While RPGs were not as plentiful on the Genesis the ones it did receive were generally excellent. Everyone is aware of Phantasy Star and the Shining series but the system’s action RPGs enjoy a lower profile. Crusader of Centy was a late 1994 release that snuck onto store shelves with little fanfare. That is unfortunate as it is an excellent little hidden gem that serves as a perfect Sega counterpart to A Link to the Past. Fans of the genre should definitely track this down.
In the town of Soleil by law all boys that come of age at 14 (!) are required to gear up and train for battle. On Corona’s 14th birthday he receives his father’s sword and shield and sets out to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Unfortunately his simple ambition will eventually place him at the center of the centuries long conflict between humans and monsters, one that will force him to learn some harsh truths about the world in the process.
The story is surprisingly involved considering the game is targeted at a younger audience. I won’t go so far as to say that it is deep but it does bring up numerous philosophical points such as prejudice against demons and will actually make you wonder who are the actual villains in the story, the demons who simply want to make a place for themselves or the humans that relentlessly pursue them. You get to see it from both points of view which is actually pretty unique if a bit heavy handed. The plot is split into two halves with the second half of the game seeing you revisit previously cleared areas. Normally this is padding of the highest order but it is kept brief and there is a good story based reason for it.
There is no getting around the fact that Centy resembles Zelda a little too closely but to call it a clone would be doing the game a disservice. Aside from the overhead view and Corona’s outfit the two games have a wildly different focus. Whereas Zelda manages to evenly place an emphasis on action and puzzle solving Centy is more combat focused with some light platforming sprinkled in. Corona will eventually gain the ability to throw his sword and jump early on but the controls still feel a bit clunky. His movement is slow and the sword attack swings in an arc which doesn’t always connect with enemies even when they are right in your face. Most of these problems are fixed with the animal helpers, the game’s most unique element.
Throughout the game different animal companions will you join you in your quest, bestowing different skills and abilities, some combat related and others more oriented to puzzle solving. Some like Chilly the penguin and Inferno the lion will add ice and fire to your attacks. Flash the cheetah increases your movement speed and monarch the butterfly will allow you to control your sword’s movement once thrown. With some creative thinking some of the more exotic partners can be used to further trivialize certain parts of the game; you can use Wong to make a clone of yourself to lure bosses and attack freely or utilize Drippy to completely avoid AOE attacks. In total there are 15 that can be used in pairs that can increase their power or produce totally new skills. These animals function like items in a Zelda dungeon with the entire game relying on their use.
I’ve probably given the impression that each of the game’s dungeons and caves will involve heavy use of your companions when in reality that isn’t true. The game’s puzzles are incredibly simple, even simpler than the block pushing in Zelda. More often than not you are simply stepping on switches or at most utilizing one unique skill every so often to create a path or activate a distant switch. Areas like the Tower of Babel and the final dungeon, which see you utilizing nearly every one of your partners are rare and offer a glimpse of what the game could have been if the designers were a little more ambitious.
All in all the quest will take you 10-12 hours to complete which seems an appropriate length. That’s just enough time to fully explore all of the game’s mechanics and take you to some interesting locales without the game wearing out its welcome. The game is insanely easy; not that your typical action RPG is ever difficult but even with the absence of any life restoring items to bring into battle (outside of one follower) you’ll rarely die. Even if you were to completely avoid collecting the golden apples your life bar will become absurdly long by the end, allowing you to make many mistakes. Between this and the overwhelming power of some of the animal combinations you’ll breeze through the game but at the same time enjoy it while it lasts.
Crusader of Centy’s visual art style is far more vibrant than most Genesis titles and a welcome relief from the overly dark games that make up its library. While the surface similarities to Zelda are there the overall tone is a bit cartoonier. You’ll also spend far more time in outdoor environments than stuffy dungeons that share a similar visual style. There’s a great deal of variety in the lands you’ll visit and while they do run the gamut of video game tropes they all look excellent. The soundtrack is generally solid; there are no stand out tracks but what is there is pleasant to listen to.
Crusader of Centy might be light on originality but it succeeds where it counts most; fun. The game moves at a brisk pace and introduces new elements often enough that you will rarely ever be bored. It’s brevity will make you wish the game were a bit longer but you’ll have so much fun with the content the game does provide that it won’t matter.