Gaming Flashback: Forgotten SNES RPGs

Posted in Kulturecade by - November 14, 2017
Gaming Flashback: Forgotten SNES RPGs

If there’s anything that I miss in the modern era of gaming, it’s a genuine surprise. In today’s world, we see the hype train start for a title months or even years before a game’s release, so it’s nearly impossible to walk into a store and see a game you may have never heard of. Of course, back when I was young, the method we learned about and even played new games was to walk into our local video store and look at the newest titles that were available for rent. While the rental store is largely a thing of the past, it’s still something I remember fondly as it allowed me to try so many titles that I would have never had the opportunity to play otherwise.

Many of my weekends were spent with various titles, but usually, it would be an RPG that would find it’s way into my hands. While these were among my favorite titles to play, they were titles that you could hardly beat over a weekend and even with save files, there was no guarantee that if you rented a title more than once that you’d receive the same copy or that your save file would still be intact. Still, I thought so much of my money at renting these games, despite these drawbacks. Of course, this has gotten me thinking about some of the games that I played that I never hear a lot of people talk about. Not all of these games were great, but that doesn’t mean the games didn’t have an effect on me, so let’s look at some of these forgotten games and see how they hold up.

Paladin’s Quest

Paladin’s Quest is a game I initially played on a whim, all because young Zach loved fantasy tropes and saw the word Paladin in the title. While it may have been a flimsy excuse to try a new game, it apparently made sense to my ten-year-old brain.

The game tells the story of a young magic school student named Chezni. Acting on a dare from one of his classmates, Chezni climbs into an ancient machine suspended above the academy. After entering the machine, the pair activates it and unknowingly release an ancient evil sealed within it named Dal Gren. When Dal Gren’s power is unleashed, the school is destroyed and Chezni is tasked with destroying the evil that he has unleashed on the world.

While Paladin’s Quest is largely a by the numbers adventure, it does have a few notable changes that help it stand out from other games in the genre. Chief among these is the lack of any traditional healing items or spells. Unlike most games where you can simply buy healing items at each shop or cast a simple cure spell, in Paladin’s Quest you’ll find bottles as you make your way through your adventure, which can be filled in order to heal your party. This gives Paladin’s Quest an extra level as strategy, as you’ll want to limit the amount of fighting you’re doing in order to converse your limited healing items, while still exploring areas thoroughly in order to find additional bottles and equipment.

Paladin’s Quest also stands out thanks to its mercenary system. During the course of the game, you’ll have only two require party members with the occasional character required for a specific mission. The remaining slot(s) however can be filled by a selection of mercenaries which can be found and recruited as you make your way through the game. Each of these nearly two dozen characters have their own range of abilities, but unlike your main characters can’t have their equipment changed or learn any magic. It’s an interesting system that allows a feeling of customization to your party that was rarely seen at the time of the game’s release and really helps Paladin’s Quest stand out.

Of course, Paladin’s Quest can’t stand out in every area and this is most evident in its visuals. The game looked dated, even in 1992 when it was originally released in Japan. The sprites are largely uninteresting and the game’s color palette feels muted and washed out, especially when compared to Final Fantasy IV, which can out a year earlier. The music, on the other hand, is a treat. Featuring a rare video game appearance from Kohei Tanaka, the soundtrack offers multiple battle themes and a great variety of overworld and dungeon themes that help the game to stand out. Tanaka, of course, is more widely known for composing the music in the original Dragon Ball anime, the One Piece film series, and the Gravity Rush titles, which brought some name recognition to the project.

Paladin’s Quest is a game that I’ve always wanted to come back to, but ever since my hometown rental story stopped carrying SNES games, I was never able to find it again. It’s an interesting title and despite its lackluster visuals, it tries a lot to both set itself apart from other games of the era and also give itself a little bit of extra difficulty. It’s an interesting title and something I’ll certainly be on the lookout for in the coming months when I’m shopping for retro titles.

Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars

Secret of the Stars was a rare RPG developed by the fine folks Tecmo. Something developed by a company who, at the time, who more known for their fantastic sports titles. I received plenty of grief from my cousins and my brother for liking this one, but I just assume they were jealous because they couldn’t find enjoyment in the game.

