This is an MSX version review. I might try to track down the Windows version and play that instead...
Fun fact: the Genesis remake of this gave enemies 3x+ EXP over this one.
Funner fact: The windows remake gave enemies 16x EXP. With the same EXP tables (I think!)
I'm honestly baffled at how, 3 years after Hydlide 1, the developers were still incapable of making something resembling playable! 1 and 2 were janky, but doable with guides (though 2 requires cheating with money-making to be playable), and the 'bump' combat was charmingly minimal. You could have massive setbacks - or resets - in both, but the thing was that you would still learn some arcane knowledge to let you get around it. A better path of buying items. Grinding spots. How to get behind enemies. Etc.
My biggest surprise is Hydlide 3 became significantly less playable over 1 and 2 - you can't save anywhere, but enemies still tear you to shreds quickly (and from the start have ranged attacks, which 1 and 2 only saved for endgame dungeons).
The EXP curve in this game hates you: by the time any given enemy is safe to attack, you need to kill 100+ of it to level. And you'll have to constantly manage your weight and hunger (as you can become overencumbered via gold monsters drop). Unlike Hydlide 1 and 2 you have to be careful with every enemy as their ranged attacks are easy to hit you. If you want to play it safe, a level might take 400-800+ monsters... Japanese FAQs recommend 6-8 hours of gameplay to clear the first dungeon alone...
1 and 2 feature grinding, but with modern emulation speedups they're quite breezy, and at least you can stand to regenerate your health.
Hydlide 3 takes the simple gameplay of 1 and 2 and adds in systems that do nothing but add extra time running back and forth to town to heal and grind for gold. Each level gives you more carrying capacity, but it more or less just means you can maybe upgrade a weapon to slightly speed up a grind. Paying money to an inn to save, saving up EXP to level at a church, and preparing to go out by buying food - these factors wouldn't be too bad, maybe even charming or interesting - with a higher EXP rate, but... that's not present in the MSX version. The low EXP rate of Hydlide 3 means that any annoying idea will be repeated multiple times as you must go back and forth to replenish supplies.
The game also adds a 'attack' button, so now you have to mash A to attack. I imagine they were copying Zelda 1 at this point, but the attack button is just that - copied. Enemy difficulty goes up, but with none of the balance a more 'action' game requires - consideration to healing, the player's movement, etc.
If there is one thing, the art in this game is quite beautiful, with its small 8x8 tiles. The music finally seems to have been written by a musician, too. And there are some talking NPCs but the game still maintains some of that minimal "Hydlide"-y-ness, where we only get this very small glimpse of a large fantasy world - giant towers reaching into the sky, strange towns hidden underground.
It's a shame it's all hidden behind impassably sloggy EXP curves and a few weird systems! I'll go try the other versions next...

Well, I finished it... this feels even more ridiculous than Hydlide 1 did to me. Thanks to the GameFAQs guide!
First off, it's much much longer - maybe 3-4x as long as Hydlide 1? The game achieves this by dividing the game roughly into 3 acts - training in the overworld, exploring the dungeons, then diving into the final dungeon. It's an interesting structure - you basically will die in even the easiest dungeons without some MP and a few levels and equipment, which feels different than the usual RPG flow today, weaving between dungeon and overworld.
Enemies barely drop money at first, so the most feasible way to get this game to a playable state without hours of time grinding is to just use an infinite sell glitch. (Get a black crystal, then sell your whole inventory - you'll be able to sell the last item you sold over and over). Although, on reflection, it is possible to grind 'legit', but it will just take a while and it's easy to do it in a lot of wrong ways that will add hours of time.
The dungeon solutions were a lot more obscure than Hydlide 2. All switches and staircases are hidden, as well as various traps. You do get a heal spell, though, which makes going a bit easier, but you'll still be saving every screen because a bad enemy spawn could mean your death as most of the dungeons are narrow and twisty.
The overworld 'solutions' are just as bizarre: break a tombstone to allow a village to spawn, break a random rock to open a dungeon, attack a tree to find a key.
However, by the time the final dungeon rolled around it felt a bit like Hydlide 1 in the sense that I was able to actually grind in a reasonable manner, albeit slowly. Still, certain enemy behaviors and patterns (final dungeon enemies might shoot you through walls, track you very fast, block your way, put you to sleep, etc) actually felt like they were evolving with each level. I was pretty impressed in this respect. If this wasn't purely a tile-based game and had better motion actually it could be fun, maybe.
