Legend of the Ghost Lion (NES) Review

Click here if you wish to visit the Legend of the Ghost Lion description page for screenshots and more information.

Review by tankMage (October 2015)

Score: C-

Legend of the Ghost Lion is a somewhat unusual RPG that is bogged down by a number of poor design choices, unimpressive graphics, and even less impressive music. There are some redeeming qualites that keep this game from being a complete failure, however. Ghost Lion’s leveling system is unorthox and was perhaps one of the best incentives to explore I’ve seen placed in a game. Plus the premise in and of itself was interesting. Too bad the developers failed to capitalize on this game’s strengths.

Graphics

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They could have at least thrown a background in, sheesh.

    Like so many other RPGs that were made for the NES, LGL uses a dull Dragon Warrior style battle system which is the primary contributor to this RPG’s visual shortcomings. Encounters are represented by a simple HUD that contains a dialog box and a breakdown of Maria’s current life/mana…oh sorry the words Hopes/Dreams are substituted for “life” and “mana”, which were far too mundane for this title. In the center of the screen, a portrait of the player character or enemy who is currently acting is displayed. Aside from that, the screen is black. There are no animations for spells or attacks save for the sprite of the targeted creature flashing when hit. LGL’s graphics outside of the battle engine are barely passable and some of the character portraits and monster sprites are well drawn, so this game is not a total failure in terms of visual presentation.

Music and sound effects

Everything about this game’s music is unremarkable, aside from the battle theme, which becomes tiresome after a while. The sound effects are the sort of stock SFX you can expect to find in many other titles.

User interface

The interface for this game is a tedious fun suck for two reasons:

1- In order to attack, Maria has to use her weapon like an item. This means that instead of simply equipping something and selecting the “fight” command in a battle (like almost every other RPGon the NES), LGL forces players to go into Maria’s inventory, select the weapon and use it like an item EVERY time you want to attack. Fortunately, the summons have their own command….

2- The summoning system is in many ways cool and I couldn’t help but see Maria as an 8-bit Lenneth from Valkyrie Profile summoning forth her own “noble einherjar”. Problem is, as you progress in the game it becomes imperative that you use summons in nearly every fight if you want to survive. The system quickly loses its charm after summoning a spirit to fend of a few trash mobs for the umpteenth time, especially since you still have to input several commands to perform summon and then issue commands to your servant.

Gameplay

As stated earlier, the summoning system is cool at first and even adds a little strategy into the game. Players can only hold so many healing items and you have to be careful how you use your resources if you want to be victorious. This is further complicated by the fact that Maria seems to have a lot of trouble running from enemies that appear later in the game. The battle system becomes oppressive after a while, however. This is due in part to the manner in which the user interface and the summon system interact. Maria almost always has to use at least one summon in battle which means that she has to sacrifice a turn to call her companion. In cases where there are multiple strong monsters attacking (not at all uncommon) Maria will have to use several summons. Having to summon spirit allies constantly forces the player to navigate a series of unwieldy menus in order to complete a simple battle. Repeat this process a few dozen times in each dungeon and you have a game experience that feels more like elementary school work than an entertaining diversion.

Exploration is rewarded with new summons, fragments of hope (which make Maria more powerful), and the occasional weapon as well. LGL is mercifully light on the grinding thanks to it’s exploration based leveling system. Players only have to grind occasionally to raise funds needed for equipment or restoratives (for the most part money gained from dungeon diving funded future expeditions). While Legend of the Ghost Lion does a fairly decent job of reducing the amount of grinding a player is commonly forced to do in NES RPGs by giving giving players incentive to explore, there is not much to explore unfortunately. There are no real side quests or optional dungeons and the game is pretty much a straight line from beginning to end. There isn’t much to see either. The dungeons themselves are often just winding pathways through caverns that are suspended in empty space.

Overall the gameplay just barely passes itself off as mediocre due to the  poorly implemented combat system and uninspired level designs.

Story

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Maria’s parents leave her to fend for her self, because reasons.

    Ghost Lion’s plot is not what one would expect from an NES RPG. Maria’s parents leave her to fend for herself while they search for the legendary white lion. Why this lion is important enough for a mother and father to ditch their kid is never explained. A fair amount of time passes and Maria decides to search for her mom and dad. The village elder gives her a magic spear and some instructions; Maria then sets out to find her parents. I can’t give much more background on the story without ruining the surprise, but there really isn’t much more exposition aside from the opening scene. NPCs will explain where you are and what you must do, but there is not much story development. There are some glaring plot holes and the story isn’t terribly coherent, so don’t expect too much.

Final thoughts

Ghost Lion just barely passes itself off as an ok game. Almost all of the NES RPGs I have played involve massive amounts of grinding and I have to admit that I’ve often nodded off while playing Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy on a rainy day. Ghost Lion put me to sleep a few times as well, but not as a result of interminable grinding sessions. Instead, LGL’s clumsy battle system made random battles drag on endlessly and I found myself missing the old fashioned grind fests to be had in other NES RPGs, because they at least offered some for of incentive. The game’s bland sound and graphics didn’t do much to improve the experience either. Ghost Lion did manage to provide a challenge (as RPGs go) and later dungeons required me to really stock up on items as well as pick my battles carefully, so I guess that’s something to its credit.

Recommendations

Hardcore RPG fans may find some merit in this game as a curiosity piece, but the NES has better examples of the genre to offer. People who are looking for something a little bit different in terms of story and gameplay might enjoy this game a bit, just don’t expect a gem. Everyone else should probably avoid Legend of the Ghost Lion.

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