I like RPGs. I like PC-98 games too. But often older computer RPGs seem to take a special sort of delight in crushing the very souls of anyone that dares to play them. This was fine back in the eighties/early nineties when you’d expect the latest RPG to last you months and a new computer game cost six shillings and a fresh chicken, but for better or worse the idea of sitting down and puzzling your way through a single title to the exclusion of all others went out with the 3.5” floppy disc.
So when browsing Project EGG for a new (old) game to spend ¥500 on it was with some trepidation that I settled on Micro Cabin’s 1992 RPG Elmknight, as it was not only an RPG but a first person RPG – the sort of thing that’s practically guaranteed to have you scrawling on graph paper like a gamer possessed. Why did I take leave of my senses and go for this game? I’ll be honest – it was because the title screen’s really cool:
What gamer can resist an RPG with the promise of incredible giant robots? Not me, that’s for sure! Luckily it turns out that not only is Elmknight an RPG that absolutely delivers on the cool robot front but it’s also surprisingly forward-thinking in its execution, and by that I mean this is a 1992 RPG with a useful auto-map, checkpoints, and it’s balanced in such a way that people will be able to complete the game simply by paying attention and playing well – unlike Falcom’s PC-88 RPG Dragon Slayer which, much as I love it, did have me literally taping down keys so I could go out for a few hours while the game levelled up my party so I could proceed past the latest brick-wall boss.
But that’s enough rambling – what about the game?
Well as I briefly mentioned above the game’s navigated entirely from a first-person perspective, with your wandering broken down into town (actually more of a base), on-foot, and in-Land Mover (robot, for simplicity’s sake) flavours. Each of these has an always-on minimap at the bottom of the screen which while not especially detailed by any stretch of the imagination does go a long way to helping you get your bearings and at least gives some reassurance that you aren’t blindly walking in circles for hours. Both the on-foot and robot piloting sections features real-time fighting – players are expected to pick off enemies from a distance with carefully aimed shots and avoid incoming fire by moving out of the way, as opposed to hoping a DEF/LUK stat will do the work for them.
Considering the format and the age of the game you’d expect this to all feel rather clunky, with flip-book movement (much like genre classics Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder) and limited animation, but Elmknight goes against the grain by featuring relatively smooth and responsive movement and lots of big well animated enemies to unleash your selection of weaponry upon.
The impressive visuals extend to the cutscenes too, which are frequent, well animated, and feature lots of unique one-off effects – as you’d probably hope for a game that spans ten floppy discs. The plot’s not going to win any awards, but it’s told with a sense of confidence and energy that means you’re more than likely to get swept up regardless, and the ending is satisfying enough to make the struggle of the final boss battle feel worthwhile.
In the interests of fairness it’s worth pointing out one particular flaw – the text speed. All text auto-scrolls at a set speed, meaning fluent readers are left drumming their fingers and those of us that need to look up words find that the game isn’t prepared to just hang on for a minute while we consult a dictionary. There is an option to skip text entirely (ESC+D), but sadly not to simply speed it up. It doesn’t sound like much, but when the rest of the game is so polished it does stand out as something that really should have been addressed before release.
For whatever reason Elmknight didn’t receive any sequels or spinoffs as far as I’ve been able to see, although it did have its soundtrack released in 1993 – if you want to pick one up yourself it will apparently cost a minimum of ¥29,999, which is the cheapest price on Amazon JP at the time of writing (it wasn’t in stock anywhere else, including Yahoo! Japan Auctions).
Bonus info: Elmknight has a debug mode! Any time you’re in the Vanetta open up the weapons menu and then press 2, 7, 5, 6 on the number pad to open up a handy menu that offers invincibility, the ability to move anywhere on the map, ammo reload and all sorts of other useful little features. The downside is that your screen ends up looking like this -
- but even then it’s actually quite interesting to get a peek under the hood and see what’s going on as you move around the map.
Want to try the game for yourself? You can! Project EGG have it for sale over here - click!