I’d like to bring a couple of old games to your attention. To me, these games pioneered the Action/RPG genre, which sadly has not received the attention it deserves.
First on the list is Faxanadu. An offshoot of the Dragon Slayer series in Japan (of which we received Faxanadu and Legacy of the Wizard), Faxanadu has much in the way of fantasy stereotypes: your character is an elf, and your mission is to make your way to the World Tree and track down those crazy dwarves who keep shutting off the elves’ water supply (thereby bringing about the deterioration of the world, etc, etc).
Although the plot is there, it is not particularly interesting. The important part is that you keep exploring, crossing vast expanses of diverse terrain, and you fight whatever gets in your way with magic, swords, and items. As an early Action RPG, there isn’t any particular way to make your character better at magic or melee combat; you just use whatever amount of each you see fit. Better weaponry generally increases your attack range, while better shields deflect enemy projectiles.
I really want to find out who came up with the enemy designs. Some of the enemies you’ll come across: bizarre cyclopean foot-people, empty Eskimo parkas that shoot magic and dwarves who are just the right height that they’re tough to hit.
Items are varied but none are particularly interesting. The only really cool idea is the wing boots, which allow you to float and find a place that’s required for the plot.
The game taken as a whole looks a bit drab, but gameplay is consistently fun, and difficulty is not too bad (although the enemies that attack you from anywhere get annoying). Unfortunately, there is no save feature (there was in Japan… grr), but there is a password feature.
Second, and more interesting in my mind, is Crystalis. A post-apocalyptic fantasy, in Crystalis you play the part of a cryogenically frozen amnesiac destined to save the world. How can you not enjoy that?
Once you start into the actual game, you find four different swords which each affect different monsters. Eventually, you master several forms of magic which give you various useful effects, and once you reach a certain point in the game you can consult sages via telepathy to find out what you’re supposed to be doing.
The large number of quest items in this title make it feel almost like a puzzle game. Much like Zelda, you can equip a secondary item to the A button, which allows you to do various things – the Rabbit boots, for example, allow you to jump, which lets you reach places that were previously inaccessible. A gas mask allows you to breathe in particularly dangerous environments.
The environments in Crystalis are discrete and generally exciting. They would be clichéd, except that this game probably existed before the video game clichés. You’ll fight your way through grassland, caves, mountains, deserts, and even the ocean (with the aid of a friendly dolphin).
The music is consistently excellent. It blends in with all of the monster-filled fields and towns flawlessly, and I still find myself occasionally humming tunes from the game.
At the end of Crystalis, the plot ramps up a bit and actually becomes more interesting. You find out more or less how the apocalypse came about, and who exactly your character is. The plot development at the end comes in little pieces as you fight your way through the final dungeon, which is a great way to do it.
Both of these games blurred the line between RPG, action, and adventure, and they are great games. If Nintendo can get games like these – both games that were mostly unnoticed but very important, and these specific titles on the Virtual Console – on their platform, I will buy a Wii for sure.