Fatal Labyrinth – Review

Some gamers love nothing better than to take control of an individual or a group of fighters and battle through endless dungeons gaining experience points, better armour, better weaponry and even stronger magic spells. To me, these games feel a tad monotonous and I rarely complete them purely because I don’t have the desire to spend hours fighting the same monsters to gain a few levels to help defeat a big boss only to have to do the same again soon after. It feels like a waste of time to me. Fatal Labyrinth, although containing RPG elements, is an alternative to these types of games. A sort of RPG-lite if you will. The question is, is it any good?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Fatal Labyrinth is a single-player RPG developed and published by Sega. It was released on the Mega Drive in 1991 and appears on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It was also released for Microsoft Windows in 2010 and can also be found on the Nintendo Switch. For this review, I played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) on the PlayStation 3.

One day, in an unnamed village in a faraway unnamed land, the monstrous castle of doom known as Dragonia rises from the earth. Ghouls from the castle pour out and head towards the village. They steal the Holy Goblet, a sacred artifact and source of light in the world and take it back with them to the castle leaving the villagers in a state of terror.

One man, Trykaar, volunteers to take up arms and infiltrate the castle to steal back the goblet. To find the goblet, he must search through 30 levels of labyrinth that are filled with all manner of creatures hellbent on stopping him.

Beware the wizards, for they can paralyse you, leaving youu open to attack. (Screenshot taken by the author)

There is very little intro to this game. You simply speak to a few people in the village before heading off to the castle. They don’t confide any information that is particularly helpful, and it all feels like a half-arsed afterthought.

Throughout the labyrinth, you can pick up various weapons, shields, body armour, helmets and bows to defend yourself with. You can also find many magical items such as canes, potions, scrolls and rings. Initially, you don’t know how strong each weapon is or what each of these magical items do until you use them. This works well in this game as it forces you to experiment with your items and adds an element of danger and risk.

You do not automatically pick up these items though, and only have limited numbers you can carry. However, rather than just discarding them, you can choose to throw them at the enemy which I think is a nice, realistic touch. Afterall, having a metal helmet thrown at your face isn’t exactly going to tickle.

Like other RPGs, you gain experience points when you kill enemies. You start as “Beginner” and as you level-up progress onto “Valet” and countless other names. With each level you increase your attack, defence and HP also increase.

When battling the monsters, they will only move in response to you moving. When you take a step, they will take a step at the same time. Some need to be next to you to attack, and others can throw projectiles at you. This means that once one is chasing you, it’s incredibly difficult to lose them so you may have to simply fight them. An annoying aspect to the game is that when you are approaching an enemy to attack, they will move aside one square and so you’ll turn to face them but they will move again meaning that you also move a square. It is as if you are engaging in a medieval dance with a monster. It’s very frustrating. Also, when you do get hit, you are frozen for a split second, and this makes it very difficult to escape, especially when surrounded by multiple enemies.

Every five levels is an automatic checkpoint so that if you die, you will go back to Level 5, 10, 15 etc. You seem to have infinite continues so in theory can play until you get tired of the game. If you stay on the same level for too long, then the screen flashes and the monsters will respawn.

Food is a vital part of the game. When fed, the hero slowly regenerates health. If unfed for extended periods of time, the hero becomes hungry and loses health. If too much food is eaten, the character’s movements become sluggish due of overeating. This is an unnecessary addition to making the game even harder.

Throughout the levels, you can pick up gold. This has very little benefit in the game other than when you die, your gravestone is more elaborate, and more mourners attend your funeral. It’s almost as if the game creators know you are going to die a lot during this game.

Features to watch out for:

Secret Doors – You actively have to press the ‘Pick Up’ button (the square button on the PlayStation joypad) when you are next to a wall to find these secret doors.

Trap Doors – Occasionally, you will fall through the floor to the level below. You simply have to find the stairs again to take you up.

Booby Traps – You may also set off an alarm which causes enemies to respawn and surround you.

There are lots of items to search for and pick up throught the labyrinth. Beware, as not all items will aid you. Some are cursed! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Personally, I feel the graphics leave a lot to be desired. The initial top down view is similar to other games such as Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (1991), but that is all you get. There are no additional battle scenes where player and foes are seen with more elaborate illustrations and animations. The game also lacks the scary atmosphere of Shining in the Darkness (1991).

The music in this game is very unassuming and very repetitive. You won’t need SFX or the music anyway for this game as they add very little to the atmosphere, so I just turned down the volume and listening to a podcast.

This game has plenty of replay value. Although it only has one difficulty setting, the levels are randomly generated so that every time you play, you are greeted with a new labyrinth, and the items will never be in the same place twice.

Did I complete the game?

No, I couldn’t get past Level 11.

What the critics thought:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Even though the mazes change constantly, the gameplay itself never changes, let alone the music! How Irritating! The price is right, however, for the Gauntlet fan who hates playing the same levels over and over. Since no passwords exist, you can only finish in one sitting. Yikes! Overall 20/40.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “This Cross between a scrolling beat ‘em up and a role-playing game fails to deliver in both categories. The RPG aspect is dull and limited and slow, boring action fails to offer any thrills and spills. Overall 51%.”[2]

SegaPower: “Addictive roam around the labyrinth and collect the goodies RPG. Overhead graphics reveal themselves as you enter each room, which is nice, but it’s just too easy. Overall 2/5.[3]

My Verdict:

“Sadly, this game is rather monotonous and lacks atmosphere. The constant “swing and a miss” dynamic of the fighting is downright tedious. Mediocre graphics and dull music mean that you won’t be missing much if you give this game a miss. Pity really, as the concept had potential.”

My Rating:

What are your memories of Fatal Labyrinth? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Fatal Labyrinth’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1991). Issue 21:22. file:///C:/Users/nikth/AppData/Local/Temp/EGM_US_021.pdf Accessed 16th September 2021).

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Fatal Labyrinth’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:138. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n137/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[3] ‘The Hard Line – Fatal Labyrinth’. SegaPower. (October 1991). Issue 23:53 (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 16th September 2021).

Shining Force II: The Ancient Seal – Review

Revisiting games can be fun…but it can also be disappointing. We romanticise games in our minds and revisiting them years later, especially when technology has moved on, often destroys these rose-tinted memories. Altered Beast is an example of one such game. When I revisited it, I was disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I remember. No doubt, there will be many more to come. Will Shining Force II suffer when I revisit it with older eyes and a colder heart?

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Shining Force II: The Ancient Seal is a tactical RPG developed by Sonic! Software Planning and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1993. It was re-released for the Wii U Virtual Console in 2008, as well as being part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is the sequel to Shining in the Darkness, and is set 40-70 years after the events of Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict (1995) on the Game Gear. although the stories consist of different characters.Although I did used to own the original Mega Drive cart, for this review, I played through the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for PlayStation 3.

