The Magic of Scheherezade is not only my favorite 8-bit RPG but also one of my favorite NES games of all time. Part of that is owed to its setting; Arabian themed games in general are rare; let alone an RPG. So you can imagine my disappointment when its sequel, the Golden Empire was cancelled. Takara’s Arabian Nights – Sabaku no Seirei Ou has no relation to that series but is the next best thing in my mind. I waited a long time for it to be fan translated and came away satisfied. It has a few flaws but overall is a great game and worth seeking out.
Ifrit the fire Djinn was once the ruler of the world. But one day he is sealed in a ring by a mysterious masked man along with all of his fellow jinni. This seal can only be broken after the ring has passed through 1000 hands and 1000 wishes have been granted. Many years later the ring is found by Shukran, its 1000th owner. Unfortunately Shukran’s wish is for world peace, beginning the journey to restore Ifrit’s power in order to fulfill her wish.
Arabian Nights keeps its cast of characters small. Your party consists of just Shukran and Ifrit in the beginning but are later joined by Harty. While you won’t get the extensive character growth of a Final Fantasy each of the protagonists have a defined personality and they play off each other well. Shukran is naïve and earnest, Ifrit comes across as a big jock, and Harty is a lovable thief who still tries to do well despite his greed. The game’s pacing is incredibly brisk for the most part and while the plot is your typical save the world adventure it is at least engaging up until its conclusion.
The turn based battles offer many of the standard options in the genre outside of a few exceptions. Auto battle is a god send for dealing with the excessive random battles. Magic isn’t available until about a third of the way through, placing a heavier emphasis on melee attacks and cards. The card system adds much needed depth. Cards are broken down into elemental alignment and level and completely alter the battle field. A light level 3 card will make all of your attacks critical strikes. Steel will either perform a physical attack every round or steal money from the enemy. The effects of the cards last a few rounds and can swing a battle depending on the effect; enemies will use cards as well. Even in the later stages cards are worth using, especially considering they drop so frequently.
Surprisingly Arabian Nights is short for an RPG, clocking in at under 15 hours at best. That isn’t necessarily a negative; there’s something to be said about a game that is straight and to the point. What is however is the fact that the game’s length is padded out by excessive random battles and grinding. Battles occur every few steps to the point of absurdity; you’ll dread walking into a dead end because it means another 3-4 fights to retrace your steps. The enemies grow in strength pretty quickly so it becomes mandatory to grind in order to keep up. As much as I like the game it did start to become a chore at times although I suppose the brevity of the quest softens the blow. There are also multiple endings although you’ll have to start from scratch to see them all each time.
This is not an easy game despite its short length. Even as early as the first boss battles become brutal and it rarely seems as though your weapons and armor can keep up. The grind is bad; after every dungeon you’ll have to stop and level up or fall behind. It really feels like the tuning on enemy hp and damage is outright bad. I don’t think every enemy should fall in one turn however wailing away on the same bandit for 5 rounds is tiresome and they frequently come in groups of 4-6. If you like your RPGs difficult this is the game for you.
The production values are pretty high as they should be for such a late release. The Arabian setting immediately helps the game stand out and is used to its highest extent. The style of dress of the locales and the building architecture are distinct from the generic fantasy environments of most titles in the genre. This extends to the enemy variety as well, with a menagerie of creatures quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. The music is decent and catchy although the soundtrack isn’t very varied suffers from reverb.
Arabian Nights is a pretty cool RPG from an unlikely publisher and one that might have found an audience if it were released worldwide. The fan translation makes it accessible to English speakers and with its shorter length isn’t a huge time investment. While it doesn’t reach the heights of the system’s greats it sits comfortably in the second tier of RPGs on the platform.