"Bread is the ONLY way to heal Maria, so you'll always want a good supply of it on hand. In fact, the entire game revolves around how much bread you possess, as your goal at any given time will be to run to a dungeon, find all the treasure and get out as quickly as possible. If you have enough bread, that will be easy. If not, you'll be at the mercy of the game's lackluster combat engine."
J-RPGs tend to follow a pretty simple formula. You take your character (or group) from one town to another to upgrade equipment and then venture into caves, dungeons and other unfriendly places to slaughter creatures. All of this killing serves to make your characters more powerful, as they gain experience and (eventually) levels for doing so. From the first time I played Dragon Warrior on the NES, I was hooked by these games to the degree where a company would have to REALLY screw up this formula to truly annoy me. While I've played a number of J-RPGs that I didn't particularly enjoy over the years, it's rare that I find one I truly dislike.
And now, Rob Hamilton's review of Legend of the Ghost Lion begins.....
You control a youngish chick named Maria who's planning to search for her parents. Seems like some time back, their village had been attacked by a mysterious ghost lion, which had been vanquished by a brave warrior. Intrigued by the beast, Maria's parents set out to solve the mystery of its origin.....and were never seen again. Apparently not traumatized by being abandoned as a child, the lass leaps into action! Determined to find them, she ransacks the village's treasure cave and sets out across a bridge.....which immediately crumbles beneath her, sending her to a strange land.
Maria wakes up in a typical (ie: generic) RPG world. By looking around the small continent she finds herself in, you'll find a fairy spring where she can get healed for free, a town and two caves. The town has a ship, which can take her to a different land (although not one she'll want to visit for quite some time), while one of the caves has a sealed exit that can be unblocked to grant her access to yet another continent. Nice and non-offensive --- at least until you start exploring and realize one simple fact.
KILLING MONSTERS GIVES YOU NO EXPERIENCE!!!!!
The way you gain levels in this game (which also is known simply as Ghost Lion) is to enter dungeons and find items known as "Fragments of Hope". Each dungeon has one fragment, which will boost your character one level. You get money from monsters, but that's it. What makes this such a bummer is how, like in most RPGs of the time, battles are random and happen quite often. I've never had much of a problem with frequent combat in these games, but a big part of that is because each and every enemy I killed put me that much closer to gaining a new level and becoming that much more powerful. Here.....it's just tedium, pure and simple.
To get off this first continent, I had to fight monsters (healing at the spring after nearly every battle) until I'd collected a bit of cash. I then traveled to the local town to buy some bread in order to heal Maria in the middle of dungeon exploration. Having a couple healing items allowed me to enter the first cave and snare its fragment. I then bought more bread and visited the second cave to grab another fragment and the device needed to unseal the first cave's alternate exit. After buying a bunch more bread, I was ready to move to the second continent!
These tactics will carry you throughout the entire game. Bread is the ONLY way to heal Maria, so you'll always want a good supply of it on hand. In fact, the entire game revolves around how much bread you possess, as your goal at any given time will be to run to a dungeon, find all the treasure and get out as quickly as possible. If you have enough bread, that will be easy. If not, you'll be at the mercy of the game's lackluster combat engine.
It didn't take me long to figure out stats such as agility or speed do not exist in this game. A flip of a coin seems to determine if escaping a fight is possible or even who strikes first. Before traveling from the second land to the third, I made a stop back at the game's first town to stock up on bread. On the way, I got attacked by a laughably weak kobald. It struck first and cleaved off three or four hit points (charmingly called "courage") before I could do anything. See why having a ton of bread is so important? Even the game's weakest foes can strike first in battle and deplete some "courage" while you're only able to stare at the screen with mute hatred.
But Maria doesn't just have "courage", she also has "dreams"! As she progresses through the game, she collects a number of beings which she can summon to her side during battle at the cost of a few "dream points". This is all well and good except for a couple factors. First, it wastes an entire turn for Maria to summon one friend, which makes doing so pointless against many monsters. If it only will take one or two turns for her to kill something with her own bare hands, there's no point in taking the time to summon a friend to help with the battle. And, even though a couple of these summons use magic, none of them ever learned the simple value of having a trusty healing spell on hand. Usually, store-bought healing items are simply ways for players to keep their head above water until they gain their first healing spell. With no such thing in this game, you'll be buying bread from the moment you initially have the cash to do so until you've finally hunted down that rascally ghost lion.
Legend of the Ghost Lion is more a tedious exercise than a game. You're forced to fight a lot of battles, but aren't able to get a warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment from it because you don't get experience. This makes those frequent random battles very repetitive and boring, as there's no point to them. They're meaningless ways to take up time and make it more difficult to get from one point to another. In the end, I found this game to also be meaningless -- a rare J-RPG I legitimately disliked. The sad thing is that Kemco's worst crime in making this game was their attempt to be original and deviate from the path set by Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, as those differences wound up causing this game to fail.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 18, 2009)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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