Secret of the Stars sadly has the most by the books plot of the games I’ve talked about today. The story revolves around Ray. As the leader of the Aqutallion Warriors, he must track down the other chosen warriors, so that they may band together to save the world from the evil Homncruse. Along the way, Ray will meet other warriors in addition to his five Aqutallion brethren, each of which will play a role in play their own role in saving the world from this threat.

Much like the story, the gameplay of Secret of the Stars follows the standard formula of games of the era, but I don’t consider this a bad thing. Because Secret of the Stars opted for a safer route when it came to its design, it was able to pack more challenge into the game.

Graphically the game has a bit more of a “kiddie” look with the characters using a super deformed style. It works well for the game, and it has a nice bright color palette that makes the world stand out. The music is a mixed bag and doesn’t offer anything that I think stands out aside from a couple of the combat themes.

I want to like Secret of the Stars, I really do. I love that the game is difficult, but it doesn’t do much else. The game is merely average in every way, but despite this, I still enjoy it. Secret of the Stars doesn’t do anything to standout except offer an extra bit of challenge and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Arcana

Arcana is an RPG from HAL Laboratories, creators of the Kirby franchise and Super Smash Bros, giving it an interesting lineage. HAL isn’t known for RPGs and since this game predates even the first Kirby game, it’s one of HAL’s first on the SNES.

The story of Arcana revolves around the story of Rooks, the last remaining member of a powerful line of wizards known as Card Masters. After a decade of training, Rooks have only begun to learn the ways of the Card Masters, but due to a series of mysterious events, he must now travel throughout the land of Elemen and learn the ways of the Card Masters in order to stop the revival of the Rimsala, a tyrannical ruler who had been sealed away by the Card Masters decades ago.

Arcana‘s gameplay is handled entirely in a first-person perspective, which is used for both navigation in town and the game’s dungeons. This first-person dungeon crawling style can be frustrating, especially to those not used to it. It doesn’t help that the actual dungeon design is very lacking. There’s little to let you know when you’re approaching the end of an area, and this can cause you to wander into boss fights without being prepared and can cause a lot of unexpected deaths. This brings us the biggest difficulty hurdle when it comes to Arcana and that is how the game handles fallen party members. At any point during the game, if any of your party is defeated in battle it will result in a game over. This is different from most other games of the time, which would only see a game over if the main character were to fall in battle. This adds a huge amount of difficulty to the game, as you’re forced to keep a constant eye on up to three allies whenever you’re in battle since the death of an elemental spirit doesn’t count toward this.

This almost brings the game to an unacceptable level of difficulty, as issues with dungeon layout and a sudden character death have caused me my fair share of sudden game overs. This type of design causes the game to become an exercise in frustration, as you’re forced to retrace your steps each time you receive a game over, which means more time spent regaining any lost experience points and getting back to where you died.

The game isn’t bad to look at for the time it came out, the character art on the HUD is well done and the same could be said of the enemy sprites when in battle. One thing I’m not a fan of, however, is how small the actual play space is. With so much of the screen taken up by the HUD, the play space itself is tiny in comparison. It’s not bad if you’re playing on a decent sized screen, but when I was young and played on a much smaller display, it was nearly impossible to see much detail without being on top of the screen. Not that there’s much to see in the dungeons, they’re all fairly bland and with you just walking down corridors, it’s not hard to see why they can all feel similar after a while.

If you want to get to where Arcana truly shines, then you need to look no further than the game’s soundtrack. Arcana marked the first collaboration between Hirokazu Ando and Jun Ishikawa, the duo who would go on to compose nearly every Kirby game and that shows through here. Some of these compositions feel like they could be put into a Kirby game and they’d fit perfectly, the main battle theme, for example, sounds like it’s right out of Kirby Super Star.

Despite the issues with the difficulty, layout, and presentation, I really like Arcana. The game has an incredible soundtrack, and since which dungeons you can access is restricted by the chapter you’re currently on, it eliminates the need for a pointless backtracking. It’s an enjoyable and relatively short experience, and it’s really a shame that HAL hasn’t done anything with the franchise in over twenty years, I mean it should at least be good for a trophy in a Super Smash Bros. game, right?

Inindo: Way of the Ninja

Developed by Koei who, at the time, was more widely known for their simulation game series Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While Inindo was different from their more well-known titles, they still opted for a fictionalized version of feudal Japan as the setting for this title, giving the game a much more realistic setting since it made use of some actual historical figures, as opposed to an entirely fictional cast.

