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Review by tankMage (March 2016)
Light Crusader was unfamiliar to me to say the least, even to though it was developed by Treasure, the acclaimed creators of GunStar Heroes. Like any developer, Treasure had a few titles that didn’t turn out quite right; Light Crusader is one of those games and takes quite a bit of getting used to thanks to its unusual perspective as well as Sir David’s sort reach with his sword. Both combat and puzzle solving is complicated by these issues and I really didn’t like this game at first. After playing it through, I did find a few points of light in this otherwise gloomy crusade (couldn’t resist), but the game just isn’t that great and I really had to force myself to stick with it at times. At least it’s better than some of the other train wrecks I’ve played (I’m looking at you Brain Lord).
The story starts out promising: people are disappearing from the peaceful land of Green Row and it’s up to our hero, Sir David, to solve the mystery. The first few minutes of running around getting clues and background info from the NPCs really made me think I was in for a treat. Shame that the most interesting part of the game’s story was limited to the first ten minutes of gameplay. As you make your way through the labyrinth, the bits and pieces of the story that are revealed turn out to be the usual “an ancient evil is being resurrected” story line so common to video games. Some character development or even a decent backstory for sir David and the villain would have helped things along greatly. Alas no such effort was made to flesh out the characters leaving an already played out plot bare and soulless. At least the game has a few humorous moments that break the monotony.
Light Crusader actually has a nice UI, Sir David jumps, moves, slashes, and casts spells smoothly. The in-game menus are laid out in a sensible manner and you can even automatically sort your inventory if it gets too chaotic. Speaking of inventory, Treasure added an excellent feature to this game: healing items are automatically used once Sir David’s life drops to a certain point, saving the player the trouble of interrupting a battle to heal up. Treasure even made it so you can turn off the auto-heal feature if you do not like it. LC’s UI isn’t perfect, however, since the menu cursor is a bit too sensitive and the peculiar isometric perspective used in this title also made the otherwise decent controls seem clumsy. Movable objects were far too sensitive and easy to push by accident, which lead to a lot of cursing on my part when I had to leave and reenter a room for the thousandth time to reset a puzzle, because I stepped a pixel too far to the right or left and sent a boulder rolling in the wrong direction.
Music and Sound
I had never seen such inconsistency in a video game sound track until I played Light Crusader. One moment a well thought out piece that adds a great feeling of tension to the game is playing, the next moment it sounds like the composer was rolling his or her face on the keyboard. Really, some of the songs in this game are that awful, the game itself even jokes about it if you talk to a woman who is sitting at an organ. It’s a shame, since there are a number of good songs in this game and the composer avaided the common mistake of using that twangy guitar synth that appears in so many Genesis titles. The sound effects are at least of a decent quality. Light Crusader even has some digitized voices in it for certain events, but they feel tacked on as if Treasure had simply decided to include the vocal snippets for the sake of novelty. Also, Sir David’s grunts sound suspiciously like those used for Ryu in Ninja Gaiden 3 on the NES, but that could just be me jumping to conclusions.
I had a tough time critiquing Light Crusader’s graphics. Many of the environments were highly detailed and had a unique style to them, while others seemed to be sloppily thrown together. The isometric perspective made everything look askew and ugly as well.
The character sprites seemed to suffer from the same extremes. Many of the townspeople and even a few monsters were well made, but others, (especially the player character) seemed disproportionate and badly animated. Sir David constantly shuffled around like he had to use the bathroom and his portrait looked like he was missing an eye (even though his sprite and cut scene portrait clearly had two eyes). There were about five or six monster types that were reused throughout the game, which detracted from gameplay as well as visuals. Even bosses were reused and points. To make matters worse, one boss was just an enlarged version of a regular mob and another was just a string of spheres that didn’t even fit the the theme of the area it inhabited. As sparse as the variety in monster sprites was, they did have special death effects. Using a fire spell would burn some enemies to death and sometimes Sir David would decapitate goblins or slice them in two, which was a pleasant surprise.
On the bright side, Light Crusader had some cool magic and 3D effects. Tiny colorful triangles bounced off Sir David or mobs when certain spells or effects hit them and each spell had its own unique look. The fire spells looked particularly good as well as a spell called Needlecrack. As I mentioned earlier, some of the stages had a lot of detail and a unique flavor to them that seemed more fitting of a Treasure game.
