Friday, April 28, 2017

Forgotten Gems: Arkista's Ring

Such a great cover.





As recounted in the past, I was a poor kid, and thus late bloomer when it came to getting new video games. I didn't get my NES console until late 1990, as an early bday present. My first ever game, was of course the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cart, which I played the ever-living shit out of. Super Mario Bros. 1 was absolutely the game that really made me become obsessed with gaming. But when I got (among other games) Super Mario Bros. 3 later that Christmas, it immediately supplanted SMB1 as my "gaming crush", and has remained my favorite game of all time ever since (even if it IS hard as hell).

But in BETWEEN what I'm going to say was probably September 1990, and Christmas 1990, my grandmother actually did pick up one or two other games in between, I would imagine because she didn't just want to be watching me play Mario 1 all the time. I'm not really sure which came first, but one of those games, was a pretty obscure, Nintendo-published light gun game called To The Earth, a space themed shooter that was, honestly, hard as hell. I actually did beat that game eventually, though I likely did so by "cheating" and keeping the gun right up close to the screen. But the OTHER early NES game I got before Xmas, was this little gem pictured above, titled Arkista's Ring.




Meet the game's Hero.






I'm sure most people unfamiliar with the game, just by looking at the box art, would probably automatically assume that the hero is the titular "Arkista", but much like the silly confusion with the hero of another game being named "Zelda", that is not the case. As seen above, the heroine is an Elf named Christine, with alluring green hair and eyes (kind of like the X-Men's Polaris). Her primary weapon is a bow and arrow, making her something of an expert archer. As the game's limited (booklet) story goes, an evil bastard by the name of "The Shogun", has stolen the priceless mystic artifact known as Arkista's Ring, from the LAND of Arkista, a land of Elves. This basically throws the land into chaos and despair, and the council or whoever, doesn't really know what the hell to do. Cue Christine, apparently the only brave Elf in the kingdom, who barges in and says "Listen up Fuckers! I'll go and recover the Ring!". Or at least I imagine that's what she says. And thus your adventure begins.



Very arcade-y indeed.


This game was released in 1990 by a little company called American Sammy, a Japanese company who largely dealt in pachinko machines and other arcade properties, but which also published the occasional game, especially for NES. They are most well known these days for having merged with Sega, to become "Sega-Sammy", but I digress. The unique thing to note about Arkista's Ring, is that unlike some of Sammy's other NES sleeper hits, such as Silk Worm, Vice: Project Doom, Twin Cobra, Ninja Crusaders, and Amagon, it would appear that Arkista is the only game that Sammy not only published, but also actually developed themselves.

As for the game, the basic set-up, as you can see, is that of a top-down type of affair. In fact, the most natural assumption I'm sure most people would make on seeing the game, would be that it's a "Zelda Clone". But in actuality, the similarity between the two, outside of that "top-down" style, is fairly null. Unlike Zelda, which is a rather open adventure game, focused on exploration and taking on dungeons, Arkista is in all actuality a bit more like the arcade classic Gauntlet, in that the stages are fairly limited, and you go from single stage to single stage, gathering "treasures" and clearing each area of enemies before reaching a "goal" and moving on.




Welcome to the Underground.



As you can see above, over the course of the game, you eventually gain "armor pieces" which essentially act as extra hearts/hits. You also gain more "item boxes", so your available inventory expands. The different amount of items you can get is fairly limited, mainly to potions, fire rods that allow you to shoot huge fireballs that can go through walls, and various kinds of "enemy specific" items, for undead, ninjas, etc. The game is basically split up into two types of levels, "overworld" levels that include towns, forests, etc., and "underground" levels, that are typically crypts or catacombs of some sort or another.

Most of the game's 30+ levels, are "beat all the enemies, get the key, go to the goal", though some have their own twists. There are, however, two or three "boss" type stages, one of which sees you fighting a fireball-throwing vampire in an underground crypt, another is basically a chimera of some sort, and another sees you fighting giants. Before you reach the end, there is also a rather murderous (as in almost unfair) "Ninja Hell" type of stage, where every type of ninja in the game comes at you in waves, and you basically have little prayer of beating that stage WITHOUT a ton of those red "Ninja Bombs" you see above, which only temporarily put them to sleep (for just a few seconds), allowing you to hill a few at a time while they're out. Because otherwise, there are ninjas that jump over walls, ninjas that get right up to you and hit you over and over, with there being little you can do about it, etc.



The Shogun.


By comparison, the "BIG Bad", the Shogun, while hard, if you know his pattern, is considerably easier to take on than his ninja horde. The Shogun himself is rather fast, basically runs all over a huge open room, and blasts projectiles all over, kind of like Bowser going to town with those hammers in late SMB1 fights. The trick, for anyone wondering, to beating him, is to kind of stay perpendicular to him, or even diagonal, and wait to hit him as your paths cross from a distance. It really is kind of a must to get to him with at least one fire rod left, because it would be SUPER rough with your regular arrows. After you beat him, the last "level" is you walking out of his dungeon, getting to a bridge, and the screen shaking as you watch it crumble to the ground, in classic game villain style.

