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Arkista's Ring (NES) artwork

Arkista's Ring (NES) review

"The game is enjoyable for the first forty stages or so, but still not brilliant. It certainly isn't good enough to justify 124 stages, or even half that."

Arkista's Ring asset

I loved seeing developers experiment with new game concepts in the late '80s and early '90s. Even though this age of experimentation turned out a lot of poor titles, it was nice to see everyone so willing to shatter expectations. Mostly I noticed developers blending genres, as if they were asking 'what if...' with every new concept.

Q: What if Double Dragon had RPG elements?
A: River City Ransom

Q: What if Shadowgate had random encounters?
A: Sword of Hope

Q: What if Legend of Zelda bumped uglies with Berzerk and had a kid? You know, like a coin-op action game with an overhead view and a sense of adventure?
A: Arkista's Ring

I recognized both of Arkista's Ring's parents as I started the title up. It was like looking at a friend's child and seeing both him and his wife occupy the same space simultaneously. I smiled at the fond recognition and thought that the game could do no wrong.

Arkista's Ring screenshotArkista's Ring screenshot

The concept is simple. With run around an overhead view and fire arrows at anything that moves. Sometimes these "moving things" fire back, but mostly they wander about the screen or remain stationary. Each one you bump off may drop an item to aid you on your quest. Some will increase your health capacity, others are incredibly rare "holy" items that have specific passive functions (one of them restores your health as you walk, for instance), and others are consumable items that appear on your HUD. The consumables are invaluable, but since all items are represented by the same cloth bag sprite, you never know what you're going to pick up. It could be a potion to restore your health, or a blue wand that destroys all targets impervious to arrows, or even a red wand that allows you to shoot fireballs.

After you've retired enough henchmen, a key will appear. Nab that and head to the exit, and you're golden.

Arkista's Ring isn't concerned with challenge for the sake of challenge. It starts off incredibly easy and forgiving. Item drops are frequent, and most of them instantly restore bits of your health. Even then, enemies are not difficult to pick off. Most of them move slowly or not at all, fall with a single hit, and seldom move in tricky patterns.

I would list the lacking difficulty as a flaw, but it's easy to ignore. What really struck me was the levels. Although environmental graphics are nothing to gawk at, I loved developer Sammy's sense of creativity. Although there was very little written narrative, I felt like I was on a real voyage. I plucked arrows through enchanted forests, found vindication dropping goblins in a ruined village, cleared out harbors of marine menaces, and stormed enemy strongholds and brought their masters to their knees. Each change in environment accentuated the feel that I was undertaking a long quest spanning various countries.

Even though there are essentially three to five different types of enemies, Sammy tried to make up for this by providing different sprites for various parts of the game. Stock enemies like zombies, bats, wolves, and gargoyles appear throughout your quest. Accompanying them are much stranger creatures. While dodging striped worms at a harbor, I had to avoid the projectiles of what appeared to be white octopuses wearing graduation caps. Adorable cherubs tried to suck my blood while pink werehippos with swords wandered through the convoluted halls of one stage. But one enemy really took me by surprise: ninjas.

The final few stages are a true test of valor. For there you wage war with an army of ninjas, many of them so swift that they crowd you like zombies and rip you to shreds before you can process what happened. Some of them take many shots to fell, leaving you vulnerable to the other six or so coming at you with the devil's own quickness. There is hope, though. There's a certain item that can only be gained in the later stages that allows you to put ninjas to sleep. Only then can you murder them by the scores in cold blood, all so you can get to the final boss and see that magical ending. How much ninja blood will you shed to see the closing credits?

So you get to the final boss, stage 31, and put an arrow in his head. The castle crumbles and you await the closing credits you've worked so hard to see.

Stage 32 begins. It's stage 1, except faster.

Arkista's Ring screenshotArkista's Ring screenshot

The nasty truth about Arkista's Ring is that it loops four times over for a total of 124 stages. Extreme longevity is not it's only issue, though.

You may not realize it at first, but the game's mechanics are pretty clunky. Each stage is actually a giant grid similar to ancient RPGs like Dragon Warrior. Anytime you press a directional button, you move one tile at a set speed. This makes evasive maneuvers especially problematic. Since you can't move diagonally, you can't dodge most speeding bullets or enemies. Later stages become ridiculously hard, as enemies move faster than you. There is no outrunning them. They basically walk back and forth over your sprite, rendering you just about unable to hit them. Your only defense resides in similarly moving back and forth while mashing the attack button. From there, you can only pray the enemy dies before causing much damage. This is not the case with every enemy, but enough of them that it sours the experience.

Imagine doing this for 124 levels. There are no saves or passwords, so the experience grows tiresome before you even reach the end. The game is enjoyable for the first forty stages or so, but still not brilliant. It certainly isn't good enough to justify 124 stages, or even half that.

In a way, the game is at odds with itself. The simple gameplay belies a title that can only be enjoyed in small doses, yet the number of levels combined with the lack of a password system suggests otherwise. That's the price you sometimes pay for experimentation. It can be difficult to know what kind of factors don't work together well, like long playing sessions, simple gameplay, and grid-based stages. While Arkista's Ring is enjoyable enough that old school enthusiasts should play it at least once, it's not enough to stay the full course. Get in, finish the first cycle or two, get out, move on. Sadly, that means about half of the game is a waste of time.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (August 02, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Arkista's Ring review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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zippdementia posted August 02, 2012:

Sounds like they cut the difficulty early on, knowing it was going to get faster a *smirk* hundred stages later. That's ridiculous.
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SamildanachEmrys posted August 02, 2012:

Good grief. Just a save after each full cycle could have made a difference. It would certainly be a good idea. I'm almost curious enough to try it, but probably not quite...
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 02, 2012:

Yeah, they really needed passwords or something. I made it all the way to level 123 before tanking out. Imagine getting there and failing! So aggravating. That battle, too, is almost entirely based on luck. That's one of the battles where you fight a whole horde of ninjas, some of which boss-powerful, that move at super ridiculous speed and pick off five or so units of life per hit. If you don't have enough ninja-subdoers, potions and fire wands, then you're fucked. I actually defeated the entire horde, but even then victory is not guaranteed. There's something like thirty or so staircases (see the screenshots in the assets, it's the second to the last I think) and one of them is the actual exit. The rest are fake, and some stairs actually turn into boss level ninjas when you step on them. I wound up summoning four of these suckers and losing.

At game over, you get 10 continues. Unfortunately, you don't get used items back. Since I spent almost all of my items, there was no way in hell I could win. It was such a letdown dying that far, too. I'm still somewhat interested to see level 125, though. Anyway, thanks for reading, gentlemen!
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zippdementia posted August 02, 2012:

ARRRRGH! Your story causes me physical pain, joe!
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honestgamer posted August 02, 2012:

I'm not a fan of emulation for review purposes, obviously, but in that particular case I think I would emulate the game if I were interested in seeing it through to the end. Save states and such aren't how a game is meant to be played and that would prevent such a session from working for a review, but for the satisfaction of seeing the closing credits I'd say it's just fine.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 02, 2012:

Yeah, but I played all the way to 123 in one sitting, legit. I will never play that game again.

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zippdementia posted August 03, 2012:

That's a very fair response, in my book.

I'll save you the trouble:
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 03, 2012:

No, it's official after watching that video. I will never play that game again.

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