Heard of Nihon Falcom? I don’t blame you if you haven’t. Falcom is little known outside its home country of Japan. The few that do recognize the name likely only do from the Ys series; it is, after all, one of their few game series to get more than one or two games released across the Pacific pond.
Of course, Ys isn’t the only game series Falcom develops, and isn’t the most representative of the company, either. That honor goes to the Dragon Slayer series, a group of eight games that span the portion of the company’s early lifespan. The Dragon Slayer ‘series’ is a bit different than what you’d expect from a video game series, though: The games have little in common with one another except for the Dragon Slayer name (and that includes gameplay mechanics!), which was denoted as a moniker for games developed by Yoshio Kiya. In addition, most of the Dragon Slayer games have spawned their own spin-offs and sequels, some of which are some of Falcom’s more popular series. Given the mess of information the sequels and spin-offs make, coupled with the relative obscurity of the entire series over in the West, it gets mind-boggling to wade through the history of Dragon Slayer…
…Which is, quite obviously, what I’m going to do for you today, and in a slightly easier to digest format too! Grab some caffeine, and maybe some headache pills, as we walk through the convoluted history of one of Falcom’s most extensive video game series.
Dragon Slayer (1984)
Original Release Platform: PC88
Re-release and Port Platforms: MSX (1986), Game Boy (1991), Saturn (Falcom Classics Collection, 1996)
Western Releases?: The PC88 and MSX versions may have made it out of Japan, but I cannot find definitive proof.
Dragon Slayer is actually one of the first Japanese Action RPGs to be developed and released (whether or not it’s the very first is arguable, with Hardcore Gaming 101 stating that Namco’s Tower of Druaga may have came out before Dragon Slayer). That being said, Dragon Slayer, being a pioneer of a new genre, is not exactly what’d you expect from an Action RPG. It’s a bit hard to explain, really, so bear with me.
You’re some sort of hero, whose trying to kill a dragon in a dungeon. You don’t start with any equipment or weapons, and even a mouse could kill you. However, you can collect orbs to raise your strength, and some equipment, among a few other items to help you out. The biggest flaw, however, is that you can only carry one item at a time, and have to return the item to your house (yeah, that one in the dungeon) to get the benefits. What the game boils down to is avoiding enemies, memorizing items locations (they aren’t randomly generated), and slowying grind up to be able to kill something. Needless to say, it’s pretty frustrating and almost unplayable.
As for differences between the versions, the MSX version has different levels than the rest (all other versions are based off the PC88 version), and also features a password system. The Game Boy’s version obviously is in black and white, and the Saturn version has the most advanced graphics, has a save feature, and some aspects are tweaked to make the game slightly less frustrating.
Spin-offs and Sequels: Only one game was created as a spin-off to the original Dragon Slayer, Dragon Slayer Gaiden. It features gameplay similar to Final Fantasy Adventure, and… well, has nothing to do with Dragon Slayer.
Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu (1985)
Original Release Platform: PC88
Re-release and Port Platforms: MSX (1985), FM77 (1985), PC98 (1996), Saturn (Falcom Classics Collection, 1996), Windows (1996)
Western Releases?: The PC88 version made it Stateside, but I’m unsure about the other computer versions.
Xanadu, released about a year after the first Dragon Slayer, is quite different from its predecessor, as you’ll find with most of the games in this series. For a game of its time, it features much more “user-friendly” gameplay than the first Dragon Slayer, and is still playable despite its age, except for some old quirks.
Dragon Slayer II is another dungeon crawler, but the gameplay is more refined. While exploring the dungeon, you can level up your melee and magical abilities, in addition to your weapons and armor. There’s also an interesting Karma system, wherein if you kill too many of the wrong type of enemy, the people at the Temple will refuse to level you up. Speaking of battle, once you run into an enemy in the dungeon, it’ll change from the side-scrolling perspective (seen in the screenshot above) to an overhead perspective, where it turns into a Ys-styled battle scene (i.e., you bash into the enemies until you die or they fall). There’s a total of ten ‘levels’ for you to go through, but the enemies aren’t infinite, so you have to balance what to level up and how, and not mess up your Karma so you can’t level up.
For the computer versions, there’s little difference other than the graphics and other small tweaks. The Saturn Falcom Classics Collection version ups the graphical ante quite a bit, and gives the game a ‘Saturn’ Mode, which makes the game easier overall, and also includes the ability to save at anytime. Xanadu Revival for the Windows is pretty much a straight port of the Saturn version.
Spin-offs and Sequels: Xanadu had a sequel/expansion in Xanadu Scenario II, which features new levels, items, and everything else you’d expect from an expansion. Xanadu Next is a true sequel for the PC and N-Cage, released in 2005. It features a few ties to the original, but it essentially a new dungeon crawling experience. Finally, there’s the Legend of Xanadu series, which will be touched upon later in the article. As for spin-offs, Hudson Soft developed Faxanadu, and shares only the Xanadu name (sort of). The game plays and looks quite a bit like The Adventures of Link.
