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CONSOLE: Sega Master System DEVELOPER: Compile PUBLISHER: Sega
// review by SoyBomb

As I walk through the Valley of the shadow of Doom...

A long time ago, I reviewed an action-RPG for the NES called Crystalis, and it was pretty good. It also seemed like quite a product for the NES, whose action-RPG library was, at the time, small and likely shoved aside to make more shelf space for Super Mario Bros. 3. Little did Nintendo fanatics know, a very similar game was already sprouting out of Sega Master Systems around the world two years earlier. That game is... wait for it, I'll bet you'll be surprised... Golvellius! Originally released for the MSX, a computer system only available in Japan, it was licensed by Sega and revamped a bit for their funky Sega Master System (or, if you're cool and live in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Mark-III, which sounds more like a ship from Star Wars than a home gaming console) and released across the globe in 1988 as "Golvellius: Valley of Doom." Oooooo! And boy, are you in for a ride.

Golvellius' storyline is fairly simple and, apparently, a bit sexist depending on who you ask. For the kingdom of Aleid, trouble was brewing. In Zero Wing terminology, war was beginning. Demons were invading the land, and King Aleid was so distraught by these events that he fell ill, thus demonstrating his effective leadership skills in the country's time of need. He could be saved by the herb known as "Mea", and his daughter, Princess Rena, went down to get it. Of course, when she didn't come back from this seemingly simple journey, people started to worry, cry, and do whatever people normally do when royalty disappears. So they sent a young man -- you, Kelesis, the warrior -- to save her and also to figure out why demons are in everyone's shorts. Way to set back the feminist movement by saying that the princess couldn't handle a simple task, Sega. Actually, we can blame the Puyo-loving Compile for the story. Shame, shame!

Luckily for Sega and Compile, there really was trouble below. The demons took her! Those things are everywhere! There is literally no area of the countryside not overrun with those little buggers, so your swordsmanship had better keep you out of harm's way! Most of your time will be spent in the seven different regions of the kingdom, hunting around for caves to visit, cool items to snag for a high price, and slicing and dicing squishy enemies until pus flies out of their eye sockets, all in a very similar overhead manner to Crystalis. You walk around from screen to screen, like the original Legend of Zelda, until you find all the secrets you're looking for. And there are secrets on so many screens, it's almost ridiculous (though the helpfulness of those secrets is often debatable). The quest is far more linear, though, as you can't just freely wander into other parts of the overworld until you complete a task in each area.

But here's where Golvellius differs from Crystalis and even Legend of Zelda: Golvellius will take your soul and grind into a flaky powder with its difficulty level. Okay, maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but you will feel like you're at a strong disadvantage at times. Link and that, uh, guy from Crystalis felt comfortable in their own skin to visit dark dungeons, knowing they could viably defend themselves. In Golvellius, the feeling of vulnerability is frequent and frustrating. On any given overworld screen, six monsters can be spawned at once, but unlike other games, killing one doesn't make life easier for you. Instead, another will appear in its place, and the pattern will repeat infinitely. Some enemies are absolute babies and can be rubbed out or avoided without much stress, but others, like carnivorous crows or zombies that pop out of the graveyard home in on you; the latter not only homes in, but also takes a significant chunk out of your life meter AND never leaves you unless you stab it. Problem is, when you reach that point, unless you have purchased a far superior sword, you're not going to kill those things very easily and it's best to run.

So what's a weak Kelesis to do? He'll have to find a screen with sluggish enemies that give out a good amount of gold and just keep killing them until your wallet is full. Full of GOLD! Next, locate the cave where better weaponry or armor is sold and buy it. And even that isn't easy. Caves are often hidden away and can only be found by destroying rocks (and you'll need a special ring to handle that task) or by defeating a certain number of enemies on screen. Those zombies better be hiding something good. There are also strange boots and rings you can buy. I thought the boots, in particular, were pretty hilarious. You can buy Aqua Boots that let you walk on water, not unlike a certain other famous person, or Ascent Boots, which, aside from giant mountainous rocks, let you just walk right across the terrain as if the trees and such were not in your way and you were floating in midair. That's just convenient. Stupid trees... what do they think they're doing, getting in my way?

