Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole was the first game developed by Climax Entertainment on its own, having previously worked on both Shining in the Darkness and Shining Force with Camelot Software Planning (then Sonic Software Planning). A far cry from those turn-based affairs, Landstalker is an action adventure not far off from Zelda in many respects. It begins with a rousing, Indiana Jones-style cut scene in which the elven hero, Nigel, claims the treasure of an ancient temple and avoids various traps. He then runs into a fairy named Friday and together they go off to an island in search of the legendary treasure of King Nole. Though this makes it seem like the game takes place in a small area, the exact opposite proves to be true.
Nigel’s adventure consists of wandering the island, venturing to various towns and dungeons, helping out those in need in the quest to find the legendary treasure. Though the game proceeds mostly in a linear fashion, Nigel is free to travel to previous locations and search for secret items. Using a isometric camera, Nigel moves only diagonally, which can take some getting used to. Landstalker involves plenty of platforming, so this camera angle can cause a lot of problems at times when needing to make precision jumps. Combat in the game is quit simple, using simple sword strikes against mostly easy foes. More power weapons and armor can be obtained as things progress, along with various healing items, but on the whole gameplay doesn’t change much throughout the adventure, with no new tools being acquired like in a Zelda game.
None of the game’s individual gameplay aspects are particularly engaging on their own. Monsters have incredibly simple patterns, and there’s no upgrades for combat outside of a few new swords and armor, along with increasing life capacity. Platform challenges increase in difficulty as the game goes on, but generally use similar tricks such as disappearing and moving platforms. Puzzles can be challenging but often stick to using blocks and boulders to hit various pressure plates. Despite this, the game manages to be far more than the sum of its parts. The story is well localized for the era and does a good job of enticing the player to keep going as they get closer to finding the secret of King Nole’s treasures. The various towns and dungeons in the game are different enough to make the island feel very diverse and worth exploring. Most important of all, the dungeons mix combat, platforming, and puzzles very well, ensuring that none of the three elements is generally overused.
Of course, hiding its weaknesses well doesn’t mean the game hides them completely. In particular the isometric view can become infuriating during difficult platforming segments. There are also instances where the player will need to grind for gold, which is not fun by any stretch of the imagination. The music is also not a strong point for the game, reusing a small number of tracks for most of the game. It may not be Sega’s Zelda, lacking the polish of that venerable series, but Landstalker establishes itself as a long and charming adventure, if a somewhat flawed one.
Article by Michael Apps
GameSpite Journal 12: Landstalker