After dazzling Megadrive/Genesis owners with the likes of Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Headdy (let’s forget Ronald’s McDonaldland Adventure for now), Treasure turned its talents to the Action RPG genre with this 1995 release. Published in the twilight years of Sega’s 16-bit machine, Light Crusader is often overlooked, and quite unfairly too. Thankfully, a VC release will rectify that situation.
The first thing that strikes you about Light Crusader is the visuals. They’re not particularly special, but the game looks very ‘Western’ for a Japanese production. It plays like a mix between Sega stable-mate Landstalker and Western RPG Diablo: showcasing a cast of realistic-looking characters and sprites and a very restrained use of colour, it’s a far cry from the cartoon excess of Treasure’s previous Megadrive/Genesis titles.
The similarly to Diablo is not merely cosmetic -- Light Crusader also operates from a central ‘hub’ (in this case a town) from which characters venture off into deep dungeons. (It’s worth noting that Light Crusader predates Blizzard’s influential RPG by a year - maybe Blizzard were fans of Treasure’s work?). Although there’s some limited NPC interaction, the core gameplay revolves around combat and puzzle solving. Fighting is carried out in real time, just like in Zelda, and there are also platforming sections similar to those in the aforementioned Landstalker (which are often quite difficult thanks to the sometimes-confusing isometric viewpoint).
The balance favours puzzles over brute force, especially as you progress deeper into the dungeons. In fact, some of the later conundrums are mind-bogglingly fiendish: this serves as both a blessing and a curse as many casual gamers will undoubtedly give up when they reach a seemingly impossible puzzle. Those who savour a mental challenge will be well catered to, however.
Sadly, as the game progresses the plot fades and it’s ultimately not strong enough to hold your attention. The relentless succession of puzzles - ingenious as they are – quickly becomes dull, even tedious; there’s little time to savour your successes as the next room usually holds yet another logic problem. Whereas games like Zelda broke up the puzzle solving with exploration and interaction, Light Crusader never really moves beyond the relatively featureless environs of the dungeons. A little more thought with regard to pacing would have made this easier to stomach, but it’s certainly not a fatal mistake. There will be some players that love the way the game flows, but it would be wise not to expect a traditional RPG experience here.
The visuals are generally good but the dungeon sections tend to blend together after a few hours. The music is excellent, hampered only by the weaknesses of the Megadrive/Genesis sound hardware. There’s also some (rather crackly) sampled speech thrown into the mix, and (in what I hope was a drive for authenticity) Treasure has opted for upper class English accents. The cry of ‘Solve the Riddle’ whenever you enter a room is made all the more amusing by the fact that it sounds like Prince Charles has delivered the line!
Light Crusader caught people by surprise when it was first released; it simply could not be any less akin to Gunstar Heroes. Treasure are famed for their action games and while their first (and to date, only) foray into the world of fantasy RPGs isn’t 100% successful, it’s certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of this style of game. Perhaps it will attract a whole new legion of fans thanks to this VC release?