Friday, August 4, 2017

Paladin's Quest (SNES) Review

Received: December 25th, 2016 / Written: July 24th-August 4th, 2017
Alternate Title: Lennus: Kodai Kikai no Kioku [  ]
Year: 1992, 1993 | Developed by: Copya System and Asmik Corporation
Published by: Enix

Disclaimer: Might contain spoilers
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here, passionate about video games, big retrophile, and it's been awhile since I've talked about a turn-based RPG, so let's cover another one!  =)

During the '90s was a developing company named Copya System (who would change their name to Shangri-La in 1996) whose previous credits comprised of Air Diver on the MegaDrive/Genesis, their port of Sega's Power Drift for the NEC PC Engine, the racer Dead Heat Scramble for the Game Boy, Go! Go! Tank for the Game Boy, Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel for the MegaDrive, the licensed Game Boy platformer Popeye 2, and provided sound to the Nintendo 16-bit port of the Seibu Kaihatsu shoot'em Raiden (albeit as Raiden Densetsu/Raiden Trad).
Excellent NTSC SNES cover, one of my favorites along with the Brandish cover art  ^-^
On November 1992 the Super Famicom saw the release of Copya System's foray to the RPG genre with Lennus: Kodai Kikai no Kioku (which translates to "Lennus: Memories of an Ancient Machine") which was published in Japan by Asmik Corporation; it wouldn't arrive in America for the SNES until October 1993 as Paladin's Quest (courtesy of Enix).  This was the fifth game published by them for the console in America (Quintet's ActRaiser and SoulBlazer being the first two, Almanic's E.V.O.: Search for Eden being third, and Produce's The 7th Saga being fourth) and the first one to not have originally been published by Enix in Japan.  Are you ready for adventure?  =D

The game takes place on an otherworldly planet named Lennus which is comprised of two continents separated by the Equator Rivers; the upper continent (Naskuot) and the lower continent (Saskuot).  10,000 years earlier were three notable individuals who brought a special quality that would shape the foundation for the people of Lennus to come: Kormu brought courage, Sophie brought love, and Gabnid brought wisdom.
During present day an evil dictator named Zaygos, who's just conquered and spread his influence over the people of Saskuot, has hatched a plan to do the exact same to Naskuot and rule over everyone.  Things don't bode well for Lennus if he goes through with it, and he does.
In the village of Grantsurk up in Naskuot was a magic school where spiritualists, those gifted with offensive and defensive magic capabilities, attended and learned their spells.  One day after school is finished, a thirteen-year old Lafury from Reiyold named Chezni who aspires to be a great spiritualist gets dared into climbing the Tower of Gabnid by his classmates.  Once he enters and gets to the top of the tower he unwittingly activates a machine by placing his palm on the activation pad; as a result a dark and mysterious force of evil emanates from the shadows and renders Chezni unconscious.
When Chezni wakes up he discovers that the village and magic school have been destroyed and all the people there have died (except for the Master).  'o'  Damn, that's quite the impetus for the chain of events to come if it was all because of a small dare, holy crap!  Upon seeing the Master he explains that Chezni has unleashed Dal Gren, the machine that was activated, and that he must stop it at all costs before it destroys the world of Lennus.  He'll have to go a long way to right this devastating wrong.

And thus the quest to save all of Lennus begins
Paladin's Quest is a turn-based RPG viewed from a top-down perspective, with the young spiritualist Chezni moving in only four directions.  During these moments you can talk to people and open up futuristic-looking chests with the A button as well as press it in front of bookcases or wardrobes should they have an item stowed in there (you never know what you'll find, check all of them just in case), and once you procure the map you can access it via the Y button to let you know where you currently are (but only during the overworld).

Goblin attack
As this is an early Nintendo 16-bit turn-based RPG the battles that take place will be random most of the time except for the bosses who are always visible as only Chezni (and his party) can be seen otherwise.  When battle is initiated the viewpoint is more or less of a first-person variety where only the enemies can be seen, and this is where the approach gets unique in the genre in that the battle options are exclusively selected and chosen via the direction buttons.  Any time it's your turn you have four options: attack (right), defend (up), magic (left), and run (down); when choosing to attack you have six different options to use (using your weapon and/or shield in either left or right arm, using your headgear, using your body protection, using your leg power, and using an item from a belt which depending on what you have will either replenish health or counteract poison or toss bombs to the enemy or enemy group) against one of four possible enemy kinds of your choice, and if you want to undo the option(s) just press the B button if you change your mind before replying "Yes" (right) to your selected options.  Very fascinating!

