Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes case front cover

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes/ドラゴンスレイヤー英雄伝説

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes title screen

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is the first game in the Legend of Heroes series, which is now mostly synonymous with the “Trails” series in the West. The roots of the series have almost nothing in common with the “Trails” series, however. Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is a straight up old-school JRPG in every sense of the term!

 

Although Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is the first game in the Legend of Heroes series, it’s actually the sixth game in the Dragon Slayer series, which is a long-running series consisting of games that cross various different genres such as Roguelikes and Side-Scrollers. Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is the series’ turning point where it becomes a full-fledged turn-based JRPG akin to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy!

 

Before the Trails series took off in the West, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually knew about the series except for a few old-school Turbografx owners who played the English version back in the day, but in Japan the series was fairly popular during the 80’s and 90’s.

 

Was Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes a hidden gem that flew under the radar overseas despite all of the buzz back in Japan? Let’s find out!

Score – 29/40

Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 5/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 10/10

Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Turn-Based)
Platform: PC-Engine
Release Date: JP: October 25th, 1991/US: December 1992
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Length: 15~25 Hours

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes PCE Review

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes back cover

The back of the PC-Engine version’s case

Usually on this site, I start games as far back in the series as I can with the current hardware that I own. As I mentioned in the introduction, Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is actually the 6th game in the Dragon Slayer series, but it’s also the first game in the Legend of Heroes series. Since i’m fairly sure I won’t be getting any hardware to play the first 5 games in the Dragon Slayer series anytime soon, i’m going to count this as just reviewing the first game in The Legend of Heroes series!

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes instruction manual

The front cover of the game’s instruction manual

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is a very old-school JRPG, not only in age (released in 1991!), but also very much so in game design. While playing through the game you’ll definitely feel the old-school Dragon Quest and Phantasy Star influences, which is always a good thing, especially if you have any interest in the kinds of games that get reviewed on here!

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes instruction manual back cover

That trademark “Hudson Soft bland yellow back cover”

While originally a PC-88 game (the popular “computer nerd” computers made by NEC back in the 80’s that had a boatload of awesome games that also never left Japan, the usual…), the PC-Engine version of the game was the first version to hit home consoles (the game eventually got ported to other systems such as the Super Famicom and Megadrive). Together with the PC-Engine’s CD audio and available storage space, Nihon Falcom was able to make a fairly big adventure, filled with tons of music (that godly Falcom music!), lots of voice acting (way more than Nihon Falcom’s other big game, Ys II/イースII),  and a sprawling overworld.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes disc

The Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes game disc

The game did get an English release for the Turbografx-16 back in 1992, but considering that next to nobody actually had a Turbografx back in the day, chances are that not too many people actually got to play the game when it first came out. Did all of us Super Nintendo and Genesis owners miss out on a hidden gem? Let’s check out exactly what Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes has to offer!

First, let’s take a quick look at the story.Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes start menu

Story

Before we start, if you’re interested in the prologue backstory, here’s the cutscene that’s shown before the start menu.

In Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes you play as Selios, the son of King Aswel who was the ruler of the country of Farlen before his untimely death. Selios was only 6 years old at the time of his father’s death, meaning that he was still to young to take over the throne. Without a suitable heir to the throne, a man named Akdam was appointed to rule the country until Selios becomes of age.

While growing up, Selios was raised in the nearby town of Eluasta, spending years living a simple life of messing with the local slimes that roam around the village and studying magic in his free time. Suddenly, some soldiers report that some monsters have been spotted on the outskirts of town. Not thinking much of it, Selios calls it a day and heads to bed.

Selios is woken up suddenly from the sound of chaos from within the village and soon realizes that the town’s main gate is wide open and monsters have flooded in. With Eluasta’s throne room in disarray, nearby soldiers and one of Selios’ mentors, Lyas, rushes Selios to a hidden escape passage in the back of the room. In order to buy Selios enough time to escape, Lyas and the soldiers sacrifice themselves to hold off the incoming monsters. As his last words, Lyas instructs Selios to flee to Farlen Castle.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes beginning

Selios in his room in Eluasta

Upon arriving at Farlen, the Castle Guard immediately escort Selios into the throne room to meet up with Akdam. Little did he know, Akdam was actually the one behind the monster attack, hoping to kill Selios in an attempt to remain King of Farlen permanently. To go even further, Akdam admits that he’s the one who killed King Aswel for the sole purpose of claiming his wife for himself and to eventually take over the entire country. Akdam then has Selios arrested immediately and placed inside of the castle’s prison.

While in prison, Selios finds a man named Ryunan, who is a member of a Resistance Group which is getting ready to put a stop to Akdam. Ryunan helps Selios break of out his cell and suggests they team up and head for the Resistance Headquarters. With an intense hatred in his heart and a full team of like-minded fighters by his side, can Selios get revenge for his father and rightfully reclaim his throne?

That sums up the first chapter or so of the story. Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes does a great job at making you hate Akdam right from the start of the game, which is great for fueling that intense need to progress in the game. The good thing about the game is that most towns usually have something story-related to them. It definitely does have that Dragon Quest feeling of “each town has a mini-problem you have to solve”, but there are plenty of voiced scenes in the game along with plenty of dialog.

The story itself does get deeper as you go along, but for the most part you’re basically trying to find a way to catch and defeat Akdam. This is a fairly standard story for the time (originally released in 1988), but the fact that they went through all the trouble to get in a good backstory and make you hate the villain right from the beginning is something that definitely stands out for a game of that time, especially when there were a lot of games that made you defeat some bad guy “just because he’s the bad guy”.

The story itself progresses at a fairly good rate, but the encounter rate in the game absolutely kills the overall pacing of the game. That’s something i’ll get into deeper in the “Gameplay” section of the game, but I think for a lot of players the story alone might not be enough to keep people playing, even if you prefer story over gameplay.

Next up, let’s take a look at who we’ll meet along the way!

Characters

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes Selios

Selios

セリオス (Serios, Selios) – Selios is the 15 year old main character of the game. The son of King Aswel, Selios is a young swordsman next in line to ascend the throne of Farlen.

 

 

 

 

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes ryunan

Ryunan

リュナン (Ryunan) – Ryunan is a member of the Resistance, who’s goal is to take down Akdam and abolish his control of the country.

 

 

 

 

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes rou

Rou

ロー (Rou) – Rou is a young man from the village of Crus within the Farlen empire. He spends most of his time playing around, but he’s actually able to use some fairly powerful magic.

 

 

 

 

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes sonia

Sonia

ソニア (Sonia) – Sonia is the leader of the Resistance and a very potent magic user.

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes geiru

Gale

ゲイル (Geiru, Gale) – Gale is a man who was forced to work in the mines of Belga by Akdam. His origins are unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes deena

Deena

ディーナ (Deena) – Deena is a girl that’s the same age as Selios and was chosen to become his future wife. She has been sold off as a slave by Akdam himself.

 

 

 

 

These are the main characters you’ll be interacting with throughout the game. You’ll be hearing the characters voices quite a bit in game, though it’s rather hard to tell who’s actually talking. Other than that, the characters don’t become too deep as there really isn’t enough time to develop them individually.

Coming up next, we’ll take a look at the game’s graphics!

Graphics

The graphics in Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes aren’t too bad actually. You could easily compare it to early SFC/SNES RPGs like Romancing SaGa/ロマンシング サ・ガ and Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV in terms of overall style, which means they aren’t bad but just a bit on the simple side. Like most Turn-Based JRPGs of the era, it feels like a lot of emphasis was put on monster sprites in battles.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes dungeon

One of the dungeons in the game. This is pretty much what 90% of the dungeons look like

A lot of things are recycled in the game, like dungeon interiors and town tiles. While there definitely are a few dungeons and towns that stand out, for the most part dungeons are going to have dirt floors/walls and towns are going to be grassy, unless it’s a Port town, then it’ll be filled with boardwalks. This isn’t particularly bad, but once you’ve seen 2 or 3 towns and a single dungeon, you’ve seen just about everything you’re going to see.

Sprite animations are very limited – you essentially have walking animations and standing animations (walking in place). I already expected this because as far as I know, emotive sprite animations didn’t really happen until the release of Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV. The game runs at 60fps, so the few animations you do get are extremely fluid, except for in dungeons where monsters do a kind of “hop skip” to the next tile while walking. I doubt it’s a problem with too many sprites on the screen because it doesn’t happen in towns, but who knows…

In battles, the only animation you’ll see is when you hit monsters and when they die – they shift to the side when you attack them and kind of get sucked up into the top of the battle screen when they die. Spells don’t have any type of animation at all, and all battles take place on a black screen.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes overworld

This should give you a general idea of what the overworld looks like

The overworld is fairly simple as well. For land marks you have cave entrances which all look the same, and small towns/castle towns. In terms of geography, you have green plains, forests, very rarely some sand, and non-animated water. Not too much variation, which is a bummer because you’ll be spending 90% of your playtime getting into constant random battles on the overworld. Definitely wish there was a bit more to look at during all that, like waterfalls/rivers and stuff.

Besides that, in terms of graphics during actual gameplay, there’s not much else to talk about. Buildings in towns almost always use the same wood floor tiles and walls. I’ll admit that I still haven’t played many early PC-Engine CD RPGs, so i’m still basing everything off of early SNES games of the time. This level of copy-paste might have been normal during the early PCE CD days!

One thing that Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes does right is the animated cutscenes that the PC-Engine CD games are know for! To me personally, they look better and are even smoother than the ones in Ys I/イースI and Ys II/イースII, which is saying A LOT! Right when you boot up the game, you get this extremely cool opening cutscene which introduces the characters and their voice actors (it almost looks like an actual TV show opening). While the in-game graphics aren’t anything to get super excited for, the multiple cutscenes in the game definitely are! Check out the opening cutscene below (remember to watch it in 60fps)!

Now let’s get on to where things start losing a bit of steam…

Gameplay

To me, the gameplay in Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is a bit of a mixed bag. On one-hand, you have that basic “hard to hate” early Dragon Quest gameplay (to be honest the game plays like old Dragon Quest games sped up 5x), and on the other hand you have either piss-poor design decisions or untested gameplay. There are some gameplay elements that absolutely suck the fun out of the game. To start off, here’s a video of the first 10 minutes of the game to give you a rough idea of what to expect.

Starting off with the bad wouldn’t be fun, so we’ll start off with the good. First off, the gameplay loop is your typical Dragon Quest-era JRPG loop – You go to a town, hear about some local issue, go outside and level up a bit + make some money to buy new gear and then head to the nearby dungeon to finish whatever quest you were sent on. Sure this might be simplistic, but design wise this is still a 1988 game, so there wasn’t a whole lot of fluff. This means that for the most part you’ll always know where to go next and what to do (except for some cryptic parts of the game that tell you next to nothing and you have to run around and talk to every person in every city until something happens). The game does have a pretty bad amount of backtracking though, which is a horror in itself before you get the Warp spell.

Prices for stuff are pretty good actually. One great thing about the game is that you get 75% of the original value of an item when you sell it, which makes always getting the current best gear fairly easy. Even if you can replace it in the next town that’s just a few minutes away, you’ll already have most of the money you’ll need for the new stuff as soon as you sell the old stuff.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes battle screen

Here’s a screen you’ll most likely begin to hate

Experience gains are also fairly decent. I don’t know the exact calculations, but I felt like you got around 3-5% of a level per fight in level-appropriate areas. While this doesn’t sound like much, the speed at which battles finish and the ridiculous encounter rate means you’ll be leveling up every 10 or 15 minutes, tops. Leveling up in the game restores all HP and MP, so usually whenever things start looking bad and you’re running out of MP, you’re probably just a fight or two away from leveling up and getting healed back to full.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes actually allows you to manually assign the stat points you get when you level up, if you want to. I personally didn’t use this option at all, but it might be possible to get some extremely strong characters if you pump fighters with melee oriented stats instead of having them automatically get some Intelligence and stuff.

In order to level up and get gold you’re going to have to fight stuff, of course. Battles also play out similarly to Dragon Quest (starting to see a pattern here?), with the monsters appearing in front of you in a first-person-like fashion. You can attack, defend, use magic, use items, and run. One nice thing is that I believe running is a 100% chance.

Battles themselves play out very fast – damage numbers and stuff fly by so fast that you usually don’t even know who hit who and for how much damage. It’s not uncommon for a full round of combat (3 monsters and your 4 party members) to end in less than 10 seconds. To further make things even faster, the game has an auto-battle option! If the game didn’t have this, I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the game (absolutely unforgivable encounter rate).

While battles are quick, they happen literally every step you take on the world map, and i’ll link to a video down below that I took that confirms that. This game has by far the highest encounter rate i’ve ever seen – we’re talking 3-4x worse than even Beyond the Beyond and Rudra no Hihou/ルドラの秘宝, which until now was the Worst Encounter Rate Champion on this website. To make matters even worse, and this is working as planned I believe due to how monsters actually work on the overworld, you can get into battles even while standing still. Yeah, you can’t even put your controller down and just listen to the overworld music because battles will keep happening constantly. Bet you’ll hate the battle theme after just watching this video…

The reason for this is because later in the game you’ll find an item that shows you how monsters actually work. They aren’t like basically every other game in existence at the time, when each step you take has a chance to trigger an encounter. They work exactly like they do in Elnard/The 7th Saga エルナード – monsters are technically “roaming” around the map. At least in Elnard, you could see them on a small minimap, but in Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes all of the monsters are invisible, so what’s actually happening is that a monster is walking into you while you’re standing still. After you get the item that lets you see monsters, you’ll be howling at just how ridiculous it is (you basically couldn’t avoid them even if you wanted to because there’s no room to walk between them 99.9% of the time). The game was absolutely fine up until the start of Chapter 3, and then they just cranked the encounter rate to 11 until the game ends.

This means, like I said, you’ll run into battles every half a step on the overworld, meaning that going to a city that would normally take around a minute and half without battles takes close to an hour to walk to. With the amount of encounters you’ll get in to, you’ll be leveling up constantly and won’t really have to worry about running out of MP and stuff. The battles are definitely meant to attempt to make you run out of MP though. Even with the best gear in an area and several extra grinded levels, a single battle is going to make you have to heal all 4 of your party members 2 or 3 times. So not only are you constantly in battle, you have to go into the menu and heal all of your party members for 10 seconds after each fight (no group heals).

If you actually do get unlucky and run into an area with monsters that poison or things like that, you actually can run out of MP. If your party does end up dying, you have a choice of either starting the battle over or teleporting to the last town you were at with all party members at 1hp. There are way more towns in the game without Inns and Item Shops than there should be, so if you end up dying and getting teleported to one of these kinds of cities, you have no chance of going anywhere because you’ll die in the first battle outside. I was extremely close to having this happen to me, but thankfully I had a single town teleport item left in my inventory…it’s absolutely possible to accidentally save your game in a state you can’t recover from.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes magic spells

My spell list at around the halfway point of the game

Assuming you do have enough MP left, however, at a certain point in the game you’ll unlock Warp magic which can help you out in the situation above. I mostly only used magic for healing on the overworld, since it does that old-school Dragon Quest/Phantasy Star stuff where the magic names make no sense at all. What’s bad is that you don’t automatically learn magic, you have to select which stuff you wanna learn when visiting certain trainers with no way of knowing what’s what.

The important ones like ワープ (waapu, Warp) and サイレス (Sairesu, Silence) are understandable, but even the healing magic being called レス (Resu, Res?) was a shot in the dark at first. Considering the combat text was so fast that I couldn’t even see what was happening most of the time + there being no spell animations, I didn’t feel like doing constant Trial and Error stuff to test out all of the magic. So as you could see, the game is mostly beatable by just attacking stuff.

You will have to use magic in boss battles though, because EVERY boss in the game uses the same mechanic – they use life absorption magic that regenerates like 500hp, which is more than you’ll be able to do to them in a single turn most of the time. So every single boss fight requires that you Silence the boss – only problem is Silence silences everyone in the fight including your own party, so once you use it you can’t even use any other magic…even the last boss did the same stuff every other boss did…here’s a typical boss fight in action from before I understood the use of Silence.

Considering battles take up 95% of the game (you probably only spend 2 or 3 hours “actually doing stuff”), for me this was a huge turn-off. I don’t mind “hard” games, I actually enjoy that sense of panic wondering if you can make it back out of a dungeon/back to town before you die. This game, however, just got to the point where every hour of gameplay consisted of 45 minutes of fighting and 10 minutes of healing in menus. It wasn’t “hard” or “resource draining” (items, MP), it was honestly just needlessly tedious. I’m never going to forget the encounter rate in this game, and I don’t know if any other game will ever even come anywhere close to passing it.

While actually playing the game became a chore, I at least got to listen to some of that awesome Falcom music while doing it!

Music

If you’ve already checked out my Ys I/イースI and Ys II/イースII reviews, you’ll know that I went from not even knowing about old-school Nihon Falcom’s style of music to absolutely loving it from just playing the early PC-Engine Ys games. I was kind of worried that maybe it was only the Ys series that had awesome music, but thankfully I was wrong! Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes also has that awesome 1980’s JPop/Anime OST sound that i’ve come to love from Nihon Falcom!

Since it takes around 15-25 hours to finish the game (depending on how lost you get going from town to town), there are a decent amount of tracks on the OST. A lot of tracks, like the town theme and dungeon theme are recycled quite a bit (all “cave” type dungeons use the same track, all towns use the same track), but there’s still enough variation going on that you won’t get sick of too many of the songs, except for the battle theme since you’ll hear it (literally – the real meaning, not nowadays “literally”) every half a second on the overworld.

The PC-Engine version of the game lets you choose between chiptune and CD quality music. Since I still think the PC-Engine being able to produce such awesome sound quality back before the SFC/SNES was even released is just mindblowing,  I went ahead and chose the CD quality music. Therefore, the songs i’m going to show below were chosen from their CD quality versions.

First up, here’s the song that plays during the game’s prologue cutscene before the Start Menu appears. In-game, there’s a narrator talking over it so it’s kind of hard to hear clearly in some parts. For reference, another game that’s widely recognized for having a god-like OST, Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV, came out just 3 months before Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes!

Next up is the song you’ll hear the most besides the Battle Theme (you’re going to hear the Battle Theme more than a thousand times, easy), the game’s main Town Theme. You’ll know what I meant above when I said the game’s OST has that old 1980’s Jpop/Anime feel to it after you hear this!

This next song is a song that I like but I basically never got to hear more than half a second of it at a time while playing the game unless I had to heal everyone up for 10 seconds or so. The overworld theme is definitely a song that you’ll just have to listen to on the OST because the sadistic nutjob encounter rate absolutely butchers it in-game…

Though the dungeons in Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes are actually a bit on the short side  (they usually take only a few minutes to finish), the dungeon theme is really cool. For some reason, it gives me a bit of a Phantasy Star IV vibe, though i’m not sure why…

The last song i’ll introduce is a song that shows an extreme change in the overall atmosphere of both the game and the OST. The swap from “1980’s Jpop” to “1990’s Dungeon Synth” lets you know that you’ve finally hit the “Shit’s about to hit the fan” point of the game.

Overall, the Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes OST is filled with tons of great songs, clocking in at just around a little over an hour. To be honest, there aren’t really any songs that I didn’t like. I’m just personally angry at the battle theme because I had to hear it over a thousand times in a 15 hour game (that’s a gameplay problem, not a musical problem), but the song itself is actually really cool. Even if you don’t plan on getting the game, you definitely should check out the OST and see just how good Nihon Falcom’s music team was back during the PCE days! I definitely plan on uploading the OST myself eventually, but in the meantime here’s the OST in its entirety!

Music aside, the voice acting in the game is decent in the Japanese version. The voice acting itself was pretty good, but for some reason, the voice recording sounded really far back in the mix (the in-game music still plays, but the volume is lowered), so it was actually pretty difficult to even hear some of the voiced cutscenes, let alone actually catch what was being said. Thankfully the voice acting was almost exclusively story-related, so even if you couldn’t catch what was being said, you could still figure out where to go and what to do next to progress in the game.

Up next we’ll take a look at some of the differences between the Japanese and English versions of the game.

East vs. West

The names of everything in the Japanese and English versions of the game are entirely different. Every village, every character name, every spell name, and all monsters except a select few. I’ll list some examples below.

