I’ve always had a soft spot for the Exile series. I thought the protagonist Sadler looked so cool in all of the previews I read and while I had to settle for the Genesis version it still lived up to my expectations. It would be many years before I would get my hands on the sequel, Exile: Wicked Phenomenon. Unfortunately I made the mistake of not reading up on it beforehand. This is a deeply flawed game, some of which were the result of misguided changes during localization. But putting that aside Wicked Phenomenon simply doesn’t live up to its predecessor regardless of which version you play.
Hero Sadler is warned of an evil that is sweeping Baghdad and soon the world. This evil causes people of different religious faiths to go mad and attack one another, prompting a worldwide journey to find its source.
The story is the first disappointment. Many of the plot’s most important moments are treated as an afterthought. Your reunion with your assumed dead comrades is not treated as a momentous occasion. Instead they simply show up, mention that no, they didn’t die, and that’s that. The reasons you visit each location are flimsy at best and you don’t even need to bother speaking with villagers. For a game that is deeply religious it could have been handled better. But NEC’s censorship rules also played a part in that.
Wicked Phenomenon makes your traveling companions playable characters at last. Sadly they are all mostly terrible. Everyone has different ratings for movement speed, jumping, and attacks and for the most part the crew are useless. Fakhyl’s homing magic takes too long to hit and his lacking jumping ability and defense make him a risk to use. Khindy is the strongest but has no range, meaning you’ll take damage in every exchange in this broken game. Rumi has the longest range and leaping ability. But her attack power is so low it’s not worth it. Lawrence might be the best character in the game. His axe has ridiculous range and often hits multiple times in one swing. He’s better than Sadler but you’ll only have him for a brief time.
Or you would if the game weren’t broken. Wicked Phenomenon is one of the most difficult games of all time as a result of a mistake. As it was explained here one simple edit jacked up the enemy stats to such a ludicrous degree that you can survive two or three hits before death. This starts at the beginning of the game and only gets worse from there. It wasn’t just enemy attack power that was boosted; their defense is just as bad. To make any progress requires excessive grinding that simply isn’t fun. Spending large periods of time walking back and forth in the same area with death a few hits away is boring. It gets easier once you level up once or twice in an area but is still tedious as hell.
Not only is the grinding necessary just to survive but to make the boss battles anything less than torturous. Unless you go in over leveled with the best equipment you can spend upwards of fifteen minutes wailing on a single boss until they die! That’s if you even last that long! The first time I hit a boss only to see a thin sliver of their full life bar move I was in disbelief. I actually thought I must have missed a key item. But no, that’s how screwed the difficulty is. Unbelievable.
While the screwed up difficulty ruins the game in truth Wicked Phenomenon was only slightly above average to begin with. Take away the challenge and you are left with an extremely short, very easy action RPG. The dungeons and caves are all pretty much a straight line outside one or two. There is no world map and in fact you are basically herded to the next point almost immediately. You can’t even revisit previous areas to grind for experience if necessary. The game seems as though it were created on a shoe string budget and it shows.
This is ever more apparent in its production values. Exile had its fair share of cutscenes on both the Genesis and Turbo Grafx CD. Wicked Phenomenon pairs that back considerably. Outside of the cool intro there are maybe three more in total. Even traveling to a new country is introduced via long streams of text. All of the towns share the same generic look and layout, just with different colored buildings. There have been some improvements; Working Designs increased the layers of scrolling in the US release as well as improved the framerate. The soundtrack is also pretty good although there are a limited number of tracks. But as a whole the game seems as though it were not a priority in development.
To some extent I still like Exile: Wicked Phenomenon. That mostly has to do with its Middle Eastern setting, as it is still rarely used today. But that still doesn’t mean I would ever recommend it. The fact that you need to use cheat codes to find any enjoyment defeats the purpose of playing the game in the first place. There are better games to spend your time with.