I’m sure like myself the NES version of Rygar was the first exposure to the series for many. Like Strider Rygar switched genres, becoming an expansive adventure rather than a straight action game. It was quite ambitious, especially for a game in 1987. And for the most part it works. Action adventure games such as this were just finding their legs and so the game can be a bit rough. But go in with an open mind and you’ll find a highly enjoyable adventure that was pretty unique for its time.
Although it shares the same world, enemies, and some gameplay elements this version of the game is different. Argool is under siege from the demon Liger. He has stolen the Door of Peace and it is up to Rygar to, I don’t know, kick his ass and open it for everlasting peace or something. It’s very ambiguous and quite stupid but whatever. Rygar was one of the first to follow in Metroid’s footsteps and largely succeeds at it, unlike Section-Z. But like that the game the journey to its conclusion is a bit frustrating.
At least the game isn’t as rough as its arcade brethren. Rygar adapts a few RPG mechanics to spice up gameplay. First of all you have a life bar, which is a godsend. You start out with 3 points of health and with experience can eventually hit twelve. In addition your strength increases at set “Tone” levels. Collected mind points can be spent on three spells: power-up, attack and assail and recover. The circular diskarmor attack has been lost but it was unwieldy to use anyway.
The land of Argool is completely open from the start, similar to Metroid. The map is divided into two parts, the overworld and the top down underworld. The ultimate goal is to find the five Indora Gods who grant essential items for progression. These items, such as the crossbow, grappling hook, and pulley really open the game up. While you do have some control over how you tackle the game for the most part there is a set order of progression with little room to sequence break. Sadly the game is not very forthcoming with its clues, much like a certain Konami game. At least here the map is small enough that you can stumble onto the next plot point. There is some backtracking involved but shortcuts make it tolerable.
The majority of the lands you’ll visit are accessed through the underworld and are of the side scrolling variety. It is here where the game closely resembles the arcade. Rygar is equal parts action game and platformer, with your burgeoning toolset making navigation exciting. The action is heavy and the game does a great job of making each area truly distinct. The layout of each area is large enough to get lost but small enough that you don’t really need a map. A few of the later levels even make use of the overhead view which is actually pretty cool. It’s actually pretty surprising; it isn’t a dedicated action game but Rygar manages to keep up with the likes of Mega Man and such to a degree.
It isn’t without its warts though. The game is definitely hard. The various clues given to guide you are incredibly vague. Specific locations are named but the game never identifies them as such. You will wander aimlessly and eventually stumble into your next objective which is not great design. The action is relentless, with enemies spawning even if you stand still. You’ll need to stop and grind as the boss battles are unforgiving. Although the game lets you continue right at the boss it’s pointless. With a sliver of health and no power-ups it is all but impossible to win. But that isn’t the game’s worst sin.
Possibly the game’s biggest failing is its lack of passwords or battery backup. Make no mistake, this is a long game. With its obtuse clues and general lack of direction completing this in one sitting is a tall order. Infinite continues help but being unable to save progress in an expansive game such as this is just wrong. I didn’t like it in Section-Z and I don’t like it here. Even Simon’s Quest at least got that right. Once you know where to go the game is about average in length for an adventure game. But reaching that point takes time, unless you look at a FAQ now. With its high difficulty just making it to the next destination is a complex task. It took weeks to complete this back in the day. Part of that was building up the willpower to start from scratch every time.
Considering Rygar was released in 1987 it’s amazing that it has held up so well all things considered. It has its missteps as did all expansive adventure games back then. But overall it remains highly entertaining and is still one of my favorite NES games of all time.