  • Selios in Japanese becomes Logan.
  • Ryunan in Japanese becomes Ethan.
  • Rou in Japanese becomes Markus.
  • Geiru (Gale) in Japanese becomes Giles.
  • Deena in Japanese becomes Mika.
  • Akdam in Japanese becomes Drax.
  • The country of Farlen becomes Farlalyne.
  • In the Japanese version of the game, you go on a journey to find “Crystal” items, but in the English version these are called “Doom” items (pretty big difference if you ask me…)
  • The town Selios lived in is Eluasta in Japanese and Exile in English.

I can’t comment on the script since I haven’t played the English version, but judging from the other early PCE Falcom games that came over, chances are a lot of stuff got lost in translation or just adlibbed like usual.

Should you play it?

Even though I shit on the game pretty hard in the Gameplay section, I still think there’s enough here to warrant a playthrough, especially if you like old-school games. If you only like the more polished old-school games like the stuff Squaresoft put out, you’ll want to stay far away from this one. This one doesn’t hold your hand at all, and actually goes out of its way to put you off. If you’re like me and saw that as a sort of challenge, then you’ll be on the right track to have a good time with the game.

I can’t stress this enough though, the game has an encounter rate many times worse than the worst games i’ve played in my 26 years of JRPG experience. You’ll probably play the first chapter or two of the game and think “oh come on it’s not that bad”, but just wait until you leave the dock at the start of Chapter 3 and you’ll see just how much of a 180 the game pulls on you. Even with auto-battle on, fighting becomes an absolute slog. Please watch the full 11 minute video I posted in the “Gameplay” section – that’s the beginning of Chapter 3 and that’s honestly what the rest of the game is like. If that looks like fun to you, then you’ll probably love the game.

Which version should you play?

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes ending

Just another reason to play the PC-Engine version of the game!

If you’re here in Japan, then there are many different versions of the game, but as far as consoles go, I think there’s only a PC-Engine version, SFC version, and MegaDrive version (it was later ported to the Saturn and PlayStation). Maybe the SFC and MegaDrive versions were fixed a bit since they came out half a year and 2 years later, respectively, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I couldn’t imagine the game without the voice acting, CD music, and animation cutscenes, so I absolutely recommend the PC-Engine version of the game over all else unless you’re willing to become a PC88 purist.

If you’d rather play the game in English, then playing it on the PC-Engine (Turbografx) is your only chance. Japanese copies of the game go for around 10$ boxed, but I assume English versions go for way more since the Turbografx market is FUBAR. I do think you probably could get through the game with an English guide if you play the Japanese version, so that’s probably your best choice even if you live overseas.

Here’s the final score! This might be the first game so far where the “Gameplay” score is lowest out of all 4 scores…

Final Score – 29/40

Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 5/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 10/10

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes end screen

If you’re interested, here’s a video of the game’s ending. It’s not super spoiler-y, but it does show the general outcome of the game. The ending format kind of came out of nowhere, but I thought it was pretty cool!

Ys II case front cover

Ys II/イースII

Ys II start screen

Released on June 24th 1988, almost exactly a year after the original Ys, Ys II is the second game in the now long-running Ys series. The version i’ll be reviewing (the PC-Engine version), however, came bundled together with Ys I, which was released at the end of 1989.

 

Since Ys II is a direct sequel to Ys I, Ys II carries over pretty much everything from Ys I, while offering a much deeper story and adding a few new gameplay mechanics.

 

Considering the PC-Engine version uses the exact same engine as Ys I, playing both games feels extremely similar. Can Ys II live up to or surpass the legacy of Ys I, or is it just more of the same? Let’s find out!

Score – 36/40

Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 10/10

Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Action)
Platform: PC-Engine
Release Date: JP: December 21st, 1989
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Length: 5~15 Hours

Ys II PCE Review

Ys II is the second game in the Ys series, which has a continuous story. Describing events from the second game might indirectly spoil stuff from the first game, so please be aware of that before reading through the “Story” section.

Ys II case back cover

The back of the case of the PC-Engine version of Ys II

As far as I know this review will be a first of the site so far. Up until now, I haven’t reviewed a sequel in a series before! Thankfully, since Ys II is a direct sequel to Ys I and the PC-Engine version of the game uses the same game engine for both games, Ys II shares a lot in common with the first game, so this makes Ys II a great first “sequel review”!

Ys II back of instruction manual

Nothing special, but the back of the instruction manual

If you played through Ys I then you’ll be right at home playing Ys II. To be honest, aside from a few extra game mechanics the two games play almost exactly alike. If you look at the two games objectively, you could almost say that Ys I & II are actually a single game split into halves. That was no problem at all for me though, since I enjoyed the hell out of the first game! The first game left me itching for more, so having the second game boot up right after the first game ended and continuing right where you left off was awesome!

Ys II disc

Here’s the Ys II PC-Engine disc

While the two games do play similarly, Ys II greatly expands the story that was set up in Ys I and adds a few things to the combat and exploration which keeps things fresh enough to still feel unique. If you liked Ys I you’ll definitely love Ys II, maybe even more than the first game! Ys II retains the awesome graphics, silky smooth gameplay, killer OST and the simple but fun Bump Combat system, so you can expect to have just as much of a blast as you did the first time around!

Does this bite-sized Action RPG pack as big of a punch as its predecessor? First, let’s check out the story this time around and see what it has to offer!

I recommend checking out my review of Ys I/イースI first if you have the time. Since the two games share a lot in common, i’ll say stuff like “so and so is similar to how it was in the first game” sometimes, so checking out the Ys I review might help you get an idea of what i’m talking about.

Ys II main menu

Story

! ! ! SPOILER ALERT ! ! !

Since Ys II’s story continues where Ys I left off, there will be some unavoidable Ys I spoilers in this section.

Ys II Rance Village

Rance Village, where your adventure in Ys II starts!

The beginning of Ys II takes places mere minutes after the end of Ys I. Adol gets transported to the land of Ys, where he regains consciousness and is immediately greeted by a young girl named Lilia who brings him back to the local Rance (!!!, technically work safe but if your colleagues recognize his face then they have some explaining to do anyway) Village. Upon arriving back at Lilia’s house, Adol finally learns that he’s been transported to Ys. While asking around town, Adol finds out that demons have been appearing in Ys recently, which have of course been causing trouble in the local area.

As Adol goes off to help fend off the invading demons, he stumbles upon various statues of the original 6 Priests of Ys. Each statue teaches Adol a little bit more about the backstory and history of Ys. Eventually, Adol learns that the existence of Magic itself in and around Ys is the reason why demons began to spawn in the first place. With the source of evil identified, Adol sets out on his next quest – to destroy an object known as the “Black Pearl” (黒真珠、くろしんじゅ、Kuro Shinju), which is the source of all Magic in Ys!

! ! ! END OF SPOILERS ! ! !

I feel that’s about as far as I should go with the story summary this time. Ys II is also a fairly short game, so even 3 or 4 paragraphs worth of story is going to cover almost half of the entire game. This basically covers the first hour or two of the game, which is probably only around 10-20% of the game. After that, you pretty much go through various different areas, sometimes solving a local quest or two, and then heading onto the next area.

Ys II cutscene

A scene from one of the voiced cutscenes in the game. There are a lot more this time compared to Ys I.

There is definitely a lot more story in Ys II compared to Ys I, both in overall story beats as well as NPC interaction and voiced dialog bits. While Ys I was more about setting a premise and then just sending you off, Ys II adds more and more as you go along, allowing for a much deeper connection to certain characters as well as an overall deeper connection to the story, making you that much more determined to progress through the game.

The way the game ends seems to hint that the story of Ys I and Ys II has come to an end. I still don’t know for sure, but I PERSONALLY think that Ys I and Ys II were actually originally meant to be one entire game, and either got split into two for production costs (needing some sales from I to fund the rest of II), or more realistically it was a problem with filesizes and not being able to fit everything into a reasonable amount of disks.

That doesn’t mean the story for the whole series has ended, however. The schtick of “Adol randomly landing on some unknown land at the beginning of the game” seems to be a reoccurring meme in the series, so it looks like it’s quite easy for Nihon Falcom to start fresh story arcs whenever they please.

Overall, if you played Ys I, you’ll definitely want to see the story through til the end! Even if you haven’t played the first game, I think the story of Ys II would still be interesting enough to play through on its own – you’ll just be confused as to why you’re where you are and why you have certain items in your possession, things like that.

Next up, let’s take a look at the characters we’ll meet in Ys II. Since the instruction manual for the game includes both characters from Ys I and II, this section is mostly going to be the same as the Ys I review…

Characters

There are a lot more characters that you interact with this time around in Ys II compared to Ys I. There’s a lot more story going on in Ys II, so that means there are also a lot more “important” characters this time. You’ll run into these characters in-game, but sadly they’re not including in the game’s instruction manual.

As I originally mentioned in the “Characters” section of the Ys I/イースI review, I only list characters that are shown in the official instruction manuals of games in this section. There are only 4 characters in the Ys I & II instruction manual, so this section will be fairly brief. Just know that there will be more characters to meet in-game than you’ll see here!

Ys II Adol

Adol

アドル・クリスティン (Adoru Kurisutin, Adol Christin) – Our hero from the first game, Adol is the main character again in Ys II. This time, Adol sets off to rid all evil from the land once and for all!

Ys II Lilia

Lilia

リリア (Riria, Lilia) – Lilia is a young girl who finds Adol unconscious at the beginning of the game. After bringing him back to her local village, she explains the current situation in and around the village of Rance and tells Adol about the recent demon invasion.

Ys II Reah

Reah

レア (Rea, Leah/Reah) – Reah is the poet that you met in Minea Village back in Ys I. Word has it that she’s been sighted recently in the land of Ys.

 

 

Ys II Feena

Feena

フィーナ (Fiina, Feena) – Feena is the young girl with amnesia that Adol found trapped in a prison cell back in Ys I. For some reason, it seems like Feena has also been seen recently in Ys.

That covers all of the characters shown in the game’s instruction manual. Compared to Ys I, there are a lot more miscellaneous characters that you’ll meet along the way. While Ys I focused a lot more on a few specific characters, you’ll be running through a few different settlements in Ys II, which in my opinion makes the world and characters within it feel a lot more personal than they did back in Ys I!

That wraps of the fairly short “Characters” section of the review. Next up, let’s take a look at the graphics in Ys II!

Graphics

Ys II Minea Village

A bird’s eye view of Minea Village, the first town you started out in during Ys I

Like I mentioned near the beginning of the review, Ys I & II for the PC-Engine were both created using the same engine, which means both games share the same graphical quality and capabilities. You won’t really see too many differences in level of detail or anything like that between the two games, but you will notice things like the vast differences in monsters and environments!

Ys II steps up the monster and environmental variety big time. If I had to guess i’d say that Ys II has the same amount of monster variety PER MAP (probably 3-5 enemy types per “zone”), but the big thing is that there are way more different areas you’ll get to explore than there was back in Ys I. Ys I had a total of I believe 5 unique areas (one area had a few different sub-sections within it), so even if you consider each area having 3-5 monster types, that’s still somewhere in the ball-park of 15-30 ish monsters in the entire game.

Ys II easily has double, maybe even triple the amount of different areas you’ll end up going to, which means there’s at least double the amount of unique monsters you’ll get to fight in Ys II! Since Ys II takes around the same amount of time to beat as Ys I, that means you’ll be constantly running into new and interesting monsters!

Ys II Noltia

Noltia, a really cool snowy mountain with some of the best music in the game!

Next up are the environments. Ys II did an amazing job at keeping each area fresh and exciting to explore. While the first game was fairly basic in terms of area types (field, cave, basement, tower) Ys II expands into more interesting areas (back in 1989, anyways) – adding things like Volcanic areas, Snowy mountains, and what I can only describe as a super confusing beach boardwalk (???). Of course, each area has unique tilesets and appropriate monsters to match!

While “new monsters and areas” might not sound like that big of a deal, there really is enough new stuff to keep you interested. The increase in variety and the amount of areas alone helps make the game feel bigger (the time it takes to beat both games is fairly close) and Adol’s adventure feel much more grand in scope. Simple things like that actually have a big impact on older games, much more than newer games where size usually takes precedence.

Ys II background

Here’s one of the areas in the game with a cool scrolling background. A picture doesn’t do it justice, but for spoiler-y reasons I didn’t want to record a video of the area…

New additions aside, everything else is mostly the same as Ys I. As far as I know, the color palette is the same, as well as stuff like building architecture. Maps seem to be more animated this time around – you’ll run across some maps with animated skies, animated walls, things like that. As far as I remember, everything, or at least mostly everything in Ys I was static, but the occasional animated map in Ys II really sticks out!

Overall, the graphics in Ys I were already amazing for 1989, and Ys II goes ahead and takes that a step further! I truly believe you’d be hard pressed to find a better looking game from 1989 (console game anyways, some PC-98 stuff looked amazing). Ys II is already full of strong points, but Graphics is definitely one of them!

Next, let’s take a look at the gameplay in Ys II!

Gameplay

As I mentioned above, Ys I & II play almost identically. Both games use the Bump Combat system (you damage enemies by walking/running into them rather than swinging a weapon), you have the same HP, STR and DEF stats in both games, and you accumulate EXP and GOLD from killing enemies the same way as before.

The gameplay loop is identical as well – you level up and get gold to buy the best gear you can and then head out on your adventure, searching every nook and cranny for a key item that will allow you progress into the next area. The boss doors from the first game are back, and the same rules follow as the first game (no healing inside boss rooms, and if you get stomped you just go level up once or twice and come back). At the core, the two games are the same, but Ys II has something new that you’ll notice the second Ys II boots up.

Ys II stats

The Ys II status screen. Basically the same as Ys I except for the addition of the MP stat.

The addition of an MP counter! As you might imagine, this is used to cast Magic, which is the big addition in Ys II. Ys II has several different types of equippable Magic, ranging from attack magic, true sight (able to see things that are otherwise invisible), transformation magic, and teleport magic. Your MP gets depleted after a certain amount of casts, which can then only be replenished by using a consumable healing item or getting healed by someone.

Magic changes up the gameplay style in Ys II in a big way – back in Ys I you didn’t have any ranged attacks so all you could do was run into enemies to defeat them. Now in Ys II, you can shoot a ranged fireball in the direction your facing (a certain in-game item turns the fireball into a homing fireball, though…), which means that aside from certain boss fights, you can actually play most of the game without running into any enemies at all! This essentially causes an entire mindset shift – I originally got used to running into everything back when I went through Ys I but suddenly got into the habit of trying to DODGE monsters rather than running into them like you’re supposed to in an old Ys game! Check out how the new combat style plays below!

It might just be all in my head, but monsters felt like they hit you for much more of your HP and you hit them for way less of their HP with physical attacks than you did back in Ys I. Regardless of how much I grinded, normal monsters were still hitting me for about 10-20% of my HP per hit even at max level. I think the developers wanted the new magic feature to be used so badly that they balanced the entire game around the expectation that players will just kite monsters around while spamming magic.

One thing that backs up my assumption is that Magic doesn’t decrease by 1 each time your use magic. It seems to decrease by 1 every 8-10 times you use Magic, and with somewhere around 250 MP at the end of the game, that means you can spam Magic without a care in the world and just destroy everything in your path. There’s also a 1-time consumable item (infinitely-spawning though) that fully restores MP that can be used anywhere, so you can technically spam 500 MP worth of Magic if you really felt the need to…

Around the middle of the game you’ll find an equippable item (not gear, an actual item) that changes your fireball magic to a screen-wide homing fireball. Regardless of what direction your facing, if you shoot a fireball it’ll find its way to the nearest enemy. Later on in the game your fireball gets upgraded, at which point it will home onto an enemy, kill it, and home onto another enemy on the screen, repeating this until all enemies are dead. This makes fighting and leveling up during the later half of the game absolutely braindead, but it definitely keeps up that fast combat pace that players of the first game know and love.

Luckily, the homing item doesn’t work during boss fights, so you’ll still have to line up your shots to hit their weakspots. Physical attacks actually don’t work against most bosses in the game, so if you dislike the fireball magic mechanic you might not enjoy the boss fights in Ys II too much. Just like they did in Ys I, the boss fights in Ys II usually have a lot of movement going on, so lining up your shots against some bosses is actually fairly difficult. Here’s a video of one of the more movement heavy boss fights in the game. I literally only had one more hit of HP left at the end…

Since we’re on the subject of Magic, I wanna talk about the Transformation Magic. This is a really interesting game mechanic – by equipping the Transformation Magic you’ll turn into a monster. While in monster form, you can actually talk to the monsters roaming around the field and get hints about what to do next or just read some funny banter. This of course makes the monster non-aggressive, so if you’re low on HP and afraid you might die before you get back to town you can just throw on the Transformation Magic and safely run back.

There are a few story sections and stuff where the monster transformation is necessary, so it is something you’ll eventually have to use. The game doesn’t tell you right away and once I figured what it’s used for it became one of my favorite types of Magic in the game. Definitely take the time to read the funny stuff the monsters say!

Teleport Magic is basically just your typical old-school town teleport spell, or nowadays “fast travel”. This alone should let you know that the game world is much bigger than the world in Ys I! There are a few times where you need to backtrack in Ys II, so this spell definitely has its uses.

That’s about it regarding Magic. Except for the occasional utility spell, most of your time in Ys II is going to be spent chucking homing fireballs across the screen. It is fun watching all the fireballs flying around, it almost gives the game a type of Shoot-em-up feel when stuff gets really hectic.

With Magic out of the way, the rest of the gameplay is the same as Ys I. Just like before, you get a lot of EXP when coming into a new area but after a few quick levels your EXP per kill gets throttled down to almost nothing. Each level has the same big effect as before – if a boss is giving you trouble a single level or two will be enough to go in and stomp them without much effort. The need to grind is reduced a lot in Ys II though – there are a lot more character interactions and quests that give you free exp, usually enough for a level or two. Most times, right before you get to a boss fight you’ll get one of those free levels and you can usually go right in and be at an appropriate level on the first try.

Ys II Subterranean Canal

The Subterranean Canal, one of the more confusing maps in the game. Even worse the 2nd time around…

Before we finish the gameplay section I have to mention one of the negative points of the game in my opinion. The maps this time are overly maze-like for no apparent reason. The first game has maze-like areas too, but most of the time you could still see stuff on the edges of the screen to see how paths connect. This time around, everything is always out of view, and everything is much more vertical and layered this time around, so figuring out what staircase leads to what layer and so on is extremely annoying. The last few areas are absolutely terrible offenders.

Here’s a quick example of one of the more difficult to navigate areas in the game, for reference.

I understand that older games made the dungeons “difficult” by making them maze-like as a way to extend time spent in the dungeons, which then depletes your item supply and HP/MP reserves, but the mazes in Ys II didn’t make anything hard or dangerous, they were just pointlessly tedious and felt overdone just to confuse you. It would have been harder, but the game gives you teleport magic so even if you started getting low on stuff you can just teleport back to town. Definitely wasn’t a fan of the level design in some areas this time around.

There’s not too much more to mention about the gameplay in Ys II. The game itself takes around the same of time to beat as Ys I, anywhere from around 8-15 hours depending on how quickly you figure out the puzzles and how well you can remember the maps. Overall, running around fighting monsters and leveling up is just as fun as it was in Ys I, even if it is a lot easier in the last half of the game.

Next we get to go enjoy what the Ys series is known for even to this day, godlike music!

Music

Just like all the awesome stuff you heard back in Ys I, Ys II is filled with the same mix of energetic 1980’s Jpop sounding stuff + metal influenced music! If you liked the first game’s OST then you’ll love Ys II’s OST just as much, if not more! Just a quick reminder, but this game came out in 1989, a whole year before the Super Famicom was released in Japan and 2 years before the Super Nintendo in North America!

Even though Ys II is fairly close to Ys I in terms of how long it takes to finish the game, there are a lot more areas to explore in Ys II which means there are more songs on the Ys II OST compared to the first game’s OST. Personally for me, I found myself enjoying the Ys II soundtrack just a bit more than the original Ys! Hopefully you’ll enjoy the songs i’ll introduce below!

First off i’ll start with the theme for the first combat area in the game. Just like back in Ys I, Falcom made sure to give you a song that’ll pump you up and get you ready for the upcoming adventure!