As for the dungeons.. well, most of them have the same blue brick tileset and music. The puzzles are almost all impossible to figure out without a guide, but following a guide was strangely satisfying. The movement is just unreliable enough that even following a walkthrough wasn't totally easy. Sometimes you're too low level and have to carefully maneuver around the enemies. There's all sorts of strange D&D traps that JRPGs would continue to use - poison trap rooms, trap doors, trap warps, trapped chests, hidden walls... Weird, unexpected design to the dungeons - such as one where a random spawning enemy drops the key - while impossible to clear on one's own, are memorable. Or, the mirrored dungeon where two devil twins spawn fast-moving fire elementals. Having an "action rpg" in this simple 2D perspective means that setpieces get expressed in this remarkably minimal but evocative way. (Even if it's hard to control...)
Lastly I did love (the idea) of the final dungeon. After speaking a password to a tree (lol) you can step into a puddle to be swept to a massive, underground ocean of sorts, with Kraken and Harpy-like monsters flying around. From there you dive into a massive labyrinth, its shape kind of reminiscent of a ruined castle or ruined town. There seem to be "alternate universe" versions of each floor, and you need to navigate through these to find crystals that will summon the help of a fairy, who can open a staircase to the deepest layer. It's a bit of an eerie feel, as monsters get stronger on each layer, and the rooms can feel weirdly sparse. The second-deepest layer has dragons arranged weirdly, like a triptych drawing of 'action rpg tropes'. A river of lava, some sandy ritual site, next to twisty mazes.
You progress through the game so slowly (and with such tedium) that it becomes memorable.
There's more of a texture to Hydlide 2's world in terms of characters. You can talk to some 'enemies' - the humanoid ones - although they'll just say some stock phrase, and you'll probably accidentally attack them while trying to get close. There's a mostly pointless morality meter, which stops you from talking to shopkeepers if it's below 30%. Nothing much is done with this, but it is funny as some nonintuitive enemies lower it (Sand Worms, Thieves). It lowers a lot faster than it goes up, and it was a real pain point for me in my first hours of the game where I thought I had to grind on zombies in the overworld until I could raise my strength and buy armor. (And I did do this, sadly...)
All over the overworld, humanoid characters run around randomly. You can kill all of them, but you shouldn't, because of the morality system... It's strange how lively and chaotic Hydlide 2's world feels compared to the first. Sure, there's no story within the game, but the game is so short that I'm happy to just imagine one and it honestly doesn't need one, too.
Lastly, equipment and magic. I didn't really use the spells, mostly because my emulator made it hard to press the function keys. And spells usually did like zero damage or it was hard to safely cast or aim them given how fast enemies move.
Equipment is bizarre - maxing your attack doesn't let you one-shot enemies. They'll still take a few hits at 0 HP before dying. Although you can get max gear by level 6-8 with the money glitch. Your inventory has a max capacity of 10 items, too, which is strange.. this game is strange..
I was kind of stuck between rating a 3 or 4. But I'm going to say 4 just because I found the game inspiring even if it's sort of bad (worse than the first, too). This game has just as much absurd stuff as Hydlide 1, but maybe its length and tedium and grinding make it more memorable? Hard to say. I guess it's got me interested in Hydlide 3, and Rune Worth (the unofficial continuation), so we'll see. The way the Hydlide series embodies so much of the 'spirit' of D&D Fantasy Action RPGs is really interesting to me, even if they're unplayable without guides and kind of awful to control lol...
For me the game froze right before I triggered the final cutscene (lol). Which feels fitting to end this game.

What? A 4 to Hydlide? Surely a mistake...
YES, it's impossible without a guide, YES it's janky as hell (god help you if you aren't using save states), but for 1984 it's an interesting game, and arguably there's a lot still interesting about it today that sticks with me.
There's so many weird little decisions that this game has. When it comes to action RPGs, I always think that if I have trouble or an interesting time killing the first slime... then it could be a good game. and that's the case here with hydlide, where I walked into a Slime while in "DEFEND" mode and promptly died. It felt like a weird puzzle trying to figure out how to get my first few levels.
Standing on forest tiles prevents you from regenerating health, and damages you. There's something moving in this simplicity of logic. Forests ARE dangerous, filled with unknown things, so of course you would get hurt while standing in one...right?
Attacking enemies based on where they're moving will hurt you more, back attacks are safer. But there's this absolute chaos to the chunky movement that makes it hard to consistently do.
