Magic Carpet 2, PC

The full title of this 1995 sequel is Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds, and it is an excellent continuation of the series.

Magic Carpet 2 features exterior and interior (cavernous) levels that are more dense than the original, with more new monsters, secrets, and evil wizards to defeat. It also has a multiplayer mode (which the first game didn’t have).

Graphically, Magic Carpet 2 is more impressive than its predecessor and the use of night and day in the game results in a more varied colour palette – and a more interesting landscape – than previously. Again: the landscape is deformable to some degree by shooting it with fireballs, and various locations hide triggers that spawn monsters, new spells, and bosses. Unlike the first game, Magic Carpet 2 features a useful ‘Help Mode’, that points out what everything is – until you get sick of it and turn it off. It helps get into the game quicker, and not miss any important gameplay features.

The gameplay in Magic Carpet 2 is pretty much the same as before: build a castle; collect mana with your balloon; build your castle up; collect more mana; rid the landscape of monsters; complete any quest objectives.

Most monsters are pretty tough, so the best tactic is to lure them away from groups to deal with them one at a time. The killer bees, for example, will kill you quickly if a number of them swarm you, so it’s best to split them up if you can, which you can do with your deft carpet skills. Mastering the carpet is key to beating the game, and the controls work extremely well, allowing you to perform very tight and precise manoeuvres with just a modicum of skill. You can also fly backwards and sidewards, which helps a lot. The controls are very responsive, though, so do take some getting used to.

There are 25 levels to play through in total – all of which can be completed quickly (by completing quest objectives), or can be scoured for more spells and mana, and a higher completion percentage, if so wished.

Magic Carpet 2 can also be changed to SVGA mode (640×480) ‘on the fly’, meaning: you can switch between the default VGA (320×200) resolution, and SVGA resolution by just clicking an option in the menu, although I couldn’t find a way of making SVGA the default (every time I restarted the game it ran in VGA, and I had to manually change the resolution). The game also crashed quite a bit for me in SVGA mode (usually preceded by graphical glitches), and I had some problems saving the game (and having to restart from the beginning – four times so far). Playing in VGA proved to be more stable (no crashes). And this is the bought GOG.com version I’m talking about… In spite of that I really enjoyed playing Magic Carpet 2 again – it is better than the first Magic Carpet, and it is also a superb game in its own right. Another classic DOS game from Bullfrog.

More: Magic Carpet 2 on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds on GOG.com

Tales of Phantasia, Super Nintendo

Tales of Phantasia is an RPG developed by Wolf Team, and first published for the Super Nintendo by Namco in 1995. As JRPGs go, it’s quite memorable.

It’s a time-travelling, party-based adventure with real-time, random combat. Yes: real time combat. Which is quite rare in this genre. The combat sections play like a side-scrolling action game, with your party being attacked from either the left or the right, and the direction of attack dictating who’s closest to the enemy. So you learn to put your more vulnerable characters in the middle! The real-time combat system in Tales of Phantasia is a refreshing change from the usual style of turn-based JPRGs and is I think what gives this game its unique appeal.

That said: there’s more to Tales of Phantasia than just the combat. The story isn’t bad, and neither is the dialogue, and the six playable characters available for recruit are all fairly interesting. There are lots of great little touches too, like the ripples and reflections in the water. There’s a ton of stuff to see and do in this game and it’s frankly more than worth the investment of time.

A Game Boy Advance remake was released in 2006 and was the game’s first official English translation. It’s somewhat different to this, though, with a widescreen display and larger character graphics during combat. Background graphics and gameplay are the same though.

More: Tales of Phantasia on Wikipedia

Dragon Quest VI, Super Nintendo

Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation was developed by Heartbeat for Enix and released for the Super Nintendo in 1995 in Japan. It is the sixth instalment in the Dragon Quest series, if you aren’t familiar with Roman numerals.

Again: the writers of Dragon Quest have made a pretty good story to fit into an RPG. And again: it’s simple but effective. Without giving too much away: you appear to die a short way into the game! Haha. It’s hardly a spoiler – more an attempt to entice you to play the game… but it is part of the plot. I think Japanese RPG-makers may be obsessed with death, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing… As J.R.R. Tolkien once said: love and loss are inextricably linked…

Graphically, Dragon Quest VI is a bit more interesting than the previous game, although you don’t seem to be able to walk behind certain objects in this (that you should be able to walk behind, according to the isometric viewpoint), which is a little frustrating. All the houses, towns, and cute characters are beautifully drawn in that inimitable, colourful SNES style though.

