Thanks to ININ Games for the review code
Title:Ninja Jajamaru: The Lost RPGS
Release Date: 02/21/2023
Continuing from the recent Jajamaru Collection being brought over to the west, the two RPGs from the original collection have been sliced out, split up, translated to english, and put in their own collection for a pretty steep price. Still, is the Ratalaika feature set better than the original collection, and were these two games even worthy of translation at all? Let’s take a look into both of these RPG adventures…
We have yet another Ratalaika reissue, meaning the same usual deal applies: good CRT filters, various display options, and reasonably accurate emulation. Seeing how both of these were NES titles and those were the ones that performed just fine in the last set, it should be no surprise that both games look and sound fine here, at least on the PS4 build. Also like before, these two seem to be polished versions of existing fan translations from the internet, with the scripts and typeface seeming identical, with another editing pass given for good measure.
As for the games themselves, both The Ninja Book and The Golden Castle are pretty big clones of popular RPGs from the time: Dragon Quest in the first case, and Zelda in the second, and both offer a pretty goofy take on each RPG genre. The Ninja Book has Jajamaru dealing with very goofy Yokai enemies, some of which are outright parodies of prior enemies from the series or RPGs in general, and the world map/battle UI couldn’t give off harder Dragon Quest vibes if they tried. The music is decent, if not incredibly repetitive, and that town theme is going to drive you crazy by the end of the game.
When it comes to Golden Castle, the game looks pretty crude for a Zelda 1 clone, with basic sprites and messy looking environments and backgrounds, but somehow it has the catchiest soundtrack of them all. In fact, I would even go an extra step to argue that it has the best OST of the Jajamaru series in general, since some of the story, village, and dungeon themes are remarkably good, even if some late-game tracks are incredibly short loops that can drive you insane. Still, some of these short loops are magnificent, with the final world map theme being a truly epic, blood-pumping loop that gets you prepped for the final battle, and was easily my favorite song from the Jajamaru Collection OST CD I got a few years back. Definitely a hidden gem of a famicom soundtrack!
Usual drill and routine here. Not much else in terms of bonus features, with not even a gallery to show. The only big benefit I can notice besides the usual rewind/fast forward/save states come from cheat options you can toggle on or activate mid-game, which has some pretty great results for helping you deal with the jank of these games. (Well, mostly…)
Ninja Jajamaru- The Ninja Skill Book: This is a Dragon Quest clone in as much of a Dragon Quest clone as it can be. Split into four chapters, (the final one unlocking when you beat the other three) each guides Ninja Jajamaru with Princess Sakura eventually joining his side across the land to solve various problems, dueling Yokai along the way and gaining magic spells in the form of magical jewels. You go from town to town, beat up tons of enemies for EXP and Gold, and use them to buy equipment in a very traditional fashion.
Ninja Skill Book certainly has a lot of fun humor to it, especially when it comes to some of the wackier enemy designs, but generally the game can be a huge grind, which thankfully allows this collection’s QOL to really shine. Like the other Jajamaru set, there are cheats you can enable, which do what you might expect with infinite health/mp, but there are also some basic enhancements to throw on, such as double EXP and money, or even a “Blessings” option to give yourself a health/MP/money refill any time, anywhere, or even force the current foe to lower its health to 1 point. All of these really cut down the grind, which is a good thing since this game is very tedious when played normally, especially if you want to go for all four scenarios. (since like Dragon Quest IV, which this game predated funnily enough, each new scenario starts you from zero)
Ninja Jajamaru: Secret of The Golden Castle- The Zelda-like entry and fourth Famicom game, released in 1990. This is an action RPG adventure which tasks Jajamaru from filling out a holy Mandala with eight mystical spirits in order to stop an evil monk from reviving a dark demon. With a trusty chain weapon, it is up to the ninja to travel the land and help out people along the way.
Sure enough, this is definitely Zelda-like in a lot of ways, mainly when it comes to the overhead combat and dealing with enemies. Your attack button shoots the chain out like a yo-yo, and that’s the primary way of taking out foes. You have a certain amount of health containers, which expand over the course of the adventure every time you gain new magic abilities, which use your magic meter to unleash a variety of helpful spells, such as an earth spell that lets you dig underground and avoid attacks from enemies.
