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Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord Review

Developer: Kogado Software Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1988 Also On: Famicom, MSX

I’ve always been a fan of RPGs, especially older games when all the plots and ideas you see so gummed up now by graphics began. Nothing can beat the old Eye of the Beholder series or the original Ultima games on PC. So of course, when consoles came along, it was bound to happen that games would appear. The first, essentially, was on the Atari 2600, and then the Japanese released Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in 1989 in the US) for the Famicom in 1986. Sega, being the only true competition at the time, decided to release an early RPG as well, quickly jumping the gun of Nintendo of America to have the slot at the first 8-Bit RPG to appear in the country. Considering that it came out only one year after Dragon Quest, I didn’t expect much, especially since Phantasy Star is normally looked at as the best game for the system of any genre, but I was pleasantly surprised by Miracle Warriors. It’s quite a shame no one really knows about this.

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Graphically, especially in comparison to that snore Dragon Quest, Miracle Warriors is quite an impressive game. It was reprogrammed from an older MSX title, and if you look at that alone it’s quite a show of the Master System’s capabilities. They went a little different with the typical arrangement for the time, you have a small screen with a box marking off your position on the right that moves around a map, a larger screen showing your characters as they move around different terrain and then basic stats on the main screen. Nice little intro and wonderful detail on the enemy battle screens, an incredible arrange of colors here. It looks so good in this regard I would have expected it to have been programmed in the early 90s. Some of the creatures are so well designed and colored it almost appears 16-Bit at times. The screen showing your characters is a bit strange though, it’s supposed to show where you are but it never really shows any good indication of landmarks and such, just real basic mountains, detailed though they may be. So for example, when you’re at the castle, before you enter, you’d expect to see something other than mountains, trees and ground, but you don’t. Doesn’t make much sense, but they added the smaller screen as a main map so it still works out. Regardless, the game looks splendid overall.

I was also pretty impressed with the sound in Miracle Warriors. I found the overworld music catchy and fitting, as well as the battle tunes and sound effects. The sound effects were quite to my liking and seemed to fit the action more than Dragon Quest ever did. Overall my only real problem with the game is that they didn’t make a special track for the final boss fight, you absolutely have to have this, they just used a regular boss tune for her and it really didn’t strike me as being a good idea. But again, overall, good job.

As for the gameplay, Miracle Warriors was definitely a cut above Dragon Quest and RPGs that came before it, but not without difficulties of course, since the genre was still in relative infancy at this time. So you start out with a main character, obviously the great hero who will save the world, and start moving around a vast world fighting various monsters, collecting gold, weapons and so forth. The basic interface is very intuitive and easy to get into and it even came with a nice, folded, full-color map to give it that real RPG feel, something that annoyed me with the first Dragon Quest. So what about the details (bear with me, because if you really care there’s a lot to say)?

Miracle Warriors is the first console game to utilize a multi-player system of fighting, though you only start out with one. At first, the game is quite difficult until you begin to raise levels, which itself is something of an odd system. Instead of the typical experience points, you have a bar above your energy bar that slowly raises after each creature you kill. For harder creatures, based on level, you get a quicker raise, and for lower creatures, especially when you get into higher levels, you get a slow raise and only once in awhile. Essentially it works the same way as the points system, just a bit odd. This game also includes a double monetary system. You get your typical gold as well as fangs, which can be traded in for gold but also need to be saved up to gain certain special items to progress. Nice touch, and it makes it more involving because not all creatures give you fangs. You eventually discover your other companions, which adds another strange feature. Although this is to my knowledge one of the first, if not the first, console RPG to feature a multi-player party, you can only use one at a time in battle. I suppose this makes sense since you only ever fight one creature at a time, but it’s also a bit odd. However, this is offset by the fact that this essentially becomes a strategy later on, using lesser characters to save the better characters’ life or certain characters at certain times to exploit their particular powers. Strange, but not problematic.

Another great thing about this game is the absolutely monstrous, expansive world to go through. Whereas Dragon Quest was pretty pathetic and linear, Miracle Warriors requires you to go back to earlier areas to gain special items, revisit towns, open previously sealed caves and so forth. This nonlinear aspect makes for a much more engaging experience. And although a spell system is absent (bit of a strike in my opinion), you have tons of secret items you can find (some that are only received when defeating rare creatures), collect and use for special battles on your way. The difficulty is at a good setting, getting pretty taxing at times, and I’ve heard some people complain about having to raise levels, but in Miracle Warriors’ defense, these players obviously didn’t find the secret areas where certain monsters appear more than others, making level raising and money gathering much easier. Plus, this game is full of interesting surprises that makes it seem to posses more depth than a title like Dragon Quest. You have to repair weapons and armor until you find a blacksmith that will join your party, get a ship, upgrade this ship to enter more dangerous waters, collect a stone that blocks magic spells and so forth. In short, there’s a lot more in this title than would be expected from an early RPG and no real complaints from me. It plays well, it’s easy to understand, it has a nice save feature, the story is engaging, the gameplay is entertaining in spite of the typical monster bashing and the difficulty is just right. The only problems I had are the lack of spells, the odd one character fighting system, and the fact that the fangs eventually become useless to play leaving money gathering the only option, everything else was great.

Miracle Warriors is creative in the sense that it adds a tons of unique elements to a genre that was otherwise quite basic and boring at the time. It has the typical story you expect to hear, but this is offset by a nonlinear world, an interesting integration of characters and items, and slew of features that sets it apart from the basic RPG. It may seem a bit dated today to some players, but for those of you who enjoy retro RPG titles, I believe you’ll find it pretty creative in spite of some minor flaws and typical RPG fare. It definitely has a lot to offer.

I’ve played this game tons of times since I first purchased it and then played through it again. Of course, you can expect to come back to it frequently when first playing it, because it’s an RPG. But even after this I anticipate playing it again because it was such a fun game overall and a great example of a blossoming genre. The full experience was something I would recommend to others. As for game length, you get what you expect from something like this, it’s long. But not too long, and definitely not too short. Just be sure you don’t bump the cartridge while playing, otherwise your saved games will be reset. Yes, this happened to me.

Miracle Warriors was overall a wonderful experience and a great early RPG. I really wish more people tried it out. It seems that the only reason it didn’t receive more attention was that one, it was on the Master System and two it was soon overshadowed by Phantasy Star. Regardless, I highly recommend this version over all the others because it’s so fluid in addition to actually looking good. The Famicom port was dreadful and the MSX version, as should be expected, lame. I highly recommend it to RPG fans, don’t listen to any reviews you’ve read, because likely most of these folks haven’t played it the entire way through, and unless you do this and learn all of the quirks and strategies it has to offer, it might not look too good at first glance. But like any RPG, a first glance reveals squat.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 7.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 8.4
Written by Stan Review Guide