The next song is probably my favorite off the Ys II OST. You’ll run into it fairly early on in the game in a cool ice-capped mountainside. The only way I can really describe it is “1980’s Jpop + 1970’s porn music”. I know that sounds like some sort of disaster but definitely check it out, it just works.

Up next we have another cool dungeon theme for the underground sewer that you’ll head to later on in the game. While the dungeon itself doesn’t have much going on per screen (usually one monster max), the song definitely helps keep things fun!

Last but not least, we’ll end with an extremely cheerful sounding song. This is one of the last songs you’ll hear, but it definitely makes everything feel great and makes you think back on everything you just experienced during your journey!

Like I said, Ys II’s OST sounds just as awesome as Ys I’s! Filled with way too many cool sounding songs mixed with that cutesy old-school Jpop/Anime OST stuff, the music in the first two Ys games is pretty hard to top – ESPECIALLY if you’re going to compare it to anything that was out when this game was first released. Do yourself a favor and listen to the entire OST! Even if you listen to the OSTs of both Ys I & II at the same time, it shouldn’t be longer than an hour, hour and a half! I have a feeling you’ll thank me later!

East vs. West

Ys II Adol cutscene

Adol looking to the sky during a cutscene

Like I mentioned in my Ys I review, the Japanese and English versions of Ys I & II for the PC-Engine don’t really have significant differences. People seem to praise the English translation (that of course doesn’t guarantee it’s an accurate translation, it just means the game was understandable), so you don’t need to feel like you’re missing out on too much by playing the English version, unlike virtually every other pre-ps2-era game from Japan.

The one main thing I also mentioned in the Ys I review was that a lot of people seem to think that the English voice-acting in Ys I & II isn’t very good. While you didn’t have to worry much about the voice-acting back in Ys I due to there only being probably 3 or 4 occurrences of it in the entire game, Ys II has a lot more voiced cutscenes this time around. I personally have no problem listening to garbage-tier voice-acting from 20-30 years ago, but this could be a factor for some players.

Should you play it?

If you played and enjoyed Ys I, then you’ll definitely like Ys II. I’ve said it a few times already in the review, but Ys II is basically just Ys I that’s been expanded on in terms of story, world-building, and gameplay. The switch from focusing more on shooting stuff with magic rather than running into (I felt it focused on this, anyways) is a bit of a change, but everything else feels like Ys I, so you’ll feel right at home playing Ys II.

If you haven’t played an Ys game before, i’d be willing to say Ys II is still a great starting point. Of course you’ll be a little lost when it comes to the story (only a single 5-10 hour game’s worth of story, though), but gameplay-wise Ys II still captures that early Ys spirit along with still having the original Bump Combat in place. Clocking in at around ~10 hours again, Ys II won’t take you any time at all to finish!

Which version should you play?

Ys II Lilia

Lilia looking super “80’s anime”, which is always a good thing!

I also mentioned this in back in the Ys I review (since both games are on the same disc…), but if you’re looking for the original top-down 2d version of Ys II, you absolutely can’t go wrong with the PC-Engine version of the game. If you’re wanting to play the game in English, this is actually the only way to play an official English version of the game from back in the day. If you’re wanting to play the game in Japanese, there are a ton of different versions for various types of old-school Japan-only PCs, but finding the hardware to run those will be way more trouble than it’s worth (that’s coming from a guy like me…).

Ys II inventory

You’ll need to use items from your inventory way more often that you had to in Ys I

While you could probably brute-force your way through Ys I without being able to read Japanese, I don’t think you’d be able to do it as easily in Ys II. There is a lot of backtracking in Ys II, and a lot of it involves talking to certain NPCs in areas that are sometimes pretty far away from where you currently are. If you can’t read town names, NPC names, or key item names, chances are you’ll get stuck way too often. I definitely do recommend picking up the English version this time around if you don’t know much Japanese.

If you prefer more “modern” feeling games, Ys I & II Chronicles was released for PC around the early to mid 2000s, which uses a more isometric 3d style. I personally haven’t played it so I don’t know how true it is to the originals, but it’s definitely the cheapest alternative since you won’t have to go out and pick up a PC-Engine or one of those obscure Japanese Sharp computers or PC-88s.

That’s it for Ys II! Now, onto the final score!

Final Score – 36/40

Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 10/10

Ys II End Screen

If you’re interested, here’s a video of the game’s ending. It’s not super spoiler-y, but it does show the general outcome of the game. It includes two of the best tracks on the entire OST, so if you don’t care about spoilers or don’t plan to play the game yourself, definitely check it out!

If you have some spare time and haven’t already, please take a look at my Ys I/イースI review for the PC-Engine here!

Ys I case front cover

Ys I/イースI

Ys I start screen

Ys is an Action RPG series that has been around for more than 30 years now. While it stayed relatively unknown in the West until very recently, the Ys series has been influencing Action RPGs in Japan since the very beginning. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in Japan who’s an RPG fan that hasn’t at least heard of the series before.

 

Ys I was originally released on the PC-88 in 1987 and then ported to the PC-Engine (Turbografx-16 for westerners) in 1989. Ys I was known back in the day for its extremely unique take on Action RPG combat in the earlier games. With its “Bump Combat”, the earlier Ys games let you damage enemies simply by running into them!

 

Not only was Ys I one of the first Action RPGs ever created, the PC-Engine version is also one of the first games in history to use actual CD audio! In 1989! To put that into perspective, Ys had Playstation 1 levels of audio, 6 years before games with legendary OSTs like Chrono Trigger/クロノ・トリガー and Seiken Densetsu 3/聖剣伝説3! Once you hear this game’s OST and realize that this game came out an entire year before the Super Nintendo was released in the West, you’ll start to understand just how much of a groundbreaking game Ys I was!

 

Ys I might have been a groundbreaking game, but how does it fair all around as an actual game? Let’s find out!

Score – 35/40

Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 10/10

Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Action)
Platform: PC-Engine
Release Date: JP: December 21st, 1989
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Length: 5~15 Hours

Ys I PCE Review

PC-Engine Duo RX

My “New” PC-Engine Duo-RX! They’re very expensive in Japan currently, this costed $230 with the chain-smoker yellow controller and no box (looking at around $600 for one boxed…)

Ys is a series I wish I got into much earlier than I did. I originally downloaded the first game probably 13 or 14 years ago for PC while looking at old freeware DOS RPGs, but sadly never gave it much of a chance because it wasn’t really the kind of game I was looking for back then.  I’ve been kicking myself in the ass over that ever since I booted up Ys I last month on my newly acquired PC-Engine Duo-RX! Hopefully by the end of this review i’ll have you kickin’ yourself for not trying out the game yet, either!

Ys I case back cover

The back of the PC-Engine version’s case!

Ever since the release of Ys VIII a few years ago, the series has seen an abrupt explosion of popularity outside of Japan, but before that the Ys series was extremely niche in the West if you didn’t have a chance to play Ys I and II when they originally came out on the not very popular western version of the PC-Engine, the Turbografx-16. You might have heard of the team behind Ys, Nihon Falcom, from some of their more popular “Trails” games instead. In Japan however, Nihon Falcom is a name that any RPG fan will recognize in an instant.

Ys I back of instruction manual

The back of the game’s instruction manual.

The Ys series is known for a few things. The overly fun and easy to pick up combat, the re-occuring red-headed main character Adol, and absolutely amazing sountracks – we’re talking competing with the likes of Final Fantasy games here. Nihon Falcom takes their music so seriously that they have their own in-house band that strictly makes and plays all of the music for their games, that goes by the name Falcom Sound Team JDK!

The version of Ys I i’ll be reviewing here is actually a “remake” (the old meaning of it which basically means a remastered port by today’s standards). This version for the PCE was created around 2 years after the original PC-88 version, and even though there’s only a 2 year difference, the change in gameplay, performance and art/sound quality is almost unbelievable. Without a doubt, the PCE version of Ys I is absolutely the definitive version of the game!

Ys I disc

The Ys I PC-Engine CD. It can double as an OST CD!

As if that isn’t enough already, the best thing about the PCE version is that the game is bundled together with Ys II on a single disc, so after you finish the amazing first game, you’re treated to the second game right away! You honestly can’t ask for more than that – and trust me, after beating the first game you’ll be dying to play the next one!

Ys I is a fairly short and simple game, however, so there shouldn’t be too much to actually cover in the review. Clocking in at around anywhere from 5-15 hours depending on how often you get stuck on the puzzles, Ys I is short and sweet and gets right to the point. Let’s dive into the review and see what Ys I is all about!

Ys I main menu

Story

Ys I backstory

The backstory of Ys I. If only I had enough time to translate it…

Ys I doesn’t have too deep of a story. The game begins with the main character, Adol, sailing towards the island of Esteria to investigate the “Stormwall” that has recently appeared around the island. Adol’s ship gets destroyed enroute at sea and Adol eventually washes up on the shores of Esteria. After collecting himself, Adol heads out to Minea Village to gather some information about what’s been going on recently.

Ys I intro cutscene

A screenshot of the beginning intro cutscene. Look at the quality of the graphics…this was in 1989!

Upon reaching Minea Village, word gets around that a fortune teller in town is looking for Adol. When they finally meet, the fortune teller warns Adol about a powerful evil sweeping over the land of Esteria. Adol learns that the secret to ridding Esteria of evil is hidden in the 6 Books of Ys, books containing knowledge about the ancient civilization of Ys which mysteriously vanished centuries ago. With that, Adol sets out across the land of Esteria in search of the 6 Books of Ys on his quest to rid the land of evil.

As you can probably tell, there isn’t a whole lot to the story in Ys I. Considering Ys I came out just a year after the original Dragon Quest, which literally had a “stop the big bad (Dragon Lord) just because” story, Ys I’s story was pretty common for the time. Nowadays the whole “Young sword-wielding adventurer suddenly having to save the world” story is always made fun of and seen as low effort, but in 1987 that was still pretty exciting stuff!

Overall, i’d compare the story in Ys I to your average 8-bit JRPG. That’s mostly due to the length of the game and of course its age. Stories in the late 80’s were still extremely barebones, but they saw an exponential jump as soon as stuff like FFIV came out in 1991. Considering an “average” playthrough of Ys takes up to around 10 hours max, there just isn’t a whole lot of time to really flesh things out, whereas in 16-bit JRPGs, you almost always had 15-30 hours to a lot more with the story.

While I haven’t played too many other Ys games yet, I do believe the story builds and continues with each new game, so while the foundation might be fairly simple, chances are the story will keep getting better as you progress through the series.

Since there isn’t a whole lot going on in the story, that means there also aren’t really many “important” characters either, therefore the Characters section of the guide will be pretty brief too.

Characters

Considering Ys I is a fairly short game, there aren’t a lot of characters to talk about. Of course there are a few different “important” characters that you’ll run into during your adventure in Ys I, but as I usually do, i’ll only include the characters that are introduced in the game’s instruction manual. The manual actually includes 4 different characters, but one of them is in Ys II, so this section will be pretty brief…

Ys I Adol

The main character in Ys I, Adol!

アドル・クリスティン (Adoru Kurisutin, Adol Christin) – Adol is the main character in Ys I (and I believe throughout the rest of the series except for a single game). Adol is a courageous 16 year old adventurer who’s travelling around the world.

Ys I Reah

Reah, a young poet in Minea Village who had her Silver Harmonica stolen recently.

レア (Rea, Leah/Reah) – Reah (according to the English version of the game) is a young poet who lives in Minea Village. She asks Adol for help after her treasured Silver Harmonica is stolen by a thief.

 

Ys I Feena

Feena, a young girl who has seemingly lost her memory.

フィーナ (Fiina, Feena) – Feena is a young girl who’s found trapped inside of a cell deep inside the maze in the Temple’s basement. She seems to have lost all memory up until then.

I know at first glance the small amount of characters and very brief descriptions might seem like I didn’t put a lot of effort into this section. The truth is, depending on how often you get stuck or lost during the game, i’d say the can be beaten in around 7-8 hours assuming you don’t get lost very often. Most of that is spent outside of towns traversing dungeons and leveling up, so the actual amount of times you’ll interactive with the 2 characters mentioned above can be counted on one hand.

Not only that, as you’d probably imagine, since Ys I is the first game in the series, there isn’t really a whole lot of backstory or world-building to work off of. Unlike newer games nowadays that have tons of lore right off the bat, games from this era (the original was from 1987) were lucky to have any sort of story or any resemblance of character depth. So while the characters in Ys I might seem barebones by today’s standards, at the time this would have been considered just fine.

Ys I might not have to deepest characters ever, but it definitely had some amazing graphics for its time. Just as a reminder, what you’re about to see is a game that came out in 1989, which is a full year before the SFC/SNES released in Japan and 2 years before it released in the West!

Graphics

Ys I had absolutely mind-blowing graphics when it was first released. Ys I was competing with stuff like Dragon Quest IV on the original Famicom/Nintendo, to put things into perspective. To go even further into the future, the earliest graphical powerhouse JRPG for the SFC/SNES would have been something like Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV which wasn’t released until the middle of 1991. While I still think FF4 is a beautiful game, both the graphical quality and in-game performance of Ys I easily takes the cake. Ys I is just jaw-dropping for something made 31 years ago at the time of this review!

Ys I intro cutscene town

The cutscene animation quality rivals even that of some of the best old-school PC-88 games

As soon as you boot up the game, you’ll see an animated cutscene (!!!) showing off the PC-Engine’s outstanding 2d graphical capabilities. Things like this began popping up more and more as CD-based games started getting released on the PC-Engine, but this kind of stuff just didn’t happen on consoles like the Genesis and Super Nintendo. Not only that, there are a few in-game cutscenes that happen in-engine too, which is crazy to see!

Ys I field

The first map outside of town you’ll be able to run around in and explore!

Heading into the game, the first thing you’ll notice is the colorful characters and environments. Right away you’ll be heading out into wide open fields with multiple different types of monsters running around, all fully animated. You see a large sprawling field, an ocean, shore, river, bridge, trees, and a cave all on the first explorable map in the game!

Ys I ice maze

Here’s a really cool area that looks like it’s covered in ice!

You’ll wander into a few different types of environments in Ys I, which is pretty nice considering it’s a game you can finish no problem in a single decent length gaming session. Aside from the open plains at the beginning, you’ll delve into dark caves, maze-like labyrinths, and even stone towers. There are also a couple of towns you’ll be able to hit, with lots of NPCs running around to talk to and various buildings to check out.

The towns in Ys I were at the very least on par with what you’d find in a lot of SNES JRPGs. Most buildings would basically look the same but they had varying shapes and sizes. Even though Ys I is an over-head game, the buildings had a fairly 3d look to them, something that wouldn’t become common until MUCH later into the 16-bit era. Again, how Nihon Falcom managed to do all this in 1989 on a system that sat right inbetween the original Famicom/NES and Super Famicom/SNES is beyond me…

Ys I cave

One of the dungeons in Ys I has that old-school Fog of War to simulate being in a dark dungeon without a torch

Hopefully from the screenshots alone you were able to understand what i’m talking about when I say Ys I was leagues ahead of pretty much everything else available at the time. If not, there will be some gameplay videos in the “Gameplay” section that’s coming up that should do the game some justice! Not only does Ys I look great, it’s extremely simple and fun to play!

Gameplay

Ys I combat

Hallways like this make combat extremely easy, just hold up or down!

To be absolutely honest, Ys I is a fairly straightforward game. As I mentioned above, Ys I is famous for its “Bump Combat”, which is literally what it sounds like – you damage enemies by “bumping” into them until their HP meter (under your health meter) runs out. That’s right, unlike basically every other Action RPG in existence, you don’t hit a button to swing your weapon while trying to dodge enemy attacks. In this game, you run straight into your enemies! Well, you can but you should actually aim for their shoulders, more on that in a bit.

In Ys I Adol gains EXP and Gold from defeating enemies, which can be used to buy new equipment in town (as well as a few select items). Getting gold is very important early on in Ys I, because gear is really strong in this game – a new weapon or piece of armor is usually the equivalent of gaining 2 or 3 levels worth of Strength/Defense. To most RPG players, “2 or 3 levels worth of Strength/Defense” probably doesn’t sound like much, especially if you’re used to Final Fantasy-type games. In Ys I, and actually just in the series in general, a single level is HUGE.

Ys I status

The Status screen, showing Adol’s current Level and Stats

In Ys I, your main stats are HP (goes up by 5 per level if I remember right), Strength and Defense, which both go up by around 2 or 3 points per level. Ys I is balanced in such a way that you could be fighting a boss and getting hit for 10 damage a hit, die, go outside and get a single level, and then go back and the boss’ attacks won’t even be able to damage you. The closest thing i’d be able to compare the importance of levels in Ys to would probably be D&D. Even then, levels in Ys I might play an even bigger role in overall power gain.

So just from that explanation alone, you could see how buying a new shield in town might essentially nullify damage from an upcoming boss. After hearing this, you might be worried about having to constantly grind to get the best gear. Luckily (based on your preference, I guess), the gear you’re able to buy caps out fairly early, so to be honest you’d only have to grind an extra little bit at the start of the game. The rest of the gear will be found during your adventures later on, so more than anything the buyable gear is just there for those early powergamers. Regular players will eventually amass enough gold to grab everything without needing to specifically focus on farming up enough gold to buy everything.

Ys I shop

Browsing some shields at the Equipment Shop in Minea Village

In the same way that levels help with boss damage, you can also get to the point where certain regular enemies won’t be able to damage you. You’ll know when enemies are unable to damage you from the beep sound that’ll happen each time they attack you. Enemies can only damage you if you run into the center of them, however! If you run into the side of an enemy – imagine running your shoulder into their shoulder – you’ll actually be able to damage them without getting hit, regardless of your Defense stat! This is the one area in Ys I where player-skill actually matters! Sadly, most bosses have very specific spots where you’re able to damage them, so you gotta rely on just brute-force attacking them head-on.

Another interesting thing about levels in Ys I is that EXP gain is relative to your level. While most games give a static EXP amount to each monster (a spider will always give 100 EXP, just your required EXP to level keeps going up and up), in Ys I for example a spider might give you 500 EXP at level 3, 350 EXP at level 4, and 1 EXP at level 5. This might sound extreme, but that’s how leveling works in Ys I – you gain levels extremely fast upon entering a new area, sometimes you even get a level every minute or two. Then, after hitting the “expected” level of that area, everything starts giving you 1 EXP to prevent over-leveling and just stomping every boss in the game on your first try.

This makes it so there’s really never a need to “grind” levels. Usually if you’re having trouble with a boss, you can grind out a single level or two before you end up getting 1 EXP from everything. This means that even in the worst case scenario, if you get stuck on a boss you can just go kill monsters for 5 or 10 minutes and you’ll almost always be able to go back and beat whatever boss you were having trouble with with very little effort. This is a great system for people who don’t like running circles for hours leveling up, especially since Ys I is so short to begin with, the leveling system really accelerates the pacing!

Aside from weapons and armor, Adol is also able to equip rings. Rings give passive bonuses such as increased attack damage, increased defense, HP regen while standing still, and a screen-wide ability that reduces the movement speed of monsters by 50%. In Ys I, you only naturally regenerate HP outside, so I assume most players will have the HP regen ring equipped while in dungeons, especially since some of the dungeons can be pretty long and confusing.

Outside of equipment, there are story related items that you’ll find throughout your journey. These items actually have to be selected in the inventory and then used with the “Cancel” button. This is never actually explained in-game at all, so definitely make sure to select the item you want to use because there are several spots in the game where you’ll need to use specific items in order to progress.

Ys I mirror maze

A maze of mirrors that you’ll run into later into the game. You can get through it without a guide but it’ll involve a lot of trial and error…

Before we finish talking about the gameplay, since Ys I is an Action RPG I feel I have to touch up on the level/map design. While environments look good and are decently sized, pretty much every dungeon is a maze. I’m sure that’s on purpose since a lot of old RPGs opted out of having in-game maps in favor of the player drawing their own. Back in the day, dungeons being difficult to navigate was just seen as part of the difficulty.

