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October’s Classic of the Month: LandStalker: The Treasures of King Nole (1992)

Wednesday, 2. October, 2019
Presented by Ayumi Manuela Reichel

LandStalker is an action role-playing game by video game developer Climax Entertainment and was released in Japan in 1992 for the Mega Drive. Its release in North America and Europe followed in 1993. Kenji Orimo was the game director. Yoshitaka Tamaki was responsible for character design and the soundtrack was provided by Motoaki Takenouchi.
At that time, Sega’s LandStalker was a competitive title to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, released in 1991 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Both games unfold in a high fantasy setting and a single game character is controlled. It is depicted from an above view, more specifically LandStalker has an isometric perspective. Both stories tell the adventures of a pointy-eared stripling supported by fairies. Armed with a sword, LandStalker’s Nigel (named Ryle in Japan and Niels in Germany) and The Legend of Zelda’s Link defeat dangerous creatures, explore dungeons and solve puzzles. On their journey, they discover magical items that enable them to discover previously unknown areas of the game world. This may seem trivial, because these elements can be found in quite a number of fantasy tales. In the early 1990s, however, the selection of comparable action role-playing games on the console market was limited – there were almost only rogue-likes or side-scrolling action RPGs.

But what sets LandStalker apart from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and makes it exceptional, especially for me?

Compared with the The Legend of Zelda series, whose storyline makes use of clichés from classic heroic epics, LandStalker takes a different approach: Nigel is neither interested in rescuing damsels in distress nor does he have to take down an evil villain – he is a treasure hunter. Also, the game seems more mature, which is clearly visible in the uncensored Japanese version. Furthermore, the character travels from one location to the next instead of having a hub. All these factors create the feeling of an adventurous journey. The isometric graphics is another element of its uniqueness. In addition to the outstanding graphic presentation for that time, this perspective enables the character to move freely in the third dimension. The hero can jump, allowing additional options for the design of puzzles and dexterity tasks.

Unfortunately, there was no sequel or remake of this timeless classic. Only spiritual successors were released; however, they never had the charm or finesse of the original. Even today, 25 years later, I nostalgically listen to the 16-bit soundtrack, enjoy the beautiful illustrations or even play this masterpiece. LandStalker is a gem of video game history and will always have a very special place in my heart.
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