Mostly known for its action and side-scroller games, the Game Gear also had its fair selection of RPGs for players to choose from, and many still have a cult following today.
As far as video game consoles of that generation go, the Game Gear was praised for its extensive game library and processing power. We’re going to take a look at the absolute best Sega Game Gear RPGs released right here. But, before we get into it, let’s take a quick look at how role-playing video games have come about.
Brief History of Role-Playing Games (RPGs)
We saw the birth of tabletop RPGs in the 1970s, with the release of the world-renowned Dungeons & Dragons in 1974, arguably the first modern RPG. This kickstarted the growth of the tabletop RPG industry, with titles such as Tunnels and Trolls, Traveller, and Runequest following shortly after.
Games often required a gamemaster, who was in charge of the setting and rules, and players took on various roles and performed tasks such as battling monsters, usually with a variety of attributes such as hit points, strength, dexterity, intelligence, stamina, and more. The fantasy setting was the most common and continues to be popular among more modern RPGs.
Role-playing video games didn’t come into fruition until 1980, with mainframe imitations such as Akalabeth and Rogue being released that year. Video games were increasing in popularity in the 80s and 90s, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the first RPG with 3D graphics and a first-person view would be released –- Dungeon Master. This development was very exciting for video game fans, and this style of RPG would really take off during the 90s.
Competing with the Atari Lynx, NEC’s TurboExpress, and Nintendo’s Game Boy, the Game Gear by Sega was released in the early 90s (1990 in Japan, and 1991 throughout North America). While more expensive than the Game Boy, the Game Gear touted superior graphics and a fully backlit screen, something the Game Boy lacked.
The Game Gear was unable to beat the Game Boy in terms of sales, largely due to its lack of battery life and original games, but many games were released that were loved by gamers at the time.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into the best Game Gear RPGs.
emEternal Legend/em (Sega Retro Score: 61)
While emEternal Legend/em was only originally released in Japan in 1991, an English translation was made available in May 2020.
emEternal Legend/em was the brainchild of Japan Art Media, and capitalized on the success of Dragon Quest, being very similar in terms of setting and gameplay. The story follows Arwyn, a treasure hunter, who faces the evil forces of the Gaura Empire after the death of his mentor, Barth. He is accompanied by various companions he meets along the way, with the objective of reaching the mythical city of Millennium.
Gameplay-wise, emEternal Legend/em contains plenty of fetch quest elements, where the player must either find key items or NPCs (non-player characters) to progress the story. The turn-based combat utilizes the expected commands for the time, such as attack, magic, defend, and run. Monsters can even be summoned by using items, which often turns the tide of battle, especially during boss fights.
While the game is not widely known and suffered from several flaws, such as unclear progression, somewhat monotonous exploring, and an unbalanced economy, it’s fondly remembered by initial adopters of the game and by those recently introduced to the translation.
For its varied storytelling themes (through the use of temporary characters), unique monster summoning system, and massive world exploration, emEternal Legend/em sits squarely on the list of best Sega Game Gear RPGs.
You can find it on Amazon for Sega Game Gear here.
Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe (Sega Retro Score: 66)
A spin-off of the Golden Axe series, Ax Battler is arguably a mix of RPG and action game elements, which follows the adventures of the strangely named titular hero, Ax Battler.
Released in 1991, the story follows the barbarian as he battles a variety of monsters using special moves, swords, and magic spells. The goal of the quest is to retrieve the powerful golden axe from the main villain, Death Adder. Having quite a similar game mechanic to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Ax Battler switches between three modes of gameplay –– an overhead view is seen when traversing the map, whereas the game switches to side-scrolling when visiting towns to talk to NPCs, or when battling monsters.
