Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chris' Undiscovered Gems: Legend of the Ghost Lion (NES)

This week only - catch Siegfried and Roy! Only at the Mirage!

Often when I talk to friends about classic RPGs the same few titles pop up over and over again. Final Fantasy 3, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 7, Earthbound...all great games: none of them for the NES. If there's anything that collecting NES games over the past few years has taught me, it's that the Nintendo had boatloads of solid and undiscovered RPGs. From the quirky (Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom,) to the adventurous (Faxanadu,) heck, even the point-and-click adventure games (Shadowgate, Uninvited, etc) offer a lot of challenge and excitement for adventure gamers and RPG gamers alike. There are tons of RPGs that few talk about outside of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior franchises. While there are certainly games that don't quite cut the muster compared to these classics, Kemco's "Legend of the Ghost Lion" deserves some honorable mention in the halls of RPG-dom, if for nothing other than its ridiculously 80's cover art and wacky story.

*Quick note before we get started: The title of this game can lead to some confusion if we're not careful. The cart says "Ghost Lion," a search for it will often bring up "Ghost of the Lion," and the title screen calls it "Legend of the Ghost Lion." Pick your poison. There's a Lion, he's presumably a ghost, and the story is legendary. So legendary that almost nobody has heard of this game!*

The game opens with a well-drawn, albeit strange cut scene. The plot is laid out thusly: there is a legend that your village was attacked by a mysterious white lion. Most of the village cowered in the corner, peeing their pants and getting mauled and whatnot - but a young adventurer named Moja came to the rescue and drove the white lion out into the cave of evil. So naturally, your parents feel the need to search for this ghost lion for some inexplicable reason and leave you; a young girl named Maria, behind to fend for yourself. So of course, instead of following her parents' advice, she runs off to go track them down as well. The fact that your parents are dressed more like they're going to hop the next boat to Jamaica to go do Jager-bombs on a cruise ship instead of trek through the perilous jungle (for no logical reason) means that we're in for an interesting - albeit relatively nonsensical journey.

"WOOOOO! CABO! - Do another Jello-shot Linda!"
So the first thing we notice once getting past the introductory cave is that the game is remarkably similar to games such as Dragon Warrior and Ultima. If you're familiar with either of those two series, this game should be easy to crack into. You can search around your feet, speak, check your inventory and stats. Waltzing around the main screen will bring up random battles (ala nearly every RPG from this time,) and you have the option of attacking or running away. Much like in the Final Fantasy series - the run function wont do you much good against enemies that are equal or better than you because they nearly always track you down and quickly kill you. You can either attack them with whatever weapon you're carrying at the time or consult your spear or lamp to summon Moja or Twana the lamp spirit respectively. During a tough battle these two really come in handy, as the enemies will be more likely to attack them instead of the frail little tween swinging a dagger around and making goofy anime faces. Your "dream" power is what you use to summon these two spirits - which is nice because you do get plenty to get the job done. Courage is your health - and you start out with woefully too little to last more than a few bouts. Starting the game, Twana the lamp spirit seems much less effective than Moja until you advance and learn more powerful spells.

I'm thinking they meant "YOUR" courage...but maybe I'm just splitting hairs...
Which leads me to one of the main downsides to the game: leveling. In most normal RPGs, leveling is a pretty straightforward affair; you fight an endless sea of blue goobers, ghosts, skeletons, bats, etc and eventually you get rewarded by being able to take more hits and to smash enemies in a single blade strike. Sadly, in this game - I tried grinding for XP for an hour and some change before I realized that; yes, I was getting a pretty nice stack of money - but I was still having to run back to the healing fairy pool every two battles. Oh yeah, I didn't mention that - this game has healing fairies ala Zelda. True story. Instead of whacking at an endless supply of Kobolds and Zombies, just kill enough to get a decent weapon and proceed to the nearest cave. It is here where you will find treasure chests that often contain the "level up" you need. If you happen to get snuffed out before you get the opportunity, just realize that you lose some of your money every time the magical pixies need to save your butt. So if Sierra online games taught us anything: "Save early, save often!"

That mean ol' Zombie took my teddybear!
So how does "Legend of the Ghost Lion" stack up against some of the NES' RPG heavyweights? It is actually a pretty addictive game once you get past some of the quirks and the learning curve involved in the leveling system. The graphics are pretty solid, the gameplay is familiar to anyone who's played some of the top-shelf games, and the difficulty is somewhere in the low to mid range. I'll admit that it doesn't quite have the replay value of a game like Dragon Warrior IV - but few do. It's not quite as quirky as Princess Tomato - but it's still fun and wacky in its own right and it also has the rare distinction of being a game with a female protagonist. It's a relatively uncommon game and I think that if you've already burned through some of the top-tier NES titles, it's a good place to start exploring the less traveled road of the Nintendo RPG library.

Imagine this badboy airbrushed on an RV!
Oh, and click here to buy a copy!