Cosmic Fantasy case front cover

Cosmic Fantasy/コスミックファンタジー冒険少年ユウ

Cosmic Fantasy Start Menu

Cosmic Fantasy is a now defunct JRPG series that never took off outside of Japan, mostly due to the fact that the second game in the series was the only one that actually got released overseas. Despite there only being around 4 or 5 games in the entire series, Cosmic Fantasy was actually kinda popular back in the early to mid 90s in Japan!

 

Despite being known best for essentially being “Dragon Quest in space with some fan service here and there”, the Cosmic Fantasy series was able to carve out its own niche at a time when JRPGs were dime a dozen in Japan – a sort of playful “Shounen anime” vibe with some pretty funny dialog plus some panty shots all whilst traveling through space!

 

Being the first game in a new series that was released all the way back in March 1990, as well as being released on CD (a brand new medium for games at the time), Cosmic Fantasy is a rough ride. Is the original Cosmic Fantasy a glimpse into the future demise of the series? Let’s find out!

 

Score – 26/40

Story – 6/10
Gameplay – 6/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 7/10

Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Turn-Based)
Platform: PC-Engine
Release Date: JP: March 30th, 1990
Developer: LaserSoft
Publisher: Nihon Telenet
Length: 10~15 Hours

Cosmic Fantasy PCE Review

The “Graphics” section has some very slight NSFW fanservice stuff in it. Nothing too bad, but figured i’d warn you anyways…

Cosmic Fantasy Case Back Cover

The back cover of the Cosmic Fantasy case

Cosmic Fantasy is a series that us Westerners only got a slight glimpse of back in the day when Cosmic Fantasy 2 came out in English for the Turbografx-16. While it is still a niche series even within Japan nowadays, it was actually a bit popular among the sea of JRPGs back in the early 90s when the PC-Engine was still current (the PC-Engine was the second most popular home console during the 8-16bit generation sales-wise).

Cosmic Fantasy Instruction Manual

The front cover of the Cosmic Fantasy instruction manual

Cosmic Fantasy was developed and came out at an interesting time. The PC-Engine originally released back in October 30th, 1987 – just a few years after the original Famicom/NES. The PC-Engine was originally released as an 8-bit system meant to rival the original Famicom, but at the end of the 1980’s NEC released new models of the system (PC-Engine Duo/Duo-R/Duo-RX) and attachable hardware for the original PC-Engine that enabled the systems to read CD-ROMs.

Cosmic Fantasy Nishimura Tomomi

The back cover of the instruction manual featuring Nishimura Tomomi, who sings the game’s Start Menu theme song “Into the Sea of Light”.

Cosmic Fantasy was one of the very first CD-ROM based RPGs in existence, coming out just a few months after Ys I/イースI and Ys II/イースII. Creating CD-ROM based games for home consoles was still an entirely new concept at the time. CD-ROMs gave access to tons more storage space which allowed developers to add things like CD-quality music instead of MIDI/Chiptune tracks, voice-acting was finally implementable (yes, voice acting was possible back on the PC-Engine since 1989!), and fully animated cutscenes were also a possibility.

Cosmic Fantasy disc

The Cosmic Fantasy game disc

With the newfound power of CD-ROM based games, players’ expectations were really high when it came to newly released JRPGs. One problem when working with new technology is that you don’t really know how to harness it in the beginning. The switch to CD-ROM based games allowed the PC-Engine to transition from a simple 8-bit system to a 16-bit system, lining it up against the likes of the soon-to-release Super Famicom/SNES and MegaDrive/Genesis.

Cosmic Fantasy World Map

The World Map of the planet Norg where the game takes place

Considering the fact that the Super Famicom and MegaDrive continued using cartridges, the launch window games played just fine and met the expectations of players at the time. While Ys I & II were perfectly fine early releases, in the case of Cosmic Fantasy, it becomes very apparent that the developers still didn’t quite understand how to develop a game using CD-ROMs yet. If I had to categorize Cosmic Fantasy, it’d almost have to create a new term and label it as a “12-bit” game – right smack in the middle of an 8-bit game and a 16-bit game.

One could argue that there wasn’t much competition around yet so there wasn’t any “Standard” of what a CD-ROM based game SHOULD be, and I would absolutely agree with that. That’s why I was able to overlook some flaws in the game when deciding if I should actually review it or not. In this review, you’ll see me mention some things being a product of their time. I review games on this site using “eyes and ears from that point in time”, so I believe i’ll still be able to do an objective review of Cosmic Fantasy.

With all that out of the way, let’s dive into the actual review!

Story

Like I mentioned in the preface at the beginning of this post, Cosmic Fantasy plays a lot like an early Dragon Quest game. Not only in gameplay, but the way the story is told is extremely similar to Dragon Quest II and Dragon Quest III, where you get a general idea of your main goal but no real story progression regarding that main goal happens. Instead, the “story” is actually all of the little sub-stories that happen in each local town and dungeon.

Just like I did with my Dragon Quest III review, i’ll have to judge the game based off of the various sub-stories otherwise the simple “Defeat this person” story would already be a bit old by 1990 (I gave the original Dragon Quest I a pass for this due to being basically the first of its kind).

Cosmic Fantasy Story Summary

The official story summary included in the game’s official instruction manual. That alone should be enough proof that there’s not a whole lot going on in the game. Extremely paraphrased, it basically just says that the Cosmic Hunter Yuu is going to have to save the planet.

In Cosmic Fantasy, most local towns end up having essentially the same problem – some boss monster in a nearby dungeon is somehow terrorizing the local town either directly (killing/kidnapping people) or indirectly (causing more monsters to roam near the town). After beating said boss, the local townspeople thank you and you head off to the next town to do the same thing. This basically repeats until the very end of the game.

There ARE some personal character development cutscenes throughout the game but they’re very few and far between and don’t add much to the story itself, rather just between the two main characters Yuu and Saya.

I wouldn’t say Cosmic Fantasy is a game that you’d need to play if story is a big factor for you (it’s not a factor at all for me). Back in my Dragon Quest III review I gave it an 8 for the story, but that’s because there were times where there was a good amount of build-up before a certain boss, or doing things in one town had some type of effect on other towns so the “local stories” still felt connected at times. In Cosmic Fantasy, everything starts and ends in the same town – nothing you do in one town has any influence on things that happen in other towns. Except for the final boss and 1 or 2 mid-bosses, there wasn’t any sort of build-up for any of the boss fights or events that happened so nothing really felt “important”. A lot of the time it felt more like you were just doing stuff because you had some spare time to help the village elder.

All in all, there’s not really much to Cosmic Fantasy’s story. What’s actually there isn’t bad per-se, but it’s just sparse and uneventful. If they just decided to go super barebones like Wizardry I or even Romancing SaGa I could just ignore the Story section and Story score, but it seems like the developers kind of meant for there to be a story going on…so yeah definitely not much to look forward to!

