Not Quite the Same Scheherazade
The Magic of Scheherazade on the NES is one of the most under-appreciated games I’ve ever played. It’s rare to meet anyone who’s ever even heard of this, let alone played it. And yet, the experience is memorable. People need to play this, and maybe take a cue from the simplicity of its design.
My first experience with The Magic of Scheherazade was in the computer lab at my high school. A friend had it on an emulator and was playing, but I couldn’t really make any sense of what was going on at the time. My first time through, I was floored. I did some runs of it with heavy support (or even passing the controller back and forth) before finally, 5 or more years later, beating a solo run on my stream. So now what time is it? REVIEW TIEM!
The Magic of Scheherazade is an odd mix of genre styles, to the point of almost defying categorization. Is it adventure? Is it an RPG? Yes!
First thing to note about The Magic of Scheherazade is that you’re running around like this is The Legend of Zelda. There is a rudimentary menu system where (like choosing what secondary item to have equipped in Zelda) you assign functions to the A and B buttons. Jump, Speak, weapons, magic, all of these are at your disposal. Upon exploring, you notice that the world is composed of discrete screens or rooms that have exits to other screens or rooms on the edges. Enemies you encounter in this mode run around, and you have to maneuver yourself to be able to attack them. They drop health, or money, or nothing. And yet… you gain experience points.
Some of these Zelda-style screen transitions result in a random encounter. Like, honest-to-goodness jRPG battle screens. Your party and the enemy party take turns attacking and being attacked, and at the end you get money and experience and whatever other drops that may happen. It’s a little jarring, not least because it could be a good long while before it even happens to you. And then it’s hard to even tell what you’re supposed to do. I guess it’s a good thing you get 3 chances to escape before the battle even begins.
Suffice it to say, while this does have some RPG elements (a party, experience, random encounter battles), its primary mode of play is an adventure game. So it’s an adventure game. Deal with it.
This is a delightfully difficult game at times, and mildly frustrating at others. There’s not a whole lot of balance, really, you just get stronger and the enemies get stronger but not always at the same rate. So it’s possible during the course of a single chapter for you to be hopelessly outclassed by a strong encounter, then Isfa, God of Destruction, then outclassed again.
For a quick overview, The Magic of Scheherazade is split into five chapters. For each chapter, you’re tasked with making your way to a new “world”, defeating the resident demon of that world and rescuing one of Scheherazade’s sisters who have been abducted by Sabaron.
This is pretty standard fare. Go to X, defeat Y, save Z, rinse and repeat. The game doesn’t have a lot of depth in terms of story, but there are a few nice little twists involving Sabaron, Scheherazade and Coronya.
I think my very favorite plot point of this game is that upon reaching Sabaron in chapter 5, he informs you that he’s made a terrible mistake and needs assistance. It turns out the mighty Sabaron is not powerful enough to control Pure Evil Gora Gora, and he offers to free Scheherazade if you can defeat the demon. He then asks you to identify the companion that has been with you from the beginning, and that that answer will reveal to you the location of Scheherazade.
Spoiler revelation about Coronya
Well, the only companion you’ve had with you the whole time is Coronya, the cat-like Spirit of Time that guides you through the time doors on your quest. Failure to answer correctly here is catastrophic.
SPOILERS ARE KIND OF OVER BUT DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT
What They Did Right
Like The Legend of Zelda, The Magic of Scheherazade has an expansive map to explore. There are fewer hidden items and locations than in a Zelda, but navigating the world map is enjoyable and the secrets that you can find are worth finding. The dungeons in particular (palaces and mazes) are very satisfying to solve, if you’re not in too much of a hurry.
My GODS what a soundtrack. Subtle musical choices abound in a game with a chiptune soundtrack? Surely you’re joking, Alucarp! The Time Waltz, overworld themes, title screen and the casino (with its 11-bar blues) are timeless and amazing. I suppose that’s appropriate for a game about time travel.
It’s cheesy humor, for sure, but I like it. Beckal refusing to move even after his town is underwater and populated by mermaids stands out, for sure. There’s some fun banter between chapters where each party member has their little quip to say on the carpet. Even the villain has his moments, as I shared above. Not the funniest game I’ve ever played, of course, but the humor is endearing.
What They Did Wrong
What NES game actually got its translation right? There are cryptic commands from NPCs, grammar errors abound, and a party member with a pumpkin for a head named “Pukin”. Again, not the worst in the world, but it could be better.
The controls are not as tight as I might want them to be. It’s hard to tell sometimes in which square of the map you’ll land when you jump, and that can make a big difference. They are just a little sloppy, that’s all.
The repetitive nature of the chapter layout is a little uninspired, but there are aspects of the narrative here that really do shine. Sue me, it was hard coming up with things this game did objectively wrong.
In Conclusion – A Minor Gushing of Love
I find it extremely cool that there are dialog choices in this game that just flat-out cause a Game Over. No death, no second chance. It’s just done. The first is in the middle of Chapter 4. You’re tasked with defeated the super-powerful Salamander, a demon so strong you must travel back in time to when it was a baby to have a chance at killing it. And to do that, you need Rainy, the Rain Shrimp. That beats its rain drum to make it rain. I feel like Culture Brain loooooves them some rain.
Rainy is a coward, and needs a strong fighter to follow around in order to be willing to venture forth. So you take your Fighter, go talk to Rainy, and Rainy asks you two questions. Answering incorrectly on these questions is a game over. It also turns out that when Sabaron asks you to identify Scheherazade at the end, incorrectly pointing out Coronya is also an instant game over.
You don’t see this much. It’s not really necessary or all that possible anymore because everything autosaves every time you take a step. A trick question that causes you to lose several hours of play for a wrong answer is maybe abusive, but it’s fun to see every now and again. I never begrudge Dragon Warrior for trying it out.
Rank (All-Time, All-Genre): #25
Rank (Adventure): #4