Good day! Welcome back to The Dragon’s Beard, friend!
I see you have returned to hear another fantastic tale from our old pal the Time Mage. This month, he has thrilling stories to tell us. In fact, during some late-night ramblings, he spilled secrets of fantastic outer space travel, a magical oasis, and a beautiful red sword. Oh, I must admit, old Balbo is gripped with excitement. I cannot wait to hear more! Ho! Let’s sit, have a round, and enjoy this together, friend.
Barmaid, set us up! Make it the good stuff! No. No. The really good stuff! Ha ha!
Marius Breaux: Welcome back to those who have been here before. And greetings to those who I have not let met today. If today even exists…
Sorry, forgive my deep ponderings, it is all part of the trade. My name is Marius Breaux. I am a Time Mage, and I have traveled from a distant realm and time where video games are one of the favorite pastimes and enjoyed by everyone.
Yes, imagine people losing themselves for hours…mystified, entertained, and even occasionally educated by these fanciful recreational habits. I tell you; a good video game can change your life, and today we will speak of one of my all-time favorites. Perhaps you will guess which one it is.
Hold tight to your seats, my friends, today is Sega Genesis.
(Marius pauses for dramatic effect)
The Sega Genesis Entertainment System!
Welcome to the Fourth Generation of home entertainment video game systems. Originally released in Japan as the Mega Drive, the Sega Genesis reached North America in 1990.
While not the first 16-bit video game system, it was the first one released in the USA. And yes, it saw amazing results…somewhat due to marketing itself as the “cooler” system.
The Sega Genesis enjoyed a solid ten years and sold nearly 31 million units before it was discontinued. It even spawned several peripherals.
The SegaCD, which was very popular, added a CD-ROM function to the system and allowed for the use of CD games. Later, a 32-bit peripheral, the 32x, was added to allow for 32-bit games.
With all these options, you can imagine some very popular games were released. Sonic the Hedgehog soon became the unnamed mascot of the Sega Genesis while games like John Madden’s Football, Ghouls N’ Ghosts, Altered Beasts, Streets of Rage, and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker became popular.
But the Sega Genesis is also known for its groundbreaking RPG games. Games that tested the player’s skills with hours and hours of gameplay. It is time to discuss some of the best cartridges that the Genesis supplied, and it supplied many!
The Top Fantasy Games on the Sega Genesis
Phantasy Star II
It is hard to think of the history of role-playing games on the Sega Genesis without including the Phantasy Star series. Many gamers started their journey into RPG video games with Phantasy Star II.
It had a compelling science fiction storyline, interesting characters to choose from, challenging mazes and gameplay. Not to mention, a heart-breaking moment that is extremely hard to accept.
Phantasy Star II was released in 1990 and had a top-down perspective while in towns or exploring and third-person views during turn-based combat. And wow, there was a lot of combat due to random encounters in dungeons.
The battle system allowed you to pick one of your four characters and then choose whether to attack, use magic, use items, defend, or run. Expect to put 30 to 40+ hours of time into this game. More, if you get lost in mazes a lot like I do.
Join Rolf, Rudo, Nei, Amy, and the others on this quest and battle against an evil computer called The Mother Brain. Playing the first game in the series is unnecessary, but we suggest you play Phantasy Star III and Phantasy Star IV to complete this acclaimed story.
Just don’t forget to equip your ceramic knife and fibergear!
Phantasy Star II is considered a landmark game. It is well-known, critically acclaimed, and beloved. You will easily find it listed in hundreds of greatest games lists…even this one. You can find the original version easily on new systems, and there is even a remake to enjoy. Do not pass this amazing game up.
Oh, quick reminder, if one of your team dies, you can always replace them with an exact clone at the clone labs in town…
Shining Force II
Another sequel that scores better than the original and is largely considered the best, if not simply the most popular game in the “Shining” series.
Shining Force II is a tactical RPG game that was released in 1994. It had a large and semi-open world with many interesting characters to choose from.
Take the role of Bowie, the leader of the Shining Force. Like many RPGs of its time, you spend lots of time in towns talking to people, gathering hints, seeking out new allies for your team, and shopping for better equipment for all your characters.
Speaking of the characters, there are 30, and they all have unique personalities and backgrounds. This gives the game another level of customization when building the best squad that suits your needs. Sometimes, you will have to put forth some effort and reach certain goals before characters join you. But that is all part of the fun. Remember the old saying, Gotta Recruit ‘Em All!
See list of characters here: Shining Force 2 – Character List (fantasyanime.com)
How many hours of enjoyment does Shining Force II offer? This one is hard to quantify. Some might say 35 to 40 hours. It really depends on how many battles you fight and how long you spend in each. It also depends on how much of a completionist you are. Side missions are often more fun than the main story in RPGs, right?
