Reviews | Arcade

Rastan Saga II

By Alex Kierkegaard / April 07, 2006

After the huge commercial success of Rastan Saga (1987), Taito rushed to develop a sequel before its competitors started churning out the inevitable clones. Unfortunately, Rastan Saga II failed miserably on every conceivable level. The game is simply an unplayable mess. But where to begin? Ah yes, the story.

The "Rastania" was a sacred place, in which the temple, "Skyscraper", soared into the sky. It was said that whoever conquer the "Skyscraper" would rule the "Rastania".

Now it's not like the original had a well-developed plot either, but at least the few lines that served as that game's story were not written by a 10-year old who'd just started learning English. But never mind the grammar. A sacred place called Rastania? A temple named Skyscraper? Whatever happened to Rastan, the barbarian who-would-be-king? After pressing start we see the image of a nameless warrior, and are simply told that "a courageous young man has risen in revolt against the wicked group". What wicked group?

The brash and athletic Rastan, the "thief and murderer" of the original game, is here replaced with someone who moves and fights with all the grace of a quadriplegic. He shuffles forward at an excruciatingly slow pace and swings his sword (or whatever weapon he happens to be carrying) in a comically incompetent manner. The quality of the animation in this game -- not just your character's, but that of the enemies also -- is just laughable.

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Making things worse is the size of the sprites -- they are easily twice as large as those in the previous game. Ever-larger sprites were fashionable in the late 80s, because they made the hardware they were running on seem powerful. And they are certainly useful in some kinds of games (vs. fighters, for example), but in this case the huge characters have a detrimental effect on the game's scope and play mechanics. The action just doesn't seem epic enough. Worse, it often looks silly. What's the point of using a swinging rope if you are only going to be suspended two-three feet above ground? During the first stage of Rastan Saga you had the option of jumping across a whole canyon. Right after Rastan Saga II begins you grab a rope in order to swing two feet above the heads of a few midget monsters -- presumably because your character is afraid to fight them.

As well he should be. Your character's lack of agility is a big disadvantage when going up against enemies -- especially the faster, more powerful ones of the latter stages. On top of that, gone is the smooth control of the original. There is now noticeable lag when you try to initiate a jump, which makes the game's many platforming challenges frustratingly difficult (and the original's famous downward attack practically useless). Throughout Rastan Saga II you end up fighting the controls just as much as the enemies.

Because some of your foes, like the aforementioned midgets, are really short, and because many others are protected by armor or shields, you often end up having to crouch in order to hit them. Only your warrior can't even manage a decent crouch. Instead, he goes down on one knee and tries to stab at his enemies' toes. Ridiculously, this ends up being the most effective attack throughout the whole game.

But the stiff controls and your character's awkwardness are not the only reasons fighting in this game is dull. Your foes no longer actively seek you out as before. Instead of trying to hack you to pieces they simply meander back and forth across the screen, occasionaly taking a stab at you if you happen to pass near them. The rest of the time they just wait for you to kill them or, if you are smart, to simply pass them by.

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There is a slightly larger selection of weapons than before, and a couple of them (the two-handed sword, for example) even feel good to use. However, even if you manage to get a weapon you like, you only end up keeping it for a very short time. And that's because many fallen enemies drop weapons which you can't help but pick up -- even if you don't want them. If you are very careful you might be able to jump over and avoid some of them, but most of the time you end up walking right into a useless weapon, and cursing under your breath until the end of the stage. The only solution to this problem is to wait for dropped weapons to disappear (it only takes two or three seconds) before moving on. The waiting, of course, doesn't exactly make the experience of playing the game any more thrilling.

The enemies also leave behind items, as in the first game, and this time they have at least appreciable benefits. For example, one item gives you four orbs which surround you and act as shields, and there is even one that temporarily speeds up your movement to an acceptable pace. However, regardless of how cool some of the items are, they all go to waste because combat is so boring to begin with.

The bosses seem to only have one attack pattern, which is not even worth the time figuring out. The first boss is a bad joke and I suspect many people will quit playing at that point. I certainly would have, had I not been reviewing the game. Even when you do meet an impressive-looking boss (like the giant centaur of the third stage), all they ever do is walk slowly across the screen and slash at the air in front of them.

Rastan Saga II has some nice, colorful backgrounds, and then again it has some really flat, unimaginative ones. Many of the enemy designs are inspired and highly detailed -- especially later in the game -- but the amateurish animation ruins their effect. The music is at least consistent, being nerve-grating throughout. The composer tries to imbue his tunes with a vaguely epic feel but fails miserably, somehow managing to include jazz drums and piano sounds in the horribly mangled mess that is the game's soundtrack. What a disappointing sequel this is.

So what went wrong? I did a bit of research online and found that the sequel was made by a completely different team than the original. Further research showed that the members of this new team never worked on anything important again. I wonder why.