Hack ‘n Slashing from Arcade’s past – Dark Seal II

The Japanese flyer was a lot more colorful than the first, featuring an anime-styled illustration featuring all of the main characters and the villain hovering in the backdrop. Unfortunately, the Arcade Flyer Archive (credited with archiving the flyer above) didn’t have a Western version (which was renamed “Wizard Fire”) available.

Like most other Japanese-styled arcade flyers, Dark Seal II’s reverse side is chock full of informative bits from how to play the game, who the characters are, to what the magic and item drops do…such as the crown in the treasure section providing “booty points”. Wait, what?

As lackluster as Dark Seal (or Gate of Doom as it was known to Western audiences) was, Data East went ahead with a sequel, releasing it in 1992 with a host of upgrades.

Dark Seal II (or Wizard Fire outside of Japan) was touted as an “action R.P.G.” like its predecessor was, though it handled more like a heavily weighted hack ‘n slash with light RPG elements added in. It was, like Dark Seal, an unusual title to see in the arcade from Data East whose pedigree often consisted of iconic fare ranging from beat ’em ups like Bad Dudes in 1988 or BurgerTime as far back as 1982. But given their eclectic tastes, dipping their toes into action fantasy was probably going to happen sooner or later.

The sequel isn’t a direct one, settling instead on a new tale told with the tried-and-true trope involving an evil wizard and his horde of minions who are threatening the land. From their flying castle, they’re seeking “100” sacrifices in order to unleash ultimate wickedness and it’s up to our five heroes to save the day.

The attract-mode told its own mini-story to get players into the mood to adventure within its own world.

The attract-mode told its own mini-story to get players into the mood to adventure within its own world.

One of the first things players may notice is that Dark Seal II looks a lot better than its first incarnation. The intro sports some nice visuals as part of the backdrop behind the text prophesying the return of heroes of “Wizard Fire” whose power is greater than any army and in whose hands lie the only chance for saving the world. There’s also a lot of voice work with extensive samples used in the cut scenes framing the story in between areas, especially during the ending, complete with voice credits.

Instead of four heroes as there were in the first game, there are now five to pick from. The Ninja was dumped and replaced with the Elf and the Dwarf with the Knight, Bard, and the Wizard back for another adventure, each again with their own particular attack styles.

Three of the original party are back for more...

Three of the original party are back for more…

...except for the ninja. He was replaced by the Elf and the Dwarf.

…except for the ninja. He was replaced by the Elf and the Dwarf.

The Knight still has his mace which can spin around him if you hold down the attack button and is a pretty decent battler. The Wizard can still shoot blasts of fire along the ground and can unleash a wider blast if you wait a bit before firing off your next shot. The Bard still has his quick, spear-like spetum with decent range and the Elf shoots arced magic blasts from her blade or in a wider spread if you mash the attack button. And last but not least, the Dwarf throws large axes at enemies that rebound back to him — and through said enemies — like boomerangs.

The adventure spans six stages which aren’t really all that big, but being two years after the first game, edge up quality-wise with more details and effects. The bosses, in particular, have more interesting attacks and come in a few more interesting flavors such as an evil tree, a duo of golems, and even a doppleganger that duplicates the player.

The characters and bosses had a lot more detail worked into their pixels than the first game. This dragon also died a pretty gory death with its flesh melting off leaving a skeleton behind.

The characters and bosses had a lot more detail worked into their pixels than the first game. This dragon also died a pretty gory death with its flesh melting off leaving a skeleton behind.

The stages, as short as they are, also try a few novel things like the last game did that aren’t typically found in arcade titles with hidden rooms behind breakable walls, different paths in dungeons to explore, deadly traps, and a pain-in-the-ass moving platform sequence that should never have been in there. Treasure is mostly for points, but pieces of equipment also drop with a variety of boosts — gauntlets raise attack power, boots move you faster, and magic books power up your…well…magic among other things.

Characters also share magic the same way they did in the previous game, each having access to the same spells. From the first game, the magic gauge is now moved from the left side of the screen to the bottom now where it fills up with damage done and monsters killed. A special bell drop can fill it up to where you can activate it, but it doesn’t have to be completely filled. A magic book slowly flips spells that can be activated so it’s a matter of waiting for one that you want once you have enough power.

The game still used that tilted, isometric-like look, now with better pixel effects.

The game still used that tilted, isometric-like look, now with better pixel effects. Here, our dwarven hero hurls an axe at another walking corpse.

As neat as the effort was in expanding the story, the writing wasn't quite the greatest. The Knight apparently had the IQ of a rock.

As neat as the effort was in expanding the story, the writing wasn’t quite the greatest. The Knight also apparently had the IQ of a rock.

Magic acts as your character’s “super” temporarily doing things for you such as turning you into a floating Medusa head firing petrification beams from its eyes or a storm cloud firing off blasts of lightning. Data East seems to have cut back on the duration, too. It just seems to last a lot shorter than it did in the first game making it more of a valuable tactic to use at just the right moment.

Dark Seal II raises the bar on a number of things that the first game did and presentation-wise, does a solid job with its own story elements with an even bigger ending compared to the first game. It also ends on “to be continued” which, unfortunately, is never resolved. There wasn’t a Dark Seal III.

This wasn’t a terrible hack ‘n slash, especially with its co-op feature inviting a friend into the action. Continues mercifully brought you back right were you died (at the cost of your current score) just as they did in the first game — veterans would feel right at home. At the same time, the plain, straightforward action and basic feel of the gameplay didn’t really make it stand out in the arcade, either, along with some of the cheap moments that the game would sometimes subject players to.

The ending featured a crumbling sky castle and a few last minute voiced bits as our intrepid party go their separate ways.

The ending featured a crumbling sky castle and a few last minute voiced bits as our intrepid party go their separate ways.

The English credits for the voice samples in the game. Awesome!

The English credits for the voice samples in the game. Awesome!

It's the end of the game, and a small note about it being continued pops up later. Sadly, there is no continuation.

It’s the end of the game and a small note about it being continued pops up later. Sadly, there is no continuation.

Like Dark Seal, it never made it out of arcades until nearly twenty years later in 2010, finally landing on the Zeebo microconsole as Wizard Fire. The console, in turn, was available only in specific regions such as Brazil. While not exactly one of Data East’s greatest hits, it was another interesting attempt to bring a little high fantasy into arcades with a few novel touches, turning it into less of a rote action game and more of an invitation to the possibilities offered with a grand adventure. It’s something that other titles from Konami’s Gaiapolis in ’93 to Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom in the same year would take to heart.

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