After I wrote the last post, I learned about a trick that got me past the final boss. Due to a bug, if you successfully run from the final boss, it counts as beating him. Although he always starts with a fire breath attack, it sometimes will do 100 or 50 instead of 300. So if you just load state enough (or actually go through the entire dungeon again), eventually you can get lucky enough to not die and then run. This is the only alternative to hours of grinding. Since Guptar's XP is glitched (it starts at ~700 for the next level but then jumps to 18,000 after your first battle, and her defense goes down), I feel it's only fitting to use another glitch to get past it.
The ending is pretty short; Guptar uses the power of the demon statue to restore her clan, and Pai and Yakumo go off to rest. After the credits there's a teaser scene; I don't know if they planned another game which was never made, or if they were simply encouraging you to read the manga.
On to the review.
Story/Characters: These are both problematic. Although the game provides enough background for you to understand the basics, this is clearly intended for fans of the series. None of the characters are fleshed out more than just brief outlines, and there's very little dialogue in the game beyond where to go next and what to do. The story feels incomplete -- it's adapted from the manga, but it doesn't start at the beginning, and the manga wasn't finished yet when the game came out. The story is more like a series of episodes than a unified plot. If you're not familiar with 3x3 Eyes it's going to be hard to appreciate what's going on.
World: The game takes place in the real world. You're based in Hong Kong but you travel to India, Greece, and Tibet. The areas have different designs and classic locations like Mount Olympia and the Himalayas. Not bad, I guess.
Game Flow: The dungeons are quite long, and often involve essentially repeating the same task several times -- for instance, finding 5 separate statues in five sections of a dungeon. Although the dungeons are large and confusing, they're fairly easy to map because they're a grid-based layout like the early Zelda games.
Of course, the largest problem with the flow comes from the XP bug that afflicts both Haan and Guptar. It means that unless you're willing to use save states and other glitches, you're going to spend many hours grinding levels. Playing this on a real console would be an exercise in masochism.
One other issue, if you're not using a walkthrough, is that flying around to the various areas costs $4000. This is a significant sum of money even later in the game. If you go to the wrong place, or it turns out you forgot items (like the Plastic Bombs), you have to spend $8000 to rectify your error.
System: Pai and Yakumo have plenty of MP, and can afford to constantly spam their magic and techniques. This makes most of the monsters quite easy to deal with, including the bosses. The biggest problem with the game is the fact that you get a game over if anyone other than Yakumo's HP reach 0. If it weren't for this, the game would be sleepwalk easy. Unfortunately, Haan and Guptar join with very low HP that makes them sitting ducks for the enemies. A game over sends you back to the title screen and your last save.
But even beyond that, the RPG elements are undeveloped. Equipment is almost non-existent in the game, and getting more than the first buyable stuff involves a complicated method that's not worth the tiny benefits. Most dungeons have no chests, and the ones that do aren't very good. There are few monsters, and even in the final dungeon you can encounter monsters from the first dungeon. Pai and Yakumo gain very few additional spells, meaning that what you start with is basically what you'll have for the whole game.
One feature that is interesting is the white pieces of paper you can buy and then turn into talismans that have various effects (healing, curing status effects, escaping from the dungeon). It's a bit more interesting than the standard items.
There's no inventory limit!!
Side Quests/Optional Content: None
Graphics/Sound: The music is fine.
The graphics are normal for the era. The opening and conclusion have some nice cutscene graphics, and there are one or two other instances of this in the game. The map sprites have no faces, but I guess that's something I can overlook.
Interface: Standard for this era. You can't see the stats of equipment before you buy it, or what any of the items do. Fortunately there is one button for talk and search so you don't have to choose that from a menu.
I am finally at the end of the 5 game "kusoge" sequence. Out of the five games, I would say Villgust was the best -- it's dull and tedious but playable. Maka Maka is interesting and if you can deal with the bugs it's OK. Fist of the North Star is more or less playable but requires a lot of grinding at parts and is extremely slow and tedious to play. Light Fantasy is unplayable. 3x3 Eyes is boring, but decent up until the final dungeon, when it becomes unplayable unless you're willing to use glitches.
Out of all the games I would say Light Fantasy is the worst.
Next up on the list, from this site, is Shodai Nekketsu Kunio-kun. This is a game in the long-running Kunio-kun franchise, which Western players know from games like River City Ransom and Crash 'n' the Boys: Street Challenge. These games were heavily modified in localization. As for Shodai Nekketsu Kunio-kun, it's marginal as an RPG. It's basically a beat-em-up game but you can level up and equip things, and there is some degree of exploration. As I posted a while back, I find it very difficult to objectively define an action RPG in a way that includes games like Secret of Mana but excludes games like Castlevania II.
For me Kunio-kun is borderline, and because there is a translation patch and walkthroughs, I'm going to skip it. Which means next up is Dragon Quest V. Finally, a game that should be good!