(Review archived from March 26, 2023)
(English Translation by DvD Translations)
Charitably it needs to be said that Romancia was easily the most “modern feeling” iteration of Dragon Slayer at the time of its release. Among other things it has the distinction of being the first Dragon Slayer game in which your sword attack has a dedicated button rather than utilizing the “bump combat” mechanics of the previous two entries in the series (i.e. Dragon Slayer and Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu). I think it’s safe to say that Romancia also had the most fully developed (albeit generic “rescue the princess”) story in the series thus far, but in defense of Xanadu, I played an untranslated version (via the Falcom Classics collection on Saturn), so whatever story elements were present in that one were admittedly lost on me. But as opposed to Xanadu, Romancia (of which I played via the DvD Translations version) features NPCs you can interact with, buildings you can enter that have navigable interiors, and a story which even features rudimentary “chapters” (more or less). I say all of that to point out that when viewed firmly as a product of its time, Romancia isn’t too bad. But when viewed with a modern eye … it’s not terribly good either. And unfortunately Romancia was released in the same year as another hot young upstart by the name of The Legend of Zelda, a game which, despite borrowing some significant elements from Romancia’s predecessor Xanadu … basically made Romancia seem like an antiquated relic by comparison.
And in some ways, Romancia was even something of a step back from its own predecessor Xanadu. As opposed to the game that proceeded it, which featured a mix of side-scrolling exploration and a top down view for dungeons and combat, Romancia is purely a side-scroller. It’s hard to knock it down too much on this point though; this is Dragon Slayer Jr. after all. It was likely intended to be a scaled back series entry in the first place. I say intended, because if their intent was to make this game more generally accessible than other entries in the series … by my estimation they utterly failed in the attempt. This game is OBTUSE, and that’s really saying something given that Xanadu is itself a bit notoriously difficult to suss out. The NES and Famicom systems are remembered, among other things, for featuring games of this nature. Sometimes this can be attributed to poor localization efforts, technological limitations of the system, or even simply poor game design. In the case of Romancia … it’s pretty much of all of the above (though I do need to recognize the efforts of DvD Translations who have done an admirable job of translating the game into English).
Permit me to illustrate a scenario. You’re venturing through the world of Romancia. Life is good. You’ve become relatively proficient with the finicky combat system, and you’ve managed to figure out some of the clues and usages for the many and sundry items in your limited inventory. You enter a building in a village infested with cat(?) … pig(?) … demons. The sketchy looking inhabitant of this building tells you, “Anyone with a ‘pure heart’ should just become a pig!!” Poof. You’re a pig. Hey cool, enemies can’t damage you now! You can safely explore wherever you want! But … you can no longer attack, and have no idea how you can change back from being a pig. You spend a considerable amount of time searching the world for the counter spell. Mr. ‘Pure Heart’ is no help whatsoever. Finally you resort to the internet … and discover the following … You must ascend into heaven where upon you will be blessed and can henceforth return back to Earth as a human again (assuming you’ve collected a soul which will allow you to return from heaven). But there’s a catch … in order to ascend to Heaven you must have collected a prerequisite amount of Karma (Xanadu also featured a similar byzantine Karma system and it wasn’t much more straight forwardly implemented in that one). And you can’t collect Karma as a pig. And you can most assuredly not beat the game in the form of a pig. So if you don’t have the proper amount of Karma when you become a pig you are doomed to wander forever as a pig. And I do mean forever as the game will give you no indication whatsoever that you’ve just completely screwed yourself. Oh and by ‘you’ of course I mean ‘me’. Hi. This game is filled to the brim with obtuse puzzles like this in which any clues pointing you in the proper direction are numbered ‘few’ to ‘none’. Hidden doors, button puzzles with no clues given, endlessly looping labyrinth sections consisting purely of identical screens, the aforementioned karma system, backtracking galore … it all adds up to a game that I’m sorry to say is just not very much fun.
I’ve been hard on Romancia … but frankly it deserves the criticism. I generally try to wrap these up with some good points though, so let’s see what can be done here. The translation by DvD Translations is good. Without their efforts I can assure you that this game would be absolutely unplayable for a dummy like me who can’t speak Japanese. As I mentioned at the top of the Review, when this game released in 1986, it was evident that the Dragon Slayer series was taking small steps towards more modern sensibilities. Legacy of the Wizard, the follow-up to Romancia, would make even more pronounced steps in this direction. But as things stand I can really only recommend Romancia to other masochists like me, driven by some vaguely academic interest in the development of the ARPG genre. It can’t be denied that the Dragon Slayer series was hugely influential in this regard … but in the case of Romancia, that doesn’t save it from being a somewhat poor gaming experience.