Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Ok, let’s begin!
Ax Battler is an RPG for the Game Gear and I loosely say RPG as Ax Battler is an RPG in as much as Shaq-Fu is a world-class tournament fighter. That, however, is for later right now all you need to know is that it was made by Aspect Co and published by Sega in 1991. The main protagonist in it is the eponymous, Ax Battler, which is canonically the name of the blue barbarian character from the Golden Axe series.
Ok, I think, I’ll just kind of show you the opening text crawl and chime in on this one as the plot isn’t overly spectacular but simple enough RPG fair.
"Long, long ago, the gods gave a gift to mortals. This gift was the GOLDEN AXE.
Legends say that the world will bow down to whomever takes the axe in hand.
Countless battles took place among mortals to gain possession of the axe.
Finally the king became full of sorrow and hid the axe deep in his castle where no one could find it. Peace once again returned to the world.
After many years had passed and the name of the axe was forgotten, an army of evil warriors destroyed the castle and stole the GOLDEN AXE."
By the way, the above paragraph doesn’t happen in the game you start off at the castle and it looks immaculate. Everything below this is explained when you start the game so if you don’t want to read on or just skip it entirely I recommend holding the start button it speeds through the text crawl and gets you to the main title faster.
"The peace-loving king called on a young warrior to regain the axe. In doing so, he entrusted the fate of the world to the warrior.
Guided by love and courage, the warrior started on his lonely journey.
His name was… (title pops up) AX BATTLERTM -A LEGEND OF GOLDEN AXE-"
So the peace-loving king, by the way, is sending you a random warrior out to save the world this is apparently also the same king who went to great lengths to hide the GOLDEN AXE of the gods and also has a standing army. I know it says the castles been destroyed but that really isn’t the case when you start the game. I get the feeling that finding this GOLDEN AXE is somehow not high on his priorities.
Ax Battlers sprites are large and very recognisable to the old arcade classic of Golden Axe that is when you’re in the side-scrolling portion of the games. The overworld is less so but I will say this Ax Battler did get me spotting the various iconic locations you find yourself in the Arcade game so for that, I could argue that at least in presentation they did try and create the world of Golden Axe.
For the most part, the sound in Ax Battler is actually quite good for the Game Gear and if there was one criticism about it, it’s that it does restart loops a tad too often, especially in towns or villages as the village music restarts every time you enter and exit a building. It wasn’t too bad at the beginning but when you’re running around towns to quickly find things and talk to NPC’s you’ll start instinctively fingering that volume dial all the way down.
Levelling up in Ax Battler is a little different than in most RPG’s I’ve seen as its more akin to unlocking special moves. To unlock new moves, you need to go to the villages local training hall(TR for short in the game). Once there an old man, looking a little like the old man in the first Zelda game, tells you that this is the place to train to gain a special power. He then asks if you’d like to train and if you say yes he’ll tell you to head to the back room where by your immediately ambushed by an enemy. It would have been kind of nice if the sprite used for this hadn’t been another enemy that you’ll just encounter in the game like I don’t know sprite of the old man as though he’s actually training you but I digress after succeeding you’ll leave the back room the old man will congratulate you and tell you the special power which you can then use for the rest of the game. Although I’ll admit this is quite a lazy way to level up the character it does actually kind of do things properly for a change although people can learn through experiences usually fist fighters and fencers have to train before they’re any good at actually fighting even medieval knights didn’t just go into battle swinging a sword without getting some sparing done before.
