Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Top 5 Medieval Fantasy Games that aren’t RPGs

Picture Credit: Zoppy
Whether it’s battling dragons, discovering magical amulets, or defending castles from hordes of orcs, just about everyone this side of the Lord of the Rings films has wanted to dive headlong into the medieval fantasy setting at one time or another. Fortunately, games have been all too willing to oblige via deep role playing games that scratch that particular itch. However, sometimes we want to save the kingdom without having to level up for 14 hours to do it. We don’t always want to fight rats in the town sewer before getting to fight Evil King What’s-His-Name or do a fetch quest before we can fight the troll in the Dwarven Halls of Something-or-Another! Sometimes we just want to get to the good stuff quick, so here are 5 of the best fantasy games that ditch the RPG elements and let us do just that.

Blades of Vengeance
Published by EA in 1993, Blades of Vengeance was a fairly straightforward sidescroller with a pretty interesting fantasy hook. The game centered around 3 characters: a sorcerer, a warrior, and a huntress who go through various levels under the guidance of a floaty old man for some reason that the game was never too forthcoming about. However, while the game’s plot was pretty murky, its mechanics were pretty darn fun, if not revolutionary. Each character could collect various items (both offensive and defensive) to use at key moments. The game also featured very light upgrade mechanics with hidden weapon improvements as well as a very expensive set of armor that was unique to each character. The game may not have the biggest following, but it’s worth a try to anyone who grew up watching things like The Black Cauldron and who doesn't want to slog through the Forest of Non-Issue to get to the coolest aspects of the fantasy genre.

The sorcerer was the best.

Floaty head in action.

Golden Axe
Golden Axe is one of the most famous Genesis games of all time. An arcade beat-em-up that gave the player the option to wield magical spells, summon dragons, or ride mythical beasts in order to get the edge in battle. Not only was the combat in Golden Axe infused with tons of fantasy elements, its environments and story presentation also evoked some of the coolest aspects of the fantasy genre. Riding atop a giant eagle to reach the location of the final battle, battling 2 giants that burst through the doors of a tavern, or rescuing a village that was built on the shell of a giant turtle were some of the most immediately atmospheric elements in any fantasy game. The game made you feel like you were in a legitimate fantasy world regardless of whether the developers had created a cohesive world or not.

Summoning dragons was as easy as hitting the A button.

The map between stages made the world feel connected.

Gauntlet Legends

Released for the Dreamcast, N64, and the original Playstation, Gauntlet Legends was an intense fantasy game which expanded pretty extensively on the roots of the Gauntlet series. The first game in the  franchise to be released in 5 years, Legends brought the series into 3D adding an interesting albeit poorly acted story but retaining the elements that made the series what it is. Gauntlet Legends allowed the player to experience fighting hordes of orcs, evil sorcerers, golems, and tons more as warriors, archers, or wizards without having to make dialogue options or helping some villager find their lost cat; it was pure medieval fantasy fun without all of the work that would go with it in a typical RPG.

Sometimes things didn't go so well for your party.

Fighting goblins and various other monsters was a staple in Gauntlet.

Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom
You’d think that a video game based around the universe of one of the most hardcore tabletop RPGs in the world would be just as intensive as its legacy would suggest; however, when Capcom obtained the rights to release an arcade game based on D&D, they decided to put a new spin on the property. At first glance, Tower of Doom is seemingly another standard arcade brawler, but Capcom decided to stay true to the grandfather of all modern fantasy by adding items that granted certain abilities as well as weapon upgrades as well as a more involved story that typically wouldn’t be seen in the arcades. D&D not only managed to be one of the best arcade beat-em-ups but also one of the best fantasy games to stay true to its roots while ditching its genre’s standard RPG trappings, allowing for a more immediately fun fantasy experience.  

D&D kept a lot of elements from the tabletop game.

The combat was fun and fast while keeping elements of the board game.

Zelda is without a doubt any gamer’s one stop shop for all things fantasy without the baggage of a typical RPG. It may be more involved than some of the other entries here, but the challenges of the game revolve more around solving puzzles and fighting enemies rather than leveling up or finding a sword that will give your strength stat a boost. Once you figure out what you have to do, you’re on your way to the next dungeon, town, or battle. Zelda gave players a way to use all of the staples of the fantasy genre in a way that was accessible rather than through experience points and constant level grinding. Zelda was one of the earliest games to put a sword into gamers’ hands, and it’s been around ever since for good reason: it’s always fun, and presents gamers with the best that the fantasy genre has to offer while not bogging down players in dialogue trees, xp, or meaningless side quests.

Whether it's the 2D style of older Zelda games...

...or the more realistic versions of the game, they're all great experiences.

All of this isn’t to say that RPGs are bad. In fact, RPGs are some of the most fun games out there. Medieval fantasy works so well within that genre that it’s difficult to think of a better way to present it, but sometimes you want to skip to the exciting parts without having to build up to them.

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