As a result even the simple dungeons where you need to go two screens, pick up a chest, and leave... are remarkably tense. Sure it feels like a dice roll whether you'll just die, but there is an interesting layer of strategy that will increase your odds. So much personality and memorability in tiny, simple mazes. Each time you try to find the next place to grind it feels like a little microcosm of a 'new area' in a modern game - the zombie graveyard, the desert worms, etc... it feels like a big adventure shrunk down to this tiny size.
I'm a fan of the quiet narrative 'beats' - slimes being silently replaced by "HYPERS" on the overworld, upon reaching level 5 or 6.
I like some of the bizarre humor - the unexplained screens full of moving rocks and trees that will kill you even at max level. The screen of wasp-infested trees you need to investigate one by one to find a key item. Having to stand outside a cave of worms and slowly swat at them to grind out levels. Is it good? Not really, but the way Hydlide has these boiled-down, janky scenarios that we are familiar with today in action RPGs is sort of heartwarming. For example, the "standing outside a cave of worms" is very similar to cheese strategies for grinding hard enemies... The Elden Ring Moving Ball is similar to the Killer Rock in Hydlide.
The way this game gates stuff with obscure knowledge reminds me of Tower of Druaga, or arcade games in general. It's funny to know that you need to keep killing golden knights to get a key, but if you kill one more, the key vanishes. It's funny to learn that you have to drain the water around a moat to make a dragon vulnerable.
Ultimately, through the lens of 'is this playable and fun right away?' it's not a good game. But all the strange decisions and scenarios feel like they could be spun out and developed into interesting games of their own. So in that sense Hydlide feels like this box of possibilities.

If I were simply comparing this against a 'modern ideal of Exploration-Action RPG design' I'd probably give this a 3, maybe a 2. But since it was put out in the late 90s, is 3D, and surprisingly playable, I'll bump it up to a 4.
Mechanically, this is a hard to control action game with no lock-on mechanic. Your sword hitboxes are small and very directional based on swinging up or down. Moving left or right ALSO turns the camera so positioning yourself properly is tricky, especially during boss fights. There's a complex moves system but you end up sticking to two or three useful moves. Basically the 'move economy' is too close together that it's hard to distinguish the value of one move vs. another - usually I just end up thinking 'a combo would be good' or 'a charge strike could be good for getting one hit in and running off.' The depth of combat doesn't go very far. Usually you just hold block until there's an opening, swing, get away, etc. Some enemies attack through your guard, some move very fast, but for the most part combat tends to feel repetitive, sometimes even annoying - it's hard to precisely line up and easy to get smacked without realizing it.
Bosses, rather than pushing combat into interesting and focused space, end up being battles of attrition, trying to awkwardly line up and smack the enemy before getting hit in the face with a 30% damage attack.
STILL, it's pretty admirable for a time where there were only a few decent attempts at 3D exploration-action combat. By the PS2 era various studios had good attempts by that time - DMC, Kingdom Hearts, Tales of, the Ys 6/Oath/Origin, Xanadu Next - but the PS1 era is pretty slim. You have Granstream Saga (also by Quintet/Shade) (1997), which is more focused in combat scope (I haven't played it), as well as Brave Fencer Musashi, which is simple and 2D zelda-y in combat scope. Alundra 2 has a lot of money put into it but the boss design and combat design are a bit straightforward. Parasite Eve is good, although more of a shooter.
We also have Mega Man Legends, great 3D 3rd-person shooter RPGs, and Threads of Fate.
Of course there's the N64 Zeldas - which feature combat, but honestly more as a 'texture' than as a combat system that was interesting to engage with. Funnily enough the Wikipedia article for Action RPG skips completely from late 90s 2D ARPGs to Demon's Souls...! On the Western side, developers didn't seem to explore the 3D ARPG much? I guess it was just hard to do 3D games then. There's Ultima IX, King's Quest VIII (a personal favorite...although not a very sound game, design-wise, haha).
Anyways, the point is, Brightis did a pretty good and forward-looking job in 1999! I wouldn't be surprised if it was the basis for some of FromSoft's 2000s (also mixed/so-so) ARPGs - Evergrace 1 and 2, those other ones after it.
Alright, back to the game...
The story isn't too substantial, standard genre dark fantasy fare, but it is fun to revisit the village over time and talk to NPCs and see how they're feeling.
What's neat is the overworld and dungeon design. Though both go stale quickly, the game features a fully connected overworld (with loading pauses), which gives it a very 'lived-in' and hiking feel. As far as I could tell there is no fast travel (if I missed the option then... lol), so you have to walk everywhere. Areas feel like snowy mountains, or ravines, or grassy plains. You'll even unlock a few shortcuts around the overworld.