Next let’s take a look at the main characters in Cosmic Fantasy!

Characters

In the “Characters” section, I always only cover the characters that are in the official manual. In Cosmic Fantasy, you’re limited to only two playable characters, so there won’t be a whole lot to cover in this section this time. Let’s check out who we’ll meet along the way!

Cosmic Fantasy Yuu

Yuu, the main character in Cosmic Fantasy

ユウ (Yuu) – Yuu is the main character in Cosmic Fantasy. Yuu is part of a group called the “Cosmic Hunters”, who travel around space looking to help any planets that seem to be in distress. In desperate situations, Yuu is able to temporarily tap into his Psychic Powers which enable him to cast magic spells.

 

 

 

Cosmic Fantasy Saya

Saya, the main heroine in Cosmic Fantasy

サヤ (Saya) – Saya is the lead heroine in Cosmic Fantasy and the only other party member in the game. A native to the planet Norg where the game takes place, she has inherited the ability to use magic. Saya decides to join Yuu on his adventure and becomes a Cosmic Hunter herself.

 

 

Cosmic Fantasy Monmo

Monmo, Yuu’s transforming robot buddy

もんも (Monmo) – Monmo is a shapeshifting robot that was given to Yuu as a present from his parents when he was younger. Usually taking the form of a motorcycle (but can transform into other things), Monmo follows Yuu around on his adventure, usually giving advice on what to do/where to go next.

 

 

Cosmic Fantasy Nyan

Nyan, the merchant who always seems to have exactly what you need

ニャン (Nyan) – Nyan is a merchant (a talking cat actually!) who travels to various planets in order to sell his goods. Though he sells items at extremely high prices and would probably run off with your money if given the chance, Nyan somehow always seems to appear whenever Yuu and Saya are in trouble – usually with just the right tool in hand to get the two out of whatever mess they ended up in.

Graphics

Slight NSFW warning. This section has some pictures/videos of Saya bathing as well as changing her clothes. Very low impact stuff, but yeah…

As I mentioned above near the start of the review, if I could i’d call Cosmic Fantasy a “12-bit” game – something that’s a little more advanced that a Famicom game but a little less advanced than a Super Famicom game. The graphics are no exception – outside of the beautifully animated cutscenes, Cosmic Fantasy’s graphics don’t have much charm to them nor do they look particularly good from a technical standpoint.

Cosmic Fantasy Character Portrait

Yuu’s portrait in the in-game menu

To start with the good stuff, Cosmic Fantasy has full-blown pixelated anime-style character portraits which look really good in the main menu (shopkeepers have portraits too but they’re nowhere near as detailed). Though you’ll only be going into that specific menu to check your characters’ stats, it’s still a pretty good addition to the game and it’s something that never really got replicated on the Super Famicom as far as I know.

Cosmic Fantasy cutscene

Yeah, this is a cutscene from a 1990 game on a home gaming console!

The absolute best thing about the game is the animated cutscenes. Similar to the Ys and Legend of Heroes games i’ve reviewed so far, throughout the game you’ll see some cool 1980s-1990s anime-style cutscenes that play at a silky-smooth 60fps. If there’s one thing the game needs to be praised for it’s definitely these cutscenes.

Cosmic Fantasy Saya changing clothes pantie shot

Thanks Nihon Telenet and LaserSoft!

In relation to the cutscenes in Cosmic Fantasy, the series was known for having some light fanservice. The Cosmic Fantasy series became known for what Japanese players call “The Promised Scene”, which is basically a single guaranteed cutscene in each game where the female lead is either slightly naked or it’s implied that she’s slightly naked.  Personally, i’m not even gonna lie, I love that kinda stuff in RPGs (the world needs more Rance), so Nihon Telenet and LaserSoft going the extra mile to try to get some of that PC88/PC98 stuff onto home consoles earned them my respect. Here’s the “Promised Scene” in Cosmic Fantasy, starring the female lead Saya.

This is also a good example to show off just how good the cutscenes look. There’s not a whole lot of animation going on in this particular one, but you should still be able to see the pixel art quality and how detailed everything is. Remember this is from 1990 – an entire year before Final Fantasy IV!

Cosmic Fantasy Field Menu

Nothing too special about the overworld. Environments aren’t really varied, and nothing is animated either…

The graphics on the overworld/in towns/in dungeons are a bit more difficult on the eyes. While they probably aren’t even the worst of the system, there’s not really a whole lot to comment on. On the overworld, you have 3 types of environments – grassy fields, water, and snowy fields. I’ll be linking a video down in the Gameplay section that shows the first dungeon – that’s what 85% of the overworld looks like. The traversable “water” area in the game is literally just a 2 or 3 minute boat ride across a small lake with water that’s completely unanimated and a boat that is just barely animated.

Inside cities it’s mostly the same thing. With the exception of just a few cities, they all use the exact same tilesets and interior design is also pretty much shared between every house in the game. There is a slight variety in NPC character appearance, but even those are copied and appear in every town. Here’s a video of me just walking around one of the towns in the game, so it should give you a good idea what a typical town looks like. There’s also a really cool cutscene in the second half of the video so definitely check that part out at least (plus another bonus mini-Promised Scene)!

Last but not least, let’s talk about the graphics in battle since that’s where you’ll be spending the majority of your time (thanks load times!). Battles actually might be the next best looking part of the game besides the cutscenes (though there aren’t any animations for spell effects…). Battles play out in typical first-person Dragon Quest style. Thankfully, the developers at least decided to add environmental backgrounds during battle!

Cosmic Fantasy Battle Screen

The very first battle background you’ll probably see in the game

The battle backgrounds actually don’t look too bad. There’s not a whole lot of variety to them because the backgrounds are based on your current ENVIRONMENT, rather than being based off of the specific tile you were on when the encounter happened. While a lot of games would have a different battle background based on fighting on a dirt trail, on grassy plains, or in a dense forest, Cosmic Fantasy would show the exact same battle background for all 3 scenarios. This isn’t a real big nitpick, but again there’s so much wasted CD-ROM potential here. There’s no way the game was anywhere close to not being able to fit on a single CD-ROM, so they can’t blame storage space like a lot of old game companies did.

In battle, monsters look pretty good actually. Not only is there a fair amount of monster sprite variety, the sprites themselves are decently detailed for a game from 1990. Regular monsters aren’t animated, so while they look nice, there’s not much actually going on during battle. Here’s a brief example of what some of the monsters look like in Cosmic Fantasy.

