Shinsenden

Shinsenden was published by Irem, and developed by Tamtex in 1989.  Considering the era, it’s ambitious.  However, the difficulty level is pretty high and the game shows that it’s very early.

Like many early RPGs, you need to use "speak" from the menu to talk. The hero is the man in white with blue hair.

The game levels you up quickly at first.  One battle is enough to get your partner up to level two, and two is enough to get her another level, and the hero his first level.  However, the enemies are fairly difficult.  If you head out to the second town at the start of the game, you’d die.

Here, the hero gets into one fight outside of town at the start of the game. Note that I went from 55 HP down to 11 HP. Your partner learns heal at level 5.

Musically, the game has a traditional Japanese music feel, which can be a bit shrill on the NES sound chip.  The graphics are passable.  I would’ve assumed the game was at least three years older than it was from screenshots.  I suppose that means that I’m underestimating 1989 NES RPGs.

While Dragon Quest II (1987) did have hidden items, it's unusual to see them scattered around towns in NES rpgs.

Design wise, the first area is a good example of lunky early design.  The rear entrance to the monk school sends you out into the forest (stronger enemies.)  If you want to use the free inn at the school, however, that entrance is closer as you leave.  This means that you can accidentally get killed at the start of the game (take the rear entrance, get a bad enemy grouping,) and that you can actually take more damage than you need to (take the closer entrance, put up with some strong fights.)

Here, I've taken the hero to the second town, and barely survived.

The encounter rate is too high, but the game is surprising for an early RPG.  The controls are smooth, the graphics are pretty good, and the battle system is surprisingly modern.  Your mage has enough magic to actually use her spells fairly often (although a short walk does exhaust her MP due to the encounter rate.)  Attacks even seem to be redirected to the next enemy when one dies.  All in all, I suspect a modern player would find the rough spots to be annoying, but it may appeal for a retro RPG fix.

The character portraits in battle is a nice touch.

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