Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#145 – The Magic of Scheherazade

Come with me on a genre-blending adventure.

Always choose Fast!

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 1/9/20 – 1/26/20
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: The Magic of Scheherazade Longplay

I think it’s common to form a pre-conceived notion about a piece of media before you experience it yourself.  This feels especially true about movies with all the teaser trailers and YouTube video dissections going on today, but I think it applies to games as well.  The Magic of Scheherazade on NES isn’t often talked about within retro gaming circles.  Before playing it, from what I could tell, it was regarded as a fun game and looks to play similarly to The Legend of Zelda or Crystalis.  That was enough to pique my interest.  As it turns out, this game still had ways to surprise me.

The Magic of Scheherazade was first released on the Famicom as Arabian Dream Scheherazade in September 1987.  The game was both developed and published by Culture Brain.  The NES version was released over two years later in December 1989.  The reason for that is the game was massively overhauled for the NES release, changing everything such as the graphics, music, level design, and progression.  A sequel was planned but never released, nor has this game seen any kind of re-release.

This game is loosely based on the Middle Eastern folklore collection One Thousand and One Nights.  The set of stories in the collection are all framed around a single story featuring a woman named Scheherazade.  In this story, the king Shahryah discovers his wife has been unfaithful, so he has her killed, marries a virgin every day, and has her killed the next day.  This goes on for 1001 days until Scheherazade offers to spend a night with the king.  She tells him a story but stops halfway.  The king wants to know how the story ends, so he spares her until the next night.  She then finishes the story but starts up another more interesting tale, again stopping partway.  This goes on for 1001 nights, at which point the king spares her permanently and makes her the queen.

You’ll get sucked in!

The story of the NES game centers around the great magician Isfa.  He battles and defeats the great demon Goragora, sealing him and other demons away underground.  The evil wizard Sabaron eventually comes around and frees the demons.  You play as a descendant of Isfa who alone holds the power to defeat Sabaron, but unfortunately, his memory has been lost, his powers are gone, his princess Scheherazade has been captured, and he has been sent to a completely different time period.  Talk about a bad day!  He is found by the time spirit Coronya who can help the hero travel through the time door.  To defeat Sabaron and save Scheherazade, the hero goes on a time travelling journey joining up with many different allies to help him regain his powers.  This is a chapter based game and you beat the game once you complete the fifth chapter.

On the title screen, you can adjust the text speed from either Slow, Normal, or Fast, and then select to Start a new game or Continue an existing one.  When starting a new game, first enter in your name up to four characters long.  Then you choose your class from the choices Fighter, Saint, or Magician.  Fighters are good with swords and can get little fireballs firing from swords later in the game, but they are not skilled with the magic rod.  The magician is the inverse; he is good with the rod but not so much with the sword.  He is also best suited to fight the bosses.  The saint is kind of an in-between character.  He is not that great offensively, but he can make use of special items to reflect enemy bullets and be spared from damage when touching certain ground tiles.  Shopkeepers may give discounts to certain classes as well.  Don’t worry too much about making a bad decision upfront because you can change your class later.

This game controls like a normal action game, for the most part.  You move Isfa in four directions with the D-pad.  No diagonal movement here.  The A and B buttons are for your actions.  By default, A jumps and B lets you speak to people you find.  The Start button brings you to what the game calls the Select screen.  Maybe not the best choice of name.  Anyway, the Select screen lets you reassign the action buttons.  There is a list of items for the A button and a separate list for the B button.  The A button list is mostly dedicated to spells, while the B button is for your weapons, speaking, or other consumable items.  The Jump action can be assigned to either button or both.  Go through the list, then press A to assign that item to its button.  When you’re done, press Start to go back.  Pressing Select during the game brings you to the subscreen.  There’s a lot of information here.  You can see your list of allies, a map for some sections, your spell list, your items, and your equipment, among other things.

That guy’s gonna get a face full of magic.

Most of the time you will be on the action screen.  The bottom display shows some stats as you play.  You see your current class as well as your experience level.  You see which actions you have assigned to A and B.  Next are your Hit Points and Magic Points, labeled H and M.  Then you see your total experience points and how much money you have.  Finally, you see counts of some of your consumable items.  The left items are your keys and amulets, and the right items are your bread and mashroob.  Keys are for opening locked doors in the palaces at the end of each chapter.  Amulets keep you from being transformed by an enemy and are used automatically as needed.  Bread heals HP and mashroob restores MP, and they are consumed automatically if you run out of either one.

Each of the game’s chapters is self-contained, and they often follow a similar structure.  You start off in a town and you can gather information from the townspeople about what is bothering them and what to do next.  You venture out of the town going screen by screen.  Many of these screens contain enemies that you can fight for experience points, using either your sword or rod.  Sometimes defeated enemies drop money, or occasionally health and magic pickups.  Eventually you gain experience levels where you gain more max HP, max MP, and sometimes power upgrades to your rod and sword or new spells.  You find other towns to advance the story and recruit allies to join you.  Out and about, sometimes Coronya will alert you to use the magic of Oprin to reveal a staircase.  One of these staircases leads to a time door.  Depending on the situation, taking the door will either put you back in time or send you ahead in time.  You can move between time periods freely through the door.  The maps in both time periods have similarities but have changed a little due to the passage of time.  By visiting towns and following leads, you will eventually make your way to a temple or palace where you square off against a powerful demon at the end of the chapter.