Although regular monsters aren’t animated, SOME bosses are. I’m not entirely sure what the criteria was for a boss to be animated or not, as it seems like a lot of the “whatever” bosses were animated while a lot of the “big” bosses were static. For example, this boss here has a pretty big build-up as you can see with the amount of cutscenes going on and the double boss fight, but even then she isn’t animated. It’s really just seems to be hit or miss.

Down in the Gameplay section i’ll have a video of one of the animated bosses, so definitely check that one out (the video is only around 40 seconds long)!

Cosmic Fantasy Treasure Chest

These two treasure chests here, have they been looted or are they still unopened? Well, you’ll just have to walk all the way over to them and check for yourself…

All that’s left to mention is something that just reeks of low effort. As you’ll see in the first gameplay video down in the Gameplay section, both “open” and “closed” treasure chests use the exact same sprite. Yes, after opening a chest and grabbing the item, the chest just sits there in the closed state. Even primitive early Famicom/NES RPGs had separate open and closed chest sprites! Judging from the graphical quality in Cosmic Fantasy, adding an open chest sprite probably would have taken the artist an hour TOPS. This might not sound like much, but based on how maze-like the dungeons are you’ll definitely make a mistake and check chests you’ve already opened previously.

That should cover everything worth talking about in regards to the graphics in Cosmic Fantasy. Battles and Cutscenes aside, Cosmic Fantasy sadly looks extremely generic. Don’t play the game expecting bright and colorful worlds. Instead come in expecting 45% dark green, 45% brown, and a mix of other colors making up the remaining 10%.

Gameplay

For the most part, Cosmic Fantasy plays like your standard late 80s ~ early 90s Dragon Quest clone (right down to having to open a menu and select “talk” to talk to NPCs), particularly Dragon Quest 3 where the game revolves around solving some problem the current village you’re in is facing before being able to move on.  This cycle repeats in every single area, so you already know what to expect when you cross a bridge and enter a new area.

Like every other JRPG at the time, the typical game loop is to go to a town, get a quest from the Village Elder to go to some cave and kill so boss, all while killing monsters for EXP to level up and get Gold to buy new gear. Anyone who’s played any Famicom/NES or Super Famicom/SNES RPG will feel right at home.

In Cosmic Fantasy, your characters level up at a fairly decent pace. At any given time you’re probably only 15 fights away from leveling, which doesn’t sound like much if you’re used to Final Fantasy battle systems. The battle system itself in Cosmic Fantasy isn’t really that bad – you have your typical Attack, Defend, Item, Spells, and Flee options, as well as a very useful “Auto Attack” command. The way the game is balanced, you end up killing monsters pretty fast. Ending fights is quick and easy, but there’s one gigantic flaw in Cosmic Fantasy, so much so that Japanese players jokingly call it “The Real Last Boss”.

Cosmic Fantasy is the slowest loading game i’ve ever played BY FAR, across all consoles/PC. Anytime you do anything that requires a loading screen (zoning into town, sleeping at inns, fighting monsters) you have to deal with at the very minimum a ~10-second black loading screen. You’re actually LUCKY if you get a 10 second loading screen – the longest load screen I got hit with was a minute and 7 seconds (JUST TO LOAD INTO THE BATTLE), yes I started timing the load times because it was getting ridiculous, after which the battle itself ended in less than 10 seconds. Loading back out to the overworld took another 20 seconds. So you have a minute and a half of loading to do a 10 second fight.

This is something you’ll notice straight away (I actually thought my game froze when I got into my first battle because I procced a near 30-second load screen) and something that continues until the very end of the game. I researched a lot of Japanese sites to find out what this was all about and the general consensus is that the game was designed to load everything on the disk at run time, which means that each time you go into battle the game has to load everything from the disk. Every time. Just talking about the load screens doesn’t do it justice, so here’s a video of a brief run-through of the very first dungeon in the game. I mean, look at this…

Cosmic Fantasy final save

My final save clocking in at probably around 15 hours. 10 of those being black loading screens.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this. I don’t believe Cosmic Fantasy save files show your total game time so I have to make a rough estimate, but i’d say it took me around 15 hours to beat the game. Probably close to 8-10 hours of that was from loading screens alone. There’s probably only 5-7 hours of “actual” content in the game.

I feel bad having to rag on the game right at the beginning of the Gameplay section, but this game has absolutely unacceptable load times. Thankfully the encounter rate isn’t as crazy as games like Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes and Rudra no Hihou or else I honestly would have just dropped the game within the first hour or two. This alone is gonna be a solid minus to whatever score i’d originally give the Gameplay score.

Cosmic Fantasy Spell List

The official spell list included in the instruction manual. Pay attention to the static MP costs!

Back to leveling, leveling up in Cosmic Fantasy increases your stats and lets you learn new spells. The stat increase themselves have barely any noticeable effect besides increased HP and MP. The real benefit of leveling up is learning new spells. Spells are extremely effective in Cosmic Fantasy – so much so that you won’t be able to beat most of the bosses in the game without using any. Cosmic Fantasy does something great that, for some odd reason, other games never seem to want to copy even to this day – spells that level-up but retain the original MP cost!

Here’s an example to get a rough feeling of what I mean. In a typical Final Fantasy game, “Cure” might cost 5 MP, “Cura” might cost 10 MP, and “Curaga” might cost 15MP. In Cosmic Fantasy, “Cure”, “Cura” and “Curaga” would all cost 5MP, even though “Curaga” would heal for 5 times as much as Cure does. I absolutely love this style of spell progression and wish a lot more games chose to use it back in the day. It really makes getting new spells tons of fun because you know that your overall damage or healing potential just doubled, instead of having to decide if you want to cast “Fire” or “Fira” based on how much HP you think a monster has left to avoid overkilling it and wasting MP!

In Cosmic Fantasy, the main character Yuu can’t directly cast spells. Throughout dungeons, Yuu will sort of get pissed off over what that dungeon’s boss has done and goes into a kind of psychotic rage, which temporarily grants him the ability to use a special set of magic only available to him. These abilities are gained by leveling up, just like regular magic, but considering they’re limited-time spells, they’re much stronger than any of the basic spells in the game.

Now that we covered the leveling mechanics in the game, let’s talk about equipment. Equipment is where most of your power is going to come from throughout the game (besides spells), rather than from leveling up. Equipment in Cosmic Fantasy is actually very cheap by old-school JRPG standard, you’ll rarely have to farm for Gold in order to buy the best gear in the next town.

Cosmic Fantasy NPC portrait

They even went through all the trouble to add a portrait for shopkeepers, too…

This is where another part of the game’s unpolished-ness shines (smooth joke!). Cosmic Fantasy isn’t the only game to do this so it’s not specific to this game (Elnard/The 7th Saga also does this, if I remember right), but when buying equipment there’s no way to see if it’s weaker or stronger than what you’re already using until you buy it and check your stats yourself. Even something as simple as an arrow pointing upwards or downwards would have been nice. You’ll of course be right most of the time if you just assume that the more expensive an item is the better it is, but even then shops usually have weapons + limited-use items so you don’t have any way of even knowing if you’re about to purchase actual equipment or an item that’ll break after a few uses in battle.