While you can still find your way around most maps, there still are a lot of dead-ends and pathways hidden out of view (sometimes you just have to keep walking into every wall you see because there aren’t any tell-tale signs that there’s something behind a wall). I only raged in one dungeon though, so it’s not enough to dock gameplay points, but it is something I thought people should know beforehand (Ys II has purposely annoying map design, it’ll lose a few points for that…)

That pretty much covers the gameplay in Ys I. The gameloop is even more basic than something like the original Dragon Quest – you honestly just keep running into monsters and buying/finding new gear all while leveling up. Though it is very simplistic, it’s definitely a ton of fun, and considering the game has 2 speed options – Normal and Fast – the game can get pretty hectic at higher speeds near the end of the game when monsters start doing lots of damage! The 8 or so hours you’ll be spending in Ys I will fly right by before you know it!

I’ll post a gameplay video below so you can get a general idea of what it’s like to play Ys I on the PC-Engine (you’ll notice some of the map criticism I mentioned above). In terms of combat and running around, you basically do what i’m doing in the video for the entire game, so if you like what you see then you definitely gotta give Ys I a shot!

Next up we’ll check out the Music in Ys I. This is definitely a section of the review that I want everyone to check out, you won’t be disappointed. Let’s see what Ys I has to offer musically!

Music

Ys I cutscene

One of the few voice-acted cutscenes in Ys I!

Ys I has an OST that you won’t believe came out in 1989. Nihon Falcom really took the CD format and ran with it. With the vastly superior storage space compared to cartridges of the time, Nihon Falcom was able to pack longer songs into the game’s OST, littered with various different instruments and high quality sound. Not only that, do you remember the cutscenes I talked about up in the Graphics section? Those are fully voiced. VOICED. Ys I, a game from 1989, had VOICE ACTING in it. Voice Acting didn’t even become a common thing until the later half of the PS2 era, more than 11 years after Ys I came out!!

I haven’t played the Western version of Ys I (or II), but i’ve heard the voice acting is really bad. Of course, that’s to be expected of Western Voice Acting back in 1989 (it’s still not even really that good today…), but voice acting was already “serious business” in Japan since the late 70’s at least, so while the sound quality of the voices themselves isn’t the best (the voices sound like they’re kind of far away), the actual voice acting is your typical late 80’s Japanese anime stuff, which means it’s nothing to scoff at!

Here’s another quick gameplay video that has some of the voice acting in the beginning. If you’re interested how the sound quality of the voice acting is, you can check it out below!

Now let’s actually get on to the music. Since Ys I is a short game with just a handful of different areas, the OST isn’t the longest by any means. What it lacks in quantity it definitely make up in quality. Ys I has that “retro Japanese sound” that I always gush about. If you’re into that kind of style like I am, you’re gonna love all of the early Ys games really. If you’re not into that style, then you might be by the time you’re done listening to Ys I’s OST! Let’s jump right into it!

First up, we have the theme for the main character in the Ys series, Adol! Just within the first 2 seconds i’m sure you’re able to understand what I mean when I say the OST and sound quality in this game is just lightyears ahead of anything else available at the time. While this isn’t a typical “get pumped” style of song, it definitely got me excited to hear what other awesome stuff the OST had to offer!

Next up is the first song you’ll hear as soon as you leave Minea Village at the start of the game. Some people might complain about having to grind some money at the start of the game, but man I didn’t have a single issue having to farm money with this song on loop!

Since Ys I is a fairly short game, I don’t wanna post too much of the OST because then you’ll have nothing left to surprise you when you play. So for the last song, i’ll choose one of Ys I’s “metal” sounding songs! I know I said the Ys series is famous for that cool 1980’s Japanese pop/anime sound, but it’s also famous for having what’s essentially Progressive Metal, Power Metal, and even Shred sounding stuff too. Best of both worlds! Just pretend that the synth in this song is a guitar and you’ll see what I mean!

Pretty awesome, huh? The Ys I soundtrack by itself is only around 30 minutes long, but chances are you’re always gonna find it bundled with the Ys II OST. Even then you’re looking at a little over an hour or so of great stuff from Nihon Falcom. You definitely gotta give it a listen at least once!

One cool thing that i’m still not quite sure is true or not, but supposedly unlike PS1 games, since PC-Engine Super CD games used actual generic CDs, they can be put into a PC or CD player and act as the official OST! I was always wondering why I couldn’t find PC-Engine game OSTs over here…so maybe it’s true! If it is, i’ll definitely upload the OST myself and post about it!

East vs. West

Ys I (and II) actually seem to be one of the very few games that didn’t really lose much in translation, which is really shocking since most games all the way up until the end of the PS2-era had botched translations yet a game from basically the original NES-era was somehow able to pull of such a good translation. While I haven’t played the English version of Ys I, just from checking character names and story summaries online, everything seems be on point!

The only thing that will be different of course is the voice acting. Everywhere I look people are complaining about the English voice acting, which again can be understood pretty easily since voice acting didn’t even exist in games yet (and not “seriously” for another 10+ years at that). Anime was still extremely underground at the time too, so nobody really had any experience doing voice acting outside of western cartoons, which is not even comparable. The voiced sections are very few and far between, so I personally wouldn’t take that into too much consideration when picking a version to play.

Should you play it?

I absolutely have to recommend playing Ys I for yourself. Not only is it a piece of all around RPG history, it’s also a technical marvel if you decide to play the PCE version. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be your favorite game, chances are you’ll have it finished in less than 10 hours, so even if you’re on the fence about it you can finish it over the course of 3 or 4 weeknights.

On the other hand, if you like everything you’ve seen but you’re more of an OG Turn-Based kind of guy and are a bit reluctant to get into an ARPG, you definitely don’t need to worry. Besides the puzzles, Ys is almost so simple that a 2 or 3 year old kid who can pick up a controller and push on the D-pad can play it. My daughter who is 2 years and 3 months was able to run around and kill stuff – so you won’t have to worry about modern day “i-frames” and “animation cancelling” and all that scary sounding ARPG mechanical stuff.

Which version should you play?

If you’re looking for the original top-down style, then Ys I for the PC-Engine is the absolute definitive version of the game. It has the smoothest gameplay, the best sound quality, and it honestly isn’t THAT hard to find physical copies of the game, both the Japanese PC-Engine version and the western Turbografx-16 version.

One thing you should be aware of is that Turbografx-16 consoles that can either play CDs or have the CD attachment are way more expensive than PC-Engine consoles (even the PC-Engine Duo R/RX which can play CDs by default), so if you’re looking at grabbing a physical copy of the game and don’t have any hardware yet, you might be better off buying a PC-Engine and a Japanese copy of the game.

Like I said in the story section, there isn’t much actual story in-game, which means there isn’t a whole lot of dialog to worry about. While I don’t think you could brute-force your way through Ys II without being able to read what you have to do, Ys I seems like it could be possible.

If you’re more interested in isometric 3-d games, Ys I did get an English remake on the PC later down the road, which I believe is also available on Steam, called Ys I & II Chronicles. I haven’t played it yet, but it seems pretty faithful to the original games. If you’re on this website chances are you don’t mind old graphics/old games, but if you “prefer” remakes and remasters when available, Ys I & II Chronicles might be a bit more up your alley! You’ll just kind of miss out on the “wow” factor you’d have by playing the PCE version.

That’s about it for Ys I! Now, for the final score – it’s gonna be high!

Final Score – 35/40

Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 10/10

Ys I end screen

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲

symphony of the night title screen

Castlevania, on an RPG-focused website? You might be asking yourself why a series that’s renowned for being a side-scrolling action/platformer would get reviewed on here. Well, to put it simply, Castlevania is a series that seemed to occasionally pop out an RPG hybrid here and there, starting with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night!

 

As far as I know, all previous games in there series were pure side-scrolling platforming action games, but with the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (known as Devil Castle Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight in Japan), various RPG elements such as leveling up, raising stats, and collecting different abilities and gear that influence said stats were introduced to the series for the first time.

 

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was Konami’s first attempt at shifting a series known for being a fairly difficult, high skill ceiling action series to an action/RPG hybrid with what I felt had an emphasis on the RPG elements. Were they able to pull it off, or did the lack of experience cause them to miss the mark? Let’s find out!

Score – 38/40

Story – 8.5/10
Gameplay – 9.5/10
Graphics – 10/10
Music – 10/10

Style: Metroidvania/Side-scrolling Platforming/Action RPG
Platform: PlayStation 1/PS1
Release Date: JP: March 20th, 1997/US: October 2nd, 1997
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Length: 8~20 Hours

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night PS1 Review

Before I get into the review, i’d like to thank my buddies DJ and Pablo for sweet-talking me into finally trying out a Castlevania game!

symphony of the night case back cover

The game’s back cover

First and foremost, this review is going to break a lot of molds set on this site so far. The handful of users that check my website every now and then know that I have a rule of starting a series as far back as possible (as of now, the furthest I go back is the 16-bit era, so for example I started with Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV instead of Final Fantasy 1 due to there being no way to play 1-3 on a 16-bit console). As I mentioned in the introduction, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night isn’t the first game in the series – there are actually quite a few games Castlevanias released before it.

symphony of the night instruction manual

The instruction manual with that awesome cover artwork of Alucard

In this case, to my knowledge, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the first game that can pass as an RPG in the series, therefore i’m willing to consider it the “beginning” of the RPG games within the Castlevania series for the purposes of this site. The next mold i’m breaking is that I haven’t really reviewed anything on the site that was mainly a side-scrolling platforming game. If any of you have already checked out my Valkyrie Profile/ヴァルキリープロファイル review, you probably know that I was extremely hard on the side-scrolling platforming part of the game and condemned RPGs with side-scrolling platforming added for no real reason. The reason for that is because the platforming and stuff felt extremely tacked on in my opinion. Valkyrie Profile’s platforming was basically part of the dungeon puzzles at all times, full of trick jumps and relying on pinpoint timing/accuracy to get anywhere.

symphony of the night disc

The Symphony of the Night disc

In Symphony of the Night’s case, the game being an actual action game means that the side-scrolling and platforming are integral to the entire game, rather than just being used strictly for movement-based puzzle purposes like in Valkyrie Profile. This means that there had to be a lot of thought and effort put into the controls and how movement works in the grand scheme of things. The platforming isn’t used as a way to trick you or draw out playtime – the platforming is a core part of the game, and in this game it’s done EXTREMELY well!

symphony of the night obi

The Obi included with the game. All Japanese CD media has one of these!

Before I get into the actual review, I do want to admit that I know choosing this game might get me a few dirty looks. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night isn’t your traditional JRPG – you don’t walk around, going from town to town doing quests and buying new gear, all while going on some grand adventure. This game is still a platforming action game at heart, but in my own opinion there is definitely enough RPG stuff going on here to warrant a review on the site. Hopefully by the time you’re done reading the review i’ll have you convinced, too!

Story

symphony of the night bonus soundtrack

An OST that’s included in the slightly more expensive version of the game (maybe only in Japan?)

This section will be kinda difficult for me, considering i’m jumping into the series right smack in the middle. As far as I know, the Castlevania series has an overall ongoing story. The games leading up to Symphony of the Night all seem to be short games that can all be cleared within an hour or two each, so i’d be willing to guess that they aren’t filled with particularly deep stories or lore, but I could be wrong…

symphony of the night art works

An artbook with some cool illustrations plus a few page long manga story included in the expensive version of the game

To my understanding, each Castlevania game covers a story of Dracula’s castle appearing, which happens once every 100 years or so. Every time Dracula and his castle appear, a descendant from the Belmont family, a long running bloodline of Vampire Hunters, heads to Dracula’s castle to defeat him and seal his castle away again.

In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Dracula’s castle appears just a mere 4 years since its last disappearance. Dracula’s son, Alucard (“Dracula” spelled backwards!) suddenly awakes from his slumber, well aware of the fact that the castle shouldn’t be materializing yet. Wondering what’s going on and why he was awoken so soon, Alucard sets out to explore the castle and find out what caused the sudden reappearance.

I think that’s about as far as I want to go with the story summary. I personally felt like a lot of the character interactions, while sparse, gave quite a lot of hints as to what was going on, so covering them here would spoil some stuff. Not only that, there are a few BIG twists that happen, so going more in-depth would ruin a lot of the cool stuff in the game.

symphony of the night instruction manual back cover

The back of the instruction manual, with all of the “important” characters you’ll see in the game

One extremely cool thing Symphony of the Night does is it actually begins the game at the end of the previous game! I’ve heard of another game, Lufia, doing something similar, but i’ve never played it before so this game is the first time i’ve seen anything like that. The game starts you out at the final battle of the previous game, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood – I believe at the time (maybe even still) Rondo of Blood was a Japan-only exclusive, so not sure how much sense any of that actually made to Western players who just came off of the SNES games…

Either way, you spend a couple of minutes killing Dracula as a Belmont, and then get to see Dracula and his castle disappear, which sets the pace for the opening of Symphony of the Night which takes place just 4 years later. This was a really cool way of recapping the story for new players of the series (ME!), while also showing the differences between the past games and Symphony of the Night (no RPG elements as far as I know).

Considering i’m a new fan of the series and I started at around the half-way point, I don’t know how important the overall story is to older fans of the series. To me, even as a new fan, I gotta say I was looking forward to the cutscenes and story bits throughout the game. Sure, it wasn’t some grand story that was 60 hours in the making like you’d usually expect from RPGs, but there were enough twists and cool reveals to make me happy and wondering what would happen next! Never thought a side-scroller would do that to me!

Next up, we’ll cover some of the characters you’ll find in the game. There isn’t a huge roster, and you don’t really spend more than a few minutes with each character, but we’ll check them out anyways!

Characters

Character interactions in Symphony of the Night are few and far between. I’d compare it to old-school Resident Evil games, where every once in a while you run into someone, kinda talk about the current situation, wish each other good luck, and then go on your way. That means there isn’t too much room for character progression – I felt most interactions were there to provide more of Alucard’s backstory, to introduce his character rather than to change his character. Therefore, i’ll only introduce the characters that are included in the instruction manual – there’s only 3 of them!

symphony of the night title screen

Alucard

アルカード (Arukaado, Alucard) – The main character of the game. The son of Dracula and a human woman, Alucard also possesses a “human” side allowing him to feel compassion, which separates him from Dracula and his evil underlings who feel nothing but hate and a lust for death and destruction.

symphony of the night richter introduction

Richter Belmont

リヒター・ベルモンド (Rihitaa Berumondo, Richter Belmont) – Not quiet sure why the equivalent of “Belmond” in Japanese became “Belmont” in English (or why they didn’t just make it “Berumonto” in Japanese from the get go). Anyways, Richter is the current vampire hunter in the Belmont lineage. Richter goes missing at just around the same time Dracula’s castle suddenly reappears.

symphony of the night maria introduction

Maria Renard

マリア・ラーネッド (Maria Raaneddo, Maria Renard) – Here’s another character with a completely different name in English and Japanese (these are far more common than they need to be…). Maria is also a vampire hunter who also happens to be friends with Richter Belmont. After learning of him going missing, Maria sets off towards Dracula’s castle, hoping to find some answers.

symphony of the night art works alucard

Some cool illustrations of Alucard from the Art Works artbook

These are the 3 “main” characters you’ll be seeing the most of throughout the game. There are some other characters that you’ll meet a few times (some of Dracula’s henchmen), but they don’t seem to serve a deep purpose story-wise (“they did bad stuff so you have to defeat them” kind of characters).

symphony of the night art works richter belmont

Some illustrations of Richter from the Art Works artbook

I personally liked not having too many characters to worry about in a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In typical JRPGs you’ll have anywhere from 20-60 hours to get to know lots of different characters and develop their own personal stories. In a game like Symphony of the Night that can be “100%”ed in around 12 hours, however, I felt that there wasn’t really enough time to stuff anymore characters into the game.

symphony of the night art works dracula

The Big Bad himself, Dracula

While the story was interesting, there were only a handful of interactions with Richter and Maria. This is definitely a game where you can sit back and just enjoy playing without having to worry about keeping up with the story and keeping track of tons of different characters. That’s a big plus for me!

Next, we’ll take a look at the games gorgeous graphics!

Graphics

Alright, here’s one of the sections i’m really going to enjoy (gonna enjoy the “Music” section, too!). I didn’t really know what to expect when I first booted up Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I did understand that back in the SNES days, some side-scrollers were praised for their cool effects/moving backgrounds, but I never really played too many myself so I didn’t have much first-hand experience. All I gotta say is, Symphony of the Night had me blown away by the first 3 screens.

Hate to go back to talking about Valkyrie Profile/ヴァルキリープロファイル again, but it’s the closest game style-wise that i’ve reviewed so far. While I hated the dungeon experience and stuff in Valkyrie Profile, I did gush over the visuals. Up until that point, Valkyrie Profile was the absolute best looking 2d sprite-based game I had seen on the PS1 (it even rivaled some PS2 Nippon Ichi stuff, honestly). I did play Legend of Mana back when it was released though, which means I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I can’t remember it vividly, but i’m sure it probably beats Valkyrie Profile. I’ll find out soon because Legend of Mana is the next game in the Mana series that i’ll be reviewing…

Anyways, i’m sorry to any die-hard Valkyrie Profile fans, but Symphony of the Night’s visuals are on an entire different level – it’s not even close. Both games run silky smooth, but the flow of Symphony of the Night’s animations, the sprite work, the environments, I can’t think of a single game that I ever played back on the PS1 that rivals it. The attack animations, the dodges, the jumps, hell even the regular running is just BUTTER. If you’ve ever just melted butter on a stove before, you’ve played Symphony of the Night. The game just moves and plays like a dream. Almost to the point of making me rethink my feelings on the entire genre.

symphony of the night explosion death animation

One of the crazier looking death animations in the game

Castlevania games seem to be known for their cool background animations, and Symphony of the Night is no exception. Right away, you’ll encounter rooms with a mix of 2d and 3d background elements, such as streaks of lightning in the distant sky, to doors flying open and closing, clouds racing across the sky, and tons more. Certain areas have backgrounds that while being 2d, have a certain style to them that add depth to them, which make them look like they’re really far off in the distance.

Not only do backgrounds and areas look great, there’s a wide variety of environments in the game. While this is leaning more towards the “Gameplay” side of things, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night takes place in one big castle, but the castle is divided up into more than 10 separate “areas”. You’ll encounter ancient libraries, sinister-feeling churches, frozen underground waterways, laboratories full of undead experiments, and much much more.

Most areas have anywhere from 10-20 maps associated with them, and with the movement speed you have in the game, you’ll be flying in an out of areas really fast, which means you’ll never get bored of the different areas from spending too much time in them at once.

One thing though (kind of a gameplay issue, but it fits here), which could be a positive or negative depending on who you ask, is that areas don’t seem to have much connectivity. By that I mean on one screen you could be in a library, and then two screens over you’re in some kind of colosseum, then if you walk a few screens over you’re in a type of church/chapel. Go over a few more screens and you’ll be in a fancy looking marble hallway, which then connects to a frozen underground water channel, that connects to some catacombs, which lead to a laboratory.

While for me personally, I enjoyed the fact that I never knew what to expect next, I could see how the randomness of the map design could turn some people off or at the very least cause them to get lost quite a bit early on.

The game has tons of different monsters you’ll encounter. While there are a small amount of recolors that appear later on in the game, there’s so much variety going on that you’ll hardly notice. Each different “area” in the game has its own separate monsters, each with their own walking, attack, and death animations! I don’t know the exact count per area, but i’d estimate that each one has around 7-10 unique monster types, so you’ll get to see lots of cool stuff each time in addition to the awesome environments. The unique monsters also give an individual identity to each area – there are some areas I like solely because of the monsters!

symphony of the night blue cape

The cloaks you equip in game all have separate models. This one is a cool blue color!

Symphony of the Night has something really cool going for it – Weapons, Shields, and Cloaks have individual in-game models! I’ve always loved games that show your equipment on your characters (sadly, that was basically non-existent during the 16-bit era and almost impossible to find during the 32-bit era). Symphony of the Night goes above and beyond what any of us deserved at the time!

Right away I assumed that weapons would just increase your stats in the background, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only does each weapon in the game have its own in-game model, each weapon has its own attack animation, with some weapons even having their own special attack style! For example, the weapon you start out with does a basic frontal slashing attack. The next weapon you’ll most likely find is a “knife” type weapon, which instead has a quick frontal stab attack.

There are some different types of weapons you’ll find in the game – Swords, Daggers, Flails, Staves, and Two-Handed Swords to name a few. Even weapons within the same category have different attack animations sometimes (whether it’s attack angle, particle effects, or attack reach). This was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the game. Even if I didn’t like the stats on a certain weapon, I always made sure to use it for a few minutes to check out that weapon’s specific animations. Here’s a quick video of some of the game’s different attack styles and animations!

