Genre: Action/RPG Developer: Wolf Team Publisher: Renovation Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
lones. They’re everywhere. In any classic gaming discussion the word ‘clone’ or some sort of synonym is bound to be uttered at least once. Sonic clone. Mario clone. R-Type clone..Gauntlet clone.
Ah, yes…Gauntlet. An excellent game that spawned hundreds of imitators and was so popular that it became the fantasy action game against which all other fantasy action games were measured. As a result of its popularity, any other game that resembled it was branded a “Gauntlet clone”, and was therefore pretty much tanked as a result. It seemed logical. How could a clone be better than its inspiration? Besides, a game company that resorted to cloning popular titles couldn’t be very good, right?
So amidst all of the finger-pointing and cries of “Clone!” that followed there was a little game on the Sega Genesis called Arcus Odyssey. It certainly resembled Gauntlet. You had four selectable characters: two female, two male. You had your magic user (like the wizard), your swordsman (like the valkyrie), your archer (like the, uh, archer), and even though the last character had a whip instead of an axe like the barbarian, there was no denying it all sounded very Gauntlet-y.
With all that in mind, I recently picked up picked up Arcus from my local game shop for $5 and was expecting a few hours of nice, simple, clone fun. I didn’t get what I was expecting.
On the surface, maybe, Arcus Odyssey sounds a lot like Gauntlet, but once I actually popped it into the black box and start playing it, I realized that I had acquired a game that deserves much more than just getting stuffed into the clone closet and forgotten.
The first thing you’ll notice is the intro. Long ago, an evil sorceress named Casomira plotted to destroy the world and remake it in her own design. Nations fell before her dark magic, and within a short time she had brought death and misery to thousands of people. Many warriors rose up to fight her, but they were all destroyed. It seemed that no one could overcome her. Then a powerful princess who commanded the powers of light clashed with Casomira. Her name was Leaty, and their battle raged for days, destroying the lands around them. When it was finally over, Leaty was victorious and Casomira was banished to the Dark World. In order to keep her there, Leaty forged a magical sword that would bind Casomira to the Dark World for an eternity. Over time, this sword became a symbol of peace to the people. But now Casomira’s followers have stolen the sword and the ancient sorceress grows stronger. [into edited and rephrased from the game's introduction (and a very good introduction it is, by the way, with great anime-style graphics and a wonderful 3D effect.)]
Okay, so it isn’t the most original story out there, but I have to say that it works well and sets the atmosphere nicely. (While we’re on the subject, I’m assuming that this intro is a recap of Arcus 2 for the MSX. Can anyone confirm this for me?)
At this point you get to choose one of four different warriors in order to go and vanquish Casomira and her army. Your choices are Jedda, the swordsman; Erin, the warrior-maiden; Diane, the elf archer; and Bead, the wizard. In Gauntlet, each character was pretty much the same except for stats such as health, etc. Arcus Odyssey, however, takes character selection to the next level by giving each character different health, attacks, and spells.
Spells? Yes, spells. As you progress through the game you’ll find chests that contain many different items, from the standard regenerative medicine to powerful Magic of Elemental Summoning. In the chests you’ll also get power crystals. Each character has around 5 levels of magic, and you can select your spell by equipping a certain number of power crystals. Take Diane, for instance. Enable a single crystal and you’ll be able to use a healing spell with the press of the B button. Enable two crystals and you’ll be able to fire homing arrows with B in addition to your normal attacks. The magic system is one of the things that make this game so much fun to play, and what’s better is that you have complete control over the customization. You can enable Erin’s Energy Rune and it will sit there forever until you use it-no instant spells. This allows for a much better combat experience. For instance, you can equip a healing spell before an intense battle, then use it at the push of a button instead of having to pause and select it. The fact that each character has such different spells adds replay value and staves off that “all-these-people-fight-the-same-so-there’s-really-only-one-character” feeling you got with Gauntlet.
Speaking of differences, the characters also have radically different standard attacks. The swordsman fires close-range shock waves with his sword, the archer shoots arrows that rebound off walls, the wizard blasts fireballs that have infinite range, and the whip-toting warrior-maiden lashes out at enemies with both a straight attack and a 360 degree twirl (no infinite throwing axes here!). The way the characters are designed to have different attacks is truly wonderful and makes every replay feel different. Your experience with Erin and her powerful (but slow) whip will be totally different from your game with Diane, in which you’ll learn to bank arrows off walls in order to bag monsters from safety.
Not everything about the game is golden, however. There isn’t much going for Arcus in the eye and ear candy departments. The graphics are truly unspectacular with highly repetitive backgrounds, limited animation, and little detail in the character sprites; not to mention the slowdown that plagues the game during hectic battles in two-player mode. As for sound, what’s there to say? The sound effects are simplistic, the voices are almost comical, and the music (although there are some very nice tunes in there, especially the character select screen) is almost bleepy compared to the superior tracks in other titles (track 9 of Ranger X, anyone?).
There is another aspect that could be a downside for some people, and that’s the plot, which I mentioned earlier. There isn’t a whole lot of it in this game, but I think that’s perfectly fine. When I pop in Arcus Odyssey, I’m not wanting to be enthralled by a storyline of Phantasy Star IV proportions. I want a fantasy arcade shooter and I don’t want a bunch of contrived storylines interrupting my fast-paced action. Still, if you’re a bleary-eyed RPGer who likes a lot of plot in your games, then you may want to stay away from this one. Everyone else should be okay with it.
For such an old game, it sports some features that are only just now becoming widespread, such as the ability to recruit NPCs to come fight with you. This is a wonderful innovation, because you get to pick from multiple NPCs that each sport their own skills, adding still more replayability to the title. You can’t completely experience the game until you play it through with each of the character-NPC combinations, or you can refuse help and wing it by yourself (not recommended for newcomers to the game).
Arcus Odyssey is not a walk in the park. There are enemies everywhere, and they regenerate, so you can never truly escape from the battle. You only have around 6 HP (depending on your character), and each time you get hit you lose a point. Only one life, too-once you die you go back to the beginning of the area (they do let you have infinite continues, however). Some good news: you can collect Lamps and Dolls of Life that replenish your health and allow you to keep going. You’re going to need them, because the levels are big and getting lost isn’t out of the question.
In summary, although the game does have some flaws, like the graphics and sound, it has some great gameplay and tons of variety. What’s even better is that you won’t have to lay down a whole lot of cash to get this one, especially if you aren’t a collector and just snag a lone cart off eBay, a local game shop, etc. Arcus Odyssey is well worth the look, and may just change how you think about clones. Besides, haven’t you played Gauntlet enough?