Land Stalker - Reader Retroview  

Stay 50 Meters Away From Land at All Times
by JuMeSyn

18-25 hours


Rating definitions 

   LandStalker is occasionally touted as the Genesis’s version of Zelda, save with jumping puzzles. This capsule summation isn’t bad, actually, as the game does have a certain lighthearted atmosphere and look that at a casual glance might seem to make it akin to Zelda 3. There is one big issue that knocks it out of direct contention for quality on the level of A Link to the Past, however: the old standby of the irritating isometric view. Prepare for frustration aplenty in dealing with many interactions in LandStalker.

   Nigel has had a pretty good day. He succeeded in raiding an inaccessible location’s prime artifact, worth 2000 golds to his contractor. Then along came a fairy named Friday (she may be a fairy, but never call her small!) being pursued by some bounty hunters. Seems she knows a little something about where King Nole’s treasures are, though not as much as Nigel might desire. Departing to the location where she says the treasures are takes 2000 golds, at which point Nigel stops talking much and lets Friday carry on most conversations for him. King Nole’s treasure collection prompts the interest of others however, and Nigel keeps getting sucked into little disagreements between the people that delay his obtaining the goal.

Nigel attempts to debate the psychological aspects of instant gratification versus patience, though the issue is hardly in doubt. Nigel attempts to debate the psychological aspects of instant gratification versus patience, though the issue is hardly in doubt.

   Unusually for a Sega-translated title of 1993, the text reads quite well. The story has a whimsical tone that serves it well – ‘dweeb’ being used should serve as an indicator of the unserious tone. Nigel doesn’t talk much after the prologue, but he does from time to time. Friday picks up the slack for protagonist conversations by taking slight at just about anything NPC’s might say that can be read as an insult to her. Villagers have some amusing things to say, and the entire story is worth seeing play out.

   As Nigel wanders his environs, combat will occur. This plays out pretty basically: Nigel swings his sword (which later on will emit either a projectile attack when its charge bar is full) and hits enemies. Combat works, but there is a notable flaw that will result in cheap hits by enemies. Whenever Nigel swings his sword close to an obstruction such as a rock or a tree, he will hit the obstruction and nothing else. Enemies will freely wail on him during such times, which will cause frustration. In case of defeat, Nigel will pick up some handy herbs called EkeEkes, which Friday uses automatically to restore half his HP. There are also manually used healing agents. HP is raised by finding LifeStock, which is hidden in chests and sometimes in inns all over the island. LifeStock seems to raise statistics somewhat also, though stats are never displayed so it can be hard to tell.

   Visuals are pretty good for the Genesis. Enemies have some palette-swapping going on but are still distinctive. Nigel has a fair number of animations, though there could have been more. Towns look good without looking superlative.

If Nigel leaves the player’s sight in the woods, does he make a noise? If Nigel leaves the player’s sight in the woods, does he make a noise?

   Aurally LandStalker has some issues. The music is mostly fine without being especially memorable, though a couple of dungeon themes will be heard enough to make them annoying to the player. The sound effects are bad, though. Everything other than an enemy Nigel strikes with his sword makes a metallic ‘ting’ that is completely inappropriate, enemies all make the same sound when hit and the same sound when dead, Nigel’s jumping sounds like Sonic divorced of context, and the sort-of okay sound effect for enemies dropping money cannot make up for all the others.

   Interaction deserves a fair amount of commentary. Controls in and of themselves are easy. A or C swing the sword, B jumps. No issues with execution here. Menus are pretty easy to navigate too, though the inability to organize Nigel’s items can mean a little looking around at times. But the isometric view of LandStalker makes dealing with the frequent jumping puzzles a headache. There is no way to gauge accurately where in space platforms are thanks to a lack of shadows to guide the player, meaning trial and error is the only way to figure out the way through. Important stairs and means of accessing higher areas are frequently hidden behind trees or rocks and thanks to the isometric view so are enemies from time to time. Without any means of seeing these things, trial and error again must be used to progress. And a good memory is required unless some of these things are to be repeated. Some of the more challenging puzzles with irritating penalties (such as falling multiple levels down into a dungeon) will induce profanity from the player as they are repeatedly retried thanks to a difficult-to-determine platform location.

   Challenge from combat is not terribly high. The bosses that show up can be defeated with intelligent usage of healing items. Challenge from the puzzles, on the other hand – these things are insidious sometimes. Prepare to repeat numerous areas ad nauseum in the search of the correct path.

   Replay value is extant, since there are quite a few optional items to track down and a few extra story-related things to do. The game isn’t so long as to make that unfeasible either. I finished it in about 20 hours, and my penchant for running around pointlessly makes that finishing time far from definitive. Trying to obtain everything would probably run the clock up into 25 hours.

   LandStalker is certainly worth playing for the RPG-deprived Genesis owner. It probably is the top action RPG on the system, and would be good even if the Genesis had obtained some worthy competition for that label. But a charmingly snide take on the story cannot erase the many frustrating times when the isometric view gets in the way of enjoyment. Understanding exactly how to complete a puzzle, yet being unable to do it without several trials thanks to an inability to determine where its elements are located in space, makes for an unhappy player. Play and enjoy, but remember this caveat!

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