In retrospect, 1994 was an amazing year for RPGs and marked the culmination of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis golden era. In addition to the release of one of the paragons of the genre, Final Fantasy VI, ’94 saw North America inundated with other classics including Breath of Fire, Illusion of Gaia and Shining Force II. While these games set the tone for innovative gameplay, graphical enhancements, and memorable storylines, another RPG released that year, Beyond Oasis, has faded into obscurity.
With the birth of the Virtual Console, modern gamers have a chance to relive this RPG era for 800 Wii points and see if Beyond Oasis is worth their hard earned money. After playing the game more than ten years after its initial release, I would tell the avid gamer that even though Beyond Oasis does dazzle with certain creative gameplay mechanics and an interactive environment, ultimately, the complete package falls short of being a classic that stands the test of time.
Unquestionably, the story is the weakest part of Beyond Oasis. The narrative opens in a 1001 Arabian Nights world before the player has a chance to hit the start button. The establishing shot is a scene that introduces us to Ali, the main character. Ali, who seems to be modeled after Disney’s Aladdin, is seen treasure hunting in some type of cavern. In one of the chests, the turban-clad hero finds a gold bracer, and immediately he is forced into fulfilling its tasks. According to legend, the game tells us that the original owner of the gold bracer (Reharl) fought a valiant battle with another wizard named Agito, who was adorned with a silver bracer. After a hard fought war, both wizards were destroyed and the bracers were thought to be lost forever— that is until Ali unearthed the gold bracer.
When the player hits start, prince Ali begins his quest by visiting his father and asking if his bracer is the legendary one. Because the silver bracer was used for evil and destruction, Ali’s father tells us that in order for peace to be restored, Ali must find the silver bracer and destroy it. According to the king, only the gold bracer, which has the power to summon elementals (much in the style of the Suikoden series’ runes), can thwart the silver bracer, and whomever is foolish enough to wield it.
All of this establishing story takes place in the opening moments of the game, and that pretty much ceases the plot for the remainder of the game. While there are tiny twists throughout Beyond Oasis (including an ostensible shocker at the end), the game basically follows a pattern of: defeating a cave or dungeon, returning to the castle to see where to head next, and then hacking through another location. Even though this is enjoyable at first, this RPG suffers the fate of many Action/Adventure RPGs: it elevates action and intensity and forgets about the narrative thread that holds the quest together.
The Genesis wasn’t ready to utilize Dolby Digital EX, a Marantz Receiver with 5.1 Surround Sound, or even something as rudimentary as (gasp!) a digital signal. With that said, the technology was capable of original and memorable music, but this game does not deliver. Even though the game is set in Arabia and could have contained multiple creative tracks, we are only blessed by a half-dozen boilerplate tunes. Even more frustrating is that because these songs are so short and so few, the music becomes repetitive quickly. For example, there is only one song for any time spent on the field and, as you can imagine, that wears on the player pretty quickly. Because the music was composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro (Actraiser, Revenge of Shinobi, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin) who even receives billing on the title screen, I expected a lot more. The rest of the ambient sound in the game from swords clashing to fire crackling is serviceable but doesn’t add much to the overall game experience.
I distinctly remember playing Beyond Oasis when it was released and being quite impressed but some of its gameplay innovations. After revisiting the game, I can see why I was so enamored by some of its unique attributes. The first interesting gameplay facet is the battle system. When Ali begins his quest throughout “Arabia,” he is equipped with a single dagger and his golden bracer. When a monster approaches on the field, Ali can stab, slash, or perform a more complex attack with a certain combination of buttons and D-Pad movements. Many of these combinations need to be discovered by the player and sometimes the battles seem to become more like Streets of Rage with Ali kicking swarms of enemies from every direction. This Street Fighter meets Zelda fighting method is fun, however, there are not enough of them to feel like a complete and fleshed out battle system. Instead, the combinations, which are also bereft of doing more damage than a standard attack, feel gimmicky. It is safe to say that after only an hour of play of so, it is easy to just hack and slash for the rest of the quest.
More interesting, however, is the summon system. The gold bracer has the ability to summon four elementals (all of which must be unlocked): Dytto, a water spirit who can heal Ali and perform basic attacks; Efreet, a fire spirit, is the most powerful and can attack with flames; Shade, a shadow spirit who can make Ali invincible; and Bow, a plant spirit that can chomp enemies. While this elemental summoning approach to RPGs is by no means a new one, the interactivity of these elementals to the world is unique. In order to summon each elemental, Ali must use the bracer (which is seen with the firing of a blue ball of energy) on that corresponding element in the world. For example, in order to summon water, Ali must use the bracer on anything from a lake to a water droplet in a cave to a puddle of water made by melting ice. This interactivity has the player wanting to constantly fire at objects to see if the bracer will react to them and more often than not, if one of them will join Ali’s side.
