Sugoro Quest is the type of game that would definitely have been one of my favorites back in the day. While my friends wouldn’t give awesome titles like the Magic of Scheherezade or Crystalis a chance I was drawn to those games. Sugoro Quest falls into that category yet is still truly unique within the NES library, with Itadaki Street its closest companion. I can sort of see why it was never localized even though I’m about to sing its praises but that doesn’t matter as the fan translation scene took care of that. If you like RPGs and want to experience a game with a distinctive structure buy a reproduction cart or find the translated rom as the game is awesome.
The Kingdom of Siland is under attack by demons under the command of Hades. Four heroes answer the King’s call for their own reasons, each with different attributes at your beck and call. This isn’t an ordinary quest however as this magical journey takes place on a game board.
Siland serves as your hub before you set out in each chapter with all of your shops and save room. Interestingly every item in the game is available from the start. Another interesting fact is that you can tackle any of the game’s first five stages in any order. Obviously you’ll die in seconds in the later ones. There’s a good reason for that option however which I’ll get into later and is a bit of a spoiler.
Structurally the only game remotely similar to this released in the US would be Atlus’ Dokapon Kingdom for the Wii. Each stage is laid out like a game board, with towns, castles, and other assorted spaces occupying each square. You roll the dice to determine how many spaces you move and some event occurs once you stop. You don’t get to walk around the towns but the people you speak to will either give items or clues. There are both good and bad events, such as being cursed or friendly sprites that boost your attack and defense. There are plenty of unique spaces so that you won’t see all of them in one run which keeps the game fresh. Inevitably you will land on an empty square which will trigger a random battle.
Sugoro Quest has one of my favorite battle systems in an RPG which is surprising because it seems typical. You have a set list of commands such as attack, magic, and call. Aside from using items all actions and their effectiveness are governed by a dice roll. When attacking your rolls are competing against the enemies diceman or proxy. Whichever roll is higher wins and gets a free attack. Not only that but the difference is multiplied; if you win 6-2 you hit four times. In the event of a tie you both roll again until eventually someone wins. As a bonus you get to attack for every dice roll which can lead to catastrophic results if you are on the losing side.
These types of dice rolls take place in most games however there’s something visceral about actually seeing it take place. What makes it even cooler is the myriad number of items and spells that can affect the dice. You can use bait to lure the opponent’s diceman away for a turn for a free attack. The Dice Grow spell increases your dice value when rolling and it should be noted that eventually your dice can go as high as nine in combat. You can even call in a diceman of your own among a possible six. These proxies have special benefits, such as increasing your experience gain or knocking out the enemy. There’s a lot to it that makes the battles fun and each character’s stats will create a different experience.
That being said it definitely can be difficult. As with anything involving dice the randomness can bite you in the ass hard. Only this time you get to see it play out. Later enemies are vicious and will cast spells like Slowdice repeatedly, reducing your dice values and stacks down to 1. On the overworld map the Dicecall spell, which allows you to pick the exact number you want to roll is invaluable. Unfortunately it is learned at different levels per character, some really late and the dwarf never learns it. Technically there is no set maximum HP or MP. If you manage to land on numerous healing pools you can build an absurdly high health count which mitigates some of the challenge. Too bad it is all lost when a chapter is done.
Aside from the great battle system the pacing is great, which you more or less control. The vast majority of 8-bit RPGs are grind heavy and very slow; everyone was still learning back then. Bearing that in mind it can be hard to revisit those games. Sugoro Quest moves at a brisk pace; each of the six stages (with the exception of stage five) are of modest length which makes them perfect to revisit with other characters to experience their gameplay and level up. Experience and gold are balanced so that you won’t need to grind unless you want the absolute best equipment. Even then Stage 5 practically throws both in droves. Unless you are truly unlucky with the dice rolls most chapters shouldn’t take longer than an hour and even that can be controlled by purchasing items that guarantee dice values.
As much as I like Sugoro Quest it isn’t above criticism. While the rest of the game avoids falling into this trap Chapter 5 tasks you with landing on three very specific squares in order; if you miss you have to loop back around and try again in order to proceed. Unless you have stocked up on the various amulets (that isn’t enough due to the 16 item limit) or learned Dicecall it can be taxing to get stuck in this loop. If you leave the map to buy new items and such you’ll have to start the process over again.
But possibly the worst is the trick the game pulls at the end. This is a spoiler but better that you go in aware. For story related reasons the game pulls a Ghosts ‘N Goblins and makes you run through the game twice as your main hero is captured. If you have been leveling up a second character this isn’t an issue but if you went in blind like I did it is a bit of a shock. The gold you have built will enable you to skip the majority of the game the second time. But I’ll be damned if they could have at least given some warning ahead of time.
That curveball aside it barely diminishes my love for the game. Sugoro Quest is that rare game that is both original and completely nails its premise. Even today there are very few games like this and for those that want to try something different I say go all in.