I have previously covered half of Icom’s MacVenture series. The console ports of these were handled by Kemco-Seika. Apparently, they wanted some of that MacVenture action all to themselves, so they went to the Game Boy–I guess that would make the result a GameBoyVenture–and created something very similar.
Released in 1991, The Sword of Hope can be summed up as “Shadowgate Meets Dragon Warrior”. In this game, you play as Prince Theo. An evil dragon has corrupted the good King Hennessey (Sometimes spelled “Hennesy” in the game), and turned the people of the kingdom of Riccar into trees. One of Hennessey’s knights, Pascal, escaped into the forest with baby Theo. Meanwhile, three powerful wizards sealed the king and his castle underground, to limit further damage to Riccar. Fifteen years have passed since these events, and the time has come for Theo to rise up and find the Sword of Hope, using it to defeat the dragon poisoning Hennessey’s mind.
To do this, you’ll travel the world in an interface reminiscent of the NES MacVenture ports. All the familiar elements are there–the window on the bottom-left that denotes the locations you can move to, the commands on the bottom-right, and the visualization of your immediate surroundings in the middle-left. That’s not all, though. On the top of the screen, you’ll find some RPG elements, such as your Level, HP and MP. Yes, The Sword of Hope has some enemies to kill. The good news is that, unlike many of its contemporaries, you can see when battles will be coming–they’ll be marked with a dot near the arrows that denote where you can go. Try to move into the dot, and it’s battle time. The bad news is that the game likes to do this multiple times in a row. When you win a battle, you return to the screen you were on before the battle started, and the dot may still be there. Eventually, you’ll get into a six-battle string before the game deigns to allow you to move to the next screen.
Much like Golden Sun apes both the good and bad of Lufia II, The Sword of Hope is Shadowgate Meets Dragon Warrior for better or worse. Shadowgate has its share of puzzles that don’t make logical sense. While this has fewer commands than Shadowgate–you have Look, Open, Hit, and Use an item, with no “Use Item on Other Item” interactions–this ostensibly simplified interface serves to accentuate the “moon logic” of some of the puzzles. Spoiling as little as possible, the “Open” command is used for much more than it logically should be. On the Dragon Warrior front, while this isn’t Grinding: The Game like Dragon Warrior is, you’ll have to do some fighting at the start to survive. Worse, it’s very possible to lose the first fights you’ll get into, and unlike Dragon Warrior, it won’t be because you wandered too far away–the common enemy is just that hard at the onset. Fortunately, after a level or two, they’re much easier, and dying doesn’t carry a penalty beyond getting warped back to the old man with very little HP and MP. The game throwing bunches of enemies in your path while you’re just trying to get somewhere means there isn’t a lot of required extra grinding in the game, but there are a couple difficulty spikes later on where you’ll wonder how you’re supposed to survive at first. The game’s bosses are also challenging, almost requiring some luck to defeat. Worse, the game likes to throw some of the bosses at you shortly thereafter, as regular enemies.
Part of the reason you need luck is that the game’s damage formulas can be strange. Especially later on in the game, it’s not uncommon for an attack to do single-digit damage in one round of combat, followed by that same attack doing 50-plus damage in the next round. Since most enemies don’t have more than 100HP, you can see how this would be frustrating.
Fortunately, the music in the game is solid, which is good, since you’ll be listening to certain tracks a lot. The music is very Shadowgatey, as evidenced by Mrs. Emptyeye walking in while I was playing it and, without even looking at the screen, going “Oh, this is by the Shadowgate people, isn’t it?”
The Sword of Hope took me about ten hours to complete for the first time. I had played about halfway through it when I was younger, getting hung up on one of those boss fights I mentioned earlier. On the other hand, this time around, a good chunk of my ten-hour playthrough was spent in a “I’m pretty sure I know WHAT I have to do, I just don’t know HOW to do it” state. Make of that what you will. The game allows you to use 16-character passwords to pick up where you left off.
Either way, if you like Shadowgate (Moon logic puzzles and all), or you like RPGs, I recommend The Sword of Hope. While its sequel is available on the 3DS Virtual Console, the original game, oddly, is not. It’s available for between $10 and $20 on EBay though, and is a worthy pickup at the lower end of that spectrum.