Because of this feature, the game’s puzzles revolve around each of the elementals as well. Instead of moving statutes or hitting switches in a certain sequence, Ali has to summon water to put out a flame or to seek out the plant in order to chomp down metal bars blocking his path. The only other stumbling blocks for Ali are locked doors which are colored coded to certain keys. These keys can appear in a variety of ways, such as when all enemies are killed in a certain area or by stumbling across a proper chest.
The worst gameplay features are the use, incorporation, and application of items and weapons. If Ali is injured, he needs to eat food (cheese, apples, meat, garlic, mushrooms, or the like) in order to receive a boost in life. This, I have no problem with. However, Ali’s pouch is much too small, for he can only hold sixteen items at a time, and to make matters worse, identical items are not grouped as one. Therefore, if a player wants to be balanced, Ali can hold eight items that restore health and eight that restore magic (which is only drained when a summon is active). This is simply not enough and really doesn’t make any sense, except to possibly feign difficulty.
While the lack of item capacity is frustrating, the incorporation of weapons (or lack thereof) is one of the biggest faults of Beyond Oasis. Because Ali only starts with a dagger, the player is very interested in upgrading to something like a fiery bow, powerful bomb, or hefty broadsword. Luckily, they all exist. Unfortunately, however, the makers of the game decided that each new weapon should have a limited amount of uses. For example, Ali could pick up a sword that only can be swung five times before it breaks. Therefore, the irrelevance of new weapons and their importance in the game makes treasure hunting unimportant in the scheme of the game. While there are “ultimate weapons” that have an infinite amount of uses, they are limited to the end of the quest. Oh, and by the way, I thought I’d mention that you can only hold eight weapons at a time and identical items cannot be combined.
Other gameplay issues are hit and miss: Ali is equipped with an extremely helpful map that usually has a flag that indicates where the player should go next, the player can save at any time (which he or she could do anyway with the Virtual Console), and enemies can hurt each other with ill-advised attacks. With these positives come the drawbacks including a leveling system that only raises HP and MP, the lack of details when acquiring a new item, and uninspired minigames which the player may not even know exist.
In order to consider the nature of the graphics, it is important to consider the context of the game’s release and compare it to games of its era. Luckily, with the library of the Virtual Console, it is easier to do this than ever before. In addition to Beyond Oasis being a peer to the RPGs I mentioned previously, it is also a contemporary to a game like Donkey Kong Country. When examining Oasis to both groundbreaking games like DK and other RPGs by Sega at the time (Shining Force II), it is easy to see how this title has faded into quasi-obscurity.
While it may be unfair to compare to Beyond Oasis to other games, intrinsically, the graphic make up of the game is disappointing. Because the game draws upon a very inspired subtext of 1001 Arabian Nights, the game could be adept with flying carpets, magic lamps, golden palaces, scorching deserts, and towering pyramids. However, all we’re left with is Ali spanning every part of the world, which has the full gambit: a beach, a mountaintop, an active volcano, and a forest. I thought we were in Arabia? Because of this lack of consistency, the overall graphics suffer as well as the game as a whole.
The control of Beyond Oasis is functional and is only inspired when using its button combination fighting system. Because of the better and more comfortable grip of the classic controller on the Wii, it is easier to pull off the attacks than it was on the bulky Genesis crescent. It would have been nice to have shortcuts to switch weapons on the fly or to use items (like Zelda) without going into an inventory screen (I really wish the Virtual Console allowed for some customization of the controller so that the R/L buttons could be used as shortcuts, but I guess this is not a possibility); but that might be an unrealistic request because of the lack of buttons on the Genesis controller. Another hindrance of the control set up is that Ali can never walk diagonally— he is limited to walking in the four primary directions. This can be annoying when trying to kill a certain pesky snake or zombie. I will say I thought the jump was well executed and allowed for the player to adjust in mid-air.
Overall, Beyond Oasis was a nice title when it was released at the end of 1994 and provided gamers with a type of Action/Adventure RPG they had not yet seen on the Genesis console. Its use of elements and their interactivity with the world provided a new twist that made up the bulk of the game’s experience. Because the game fails to include a compelling narrative that drives the action, Beyond Oasis remains a title that is ultimately style with no substance. As the years go by and graphics continually improve, style-dominated games that lack depth will be forgotten, while the titles that properly synergize the two areas will remain as thestaples for all to play. It’s sad to say, but save your money. Beyond Oasis is just another title.