Rastan Saga II (Genesis) review
"A mysterious edifice known as ''Skyscraper'' controls the land of Rastania somehow. An evil contingent has moved in and taken over the Skyscraper by force. A brave savage must turn the tide! I couldn't make this up if I wanted to, believe me. Doubt the authenticity of this nonsense? Never fear, Taito has laced the game with more than its fair share of kitsch gibberish in the brooding screens between levels. "
A mysterious edifice known as ''Skyscraper'' controls the land of Rastania somehow. An evil contingent has moved in and taken over the Skyscraper by force. A brave savage must turn the tide! I couldn't make this up if I wanted to, believe me. Doubt the authenticity of this nonsense? Never fear, Taito has laced the game with more than its fair share of kitsch gibberish in the brooding screens between levels.
Taito's side-scrolling hack and slash arcade game known as Rastan on North American shores is known as Rastan Saga in Japan (so it would follow that Rastan Saga II there, should have been Rastan II here, but it doesn't - don't lose any sleep over this). Taito took the exciting, but limited coin-op to the home market via the Sega Master System, and the results were less than superb. Would they achieve better results with their sequel? Well, Rastan Saga II has the luxury of being on a superior system; certainly one would think that the Genesis had the power to do a near arcade perfect port (witness Strider).
The power was there - it was the programming prowess that was away on maternity leave. Still, at least this Genesis version does have all the basics intact, thankfully. Our hero can slash while standing, ducking, and leaping, and is even able to slash directly downward while airborne, performing savage lobotomies on even more savage creatures. You're given three lives and three continues to complete a five area, ten level mission.
The undertaking begins with your sluggish protagonist sliding, gliding, and shuffling along oddly in his furry boots. He'll start off equipped with the short sword and shield. Killing foes will not only reveal icons representing health bonuses and temporary invincibility, but also one that enables your weapon to discharge a wall-pervading fireball with each thrust. And this is just the beginning!
The real fun begins when you realize that you can toss the short sword and shield in favour of a pair of claws. The claws have similar reach, and have a much, much faster rate of attack. Besides that, what gamer doesn't want to play as Wolverine once in awhile? Although as cool as the claws might be, the broadsword is even more awe-inspiring. It's got incredible range, and while it's the slowest of the three weapons, its reach and power are far more critical. If you manage to uncover the broadsword early in the proceedings (the items that the enemies will bear is mostly random), do not relinquish it in exchange for either of the other two weapons. Broadsword brandishers will do well to avoid touching a weapon icon through the rest of the mission.
The best thing about Rastan Saga II's primitive arsenal is that you can use all three weapons to parry. Whether you have the shield from the short sword/shield combination or not, standing still will provide your hero with a frontal defense from striking attacks. Ducking will open you up to get slashed in the face, and jumping will expose your knobby knees to enemy assaults. Pressing up, though, will protect your soft, pulpy head from attacks from above (helpful when rocks rain down from the angry sky at more than one point in the game).
The parrying itself is not very complicated (the game is from 1991, after all), but the very idea that you can block sword strikes with your own sword and consequently counter, is exciting. Perfecting the block-and-attack technique is essential for the boss encounters especially. When I first played the game, I played it as I would Castlevania or The Legendary Axe or any other game in the genre. Needless to say, the end-of-level guardians ensured that I didn't progress very far, especially when my attempts at acute pattern determinations regressed into frantic kamikaze attacks. You've got to employ some semblance of 'fencing strategy' to beat Rastan Saga II, something fairly unique and welcome to the genre.
Area one introduces skeleton warriors, legless zombies, and serpentine gladiators to the hero, atop a bland backdrop. The boss looks like one of the nasties from the movie Alien in skeleton form, clad in a garish green robe. Once you figure out the pattern you'll breeze by him. Failing to do so will result in a surprisingly harsh beating to your behind, and a humbling and early finish to your game.
I have opened a fire. Now I am determined to hold my ground at any cost.
That's a sample of the aforementioned cheesy lines between levels. And yes, it really does pop up after the first level, just as I have placed it in the review. And no, this one isn't so bad, but it gets worse in a hurry. The second scenario features more of the same; vaguely annoying synthesizer tunes, dull foreground foliage, and decent mountain ranges in the background. You'll traverse the big grey blocks (like the ones in Castlevania, but probably four times the size) while fending off never-say-die armadillos and charging midgets right out of The Lost Vikings. The disappearing-reappearing act of boss Medusa as you slash at her face will bring back even more memories of Castlevania (whipping Dracula's pasty visage). As always, after the boss is beaten, you'll need to collect the crystal hanging in midair to move on.
You wicked people! How did you like my assault? Oh, here come tough enemies.
I told you it got worse. But our bumbling savage is quite right about one thing. Things not only get ugly in area three; they get tough. Cool liquid-composed women fling projectiles at you from the puddles of sludge that serve as both their habitat and their bodies. Your parrying skills better be at their finest. Dragon heads spit flames, and instant death awaits the gamer who miscalculates any of one of a series of jumps above surging lava. The boss confounds with two patterns of attack. He approaches ominously, a helmeted centaur with armoured horse forelegs, and a sword as long as your hero is tall.
I would rather run away. But no! Timidness does not conquer!
That line is money; it was almost worth the price of admission for me. But there's more...!
When the dark gnarled trees of the evil forest greet you in area four, you'll know things are soon to come to a head. Ghosts bearing sickles, and winged, yellow demons wearing tearing foot-long claws will beset you. The boss might make you laugh - I know seeing him for the first time prompted a chuckle from me. But when the fuzzy faced bipedal lion shows his press on nails up close, the joke is over. The mission's hardships will be taking their toll on you by this time, and our savage hero concurs:
I am so tired. Hurry, or I won't be able to hold my sword.
Well, he's showing his true colours, and yellow figures in more than we might have suspected, but at least he's honest. Taito pulls out all the stops for area five, unleashing giant rock men, and skeletons riding atop miniature elephants, leading up to the final confrontation.
All in all, Rastan Saga II provides the hack and slash fan with a decent adventure. The real failing is in the imprecise platform jumping. One could live with the repetitive tunes (there don't seem to be more than four tracks in the entire game), bland visuals and plodding pace, because the fighting is actually pretty fun. But the jumping about is not, and unfortunately, in a jump and hack and slash game, the platform jumping is an integral part of the package.
As it stands, if you were to approach this game as a completely skilled contest, like say The Legendary Axe, where victory is possible with one man, Rastan Saga II would punish you unfairly by plunging you into pits that you felt you should have cleared; by dropping you off a swinging vine over a gaping chasm when you thought you were safely across; by respawning your dead character before the same evil precipice that only moments ago took your life. The clunkiness sabotages any chance of your excelling, so even after lots of practice, you'll likely need the continues to buoy your hero through the unseemly platform-leaping sequences.
Still, at the core is a very playable, mindless hack and slasher, which, thanks to the parrying system, isn't quite so mindless and is just a bit more memorable, than it might have been. If you love the genre, pick up Rastan Saga II for peanuts and accept its 'credit your way through bad jumps' attitude as there is fun to be had in trekking through the locales and working at the swordplay elements. Though this couldn't really be called a 'good' game, certainly it's much more fun that the Master System port of the original, and that's a happy thing. But if you're a casual gamer, pay Rastan Saga II no mind at all.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 20, 2003)
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