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Sorcerian

Genre: RPG Developer: Falcom Publisher: Sega of Japan Players: 1 Released: 1990

I’ve been a major Falcom fan since the early ’90s. Give me virtually anything done by the company, and I’ll play it. As one so eagerly looking for new titles to play, I’ve encountered quite a dilemma when it comes to Falcom. Unfortunately for English speakers like me, a lot of the great games made by Falcom have never left their native Japan. And since most of them are RPGs, slogging one’s way through without any knowledge of the language can prove most difficult indeed. For example, I ran head-first into a brick wall when it came to the one title I had been itching to try out the most: Sega’s reprogrammed port of Sorcerian for the Mega Drive.

As simplistic as the visuals may seem, the game is actually quite daunting to get underway. As soon as it’s booted up, Sorcerian relentlessly pounds players with a complex menu system that is entirely in Japanese and completely devoid of icons of any kind. There isn’t even a window present to give the slightest hint of what’s going on, and given that this is the part when players create, equip, and train their party, hours can be spent here without progress being made at all. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that my mint copy of Sorcerian has sat on my shelf for almost two decades, occasionally being taken out so I could look at the color manual or large map included. It then went back to its spot, accompanied by a resigned sigh of lament.

A few years ago, that changed. An English patch was released for the ROM, and though it’s incomplete, it at least translates the menu. Thus was I able to create and organize my party and set out on adventure! Three minutes later, my party had been slaughtered, and I was back at the menu screen. But at least I can read it now!

That was my first lesson in Sorcerian for the Mega Drive: it’s hard, damn hard. With a little patience, however, characters can be equipped and trained, and the very first dungeon falls. If one is to play this game through, it will take a calm and focused mind. Once I had my party ready and learned the basics of combat, I was at least able to spend some time in the first area without getting killed. Sorcerian is pretty cruel when it comes to losing a battle. Each of the four party members are picked off one by one, until that last character is left to fend off all the enemies alone or run for dear life.

There are four classes from which to choose: fighter, wizard, elf, and dwarf. When the last two stopped being races escapes me, but I’m not going to put too much thought into it. In addition to the combat or magic skills inherent to each class, characters can also choose from sixty other occupations, such as mercenary, thug, scribe, or hunter. These jobs determine each character’s yearly income, stat modification, and experience.

The town provides all the locations one would expect in an RPG. Dead characters can be resurrected at the temple, weapons and items can be purchased, and the king himself will bestow level increases if the required experience has been attained. Characters can even train in aspects of combat and using items here. Once everything is ready, it’s off to the adventure.

What’s odd about Sorcerian, compared to standard games in the genre, is that there is no overall plot that guides the player’s actions. The MD version is comprised of ten scenarios (fewer than other versions but all unique to this one). Each scenario has its own objective, usually consisting of some fetch quest or rescue mission. Players enter the area, fight monsters for experience and treasure, and then exit. The exit is open at any time, so grinding is possible, and all items acquired during a run can be sold back in town at any time. The scenarios stack in difficulty but can be played in any order, though it’s doubtful that low-level parties would be able to survive in the later areas. The final scenario is locked until all the others are completed.

Sorcerian was released early in the Mega Drive’s life, and it’s not big on animation. Jumps are floaty, and characters look somewhat silly when they run. Despite this, there’s no problem with control, and players should have no problem getting the hang of using their party. What will pose some trouble though, is navigating some of the confusing levels that comprise each scenario. There are no FAQs or walkthroughs available for this version, and no one has mapped out any of the levels. Players are on their own when it comes to exploration, and this is one time where I must say that save states were a godsend.

Combat consists of jabbing enemies with weapons or using magic, which is very complicated to do. Players must choose and mix enchantments to create spells, and none of this part of the game is currently in English, which makes using magic effectively almost impossible. I had moderate success in the game with a band of warriors, but magic is too useful to just ignore. If only I could learn something beyond the first few spells! Wizards and elves can only use magic, so learning the basics is essential if one hopes to have any success with them.

Given its basic gameplay and simple graphics, Sorcerian might be a game that most people simply pass over. Those shouldn’t stop would-be adventurers from giving the game a try. If there’s any reason to shy away from it, it would have to be either the language barrier or the high learning curve. The former has been mostly overcome due to the translation patch, but there are still plenty of conversations still in Japanese. Hopefully someone will finally get around to finishing up some day. Until then, we’ll have to stick with the DOS version, which is the only one to ever be localized.

I’m not sorry I tried out Sorcerian, nor do I regret the mesh of action and RPG elements that Falcom was going for with it. If anything, I regret not being able to enjoy it more fully due to the language constraints. The game is still playable in patched form though, and I recommend anyone who’s a fan of Falcom or just even curious to at least try it out. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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