Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sword of Kalin (1987)

What to do while laid up with an intense, energy-sapping cold over the Martin Luther King, jr Day weekend? How 'bout Sword of Kalin, a 1987 RPG released by Square (under the DOG label) for the Famicom Disk System? Given the release date, it's no surprise that it's a fairly simple game, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of polish that went into it. It's worth the time of anyone looking for an undemanding yet entertaining little ride.

In this game, you control a knight-type-guy who has to do evil-defeating-type stuff. You start at a castle; you enter it and talk to the stationary guards and the like to get various simple quests. Then, venture out and wander the countryside seeking to fulfill these quests and obtain various magical items, visiting a handful of tiny towns (three houses, generally, though one of them has only one) along the way. Eventually, you'll find an item that lets you visit a dark-world-type place, where you go through caves to find a few more items and then venture into the final level. Then, you win. There's very little specific direction as to where you should go when, lending a small bit of non-linearity to the game; necessary actions are sometimes a bit obscure, but I don't think there's ever a situation in which you are given no indication of what to do next.

The game IS a little grind-y in parts--though I made it more hard on myself than necessary by the time-honored strategy of not bothering to figure out exactly how various items work.* This is okay, though, because the battles are actually quite good. You see monster sprites wandering around the map (yes! No random battles!); come into contact with them to enter a battle screen, in which you will face a randomly-selected number of the monster in question. There's no attack button; you crash head-first into them to damage them (with a satisfying THWACK sound), as in the well-loved Ys and the somewhat-less-well-loved Hydlide. There's a good bit of strategy involved here; you can burn through weak enemies easily, but when facing stronger ones, even if you're theoretically plenty strong enough to take them on, you can easily find yourself overwhelmed and killed if a bunch of them are able to gang up on you at once. This can sometimes actually feel a little cheap, but this is substantially ameliorated by the presence of a quick-save option that allows you to, well, quick-save; dying will just boot you back to the last point at which you've done this. You can't do it in dungeons, however, which can make them a bit (agreeably) hairy. Special mention must be given to the monster designs; even though they're only tiny sprites, the same size as your character, they're very well-designed, and very distinctive. It's easy to tell what sort of things they are, and there are a lot of them; you'll constantly be meeting new ones throughout the game (and no palette swaps!), ranging from standard fantasy-type monsters to Lovecraftian horrors. It's not something you'd tend to think about in a game of this type and vintage, but the bestiary really contributes a lot to the game.

*Protip #1: you can use the amulet to warp out of dungeons in the dark world, rather than having to fight back through all the monsters again; Protip #2: the white idol lets you heal yourself.

So does the ending, of which I will say nothing beyond noting that it's surprisingly good--I mean, really surprisingly--for such an old and primitive game. It just underlines how much work went into the whole enterprise. It may be old and obscure, but it's far from hackwork, and it's still extremely playable today--certainly more so than the first Dragon Warrior or Phantasy Star.


Post a Comment

<< Home