There is no Dana, only Dark Lord
DEVELOPER: Kogado and ASCII (port by Sega)
RELEASE DATE: 10/18/87 – (JP), 10/1988 – (US), 1988 – (EU)
In the Book of Historical Documents Pertaining to Video Games of the Role-Playing Genre, Miracle Warriors has been rightfully regarded as a mere footnote. The footnote states that the game was released slightly prior to Phantasy Star, and thus, may be the first Japanese RPG to grace American shores. Phantasy Star came later in ’88, Dragon Quest/Warrior was ’89, Final Fantasy, ’90. This makes sense, and yet, there’s no hard proof, meaning that this one unique piece of information about Miracle Warriors might be a lie. And without that historical tidbit, the game has nothing, and a lot of it.
Early JRPGs are tedious, cumbersome, and given to grinding. Miracle Warriors is no different, except that it reigns as the head glutton of its genre’s tendencies. Rather than allowing you to move your protagonist directly, you control them via a white square on the upper right hand corner of the screen. This corner contains your protagonist, as represented by the white square, and a small sliver of the map which you can move around at your leisure. What occupies the majority of the screen? A picture of your heroes looking triumphantly at you. Yes, two-thirds of the screen is occupied by majestic warrior posing, nothing more.
Now, if I were brimming with positivity, I might say that the interface is “unique” and “original.” Certainly, it’s never been done before – and that’s the most I can give it. Maneuvering a box around a fraction of the world map – which is large – only takes a couple minutes to become unbearably frustrating. The frustration is then compounded by the clunkiness of the movement. I usually had to press the D-pad two or three times before the protagonist square would move in that direction, and this happened all the time.
Well, we’re off to a good start.
Once you’ve digested Miracle Warriors creative liberties, you’re forced to confront the battle system. The system itself is straightforward: you and a monster exchange hits in first-person, back and forth. It’s smooth, seamless, and it takes about a thousand battles to get anywhere. You see, in the beginning of the game, your hero is incredibly weak. To beef him up, you buy armor, swords, the standard hero material. You have to kill enemies to get the gold to buy the goods, but enemies are so powerful in the beginning that you have to heal in towns within about two fights. The price to heal your warrior, however, is ridiculously high, and unless you fight an Evil Merchant who carries tons of ill-gotten money on him, you’ll be using most of your money on health, not shields and swords. Weapons deteriorate over time, as well, so you’ll need to return to towns to get them fixed – unless you have a blacksmith in your party and then he’ll fix them for free. But… really? Is my journey not difficult enough without this additional serving of nonsense?
I just used all my coppers on health and herbs!
What all this means is, the amount of grinding needed to get anywhere in this game is on an unprecedented scale. I’ve played – and enjoyed – Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star, all of which were released within a similar time frame and are fairly grindy. Miracle Warriors beats them all. If you let yourself, you could spend hours upon hours and make very little progress. If you’re in third grade in 1987 and this is your first RPG, that might sound thrilling. But outside of that snapshot in time, I think it’s fair to say that most people – even at the time – would want nothing to do with that. One might think the grinding would let up with additional people in your party. Absolutely not. Even if there’s more than one person in your party, the second/third/fourth persons can’t attack on the same turn. Only one person can attack a monster per turn, despite the amount of people you have. Now, you can switch between characters on different turns, but that’s it. Does this force you to be more strategic? Sure. Is it a waste of good party members? No question.
That’s pathway robbery, I won’t pay it.
The in-game movement and the non-stop grinding drag Miracle Warriors down to the realm of the Dark Lord, but the game does have two redeeming factors. The music is as beautiful and evocative as I’ve heard from an early JRPG and one of the main reasons to continue wandering the game’s world, step by slow, pointless step. Also, the grid map included with the original game is incredibly well-crafted and made me wish that exploring the land was as fun as looking at the map. Sega obviously did what they could to make the game inviting for adventure lovers, but you can’t cover a pile of manure in a designer dress and fool people into thinking it’s gorgeous and fashionable. The music and the map are nice, but they’re trickery just the same.
It is a really nice map, though.
All of the ingredients needed to make a working RPG are in Miracle Warriors – lots of battles, characters that speak ye olde English, large world to explore – but none of the elements ever click into place. The movement-by-square system thankfully died with this game, and the ever-present battles are a reminder that, despite the depressing gaming landscape we find ourselves in today, certain genres have evolved for the better. At best, Miracle Warriors feels like a never-ending slog, and at worst, I feel like I should be forced to take anger management courses for the amount of rage the game conjures in me. A footnote it was, a blemish it shall remain.