Paladin's Quest - Retroview

Enix's Dirty Little Secret

By: Andrew Long

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 2
   Interface 1
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 8
   Plot 3
   Localization 1
   Replay Value 1
   Visuals 2
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

Eight Long, Painstaking Years


Title Screen

   With any scale from one to ten, there should be factors representative of both the upper end of the spectrum and the lower. Since it's much less fun playing through bad games, the lower is more often than not eliminated from this consideration in the case of this site's reviews, but take heart! After eight years of being utterly unable to defeat the final boss of Paladin's Quest, I consulted an FAQ, realized how painfully easy that particular feat was, and then immediately started looking around for combustible materials with which to immolate the source of my irritation. Because this game is bad. It's so bad, it hurts. It hurts to look at, it hurts to play, and it's hard to shake the nagging feeling that because this was one of the first RPGs sent to North America for the SNES, the lukewarm response it merited discouraged Enix from bringing over... oh, say, Dragon Quest V and VI, or at the very least something else, something with some redeeming qualities.

   As the old song goes, let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). Immediately upon seeing the main character's name, warning bells should be going off inside players' heads. Chezni? It sounds like somebody rammed together some pasta with a body part and served it up for breakfast, a meal which is in most cases a great deal more entertaining than this game. Chezni, being a disaster-prone young magic student, goes and releases an Ancient EvilŠ, which of course is a Very Bad Thing. As Ancient Evils are dastardly, and Chezni's magic school gets reduced to an eastery pile of rubble in short order, his master, understandably teed off at the destruction of his life's work, prods our hero out the front gate and into the world in search of a way to defeat the Ancient Evil (which incidentally spends very little time wreaking havoc, and much more sitting around looking mean, waiting for someone to wander close enough to be eaten).

Okay, so the story's a bit cliched. The game could still work, right? Well...maybe if it had something remotely resembling a battle system, it could, but Asmik evidently thought that it'd be far out and cute if they eliminated MP in favour of carving away at spellcasters' HP instead. There's certainly good evidence of their pride in themselves over this "innovation"; the fact that one townsperson coyly asks Chezni what MP is before informing him that there's only HP on Lennus is irritating enough a reminder of this cursed feature without the added enjoyment derived from having to balance casting a spell versus getting chopped up by a lowly Pakrat because casting that spell cost a few too many hit points.

Since spells cost HP, curative magic is effectively eliminated from the equation; there is only one spell in the game that boosts HP, and that spell only does so at the expense of enemies. Just for fun, more often than not, it returns less HP than it costs to cast it. As a result, healing is solely dependent upon various potions which each character can hold up to nine of. Thankfully, it's usually not necessary to cure oneself 36 times in a battle, since the fights are generally fairly easy (in point of fact, had it been possible to decipher the names of various spells from their cramped six-character maximum, I probably would have been able to beat the game in short order, instead of periodically loading the game, getting frustrated, and trying to set it on fire as revenge for its confounding nature.) Fighting is also fairly simplistic; there is no graphical representation of Chezni and his party, and the rather Spartan options of fight, run, attack, and defend pale even in the face of most of Paladin's Quest's contemporaries. Limited, simple, ugly, and inconvenient as it is, fighting is certainly not one of the higher points of the game, and just as some added icing on the cake, there are only two battle themes, the lousier of which shows up more often.

   No game Enix has ever had a hand in possesses a particularly good interface, and naturally, the further back in time you go, the more deplorable, tangled, and inconvenient the mess becomes. While it's not expressly difficult to get things done in Paladin's Quest, it is annoying, and annoying isn't something that an activity meant to comprise a fair portion of a game's playtime should be. There are any number of niggling little issues with the navigability and general usefulness of the game's interface, ugliness ranking high among them. The character portraits are particularly wretched, the world map is roughly on par with Final Fantasy I, item management is a study in inconvenience, and to top it all off, it's only possible to save at inns. Items aren't stackable, some don't do anything useful, others are unidentifiable, and still others are ill-conceived of. Equipping characters is a chore, since equipping one item requires going over that character's entire anatomy and making sure he or she is fully equipped. Mercifully, only two characters can be equipped with weapons and armour, but this benefit is outweighed by the fact that hired characters tend to become useless after a certain point, some coming equipped with crap to begin with. All in all, this is exactly what an RPG's interface shouldn't be, which more than anything else is the reason why this game is so awful.