It is a dark, stormy night. A small band of thieves led by Slade, break into an ancient shrine looking for treasure. They happen upon two coloured jewels: one blue and one red. Upon stealing the jewels, they unwittingly break a magical seal that has held the demon King Zeon captive. With the seal broken, but not yet at his full strength, Zeon orders his minions to find the Jewel of Darkness so that he can restore his power and conquer the world.

The sprites and overall design are almost identical to Shining Force (Screenshot taken by the author)

Main Characters:

Bowie is the main character (although you can choose to change his name). He is a student of Astral the Wizard, is a human and a swordsman. He is an all-rounder and can be promoted to Hero.

Jaha is a dwarf and a warrior. He is very strong but his movement is limited. He is also a student of Astral. He can be promoted to Gladiator, but with a special item, can become a Baron.

Chester is a centaur and a knight. He is also a student of Astral. He can use either a lance for short range attacks or you can equip him with a spear for longer ranged attacks. When prompted he becomes a Paladin but with a special item, he can become a Pegasus.

Sarah is an Elf and a priest. She is also a student of Astral. She is not very good in hand-to-hand combat but she is great for casting spells and healing your injured party. When promoted, she become a vicar, but with a special item, she can become a Master Monk which greatly increases her hand-to hand combat skills.

Kazin is an Elf and a mage. Once promoted he becomes a wizard.

There are many other characters who join your party along the was but I won’t discuss them here.

During battles, you must be careful to position your stronger units where they can defend your weaker units (Screenshot taken by the author)

The menu is exactly the same as Shining Force. That is, when walking around both urban and rural areas, you begin with four boxes that are animated when your cursor is over them These options are:

Member – Check the status of member sof your party

Item – It will take you to another menu where you can choose to use an item, pass an item to someone else, equip an item or drop one.

Search – Use this when you come across chests, boxes and vases. In fact, there are lots of hidden items in odd areas, so use this option freely.

Magic – Takes you to a menu where you can cast spells. In non-battle scenarios, only the detox spell works.

During your adventure, there are plenty of opportunities to visit shops where you can buy new weapons and sell old ones. You can also buy provisions such as herbs that help regain health, an angel wing which acts like an Egress spell and an antidote for poison. There are also options to repair your weapons (I’ve never had to use this) or to ask for deals. The deal option is pretty pointless because, as far as I can tell, items only appear there when you have already sold those special items to the shops.

The battle scenes are beautifully illustrated (Screenshot taken by the author).

Again, the combat is exactly the same as SF, in that it is a turn-based tactical affair where you must manoeuvre members of your party into good tactical positions before engaging the enemy. Depending on the type of fighter, certain members have a much larger movement range that others. When attacking an enemy, you can opt to use yor primary weapon, cast a spell or use an item. If you do not wish to attack you can simply press “stay” and that ends that character’s turn until it comes around to them again.

Like SF, I think this game is beautiful. The environment in the overworld maps (forests and trees) have been improved, but the sprites themselves and the battle scenes are practically the same. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as they are a great improvement on games like Phantasy Star IV (1993), and better than the graphics of games like Earthbound (1994), Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager (1994) and Final Fantasy VI (FF III in North America). Yes, I personally prefer Shining Force II‘s graphics to FFVI.

Whereas SF was a very linear game, SFII involves more free-roaming. There are many places you need to return to in order to find special items or for the game to progress.

There is also more than one way to promote members of your party. Like SF, you can promote your party when visiting a priest, once your party member has reached level 20. However, there are instances when you can promote your party member to a different class of fighter with the help of special items. 

Did I complete the game?

Yes!

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “A worthy follow-up to the first RPG, with bigger areas to explore and characters to meet. This will definitely appeal to the fans of first one, and RPG fans in general. It assumes you’ve played the first Shining Force, but the story could use a few more twists and turns. The music is very good, as is the easy-to-follow configuration. Overall 34/50.[1]

My verdict:

Personally, I think this is a great sequel. I enjoyed the story, the battles, the graphics and music. Hardened RPG fans may think this too easy, but I think it’s a game for the average gamer to enjoy, and maybe a nice introduction to RPGs.

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining Force II: The Ancient Seal? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Shining Force II’.Electronic Gaming Monthly. (September 1994). 62:36. (https://findyourinnergeek.ca/wp-content/gallery/egm-issue-62-september-1994/electronic_gaming_monthly_62_36.jpg Accessed 27th November 2020).

Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention – Review

RPG fans like nothing more than to take control of a character or group of characters, and immerse themselves fully in a fantasy world where they can increase their character’s stats, find magical and rare weapons, and rescue a kingdom or two. It’s pure hero fantasy…and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention is a fantasy turn-based tactical RPG. It was developed by Climax Entertainment and Camelot Co. Ltd., and published by Sega in 1992 in Japan, and 1993 in North America and Europe. Released on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, it would later be released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 (under the title of Shining Force: Resurrection of Dark Dragon), Wii Virtual Console in 2007, iOS in 2010 (discontinued in 2015), and Windows, Linux and Mac (Steam) in 2011. It can also be found as part of the Sega Smash Pack Volume 1 on the Dreamcast, Sega Smash Volume 2 for Microsoft Windows, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for Xbox 360 and PlayStation3. For this review, I revisited the version found as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3.

Millenia ago, in the Kingdom of Rune, a battle between good and evil took place. Dark Dragon, who led the forces of evil, was defeated by the Warriors of Light who cast him into an alternate dimension. Dark Dragon vowed to return in 1000 years to once more wreak havoc in Rune. 1000 years later, in which time peace and tranquillity existed in Rune, the Kingdom of Runefaust attacked Rune hellbent on helping Dark Dragon to return.

Taking to people in the towns help you progress further in the game (Screenshot taken by the author)

A young man named Max, who lives in the Kingdom of Guardiana, is sent to defeat the evil warrior Kane and his army. Along with an army of his own, Max soon discovers that Darksol is behind the plot and pursues him throughout Rune to stop Dark Dragon’s ressurection.

Just so there is no confusion, Dark Sol from Shining in the Darkness is the son of Darksol and Mishaela from this game, meaning that Shining Force is a prequel to Shining in the Darkness.

Meet your party:

Max (You): Max is human and an all-round fighter, both fast and accurate. If things are looking bleak during a battle, he can cast Egress to whisk your party away to safety. Be warned, if Max is defeated in battle, you automatically lose the confrontation, and are sent back to your last save spot minus half your gold! To prevent this, keep an eye on his health and don’t be afraid to use Egress or keep a supply of Angel Wings for each member of your party (Angel Wings have the same use as Egress).

Luke: Luke is a dwarf and a great warrior. He cannot cast spells and his movement is limited, but he is strong.

