The Magic of Scheherazade (1989 - NES)
Though I never gave a formal review to this game, the fact that I devoted an entire game shrine to it probably says something about my high regard for it. This was actually the first game I ever played that had menu-driven battles. I had no concept of an "RPG" before this, and it's what got me hooked on the genre and made me a fan of Culture Brain.
Scheherazade has a multitude of innovations beyond earlier RPGs, like Dragon Warrior. The game is actually a hybrid of an RPG (menu battles, level-building) and an adventure game (direct fighting, a la, Legend of Zelda). It uses a chapter system in which you only explore one part of the world, and can only advance five experience levels per chapter. Each chapter is laid out like a maze, with numerous puzzles and situations to resolve, and each presents new challenges. Examples: Invisible floor pits, a completely dark maze that requires a light source, a desert that slowly drains your HP.
As if the Arabian setting weren't unique enough to set the game apart, it also uses a time travel concept in which you jump to the past or the future to look for ways of resolving problems in the current time period. Many times, this involves recruiting new party members - many of which rank amongst the most bizarre RPG characters I've ever seen, including a rain shrimp and a talking bottle.
The menu battles are a bit rusty as they don't give you direct control over what enemies to attack. Your characters automatically attack the next one in line, which makes it frustrating when a strong attack is wasted on an enemy with low hit points and vice versa. But it's something I learned to accept, and it's mitigated somewhat by the ability to use combo attacks when you choose certain characters to be in the fight.
While the story may not be the most elaborate, it is well-translated, with sparks of self-aware humor and spunky character personalities, and some mind-bending plot twists. Scheherazade also has the honor of being one of the first RPGs I played that has a truly great soundtrack.
The game is certainly not the most difficult in the world, although some of its later boss fights and mazes can be harrowing. But it's a game that is easily recommended to anyone who is a fan of RPGs and adventure games and it will make you feel good to play it...except for that promise of a sequel in the ending that never came.
Rygar (1987 - NES)
Rygar is a fun little adventure game with great scenery (the parallax sun is one of its most iconic images) and music (Sagila's Den, Garloz, and Eruga's Forest are all well-loved NES tracks), but is very short and very easy. This is probably because the game does not have any kind of save feature, so it had to be a reasonable length to finish in one session. It may also be a consequence of the game being unfinished, as its ridiculously glitchy nature would suggest. How glitchy? The graphics sometimes glitch in weird ways and it's possible to send Rygar into areas that should normally be out-of-bounds (this can be game-ending in the final area).
As Rygar traverses both sidescrolling and overhead view areas, he acculumates a plethora of gadgets needed to fully explore the world by defeating bosses and finding giant three-eyed wise men. As he fights enemies, he builds experience that increases both his offensive strength and his life meter bar.
Glitches and game length aren't the only reasons I suspect the game is underdone. Early screenshots in old magazines showed a moon and stars in the Gran Mountain background, suggesting a complete night cycle may have been intended (as opposed to just seeing the sun and later the sunset), and it may explain the mysterious dark enemies in Ligar's Castle - These enemies actually have true forms that I discovered in the ROM several years ago (you can see them here), but there is no way to reveal them, which seems strange, and perhaps had something to do with the game's axed night setting.