DEVELOPER: Falcom (port by Sega)
RELEASE DATE: 02/24/90 – (JP)
Sorcerian doesn’t so much innovate as it does mash disparate ideas together. The game is actually the fifth entry in Falcom’s Dragon Slayer series and is equal parts text-based RPG and side-scrolling action. Start one of the game’s ten quests, and your party fights and explores in side-scrolling mode. When you’re not questing, however, a large branching menu allows you to build party members, pray at the local temple, discuss matters with your elders, train in different skills, and customize your magic abilities.
You can build up to ten different characters for your party, but there are only four classes: Human Fighter, Dwarf, Human Wizard, and Elf (your characters can be either male or female – females have less strength, but usually more intelligence than their male counterparts). After you’ve doled out three bonus points to your stats, assign them a job. The door’s wide open here with up to sixty crazy jobs to choose from: Florist, Midwife, a Stuffed Toy Maker why not. When a character isn’t questing, they’ll busy themselves with their job, which will change their stats and provide additional income.
Once you’ve assembled your Sorcerian Squad, you have a couple different options. You can gather some of your finest and bravest (no more than four warriors per quest and sometimes three, depending), clad them in the best armor and weapons (or, if they’re Wizards/Elves, the best robes and spells), then choose a quest and hop to it. Or you can hang around the town, boost your skills, and learn how to use the ridiculously complex magic system before venturing out into your adventures. The choice is yours.
Some of the aforementioned tasks will take a considerable amount of time, in which case, “Advance Time” or “Wait” on the main menu will thrust your party forward an entire year. But just in case you think traveling forward in time bears no consequence for your characters, they will age into dust and die forever if you’re not careful. Humans age the quickest (60 years), followed by dwarves (100 years) and elves (200 years).
The game has ten quests for you to wet your whistle. The quests all have different stories, but the objectives are pretty much the same: kill The Bad Guy, gather loot, explore the area, do it again. Most of the quests have expansive, non-linear areas that require significant amounts of time to parse through. Since there’s no map, you’ll either want to make your own as you progress (bust out that graph paper app!) or see if some kind soul hasn’t constructed their own maps on the Internet; I couldn’t find any, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
If you can make heads or tails of the complex magic system, fighting enemies with magic is the way to go. You can build some powerful spells and, unlike close combat, the spells usually enable you to fight from a distance. The system involves combining different elemental enchantments and seeing what comes from it. Basically, experiment and hope you produce an awesome powerful spell. Thankfully, this system isn’t punishing. Your tampering will either result in stat boosts or, at the very most, your equipment will be fused with the resulting spell. The original game came with a chart that provided some clarity into the magic system, but unfortunately for us Westerners who only know English, it’s in Japanese.
Magic is preferable, since fighting with a sword often results in your party taking damage. Your sword is tiny and hit detection is terrible. There were times where I attacked a creature and swore I didn’t touch them, but my life dribbled down regardless.
The Mega Drive version of Sorcerian only saw release in Japan. The version I played was partially translated by the fine folks over at romhacking.net. The main menu and the town were mostly complete, but any dialogue boxes in the quests are unfinished. Thankfully, the game itself isn’t super text heavy, so if you’re committed, you can work your way through without much trouble.
Outside of some nice-looking environments and fantastic music, Sorcerian didn’t immerse me beyond the menu portions. The character customization options are fantastic, so it’s easy to lose lots of time building the Ultimate Party. Once you start up a quest and actually use the characters, however, the game loses its appeal. Combat is awkward. The environments, while pretty, are too large and empty. And outside of fighting enemies and trying not to get lost, there’s not a whole lot to do. Falcom’s attempt to blend the contradictory worlds of text-based RPG and side-scrolling action is admirable, but late 80s technology could only take their ambition so far. Sorcerian plays like two games in one, and only one of them is worth experiencing.