Ken: Ken is a centaur and a good fighter. Centaurs have quite a long movement range so be careful he doesn’t go too far and get separated from the group.

Tao: Tao is a young elf who is training to be a mage. As she gains experience, she will be able to cast spells from afar but she is weak in hand-to-hand combat. Make sure your protect her.

Hans: Hans the Elf is an archer, perfect for ranged attacks. Again, protect him from hand-to-hand combat.

Lowe: Lowe is a halfling priest. Although weak in attack, his skill lies in healing your party during battles.

There are nine other characters who will join your party along the but you’ll have to wait to meet them to find out who they are.

An easy to use menu system helps you keep track of the stats of your party (Screenshot taken by the author)

For the most part, the game takes place from an almost top-down view, in the traditional Japanese-style RPG. There are no labyrinths, and only a few puzzles to solve. You must make your way through various towns and through the overworld map in pursuit of Darksol. In the towns, you can talk to the citizens, some of whom offer insights to help you progress. You can buy and sell weapons and items from the shops to assist you on your quest. You can also find priests who can resurrect fallen characters, cure them of various ailments, promote those who have reached level 20, and record your progress.

Unlike many other RPGs, there are no random battle encounters as such, but there are areas where you can find battles should you wish to increase your stats before progressing in the game.

Battles take place on a square-grid system. Depending on their stats, characters can only move a certain number of squares at one time. Depending on your proximity to an enemy, you can either attack with a weapon, cast a spell, use an item or choose to do nothing. If you are adjacent to a member of your own party, you can swap items. This does not class as a move, and so items can be exchanged without losing your turn.

When an attack occurs, a beautifully animated action scene appears with a blue dialogue screen explaining damage given or accrued, and experience points and money earned etc. When an enemy is hit by your weapon or spell, your attacking character will earn experience points for themselves. When an enemy is defeated, a larger amount of experience points will be awarded to your attacking character and the money earned will be added to your party’s kitty. For every 100 points accrued, that character will level-up increasing their attack, defence, MP, agility etc. Once a character reaches level 20, they can be promoted to a different class of fighter.

This game has beautiful fighting animation scenes (Screenshot taken by the author)

What can I say other than this game looks beautiful. The overworld map and village scenes are bright and vibrant, and detailed with clear distinction between the sprites and environment. The fight scenes are beautifully illustrated and animated with incredible looking sprites, action shots and backgrounds. I really cannot compliment this game enough on its graphics. For me, they are superior to games like Final Fantasy V (1992), Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992) and Paladin’s Quest (1992). However, by the time this game reached North America and Europe, the SNES was beginning to take the graphics up a notch with games like Secret of Mana (1993) and Illusion of Gaia (1993). Had Shining Force been released a year or two later, it would have looked a but dated.

The only thing that lets this game down for me, is the music. By 1992, Both Nintendo and Sega had released games with fantastic 16-bit soundtracks like Super Mario World (1990) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) respectively. Now I know that these are different genres from Shining Force, but it is an indication of how good the music could be in games. I just feel that Shining Force loses a few marks in this department.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “A beautifully crafted piece of Megadrive software with just the right balance of action and adventure to satisfy all needs. Overall 91%.[1]

Sega Power: “A beautifully produced RPG. Great tactical battle sequences. Loads of unique, cute characters, speedy gameplay and lots to see ‘n’ do. Gorgeous to play and look at. Overall 89%.[2]

Megatech: “Finely presented combination of exploration and fighting leads Shining Force to victory. Overall 90%”.[3]

Mega: “Huge, gorgeous looking, and absorbing. I’ll never scoff at an RPG again. Overall 92%”. [4]

My verdict:

“Blood, death, war, rumpy-pumpy, TRIUMPH!!! I love this game. Shining Force looks beautiful with great graphics, illustrations and animations with plenty of different characters to get to know. The chess-like manoeuvring during battles is challenging and enables you to prepare your army for strategic assaults on the enemy. However, hardened RPG players may find this game a tad easy though.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining Force? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Mean Machines Sega. (May 1993). Issue 8: 74-6. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_7_1302171993.pdf Accessed 11th November 2020).

[2] ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Sega Power. (July 1993). Issue 44: 58-9. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_8_1302172014.pdf Accessed 11th November 2020).

[3] Davies, P., ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Megatech. (May 1993). Issue 17:76-8. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_9_1302172042.pdf Accessed 11th November2020).

[4] ‘Game Review – Shining Force’. Mega. (June 1993). Issue 9:54-5.

Earthbound (Mother 2) – Review

RPGs are like Marmite. You either love ’em or you hate ’em. What tends to put gamers off is the investment needed to play through the game and many argue that the need to fight endless battles against minor minions to increase stats are a cheap way to ensure the longevity of a game. However, this is also what attracts many gamers. They fully immerse themselves in their chosen character and enter a world of pure escapism where they can be a barbarian, dwarf, mage, elf or countless other humanoid species.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan) is a single-player RPG developed by Ape Inc. and HAL Laboratory, and published by Nintendo. It is the second game in the Mother series, and was released in Japan in 1994 and North America in 1995 for the SNES and Game Boy Advance. In 2013, it was released on the Wii U Virtual Console. For this review, I played the version found on the SNES Mini.

The graphics suggest the game was designed for a younger audience (Screenshot taken by the author)

A decade after the events of Mother, the alien force that is Giygas has enveloped and consumed the world with hatred, turning animals, plants and humans into monsters. With his three companions: Paula, Jeff and Poo, Ness must travel the world collecting melodies from the eight sanctuaries in order to stop the invasion.

Characters:

Ness – Just a normal kid who defeats his enemies with the use of a baseball bat

Paula – Ness’ friend who possesses psychic powers

Jeff – A young scientific genius

Poo – A mysterious Eastern prince

Fighting scenes sport an array of weird and whacky opponents (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is viewed in 2D with the overworld view being an iosmetric design Interestingly, unlike other RPGs, there is no difference between the overworld and town/dungeon scenes, meaning the game moves seamlessly between the two.

Although the game looks to be aimed towards a younger audience with whacky and childish jokes, I thought that it was quite fun to play. The story is well thought out, if a little bizarre, and there are plenty of collectables to keep you interested. Although cartoon like, I thought the graphics were good (but not great), bright and colourful, with lots of variations amongst the sprites.

Battle scenarios consist of standrd RPG practice in that it is a turn based affair. You can choose to attack, use an object, defend yourself, use PSI, flee etc. Once an enemy is defeated, you gain experience and money.

Isometric overworld view (Screenshot taken by the author)

What makes Earthbound different form other RPGs, is that it isn’t based on random encounter scenarios. In this game, you can actually see your enemies and can give them a wide berth if you do not wish to fight. Also, once your team reach a certain level, many of the lesser enemies are automatically defeated, meaning you don’t have to waste your time faffing around with pointless battles that give you little in the way of experience points. Additionally, you can gain a tactical advantage by approaching an enemy from behind. This allows you to strike first everytime. I thought that these were great features to have. I have always disliked the random encounter aspect of RPGs. I understand that they may be important for the game to ensure your characters build their stats but I’d rather have the option to fight when I wanted to because I feel random encounters just slow the game down too much.

