Perhaps it's got a bad rap, but the Genesis is not remembered for its RPG library. Despite being the home of such classics as Phantasy Star IV, Shining Force, and Lunar, Sega's 16-bit hardware built its name with platformers and secured its legacy with action games. By 1994 this was a weakness that Nintendo was fully exploiting in Japan with a strong Super Famicom RPG lineup spearheaded by the wildly successful Final Fantasy series. Sega of Japan prepared a bold response called the "Mega Roleplay Project" - an attempt to reverse their fortunes by giving the ailing Mega Drive RPG suite a seismic kick in the pants.
Seven RPGs were born from this movement: Shin Souseiki Ragnacenty , the first two Dragon Slayer: Legend of Heroes games, Shining Force CD, Surging Aura, After Armageddon Gaiden, and The Story of Thor. Shining Force CD and Ragnacenty (known as Crusader of Centy and Soleil in North America and Europe, respectively) were localized immediately, and The Story of Thor was also released under the name Beyond Oasis in the United States. Of the Mega Roleplay Project games, Beyond Oasi stands today as the most unique and perhaps also the most tragically underrated and overlooked.
Beyond Oasis was followed in 1996 by The Legend of Oasis for the Sega Saturn. Legend is a chronological prequel with a retconned spirit lineup and subtly different combat scheme. Both games are top-down Action RPGs, but only in the loosest sense - they run light on the stats and heavy on the exploration and fighting. They've been called everything from beat-em-ups to adventure games, but they are probably best described as a fusion of several genres and styles. Visually they sport all the romanticism of pre-Islamic Persia as seen in Prince of Persia. They also share that franchise's emphasis on running, jumping, and free mobility. Their item, weapon, secret, and puzzle systems draw connections to the seminal Legend of Zelda franchise.
But the series' most memorable hook is the Familiar system involving the Elemental Spirits. Over the course of each game you can summon various magical beings from in-world objects using a elight ball' projectile. If you shoot your light ball at a tuft of grass, for instance, a plant spirit will appear like a genie from a bottle. Shooting at steam, rain, puddle monsters, or the ocean will summon a water spirit. Reflective surfaces produce a third spirit, and flames (even from your own bombs!) can be used to summon yet another. You can only have one spirit present at a time, but you can control them with the A button to fight enemies, heal you, or solve puzzles. Over time these actions drain your magic meter, which can be replenished with food items, sunlight, or magic circles on the ground.
Although the Oasis games are largely unknown, they were created by Ancient - a studio that has not been forgotten over the years thanks to Yuzo Koshiro, its star talent and current CEO. As the composer for Shinobi, ActRaiser, and Streets of Rage, Yuzo Koshiro remains a celebrity in the classic gaming world. It's true that his Oasis scores are somewhat controversial, but it's important to note that as an Ancient game, Beyond Oasis shares the same pedigree as Streets of Rage 2 and bears similarities to that acclaimed brawler in its combat system. In fact, that beat-em-up sensibility is the first of several factors that makes Oasis a series worth looking into even today.
Most action RPGs of the era (and indeed since) have limited the player's combat options to hammering the attack button. Oasis takes a pretty unique approach to combat by giving you special moves and different attacks to use in addition to an arsenal of swords, bombs, and bows. These special moves are performed with simple controller actions such as "Forward, Backwards, Forward + Attack", "Forward, Forward, Forward + Attack" and so on, similar to what you might see in a versus fighting game or, perhaps, a beat-em-up. It's impossible to understate what an improvement this is over the one-button combat we're used to. All the running, jumping, kicking, crawling, and circle-slashing give the games a red-blooded boldness and high replay value.
Special thanks to Segaga Domain and linlhutz for The Story of Thor 2 manual scans.
Beyond Oasis / Story of Thor: Hikari o Tsugu Mono (ストーリー オブ トア 〜光を継ぐ者〜) / The Story of Thor - Genesis, Wii Virtual Console, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows (1994)
Deep in the histories of the island kingdom of Oasis, legend tells of magical powers and an epic battle between two wizards. The first was named Reharl, a wise mage who possessed an arcane Gold Armlet that gave him dominion over the spirits of nature. The second was Agito, a dark sorcerer whose Silver Armlet could summon monsters, ghouls, and the undead. It was inevitable that the two should come into conflict, and in the Shadowlands of Oasis their duel brought down ruin on their own heads. The two wizards were seemingly killed and their matching armlets were lost to all knowledge.