Kelesis enjoys fighting from every angle possible.

But this game isn't even THAT simple. You start out only being able to hold a limited amount of Gold. How do you increase that amount? BUY some space. Old women in many caves will offer you upgrades to your wallet, called "Bibles" for some reason, which will allow you to hold more cash. They can be a bit expensive, but you'll need to buy pretty much every single one if you want the best equipment available. And you DO want that. You also get to purchase health upgrades for yourself in the form of Potions of Life, which serve a similar purpose to the Energy Tanks in Super Metroid: backup life. And you want every single one you can find. Don't go knockin' on Golvellius' door unless you have them ALL.

To progress, you'll need to defeat the seven guardians hidden o'er the land. Just like everything else, their dungeons are hidden in caves. Once you find them, however, you'll be slightly more pleased at what you find. The dungeons vary in gameplay: some are classic side-scrollers, while others are auto-scrolling vertical treks. You never know what you'll get next! The side-scrollers are great fun, although the giant snake bosses (which appear every time) can be a nuisance with all the projectiles they spout out; the fact that you can't turn or swing your sword to your left doesn't help any, either. Some of them are maze-like, and you can get stuck behind some blocks with no way to escape except to backtrack left. The vertical auto-scrollers are far more challenging and frustrating, as you need to focus on both all the blocky maze-like obstacles in your way, as well as all the flying creatures that want to suck your blood! If you get stuck in either and forced backwards off-screen, you'll be dumped right back outside and forced to start over. At the end of each dungeon is a fight with a boss creature, which typically requires about a million hits to defeat and some hair-pulling techniques on your own part.

Progression is, however, a serious issue at times. You can get hints from a fairy in a few of the caves, but they're surprisingly vague. For example, in the first area, you have to strike a specific blue rock five times with your sword before it will open and reveal the next dungeon level. However, all she tells you is to strike a blue rock -- and when you get to the screen in question, there's over twenty of them! And nobody said anything about swiping at it FIVE times. You'll have to use ingenuity... or dumb luck to get through this game without a walkthrough handy. Sadly, the fairy mostly spouts out nonsense and isn't helpful in the slightest. At least old ladies TRY to offer support. For money. In dark caves whose entrances cannot be easily spotted or accessed. What a terrible place, this Aleid. At least you can save your ga--whaaa? Really long passwords? Curse you, Golvellius!!

Golvellius: Valley of Doom looks pretty good, considering its age. All the sprites are clean and crisp, and the expansive world has some good variety to it (though there are far too many forested areas). Enemy design seems to draw heavily from the Halloween drawings of a preschool art class, save for the creepy bosses. More notable than the graphics is the audio, which is surprisingly fun to listen to. The developers implemented the soundtrack into Golvellius in a way I've never seen before: the background music doesn't change based on what area you're visiting but instead by what equipment you have. When you buy a new shield or sword, the music in the overworld changes completely. I don't know why they did that, but I can dig it. Everything's pretty peppy and it makes your travels around the world more pleasant.

All in all, though, Golvellius is a pretty interesting game, to say the least. It will definitely take you a significant amount of time to complete; you won't be finishing off the mighty Golvellius in one sitting, unless you play World of Warcraft like it's oxygen, in which case your definition of "one sitting" is skewed. It's a nifty little action-RPG that is ultimately weighed down by its difficulty, both in determining your next course of action and in sheer survival. A few odd design choices made this game good instead of great. If you are daring enough to face the oft-surprisingly challenging quest, Golvellius will make adrenaline leak through your pores. Not to spoil the entire ending, but Golvellius did boast the phrase "TO BE CONTINUED", which basically meant a sequel was on its way. A sequel did not come, though a pseudo-sequel exists in the form of "Super Cooks", a Japan-only game for the MSX2 computer system featured on a compilation disk that replaces the kingdom of Aleid with one of angry vegetables and sugary treats.

Now let's end in grand fashion with some of the strange quotes of the cavefolk:

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