Being a spiritualist Chezni will learn different kinds of magic and the more times he uses certain ones the more powerful they'll become in the process, but there is a catch though: using magic will cost you varying amounts of health depending on the spell.  "Wait, isn't there MP?", you must be wondering as that's usually what's used in the genre.  Well...
Heh heh heh,... "superstitious nonsense", heheh, the very idea.........  =I

First order of business: find Fritz and have him
help you save Ratsurk's spiritualist Midia
Despite how it sounds it's not something to fret about as it doesn't take away all of your health at once, only a fraction of it, so just keep track of how much health you've got before going through with it.  It also doesn't hurt to try attacking physically as there may be enemies which can easily be dealt with through a weapon than through magic and vice versa, so it's best to alternate tactics every once in a while.  When attempting to run away if you don't think you can handle or don't wish to deal with it there's a chance that you may get away scot-free and there's also the chance that the enemy (groups) might be hellbent on stopping you in your tracks.  Naturally winning a battle will garner you a certain amount of Gold (the game's currency) and experience points, and the moment you have a sufficient amount of the latter you'll gain an extra level (thereby augmenting your health capacity, your offensive and defensive stats, your luck skills, and your agility); once in awhile they may drop a treasure for your taking (you never know) and each time after that (only it requires accumulating more experience points than before).

Treading dangerous territory
When it comes to villages there are item and weapons shops where you can sell items and equipment that are no longer necessary, refill "medicine" in the belts (the limit is nine per belt; individually for any character in your party, for your inventory bag, or select "All" to do it all at once) and purchase the currently powerful equipment.  There are also hotels where you can sleep and replenish all your health (cost goes up with each new member of your party) as well as save your present progress in any one of four save files.  Initially you start with just Chezni but before long you'll be accompanied by other characters in your journey, with the party capacity being four and the three companions following Chezni in a conga-like fashion.

Two heads are better than one
While Chezni is the main character there is another spiritualist that is an equally vital part of the game with the female thirteen-year old Lafury and Ratsurk protector Midia who wants to follow him everywhere you goes after she's been rescued from an Alornso and does stick with him throughout (save for a moment where she's taken as hostage).  Occasionally there are other characters that will fight alongside you, and during the course of Paladin's Quest you'll find some mercenaries (in bars or in certain places) varying in might and magic that you can hire (some will tag along for free, some will go for a certain fee, one is a money-stealer and will try to make a fast one on you, one will only join you if you get her all five pieces of equipment sold in her village, and one will only join you if their brother can go too).  The only people you can equip in your party (and teach new magic to) are Chezni and Midia for the mercenaries that you recruit pride themselves in their equipment and magic prowess (should they have any).

Nomadic village aboveground
With the X button during the moments when it's viewed from a bird's eye perspective you'll open up a menu with six options: there's the item option where you can use an item, equip Chezni and Midia (and each time you have to go through Head, Right Hand, Left Hand, Body, Legs, Belt, and approve; I know it sounds cumbersome but it's not a huge problem for me personally), discard an item, and organize your inventory if you feel like it; you can view the strengths of the characters in your current party, view their stats, see their equipment, and see what magic they're capable of (and how much of the gauges are filled); customize the order of your characters if you so choose to; use non-battle magic; relieve a mercenary of their position in your party (if they allow you to) to make room for any new member you meet; and finally there's the option to alter the message speed as well as customizing the button functions (again, it's up to personal preference; even the default button choices can be a personal preference).  When you emerge from or run from battle and any character is knocked out cold then they'll just have one health point in the overworld where you'll get a chance to heal them, but if all party members become unconscious during battle then you'll be brought back to the title screen and have to start over from your last save point.
There is a cute joke in the town of Rekuon where you enter this one building where the inside is deliberately 8-bit in look and feel as there's a clergyman who awaits to revive someone as if it were a Dragon Quest RPG (likely as an homage to those games what with Dragon Quest being revered as the grandfather of turn-based RPGs, or for an example from the past decade Guadia Quest from indieszero's Nintendo DS love letter to all things Nintendo 8-bit with Retro Game Challenge) as in those games when a member's health was zero then they would be a ghost until revived... but since that's not the case here, the clergyman becomes all sheepish at this and in his rush out of the building he trips prior to exiting.  That's just adorable!  =3

"Uhhh, uhhhhhh, uhhhhhhhhh,..."  D8
The visual style in Paladin's Quest takes on a pastel-toned look with the whole of Lennus being drawn in a fascinating manner which gives the game its own sense of visual appeal.  When you first step outside of the magic school in Grantsurk you're treated to a bright and peaceful realm with futuristic-looking architecture abound with round-shaped trees, it's not something that was really seen before which made it look fresh yet inhabitable, which makes the aftermath of what happens to it after Chezni inadvertently activated Dal Gren sad for it's become barren and desolated with destroyed buildings.  =(  Luckily there is more to explore in Naskuot after the fact, and then Saskuot afterward.

