Welcome to our weekly feature, Virtually Overlooked, wherein we talk about games that aren't on the Virtual Console yet, but should be. Call it a retro-speculative.
A LONG, LONG TIME AGO, BEFORE HUMAN BEING APPEARED... THERE LIVED A MONSTER NAMED FIREBRAND IN A GAME CALLED GHOSTS 'N GOBLINS.
He was a huge jerk. As anyone who has ever played Ghosts 'n Goblins will tell you. In his own games, the Gargoyle's Quest series, he gets a taste of his own medicine-- both from all the monsters who now want to fly directly and unavoidably into him and from us, who still hold a grudge for pretty much every time we tried to play Ghosts 'n Goblins. Eventually we were able to put aside our rage and help Firebrand succeed, but we always remembered in the back of our minds that this guy is an ass.
The Ghouls 'n Ghosts/Makaimura series of games is not known for its deep storyline. Guy in armor loses girl, guy throws javelins at zombies, guy loses armor. It seems, then, like a pretty weird choice for an RPG. Gargoyle's Quest is, accordingly, a pretty weird RPG! It takes place in a society of monsters and features enemies from the main games as not only the protagonist, but NPCs as well. The shambling blue-haired zombies from the NES game hang around in town and talk to you in meaningless NPC-speak. We always appreciate it when an RPG takes place in a setting other than Fake Medieval England, and the Demon Realm qualifies.
More significantly, it ties into the main series by also being a side-scrolling action game. Instead of the random battles of most 8-bit RPGs, the game is punctuated by frequent action stages, in which Firebrand jumps, shoots, and hovers (for an increasing amount of time as the game progresses). It's similar to a Ghosts 'n Goblins game, except quite a bit easier (though still Capcom Hard), with bigger jumps, fewer enemies and, of course, no freaking Red Arremer to worry about. Why don't more RPGs remove the boring parts in favor of jumping and shooting?
Gargoyle's Quest II the NES game is the sequel to a similar Game Boy game, and is quite a bit easier to play for technical reasons. While nice-looking for the Game Boy, Gargoyle's Quest is still an early Game Boy game, whereas Gargoyle's Quest II is one of the best-looking sidescrollers on the NES, as well as one of the best-looking RPGs, full of detailed sprites and beautiful shading. Gargoyle's Quest was one of the early standouts on a Game Boy that was still pretty much a Tetris-only system. The NES sequel got almost no attention, simply having been released too late, over a year after the Super NES.
It's too bad that such a fantastically innovative game, with such high production values, wasn't the hit it could have been; we'd love to have seen the sidescrolling RPG genre expand. There are a few purely sidescrolling RPGs around, including Odin Sphere and Valkyrie Profile, but really nothing that combines traditional Dragon Quest-like exploration with pure 2D action gameplay.