Video Game Review: The Lone Ranger (NES)

I have never played The Lone Ranger for the original Nintendo but I went into this knowing nothing about the game and without having any expectations.

What I was really surprised to discover is that this is one of the greatest 8-bit action RPGs of all-time!

Seriously, no one talks about this game, I’ve never heard anything about it and because of that, I have to consider it a real hidden gem among the 600+ titles that were released for the system.

The thing that makes this game so great is that it employs multiple gameplay styles from bird’s eye view world traveling to side scrolling, vertical scrolling and first person shooter action levels. You fight in towns, on moving trains, in caves, in forts, in hotels, on mountains, in the desert and even get to fight on horseback in two different ways.

Man, this game is just cool as hell and a shitload of fun! It’s really damn difficult but it isn’t unbeatable. I did beat the game, even though it took some time, and it gave me a real sense of accomplishment unlike many games from the era that have really underwhelming endings. This game’s ending was pretty superb for the time.

There isn’t a dull moment or a boring mission. The game designers did a fantastic job at keeping every area of the game fresh and unique, always adding new twists and ways to play the game.

For the 8-bit era, this is close to a masterpiece. The only things working against it are a lack of maps in the first-person stages and frustrating controls that switch your weapon when you jump.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other action RPGs and western games for the NES.

Video Game Review: Conan: Exiles (PlayStation 4)

For my last video game review of the decade, I wanted to talk about something truly epic.

I bought this game without knowing much about it simply because it was a Conan the Barbarian game. I wanted to play a modern game set in that world, whether or not you could play as Conan or not.

Being that I never play multiplayer stuff online, this game, at first, felt like a waste of time. However, I found a lot to do in single player mode that made the game worth it to me and really, this game could be great or terrible depending upon what you want to get out of it.

Don’t go into this expecting a massive open world RPG with dozens upon dozens of quests like Skyrim. This is more of a survival game and it’s about living and prospering in Conan’s world more so than it is about simple adventure. But that’s not to say that adventure doesn’t exist, it does. But I’ll explain further as I work my way through this review.

The game starts with Conan sparing your life, as he unties you from a cross in the desert. From that point on, you have to figure out how to get food, water, how to make your own clothes and learn how to construct a shelter to protect you from the harsh elements of the desert wasteland.

As the game moves on, you gain experience, you get better at surviving and you discover new biomes (or environments) to explore and survive in.

Apart from survival, this is mainly a game about exploration. So if you dig survival stuff and exploring massive video game worlds, you should probably enjoy this game. It took time for me to adjust to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be clearly defined objectives or what I thought was a point to the game but when it clicks, it becomes fairly addictive.

Now getting back to what initially may feel like a lack of adventure, the game does provide it in a way.

First, exploration is an adventure and this game throws so many beasts, supernatural threats and savage men at you that traveling around is a challenge in and of itself. But man, walking from one end of the map to another is tough but it’s damn fun, as the world has a lot of different and unique challenges from biome to biome.

Also, the game may not have quests but it has great dungeons and the game’s developers are always crafting and making new ones, as the game has pretty frequent updates and tweaks, even 18 months after its release.

The game may lack a clear story or objective but each dungeon sets you on a path that pretty much serves as a one-off quest. And each dungeon feels unique and I’ve yet to play through one that wasn’t a fun experience.

On top of that, there are a ton of subterranean caves to explore, which aren’t specifically dungeons but they have their own challenges and treasures to discover.

There are also mini bosses and big bosses throughout the game. Almost every animal has a giant counterpart that is tough as nails to beat but rewarding when you do, as most have keys that open very helpful treasures.

I’ve been playing the game for a few months now and I mostly build cool cities with pyramids, castles and labyrinths but I really like going off into the wild and discovering new places. After all this time and exploring every biome, I still come across new caves and interesting locations every time I wander out beyond the safety of my multiple shelters.