Shields also have individual models. Shields are used manually by holding the Circle button. This might have just been my personal play-style, but except for dealing with a certain monster at the end of the game, I never actively used my shield throughout the whole game (the stats are always added just by being equipped). They definitely look cool, and there are a decent amount of shields to collect in the game, but I personally always found dodging to be way more reliable than blocking (I feel like I still always took damage while trying to block…).

symphony of the night invisible cape

Here’s a different cloak called “Invisible”

Cloaks are the last equipment type with separate models (I couldn’t imagine having models for each piece of armor, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself…). The great thing is, Alucard’s cloak is visible all the time, so you’ll always be able to see the cool effects. I didn’t “100%” the game (missing 4 or 5%), but even then I believe I only picked up 5 or 6 different cloaks.

Some of them are just solid color cloaks, but a couple of them have some cool effects. One of them is called “Invisible” and the name almost checks out – it doesn’t make the cloak invisible, but it makes it a transparent purple color. Another one pulses between red and black every other second or so. They definitely add flair to Alucard’s already kick-ass sprite.

symphony of the night alucard movement

Just look at how awesome this looks!

Speaking of Alucard, his running animation is probably my favorite animation in the entire game. I don’t know who thought of it or why they would even think about doing it, but Alucard’s running animation has him almost “phasing” in and out. It’s such a random thing do to (maybe there’s some lore reason for it?), but it’s the coolest thing in the entire game to me. The second I saw that in the first minute of the game I was already hooked.

There are also some spells in Symphony of the Night. I think i’ve been doing something wrong since I still only have just 1 even though I cleared the game, there are some bosses who have spell-like attacks. The spell I have is a straight line fireball attack. The animation has quite a long cast time, but it looks really cool when Alucard’s charging it up. I recorded some gameplay footage that i’ll link a bit further down in the review, I cast the spell once or twice in the video so if you have some time definitely check it out!

All in all, I was honestly blown away with the graphics in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I don’t just think it looks amazing as a 2d game or as a side-scrolling game – I think it looks amazing not only just as a PS1 game, but just all-around. I’ve never been a graphics whore and i’ve always appreciated games regardless of their age, so for me something like a 2d sprite-based game from 1997 is just as awesome now as it was at release. This game is 100% sprite-work done right – you need to do yourself a favor and at least check out a gameplay video to see what i’m talking about!

Next we’ll move onto the Gameplay section. This will be a fun one, too!

Gameplay

Luckily, as Symphony of the Night is a pretty straight-forward game, there shouldn’t be too much stuff to cover here. Not to say that the game doesn’t have any content, but since the gameplay loop is a lot simpler than some JRPGs that have separate screens for overworlds, towns, dungeons, menus, battles, mini-games that all have different things to go over, Symphony of the Night is lean and gets right to the point from the second you start the game.

As you could probably tell from looking at the screenshots so far, Symphony of the Night’s main gameplay takes place on side-scrolling 2d maps. Movement is very simple – if you’ve ever played any of the old Mario or Megaman games then you’ll have no problems getting around in Symphony of the Night (yeah I know, I should compare it to Metroid for obvious reasons, but i’m sure tons more people have played the 2 games I mentioned instead).

Like I mentioned just a while ago, Symphony of the Night plays like butter. The game doesn’t try to screw with you by purposefully placing next to impossible jumps or things like that – traversing the maps is as simple as it gets. There definitely are some places that are impossible to get to at first, but that’s done on purpose because those are rooms you’re not meant to access without progressing far enough to get items or abilities that allow you to reach them yet.

Movement isn’t the only thing that feels silky smooth. Combat in Symphony of the Night also feels great. Since the series up to this point has been strictly side-scrolling action with an emphasis on difficulty, the combat had to be precise by design. Things such as weapon attack speeds, hitboxes, and enemy attack patterns are all extremely well designed and feel like they should.

Here’s a video showing off the basic gameplay in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s only around 10 minutes long, but it shows off what you’ll be doing for 95% of the game!

Except for two or so annoying bosses, I always felt like hits that should have hit hit and hits that didn’t feel like they should land didn’t land, for both me and the enemy NPCs. Symphony of the Night also has “sub weapons” that you’ll pick up randomly, things like Throwing Daggers, Throwing Axes, Holy Water, ricocheting stones, among other things. These all attack in different ways and feel like they have separate hitboxes and stuff too, but even the sub weapons all felt great to use. They did an absolute fantastic job on making sure combat felt great, which is a good thing because it makes up 95% of the game!

Here come the RPG elements. After defeating monsters, Alucard will level up which increases his stats. Hopefully, anyways. There seems to be multiple different stat increase patterns that are chosen randomly, and some of them have extremely low gains. If you’re a min/max type of player, definitely be prepared to save-scum (keep reloading) until you grab some nice gains.

symphony of the night inventory screen

The inventory screen, showing Alucard’s stats

Alucard has several different stats – HP, MP, HEARTS, STR, CON, INT, LCK, ATT, and DEF. HP is your standard Hit Points, if you run out you die. MP is used to cast spells and to maintain transformations. HEARTS are a resource that’s used to attack with sub weapons. STR is attack power that gets added to your ATT. CON is a stat that increases your DEF, while also increasing your resistance to status effects. INT increases spell and sub weapon damage. LCK increases rare item drop rates from monsters and your critical hit chance. ATT and DEF are your Attack and Defense totals after calculating all stat bonuses.

Stats play a big role in Symphony of the Night. As you level up, monsters that used to take 3 or 4 hits to kill will eventually get killed in a single attack. Likewise, monsters that used to take off 20% of your health per hit will eventually hit you for 1 damage. While this is a no-brainer for RPG fans, this change seemed to piss off a lot of Castlevania fans at the time because it essentially “nerfed” the game. While you had to rely on your own skill to beat the older Castlevania games, with the introduction of the RPG elements in Symphony of the Night, even bad players could just grind levels and eventually beat the game.

Symphony of the Night has an interesting level-up system. Another game I happened to play right afterwards also has a similar system (i’ll be reviewing that game next). When you go into an area with monsters that are a higher level than you, you get a ton of experience for killing them – it’s not uncommon to go to a new area and level up after killing 4 or 5 monsters for your next few levels. You’ll go from needing 4,000 experience to level up and getting 1,200 experience each for skeletons that you 1 shot, to only getting 1 experience from the exact same monster 4 minutes later after you leveled up 2 or 3 times.

I guess this is a system that’s designed to get you up to speed whenever you get to a new area so you can have a fighting chance at killing the boss right away, while also putting measures in place so you don’t over-level and outright stomp the boss. While this is pretty cool when you’re still in the progression phase, later on it grinds the leveling to a halt.

While I will point out that you absolutely don’t need to level up past 60 to beat the game, 60 seems to be the level where all experience in the game drops to 1. There are some monsters outside the final boss’ room that give consistent levels until 60, at which point they start giving 1 experience. This means that at that point, every single monster in the game is worth the same amount of experience. Instead of fighting really powerful knight guys 1 at a time (took me about a minute to kill one, but I suck), you’re better off going to the 2nd room in the game and killing the continuously spawning level 1 zombies, since at that point quantity is much more important.

Here’s a quick video showing a fight with one of the stronger monsters mentioned above. I still can’t read his attack pattern 100% yet…definitely easier to just go back and kill early-game mobs for experience!

Like I said, you don’t even need to hit 60 to beat the game, but for completionists who want to hit level cap in their games (99 in this I believe), I can’t imagine even hitting 65 in Symphony of the Night. At 60 I think I needed 13,000 experience for a single level. Most rooms have less than 10 monsters in them, so i’m sure you can get an idea of just how insane the grind would be to do something like this…

If you’re not a completionist, however, then the leveling system is really well thought out. The fact that you can pretty much always tackle whatever area you’re in means that there’s never really a pause in the action. With the way the game is designed (needing certain stuff before being able to get to certain areas), you’ll never suddenly reach some area where everything is unkillable. At worst, you just gotta grind for 5 or 10 minutes to pick up those quick levels and everything is smooth sailing again.

Aside from leveling up, gear also increases stats when equipped. Alucard has Main-hand, Off-hand, Headgear, Cloak, Armor, and 2 Accessory slots. The equipment in Symphony of the Night has a good variety of uses, sometimes a piece of equipment is a straight up stat or damage upgrade, while other times it had some sort of passive abilities on it. Passive abilities are usually found on Armor and Accessories. For example, there is an accessory that passively increases MP regeneration, then there is a certain piece of armor that gains more DEF relative to the amount of rooms you explore within the castle. The game provides you with a lot of equipment with actual useful passives, so I usually found myself taking them over equipment with higher stats.

Next up are relics. Relics are special one of a kind items that you’ll find spread out around the castle. These items provide you with special effects that you can toggle on and off at will. With the exception of a few effects that don’t really matter much, relics are what will allow you to progress further and further into the castle. You’ll gain the ability to do things like double jump, transform into different creatures, summon several different familiars who will attack things for you or find entrances to secret rooms, plus tons of other stuff. There’s also a relic that I personally call “The RPG Relic”, which simply allows you to see your damage numbers to appear over an enemy’s head.

Since things like being able to double jump are locked behind finding the corresponding relic, the castle isn’t truly “open” right from the beginning. The castle is definitely non-linear in the sense that you have different paths you can take to get from Point A to Point B, but it’s not 100% open to the point where you can go wherever you want right away, even if you’re good enough at combat to take on super strong monsters.

One thing you’ll notice while playing the game is that you’ll start finding money after killing monsters or breaking things. There’s a shop that you’ll find later on in the game that sells some equipment and I believe a relevant item or two. In my opinion, besides the relevant items, there wasn’t much reason to farm up any money to buy something. Maybe I missed some secret items or something, but the game throws more than enough money at you, so I never really payed too much attention to the prices of stuff.

In terms of actual important game mechanics, that mostly sums it up. The only other thing to mention is that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night places a strong importance on completion percentage. When loading your save file, you’ll see a timestamp of how long you’ve played and a XX.XX% completion rate. For reasons I won’t go into, the completion rate dictates some pretty important stuff in the grand scheme of things.

While you don’t need to get every last percent possible, you definitely should try to get it as high as you can. I’m nowhere near a “gotta get the platinum trophy/all achievements” 100% completionist type, but even I eventually got the point where I wanted to get my percentage as high as I could, even going out of my way to backtrack and make sure I got all of the rooms filled on my map. I mentioned it above, but at the time of writing this, i’m still missing around 5% or so from the percentage cap (legit cap anyways, the game supposedly has some bugs that can be abused to get out maps and stuff). To get some rooms to register on your map, you gotta make some pixel-perfect jumps and stuff, so I decided I was able to live without those.

All core game mechanics aside, there’s something that I want to briefly mention without going into any detail. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has the absolute coolest gameplay-related twist i’ve ever seen in a game up until now. It came so far out of left field that I never would have believed it if a friend told me about it in school way back in 1997. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, depending on your completion percentage (told you to get it up there!) the games does something else you’d never expect. There’s so much cool stuff going on in Symphony of the Night, you just gotta experience it yourself!

I guess I ended up covering a lot of stuff even though I said the game was “simple” up at the top…common occurrence on my site. I just want to end by saying something kind of weird, and i’m not really sure if I can convey what I want to convey, but i’ll try anyways.

symphony of the night bloody death animation

Causing a “Bloody Zombie” to explode like this also makes the game cool

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night feels cool to play. By that, I mean I felt cool as hell while playing the game. I don’t mean that in a Final Fantasy “look at me, all my characters do 9999 damage with auto attacks” kind of cool, I mean it in a “it doesn’t matter if you suck or if you’re godlike, you look badass on screen by just playing the game” kinda cool. I don’t think i’ve ever felt that way about a game before. I’ve definitely felt that way about time-sink games like I mentioned above with FF, where you grind your characters to hell and back and they’re all unkillable gods. I’ve definitely never felt that way about a game where something as simple as running across the screen makes you look like a god among men.

Maybe it’s just because i’ve never really played a Castlevania-type game before (if we wanna be brutally honest, i’ve played Maplestory and gameplay-wise Maplestory is basically just a cute, grindy slow korean MMO version of Castlevania – Fight me), but this game honestly took me by surprise, and scratched an itch I never knew I had. The graphics, the animations, and atmosphere coupled with the melty butter controls and fun combat was just way more than I was expecting. As if that wasn’t enough, the game threw one of the best soundtracks i’ve ever heard right in my face…

Music

This game is the gift that keeps on giving. I’d assume that you might have caught on by now that the Castlevania series has some darker, occult influences. This not only leaks into the aesthetics of the game, it also leaks big time into the OST. If you’re into anything ranging from Classical, Gothic, Metal, or even just atmospheric music, you’re going to fall in love with Symphony of the Night’s OST. Take one look at the game’s name and you’ll get an idea of exactly what to expect.

This is another OST that won’t have justice served by just linking a few select songs. I won’t even wait until the bottom of the section to say “You definitely need to listen to the entire OST” like I usually do, i’ll just say it here. You definitely need to listen to the entire OST. You also need to understand that even though the OST by itself is amazing, it’s even better hearing it in-game with all of the attack sounds and monsters screaming/exploding as you kill them. The sound effects in-game don’t get in the way of the OST, they enhance it!

By the way, the version of the game I got has na OST included, so after posting this review, eventually i’ll get around to uploading the OST and i’ll replace the videos I linked to with my own videos if the same tracks are on it.

Since I do have to post some separate songs (I wanna post way more than I will), i’ll post a song called “Prologue”. What a way to start a game! Oh and as a heads up, Black Metal is my favorite style of music, so while I do think pretty much anyone would love this game’s OST, maybe i’m particularly drawn to it more than usual…

Next up is a song that you’ll run into within the first few screens of the game. Now, I want you to go into the game, and go kill a few “Bloody Zombies” while listening to this and tell me i’m a liar when I said the sound effects enhance the OST!

Up next is one of the many “majestic” sounding songs in the game. “Majestic” is definitely the right word when describing this game – majestic in every sense of the word…

 This next song is majestic as well, but it’s full of atmosphere. Similar to Parasite Eve/パラサイト・イヴ, everything in Symphony of the Night oozes atmosphere…

Hopefully I had you convinced by now – if you’re into any type of “dark” music then you gotta give the entire OST a listen. Since most of the songs are under two minutes, it’s a fairly short OST all things considered. Trust me on this – it’ll be an hour well spent.

In addition to the music, one thing I want to point out is that all dialog in the game is voiced! With the small amount of dialog in the game, they were able to voice everything in the game, which is extremely cool for a game from 1997! I’d rate the game high from a music/sound prospective even without the voice acting, but it’s definitely icing on the cake!

East vs. West

Since i’ve only played the Japanese version, for most of the differences i’ll have to go off of what i’ve found after searching around online.

  • First and foremost, the series is called “Castlevania” in English, but in Japanese it’s called “悪魔城ドラキュラ” (Akumajou Dorakyura), which means Devil’s Castle Dracula. In this game’s case, the sub title is “Symphony of the Night”. The Japanese version, however, is “月下の夜想曲” (Gekka no Yasoukyoku), which is a completely different name – Nocturne in the Moonlight. Both are equally as cool, though both give off a bit of a different aura (I feel like SoTN sounds more “Majestic”, whereas NoTM feels more “Gothic” or “Occult”, again both are really cool). One thing to note though, is that “Symphony of the Night” wasn’t some translation error. “Nocturne in the Moonlight” is written in plain English in the ending credits of the Japanese version, so if they wanted to keep it that way in English they definitely could have.
  • A fair amount of monster names are different. One example is a late-game monster being called a “Guardian” in English, but a “Final Guard” instead in Japanese.
  • The Japanese version seems to add 2 extra familiars. They don’t appear to be broken or anything, but extra content is extra content!
  • Rather than an English and Japanese difference, there was a Japan-exclusive Sega Saturn version of the game that included some extra content, including new areas, new music, and a new playable character.

Should you play it?

I think even if you just barely skimmed this review, you could probably tell that i’d tell you to play the game. Even if you don’t like side-scrollers or platformers, you have to give Symphony of the Night a shot! I’ll be the first to admit I basically never gave side-scrolling games the time of day if I didn’t have to (besides super old-school stuff where 95% of games were still side-scrollers), and even then this game had me by the balls the entire time.

Depending on how much of the map you want to uncover and how high you wanna get your completion percentage, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night can be an extremely quick game. If you do an absolute minimalist playthrough you could probably finish the game in around 4 or 5 hours. With my 5 or 6% below max percentage playthrough, it took me around 13 hours (that includes wasting an hour or two trying to find secret rooms and failing). So you don’t have to commit much time to fully enjoy the game – even if you’re on the fence, just a few minutes in game will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect during the rest of the game.

If you’re not really familiar with the genre and think that’s going to cause you any issues, like I mentioned throughout the “Gameplay” section, you can always fall back on the gear and level-ups to sort of carry you through the game. This can definitely be a negative for the Old Guard, but it’s definitely something that will help ease newcomers to the genre! It really helped me, there were a lot of times where I would have gotten game-overs had there been the usual “few hits and you’re dead” system in place instead.

Which version should you play?

Aside from monster renames and the 2 extra familiars I talked about above, there doesn’t seem to be any real big differences in gameplay among the Japanese and English versions of the game. In my own opinion, if we’re going to compare the front cover artwork, the Japanese version wins by a mile, bar none.

Price wise, I believe the English versions of the game go for quite a bit. I picked up the Japanese PS1 version here in Japan for 4,400 yen, which is about 40$ USD at the time of writing this. The version I got has the and OST included, as well as a small art book. In Japan, regardless of what game it is and how common/rare it is, a game’s OST is always going to cost AT LEAST 1,500 yen, so if you take that out of the equation, you’re looking at around 3,000 for the cheapest Japanese version of the game.

I did see Japanese versions without the OST included, so they do exists if you for some reason felt it was okay to grab the game and skip the OST (you DID listen to the stuff I linked above, right!?). I’m not sure if the English versions have different versions with the OST and versions without, but I know the English versions fetch a pretty penny due to the game not selling a whole lot back in the day.

I did mention there being a Japanese Sega Saturn version of the game, but even the main guy behind the game, Kouji Igarashi, supposedly said that he didn’t want his name to be associated with the Sega Saturn version of the game due to what he considered to be a poor quality port. So I don’t know if it’s worth picking up on purpose over the PS1 version, though there is some extra content if you just gotta have as much of the game as possible.

Other than that, I believe the game has been ported to stuff like the Vita, PlayStation Network, Xbox 360, and even recently this year to iOS and Android. I haven’t really heard any negatives about the ports, but you probably know that i’m a “Physical Copy Elitist”, so I always have to recommend picking up a physical version of the game. I’m sure the ports probably cost 1/10th of the price you’d have to pay for a physical copy of the game this time around, though…

Now for the final score! You probably guessed it, but it’s gonna be big!

Final Score – 38/40

Story – 8.5/10
Gameplay – 9.5/10
Graphics – 10/10
Music – 10/10

symphony of the night end screen

In-case you felt like watching the credits and listening to the ending song, I went ahead and recorded the credit roll. There aren’t any spoilers or anything and it’s just a plain black screen, so don’t worry about ruining the ending or anything!

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book Front Cover

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book/ドラゴンクエスト I・II 公式ガイドブック

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book opening page

Worth getting? Yes!

As a collectible, not as a walkthrough…

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book Overview

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest I Dragon Quest I first page

A page at the beginning of the book showing the Hero and Princess Laura from Dragon Quest I

Here’s an interesting one – a “double” guide book! Just as the Super Famicom versions of Dragon Quest I and Dragon Quest II were packaged together into a single game, the Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book for the two games was done in the same style! This is the first time i’ve ran into a single strategy guide designed for multiple games (i’m sure some of the Wizardry compilations have guides that cover multiple games, but I haven’t picked up any Wizardry books yet…), so I didn’t really know what to expect at first.

To be honest, there’s nothing really too strange about it. Considering the two games were created in the same engine, there’s a lot of things that are shared across both games, which means that both games are covered seamlessly inside of the guide book. As you might imagine, the guides for both games are virtually 100% copies of each other content-wise, exceptions being the Dragon Quest II-exclusive stuff like Naval travel, party-based stuff, things like that.