Irritating combat and a few frustrating puzzles hurt what would have been an otherwise pleasant gaming experience. Poor Sir David’s sword just doesn’t measure up to that of other action/adventure protagonists and he has to get very close to enemies in order to slice at them. Monsters don’t really give much of a tell before they attack either, so battles end up being a matter of using hit and run tactics, magic, or just mashing the attack button until you win. It is possible to cancel an enemy attack by swinging your sword just before the mob strikes you, but this technique was difficult to master and hardly as effective as the strategies I previously mentioned. For the most part boss fights also came down to just spamming magic and (in some cases) simply walking up to the boss and slashing it to death as fast as possible.
Fighting was so easy in Light Crusader, despite its flaws, that it quickly became dull. A few minutes of grinding weak monsters or a trip to the Inn was sufficient to stock my inventory with plenty of healing items and the auto-item feature ensured that sir David would not find himself taking a permanent nap on the dungeon floor after taking one too many hits. In the few rare occasions where I died, a spiffy item called the pendant (of which there are several scattered throughout the game) automatically revived me. This game was so easy that I never got a game over and am considering dying purposely just to see what happens. Usually I don’t hold difficulty against a game, because it’s a matter of personal preference more than anything, but Light Crusader was easy for the wrong reasons. The fact that fighting required no strategy and you could simply out-last enemies was the result of oversights on the part of the developers in my opinion.
Light Crusader’s magic system was one of the game’s better aspects and my personal favorite. In order to cast spells Sir David must first find or buy at least one of the four elements and select it in the menu screen. Combining different elements results in a different spell effect that can be offensive or defensive. Sir David can banish undead, summon meteors and create a protective barrier around himself to name a few. Experimenting with the different magics and using them to blast bosses into oblivion was one of the few satisfying aspects of Light Crusader; making fun of spells with names like “Needlecrack” was amusing as well.
If LC’s messy combat system was not enough to hurt this game, then it’s poorly designed puzzles certainly did. First of all, I want to make it clear that many of the game’s puzzles were fairly well designed and even fun to solve. Only a handful of the title’s puzzles were badly planned and it was mostly the game’s primitive physics engine that made solving the puzzles a nuisance. As I pointed out earlier, it was way too easy to accidentally nudge an object the wrong way while trying to complete a puzzle and I found myself yelling at the game in a few instances. Messing up and pushing a stone ball against a wall meant that I had to leave and reenter the room, which was a drag in situations where I knew what to do to solve the puzzle. Some puzzles were also a bit on the cryptic side, although not impossible to figure out. In one instance you have to open a door to push an object away from the wall and I had to look the solution up, because it never occurred to me that the game allowed for such a thing and there were no clues hinting to a solution.
Equipment was also a disappointment in this game. There are a variety of swords and armor, but because of the way the enemies scale, it feels like Sir David has not gotten any more powerful as the game progresses, even with a new weapon. On top of that, there’s really no stats or explanation given for the weapons or items, so the player has to test everything out or take it on faith that a new weapon is more effective than what he or she was using. Finally, Light Crusader isn’t very long. There are only about six floors to the dungeon and it took me roughly nine hours to complete the game. I’m not really sure if the short play time is a bad thing, since I was ready for this one to be done with long before the sixth floor.
I had to force myself to play this game at times. The temperamental physics engine (if you could even call it a physics engine) made solving many of the puzzles a chore. Later in the game I refused to do some of the non essential puzzles, because I didn’t want to be bothered; that says a lot, because I’m something of a perfectionist when it comes to finding items. I did have some fun with this title despite its problems. There was a feeling of tension and mystery to the dungeon that is difficult to describe, which some people may appreciate. This game also kept me wondering what was going to happen next and I was pleasantly surprised in a few cases. Still, Treasure has a reputation to live up to and could have done a better job on this game. My only guess is that they didn’t realize their game wasn’t so hot until it was too late to make any major changes to it.
C- titles exist in a state of limbo between the realm of bad games and that of ok games. It’s hard to justify recommending this game to anyone nor should it necessarily be avoided. The best advice I can give is try it if you enjoy Legend of Zelda style games and already played some of the Genesis’ better titles for the genre.