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Quickie Reviews

Shorter reviews for games that I don't have enough words to fill out a full page for.

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (BioWare, 2000)


The original Baldur's Gate was a game renowned among PC gamers and D&D fans in general for its interesting storyline and strict adhesion to second edition rules, making it a classic to both camps.  Baldur's Gate 2 continues right where the first left off, upping the ante with annoying new enemies like Vampires (who inflict level drain with every hit), Mind Flayers (who lower intelligence with every hit, killing at 0, and bombard the party with constant stunning attacks), Beholders (who fire constant barrages of horrible status effects at the party) and other such annoyances.  Some important improvements were made too, like a more focused world map, more rewarding quests (granting each individual party member a large experience boost, not just a lump sum spread across the entire party), NPCs with story arcs and personalities beyond a few weak one-liners, and toning down some of the more debilitating spells (like Charm and Confuse) to have shorter effects.  It's a logical extension of the first in every way, proving to be a much better experience on a storytelling front but every bit as frustrating as its predecessor managed to be in terms of gameplay.  Hardcore D&D fans will love it, but personally, I prefer to spend my gaming time on something where constantly save-scumming and using engine exploits isn't a mandatory element of game completion.

Publisher: Black Isle Studios, Interplay Entertainment
Platform: PC, Mac OS, Linux

The Bard's Tale (InXile Entertainment, 2004)

A spiritual successor to the original Bard's Tale trilogy released for various computer formats in the '80s, the gameplay is changed up to be a top-down hack-and-slash adventure game rather than a turn-based dungeon crawler.  Sadly, it's not a particularly great one; in fact, in terms of action it's mediocre at best, with very little to differentiate it from any other game of its like other than some clunky attack animations.  The true selling point here is the game's sense of humor, having a rather uncouth protagonist, a lot of genre-savvy jokes, ridiculous characters and moments (including a few Willy Wonka-esque song numbers), and most memorably of all, a narrator who outright despises and frequently mocks the protagonist (voiced by the late, great Tony Jay).  Even the developers were seemingly aware of the game's shortcomings, as on the recent releases for the Playstation 4 and Vita, using the built-in cheats does not disable any of the trophies one can earn, allowing one to skip most of the game's least interesting element.  So while not a particularly amazing experience, if you have ten dollars to spare, want to have a few laughs and earn an easy Platinum trophy, this is one you might consider.

Publisher: InXile Entertainment
Platform: Playstation 2, Xbox, Windows, iOS, Android, Blackberry Playbook, Ouya, Linux, PS4, Playstation Vita

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden (Tales of Game's Studios, 2008)

There is a good reason I generally avoid playing, let alone reviewing, games made in readily-available game creation kits; by and large they tend to be boring, low-effort works with no concept of balance, design theory or even a hint of originality, swiping assets left and right and usually just aping other games' ideas with nary a fraction of their quality.  Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is at least a competently-made game beneath its recycled assets, feeling like a 16-bit RPG with some creative combat mini-games reminiscent of titles like Paper Mario, but it quickly slips into another all-too-common pitfall indie developers fall prey to: sheer arrogance.  What could have been a fun game is dragged down by being packed to the brim with inane purple prose, excruciatingly unfunny jokes that go on five minutes too long, and each save point the player encounters triggering lengthy, self-serving rants about western and Japanese RPGs - acceptable content for a blog, perhaps, but it has no business being anywhere near an actual video game.  Basically, it's Family Guy's definitions of 'wit' and 'comedy' put into a game engine - grating dialog, unlikable characters, self-righteous preaching and endless "hey, remember this" references masquerading as 'humor'.  The author certainly seems to think all of this is very clever and makes him look like the coolest guy in the world, but I personally just got sick of it and threw the whole thing in the Recycle Bin after the first couple of hours.  It says quite a lot when a game is free, yet you still feel ripped off and insulted after playing it.