Ax Battler is a very “GRINDY” game, yes, I meant to capitalise that. What do I mean by “GRINDY” you ask? Well, you know how some games you have to grind for experience points, a fairly annoying, but can be a rewarding mechanic in a lot of games. Well, Ax Battler is that but without the reward and instead, it grinds my patients into dust! In Ax Battler you use magic vases in order to conjure magic, you can collect these from enemies until you fill your inventory. Now using magic is a bit tricky as you need to select and set which magic you’ll use in the inventory menu before each fight or dungeon Earth costing two, Thunder costing four and Fire costing eight. So in this sense, it’s a little better than Golden Axe as it won’t burn away every last bit of your magic in a single shot. Now if your new to the game you won’t realise this but the magic vases are also used for currency as in you need enough of them in order to pay to get into Inns and heal your character, each time you do this it’ll cost you four magic vases at the very least. So if you want to ensure your victory in most confrontations and for emergency uses you’ll be wanting a healthy stock of vases as I’ll let you know now that the Earth magic isn’t worth spit as it doesn’t even kill the most basic of enemies in one hit, hence the need to grind. Now if you’re new to this you won’t realise that using magic on the overworld encounters are essentially pointless as it’s only one enemy you fight and they give you very little back in magic vases, usually one. This is especially annoying because these encounters are some of the most infuriating long with some enemies backing away constantly from you others will jump around and some will launch themselves at you. Every enemy has a strategy of attack and none of them goes down in one hit unless you use magic, which in itself doesn’t take the piss. What does however is that they only need one hit on you and the encounter ends, that’s it. So grinding in this game becomes a bit of a nightmare as it’s doable but it’s irritatingly slow so your best option is just not to use magic and try and battle your way through using your sword, right? Well here’s the next kicker, Ax Battler has some of the worst examples of overworld random enemy spawning encounters that I’ve ever seen in a game. It genuinely feels like your getting nowhere sometimes when you move one step and run into an enemy five or six times on the trot, it’s that bad, so even going from one place to the next is an insulting torturous slog and the fastest way to get past this is to use magic, and there we go, our “GRINDY” circle is complete. In all honesty, I just started to pretend that I didn’t have magic and used it either by accident or as currency as thinking about as I played just irritated me.
The other major Con of AX Battler is it’s a bit confusing as to what it wants to be. This game has classic RPG elements, Side-scrolling beat-em-up sections, tournament fighting sections and all of them are half-heartedly done. The RPG element basically consists of the world travelling and overworld sections with a fairly basic inventory and magic/special abilities system there’s no real levelling up just unlocking of abilities through training, and Ax Battler already knows all the magic you’ll use in the game. I mean it would have been nice if the game at least allowed you to gather a party of the original characters each with their own story and abilities but no Ax Battler just decide it’s going with the one character. The one on one tournament fighting sections are the overworld encounters which as I’ve already explained are infuriatingly stacked against you and are unsatisfying to go through. The best part of the game is the actual dungeon sections that feel a little more like the Golden Ax beat-em-up side-scrolling action were used to, but even that is quite bland as there are no dungeon bosses that you have to fight or great endurance battles that you have to overcome.
Another Con of the game in general now that I think about it is that it has no boss battles in it, full stop. There isn’t even a final fight with Death Adder himself just a story cut scene where you banish him with the Golden Axe. It’s not even done particularly well as it’s literally done on a black screen with text boxes. I mean did anybody think that this final great battle or end scene was actually satisfying. Yes I know technically you do fight a minion call Death Adder but it’s a standard minion fight, not an actual boss battle. Hell, even the infuriating difficult Ghosts and Goblins allowed you to fight Satan at the end. True you have to fight him twice to get the good ending but still a boss battle separate from the standard minions your encounter.
Nerd O Meter Rating
A Low 2 out of 5
Ax Battler is a game I felt could conceivable of had a lot more promise than it actually ended up delivering. It has elements of all the kinds of games I love to play and all of them are done poorly. However, that been said there are elements within the game that don’t make it a complete failure and it is at the very least recognisable in style as part of the Golden Axe series of games. If they had pursued and focused on what game type they wanted to go for rather then this three-way mismatched affair then maybe it would have been better but as it stands I can’t recommend Ax Battler. It’s a game that is by far superseded by its forbears and doesn’t even come close to other games of this genre on the same console.