When asked what game introduced you to RPGs, often you’ll hear names like Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Baldur’s Gate, larger names like that. For me, it was a much smaller title: Dragon Crystal for the Sega Game Gear.
While it wasn’t a full-blown rpg like the other titles, it had character levels, experience points, lots of combat, loot… the basics where there. At the time I didn’t know yet, but later on I learned that this sub-genre was called “rogue-like”. There were hardly any RPGs on the system anyway and overall the title was one of a kind on it.
The basic premise is: You are transported to a strange world and have to fight your way through 30 randomly generated levels. In the levels you will find lots of enemies, but also items that you can pick up. As is customary for the genre, all equipment and usable items are “unknown” before you use or equip them for the first time. This gives each play-through a high dependency on luck, especially since there is no possibility to save the game.
I spent quite a lot of hours with this game and learned to appreciate the power adapter even more (batteries did NOT last long with the Game Gear). I must have went through dozens of attempts before finally reaching the end once. Very soon after that, the display of my Game Gear gave out, not quite sure if there was a connection, though the timing was interesting 😉
There was a version of the game on the Master System as well and a very similar game in a different setting on the Mega Drive / Genesis, called “Fatal Labyrinth”. That one was actually a downloadable title at first.
Graphics on the Game Gear version were decent, though the system would have been capable of better. The music tracks were nice and catchy, but sadly far too few, only one track per 10 levels, so I heard especially the first (and the second) track A LOT.
Balancing was obviously affected by the randomness quite a bit, but in the later parts (around the last third), going by my memories, it went a bit overboard. Enemies had abilities that straight up drained your levels (permanently weakening you without a good way to regain the levels – at that point character levels needed quite a few experience points), destroyed your weapon or armor (also very bad with the limited inventory and random item placements)… stealing food (less severe if you’re lucky with food items on the level) could happen far earlier than that. And to top it off, the enemies in the last level are exclusively DRAGONS. Even one of those can severely hurt you, if not even kill you if you are not prepared enough… and that level has quite a few of them. In effect that last level becomes a race to find the final exit as fast as at all possible.
So overall I had a lot of fun with the game, but I can understand why it didn’t do great in reviews and user opinions. If you happen to get a chance to play it, give it a try.