Do genres need to be absolutely accurate?

Adventure. That’s a term that encompasses a lot of ground. There are many forms of adventure, as many as there are people. Add action to it, and you have something that people want to hear, see and play.

As a genre, console action adventure games have always been about finding new ways to find your way around a vast map, spotting things you can’t just yet reach until you’ve done some more venturing and action. Without a doubt during that venturing you will face new spots that require you stray from your plan, because there may be something you want to check out or is required. It’s all part of the adventure.

Games like Contra, Mega Man or Castlevania are linear action games, there’s very little venturing done in them. Castlevania Lords of Shadow is in many ways just a direct 3D transition from the classic mould with little adventuring. Perhaps this linearity was that ultimately put people off. While one could argue that Mega Man Legends did the same, it is far more closer to Zelda’s Action RPG genre. The two are not interchangeable, but very close to each other to the extent people making assumptions that Zelda is an action adventure.

Action adventure as a term has been adapted to describe very different kind of games because people like to call their games as adventures. More often than not, the adventure part in this comes from the story they’ve written for the game, which of course is more or less incorrect and doubly so when it comes to console games. The PC adventure games have always been a genre that can easily be contrasted again console action adventures, where fighting is usually minimalistic or does not exist, but the emphasize is on scrounging the rooms and screens, solving puzzles and similar things that the genre is known for. If you’d add the action element there, you’d have a new kind of game, a game like The Legacy of the Wizard or Space Hunter.

The term Metroidvania has been coined by fans to describe two dimensional action adventure games, a term that needs to die out. It’s a term that describes nothing about the genre. In addition, this is largely used by the Western core gamers, who mostly have lost touch with the general public. Doomclone originally was used to describe games similar to Doom, but it soon became apparent that such naming is stupid and the term First Person Shooter, FPS for short, took its place. FPS is such a simple and effective name for a genre. It describes the very core of the gameplay idea, much like how survival horror does. What does a Metroidvania describe? Nothing. It’s a nonsense term from nonsense people.

Metroid was, and still is, one of the most influential action adventure games out there, but it wasn’t the only one developed at the time. While Space Hunter was released a year later, it was in development at the same time with Metroid, a reason why Metroid’s original title couldn’t be used. The original Mugen Senshi Valis was released in the same year as Metroid and while it was more linear than Metroid, it has an unmistakable adventure take on the stage build. Non-linearity is what separates action from action adventure at its core, and during the 80’s European platformers were known for their more non-linear approach than their Japanese and Western counterparts. While Metroid’s position as a game that made the genre a household name with the general public, the genre wasn’t born with it. When asked to describe what sort of game Metroid is, most people will drop the terms action and adventure in some form. Non-linear is another one, and while I personally would call them non-linear action adventure games, that is a bit mouthful to say, not to mention the amount of space it takes.

It’s rather amusing to note that Castlevania; Symphony of the Night was released in the US in 1997. The term Metroidvania was born only after this, and the first mentions of this term that I personally recall date to somewhere early 2000’s. For more than a decade the term action adventure had been used to describe a genre of certain kind of games this then new non-linear Castlevania games and Metroid belonged to. This is, in a way, a showcase of core gamers ignoring the history and rewriting it however they want. Remember how the PlayStation, Saturn and N64 era was called the Third Generation at one point? Both hardcore gamers and the gaming press acted like there existed no game industry before the NES. This is also reflected in people calling the late 90’s as the Golden Age of gaming, despite the term is already used for the era encompassing the from the late 1970’s after the first video game crash up until the second in 1983, when titles like Space Invaders and Pac-Man made immense impact not only on the gaming industry, but also on the culture at large. Atari became the biggest name in the home video game system market as well.

It may make me sound like an old grumpy guy when I’m saying that gamers need to stop for a moment and look at the past. Rewriting history with one’s own notions does not serve anybody. Just like in the sciences, historical accuracy is about speaking the true, not what we want to regard or find as true.