Again, many people might not like this as it isn’t what most people would initially hope for in a gigantic RPG style sword and sorcery game but if you stick with it and give it a real shot, it will probably grow on you.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other open world survival RPG-type games.

 

Video Game Review: Willow (NES)

Strangely, I never rented or even borrowed this game as a kid. I knew it existed but even though I loved the film, I guess the game didn’t appeal to my pre-middle school brain.

Having played it now, this is one of the best action RPGs on the original Nintendo. The gameplay style reminds me a lot of the stupendous Crystalis. It also has similarities to the original Zelda.

You play as Willow and work your way through the same general plot of the film, except this mostly plays like all the side quests that you maybe didn’t see on the big screen in the film itself.

This alters the movie’s plot to fit the game better but it expands on a lot of things and gives more context. Granted, none of this context is really canon within the Willow story but it works and it makes the game pretty interesting.

In fact, had they incorporated some of the ideas from the game into the film, they maybe could’ve expanded Willow into an epic fantasy trilogy, as opposed to just a one-off film that’s still never gotten a cinematic followup.

The gameplay is smooth, the graphics are damn good and I like the music and sound effects.

Willow was a much better experience than I had anticipated and if you dig the movie or just dig action RPGs, this is definitely worth your time.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other action RPGs from the original Nintendo, primarily Crystalis.

Video Game Review: Faxanadu (NES)

This had the makings of something that could have been a really stellar game.

I liked the graphics, the world was pretty cool and the level design was mostly good.

However, the gameplay mechanics are shit. And on top of that, this is overly difficult due to the placement of enemies and for having enemies that seem way too overpowered than they need to be almost from the get go.

You get a bit of gold early on and can use that to buy weapons, armor, shields, etc. but none of the stuff you get in the beginning is very helpful.

Also, you can’t duck and slash at bad guys, so small enemies you pretty much have to jump over. The problem with this is that the jumping mechanic is terrible. It’s similar to the jumping in the first Castlevania, a game that no matter how close to a masterpiece it is, the shitty jumping was always an insanely frustrating thing.

Additionally, jumping over enemies is kind of a bitch when you can’t jump far and there is almost always another enemy to fight right behind them. It’s damn near impossible to play this game without taking immense damage because of how awful enemy placement is.

And on top of that, they often times place small enemies on very small platforms, so there is nowhere to jump without getting knocked off. Plus, when the jumping ability is garbage, it only compounds that frustration.

I wish that this game was more fun, quite a bit easier, at least early on, and that it wasn’t designed to just drive the player insane. I would’ve been pissed if I spent full price on this game back when it was new.

And while it does have strong positives, you’re ready to throw your controller through the window before you can really relish in any of that.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other action RPGs for the original Nintendo.

Video Game Review: Crystalis (NES)

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really get into this game as a kid. I had a neighbor that played the shit out of it and I’d watch him but I didn’t know the story or what the objective was.

In the years since this has come out, I’ve heard it described as one of the top action RPGs for the original Nintendo. I’ve heard it compared to both of the original NES Zelda games. So being that those two games were two of my favorites of all-time, I figured that a playthrough of Crystalis was decades overdue.

Plus, I was in the right headspace for this now, as I just played all four Dragon Warrior games and the first Final Fantasy.

So now that I’ve played and conquered this game, I have to say that it is one of the best NES games ever made and it’s the best action RPG after the two Zelda games.

It was a hell of a lot of fun and even though you’ve got to grind for some experience points, here and there, you do level up fast enough that it’s not a total chore.

I love the level design and frankly, the geographical layout of the whole game.

In fact, everything is near perfect other than two gripes I have.

The first is the multiple swords. It’s cool that the game plays off of the four elements but different enemies have different weaknesses and it’s tedious to go into the menus to switch swords and have to sometimes go through all four of them to figure out which ones work on which monsters. Dungeons where different monsters have different weaknesses is pretty tiresome.

