Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord, Sega Master System

Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord on the Sega Master System is a very simple turn-based RPG that looks terrible but is surprisingly absorbing when you get into it. It was developed by Kogado, initially for the PC-88, then later it was ported to the MSX, Famicom and Master System. The SMS version was first released in 1987 by Sega.

Whereas some level-grinders seem to move quickly in terms of levelling and progression, Miracle Warriors is a slow-moving beast that takes an investment of time to gain a foothold in. Starting out can be frustrating unless you find a healer quickly (there’s one in a nearby town, from the starting point) and killing monsters in combat and collecting their fangs is a key part of the game.

When you’ve acquired enough money (Guilders) you can then buy new weapons and armour, but beware: they erode over time and will break unless you re-forge them at a blacksmith. Thankfully the status screen shows their condition as a number, and when it reaches a certain point it’s wise to repair them. And you’ll have to keep doing this until you find a blacksmith who will follow you, which means that they no longer need repairing. Your first task, you discover, is to collect 300 fangs to take to the castle of Manula to buy the axe that will allow you to recruit your first party member, Guy. There are two other party members to recruit too, which takes some doing.

Levelling is unusual in this game. Instead of every member of your party simultaneously gaining experience points by winning battles, individual characters earn experience by landing successful hits during combat. By each character’s name are two horizontal bars. The bottom bar is your health (HP), and the top bar is your experience (EXP). When the EXP bar is filled, that character gains a level and both the EXP and HP bar are extended. The down side to this is that more experience is required to reach the next level, and also that it takes a long time to level-up the entire party because you have to level each character separately. One way to mitigate this is to carefully time when you allow another party member to join you, because when they do they’ll join one level below you, so holding off and levelling-up before allowing another character to join is a good idea (otherwise it’ll take you longer to level everyone individually later).

As you cross more bridges and explore further out you’ll start to encounter monsters that are way above your pay grade (usually in mountainous or forest regions), and you’ll sometimes have to run away, which thankfully is mostly (but not always) successful at avoiding you getting killed prematurely. You can tell when an opponent is too tough for you because its health bar will usually stretch across the screen (dwarfing your own). Tougher monsters can use magic spells that will hit all party members at once, and when you meet those you’ll really start be tested.

Exploration is also hampered by the fact that the overworld view is a tiny 5×5 window in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, so finding a map will help. Talking to ‘good’ merchants, travellers or White Monks you find on the road will often give you useful information (and in the case of the latter they’ll even heal you for free on occasion), but you MUST NOT kill them otherwise you’ll lose all your experience points. You can attack and kill ‘evil’ merchants however, which will net you a decent amount of money every time.

As you explore further you’ll find master swordsmiths who will enhance your weapons (for a large amount of money it must be said), and sub-bosses hidden in caves that are very challenging but will award you upgraded armour when defeated. You’ll also find caves, underground shrines, and various other monster-filled mazes that harbour treasures and mysterious artefacts that will help you on your quest. Eventually you’ll also be able to buy a boat and travel to another continent.

One particular monster (a Liphant) will occasionally drop “Sacred Nuts” (in bunches of three) when defeated, and these can be used to throw at more difficult monsters to damage them without actually using a turn, so are very useful in battle. You can only carry eleven at a time, though, and even then you have to use one of the last three picked-up to be able to collect more… Miracle Warriors doesn’t like to operate in a way that’s easy to understand…

Miracle Warriors will appeal to anyone who likes old RPGs that are a challenge to beat, but it’s unlikely to offer much to those who fall outside of that. Graphically it’s nothing special, and it’s poorly translated in places (the word “shield” is mis-spelled on the status screen, and there are other spelling mistakes too), but the gameplay is good enough to keep the game interesting. If you’re after something a bit more sophisticated then it’s probably better to look elsewhere, but if you relish a challenge and like turn-based level-grinders then Miracle Warriors is a decent game still worth playing today. A word of advice, though: read a walkthrough when playing it – otherwise you’re likely to miss out on its subtleties.

More: Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord on Wikipedia

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