work...
The constant mini-map is very welcomed, and I hope more games include it in the future (I know they don't, but I can dream). At least it lets me save on paper and mapping time. There are maps for the surrounding area, and one per level of each dungeon. Without a map you only get a small circle of visibility on the map. Dungeons require to be lit up by either an item, candles or lanterns, or later spells (I haven't run into these yet, but they're in the manual).
I have no idea what these stats do, but I don't have any control over them anyway
After preparing for my journey (bought a sword and shield), I found battles quickly drained my HP. Acclimating myself to the battle screen I learned to dodge enemies and live long enough to reach level 2. Obtaining a level up restores HP and MP to max, a fact I take advantage of while exploring the early dungeons. I retrieved the Ring of Wisdom. It seems the rings are merely present to let me know when to move on to the next area, as there's no direct benefit I can see to having them.
How long ago did Blade stick you here?
Back in town a different person handed me a map to the next area. Towns offer an inn to rest, a church for saving the game and curing ailments (poison and curses), an item shop for herbs and other supplies, an equipment shop for weapons and armor, a tavern and other houses where additional hints are gathered, and a fortuneteller. The fortuneteller gives a more direct hint for the next step.
There's no way to tell him it's the correct way (or not, *evil grin*)
In Parma (no relation to Phantasy Star), the king is acting strangely. His appetite has increased, and he's forcing everyone to worship Gnostan (someone mentions this is synonymous with evil). Still, no one questioned these changes beyond the small amount of time they spend pointing out the strangeness. This town is first time the magic shop is available. I couldn't afford any magic, or even any equipment when I first arrived. If only someone could point me to somewhere I could grind for money and extra levels.
Well that's handy
Grinding has been thankfully light. This beginning area is the only time I've needed to wander back and forth to build up resources. Though it's only thanks to the obscene encounter rate that I'm able to stay ahead of the curve without looking for extra fights. I often find myself dreading the next battle, and during whole dungeon crawls I didn't even bother fighting, just ran. The king requested I retrieve the Treasure of Troy from the Cave of Troy to prove my worth, a task he never expected me to finish.
I guess? It really wasn't explained, but I have eight fingers (not counting thumbs) so I need eight rings
I decided to grind a bit more until I was able to afford the magic books. Adventuring too far to the east was risky during this time. The slimes and kobolds from earlier were replaced by firerings, bats, and sorcerers. The sorcerers have powerful projectiles that quickly depleted my HP reserves, and they're the main reason I waited to obtain the healing magic before venturing on.
The first fire spell orbits my character instead of shooting in a straight line, very hard to aim
The Cave of Troy wasn't too bad with the ability to heal between battles (only damage spells can be equipped for battle), but some floating eyeballs put me off from fighting all battles. They moved quicker than my character, and did heavy damage. Two levels deep, I found the treasure I sought. Back in town the king was surprised and offered me a place to live peacefully in town.
Well, demanded is more like it
As is the case with most console RPGs of this era, this one offered the false choice that continuously repeats. In fact, this feature is repeated many times over the course of the game. I tried to leave town, but I was blocked by the guards. Everyone was surprised I was kept against my will and suggested I misunderstood what the king said. I appealed to the king once more, and he revealed his true nature.
Genesis does what Nintendon't!
Another new view just when I was getting used to the standard combat screen. Instead of a more complicated strategic layout for bosses it turns into a side-view with a reduced move-set and maneuverability. The only options are left, right, down for duck, and the C button to swing the sword (which has grown to three inches). No magic though. Really, no magic? This feature was totally ripped off from Super Hydlide. The only option is to charge in and attack. Luckily the dragon doesn't do much and fell quickly.
There's no chance to dodge attacks, so I tanked most hits
