Developed and published by Sega in 1992
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Foreword: due to the game's grind-heavy nature, I edited out 25 minutes of footage from 3:05:55 where I wandered around Ali Baba's cave killing for cash. This explains why it appears as though the Prince leaves the cave immediately after entering.
For today's video, I decided to revisit the game that the introduced me to the 'JRPG' genre. Defenders of Oasis was released in 1992, exclusively for Sega's handheld gaming console and was quite a revelation to my younger self. Whilst I'd played role-playing games before, I'd not experienced this particular style and I remember sinking many, many hours into the game before eventually completing it.
The game opens with an introduction to the game's backstory. This recounts the tale of Ahriman, Wizard of Darkness, and his plans to enslave mankind, and his eventual downfall at the hands of the hero, Jamseed. Ahriman was sealed away using the power of three magic rings that were gifted to Jamseed by the Wizard of Light.
Many centuries later, the followers of Ahriman set in motion a plan to bring their leader back into the corporeal world by destroying the three magic rings, which is where the game's story begins.
The player assumes control of the Prince of Shanadar (referred to as Prince throughout the game), son of the current king and hero of the story. As the game begins, Prince is tasked with travelling to the city docks to welcome the Princess of Mahamood, who is visiting Shanadar from a neighbouring kingdom. It's during this opening section of the game that the player is introduced to the basics of movement, interacting with the environment and some basic combat.
For those unfamiliar with the encounter system, the over-world maps are divided into a series of distinct tiles. Each time you move to a different tile, the game is busy calculating whether you encounter a group of monsters each time you move to a new tile. If an encounter is detected, the screen fades to white and the game changes to the combat screen.
Once combat begins, the player is shown a line-up of all foes in the group. Up to three enemies can be in a group, increasing the difficulty of the fight, as well as the rewards for defeating them. The combat is turn-based, with the game working out which character gets to fight next, be it friend or foe. The game abstracts much of the inner workings and formula involved in the combat process, so it's pretty easy to pick up and play.
Characters in the player's party can perform one action during their turn, be it attacking an enemy, defending themselves, or using an item from the group inventory. Many of the games fights, especially those later in the game, can be won or lost depending on the actions you take. Not only must the player do sufficient damage to the enemy to defeat them, but they must also use healing and defensive skills to keep their own party members alive.
Once victorious, the Prince's party is awarded a set number of experience points. Earn enough experience and characters in the party will level up, increasing power, speed and overall combat effectiveness throughout the course of the game. In addition to experience, the party is also rewarded with money (Dinar) for each group of foes defeated, which can be used to buy new equipment.
One of the things that strikes me about this game, even to this day, is the quality of the artwork. The artists managed to pack in a remarkable level of detail into the character sprites, which is no mean feat given the Game Gear's tiny screen resolution. The enemy character portraits during the combat sections of the game look fantastic, even if they are simply static images.
Equally impressive is the game's music, which manages to sound suitably ethnic/authentic, despite the limitations of the Game Gear's sound chip. There are even a couple of digitised speech samples thrown in for good measure, which is a nice touch even if I still can't work out exactly what it is that's being said!
I suppose if there's one aspect of the game that might put some people off, it's the way the game does require you to grind through various encounters to build a big enough stash of cash to buy equipment and level up to a point where you can actually tackle the last third of the game. I'd been playing through the game at my own pace and was able to deal with most of the encounters up until Jiklart tower, then I hit a brick wall in terms of difficulty - I had to go off and spend a good 25 minutes farming enemies to earn cash and experience before I was powerful enough to continue.
Defenders of Oasis is not a short game and, as such, represents excellent value for money if you like the JRPG genre. With a decent story, engaging combat and plenty of longevity, RPG fans could do much worse than to play this.