It goes stale, though, as only a few enemy types roam the overworld. They get boring to fight and also barely give EXP or have a reason to be killed. Still, the overworld spaces always have some interesting visual gimmick to them, but you have to really wish that there was a wider screen at the time or better camera controls. This is a case where the super short draw distance is kind of sad, hides a lot of the expansiveness the game designers were going for.
Dungeons are interesting - they, too, are 'continuous' and I think, realistically laid out. But it's hard to keep the whole structure in your head because most dungeons are interior hallways. Still, the dungeons are very ambitious - there's a beautiful temple near a lake with sprawling, Shadow of the Colossus-esque mossy ruins, and a tower climbing into the sky. You'll find huge underground caverns, strange ruins... etc.
It was a lot of fun to see these RPG tropes brought to life in a way that reminded me of the later Souls series.
That being said the design gets a little boring, simply because there isn't much to do except walk around and fight enemies with the sort of flat battle system where enemies all have the same strategy and it doesn't control well enough to want to fight. You quickly see why N64 Zelda opted for items and puzzles to spice up their fairly flat combat system. Dungeons feature a 'brightness' mechanic where if you can run out of light and it becomes hard to navigate levels or have a sense of the space. This happens a lot in later levels.
Dungeons generally have pacing issues - you have to clear them in one go without leaving or you lose your keys. This is tiring and also, because you can't get a sense for the whole dungeon layout, it's hard to tell how far along you are. this is quite the headache when you're far along from a save point, trying to figure out where you are, without dying to something..
Still, I think it's brilliant for the time and quite ambitious. It's a shame that Quintet and Shade folded after this or split up, because they really could have done something amazing in the 2000s! If there's anything I've learned about Exploratory Action RPGs, from the '80s till today, is that it's very hard to make one. Everyone's just building off of ideas from the previous games, while trying to push things slightly forward, or finding ways around the difficulty of the 3D view and camera.
Even 3D exploration-action games in 2023 are still coasting (FromSoft included) off of the innovations of Demon's and Dark Souls 1, going down more technically-demanding paths (Nioh), rolling around in the impotent mud of gacha action design (Genshin Impact), or falling into that +0.5% Defense Diablo Garbage Picking Hole. To me the genre feels a bit stale nowadays. It's time for someone to shake it up again!

Review is about 8 hours after getting the easiest ending. I want to play more though.
The short review of this is if you were a fan of the nonlinear way Fez's world unravels, or the item gimmick of Link Between Worlds, or the idea of "what if 2D Zelda was isometric 3D, you had access to all the items from the start and you can tackle areas of the world nonlinearly" OR if you're a fan of very technical platformers, you should check this out. (Note in the case of the game being a technical platformer, the game does offer access to cheat codes early on which can be toggled on to get through very hard sections).
If that sounds interesting I would go play it and stop reading this review! This will spoil some things.
-The Early Game-
You can explore the world in any order you want, eventually gaining the ability to try out one of 8 items. The twist that you can only hold one. You're then tasked to find Seven Spirits hidden amongst the world. To do so, you need to poke around, figuring out which area you can explore a bit more of if you have the right item. But it's not as lock-and-key as that - with each area you push a bit more into, and with each time you return to the item-swapping area to try out different combinations of items, you start to get a better sense for what items can work well together. You get better at recognizing situations in the world where you can apply certain items and platforming techniques. Some rooms are solvable with different combinations of items, and by the time you have access to 3 or 4 items, it becomes quite fun navigating the various challenges.
As a simple example, the Ring lets you pick up and throw objects. You can use this to climb higher. But you can ALSO throw objects onto other objects. Objects also bounce slightly if you drop them while in the air, and if you can time it you can get a higher jump...
You also have the Wand, which levitates objects. Now if you can combine the Ring and the Wand, then suddenly you have access to a lot more jump height than you expected.
-Height Economy-
The economy of Elephantasy Flipside revolves around (abstractly) exchanging items for jump height.
If you design a platformer with jumping you quickly realize that how you offer a player 'height' is kind of a currency system of its own. If access to height is too easy, then everything becomes trivialized. If you hide access to height through moves or entities in the environment, then you can come up with all sorts of situations for players to get higher (or further).