There has been little discussion how accurately video game genres should be noted. If we were to describe all genres as they are listed, then we’d have Shenmue games in the F.R.E.E. category and Mega Man Legends games belong in Free-Running RPG. These are of course nonsensical and should be largely ignored, much like the term Metroidvania should be. Genres in general encompass large scope of different kind of products, much like Horror movies have both comedies and exploitations under its banner, so does action adventure. Being unnecessarily nitpicky about how strictly we divide the genres will only lead to further division down the road, which will at some point end up in a game title becoming a genre. This has almost happened with Metroidvania, but it indeed already happened with Doomclone, from which we luckily got rid of.

Ultimately, genre is a descriptive way of categorising something, and as such we need to use descriptive names to tell customers what it is. To ignore this is nothing but stupidity.

A shorthand guide to the Dragon Slayer series

With the release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC, I’ve seen a lot of people ask what is this whole The Legend of Heroes series. Of course, this also leads into the question what is the Dragon Slayer series. I recommend reading this post for an overview of Dragon Slayer games.

[Edit 07.04.2020]

Click for the full size version

This is the 16th 17th (?) revision of the chart. I recommend checking the Sorcerian Data Room out, it’s bloody awesome and made Sorcerian dates less a chore, unlike with others. There are few conscious omissions, like Legends of Xanadu‘s Korean DOS port, and Chinese and Korean PC ports of some of the Kiseki/Trails games. This chart concentrates on Japanese and Western releases. Future charts may include a requested info if there exists fan translations on the games, but that requires some research on my part as well. It has been about a year since I last updated this chart, and with the release of the third Sen no Kiseki game, it was time to fix few typos and reformat the chart slightly. Next update will probably be about changing the overall look of the chart rather than adding new information.


Short overview of the Dragon Slayer series

Dragon Slayer is an interesting series of games. It consists of series of games within their own series of games. There’s pretty much only one common thing between the games, and it’s that They share bulk of the same staff members. There’s not continuing story (thank God) and the genres actually vary quite a lot between the games themselves.

This is part of PC gaming in Japan in the mid-80’s

The first game in the series was the game that named the whole ordeal; Dragon Slayer. A 1984 PC-88 game, Dragon Slayer can be best described as dungeon crawler with a rogue heart. The game is time consuming, as the player is gimped from the very beginning and has very little chances of survival at first. The game’s not very interesting, but what it spawned is.

The first Xanadu actually has some sort of strange thing for manly bare chests

Dragon Slayer II; Xanadu is a sequel and a progenitor at the same time. It could be argued that everything Dragon Slayer was Xanadu isn’t. While the mechanics are clunky today’s standards, it was one of the best selling PC game at the time. I’m not to argue against that, because the gameplay is pretty fun, even if archaic as hell.

Xanadu had a spin-off that should be rather known in the West, known as Faxanadu. If you ever wondered where the name came from, it’s a combination of Famicom and Xanadu. It’s ties to the Xanadu series is in the name and spirit, and the strongest weapon in the game is the eponymous Dragon Slayer.

As a separate series, Xanadu is an interesting entity. Faxandu and Xanadu Next do no carry the Dragon Slayer name, but PC-Engine’s The Legend of Xanadu I & II do. They are officially regarded as the eight game of the Dragon Slayer series, and the final ones to carry the name thus far. The Legend of Xanadu also again revamps the gameplay mechanics completely and follows more Ys’ mechanics than any of its predecessors. However, there’s more things to see and do in the Legend of Xanadu than in Ys games, and the scale of everything is much larger.

Listen to that music

Currently the final instalment of the Xanadu series is Xanadu Next, a PC game released in 2005. Much like the Legend of Xanadu, this game has very little to none to do with its predecessors. It’s a dungeon crawling Falcom hack-n-slash with some indirect adventuring of Metroid and mold of games like Diablo. There’ very little story as such, but history of the lost kingdom of Xanadu is revealed from stone tablets you find. Gameplay is the most important part, and it delivers. The story is there to give a frame to it all, nothing more. The key item in the story, and in the game itself, is the legendary Dragon Slayer sword.

Now, let’s return from 2005 back to 1987, where Dragon Slayer III was released; Romancia.

