Best Game Ever – Golvellius: Valley of Doom versus The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is one of the most influential games ever made and every gamer should make sure they play it. Golvellius is a Zelda clone made by Compile originally for the MSX that no one needs to bother with. It is also one of my favorite games. If a kid today played both one after another, it’s tough to say which he’d prefer. Without the context of Zelda being the pioneering adventure game, and without the nostalgia of playing Golvellius after school, all that’s left is the games themselves.

Golvellius was translated by people who actually spoke English.

And so I will now ignore how important Zelda is, ignore that it was designed by one of the greatest game designers in history, ignore that it was on the most popular system of its time, and most importantly, ignore that it came first. Is Zelda, separated from all of these things, actually better than my beloved Golvellius? Luckily for this comparison, I’ve just finished Zelda on my Wii’s Virtual Console. For reference, I’ll be comparing it to Sega’s remade version of Golvellius that came out on the Master System (and in America).

NES games could rarely match the graphical prowess of the Master System, so, as would be expected, Golvellius looks better than Zelda. More importantly, Golvellius has about 30 musical tracks while Zelda has a mere five. Yes, one is the world famous Zelda theme, but after hours of listening to any one song, whether it be a piece by Kondo or Bach, you will tire of it. Golvellius doesn’t just have a lot of music, though. A lot of it is excellent and nearly as catchy as the Zelda theme. And what happened with Gannon’s theme, Nintendo? It’s terrible.

The plots of both games were pretty minimal. Link must gather the Triforce in order to defeat Gannon and save the princess Zelda. Kelesis must gather crystals to save the princess from the grasp of Golvellius and return the mea herb to the king. Despite the nearly identical plots, there is a difference in how the stories are told. Specifically, Zelda’s is not told at all and Golvellius’ is. Throughout his adventure, Kelesis will find…fairies…who fill in some plot information. We hear details about Golvellius, about his minions and the people of the land. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s more than, “It’s a secret to everybody.”

This strange side scrolling level is actually a dungeon. And that giant red thing, yep, it’s a snake.

There are about the same number of base enemies in each game, but Golvellius has prettier enemies and more palette swaps. Unfortunately, it also has less interesting demons. Zelda’s foes often took strategy to defeat. Those fucking knights you couldn’t attack from the front, for instance, required the strategy of not attacking those fucking knights from the front. Other enemies required other strategies. Golvellius might as well only have a handful of enemies because the plethora that exist don’t really require different tactics. Some take more hits to kill, some hit you harder, and some are faster or slower, but that’s really it.

Zelda’s useable items allow for wider variance in enemies. The boomerang stuns most bad guys, and actually kills bats and small slimes. Those hopping bunny things only take a single arrow shot before they bounce no more. Golvellius has gear to collect, but none of it can actively be used. Zelda builds small puzzles around its recorder, raft, and candles, whereas Golvellius merely allows you to slash your sword throughout the entire game. Kelesis does at least find a ring that allows him to destroy stones and boots that let him fly.

These boots come in handy in the well designed world of Golvellius. The varied locals like a graveyard, beach, forest and swamp are fun to traverse, but are self contained in a way that adds some needed linearity. Zelda is about adventure, but aimlessly wandering the bland rectangular maps is not something I find particularly entertaining. Zelda does have many secrets, which is ironic since they are entirely unnecessary. Link can’t hold many rupees and there is nothing to buy beyond the basic quest items. Golvellius, on the other hand, is very much about the benjamins. Kelesis constantly needs money to buy another life container, another crystal, the next sword, or even another bible, which he needs to expand the maximum amount of gold he can carry.

Look at how free form and not template based Golvellius’ world map is.

Zelda’s world map does contain two riddles, though. Riddle isn’t the right world, nor is puzzle. You find a guy who tells you what to do then you do it. Whatever that’s called. Golvellius lacks repeating map chunks that only change when you go the correct directions, but it doesn’t entirely lack riddles. Simply exploring every screen, of which there are 182 (compared to Zeldas 126) will work if you are patient. If not, pay attention to the clues those…fairies….give out. Discovering where each boss hides is one of the more engaging parts of Kelesis’ quest.

Link is blessed with interesting labyrinths to explore. More time is spent Zelda’s dungeons than its overworld, and this is a good thing. They are the highlight of the game and contain clues that border on being actual riddles. They can also be stupidly difficult. Golvellius tried for something rather different with its dungeons. They are ultimately inferior to Zelda’s because they are significantly more shallow. But as far as experiments go, the alternating side scrolling and top down forward scrolling dungeons worked out decently. They hold up well enough on their own; it is when compared directly to Zelda’s well designed dungeons they seem lacking.

But then all of Link’s efforts are for naught. Waiting for him at the end of each dungeon is a lame, stupid boss. Most of the head demons require significantly less strategy to defeat than the game’s standard enemies. To make matters worse, they are recycled from dungeon to dungeon. Boss fights tend to last only a few seconds and include such amazing creatures as a fire breathing dragon-unicorn, a two headed fire breathing dragon, a three headed fire breathing dragon, a plodding dinosaur, and a crab that takes a single arrow to defeat.

A boss complete with attack pattern.

Each boss Kelesis must face is an actual character in the game. Some have a smidgen of backstory and they all preside over specific areas of the world. They are all unique in appearance and method of attack. These demons include a snow beast, a three headed skeleton dragon, and a half lizard/half naked woman with bright purple hair. Actual strategy is required to defeat each one and these tactics usually cannot be used against any of the others. Kelesis may have poorly designed dungeons to explore, but the trip is certainly worth it.

So now we will compute the winner by assigning each game an arbitrary score in the individual components I’ve analyzed and then averaging the scores.

Using these figures, I think the conclusion of this article is self evident.

All joking aside, which is the better game? I will allow context into the discussion in order to acknowledge that Zelda is, if not better, clearly a million times more significant. But even with context, when all is said and done, knowing a game was revolutionary doesn’t make it any more fun. Try playing Adventure if you doubt this.

I’m avoiding the question because I have an after school special, everyone’s a winner answer. Both games are excellent, but in different ways and it really depends on what the player is looking for. The best game, though, would be a combination of the two. Link doesn’t need those secret rupee stashes, but Kelesis does. Kelesis has awesome bosses to fight, but boring dungeons to crawl (or be forced) through. Maybe Pac Fujishima will take these suggestions into consideration when he finally releases Golvellius 2. He’s had nearly 20 years since the first ended with, “To be continued…”

Into the valley
Shield in hand
Searching for Golvelius’ lair
“To be continued”

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17 years ago

Why didn’t you say that Golvellius was developed by Compile?  They rocked pre-PuyoPuyo.Anyhow, now I’ve got to check it out. 

17 years ago

I’ve never heard of Golvellius, but it certainly sounds interesting. Something tells me the lack of usable items is what hurts it the most. I think people like that accomplishment when you gain a new land to traverse by using something you acquired recently, just like Metroid and Castlevania. What interests me most is why this game went completely unnoticed. I have not heard one inkling of this game, but it sounds like a great game. Zelda may have overshadowed it, but that doesn’t justify pushing the game into complete obscurity.  

17 years ago

the relative obscurity of golvellius probably has something to do with the relative obscurity of the consoles for which it was available.    despite the fact that i have almost no familiarity with the msx or sms, the game is still playable, as i learned a few months ago when jay forced me to play it for several hours.

2 years ago

One of my favorite aspects of Golvellius is that items like the boots enable you to return to places early in the game that were inaccessible before. That was a hallmark of a great 8-bit adventure.


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