Surprisingly, you didn’t see many action-RPGs on the Game Gear. You’d think, on a system so far ahead of its major competitor in terms of presentation, developers would demonstrate some intrinsic tendency toward the genre. However, it seems that, much like the Sega Genesis, that both action-RPGs and RPGs were largely ignored for more arcade-ish experiences.
Yet, in the Land of the Rising Sun, there was a quite good action-RPG by the name of Sylvan Tale. And while it inevitably falls to the greatest Zelda game of all time, Link’s Awakening (and really, what handheld action-RPG doesn’t?), it’s a game well worth playing.
In keeping with the typical design template for these games, you’re transported to another land, where you are tasked with gathering six droplets from fortresses throughout the game. Different moves allow you to proceed, and in a slick bit of subversion, instead of just using tools to progress, you get the ability to transform as well. You end up with the ability to turn into a turtle, a mole, a merman, a mouse, and a bird, the last of which is a hidden transformation.
The puzzle-essential forms receive upgrade abilities as well, sometimes enabling additional combat abilities or enabling further quest progression. You also get the prerequisite life-upgrade items as well. Of course, there are the usual quest-related items to snag… but none of these elements are too terribly overbearing, when it comes down to it.
There’s a decent amount of puzzle-solving in dungeons, most of which tends to be relatively clear and fun to figure out. The combat system is actually quite well done, being quite responsive. Your character’s swordplay is not able to cut a swath through enemies as impressively as in Awakening, but it’s effective just the same, performing more like the original Zelda. And you obtain a rapid-cut technique that allows for both plot progression and upgrades your combat ability, somewhat similarly to Terranigma’s rapid-strike ability. There’s also a good amount of backtracking, which can get annoying from time to time, especially if you forget how to get to certain areas. It’s not as big a deal as other games in the genre, though, as the actual number of screens in the game is relatively limited.
Anyway, the quest isn’t terribly long, it looks nice, has some decent tunes, and overall is a great game for people that might be looking for a Zelda-ish experience they might not have heard about. And despite it not making the jump to the U.S., there is a 100% complete translation patch for the game courtesy of Aeon Genesis, who did an excellent job of making this a polished release for those of us constrained to the English tongue.
Article by Lee Hathcock
GameSpite Journal 12: Sylvan Tale