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Soul Blazer, Super Nintendo

Released in Japan as Soul Blader, Soul Blazer is a 1992 Super Nintendo release from Enix and it takes the form of an overhead, Zelda-style adventure.

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Menzoberranzan, PC

An RPG with a funny name, based on the AD&D Forgotten Realms campaign setting, Menzoberranzan is a 1994, first-person, party-based adventure game developed by DreamForge Intertainment for Strategic Simulations Inc.

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Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession, PC

Released in 1994, Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession was developed by DreamForge Intertainment for Strategic Simulations Inc. and was distributed by US Gold in the UK.

I remember it well because I reviewed it for PC Player magazine back in the day.

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Tales of Phantasia, Game Boy Advance

This 2003 remake of Namco‘s SNES classic Tales of Phantasia was the first time the game had been officially translated into English.

While much of the game remains the same, there are a few differences. Firstly, the screen ratio has been changed from the 4:3 of the SNES original to the ‘widescreen’ 240 x 160 of the GBA screen. Which makes it look more modern, even if the resolution is actually lower (the resolution of the SNES version is 256 x 224). The lower resolution of the GBA is not an issue though as many of the in-game characters have been re-drawn to make them look bigger in the play window. This becomes most apparent during combat, when all the figures appear significantly larger than in the SNES version. This is not a problem, though, because most combat is fought horizontally, and not vertically, so making the main characters larger has not had a detrimental effect on gameplay. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The only real criticisms I’ve read about this game are that the random battles are too frequent (didn’t seem too bad to me), and the combat system is “unrefined” compared to the ‘Tales‘ sequels. Well… No sh*t, Sherlock. That’s bleedin’ obvious. And a bit unfair.

Tales of Phantasia is a lovely game that still has a lot of appeal now and is worth a play if you can find a copy. With this GBA version being an official translation, and with its updated graphics, I’d give it a higher rating than any of the fan-translated versions of the SNES original.

More: Tales of Phantasia on the Game Boy Advance on Wikipedia

Tales of Phantasia, Super Nintendo

Tales of Phantasia is an RPG developed by Wolf Team, and first published for the Super Nintendo by Namco in 1995. As JRPGs go, it’s quite memorable.

It’s a time-travelling, party-based adventure with real-time, random combat. Yes: real time combat. Which is quite rare in this genre. The combat sections play like a side-scrolling action game, with your party being attacked from either the left or the right, and the direction of attack dictating who’s closest to the enemy. So you learn to put your more vulnerable characters in the middle! The real-time combat system in Tales of Phantasia is a refreshing change from the usual style of turn-based JPRGs and is I think what gives this game its unique appeal.

That said: there’s more to Tales of Phantasia than just the combat. The story isn’t bad, and neither is the dialogue, and the six playable characters available for recruit are all fairly interesting. There are lots of great little touches too, like the ripples and reflections in the water. There’s a ton of stuff to see and do in this game and it’s frankly more than worth the investment of time.

A Game Boy Advance remake was released in 2006 and was the game’s first official English translation. It’s somewhat different to this, though, with a widescreen display and larger character graphics during combat. Background graphics and gameplay are the same though.

More: Tales of Phantasia on Wikipedia

Dragon Quest VI, Super Nintendo

Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation was developed by Heartbeat for Enix and released for the Super Nintendo in 1995 in Japan. It is the sixth instalment in the Dragon Quest series, if you aren’t familiar with Roman numerals.

Again: the writers of Dragon Quest have made a pretty good story to fit into an RPG. And again: it’s simple but effective. Without giving too much away: you appear to die a short way into the game! Haha. It’s hardly a spoiler – more an attempt to entice you to play the game… but it is part of the plot. I think Japanese RPG-makers may be obsessed with death, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing… As J.R.R. Tolkien once said: love and loss are inextricably linked…

Graphically, Dragon Quest VI is a bit more interesting than the previous game, although you don’t seem to be able to walk behind certain objects in this (that you should be able to walk behind, according to the isometric viewpoint), which is a little frustrating. All the houses, towns, and cute characters are beautifully drawn in that inimitable, colourful SNES style though.

Combat is a bit more interesting than in Dragon Quest V. You have more options available to you, including a ‘Skill’ choice that makes individual character skills available as they unlock. It does take a while to assemble a party, though, which isn’t ideal. Something else that bugged me: you can’t see how much money you’ve got in the status menus! Which is quite an oversight… The only time you see your current money count is when you’re talking to merchants. Dragon Quest VI practically requires you to grind to afford certain armour and weapons (as most RPGs do), and not being able to see your money totals in the field is frustrating at best.

One final thing to mention – a good thing: Dragon Quest VI was the first game in the series to introduce the concept of a “sack” where you can store items outside of your usual limited inventory. That made a difference. It also has a fairly complex class system, which is unlocked at a key point in the game.

Dragon Quest VI was the best-selling game of 1995 in Japan, shipping over 3.2 million physical copies in its first year of release (of which 2.5 million were sold in December, it’s month of release!) – an insane number, and indicative of the series’ popularity worldwide.

In spite of its shortcomings Dragon Quest VI is still a great game. It’s been remade a few times (Nintendo DS, Android and iOS) and is still worth playing if you love Japanese RPGs.

Note: These grabs are from the original Super Nintendo version, having been fan-translated. An official English translation of Dragon Quest VI wasn’t released until 2011.

More: Dragon Quest VI on Wikipedia

Dragon Quest V, Super Nintendo

First released in 1992 by Enix, Dragon Quest V (five – or, to give the game its full title: Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride) is another fun-to-play JRPG that is simple but engaging, and also contains enough detail and surprises to feel worthwhile.

It was the first Dragon Quest game released for the Super Nintendo and sold over three million copies in Japan.

You might look at this game now and think: “it looks too simple”, but you have to play it to see that a simple story can be reasonably powerful if it touches certain emotions. And – without giving anything away – this one does; even if it’s done in a very spartan manner. In a nutshell, though, the game follows roughly thirty years of the life of a young boy – who you name and play – and who initially has his father to guide him.

What makes Dragon Quest Dragon Quest (as opposed to Final Fantasy or any other JRPG out there) are the monsters (some of the most recognisable in RPG history), the combat (random, turn-based, and following a distinct pattern), and the menus and timings (like, for example, when you stop moving: the status menu pops up).

Combat initiates with a flash and a window opens, allowing choices from the menu. You can set party members to attack automatically, according to a useful ‘Battle Plan’ menu setting, although you’ll probably want to set it to manual for boss fights and tougher areas. Defeated monsters will even offer to join the party, if you’re high enough levelled, and there are 40 monsters in the game that are available to recruit.

Dragon Quest V is a good continuation of the series and a decent game in its own right – even if it does look basic when compared to the game that followed it.

And one last thing to note: completing Dragon Quest V unlocks a bonus dungeon, which is a… um, bonus. It was the first Dragon Quest game to do this, and bonus, post-completion dungeons later became the norm in Dragon Quest games. Was this the birth of “New Game Plus“? It might have been… 🙂

More: Dragon Quest V on Wikipedia