Most people I know don’t automatically think of RPGs when they think of their Genesis. But there is actually a large number of titles available on the console. Add in the Sega CD, which I outlined earlier, and you’ve got a hefty selection available, spread across a variety of different types of RPGs. Just take a look at your options. (This is a rather lengthy post and we had to divide it up to two pages until we can figure out how to get the server to let us post more — see page two here.
Phantasy Star Series
Phantasy Star (NTSC-J / 1994), Phantasy Star II (NTSC-J, NTSC-U/1989), Phantasy Star III (NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL/1990), Phantasy Star IV (NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL/1993)
The Phantasy Star series has the prestige of being one of the first RPG series to appear on North American consoles, and the first title’s Japanese release for the Master System was a mere two days after Final Fantasy. All four games are JRPGs that take place in the same continuous universe in the Algol Solar System. All four games are connected, though Phantasy Star III would serve as a large departure from the others. It is the only one of the four to feature a medieval fantasy setting, while the others are all science fiction types.
The entire series is composed of solid titles, and they’re worth tracking down, though for those of us who can’t read Japanese, it might be better to go for the Master System version of Phantasy Star, since the Megadrive version never made the leap across the ocean. Finding it for the Megadrive may be even harder since it only saw release as a limited edition with a low print run.
It should also be noted that there was one other Phantasy Star title for the console, available via the Sega Meganet in Japan, Phantasy Star II Text Adventures. This is a series of 8 text-based adventures, later released in compilation for the Mega-CD.
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Shining in the Darkness (NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL/1991), Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention (NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL/1993), Shining Force II (NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL/1994)
In the Shining Series, the timeline begins with the return of the Dark Dragon, and after his defeat at the hands of the Shining Force, the rise of the Devil Kings. While all three titles are in the Shining series, Shining in the Darkness is a very different animal from its Shining Force brethren. First, it’s a dungeon crawler, not a strategy RPG like the two Shining Force. The art and musical styles are similar, but the series includes a variety of different RPG styles.
Second, it’s out of order. While the plots are all linked, Shining in the Darkness takes place after Shining Force II, and the events of Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict on the Sega Game Gear takes place between Shining Force and Shining Force II. For access to both Shining Force Gaiden’s, as well as a third previously unseen chapter, Shining Force CD is available on the Sega CD to round out the collection.
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Dragon Slayer Series
Sorcerian (NTSC-J/1990), Dragon Slayer: Legend of Heroes (NTSC-J/1994), Dragon Slayer: Legend of Heroes II (NTSC-J/1995), Lord Monarch (NTSC-J/1994)
Ok, so this series is a mess of different RPG sub-genres, originally spreading across the 1980s and then being continuously updated for the next decade. It also incorporates the first two parts of a second entire series, known as the Legend of Heroes series. So why is it a group of cross-genre RPGs with no real connection via storyline or style can be considered connected? Because they all had the same producer, Yoshio Kiya, one of the first Japanese minds behind RPGs. It is debated that his first game, Dragon Slayer, released 1984, is the first Japanese action RPG. In 1985, a fledgling startup named Squaresoft would port it to the MSX as one of their first published titles. Without his initial work, series like The Legend of Zelda might not ever have existed. And thankfully the Megadrive releases of his work are actually considered pretty good.
First, Sorcerian features an open party which is created from scratch at the start of the game which then grow stronger as they are pitted against various scenarios for gold and glory. The game changes gameplay styles, though at its heart, it’s a side-scrolling action RPG. Lord Monarch is radically different, more of a strategy game with heavy RTS elements than an RPG at all. The purpose of the game is to use your peasants to slaughter every other kingdom. And yes, I mean EVERY kingdom, as once allied players smash an opposed enemy, they must then work to smash each other, since the game only allows one winner.
The Legend of Heroes games are both similar, though again, different from the other Dragon Slayer games. They’re both JRPGs with a connecting storyline. Only the first two in the series kept their association to the original Dragon Slayer series, and the next set of games feature a new plot, known as the Gagharv Trilogy. Unfortunately neither of the Megadrive versions would make it out of Japan.
