Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sword of Vermilion - Grinding around Parma

I have a friend who tends to look to me for all his retro-gaming advice. When new games arrive or are announced for the Wii virtual console, he generally asks my opinion of them. My problem is that while I am well-read on a lot of older games, unles they are on the NES, I probably haven't played them. So, when Sega announced four games were coming to the virtual console, he asked my opinion of them. Sonic Spinball is generally thought of as a nice idea that doesn't work too well, Beyond Oasis is a well-regarded action RPG, and Vectorman was Sega's answer to Donkey Kong Country that, while pretty hard, I think holds up better as a platformer. But Sword of Vermilion? Other than knowing it was an action RPG, I had heard nothing of it. I decided to rectify this.

There is a reason I had never heard anything about Sword of Vermilion. It isn't particularly good, but neither is it particularly bad. It is just kind of mediocre and seemingly forgettable. It has an interesting mish-mash of gameplay modes. Towns are top-down, exploration is first person, and random encounters with monsters place you on an otherwise empty screen with up to eight monsters surrounding you.

The first person exploration is kind of neat. You get a map of the area and that is displayed so you will never get too lost and don't have to break out the graph paper. Before you get a map, like in caves and such, the map area of the screen only displays the squares directly around you.

What isn't so great is the battle system. Since this is an action RPG, combat takes place in real time. You move your character around and the monsters move from an overhead view similar to The Legend of Zelda. Unfortunately, the reach of your sword is almost nothing so you have to get right up next to the monsters to whack them. You get no period of invincibility after being hit by a monster either, so you can take a lot of damage quickly if you are surrounded by monsters, which can often happen if the random encounter decides to give you seven or eight of that particular monster. You can also use magic here, but I have yet to buy any. A heal spell would be really nice.

The game seems to borrow heavily from the Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior for most of its time in the US) series. Not so much in gameplay, but in the names and types of items and the role of the church (saving, uncursing, curing poison). Also in some of the menu commands. All that said, the town I am in right now is Parma which seems an obvious tribute to the Phantasy Star series - that's the name of one of the planets you visit in the Algol system.

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