Purpbird attack
The overworld landscape in Naskuot is fascinatingly designed with the yellow sand-like ground (further exacerbated by the crashing waves of the water by the edges which when looking at the body of water it's serene-looking), and every once in awhile are huge green crystal-like structures; all of which does a great job at capturing your attention.  There's moments when you're in aboveground places when you see the ground below you: like in a nomadic village with the winged Skuruus on the way to see the great spiritualist Daphne to learn how to stop Dal Gren as well as in the temple of Zaygos when you walk outside, but inside the mayor's flower-shaped building in Jurayn there's a floor pattern that's made cool by the fact that it's transparent which enables you to see the landscape and water below you.  That's very cool!

Climbing
Another example is the port city of Lagon which is well-designed with the wooden infrastructure and the water encompassing all that is below it which has a cool wavy reflection underneath a statue of a dragon (I enjoy little details like that) and when entering the cave above it you're walking inside a huge skeleton of the dragon Strabo which by all accounts is genuinely creepy with nothing but an undulating skeletal path and a black background outside of that.  In the continent of Naskuot is even an underground village residing next to a volcano which by the time you get there is under threat of being buried by lava (with the lava being very vibrant and red).
Later in the game you actually get sent back in time to see the Lennus of 10,000 years ago to find a potent weapon that will destroy Dal Gren in the present where Copya System takes the days of black and white to a literal level as the color has been entirely sucked out except for Chezni and his party which gives that brief monochromatic moment a very surreal quality--actually, Paladin's Quest as a whole is quite the surreal experience on a visual sense.

*ROAR*
Conversely, the southern continent of Saskuot isn't as rich and lively as Naskuot for it's gray and barren for there's rubble adorning the barely held together villages where the inhabitants reside inside (sometimes cracked) giant eggs and during the overworld there are purple crystal-like structures.  In the village of Misuto the buildings are held aloft (where you have to go up the stairs in each one to get to the main attraction) where it's enshrouded in a light fog which adds a sense of atmosphere and the town of Conshiuto is laid next to a desert where it's huge and busy to the point where you have to go around in a circle in order to access the center building.  Some of the best-looking areas come in the end where there's this highly advanced technology and structure lingering about that seems to predate even Lennus' history which has also got blinking lights and little details that make it stand out from the rest.
When battle is initiated the overworld flattens itself to nothing as a way to cut to battle where the battle screen stretches from nothing to fit the screen (and vice versa when you get out from battle).  I like how detailed the settings look from a first-person account during these moments, as well as how more of it is revealed when trying to run as it pans to either the left or the right.  =)
The monsters in this game come in all shapes and sizes and they are all well-drawn, plenty of them being imposing in their own way (the monster that emerges after Chezni activated Dal Gren is ominous in that it is not fully revealed due to it being in shadow, and it's got a good entrance as it's revealed after a few thunder strikes); when it comes to attacking you their animations are decent on the whole (yeah, some of them do briskly turn their stationary poses to both directions in quick succession as they physically attack you, but at least in this case they do more than just that unlike in Neverland's Estopolis Denki II/Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals/Lufia which came out more than two-plus years later for the same console--embarrassing).
If you are curious about Paladin's Quest but are prone to seizures and epilepsy then I do not recommend you play this RPG as some of the major spells (namely the blow up magic) do culminate in flashing imagery as the explosion or storm is going on for several seconds.  I'm not an epileptic so it doesn't affect me, but this is a warning to those who are.

Lava's gradually rising
Because the battles are viewed in first-person you don't see Chezni and his party but do get quick motions of their attacks when they land on the enemy (whether it be slashes or knocks to name a couple).  Chezni and his many companions have got a decent in-game design with solid walking animations, there's a cool warp effect when you use magic to escape from a dungeon or warp to the last village you were in, and when you browse each characters' strengths you get to see a nice anime-like profile of them.  There are a couple of moments in the game when fire has been set, and when near the fire there is a reddish tint which again augments a sense of atmosphere; plus the in-game sprites for the friendly and non-friendly NPCs are nicely drawn as well.

Let's stop the lava
The music for Paladin's Quest was performed by the Morimoaly Grand Orchestra, with the original score being composed by none other than Kohei Tanaka.  Tanaka had become a prolific composer in the mid '80s, providing his talent for anime and movies (some among them falling in the special effects heavy tokusatsu series, the word literally translating to "special filming"), and would begin to compose music for video games in 1990 beginning with Cybernetic Hi-School Part 3: Gunbuster, continuing with games like Chōkō Gasshin Xardion (probably the only positive going for the Jorudan platformer) and Top o Nerae! GunBuster Vol. 1.  This RPG would be his next venue in the video game music department (for most people it would've been their first exposure to Tanaka's craft), and it is a fantastic score in my opinion for he captures the surreal quality of the game succinctly and does a really great job at amplifying a grand sense of atmosphere thereby bringing Lennus to life.  =)

It's pouring rain in Jurayn
The village theme heard in the continent of Naskuot is very pleasant to listen to as there's a warm and inviting quality to it that makes it very comforting, at least when things are pleasant; during moments where a village is in distress or in bad condition it's replaced by an eerily intimidating cue that's rather scary in the grand scheme of things (if your party rests in a hotel and the innkeeper asks you if you had a good night's sleep... um, no, not with that scaryarse theme playing in the background I did not).  When you exit Grantsurk for the first time it cuts to the title that's accompanied by a grand orchestral cue that pumps you for the adventure that you're about to embark on (I think Paladin's Quest may have been one of the earliest RPGs that showed the title a second time shortly after you started the game preceded by the title screen when you turned the game on).