With the false king dead, I was able to enter a restricted area and discovered the true king. He offered up the Ring of Sky, and a place in his town guard. I accepted the first and turned down the position. I gained another map to the east, which allowed me to reach the next town. During my travels I stumbled upon a Dark Sword, which I should have known was cursed, but didn't think of it at the time. Removing the curse caused my strength to permanently drop by half. I hope I don't get cursed very often. There's no way to know if an item is cursed before equipping it.
I gained 1 point of strength over level 1!
I probably should have bought a better sword (I only had the first one), but I decided to wait until the next town. Little did I know not all shops are available in every town. The next town was cursed, and the monster that cursed them lived to the north. Defeating the monster returned the townspeople's youth, and gained me another map. It was another boss fight, but this one was even easier than the last. The enemy would shuffle back and forth, then charge up a lightning attack.
Don't ask me where it comes from
This area introduced scorpions, which poison upon contact. Poison is more an annoyance than a serious concern. It only does a single point of damage for each step when in first-person view. Balms to cure poison were at Palma, but not available in Watling. With no ring here, I do wonder how necessary this trip was. At least I got another map.
Add in the fact I can only have 8 items, and I really don't have time for this
Deprived of anything to purchase since Parma, I was able to buy up all the best equipment and a new spell in Deepdale. The king here likes to hide among his people to learn of their lives, and after scouring the town and castle twice over I learned the only thing that will bring him out of hiding are truffles. A quick trip to the store, and... oh, they're out. I guess it's a quick trip to the nearest monster infested cave. At least with my new equipment the battles became pathetically easy.
Because the king is the only one that likes truffles?
I traded the truffles for the Ring of Wind, which I'm supposed to put to better use. If only I knew what use. New monsters were again introduced: snakemen look more like women, and mold are the only enemies that don't run. On my way to Stow, which I was warned is far to the east, I found a nice cave to explore. I decided to dive in since I would probably need to anyway at some point. Inside were living giant mushrooms, which move very slowly, but poison on contact. Still, they were quite rewarding. On the bottom level I found a little girl; nothing out of the ordinary here.
Yeah, nothing suspicious about this at all
The Book of Sanguios only costs 2 MP and is a full heal, as opposed to the Sanguia spell that costs 6 MP and heals only 60 HP. I figured there was a catch, but I was thinking limited use or eventually it'd blow up in my face. Instead I learned it was stolen. I learned that as I was talking to king it was stolen from. Somehow he saw into my inventory... maybe while I was opening my bag to store the Ring of Fire he was about to give me. To prove my innocence the king asked me to produce the real thief, but confiscated the three rings I'd already collected.
Those totally won't get stolen from you like your spell book, right?
I went back to confront the little girl who was probably not a little girl at all. My suspicion was confirmed when she turned into two-headed fire hurling demon. This fight took slightly more thought than the past two due to the low-flying fireball. There's no jumping or blocking available, instead it's necessary to time attacks to disperse the projectiles.
Come on! Where's my jumping leap through the middle and land with a roll button?
After beating down this demon, she reappeared as a little girl and claimed to have seen the error of her ways. "I will go to Stow to show them how much I regret my past mistakes." Good to hear little girl, you go on ahead. I'm really not sure how she beat me when I used the Gnome stone to teleport out of the dungeon and the Griffin Wing to return to my last save point.
Oh, I guess she didn't really regret what she did
Oh, and wouldn't you know it, the demon stole the rings held by the king. With any luck I'll be able to retrieve them in the next cave where she's hiding out. Maybe she took that super powerful healing magic book as well. I now have a map to Asti's Cave, and ready to head back in. No matter how dull this game is, it's still an RPG. Shall I jinx myself by hoping to finish up this week? Let's do it.