Publisher: Tales of Game's Studios
Platform: PC, OS X

BS Zelda no Densetsu (Nintendo R&D2, 1995)

Arguably the most obscure Zelda games ever made, the BS Zelda games weren't ever released on a physical format; rather, they were produced for a Super Famicom addon by Bandai called the Satellaview and broadcast to the system at very specific times in the mid-90s; during those times, a unique soundtrack and voice narration would convey a story while the player tried to complete an "episode" consisting of two dungeons within a time limit of about an hour.  Whether they successfully did so or not, once the broadcast was ended, the game was over.  The first two of these were essentially remixed versions of the original Legend of Zelda, just with visual and audio updates befitting the hardware, and unique dungeon formats that are considerably easier than the main game's (no surprise owing to the time limit).  The only way to play them nowadays is via emulation (which surprisingly even manages to preserve the voice tracks on some emulators), but for die-hard Zelda fans, it's most definitely worth a look.

Publisher: St. GIGA
Platforms: Satellaview

BS Zelda no Densetsu: Inishi no Sekiban (Nintendo R&D2, 1997)

In the same vein as the original BS Zelda, Inishi no Sekiban (translated as "Ancient Stone Tablets") is a reworking of Link to the Past, this time with an added narrative (voiced in Japanese and in text at the bottom), reworked episodic gameplay, a time limit and a score table, challenging the player to complete two dungeons and collect as many rupees as possible before time expires and possibly (in the 90s when it aired) earn prizes.  Also somewhat unusual is the fact that the player doesn't control Link in the original release, instead utilizing their avatar from the Satellaview's BIOS menu in game and some of the text changing accordingly.  Other than that, this is much in the same vein as the original, with reworked dungeons, timed events that can grant the player bonuses like temporary invincibility or unlimited bombs for a short while, and a clever new twist on LTTP for those who know the original game like the back of their hands.  Like the first BS Zelda, it's only available nowadays through emulation, but it's a great piece of history that's well worth a look for any serious franchise fan.

Publisher: St. GIGA
Platforms: Satellaview

Child of Light (Ubisoft Montreal, 2013)

An RPG that showed a lot of promise on its face, combining a tragic fairytale with a storybook-like presentation, a beautiful and sad soundtrack, and gameplay that combined elements of Grandia and Paper Mario together.  It works to a degree, with the player able to delay enemy turns and cancel them with well-placed attacks and enemies able to do the same, and a pretty varied party with a number of unique skills.  Sadly, it all just gets a bit tiresome before long, as enemy battles tend to get exceptionally drawn-out and repetitious since it's all basically built around that one gimmick with no real variation (well, aside from enemies that punish you with heavy-damage attacks for cancelling their turns, defeating the entire point of having such a system).  This, plus the large amount of grinding required to defeat some bosses and craft spellstones, as well as the fact that the game relies so heavily on random dice rolls (with the odds tilted out of your favor at every turn), made this a game I got bored of well before the end.

Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: Playstation 3, Wii U, Playstation Vita, PS4, XBox One, PC, Switch

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (Square Enix, 2018)

The eleventh entry in the ever-popular franchise, though notably only the second mainline game to be developed in-house (the first being X, an MMO which remains Japan exclusive as of this writing).  Surprisingly little has changed since the franchise's earliest entries over thirty years ago, with the same composer and artist returning and familiar story beats, character archetypes and gameplay tropes abound. Combat retains its simple turn based style (the free movement one is afforded is simply a visual effect) and most encounters can be breezed through with a simple application of the Auto Battle button.  Encounters themselves are at least visible on the map, but they appear in significant enough numbers that avoiding them consistently is unfeasible. Some new twists appear in the dorm of a weapon crafting system and the ability to ride certain defeated foes both to evade fights and reach areas one couldn't on foot, but for the most part, this is another by-the-book Dragon Quest game. If that's your thing you'll probably find a lot to like here, but I tired of it and went back to playing Ni no Kuni II after the first few dungeons.

Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: 3DS, Playstation 4, PC, Switch

The Elder Scrolls: Arena (Bethesda Softworks, 1994)

Originally built as a medieval gladiator combat game (hence the name), The Elder Scrolls soon developed into something much more sprawling and ambitious, promising a massive open-world RPG with gameplay and design inspired by Ultima Underworld and literally tens of thousands of square miles of terrain, replete with equally massive numbers of towns, NPCs and monsters.  As worlds of this scale weren't exactly feasible in the era, though (even with the advent of CD technology), something had to give - in this case, nearly all of the game is randomly generated, with terrain, towns, NPCs and dialog, and just about every quest the player encounters falling into cookie-cutter territory.  The world map is also not as big as marketing would suggest; if you simply go out expecting to walk to another town, you'll never get anywhere as you'll be stuck on an endless procedurally-generated map - fast travel is the only real way to traverse the world.  Much like Ultima Underworld and many other CRPGs before it, the game is quite unforgiving in many respects - even escaping the first dungeon is a trial that took me several attempts owing to its aggressive enemies who never grant you a moment's respite.  That, plus the fact that every action one takes in the game is based upon a dice roll (even combat, resulting in battles just looking like you awkwardly flailing at a target and missing most of your strikes), makes the game more of a chore to complete than a grandiose adventure.  A cult classic and origin of a legendary franchise it may be, but Arena is not a very auspicious game by any measuring stick today.

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: MS-DOS

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (Bethesda Softworks, 1996)

Regarded by some die-hard fans as the best game in the series, Daggerfall is certainly a substantial leap in quality over its predecessor.  The game now runs on a true 3D engine (Bethesda's own XnGine), the world is now a truly connected and cohesive one with over 15,000 towns and 750,000 NPCs, and the game even takes pains to simulate a virtual environment with various guilds the player can join to bolster their reputation, an economy where one can buy and sell various goods and even borrow money from banks, and fast travel has a more realistic element, with the player having different options like travelling by caravan, ship or just walking to save money (while taking much longer).  One can buy ships and horses to make navigation faster, and encountering certain enemies can have the player transform into a vampire, werewolf or wereboar (the former two of which would appear in later games as well).  There are even seven different possible endings to see, which gives the game some substantial replay value.  Make no mistake, though, that this is still a game which is largely procedurally generated - nearly every quest, dungeon, town and character one encounters is generated by a random seed rather than a developer, and as a result of that and the dice-roll dependent gameplay, the game's difficulty tends to be very uneven.  You'll never be wanting for things to do in Daggerfall, but the fact that most of it is still generic, and its world not particularly interesting to see and interact with after a time, will likely leave you pining for later entries in the series.

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: MS-DOS

Golf Story (Sidebar Games, 2017)

Golf Story is an odd concept - mixing golf with RPG-styled equipment upgrades and levels - but it works quite well for what it sets out to do.  The main story of the game is a humble one, starring a golfer trying to regain his passion for the sport, so it won't win any awards there.  Its gameplay is relatively fresh, though, having the player not just play courses against other golfers, but complete a variety of challenges - from only hitting the ball into bunkers on their way to the green to "feeding the fish" with well-placed shots, there are dozens of them, and all reward extra experience (which goes into your golfer's stats) and money (which goes toward buying new clubs).  Curiously, though, upgrading one's Power stat will actually downgrade their other stats, requiring a careful balance of spent points to ensure one can still land shots where they need to.  Other hazards crop up too, as many courses are in considerable disrepair and overrun with malevolent wildlife (particularly gophers that like to pick your ball up and drop it into bunkers, making your next shot much more difficult).  Golf Story is a relaxing and surprisingly entertaining title for RPG fans and sports fans alike.

Publisher: Sidebar Games
Platform: Switch

Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded (h.a.n.d./Square Enix, 2010)

Originally released as an episodic mobile phone game and later expanded into a full 3D remake on the DS, Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded is yet another entry in the popular and long-running franchise, following the exploits of "Data Sora" as he tries to recover lost information in Jiminy Cricket's journal.  To that end, he revisits many worlds from the previous Kingdom Hearts games, defeating monsters and finding clues to repair data.  The leveling system in the game is relatively clever one, having the player install chips onto a CPU motherboard to expand Sora's abilities and stats, while the gameplay builds to a degree on what was done in Birth By Sleep, with the player gradually building momentum by quickly defeating enemies to grant Sora temporary powerups and ending with a finishing move, and utilizing abilities via a quick, preconfigured "Command Deck" rather than having to navigate menus.  It plays alright on the DS, but the sheer amount of retreaded ground and overall monotonous design made it one I got tired of quickly.  I opted to watch the plot digest on the HD compilations instead of playing through the entire game, and honestly, I don't think I missed too much.

Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo DS

Link: the Faces of Evil / Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon (Animation Magic, 1994)

Famously created as part of a business deal that originally would have had Philips developing a CD-based addon for the Super Nintendo (which ultimately never came to pass), the CDi Zelda games have since become noted as perhaps the only Zelda titles that can objectively be considered "bad".  They certainly do their best to look and sound the part with some quality music and colorful hand-painted backgrounds, but both of them play like bad Game Maker games - everything technically functions, but nothing is polished.  Movement is sluggish and awkward, hit detection is dodgy, and the lack of invincibility frames after contact with an enemy or projectile means that any hazard you encounter can easily drain all of your health and cause the loss of a life in an instant.  Pair that with the fact that one must grind for  long periods of time just to afford basic amenities like bombs, ropes, lantern oil and snow/fireballs to defeat specific enemies, and you have two games which prove to be masochistic exercises in frustration much more than the epic adventures that the series built its name on.

But of course, no review of the CDi Zeldas can go without mention of their cutscenes, which have become a phenomenon in their own right.  Made on a very small budget and noted for their poor animation quality and cheesy acting, these factors have made them the central focus of countless mockery pieces and "Youtube Poop" remixes over the years, and they're honestly much more entertaining than anything else associated with the game.  So, if you want something to laugh at, look them up on Youtube and have a ball.  If you want a good game to play, though, save your money for something else.

Publisher: Philips Interactive Media
Platform: Philips CDi

Nostalgia (Matrix Software/RED Entertainment, 2009)

An original RPG offering from Matrix on the DS sounded like a promising idea.  After all, they were behind the Alundra series and several remakes for the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises, so they clearly have an eye for what makes RPGs work.  But what makes an RPG function and what makes one distinct and memorable are two distinct realms of expertise.  Like many, Nostalgia's developers don't seem to recognize that classic RPGs' appeal was not looking a certain way or adhering to rigid customs even to the detriment of the gaming experience, but because they made efforts to stand out from the pack. Whether a strong presentation or an engrossing storyline or gameplay that felt more streamlined while losing none of the depth, old and new RPGs alike are scarcely remembered for going through the motions. Nostalgia never got that memo, proving its dated design philosophy right away with frequent and unengaging random encounters, brain dead mash-A-to-win battles and the all time low bar for introductory quests, killing rats in a switch-flipping sewer maze level.  The lack of any decent story hooks, interesting characters or anything else to do other than more tiresome monster-bopping quests in the same vein quickly made me put this one down and never look back.  Nostalgia certainly isn't the word I would choose for this title; maybe they should have gone with "Ennui" instead.  Or perhaps "Blasé".

Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo DS

Pool of Radiance (Strategic Simulations/Marionette, 1988/1989/1992)


The first in SSI's famous "Gold Box" series, a short-lived but prolific franchise of RPGs that ran on a common engine and quickly became famous for their very faithful implementation of Dungeons and Dragons rules.  As one can expect from that, Pool of Radiance is ungodly hard, particularly early on - any number of things can instantly kill your characters, enemies often attack in massive groups, and carefully managing your limited supply of spell slots is required to find magical items among mundane ones and defeat enemies.  Other complications not implemented in many later RPGs apply too - completing quests and finding treasure gives far greater experience than battles, money has weight and comes in five different values (Copper, Silver, Electrum, Gold and Platinum), encounters in many areas are limited (after fighting a certain number of enemy groups, they will stop occurring) and one has the ability to parley with enemies, which can sometimes avoid battles.  It may still put too much emphasis on combat for my liking, but Pool of Radiance had quite a few innovative elements for computer games of the time, and as a result holds up better than most older games bearing the D&D license.