There are a few other interesting aspects to this game. Firstly, your father regularly deposits money into your account so that you are never short of cash to buy new weapons and other items. Secondly, because you can only carry a certain amount of items, you can drop off items or have them delivered to you when you find a telephone. Thirdly, your character becomes homesick at times, which I believe affects him during battles. To remedy this, you simply need to call your mother who gives you a pep talk…very cute!

Did I complete the game?

Yes, with minimal help from a walkthrough

What the critics said:

Gamefan: If you love RPGs, you really must buy earthbound. At first glance the game may not seem like much, but a rich and involving adventure hides just beneath this game’s 8-bit veneer. While not as mind blowing as, say, FFIII, EB is just as fun to play simply because it’s so wacky, original and amusing. Overall 89%.[1]

Super Play: “An RPG that’s very much more than the sum of its parts. If you’ve got the patience to suffer its crude elements then prepare to be boggled: there’s simply nothing like it on the SNES. Overall 88%.[2]

Nintendo Power: “A great story, fun graphics, good sound effects. Frequent, sometimes tedious battles. Poorly designed inventory system limits how many items you can carry. Overall 4/5.[3]

Game Players: “The game’s biggest strength is its humour, but while there’s something here for everyone, most of the quips and strangeness are geared for the younger set – it ain’t exactly Final Fantasy or Illusion of Gaia. Overall 69%.[4]

Awards:

RPG of the Year – 1995 Game Fan Mega Awards[5]

My verdict:

“I really wanted to give this game five stars, but I feel that the graphics let this game down a bit. When compared to the likes of Final Fantasy III and Secret of Mana, the graphics are not what one expects from a SNES. However, don’t be put off by first impressions. This game has much to offer and endears itself to you the longer your play it. Say ‘Fuzzy Pickles'”

Rating:

What are your memories of Earthbound? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.


[1] Rox, N., ‘Earthbound – Review’. Gamefan. (August 1995). Volume 3 Issue 8:70-71. (https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume3Issue08August1995ALT/page/n69/mode/2up Accessed 22nd October 2020).

[2] Nicholson, Z., ‘Earthbound – Review.’ Super Play. (September 1995). Issue 35:38-40. (https://archive.org/details/Superplay_Issue_35_1995-09_Future_Publishing_GB/page/n39/mode/2up Accessed 22nd October 2020).

[3] ‘Earthbound – Review’. Nintendo Power. (June 1995). Volume 73:10-19 & 107 (https://archive.org/details/NintendoPower1988-2004/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20073%20%28June%201995%29/page/n113/mode/2up Accessed 22nd October 2020).

[4] Lundrigan, J., ‘Earthbound – Review’. Game Players. (July 1995). Issue 54:60. (https://archive.org/details/Game_Players_Issue_54_July_1995/page/n63/mode/2up Accessed 22nd October 2020).

[5] ‘1995 Mega Awards’ Gamefan. (January 1996). Volume 4 Issue 1:106. (https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume4Issue01/page/n105/mode/2up accessed 22nd October 2020).

Shining In The Darkness – Review

Shining in the Darkness (Shining and the Darkness in Japan) is a role-playing game developed by Climax Entertainment and Sonic Software Planning, and was published by Sega in 1991 for the Mega Drive. This was the version I chose to review.

Shining in the Darkness doesn’t have a title screen as such (Screenshot taken by the author)

In the Kingdom of Thornwood, the king’s daughter, Princess Jessa, has disappeared whilst visiting the shrine of her deceased mother. Mortred, one of the king’s most brave and trusted knights, was charged with escorting her to the shrine. He is also missing. You take control of Mortred’s son and agree to be the search party.

Shining in the Darkness is a real dungeon crawler that sees your character, along with friends Milo and Pyra, exploring what seems like endless miles of dungeons. Along the way you have random encounters with all manner of ugly beasts. Deafeating these will help your team gain experience points and level up, increasing stats and allowing new spells to be learnt. Gold is also acquired which allows you to buy new weapons and armour.

When leaving the palace, a map appears showing you the three locations you can visit: the palace, the town or the dungeons. In the town you can visit the shrine to save your progress; enter the tavern to talk to some interesting character and regain your health with an overnight stay; visit the weaponry and armoury where you can upgrade to stronger weapons and armour; and buy antidotes and healing potions needed for your adventures in the dungeon from the Alkemist (not alchemist I might add).

Isn’t that the same guy from Golden Axe? (Screenshot taken by the author)

Moving through the dungeons is simple. You can move forwards, walk backwards and turn left or right. The interactive menu consists of four boxes at the bottom of the screen and can be called upon at any time. It allows you to check your party’s status, use items, equip weapons and armour etc. When confronted with enemies, the menu changes to include attack, use item, use magic and flee options. When attacking, you have the option to choose which groups of enemies to attack first, but sadly, you cannot choose which individuals to attack within a group. If your health gets too low, you can spirit yourself out of the dungeons using the egress spell or angel feather.

The music sounds great and has heroic air, fitting for such a game. The graphics are awesome. The palace, tavern and shop scenes are bright and colourful, and the dungeons themselves and the enemies are well illustrated. There really are no complaints here. The game looks gorgeous!

To arms! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Although it is easy to learn, the game soon becomes too monotonous in my opinion. Having to navigate the same dungeon levels to gain enough experience points to fight deadlier opponents and raise enough money for better weapons becomes a real drag after a while. I know this is the whole point of RPGs but I found myself losing interest, especially when you have to traverse the same dungeons you’ve completed to reach the next dungeon. There are also times when it is unclear where you should go next. I definitely recommend you drawing your own map else you will get lost.

A nice little Easter Egg is that the dwarf who sells you your weapons seems to be the same dwarf from Golden Axe. One of his sacks on the left in the background even has a picture of one of those little imps who you steal magic potions from. Does this mean that Golden Axe and Shining in the Darkness occur in the same universe?