Why Elephantasy Flipside ends up not being a sort of so-so Zelda-like is because the items interact with this "Height Economy" in surprising ways. Rather than a Hookshot meaning "now you can traverse chasms IF there's a hookshot block on the other side", we get stuff like the Herb Bag, which lets you hold a few herbs of various types - one for high jumps, one makes you invincible, another freezes time, another duplicates everything. You can see how each of those moves actually is a way of accessing the 'height economy'.
A high jump is self-explanatory. Invincibility means that you can step on hazards, and thus jump from new positions. Freezing time allows you to navigate impossible hazards, or do stuff like keep a moving pillar in place, letting you reach a certain height.
The Dash Boots at first seem only useful for running faster and getting across wider pits, but you realize there's a tricky wall-jump tech which means that you now have access to more height when near certain kinds of walls. There's a combo of items involving the dash boots that is too good to spoil, but (maddeningly!) the Dash Boots go even deeper, later on.
Even the Magnifying Glass, which lets you shrink down, at first seems like a Zelda-y gimmick. But once you realize your movement physics are slightly different when small, well...!
The other items are a Book (which lets you read glyphs on stones, except the vowels lol) and a Whistle (calls your fast travel bird, taking you to unlocked checkpoints). The Book is "useless" from a Height Economy standpoint, but it has this interesting feeling to it, where you are trading off possibilities for exploration, with the ability to uncover lore in a far-off area (if you can reach it while losing the inventory slot!).
Likewise, the Whistle lets you skip to an area, but of course you lose access to an item slot. I liked this, because it means that if you get from "Grass Land" to "Mountain" and need Item A + B, the game can impose different requirements from "Mountain" to "Sky", because you can now skip to Mountain without needing A and B. I think this lets the levels of the game always stay at a decent complexity.
Lastly there's the underwater ability, which... lets you go underwater. I haven't made too much progress in the underwater bits, but it feels sort of similar to the Book or Whistle, in a way, where it imposes a new 'rule' on you (you can now access water and swim) while limiting access to items. Some of the item physics/movement is different underwater.
E:F gets pretty hard near the "easy" end (the others involve more completionism which I'm in the middle of doing). I would say I didn't personally mind the difficulty, but sometimes I would have to grind for herbs to do some of the challenges... at the same time having to do such a thing did add a certain memorability to it. I guess I prefer it this way, rather than if the challenges just dumped a bunch of herbs near the start, conveniently? The game offers a cheat code for infinite jumping, which I used once when I got tired of one of the grinds (The Volcano escape... lol.. may it strike terror into your heart.)
Later levels have some pretty technical movement, but it was fun to learn and even got sort of surprisingly easy once I got the hang of it. Likewise, the game is an isometric platformer so perspective messes with where you need to aim a jump. Overall I found it to bean interesting logic challenge, as you can always judge one dimension of a platform's position precisely, and have to 'feel' or remember the other two.
I guess there is a little tedium in retrying some challenges and some of the early-game item swapping, but I think it contributes to the game's memorability and texture. And I still feel like with each failure there's a sense of getting a better understanding of the game's mechanics. If you like the feeling of passively remembering the layout and challenges of a game's world then you'll love what you remember after playing E:F!
I guess if I have some personal gripes... some of the automatic dialogue progresses too slowly. Also maybe the fast travel animation could go a bit faster as you warp between screens...? Color-coding the world-map might have been nice, too.
Well... that's all I can think of for now. I'm going to play more, maybe it'll spark some new thoughts. But I really love how this game got me thinking about the ways of which a simple platformer moveset - single jump - can be extended through the use of smart object and item design.

I loved this game! (And it's free!) It's an ordered collection of 8 games made by a group of friends, with the condition that each installment is influenced by the story of all previous games. In some ways it's sort of 'epic' in that sense - kind of like how all the stories of Live-a-live or something are related, or something...
It's cool to see the way each game makes use of similar motifs of the white flower, or spatial conceits like a labyrinth, but while expressing each creator's personalities.
Buried Flower - John Thyer - I liked how this built a sense of suspense and also violating whatever flower-grave you were delving into.
Labyrinths - lotus - A short visual novel about a house that slowly empties, their parents disappearing one by one, someone recalling memories of livelier times, also with a kind of sci-fi framing to it.
The Aleph Hustle - LeeRoy Lewin - This reminded me of click-to-move flash games, and with that minimal interaction set managed to convey strongly the sense of a looping and disturbing labyrinth. I won't spoil the twist...
Make Like A Tree - NARFNra - A charming/absurd dungeon crawler that has some neat formal tricks as well as a funny change in tone.
another reverie - saori - A thoughtful and mellow, yuri-inspired (I think) RPG Maker 2k3 aesthetic game that is set outside of a labyrinth, two protagonists who have just finished an adventure and are getting to know each other, revealing potent truths about themselves.