To quickly follow-up on Equipment, there’s another questionable design choice the developers made. If you already have, say, a Broadsword, and you find a chest in a dungeon that has a Broadsword inside of it, you can’t pick it up. I could see if there were “Unique Items” that you could only carry one of, but this happens with every piece of equipment in the game. This means you can’t pre-buy good equipment from a town and then sell any extras you find in dungeons to recuperate some of the money you spent like you can in 99.9% of other RPGs in existence. Prices for things aren’t too bad in Cosmic Fantasy so you don’t really NEED to sell gear in the first place, but just as an overall design decision I don’t get what the developers were trying to go for.

Fighting in Cosmic Fantasy is fairly simple. Throughout the game, you’ll mostly be able to get by with just auto-attacks. While all Yuu can do for most of the game is Attack, Saya is the one who actually becomes a powerhouse later on. There are different elemental staves in the game that Saya can equip, which attack ALL ENEMIES at once, essentially a free high mana cost AoE spell. Towards the end of the game, Saya can clear entire groups of enemies within two turns, meaning you almost never have to worry about mana problems outside of boss fights.

Most boss fights also follow a simple formula. You either burst them down in a few turns with Yuu’s psychic spells or you dedicate Saya to healing while Yuu chips away at them. The boss fights end really fast – most of them don’t even last 30 seconds. I was really surprised by this considering some bosses have somewhat “grand” introductions (short cutscenes), only to be dead within 3 or 4 turns…here’s a boss fight from around the middle of the game that’s just like that. You spend around an hour/hour and a half trying to track this boss down only to beat her in 6 turns.

The difficulty balance in Cosmic Fantasy is okay overall. The beginning is tough because you don’t have any good spells or staves, but once you get a staff and some Tier 2 spells, the game basically becomes a cakewalk except for the final boss. Though the game looks, sounds, and plays “Nintendo Hard”, it’s actually not that hard of a game at all. The dungeons are pretty confusing though, especially some of the later ones, but thankfully the monsters usually aren’t that hard so rather than adding difficulty to the game, it just pads out your game time.

In terms of Gameplay, that’s honestly really all there is to Cosmic Fantasy. It’s a game that if you took out the loading screens, you’d be able to finish it in a single afternoon. In Cosmic Fantasy, you’ll be going town to town solving local problems until you get to the final dungeon of the game. There aren’t any deep systems or mechanics, no real character customization, and with a max party size of only 2 characters, there’s not really a whole lot to the battles either.

If you like straight-forward, sometimes even “bare-bones” feeling JRPGs, you’ll be satisfied with Cosmic Fantasy. If you’re looking for a somewhat deep game that requires strategy or you enjoy min-maxing your characters, i’m afraid you won’t find any of that here. This is basically a straight up old-school Dragon Quest clone with a very slight “Space” theme (it’s similar to how Star Ocean is a “Space” game), so definitely expect that going in.

Next up is the Music section. I feel bad saying it but Cosmic Fantasy has without a doubt the worst OST out of all the games i’ve reviewed so far.

Music

To be honest, the music in Cosmic Fantasy is extremely average. For every good song there’s one or two bad ones just around the corner. Maybe i’ve been spoiled by all of the Nihon Falcom CD-ROM games i’ve reviewed so far at the time of this post (Ys IYs IIYs III, and Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes) and imagined they were the rule and not the exception, but Cosmic Fantasy’s music is simple 8-bit sounding MIDI stuff. If Cosmic Fantasy was a Hu-Card game or a game for another cartridge-based system I wouldn’t care very much, but there’s so much wasted CD-ROM potential going on here.

The voice acting in Cosmic Fantasy is really good though actually – way better than the 4 Nihon Falcom games I mentioned above! The sound is very clear and you can tell the voice actors put in a lot of effort into their lines. There are quite a few voiced cutscenes in Cosmic Fantasy, so the voice acting definitely stands out among the rest of the game’s qualities. Thanks to the voice acting, i’ll be able to give Cosmic Fantasy a few more points for the “Music” score.

Cosmic Fantasy was also ground-breaking at the time for the mere fact that, as far as I know, it was the first game ever to have a song with actual human vocals (on home consoles at least, there’s so much PC-88 and PC-98 stuff that I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a game that did it earlier)! After Cosmic Fantasy released there were other PC-Engine games that eventually followed suit, but if you look outside of the PC-Engine, the closest game that I know of that also has vocals is Tales of Phantasia for the Super Famicom which came out a whopping 5 years later! It’s pretty hard to understand how a game that was either the first game ever or at least one of the first games ever to have a song with vocals ends up having such a lackluster OST…

One big thing I regret having to mention is that one of the dungeon themes in Cosmic Fantasy is the worst track i’ve ever heard in a game across all genres (except games that use real music like GTA, Gran Turismo) in my entire 26-year gaming career. I always post my favorite OST songs in this section, but this time I just have to add the garbage dungeon theme – it definitely deserves a public shaming…

Alright, so we’ll go ahead and get the terrible dungeon theme out of the way first. It might not have been bad if it first appeared later on in the game, but this song plays in the very first dungeon in the game (and many more throughout the game…), which you’ll probably reach within the first 15 minutes of the game…is it just me? Do you think this sounds like a dungeon theme at all, let alone a good one?…

Okay, now with that train-wreck of a song out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the “better” songs. To wash the last song out of our ears, let’s check out the overworld map theme. If you like it, you’re in luck because you’re guaranteed to hear at least the first 10 seconds of it after every battle thanks to the abysmal load times. I like it though, it gives off a sort of “happy-go-lucky” adventure feeling, which is what most of the game is!

 

Up next we have the regular boss battle theme. Not too bad, and considering how spread out the boss fights are in Cosmic Fantasy, chances are you won’t grow tired of it by the time you finish the game!

Like I said, the OST is pretty average so there aren’t as many songs that I want to show as there usually are. For the last one, we have the game’s Start Menu theme, “Into the Sea of Light”. This time I can actually post my own video which is nice for once! If only the rest of the game’s OST had this sound quality, it might have saved quite of few songs…

I know it sounds like i’m coming off pretty strict this time around. I don’t mind MIDI music (actually I love MIDI music to be honest – i’m a sucker for basically anything MIDI). If the developers purposefully decided to stick with MIDI music as a design choice then i’d be a lot more lenient with the “Music” score, but by just listening to the compositions of the songs themselves and how a lot of songs don’t feel suitable for the areas they’re played in, I personally think the OST just took the backseat during development.

