Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Climax
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • JP 10/30/1992
    • US 1993
    • UK October 1993
Score: 80%

This review was published on 01/07/2014.

Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole is a 2-D, isometric action adventure game developed by Climax Entertainment and originally released for the Sega Genesis. This is yet another keen game on the Genesis that not many people know about. It's similar to the slightly more popular, but still highly obscure Alundra for the PlayStation. That should come as no surprise, because Alundra is often referred to as the spiritual successor of Landstalker. Alundra is made by a different company, but many of the people that worked on Landstalker had a hand in Alundra. As such, Landstalker is kind of Alundra's predecessor. Dark Savior for the Sega Saturn is another game that's considered to be Landstalker's spiritual successor. Boy, this game sure has a lot of those. Landstalker also strangely got a sequel on the Super Famicom called Lady Stalker: Challenge from the Past, which never got released outside of Japan. I make note of all this here because all these games are rather obscure and worth checking out. As for Landstalker itself, it's a game that shows a great deal of promise, but suffers from poor controls.

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Our grandiose adventure begins with a non-interactive scene of the protagonist, Nigel, running through some ancient ruins. It's a cool scene that shows off the game's great graphics, solid animation, and stellar art style. The ruins in question are known as the Jypta Ruins, and the game notifies everyone that this takes place during the year of 312 in the Gamul Date system. I'm not really sure what all that means, but okay. Nigel is seen heroically dodging traps in a manner reminiscent to Indiana Jones, all to acquire a sacred treasure. He is a treasure hunter, after all. After Nigel successfully acquires the treasure, he takes it to a town to sell for lots of money. The secret exchange of a sacred object is interrupted when a magical fairy flies onto the scene, apparently being chased by some folk. She calls herself Friday and starts to tell a tale of legendary treasures. Friday claims that she knows about something that goes by the name of King Nole's Treasures, and her assailants are after her supposed knowledge regarding said treasures. This piques Nigel's interest, so he decides to help Friday escape from her bullies. In exchange for helping Friday out, Nigel wants help on seeking the treasures. Friday agrees to help Nigel find the treasures, and the two start the journey of a life time together. Plenty of plot developments occur on the way, making for an exciting adventure. The premise to Landstalker's story is solid, and the dialogue is written fairly well for a game from this time period. It's far from Shakespeare, but it's decent. I particularly like the comical banter between Nigel and Friday. Landstalker's plot won't impress anyone, but it gives a fun sense of adventure that every game should have.

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When you finally get to play the game, the first thing you'll notice is the controls. Landstalker is an isometric game, and these games have a reputation for being hard to control, but Landstalker is special. It's even more difficult to control than the average isometric game. Movement in Landstalker is absolutely terrible, because you can't merely press whatever you want on the d-pad and move in that general direction. Instead, the game employs a strange movement system that only lets you change where you're facing if you press diagonals. Games normally let you face in the direction that you press, but not Landstalker. What's stranger still is that, if you don't press any diagonals, you'll only be able to move in two directions. Imagine if pressing up and down makes you move in those directions, but pressing left and right also moves you up and down, inexplicably. I can't quite fathom why the development team went with these controls. I'm assuming they thought you'd make fewer mistakes if the movement was more limited like this, but it just results in an awkward feel. The way in which Nigel moves is confusing as all get-out. It took me forever to adjust; the only way I could get used to it was by making sure to hit diagonals at all time, ensuring I would be able to make quick turns when necessary. The control for movement is the worst thing about Landstalker.

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One of the greatest joys in Landstalker is being able to jump, but it's also one of the most frustrating things about the game. Even though Landstalker has the whole isometric perspective thing going for it, the game has almost as much jumping as Mario. Jumping on platforms and isometric views don't mix, especially when the controls are bad. The common pitfall of isometric jumping lies in the depth perception, in that there is none. Some games manage to get around this, either by strategically utilizing shadows or other design cues to simulate depth. Landstalker has a big problem in this department, because there are a lot of optical illusions. Platforms that look within reach are sometimes on a different plane entirely, possibly resulting in you missing your jump due to the awkward perspective. This can get really annoying, really fast. Jumping onto wide, moving platforms isn't a big deal, but when there are a ton of tiny platforms spiraling around, things can get hectic. The game's punishment for missing jumps includes spike pits, lava, and other damaging hazards. Arguably a worse punishment is when the game makes you repeat a large jumping section all over again. Jumping in Landstalker can be fun, but it also requires a lot of patience.

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A strong mind is necessary to conquer Landstalker, because there are a lot of puzzles. Landstalker has an interactive environment that allows for the possibility of many puzzles, especially if those puzzles involve boxes. Certain objects can be picked up and put down, Super Mario Bros. 2 style, and this almost always leads to puzzle solving. The objects themselves are usually crates, but they can be other things, too. Puzzles in Landstalker can get very challenging, which is great if you're into that sort of thing. They're a lot harder than the puzzles from your average Zelda game. Textual hints will sometimes be provided to help you solve the trickier puzzles. There are times when solving a puzzle involves nothing more than deciphering a given hint. There are times when the puzzles can be a little too difficult, which can be an issue. Not all the puzzles are about using your mind, though. Some puzzles will require timing, lending the game a nice bit of variety. The timing element generally comes into play whenever there are a bunch of traps to dodge, like boulders and such. Landstalker has a good balance of intellectually stimulating and action based puzzles that will delight puzzle lovers everywhere.

