Paladin’s Quest came out in the US in 1993 and the Japanese version came out in 1992. Its art style is pretty unique on the SNES.
The world of Paladin’s Quest starts out pretty formulaic. Your hero, Chezni, is at a magical school. He’s dared to go to the Tower of Gabnid, and he accidentally releases a terrifying dragon like creature. Said creature is apparently the feared Dal Gren, and releasing it destroys the school. Soon, you pick up a fellow adopted orphan girl. If it wasn’t for the art style, this would feel like any number of SNES era RPGs.
The first thing that stands out as unique in the game is the art style. The entire game has a sort of ornate Art Deco look and strong black outlines on sprites. There’s several races in the game (who have personality traits explained in the manual.) For the most part, the game doesn’t talk about the races, but there are towns of various groups, and differing styles to the buildings as you travel. The plot, as you get late in the game, spirals into a reincarnation plot, complete with a massive complex dedicated to one hero’s love for his wife.
As for the actual game play, the game has some unique features. You can have bottles, which can be refilled. These can be the equivalent of a bandoleer of grenades, for example, or a pack of healing potions. Magic works via spirits. You upgrade your spirit levels to unlock better magic and combine them to make spells. It costs HP to cast spells, however, for the most part, that simply means that mages need extra healing, and are less useful for exploring (since you’d have HP drain if you wanted to use their magical attacks.)
To fight, you select items via directions. This means you can basically autobattle by holding right. You can also cower behind shields, or kick people with high heeled shoes. It feels a little over sensitive when you’re trying to select things, but it’s not that bad.
If it’s not obvious from the battle menu, the translation is awkward in Paladin’s Quest. Enix, in this era, did not tend to spend a lot of money or time on translations, and it shows in this game. Items tend to have heavily truncated names. Dialogue has the occasional awkward turn of phrase. Still, the game keeps a surprising amount of darkness in the plot instead of hiding it in halfhearted censoring.
In the end, Paladin’s Quest is an oddity. It has a wild graphical style and a complex world that isn’t entirely explained in the game. Some of the plot revelations fall flat, but you can tell that the game at least hoped to tell a story. The use of multiple cultures in the game does make it interesting, as well as the attempts to have your extra characters have a personality. Some of that is probably helped by a pretty decent musical score for the game. The game is grindy, and dungeon areas tend to dissolve into acres of corridors and fights. Still, I remember this game fondly.