Complex strategy gameplay, a large world filled with beautiful 2D anime-style graphics, and a nice range of well-composed music await. There really are no cons to playing this one.
Sword of Vermillion
In the month of October, during the year of 1990, an amazing action role-playing game with familiar Excalibur/Camelot themes was released.
Different from many of the games available, Sword of Vermillion offered a hybridized gameplay experience that made it unique.
How? Well, to start with it had four different modes of gameplay matched by different stylized views. It had “town,” “battle,” “dungeon,” and “boss” views:
- Town view was the view most RPG gamers were used to–overhead.
- Battle view switched things up to a tilted overhead when it gave the player total control of fast real-time combat. In the blink of an eye, you were hacking and slashing and using magic to survive.
- Dungeon view, like in Phantasy Star, was first-person. Just you, running the mazes like a rat!
- When you finally encountered a “big bad” in Sword of Vermillion, you entered boss view which was a sideview. Suddenly, you saw your character in much different graphics design than you were used to. It made the boss battles feel more focused upon and in some ways more dangerous.
Sega, which enjoyed marketing the Genesis aggressively, had a motto, “Genesis does what Nintendon’t!” Sword of Vermillion was released during this campaign. It had outstanding town graphics and an amazing musical score that you will want to listen to over and over as your drive to work.
Although advertised with over 300 hours of gameplay, it was a relatively short game. In fact, the major downside of Sword of Vermillion was that you could finish it in a three-day weekend.
Realistically, the game had 15 to 19+ hours of engaging gameplay. Many reviewers like to point out that the game did not hold up all these years since its release, but that does not mean you should not check it out.
Funt fact: Sword of Vermillion was the last Genesis game to be released with a hint book and it was a whopping 106 pages long!
Phantasy Star IV
Phantasy Star IV holds a special place in the hearts of Genesis gamers because it is the last chapter of a long and beloved story.
In many ways, playing this game was bittersweet. Gamers had grown to love the story of the Algo system and its characters, as built in Phantasy Star II and fortified in Phantasy Star III.
Phantasy Star IV was released in 1995 and brought the series to a conclusion on the Sega Genesis system.
In fact, for some original Genesis owners and gamers, this game was one of the last played on the system before inevitable departures to the next-gen systems because it was released only half a year before the original PlayStation system debuted. At the time, no one knew if there would ever be a return to the Phantasy Star universe.
Phantasy Star IV held true to its predecessors with familiar graphics, combat, stories, magic, and more. It even had a higher price tag, like Phantasy Star III did.
Make sure you are fully seated because this cartridge cost nearly $100! That’s like $200 in today’s money!!!
But that did not deter fans. A deep willingness to see the Phantasy Star series story to its conclusion remained regardless of its crazy high price tag.
Reviewers of the 90s gave this game a bounty of mixed scores, but in the years since, the points have increased and increased, and Phantasy Star IV has earned itself the title of one of the best games ever created.
When you think back to it, there was a gap of about four years between Phantasy Star III and IV. For some young gamers that was the difference between being in middle school and high school or graduating high school to college. Many gamers, not just the hardcore ones, stuck it out, which is a credit to the series.
Granted, it is light on the RPG elements, but this quirky and cute fantasy turn-based strategy game by New World Computing from 1991 is not one to skip.
Form and guide your army around a maze-like map. Attack enemies who wander about while searching for the current bounty set by the king. This game relies on resource management and learning the stats and qualities of every unit.
For example, when you start, the Pikeman unit is the best one available at the castle. It moves two spaces, has ten hit points, and can do about 2-4 points of damage. In comparison, you may face off against Sprites early on. They can fly across the screen but are weak with only one hit point. So, they may ambush you, but they will likely die when you counterattack.
Once you have learned the pros and cons of the units, you can run around, make some money defeating random enemies, and recruit new units. King’s Bounty’s goal is simple: build a balanced army, set out, and clean up the kingdom!
This is another one of those games which is hard to put a number on the hours of gameplay. Battles may take you longer or shorter than the norm. Some players will learn to avoid random combat, which will speed up the game. Others will dive right in and try and destroy everything in their path. So, it takes the amount of time you put into it.
When it comes to replay value, you start the game by picking one of four starting characters with different strengths and weaknesses. This will adjust the style of play and difficulty. Along with some measure of randomness to the enemies out there, King’s Bounty can be fun to play over and over.
Do you remember this one from 1995? It had a certain Legend of Zelda series style of action and adventure. You also play as a character surprisingly like a Disney character from the desert.
Travel the overworld, get lost in a few dungeons and fight, fight, fight. Yes, there is so much combat that your weapons will break!
