Outside of the regular series of beat-em-ups, Sega also released a handful of Golden Axe spinoffs. For the Game Gear, there’s Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe, a strange action-RPG hybrid. The opening text tells us that the gods created the Golden Axe to bring prosperity to the land, but all it does is cause squabbles between various factions, resulting in war and death.
In order to stop this chaos, a wise king locks the Golden Axe away, hoping that no further evil will come of it. Naturally, some bad guys break in and steal the axe anyway. Apparently, the only person who can save the day is Ax Battler, who you will remember as one of the heroes from the original arcade game. Except now he resembles the sprite from Dragon Quest and has a stupid looking winged helmet. Other than the name dropping and occasional appearance of familiar enemies, there’s little to tie this in with the arcade game.
Much of the game rips from Enix’s longstanding RPG series. You walk around the overworld, looking for towns and dungeons to progress. It features the same clunky tile-based movement and awkward menu system, although there’s no real equipment or statistics to speak of. While venturing across the land random encounters will pop up, whisking you to a side-view battle segment. Here, Ax Battler grows to more realistic proportions and needs to take down a single foe. Although all enemies take multiple strikes to kill, receiving a single hit will end the fight for you, removing some of the life meter and denying you any victory spoils.
There are no experience points, but you do get magic vases, which act as a form of currency. You can find towns and enter training centers, which will teach you new skills for the combat segments and dungeons – the latter of which usually produce some kind of item allowing progress through the story. The dungeons are also side-scrolling, although they’re much longer than a single screen and feature multiple enemies at once. Plus, you’re not kicked out immediately when hit; lose all your life and you’ll wake up at the local inn to try again.
It’s a novel concept, but it falls rather short, mostly because the side-scrolling segments are so crummy. The characters move awkwardly and attack sluggishly, with sometimes questionable hit detection. Some of the enemies pounce erratically, making it nearly impossible to dodge their attacks. The dungeon sections are worse, playing out like an inferior version of Rastan. And the music is absolutely appalling. Sega gets points for trying with this one, but it’s far from ideal.