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Arabian Nights: Sabaku no Seirei Ou

Super Nintendo

Game Review (by Daria):

Ancient Arabia is a sadly underused setting for RPGs - or videogames in general. But considering both Defenders of Oasis and Magic of Scheherazade rank among my top genre favorites I’ve always been greatly intrigued by the Super Famicom exclusive, Arabian Nights, from Pandora’s Box. And although this translation patch has been available for the past 2 and half years, I only got the chance to sit down and play it just this weekend. And boy - was I underwhelmed.

The story goes something like this: Ifrit King of the Djinns has been stripped of his more powerful magicks and is bound to a contract ring until he can grant 1000 wishes. The last person to pick up his ring is a little girl who wishes for peace in her homeland. So Ifrit and friends embark on an adventure to defeat evil and regain the Djinn’s true power.

Cute premise but regrettably I found the actual game plagued by a ridiculously high encounter rate; you already move so slowly across the world map that it seems downright cruel when a new battle triggers every few steps. This issue disappears once you unlock mid game vehicles. But the biggest flaw has to be the lopsided difficulty level: new areas will utterly decimate your party until you manage to grind up enough money to afford new equipment at which point the journey becomes a cake walk to the next town where the whole process repeats itself.

This is particularly disappointing because I otherwise really liked the game’s card system; at the beginning of a round you can choose a card to place on the battlefield. Cards have various beneficial effects such as healing your party once a turn, dealing bonus damage to your enemies, or even boosting your party’s attack or defense stats. But your opponent can also attempt to play cards, and only one card can control the board at a time. So the game decides which card to keep and which to bump by comparing their rankings - which range from 1 to 5. The higher ranking card stays, and the lower ranking card gets the boot with cards of equal ranking canceling one another out. This mechanic is most useful during boss battles, where you really don’t want to be caught holding anything lower than a 5. You’ll end up dumping the rest of your cards in random encounters - whether you need them or not.

The dungeons are needlessly large, mostly empty, and extremely frustrating, but again I have to blame the random encounter rate. Like most old school RPGs you’ll find yourself constantly back track through dead-ends because the game gives you no clear indication where to go and because you’ll want to track down all the available loot. But when you’re triggering a new battle every other step the exploration ceases to be enjoyable. I can’t in good faith recommend that you play Arabian Nights, despite its outstanding visuals it’s sadly not much fun to play. And even if you happen to be a total masochist who can somehow overlook the constant barrage of encounter after encounter the storytelling falls flat. I desperately wanted to like Ifrit and his companions, their portraits alone ooze with personality. But cut scene after cut scene the little girl has proven herself to be insipidly naive, enthusiastically throwing herself at other people’s problems because she’s quote unquote a “good person” while her traveling companions raise their collective eyebrows and charge in obediently after her because… how could the story advance if they didn’t? It’s one thing to have a silly and light-hearted storyline, but 3 hours into the game and I feel zero attachment to my shallow and soulless party members.

The game’s not all bad; Arabian Nights takes liberal inspiration from other RPG classics and crafts an incredibly pretty universe. It’s no wonder that screenshots of this title had captivated my curiosity for years. But it is funny how throughout my current play through I’m constantly haunted by a familiar sense of deja vu; from the over world that’s strangely reminiscent of Chrono Trigger, to the battlefield not unlike Ogre Battle, and even borrows visual elements such as mini-portraits from Seiken Densetsu 3. Now I’m not calling Arabian Nights a clone, because it’s very much its own game. But it certainly pays homage to some of the greater titles that came before it.