What if The Immortal hadn’t sucked? I know that’s a tough concept to grasp, but let’s just think it through for a moment. What if, instead of a poorly controlled nightmare where you got killed every two seconds for things that you could hardly be faulted for, it actually lived up to its potential as a solid action RPG with furious combat, dungeons to explore, and devious puzzles that maybe didn’t insta-kill you if you got them wrong? The kind of game Will Harvey could put his name on the cover of without having to worry about me throwing garbage at him. Wouldn’t that game have been wonderful?
What are you asking him for? All townspeople are idiots.
In other words, what if it had been made by Treasure?
I only ask because that’s essentially what Light Crusader is – a game made by Treasure that’s an awful lot like the Immortal. Except good. So, nothing like The Immortal, actually. Still, both games feature isometric perspectives, and the gameplay is a blend of combat, exploration, and puzzle solving within an RPG setting; so conceptually, at least, the games really are pretty similar. The main difference between them is that the execution on Light Crusader is miles better than that of The Immortal. By the way, that sentence is one of the few instances where I would ever speak out against the execution of the people who made The Immortal.
Still, that’s not exactly saying much, and Light Crusader is a good enough game that it deserves recognition for feats far more impressive than simply being less terrible than The Immortal. For one thing, it has some of the most ingenious puzzles ever seen in a game of this type. We’ve pointed out before the general lack of any kinds of false leads or red herrings in games like this before. Even in really innovative, challenging games that blend action with problem solving, such as Portal or Braid, you can usually figure out the solution to a challenge by looking at the level design. Once you realize that every object, every room, every ledge, nook, and cranny has been included for a reason, and has some important part to play in completing a puzzle, it’s generally not too hard to put them together. For instance, if you’re stuck in a room which also has a crate and a small ledge sticking out of one of the walls, it’s a pretty safe assumption that whatever you need to get through that room will ultimately involve the ledge and the crate somehow. Someone could make the most challenging adventure game of all time just by adding in a few extra pieces that don’t do anything other than throw off the player, much the way Ikea thwarts my efforts to put together their furniture by tossing in some additional random parts that I may or may not need to assemble it. Some of them I don’t even think are furniture parts at all, so much as some kind of naturally occurring debris that Sweden has an excess of and furniture stores are their gateway to getting rid of it. But I’m getting off topic here…
Light Crusader doesn’t go as far as to try to throw you off with a bunch of excess items and unused areas, but it does force you to use objects in ways you won’t expect to. Explosive items aren’t just useful for blowing up barriers, but also for triggering switches. That’s not much of a stretch, but things get tricky when they are also used as mobile platforms to step on, or barriers to block off an area. Because other objects in the game already serve these purposes, it messes with the player’s expectations. You see an explosive barrel and assume you must need it to blow something up, so you look for something to blow up. After all, if all they wanted it to be used for was as something to jump on, they would have just used a non-exploding box, like they did in the last room. Except no, it really is just a stepping stone in this case. Or you need to roll a giant boulder onto a trap door to activate something, then another time you might need to roll it into the spot behind the trap door, so it will stop a second boulder you’re rolling, and sometimes you need to use it to do one thing, then the other. Adding multiple possibilities for each piece of the puzzle makes the solution far less obvious than games where every object only has one specific purpose. This makes Light Crusader one of the trickier adventure games out there, but also one of the most satisfying.
If this were Zelda, those barrels would be torches and you could just light them and be on your way.
One of the pitfalls of making a game that combines platforming with puzzle solving and action is that if it isn’t designed well, it can be hard to tell whether you’re stuck because you haven’t figured out the right solution to the problem, or if you have the right idea but aren’t able to pull it off properly because you’re mistiming a jump or something. This could be especially perilous in a game like Light Crusader, where the puzzle solving is generally less obvious than, say, pulling on every statue in the room or breaking the correct vase to reveal a button. LC handles this pretty well, partly thanks to some well-thought out balance (few areas in the game simultaneously challenge both your skills and your brainpower – the hardest to figure out puzzles generally don’t feature any tricky jumps or timing issues, and vice versa), and partly due to responsive control and good level layouts.
Yes, he’s fleeing in terror. But to be fair, that is a giant spider with purple flame legs.
LC is surprisingly efficient in its design for an action/RPG. There’s only one town to visit, and it’s pretty sparsely populated since the story revolves around trying to figure out why people keep disappearing. Which turns out to not be really much of a mystery seeing as the town has been built over a giant network of monster infested catacombs. City planners really need to stop doing that (see also: Diablo) – not only does it drastically increase “the villagers abducted by monsters” potential, but it’s probably not a great idea from an engineering standpoint. If some water starts getting into those catacombs, they’ll collapse and then the whole town will turn into a sinkhole. That’s a disaster no amount of magic swords is going to save you from. In fact, that should really be the plan the villains in these games are going for – instead of raising some long-lost evil deity with dark magic, they really just need to start digging a tunnel over to the closest body of water. Much easier that way; instead of needing black magic or ancient artifacts or human sacrifices, you just have to go to Home Depot and pick up some shovels and maybe hire a few of those day laborers that are always standing around in the parking lot. That would cost like, maybe $200 bucks.
Availability: Light Crusader hasn’t been included in any retro compilations, but is available as a download title for the Wii. Those of you who don’t have a Wii will have to pick up a Genesis copy, though, and that’s where things get tricky. Let’s see – quality game, not available on two of the three current consoles, came out late in the system’s life, kind of obscure, created by the beloved developer Treasure… this is like a checklist of things that make a game hard to come by. LC probably goes for about $70 online, right?
Well, no, actually. Call it some kind of gaming miracle, but copies of Light Crusader are actually inexpensive and not that hard to find. I bought my own personal copy at a flea market for $4, and a recent search of Half.com revealed multiple copies selling for less than five bucks. We’re not going to tell you how to spend your money, but c’mon, $5 for one of the Genesis’ Top Ten games? If you don’t already have this game and aren’t willing to pay such a paltry sum to obtain it, you should probably just give your Genesis away to someone who might actually use it.