Uncharted Waters Series
Uncharted Waters (NTSC-J, NTSC-U/1992), Uncharted Waters: New Horizons (NTSC-J, NTSC-U/1994)
Finally, the piracy RPG you know you’ve always wanted to play…if you like. That’s the beauty of the Uncharted Waters series, they’re very open-ended high seas adventures with loose plots that allow you to pick and choose generally what you would like to do. This includes leading trade expeditions, investing in locales, hunting for treasure, hunting for pirates, or engaging in a bit of piracy yourself.
The first game in the series focuses on Leon Franco, son of a noble family that has fallen into disrepute. So Leon sets out to restore it by doing tasks for the king, investing into foreign lands in the name of Portugal, or taking out Spanish or Ottoman ships, in hopes that the king will give you titles and raise the status of your family. The sequel makes it all bigger, with more countries, the same open-ended gameplay, and the ability to choose one of six different characters to follow at the start of the game. Seriously, if you’ve got a thing for pirates, check this series out.
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Warsong (Langrisser) (NTSC-J, NTSC-U/1991), Langrisser 2 (NTSC-J/1994)
The Langrisser series is composed of multiple strategy RPGs on a truly epic scale. And I mean epic, as in up to thirty controllable units on just your side epic. All the games of the series are connected, though they span many years in the game world. The games all focus on two swords, the Langrisser and the Alhazard. The cast of each game is enormous too, and large amounts of story exposition is conducted during combat, so once a fight starts, expect to be there a long time. On the upside, the music is quite good throughout, so at least you’ll have something pleasant to listen to.
There are two Langrisser titles on the Genesis, though only one made it out of Japan. The first Langrisser, known in the west as Warsong, is the roughest in terms of design and unfortunately isn’t as graphically attractive as the rest of the series. In an effort to localize the series, character names were changed and character portraits were “Westernized.” Which is a real shame, as one of the perks of the series is that the character designs and portraits were absolutely stellar. Still, at least it saw release outside of Japan, unlike its sequel. Langrisser 2 was more of the same, but with improved graphics, a larger cast, and multiple branching storylines for added replayability.
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(NTSC-J / 1992)
In the 25th century, there will be war between humans and aliens. We will win, thanks to specially built mechs known as Vectors, as we take the fight to the Four Heavenly Emperors and their leader, Zithor Weimer, who pilots Golgyas, a mech equipped with the ultimate weapon, Vixen 357. Yes, that’s the plot. As far as gameplay, it’s a strategy RPG with mechs. Yes, it’s practically Sega’s answer to Front Mission, only it predates Front Mission by nearly three years. And while it’s nowhere near as pretty(battlefields are actually quite bland), it lets me watch massive robots beat the snot out of each other with a variety of close-range and long-range weaponry. Just keep in mind that character death is permanent, so losing certain characters will result in a game over.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL / 1993)
Not only is this considered a faithful port of its arcade predecessor, it’s considered a better game overall, and for good reason: it stays true to the visuals, audio, and gameplay of the action RPG arcade hit Gauntlet(yeah, don’t ask where the IV came from), but it brings in multiple game modes not found in the arcade to boot. This includes the arcade, a Quest Mode that includes RPG elements and a fleshed out storyline, a multiplayer free-for-all mode, and a mode that records you as you race through a dungeon. Plus, it was the first game built for the Genesis multitap, so you know what that means. That’s right: 4-player multiplayer, baby!
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(NTSC-U / 1993)
This was a remake of 1987’s Sid Meier’s Pirates!, though with improved graphics, more colors, and more features. It’s an open-ended title, allowing the player to create a new character from a list of options at the beginning and then setting them loose on the Spanish Main to plunder from Florida to South America as they age from a young man to an old man. Along the way, towns can be sacked, ships can be captured, treasure can be found, quests can be accepted, and armadas can be sunk, all done in varying styles of gameplay. Seriously, between this and the two Uncharted Waters games, there’s more than enough pirate goodness to keep players happy.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U / 1994)
We need more cyberpunk RPGs. The Genesis version of Shadowrun follows Joshua, a new Shadowrunner who is out for revenge after his brother’s murder. To do this, he’s gonna need money and skills as well as a little help, so he’ll have to start doing jobs for the “Mr. Johnsons,” though if he screws up, he’ll likely wake up in the chop shop. The game world is Seattle, giving the player the freedom to move around it openly, with all kinds of random events occurring on the way. If Joshua gets a datajack, he can then do some Matrix running for missions or simply to steal computer files for some quick cash. It’s definitely a game worth checking out.
