Dragon Slayer Series
VI: Legend of Heroes
VII: Lord Monarch
Legacy of the Wizard / Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (ドラゴンスレイヤーIV ドラスレファミリー) - MSX, MSX2, NES (1987)
The Dragon Slayer franchise isn't quite a series - rather, it's a label that denotes many of Falcom's works, especially their early games. Despite being unrelated, most games carry similar themes, and tend to feature massively gigantic dungeons to crawl around in. The whole franchise predates The Legend of Zelda, first appearing on such Japanese computers as the PC-88. Like many of Falcom's games, it's primarily a PC series, though often said PC games get ported to consoles with THEIR OWN sequels and spinoffs, and maybe, just maybe, one gets released in the US. This is the story of Legacy of the Wizard, which was localized by Brøderbund, who was also kind enough to bring us The Guardian Legend and The Battle of Olympus. The game is known in Japan as Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (which is literally an amalgamation of DRAgon SLEyer - the Japanese loves to do this with English words.)
Legacy of the Wizard doesn't have time for cutscenes or dialogue. All of the power of the Nintendo Entertainment System is harnessed towards one purpose: making the dungeon kick your ass. Your character has dimensions equal to one block of the dungeon. Each screen of the dungeon is twelve blocks high and sixty-four blocks wide. The dungeon is sixteen screens by sixteen screens. LUNACY. Practically each room has its own unique structure and color scheme, so you're never running around in circles like Metroid, but there's still almost no clues as to where you're actually supposed to go. This thing has more rooms than the Empire State Building. There's more fake walls than there are actual doors. All you have to do is run around and slay thousands of monsters without hesitation or mercy collecting all the gold that exists everywhere. All the while, you're worried about your constantly depleting magic supply, which is the only way you can attack. You'll find potions in treasure chests and slain monsters, you'll also find vile trickery in the many poison bottles littered throughout. There are a few shops and inns to help you out, but otherwise, you're on your own. When you've got everything sorted out and figure out where to go, you solve expertly integrated puzzles to get the magic crowns needed to slay a dragon. One of the truest "dungeon crawlers" ever made with tons of dead ends, pits to fall into, and hidden areas for your characters to navigate.
Characters? Why Rasa, whatever do you mean! OH HO HO! You don't just control ONE person in this game, but FOUR, not including their dog! A whole damn family! The Warzen family! The Warzens are descendants of a great wizard who slew a dragon years ago. The dragon, Keela, is going to wake up soon. Time to go on a world spanning quest with tons of sidequests to figure out a way to seal him up again? No, time to spend about a year exploring the labyrinth he's sealed in, plotting and finding the stuff you need to KILL HIM. No other plot or character development is required. This is all you need to know to begin slaughtering/exploring.
The grandparents on the sides, Douel and Jiela, give and receive your password so you can continue with whatever things you've accomplished between sessions. But they aren't that important. The rest of the Warzen clan are the ones doing the dirty work.
On the top left is the father, Xemn, a warrior. He can't jump but he can get a Glove that lets him push blocks out of the way. Also he throws axes like it was going out of style, effortlessly slaying most enemies in two hits at most.
To his right is his wife, the mother Meyna, a sorceress. She can't jump but her magic is rad. She can also equip a bunch of items like the fire rod and a device that lets her "shoot" blocks around, making them ricochet of any enemy/wall/Warzen they come into contact with.
On the left side is the son Roas, the ranger. He's useless, but he's the only one that can wield the sword, the Dragon Slayer. No point in using him before you can get that.
On the bottom is the daughter, Lyll, the elf. The best overall character in the game. She jumps extremely high AND can use an item that makes her jump even higher.
What's the point of Pochi? He's a monster, so other monsters ignore him completely, and you can walk right through them without taking damage and even ride on top of them to reach new areas (a totally awesome technique when used with flying monsters). He is essential for scouting out new areas without wasting your resources. Pochi is a beast with a calm yet determined demeanor when walking around and possesses stern grimace when attacking. Also he is clearly related to Bub and Bob of Bubble Bobble fame. Pochi is usually a dog's name, but here it's a synonym for something that looks adorable that can also bring the heat whenever there's trouble.
But Rasaaaaa! If Lyll the daughter is the best character why even use anyone else? Here's the inventory screen you have the privilege of walking around and picking up stuff manually on whenever you leave your house or an inn.
See how some items have their number darkened? Not every person can use every item. Only Xemn the father can use the Glove as an example, and only Meyna the sorceress can use the Crossbow.
Plus, all characters can ride on monsters like Pochi, but they take damage bit by bit. The technique is still ambitious and essential. Gotta watch out, you take falling damage whenever you fall past your natural, unmodified jumping height! Pushing blocks works the same way, you can stand on one and push it around in mid-air! If you push it "into" yourself you get hurt and look like a chump. The game does feel rather glitchy and poorly programmed in spots, which doesn't help. The combination of all these of elements come together to make what is probably the most intellectually taxing game on the NES. It combines this brain-consuming dungeon with relatively fast moving monsters that you need to reflexes to take out without taking too much damage or use too much magic so you can survive the journey.
Fortunately your stay in Keela's dungeon is made more pleasant by the soundtrack. The tunes are few, but they change depending on where in the dungeon you are, and are compositions from the venerable Yuzo Koshiro, so it doesn't even matter. Mieko Ishikawa, who helped Koshiro on Ys, also did some songs.
I honestly don't understand how a kid could get through this game. It's immense and crazy. Did anyone anywhere actually beat Legacy of the Wizard when it was new? I know I sure as hell didn't. I've beaten it years later as I got older, taking on the game without a FAQ or a map is like shaking hands with the devil himself. This was the ultimate game to play through piecemeal, constantly meeting with your friends and talking about who got to what part of the dungeon and found what hidden shop/item/gold where.
What an awesome game.
Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family is one of the only early games in the franchise that was never released on the PC88 or 98 series of computers. Instead, it was initially released on the MSX and MSX2 platforms. The games are essentially the same, but the MSX version has crappy looking sprites with transparent colors (a common issue with the system), while MSX2 version has much better looking graphics overall. The MSX2 version is also a bit faster, and adds a small intro sequence where the logo breaks out of the bricks, and each member of the family is introduced. Neither has any scrolling screens, which is also typical of MSX games.
The Famicom port was published by Namcot, and is remarkably faithful in practically every way. The game plays like the MSX2 version, although without the intro, and with the addition of scrolling. The graphics are pretty similar, but the color schemes in some areas are different. The most of the basic layout of the dungeon is pretty much the same, but some of the rooms have been altered a bit, and the whole right side of the map is drastically different. There are also a few new and different songs, particularly the item selection song and Pochi's theme. There's also some weird spelling differences in the names between the versions. It's a bit of a shame that so many other games in the Dragon Slayer series have been ported and remade several times over (like Xanadu and Sorcerian), and we've never seen a redone "Renewal" version of Drasle Family. Too bad, because the now-popular Metroid style play mechanics and huge game world would potentially bring in a lot of new gamers, if they updated the mechanics a bit.
Maps (Click for bigger pictures)
Dragon Slayer Series
VI: Legend of Heroes
VII: Lord Monarch