Since this is two guides in one, the guide consists of a hefty 256 pages! The physical size of the book itself is kind of small, so while there are 256 pages you’ll have to burn through, there’s not a ton of different things going on on each page like you’ll find in other guide books, which means you’ll have a pretty easy time reading and finding what you’re looking for.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest I story summary

The beginning of the Dragon Quest I walkthrough section, which covers the basic premise of the game’s story

This is a fairly straightforward guide book compared to some other ones i’ve gone over that have in-depth stuff about character backgrounds, lore, and all of that. This guide does include character introductions, but Dragon Quest I’s “character” section only consists of 2 characters and Dragon Quest II’s only has 7 characters. While I will include pictures of it later on, I definitely don’t think there’s enough going on there to create an entire “Characters” section for this overview like I usually do. Therefore, this time we’ll only go over the “Guide” and “Data” sections!

Let’s dive right into it and see what the meat of the Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book is all about!

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book “Guide” Section

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book shop types

One of the “Basic Operation” pages, which goes over the different types of shops in the game

At the beginning of the guide, there’s a few pages of the usual “Basic Operation” section that almost every RPG guide book has. This just explains the absolute basics such as what button does what, what signs on buildings indicate (weapon shops, inns, stuff like that), and what commands mean in menus/battle.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book Ladatorm Castle

An illustration of the very first area in the game, Ladatorm Castle. On the right side you’ll find its position on the world map, and ingame screenshot of the area, and a recommended level indicator

After this, it dives right into the walkthrough for Dragon Quest I. Each separate area in the game has a beautiful illustration included to give you a better idea of what the area/town should actually look like, along with its position on the world map and an in-game screenshot showing what the area looks like on the overworld when you’re walking around. There’s even a nice little “recommended level” indicator in the bottom corner to help you gauge your progress!

The following pages include a little backstory on the area, along with whatever you’ll find there. Towns include shop lists, bits of advice such as telling you where you can get uncursed, where you can save, as well as giving hints about interesting places/NPCs. Dungeons show maps of individual floors, along with the number of treasure chests you’ll find within the dungeon and a monster list. The monster list isn’t very good though, it’s just a list full of page number references – you’ll have to keep flipping back and forth to the monster appendix each time you want to check out a monster…even just some basic stats would have been been nice.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book Galai village

An example of the town of Galai, which includes a shop list. The brief “hints” next to each picture are about as in-depth as this book gets in terms of being a “walkthrough”

Shop lists are very similar. Thankfully, the shop lists have things like the price of the item and its stats included right there, so while you still do have a page number you’ll have to flip through, you can at least get a general idea of what each town offers at first glance. Not sure why they couldn’t do something like this for the monster list (even just HP and EXP values).

Up next is the big flaw with this guide book. This book does the exact same thing that I absolutely hated about the Star Ocean Official Guide Book/スターオーシャン公式ガイドブック – it basically beats around the bush the entire time. Maybe i’m just a weird person when it comes to games (i’ve come to realize I am – my definition of JRPG/RPG and love for physical copies of games and hardware rather than emulation/digital downloads seems to be completely alien to modern-day JRPG fans…), but I assume anyone who buys a guide book for the purpose of actually using it to get through a game would actually want the guide to have a walkthrough included inside.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book roto's cave

An example of a dungeon overview

Just as the Star Ocean guide book did, this book is more of a “hint” book, if I had to categorize it. Instead of being straight-forward and saying “Go to this town and talk to the mayor. After that, leave town and head east to the bandit hideout”, the book will say something like “There are rumors that the mayor might be having some trouble…” and “The townsfolk have been talking about a cave on the outskirts of town…”. It does this for basically every single area covered in the book. Again, I can’t say i’ve ever met anyone who wants to go through all the trouble to buy a strategy guide, only to want it to be “spoiler-free”…

Enix had their fingers in this and the Star Ocean guide’s pie, so maybe that’s just how Enix wrote their guides back in the day. I definitely don’t see the appeal in it.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest II dungeon map

A set of maps for one of the longer dungeons

That basically sums of the “Guide” portion of the book. This is not really a good thing to say, but the parts that I liked the most in the “Guide” section are, ironically, all of the non-walkthrough parts. The illustrations of each area + the screenshots of the position on the world map and the area on the overworld were definitely my favorite. The dungeon maps are definitely useful too, as some of the dungeons in Dragon Quest games can get kind of confusing.

Now we’ll dive into the better half of the Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book – the “Data” section!

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book “Data” Section

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest I spell list

The couple of pages from the Dragon Quest I spell list. The spell lists include some awesome artwork!

This is where things start to pick up! As soon as the “Guide” section is finished, you’ll be greeting with the brief section covering all of the different spells in the game. This section is really nice – it has all of the essential info for each spell, such as the level you need to be in order to learn the spell, its MP cost, and if the spell can be used on the overworld map, during battle, or both. For an extra added touch, they even descriptions of each spell, an in-game screenshot of the spell being used during battle, and some awesome illustrations of the spell being used to further help you imagination!

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest II spell list

A page from the much more fleshed out Dragon Quest II spell list!

Sadly, the first Dragon Quest only has a handful of spells in the entire game, so its section is just a few pages, but there’s a whole lot more going on in Dragon Quest II, so definitely look forward to the Dragon Quest II spell list and checking out all the cool artwork!

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book weapon list

A section of the Dragon Quest I weapon list!

Next up is the Item List, which covers everything from Weapons to Armor to both consumable/key items. The guide book definitely redeems itself here in my opinion, because they put a lot of effort into the items lists. EVERY ITEM has its own unique illustration, along with a stat table which includes stuff like buying/selling price, Damage/Defense stats, and either a description of the item itself or a description of its usage (how much it heals, what it heals, how many enemies it hits).

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest I armor list

The Hero from Dragon Quest I modelling the legendary Roto’s Armor!

One thing that stuck out to me immediately was the Armor list. In most guides that go the extra mile to include illustrations for everything, you’ll see illustrations of armor and stuff by itself. In this guide book, however, you see one of the characters modelling the armor! This is a first so far out of all the guides i’ve checked out on this website.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book armor illustrations

Lots of cool gear to check out in the Dragon Quest II gear list!

In the Dragon Quest I section, you’ll see the Hero wearing all the different armor sets, but in the Dragon Quest II section, you’ll see all 3 party members modelling different types of armor. I can definitely say I was expecting a much more lackluster index based on the low-effort feeling on the “Guide” section, but I have to say the “Data” section is definitely carrying the dead weight!

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest I Dragon Quest I Bestiary

A quick look at the Bestiary

The last section for each game is the Bestiary. I definitely didn’t like the monster lists from the “Guide” , but the Bestiary is a bit better. You’ll find an in-game battle screenshot of each monster together with a bar graph (interesting approach…) of the monsters stats, with its GP and EXP values listed below. At the bottom of each monster’s table there is a brief description of the monster itself on the left side.

On right side you have a short “tip” which tells you what level you should be when you fight the monster along with advice on how to deal with them (put them to sleep, get ready to cure status ailments, things like that). At the very bottom of the page, you’ll have some illustrations of a few of the monsters on that given page.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book bestiary

A closer look at the Bestiary, showing the monster descriptions/hints

The Bestiary isn’t anything super special. It’s definitely nowhere close to how cool the Item List is, but the Bestiary is still way better than I was expecting. I was honestly expecting just rows of text with the monster name, GP, and EXP. The “Guide” section definitely could have used shrunk versions of the in-game battle sprites and stat values included in the monster lists – this would have made the guide way more usable for anyone who just wants to take a quick peak at a dungeon.

 

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book Review

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest II story summary

The Dragon Quest II intro and story summary

If you read through the entire review, you’ll know that I was kind of harsh on the “Guide” section of the book, which by principle is the majority of the guide book. I still stand by the Star Ocean Official Guide Book/スターオーシャン公式ガイドブック being the worst guide book i’ve reviewed so far, but sadly the Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book is similar in a lot of regards. The fact that this is called the “Official Guide Book” yet it does very little to actually guide you through anything kind of rubs me the wrong way.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest II main characters

Two of the main characters in Dragon Quest II

Of course, if you just follow along the pages and go to each area in order, you’ll be able to beat both games, but that’s a big cop out in my opinion. They could have gone a different route and chose to call it a “Settings Guide Book” like Squaresoft usually did, where it has the lore for each area along with interesting points and some “hints” about stuff. If they did this, I would have had much different expectations and wouldn’t have been nearly as hard on the “Guide” section as I was with this one.

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest II Dragon Horn Tower

The Dragon Horn Tower from Dragon Quest II. Really gives a real sense of scale compared to the in-game tower sprite!

So as you can probably tell, as a “Walkthrough-based Guide Book” I can’t recommend the Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book. The thing is though, I understand that most people who are going to read an overview of a Japanese-language Guide Book in English are most likely not interested in using said Guide Book as a walkthrough, but rather as an artbook or general piece of memorabilia. This is the Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book’s saving grace!

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Dragon Quest II first page

Just look at this, 100% pure Toriyama style!

I can 100% recommend the Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book if you’re coming at it from an artbook or collectible angle! If you’re a fan of Toriyama himself, or just the general Dragon Quest aesthetic, you’re going to love this book. There are tons of different illustrations within the 256 pages of the book – monsters, towns, dungeons, characters, spells, equipment, you name it. If you want to get taken back to that early to mid 90’s Dragon Quest/Dragonball Z time-period, this’ll do it for you.

 

Worth getting? Yes (only as a collectible)!

Dragon Quest I & II Official Guide Book Back Cover

If you have some extra time, take a look at my reviews for the Dragon Quest I and Dragon Quest II remakes for the Super Famicom!

dragon quest 3 sfc box front cover

Dragon Quest III/ドラゴンクエストIIIそして伝説へ

dragon quest 3 start screen

Dragon Quest III is the 3rd and final game in the “Loto Trilogy” (Erdrick if you’re playing the western versions of Dragon Quest), originally released for the Famicom/NES. In the same vein as Dragon Quest I and Dragon Quest II, Dragon Quest III was remade exclusively for the Super Famicom in Japan. Unlike the first two games, however, the Dragon Quest III remake adds quite a lot of new content to the game, on top of the already upgraded visuals and audio!

 

Arriving on the SFC just ONE MONTH BEFORE 1997 (for reference, that’s HALF A YEAR AFTER Star Ocean/スターオーシャン, or even more of a shock, TWO MONTHS BEFORE the original version of Final Fantasy VII, Dragon Quest III is one of the last RPG efforts to grace the SFC. Does this mean Dragon Quest III is a mind-blowing game that squeezed the SFC to the absolute limit?

 

Well, if we judge it as a Dragon Quest game, then i’d say it definitely did!

Score – 34/40

Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 8.5/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 8.5/10

Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Turn-based)
Platform: Super Famicom
Release Date: JP: December 6th, 1996
Developer: Chunsoft
Publisher: Enix
Length: 25~40 Hours

Dragon Quest 3 SFC/SNES Review

dragon quest 3 box back cover

The back of the original Japanese Super Famicom version box

The Dragon Quest III remake (technically Dragon Quest III: And Then Towards A Legend, if you add the original Japanese subtitle) follows in the footsteps of the Dragon Quest I & II (Dragon Quest 2)/ドラゴンクエストI・II (ドラゴンクエスト2) remake by expanding on the gameplay of the previous entry even further. While the Dragon Quest II remake added a much larger world, naval exploration, teammates, and multiple-enemy encounters, the Dragon Quest III remake takes all of these things and adds even more to the existing systems. The overall increased size of the game aside, this time around they added things such as multi-hit weapons, a boardgame-like mini-game that offers fairly useful prizes, a maximum party-size of 4, enemy attack animations, and last but not least, the brand-new Class System!

dragon quest 3 sfc instruction manual

The game’s instruction manual

Anyone who’s played a Dragon Quest game before knows that Dragon Quest games are basically “JRPG comfort food”. While not particularly a bad thing, players basically know what to expect when playing a Dragon Quest game before they even play it, even all the way up to the current Dragon Quest XI (the same can’t be said for Final Fantasy anymore, that’s just a roll of the dice at this point). As a general rule, Dragon Quest games after II basically all keep the same fundamental systems, while usually adding one really big change gameplay-wise.

dragon quest 3 sfc cartridge

The original SFC cartridge!

In Dragon Quest III’s case, this big gameplay change is the Class System that I mentioned above. I’ll delve into the details a bit more further down in the “Gameplay” section of the review, but to summarize it briefly – you can pick and choose from multiple different classes like Mages, Priests, Fighters, and Thieves, and assign them to up to 3 custom party members. Each class has its own special abilities it can learn, class-specific equipment, and some classes even have passive traits such as Fighters having a higher crit chance that increases per level! This system breaks away from the pre-determined character types introduced back in the second game.

Now that i’ve briefly went over the unique points of Dragon Quest III and what changes to expect when you play it, let’s get onto the actual review!

If you want to see what I thought about the first two Dragon Quest remakes for the SFC, you can find my reviews for them below!

Dragon Quest I & II (Dragon Quest 1)/ドラゴンクエストI・II (ドラゴンクエスト1)
Dragon Quest I & II (Dragon Quest 2)/ドラゴンクエストI・II (ドラゴンクエスト2)

Story

Dragon Quest III’s story arguably plays the most important part in the Loto Trilogy. I can’t go right out and explain why without basically spoiling the entire trilogy, so i’ll have to be vague about a lot of details. Luckily, while the premise of the story is important, the story itself isn’t too involved, to be honest. Like Dragon Quest II, Dragon Quest III’s journey mostly involves going to different towns and solving that particular town’s problem, which means that instead of a long continuous story, you have a start point and an end goal, with a lot of little “side-stories” along the way.

dragon quest 3 town

The party setting out on their adventure!

The game begins with your character inside his or her home within the Kingdom of Aliahan, who’s preparing to go out and find their father, the brave warrior named Ortega. Ortega’s whereabouts are unknown, and the only information you’re given is that Ortega left Aliahan many years ago on a quest to destroy the Demon King Baramos, who resides in his castle in a far away land.

There’s an unfortunate rumor going around that Ortega fell into a volcano while being attacked by monsters. Armed with nothing but knowledge of your father’s goal and a rumor of his death, you and up to 3 other characters of your choice set out and begin your journey!

dragon quest 3 flaming room

A throne room in flames…

That’s basically the main idea of the story in Dragon Quest III. I know the summary was only about 2 short paragraphs long, but that’s how most of the Dragon Quest games are until you hit about 7 or 8. The “each town has its own story” narrative from Dragon Quest II became a main stay in the franchise for around 10-20 years. To confirm that the story itself is rather compact, the Japanese Wikipedia page‘s “Story” section is 4 paragraphs long, and that includes a plot-twist and an explanation of the game’s ending

dragon quest 3 story

The party receiving an ominous message…

The main meat of the game story-wise is the focus on the short stories that happen when you visit a new town. You have things like needing to find an item that transforms you into a monster in order to talk to fairies inside the fairy village, finding a way to wake up sleeping residents inside of a town that’s stuck in eternal night, and finding a shopkeeper’s kidnapped daughter in order to receive an item requested by a king. These are usually fairly short segments which usually take no longer than half an hour or so to complete, so nowadays these would be seen as “side-quests”.

In Dragon Quest, however, these side quests are necessary to continue on with the story, so while they don’t actually have any direct impact on the “main story”, they are technically part of the main story…

The strong point of Dragon Quest III’s story is how it connects to the previous 2 games. If you’ve played Dragon Quest I & II before and payed close attention to the story, you’ll know that the main characters in Dragon Quest II were the descendants of the hero in Dragon Quest I. Dragon Quest III also plays a part within the lineage and timeline of the other two games, and when you start to piece stuff together towards the end of the game, everything from the 3 games all suddenly clicks! It’s definitely a cool reveal, especially when you realize that the original version of the game was released all the way back at the beginning of 1988!

dragon quest 3 castle

Townspeople gathering in front of one of the castles in the game

Overall, the standalone story of Dragon Quest III isn’t really anything to get excited over. To be brutally honest, there’s not a whole lot of story to actually be had if we look specifically at the “main story”. Of course, with the side stories and all that there’s enough going on to FEEL like the game has an over-encompassing story. That’s just how Dragon Quest games tell their stories. You’re a lot more likely to beat the game and think back on a certain town or side story event instead of caring about Ortega’s whereabouts!

Rather than going in and expecting a great standalone story, I absolutely recommend going in looking forward to how the game ties into the previous two games. The connection between the three games is way cooler, and it’s definitely something a fan of any of the first two games should play through til the end and experience!

I know this section ended up being more about me talking ABOUT the story rather than me actually explaining the story…sorry about that. Next, we’ll look at how much the graphics have improved since the Dragon Quest II remake!

Graphics

dragon quest 3 clouds

Dragon Quest III’s graphics look much better than the I and II remakes’. The layer effects are one of the biggest improvements!

While Dragon Quest III definitely looks better than the I and II remake, for the most part the graphic engine feels the same. Even though the game was released at the end of 1996, there’s a lot of similarities compared to the other Dragon Quest games on the SFC (I and II remake, V, and VI). The game does have its own tilesets and sprites, so everything does look and feel original, but in terms of “presentation”, Dragon Quest III shares that classic Dragon Quest feel.

While the overworld and towns might not seem particularly different, Dragon Quest III absolutely has some unique points when it comes to graphics. The biggest thing that will stand out to any old-school Dragon Quest player is the addition of not only spell animations but also enemy attack animations! No longer do you have to deal with reading combat text to figure out what just happened – you can finally see if a monster hit you with a regular attack or if your AoE spell hit certain enemies!

dragon quest 3 battle

A typical battle in the Dragon Quest III remake

You can tell the developers really put a lot of time and effort into the attack and spell animations! I’m not talking about your normal “monster moves forward and moves back” attack animations – wolves will bite you, ogres will swing their clubs around, bats will fly upwards and charge at you. Every monster type has their own unique attack animation, which was basically unheard of back in the 16-bit era as a JRPG!

Spells are done in a similar fashion. Each spell “type” has its own unique spell animation, no recolors going on here! Based on the level of the spell, the animations will change in intensity. Late-game AoE spells will fill the screen with different types of fire, ice, and lightning.

dragon quest 3 magic spell

A high level Ice spell called “Mahyado”. A still screenshot doesn’t do it justice!

For me personally, seeing how intense a spell is is essential to feeling like a magic spell is truly strong. Older Dragon Quest games always just had the damage pop up in the combat log, so for me even if a spell did like 300 or 400 damage, it never “felt right” without some awesome 400 damage worthy spell animation to accompany it. For players out there who feel the same as I do, the Dragon Quest III remake FINALLY fixes this problem!

Animations aside, there’s another thing in Dragon Quest III that will pop out at you right away. There’s a huge variety of battle backgrounds this time around, mostly due to a new game mechanic that was introduced in this version, the Day/Night system. We’ll get into the system a bit more in the “Gameplay” section, but essentially you have Morning/Day/Evening/Night and each timeframe has its own battle background for whatever environment you’re in (field, mountains, forests, sea). This means there’s a whopping 4 different backgrounds for each separate environment type – this is a huge increase from the Dragon Quest II remake!

While the details in the background usually don’t change with time, the color palates always do. For example, when you’re fighting at sea during the day you’ll get a regular ocean background with blue waves and a blue sky. During the evening, however, you’ll see an orange sunset with orange tinted water. At night, you’ll see a purple/blue/black nightsky filled with stars and purple/blue tinted waves. I personally think they did a really great job with these time-based backgrounds way back on the SFC!

Towns and the overworld are mostly unchanged. If you’ve played the first Dragon Quest I & II remake or Dragon Quest V (haven’t played VI yet to compare…), you’ll already know what to expect. This time though, dungeons got a bit of an upgrade compared to the previous remake. Dungeons have a lot more “layers” to them, graphically. Things such as fog and mist are used quite a bit in dungeons, giving them that murky underground feeling, which is always a plus!

dragon quest 3 zoma castle

That trademark 16-bit era Dragon Quest overworld!

This is really noticeable in certain dungeons like the cave next to Zipangu, which looks and feels like the inside of a volcano. With rivers of lava surrounding the rocky passages, you also have a thick red/orange/white “mist” above your characters which I assume is meant to simulate heat. It really adds to the “dungeon experience”, and not only that it really helps certain dungeons stick out from the rest, rather than everything just being a rocky corridor.