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(Universal / 2006)
Originally a Taiwan-only game known as Xin Qigai Wangzi, it was edited, localized, and updated for a release on all versions of the Genesis/Megadrive by the Super Fighter Team nearly a decade later. In the game, the Prince of Shatt is a snot-nosed brat who wants to leave his life behind, so he switches places with a beggar with the help of the nefarious Cat Minister. Once out, he quickly learns that life outside the castle kinda sucks, but isn’t allowed to return to his old life since he is now a beggar. So now he must go on an epic quest to reclaim his kingdom. Unfortunately the first two print runs of the games were a bit buggy, though thankfully Super Fighter Team has managed to fix the vast majority of them from the Taiwan original. It makes for an excellent RPG, and it proves the capability of the Super Fighter Team. And who knew those Taiwanese RPGs were worth playing?
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Legend of Wukong
(Universal / 2008)
And once again, this is another Taiwan-only RPG by Super Fighter Team, extensively reprogrammed for all versions of the Genesis/Megadrive like its predecessor, Beggar Prince. And this time, there were no issues with the first print run. In this title, a young boy named Wukong visits his neighbor, Dr. Tang, scientist and inventor extraodinaire. Dr. Tang takes a few moments to talk about his latest creation, the first time machine, which Wukong accidentally turns on and is sent back to the days of the Tang Dynasty in China(618-907 AD), with the time machine lost. With a little help from a friendly monk, Wukong must set off across China and India to find the time machine and return home, battling monsters and making friends along the way. This is definitely worth checking out.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL / 1993)
This is an action RPG that follows Nigel, a young wood elf hunting for the treasure of King Nole, who disappeared one night many years ago after an angry horde of subjects rushed his castle. Ok, so he wasn’t the most well-liked of kings, but his lost treasure is apparently worth tons, and Nigel’s set his sights on it. It’s pretty, the plot’s not the typical contrived “teenager-must-save-the-world” drivel we keep seeing over and over again, and the music is top notch stuff. Unfortunately, perhaps the most unique feature of the game is its biggest downfall: an isometric viewpoint and a lot of jump puzzles. In some cases, a single messed up jump can mean a lot of backtracking too. It unfortunately makes some sections of the game a bit more tedious than they should be, though beyond this, the isometric view isn’t a problem at all.
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(NTSC-J / 1995)
This is a Japanese-heavy JRPG that never made it off its home island. It’s also extremely pretty, with some very well-designed character sprites and portraits. Combat’s a bit static, but with some absolutely beautiful effects. The plot centers on Prince Muu who’s castle is suddenly attacked by monsters. The royal family and closest aids and advisors run down to the royal treasure(a book trapping an evil sorcerer) to protect it and themselves, but the king and queen die fending off monsters, and then one of the aides turns into said evil sorcerer, Rufeed, who then slaughters everyone, including Muu. With the castle destroyed, a six-armed white rabbit known as the Time Expert appears and sends Muu back in time to stop Rufeed. It’s a real shame we never got this, as its considered to be one of the best for the console.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL / 1994)
Beyond Oasis is another top-down action RPG, featuring all the usual trappings of an RPG(hit points, equipment, experience), but also features realtime combat. The plot follows a young man named Ali who finds the Gold Armlet. The spirit of said armlet informs him of the evil Silver Armlet bent on destroying the land Oasis, and to save it Ali must first find the four spirits of the Gold Armlet. A little odd coming from a glove, but it makes for a fun adventure, and the pretty visuals and music help the journey along. The controls do present a few problems, as different attacks are executed based on how long the attack button is pressed, and there’s a limited number of enemies expanded via palette swaps, but don’t let that stop you from tracking down this little gem.
