Version Reviewed: NES
Year Published: 1987
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Tecmo

I have already reviewed Rygar twice for this website, once back when I used to do a "Game of the Month" feature and again for the defunct Capsule Reviews section. Since there is little reason to review it a third time, I'm instead going to explore some of the oddities that still surround it. Much of the fun of exploring adventure games like Rygar is learning their secrets and solving their mysteries, particularly when they are as rustic as Rygar's nonlinear world. There is no opening story, no tutorial or directions, and the only help comes in the form of cryptic dialogue from hermits living in caves here and there. Indeed, there is very little civilization to speak of, with the only non-natural structures (towers, castles, etc.) being inhabited by monsters. So, it's no wonder that even after finishing the game, Rygar could leave one feeling like there is more to learn, more to discover, or something that might've been missed.

Notice how the sun stays in place behind the mountains as the screen scrolls.

Mystery #1: The Lost Day/Night Cycle

To begin exploring Rygar's unsolved mysteries, we have start by examining the more obvious details. Amongst the game's most iconic images is the opening scene of the sunrise (or possibly the sun already starting to set) in the background. The sun stays in place behind the mountains even as they scroll away when Rygar runs across the land. This is a very early example of parallax scrolling, and while primitive compared to the more elaborate parallax seen in later 16-bit games, it is still quite impressive. This is thanks in part to the careful attention given to the scenery - mountains look like mountains, not just square brown blocks, and the extra details on the base of the sun, provide a sense of realism that immediately grabs your attention.

The palette of the riverbank is different for the sunset area.

As amazing as this scene is, Tecmo decided to give players a second mindblowing moment of this nature in the middle of the Caverns of Sagila area. Upon exiting the firt part of the caverns, Rygar finds himself along a forested riverbank with the sun now setting behind the mountains in the background. As before, it stays in place when he runs, and the area uses a palette that evokes the natural colors of a sunset. As a player seeing this for the first time in the late 80s, I thought this was really beyond cool.

Apparently, the developers deemed this event important enough to have a hermit tell you about it should you take the wrong path in the caverns.

Was all of this merely an effort by the developers to have something cool and memorable about Rygar's world, despite it not having any effect at all on the game itself? While that is certainly possible, there is circumstantial evidence to suggest there may have been more to it in the planning/development stages. A prerelease screenshot located at Unseen64 [External Link] depicts a dark sky and moon in the background of Gran Mountain. Since the finished game has a sun in the middle of the sky and a sunset, this feels like the missing final piece of a puzzle. As that site suggests, it seems a complete day/night cycle may have been intended. (This is something that Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, released four months later, would actually succeed in doing.)

A day/night cycle could very well explain some of the game's other most enduring mysteries. First, there's the seemingly useless bit of hermit dialogue, "It's 2 a.m. and time for the monsters to awaken." Rygar players love joking about how nonsensical this is, but maybe it was supposed to have some relevance. With a full day/night cycle there exists the possibility that certain monsters would be more common at night or would only come out at night.

It's hard to imagine how exactly this system would've worked in Rygar. In Castlevania II, every outdoor area has a day and night version, but in Rygar, the Sueru Mountain always has the sun mid-sky, and Mt. Primeval always has the sun setting. Since Gran Mountain is visited before Mt. Primeval, it would not make much sense to visit a night area before the sunset area, so it's doubtful that the moon in the prerelease version would have been as permanent. But how would it change? Perhaps this is why the idea was dropped - maybe it was too complicated for the little effect it would have on the game. But it also could possibly explain another unsolved mystery...

There does not appear to be any way to reveal the true forms of these enemies.

In Ligar's Sky Castle, the final area of the game, there are three enemies present, all of which have a palette of one solid gray color applied, making them appear as silhouettes. It is obvious that one of them is Dorago, the boss from an earlier area now appearing as a normal enemy. The other two, however, are unique to Ligar's Castle. Although they only appear as shadowy figures in the game, they do have "true forms" underneath that can be seen by opening the ROM in a tile viewer.

The first shadow enemy has the same behavior pattern as the Kinobles (tree monsters) seen in earlier areas, but the design is much different. It appears to be either a robot or lion-like creature in armor. Judging from the shoulder pads, boots, and lion-like snout, they may have been based on the design of Ligar from the arcade version of Rygar.

The second shadow monster has the same behavior pattern as the Ghelmans from Dorago's Palace, but while those were a strange goblin-like enemy, these are clearly giant bugs. Their design may have been a rework of the tortoise-like enemies from the earlier areas. Prerelease screenshots show the tortoises with a tapered tail, much like what these insects have.

The question is why are these enemies seen only in shadow, especially since actual designs are present in the ROM? It could've been a weird artistic choice - just to be mysterious, creepy, memorable? Perhaps, but I'm leaning more towards this being another remnant of the cut day/night cycle. It's possible that enemies may have appeared as shadows at night to make them harder to see, and these guys are simply stuck using a nighttime palette. But if the night cycle was axed, why leave them this way? Again, could just be that the developers decided they liked it, or the final area was rushed to completion.

There is evidence of the latter, considering you can jump off the west side of the castle's island into a glitched-up version of it. This can be game-ending if Rygar becomes stuck on top of the glitchy castle walls.

Mystery #2: Unused Enemies

While the lion guard and the giant bug enemies have unseen forms, they are at least used in the finished game. There exists, however, a dragon-like enemy and a butterfly in the ROM that are not used anywhere. The dragon's sprites suggest that it would sit in a pit with only the top of its head visible and would rise up when Rygar approaches it.