The second is that the game won’t even let you damage monsters unless you are at the level to do so. Usually, bosses are at a level higher than the monsters in their own dungeon. So being at a certain level and working your way through a dungeon just to find out that you aren’t leveled high enough to even damage the boss is pretty infuriating. Because then you have to leave the dungeon, go somewhere and grind up to the next level and then go back and work your way through it a second time. This happened to me in just about every dungeon until I just decided to spend a couple hours completely maxing out my character.

Still, despite those hangups, this is a damn solid game and one of the best of its time.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy (NES)

I’ve got to say, Final Fantasy didn’t start off with a bang. At least not in the same way that the Dragon Quest franchise did.

While this is a pretty damn good 8-bit RPG, it seems like it’s really lacking when compared to the first Dragon Quest a.k.a. Dragon Warrior.

Now this does benefit from having a party and not just playing as a sole character. However, managing the party is kind of tedious and cumbersome. It’s not clear which character types are more beneficial and which combos work best. But there are a good amount of options. The only problem, is once you choose your party, you’re locked in.

Additionally, the game design isn’t that great. Everything looks like a basic and watered down version of the original Nintendo Dragon Warrior games. It lacks color, vibrancy and is kind of dull after playing through four Dragon Warrior games in a row.

Also, you have to grind like a MFer. It’s not really clear what levels you need to be at, as you advance, but sometimes you beat a section really easy and then the next portion of the game can have an extreme jump in difficulty.

In the end, it comes down to fun factor and time invested. This wasn’t as fun for me as the Dragon Warrior games, which I also preferred as a kid. Also, this took a lot of time to complete and most of that was spent grinding, which really put a halt on the momentum of the story and my enthusiasm in trying to complete it.

However, this is the first game of many and like Dragon Quest, each chapter would improve things and become better balanced.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Final Fantasy games and the superior Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest games of the era.

Video Game Review: Dragon Warrior IV (NES)

Well, I finally reached the summit! I have finally conquered all of the Dragon Warrior games for the original Nintendo! It was a massive and very time consuming undertaking with a lot of experience point grinding and wandering around aimlessly without the Nintendo Hotline to call.

After my experience playing the two previous games, this one was so refreshing and it didn’t force me to have to grind my ass off for what felt like weeks on end. This installment in the franchise finally got the XP issue fixed, as it is pretty much a perfectly balanced game in that regard.

This is also the most innovative in the series for several reasons.

First, the story is broken out into five acts. That’s right, you play five very different chapters, each introducing new protagonists. In the fifth act, you finally get to play as your self named “hero” character. But as that chapter rolls on, you are joined by new party members, most of whom are made up of the other characters you played as in the earlier acts.

Second, the party size in this game is immense. You now have eight or more characters to rotate into your playing party of four. What’s even cooler, is that when you get XP from battles, the inactive characters also level up. This way you don’t have to do extra XP grinding with a myriad of lineups trying to have everyone maintain the same level.

Third, this also adds in part-time party members that help out on certain missions. This is kind of cool as the game sort of throws new allies at you as you progress. It makes this feel like a bigger, more important story as the decent people of the land want to directly assist you.

I really liked the maps and the structure of the overworld, as well as the dungeons and towers. This is the best designed game of the lot and most locations feel unique and also different than what you’ve encountered in the games before this one.

Between the game play and the overall design, this Dragon Warrior is like a whole new game, even if the graphical style is the same as the previous three.

I love old school 8-bit RPGs and the Dragon Warrior games for the original Nintendo are my favorite of the bunch. But this one is absolutely perfect from start to finish. While I gave the first game a perfect score, I wish I could give this one a score higher than that. Where I thought the first one was mostly perfect, this one greatly exceeds it.

Rating: 10+/10
Pairs well with: The other Dragon Warrior a.k.a. Dragon Quest games for the original NES, as well as the NES Final Fantasy games.

Video Game Review: Dragon Warrior III (NES)

My biggest complaint about Dragon Warrior II was the grinding. Sadly, it may actually be worse in this chapter, as I felt like I spent countless hours being forced to grind away for experience points in an effort to progress in the game.