Combat is a bit more interesting than in Dragon Quest V. You have more options available to you, including a ‘Skill’ choice that makes individual character skills available as they unlock. It does take a while to assemble a party, though, which isn’t ideal. Something else that bugged me: you can’t see how much money you’ve got in the status menus! Which is quite an oversight… The only time you see your current money count is when you’re talking to merchants. Dragon Quest VI practically requires you to grind to afford certain armour and weapons (as most RPGs do), and not being able to see your money totals in the field is frustrating at best.

One final thing to mention – a good thing: Dragon Quest VI was the first game in the series to introduce the concept of a “sack” where you can store items outside of your usual limited inventory. That made a difference. It also has a fairly complex class system, which is unlocked at a key point in the game.

Dragon Quest VI was the best-selling game of 1995 in Japan, shipping over 3.2 million physical copies in its first year of release (of which 2.5 million were sold in December, it’s month of release!) – an insane number, and indicative of the series’ popularity worldwide.

In spite of its shortcomings Dragon Quest VI is still a great game. It’s been remade a few times (Nintendo DS, Android and iOS) and is still worth playing if you love Japanese RPGs.

Note: These grabs are from the original Super Nintendo version, having been fan-translated. An official English translation of Dragon Quest VI wasn’t released until 2011.

More: Dragon Quest VI on Wikipedia

Chrono Trigger, Super Nintendo

Initially released for the Super Nintendo in 1995, Chrono Trigger is another top quality level-grinding RPG from those masters at Square – this one about a group of adventurers who travel through time to prevent a global catastrophe.

Combat-wise – rather than have random encounters – the player can see enemies on-screen and combat launches on a separate screen when they are touched. Some enemies do lie in ambush, though. Battles are turn-based, with a feature called “Active Time Battle 2.0” governing who goes next in your party, depending on their speed counter. Combat in Chrono Trigger is absorbing and fun, and thankfully different enough from other games to not feel stale.

Chrono Trigger is considered to be one of the best Super Nintendo games of all time, and when you look at the dev team you might understand why it turned out so well… Designer Hironobu Sakaguchi was the main creator behind the Final Fantasy series. Writer Yuji Horii was one of the main creators of Enix‘s Dragon Quest series. Artist Akira Toriyama was well known for his work on Dragon Quest (and Dragon Ball). Combined: their talent resulted in this game. A classic.

Chrono Trigger was also one of the first Square games to offer a “New Game Plus” mode – a feature that became popular later on (and is popular to this day) – whereby, after you’d completed the game once, you could then open up a new game, with additional features and all of the items you’d collected in your previous play-through.

If you’ve been a gamer for a while then you’ve probably heard of Chrono Trigger, even if you’ve never played it. It’s been ported to pretty much every modern system known to mankind, including the PC. According to Wikipedia Chrono Trigger has shipped 2.65 million copies worldwide, as of 2006. It also gave rise to the Chrono series, and two sequels – Radical Dreamers and Chrono Cross.

More: Chrono Trigger on Wikipedia
Steam: Chrono Trigger on Steam

Stonekeep, PC

Stonekeep is a strange first-person Role-Playing Game, developed and published by Interplay Productions in 1995.

I say “strange” because Stonekeep comes from a time when developers were looking for any excuse to inject some full-motion video into their games, and Stonekeep uses digitised video quite a lot, and it now looks very dated. Actually, Stonekeep uses two very dated graphical techniques to create the world you’re exploring – the second technique being Silicon Graphics-rendered graphics (the first being the aforementioned digitised video technique, a la Mortal Kombat). It’s the clash of the bad graphics techniques…

The way the digitised video has been used in the game means that a lot of the characters and monsters in it look kinda like pantomime villains… Well I felt like I was playing a pantomime fantasy game with Stonekeep… The visual style of this game reminds me of that TV show, Knightmare – the one that superimposed live actors over painted fantasy backdrops… That’s what they tried to do with this game – film people in costumes and incorporate them into a Role-Playing Game… And the end result is a bit of a weird mess!

In spite of the outdated presentation Stonekeep plays excellently. Movement is quick and simple, and is tile-based. A journal keeps track of quests, items, maps, stats and available spells (which are cast using runes inscribed on wands). Combat is real-time; similar to that seen in the mighty Dungeon Master. Quests and puzzles are fairly simple – mostly unblock a route or kill a bad guy – although there are a few surprises along the way that take Stonekeep beyond the merely ‘generic’.

I wouldn’t say that Stonekeep is a ‘solid gold classic’, but I would recommend that RPG fans give it a try. Or even better: play it to the later stages at least, because that’s where it gets more interesting. That said: if you have a low tolerance for goblins, faeries, and ice queens then maybe this game isn’t for you…

Stonekeep is a game that doesn’t deserve to be forgotten and does have its moments, even though the story and setting are a little trite. Don’t let me put you off though – Stonekeep plays nicely in DOSBox and is cheap on GOG.com and is well worth adding to the collection.

More: Stonekeep on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Stonekeep on GOG.com