1993 was a banner year for the action RPG. After only mild pickings in the genre for the past few years, suddenly on the Super Nintendo side, Squaresoft had a hit and instant classic in The Secret of Mana, and in the arcades Capcom had put their touch on Dungeons and Dragons with Tower of Doom, while Konami surprised everyone with Gaiapolis.
Taito was not going to be left out of all the fun, and they released Light Bringer, also known as Dungeon Magic in some versions of the game. Not content with copying anyone else’s formula—not even that of their much earlier RPG action game Cadash—Taito really brings a quality experience to the table here, with nice production standards and a gameplay feeling all its own. To sum it up in one sentence, Light Bringer is an isometric, action-based dungeon hack with beat-em-up style controls. You’ll take control of one of four adventurers and set off through a series of individual rooms or segments of a dungeon which must be cleared one at a time. Progression may involve defeating enemies, solving minor button/lever/weight puzzles or both. Your ultimate confrontation is with an evil wizard or something like that who is trying to summon a demon. Okay, so the story isn’t exactly original.
Combat is surprisingly deep and—especially with four players at once—quite fun. Each of the characters can not only engage in standard melee combos, but also grapple enemies, charge up attacks by holding down a button, or engage special limited-use ultimate attacks. And you’ll need it all to deal with some of the monster crowds whose sole purpose in life is to destroy you—and the bosses who just might do it. Treasures abound, which can give you experience points to increase your level (thus raising your maximum hit points), recover health, or even upgrade your equipment, which actually changes your charge attacks.
The world of Light Bringer is a touch on the generic side—which means you’ll feel right at home with the enemies, items and environment, but also that there’s less here to astound and surprise you than in, say, Gaiapolis. The soundtrack has an extremely strong fantasy feel to it, and used Ensoniq’s awesome ES5505 sound chip which allows very high quality instrument synthesis. The music definitely feels a little more moody and less driving than you would expect from a beat-em-up and yet somehow it works. And in the end, that summary suits Light Bringer itself: it works. Beat-em-up fans should not miss this.