Publisher: Strategic Simulations, Pony Canyon, FCI
Platform: Amiga, Apple II, C64, DOS, Mac, NES, PC-9800

Quest: Brian's Journey (Atelier Double, 2000)

I couldn't even begin to hazard a guess for who asked for a remake, let alone a portable version, of the much-maligned Quest 64, but it happened only two years after the original debuted.  Brian's Journey follows many of the same beats as its N64 counterpart - powering up four elements, which in turn grant the player new spells that do things like throw fireballs, summon wind blades, put up magic-absorbing barriers or restore HP, and armed with only these and a handful of items, they embark on an adventure to save the world.  But while the game is marginally less annoying to navigate than its N64 counterpart due to the 2D layout, all of its other flaws still remain - bland characters, a generic story, no real puzzle-solving element, and unbalanced, slow-paced, grind-heavy gameplay.  A marginally better experience than the 3D version of Quest, but when the original set the bar so low, that's really not saying much.  Particularly when there were much more engrossing RPG options available in 2000, even on a low-powered system like the Game Boy Color.

Publisher: Sunsoft, Imagineer
Platform: Game Boy Color

Romancing SaGa 2 (Square, 1993/2011/2016/2017)

A SaGa series entries that was unknown in the west until very recently, and its concept was enough to pique my interest.  Romancing SaGa 2 is something of a precursor to the Suikoden franchise, taking the JRPG format and working in some elements of war sims.  You find rather staggering amounts of money in chests right out of the gate (hundreds of thousands), but can only directly access it via your castle's treasury.  It's not just for your own equipment, though - the player spends money to upgrade their castle and capital city, expanding its shops and adding new quests.  Similarly, questlines follow a nonlinear progression, with multiple paths through the story and different characters joining depending on one's choices.  Every so often a generation passes, with the current protagonist passing the mantle to a new one and inheriting all of the old character's abilities and continuing on with their own storyline.  All good and novel, but the overall execution of these concepts is just dull.  The gameplay is still generic RPG fare, consisting largely of dull, linear dungeons filled with truckloads of monsters and a handful of chests (usually in almost every dead-end path that doesn't lead directly to the boss).  Combat is monotonous, stat gains are gained entirely by chance as is series norm, and attempting to run through areas to get through faster breaks your party's formation, leaving weaker characters vulnerable to harm.  There are no random encounters, but the fact that there are so many enemies on each screen, and all of them respawn each time you refresh the map (even ducking into a side-room to grab a chest) arguably makes it more player-hostile than the alternative.  In short, a great concept, but a very lackluster and tedious execution.

Publisher: Square/Square Enix
Platform: Super Famicom, Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Android, iOS, PC, XBox One, Wii Virtual Console, Wii U Virtual Console, Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console

Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (Origin Systems, 1981/1987/1986/1987/1989/1990/1994)

The first game to bear the Ultima name, and while it is a more technologically impressive game than Akalabeth, the gameplay remains essentially the same at its core - talk to a king, get a quest (usually to kill a monster or find a specific place in the world), then return for a reward.  Some new elements make their way into the mix, though - the dungeons remain in a first-person perspective, but the game features an overworld map with four distinct worlds to navigate (some of which would be revisited in later Ultimas).   Shops are now a prevalent part of the game too, with the player able to buy and sell equipment, food, HP and even vehicles to aid in their quest (and even resell older gear for a bit of extra cash). Things later take a turn for the downright surreal when one goes from a fairly average Tolkien-inspired fantasy world to something distinctly more science fiction - aircars, spaceships, laser guns and powered armor begin to appear in the later stages, as does a segment where one must shoot down twenty spaceships (resembling Star Wars' famous TIE Fighters) in order to complete a particular quest.  The game is relatively simple at its core, but the lack of grinding compared to its followup games, as well as its uniquely strange atmosphere, make it hold up the best of the original Ultima trilogy.

