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Legend of Oasis
Reviewed by Jason Falconer

I had very high expectations - built up over weeks of anticipation, waiting with bated breath for it to arrive. I'd read about it years ago, and pored over the screenshots countless times. Imagine my surprise when, during the 5 minutes as I first demoed the game, I wasn't all that impressed. The graphics looked fairly 16-bit (though clearly on the higher spectrum of 16-bit), the control was responsive but seemed simple, and the admittedly stale introduction did nothing for me.

However, as is always the case with traditional games, its the time spent with the solid gameplay mechanics, puzzles and world that will draw you in - 5 minutes simply does not do it justice. Knowing this, I returned to it when I had several hours to freely immerse myself. What I found was exactly what had drawn me to it years ago in the pages of magazines. It is a beautifully crafted action RPG in the tradition of Zelda, playing much like the 32-bit version of Secret of Mana that I'd wanted (there's even a code that unlocks a blazing 2 player mode!).

The main character, Leon, is to become the new Spirit King, and using his Golden Armband, he must gather the 6 Elemental Spirits (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Sound, Shade) who will aid him in his quest to vanquish Agito, the evil spirit. While not exactly the most original plot, the storyline is connected with the core gameplay in every way. And that gameplay is pure gold. The Spirits, once gathered, can be summoned by blasting anything in the environment that corresponds to its element (literally - even enemies) using the Golden Armband. Summoned one at a time, they float around like familiars, following you until dismissed.

Each Spirit has 3 different attacks, which can be used to either damage enemies or affect surrounding objects in the environment. You can kill enemies, extinguish fires or freeze water fountains for use as stepping stones, all with the same Elemental Spirit attack. While there are the typical switches to be switched, blocks to be pushed, and keys to be collected, completing dungeons requires you to use the Elemental Spirits in new and inventive ways in different combinations in almost every room. Add to this four different weapon types (which can also be powered up with Elemental energy), and the 12 or so physical moves Leon can perform using various button combinations, and you have an ambitious control scheme on your hands (pun intended). With the Saturn pad's 6 face buttons and 2 triggers in use, it takes some getting used to, but works perfectly.

The graphics are hand-drawn but tile-based. While games like Legend of Mana are stunning to look at, the floaty feeling of walking around on scanned artwork, and the inevitable breaks in perspective each new screen, detract from the gameplay and feeling of the classic action RPG. With a tile-based system, the angle is consistent as are the character sprites in relation to their world. And those sprites are well animated, with particular attention paid to Leon and the Elemental Spirits.

Graphically the game ranges from 16-bit to the very best of 32-bit hand-drawn art. From the background objects like pillars, statues, waterfalls, and trees, to the enemies, everything has an unprecedented level of detail and is animated with the utmost care. Few games have hand-drawn art of this caliber. There are only a couple of special effects (mostly some scaling), and they're not that impressive. Knowing this, the designers seek to impress with all their time and effort creating the whimsical animation in the characters and elementals, and crafting mind-bendingly difficult puzzle dungeons.

To their credit they were largely successful, as I found myself completely absorbed, challenged and had loads of fun! Speaking of challenge, this game is HARD. Clues are cryptic and the world is gigantic - growing in size as you unlock new areas using newfound abilities. The developers went so far as to put secret areas in the earlier dungeons that can only be unlocked if you return with the proper Elemental Spirits found much later in the game. Its insanity of the best kind.

Unfortunately, the music composition is far too ambient - sometimes almost nonexistent, and a little repetitive. What music is there is often muffled out by the much louder sound effects, which are pretty standard fare. Why? If this game had had a stirring musical score to accompany its epic quest, it really would've been an incredible package. As it stands, barring the legendary Zelda series, Legend of Oasis is quite arguably the best action RPG ever made, not a statement to be taken lightly.