Paladin's Quest

Thirteen years ago, a strange disaster befell the world of Lennus, killing many inhabitants, and upon the ruins of a great city, a school of magic was built, which an aspiring spiritualist named Chezni attends. One day, after class, one of Chezni’s classmates dares him to explore a forbidden tower near his school, where an ancient evil has slept for ten millennia. What consequences will Chezni’s actions have? Lennus, developed by Asmik and localized to the U.S. by Enix as Paladin’s Quest, was a unique RPG released for the Super NES in 1993. The game has some things going for it, yet ultimately ends up as one of the weaker RPGs for the system.

As the player talks with NPCs after beginning a new game, he or she will learn of the game’s primary uniqueness: there is no MP to use in battle, only HP. As in most other turn-based RPGs of the era, battles are randomly-encountered, with the player inputting commands for Chezni and his allies to beat up the enemies in a round. One thing to note is that the only other permanent party member is Midia, with the player needing to hire two mercenaries from taverns in towns throughout the game, each with permanent sets of equipment and unchanging magic spells. The player can, with a few exceptions, dismiss mercenaries, yet rehire them later.

Each character has the commands of using an equipped item, defending, using an HP-consuming magic spell, or attempting to escape. Items to use include a weapon, one of different types of bottles, each with nine units and having effects such as recovering HP, healing status ailments, or blasting all enemies with an explosive force (and which the player can refill in towns), or another piece of equipment such as a character’s helmet, although weapons or bottle use is typically preferable. Each magic spell, as mentioned, consumes a certain amount of the caster’s HP, with each spell having an affiliation with one or two types of eight different elemental spirits.

Exactly which magic spells Chezni, Midia, and their allies have depends upon which elemental spirits they’ve acquired. In towns, the player can occasionally visit a special facility and pay to teach Chezni and Midia a particular spirit, in which case their set of spells increases; the player, however, cannot teach mercenaries additional spirits. As characters use magic spells, their affinity with particular spirits will increase, naturally boosting the power of spells of those spirits’ elements. As in most other RPGs, moreover, characters gain experience and money from winning battles, and will level up occasionally.

The magic system is easily the zenith of Lennus’ battle system, given the reward of increased magical power through using certain types of magic spells repeatedly, and the lack of MP isn’t much of a problem, since healing with bottles naturally counters HP loss. Still, turn order can vary and be unpredictable, and that many battles tend to have tons of enemies coupled with the general sluggishness of animations can often drag out fights. The encounter rate is high, as well, but the player can reduce it with a certain spell/item. The save system is also stingy, so if a hard boss slaughters the party at the end of a dungeon, too bad. In the end, the battle system has some decent ideas, although the aforementioned flaws often make it lose its appeal.

The interface, though, fares worse. Granted, there are some conveniences such as spells and items that let the player instantly exit dungeons and warp to the most recently-visited town, not to mention an in-game overworld map, but the menus feel somewhat awkward, with the lousy translation also being apparent, given compressed names for menu options, spell names, item names, and so forth. While shopping, moreover, it is impossible to see how prospective equipment affects Chezni and Midia’s stats before buying it, and even changing equipment is somewhat tortuous, though luckily, players need not worry about mercenary equipment. Still, Paladin’s Quest features a prime example of what an RPG interface shouldn’t be.

The first Lennus game, however, definitely has much going for it in the creativity department, given the lack of MP and use of HP instead to cast magic, and its system of increasing the power of magic through repeated use also predates that in Secret of Mana. The setting and visual style also enhance the game’s unique feel. The first-person perspective of combat is reminiscent of that in the Dragon Quest games, but Paladin’s Quest is still fairly original.

The story, however, suffers from the brevity most RPG plots did in the game’s time, given its weak pacing and deficit of developing cutscenes. It does have some things going for it, such as the alien setting, and Chezni does receive some mild character development, with some twists towards the end, as well. Most mercenaries, though, are interchangeable, with little development aside from evidently sitting around in taverns waiting for children to hire them. The lousy translation doesn’t help, either, and is undoubtedly one of the worst of the Super NES era, given endless incoherent dialogue, such as that during the introductory sequence. All in all, another RPG story with good ideas, but weak execution.

The soundtrack fares better, though, and even has some solid tracks such as the overworld and flying themes, but its instrumentation leaves something to desire, and many tracks do have some irritating portions, making them something of an acquired taste. The sound effects are okay, but the quality of the music could have definitely been better.

Lennus’ visual style is very unique, to say the least. Environs tend to be very bright and colorful, with some unusual color schemes that make the graphics, much like the music, to be an acquired taste, although they do enhance the game’s alien setting. Character sprites do have decent detail, with character portraits being visible in the menus, as well, and enemies in battle being animate, even if some are palette swaps. It certainly wasn’t the best-looking Super NES game, but since RPGs of its time tended to get the low end of their systems’ visual capabilities, the game’s graphical shortcomings are definitely forgivable.

Finally, the first Lennus is fairly short, taking somewhere from fifteen to twenty-five hours to finish, with few sidequests available to lengthen playing time. All in all, Paladin’s Quest was a rough start for the Lennus series, given its sluggish battles, user-unfriendly interface, weak translation, and thin plot. It is somewhat baffling why Enix localized it instead of say, Dragon Quest V, although it nonetheless earned a sequel that stayed in Japan, and is certainly not without redeeming aspects.

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