Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • Game Gear
  • Developer:
    • Aspect
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • JP 11/01/1991
    • US UK 1991
Score: 65%

This review was published on 01/31/2018.

Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe is an action adventure video game developed by Aspect and published by Sega for the Sega Game Gear. It was originally released in Japan on November 1, 1991, and North America and Europe in 1991. As hinted by its title, this game is a spinoff from the Golden Axe series. Golden Axe began as a side-scrolling beat 'em up in 1989 and the majority of future entries in the series are also of that genre. However, this title has more in common with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link than any other game within the Golden Axe franchise. Regardless of your feelings on it, most people are aware that Zelda II is one of the least liked games in the Zelda series. If you're one of the many who dislikes Zelda II, then you'll be delighted to know that Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe is considerably worse.

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According to this game's intro, the gods gave a gift to mortals long ago in the form of the Golden Axe. Legends say that the world will bow down to whoever has the axe in their grasp. Due to that, countless battles took place among mortals to gain possession of the axe. Eventually, the endless chaos filled the king with sorrow, so he hid the axe deep within his castle where no one could find it. Thanks to the king's efforts, peace once again returned to the world. However, after many years had passed and the name of the axe was forgotten, an army of evil warriors destroyed the castle and stole the Golden Axe. The king called on a young warrior to reclaim the axe. In doing so, he entrusted the fate of the world to the warrior. Guided by love and courage, the warrior started on his lonely journey. His name was Ax Battler, the barbarian hero from the first Golden Axe game. Strangely, he doesn't do battle with an axe.

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Upon initial inspection, this game will look like a Dragon Warrior or Dragon Quest clone. It starts off with an overhead perspective where you're able to walk in the four cardinal directions with the d-pad, check your status with the start button, and bring up a menu with the 2 button. The 1 and 2 buttons are also used to deny and confirm menu selections, respectively. As for the menu itself, it has three commands: one for talking to NPCs, one for using items, and one to search for hidden items beneath your feet. With these commands at your disposal, you're supposed to do the typical RPG thing of exploring villages and the overworld in order to figure out where to go next. NPCs usually give you hints to that end, but the world is straightforward enough that you likely won't need any help making progress. Things get pretty different when you encounter a battle or enter a dungeon, though.

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While towns are safe havens that allow you to converse with friendly folk in peace, the outside world is a perilous place. To put it another way, you'll randomly encounter enemies while traversing the world map. However, unlike Zelda II, you won't actually see foes until you're already in battle with them, so enemy encounters are closer to a traditional RPG in that respect. Like Zelda II, you'll be switched from the RPG overhead perspective to a side-scrolling viewpoint whenever entering a battle. During these situations, you move left or right by pressing those directions on the d-pad, duck by pressing down, jump by pressing the 2 button, and swing your sword by pressing the 1 button. You only ever fight one enemy per battle, and once you beat it, you'll be sent back to the map screen. The weird thing is, though, that you get kicked out of the fight the moment you take a single hit. It's frustrating, because this interrupts the flow of combat. Also, the encounter rate is obnoxiously high.

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After every battle victory, you'll earn magic vases. Similar to the vials in Gargoyle's Quest, magic vases primarily function as a currency in towns. For instance, you can spend them at inns to fully replenish your health meter. Every town also contains a training room, which pits you against a single enemy for an opportunity to learn a new ability. These abilities include a tackle that allows you to break through certain walls, a higher jump, and various sword techniques. One of the sword techniques, the downwards thrust, is taken straight out of Zelda II. Outside of learning new abilities, there is no other form of character progression, as you can't level up and there's no way to increase the size of your life meter. Towns are also where you'll get passwords, because yes, this game has no save system. Passwords don't cost you anything, but they're a little too long for their own good.

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Another use for magic vases is casting spells, which you equip during the RPG segments and use during the side-scrolling sections by pressing the start button. You start with the only three spells that are available in the game, and they all do damage to every enemy on the screen based on their cost; the more damaging spells use up more vases. The weaker spells are quite puny, though, so you'll probably stick with the strongest spell for the whole game. Considering the only other use for vases are inns, which aren't really necessary due to the fact that dying fully restores your health meter for free, you may as well save all your vases for magic. Oddly, the game only allows you to have a maximum of 31 vases.

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Dungeons are portrayed in the same side-scrolling view as the battles, but you don't get booted out as soon as you take a single hit. The objective of every dungeon is to reach the end, whereupon you'll typically acquire a key item that is needed to move on to the next section of the game. Unlike Zelda II, however, all the dungeons are fairly linear, and there are never any puzzles to solve or locked doors to open. It's all about fending off foes and basic platforming. Because of that, the dungeons are kind of boring. That's bad, because they're the most exciting parts of the game. Further, enemies often lunge at you from out of nowhere, which just feels cheap. What's more, you'll be sent to the last town you visited if you die. Have fun getting into endless battles on the way back.

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This game is rather interesting from a conceptual standpoint, as it's essentially a hybrid between a traditional RPG and a side-scrolling platformer. Unfortunately, that intriguing concept just wasn't executed very well. Examples of that poor execution include the sluggish controls, the fact that you get kicked out of fights after only taking a single hit, the sky high encounter rate, the boring dungeons, and the overly linear world. The game is also quite short, though that may not be such a bad thing considering its mediocrity. It's a shame, because this game had the potential to be something more.

Word Count: 1,197

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