While the gameplay of Ax Battler is significantly different from the original Golden Axe series, the format used is very much suited to the Game Gear and its limitations, with no aspect of the game pushing the system beyond its capabilities. Due to its effective exploration elements and clever usage of the side-scrolling format, Ax Battler is a fun Game Gear title that is definitely worth a playthrough.
emMegami Tensei Gaiden: Last Bible / Revelations: The Demon Slayer/em (Sega Retro Score: 71)
Known as Revelations: The Demon Slayer outside of Japan, emLast Bible/em hit the U.S. market in 1994.
The game incorporated elements common to most of the Megaten games, like the summoning of monsters, and fusing them (in order to obtain stronger types). The title differs greatly, however, in its setting – most of the Megaten games feature modern-day or futuristic settings, whereas Demon Slayer takes place in a more medieval fantasy setting, which is quite common for the era. This was intended to tone down the themes for a wider audience, especially younger audiences. The player assumes the role of a boy on a planet distant from Earth, who learns how to call upon a mysterious power called Gaia.
Gameplay uses many traditional aspects of RPGs, such as leveling through fighting monsters and adjusting character attributes, as well as learning magic spells throughout the course of the game, with different types being effective against different monsters. Unlike typical RPGs, monsters can also be potentially recruited through conversation, combined, and used in combat.
While the recruitment of monsters has often been cited as random, the game has been praised for its fusion system, solid soundtrack, and awesome graphics, particularly for the Game Gear version. If you’re looking for an RPG that’s innovative for its time, with a unique battling system and cinematic sequences, you’ll definitely want to check out this title. As far as the best Sega Game Gear RPGs go, this one is definitely unique.
You can find emMegami Tensei Gaiden: Last Bible / Revelations: The Demon Slayer/em on Amazon here.
Shining Force: Sword of Hajya (Sega Retro Score: 77)
With gameplay mechanics very similar to its predecessor, Shining Force Gaiden, Shining Force: Sword of Hajya differs as it wasn’t exclusive to Japan, with the U.S. version being released in 1994.
Set two months after the events of the original game, Sword of Hajya centers around the young soldier, Deanna, and his companions, as they journey to regain the titular sword from the forces of Iom after the sword is stolen from Cypress castle.
Technically a tactical RPG, battles in the Shining Force: Sword of Hajya take place on battlefields resembling grids, where the player takes turns with the enemies in order to execute commands such as attacking, casting magic, and using items. Being mostly battle-focused, there is little exploration in the game, with short cutscenes being interspersed between battles in order to progress the story. Players obtain experience from defeating enemies, and can even change the class of their units into a more powerful one after reaching a certain level.
Graphics-wise, Sword of Hajya wasn’t exactly revolutionary for its time. The race and class system, along with the plethora of available weapons, leads to a virtually limitless combination of tactics and roles for the player to experiment with. For this reason, the title is very innovative and one of the best Game Gear RPGs ever released.
Defenders of Oasis (Sega Retro Score: 86)
A widely successful and positively reviewed title, Defenders of Oasis came out in 1992 for the Game Gear console.
The plot revolves around the unnamed prince of the Shadam kingdom, as he’s forced into the task of obtaining three holy rings. These rings were used in the ancient past by the hero Jamshid to seal away the evil god, Ahriman, and must be obtained by the prince to prevent Ahriman‘s return. He journeys alongside the princess of the Mahamoud Kingdom, Mariam, fighting swathes of monsters and minions of the Yufurat Empire along the way.
When exploring villages and castles, the game uses an overhead view, where the player can interact with NPCs, collect objects, upgrade armor and weapons, and rest. When switching to combat, the game utilizes the battle screen typical of the time, with commands being carried out in turn with the enemy. Players are rewarded with experience points and occasionally items, similar to other turn-based RPGs.
Even though Defenders of Oasis isn’t exceptionally innovative, it’s widely commended for its extensive and entertaining storyline, vivid and defined graphics, and stellar soundtrack, one of the best for its period. When looking for a title that takes full advantage of the Game Gear’s capabilities whilst providing a visually rich and user-friendly experience, Defenders of Oasis is one of the best Sega Game Gear RPGs out there.