Well this isn't creepy at all...
The Naskuot overworld theme is incredibly elevating and really kicks things into high gear with its adventurous tone that culminates in a grand finish, I love it.  =)  The theme that plays when you venture inside the caverns and mountain with the Purpbirds sounds menacing, and when it comes to exploring sacred areas and settings there's a spiritually haunting composition with a choir-like aura to it.  The battle themes rock, and the normal battle theme (generally the weakest song in a turn-based RPG) is actually good this time around and gets you pumped, and in this case there are two: one for when you battle outside and one for when you battle indoors.  The theme for when you fight a boss is energetic and action-packed (and when you win the battle and level up there is this victory fanfare that's enriching), the theme for when you confront Zaygos creeps up on you the further the battle goes, and the very final battle theme is dark and impending with a do or die urgency to it.
Kohei Tanaka also manages to create good cues for relatively short moments; like the flight theme (first heard when the Skuruu Tiger is flying Chezni and Midia) which is breathtaking and makes you want to fly, the theme for when Strabo is carrying you on his back sounds majestic, the theme for when you ride the railcar is catchy, when riding a rocket from one section of the secret underground of Lennus to another there's a techno beat that's brief yet exciting,...
when you sail in the open ocean later on there's a beautiful and breezy theme that accompanies it when there isn't any random battle occurring (it's a shame that you only hear it until you reach Piaz in a secluded island, I would've loved to have heard more of that), plus there's a bouncy and upbeat parade theme after you help the mayor out in Roki who lets you be a part of a parade as a way to sneak into the Tower of Zaygos to destroy Noi Gren (yay, parades).  =)

I can see everything below me  =O
Opposite of how positive-sounding the themes in the Naskuot continent are, the overworld theme for Saskuot sounds dire and its initial village theme in the southern continent sounds aggressive with the pounding drums.  Eventually when you reach the fog-enveloped Misuto you'll meet a special NPC named Joyce who unlike the other people in Saskuot decides to help the heroes from Naskuot out where there's a brief yet enthralling theme that's filled with warmth and hope which for a moment will replace the normal Saskuot village theme after Chezni and his party consume the Kaiyowa bread which she prepares after they found it for her in a nearby cave (which will thereby alleviate them of their Naskuot smell, because that's how food consumption works).

*CHOMP*
There is one village located in Saskuot in particular, named Karon, which has a frighteningly gloomy sound to it (made even more so with the realization that Gabnid, whom the people of Lennus had been praising for so long, had destroyed it 10,000 years earlier plus one other reason); there's a tranquil lullaby that's played two times, once when a piano player is convinced to play the song that Smash used as a lullaby for his late son which will get the depressed Godom to help you stop the lava from rising in Hagudo Town and the second time it's heard is when you meet Sophie and Kormu after being transported 10,000 years into the past; and the theme for when you are in the past is replete with appropriate amounts of mystique and surrealism on account of how far back you are in time.

Going to seek the advice of Daphne
The music heard when venturing in Zaygos' domain is intimidating (especially on the way to fight him inside Dal Gren), and the theme for when you venture and explore the secret underground is quietly atmospheric to the point that it makes this highly advanced segment breathe (almost rings shades of "Also Sprach Zarathustra").  When you manage to save Lennus there is an incredibly beautiful and rewarding theme that is so congratulatory that it's enough to put a tear in your eye when all is said and done as you meet up with the important people you met on the way to the end, but the symphonic suite heard during the initial end credits is so magnificently composed that it made the journey feel worthwhile.  =')  The sound effects are interestingly selected; like the loud knock sound for when you open up a door in any part of the game, the cymbal clash sound for when a defensive wall spell (normal or magic) has been cast on one or more members, the blow up spell has a fittingly booming and explosive sound, the sound for when you warp is neat, I love the sounds for when you answer a multiple choice question correctly (ding-a-ding-a-ding-a-ding-a-ding-a) or when you answer wrong (buzz-buuuzzz), and the sound for when Chezni executes his strongest magic spell during the final battles is legitimately offputting and creepy (the visual accompaniment adds to this exponentially).
The NTSC cover for Alundra 2 is dynamic and well-composed in my opinion  =)
Kohei Tanaka is still in the music business today, with his most recent contribution being the Gravity Rush video game series, but if you were curious to hear more of his goodness then I highly suggest checking out Matrix Software's 1997 action-oriented (The Adventures ofAlundra and its underappreciated (in name only) 1999 Contrail-produced sequel Alundra 2: A New Legend Begins on the PlayStation One for his soundtrack work is extraordinary on both counts, especially the first game (he even provides a cameo of himself here) which had music that succinctly matched the tone and emotion and power of each scene; even the next game, while not as deep or thematic, still had likably effective compositions in their own right.  Tanaka really knows how to make music that's genuinely engaging and effectively emotional and atmospherically surreal, plus he really knows how to make dark and haunting and scary themes that make your skin crawl, all of which I commend him for.  =)

