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Minelvaton Saga: Ragon no Fukkatsu (NES) artwork

Minelvaton Saga: Ragon no Fukkatsu (NES) review

"Man, the professionally-released games of today just can't reach this level of badness."

Even when you've reviewed as many games as I have, certain moments are worth savoring. Example: you realize about to write a no-punches-pulled bash review for a truly wretched game! This is easier said than done, by the way. To meet my criteria, a game can't be merely horrible. What I need is one that's comically atrocious, with flaws more likely to cause me to chuckle in disbelief than to throw my controller in frustration. I need a game that I can't write off as a lost cause, because I have to keep playing to see what else possibly can (and does) go wrong.

The Famicom's Minelvaton Saga comfortably satisfies my criteria. As the first entry in a three-game series available on Nintendo hardware in Japan, it differs from its two successors. While later Silva Saga titles were typical JRPGs of the era, this 1987 game more closely resembles the Ys series. Controlling a prince attempting to first regain his kingdom and then save the world from EVIL FORCES, you go through towns, dungeons and the game's world while enduring frequent random battles, as you would in virtually any JRPG of the time. However, those battles involve a good bit more action.

You start a confrontation at the bottom of the screen, with a few monsters positioned along the top. Much like Ys, your goal is to collide with your adversaries until each one has succumbed to your force. Or vice versa, but hopefully you have the presence of mind to keep some medicine on-hand to replenish your life meter as necessary. As soon as you enter a battle, odds are good that you'll notice a very big flaw with this game. In Ys, there was strategy to the combat. Running head-on into a monster led to you suffering a great deal of pain, unless you were far more powerful. You instead had to work the angles, so that you would merely clip them. Each confrontation was a challenge, as you scrambled to collide with your foes in a way that maximized the damage they took, while you remained (relatively) unscathed. Adding to the danger was the simple fact these things worked both ways. If an enemy happened to hit you from behind, you took far more damage than normal.

Minelvaton Saga lacks those strategic elements. Regardless of how I ran into monsters, the "fighting" played out in much the same way. I'm not entirely certain that position doesn't matter at all, but it's clear that your relative power compared to your targets matters a great deal more.

From the very beginning, it's clear that gaining power is a necessity. There are three kinds of monsters in the area surrounding the town where you begin your adventure. Two varieties are weak and non-aggressive, but the wolves make a point to charge directly toward you. Their AI is a bit suspect, which means it's pretty easy to manipulate them in such a way that you only have to contend with one creature at a time, but they hit hard enough to pose a legitimate threat to the beginning adventurer.

Your first quest sends you to a nearby dungeon that contains flames at least as aggressive as the wolves, but capable of moving far more quickly. Later in the campaign, enemies might shoot projectiles or emit magic that automatically causes damage whenever it is used.

Fortunately, grinding is a simple task. You require only a handful of experience points to advance from one level to the next for quite some time. Unfortunately, each level only offers a tiny boost to your health, and to either attack, defense, or speed. My character gained about 20 levels before I felt comfortable challenging that first dungeon, and I was somewhere between level 150 and 160 by the time the final boss fell. By that point, you have to win a lot of battles to advance even a single level.

Minelvaton Saga also stands out among the NES RPG pool, in terms of the encounter rate. At times, the frequency with which you find yourself in random battles seems quite bearable. Then, suddenly, you find yourself fighting eight battles while advancing a mere ten spaces. This insane encounter rate is the reason it took me so long to clear that first dungeon. Its corridors weren't long or convoluted, but when even a short stroll might lead to more fights than a low-level character can handle, it's necessary to be cautious. You do get help in the form of computer-controlled allies that alternate between assisting in dispatching monsters and being utterly worthless, but the first one doesn't join your party until after you've completed that first dungeon.

You should also have easy access to a walkthrough, if you want to make actual progress. Just south of the starting point, you'll spot a second town. Next to it is a dungeon, so it's obvious that you should explore there, right?