Overall, besides that horrendous dungeon theme, along with a few other “blah” sounding songs, the OST is fairly average. Nothing to gush about and nothing I would really recommend someone to go listen to in their free time, but it’s also not an OST that’ll force you to play the game with the sound off. Dragon Quest XI is the only game that has forced me to mute the game so far…

Should you play it?

This one is a tough call to be honest. I personally did end up enjoying the game overall and I eventually plan on playing Cosmic Fantasy 2. My only piece of advice is to think of the game mostly as a PC-Engine Hu-Card game (the 8-bit cartridges for the PC-Engine) that needlessly got thrown onto a CD, or an either very high-tech Famicom/very low-tech Super Famicom game.

Cosmic Fantasy Yuu and Saya cutscene

The game’s cutscenes are definitely worth checking out

If you enjoy old-school games (we’re talking pre-Final Fantasy IV/ファイナルファンタジーIV) and don’t mind a complete lack of polish (this is a 1990 game so “Quality of Life” still wasn’t even a concept yet) then I think you’ll find some things to enjoy in Cosmic Fantasy. While it does have the PC-Engine perks going for it (animated cutscenes, voice acting), it really does feel like a primitive Famicom/Nintendo JRPG with a very slight paintjob. If you love the original 3 Dragon Quest games you’ll feel at home playing Cosmic Fantasy. Just, again, be ready for those 10 second ~ 1 minute load times before every battle…

Which version should you play?

As far as i’m aware, there are only two versions of Cosmic Fantasy – this version for the PC-Engine and a separate game called “Cosmic Fantasy Stories” for the Mega-CD that bundles Cosmic Fantasy 1 and 2 together in a single game. I haven’t played Stories and i’ve only seen a little bit of it on Youtube, but the rage-inducing load times seem to be gone and the graphical quality improved by quite a bit. These things alone would almost make it worth picking up, but I haven’t seen enough of Stories to know if there are any other changes such as more/less content and better/worse game balance.

Cosmic Fantasy is going to get barely just enough points to get reviewed on this site. That might sound “bad”, but the fact that it still has a high enough score to get reviewed means it’s still worth a play. Might be best to play it after you’ve finished your backlog though…

Final Score – 26/40

Story – 6/10
Gameplay – 6/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 7/10

Cosmic Fantasy End Screen

If you’re interested, here’s a video of the game’s ending. It shows the last boss fight and the ending cutscenes/credits, so only watch if you don’t care about spoiling the ending for yourself!

! ! ! ! ! SPOILER ALERT – BELOW IS A VIDEO OF THE GAME’S LAST BOSS AND ENDING ! ! ! ! !

Ys III pc-engine case front cover

Ys III/イースIII

Ys III opening screen

Ys III, known as “Ys III: Wanderers from Ys” overseas, is the 3rd game in the Ys series and the 2nd game in the series released on the PC-Engine. Due to extreme changes in gameplay, so much so that the game ends up being a completely different genre than the first two games, Ys III is often referred to as the “Black Sheep” of the Ys series in the West.

 

Though the game plays entirely different than Ys I and II, the game retains everything that the Ys series in known for – a godlike OST (easily the best out of the first 3 games in my opinion), fun combat, challenging bosses, and of course Adol himself!

 

Does being the “Black Sheep” of a series automatically make a game bad? Let’s find out!

Score – 33/40

Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 10/10

Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Action)
Platform: PC-Engine
Release Date: JP: March 22nd, 1991/US: 1991 (exact date unknown)
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Length: 5~10 Hours

Ys III PCE Review

Ys III pc-engine case back cover

The back of the case of the Japanese PC-Engine version of Ys III

Ys III has a bit of an interesting history to it. If you read through the introduction at the beginning of the review, you’d notice that I talked about how Ys III has a lot of gameplay changes that classify the game as a different genre from the first two games. The reason for that is Ys III wasn’t originally meant to be an Ys game at all. It was originally designed to be its own game, but during development the higher-ups at Nihon Falcom decided that they should suddenly turn it into an Ys game! This change actually caused a decent amount of staff to up and quit working for Falcom altogether, but that’s another story…

Ys III disc

The Ys III disc

You might have noticed the length of the game is estimated at 5~10 hours. The early Ys games are already fairly short as is, but Ys III is definitely the shortest of the first 3 games – my blind clear was probably only around 6 or 7 hours, and that was with me getting “lost” for about half an hour. This means that if you put your mind to it, you can easily clear Ys III in a single afternoon, which is really nice!

Ys III pc-engine instruction manual front cover

The front cover of the Ys III instruction manual

As you can imagine, since Ys III is a side-scrolling RPG that’s only around 5 or 6 hours long, there’s not a whole lot of content stuffed into the game story-wise and gameplay-wise. Ys III is a quick, fun romp through some cool areas with some awesome music along the way – the perfect game for those who are looking for a quick adventure without having too much stuff to keep track of!

Ys III pc-engine instruction manual back cover

Again, that out-of-place trademark Hudson Soft mustard color back cover of the instruction manual

Even though I said there wasn’t much story in the game, there is still some stuff going on throughout the adventure, so let’s take a quick look at what’s going on in Ys III.

 

 

 

Story

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

Ys III opening ending cutscene with adol and dogi

Adol and Dogi setting out on their next adventure!

After the events of Ys I & II, Adol and his friend Dogi are in the middle of another adventure when Dogi hears some rumors about recent troubles in his hometown of Redmont, in the Felghana region. Adol and Dogi being the brave adventurers they are, the two decide go to check out the situation for themselves.

Upon arriving in Redmont, Adol and Dogi learn that the lord of the nearby Valestein Castle has been sending his men to threaten the people of Redmont, demanding that they hand over 4 sculptures that are known to exist within the region. Rumor has it that the lord wants to gather all 4 sculptures for himself, but nobody truly knows why…

Ys III pc-engine instruction manual world map

The “World Map” for the region of Felghana, where the entirety of the game takes place

Since Ys III is an extremely short game (less than 10 hours) and it’s a side-scrolling dungeon crawler with just a single town, there’s not a whole lot of story-related stuff to keep track of. Most story stuff consists of quick conversations with a character inside of some room in a dungeon, very similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲.

Your overall main goal of the game is to try to collect the 4 sculptures, and most interactions with characters don’t actually directly relate to that at all. There are a few exceptions where the entire point of a conversation is to learn where a sculpture is hidden, but most of them are just characters saying they saw somebody going in or out of a dungeon recently or “progress reports” with a certain reoccurring character.

