The Legend of Zelda is one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. Its signature blend of combat, exploration, and puzzle solving has inspired countless games over the years. Even as far back as the SNES, when the formula was just really getting started with A Link to the Past, there were imitators all around. One of those that never got a chance at a Western release was a little game called Alcahest.
Released in 1993, Alcahest was developed by HAL Laboratory, who would go on to create Kirby, EarthBound, and the Super Smash Bros. franchise. The game was published by Squaresoft, making this yet another Square game that never saw a Western release during the 16-bit era. Don’t worry, there are even more of those coming up in future instalments of this series.
Alcahest follows swordsman, Alen, as he journeys through 8 unique stages swinging his sword at bad guys, acquiring magical powers from defeated bosses, and saving the land. Though the set up and gameplay style are ripped straight from The Legend of Zelda, Alcahest’s art style goes for something a bit more mature.
In doing so, it sets itself apart visually, but it doesn’t quite pop as much as the crisp colors in Link’s 16-bit outing. For a 1993 SNES game, the graphics don’t really do a lot to help the game stand out from the crowd. Alen’s character sprite is large and fairly well-detailed and the locations and backgrounds are varied, but there’s a distinctiveness missing that ends up making the visuals kind of forgettable.
This isn’t a knock against Nintendo’s 16-bit competitor, but if I didn’t know this game came out on the SNES, I would have said Alcahest was a Genesis title. The larger, more mature character sprites, and the more muted color palette make it look more like a fantasy version of Rolling Thunder than a Zelda clone.
The combat is pretty straight forward and takes a lot of cues from the Zelda playbook. Very early in the game, you acquire an ability called “Aura Blade” which allows you to shoot projectiles from your sword. You can also charge your sword to do a spinning slash attack. These attacks can be changed from stage to stage as you pick up more abilities.
Despite the many similarities to the big “Z,” Alcahest is still very much worth playing. I don’t know what it is about 16-bit era action RPGs, but it just feels so good to swing a sword around and beat down enemies in games like this. Hit detection is spot on, and the boss fights are fun and interesting, even if most of them devolve into button mashing.
Alcahest also features companion characters who will join at certain points throughout the game. These include a wizard, a knight, a princess, an android, and a shape-shifting dragon. These allies can’t be controlled directly by the player, but they do have a button assigned to them that can be pressed to pull off special moves. Otherwise, the computer controls the companions during combat. They’re good to have around, especially later in the game when the difficulty picks up.
It’s not a difficult or long game by any means. You should be able to get through the game in about 3 or 4 hours.
The music is nothing special at all. There are a few good tracks, but for the most part it gets the job done and that’s about it. None of the tracks will really grate on your nerves, but there also won’t be anything that you’ll be humming after you turn the game off.
As for collectability, you can pick up boxed copies on eBay for around $50 USD or less. In fact, as of this writing, most of the listings are complete in box. Though there are a few stray cartridges hovering around the $25 USD range if you want to save a few bucks.
Alcahest is worth checking out at the very least if you’re looking for a well-made Zelda clone to scratch your action RPG itch.