Psst... this is a spoiler, in case anybody cares
Dal Gren, complete with Evil EmperorŠ forehead ornament  

   This is kind of a shame, since the game's music isn't all that bad. There are definitely some catchy pieces, and while none of the selections are too long, some areas manage to create something approaching atmosphere. Or at least they would if everything else about them wasn't so horrendous. Unfortunately, better tunes, more often than not, are passed up in favour of the more grating pieces, and so in the end, even the musical potential of Paladin's Quest is ruined by the game itself. There's also a small but insulting incongruity presented in the end credits, where it is piously proclaimed that the game's music is performed by a symphony orchestra. Last I checked, a symphony orchestra doesn't include variations on whiny synthesizer music, so what exactly they were thinking when that claim was made is a little unclear. One can only hope it was in reference to the fact that, at some point, somewhere, someone took pity on the poor composer, whose talents were utterly wasted on this pile of dreck, and gave his work its proverbial day in the sun. Which still doesn't excuse putting this outright falsehood (or at the very least, extraneous exaggeration) in the end credits.

   On the bright side, there's virtually no other RPG like Paladin's Quest. Unfortunately, there's a very good reason for that: any RPGs even remotely similar to Paladin's Quest probably wouldn't sell too well. At least, not unless there's a large segment of the population that enjoys garishly coloured, painfully translated, and weirdly designed RPGs with lousy characters, giant floating gyroscopes that serve as airships, and a unique battle system that's torture to play.

   Even with a high level of originality throughout much of the game, its plot manages to feel shopworn. There's only so many ways an ancient evil can be worked into a plotline, and this story doesn't take any pains to be creative in cramming said plot device into the game. The utter lack of character development, not to mention the total absence of the mere possibility of character development removes any sense of attachment to the characters, a situation further exacerbated by the fact that half of the party at any given time is comprised of mercenaries for hire. Blessed with such colorful names as Mouth, MeanMa, Hawk, and Tiger, the characters are as one-dimensional as those found in Chrono Chross, and manage to come off as less endearing than Serge's crew in the bargain. It's sad, given the game's potential for exploring emotional tension; after all, having nothing better to do than sit around in taverns till a 13-year old comes along to hire you can't be a particularly fulfilling existence.

   Perhaps the crowning achievement of abyssmal failure in Paladin's Quest is its absolutely woeful translation. Dialogue sounds like characters are speaking at gunpoint, enunciating every drawn-out, frequently misplaced word laboriously and often going nowhere fast. As I've already hinted at, however, the absolute worst part of this equation is the six-character limit placed on absolutely everything to do with naming. Spells, items, and weapons all get abbreviated to six letters with some truly mind-imploding results. Such gems as Tdr sa (Thunder Sabre!), Kn bt(the daring and painful Knife Boots), Antibl(Antidote Bottle), and many, many, others dot the sparkling landscape of wretchedness, and just to top things off, the elemental spells do not receive names as such, but are rather afforded symbols which are mostly arbitrary and indecipherable. Even Daravon used mostly real words, and the translators here could at least have done gamers the same courtesy.

Or tasteless... and either way, the root structure on that tree is just asking for trouble
And that's when they realized the groundskeeper was profoundly colourblind  

   Then again, making this game more attractive to play through again wouldn't be doing anybody a favour, so perhaps it's a good thing the translation is so deucedly awful. With an utter lack of minigames, absorbing gameplay, or an engaging storyline, there's absolutely no reason to play through this game ever again once you finish it for the first time. At least, not unless self-inflicted agony is your cup of tea.

Agonizing doesn't even begin to describe the appearance of Paladin's Quest. Instead of using such time-honoured hues as red, green, and blue, the game's artists decided to abandon primary colours in favour of their less popular cousins, cyan, magenta, and teal. Oh, and vomitous yellow, pale brown, mint green, and Pepto-Bismol pink. As if this visual punishment isn't sadistic enough, the game's landscape is then made as ugly as is humanly possible, with mountains that look like freeze-dried garbage bags, trees that look as though they're planning to run away at a moment's notice, and buildings so impractical a good sneeze would probably level most towns. Battle animation is also sparse, the world map ugly and tedious, and the character portraits a study in why art isn't for everyone. In both quality and technicality, the graphics of Paladin's Quest are atrocious.

Seconds later, this unidentifiable animal washed his mouth out with soap
Chezni was never told that talking with your mouth full is rude  

Playing through Paladin's Quest isn't particularly difficult, but it does have its moments. In particular, fighting is mostly easy to survive, but it can become troublesome in some areas, as the encounter rate tends to be somewhat high. Add to this the annoying tendency of some enemies to get in twelve or thirteen hits at a time (and as an added perq each one gets its own animation, which can be dreadfully jarring when a character is close to dying), and there is the potential for some challenge. That said, there aren't any puzzles that are particularly compelling, and usually, odd solutions to problems are the toughest trials to face (For example, where a dress 'fits perfectly' into keyholes).

In any event, there's little else to be said about this game. A playthrough might not be fatal, but it certainly isn't too much fun, especially not with all the eminently better SNES games that are out there. It also doesn't take very long to complete; a quick run through could probably be completed in under 15 hours, and the longest it should take to finish is 25 hours. That does, of course, assume that it's even possible to maintain interest in it long enough to finish it, and in the end, that might be the biggest challenge of all.

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