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Sword of Hope (Game Boy) artwork

Sword of Hope (Game Boy) review

"To me, it seems like Kemco focused too much of its attention on Sword of Hope's presentation and not enough in categories that actually matter. The end result is an RPG that serves as a mere skeleton for a great game."

I found myself at a loss for words when I recently attempted to talk up Sword of Hope. I hadn't played the game in over a decade, and therefore couldn't recall anything noteworthy about it. I thought that if I replayed the game, then all of my fond memories would come rushing back and all would be right with the universe. However, it never occurred to me that the reason such memories slipped my mind was that they were never there in the first place.

Sword of Hope may be forgettable, but it does bear one standout feature: its uncommon presentation. Rather than visually ape Dragon Warrior, as many 8-bit RPGs did, Sword of Hope sports a first-person perspective similar to the one found in Shadowgate. Instead of a mess of bland, repetitive tiles and super-deformed sprites, the player is presented with a collection of small pictures populated by various stimuli to tinker with and investigate.

In most graphic adventures, monkeying with surrounding objects requires you to either type a command or click on the object in question. Since Game Boy didn't possess peripherals to facilitate either action, you're limited to selecting objects from a sub-menu in order to interact with them. Unfortunately, this limits the game's problem solving aspect. Puzzles in Sword of Hope are less about observation and experimentation than they are about choosing the right command at the right time.

Sword of Hope assetSword of Hope asset

Even armed with that knowledge, you'll still encounter a few puzzles with horribly obtuse solutions and little to no hints as to how you are supposed to solve them. For instance, one segment requires you to liberate a magician from a sealed tower with the aid of a unicorn horn. You might suppose that the horn is located somewhere in the vicinity, and thus embark on a lengthy, fruitless search for the item. As it turns out, finding it is a matter of returning to a graveyard in previously visited region, examining a grave, and fighting a vampire. It's not likely that you would figure this out on your own, especially since there's a chance that you examined the grave when you traipsed through the cemetery earlier and didn't encounter a vampire then. That's because the battle can't be triggered until you've reached a certain point in the campaign, but there's no indication that the battle becomes active at that point. You pretty much have to stumble around the world, exhausting every possibility until you happen upon the event.

Since Sword of Hope is an RPG, I can forgive its banal quasi-graphic adventure elements. Thankfully, the game somewhat makes up for its lousy puzzles by including an intuitive combat system. Here you'll engage in uncomplicated altercations, where you select familiar commands to vanquish a variety of creatures. However, the game isn't so simple that spamming the "fight" command will always lead to victory. You'll find that most foes possess a high physical defense stat, which forces you to rely on offensive spells. Although you do have to put a smidgeon of thought into triumphing over evil, though, the combat remains streamlined enough that battles are over in a flash.

Where standard adversaries are concerned, I expect swift fights. If there's any area where the battle system really should wow me, it's when I’m taking on bosses. In that respect, Sword of Hope biffs it hard. Dispatching a boss is a simple matter of leveling up (which doesn't take long, since the experience required for each level is fairly low) and discovering which spell a boss is weakest against. From there, you can annihilate the crony in two to three turns. That there's little to no strategy involved in most boss fights is a travesty. This is one department that Kemco could have used to elevate Sword of Hope beyond mediocrity, but sadly the development team missed the opportunity.

With tedious adventure elements and ho-hum combat, the game's success at this point hinges on its narrative. You'd imagine that Sword of Hope would at least have a passable story. After all, it borrows from two genres that are known for spinning entertaining yarns, even in some of the simplest cases. Sadly, the game kicks off with a generic prologue that casts you as a hero destined to locate the legendary Sword of Hope. As if an epic-level fetch quest weren't trite enough, you're expected to use the titular blade to slay a malevolent dragon and the king it has enthralled. I could rip this tired old story apart, but I'll relent. Besides, it's not the story a game tells, but how it goes about telling the story that matters…

...and therein lies the biggest problem in regards to narrative.

Sword of Hope assetSword of Hope asset

Following the game's introduction, the story ceases to develop any further. There's little to no narrative to guide you along your quest, save for the ramblings of an old man you meet at the outset of your adventure. Furthering the campaign is a matter of heading in the general direction the sage sends you and stumbling upon an arbitrary event. At one point, for instance, you're asked to find a magician named Camu. Since she isn't in her abode, you'll have to scour her realm to discover her whereabouts. Eventually you'll happen upon a large rock that, when examined, triggers a required boss fight against an imp. Defeat the imp and he'll drop a letter containing hints regarding Camu's location. No, you didn't misread that. There is a segment in the game where you literally look at an ordinary rock in order to advance the campaign.

I feel like I've just hammered out a cookie cutter RPG review. That's mainly because, beyond presentation, there's nothing special about Sword of Hope. Much of what can be said about this game also applies to a laundry list of other such titles. To me, it seems like Kemco focused too much of its attention on Sword of Hope's presentation and not enough in categories that actually matter. The end result is an RPG that serves as a mere skeleton for a great game. What it really needed is a bit of flesh.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Freelance review by Joseph Shaffer (April 29, 2013)

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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