Better than The 7th Saga in my book
Both in terms of its pier city and overall quality
The English adaptation for this game was done by Roe R. Adams III, who also converted the kanji for Xardion to English text for its American release, and the good news is that the translation is good (funny enough, some of the Lennus staff worked on Chōkō Gasshin Xardion beforehand); the sentences are well-structured and the wording is good with evenly spaced letters.  It's not perfect for there are a handful of blunders (e.g. in the underground segment the service tool robot tells you the money value but doesn't include the currency initial next to the number when you buy or sell something, in Conshiuto one of the Fiorlans says that a prisoner will be executed "tommorrow" instead of "tomorrow"--I do sympathize, there was a point in my life when I wasn't certain how to spell that word--and immediately after retreating from said village Conshiuto is brought up again but left out the "o" in the name) and condenses the main heroes' names to a six character limit due to English lettering taking up more space than kanji (especially when item names and magic spells are heavily abbreviated, which can be awkward most of the time), but overall the translation holds itself together well and is easy to follow; well done!  =)
Image from Wikipedia; I haven't played this one, but I did hear that it's supposedly better
On July 1996 Asmik Corporation released onto the Super Famicom the Copya System-developed sequel Lennus II: Fuuin no Shito (or "Lennus II: The Apostles of the Seals" as it translates to) in Japan where it officially stayed (despite the fact that it would've been released during the early stages of the Nintendo 64 run there were plans to release it in America but ultimately got cancelled along with all other potential future Enix releases on the SNES once they closed their doors down to avert bankruptcy following financial troubles), also written and directed by Hidenori Shibao, that took place many years after today's game.  Considering how less of a reception today's turn-based RPG generally got in America compared to Japan there has been a high demand for the sequel to the point that it garnered a fan-translation which got transferred over to NTSC (and PAL) SNES reproduction carts in recent years, but surprisingly even if you decided to stick with the original kanji-driven Super Famicart it's ridiculously expensive.  Basically: good luck procuring a copy where the cost isn't so high.

Now that's just unnerving ={
I remember having found out about Paladin's Quest online many years ago online but when I read more about it I thought the idea of using HP as opposed to MP to cast magic was unusual, "Well, how would that work?"  The screenshots I had seen made it seem like it was a unique game on a visual level but ultimately took awhile to get to this game; one reason being because I'm a collector who plays games and there are only so many games to catch up with I cannot do it all at once (money doesn't come from trees, I spend conservatively when it comes to ordering video games from eBay) and another reason I took so long was because I had initially been hesitant to try it--

This battle sure is heating up
not necessarily because of the HP thing or because its reception isn't exactly glowing (opinions are, after all, subjective) but really due the concern of being able to handle this game (I have been burned by turn-based RPGs to the point of deterring me from wanting to continue my progress before, namely by The 7th Saga and Capcom's Breath of Fire II, I didn't want the same to happen here).  Wanting to get over my ambivalence I had asked for it (and other games) for Christmas in 2016 to quench my curiosity for it, and when I received it in CIB condition (with a box and manual too) and got to the game I had actually gotten hooked on it.  There were long playing sessions where I played it for hours and when I beat it eleven days later (with two or three days' break) it turned out that I had absolutely nothing to worry about for, not without some challenge, I could handle it just fine (which makes me feel awkward about my initial reluctance).  And in the end, I really liked it!  =)

Drinking from the restoration puddle
While the party members were admittedly light on character development (you don't really learn much new about them, with one exception pertaining to both Chezni and Midia where it's discovered that they are Raiga, being the descendants of Kormu and Sophie), what I felt was its strongest aspect aside from Kohei Tanaka's grand score was the design of Lennus as a whole; it was a fantasy world with futuristic sci-fi elements throughout which added a unique sense of atmosphere, plus as simple as the story was I just had to explore more of this world for I wanted to see more of it.  The idea of physically attacking enemies through any one of five (or six) ways is a cool concept, even though I mainly stick with using the weapon on the right arm and the belt for HP replenishing purposes (it doesn't hurt to alternate once in awhile, however); after awhile it started to become second nature to me.