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When travel makes you weary, go to a town to get some rest. Towns have shops where you can purchase items, inns that let you sleep to fully restore your health, and churches that let you save your game. Like in any town worth its salt, you can talk to the townspeople to gather information about your next objective. There is a town later in the game that is massive, and it has a ton of things you can't do at other towns. This town endorses gambling and other mini-games that you pay a fee to play in order to win fabulous prizes. You'll encounter trees that can teleport you across the map at some point, which allows you to quickly travel between faraway towns. The towns in this game are pretty good, and there are a fair amount of them. Speaking to the people in town can be fun, because whenever they aren't giving you helpful hints, they're saying or doing something amusing. Like there's this twelve year old girl that will ask Nigel if he wants to be her boyfriend, and the player is given a choice. If you say yes, Friday will pop out and hurt Nigel for a few points of damage. I guess Landstalker doesn't endorse pedophilia. People in town will also sometimes change what they say or what they're doing depending on how far you are in the game's story, which is a nice touch. Nothing about this is particularly ground breaking, but it does add to the game.

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Adventure awaits you everywhere in the world of Landstalker, especially inside of dungeons. Being that Nigel is a treasure hunter, he'll be spending most of his time inside dungeons of all sorts. The dungeons work similarly to The Legend of Zelda, with how progression is based around acquiring keys and opening doors. What's annoying is that you must go inside of your menu and use the key in front of the door to open it. It's only a minor gripe, but I don't understand why the doors couldn't open automatically on contact, like they do in every other game from this genre. The ways in which you get keys generally involve solving puzzles, defeating all the enemies in a room, pressing switches, and so on. Most of the dungeons are pretty basic, but there are a few that elect to change things up a bit. There's one dungeon later in the game that I particularly liked, because the whole thing consisted of riddles and mind games, with little to no combat. Longer dungeons will sometimes have save points inside of them, too, which is nice. Dungeons late in the game do get somewhat maze-like, though, and that can be rightly annoying. There are no dungeon maps, so the maze-like dungeons are a headache. On the bright side, most of the dungeon layouts are so simple that they don't need maps. The dungeons are one of the main things that make Landstalker fun, so it's good that they're mostly good.

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Something treasure hunters are bound to encounter is enemies. Enemies in Landstalker are commonly found inside of dungeons, though they can be encountered outside of dungeons, too. Nigel can swing his sword at his foes to defeat them, but there's not much of a combat system other than that. Some of the stronger swords Nigel gets later in the game can be charged up to do different effects. For example, the fire sword will burn enemies whenever the charge meter is full. The charge meter fills up on its own without pressing any buttons, which is pretty convenient. I wish most of the Mega Man games had an auto-charge feature like this. Friday will also automatically revive you if you die, provided you have any restorative items on you. How swell of her. Because movement in Landstalker is a little bit on the difficult side, the main strategy for battle is to stand your ground and let the enemies come to you. Like in almost every RPG, monsters will drop money and items. One slightly annoying thing is that the money monsters drop will sometimes disappear if another monster walks over it. This tends to happen whenever you're fighting a large group of enemies. I'm not sure if this was programmed intentionally, but it's a minor nuisance. The other weird thing is that Landstalker hardly has any boss battles, and the boss battles that are there feel almost the same as regular enemy encounters. Other than that, everything else is peachy keen. Battles in Landstalker are pretty basic, but they get the job done.

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Nigel's health can be upgraded by finding Life Stocks, which can be found inside treasure chests, shops, and dungeons. Life Stocks are given to you like candy at the beginning of the game, but get rarer later on. What's odd about this is that it seems Nigel's attack power improves as his maximum health increases. I mean, it's a pretty cool mechanic, but the game never explains this itself, and it's a little bewildering. Nigel can also equip weapons and armor to get different effects bestowed upon him. The problem I had is that I could never figure out what most of the weapons, armor, or accessories did, as there are no in-game descriptions. Usable items have the same problem, but it's slightly alleviated by virtue of the fact that you can use an item to find out what it does. There are times when even that won't illuminate the situation, unfortunately. Perhaps the manual has descriptions for all the items, but nobody has time for that. Everything else is pretty standard fare if you've played an RPG before. Being that Landstalker isn't a fully fledged RPG, all these mechanics are rather simple. They do add some depth to the game, though.

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Landstalker is a tough call. It has awesome graphics, decent music, intriguing puzzles, and it's decently long, but the horrible controls bring that all down. This game deserves recognition for the things it does right, even if it's marred by such atrocious controls. There is a chance the controls won't bother you much, and if that's the case, then you'll definitely have a blast. The chances of that are kind of low, though, because these controls are so obtuse, they're bound to bother almost everyone. Is the game good enough to suffer through such bad controls? I think so, but your mileage may vary. All the other problems the game has are too minor to recount here. Landstalker is a good game that could have been great if it weren't for its crippling controls.

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