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: “A reasonable, but pricey RPG with impressive graphics, let down by combat system that soon becomes a chore. Overall 69%.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “A role-playing game with excellent graphics and a brilliant window system. Shining in the Darkness is recommended to RPG buffs. Watch out though for irritating combat, reliant on luck than the player’s skill. Overall 72%.[2]

Dragon: “The game combines the icons and combat of Phantasy Star III, the first person perspective of Phantasy Star I, and the great close-up graphics of Phantasy Star II. The combat can sometimes be tedious without the battle animation so well programmed in Phantasy Star II. Overall 4/5.[3]

Sega Force: “Shining in the Darkness is the most colourful, enchanting RPG I’ve played on the Mega Drive – I enjoyed it even more than Phantasy Star II and III. Overall 90%“.[4]

Sega Pro: “RPG’s and great graphics don’t usually go together but Shining in the Darkness breaks the mould. Loads of playability and potential addictiveness will make this RPG a game to remember. Overall 93%.[5]

Sega Power: “Startling graphics, super smooth animation and brilliant labyrinths to explore. A corker! Overall 5/5.[6]

My Verdict:

“This is a beautiful game! It is easily to learn and there is plenty there to keep hardened RPG fans interested for hours and hours. For the average gamer though, monotony and frustration at repeating the same areas again and again soon becomes tiresome. However, this game is definitely worth your attention”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining in the Darkness? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Mega Drive Review: Shining in the Darkness’. Mean Machines. (November 1991). Issue 14:112-3. (https://ia800308.us.archive.org/3/items/mean-machines-magazine-14/MeanMachines_14_Nov_1991.pdf Accessed 11th February 2020).

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Shining in the Darkness’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:140. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n139/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[3] ‘Reviews – Shining in the Darkness’. Dragon Magazine. (February 1992). Issue 178:60. (https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg178.pdf Accessed 14th June 2020).

[4] ‘Reviewed – Shining in the Darkness’. Sega Force. (January 1992). Issue 1:52-3. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/27/SegaForce_UK_01.p Accessed 14th June 2020).

[5] ‘Proreview – Shining in the Darkness’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:58-60. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 15th June 2020).

[6] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Shining in the Darkness’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed on 29th July 2020.

Kick Master – Review

Many gamers love a good martial arts beat ’em up…Double Dragon, Shinobi, and Ninja Gaiden to name a few. Oddly, Kick Master is set in a medieval world where you battle through forests and caves as oppose to city streets. Where are the knights with their mighty steeds and glinting armour? Where are the broadswords, morning stars, maces and axes? There are none. Apparently, the best way to defeat the monsters in this game is by using an array of kicks. So limber up those hamstrings and groin muscles, and prepare defend yourself against an army of evil demons. Why? Because yet another princess needs saving! After all, if you don’t do it, who else will?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Kick Master is an action game developed by KID and Published by Taito. Although it is considered an action game, it contains elements of a role-playing game, explained below. It was released on the NES in 1992, and this was the version I chose to review.

Castle Lowrel has been attacked by the evil witch Belzed. The king and queen have been slain, and Princess Silphee (strange name I know) has been abducted. You play as Thonolan, an aspiring martial artist, who must battle through eight stages of monsters and defeat Belzed by using an array of kicks and magic spells. As your experience level increases, more types of kicks are unlocked.

The title screen is quite plain, with a black screen and a rectangular banner with Kick Master splashed across it. The music that then plays is quite catchy and fits well with the game, adding an air of almost Castlevania-esque creepiness to it. The pre-game intro is text based, but once the game begins, an animated introduction shows how Thonolan’s brother is killed in battle. The illustrations are bright and colourful, but the animation is very basic. The character illustrations do not move but the background does in a parallaxing kind of way.

The level graphics are very detailed and push the NES to its limit (screenshot taken by the author)

The gameplay is quite frustrating and takes some getting used to. The reach of your kicks isn’t all that far, so you have to be incredibly precise with the timing of your attacks else you get hit by the monsters. When you kill a monster, it releases three objects for you to grab. Each object either assists you (heart for energy, coin for experience points, and potion bottle for magic points) or hinders you (skull and crossbones for poison). Along the way you will pick up different magical abilities such as lightning, healing and fireballs etc. (thankfully these are also explained in the manual).

The levels have no time limit which allows the player to take their time and really get to grips with the different kicks when they become available. The game has infinite continues, and after each level you will be given a password, allowing you to walk away and come back to it another day. However, you will not get to see the end credits until you complete it on the hardest setting.

Entering the bowls of the Earth! (screenshot taken by the author)

Graphically, the levels look great and are very detailed. They probably pushed the NES to its limits. All the sprites are distinctive and are varying in their strength and difficulty to defeat. This was also the first game to use parallax scrolling.

The game actually requires a certain amount of tactics. As mentioned above, when an enemy is killed, they release three objects. If you’re quick enough you may be able to catch two before they disappear off screen. However, it soon becomes clear that you must either focus on gaining experience points to unlock more kicks, or collect magic points to be able to use spells. You can do a mix of both of course. This adds a layer of complexity to the game not often found in these sorts of 8-bit adventures.

Additionally, one nice feature is that in the options menu, there is a demonstration of all the kicks Thonolan can perform, and at what level he needs to be to be able to perform them. This is also explained in the manual.

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy playing this game, but then again, I can’t say that I did. I am…indifferent to it. I wasn’t instantly enamoured with this game, but I will say that the game grows on you the more your play.

Did I complete the game?

At present I have been unable to complete the game. I managed to reach the octopus boss battle at the end of level 5 but so far am unable to defeat it. I do however have a password and will no doubt return to this game in the future.

What the critics said:

Gamepro: “If Kick Master sounds similar to most NES side-scrolling martial arts offering, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great. The challenge pushes the fast-and-furious needle almost off the scale, but that’s cool because you get unlimited continues and passwords. Overall 21/25.[1]

Nintendo Power: “Overall 13.7/20.[2]

My verdict:

“The gameplay takes a little getting used to but the graphics look great. Take time to get used to Kick Master as it will grow on you. This game is a challenge and will not be completed in an afternoon.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Kick Master? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Boss Music. ‘Nintendo Pro Review – Kick Master’. Gamepro. (February 1992). 31:28.

[2] ‘Kick Master’. Nintendo Power. (September 1991). 28:42-47.

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium – Review

After six years and four games, Phantasy Star IV sees the conclusion of the original Phantasy Star series. In the Phantasy Star universe, the games have spanned several thousand years and players were introduced to many different characters including Alis, one of the first female protagonists in computer game history. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing through the series but as George Harrison wrote, “All things must pass”.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

PSIV is a role-playing game that was developed and published by Sega and released for the Sega Genesis in Japan in 1993. It would not make an appearance in North America and Europe until 1995. It was later released on the Wii U Virtual Console in 2008. For this review, I played the version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

Taking place 1000 years after the events of Phantasy Star II, a cataclysmic event known as the Great Collapse has turned Motavia back into a desert planet, and once again there is an increase in biomonsters appearing throughout the world. Chaz Ashley, a young hunter, learns of the link between the biomonsters and the ecological crisis on the planet. The computer system put in place to control the climate is malfunctioning, and the planet is reverting back to its original desert-like state. It also seems that Dark Force is back, hellbent on destroying the Algol system once and for all.