I don’t think anyone would claim that the story in Ys III is its main selling point, and i’m sure the developers wouldn’t claim that either. The story isn’t bad at all, and considering that games in the late 80’s and early 90’s still mostly consisted of “defeat the Evil Demon King” or “collect so-and-so to defeat the Evil Demon King”, Ys III’s story would have been fairly typical back in 1991. Not bad, but nothing exceptionally special either – just something to sort of guide you throughout the game!

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

Characters

For all reviews on my site, I only introduce characters that are shown within the official instruction manuals for each game. For some games it’s fine because they list a good amount of characters in the manuals, but some games list very few characters, as is the case here with Ys III. It might look like i’m slacking in this section, but the official manual only includes 3 characters, and not only that the descriptions are only a sentence or two each. Therefore this is going to end up being a fairly short section…

Ys III adol christin

Adol Christin, the main hero in the Ys series and the character you’ll be controlling the entire game

アドル・クリスティン (Adoru Kurisutin, Adol Christin) – Adol is the main hero in the Ys series. After saving the Land of Ys, he set off on another adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

Ys III dogi

Dogi, Adol’s buddy since very first game

ドギ (Dogi) – An ex-thief who’s been traveling together with Adol since meeting him back in Ys I. Not cool enough to get a last name it seems…

 

 

 

 

Ys III elena

Elena, Dogi’s childhood friend who still lives in Dogi’s hometown of Redmont

エレナ (Erena, Elena) – Elena is a old childhood friend of Dogi’s. Now she’s grown up to be a beautiful young woman.

 

 

 

 

 

These are the three “main” characters you’ll be seeing throughout the game, with paraphrased descriptions based off of the  Japanese descriptions in the manual. Considering the type of game Ys III is, you’ll really only meet Dogi and Elena just a few times each, so you honestly can’t call them “main” characters, but they’re more prominent than everyone else except for a certain character who has quite a bit to do with the story but isn’t shown in the manual.

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

Graphics

I’ll have to admit right up front, the only other side-scrolling games i’ve reviewed so far are Valkyrie Profile/ヴァルキリープロファイル and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲, both for the PS1. These games were much easier to score mostly due to the fast that once the PS1 era hit, almost everyone tried to make everything in 3D, so not only were there not a whole lot of side-scrolling games, there definitely weren’t many side-scrolling RPG games.

While there weren’t many side-scrolling “RPGs” back in the 16-bit era, there were definitely a ton of side-scrolling games in general. I never had any interest in side-scrolling shooters or platformers, so to be honest I don’t really have much to compare Ys III to, so i’ll just be fair and score it as is, rather than comparing it to other games that came out around the same time.

Now, onto the game itself! Ys III starts off with another beautifully animated cutscene, showing Adol and Dogi setting sail from Ys, with some shots of their new adventure together. Ys I & II also had some cool cutscenes, but I feel like Falcom took what they learned from Ys I & II and stepped it up a bit more. The cutscenes feel more “cinematic”, with a lot more shots of locations from far away showing Adol and Dogi traveling through forests and mountains.

Ys III opening cutscene with adol and dogi

A screenshot doesn’t do it justice, but here’s an example of the much more detailed cutscenes in Ys III

There’s also a lot more detail shown this time. The characters show emotions better through various different facial expressions – instead of still shots of characters, now you’ll be able to see their eyes glimmering and hair blowing in the wind. Environments have things like animated sunrays beaming through trees. While the cutscenes in Ys I & II were already incredible, Ys III manages to take them a step further! Just a shame that like Ys I & II, there are only a few cutscenes like this in the entire game…

Here’s the opening cutscene in its entirety. Definitely check it out!

During gameplay, Ys III looks pretty nice actually. While Ys III is a different type of game compared to Ys I & II (a side-scroller this time, rather than a top-down game), it still retains that “Ys” feeling in terms of the world, environments, and monsters.

Ys III inside the tigrey mines

Once again a screenshot can’t convey it properly, but the waterfall in the background continuously flows and sparkles

Similar to Ys II, there are various different environments you’ll get to trek through in Ys III, such as caves, mountain tops, castles, ruin, and volcanoes. Each area looks unique with detailed backgrounds, many of which are either animated or scrolling, which is really cool to see in real-time!

Ys III Illburns Ruins

The Illburns Ruins, a map that looks good but runs bad…

Some of the maps in Ys III are stacked with up to 3 or 4 separate scrolling and animated layers in the background. For example, while you move, some hills in the near background might move at a separate pace compared to bigger mountains further away in the background, all while clouds in the sky are soaring across the screen. This looks fantastic most of the time, but there are a few instances where the developers (or artists?) went a bit overboard, causing the game’s performance to drop considerably on certain maps.

You can find an example of this in the outside areas of the Illburns Ruins section of the game, which has the typical scrolling foreground (what you move around on), 2 separate scrolling background layers, a static non-scrolling background layer, and a scrolling layer for the clouds in the sky, adding up to a total of 5 separate layers being used, 4 of which are moving at the exact same time. Add Adol moving around and several enemies moving around on screen at once and the difference in performance compared to the rooms just before going outside is extremely noticeable in-game. Check out a video of it happening below.

The game’s performance only drops in extreme cases like in the video above, so overall all the scrolling backgrounds are really cool and add a ton of depth and atmosphere to the areas. The overdone maps are few and far between, so even though they do kinda mess the game up temporarily, they aren’t prevalent enough to consider a real negative – the performance drops are just something I wanted to point out. I definitely do appreciate the effort, though!

Within each environment, you’ll find lots of different monsters roaming around. Monster design is similar to what you’d find back in Ys I & II. Monsters are fully animated, and while due to the type of games Ys I & II were all monsters were grounded, in Ys III you’ll see monsters flying and jumping around the screen this time. There is plenty of monster variation in the game, so each new area will bring a slew of new monster types and animations to check out.

Ys III does actually run at 60fps, but monsters aren’t animated in 60fps for some reason like they were back in the first two games. This time, monsters almost have this weird phasing effect that makes them look like they’re moving and animating at half the speed of everything else on the map. Since Ys I & II could have quite a few sprites on screen at once, I don’t know if it’s an issue with sprites slowing down on accident because of all the other scrolling stuff going on, or if it was just a design decision.

When you’re actually running through the levels and fighting stuff you don’t really notice the difference in player/monster speed, but if you sit on a ledge somewhere and just watch the monsters walk back and forth, there’s no way you can miss it. Since you won’t really notice it if you’re actually “playing” the game, this is also another thing that I don’t really consider a negative, it just kind of made me wonder why they were slowed down so much.

