It’s really a travesty that the Game Gear didn’t get more RPGs. The Game Boy had a surprisingly strong set of RPGs, varied in both style and execution. The only traditional RPG that made it to the West, though? That honor falls to Defenders of Oasis.
I suppose it’s just as well that there’s weren’t any more, given the Game Gear’s predilection for sucking batteries dry at a prodigious rate. You can’t shake the feeling that it would bankrupt the owner if longer quests were available. Yes, the AC adapter was available, but it took away the ostensible purpose of a handheld. Somehow, I think we might be on to the reason the Game Gear failed.
The game finds you in an Arabian Nights-inspired quest, a nice departure from the usual fantasy fare. The graphics are vibrant, making excellent use of the Game Gear’s expanded color palette. Although one wishes that enemies were animated in battle, the game looks great, straddling the line between 8- and 16-bit sensibilities. The music is good, and fits thematically in most instances.
Gameplay falls squarely into the Dragon Quest camp. There are a few twists on the formula, though. None of your human characters can use magic, instead possessing a specialty command in its place. Only the Genie, who you find early in your quest after the once-peaceful kingdom of Shanadar is invaded, is able to use magic. The Prince is the hard-hitter, Saleem is quicker, with rock-like stamina, and Agmar is rather powerful and very fast, but squishy. Each character acts individually when their turn comes up, so faster characters will get extra hits in.
In addition, characters upgrade differently. The humans follow the usual “earn experience, upgrade equipment” path, but the Genie actually requires items to polish and plate the lamp, which increase different stats based on the item used. The Genie never equips anything, and all of his spells (beyond the original loadout) are found during the quest, as opposed to learned through battle. And due to a lack of strength upgrade items, the Genie will quickly be forced to resort to those spells to be useful, either by inflicting direct spell damage, healing, or bestowing passive buffs to increase the team’s fighting efficacy.
There is the occasional compromise in the script, as there are some shortened names, and the dialogue is not overly verbose, but it’s still very playable, and you’re never left wondering what’s going on. Not that this is a problem, given adherence to the usual 8-bit “destroy ultimate evil” script, but it’s still fun within the context of the setting.
The game isn’t all that hard, and it’s fairly short (by RPG standards), so if you’re looking for a light RPG snack, Defenders of Oasis won’t do you wrong. And according to reports, it could be showing up shortly in the 3DS eShop. There’s something fitting about the game showing up on another handheld that has less than stellar battery life itself. At least that battery is rechargeable, though.
Article by Lee Hathcock
GameSpite Journal 12: Defenders of Oasis