Story/Characters: The story starts out fairly conventional, with the King of Light vs. the King of Dark. But there are some surprises and twists, and none of the characters are completely bad. Supposedly this was geared towards younger players but the plot is pretty dark at times and has some sad and brutal moments. It's nothing mindblowing but it's servicable enough.
The characters are also varied. Your main character is descended from a hero but is weak-willed and scared, and he has to overcome that. You have a monster with a "heart of light", a mermaid, and a dog or raccoon-human. Some of the villians are generic and just pop up only to die, but others have a bit more development. Overall neither the story nor characters are anything earth shattering, but for this era it's not bad.
World: The world is small. There are only about 5 towns, and the whole world seems a little slapped together -- once again, fairly typical for this era, but it's hard to get much feel for the different areas of the world, other than some obvious ones like the snow area.
Game Flow: Unless you use the money making trick in the first town, game flow is bad right off the bat. You have almost no money to equip your people, and the initial encounters include some hard enemies that can wipe out your party. Throughout the game the enemies in general give too little XP and money, especially bosses, who sometimes give less XP than the random fights in the dungeon.
As you progress, this gets worse and worse -- the dungeons are generally large, and take a long time to go through even if you use the hidden "fast walking speed" option. Add to this the high random encounter rate and the length and difficulty of battles, and it can be a marathon experience just to make it through one dungeon.
System: You have a party of 5 people. Often you have "lights of destiny" that take up some of your slots, but normally 2-3 of the characters are free. The game offers an impressive array of characters you can have join your party: a small child, a dog, a hunter, a bunny girl dancer, a mermaid, and more. If that weren't enough, you can invite monsters to join your team. Although some of the characters are better than others, they're all viable to use.
Dungeons are basic exploration; there's next to nothing in the way of puzzles or other areas of interest. It's annoying that you have to use light spells or items to see.
The inventory is somewhat limited but I found it acceptable.
And then, alas, there is the battle system. It's really hard to see how this made it out of quality testing. I commend them for trying something interesting, but the flaws are so serious and so blatant that someone should have recognized it. Perhaps by that point it was too late to turn back.
I covered the bad parts of the battle system in detail throughout the reviews. The battle system plays out like Ultima III, where you have a top down view of your characters on a grid. You can only attack an enemy if you're in range with your weapon. Spells also have areas and ranges. So what's wrong with it?
There are too many encounters. The battles go slowly, and the movement rates of characters are low. It's easy to get trapped behind obstacles or pots and not be able to attack things. Status effects are far too devastating, especially at the beginning. Missing is common. If any "light of destiny" dies you get a game over. If you're not going to use the trick to eliminate encounters, you pretty much have to save after every battle because any battle could potentially spell disaster, either from a critical hit that ignores defense, or repeated use of spells whose damage is fixed (no magic defense stat). The fact that you have to spend most of your 8 magic slots on status effect curing means you can't really use the magic system to its fullest potential. Spells also cost too much MP, making it impractical to use them for much else.
Basically if you're playing this game without any tricks, you're going to be grinding a lot, saving after every battle, and spending 5 hours on a dungeon.
(One trick I forgot to mention is that if an enemy is casting an area effect spell, you can cancel it by pressing the B button.)
Side Quests/Optional Content: None.
Interface: There's an odd delay with button presses, but other than that the interface is fine. There's an all-purpose button so you don't have to pick "talk" or "search" from a menu. Unfortunately as usual you can't see the strength of equipment until you actually equip it.
Graphics/Sound: There are a lot of nice cutscene-style graphics throughout the game's story sequences. Other than that, the graphics don't stand out. They're serviceable, but nothing special.
The music is fine. Here are a few sample tracks.
Unfortunately, I can't recommend this game. It's borderline unplayable unless you use a bunch of tricks to bypass as many random encounters as you can and get money easily, but then why play the game at all?
Next up is game 4 of our 5 kusoge series, Fist of the North Star 5. This seems to be considered bad mostly because of its story, so perhaps it's at least playable.