Released: October 1992
US Cartridge ID: NES-LL-USA
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
Kemco’s 1992 release of Legend of the Ghost Lion was as an obscure and unlikely a candidate for English translation. The perceived appeal of a Western release is difficult to imagine, and a confluence of several factors inevitably contributed to the commercial failure of and apathetic feelings toward Ghost Lion. Limiting any significant market viability, the Super NES had been released the year prior to much fanfare and praise, and it was well supported with a shockingly high quality line-up of first wave releases. Further compounding the impact of the NES’ steady decline in popularity on sales, Legend of the Ghost Lion was a translation of a Famicom game originally released in 1989 as an RPG-adaptation of an obscure 1988 film, ピラミッドの彼方に ホワイト・ライオン伝説 (Piramiddo no Kanata ni Howaito Raion Densetsu / Beyond the Pyramids: White Lion Legend) that, despite featuring American actors, was never released outside of Japan.
Legend of the White Lion, as it is referred to on the title screen, or Ghost Lion, as labeled by its packaging, presents itself as a conventional JRPG following in the grand tradition of Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. The story opens with a young orphan, Maria, seeking the counsel of the village elders. When she was young, her parents left on an expedition to find the white lion that had once attacked the village. They never return from their trip, and Maria sets out to learn what eventual fate befell them years before. Giving Maria a key and a spear imbued with the spirit of the brave warrior who drove the lion off, the elders mention rumors surrounding the “Gate of Evil” and suggest that that is where she will find her answers. Shortly after departing, Maria finds herself on an old rickety bridge that collapses during a sudden earthquake, sending her headlong into a river. She awakes to find herself face to face with a pixie, and is welcomed to the “World of Dreams” with no way to return.
Maria’s adventure plays like most console-based role playing games of the eight-bit era. Exploration is handled through a tile-based map viewed from the commonly-employed overhead perspective. In searching for the white lion and the way back to her own world, the heroine must travel from town to town, gleaning whatever useful information she can from townsfolk. In typical RPG fashion, most people that Maria will encounter on her travels are unwilling to provide her the aid she seeks until she personally resolves any problems they might have. The give-and-take style of questing sets the general pace of the adventure: progressing typically involves visiting a town, speaking to the person that needs a favor done, going to a dangerous area (caves, forests, abandoned castles, etc) to perform the favor, returning for information, and then travelling to the next destination to begin the cycle anew.
Travel in the World of Dreams is fraught with peril: roving groups of hostile creatures will attack Maria at random times, initiating a first-person, turn-based, menu driven battle scenario in which she is forced to defend herself against the onslaught. Ghost Lion‘s battle system is unique in the way it manages the player’s assets and tactics: though Maria never finds any companions to accompany her in her travels, she does collect objects that house battle-ready spirits. Once engaged by an enemy, these spirits may be called upon to fight at Maria’s side, compensating for her relative lack of prowess with weapons and magic. Since the battle party’s makeup and tactics can be switched at any time, these helpers add a bit of versatility to an otherwise mundane and unremarkable battle system.
Legend of the Ghost Lion is an interesting study in contradictions. It is notable as one of the few games of the era that feature a female protagonist, but the opportunity for a stereotype bucking character portrayal is largely ignored. Maria is mute and offers no insight into events or people whatsoever throughout the game. She is also extremely weak in battle, and will fall quickly without the aid of her spirit helpers. The only apparent “benefit” of having a female lead character seems to be the “cute” portraits of her face used in battle, as she’ll cry when hit, and wink awkwardly at the player in celebration of a win.
The plot and game play are just as hollow as Maria’s character. The overarching “story” of the ghost lion and Maria’s parents highlighted in the introduction is meaningless, as it is completely ignored until the end of the game. As every controllable character is unable to speak, there is no character development whatsoever, and with no main plot line to drive events, Maria’s quest is largely comprised of disjointed fetch quests that eventually lead her to the final dungeon, albeit in the absence of any sense of purpose or importance.
The battle mechanics liberally borrow from Ghost Lion’s contemporaries. The layout of the screen, the menus, and the black background/unanimated character sprite style of Dragon Warrior II-IV have been faithfully (shamelessly) reproduced (plagiarized) and will be immediately feel familiar, comfortable, and stale to fans of Enix’s highly lauded epics. Maria’s level is marked as “Hope,” her HP as “Courage,” and MP (required for summoning spirits, as Maria has no magic abilities) is labeled “Dream.” As per standard, each turn requires that the player selects a desired action for Maria and any summoned spirits to perform. The turn then plays out as directed, narrated in text with character portraits flashing across the screen as combatants trade blows with one another.
Unlike most RPGs, Maria does not grow stronger with experience from battle; the only reward for a win is a pile of currency in the form of rubies. Maria’s stats can only be increased by finding fragments of hope, and this makes the beginning of the game extremely easy to get into, as no grinding is required to progress. The inability to train levels in the latter half of the quest makes battles frustratingly difficult, however, as the rate at which enemy strength increases becomes increasingly disproportionate to Maria’s own growth. Furthermore, there are no stat ratings for things like agility, strength, or defense, resulting in an over reliance on spells and weapons to dictate her effectiveness in battle. The shallow nature of the system combined with the lack of motivating reward or growth potential render battles tedious and needless by the end.
The graphics and sound do little to overshadow Ghost Lion’s glaring flaws. The tiled overworld graphics are functional but ugly. Poorly chosen representations of important locations can easily be missed: mouths of caves could be mistaken as either cheap recreations of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch or Japanese onigiri (both decidedly not-cave like in their appearance). Additionally, towns are represented with an odd variety of objects (tree stumps, mushrooms), and fairy springs are merely blue and white speckled squares. The static images used in battle are generally well done, featuring a fair amount of color and detail, though the lack of animation and the sheer number of text windows surrounding them lessen their impact. Most of music is serviceable and avoids drawing attention to itself, but the battle theme is an atrocious mix of painful elements: white noise drum beats and high pitched synthesized stabs accompany the lead “melody,” which does nothing but play two notes repeatedly, shifting the key for the sake of “variety” every couple of seconds.
Though the graphics are dull and lacking in personality, the music is maliciously execrable, and the impotent attempts at plot make Legend of the Ghost Lion a complete chore to play, it is not the absolute failure that Ultima: Exodus, Ultima: Warriors of Destiny, nor Heroes of the Lance managed to be. Ghost Lion is perfectly competent at being a perfunctory RPG – the problem is that it lacks any compelling reason to play, just as it lacks any compelling justification for its existence.
|Legend of the Ghost Lion
|ホワイトライオン伝説 (Howaito Raion Densetsu)
White Lion Legend