Sprites themselves in Ys III are for the most part rather simple, or so I’d like to think. The speed of the gameplay makes it kind of hard to get a real good look at the detail of most sprites, especially flying monsters that zoom all around the map. Bosses have fairly large sprites and a lot more detail than basic monsters, but since you’ll be spending most of your time trying to dodge all of their attacks, you won’t really be able to get a very good look at them. The only sprites you can actually get a good look at are the NPCs back in Redmont or Adol himself. Adol basically looks exactly like how you would imagine he would look like from the side back in Ys I & II.

Ys III balestine castle

Adol running through the Valestein Castle

Adol is always walking with his weapon drawn (weapons don’t change based on equipment, but even 10 years from the time Ys III came out that still wasn’t common), and his shield raised, just like he did in the first two games. Due to the viewing angle of the game, you can’t see any actual detail in his face, but he still has the trademark red hair to prove he’s the same Adol.

Adol also has just a few animations – his walking animation, his “prone” animation, his attack animation, and prone attack animation. Jumping just uses the “standing” animation, so it basically looks like Adol’s hovering in the air while jumping, no leg bending or anything happening. Since Adol doesn’t have that odd monster animation slowdown, everything he does looks a lot smoother.

Of course, since Ys I & II had the Bump Combat system, the game essentially only had walking animations for everything except bosses. That means that even though Ys III doesn’t have too many different animations, it still has more compared to the previous games, so technically Ys III is a step up from the previous two games!

Ys III heading to the tigrey mines

The outside area of the Tigray Quarry, which is only a 5 or so second long map, but it has the best music in the game AND looks great to boot!

I think that just about covers the Graphics section for Ys III. Even though there are some minor graphic-related issues in the game, overall the game looks pretty nice. The varied environments paired with the cool backgrounds adding depth and atmosphere to the maps works really well. Even though it’s a short game, there’s plenty to explore and see within the world of Ys III!

Next up we’ll cover the gameplay, which is the biggest change in Ys III and the main thing that causes the game to often be considered the Black Sheep of the entire series!

Gameplay

As i’ve mentioned many times already and shown above, Ys III is a side-scrolling RPG. The change from top-down to side-scrolling aside, the gameplay elements of Ys III are almost exactly the same as the first two games. Just like before, your main goal in Ys III is to kill enemies to get Gold to buy new gear and level up to get better stats and higher HP, in order to defeat bosses and obtain quest items to be able to progress further on your journey. One quick look at the menu screen, stats, and main HUD and you’ll know this is a PC-Engine Ys game.

Ys III world map

Selecting Redmont on the Area Select screen

As you might expect from an early 1990’s side-scroller, there isn’t a whole lot of room for complexity. Ys III plays just like you might imagine – you select zones to explore from the overworld (new zones unlock as you progress, but you can backtrack to any zones you’ve been to before) and then head inside a dungeon/castle/ruin to either defeat a boss or retrieve an item. The actual “gameplay” itself is extremely simple – you essentially just keep walking to the right while either attacking stuff or jumping over/dodging stuff (you’ll have to dodge some environmental stuff towards the end of the game). While you could say “all you do in Ys I & II is walk into things” (and you’d be right), maybe it’s just me but the change to side-scrolling just made everything SEEM a lot simpler.

Just like in the first two games, Gold you get from monsters is used to buy gear and eventually some single-use items. Another similarity to the first two games is that you can really only buy the first tier or two of gear from shops, after that you’ll have to find the higher tiers of gear in dungeons. This means that in order to have a smooth experience in the beginning, you’ll probably have to grind for 15 or 20 minutes near the start to get some gear upgrades. Here’s a quick video of me doing exactly that at the beginning of the game (didn’t even really feel like grinding since combat in Ys III is a bit more “active”).

Thankfully, Gold is actually pretty plentiful in Ys III compared to the first two games. Not only is Gold plentiful, but EXP is too! You level insanely fast in Ys III, to the point where you won’t have to grind for EXP at all – you’ll most likely be max level before you even get to the last dungeon. Stat bonuses on level-up are a lot bigger than the first two games. A single level can sometimes boost individual stats by 10 or 15, which is almost as much as a Tier upgrade in gear! A general rule in Ys games is that if a boss is giving you trouble you should go grind a single level and try again. In Ys III, grinding this single level will make you absolutely stomp the boss.

Just like the first two games, you’re still gonna be level capped by the time you get to the last boss. In the early Ys games it’s not possible to “overlevel” to make the final boss fight a bit more manageable. The last boss fights in Ys games are known to be extremely hard, so even though you can grind a bit to stomp the random bosses throughout the game, you’ll still have to test yourself in order to beat the final boss!

The other way to get stronger in Ys III is through the use of Rings you’ll find throughout the game. Rings existed back in Ys I as equippable passive effects (STR/DEF increases, healing over time, and a screen-wide monster speed reduction), but this time they work similar to the Shield Magic in Ys II. Equipping Rings in Ys III can once again increase your stats or heal you over time, but equipping a Ring decreases your MP every second. MP can only be restored properly through single-use items, leveling up, or resting back in Redmont (you do regen 1MP every time you kill an enemy, though).

Aside from the final dungeon, Rings don’t NEED to be used in order to beat regular monsters or for exploring dungeons like they did back in Ys I or like magic did in Ys II. You will need to use them during boss fights, however. This means that you don’t really have to worry about managing your MP at all like you had to back in Ys II. Every single boss fight except for the last one is a zerg-fest (is “zerg” too old-school nowadays? guess nowadays it’s probably “burst”-fest? a “dps”-race?), so even though you’ll be equipping Rings you’ll probably only spend like 10% of your MP per boss.

Here’s a quick example showing what happens when you play terribly and have to use your Rings so much that you actually run out of MP!

I’m sure my lack of experience with the genre might mean that there will be a ton of people who disagree with me on this, but I kind of feel like Ys III is a primitive “Metroidvania” type game. While not entirely the same, Ys III did give off some Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲 vibes.

Ys III doesn’t take place within a single progressive map like Symphony of the Night does, but the side-scrolling combat mixed with leveling up/gear progression and areas being locked behind story progression or needing certain items and backtracking between maps just gave me a similar feeling. Again, it is definitely way more primitive than Symphony of the Night, and maybe i’m not grasping the entire meaning of the “Metroidvania” genre, but I think if you like one of these games you’d probably like the other. Completely unnecessary plug, but DEFINITELY go play Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲 because that game is an absolute masterpiece in almost every way.

That sums up the gameplay in Ys III. The first two games were already rather simple – innovative and fun, sure, but bumping into enemies while leveling up and collecting money for gear is still simplistic. Ys III basically just takes Ys I & II, looks at it from the side, and forces you to swing at things instead of just letting you walk into them.