Next up, we’ll go over the sheer amount of party sprites this time around. In Dragon Quest I you were limited to just the hero, and in Dragon Quest II you gained 2 additional party members. This time, Dragon Quest III allows you to have a party of 4, which is then made up of custom characters who’s classes you can pick. This means you have your main hero’s sprite, plus a Male and Female sprite for each of the 8 classes in the game, totaling 16 possible party sprites! The only games on the SFC that come close to this are Final Fantasy V/ファイナルファンタジーV, Seiken Densetsu 3/聖剣伝説3, and the Romancing SaGa series!

Building on top of that, Dragon Quest III includes certain items that change how your sprite looks! Some armors such as the Stuffed Animal Suit and Sacred Bikini change your sprite into a stuffed tiger or change your clothes into a bikini (only female characters can use this, of course…). I was definitely surprised to see a primitive version of “actually getting to see your equipment equipped” back on the SFC, and in a DRAGON QUEST game at that!

Overall, the graphical quality really jumped up from the Dragon Quest I and II remake. I’m even getting ahead of myself here in terms of the site by saying this, but it even looks better than Dragon Quest V for the SFC (V is further along in the series, but it was actually made before this remake, so I guess that explains why…). While I haven’t played Dragon Quest VI for the SFC yet, i’m willing the bet that this is the best looking Dragon Quest game available for the SFC!

Now that we covered the game’s graphics, let’s jump into the Gameplay section and go over even more things that the Dragon Quest III remake improves upon!

Gameplay

Similar to how the Dragon Quest III remake built upon the foundation of the previous remake, gameplay is another section with lots of great additions thrown in. The first thing you’ll notice right away is the Class System, which is definitely the biggest change and the main focus of the game in terms of gameplay this time around.

Dragon Quest III’s Class System allows you to pick from various pre-made classes to assign to your own custom characters. Unlike certain other games with class/job systems, classes in Dragon Quest III aren’t gender-locked, which means you don’t have to worry about being forced to create a male or female character in order to be able to make your dream party composition. Dragon Quest III doesn’t have any classes that are traditionally gender-locked (like Dancer, etc), so regardless of what classes you choose, nothing feels out of place.

Since the Class System is the game’s bread and butter, let’s go over the list of classes you can choose from!

————————————————————————————————————————-

Classes

dragon quest 3 hero illustration

The main heroes!

勇者 (Yuusha, Hero) – The Hero class is the pre-determined class for your main character. This character is pretty much balanced all around – they can equip the widest variety of gear, have fairly balanced stat-growth on level-ups, and can learn both priest and mage spells, while also learning their own special high-level spells that mages and priests can’t get.

dragon quest 3 mage illustration

The mages. Quite a difference in age, for some odd reason?

魔法使い (Mahoutsukai, Mage) – As you’d guess, Mages specialize in spellcasting, which means they can’t equip too much gear (they’re restricted to light armor such as robes, and weapons such as staves). They make up for this with their fairly powerful magic, which can do some serious damage to groups of enemies. Eventually they get spells that can hit every single enemy for almost all of their HP.

dragon quest 3 priest illustration

The priest with the diddler mustache…

僧侶 (Souryo, Priest) – Priests are the main healing/support class in Dragon Quest III. Priests can equip more gear than Mages can, but even then they’re still best used as a spellcaster to heal and buff your team with spells that can essentially double your attack, defense, and speed. Pretty much a necessity (I learned this the hard way after trying to do a no-healer team. I learned my lesson about 80% the way through the game…).

dragon quest 3 goof off illustration

The slacker/goof-offs. I did see that one of the Western translations called this class “Jesters”, so the guy makes sense. Does the Bunny Girl count as a Jester too?

遊び人 (Asobinin, Slacker/Goof off?) – As the 50/50 English translation I did there suggests, this class is known for “playing/messing around” and not doing what they’re told. This class basically plays like a character who’s “Confused” in an RPG usually does – they do random things while being controlled by AI. Sometimes they’ll be normal and attack enemies, other times they’ll attack themselves, or sit around and guard. They have high luck which allows them to crit fairly often, which can either be a blessing or a curse…

dragon quest 3 fighter illustration

The fighters. Basically Dragon Ball characters as you can see, both in design and in-game power!

武闘家 (Butouka, Martial Artist) – Martial Artists are strong melee fighters. They end up with the highest agility and strength in the game, which almost always allows them to hit first and hit hard – sometimes even one-shotting a monster on the first round. Being Martial Artists, they’re only allowed to equip Claw-type weapons, and to allow them to maneuver around the battlefield they’re restricted to using light armor. Responsible for some of the highest damage hits you’ll see in the game.

dragon quest 3 warrior illustration

The Warriors/Soldiers. They have a pretty cool viking/valkyrie aesthetic going on!

戦士 (Senshi, Soldier/Warrior) – While in most games a “Warrior” would sound like a damage dealer, in Dragon Quest III Warriors actually fit the role of a “Tank”. With a good amount of Strength, Defense, and HP growth coupled with the ability to equip pretty much everything in the game, a Warrior will be one of the overall strongest characters during battle. Their main drawback is that they have low agility and can’t use spells, so they’ll usually end up attacking last.

dragon quest 3 merchant

The merchants/traders/dealers. Marle from Chrono Trigger accidentally found her way into the instruction manual

商人 (Shounin, Merchant) – Merchants are a bit of a “different” class, mostly because their main usefulness is being able to do things outside of battle like appraise items and summon shopkeepers on demand. They do have one unique ability in battle though, which is an ability that causes monsters to drop an extra N% gold. Every player will eventually have to create a single merchant due to story-related reasons.

dragon quest 3 sage illustration

The Sages. They just look like they could destroy the entire planet with a single tap of their staves

賢者 (Kenja, Sage) – Sages are a special class that can only be chosen after finding a certain rare item and using that item on a character who has reached at least level 20. Sages are essentially a Mage and Priest combined, which means they can learn Attack, Debuff, Healing, and Buff spells! Sages are the ultimate support character, and depending on what team composition you were previously using, turning a Mage or Priest into a Sage basically opens up an empty spot for a new character in your party. Sages get decent stat increases, and they can actually equip a decent amount of gear, so you’ll almost always want at least one in your party.

If you were wondering why a class like the Slacker/Goof Off even exists, the reason is that you can change a Slacker/Goof Off into a Sage just by reaching level 20 (you won’t need to spend that rare item to do the class change). If you have the patience to do it, it definitely pays off…

dragon quest 3 thief illustration

The Thieves. More Dragon Ball characters, that’s Trunks and some Android that got scrapped before release

盗賊 (Touzoku, Thief) – Thieves are a Super Famicom remake-exclusive class (meaning they aren’t in the original Famicom version or Game Boy Color remake). Thieves have high agility but overall average combat capabilities. Thieves have one distinct advantage in combat – they can equip boomerangs (which attack all enemies, but each consecutive enemy hit lowers the damage of the next hit) and whips (same as boomerangs but can only hit monsters within the same “group”).

So while they don’t have particularly high damage, they can almost always hit all monsters right at the start of battle, which means you can sometimes finish easy battles on the very first hit! If you’re like me and had 2 Thieves, the second Thief will almost always clean up whatever’s remaining after the first Thief’s attack!

Thieves have a few special abilities. Their biggest one is the chance to “Steal” items from the last monster killed in battle (basically just gives a chance for an item to drop). At the end of the game, there are a few spots where monster will drop “seeds” that are a one-time use item that increases a given stat 1-3 points. If you want to do the end-game stuff you’ll definitely have to farm seeds eventually, so have one or two Thieves in your group to farm seeds is definitely a good idea.

Outside of battle, Thieves have some useful abilities like being able to sense where an unopened treasure chest is within a dungeon, and an activated ability that lets you walk around dungeons without encountering monsters. I personally never used these, but they’re definitely icing on the cake.

————————————————————————————————————————-

These are all of the classes you can choose in Dragon Quest III. Aside from the Sage, all the other classes can be chosen right at the start of the game! I definitely recommend getting a healer early on – I was wanting to wait until I learned all of the Mage spells before I turned my Mage into a Sage, but there’s a boss fight later in the game where the AoE damage is just way too high for the Hero to be able to heal it by himself. If I originally started with a Hero/Thief/Thief/Priest instead of Hero/Thief/Thief/Mage, I probably would have breezed through the game no problem with the additional heals and buffs rather than the additional AoE damage!

Now that we’ve gone over the classes, let’s go ahead and talk about the other big changes in Dragon Quest III! There are a couple more changes you’ll see right away when you begin the game, most noticeably is your party’s run speed! The run speed on the overworld doesn’t feel any different than previous games, but in towns and dungeons your characters zip across the map way faster than you did in the previous remakes! This makes exploring dungeons and towns an absolute breeze. Definitely a great addition to the game!

The next change you’ll notice as soon as you go outside and walk around for a little bit – the Night/Day System that I talked about in the “Graphics” section. While this system’s purpose is mostly just to change up the scenery and battle backgrounds (shops and stuff are closed in towns at night, though), there actually are a few points in the story where you need to enter certain towns during the day and during the night. According to Japanese websites, you also encounter monsters more often at night and the monsters you encounter are stronger than normal, but I personally never really noticed this.

Anyone who’s played the previous remakes will notice that since the overall monster limit in battles has been increased, there can now be multiple “groups” of monsters in battle – up to 4 groups I believe. The implementation of this mechanic goes hand in hand with the addition of Boomerangs and Whips, allowing you to hit all monsters in the battle, or all monsters within a certain group, respectively. This adds a bit of strategy to fights, forcing you to decide which group of enemies you want to cast debuffs on, or which group you want to take out first with a high damage AoE spell.

Like most Dragon Quest games nowadays, there are a ton of Small Medals to collect in Dragon Quest III. This time around, the rewards you receive from turning in the medals are actually really good most of the time, especially for where you’re currently at if you take time to actually collect them along the way. The good thing though, is that collecting them isn’t a requirement, so if you decide that looking for them is too much of a hassle, you can skip them entirely!

dragon quest 3 sugoroku area

You’ll find most Sugoroku areas on the overworld, all of which look like a typical Shrine

Early on in the game, chances are you’ll stumble into an area that houses Dragon Quest III’s main mini-game, Sugoroku! Sugoroku is a board game where dice are used to determine how many spaces you move across the board (it’s a real Japanese game, think of something like Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land, but with random “events” on each tile!). There are different Sugoroku areas spread throughout the game, with various different board lengths and difficulties, but also with better and better prizes!

dragon quest 3 sugoroku board

Moving around a Sugoroku board

In order to participate in a round of Sugoroku, you’ll need a Sugoroku Ticket which drops at a decent rate from monsters after battle. Most Sugoroku boards have “holes” or something similar on them that kick you out of the board entirely when stepped on. This means you’ll usually have to try a few times before you actually complete a board, so make sure to hoard those tickets if you plan on trying it out. Sugoroku isn’t mandatory at all, so just like Small Medals, if you don’t feel the need to grab any of the rewards you can skip this entirely!

dragon quest 3 sugoroku battle

Bad things can also happen during a round of Sugoroku, such as permanent stat loss or monster encounters

I recorded a video of me trying out one of the early Sugoroku boards you’ll come across. I somehow did a “one-shot” and got to the goal without overshooting it the first time (if you don’t land exactly on the “Goal” tile, you’ll have to keep re-rolling until you do and hope you don’t run out of dice before then)! Check it out below!

While playing the game, you’ll eventually stumble upon some items that can change a character’s “Personality”. Along with the Class System, Dragon Quest III also introduces “Personalities”, which influence each character’s stat gains on level-up. There are quite a lot of personalities to choose from – both Male and Female characters can have the “Stubborn” or “Cry-baby” personalities, while only Males can have one such as “Pervert” and only Females can have ones like “Princess” or “Sexy Girl” (yeah, Japanese versions of Dragon Quest actually have lots of “sexual” stuff thrown in for fun, it’s just hidden behind cute slimes and stuff!).

I honestly never paid one bit of attention to the Personality System during my playthrough. The game doesn’t explain any of the personalities and doesn’t say anything about how a specific personality affects stat-gains, so I basically ignored every personality-changing item I came across. Without looking up guides beforehand there’s no way to know if a certain personality will be better for, say, a Warrior than the personality they already have. If you’re dead-set on Min/Maxing your team and don’t mind checking guides for the stat-tables, personalities are definitely something to keep an eye out for, but if you’re willing to just go through the game “normally”, then you really don’t have to worry about them at all.

Going back to the Class System for a second, there is one other thing you can do around maybe the 30% mark of the game – Class Changing! I mentioned it a bit when I talked about using an item/turning a Slacker into a Sage. When you reach the Temple of Dharma, you have the option of turning any character other than the Hero into any class you choose (except Hero…). I personally didn’t do this for anything except for turning my Mage into a Sage, but if you’re willing to spend a ton of time re-leveling characters, you can make some crazy stuff.

It seems like you can do stuff like turning Mages into Warriors to allow the Warrior to use magic spells, then level up Warrior up high to get them really good Strength and HP, then change them into a Thief and reap the benefits of having the highest damage spells + huge HP + high damage from your Strength stat + having the highest agility which allows you to go first in battle. A character like this would most likely smoke any random encounter within the first turn! You’d just have to basically level a character to around 35-40 3 or 4 times…especially if you want them to be able to heal too. Only downside is, a character loses I think half of their stats when you change them, so you will have to think about which order to change in so that the last class still has the desired stats.

dragon quest 3 flying

Flying around with some awesome Mode-7 effects!

I don’t consider this a spoiler since most games on the system, and pretty much every big name RPG from the PS1 on up has this, but Dragon Quest III introduces flying on the overworld for the first time. The Dragon Quest II remake introduced boats which felt like a huge leap in exploration, and this time we not only have boats but we can also take to the skies which allows us to travel to areas that are surrounded by mountains and other impassable terrain.

dragon quest 3 flying at dusk

More flying around, but this time at Dusk

This really should have been in the “Graphics” section, but Dragon Quest III’s flying has maybe the coolest Mode-7 effects i’ve seen so far on the SFC. While flying, you can hold a directional button to make the camera sort of zoom/move close to the middle of the screen. I know this doesn’t sound interesting, but most games like Secret of Mana / Seiken Densetsu 2 聖剣伝説2 or Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV have one standard “flying” mode and a transition when taking off or landing. Even something as simple as altering the camera height and zooming in on-demand is an extremely technical feat for its time!

Since just talking about the main gameplay points doesn’t do much, I recorded a 10 minute or so video that shows off the typical gameplay loop in Dragon Quest III, so that means hitting towns, dungeons, shops, showing off some battles, and other simple things such as sailing and flying. If you have a few minutes to spare, definitely take a quick look! You’re even lucky enough to watch my #1 and #3 save files get nuked when I booted up the game (that’s what the scary music is at the beginning of the video)…ALWAYS SAVE IN EVERY SLOT WHEN YOU PLAY CARTRIDGE-BASED RPGS!

For the last gameplay addition, we’ll talk about the “end-game” content that Dragon Quest III has to offer! As far as I know, Dragon Quest I and II didn’t have anything to do after you finished them (even the remakes). In Dragon Quest III, after completing the story, you can reload your save and access a bonus dungeon, which is way more difficult than the end of the original game. This is completely optional, but a great way to test some party-comps and level up really high.

This kind of end-game is pretty cool – after you defeat the boss, you are actually granted the ability to make a wish. This wish adds some minor but interesting things to the game. I won’t go over what the wishes are and what they do for obvious reasons, but one thing to note is that you can go back and kill the final boss multiple times, which allows you to actually receive all possible wishes if you’re willing to go back and beat the dungeon a few times. People who enjoyed the story of the game might want to try to get at least 1 wish though (you’ll know which one it is when you see the list), just because it’ll give you a kinda warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

Other than that, i’ll briefly go over the difficulty in Dragon Quest III. By design, your party setup is a huge factor in determining if the game will be difficult or not. I personally ran without a dedicated healer until around level 32 or so. Guys at my company were teasing me for not beating a certain boss by the mid 20s, and the reason I couldn’t do that is because I didn’t have a character who could outheal the boss’ constant AoE damage.

In the first two Dragon Quest games, and especially in Dragon Quest II, random encounter mobs were way scarier than any of the bosses in the game, especially during the last “gauntlet” from the final save point to the final boss. In Dragon Quest III however, there weren’t any random encounters or dungeons I was really afraid of. This time it was basically the complete opposite – random encounters didn’t pose any threat except for 2 or 3 enemy types in a certain dungeon. The bosses were the main threats this time, as I feel they should be!

Out of all the Dragon Quest games i’ve played so far, 3 is definitely the easiest, even with my gimped party comp that I used for nearly 80% of the game! If you’re afraid of the “old-school hard” typical Dragon Quest difficulty, you might be surprised about how much easier this one is than the others!

That about covers the new things you’ll run into while playing the Dragon Quest III remake. I know it adds a lot compared to the previous remake – this probably has to do with them having experience from making Dragon Quest V and VI already, so this game was their last effort before releasing Dragon Quest VII for the PlayStation a few years later. If you’re a fan of old-school Dragon Quest, or just old-school JRPGs in general, I definitely have to recommend picking up the Dragon Quest III remake!

Next we’ll go ahead and check out some of the music you’ll hear through-out the game!

Music

As with most things when it comes to Dragon Quest, Music is also another area where things mostly stay the same throughout the series. Once again, if you’ve played a Dragon Quest game before, you pretty much know what to expect. One good thing though, is that Dragon Quest III is almost universally considered to have one of the best, if not the best, soundtrack in the series!

While Dragon Quest III doesn’t stray too much from the fundamentals, there are a lot of catchy songs within the game’s OST, which is about a time and a half longer than the Dragon Quest I and II remakes’ OSTs combined! So catchy in fact, that even nowadays when Japanese TV shows use Dragon Quest songs, they almost always pick songs from Dragon Quest III! Let’s see what all the fuss is about!

First off, we have the town theme, which I hope you end up liking because you’ll be hearing it in most of the towns in the game! Definitely feels like Dragon Quest, you know what I mean!

Next up is the “Adventure” theme, which is what you’ll be hearing as you run all around the overworld. Definitely pumps you up and gets you ready for the nearly 30 hour journey to come!

Here’s another town theme that usually plays when the one listed above doesn’t. This is a nice song that helps you feel relieved after just coming out of some long dungeon with barely any HP left (happens a lot)!

Last but not least, we have the “flying” theme. The flying speed in Dragon Quest III is actually quite slower than it is in most SFC games, so the tempo of the song suits it really nicely. You’ll be hearing this fairly often towards the end of the game!

That should give you a rough idea of what the game’s OST is like. Compared to the previous two remakes, I definitely prefer this game’s OST. I just found that I liked more songs this time around, but that’s helped by the OST being about 3x as long as the Dragon Quest I or II OST by themselves. There are still some songs that I didn’t care about at all, so while I didn’t find the OST to be perfect, it’s definitely worth a listen! Even more so if you love Dragon Quest music – you probably won’t find a better OST in the series!

East vs. West

Since Dragon Quest III for the SFC was another game that was locked away in Japan, there’s not really much I can write about in this section. Westerners did get a Game Boy Color version of Dragon Quest III, but that wasn’t a direct port of the SFC remake (much closer to the NES version), so we can’t really compare the two…

Should you play it?

I definitely recommend playing the Dragon Quest III remake if you enjoy old-school JRPGs. I know Dragon Quest has a certain “feel” to it that actually turns a lot of people off (Dragon Quest was never big in the West, only grabbing a bit of momentum back with Dragon Quest VIII thanks to the Final Fantasy XII demo packaged with it, and only finally getting some recognition with Dragon Quest XI), but Dragon Quest III doesn’t have that “oh, more Dragon Quest” feel to it.

I did mention above that Dragon Quest III doesn’t stray too far from the fundamentals, and if you’ve played a Dragon Quest game you’ve essentially played them all, but Dragon Quest III does a lot of things right. The pacing is really good – you’re never loitering around an area for more than half and hour or so. The customization, along with the speed of combat and character progression feels great. The OST is really nice to listen to in-game, and while the game is about 30 hours or so, it’s not so long that it starts to feel like a slog.

