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Kouryuu Densetsu Villgust Gaiden (NES) artwork

Kouryuu Densetsu Villgust Gaiden (NES) review

"And in case you were wondering, Murobo stepped in and obliterated the final boss’s end phase in about two hits while laughing off any of its attempts to attack him. That only serves to further illustrate the disparity between characters."

Kouryuu Densetsu Villgust Gaiden is a strange little game. Released in Japan for the Famicom, it's a spin-off of a Super Famicom role-playing game, which is weird all by itself. Usually, a person expects a series to start on an older system and then to produce subsequent installments arrive on newer, more powerful hardware… not the other way around. But I guess that sort of backwards approach is to be expected from a two-game "series" that offered originality and promise but poor execution.

In the Super Famicom installment that I reviewed previously, players controlled two groups of heroes as they played their roles in a standard "save the girl and destroy the forces of evil" plot. The main gimmick there was the manner in which battles were triggered. As you entered a new region within the game, you'd constantly find yourself on the ropes as you battled superior enemies. Then, as you gained levels, those encounters became increasingly sparse and finally ceased to occur at all. In theory, this mechanic served as a great way to keep people from simply grinding their way through any challenge. Eventually, they’d have to fight that tough boss in order to advance and find new, tougher monsters. In reality, however, a person could grind in a place of relative safety until monsters stopped appearing, and then stroll through a barely-populated dungeon to take on the local boss at full effectiveness. The game became tedious but easy, once you figured out how it worked.

Villgust Gaiden on the standard Famicom is an action-RPG, but it shares its predecessor’s flair for good ideas that suffer from poor implementation. The Super Famicom game had players take turns controlling two parties, and one of those groups returns here. You start with a burly animal-man named Murobo, who goes by the nickname of "The Goddess Hero." A quintet of other guys and gals join him, occasionally swapping in and out of the party until about midway through the game, at which point your final group of five has been properly established.

Murobo will live up to his nickname during the course of this game, as he'll always be the most powerful and durable member of the group. However, you'll have to use all of the individual heroes. Whenever you get into a randomly-generated battle (which happens often), enemies are displayed on a screen within slices of a five-piece pie, where each piece corresponds to one of your party’s characters. If there are foes in a given character’s corresponding piece, a duel ensues. Battles play out in much the same way that they do in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, except here the arena is only a single screen wide. You'll control each character, one at a time, as they engage in melee or (in one case) ranged battle with a monster or two before control switches to the next guy. If a character's pie piece doesn't contain a monster, that turn is skipped and the warrior receives no experience for the battle. If a character dies in combat, an ally will need to finish off the monster that did the deed.

This is sort of a neat system, except for two intertwined factors that make things a bit more annoying than I'd like. First, the various allies are quite different in terms of effectiveness. Lucia and early-game ally Sylvie are essentially slightly inferior versions of Murobo. They use short-ranged attacks and are strong and durable, but not as powerful as Mr. Game Breaker. Bostoph is physically weaker, but also the only guy with a long-range attack available, so he can take out foes without risking death in close quarters. And then, there are Lemmy and Lita -- both of whom combine short-range attacks with fragile defenses. You'll need to do a good bit of grinding to reach the point where you're not risking death on a battle-by-battle basis with those two.

Making matters worse is the fact that Lita is the last character to join your party, while Lemmy pops in and out of your active group a couple times after first joining you in the game's second region. This puts you in an awkward situation while playing: if you build those characters up so that they can endure the challenges posed by random encounters featured during the game’s final half, Murobo will be strong enough to singlehandedly dominate everything. And if you don't go that route, the two characters are killed anytime they're placed against a challenging foe, meaning that either you'll be using magic or a town's church to bring them back to life regularly while your powerhouses become even stronger in comparison because they’re doing all the work. I guess that, at least with Lemmy, I could have tried to use magic in battles, but that felt too tedious. The main thing working in this game's favor is that fighting is fast-paced and pretty fun because of it. Frequently visiting sub-menus to select spells would have sapped any enjoyment out of the fighting. It seemed more efficient to save any spell points for post-battle healing.

Another issue is the combination of a limited bestiary, and the way you’ve encountered most breeds by the time you reach the game’s midway point. I was in the second and third regions and already finding myself constantly stopping to grind a few levels because Murobo was the only one powerful enough to contend with everything, while newer party members were victimized by one- or two-hit kills. And then I went through a huge chunk of the game where I fought the exact same foes over and over again, only in different combinations. It was weird. Early in the game, I constantly had to revive characters… and then I made it through the final few regions without any casualties (or difficulty) until the final boss proved tough enough to take out--you guessed it--Lemmy and Lita.

And in case you were wondering, Murobo stepped in and obliterated the final boss’s end phase in about two hits while laughing off any of its attempts to attack him. That only serves to further illustrate the disparity between characters.

Villgust Gaiden wound up being a fun game that was marred by all sorts of little annoyances, but the ones I mentioned above were the primary offenders. The main positives, on the other hand, were the fun battles and the variety of locales, each with its own layout and features. Caves have slippery floors, so you have to work harder to control whichever character you're using. In desert areas, you'll constantly have to jump in order to not sink into the sand. Some places have ledges that make it easier to jump over enemy spells and strike down flying foes. On the other hand, this game subscribes to the theory that the proper way to facilitate adventure is to not allow ANYTHING to happen unless you've either talked to everyone in a town at the right time, or at least spoken with a specific NPC at the right moment. In other words, odds are good that at some point, you'll be running to a walkthrough to find out just why you can't currently do anything to advance the plot.

In the end, this is a "junk food" game. It offers simple and fun combat that kept me interested in things until the credits rolled, but nothing stands out as memorable and a lot of the game's second half almost feels like padding because by the time you progress that far, you’ve already fought nearly every kind of enemy that you’ll ever see. There are a lot of annoying little flaws, but the positives are sufficient to make the game worth playing through, even if I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn’t appreciate this sort of experience and who isn’t blessed with an overabundance of free time…


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 22, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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