Released: July 1987
US Cartridge ID: NES-RY-USA
Genre: Action RPG
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 1 megabit
Mapper: UNROM (128k PRG)
Though it shares its name with the Tecmo coin-op game released in 1986, Rygar for the NES bears little resemblance to its namesake. Transmuting a coin-munching side-scrolling action game into an action adventure title with strong RPG elements (akin to the style unique to such games as , Metroid and Faxanadu), the Nintendo version of Rygar avoids becoming a subpar port on weaker hardware (see ports on the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and Sega Master System) by expanding the core parent game concept into a significantly more involved and complex adventure than would be otherwise feasible, given that coin-op machines, by their very nature, need to offer an intense experience coupled with a very short turnover time in order to attract players while remaining profitable.
The NES follows the same plot at its arcade progenitor, with the evil Ligar flooding the land of Argool, the holy land of the fabled Indora (a mis-transliteration of “Indra,” the Hindu king of gods) with his unholy minions. The despairing survivors turned to prayer in their most desperate of hours, and the fervor and zeal with wish they pursued this final effort was met with the fulfillment of a prophecy. It foretold that the fallen hero from ages past, Rygar, would rise from his grave to once again take up arms against true evil, should it ever again resurface to threaten the world.
A dramatic blood red sky greets Rygar as he enters the land of Argool, punctuated by the foreboding sun beginning to sink below the horizon – a surprisingly apt metaphor for the hopes of the Argool people, and a device far more sophisticated than is typically seen in an 8-bit game. Taking off toward the foot of Gran Mountain, Rygar has access to the great majority of Argool from the beginning, much like Samus did of Zebes in the original Metroid. Every area is connected by doors that lead to Garloz, a wide expanse presented as an overhead map from which all of the major areas of Argool can be accessed. Many areas have parts that will remain inaccessible until the hero can obtain one of the five relics from the Indora that will allow him to progress further: much like Link can only access blocked off areas once he’s found the hammer in Zelda II, Rygar will need to obtain a grappling hook to get to unreachably high ledges, a pulley to cross ropes spanning rivers and gorges, and a crossbow with a rope attached in order to form alternative avenues across chasms too wide to jump.
Armed with the “diskarmor,” a spiked shield that can be flung like a yo-yo at enemies, Rygar will fight his way through the demon army, searching out the Indora who conceal themselves across the land, patiently await the arrival of the hero. They seek to provide the relics needed to triumph over the evil wrought by Ligar’s cruel lieutenants, who so gladly carry out their dark master’s will, relishing the pain and suffering they inflict on the innocent. In addition to the items that he must find, Rygar earns two types of experience as he strikes down the unholy scourge – Tone points, and Last points. As Rygar’s Tone level improves, his diskarmor will become more powerful, making even the most difficult of enemies go down with ease when fully upgraded. The Last level dictates how much life Rygar has, and when completely leveled will grant him twelve health points instead of the three provided at the onset of the quest. Finally, Rygar has three spells at his disposal – the “Power Up,” which will make the diskarmor fly faster and farther, the “Attack & Assail,” which can be used to hit every enemy on-screen ten times before wearing off, and “Recovery,” which will completely fill Rygar’s life gauge; all of these powers require a set number of “Mind,” effectively acting as magic points would in a traditional RPG, and can be collected by picking up star icons dropped by defeated enemies.
When it was released, Rygar was a revelation. It’s US release predating the domestic release of any other game like it (including Metroid), Rygar marked the first time many American gamers had experienced a platforming action game featuring stat upgrades, the exploration of a relatively expansive and open world, or items that could be used to further exploration in previously visited areas. Of all of its features, perhaps the most striking omission that badly ages the game is a lack of a password feature or a battery-backed save option. While not particularly long, Rygar is a much longer game than most others available at the time, and can feel much longer when it has to be played start-to-finish in a single sitting: while Rygar can easily be beaten in under two hours by one who knows the game well, the first-time player can expect to spend upward of ten to fifteen hours learning the areas, enemy attack patterns, and the best order of progression through story events.
Though it was a relatively early NES release, Rygar looks and sounds significantly better than the great majority of its contemporaries. The colors are bright and vivid, and though the areas lack detail, they are creatively rendered in such a way as to avoid dullness through repetition. The aforementioned opening area with a sunset against the red sky has become an iconic image inexorably linked to the game, and this area shows off some of its most technically impressive graphical feats, featuring smooth parallax scrolling between the background layers that never stutters, regardless of the number of enemies that can potentially appear on-screen at a time. The overhead areas often feature several large sprites moving simultaneously with little to no slowdown, though flickering starts to become an issue if too many attempt to crowd Rygar at once. Most of the enemies feature a fair amount of detail, though some (particularly the epolcon, a large dragon that drops eggs as he flies overhead) look hilariously awful, despite the impressive amount of screen real-estate they occupy. There are also a fair number of graphical glitches, where enemies will break-up and occasionally disappear, or will half appear on both sides of the screen when they get too close to the edge. While this can be distracting, it doesn’t do much to detract from the overall game play. The music is excellent, with nearly every track being memorably evocative, suggesting feelings of tension, adventure, or mystery when appropriate in context.
Rygar controls well in most instances, and the control is precise enough in the side-scrolling action areas to allow the player to reliably pull off some impressive aerial maneuvers when dealing with swarms of enemies given enough practice. The overhead areas, however, suffer from collision detection problems that can occasionally result in frustrating deaths due to the inability to properly judge Rygar’s distance from hazards. Once the quirks are understood by the player they can be compensated for; it’s disappointing, though, considering the quality of most of the game’s elements, that these issues weren’t addressed before the game was released.
While it is not perfect, Rygar does so many things well that it is hard to fault it for the few missteps that it takes. A true “classic” that predates most other games labeled as such, Rygar is one of the games few people seem to remember, but those that do hold it in the highest regard. An early mix of action, adventure, and RPG elements that come together to form an unexpectedly addictive experience, Rygar succeeded admirably in setting the high bar for a budding genre while effectively setting the stage for Tecmo’s future string of smash successes on the NES.
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Argos Warrior: The Foolhardy Advance