Any fan of Dragon Quest definitely needs to play III, but even if you’re more of an old-school Squaresoft fan, there’s plenty to enjoy in Dragon Quest III. If you’ve never even played a Dragon Quest game before, i’d be willing to say that III is a great starting point!

Which version should you play?

As always, i’m going to recommend the original SFC version of the Dragon Quest III remake. Mostly do to the usual elitism, but this time there’s actually another legitimate reason. While Dragon Quest III has been ported numerous times, they’ve never really ported it “as-is”. Each port has slightly different art styles, frame-rates, things like that. While the overall mechanics stay the same, you’ll never 100% get that original feeling without playing the SFC version of the game. If you can, definitely try to grab the original SFC version, you won’t be disappointed!

Other than the Game Boy Color port which isn’t really the same, the only way to play the game outside of Japan is to grab the Dragon Quest I II and III compilation that was released just last year for the Nintendo Switch. I always advocate for grabbing original releases for original hardware, but anything is better than playing fan-translations, so if you absolutely can’t hang with the Japanese SFC version of the game, the Switch version is the only other option!

Just be warned, the Switch port looks like an extremely shoddy job (gameplay is probably intact, though), as you can see in this video by HappyConsoleGamer here! If you’re still on the fence after this review, HappyConsoleGamer’s review will make a great second opinion (even he recommends the SFC version at the end)!

Now, onto the final score!

Final Score – 34/40

Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 8.5/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 8.5/10

dragon quest 3 end screen

If you still have some free time, please check out my reviews for the Dragon Quest I Remake and Dragon Quest 2 Remake!

Final Fantasy The Preludes Front Cover

Final Fantasy The Preludes Original Soundtrack

Final Fantasy The Preludes CD

Final Fantasy The Preludes OST

Although a whole 3 months late (Tokyo Game Show 2019 happened back in the middle of September, it’s the middle of December now…), i’d like to show you another cool event-exclusive item I picked up at TGS this year (besides the Chrono Orchestra 時を渡る翼 Official Calendar 2020!) – The “Final Fantasy The Preludes” Original Soundtrack!

Considering this is a CD, there’s not really a whole lot that I can say about it that wouldn’t be better explained by just listening to the CD itself. I will go over some real brief explanations about what to expect from the CD and a little about how I got it/what the case and stuff is like.

First off, this is a 会場限定 (Kaijou Gentei, literally “Meeting place exclusive”, but pretty much means “Event exclusive”), meaning that it can only be purchased at public Square-Enix related events. As far as I know, as of now it’s looking like the only other opportunity to grab a copy of the CD is at the Jump Fiesta this month. It’s entirely possible that this along with other stuff that was sold at the Square-Enix booth as “event exclusives” could end up in their online store next year, though…(it’s free money, SE!)

I picked this up at Tokyo Game Show 2019 for around 2,200 yen or so, which is around only $20 USD. It comes in a digipak case with an Obi (people call them “spine cards” I guess in English, even though an Obi is technically a kind of wrap/sash/belt but hey), but unlike most digipak CDs where the CD is placed inside the folding part of the case, the CD is actually located “inside the sleeve” of the case (basically inside the paper of the back of the case itself).

Final Fantasy The Preludes Liner Notes

Liner notes from Hironobu Sakaguchi, along with some credits at the bottom

Upon opening of the case, instead of finding the CD, you’ll see some liner notes from Hironobu Sakaguchi himself, talking about what led to the creation of the “Final Fantasy Prelude”, as well as what the song means to him and what kind of feelings it invokes within him whenever he listens to it.

On the back you’ll get your typical tracklist. This is actually quite important for this CD, because truth be told, it’s a CD with a single song played 25 different times! While each song is a different variation of the Final Fantasy theme, even the most hardcore fanatics of the series are bound to guess the wrong game at least a few times throughout their listen, so having the tracklist on the back to check which ones you missed at the end is super handy.

Like I said above, considering this post is about a CD, there’s not really much I can actually talk about other than what i’ve mentioned so far, so now it’s time to check out the CD for yourself! I finally went and uploaded my own physical CD for the first time, so unless Square-Enix nukes my video over some sort of copyright issue, the video shouldn’t suddenly disappear like the ones I linked for Dragon Quest I & II (Dragon Quest 2)/ドラゴンクエストI・II (ドラゴンクエスト2) and Parasite Eve/パラサイト・イヴ did a few months back…

Finally, here it is! Please enjoy!

Thanks for listening, and I hope you had a great time listening and guessing which songs came from which games! If you have anymore free time, please feel free to check out some other stuff on my site, like the Dragon Quest 1 CD Theater/CDシアタードラゴンクエスト1 if you’re interested in some more stuff to listen to!

Final Fantasy The Preludes Back Cover

Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces Limited front cover

Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces: Limited

Final Fantasy VII International start menu

Final Fantasy VII – A game that truly needs no introduction. The first Final Fantasy game released on the PS1, and for some reason the first Final Fantasy for an oddly large majority of Final Fantasy fans, this is the game that everybody who has even the slightest interest in JRPGs knows about (even people who don’t like JRPGs usually still at least know about the game).

 

Released early in the PS1’s life-cycle (early 1997 in Japan, late 1997 in North America and Europe), this was the first Final Fantasy game to feature 3d graphics and FMVs (Full Motion Videos, people call them “Pre-rendered cutscenes” nowadays…), which not only took fans by storm, it also changed the perception of how games, particularly other JRPGs,  should strive to look. While nobody can argue that Squaresoft wasn’t the graphical powerhouse during the 16-bit era, Squaresoft completely changed the game and were in an entire different realm during the 32-bit era.

 

With a development budget of around $40 million USD at the time (around maybe $55 million USD equivalent nowadays?), Final Fantasy VII set the bar and established a new standard for JRPG quality, and whether you like Final Fantasy VII or not, it’s almost impossible to ignore its influence on most JRPGs that followed it.

 

Many people who have played Final Fantasy VII consider it to be either the greatest JRPG of all time or even just the greatest game of all time. Are the masses just blinded by nostalgia, “my first Final Fantasy/first JRPG” syndrome, and/or Tifa’s “Makou Reactors”? Are the masses actually on to something? Let’s find out!

 

Score – 35/40

Story – 9/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 9/10

Style:  Japanese Role-playing Game (Turn-based)
Platform: PlayStation 1/PS1
Release Date: JP: October 2nd, 1997 (International ver.) / JP: September 14th, 2005 (Advent Pieces: Limited ver.)
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square
Length: 30~60 Hours

Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces: Limited PS1 Review

Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces Limited discs

The Advent Pieces: Limited game discs!

Before we even get started, I do want to point out that I do realize that Final Fantasy VII is a game that doesn’t really need anymore reviews. Not only has it already been reviewed inside-and-out by every single major video game publication in existence, its notoriety alone is enough to make anyone who’s interested in it play it. They especially wouldn’t go through all the trouble to find some tiny little retro RPG blog and read the review from there.

Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces Limited disc 1

Disc 1 with Cloud on the front

So, with this in mind, I figured I had a sort of “1-up” on most other reviews by reviewing Final Fantasy VII International instead! The original Japanese version of Final Fantasy VII didn’t have some of the stuff the English version had (such as Emerald/Ruby Weapons), so they pulled something similar to the Kingdom Hearts “Final Mix”es and created Final Fantasy VII International, which is just the regular base Japanese game with the additional content from the Western releases included.

Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces Limited disc 2

Disc 2 with Aeris on the front

So, in all honesty, Final Fantasy VII International is basically just the English version of Final Fantasy VII translated back into Japanese (dodging all of the hideous English translation butchering). This means i’ll basically be reviewing the Final Fantasy VII that everyone else has played, but the screenshots and names of stuff will all be taken from the Japanese version.

Enough rambling though, let’s finally get onto the review!

Story

Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces Limited disc 3

Last but not least, disc 3 with Sephiroth on the front

The story in Final Fantasy VII might be the hardest part for me to talk about. One reason, of course, is that the game spans 3 discs, which means that overall there is just a lot of different stuff going on during the game. The other reason, which i’m not sure if this can be considered a spoiler or not (I personally wouldn’t consider it a spoiler, more of a “heads-up”), is that the game’s story kind of does a complete 180 and changes drastically after about the first 5-10 hours, depending on how fast you progress through the beginning of the game.

This means that if I review the first few hours of story like I usually do, it won’t really serve too much of a purpose in conveying what the actual majority of the game is about. It would also be kind of weird to just do a hop-skip and start talking about the story after the direction changes, so i’m kind of unsure what to do. I guess in this kind of scenario, i’ll just talk about the beginning of the game like normal, and the main part of the game can just be kept a mystery. Keeping things a mystery is always a good thing I guess…

The game starts off with one of the most memorable intros in gaming. A young man named Cloud is riding on the top of a train while it pulls into a guarded station. Upon stopping, a group of people get out and start running past the guards, and then Cloud jumps off of the train and immediately starts attacking the guards. Cloud then meets up with the previous group of people and discusses their plan to attack a Makou Reactor, a type of reactor that is sucking Makou, a magical essence that resides within the games’ planet, out of the planet at an alarming rate. A powerful organization called “Shinra Electrical Power Company”, who basically runs the entire city of Midgar where the story is currently taking place, has built multiple reactors to siphon Makou for its own personal use.

The group introduces themselves as “AVALANCHE”, and while they themselves wouldn’t label themselves as such, AVALANCHE is essentially an ecological domestic terrorist organization (how’s THAT for opening of a game?). AVALANCHE has hired Cloud, a mercenary who used to be a member of “SOLDIER”, the elite private military group of Shinra Company (told you they run the entire city!). Cloud was able to reach the coveted rank of “1st Class”, which means that he is essentially a 1-man army, making him the perfect candidate for AVALANCHE’s planned assault.

Cloud joins up with the leader of AVALANCHE, a man named Barett, who has a gun implanted in his arm. The two make their way through the reactor and set off a timed bomb deep inside the core. The team succeeds in blowing up the reactor, which they see as a good thing. Their mission may have been shortsighted, however. By blowing up the reactor, they also blew up a decent portion of Midgar as collateral damage, meaning that lots of innocent people were killed in the process.

Final Fantasy VII International shop

Cloud shopping in the slums of Midgar

Shinra officers begin to pursue the group, so the group does everything they can to make it back to their “home-base”, a bar named “7th Heaven” located in the Sector 7 slums in Midgar. Upon arriving at 7th Heaven, the team meets Tifa, who is the owner of the bar and a member of AVALANCHE. After regrouping, AVALANCHE sees news coverage of their attack on TV, which leads to some of the members finally realizing the actual impact of their recent mission.

The group decides to lay low for a while and wait for things to settle down. In the meantime, Cloud meets a woman named Aeris (ret-conned years later and changed to Aerith) in a nearby church, who tends to a small group of flowers that have grown inside the church thanks to some sunlight that beams through a hole in the roof. Shortly after meeting Aeris, a man enters the church with a few Shinra soldiers.

The man introduces himself as Reno (レノ, Reno), who goes on to reveal that he is part of a special Shinra taskforce called “The Turks”. Reno tells Cloud and Aeris that he’s been sent out on a mission to find and retrieve Aeris. Aeris panics and tells Cloud that she’ll pay him if he agrees to protect her. Cloud accepts and does everything in his power to escape with Aeris.

Cloud brings Aeris back to her home, where her mother is waiting. To make sure her mother doesn’t worry, Aeris pretends that Cloud is her new boyfriend. Aeris offers Cloud to spend the night at their home, which Cloud accepts, but feeling a bit uncomfortable, Cloud attempts to sneak out during the night. After sneaking out, Cloud tries to make his way back to 7th Heaven, when he’s suddenly stopped by Aeris who insists on going together. Cloud reluctantly agrees and they make their way through the slums.

Final Fantasy VII International honeybee inn

The infamous Honeybee Inn, located just inside of the Wall Market…

On their way back to 7th Heaven, they see Tifa all dressed-up and riding in the back of a strange looking wagon that’s headed towards “Wall Market”, a really shady marketplace ran by a sort of mafia boss type of guy named Don Corneo. The two believe that something isn’t right, so they head to the Wall Market to see what’s going on.

Will AVALANCHE be able to successfully stop Shinra Company? Will Shinra’s Makou Reactors do too much damage before the group can stop them? Why does Shinra Company want to kidnap Aeris? Since Cloud was originally a member of SOLDIER, will he end up siding with Shinra again?

Final Fantasy VII International don corneo

Cloud, Aeris, and Tifa up to no good in Wall Market

I know this is kind of a bad place to suddenly stop, but the Wall Market is the first place in the game that could contain decent spoilers just because of all the stuff that happens there. They aren’t exactly “story” spoilers, but there are a lot of things that happen in the Wall Market that are better to actually experience blindly yourself first rather than hearing about them, so I think it would be better for me to go ahead and stop here.

Final Fantasy VII International Shinra HQ

The party inside of the Shinra Company HQ

Like I mentioned above, the story kind of shifts almost completely after a certain point in the game, at around the 20-30% mark, so what happens near the beginning of the game doesn’t really have a huge impact on what happens later on. Since this summary doesn’t really give a good idea of what is actually going on at the beginning of the game, i’ll sum it up briefly – your main goal in the beginning of the game is to basically try to destroy Shinra Company. The game is around 30-60 hours long depending on how much side stuff you do, though, so there’s plenty more story to be had!

I know some people who already know about the game might wonder why I didn’t mention a certain character at all in the story summary. This is because a certain character doesn’t even make their first appearance until the “story shift” that I keep talking about. You don’t even see what they look like for at least the first 5-10 hours of gameplay, so suddenly talking about them when they aren’t even truly story-relevant yet would just make stuff more confusing…

Next, we’ll talk about all of the characters we’ll eventually run into during our fairly long journey!

Characters

Final Fantasy VII definitely has a lot of characters that are important to the story that you’ll have to keep track of, but thankfully the main party only has 9 characters you’ll have to worry about! I’ll list them and paraphrase their Japanese introductions from the official manual below!

Final Fantasy VII International Cloud Strife

Cloud Strife

クラウド・ストライフ (Kuraudo Sutoraifu, Cloud Strife) – Cloud is a 21 year-old ex-SOLDIER who is currently working as a mercenary who’ll take any job he can get. He’s hired at the beginning of the game to help AVALANCHE attack Shinra Company, but little does he know he’s about to get sucked into a conflict that puts the entire planet at risk. His 2-handed Buster Sword is capable of splitting anything in-front of it in half.

 

Final Fantasy VII International Tifa Lockhart

Tifa Lockhart

ティファ・ロックハート (Tifa Rokkuhaato, Tifa Lockhart) – Tifa is a 20 year-old member who helps keep the party motivated during tough times. Though she has a cute face, she’s actually a fierce hand-to-hand fighter, as well as a core member of AVALANCHE. She might have feelings for Cloud, but she somehow can’t seem to tell him.

 

 

Final Fantasy VII International Barett Wallace

Barett Wallace

バレット・ウォーレス (Baretto Uooresu, Barett Wallace) – Barett is a 35 year-old man with an intense hatred towards Shinra Company. He’s the leader of AVALANCHE, and has a special gun implanted in to his arm that allows him to shred his enemies. A certain event happened in the past that led to the death of his wife, so Barett lives together with his daughter Marin.

 

 

Final Fantasy VII International Aeris Gainsborough

Aeris Gainsborough

エアリス・ゲインズブール (Earisu Geinzubuuru, Aeris Gainsborough) – Let me stop all of you that are going to say “it says Aerith right there in the picture!”. This is a version of the game that comes boxed together with Advent Children, so this is after the whole alt+f4 ret-con that they pulled years after the initial release. People can say it was originally supposed to end with a “th” all they want, but both “Aeris” and “Sephiroth” end with a ス (su) in Japanese because there isn’t a “th” sound in the Japanese language. If they can turn the “su” into SephiroTH instead of SephiroS, they could have easily called her “Aerith” the first time around if they wanted to, too.

Anyways, Aeris is a 22 year-old girl who passes her time selling flowers in the streets of Midgar. She meets Cloud by chance, but she’s destined to play the biggest role in the group’s travels. If you had to break her fighting style down, Aeris is suited more towards a magical fighting style.

Final Fantasy VII International Red XIII

Red XIII

レッドサーティーン (Reddo Saatiin, Red XIII) – Red XIII is an aggressive-looking beast with fiery red fur. Red XIII’s age and gender are “officially” unknown (he definitely uses male speech in the Japanese version, plus a certain scene all but confirms that he’s a guy), but it’s told that his knowledge surpasses that of humans. Being a beast, Red XIII’s efficient at using his claws and fangs to take down enemies. Everyone else about his past is unexplained, and it can’t be confirmed if Red XIII is even his real name or not.

 

Final Fantasy VII International Cid Highwind

Cid Highwind

シド・ハイウインド (Shido Haiuindo, Cid Highwind) – Cid is a 32 year-old man with a bad mouth but a warm heart, he’s a pilot that absolutely won’t let go of his dream. Whether it’s at sea or in the air, he’s happy as long as he has a ship. His ultimate dream is to be able to make it to outer space. Cid’s weapon of choice is the lance.

 

 

Final Fantasy VII International Cait Sith

Cait Sith

ケット・シー (Ketto Shii, Cait Sith) – Definitely a case of either the Japanese not being correct for the English name, or the English not being correct for the Japanese name (probably the English not being correct as always). Both Cait Sith’s age and race are unknown. If you judge it by how it talks, it seems like it might be male. Cait Sith will always be found riding on top of a giant stuffed moogle that seems to be alive. Cait Sith uses megaphones to attack his enemies, which matches up with his happy-go-lucky attitude.

Final Fantasy VII International Yuffie Kisaragi

Yuffie Kisaragi

ユフィ・キサラギ (Yufi Kisaragi, Yuffie Kisaragi) – Yuffie is a 16 year-old girl who’s a self-proclaimed “Ninja”, although you can tell she’s not quite there yet by her clothes. In order to get her hands on “something”, she follows Cloud and the party around, attempting to rob them. Yuffie uses a giant shuriken to attack her enemies.

 

 

Final Fantasy VII International Vincent Valentine

Vincent Valentine

ヴィンセント・ヴァレンタイン (Binsento Barentain, Vincent Valentine) – If you’re wondering about the Japanese name, they also don’t “officially” have V sounds, but the “B” sounds are implied to be “V”s when they’re spelled this way in Japanese. Vincent is a 27 year-old man shrouded in mystery. He decides to join the party and fight against Shinra Company, due to his own personal reasons from his past. Vincent’s body seems to be in good shape, but it looks like he can transform under certain circumstances.

 

Final Fantasy VII International Sephiroth

Sephiroth

セフィロス (Sefirosu, Sephiroth) – Cloud’s superior back in his SOLDIER days, Sephiroth was the legendary SOLDIER 1st Class hero that everyone aspired to become. Sephiroth uses an extremely long Katana, and his swordsmanship abilities are kept secret. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Each character in Final Fantasy VII is different from the rest and has their own personal motive for joining the party. Although i’d personally say that 2 characters don’t really have that deep of a motive, they still contribute to the overall story, 1 of them in a sort of important way. Characters also develop quite well throughout the story, so chances are you’ll become interested and invested in at least most of the characters you’ll meet though-out the game.

Final Fantasy VII International Cloud and Tifa

Tifa discussing something important with Cloud

Most characters aren’t the same by the end of the game as they were at the start. Barett’s first impression would give off the feeling of him being an angry, reckless rebellious anarchist or terrorist. By the end of the game, you might see him as more of a father who thinks he’s fighting the good fight to help create a better planet for his daughter Marin to grow up in. Seeing some of the backstory and thought-processes of certain characters really made it feel like they truly went through a long adventure and grew as people as a result.

Next we’ll move on to graphics, something Final Fantasy VII does pretty well!

Graphics

Final Fantasy VII International disc 2 change

A prompt to change to disc 2. What kind of luck do you have to have to get Aeris…

One thing Final Fantasy VII was known for back in the day was its graphics. Anyone who saw commercials for the game on TV will vouch for that – the introduction of full blown FMVs in JRPGs was something that nobody had ever seen before (not even just JRPGs, the world had basically never seen FMVs at all at that point in time). The FMVs in Final Fantasy VII propelled the game out of the niche RPG genre and basically made Final Fantasy VII THEE Triple A blockbuster game that everyone had to play.

Final Fantasy VII International Red XIII fmv