Now those are some pearly whites
Of the SNES turn-based RPGs published by Enix in America I honestly enjoyed this game the most; Produce's The 7th Saga had a riveting score and cool premise behind it (getting to choose to play as one of seven characters) but was hampered by an unbalanced structure (but when you play the original version Elnard then you realize that Enix of America dangerously bungled up) and Quintet and Ancient's Robotrek was a cute and quirky game that was fun to play with a customization setting when it came to the robots that ultimately ended up being a double-edged sword (affecting the difficulty of the game depending on how many stats you gave) not to mention it was marred by a heavily hit and miss soundtrack and a messy translation.  I'm not saying Paladin's Quest isn't without its faults either, but to me it felt fair and balanced and was more satisfying--I certainly had a higher tolerance for this game than I did for Breath of Fire II.

Atmospheric fog
Capcom's sequel to one of my favorite RPGs Breath of Fire ultimately suffered in my opinion from unnecessary padding where experience points were divided by the number of people in your party (i.e. 100 EXP : 4 = 25 EXP per character, which is unacceptable) as opposed to everyone receiving the same high amount (i.e. everyone should get 100 EXP, that's how it should be) and the fact that you had to switch out characters every time to level them up which made it a time-consuming rollercoaster of tedium, add to that an infamously farcical translation and a soundtrack and story that did not make me feel engaged at all and you've got a turn-based RPG that, frankly, I felt was very boring and redundant--I tried on numerous occasions to give it a chance on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, but each time I lost interest because it failed to compel me the way its predecessor did.  Nothing against anyone if they like it, if you do that's fine, I just personally can't stand it and the fact that it gets higher praise than the more deserving first Breath of Fire (I'll never understand that) makes me sad, but I'm getting off base.

I cracked up the first time this happened  XD
That's an actual attack tactic?
The biggest beef people have with this game is the lack of a running feature: this game was made in 1992, and such a thing for the genre wasn't taken into consideration at the time.  The walking pace is on the deliberate side and random battles do become frequent, but for the most part I didn't mind that as the RPG genre is one where you're allowed to take your time plus Paladin's Quest is one such game that rewards patience.  Yeah, it would've been nice if you had the option to walk and dash like you would in Konami's Mōryō Senki MADARA 2, Quintet and Ancient's Robotrek, and in SquareSoft's Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, but at least this game got me invested enough to stick with it despite the slow pacing.

Run away from the blaring alarm
The mercenary hiring system is cool and does give this RPG a sense of replay value in terms of who you want to hire (or rehire if you want to recruit them again) and who you wish to keep in your party.  This game precedes Robotrek and Chrono Trigger in that you actually get sent back in time, and while the latter went all out with the time traveling concept, in the former Quintet and Ancient tried to make it seem ambiguous whether you actually went back in time (with the hero apparently having been knocked unconscious) but when you go back to Rococo Town it turns out: you did (how else would you explain Dr. Akihabara's son now having a portrait in the mayor's office as well as being in a grouped photo in an album when he wasn't before?), but in this game it's intentional.  When it comes to time traveling in video games there is often a surreal sensation about it because you've technically been in these areas before but they're so drastically different than you're accustomed to that it is a bit unrecognizable.  And that's another element Paladin's Quest excels at: surrealism.  =)

Icy cold snow
One thing I haven't really seen in an RPG before (of the games in the genre I played anyway) that took me by surprise was the subject of prejudice.  Not necessarily pertaining to race as there are several races in the game (Lafury, Saynol, Skuruu, Godom, Fiorla, Lubott, et al) but to an entire continent.  The first time you arrive in Saskuot and try to talk to the people there they are antagonistic and untrustworthy of anyone from the continent of Naskuot, commenting on their smell and not wanting anything to do with them; the moment Chezni and his party eat the Kaiyowa bread baked for them by Joyce in Misuto they are treated with less hostility.  The continent of Naskuot is prosperous while the Saskuot continent is poor which is probably why the latter has a strong viewpoint against the former, and it doesn't help that Zaygos has influenced them and promised the people of Saskuot a better life and to destroy the upper continent with the machine Noi Gren (not realizing his true intentions; luckily there is a Resistance that's against Zaygos).  I'm not saying I condone prejudice, but give the game credit for exploring a delicate subject rarely explored before in the genre in America, albeit only briefly.

Clawing down
With that said I do have some personal problems with this game, nothing game breaking necessarily but more of the nitpicking variety.  The first niggle comes from the title: why is it called "Paladin's Quest"?  This is a genuine thing to bring up because this game, despite being called Paladin's Quest, doesn't have any paladins to speak of; in fact, the very word isn't even used outside of the title.  The characters capable of offensive and magic capabilities are known as spiritualists, which is not the same as being a paladin (to be a paladin you also have to be a knight, which none of the characters in your party are).  I imagine that Enix figured Copya System's game wouldn't sell well if it retained the title "Lennus" in America, so they decided to pluck a word used in SquareSoft's Final Fantasy IV (initially released in America as Final Fantasy II) and there you go, "Paladin's Quest"... only the 1991 RPG properly established that paladins (or white knights) were a thing, and was a literal turning point for the main character Cecil as a means to redeem himself for his past actions; there's none of that here.  Enix couldn't have thought of something else?