Also known as Dragon Slayer Jr., Romancia shares a lot with Xanadu’s gameplay mechanics. It’s a much simpler game, thou it’s practically broken in its core mechanics, where controls and damage distribution are completely off. Levels are large, but empty and with no content, and most of the game is based on fetch questing. Romancia isn’t what I’d call a good game.

Dragon Slayer IV; Drassle Family, or as known in the West, Legacy of the Wizard, is one of the most known Dragon Slayer game here in the west thanks to its NES release. Dragon Slayer IV is a huge game that will take a lot of time to go through completely, and some regard it almost impossible to beat without a guide.

There’s no story provided in-game, you’ll have to read it from the manual, as everything was made so that the powers of the NES could’ve be harnessed for the dungeon. Yes, the game is one huge dungeon that will kick your unprepared ass. It’s one of those games that are vast and extremely rewarding, even if frustrating as hell at times. You can spend hours just wandering around the rooms in the dungeon and end up finding nothing of value, but perhaps something that helps you advance forwards with another character. From the all games that have been released in the Dragon Slayer series in the 80’s, Drassle Family/ Legacy of the Wizard is clearly in the top three.

Dragon Slayer’s fifth instalment is Sorcerian, a game series which has an awesome Mega Drive box.

Sorcerian is what happens when you take Romancia’s mechanics and actually make it into a good game. Sorcerian gives you an impression of being brethren to Ultima and Dragon Quest, but is actually side-scrolling action RPG that has lots of things from both sides of the pond. Yuzo Koshiro also composed the music, so you bet it’s good. What ultimately separates Sorcerian from Romancia, outside being actually good, is that you have free reign of creating your characters. Sorcerian is quite honestly rather intimidating to get into, and the scale of manageable things are rather high, and the amount of menu text makes the Japanese versions almost impossible for those with no knowledge on moonrunes. However, when you get into the gameplay proper, you soon realize that Falcom’s love for action has taken better of them. The controls are simple and consist of three buttons; Melee, Magic and Change party leader.

Sorcerian Forever was released on 1997 for the PC, and is a second game in Sorcerian series, but not really connected to the Dragon Slayer series, much like Xanadu’s sequels. Falcom took everything that was in original game and made it smoother, better and shorter. Sorcerian Forever is a great RPG, but it’s way too short with only five scenarios, and Forever never got expansions like its predecessor did. However, Sorcerian Original hit PC in 1999. As the name implies, it’s a complete remake of Sorcerian with everything upgraded to an extent, and has all original fifteen scenarios playable, plus the five found in Sorcerian Forever.

Dreamcast got a Sorcerian game subtitled Disciples of Seven Star Sorcery, but the less said about this game the better.

Let’s track back a little bit in time again, and enter the most well known Dragon Slayer series, and the second pillar in Falcom’s arsenal next Ys; The Legend of Heroes series. Much like Sorcerian and Xanadu, Legend of Heroes series started it’s own series which has nothing to do with Dragon Slayer, but also started yet another series which has nothing to do with Legend of Heroes series. Falcom seems to enjoy doing this at times.

In short, Legend of Heroes itself can be split into three series; the original two Legend of Heroes, The Garghav Trilogy, and the Sora no Kiseki trilogy, more well known as the Trails in the Sky. The Kiseki series as well spawned it’s own series of games; Zero no Kiseki, Ao no Kiseki, and Nayuta no Kiseki, which dropped the Legend of Heroes name.

Let’s go over this again in a simple way;

  • The Legend of Heroes I & II carry the Dragon Slayer name
  •   The Legend of Heroes’ Garghav Trilogy is not part of the Dragon Slayer series
  •   Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky /Sora no Kiseki starts the Kiseki series, and is part of the Legend of Heroes series
  •   Nayuta no Kiseki is not part of the Legend of Heroes or Dragon Slayer, but bears the Kiseki name and belongs to the Kiseki series in spirit
  • Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki return with the Legend of Hero naming with a VII in the name
  • Sen no Kiseki I and II carry the Legend of Heroes banner, but have dropped the numbering.

Of course, as new games are released, this will change with time.