Centuries later, the crown prince of Oasis - a young treasure-hunter named Ali - is exploring an islet just off the coast when he finds a cave and an unlocked chest. Inside lies the Gold Armlet. The shattered remains of Reharl's spirit appear to him to deliver a warning: all is not well in Oasis. The Silver Armlet has also been discovered, and events are in motion that will lead to the overthrow of Oasis into darkness and the resurrection of Agito himself. Ali rushes back to the mainland, only to find that the southern village is already under attack by a band of marauders.
Ali's adventure takes him back and forth across the island of Oasis in search of the four Spirits who swear allegiance to the Gold Armlet. Along the way he learns more about the nature of his enemy and the secrets of both the island and his own royal family. He fights through dungeons, forests, deserts, castles, caves and mountainsides, culminating in a journey to the fabled Shadowlands themselves. There Ali picks through the undisturbed ruins of Reharl and Agito's struggle and faces the forces of evil for the good of Oasis.
The young prince of the island kingdom of Oasis. All we really know about him is that he's a great fighter and likes looking for treasure in his spare time.
A good wizard and the original owner of the Gold Armlet. He appears to Ali in spirit form during the opening cutscene, but otherwise is not present during the rest of the game.
A dark wizard and the master the Silver Armlet. He was originally a man but has been transformed into something else entirely by his repeated attempts at resurrection.
Ali's younger sister. Ali is very fond of her and is constantly concerned for her safety - something that gets turned against him late in the game.
The good and gentle King of Oasis who has ruled justly for many a year. He tells Ali where the first Spirit Shrines are and generally helps get the ball rolling on the adventure.
One of the Elemental Spirits originally sworn to the service of Reharl. Now she joins Ali with the purpose of cleansing the world of evil. She is the Spirit of Water, but her name doesn't seem to be based off of any real mythology. She is probably the most useful Spirit for general adventuring since she can heal Ali on command. She also can freeze enemies with bubbles, turn into a lethal water spout, and extinguish fire.
A fiery elemental whose allegiance is bound to the Gold Armlet. He joins Ali with a similar goal of "burning away the evil in the world". "Efreet" is an alternate spelling of "ifrit", a class of evil or mischievous djinn/genie from Arabic folklore. Efreet's powers are primarily offensive and cover various way of setting things on fire - including detonating everything onscreen. He's also a pretty good bodyguard since he'll seek out and punch anything that moves.
The Spirit of Darkness who ties himself to Ali's life force in order to protect his master. The general notion of a shadowy spirit of darkness is fairly universal to world mythology. Shade is the best spirit to have for platforming and boss fights for two reasons. First, he can save Ali from pits. Second, he will "absorb" a certain amount of damage, allowing Ali to go toe-to-toe in fights without getting knocked down.
The peculiar Spirit of Plants who dedicates his appetite to Ali. The name "Bow" has been something of a mystery for quite some time, but it appears that the original Japanese name was intended to be similar in pronunciation to the English word "Bough" - which makes sense for a plant. Bow is probably the most worthless of the spirits and is only really useful when needed for puzzles.
Although his identity is shrouded in mystery, it appears that he is a citizen of Oasis who discovered Agito's Silver Armlet and was thereby enslaved. Now bearing the name of the device itself, Silver Armlet is Agito's main henchman and temporarily carries out his master's evil work in Oasis.
The story is fairly threadbare - amounting to just a few brief scenes of dialogue over the course of the game and two cinematic bookends - but the game world is another matter. The island kingdom of Oasis is vividly illustrated and carefully planned. Beaches transition to forests via patches of longer grass, while forests give way to dirt which in turn reveals rocky paths leading to a cave. Rivers flow across multiple screens and your path takes you over and underground through castles, dungeons, and shrines. The character art is superlative across a fairly extensive range of enemies and NPCs. It's all hand-crafted pixel art. Overall the visuals give the game world a remarkable sense of cohesion, and makes hunting for the island's many secrets an enjoyable task even after the bulk of the game is over.
And there are many secrets - each spirit's power is tied to a set of a dozen gems scattered all over Oasis, and finding them for 100% game completion involves a lot of backtracking and hunting. There are also special weapons that have an infinite number of uses (most weapons break after a set number of hits). These infinite weapons can only be attained by passing certain secret challenge areas, such as a 100-level pit leading to a super-powerful sword, or a long series of tricky jumps that yields a bottomless bag of bombs. Chasing all this gear down is quite enjoyable, and getting a cleared save is about the only way to extend the brief campaign past five or six hours since there are no difficulty settings or unlockable modes.