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Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
(NTSC-J / 1991)
Also known as Nadia no Fushigi no Umi or Fushigi no Umi no Nadia, depending on who is asked, this is a video game adaptation of the anime of the same name, which in turn was loosely based on the works of Jules Verne. In the year 1889, a scientist named Jean meets a circus performer from Africa named Nadia. A criminal organization is after Nadia and her blue pendant, and Jean decides to help her out. The game is mostly based around using necessary items at necessary times, and combat is nonexistent. Party members join up and leave as time goes by, and the game is presented as a JRPG. It’s apparently quite good, starting in Paris and eventually ending in Atlantis. It shouldn’t be confused with the other Nadia games on Famicom and Turbo CD.
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Yu Yu Hakusho Gaiden
(NTSC-J / 1994)
The Yu Yu Hakusho fighting game for the Megadrive is considered one of the console’s better fighters, but it wasn’t the only quality Yu Yu Hakusho game of the era. Yu Yu Hakusho Gaiden is a JRPG with some of the best anime-styled sequences on the console. The story is pulled from the anime, and players are asked to pick from a choice of Yusuke, Kurama, Kuwabara, or Hiei. The story is then presented from their perspective, operating in a similar fashion to a text adventure. Combat is a strange mixture of a fighting game and RPG, allowing the player to move around to avoid enemy attacks and jump forward to beat the snot out of whatever presents itself. Overall, it’s…a little odd in terms of appearance, but check it out if you’re a fan or just want to try something different.
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Ys III: Wanderers from Ys
(NTSC-J, NTSC-U/ 1992)
This is the bastard child of the Ys series, mainly because it entirely dropped the top-down perspective in favor of a side-scrolling camera. While it managed to keep some of the Ys feeling, the large dungeons are gone in favor of practically straight lines, and the side-scroller bit takes some getting used to. Plus, you will have to spend a lot of time leveling, or don’t even bother trying, because it’s likely the first enemy will kill you in two hits, and the bosses are even worse. The plot follows red-headed Adol as he follows his friend Dogi to his hometown, Redmont. There, they meet Elena and Chester. Chester is attempting to become an evil overlord of the world, so Adol’s got to save the day again. There’s also a system of rings to collect now to provide various effects or power up the player. Oh, and I really like the music.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U / 1991)
On its release, this title was written off as a Gauntlet clone, and it’s easy to see why someone would come to that conclusion. It’s an action RPG with four selectable characters with various similarities to the four selectable in Gauntlet. Story exposition is generally nil, and it features a generic fantasy plot about an evil sorceress who’s attempting to take over the world again after being defeated so many hundreds of years ago. With it’s 1991 release date, the title’s also not the most attractive game out there, and its music could use some work. That said, those four characters feature different styles of play(including different means of attacking), there’s a magic system to deepen gameplay, and levels are huge and filled with respawning enemies, so you will have to stay on your toes to make it through the level. Overall it’s entertaining, but a little bit grueling as well. While there is multiplayer, it’s crippled by bouts of slow-down.
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Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday
(NTSC-U, PAL / 1991)
So it’s a strategy RPG set in the world of Flash Gordon, from the 1940s science fiction serials shown in movie theaters. And this game is complex too, to the point the instruction manual’s a book. Let me just state something now: this game is ugly and the music hurts. The sound effects are pretty atrocious too. That said, there’s a lot more to this game than you think. At the beginning of the game, the player must create a party out of various choices to join the New Earth Organization and fight to protect Earth from the Russian-American Mercantile built up around Mercury. To do this, you’ll have to fight across various planets or from ship to ship in outer space. It’s a shame the Genesis version is a watered-down port of this title, missing several selectable races and classes as well as multiple skills. Still, if you want that far future science fiction strategy RPG, this might well be worth checking out. Now if only we’d gotten something like a Star Trek RPG…
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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Echoes from the Past
(NTSC-U / 1994)
Score! Star Trek fans have an interesting little title on their hands here. The plot sounds like the typical episode, with the Enterprise called to the Neutral Zone to help investigate a report by the Romulans that one of their research ships has gone missing in Federation Space. Before the game is over, the Enterprise crew will be racing to save their lives and the rest of the universe. As for how it plays, well…don’t think of this as your typical RPG. There are no levels, HP, or equipment. Ah, but there are quests, and lots of open-ended gameplay. Want to check out a planet? Send an away team of your choosing! Romulans attempting to pick a fight? Choose to escape or to throw full power to your shields. And yes, the full cast from the show is available. For Trekkies, there’s also a lot of series-related information to be found. Still, the game suffers from a lack of variation in the crew, and almost too much emphasis on combat. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s worth looking into, but non-fans may be turned off by the problems.