Publisher:California Pacific Computer Company, Origin, Sierra On-line, Electronic Arts, Pony Canyon, Fujitsu, Vietesse Inc.
Platform: Apple II, Atari 8-Bit, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX2, FM Towns, Apple IIGS

Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress (Richard Garriott, 1982)

Ultima's second entry takes the weirdness of the first even further, largely taking place on an Earth overrun by evil monsters and letting the player travel between several time periods, each with their own world map layout and secrets to find.  Once one finds a spaceship, they can even explore nine other planets within the solar system (the tenth being "Planet X"), each of which has some unique and strange sights of their own.  However, nearly all of this side content - and indeed, every dungeon in the game - is completely optional, with only a small handful of areas actually being required to visit for game completion.  Much of the game's focus is on bare grinding - defeating particular types of enemies to earn experience, which in turn causes stronger enemies to spawn.  Defeating certain types will drop items, allowing the player to breach new boundaries (for example, one requires a Blue Tassel to sail a pirate ship, which requires defeating pirates in battle.  Pirates and ships only begin to spawn at level 5 or higher).  One must also grind a lot of cash to purchase equipment, items and food, as well as visit the Hotel California and pay money to raise their stats.  This, paired with the minimal plot, makes this feel much closer to a utilitarian monster bash-fest than any other Ultima game in the series.  It's still worth a look for the oddness of its setting and design, but not an Ultima game I revisit very often.

Publisher: Sierra On-Line, Origin Systems
Platform: Apple II, Atari 800, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, FM Towns, Macintosh, MSX2, NEC PC-9801, FM-7

Ultima III: Exodus (Origin Systems, 1983)

A year after Ultima II, the third game was released, upping the ante even further for both the series and the genre.  Featuring animated player sprites (a rarity at the time) and a party system that allowed up to four characters to venture across the land together at once, Exodus upped the stakes in other ways too.  One can now interact with the world and characters in surprisingly clever ways - bribing guards to leave their posts, pickpocketing people to earn extra money, and buying horses to traverse the landscape quicker, avoiding enemies and consuming less food as one travels just to name a few.  As per the previous game, there are plenty of secrets to find, but grinding experience and cash is still a big part of the experience - leveling up boosts one's maximum HP, while finding money is required to purchase equipment and food.  Dungeons are required once again, containing important clues as well as four "Marks" which grant the player new abilities necessary to finish the game.  There is a lot to do in Ultima III, and it all feels well-integrated and significantly less grindy than the second, making this a simple but enjoyable early CRPG adventure.

Publisher: Origin Systems
Platform: Amiga, Apple II, Atari 800, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, FM-7, Macintosh, MSX2, NES, NEC PC-8801, NEC PC-9801, Sharp X1

Ultima: Runes of Virtue (Origin Systems, 1991)


A spinoff of the legendary CRPG Ultima series developed in-house by Origin themselves.  Don't get too excited, though, as being released on the lowly Game Boy meant that this wouldn't be the usual brand of adventure in a dense, well-realized fantasy world.  In fact, there's only the barest minimum in terms of plot or characters and the gameplay is changed up to be more of a Zelda-like experience, putting heavy emphasis on traversing traps, solving switch puzzles and fighting monsters.  It's not an especially good Zelda clone, though - action in the game is slow and cumbersome (with the player only able to fire one projectile at a time and enemies attacking relentlessly, draining the player's health in moments), puzzles often just boil down to tedious trial-and-error, and one mistake usually forces you to exit the dungeon completely in order to reset it and try again - not a good thing when each one has multiple floors and dozens of puzzles to complete.  It is at least notable for being the first Ultima game to feature multiplayer gameplay (via the system's Link Cable), but that's not much of an incentive to check it out when the core game simply isn't a very fun experience.

Publisher: Fujisankei Communications International
Platform: Game Boy

Ultima: Runes of Virtue II (Origin Systems, 1993/1994)


Runes of Virtue wasn't a particularly popular game even in its time, but being portable lent it a certain appeal; even if Game Boy/Game Gear games weren't so good, you could at least play them without being tethered to a TV.  So of course, it sold well enough to warrant a sequel, released two years later on the Game Boy and with a SNES version following a year after that.  It is a marginally more polished experience than the first with larger, fully-detailed towns, more items and NPCs to interact with, something resembling an overarching plot (albeit a simple and silly one) and substantially  refined gameplay.  That said, it's still a rather lacking game on the whole, with a lackluster presentation (no music in dungeons!), and generic, one-note level design and puzzles.  Had RoV2 come out in the same timeframe as the original Runes it may have fared a bit better, but with Link to the Past and Link's Awakening already on the market, you're just faced with a game that fails to stack up to those in even the most basic ways.  For Ultima fans and fans of puzzle-driven action-RPG experiences alike, this is one that felt dated even in its day and is downright dire by modern standards.

