PUBLISHER: Wolf Team (Japan), Renovation (US)
DEVELOPER: Wolf Team
RELEASE DATE: 06/14/91 – (JP), 10/1991 – (US)
Well, it’s the end of the world again.
The powerful dark sorceress Castomira is close to being resurrected by her insane followers. The Power of Leaty, a sword of light that trapped Castomira in the Dark World, has been stolen by her band of evil lords. Once the thousandth full moon rises over Arcus, Castomira will emerge into the land of the living and make life miserable for all concerned.
If any of those words resonated with you/made sense in any way, then hail, friend! Heed the call and save the world with one of the following four heroes. Jedda is a swordsman whose incredible skill and grief over his mother’s death make him a formidable, if slightly crazed, hero. Erin’s been burned by too many people, so she lets her chain sword’s multi-directional attack do the talking (and flaying). Diana leads the tribe of Erufu and is an accomplished archer, firing arrows off walls and into the hearts of any who oppose her rule. Then there’s Bead, a cranky old magician who’ll use any spell necessary to snuff out Castomira’s potential reign.
Let The Games Begin
In Arcus Odyssey, you control your hero around a series of slightly non-linear mazes, attack all the monsters, collect treasure, and figure out where to go next. You’ll often fight at least one boss per stage and sometimes multiple large mid-bosses, depending on the area. While exploring, however, minor enemies are everywhere and even after you destroy them, they continuously respawn. Progression then means spamming the attack button as much as any shoot-em-up I’ve ever played, just to prevent potential death. This is the first fantasy action/adventure of any kind where I jammed my index finger on ‘A’ like it was life or death. Surprisingly satisfying!
In certain levels, you can talk to NPCs and recruit helper characters that walk alongside you and attack in tandem with you. These characters don’t last beyond a level or two, but their presence and their firepower are always invaluable. Spoilers: none of the NPCs that I chose had a happy ending. One sacrificed their life to save me, while the other was brainwashed by a sorcerer and I ended up having to kill them. Brutal!
The four characters all have their main physical attack, but they can also use magic collected on the way. Each character’s magic attacks are slightly different. For example, Bead is the ultimate old-man magician, which means his Shockwave and Elemental magic attacks are ancient and powerful. I used Jedda, the swordsman, as my main character and the strength of his magic attacks (which looked like disgusting brown blobs) completely dwarfed his slicing skills. Perfect for otherwise long and tedious boss battles.
And hey, what’s a fantasy game without one-off fantastical items? Magical Fire Rings swarm the character with – that’s right – fire rings, destroying any imp that might get too close. Magical Power Crystals replenish your magic. The Lamp of Life heals your wounds, while the Doll of Life automatically resurrects you if you run out of life. Potion of Invincibility, Magic of Elemental Summoning, and it goes on and on, the mystical gang’s all here, really.
A heavy, dark atmosphere permeates Arcus Odyssey‘s eight acts. Castomira’s presence looms in the background, despite never being seen until the final fight. Her minions, however, are ever-present demonic nuisances. Minotaurs and necromancers dance alongside golems and spiders. An implied human sacrifice takes place behind closed doors. Red hexagrams litter the floors of ancient crypts (and the password screen, for some reason). Eerie pink pyramids sit below… hovering sky castles? Sure, why not. Spooky occult imagery is officially played out in modern games, but it’s rare (and unsettling) to see it handled so effectively in an decades-old title.
I wanted to make it to the ending, to hear the lamentations of Castomira and her followers. Alas, Act 7 “A Nightmare Castle” lived up to its terrifying name. So many enemies! So little willpower (or items)!
Despite lacking the necessary skill to save the land of Arcus, I can’t deny Arcus Odyssey‘s surprising impact. The bleak atmosphere combined with twitchy gameplay and rich exploration make for an enveloping and unique experience. Unlike the cartoonish evil that exudes from most gaming antagonists, Castomira is truly wicked and malevolent. Because she didn’t hold back, my desire to overwhelm her darkness with marvelous light was stronger than I normally feel for a villain in a video game. Arcus Odyssey filled me with dread – but also determination. It is an adventure I will not soon forget.