Review by odino
"Ancient game shows Cleopatra was no beauty - CNN"
Cleopatra no Mahou (Cleopatra's Magic Treasure) is a first-person RPG for the ancient FDS. It has the same look and feel of an NES/Famicom game. Created by Final Fantasy producer Square (DOG is just an alternate name used, later renamed to SquareSoft, eventually merged with Enix to become SquareEnix), at first glance you would think it is another epic game on your hands. However, it turns out to be more of a mini 'Deep Dungeon' RPG with some 'Suishou no Ryuu' adventure elements. I recommend you check out both as well. But before you move on, let us look at this game in some more detail.
You start out in a small town in Egypt, with nothing but directions through the dirty roads. This alone begins the confusion the game often throws at you. It may look simple left, right, straight-ahead but some left-turns will end you up back right...yes you heard me right. So after getting past this and most likely jolting down a small map (there is one on the site now for mainly this reason) you can finally get going to explore the town properly.
First think you will notice is that you get random encounters with enemies, evil merchants and robbers for now. They are usually not tough to deal with, but as you start out with your puny hands and maybe could throw some dirt at them, they will thrash you with their mighty sabres. Seriously, up until you even reach the shop to buy a knife you are entirely defenseless and will die if you attempt to fight. Running away is your only option, and it will thankfully work fifty percent of the time.
When you finally get a weapon and spend some money (you start with plenty for simple supplies), you can finally take on these filthy fools. You will notice they are not very tough and drop enough gold and experience to level up quickly. The town is actually quite small and getting from the supply shops to the nearby inn is a cakewalk. To summarize, at first you are helpless, soon you are king of the town. This already covers one third of the game's action area.
As you level up and get more money you will buy some items that any Indiana Jones adventurer will need on their travel. A rope (whip eh?), map, and of course a lamp. Your first destination outside the city is a pyramid which does not feature enemies. This makes for a nice change of pace. The adventure portion of the game is a lot more fun, with archaeological findings being made as you try placing gems and eyes into holes and statues. They tend to be shorter if you know what to do, although if you do not then naturally it will take equally long to figure out the puzzles the game contains. The game only has a few actions but it does contain that dreadful point-to-check one that will make you explore entire rooms to find what may be contained in the walls.
Without spoiling the rest of the game, there are three action parts in total which feature tougher enemies as you progress. You are almost always forced to upgrade your equipment, but finding a few items is also in the cards. Without the new stuff you will probably not make it even with the best of level grinding. Speaking of, there is plenty if you want to survive the bosses the game has to offer. In fact they are so tough that you often beg for no random encounters from the save/refresh spot to the fight itself.
Fights are simplistic to the max. One only has the options to attack, defend or flee. Fleeing works often enough that it is worth doing in certain situations, such as being close to death or not wanting to lost HP when traveling to the area's boss. There is only one instance when using an item may come in handy, for the rest it is a useless action. For the most part a fight will go like this: "Attack - enemy takes x-damage", "Enemy attacks - you take x-damage", "Attack - enemy takes..." - I think you get the picture. Even a tiny addition for a more complex fighting system would have improved this part already.
Easily the best part of the game. Very detailed locations and well-animated objects and some minor sequences. The town's streets are colorful and the enemy animations look neat. The FDS does not feature much graphic power yet they seem to make the most of what they can do here. I often think that I would not have continued playing if this would be an ugly affair. Many people speak of gameplay over graphics, but with ugly graphics you can not achieve the setting they want to get across here. In fact, it almost makes up for many flaws IN gameplay all together.
The game has around a dozen locations, three "dungeons" as mentioned already and a few small places with a few screens. This all keeps with the same setting of Egypt.
One of the downsides I had to endure as pixel-hunting through the many rooms. This is more of a flaw with gameplay that allows clicking on anything around, only to get a "nothing there" message in response. However, as the graphics could just make this clearer I feel that it is a let-down in both areas.
Nobuo Uematsu, Square's infamous musician also supplies the score here. In what must be one of his earliest games to add sound, he does not disappoint. The music always fits to the location and the fight tunes add to the situation. With great music the level grinding alone makes more fun, although after a while I did feel like muting it for a little more quiet time. To sum this part up, it is not perfect but a surprisingly good outing on the FDS.
Uematsu fan-boys will definitely want to check this out, and the others will not be disappointed at what Square offers here. Even a mediocre game can apparently be saved by the addition of sound among other things.
What we have here are some great individual elements that are eventually let down by the mediocre gameplay. Not only does it feel a little cheap to farm money and grind some levels, but the bosses are extremely tough, the adventure portions are short and in the end you spent most time just fighting the same enemies over and over again for at least eighty percent of the time. Should you cheat and use some hex codes to alter you stats, the entire game only lasts an hour tops. Without (i.e. normally), probably nine to ten.
In the end I do recommend this game, mainly because it is short enough to play through, fun enough to keep you going, entertaining in both graphics, sound and most of the gameplay, and finally, is a decent game that stands out among many of the old ones on the FDS.
If you are more into RPGs then there are better games, and even adventure games can be more fun without the RPG elements, for example in the very similar and aforementioned 'Suishou no Ryuu'. For a similar game you may also want to check out 'Square no Tom Sawyer' or 'MahaRaja'.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/03/08
Game Release: Cleopatra no Mahou (JP, 07/24/87)
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