REVIEW: Golvellius: Valley of Doom

I bought a Master System, a bundle of adventure games (Miracle Warriors, Lord of the Sword, Spellcaster, Zillion, etc.), and didn’t bother with it for a year. Guilty, I eventually tackled Golvellius: Valley of Doom (compelling name). Usually, action/adventure games aren’t (ahem) “cerebral” enough for me, but exploring Golvellius’ forlorn, deadly valley, is gripping stuff. Developed by Compile (Guardian Legend, Zanac), Golvellius was also released on MSX and MSX2. Interestingly, each revision has a unique world map. And, as if anyone cool enough to read this blog could possibly care, Golvellius will soon be on iPhone.

Comparing Golvellius to Zelda is easy but unfair. The differences are numerous and important:

*Golvellius has a linear structure. The (sprawling) world is split into regions (desert, graveyard, lake, woods, swamp) and you progress from one to the next, only backtracking once you’ve acquired special items (i.e. Aqua Boots), to dig up secrets.

*Compared to Zelda, Golvellius’s world is massive, maze-like, and studded with secrets. Nearly every screen contains a hidden cave, many of which are mandatory. Actually, there are no dungeons, shops, or save points, that aren’t concealed, so slashing random rocks, trees, and enemies becomes a pastime. Infuriating the impatient (or use a walkthrough, coward).

*Also for the impatient: Golvellius has some grinding. Killing monsters, you gain gold to purchase weapons, items, and Bibles that (ironically) increase your maximum gold. Grinding turns off some folks, but true grindaholics (those who have beaten Ultima: Exodus) won’t even blink. Never will you grind for more than 20 minutes at a time.

*But Golvellius’ most unique feature is its dungeons, alternating between a forced scrolling vertical quasi-shmup and a side-scrolling platformer. You aren’t able to backtrack, so avoiding perilous dead ends is the primary challenge. But the dungeons, due to their bite-sized length, never make you work that hard.

I prefer Golvellius to Zelda, but Wanda says I’m “contrary”. Exploring the nooks and crannies of the massive world map is engaging, and uncovering massive quantities of secrets gives that satisfying feeling of discovery. And despite how deeply hidden some are, there is a consistency to it (i.e. the more out of the way a place is, the more likely it contains a secret) that eases the frustration. I also love grinding.

I suspect Golvellius is the best adventure game on the SMS. Further experimentation (buy me Golden Axe Warrior!) will let me verify that. Its unique features (dig those weird action-dungeons), sprawling scope, and Compile-style (notice similarities to The Guardian Legend) are golden. It turned me back onto action/adventure games after years away. Maybe I’ll bother to play my dusty copy of Legend of Oasis now.


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