RELEASE DATE: 06/02/88 – (JP), 04/89 – (US), 1989 – (EU)
After months of fighting, dungeon crawling, and exploring, you’ve vanquished Phantasy Star. The adventure you’ve just had will live on forever in your mind as one of the greatest, most difficult trials you’ve ever been through. Exotic planets, mysterious companions, ancient evils, hours upon hours of battle. You feel like you should be tired, but you crave further skirmishes. You’re not expecting another Phantasy Star – not yet – but perhaps Sega has something to tide you over until the sequel’s arrival.
You turn to Lord of the Sword. The title conjures up images of forgotten prog bands or a late-night Skin-emax film starring a Kevin Sorbo-look alike, but you take a chance anyway. Your hopeful optimism is squandered by a generic story, clunky combat, mindless wandering, and repetitive gameplay. You play through it ’til the end – until the Demon Lord Ra Goan has tasted the sharp edge of your sword. Your bitter disappointment with the game is fully justified by successful completion. You cleanse your Master System’s innards with air afterwards and apologize to it, knowing that the system suffered more than you did. You place Phantasy Star back into the system as a gentle reminder to yourself. Phantasy Star is quality. Every other so-called Master System ‘adventure’ is second-rate.
But enough of that. In Lord of the Sword, you play as Landau, a beefcake extraordinaire who’s able to wield a sword and a bow and arrow. He is able to wield two weapons because each weapon is assigned to Buttons I and II respectively, leaving ‘Up’ as jump. I’ve discussed my frustration with the jump function being assigned to anything other than ‘A’ or, in the Master System’s case, ‘II.’ Yet even with this poor button assignment, Landau controls like the lord Sega purports him to be. Jumping is intuitive, shooting arrows feels smooth and responsive, sword-play is solid. All is well.
The problem with Landau – the problem, one could argue, with most video game beefcakes – is his size in relation to the creatures around him. He’s huge. Most of the enemies he faces are bugs, bats, spiders, fish, and the occasional demon or Tree Spirit. These smaller creatures need precise hits to die, and the game suffers from atrocious hit detection. As a result, Landau gets hit a lot; more than lords of swords ever should. I’ve ostensibly sliced open evil large-mouth bass with my sword only to have them keep on livin’ until I touch them with the tip. The best way to fight is to swing and shoot wildly. You may not hit everything, but this button-mashing method will ensure Landau lives to lord another day.
Thanks to the game’s ridiculous fantasy world, Lord of the Sword looks as though it could be an action/RPG a la Zelda II. Outside of meandering aimlessly over dozens of screens filled with enemies, the game displays little depth. The environments of the game are as follows: towns, mountains, forests, caves, rivers, swamps, and undergrounds. Sounds like a lot, but these are all cut-and-paste environments, with only slight changes between screens. Each screen takes a good twenty seconds or so to walk through, with only combat to keep you busy. There’s no hidden items, no dungeons to explore, nothing but fighting the same garden snakes and mutated scorpions over and over. The environments look ok and some of the enemy designs are neat (the hovering eyeball is the clear favorite), but they weren’t enough to keep my interest throughout the game.
Towns: the beloved refuge of the wayward adventurer. In the towns of Lord of the Sword, you talk to the villager to figure out where to go next. That’s it, and yes, I said the villager. There’s only one villager in each town, and while talking to them raises your health if you’re low, the towns serve little purpose otherwise. No shops or bars or comely wenches to flirt with – no atmosphere, in other words. I suppose you could consider the towns a stopgap in between the more treacherous regions of Baljinya, especially since the game doesn’t have a pause feature. All in all, though, towns are worthless.
Landau’s adept controls aside, Lord of the Sword is the epitome of a mediocre adventure. I hesitate to even use the term ‘adventure.’ The game plays more like a non-linear Altered Beast, the much-reviled action arcade game that came packed with the original Genesis. Now, Altered Beast was a cheesy game, no question, but at least it never pretended that it was anything more than an arcade game. Lord of the Sword takes RPG trappings and crafts a perfectly pointless action title out of them. True heroes, look elsewhere for thy entertainment.