Inindo beings in the year 1582 and puts the player in control of a young ninja from the Iga clan who’s village was destroyed by the warlord Oda Nobunaga. As you travel throughout Japan, you must seek the aid of others to help you in your quest to overthrow Nobunaga and avenge the death of your clan.

It’s a basic story, but unlike actual history, in which Nobunaga died during this same year, the player is given nearly twenty years in game time to overthrow him before the game will simply end. Of course, this makes sense in a historical context, since in the early 1600s the Tokugawa Shogunate came into power in Japan, but we’re not really here for a lecture on Japanese history.

The gameplay is pretty basic for an RPG of the era, and it the only thing it really does to stand out is it’s unique battle system. Battles are handled in an grid style system, where you can only use certain types of attacks if you’re close enough to the enemy you’re trying to target. Close range and long range attacks are available based on your current equipment. It’s an interesting system, but it’s ultimately flawed due to combat feeling so much slower than the rest of the game.

The presentation doesn’t help matters as Inindo is a very ugly game. Sprites are tame and entirely without detail. It’s great that everything moves so fast, at least on the overworld, but the game looks terrible, even for something of its time. After all, Inindo came out on the Super Famicom the same year as games like Final Fantasy IV and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, so there’s really no excuse for Inindo to look as poor as it does.

The music doesn’t fare much better, while the game features audio that sounds more like traditional Japanese songs, the audio comes off really grating. The melodies are entirely unmemorable, and I found myself turning the audio down really quickly as pitch spikes and fuzzy audio isn’t my idea for a good time in a game on the SNES, it’s more something I expect from a Game Boy title.

I love the premise of Inindo and as an adult, I can appreciate the historical setting and characters much more than I could as a child. Though, I can certainly see why I don’t recall ever renting this title more than one when I was small. It’s not anything special. It’s an unattractive title with horrible music, and really wouldn’t have done much to attract my attention back then. Inindo is a game that I’m shocked got an English localization due to its subject matter, but it’s not one that I have any interest in going back to because it’s simply not a good game.

The 7th Saga

This is a title that I’ve owned most recently out of these, and as much as I loved the title when I was young, an adult Zach can’t help but see it’s flaws. Of course, before we get into that, let’s talk a bit about the game itself. The 7th Saga is an RPG developed by Produce and published by Enix. The game puts you in control of one of seven characters, each with their own play style and motivations. However, the overarching plot of the game has each of the seven characters searching for seven runes. The first to gain all seven will be made the successor of the elderly king Lemele and gain control of his kingdom.

One of my favorite things about this game, when I was young, was that the seven characters who you don’t chose appear in the game world and, depending on which of the characters you are playing as, each of them can be fought or can join you as an ally. It’s an interesting system and something I wish was explored more in RPGs. Of course, this is where we have to get into those flaws we talked about earlier.

For anyone familiar with the game, you may know the first thing I’m going to talk about and that is the infamous difficulty. If you aren’t aware, then you should know that the English localized version of 7th Saga is brutally hard. I’m not sure why the decision was made to do this, or even if it was done on purpose, but the localized version of the game is significantly harder than the Japanese version. It’s an odd change, especially since during this era most games were made easier when brought West. This bizarre change makes the game require an insane amount of grinding due to the enemies being made significantly stronger while the player characters were made weaker. This reduction in stats only applies to the character you are playing as, however, so if you face one of the other playable characters in combat they’ll also have a significant advantage over you, making these battles among the toughest in the game.

The odd difficulty changes aside, the game has aged fairly well. The graphics aren’t bad for the era and the battles make an interesting use of the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 graphics. Music is fitting and a few of the themes are rather catchy. Of course, the game does feel rather slow by modern standards..

It’s a shame that 7th Saga suffers from this boggling difficulty change because I really want to like this game. It’s something I’ve tried playing many times and I always come back to it despite its brutal difficulty, but I ultimately give up on it due to the amount of grinding the game requires to push forward in most areas.

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He is a senior editor at Kulture Shocked. A seasoned gamer, Zach has been playing video games since the early 90s and have owned everything from the NES to the Xbox One. Aside from video games, Zach is a nerd of all trades and dabbles in everything from collectible card games to Gunpla.

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