The music is a mixed bag. The soundtrack has long been regarded by fans as one of Koshiro's weakest. Rather than the techno-jazz tracks that made him famous, Oasis features an orchestral score heavy on synth strings and trumpets - perhaps not the genre best suited to the Genesis sound hardware. Regardless of fan reception, the soundtrack does display a huge range of different tones that underpin the different areas of the island quite well. There's a lonely, isolated feel to "Indication" as our hero stands on a deserted beach in the driving rain, and the mystic strains of "Evil Territory" lend decayed grandeur to the final castle level. The score was released in 2007 as part of Yuzo Koshiro Best Collection, Vol. 1 along with the Misty Blue and ActRaiser OSTs. Those not wanting to hunt down the out-of-print CD can instead get a dirt-cheap digital copy on iTunes. Perhaps also worthy of mention is Vladimir Bulaev's high-quality fan re-orchestration of the OST.
A quite recent development is a ROM hack re-translation of the original Japanese Story of Thor by Joao Albertoni. It's long been known thanks to some comments by the game's original localization producer that the Sega of America translation was different to a certain degree from the source material. Just how different it is can now be clearly seen in the new translation, which makes an attempt to stay as close to the source as possible. Character names change and lines of dialogue receive altered inflection and specifics. It's worth a look if you are a long-time fan of the game or a newcomer interested in a more authentic take on what story there is.
As far as versions go, there's really only one. If original hardware or aftermarket eBay prices aren't your flavor, Sega also published the game on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007. Oasis also made the cut for Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection so you can play it on your HD consoles as well. Either way, it's hard to go wrong. The graphics, mechanics, gameplay, and control are a stellar total package and well worth the look for the price of admission. Indeed, if there's any criticism to be leveled against Beyond Oasis, it's that it's too brief by far. It is perhaps a reason that it wasn't more of a hit in its day, along with its late release in the Genesis life span. 32-bit systems were knocking on the door, and many quality games got lost in the shuffle. Still, it's a mad rush of stellar production value while it lasts.
The Legend of Oasis is simultaneously a sequel and prequel to Beyond Oasis. It features more Spirits, more puzzles, and more weapon types - making it a clear successor to the Genesis original in terms of game mechanics . For the storyline, however, Ancient chose to reach into the dark past of their fantasy world and tell a tale of Ali's ancestor, Leon. The game still takes place after the battle between Reharl and Agito, but it seems that Ali was not the first person to discover the Gold Armlet. We learn that Oasis is just a smaller portion of a land called Aquaria, and one of the regional elders named Ordan picks up the Gold Armlet out of a stream and gives it to our hero. Leon is a young villager who is apparently destined to become the next Spirit King, and Ordan sends him off in search of the various Spirit Shrines nestled around Aquaria in order to gather up his elemental subjects.
Things soon become more complicated as earthquakes begin to shake Aquaria. A dark-haired beauty named Myra appears in the village, stricken with a deathly illness and unable to talk. Many of the other villagers become sick as well, but Leon is able to use Dytto's restorative powers to save their lives. Upon awakening, Myra claims to be a fortune teller, and she informs Leon of Agito's existence and the path he must take to prevent the dark wizard's resurrection. He sets out to recover several mystical Cubes that unlock the secrets of Agito's weaknesses, but first he has to make it past Agito's Silver Guardians - no easy task.
The next Spirit King of Oasis, trained by Ordan to be proficient in all fighting styles. We know less about Leon than we did about Ali - he's an orphan, and that's about it. He's well-liked by everyone in the village and assumes his new role without complaint.
An old soldier and weapon master who adopted Leon after his parents died. He's a respected elder in the village and packs a huge sword. He performs a mentor role similar to the King from the first game and gets Leon started on his quest.
Her past is largely shrouded in mystery, but she knows a lot more about Agito than she's letting on. As a love interest for Leon she's basically just a damsel in distress.
In Beyond Oasis, Dytto was something of a flying fire extinguisher. Her skill set has been broadened here to focus more on her healing abilities - she can still douse flames and freeze enemies, but her healing power now has an area of affect that can buff (or even resurrect) NPCs and plants as well as Leon. She can also bless Leon's Rod weapon with the ability to release the souls of the undead - by far the best way to take on zombies and ghosts.
