You want to play an RPG but you don’t have the hours it takes to accumulate wealth, level up, and find items? I have just the game for you: Sega’s Fatal Labyrinth for the Genesis.
Technically, Fatal Labyrinth is considered a roguelike (or rogue-like, a term I never knew until five minutes ago) game, but I would call it an RPG or at least RPG-like. It has the briefest of stories: a dragon has stolen a chalice from a village and you have to venture into his castle to get it back. It also has the briefest of opening village scenes; you start in a town in which there are several people you can (but don’t have to) talk to. Very quickly, though, you get to the real action: exploring a dungeon whose rooms and halls are slowly revealed as you explore them, acquiring all sorts of equipment (weapons, armor, helmets, rings, potions, scrolls, staffs, etc), and battling all sorts of monsters.
The action is overhead, pretty close to that of The Legend of Zelda. The graphics are decent and the sound & sound effects are as well (I liked them, anyway). There is a level up feature for those with the need to climb the ranks. And there is a fairly good bestiary with which to fight.
The real selling point of Fatal Labyrinth, though, is that it is random. There is no map to memorize. Each of the castle’s 30 levels are randomly generated once you begin playing. So is the placement of weapons and the effects of the scrolls, rings, potions, and canes. This gives the game a great deal of replayability; it will always be different, so you can play it several times over. It also gives you the chance to find a powerful weapon pretty quickly.
The real killing point of Fatal Labyrinth is the menu system. You will spend a lot of time on the menu screen, equipping and unequipping items. You will spend even more time discarding items. There are lots of items you can only carry so many, and you find a lot of the same thing, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time getting rid of stuff you picked up. This is my biggest grievance with the game. I wish it wouldn’t give you so much stuff and so much of the same stuff, or at least not make it so hard to get rid of.
There are a couple of oddities with this game as well. Since you never know what the rings, potions, canes, and scrolls do, you pretty much have to burn the first one of each color you find. That’s not so bad with the rings; you can take them off and keep them. But it means you waste whatever potion, cane, or scroll you had just to see what it will do. Also, even though the game generally plays like The Legend of Zelda, the fighting and moving is still turn based, meaning you often get whacked without being able to get away from your enemies. It also means that you sometimes have trouble lining up to attack your enemies; they move so many spaces while you move so many spaces, and it comes out like two knights on a chess board circling each other. Beyond that, you strike not by pushing a button but by pushing the d-pad toward your enemy. I got killed a lot before I figured that one out. And lastly, the name just isn’t memorable enough. I have lost this game so many times because I forgot what it was called, and because there are so many Genesis games that have all the same elements as this games (castles, swords, etc), I have always had a hard time finding it.
Oddities aside, though. It is a good game. Perhaps not a great one, but certainly an enjoyable one.
P.S. I just discovered that Fatal Labyrinth can be bought on Steam as both an individual game and a bundle of other Genesis games. Not the same as playing the real thing, but still a very good deal.