Wet Cemetery - nilson - A 'house-exploration' Twine game that explores someone's time or long history living with parents, relationship to gaming, and body image (and more)
Wellness Related Time - Zeloz Mk. II - Felt like a condensed distillation of Ryukishi07 magic-isms applied to this magical college campus setting. It's fun how it builds the skeleton of this deep magic system in the span of a short visual novel.
Pangea's Error - Sraëka-Lillian - A world map exploration RPG with a Brandish-like rotation gimmick! Learn of the history of a massive world while finding weapons strewn about. I haven't finished this one yet.

A neat short visual novel. It creates a setting that's some kind of vaguely dark technofuture, lacking references to our real world that suspends it in something that feels a little like bits of 25th Ward, or BLAME! A girl is able to be grown via praise to create weapons, a scientist harnesses the power of a 4Chan message board and the mix of hate/love the users direct at girls (anime girls, etc), in order to more quickly grow the girl, eventually freeing her. Personally I've always been a little curious about the culture of some corners of the internet of people who seem young, are fairly aggressive, yet wear anime avatars or frequently consume extremely moe visual novels, anime, Japanese culture, etc.
This story was made pretty quickly and could go in various directions, but I liked how it connected certain 'real life topics' to these otherwise strange SF elements.

Didn't finish, but really stylish shooter with amazing music. The bosses felt creative and frightening with how their 3D movements intersect with the 2D plane. Sort of wild and unpredictable, almost.
Kind of too hard of a game for me (idk how to get a feel for how big the ship hitbox is) but pretty remarkable overall!

an excellent debut that not only is a fun, unique platform-challenge platformer, but also captures a lot of the wonder of why i like making games. the platforming switches between all kinds of modes of gameplay - constantly changing up your expectations. It's free, and do stick it out past the first hour if you check it out!


I think it's admirable how this team managed to pull off such a large-scale JRPG, which in some ways feels like 3 games (The straightforward Headspace adventure, the more story-driven Faraway Town arc, then the horror bits and that Bad Ending yume-nikki esque stuff). Music is really nice as is the character portrait art.
Realizing that you're simultaneously playing an idealized past and a melancholy present-day was neat. The stories being told in each half are nice, and it's sad to see the party experiencing joy in Headspace but sort of struggling with reconcilation/etc in Faraway Town. For various reasons, the traumatic backstory underlying the game's events doesn't work as well for me as it does for most (maybe bc it's signposted too much, even predictable?), but I don't think it detracts from where the game does shine - the at-times unresolvable distance between nostalgic childhood and the ways we drift apart as we progress into adulthood.
But, like in many other long JRPGs - the 'rpg' part drags on longer than it probably should? I think this game could have been just as strong if it had reduced its RPG stuff maybe in half or something, sped up the battle tempo and UI a bit, even tightened up the dialogue's length. I feel like a lot of the emotional/thematic beats being so far apart kind of dilutes things for me, as does juggling various side quests.

As a dragon quest fan this is a pretty fun game from a fan service standpoint, all the treasures are throwbacks to various things in the games, some very small!
The treasure hunting is... sort of fun, but there's not much to the 'hunting' other than following an arrow and then doing a (admittedly fun now and then) hidden object game. It is fun to run around the maps and explore, the way the enemies are laid out and their levels are balanced reminds me of early Korean MMORPGs. It's still fun, though, just a bit slow at times.
Quests are also just ok, like most open world games you end up getting 100 quests in a matter of hours, and then sort of ignore them all.
On the downside, this kinda plays like a reskinned gacha. There's a lot of systems all pulling at your attention, each which have the end result of increasing your max treasure amount. Monsters have 10,000,000 different stats, but nothing matters as much as their level.
Most of these systems are just not that interesting - sending monsters out on a dispatch quest amounts to a very typically gacha-esque level of party-making tedium (to optimize what treasure you get). The menu UI is incredibly slow, and not well-designed for what you want to use it for, which is trying to pick the right team compositions, etc.
Another 'scent of gacha' is the randomly generated 10-floor dungeons - hello, Genshin's Spiral Abyss! These play out like Gacha dungeons, where you either struggle to survive, or with a proper team setup, bulldoze the enemies with little trouble. Since it's not a True Gacha, there is a level of skill you can use to finesse your way out of poor preparation, but the game doesn't have much in the way of intriguing action RPG design.