This flaming djinn is still your head bodyguard and ace skull cracker. Efreet can now bless your Large Sword with flame ability to solve puzzles and cut down certain obstructions. He can still be summoned from all the same environmental components - campfires, bombs, flaming enemies, etc. There are times, however, where he's more trouble than he's worth because his fire punch will actually give certain enemies and bosses back their lost health!
While Shade can still save you from falls, work switches, and reveal secrets, you'll be pulling him out of the bag most often to deal with Thorns. Thorns seem to represent Agito's limbs or general dark influence spreading throughout the heart of Aquaria, and standard weaponry and spirit attacks have little effect on them. They usually block you from getting to the next area and serve as locked doors with Shade being the key. Shade can also bless your Bow to give it extra damage against certain types of enemies.
Translated as Bow in Beyond Oasis, Bawu is still a very hungry green plant and still pretty much worthless. One neat new power is the ability to bite at cracks in the ground to reveal secrets - you can find some pretty weird and trippy things in addition to the usual Spirit Gems and healing items. Bow can also give your sword a very special power that helps you cut through solid stone. But apart from specific puzzle applications he's still too weak and attacks too slowly to be of any real use in combat.
The new Spirit of Sound, an almost completely puzzle-oriented Spirit that takes over Bow's spot for eleast worthwhile' Spirit. His attacks don't do much damage except against a few certain enemy types. He's able to fashion an ultimate sword for Leon later in the game, though, so other weaknesses can be forgiven. He can buff Leon's bows to have Iron Arrows that pierce stone, metals, and multiple enemies.
A Spirit of Air who's primary task is to be a magic carpet. Holding down the A button for a few seconds allows Leon to jump on top of her back and float around, while tapping A will dish out lighting strikes on nearby enemies or puzzle objects. She can turn Leon's Rod into a Wind Rod, which will send gusts of air moving across the screen when used - useful for nudging things off of high places.
The Legend of Oasis does an admirable job of maintaining what story continuity there is in the series - suffice it to say that by the end of Legend you'll know some interesting trivia about the Genesis original. The two new spirits are pretty unique designs to say the least - Airl resembles a Reddi-Whip Kirby and Brass turns into a trumpet during one of his special moves. They also add some equally unique special abilities. Leon can ride Airl like a magic carpet and use her lightning attacks to activate ancient machinery and robots, while Brass can liquidate objects into base components through resonance.
Ancient puts these extra possibilities to good use by expanding the game's range of puzzles. Beyond Oasis usually had one-screen quandaries that required a single use of a Spirit or a particular jump to get past. In Legend of Oasis you'll be tracking back and forth across big dungeons, cycling through all six Spirits in turn in order to make progress. It's a good thing for people who thought the first game needed less action and more switches/jumping/doors, but it's probably a downer for anyone who was attracted to the action-oriented styling of the first game. The dungeons have so many levels and there are so many combinations of Spirit powers and in-world elements that it can be mind boggling - you might have to resort to a FAQ once or twice.
On the other hand, combat has been simplified to a degree. There are fewer combos to perform with your dagger (now called a short sword) and most of the weapons are more for puzzle solving than any real fighting application. The long sword and bombs are still around, but the bow has been changed from a crossbow to a longbow and can be aimed high or low. There is an all-new Rod weapon, but what's interesting is that all the weapons other than the default Short Sword no longer have euses' as they did in Beyond Oasis - once acquired they never break, so there is no weapon inventory. Instead the weapons have limited special powers. Your Spirits can now buff weapons with fire damage, holiness, piercing, and so on. Once buffed, you only get a certain number of special uses of the weapon, although the upper limit can be increased by collecting scrolls. All of this is rolled into (you guessed it!) puzzles more than anything else, as befits Legend's new focus on the thinking side of things.
There are a few other changes. Many of the enemies are now digitized models and seem washed out. Worse yet, they scale in size based on their health, meaning that enemies later in the game are a mass of huge pixels. It's a definite loss when viewed against the inspired enemy art from the first game, and one wishes that Ancient hadn't taken the mid-90s digitization bait so easily. It gives Legend more of a dated feel versus its predecessor. The environment art is still top-notch, however, and the areas once again blend into each other seamlessly - a good thing, because with two extra spirits and a bucketload of additional gems and weapon scrolls to collect you'll be wandering all throughout Aquaria in search of a 100% save.