Push the switch to reduce the water
in order to walk to that level
The second issue comes after you decide to keep Chezni's name or change it, where there is a message telling you that this game is about "the misadventures of Chezni".  Um, really?  Isn't "misadventure" normally used for stories where the tone is comedic?  Because make no mistake, despite the pastel-toned imagery Paladin's Quest largely plays itself really straight; there are moments of levity (like when you're given a breather as you have to answer multiple choice questions) which are well-timed, but this game is not a comedy.  SquareSoft's Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is an innocent feel-good comedy, Robotrek is a lighthearted comedy, Chrono Trigger is a half-comedy, Super Mario RPG is a full-on comedy, Paladin's Quest on the other hand is straight-faced fare.
In the town of Karon a spy for Zaygos posing as the leader of the Resistance sacrificed Joyce (who's been revealed to be with the Resistance), and after defeating Garana she says her last words to you and dies, culminating in fading to black and fading back to reveal that she's been given a tombstone dedicated to her.  This scene isn't played for laughs, it's a genuine moment that's treated with dignity.  And later when Chezni is told by his adopted mother to go to a tiny island and find a sword (the thunder saber isn't really that useful in my book but anyway) he returns to find that his home village Reiyold has been set on fire with lots of casualties killed by the Alornsos under Zaygos' order.  Truly a laugh-out loud riot, these "misadventures of Chezni", ugh, why would Enix do that to this game?  I suppose I should be thankful they didn't add "wacky" to the opening message, but still.  -_-
They also changed sound cues and treasure chest content between versions, so it's not exactly 100% the same game
It's almost as bad as what Enix of America did to The 7th Saga; while admittedly the color palette was improved (as evidenced right from the get-go with King Lemele's throne room), it still doesn't excuse the fact that they messed with that game's structure--in Elnard all seven apprentices felt like they had gotten stronger as they leveled up, including you, but in The 7th Saga the only character that didn't feel like they had gotten stronger with each level gained was you, which was overwhelmingly apparent when fighting an apprentice (thereby making for an unbalanced game).  Sadly, localization gaffes such as these are a dark reflection of American distributors' attitudes towards the medium at the time: while Japanese companies took video games very seriously, American distributors didn't share the same amount of care as they contrived changes which no one asked for that were ill-informed and largely unnecessary thereby resulting in an inferior version (they may not have meant to do that, but ultimately that's exactly what they did).  =(

*SLASH*
Anyway, back to Paladin's Quest.  When you take an underground path that leads you to a trapdoor in Hagudo Town's bar and convince the piano player to play Smash's son's lullaby song which in turn will take Smash out of his depression and briefly join you, you must then go back to the trapdoor; unfortunately you have to talk to the barkeeper enough times to get him out of the way because there isn't room to go around him plus he moves randomly (too bad you can't leap over people like Benjamin could in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest).  In speaking of music, it is a bit annoying as a video game music lover that after a battle is over or escaped from that the dungeon or overworld song has to start from scratch as opposed to resuming from where it left off like in SquareSoft's Nintendo 16-bit turn-based RPGs post-Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, so in order to listen to the whole theme uninterrupted you have to hold still or move enough times with the hope that a random battle won't put it to a stop.

Just the idea of walking on a an aboveground
path or bridge without rails genuinely puts me
on edge
There isn't a built-in time clock to let you know how long you've been playing which isn't a huge problem, but the thing is that Paladin's Quest is a fairly long RPG.  If SquareSoft could manage to include a time clock in their Nintendo 16-bit Final Fantasy RPGs, then why could Copya System not do the same for their take on the genre?  Maybe they didn't know how to incorporate it?  Still it would've been nice to know for sure the game's actual length in terms of hours.  The first time I managed to play through it in eleven days (with two or three days' break), and my second (and most recent) playthrough of it lasted eight days (with at least one day or two that I took a break); for my first playthrough my party's been wiped out several times, but on my second playthrough I've only been sent back to the title screen two times (I'd say that I had mastered it given these figures, but I wouldn't want to stretch that, but I have gotten better and more confident with it); I first beat it with Chezni at Level 69, and my recent playthrough saw him level up to 75.