Well, that being said, it is fun you hear your monsters speak out loud (even if the slime puns get repetitive), watching the monsters' special abilities is fun...
Overall, it's fun in bursts and if you're into collecting I think you could probably enjoy finishing this one. Especially if you're a dragon quest fan. The treasure hunting concept is cool, but I think it was executed with the wrong base (typical open world and gacha system design).
Music choices are nice, but not orchestrated - which wouldn't be an issue if these clearly weren't songs that basically are Written For Orchestra - and there's not particularly much thought placed into the MIDI arrangements so sometimes it can sound grating (the MIDI version of the DQ8 overworld theme is particularly disturbing!).

Interesting hardware gimmick game by Nintendo where they strap a laser mouse to the bottom of the DS, and as you move the mouse, the game's camera moves.
The gimmick in this game is you're a magnet that can explore this American family's home by hiding inside of things that the family moves around - glasses cases, picture books, paper bags, etc. You can then fight enemies by charging into them (done by moving the DS along a table quickly), connect with the enemies to gain powers and form a centipede of different enemy types. Most of the game has you searching the house for parts or turning into a particular chain of enemies.
This core gameplay loop isn't that fun although it is quite novel. I get motion sick pretty quickly moving around the house and it can be hard to remember what is where (you need to travel into objects, wait a while to get to the next area, then check if the enemies you need are there, etc.)
When you form a train of enemies, you can move quickly or shake to break it apart. That'll let you reattach to other enemies to use different abilities.
There are some boss fights, the one I played was actually kinda fun though easy, where you have to shut drawers by charging into them.
There are also some minigames, of which I only found one, a card-matching game where you have to match a card on screen to a card sitting amongst others on a desk. That was neat.
Well, I'll probably play more but I don't think my opinion will change much. Interesting experimental kids game! Kind of amazing they manufactured special hardware for one game and it never got localized.

You wake up amnesiac on a tiny island. Your goal: Find The Ebony Labyrinth. The world map is only 20x20 tiles with 6 landmarks. How long could it take?
Very long - maybe 15-30 hours - says Nepheshel, a free, indie JRPG released in 2002 and translated in 2022. Nepheshel's world is like an iceberg, where the majority of it is underground, labyrinthine. Get it here:
(Mild spoilers in the review)
(If you're just looking for a guide, check this one out. . There's also some maps here. )
The experience of playing Nepheshel is closest to Demon's Souls or Dark Souls. You must push from checkpoint to checkpoint without dying, finding treasure and eking out progress exploring the interconnected dungeons. People say this game is most like the King's Field series but I've never played to know if that's true. That being said, Nepheshel isn't a particularly Hard game most of the time - all the enemies appear in dungeons with different movement, so you can run around them much of the time. Outside of a few battles, you're rarely risking more than 3-5 minutes of exploration in Nepheshel unless you've gotten yourself loss or pushed into too difficult territory.
-The World-
My favorite thing about Nepheshel is the way its world unravels. The world is one big connected dungeon. Here's an example: You exit the town and can either enter the Temple, Underground Waterway, or King's Crypt. OR, you can enter this warp-portal world and warp into the King's Crypt. You'll soon run into impossible jellyfish or wolves in the Waterway or Temple, leaving you to explore the Crypt. But! If you dodge enemies well enough, you could find treasure in the Waterway or Temple.
As you explore the Crypt, you'll find it leads to an Underground Passage, connecting to the basement of the Temple. Get strong enough to explore the Temple and you'll find a new party member and a locked door to a late-game area! And so on. For better or worse, you never get a "first time in the great swamp" of Dark Souls moment in Nepheshel - the town is always a fast-travel warp away. But there are some unique senses of distance as you, say, push disturbingly further and further underneath the King's Castle. (Dark Souls 2's Ridiculously Deep Castle reminds me of this, funny enough)
Overall it always feels like you're winning your progress through the game kinda like Dark Souls. I like that a lot, and it's probably Nepheshel's coolest feeling, even if it can start to wear out by the end. (I had to put the game down for about a week or two before going back into its 2nd half). I would love to see this gameplay texture applied in other contexts.
Each area in the game usually has 1-2 enemy types which come in three colors - easy, hard, and Very Hard. By finding the right mob to fight you can level quickly. Encounters do get pretty stale once you settle on a strategy, and while you can run around enemies you also find yourself running into them a lot of times. What can be annoying is that a lot of late game enemies might be hard to fight without switching your party setup, so you end up only really fighting regular enemies if you're grinding or farming for item drops.