This behavior leads me to believe it is likely an early version of the Olbis, the green flying reptiles that shoot out of the water in Rolsa Valley. Since the unused dragon looks like it could only move vertically and the Olbis fly all around the screen, this is probably why they were redesigned. Another possibility is that the dragon may have been intended for the pits in the Caverns of Sagila. In any case, it's clear they were meant as an enemy for the sidescrolling areas and not the overhead areas.

What is less clear is the purpose of the unused butterfly. It doesn't look like an enemy, although it wouldn't be the first or last time a seemingly harmless thing was an enemy in a game. Some have suggested it resembles the types of objects that hold items in Tecmo's later Ninja Gaiden series. That could've been an intentional purpose, but Rygar obtains minor item drops from defeated enemies and important items from hermits living in caves. So, this butterfly wouldn't have been needed.

Mystery #3: Ligar's Castle Oddities

Along with the shadow monsters and obvious glitched area, there are other peculiarities in the ominous floating castle. The first is the lionhead fountain, which appears to only be decoration and have no function. But as any oldschool gamer can tell you, it's unusual to have a waterfall in a game and nothing hidden behind it. Rygar is a 1987 game, and perhaps that standard hadn't been established yet, but it still looks like it's enticing you to jump into it. The fountainhead itself is a unqiue graphic not used anywhere else but in this room, so it draws your attention. Even more suspicious is that when you look at the entire Sky Castle mapped out [External Link], you can see the area behind the fountain is solid brick, but certainly looks like a room could've been in that spot. It's frustrating, but if anything was ever intended to be here, we'll probably never know.

The second strangest element is King Ligar himself. In the arcade version of Rygar, King Ligar is an actual flesh-and-blood anthropomorphic lion that jumps around the screen. In Rygar, he's an immobile statue, much like the earlier bosses Belzar and Deathpigor. In fact, he's wielding Deathpigor's disembodied heads as weapons. The question is, why the change? If I had to come up with a fan explanation, it kinda looks like his upper body is breaking free from the statue but his legs and feet are still stuck. So, was he turned into a statue and is changing back? Did someone carve a statue that is coming to life? Was the final area rushed and it was just easier to make a boss based on pre-existing bosses and behavior patterns? I guess we'll never know.

Mystery #4: The Caverns of Sagila

The network of caves that eventually lead to the giant spider boss, Sagila, and the crossbow item are somewhat of a mystery. In the first section there is far more space than what is necessary to explore. You never have to leave the top tunnel of the cave, despite all the passages that descend farther down. In fact, if you insist on exploring this area, all you'll find are hermits, one of which heals you, and the other two emphatically redirect you back the way you came. I don't believe anything more was planned for this area, but it's weird that it only exists to trip up intrepid explorers when exploring is how adventure games are typically solved.

Mystery #5: Regional Differences

While the original Japanese game that Rygar was based on, Argos no Senshi, is pretty much the same game, there were changes made to the soundtrack for unknown reasons. The following areas have different music in Rygar vs. Argos no Senshi:

  • Sueru Mountain/Mt. Primeval Sunset Area
  • Gran Mountain/Rolsa Valley
  • Caverns of Sagila
  • Dorago's Palace
  • Hermit/Indoras Caves

    Some of these changes were arguably for the better (I doubt many players would trade the Gran Mountain or Caverns of Sagila themes for anything), but the music for Dorago's Palace took a hit, with the Rygar version being an infamously annoying 4-note song. It's worth mentioning that the Rygar version of the hermit cave music was reused on the title screen of the NES game, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Michiharu Hasuya was the composer for both games.

    Another regional curiosity is that the hero originally had no name and was known simply as "The Warrior of Argos". "Rygar" is technically a different romanization of the final boss's name, "Ligar". The hero's name becoming an alternate spelling of the villain's name seems to have occurred somehow in the US marketing of the original arcade game and has been that way ever since.

    Mystery #6: The NES Game is Actually a Sequel

    Argus vs. Argool, no wonder we were all so confused.

    This is not so much a "mystery" as a seemingly overlooked fact. Many regard the NES version of Rygar as a remake of the arcade game of the same name, despite their play styles having little in common. The ending dialogue suggests differently. In the arcade game, Rygar is saving a world called Argus (or Argos) from King Ligar. But the world in the NES game is actually a different land called Argool (also confirmed by a hermit living in Dorago's Palace). Rygar came from Argus to Argool, and returns to Argus after defeating King Ligar (again). With the two worlds having such similar names and the same villain, I'm not surprised anyone was confused by all of this. The manual's story takes it a step further by saying that Rygar was resurrected from the dead, suggesting Argus is equivalent to Heaven, and further suggesting that the "Door of Peace" is really the "Doors to Heaven". This could also explain the discrepancy in King Ligar's appearance between the two games - maybe in the NES game he really is being resurrected from his defeat via a statue somehow.

    Of special note is that something similar happened with the NES game, Dragon Spirit: The New Legend. While the stages do closely follow those of the arcade Dragon Spirit, storywise and per the added subtitle, it is a sequel, not a remake.

    Mystery #7: Demoro Bruzer

    It's a dinosaur on tank treads. There is nothing particularly special about it, except that it's a dinosaur on tank treads. I guess the artist felt that Eruga, a giant two-headed tortoise with tiger heads, wasn't weird enough and gave us this, too - the single most baffling monster in the game.

    Bonus Little-Known Fact

    You can skip major portions of Dorago's Palace by jumping across the gaps. Believe it or not, Rygar can stand on part of the shadowed portions of the bricks, making the pits just wide enough for him to cross.