Still, this was a damn good installment in the series and in spite of my fun and the adventure screeching to a halt too often, the game was great when I was able to actually play it and not get my ass kicked.

I like that the overworld map was very similar to Earth and that once you’ve been everywhere and have defeated the big evil, a chasm opens up, revealing a new darkworld where the real big evil lives. So once you think that you’ve beat the game, you realize that there is a whole new world to explore and save from darkness.

Also, the ending of this game leads into the story of Dragon Warrior I. So this is a prequel. Although, that can be figured out if you pay attention to and remember all the details from the first and third games.

Overall, this game felt much larger in scale than the others. The second game felt massive compared to the first but this one feels like it also dwarfed its predecessor since it gave you a second world map. Additionally, this one also took the longest to play. But, again, a lot of that was grinding and grinding hard.

For fans of the series, this is a pretty satisfying chapter. Dragon Warrior always had the edge for me over Final Fantasy back in the early days of the two franchises. However, after I play through Dragon Warrior IV, I do plan to give the 8-bit Final Fantasy games a replay, as it’s been decades and my opinion on which franchise was better, could now be very different.

If it weren’t for all the tedious grinding, this would have been a 10 out of 10.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Dragon Warrior a.k.a. Dragon Quest games for the original NES, as well as the NES Final Fantasy games.

Vids I Dig 045: Generation Gap Gaming: ‘The Legend of Zelda’ NES Secrets and History

From Generation Gap Gaming’s YouTube description: I still get so excited talking about The Legend of Zelda on the NES because I have found so many secrets over the 30 years I’ve been playing the game and I am still finding out secrets to this day. I wanted to share my favorite secrets and historical facts with you about my favorite game of all time!

Video Game Review: Dragon Warrior II (NES)

In my review of the first Dragon Warrior a.k.a. Dragon Quest game, I’m sure I talked about how it was one of my favorite RPGs of all-time and my number one favorite for the original Nintendo.

I tried playing this one way back in the day but I couldn’t get a handle on it. I think that when I was a kid, I found it difficult because of all the bells and whistles that Enix added to this game.

You see, instead of being one badass knight, you now had a party with three characters and you also found yourself in battles with multiple enemies, sometimes as many as eight! In the original game, all the encounters were always one-on-one.

As a kid, I felt overwhelmed by this game. But as years rolled on and I played more advanced RPGs, the things that caught me offguard with this game weren’t really a problem for me anymore.

In fact, the innovations that this game made, changed the RPG landscape going forward, as everyone else started developing RPGs with parties and multiple monsters to fight all at once.

Looking at this now, and at face value, this is everything that the first game was but even better!

However, as great as this is and as much as I enjoy most of it, it’s bogged down by some problems. But the issues it has have more to do with this being the first of its kind and not having the understanding of how important gameplay balance is to an RPG.

This game is massive when compared to its predecessor. There is so much area to explore but it can be a bit much and remembering which town is which and how to get to an area is hard to remember. You definitely need to use maps with this game.

Additionally, some of the dungeons are massive and completely maddening.

But the biggest issue, is that the leveling system is unbalanced with the pacing of the game and you have to literally spend hours upon hours grinding away for experience points. The problem with that, is that it ruins the game’s momentum.

Before you can go to the final castle and run through a string of five, yes five, powerful bosses, you have to spend days, maybe weeks, building up your characters. And your second character is a total weakling that dies all the time and makes it hard for him to collect experience because of that.

Also, the game is impossible without using guides. You can talk to every person in every town but most of the time, it is never clear what you need to do to advance the plot. Playing this now, I kept a walkthrough of bullet points handy because I would have been lost without it.

A lot of people shit on this game and I understand why. I still loved playing it though. And from what I’ve heard, Dragon Warrior III corrects a lot of this game’s mistakes. I plan on playing that one in the very near future.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Dragon Warrior a.k.a. Dragon Quest games for the original NES, as well as the NES Final Fantasy games.