So, what kind of games are the Legend of Heroes games? The first one is a blatant Dragon Quest clone down to the grindy and archaic gameplay. It was a competent RPG when it came out, even if its only real contribution to the game industry was the Legend of Heroes series. The second game makes all things better, but isn’t really noteworthy. Both of them are actually pretty good games, especially if you compare them to Romancia. Then again, almost any other game developed is better than Romancia. Other than the Dragon Slayer name, these two have nothing to do with other Dragon Slayer games.

The Garghav trilogy consists of three games; The Legend of Heroes III The Moonlight Witch (Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch), LoH IV Vermillion Tear and LoH V Song of the Ocean. Falcom decided to drop the Dragon Slayer name completely, and the Legend of Heroes became its own entity. The Garghav Trilogy was brought to the west on PSP, but the translation was botched. It’s almost a machine translation, and a lot of little things are lost as are accents and some of the meanings. However, the gameplay is still good as ever. When Falcom decides to do something that’s their own rather just copying existing mechanics, they always end up with a good product. Look at Ys for another reference.

While I keep ranting that story needs to be kept down in games, Legend of Heroes is well known for its vast and complex storylines. Garghav is the one that actually began this trend, and all games tie to each other. The PSP ports aren’t bad, but you do feel their archaic design from the start, and the translation will cause you wonder what the hell is going on. It just doesn’t do justice.

The Legend of Heroes VI; Sora no Kiseki FC, or The Legend of Heroes; Trails in the Sky, is the sixth and arguably the best game in the Legend of Heroes series alongside its sequel. It’s story is grand and vast, but at the same time very small and kept within certain borders. There’s no real way talking about FC and SC separately, as they both carry the VI in their name, and are in reality just one big game that had to be split in two due to the sheer size of it all.

The gameplay has given an overhaul for the sixth games, and has elements of TBS games mixed with traditional Dragon Quest mechanics. There’s similar spirit in there as Skies of Arcadia, which we all can agree is a good thing.

Trails in Sky is ongoing series in the West on the PSP. The first game was released last year, and the second game is going to get released this year. The translation is superb and shows how much love both original developers and XSEED’s staff has put in there. Funny how Garghav Trilogy is actually fetching higher price from stores rather than Trails in the Sky, even if Garghav is all around worse product.

Trails in the Sky was well received by critics and players alike, as long as they tried the game. I’m recommending everyone to check it out, as it is one of the reasons anyone would want to own PSP nowadays.

Legend of Heroes; Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki dropped the numeric from their names, and thus are more in spirit of spin-offs of the Legend of Heroes games, and are more in-series with any game that carries the Kiseki name. Both of them have similar elements, and most likely take place within the same world, but in different continent or nation. They’re worth checking out just as Trails in the Sky is, but the language barrier is quite high as per standard Japanese RPG.

Nayuta no Kiseki is not even part of Legend of Heroes series, let alone Dragon Slayer. It carries the Kiseki name as according to the director there’s the same spirit the other Kiseki games have had. We’ll see how it turns out when it’s released.

Now that we’ve glanced at the Legend of Heroes games, let’s return to Dragon Slayer’s seventh game; Lord Monarch.

Lord Monarch has to do the least in the series with any of its brethren, as it’s a real time strategy game with RPG elements. It’s an interesting one, as it has diplomacy option which changes the gameplay a little bit, but ultimately it fails as it is usable only during the first five minutes, and all it really does is delaying the war’s outbreak. It’s an interesting game and there’s very little games like it, but overall Lord Monarch should be left alone as it is.

Now we come to a conclusion with our small overview with the Dragon Slayer series and its eight games and spin-offs. Dragon Slayer was there before Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, and you can see their influence in both of them, thou you can see Wizardy’s and Ultima’s influence in Dragon Slayer series overall. As of now it seems that Dragon Slayer as a series and as a franchise is dead, but it’s spirit was being carried by the Legend of Heroes series, which seems to have finished it’s tale with the Kiseki series, which hopefully will carry it’s predecessors spirit onwards. Damn Falcom, get your series straight and give us a new Dragon Slayer.

I agree that my description on the games are lacking in detail and I’m overusing videolinks. However, this was meant to be an overview of the whole series. If you’re interested hearing more about a single game, throw me a comment and I’ll see whether or not it is doable.