Sadly, the overworld graphics seem to have reverted back to the PSII model making it look a little dated (screenshot taken by the author)

Firstly, the story is more fleshed out than it’s previous instalments, and a lot more engaging. The dialogue in general feels like there was a better translation of the original script. Additionally, during dialogue moments, character profile boxes appear which are beautifully illustrated. It also clarifies exactly who is speaking. During cutscenes, more illustrated boxes are added giving the illusion that you’re reading a comic book. There are also a few nice surprises in the form of characters from previous games reappearing, but I won’t spoil it by telling you who.

Originally the game came with a very comprehensive 40-page manual explaining every aspect of the game including: Information on each character, what the main items are for, what all the spells and techniques do when used, what injuries you can incur, a map of Motavia, and information on weapons and armour.

The gameplay has been kept the same – that is, top down view with the exception of battle mode. There is a significant increase in walking speed for the characters, meaning you can get from A to B a lot quicker. You are also able to increase the speed of the battles and text to help hurry the game along. One annoyance was that when you approach a person and/or object, whilst still pressing that direction, you walk around the target as oppose to stopping in front of it. When you play it, you’ll know what I mean.

The graphics in battle mode have also reverted back to a similar style to PSII, with the addition of illustared backgrounds (screenshot taken by the author)

Oddly, the sprites in the overworld seem to have reverted to PSII style graphics as oppose to PSIII or creating newer, more improved graphics. Comparing the two, one could be forgiven for thinking PSIII was a later instalment. Sadly, these graphics look dated for the mid-90s, especially when compared to RPGs such as Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse (1994) and Shining Force 2 (1993). Also, the PlayStation had been released in 1994, upping the expected standard for games in general. When the PlayStation could produce RPGs like Suikoden (1995), what chance did the Mega Drive have?

The menu system is easy to access and straight forward to navigate. What made me particularly happy is that you no longer need to manually go into your menu and pass items between characters in order for them to equip or use them. The weapons and armour will automatically be available to those who can wield them.

On Dezo – added snowy effects give the impression that you are in a blizzard. However, this effect is heavy on the eyes. (screenshot taken by the author)

Buying and equipping weapons and armour has been simplified, and for the better. When you buy a new weapon or piece of armour, arrows appear by the name of the individual who can wield it. Sadly, you cannot see if an item will improve the stats of that character until you buy it and equip it.

PSIV reintroduces fighting animations back into battle mode, similar to that of PSII. However, this time the backgrounds have also been kept. The animations of the physical attacks of the characters are the same as they were in PSII which is a little disappointing. The backgrounds during the battles are more detailed and, in some cases, animated. Additionally in PSIV, you can now use your transport vehicle during battles instead of using your characters.

A nice new feature is that two or more characters can combine their spells and techniques to create bigger and more powerful attacks. Sadly, this is very trial and error and it doesn’t always work (screenshot taken by the author)

The enemies are beautifully illustrated and animated. There are some real ugly bastards in this game. A nice little extra is that sometimes, when two or more fighters use a certain technique or spell, it can combine to produce a stronger attack. Sadly, this doesn’t happen everytime you attempt it.

One added bonus is that you no longer need to  pay to restore a fallen comrade. You simply go to a hostel, and bed down for the night. In the morning, said comrade will be right as rain.

Finally, and thank Christ, the battle menu is now wonderfully intuitive. It is very easy to learn, and they have finally simplified the way you can chose which enemy to attack. This makes strategic attacks a hell of a lot easier.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, a walkthrough was needed on several occasions though.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This is the fourth instalment in the Phantasy Star series with an improved magic system that allows you to combine spells for more power. Overall 7.75/10[1]

GameFan: “The graphics are gorgeous, the music is some of the best I’ve heard in a while on the Genesis., full of batchin’ samples, and the game exudes nothing but pure, joyous power. Overall 93/100.[2]

Mean Machines Sega: “The best pure RPG for the Megadrive…” Overall 88%.[3]

Sega Saturn Magazine: “The gameplay – controlling inventories, arming combatants, and using spells – is not to everyone’s taste. But the game succeeds by creating climactic moments, introducing new characters and powers, and taking many weird and wonderful plot turns. Overall 90%.[4]

Game Players: “Newer RPGs like Final Fantasy III make this game look ancient…this still feels like every other Phantasy Star Game…The game offers plenty of items while staying clear and user-friendly. Fighting every other step drives you crazy. Overall 70%.[5]

My verdict:

“Although the graphics are beginning to look a bit dated, they are still pleasing to look at for the most part. The story is compelling with some nice surprises, and they have simplified the menu systems making them easier to navigate. Personally I feel this is the best Phantasy Star in the series.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star IV? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew: Genesis – Phantasy Star IV’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (June 1995). Issue 71: 46.

[2] Rox, N., ‘Genesis Review – Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium’. GameFan. (April 1995). Volume 3 Issue 4:19 & 27.

[3] ‘Megadrive Review – Phantasy Star IV’. Mean Machines Sega. (July 1995) Issue 33:76-7.

[4] ’16-bit Megadrive – Phantasy Star IV’. Sega Saturn Magazine. (December 1995). Issue 2:91.

[5] Slate, C., ’Genesis: Review – Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium’. Game Players. (February 1995). Issue 49:38-9.

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom – Review

Ah, role-playing games. The opportunity for real adventure. Battle ugly-ass monsters, fill your pockets with treasure, and wield magic weapons. Cast spells of fire, lightning, as well as healing. Journey through mystical and fantastical lands, through deadly dungeons, dark forests, and creepy castles. Build your fighter’s stats until they are strong enough to defeat the demonic rulers of the evil armies.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom is an RPG developed and published by Sega and is the sequel to Phantasy Star II. It was released in Japan in 1990 for the Sega Mega Drive and reached Europe and North America in 1991. For this review, I played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) on the PlayStation 3.

1000 years before the start of the game, which seems to be set in a medieval setting as oppose to a science-fiction setting, two factions are engulfed in a bitter feud. Orakio, a swordsman, and Lava, a sorceress, meet for an armistice and both mysteriously disappear. Both factions blame each other for their leader’s disappearance, and all communication and travel between the two worlds cease. War seems inevitable…

The colours are less headache-inducing, and the graphics are more detailed than previous instalments (screenshot taken by the author)

Firstly, you get a nice intro with some beautiful illustrations, and text explaining the back story. The game then begins with Rhys, Prince and heir to the Orakian kingdom of Landen. He is due to marry Maia, whom Rhys found washed up on a beach two months earlier (a bit odd, but ok). The ceremony is interrupted by a dragon, identified as a Layan, who abducts Maia in what is seemingly a deliberate act of war. During his search for Maia, Rhys recruits a number of fighters to assist him.