The Legend of Oasis never actually received an official OST release, which is unusual for a Yuzo Koshiro game. There were a few CD-Rs pressed for archival purposes and some copies have supposedly made their way into the hands of die-hard fans. Without an official pressing of the OST, listeners are forced to experience Koshiro's vision through very compressed Saturn ADX native audio. Still, curious readers are best advised to download a 2004 unofficial release put out by a crew of enthusiasts. The score itself is strange stuff all around - similar to Beyond Oasis but even more abstract - although it's said that Koshiro is quite proud of it.
If there's a little bonus topic that is worth a mention, it's the infamous "Seventh Spirit" mentioned in the back of the US instruction manual. Leon can be temporarily assisted on two occasions by friendly treasure box monsters called Tokipin and KOH. The game makes it pretty clear that they are "Spirits of Treasure", complete with usage instructions and so forth. But a typo in the debug menu combined with some good old early-internet speculation has produced a fifteen-year old urban legend that there is yet another spirit hidden in the game.
The Legend of Oasis is and probably always will be a Saturn exclusive. There's no doubt it has its faults and is overly complicated at times, but it's an essential purchase for fans of Beyond Oasis or anyone interested in a well thought out and largely unique Action RPG.
Related Title: Defenders of Oasis / Shadam Crusader: Harukanaru Oukoku (シャダム・クルセイダー ～遙かなる王国～) - Game Gear, 3DS eShop (1992)
This little RPG for Sega's color handheld has long been associated with the Oasis games by confused gamers across the United States despite it being totally unrelated. Defenders of Oasis is a turn-based RPG with no mention of Elemental Spirits, Agito, or circle-slashing. On the other hand, Defenders of Oasis has the same naming convention, the same Arabian Nights-infused theme (with a side of Zoroastrianism), and even the same camera angle as the Oasis games.
Defenders of Oasis tells a typical story of light vs. dark, opening with scenes of an evil wizard named Ahriman being put down by the young warrior Jamseed. Jamseed uses three rings of light to seal Ahriman for all time. Eons later, an evil empire named Eflaat arises to trouble the land once more. The game opens with the young Prince of Shanadar - a descendant of Jamseed of old. When the kingdom is invaded the Prince must escape with only his life, the family genie, and one of the three rings of light. It turns out that Ahriman's minions are behind the recent evil, and the Prince must rise to the expectations of his heritage and defeat evil once and for all.
The hero of the game, prone to snoozing until the afternoon and missing out on important royal events. He has incredibly appropriate special ability of being able to use the "Run" command in combat, giving your party a chance to escape an encounter. He's also the best flat-out fighter in the game. He's romantically attached to the beautiful Princess Mariam, who ends up being a bit more controlling than he bargained for.
The son of a ship captain. He has a pretty interesting special ability called "Dance" that allows him to deal partial damage to all attacking enemies instead of just one. Unfortunately he's pretty weak and is only really good at taking damage and getting beat up, which makes him often one of the last fighters standing when the rest of the party wipes. He aspires to being a ship captain himself one day, although his crew seems to have other ideas.
A thief who can't stay out of trouble. His special ability allows him to "Hide" for a turn, avoiding pretty much all attacks. He also deals out pretty decent damage. His lines are usually humorous, and his kleptomaniac habits and obsession for treasure usually get him into serious trouble.
As the party's only magic user, the Genie is probably your most important offensive and defensive asset. Strangely enough he doesn't seem to level up through combat - instead you have to spend precious gold to upgrade his lamp directly, which will buff his various stats to make him stronger. The Genie is also permanently immune to poison, dizzy, and other such spells. In terms of the plot, the Genie does a good job bridging the gap between his master's buffoonery and the wider world.
The general mechanics stick to a very familiar JRPG formula. For the first part of the game you gather up your party of fighters and then you start your quest in earnest, fighting minions in random, turn-based encounters. The game has all the expected limitations of an 8-bit platform: there's no character portraits, no combat backgrounds, no combat animation, and the entire party is represented by the Prince except for key moments. Still, the graphics are very bright and colorful and the music is catchy - the entire package is quite well done, and there is a lot of light humor and flashes of true character development. It's more than you'd expect for a handheld RPG of the era, and enough to put some of the RPGs on the Genesis to shame despite its shortcomings.