PROTIP: Save first.

After walking down a short path, you come across a visible enemy. Run into it and you're taken into a battle with a giant head that is impervious to your attacks, but capable of draining your health in an instant. Sorry, bro, but this place isn't meant to be attempted until you're near the end of the game! Prepare to encounter such situations frequently, since the game is more open-world than the typical JRPG. Townspeople aren't always ready to offer good information about where to go next, what key items you need and other pertinent bits of knowledge. Without a guide, I'd have given up long before even getting a boat to leave the game's first continent. Without a guide, my life would thus have been happier.

Because, you see, regardless of how annoying constant battles are, and how frustrating a game can get when you hardly even have a clue what you're supposed to be doing, there's one really big flaw that overshadows all the others I've mentioned, to the point that I could have spent the entire review talking about nothing else. Simply put, this game combines an unholy love of backtracking with a desire to make that backtracking process as tedious as possible.

Why is the backtracking so tedious? It's because you don't have a "return" spell. Instead, you can save in towns and some dungeons, and then use items to warp to the last place you saved -- even if that location is halfway across the world from your current destination. It's extremely annoying when you "lose" a party member. I don't even know how this mechanic works. I'd be walking along in a town, leave and realize only one of my two allies was still following me, which forced me to take the time to return to where I first enlisted them so that I could re-acquire their services. I don't know if that's a recurring glitch or intended by the designers, but my money's on the latter. And the further into the game you get, the more backtracking you must do. Sometimes, as you gain new key items and spells, you'll revisit old dungeons to access rooms you previously couldn't reach, in search of various goodies.

Then there's the game's latter portion to consider. First, you're directed to head to an isolated castle-dungeon. To reach it, you must go through a lengthy cave, which is a two-part job. To start, you have to advance partway through it until you get to fight a certain enemy that drops a key item. Then, you must take that item with you and cross the world to reach a particular town where the item is turned into magic boots that allow you to walk on lava. Then you can finally clear the cave and reach the actual dungeon... which is vast and contains monsters that represent a very noticeable difficulty spike!

It took two or three trips before I was able to acquire all the goodies I needed to find in that dungeon. Though I could warp back to the nearest town (after remembering to save there), I'd have to go all the way through the cave just to reach the dungeon again. Imagine my joy later on, when after gaining a particular spell that allowed me to walk through certain walls, I had to return to the same location yet again to reach a ladder that took me to a different dungeon in order to find something else. Now, imagine how much that joy multiplied when, after leaving the labyrinthine mess and redeeming my new MacGuffin, I found out I'd have to go back through the cave, that first sprawling dungeon and then the second one, all in order to reach the final continent. SO! MUCH! JOY!

But not enough joy, said Minelvaton Saga. Oh no, there's never enough joy. This final landmass contains a town, a one-way portal back to the game's introductory area, and a tower. Beat the boss of that tower and you gain access to a second tower. Beat that tower and you can advance to a third, then a fourth, and then the final castle. Whenever you have to warp out to replenish medicine or keys, you have to make your way back through all of the completed towers, with the only consolation being that at least the bosses that you defeated won't return. Somewhere in the midst of this mess, I found this game's one saving grace: you can run from any random encounter with no chance of failure. On about my second or third trip through these places, I took advantage of that, so that I'd at least be at full health and partial sanity, while still holding a lot of medicine, when at last I took on the final boss.

And, as long as one's level is high enough upon reaching that encounter, victory is a foregone conclusion because it all comes down to whether you have enough power to inflict damage, enough medicine to remain healthy and the necessary "skill" to hit the button that sends you to the menu screen when needed.

So there you have it: a game with mindless battling, unclear objectives in a large and fairly non-linear world, complete with copious backtracking. It might have been misery to play, but I had a grand time writing about it! Cleansing my soul and all that...


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (January 11, 2017)

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

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