Continuing in the tradition of most RPGs, PSIII involves the player exploring a 2D world, recruiting characters, random enemy encounters, and a turn-based battle system. You can attack the enemy in three ways: with a weapon, using magic spells, and/or using special techniques. I know in PSIV you can use dynamite to attack the enemies, but I don’t recall seeing that option in this game…I may be wrong of course. Once enemies are defeated you gain Meseta (money) and experience points. Experience points are necessary to increase your fighter level which in turn, increases their stats.

The overworld is more detailed and realistic than previous instalments (screenshot taken by the author)

The overworld gameplay hasn’t changed. It is still a near top down view and you must wander from town to town whilst buying new weapons and armour, gleaning information from local villagers, and fighting a multitude of different creatures. The overworld graphics are less vibrant, but more detailed, and realistic in my opinion. It certainly gives me less of a headache looking at it anyway.

When battling enemies, for some reason they have done away with seeing your fighters attack the enemies which is disappointing because it looked great in PSII. The enemies are more detailed, and some, in the later levels, just look really peculiar and I have no idea what they are supposed to be. Thankfully, they have brought back the backgrounds, and done away with the blue grid. Controversially, I prefer the backgrounds from PSI as I think they are more interesting to look at.

The blue grid system has been done away with in favour of scene-setting backgrounds (screenshot taken by the author)

The battle menu is still more complicated than it needs to be. In PSIV, which I will be reviewing in several weeks, they rectify this to create an intuitive, and simple battle menu.

Strangely, PSIII doesn’t resolve what happened at the end of PSII. What happened to your fighters? What happened to Rolf, Rudo and company? Were they defeated? Did they survive? Me may never find out!

Why is Guile from Street Fighter II appearing as if he belongs in an 80s new romantic band? (screenshot taken by the author)

What is unique about PSIII, compared to other games in the franchise, is that the story spans three generations. At the end of each generation, you have the option to choose who you wish to marry. This determines who you will take control of in the next generation storyline. As I understand it, the only difference it makes is that it will affect the offsprings ability to use their techniques. There are potentially 10 different generational choices, which affect the game’s ending. Although this adds to the replay value, I don’t imagine many people would wish to play through such a gargantuan game a second or third time…but then again, I may be wrong.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but with the help of a walkthrough at times.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: “Another enormous role-playing game, but this one has far more depth and variety than its predecessor. It’s by far the best RPG on the Megadrive…Overall 89%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Martin – “One of the best RPGs ever! Phantasy Star 3 blows away the previous games, although it isn’t necessarily more challenging overall. The game throws in a lot of new features like different generations who each will encounter their own quests to overcome. Awesome RPG! Overall 8/10”.[2]

Dragon: “Though we didn’t like it as much as Phantasy Star II, Phantasy Star III is creative in many ways. First, you have the ability to marry a person and then become the offspring of that union to continue the quest. The various endings in the game are a definite plus as well. The graphics are excellent, except for combat (Phantasy Star II is better here)…Overall, this game will definitely keep you fixed to the television for weeks. Overall 4/5.[3]

Games-X: “The game is graphically excellent but above all, the control system is easy to use. A highly enjoyable cartridge that will appeal to most RPG fans. Overall 4/5.[4]

My verdict:

“Another great game for the Phantasy Star universe. Improved graphics, a great story with a new generational storyline, and alternate storylines. They still need to decide what they are doing with the battle scene animations and battle menus.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star III? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Phantasy Star III’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:140.

[2] ‘Review Crew: Phantasy Star III’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (May 1991). 22:16.

[3] ‘Phantasy Star III’. Dragon. (December 1991). 176:61.

[4] ‘Phantasy Star III – Review’. Games-X. (26th Sept-2nd Oct 1991). Issue 23:34.

Phantasy Star II – Review

A picture containing text, book

Description automatically generated

Before the 1990s, RPGs were a niche genre in the video game world. They take a lot of time and effort to play, and not everyone has the patience or desire to attempt such gargantuan games. However, those that do play RPGs cherish every moment of their journeys through fantastical universes. They take great care in building up their warriors and magic users in order to defeat hordes of enemies. Phantasy Star was one such RPG which was highly praised by critics, even though it did push the Sega Master System to its limits.[1] The successor to the Master System, the Mega Drive, offered the creators of Phantasy Star II more to work with.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star II is a single-player RPG developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1989, but it wouldn’t reach North America and Europe until 1990. It was later re-released on the Sega Saturn and Game Boy Advance as part of the Phantasy Star Collection, and the Dreamcast as part of the Smash Pack Volume 1. In 2005, an updated remake was released in Japan for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable. For this review, I played was the Mega Drive version on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) on the PlayStation 3 (also available on the Xbox).

Walking around the overworld (screenshot taken by the author)

The game is set 1000 years after the events of Phantasy Star and takes us back to the Andromeda galaxy and the Algo star system. Orbiting the Algo sun are three planets: Palma – where the government reside; Mota – once an arid desert planet that has since been transformed into a tropical paradise; and Dezo – an inhospitable ice planet.

The Algo star system has prospered under the control of Mother Brain, a computer that regulates the climate, and is responsible for terraforming Mota. However, Mother Brain has started malfunctioning, producing increasingly strong monsters. One night, Rolf (our main protagonist) awakes from a nightmare, where a young girl whom he doesn’t recognise is battling a demon. It is suggested that this girl is Alis from Phantasy Star. After being informed of Mother Brain’s malfunction, Rolf, along with Nei, a humanoid with cat-like features, sets off to investigate why Mother Brain has seemingly turned against its creators.

The screens for dialogue have been greatly improved (screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star II is first video game to use a mega 6-bit cartridge. This enabled the designers to create the largest world yet seen in a video game.[2] They have dispensed with the dungeon crawling parts of the game (much to the chagrin of many who love dungeon crawlers), and have focussed on the overworld views when trawling through the dungeons. As expected, the overall graphics have been improved, creating three very distinct worlds. The sprites in the overworld maps are more individualised and are brightly coloured. The dialogue screens have also been greatly updated to anime-style character screens.

Where did the beautiful backgrounds go? (screenshot taken by the author)

The battles screens are greatly improved. Firstly, you can now see your characters attacking animations, and the enemies are more varied and detailed. Sadly, they decided to take away the scenic backgrounds and replace them with a blue grid. I’m not sure what the thinking was behind that decision. They have still yet to fix the fighting menu. Annoyingly, you still need to scroll through the menus to target individual monsters which is tiresome.

There are two further irritating aspects to this game which I would have hoped they’d have resolved by now. The first is that many of the names of the plethora of spells you are able to use do not indicate what type of spell it is. The manual doesn’t have any information on this either, so you need to experiment during battles to find out what the oddly named spells do.

“That’s part of the fun!”, I hear some of you cry. Not really. One would assume that a magic user would know what the spell was they were using. Hopefully this will be resolved in Phantasy Star III.