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(NTSC-J / 1992)
And another action RPG, though one that was sadly left in Japan. King Colossus holds many similarities to the Ys series, including a red-headed hero fighting in the top-down perspective. And that’s a good thing, by the way. You play a boy who is supposed to guard a magic sword, but doesn’t do his job particularly well. The sword gets stolen, and your old master makes you go after it, completing all manner of jobs along the way. There are a few problems with hit detection, and enemies hurt a lot, but the game’s nice enough to allow you to save just about anywhere. The dungeon design is a bit simplistic, but puzzles aren’t overly complicated, and the game can make for an enjoyable romp.
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Record of Bahamut War
(NTSC-J / 1991)
Sometimes known as Bahamut Senki or Bahant Senki, this strategy RPG bears little relation to Bahamut Lagoon on the Super Famicom. Instead, it offers the chance to play one of 8 different leaders as they vie for power against each other. Choices range from typical fantasy fair, such as Imperial humans, Elves, Giants, Barbarians, Demons, and Undead. While this title leans much heavier towards the strategy side of its genre, options can be adjusted to change battle styles. So you can play it as a nearly straight strategy game, or closer to the normal strategy RPG, depending on how you like it. As for visuals, it’s not the prettiest, but for a 1991 release date, it doesn’t look that bad. Multiplayer also isn’t very well defined, since the game is turn-based. You merely pass the controller between players when their turn comes up.
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(NTSC-J / 1991)
Taro Yamada has recently moved with his family to Corja, Japan, so his father can start work at a new job. While having a house-warming party, he orders a pizza from Sensational Cafeteria(SECA) and instead is given a suit of combat armor that gives him super strength and the ability to shoot energy blasts. Unfortunately, he’s also given a bill for said armor, so he hires his services out as a hero for the people of Corja. If that’s not an original premise, I don’t know what is. Visually the game’s quite good for it’s year, the music sticks to the theme quite well, and the game understands that humor is what it’s going for. It’s a shame neither it nor it’s remake for the DC and Xbox, never made it out of Japan.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U / 1991)
Exile is the sequel to XZR on the MSX, and is sometimes known as XZR II. The game continues the story of Sadler, Syrian assassin living during the time of the crusades, somewhere around 1120 A.D. or so. It is Sadler’s goal to bring about peace by stamping out rebellions and forcing nations to get along, even if he’s got to kill everybody in his path to do it. There’s drug use, swearing, religious discussion, and even a notable case of censorship where an entire town was removed because it depicted citizens being crucified. Of course, it was removed from the American version. Beyond that, the game’s not terribly difficult. Traversing the world is done in a style similar to a JRPG, but combat is done in a side-scrolling action RPG style.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U / 1992)
A young man named Roy has always wanted to see the world, but has been stuck in his hometown of Johanna all his life. But he gets his chance when his uncle, a traveling merchant, decides to pull-up shop and head somewhere else. Roy’s girlfriend, Traysia, gives him a pendant so he’ll remember her. It’s a simple idea for a plot, but with beautiful artwork and music, it’s sure to be a memorable journey. The game plays like a JRPG, though combat is more like a strategy RPG, taking place on a large battlefield that must be maneuvered by Roy and his allies.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL / 1995)
Here’s a title from Treasure (of Gunstar Heroes and Ikaruga fame) that’s generally forgotten. That’s too bad, because the game isn’t a terrible action RPG, it’s just not all that groundbreaking and comes off as the most western game they’ve ever released. Light Crusader goes for the isometric view, incorporates an interesting magic system based around combining elements, and goes heavy on the puzzles, though it does a decent job of keeping them diverse. While some of its animations are a little strange, it’s an attractive game with decent music. But it just wasn’t as impressive as the vast majority of Treasure’s games, and it came late in the life of the console as Sega was trying to balance a ton of consoles, and it managed to get forgotten along the way. The game follows a knight known as Sir David who returns to his home of Green Row to find people disappearing one by one. He’s sent by the king to find the cause, hidden deep beneath the town.