Elapsed Time: 5h29m (Total Time: 5h29m)


  1. When I tried playing Sword of Vermilion a couple years ago, I got bored of grinding on slimes and never made it past the first dungeon. Kudos to you for persevering.

    I think the Ultimate Genesis Collection includes some sort of tips or pseudo-instruction manual for each game. Have you browsed those?

    1. I think I had a similar experience the first time I tried it. At least it's not a difficult game at all. I've only managed to die twice, both to the overpowered sorcerers. I won't be underestimating them a third time.

  2. I beat it as a kid, but I definitely thought it was lacking even then.

    1. Good to know I'm not the only one buying into the hype. I was actually looking forward to this a bit after seeing it make that top 50 Genesis Games List. Now I've lost faith in that list, and Genesis games in general.

    2. It's not all bad. Shining in the Darkness is pretty fun, as dungeon crawlers go. But don't get your hopes up for Traysia.

    3. Gunstar Heroes and General Chaos were the only reasons to own a Genesis back in the day when I was a kid, but I admit I wasn't into RPGs then, so I likely missed out on a few good games. Sword of Vermilion does not strike me as one of those games.

    4. oh, that should say, "not the only one not buying into the hype."

      @Victar: I do remember enjoying the Shining in the Darkness. I especially like the art style used. I can't say I know much about Traysia or Sorcerer's Kingdom, two lesser spoken of Genesis RPGs.

      @Raifield: Well, I didn't have much faith in the system in the first place after what it did to the Phantasy Star series. Mainly though my hopes were on RPGs. I'm sure there are other good games for the system. I mean, I played Contra: Hard Corps recently, and really enjoyed it (not normally into Contra).

      It's strange, but I'm a bit stuck in Sword of Vermilion. I'll get a post out soon and hope to get some feedback to quell my fears, but I'm in a town with a shop that takes all my money and weapons. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do about it, so for now I've reset to a previous saved game and hopefully ignoring it for now will work. Nobody has bothered to give me a map to the next area though, so I may have to explore without it.

    5. Contra Hard Corps is probably my favorite Contra game and is one of my favorite Genesis games more generally. There are lots of other good games. Good RPGs however....

      Phantasy Star IV. That's pretty much it. Though all the Shining games are good for what they are, and Warsong is a fantastic strategy game with RPG elements.

    6. Well, I'm looking forward to getting to Phantasy Star IV in, let's see here... four years. Jeez, why did they wait so long? Shining and Warsong should be good, I'm looking forward to checking them out.

  3. I kind of enjoyed this game when it was new. But probrably more for the graphics and music. Which probrably don't hold up as well today. It also was only like the 4th RPG I ever played. It is something I wouldn't go back and play today. I am surprised you heard some people say they thought it was good. It's ok but is generally not remembered nicely. Having played it, I've enjoyed your write up so far. I remember being really ticked getting all my rings stolen. And that damn cursed sword.

    1. I can see how as an early experience it can be enjoyable. Honestly, the still screens make the graphics look better than they are in motion. Most animations are 2 - 4 frames. For the time I'll concede there wasn't any other game doing the same thing.

      I wasn't too upset about the rings, but losing all my money and weapons got to me. I couldn't bring myself to play through that event since I didn't see a reversal on the horizon. At least when the rings are taken you know who took them and how to get them back. If this is supposed to be part of the story, I hope I'm not locked out while I try to continue on my own while avoiding the event.

      As for good things being said, it is #41 in the top 50 genesis games according to this site: I think he praises the action aspects more than they're worth and glosses over aspects for which he derides other RPGs (e.g. high encounter rate, limited options during battles).

    2. - Here is an interesting "best of Genesis" list that actually aggregates from other sources.

      I've looked through a few and nobody else mentions Vermillion. I sorta wonder if Brad & Co. are just on their own when it comes to this. Keep in mind, almost every other list gives PSIV a top tier position.

      On the other hand, I saw Altered Beast take decent positions in like 3 different lists. And that game is mediocre at best. Everybody has their guilty pleasures, I suppose.

    3. - haha, I guess there at least one person out there who loves it.

    4. Yeah, I think a lot of these lists are going to have bias; just no way to really get away from nostalgia for most people. There are quite a few games I can recognize as bad, but I still have good memories of enjoying them.