I think a reason why a lot of people didn’t get Paladin’s Quest (as much as a C-list 16-bit JPRG can be gotten beyond its C-list-16-bit-JRPGyness) is that the title changed from the original Japanese moniker “Lennus.” For one, it’s a terrible title; instantly forgettable and not even accurate. Sure, there’s a big honkin’ quest, but Paladins? None to be found. The title is so generic that for years I had confused this game with that other SNES C-List JRPG, Lagoon. I thought I had given it the cursory download-emulate-dispose treatment such C-listers deserve, so when Talking Tyrant Sanagi started a Paladin’s Quest Let’s Play I wasn’t expecting anything new. Not only was Paladin’s Quest something I hadn’t seen before, but it turned out to be much more intriguing than I had been lead to believe.
At first glance things seem to be right on course: flat-graphics, lousy translation, clichéd scenario. But then the hero steps outside and…
I can’t even describe what a shock that screenshot was the first time I saw it. It’s such a blow to expectations: the detailed, bizarre buildings that use flatness of the graphical style to their advantage (kinda like Earthbound), the weird-o bubble trees, and oh man those colors. Those colors! It’s like the Easter Bunny exploded. The moment I saw this screen I knew this conventional RPG would be anything but conventional.
And conventional it is! Hero accidentally releases an ancient world-destroying evil and has to wonder the land to defeat it. Along the way he learns that he’s the chosen one and the value of friendship and blah blah blah. Luckily, the setting goes a long way to redeem the game. Here’s why the original title of Lennus is the key to understanding. See, Lennus is the name of the planet where the action is set, and more than the by-the-number plot,or samey battle system, Paladin’s Quest is about the setting. It goes to great lengths (lots of unique sprites, crazy color pallet) to create a completely alien world. Sure, there’s… things… that could be seen as trees and mountains. But don’t have to be. They’re their own thing, as inscrutable as the giant walky-talky like structures in some towns. There is no reason or explanation for their presence. They just are.
My favorite otherworldly detail is the towns on the southern continent. Each one is composed of houses made of eggs, but no two town’s eggs are alike. There’s a throw-away line near the beginning of the game about how the different tribes of the south have been united. Do the different eggs have something to do with the different tribes? Is there a cultural significance to how the eggs are decorated? And why eggs? Where did they come from? They have no bearing on the game or the story. It’s completely ambiguous.
Strange, unexplained details like these imply a depth that isn’t there; that Lennus has a history beyond what’s in the game. There’s some implication that the various races–none of them human–share a common ancestor (this would explain shared traits like long ears and wacko facial hair). But then there are things that seem significant but are never commented on. Like how the two continents almost mirror each other, and how the “trees” on the northern one are full spheres but only half-deals on the south.
None of this has any bearing on anything besides aesthetics and feel. That’s why I think the title “Lennus” is so important. The game is about the world, the strangeness of it all, and the experience of something so unfamiliar. I find that I refer to the game as “Lennus” in my head and not the generic “Paladin’s Quest” title it got stuck with. By changing the title the translators changed the focus from an alien world to explore into a generic quest to endure. Or to put it more simply: Paladin’s Quest works better as a travel log than a fairy tale.
There was a Japanese only sequel appropriately titled Lennus 2. It promises to answer some of the questions raised in the first game, but as far as the plot goes, Pakadin’s Quest has things fairly well covered. It’d be a shame if Lennus 2 went out of its way to explain away the weirdness that is so appealing. But if the first hours are any indication, that’s not going to be a problem. Already the game is better looking and even more strange than the original.
Look at those things. Are they plants? Statues? Something else entirely? So far the only answers are the ones you imagine for yourself. I like games like this: ones that invite you to participate rather than just lay it all out for you. I’m looking forward to Lennus II and what is sure to be a literally undefinable experience.