The second irritating aspect is that you do not have a combined inventory, so you need to constantly scroll through the menus in order to exchange items between your fighters. Its exasperating!

Overworld view on Dezo world (screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes, it felt like a slog at times, and needed a walkthrough on occasion.

Dragon: “The animation, especially for battles, is superb. There are over 50 spells available. Even weapons and armor can give benefits to characters beyond their normal effects. For example, special armor found in one dungeon allows the wearer to cast a healing spell every so often. The battle system enables more than one type of creature to attack and allows the characters to attack specific creatures instead of idiotically going after one creature at a time. This game is definitely a winner. Overall 5/5”.[3]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Martin – “RPG’s aren’t my thing., but this one has a monstrous quest anyone can get involved with and lost in…I wish the battle scenes were on landscapes instead of boring blue grid, but all in all PS2 is presented well. Overall 8/10”.[4]

Raze: “Large combat sprites, wonderful scenes and backdrops. Great in-game effects and unobtrusive background music. A challenging quest packed with gameplay. Overall 90%”.[5]

Video Games and Computer Entertainment: “It’s very user friendly, with a simple but extensive menu system, and a battery back-up that allows you to save numerous games in progress. The plot advances quickly, providing a constant stream of new subplots…Phantasy Star II is a complex and eminently enjoyable game that will give you more variety and challenge for your buck than any other video game. Overall 9/10”.[6]

Zero: “Phantasy Star II is definitely not just any old thing. In fact, it’s just about everything you could want from this kind of game – big (very big), involved, exciting and challenging. Overall 89%”.[7]

Sega Power: “Long-awaited sequel to the MS RPG. With a massive quest set over different worlds and four characters to control, you should be thankful for your battery back-up! Overall 5/5.[8]

My verdict:

“Graphically, a great improvement on the first, with an engaging story and plenty of action to keep you quiet for many hours. They just need to sort out that poxy battle menu! RPG fans will love this game!”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Tracy, T., (16th December 2002). ‘Phantasy Star Collection Review’. Gamespot.com.  (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/phantasy-star-collection-review/1900-2901862/ Accessed 15th March 2020).

[2] Adams, R., ‘Wishing on a Phantasy Star II’. Computer Gaming World. (November 1990). Issue 76:85.

[3] ‘Phantasy Star II’. Dragon. (August 1990). Issue 160:51.

[4] ‘Phantasy Star 2’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1990). Issue 9:18.

[5] ‘Reviews: Phantasy Star 2’. Raze. (April 1991). Issue 6:34-5.

[6] ‘Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star 2’. Video Games and Computer Entertainment. (March 1990) Issue :34 & 49.

[7] ‘Review Console: Mega Drive – Phantasy Star II’. Zero. (March 1991). Issue 17:88.

[8] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Phantasy Star II’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54.

Phantasy Star – Review

Role-playing games have the ability to take us out of ourselves and whisk us off to fantasy lands where we can choose to be warriors, mages, dwarves, and any other imaginary creature that suits us. We can select our own weapons, and if we are successful, gain strength and are harder to defeat. Phantasy Star promised to whisk us off to such a fantasy universe.

Screenshot taken by the author

Phantasy Star is a single-player role-playing game developed and published by Sega. It was released on the Sega Master System in 1987, and latterly re-released on the Sega Saturn, PS2, and Nintendo Switch. To review, I played this game as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

The game is set in the fictional Algol star system which contains three planets: Palma – a lush and green planet, Motavia – a desert planet, and Dezoris – an ice planet. Algol is ruled by King Lassic, who early in his reign was considered kind and benevolent. He later becomes a cruel and sociopathic ruler. Soon, a rebellion begins to overthrow the now evil king. One hero, who falls during a battle, is Nero. His sister, Alis, the main protagonist (incidently, one of the first female protagonists for video games), swears to avenge her brother. She assembles a party consisting of a warrior named Odin, a wizard named Noah, and a cat-like creature named Myau. Together the party swear to kill King Lassic and restore peace to the kingdom.

The overworld is how you traverse the landscape (screenshot taken by author)

There are two gameplay modes. The first is from a near top down perspective whilst walking around the villages and planet surfaces. When exploring dungeons and caves, and in a battle, the view switches to first-person mode.

The battle scenes are highly detailed and look great (screenshot taken by author)
The dungeon-crawling sections are very atmospheric (screenshot taken by author)

For an 8-bit game, I think it is a really beautiful game! The colours are vibrant, the sprites are well designed, and there is a great variety of them to fight. The game is easy to learn and enjoyable. The fight mode is simple, but it can become frustrating that when fighting multiple enemies, you seem unable to select which enemy to attack, which can hinder fighting tactics. The game contains a back-up save option, which if you play RPGs will know that this is very useful. The music becomes tiresome after a while but since it is not essential to the game, you can simply turn the sound off and listen to your own music or podcasts.

Did I complete the game?

I did complete the game, but with the assistance of a walkthrough. Sadly, as I have gotten older, I simply don’t have the time or inclination to spend countless hours on these sorts of RPGs.

What the critics said:

Computer & Video Games Magazine: “Real RPG fans should definitely check Phantasy Star out, but anyone with a passing interest in this type of game might not feel they’re getting their money’s worth. Overall 75%[1]

S: The Sega Magazine: “An excellent entertainment – once you’ve teamed up with Odin, Noah and Myau and built up some strength, it’s like controlling an interactive movie. Brilliant? Yes it is. Overall 94%[2]

Mean Machines: “A sprawling RPG which offersa great depth of gameplay, decent graphics and a good challenge. There are slightly better games of this sort (and cheaper too – this cart costs £40), but if you’re an RPG fan who has them all, this is well worth getting. Overall 75%[3]

Sega Power: “If you’re into RPG adventures this is the one to go for. Explore stunning 3D labyrinths and solve a quest big enough to last for months. Huge. Astounding Get it. Overall 5/5.[4]

Sega Power: “If you’re into RPG adventures this is the one to go for. Explore stunning 3D labyrinths and solve a quest big enough to last for months. Astounding and huge. Get it. Overall 5/5.”[5]

Awards:

Best Graphics – 1989 Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Player’s Choice Awards[6]

My verdict: “A beautiful 8-bit game, just a pity the story is a bit thin. However, all RPG fans should enjoy this game.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Rignall, J., ‘Mean Machines Review: Master System – Phantasy Star’. Computer & Video Games Magazine. Issue 89:92-3.

[2] ‘Special: Phantasy Star’. S: The Sega Magazine. (June 1990). Issue 7:11.

[3] ‘Games Index: Master System – Phantasy Star’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:135.

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Phantasy Star’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:58.

[5] ‘The Hard Line – Review: Master System – Phantasy Star’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:100.

[6] ‘The “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Graphics: Phantasy Star’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :19.