Of course, if you didn’t know that Ys III was originally meant to be a non-Ys game, having a single side-scrolling game and then having the next game go back to the original formula of I & II would be extremely mind-boggling, but if you liked Ys I & II, there’s no real reason to not give Ys III a try. Take it from me, before playing Symphony of the Night I thought side-scrollers were all low-effort boring games for toddlers and people who don’t actually play games (I played them when I was a toddler, so not even using that as an insult). So if someone like me who despised side-scrollers can enjoy Ys III a lot, i’m sure everyone else will enjoy it too!

Up next, we’ll take a look at Ys III’s music, bar none the best part of the game – by a mile!

Music

Nihon Falcom strikes again! If you’ve checked out my Ys I & II review or my Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes review, you’d know that these early PC-Engine Nihon Falcom games hit that sweet spot for me and basically get automatic 10’s for the Music score. Well, Ys III is no different!

Even though Ys III is a really short game, Nihon Falcom didn’t skimp on the soundtrack at all! To be completely honest, I personally think the Ys III OST blows the Ys I & II OST out of the water. If I could, i’d probably give this game an 11 for the Music score, but 10 is as high as I can go, rules are rules…

Now, you’re probably thinking “there’s no way the Black Sheep of the Ys series can get something like an 11 for music…”, so let me change your mind real quick.

First up, we have the Ys III opening theme. Ys games always have a killer opening theme, so this is definitely one area where Ys III is just like all the other games in the series! I always say it, but the PC-Engine Ys games have that 1980’s Jpop/City Pop on lockdown!

The game wastes no time throwing 11/10 level tracks at you. The second you leave town and head for the first dungeon, this masterpiece starts playing. Easily one of the best songs i’ve ever heard in my entire 26 years of gaming. The only crime in Ys III is that you can run through every map that plays this song in less than 15 seconds each, which means you’ll never hear the song in its entirety unless you purposely set out to…

Once you’re done listening to the awesome “map transition” theme above and set foot into the first dungeon in the game, then you’ll get to hear this awesome song. Definitely aren’t any other games from this era with this good of a double-hitter right out of the gates, I guarantee it!

Basically every dungeon theme in Ys III is masterclass, but one stands triumphantly above the rest – the theme for the final “dungeon” in the game, Valestein Castle. Talk about saving the best for last – check this one out!

As i’m sure you can see (hear?), the Ys III soundtrack is more than deserving of breaking a perfect 10. I will admit that I wasn’t a fan of the generic boss theme, but considering how much of a zergfest the boss fights are in Ys III, chances are you’ll never really hear more than 10 or 15 seconds of it anyways, so I didn’t find it that much of a negative. Aside from that, this OST is filled to the brim with awesome music – way more than a game this size needs! Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing in its entirety below!

Just like Ys I & II, Ys III has voiced cutscenes within the game. The English version of the game has a reputation of having horrendous voice acting, but as usual the Japanese version’s voice acting is up to snuff. Compared to Ys I & II, the sound quality of the voice acting is actually worse – while they did lower the BGM volume during cutscenes, the volume for voices is lowered too, and the voices are far back in the mix so it almost sounds like everyone’s talking from the back of a cave. I know that having voice acting alone was a technical marvel back in the early 90s so I don’t see “bad voice audio quality” as a negative at all, but some of the voiced parts were a tad bit difficult to catch.

Here’s a quick video to give you a general idea of the audio quality i’m talking about. It actually sounds a lot better through my headset here after listening to it again, but playing it through my TV was a lot worse…

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

East vs. West

Along with Ys I & II, Ys III is one of the few PC-Engine RPGs to actually get a Western release. Ys III being a game from 1991 – a time when apparently not a single person could speak both English and Japanese, the opening cutscene received the typical adlib script butchering. Here are the two main differences.

  • The evil demon is called Demonicus in English, but in Japanese it’s called Galbaran.
  • In the same cutscene, “Demonicus” is slain and sealed by an unnamed hero in the Japanese version, but in the English version they randomly insist that the hero is Adol (that would make him hundreds of years old…come on guys…). This is hitting Fan “Translation”-levels of “making shit up”!

I actually checked out the English versions script and besides the opening cutscene, everything else seems to check-out which is kind of surprising. I guess the person who did the opening cutscene could read Japanese but their listening just sucked…(eye-sight was bad too…)

Should you play it?

I kinda went ahead and talked about this at the end of the “Gameplay” section, but I really do think you should give Ys III a shot. Sure it’s different from the first two games, but when you think about it Ys III is still extremely early in the series, so it’s not like Falcom suddenly changed things after 10 or 15 years of fan expectations. Even if you’re a Bump Combat Ys purist, if you just imagine that the main character is another red-head and not Adol, you’ll probably be able to enjoy the game a lot.

Not only is the game just kinda fun to play with an awesome soundtrack playing at all times, it’s super short – I beat it in probably 7 or 8 hours on my first try (I don’t think total gametime is shown on save files). I hear people saying they beat it in 4 or 5 hours all the time, so you can honestly bang Ys III out in a single afternoon without really even trying. That alone should be enough of a reason to give it a shot at the very least!

Which version should you play?

Ys III outside of the insert

The outside of a cool Falcom Catalog Insert included with the game

To be honest, outside of the PC versions of the game that were released only in Japan, the West got the Genesis version, the Super Nintendo version, AND the Turbografx version of the game. That means most people won’t have to go out of their way to find a Japanese version of the game, which is usually what you have to do for pre-PS2 era games.

Aside from the made-up opening cutscene in the English PC-Engine (Turbografx) version of the game, there doesn’t seem to be any specific reason to not play the English version. Just remember that the demon is Galbaran and the hero that killed him wasn’t Adol…

In regards to actual versions, i’m of course gonna recommend the PC-Engine version of the game. An absolutely KILLER 11/10 OST, voice acting, the beautifully animated cutscenes throughout the game, and the MOSTLY smooth performance is just stuff that the SNES and Genesis can’t compete with. I haven’t played the SNES and Genesis versions personally, but from gameplay videos i’ve seen and from what i’ve heard of the OSTs, they aren’t even in the same league as the PC-Engine version. Definitely grab it for the PC-Engine!

Ys III inside of the insert

The inside of the Falcom Catalog Insert, definitely one reason to grab the Japanese version of the game!

Region-wise, the only reason I could really think of for purposefully playing the Japanese version is the voice acting. Not only have I heard that the voice acting in the English version is awful, I actually went and checked it out myself. If you want to get immersed in the game and enjoy the voice acted cutscenes, you’ll absolutely want to play the Japanese version of the game.

Considering the game is basically just a (side-scrolling) dungeon crawler with very little “questing” involved, i’m sure you could finish the game with next to no problems even without being able to understand Japanese. The story isn’t particularly special, so even if you don’t know what’s going on you’ll still be able to have fun playing the game.

Now, here’s the final score for Ys III!

Final Score – 33/40

Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 10/10

Ys III 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.

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