What’s the story? Well, Ali finds a golden magical armlet. The armlet allows him to summon elemental spirits which are not only handy in battle but will sniff out clues for you as you search for more treasure.
Overall, Beyond Oasis looks and sounds good. The vibrant 2D graphics in this game were good back in the 90s and still look good now. Setting the game’s mood is music by well-known composer Yuzo Koshiro.
One of the finer points to mention is Beyond Oasis’s fluid animation. Granted the controls aren’t perfect, but Ali could jump, climb, hack and slash, and splash around in puddles with grace. Just be careful how you time your movements.
While there is nothing truly groundbreaking about this game, it is fun and fast-paced. Some players have claimed to beat the game in under 7 hours but expect to play it for 12 to 15 or more.
Let’s be honest, if it plays like an early Zelda game you will probably want to take your time and enjoy it.
Sega released this action role-playing game in 1994, adapted from the popular cyberpunk tabletop pen and paper RPG by the same name.
Shadowrun brings a fun, open-world style of gameplay to the table. It allows the gamer to control the main character in a top-down third-person POV. The battles are in real-time and wow, they can be fast and furious.
Not in the normal medieval fantasy, or even typical sci-fi genres, this futuristic cyberpunk-themed game is full of RPG elements and starts off giving the gamer the option to be one of four classes: decker, shaman, gator, or samurai. Each class has specific pros and cons and grows with the ability to improve skills and attributes once enough “Karma” (experience) is earned.
Ready for your first shadowrun?
What is a shadowrun?
Glad you asked! A shadownrun is a physical break-in or cyber data theft performed by one successful corporation or organization against another. It is the main tool employed by corporate rivals of the future and seedy underworld figures.
Shadowruns are performed by “deckers” which are basically hackers who plug themselves into a 3D cyberspace. Yes, you get to visit and explore the Matrix!
You might be confused. Shadowrun’s tabletop RPG was released in 1989 and the video game was released in 1994…which is five years before the ENTIRELY UNRELATED movie with Keanu.
It is true, the Matrix existed before the Matrix! This makes even a Time Mage’s brain hurt.
Back to Shadowrun. Saying this game has a deep background and very complex characters is an understatement. For that, and its finely delivered role-playing game elements, reviewers enjoyed it.
Conversely, the graphics were considered muddy and at times the gameplay to be repetitive. Shadowrun reviewers agree that the game offers an immersive experience while taking on a nice variety of missions.
Bonus: The Faery Tale Adventure
Here is a hidden gem of a game from Electronic Arts. And guess what, with over 17,000 screens, The Faery Tale Adventure was the largest game of its time back in the early 1990s.
Some gamers compare its graphics to Ultima VII. Yes, it looked like it was ported from computer game software of the 1980s, because it was. Yes, the graphics felt somewhat antiquated. But wow, this is a solid game. Expect to have fun with some impressive gameplay.
The Faery Tale Adventure offered a typical fairy tale that was told in and out of the game.
Remember, this is back in the day when games were released with instruction manuals.
This game had a great instruction manual that nearly felt like a D&D module. It had stories, descriptions of character attributes and stats, information on magical weapons, even a map!!! And to top it off it had some humor. For example, the details on the “evil necromancer” are this:
So, who do you think fixes up all those wounded Ogres and raises all those undead Wraiths and Skeletons? Where do you think the Evil Horde gets their endless supply of swords, maces, dirks, and bows? Why, from the Evil Necromancer, of course. It’s a dirty job, but he loves it.
Start your adventure as one of three brothers. No, not the Tabletop Beard brothers. These three brothers are: Julian, Philip, and Kevin.
Each has a unique trait. Julian is a brave fighter. Philip is a lucky guy and Kevin is kind and gentle. You will need each brother for their skills and if something should “happen” to one brother and he is out of luck and unable to return to life, the next brother will take on the journey. Interesting, right?
How big is the game? It’s short, but it is time well spent. If not for the simple reason you get to ride a turtle or on a golden goose.
The Faery Tale Adventure gets good reviews, and some people even call it an early precursor to Diablo in some ways.
The Sega Genesis had over 880 games during its time. The selection of different styles of games to choose from was huge, which is one of the reasons the system was so successful.
If you loved shooters, it had hundreds of those. If you enjoyed sports, you had tons to pick from. For fantasy fans, there was no lack of games.
Titles like Golden Axe, The Immortal and Stormlord come to mind for pure action. Two other games that deserve to be highlighted are Warsong and Masters of Monsters. Both are challenging and engaging games for lovers of turn-based combat strategy.
Look for the titles above supplied in collections or single-game downloads on the current systems. You might find a new old new favorite.