The battle strategy is pretty simple - you get 3 party members over the game and for most of the game can only fight with one of them. (An item later lets you fight with all 3.) What's fun is that while characters have their weaknesses and fixed spells/skills, you're free to equip anything on them, which can drastically change how you use them. Around the end of the game I have maybe 20-30 different weapons and armors that I need to mix and match to take on the tricky bosses. The battle system is typical RPG Maker 2000, it's just turn based. While nothing novel really happens in the battles, it's interesting to be stuck fighting in a team of 1 or 2 for much of the game. Near the end of the game you fight bosses in teams of 4 and the strategy gets a little more demanding, but it kind of comes down to prepping for the status debuffs and exploiting weaknesses.
Your equipment in the start comes from grinding for gold and buying, but maybe about 1/3 through it shifts to being mostly from dungeon treasure, a fun approach. There are hidden walls with lots of treasure, so watch out! Weapons have slash, jab or bludgeon types, which do damage to enemies differently. It ends up being kind of annoying to deal with in at times, although there are some cool aspects to it (like blunt weapons tend to be 2-handed, which means Deeva can't dual-wield, BUT, with a blunt weapon she gets access to powerful debuff skills).
Some dungeons are more puzzly than others. Each is a unique and memorable maze, even though some go on for too long or are actually too complex to even map by hand some times! It was unique to navigate the dungeons, weaving between enemies, trying to remember where I was. Each new dungeon feels newly tense as you try to figure out which enemies will steamroll your party and which you can experiment with. There are a few really bad dungeons, but you'll get to enjoy those yourself. Ha ha ha...! Just be ready for some Huge Mazes.
The writing is not particularly good. The girls on the cover really just come off as early 2000s moe fantasy fairies. Which is adorable but not a selling point IMO. There's some lore/backstory but not many other characters. The most common - and by the end, kinda funny - is all the other adventurers at the pub whose partners you find dead in dungeons, moaning their last words, before becoming a silent corpse.
Overall it's a cool approach to a JRPG world. It's spooky how much the feeling of playing it reminds me of what would be Dark Souls and Demon's Souls, even if they're different genres. I wonder what games Nepheshel influenced... I'll be thinking about it for a while!
Spoilers: World Connections
If you're like me and like seeing high-level maps of a game to decide whether to play, you're in luck!
I consider the game to take place in roughly 3 acts.
Act 1: The Island / Getting the party
King's Crypt -> Passage -> Sea Caves OR
Passage -> Temple.
Then, Sea Caves -> Waterway -> West Side of Island.
West Side of Island -> Mines, or King's Castle
Act 2: Finding the King's Key
King's Castle is a huge dungeon. The lower section leads to a Dungeon, which leads to The Byway, another cave where you'll eventually find the Priest's Key (connected to the Mines). The Priest's Key let's you go back to the Temple to find the True King's Crypt! There, you'll find the King's Key.
The King's Key lets you get to The Underworld by doing deep into the Byway and walking down a pit.
Act 3: Underworld / Ebony Labyrinth
The Underworld is a long (but easy to navigate) dungeon with a lot of optional bosses and great equipment. Killing the boss at the end lets you jump into a jar to reach the Ebony Labyrinth.
The EL is a 6-stratum dungeon with different gimmicks and tough enemies on each floor. Plenty of checkpoints but there are some challenging stretches. I haven't made it to the end yet but the final boss is at the bottom!

Likeable enough, fun world idea, but kind of just loses its pacing about 1/3 through and bored me. The pulpy/campy fantasy story seemed promising, but... the game's just so long.
There's not much interesting tension to the dungeons, etc. I mean they feel different and you have to go through multiple times but it gets repetitive. An interview said the game 'really starts' at Dharma temple but come on I'm like 10-15 hours in and I'm not there yet, I've played plenty of RPGs that Really Start in 5 minutes. I'm still putting the game on 8x and holding attack to win every random battle. If I had Nothing Else to play I would probably stick it out but I think I'm Good.
Music is great but there's still the problem where Sugiyama doesn't write enough songs so every dungeon and town feels the same despite the efforts of the artists/writing team.

Clever action game for mobile that makes good use of the phone interface! You have this stamina bar which also acts as your health/shield, and fight with two team members at once against enemies which throw attacks you have to guard against. Winning fast involves shielding at the right time for as short as possible, and managing to keep one of the two characters' attacks up. In between battles are some story sections in which the two characters learn the truth of their church and the demons in the world.