Dragon Slayer Jr.: Romancia (1986)
Original Release Platform: PC88
Re-release and Port Platforms: MSX/MSX2 (1987), Famicom (1987), Windows (1999)
Western Releases?: None.
For the third entry of the Dragon Slayer series, Falcom dropped the numerical value and instead added “Jr.” to the title, possibly implying an easy, simplistic game… and Romancia certainly holds up on the ‘simplistic’ part. You might notice from the screenshot that the intimidating numbers are gone for favor of easy to read icons, but in place of that is a strict thirty minute time-limit. That being said, there isn’t too much to explore in Romancia, since you have to beat it in half an hour. So, while Dragon Slayer Jr. may be more simplistic, it is by no means easier, and it is deft at throwing game over screens at you. This entry to the series certainly has some interesting elements, but it’s safe to say it hasn’t aged too well… if age was the problem with it in the first place.
For the different releases, the PPC88 and MSX/MSX2 versions only have graphical differences and the latter has a password system. The Famicom version ditches the time limit and adds a few areas. Romancia: Another Legend for Windows bumps up the graphics and audio several notches, and comes with a nice artbook, but really is just a prettied up port of the older computer versions.
Spin-offs and Sequels: There are neither any spin-offs or sequels for Romancia.
Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (1987)
Original Release Platform: MSX/MSX2
Re-release and Port Platforms: Famicom/NES (1987)
Western Releases?: Dragon Slayer IV was released in the US under the name Legacy of the Wizard.
With another year comes another Dragon Slayer game, and with that comes a new and unique gameplay mechanic. In Drasle Family, you still go dungeon crawling with only one character, but you can choose between a whole family of dragon slaying dungeoneers (and their pet monster, too), each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Thankfully, you don’t have to permanently choose who to use, as you can always go back home to pick another character, and have the grandparents take care of saving and loading (via passwords) to boot. Other than the family gimmick, however, it’s a fairly average dungeon crawler.
Of course, like seemingly every Falcom game in existence, Dragon Slayer IV is far from a walk in the park. It’s quite difficult to navigate the monster infested dungeons, and you have to use some crazy methods to get to some of the treasures and whatnot. In addition, the game is HUGE. I mean, just look at this map. Your character is a big as one of those blocks. Yeah, you’ll be dungeon crawling for a while.
The difference between the MSX and NES versions, other than the graphics, is a somewhat reworked map, which is most notably seen on the right half of the dungeon.
Spin-offs and Sequels: There are no sequels or spin-offs for Dragon Slayer IV.
Original Release Platform: PC-88/98
Re-release and Port Platforms: MSX2 (1988), MS-DOS (1988), Mega Drive (1990) PC Engine (1992), Windows (2000), Dreamcast (2000), Mobile Phone (????)
Western Releases?: The MS-DOS version is the only version to make it Stateside.
The fifth game in the Dragon Slayer series doesn’t actually carry the Dragon Slayer moniker, but is considered part of the series, which can be a bit confusing. Sorcerian draws a bit more from Western RPGs than you’d expect, with interesting results. When you start up the game, you get to create your four-person party as you wish, which is commonly compared to the Wizardy series. Afterwards, you can set off on one of the scenarios in any order, again, much like quest-based WRPGs.
From there on, you go into a real-time action RPG, with your party members trailing behind the leader. You have one button for your party’s melee attacks, one for the party’s magic attacks, and one more to switch the front party member. It’s very unusual, and is seen as somewhat awkward at times, but the unique system garnered a fair amount of popularity, as can be seen in its bloated amount of re-releases.
The original computer releases (PC88/98, MSX2, MS-DOS) have little to no difference other than its graphics, and details involving the expansions , since most of the expansions come out only for the MSX2. The Mega Drive version features ten new scenarios, which is less than the computer version’s fifteen, but they are completely new. The PC Engine version boosts up the graphical ante a bit, and has seven old computer scenarios and three brand new ones, again adding up to ten. The Dreamcast game, Socerian: Disciples of Seven Star Sorcery gives the graphics a 3D, less-than-great looking style, and a total of fifteen scenarios, ten old and five new. Windows’ Sorcerian Original is a great remake of the original computer versions, featuring the fifteen original scenarios, and after you get through those, you can play the five scenarios from Sorcerian Forever, the sequel to the orignals. Finally, Sorcerian had a bit of an episodic release on mobile phones, with seemed to be some of the original scenarios with a more cutesy, anime graphical style.
Spin-offs and Sequels: The original computer versions of Sorcerian got a number of expansions, adding tons of new scenarios, which can be seen on Socerian’s Wikipedia page. As for any sequels, the only true sequel was Sorcerian Forever for the WIndows, which practically keeps the same gameplay mechanics and everything, but features five scenarios, and… well, it’s considered a sequel, alright?
Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes (1989)
Original Release Platform: PC88/98
Re-release and Port Platforms: MSX2 (1990), Mega Drive (1992), PC Engine (1991), Turbo-Grafx 16 (1991), Playstation (The Legend of Heroes I&II: Eiyuu Densetsu, 1999), Saturn (The Legend of Heroes I&II: Eiyuu Densetsu, 1999)
Western Releases?: The TG-16 version got a US release.
With the sixth game in the Dragon Slayer series, the game regains the ‘Dragon Slayer’ title, but they keep the numerical value dropped. Also, in a bit of a different turn, The Legend of Heroes is a more typical, old-school, turn-based Japanese RPG, and less like the action-y dungeon crawlers of its brethren. You get into random battles (though the enemies show up on screen, so you can choose who to dodge and fight, sort of like the Lufia games) and fight turn-based fights with a party of four. The story is also pretty average for an older RPG, but that doesn’t stop this game from being good.
Many different versions of the game were released over time, though the differences between them are relatively minor. To make a long story short, the only differences between all the ports are audio/visual differences.
Spin-offs and Sequels: The Legend of Heroes has become a large and popular Falcom series over in Japan, and has spawned a great number of sequels. I won’t type out the massive list here, just to save us all a headache, but you can hop on over to to the Wikipedia page for a full list.
Lord Monarch (1991)
Original Release Platform: PC88
Re-release and Port Platforms: Super Famicom (1992), Mega Drive (1994), Windows (1997), Playstation (1998)
Western Releases?: The Windows version, Lord Monarch Online, was released over the Internet for free, and is also in English.
The seventh game in the Dragon Slayer series, like Sorcerian before it, drops the Dragon Slayer moniker. Lord Monarch is best described as an RTS: You have to manage your peasants and money in real-time, and try to take over neighboring nations by destroying all of their camps and killing their subjects. Most of this is done by moving the leader character around and giving orders; be careful, though, because if the leader gets killed, it’s game over. You can also form alliances with other nations, but when it’s only to two of them remaining, you have to duke it out to see who rules all. You can also choose different themes (in some versions) to fight in. It’s nothing too original or outstanding, but it’s a well-made game.
The PC88 and Super Famicom versions are mostly the same, other than a few minor graphical changes. The Mega Drive version added a story mode, but got rid of all the themes but the medieval Europe one. The Windows port, Lord Monarch Online, was released for free over the Internet, and is close to the PC88 and Super Famicom versions. Finally, the PlayStation release, Lord Monarch: Shin Gaia Oukokuki, features a full-fledged story mode and vastly updated graphics… It seems more like a sequel than a port, but perhaps its gameplay mechanics are just a direct port. Yeah, sometimes Falcom games are hard to tell between actual ‘sequels’ and ‘glorified ports’.
Spin-offs and Sequels: Only two sequels came out of Lord Monarch: Advanced Lord Monarch (which could be just a glorified port… to be honest, I couldn’t find any real English information on it), and Mona2 (a.k.a. Monarch Monarch), which keeps the same general gameplay, but with blob-like bunnies.
The Legend of Xanadu (1994)
Original Release Platform: PC Engine Super CD
Port and Re-Release Platforms: Windows (Falcom Special Box 2004, 2004)
Western Releases?: There are no western releases for The Legend of Xanadu.
For the eighth and (currently) final entry into the Dragon Slayer series, we have a throwback to the second game in the series, Xanadu… well, in name anyway. Other than that, it bears no semblance to Dragon Slayer II. That’s relatively common considering this series, so no surprises there.
Anyway, The Legend of Xanadu appears to draw a bit of inspiration from the Ys games, with the overhead ‘bash into enemies to win’ combat style throughout most of the game. You also round up other party members, which follow you and can help with the offense. When you get near the end of one of the twelve chapters, however, the action switches to a side-scrolling action perspective, like The Adventures of Link. There’s also a comprehensive story for the game, which is a decent incentive to do all the running back and forth that the game requires.
The Windows port of The Legend of Xanadu is a direct port of the original, no updated graphics or anything.
Sequels and Spin-offs: Not including the games listed in the Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu section, the only game to speak of is The Legend of Xanadu 2, an almost-direct sequel that takes place three years after the original, and keeps largely the same cast.
Though the series has since ended, Dragon Slayer has given birth to some of Falcom’s more popular video game series. It’s hard to see that, with all the titles, subtitles, and crazy spin-offs, but hopefully it’s a bit easier to understand with this handy, elongated guide. Dragon Slayer certainly has an interesting history, after all!
[[Obviously, I had a lot of information I needed to cut out, so if you have any questions about the games, their sequels, or whatever else, feel free to ask! Also, is you see a discrepancy with the consoles and dates, or whatever else, don’t hesitate to call me out! I want this to be as accurate as possible.]]