[Zack Wood critically examines the inventive and overlooked Super NES RPG Paladin's Quest, praising its "strangely enjoyable feeling of alienation within a haunting and totally foreign world." This feature was originally published at Wood's blog at gamemakeworld.wordpress.com.]
Paladin's Quest (AKA "Lennus: Memory of the Ancient Machine") is an RPG for the SNES, developed by Copya Systems, directed by Hidenori Shibao, and published in 1992 in Japan (1993 in the US).
Paladin's Quest (PQ) was experimental, remains largely unknown, and was difficult for many people to connect with. However, I think it is worth taking a closer look, especially at how the visuals help to create an engaging and interesting world.
WORLDVIEW: Destruction and decay of a never-before-seen world.
After looking through blogs and forums, I discovered that many people described the experience of playing PQ as a strangely enjoyable feeling of alienation within a haunting and totally foreign world. I felt the same way, and the director, Hidenori Shibao, confirmed that this was the basic idea for the worldview of the game.
Let's take a look at how each of the following five elements help to establish and support the worldview. At the end I'll focus on shortcomings and areas that hold the game back.
RULES & GOALS
The structure and rules are standard for a Japanese RPG: gain levels and grow stronger as you progress on a linear journey through a fantasy world, gaining allies, reaching new towns, and beating bosses until you finally confront the "Final Boss" and save the world. PQ sets itself apart, however, with its equipment and HP systems.
In addition to two required characters, there are a large number of optionally recruitable mercenaries. In most games the player can buy new weapons and otherwise change a character's equipment, but in PQ each mercenary's weapons, armor, and spells are permanent. However, rather than being limited to attacking with their weapon, characters can attack with their head, feet, belt, or body in battle (or whatever is equipped there), sometimes with unexpected effects.
The variety of abilities within their permanent set-up gives each mercenary a unique feel and play style- an impressive accomplishment given how many mercenaries there are. The sense of surprise and discovery that comes along with finding a new one and testing their abilities and equipment also builds on the game's theme of exploration of a new world.
PQ innovated further with its Hit Points (HP) System. There are no Magic Points (MP)- all magic spells cost HP to cast. In addition, healing items (in the form of belts full of healing bottles) are quite rare. To make up for this, characters have a lot of HP and don't need to be healed multiple times after every battle; rather, the player must use their few healing bottles intermittently and strategically.
In this way, coming upon a new "belt" is a major discovery, and a source of excitement and relief. The HP System, belts, and bottles allow the player to focus on dungeon-exploring and battle without the distraction of constant HP recovery, in addition to contributing to the game's refreshing novelty.