Publisher: Fujisankei Communications International
Platform: Game Boy, Super Nintendo

Wizardry 1, 2, and 3 (Sir-Tech, 1981, 1982, 1983)


The Wizardry franchise is one that needs no introduction to any serious RPG fan; one of the first major D&D-inspired franchises on computer platforms, it was among the earliest to have a party-based format and color graphics and even implemented some relatively new features like Prestige classes (only accessible once certain levels are reached in basic ones).   In fact, it was so influential that it inspired the likes of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy and even continues to get spinoff titles to this day in Japan (very few of which have been localized).  However, the first three games do suffer from a bit of poor planning- the original releases of 2 and 3 can only be played with a party created and imported from the previous game, resulting in each game selling less copies than the previous.  It may be rather primitive by modern standards, unreasonably difficult in many ways and have an unwieldy interface even on its newer ports (for the NES and numerous other platforms), but the original Wizardry trilogy is a piece of history that's at least worth a look for any serious genre fan.

Publisher: Sir-Tech
Platform: Apple II, PC, Mac, FM-7, PC-98, PC-88, Sharp X1, Commodore 64, MSX2, NES, Turbografx-CD, Super Famicom, Game Boy Color, Wonderswan Color

Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna (Sir-Tech, 1987)


Wizardry IV represented a departure for the series norm in many ways - rather than playing as a player-generated party, the player was now put in the shoes of the first game's villain, Werdna, as he made his way out of the tomb he was imprisoned in and attempted to regain his power.  Befitting this, the player starts out extremely weak, but as they reach magic circles on each floor, their level increases and they can summon groups of monsters to their aid to help them battle foes.  The extreme difficulty of the previous games is taken even further here, with the player being required to have an intimate knowledge of the game's mechanics to succeed, only gaining levels at preset checkpoints, and decipher a number of obscure, cryptic clues in order to get the best possible endings.  One famous example of this is the very first puzzle the player encounters - they cannot escape the first room unless they know to summon a monster that can cast the Light spell, wait for them to cast it, and then use that to see a hidden door in order to escape.  Moreover, the game is on a strict time limit, with the player constantly stalked by Werdna's nemesis as an immortal specter, and if caught at any point, it's an immediate game over and restart.  An RPG that requires extreme skill, knowledge and a ton of luck to win through, it's little surprise that it's considered one of the very hardest RPGs ever made, if not #1 on that list.  So if you're in search of a true challenge that will push your skill and patience to its limits, well, this game was made just for you.

Publisher: Sir-Tech
Platform: Apple II, DOS, NEC PC-88, PC-98

Ys: Memories of Celceta (Nihon Falcom, 2013)

The fourth overall telling of Ys IV's story (having also seen outings on the Turbografx-CD, Super Famicom and Playstation 2 in prior years), but the first to actually be made by Falcom themselves.  It's also the second to utilize the party-based system of Ys Seven, with the player able to have up to three characters active and swap between them freely with the shoulder buttons.  One also earns skills and assigns them to the four face buttons in order to use them in combos and power them up, can dodge attacks with good timing to gain a temporary bit of slow motion a la Bayonetta, and even build up and use super moves to deal heavy damage to enemies.  Basically, if you enjoyed Ys Seven, you'll probably get a kick out of this one too.  If you're a fan of classic Ys, though, this one is still worth a look to see how it puts yet another twist on the story of Ys IV.  It's not my favorite of the series, but Memories of Celceta is another game worthy of the Ys name.

Publisher: XSeed Games
Platform: Playstation Vita, Windows, Playstation 4