Welcome to Reiyold pre-Alornso ambush
I did say that the translation was generally good on the whole, but I did also mention that the abbreviation due to the fixed-width font issue taking up more space than kanji could be very awkward at points.  Every once in a while you will find elemental items like "Air cd", "Water cd", and "Fire cd" either in chests or wardrobes or when an enemy is defeated later on; I had no idea that "cd" had stood for "card" until the final stages of the game in my first playthrough--there are two ways of gradually filling in any one of the eight elemental gauges (one of them is heart), one by using it to ensure efficiency and the other by using a card on any one of the members.  But then you'll also garner some items like "P tears", "S sweat", "G milk", and "P fth", and the first time I played the game I admit I had sold them because I didn't think they would be important but when I checked the item and enemy chart that came with the box it revealed that those items gradually add more to your health, strength, and agility.  Well, how was I supposed to know that the first time around?  I think an in-game option to let you know the purpose of each item would've been nice, heheh.  ^^

Defeat the Alornso admiral
I largely don't mind the slow walking pace of Chezni but the point where it starts to become a bit much is in the final underground segment leading to Dal Gren.  The path to the end comprises of several floors, with the bottommost one having a service tool robot and a save robot which were both created by Gabnid 10,000 years prior and random battles being more frequent than before.  When you reach the top floor and exit you discover that Dal Gren is at the Throne of the Immortals, but the path to Rekuon below it has been blocked; I guess it would've been too convenient to save your progress in that town which would've made the trip shorter, but it does makes it a bit of a process to go back down to the basement to save any time any of your characters leveled up--although it does make for a perfect place to level grind (at least Copya System waited until the end to have you go through all that).

Battling in the water
Finally, when you get deeper into Dal Gren there is a last-minute revelation that, to be vague for the sake of being vague despite being a review that contains spoilers, involves an element that was present at the very start of the game (before trouble even began).  I'll admit that in my initial playthrough that I did not see it coming at all, but that's mainly because I had forgotten that said element was even there until that very point as it's the second time that we see it; although frankly that revelation just adds so many questions in the grand scheme of things.  By the time you get here though, the game is almost over, making it less of a twist and more of an afterthought; too little, too late.
Despite these personal niggles, though, I still enjoyed this well-translated RPG; a lot more than I thought I would, but I thought it was fun nonetheless.  =)  It's a surreal treat all around which makes it atmospheric, especially as Chezni must try to reach the center of the crystal maze to unlock his greatest power without being caught by Doth (the first time you play it may take you countless times, but once you know the exact path to take you shouldn't have as much of a problem afterwards).  And hey, for Chezni being thirteen (a full year younger than Nasir from Lagoon) this whole quest is quite an accomplishment (granted he doesn't go at it alone here, but still).

Worth looking into in my opinion
Paladin's Quest is not a game for everyone; its slow pacing might drive some people off the wall as there's no way to go faster, those who are epileptic will likely suffer a seizure with some of the flashing images pertaining to some magic spells happening onscreen that Chezni and his party (or certain enemies) conjure, and those looking for a readily approachable experience might find themselves turned off by the package because it's so unconventional in terms of approach.  If you're a fan of the RPG genre and/or are forgiving about things such as pacing and length, I think you'll find something to enjoy with this game and even though it is different, by the same token that's part of its appeal; it's not a difficult game by any means to me, but it is somewhere in the medium-ish difficulty range if you stick with it and persevere (it just involves lots of level grinding in the end).  For being Copya System's first take on the genre I think they did a good job despite certain setbacks; I know there are plenty of people that don't feel highly about this game, and I do understand why, but it is worth checking out at least once if you're interested (some might opine that once is how many times you should play through it, but I think the RPG genre benefits from replays as there's a whole variety to explore in each playthrough, including this game).  As for me, I had no qualms playing through this game twice; and truth be told, this is a quest I would happily embark on again.  =)

My Personal Score: 7.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. There was a "The End" message, but I was too slow to take a screenshot of it as it faded to black and began the American credits so that image of Jurayn will do for now (at least I took that one).
 
P.S. 2
Now imagine that last line being spoken with the exact same over-the-top inflection as Charlize Theron's Queen Ravenna from Snow White and the Huntsman when she said it, and it gets so much better (and if you've seen the movie, then you'll know exactly where I'm going with this)!  ^^
Screengrabbed from my Region 1 Widescreen DVD of Snow White and the Huntsman, property of Universal
"YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME!!!!"
That'll never get old!  ^-^  Still an underrated movie.
 
P.S. 3 I'm sure there are people that'll disagree with my personal consensus for this review, and that's fine, different strokes for different folks (my only hope is that I explained myself well enough that it made it easy to understand why it is I feel the way I do about this game).  I could try to play through Elnard one of these days as it's thankfully more balanced and fair than The 7th Saga is, but it is different in terms of chest content and it is kanji-driven so... fingers crossed.  I can't promise a review of that one anytime soon though.
 
P.S. 4 This review has taken a lot out of me, I think I'll take a break from reviewing for a bit.
 
Happy 25th Anniversary, Lennus!!!  =D
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think (I will not tolerate spam); hope you have a great Summer, take care!  =)

1 comment:

  1. this game rocks. the original was better than the sequel IMO, it had more life and a more classical feel to it. The mercenary weren't as interchangeable as they were in the second game too.

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