Evercade Game Spotlight: Exile (Renovation Collection 1)
One of the most well-regarded cartridges in the Evercade lineup is Renovation Collection 1, a compilation of Japanese 16-bit console games that run the gamut from all-action shoot ’em ups to more thoughtful role-playing adventures.
Exile is a game that lies somewhere in the middle, offering both the trappings of a traditional RPG and real-time arcade-style action. The result is a challenging and thoroughly interesting game that is well worth putting a bit of time into.
Exile is part of a larger series, also known as XZR. Like many popular Japanese series, it began its life not on console, but on ’80s Japanese home computers such as the NEC PC-8801 and PC-9801, MSX2 and X1 Turbo. The first installment in the series arrived in July of 1988 on PC-8801 on and was subsequently ported to the other platforms over the course of the following months.
The series as a whole focuses on a character named Sadler, who is a Syrian capital-A Assassin — that is, he’s a member of the historical Order of Assassins sect rather than just “someone who kills people”. If you’ve played any of the myriad titles in the popular Assassin’s Creed series, that’s what we’re talking about here.
Despite Sadler canonically being born in the year 1104, XZR eschews being a realistic historical adventure in favour of incorporating a variety of elements from popular mythology, blending various cultural influences together. Over the course of the original game, Sadler encounters the legendary Assyrian queen Semiramis, Babylonian goddess Ishtar, unicorns and Ouroboros before inexplicably being transported to the 20th century for the finale, where he is tasked with assassinating Russia’s General Secretary and the President of the United States.
In the second game, released in December of 1988 for PC-8801, PC-9801 and MSX2, Sadler travels back in time to the Christian Crusades (1095-1291), which is somewhat closer to his own “native” time. This time around, he’s tasked with attempting to unite the world in peace under one God, with the main MacGuffin for his quest being a holy artefact known as the Holimax.
The version of Exile on Renovation Collection 1 is essentially a remake of this second installment; the first was never localised due to the platforms it was produced for not having any real presence in the west as well as its somewhat controversial ending — remember, the Cold War was still in full effect in 1988. Given that this “sequel” would be many folks’ first encounter with the series, developers Telenet and Riot wisely chose to rewrite the remake so it stood a little more by itself; it also trimmed out another “present day” sequence that referenced the original XZR’s finale.
The console versions of Exile also trimmed out a few more subtly controversial elements from the original home computer versions; for example, in the original versions of the games, Sadler could not only use traditional RPG-style potions and healing herbs, he could also take drugs such as opiates and hallucinogenics to heal himself or increase various attributes.
There was a risk-versus-reward element to this; most drugs carried side-effects, up to and including death, so you had to be a little cautious. These side-effects were taken out of the console versions and the drugs renamed to fictional substances — although these ended up being somewhat counter-intuitive, with an item called “Heartpoisons” actually being for healing, for example, while “Snake Poison” and “Spider Poison” are for increasing attack power.
So what of how Exile plays? As previously noted, it’s an interesting blend of styles. While exploring towns and uncovering information to progress the story, the game primarily unfolds from a top-down perspective. Sadler and his companions walk around talking to people and various events need to be triggered in order to unlock new locations and continue onwards.
Interestingly, while Sadler and company can enter buildings during the top-down sequences, the game opts not to show you anything going on inside them; instead, entering a doorway usually simply triggers a dialogue or shop sequence. The latter aspect is important, since each new area you visit generally offers more powerful equipment than the last; while Sadler increases in power considerably with each level up, it’s also helpful to keep him well-equipped.
Once you’ve uncovered the information necessary to open up the “dungeon” for an area, Sadler can leave the town and head onward. From hereon, the action switches to a side-on perspective that combines platformer and beat ’em up elements. Sadler is an agile fellow and can leap around, and also has a sweeping slash with his sword to attack foes. His companions do not accompany him into the action stages.
During the side-on sequences, you have two main objectives: firstly, level up Sadler so he is in a decent state to fight through the impending challenges, and secondly, discover the core objective for the current area.
The first aspect is of critical importance, because Sadler is surprisingly weak and feeble at the start of the game, and with the level cap for the game being just 17, a single level increase can make a huge difference to Sadler’s capabilities in combat. If you’re struggling to progress at any point in Exile, take some time to fight respawning enemies and level up once or twice; you’ll find that will make things a whole lot easier.
Sadler will also learn magic as you progress through the game; by far the most useful of these is the Restoration spell, which effectively allows you to use your magic points bar as additional hit points. There are also fire, ice and warp spells, but realistically speaking you’ll probably use the Restoration spell for the majority of the game.
The action stages start out pretty simple, but as you progress, they’ll become more labyrinthine. You may find it useful to make a map of the stages that include doorways which take you to different areas, as it’s easy to get lost! Be sure to explore thoroughly, though, as to progress the story you’ll often need to find characters and items in the dungeon as well as beat the main boss of the area. And if you don’t seem to be able to get any further, pop back to town and see if any additional information has become available.
Exile is a challenging game, but a rewarding one — and a great example of how ambitious RPG developers were back in the 16-bit era. It’s a good, solid title to get stuck into if you’re in the mood for a longer game, and a great example of what makes Renovation Collection 1 so appealing for many Evercade players.
Here’s some helpful reference material that we didn’t have room to include in the Renovation Collection 1 manual. This information is taken from the original western release’s manual; note that in-game there are a few spelling/localisation errors and abbreviations that vary slightly from the below, but you should be able to figure things out!
Bat’s Sword: Attack Power (AP) +2
Gaze’s Sword: AP +4
Abel’s Sword: AP +6
Blueno’s Sword: AP +8
Arleni’s Sword: AP +10
Syak’s Sword: AP +12
Pasth’s Sword: AP +14
Azala’s Sword: AP +16
Bat’s Shield: Armour Class (AC) +1
Sem’s Shield: AC +2
Egon’s Shield: AC +3
Lana’s Shield: AC +4
Syaka’s Shield: AC +5
Posth’s Shield: AC +6
Sumpa’s Shield: AC +7
Hemp Turban: AC +1
Cotton Turban: AC +2
Silk Turban: AC +3
Hemp Clothes: AC +2
Cotton Clothes: AC +4
Silk Clothes: AC +6
Fire level 1: 6 MP, 10 damage
Fire level 2: 12 MP, 30 damage
Fire level 3: 18 MP, 50 damage
Ice level 1: 8 MP, 10 damage
Ice level 2: 16 MP, 30 damage
Ice level 3: 24 MP, 50 damage
Restoration: Restores HP using available MP
Warp: Warp to action scene entrance. Not available in boss room.
Convulsants: Recover 10 HP
Somnifacients: Recover 20 HP
Heartpoisons: Recover 30 HP
Kako: Recover 10 MP
Kava: Recover 20 MP
Pip Beetle: Recover 30 MP
Snake Poison: Gain 10 AP temporarily
Spider Poison: Gain 20 AP temporarily
Cantharis: Gain 40 AP temporarily
Ipoh Dok: Gain 10 AC temporarily
Kayu: Gain 20 AC temporarily
Aconite: Gain 40 AC temporarily
Exile is available as part of Renovation Collection 1 for Evercade. Find out more on the official cartridge page.
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