Legend of the Ghost Lion is a traditional, Dragon Warrior-style RPG that was released late in the NES's lifecycle. However, it looks and plays very similar to early NES RPGs, which can be good if you're looking for a solid, barebones RPG...bad if you were expecting some innovation or decent plot.
Ghost Lion's graphics are very much in the tradition of early NES RPGs. They look a lot like the Dragon Warrior games, but perhaps a bit better, though not by much. Personally, I think a lot of the colors are just plain ugly and they really clash in some areas. Overworld, towns, and caves are extremely simplistic. In RPGs, I can often forgive this if the battles have decent-looking enemies and character designs. Unfortunately, that really isn't so for this game. I think the enemies look rather typical and bland. Some of them are very hard to even tell what they are. However, Maria (the main character), and the spirits who help her fight are drawn pretty well. But that's about it.
The sound in this game is really not that bad. It sounds very similar to some of Kemco's other NES games, like Shadowgate and Deja Vu. If you're familiar with those games and the tone of music that they have, then you can probably get a good idea of what this game's music sounds like. It's very moody in some areas, like the caves, and fitting, like in the pyramids. However, the music, overall, sounds a little bland. There's no real stand-out pieces. And the battle music, which is the tune you hear the most often, is one of the most annoying pieces of video game music I've ever heard! It's because of this annoying battle theme that I often turn the sound off when playing this game. Many of the effects sound like they came right out of Shadowgate, such as when you open a treasure chest. Others seem borrowed from Dragon Warrior. Although many RPGs are known for their memorable music, Ghost Lion isn't one of them.
There isn't much really to say about play control, here. The important thing in an RPG is whether or not it's easy to move your character(s) around and access the menus, both of which are extremely easy to do in this game. I only have a few problems with the play control. First of all, Maria moves a bit slow, and you can't speed her up. (She moves at about the same pace as the Dragon Warrior characters.) This can be annoying, especially when you're traversing large areas, and keep running into a lot of enemies. Also, in battle, it's easy to choose the wrong item, because of the way the menu is set up. Other than that, it's okay, and it's the basic play control you would expect from this kind of RPG.
Ghost Lion's story is somewhat different from most other RPGs. The hero, unlike almost all other NES RPGs, is female. The story is basically as follows: A long time ago, a ghostly White Lion attacked Maria's village. A hero appeared and drove the lion away. But Maria's parents wanted to find out where the Lion came from and what its purpose was. They set out on a journey, and never returned. One day, Maria decides to go look for them. As she begins her journey, a bridge gives way beneath her, and she is washed away by a strong river current. She awakens in a strange new world...and must find her way home, while looking for her lost parents and the mysterious White Lion. Sounds like a neat idea, huh? Well, it is. The problem is that it isn't implemented very well. Beyond the opening cinemas, the rest of the game's dialogue consists mostly of one or two-sentence clues given out by townspeople, which basically amounts to dozens of "go there", "do this", scenarios, typical of early RPGs. This is no grand epic, and neither Maria nor her spirit companions, or even any NPCs have any personality, whatsoever. The only standout character is the White Lion. But still, at least it's not another "save the princess" or "defeat the evil emperor taking over the world" kind of thing, so it gets some points for originality.
I've heard many people call this a "beginner's RPG", but I get the feeling that they must not have played past the first few sequences of the game. This game may start out easy, but it gets really hard later on. One thing that makes it so challenging, is that you don't earn experience points in battle - only money. Therefore, you cannot increase your levels to make fighting enemies easier. Instead, you increase your HP and MP by finding Fragments of Hope (sort of like Heart Containers), and the only way to increase your strength is to find better weapons. You cannot increase defense at all. Also, Maria does not learn spells, so she cannot heal herself that way. You have to buy bread and tears to replenish HP and MP, and you can only carry so many of them. There are no really difficult puzzles to solve or mazes to navigate. Everything, including the dungeons, is pretty straight-forward, and you're always told what to do next. But the sheer number of enemy encounters can make this game difficult, and running from them doesn't always work! This could be a good thing, though, because the game is not overly long, and if it was easier, you might end up plowing through it too fast. Still, I would've preferred fewer enemy encounters, a more traditional experience system, and tougher puzzles and dungeons.
I once said this was one of the most horrible RPGs I've ever played, but upon replaying it some more, I realize it's not really as bad as I had thought. It's just extremely average. It's a Dragon Warrior clone with some unique features to set it apart, but not really push it ahead. The most unique feature of this game are the spirit helpers that Maria can find to aid her in battle. Maria does not cast spells, but she uses her MP to summon these spirits from various objects she finds in the game. Each spirit has different abilities, and as Maria gains Fragments of Hope, their levels go up, and some learn new spells or attacks. For example, calling on the spirit of the spear brings forth Moja, a really strong fighter with no magic. Calling on the spirit of the lamp brings forth Twana, a magician who cannot attack, but uses various spells, instead. The dungeon areas are easy to navigate with few surprises. It's the sheer number of enemy encounters that can make this game difficult. It can also make the game boring, too.
Overall, Ghost Lion may not be the worst RPG ever, but it's certainly not a classic. It is a lesser-known RPG, and if you're looking for an NES RPG that you have not played, you may want to look around for this one. It offers a solid challenge, but not much in the way of story, graphics or music.
SCORE (not an average): 4.5/10
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