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Lagrange Point (NES) artwork

Lagrange Point (NES) review


"Sadly not included: ZZ Top's 'La Grange'. "


In some ways, it's a shame that Lagrange Point was released on the Famicom in 1991 -- apparently too late for Nintendo of America to bring it to the United States due to the imminent release of the Super Nintendo. Released by Konami, this turn-based RPG had a pure science-fiction setting, which was a rarity in a genre obsessed with swords, magic, dragons and demons. It also was the first (and only) game that used a special sound circuit created in-house to provide higher-quality music than the average NES-era game. While I wouldn't say that this game would have been a game-changer for the genre or some sort of "Phantasy Star-killer" for Nintendo, it would have been a nice change of pace for RPG fans.

There obviously was a lot of effort put into this project. By eight-bit standards, the graphics are pretty good and the boss encounters even have a bit of combat animation. There's a fairly coherent story, which was definitely not something a person could count on in this era; as well as a handful of customization options. You can try to combine old weapons at a specific shop in order to make more powerful ones and, while only four party members can be in action at any given time, you'll amass a crew of 10 or so options to fill those slots. Those party members come in multiple forms that don't all play the same. For example, robots use different items for healing purposes than humans, but also can be inflicted with different status effects, such as being rusted by walking through water in dungeons.

At some point in the future, mankind has colonized outer space and inhabited a pair of artificial landmasses. However, one of those places kinda, sorta went off the grid and there's some real bad talk about three of the five leaders behind that whole colonization deal going rogue and aligning with a mad scientist in return for some of that sweet "evolve beyond humanity and take over everything" power.

After the game gets started, you'll control a soldier out to investigate all this stuff. Fortunately, he starts out on the more peaceful of the two landmasses and is able to find a few allies and get stronger, while only really having to worry about the weakest of those three leaders and a particularly treasonous military officer. Things will pick up as he goes to explore the three regions of the second land, doing what he can to assist the scattered pockets of resistance. The opposition will get more powerful, you'll gradually find ways to enter previously-inaccessible places and, eventually, find yourself growing ever close to that scientist's massive lair.

So, yeah, this is essentially a typical Dragon Quest-style RPG set in outer space and with a few bells and whistles included to make things feel a bit more fresh. As per the norm, you'll gain a variety of vehicles, but the setting makes things seem different. You'll start with a car, which can only navigate on roads. Later, you'll pick up a tank and be able to cross basic forms of terrain. Eventually, you'll be able to navigate bodies of water and fly from place to place. Whenever you get a new vehicle, you'll want to backtrack, as you'll likely be able to access a number of new towns and dungeons, pick up improved equipment and progress the plot. With four different vehicles that gradually became available over a 30-40 hour quest, it created this vibe where I regularly felt like I was making progress because I got a new toy and could go to a laundry list of places that had been inaccessible.

Combat and character-building also work much the same way as in those more traditional RPGs. Typical turn-based stuff where you can attack or use various combat and healing skills, while each battle gives experience towards gaining new levels. At least, compared to the average game of this era, you don't have to level-grind all that much. It definitely can come in handy from time to time, but the main key to success in this game is preparation. Lots and lots of preparation.

This ties into the game's one major flaw that prevents me from being overly bummed I couldn't play it in my youth due to it not being localized. When I first got into these RPGs, it was largely because I got hooked by their risk-reward system. You'd have limited opportunities to rest and/or save your progress, so whenever you decided to venture into a dungeon, you had to be prepared. Run out of magic and items at the bottom of a vast cave and you might as well kiss any progress you made goodbye because you're likely doomed and will have to start from scratch after your depleted party winds up perishing.

Lagrange Point takes that concept a bit too far for my tastes. To have Battery Points (the game's skill/spell points), you must buy tanks in stores, which get recharged when you go to this game's version of inns. But in this game, BP doesn't just apply to skills; it applies to basic attacks, too, so you'll have to keep plenty of healing and BP-restoring items on hand whenever you go anywhere. As the game progresses, you'll be able to purchase better tanks, but those newer weapons and superior skills you'll be obtaining along the way will also cost more to use. And if you run out, you'll have no ability to use skills and your basic attacks will only cause scratch damage.

By itself, while different from the norm, that's no big deal. However, the game also tosses in a major helping of the Random Number God to make virtually every trip out of town your party takes extra stressful. As might be expected from an old RPG, the encounter rate can wildly vary. You might be able to take quite the walk before finding an encounter, or you might get stuck in confrontations every few steps for an ungodly amount of time, watching your BP get drained and your supply of restoration items dwindle.

And if the wrong enemies are in a particular area, that stuff can happen way too quickly. A decent number of foes have a special BP-draining attack and these aren't like those magic-stealing Dragon Quest enemies who only take a pittance of your character's spell-casting ability. No, you'll watch a character lose what seemed to be roughly half their current total in one attack. Run into those guys too many times or have them use that attack as their main form of offense and, regardless of how much you prepared, it might not be enough. And don't get me started on the game's final dungeon, where multiple floors are ONLY inhabited by less durable, palette-swapped versions of previous bosses, essentially turning every random encounter into a mini-boss for a longer stretch than anyone wants to experience.

Not a game-breaking flaw, but one that did lead to a bit of unnecessary frustration. I'd have sessions with this game where I felt like I was experiencing an unheralded gem and I'd have days where I was in a state of near-rage because I was getting regularly assaulted by enemies capable of devouring my BP like sweet, sweet candy. And it really seemed like there was no middle ground -- it was either a great time or a miserable one, depending on where I was exploring and what sorts of monsters were present.

And you know what? That sort of thing was par for the course with eight-bit RPGs. Companies were still experimenting to find great formulas with these games and. over the years, I've noticed that resulted in so many of them having at least one glaring flaw that turns what could have been a memorable game into one that hopes to, at best, be considered reasonably good. Maybe too much grinding was necessary, maybe an integral element of the combat system added nothing to the proceedings other than annoyance or perhaps the company just needed a couple more trips to the drawing board to truly refine aspects that felt clumsily implemented in their early efforts.

Lagrange Point is an old RPG and, like many of its peers, it is a flawed RPG. But it is ambitious and does offer a fair amount of positives that make it worth overlooking those flaws if you're a fan of the genre with an interest in its more obscure roots. Having a science-fiction setting, as well as that fancy sound circuit, helps set it apart from the average eight-bit RPG. At the very least, I can say that while I was frustrated and annoyed at times, I have no regrets about playing it and found it good enough to see through until the very end -- something I can't always say about those retro JRPGs I find ways to sink my teeth into.

3/5

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 09, 2020)

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

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