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Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun
(NTSC-U, PAL / 1992)
Duke Barrik’s entire kingdom is accidentally sucked into some kind of magic vortex along with an invading army of goblins bent on wiping out the humans. When his people wake up from the trip, they find themselves trapped in a valley under a red sun and surrounded by cliffs. So Duke Barrik takes his four best men and sends them out to find allies before the goblins can again mount the attack. That’s where you come in. First you must pick a party of varying race/jobs and genders, then venture out into the world. The game’s a combination of JRPG(when walking around), tun-based strategy RPG combat a la Traysia, and a dungeon crawler view when inside dungeons. While the actual world reminds me a lot of Ultima, some of the graphics are reused from the DOS version of Eye of the Beholder, and the view window in dungeons is pitifully small. Still, the game’s short and not overly complicated, so if you’ve finished the major RPGs on the console, give this one a spin.
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(NTSC-J / 1996)
A bizarre little dungeon crawler that would star the lead of the Puyo Puyo games, Madou Monogatari is more than a little odd in terms of presentation. While originally part of a series of three games, the Megadrive port is merely the first title, with updated visuals and a slightly altered combat system. You play as five-year-old Arle Nadja, who must go down into a dungeon and defeat a cockatrice if she wishes to pass her magician test. There’s no numbers to track stats of any kind, no weapons or armor, and no hit points. Health is tracked based on the expression on Arle’s face, and experience is tracked by an arrangement of gems on the lower half of the screen. Combat is also viewed from the side, and fought via spells. All you do is hold down the ‘A’ button and input a command, and Arle will cast a spell. Strange, yes, but it’s certainly refreshing.
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(NTSC-U, PAL / 1991)
Players take control of an unnamed wizard who must venture into an underground labyrinth to find his master, the wizard Mordamir. It’s a simple enough starting idea for this groundbreaking action RPG, which first brought the isometric view to the genre, and would influence such later titles as the Diablo series. Along the way you’ll have to navigate traps, fight goblins and trolls as well as giant spiders, avoid some absolutely nasty critters, and make it to the very bottom. And if you screw any of it up, you’re treated to an absolutely horrific death sequence, of which there are many. If you kill something, it gets an equally horrific death sequence. In fact, extra ways to die and kill were added when the game was ported to the Genesis. It’s not an easy game at all, but that adds to the fun, and the sparing use of music adds to the mood.
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(NTSC-J, NTSC-U, PAL / 1992)
This is a port of the arcade side-scrolling action RPG of the same name. In Cadash, a balrog bent on taking over the world captures a princess to use in a ritual to grant him immortality. King Dilsarl offers his entire kingdom to any warrior who can go down to Castle Cadash and bring the princess back. You play as one of those nameless heroes. Unfortunately, this game didn’t make the jump to Genesis completely intact, as two character classes were dropped, the colors are considerably darker, one boss was removed from the game, and numerous aspects, such as enemy AI, were changed. While the dark colors add a bit of atmosphere and tension to the title, the music doesn’t really add anything. There’s also multiplayer for 2 players at the same time, which lowers the difficulty a great deal, so if you’re not so great by yourself, you can always bring a friend.
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(NTSC-U, PAL / 1991)
This is a port of the computer game of the same name with some notable changes, and a precursor to the Heroes of Might & Magic series. It’s a strategy RPG, though the console version notable gave up its turn-based roots, so everything moves in real time. So if you sit too long in one place, a wandering horde of monsters will find you. The plot follows a nameless hero(picked from one of four classes) who must find the Scepter of Order before King Maximus dies. To do this, he must collect map pieces, either by hunting down a particular enemy to slay(which also pays, via the king’s bounty), or finding treasure. Various armies may be recruited, though the player must earn enough gold to keep paying them and must have enough leadership to control them. Morale also effects creatures’ fighting capabilities. It’s not all that pretty of a game, and the music is iffy, but if you’re a fan of Heroes of Might & Magic, this one’s worth a look.
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