Overspecialization, they say, leads to death. No doubt that aphorism holds some kernel of truth. But is that really true for game developers? Consider the likes of Cave, who churn out one bullet-curtain shooter after another and soak up critical and consumer acclaim. Then again, acclaim doesn’t pay the bills, and these days arcade shooters serve as the equivalent of the company tinkering in the garage on a beloved classic car while iOS software keeps the company’s designers clothed and fed.
In the game industry, the greater hazard of overspecialization comes less from fatality and more from typecasting. When Squaresoft made action games, did anyone care? No, because Square was the RPG company. Einhänder was amazing, but because it fell squarely into the shooter genre, it ended up relegated to the sidenote bin of the company’s PlayStation library.
So it went with Golvellius. Sega’s platforms were never known for their meaty RPGs, Phantasy Star and Shining Force aside. Sega was the arcade company! It brought us incredible action games like Shinobi and After Burner, quarter-gobblers whose home conversions represented their essence with varying degrees of aplomb, from passable simulacrum to straight-up near-perfection. Visceral action was Sega’s thing, and role-playing fans instinctively drifted to PCs and NES for their level-grinding fix.
In doing so, they missed a damn fine early attempt to marry role-playing to something a little more reflex-oriented with Golvellius. Frankly, Golvellius took two companies out of their depth. Not only did Golvellius bring unexpected RPG-style content to a Sega system, it also represented an unconventional creation by developer Compile. Like Sega, Compile made its reputation with action games—in this case, white-knuckle (yet cerebral) shooters such as Zanac—while Golvellius centered on exploration, hit points, discovery, and completing menial tasks for NPCs.
Yet while it may have fallen outside Compile’s wheelhouse, Golvellius was more than merely competent—it was remarkably fun. It also represented someone beating the mighty Nintendo juggernaut to the punch; Golvellius resembled nothing so much as a combination of The Legend of Zelda’s top-down world exploration combined with Zelda II’s side-scrolling dungeon forays… but you could hardly accuse it of being a ripoff given that it landed in Japan (as an MSX game) simultaneously with Zelda II’s debut.
Clearly Golvellius’ inspiration came from Zelda, but Compile put its own action-y twist on the game. Then Sega reworked it for Master System (as they did with practically all third-party games) and came up with something frankly superior to Nintendo’s own Zelda sequel. Golvelliius played fast, moved fluidly, and sported vivid graphics with bosses that put its NES competition to shame. There’s something to be said for overspecialization in game design… but diversity yields its own rewards as well.
Article by Jeremy Parish
GameSpite Journal 12: Golvellius: Valley of Doom