Disposed Hero's Blog

Posted on Mar 26th 2017 at 12:00:00 PM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Action, Adventure, RPG, SquareSoft, HAL Laboratory, Satoru Iwata

Since buying a Retron 5 nearly two years ago, I have invested a great deal of time and money into acquiring many of the great Super Famicom exclusive titles that we were not fortunate enough to receive in North America.  Thanks to the Retron's ability to apply translation patches to the games (assuming that someone has gone through the trouble of translating the text and creating the patch for said game), not being able to understand text-heavy games because they are in Japanese is no longer an issue for those of us who don't speak the language. 

Unfortunately, despite my ambitions of playing through all of these newly added imports in my collection, I have only played through a couple of these titles so far.  However, I plan on putting forth a more solid effort toward playing more of these games in the future, starting with what will hopefully be the first of many Japan exclusive titles that I will be reviewing for this site: Alcahest!

Developed by HAL Laboratory and produced by the late former president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, Alcahest is an action/adventure game with some very light RPG elements.  Published by SquareSoft and released in 1993 in Japan for the Super Famicom,  Alcahest has never been officially released in the west.  Fortunately, people have put in the time and effort over the years to fully translate the game and make it playable for those of us who don't speak Japanese.

Not a good beginning for our hero!

As the game's prologue states, long ago in the past, an evil demon god named Alcahest appeared and brought chaos and ruin to the world.  A lone swordsman emerged and challenged Alcahest, using the power of the four Guardians to defeat him.  Now, 1000 years later, Alcahest is on the verge of appearing again, and it is up to the game's protagonist, Alen, to acquire the power of the Guardians and their Guardian Blades to defeat Alcahest once again.  As was common with these types of games during the 16-bit era, Alcahest has a straightforward plot that mostly just serves to provide some cohesion for the events of the game, and as such, I can't say that the story is particularly good or bad, it's just simply there.

At first glance, Alcahest resembles something similar to games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Illusion of Gaia with its overhead perspective and hack & slash gameplay, but it plays more like a straightforward action game than an action/adventure/RPG hybrid.  There are no towns to visit, overworld areas to explore, or shops to buy items.  Instead, each area in the game is its own stage, and completing one stage will automatically transport you to the next.  The areas themselves can be fairly large and will require some exploration in order to complete them, but they are mostly straightforward as well.  There is a bit of a puzzle-solving element to the game, but there are very few puzzles and all are easy to solve.

Watch out for those floor hazards!

There are some light RPG elements thrown into the mix to keep Alcahest from being a completely standard action game.  Although Alen cannot earn experience points and level up during the course of the game (despite the EXP counter at the top of the screen, more on that later), certain attributes of his can still be enhanced by finding permanent stat boosts for HP, MP, and SP in treasure chests.  Also, every time you find a new Guardian Blade, Alen's strength is permanently increased.  Lastly, there are a couple of armor upgrades that will increase Alen's defense, but you are not given these until fairly late in the game.

The combat itself is the real meat of the game, and fortunately it is well implemented.  Combat feels fluid and responsive, and slashing through enemies never gets old.  However, hacking and slashing isn't your only means of dealing damage in Alcahest.  Alen has different special moves depending on which Guardian Blade is equipped, and these moves can be performed by holding down the attack button.  The Guardian Blade that is currently equipped also determines which magic ability you can perform.  There are also helper characters who will accompany and fight alongside you during the course of the game, and these characters each have their own special abilities that can be performed as well.

The boss fights in the game are generally well done also.  There is a good variety to the boss designs and their attack patterns, with the only exception being some recycled bosses at the end of the game.  Boss encounters feel well balanced, providing a good challenge without being overwhelmingly difficult.  Many of the bosses will likely require a few attempts in order to learn their attack patterns and which attacks work the best against them, but it never got to the point where I began to feel frustrated.

Gotta pull out all the stops to take those bosses down!

Fortunately, Alcahest is a pretty forgiving game as well.  Dying usually just means restarting at the beginning of the current room you were in, or spawning one or two rooms back at most.  You have a limited number of lives, but expending all of your lives only means starting from the beginning of the current stage.  The game also makes it pretty easy to earn more lives along the way.  The EXP gauge at the top of the screen represents the point value you have currently earned for defeating enemies, and the number associated with the NEXT gauge represents the next threshold for earning an extra life.  The NEXT number will be higher or lower depending on how many lives you currently have.  It is an interesting system that keeps most players from being able to hoard extra lives, but also makes it easy to earn extra lives when you are in a pinch.

The visual presentation of the game is well done overall but nothing especially great.  While the game does look good, I felt that the sprites could have been a bit more detailed and the enemy designs could have been a bit more inspired. 

As far as music goes, most of the tracks are great and fit the stage or boss encounter well.  There were a couple of tracks that weren't quite up to standard, but overall Alcahest features a good soundtrack that most people will enjoy.

The boss designs are usually pretty cool.

Alcahest is an interesting take on action/adventure games of the era and is a game that I would recommend most gamers play.  It is a mystery to me as to why it was never localized and released outside of Japan.  It is not a story-heavy game, so translating the text would not have been costly or time consuming, but more importantly, Alcahest is a fun game, and I believe it would have been at least moderately successful had it been released in North America.  Clocking in at roughly 5 hours for a single playthrough, Alcahest is not a big time commitment but is also a little longer than a typical action game from the era.  Used Super Famicom cartridges of Alcahest can be had for cheap, so pick it up and give it a try if you can find it.

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I'm going to add this to my wishlist now. Nice writeup!
@Duke.Togo: Same. Reminds me a little of Beyond Oasis.

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