However, the general structure of the game is pretty close to other action RPGs, with towns and dungeons being featured heavily and not much in terms of secrets or optional items. In fact, you only have a couple of them to pick up from shops, as the bulk of your cash will likely be put towards needed items such as Oil Lamps that illuminate dark caverns or health/magic potions to pull through in a pinch. Usually you go to a town, find the problem troubling them and where to go next, then head to that location and enter a dungeon to wander around, fighting enemies until a boss is beaten and you obtain the magic. Rinse and repeat several times and that’s basically The Golden Castle in a nutshell.
Still, even with a simple structure, Golden Castle is rather charming, and the simple combat is pretty darn fun, to the point none of the long dungeons really bothered me until the final one, due to that one having an overabundance of dead ends. There’s usually a good amount of enemies to hit and you end up getting gold through defeating foes, and the rewind/fast forward additions make going through screen transitions and backtracking a lot snappier. All in all, Golden Castle is a solid, 5-6 hour action RPG that I’d easily recommend as part of the set even if it didn’t have QOL… If it wasn’t for the fact that the version in this compilation is utterly bugged and broken.
Yep, as much as I hoped we could go through a seemingly slam-dunk ratalaika set without major bugs, The Golden Castle suffers from an absolutely terrible glitch that makes a core mechanic of the game flat-out not work. You know the cool magic abilities I mentioned earlier, and how the Earth one is particularly useful? Well, while you gather more over the course of the game, only the first two magic spells work when trying to equip them: in some utterly stupid bug that popped up from implementing an “all magic” cheat toggle, (which does give you all of the main spells anytime and anywhere for the sake of wrecking chaos on enemies early on) the game is tricked into thinking you never have spells from the third one onward.
Does this mean the game won’t let you progress, since you need the spells to beat the game? Well, not quite, since they do show up in your inventory and the game seems to still be marking the flags properly, but if you try to equip say, the healing spell, it just won’t do it; it’ll automatically un-equip itself and be fully unusable, leaving you with just Earth and Fire for the entirety of the game. Good thing Fire is the only one that you actually need to use to clear the game, then!
But as if that wasn’t bad enough, the spells can be forced to work, if you just toggle that aforementioned cheat. Yes, even if you actually obtained all the magic spells, you can’t actually use most of them until you turn on a cheat that’s meant to force them all on you. Then all the spells are free to be used as you please… Until you turn the cheat off, which causes your obtained spells to stop working again. Thus, the game pretty much cannot be played as originally intended, since it’s either all the spells at once, or just two. Brilliant oversight for a game where collecting the magic and experimenting with it in combat is part of the fun, and a bug that rivals the one in Panorama Cotton’s launch state for how stupid of an oversight it is.
In conclusion, The Lost RPGs should be a good pair: a very average, but common for the time Dragon Quest clone, and a solid Zelda-like action RPG that would be well worth your time. Unfortunately, the sheer stupidity of such a major bug in The Golden Castle completely soured my mood for this pair of games, since I cannot fathom why such a core part of the game would be bugged in such a way that nobody seemingly caught onto it: that would be the equivalent to if Mega Man 2 glitched and only let you use the Mega Buster, Crash Bomber and Air Shooter even if you beat the other bosses.
While I do enjoy a lot of the QOL features and accessibility options this wrapper provides for both RPGs, (a huge godsend in the grindy Ninja Skill Book) I can’t even assume Ninja Skill Book works as intended either: I only neared the end of the first of four scenarios before focusing on clearing the other game, and that buggy experience soured me from even wanting to see if the rest of NSB works properly. All I know for sure is the game that should have made this a must-recommend set for any fan of NES RPGs is completely bugged in such an amateur way, that it really comes off as a depressing cashgrab to separate these two games from the other part of the collection. Noble effort to bring two RPGs to the west with full english, but not with this amount of bugginess.
I give Ninja Jajamaru: The Lost RPGs a 3 out of 10.