At THAT point, you give yourself a high-five, because surely you've just beaten the game, right? Well, no, no you haven't. As was often the case in older 80s style arcade type games, such as Super Mario Bros. and Ghosts n Goblins, the game just kind of "restarts" after you beat Shogun, back at Stage 1. In fact, if you go back and look at the box art, it claims the game has 125 stages, which certainly seems like a lot for an NES game, right? Well, the TRICK is, that the game asks you to beat all of the levels not TWICE, not THREE times, but FOUR times over, to get the "true ending". Kind of fucked, admittedly, although unlike other games that pull that shit on you, Arkista treats it somewhat like a "New Game +", in the sense that you get to keep whatever extra hits, lives, and items you've aquired, including the titular "Arkista's Ring", which I think gives you points every step you take. You get other useful times, such as the last piece of armor that slowly refills your hits if you walk around, and a mirror that helps deflect at least some projectile damage you take. So Sammy weren't TOTALLY sadistic with their "beat the game four times" setup. Though naturally, the game DOES get harder each time through.



.....You're Welcome?



Now here's the rub. I want you to know that I do love this game, it's a fun, simple little arcade style classic, and in fact I listed it, partly to my own surprise, in my personal Top 15 NES Games.It really is an enjoyable, even slightly addicting experience. While I usually avoid major spoilers, wanting people to check things out for themselves, and see endings for themselves, I feel this this is an integral enough childhood memory, and an important enough bit of gaming advice, that just this once I'd make an exception. See, I BEAT the game four times through, just once, as a kid. It was not easy, even with those cool new items, especially that third time through. But I did it. And I don't mind telling you, as a 9 or so year old little kid, I was rather goddamn proud of my epic feat.

BUT, I also don't mind telling you that what I got for my troubles, even at that young age, left me feeling rather deflated, not to mention cheated. What you see above, is the "Ending" screen. Yes, screen. I expected, at the very least, a SINGLE picture and some text. SOMETHING to show Christine triumphant, to act as a reward for you, the player, showing the diligence to sit there and beat the game four times in a row in ONE sitting. But no, they literally just give you that single screen of text, and then the Character Info screen. If you press start, I'm fairly certain it then just takes you back to the title screen. And to me, even as a little kid who had far higher tolerance for that kind of shit than I do now, I was really let down. STILL a damn fun game. But man, talk about one of the shittiest video game "endings" of all time. Just so you're warned, if you EVER feel like challenging yourself to play Arkista's Ring four times through, it IS a fun challenge, and hard, but this is all you'll get. I'm just telling you, to save you the same disappointment I had. Now you know.




Something more akin to this, even, would have been better.



So there you have it. As far as I can clearly recall, the first NES games that I got back in 1990, were:

1. Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt
2. To The Earth
3. Arkista's Ring
4. Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout / Dr. Mario / Super Mario Bros. 3 (All on Christmas)

From there, from 1991 on, it's a bit of a blur, as there were multiple instances of stores closing down and selling off their stock, where I got various games, as well as at least one more birthday where I got several also. But this one still stands out as one of my favorites, shitty ending aside, because I did genuinely have a lot of fun playing it, and trying to get better at it.

As an odd little aside before I go, speaking of The Legend of Zelda, early in my game renting career, as we would frequent the local All the Best Video store, during one of my early excursions, I picked up that shiny golden box for Zelda, and was checking it out. At the time, I think my grandmother was, in her own fashion, tired of watching me play Mario and Arkista a lot, and thus when she looked at the back of the box, she commented that it "Looked a lot like Arkista", and that I should rent a game that's different from that OR Mario. She said that, even though after she bought "me" Dr. Mario for Xmas, I had to literally sit and watch her play THAT for hours on end. And for some reason that I cannot rightly say, being disuaded from that ONE time that I was, for sure, going to rent the first Zelda game, I never bothered to rent it at all. At some point over the next few years, I DID get to try it and Zelda II, I'm not sure in which order, either at Harold's house, or he and his brother brought it over to mine, or who knows what. But I never rented one of the greatest games ever made, because my grandmother had basically slapped it down the first time, as being too Arkista-like to her eye. So my first actual Zelda game that I really played, and certainly the first I owned, was the one that is still to this day my favorite, "Link's Awakening" on Game Boy.

If you've never played Arkista's Ring, give it a whirl, because it really is a wonderful little "Forgotten Gem". Just be aware that if you want the "True Ending", what you're going to get out of it is an experience, and one crappy screen as a reward. Otherwise, have it at it!

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