Sometimes between screens outside of town, you can trigger a random RPG battle against a set of enemies.  From the start, you can choose to fight, try and escape, or try and make peace with the enemy via a charitable contribution of your own cash.  If you can’t get away, you’ll have to fight.  You can choose up to two of your allies to join you in battle.  You may also pick from a pre-determined formation, provided you have already learned about the formation outside of battle and have the allies that are part of the formation.  You can also fight alone if you want.  Before the fight, the game distributes your bread and mashroob automatically between you and your allies only for the duration of the fight.  You can adjust the distribution as you desire.  If you have hired troopers, they will also appear for your fight.  Now you are finally ready to battle.

Gather a team for some RPG battles.

The battles themselves play out like standard turn-based RPG battles.  For your and your allies, you choose to attack with one of your weapons or cast a spell.  Troopers only attack, though their attacks are strong.  If you selected a formation for this fight, you can choose to cast combined magic.  These powerful spells are cast as a team and they work best against specific sets of enemies that you’ll learn about when you learn about the formation.  In winning a battle, you are awarded with experience points and money, and occasionally a free item.  I’ve learned these battles are the best way to earn money, so usually they are worth it.

The towns contain some locations that help you in your journey.  Use shops to buy items.  You can try haggling with the shopkeeper to reduce your cost, but he can threaten you out of the shop and take some of your cash in the process, so be wary.  You can also take out loans from the shopkeeper.  I never took advantage of this in the game, but it can be helpful if cash is tight.  You will have to pay interest, and if you borrow too much you can’t borrow any more.  You can also get locked out of buying items and supposedly lose the game entirely if you don’t pay it back.  Hotels in towns restore all HP and MP for you and all your allies.  You can gamble money in the casino, but not if you set your class to Saint.  The troopers’ office lets you hire troopers for the turn-based battles.  The mosque gives you some additional options.  Here you can change your class or revive allies for a fee, or you can get your password for later play.  The last place you can find in the towns is the Magic University.  This is where you learn about the formations and combined magic for the turn-based battles as well as the Grand Magic that you can learn in each chapter.

There are a bunch of spells in this game.  I found this the most confusing part of this game because they have strange names and I found it hard to connect the names with what they do.  The one I used the most was Pampoo, which restores 20 HP during battle or 10 HP in the field.  Bolttor and Flamol are lightning and fire spells that get powered up twice during the game.  Mymy turns enemies during turn-based battles into hamburgers, stopping them for a few turns.  Defenee cuts damage taken in half for the entire turn-based battle.  Sillert is a reflect magic spell.  There are other spells, but this is just an example of how confusing these can be and how the manual really helps sort out what they are.

It’s not nighttime, just the solar eclipse.

There’s another mechanic in the game called the Alalart Solar Eclipse.  This event happens periodically during your adventure, dimming the screen colors a little bit for effect.  There are things you can do only during the eclipse.  In each chapter, you will find a wise man who will give you Grand Magic.  These are single-use spells that can only be cast during the eclipse.  These spells can change the landscape of the map, revive your fallen allies, and other powerful things.  The eclipse is the best time to visit the casino as you will have great luck gambling.  You can also create a money tree.  You need a Rupia’s seed to do this, which you can buy in some shops.  There is a specific place on the map where you need to plant the seed and you need to do so in the past during the eclipse.  When you visit that same place in the future, a money tree will have grown, and you get to collect a bunch of cash when harvesting it.
The end of each chapter culminates in a boss battle against one of the demons.  There are a few things to keep in mind.  You will have to explore a palace that is sort of like a Legend of Zelda inspired dungeon.  If you purchased a map this chapter, this is what it’s for.  Some items you buy are used here specifically.  For instance, keys open locked doors (though many can be opened without them), and horns can help you fight some gatekeepers in some of the rooms.  When you make your way to the demon, often you need a specific ally available to help fight with you or even trigger the demon to appear.  You will want to be in the Magician class since the demons are best fought with the rod and the Magician is the best with that.

The game has a lives system, on top of everything else.  It is kind of a weird choice, especially since you auto-heal with bread.  During the action scenes, you can fall or jump into water which is instant death.  In turn-based combat, sometimes an enemy will hit you or your party with an instant-death spell.  You get three lives with no opportunities to gain more.  Running out of lives gives you a password, which happens to be the most convenient way to get one.  If you keep playing, you will resume at the starting town of that chapter with all of your items, experience, and gold intact.

The password system has some interesting quirks to it.  Passwords vary in length depending on where you are in the game.  I’ve had passwords lengths of 35 characters up to 43 characters.  This is a game where the passwords encode exact amounts of stats.  This is the first game I’ve heard of that has a password failsafe built in just in case you fail password entry three times.  From what I’ve read, the game prompts you for your name and class, then puts you at the start of the chapter you are on with minimal equipment.  Much better than starting over, that’s for sure.

Nothing better than a good boss battle.

This was my first time playing through The Magic of Scheherazade.  I read about this game a little bit in old gaming magazines and it looked interesting.  I did not get a copy of the game until my collecting days in adulthood.  I am not sure where I bought my first copy of the game, but I did track down an extra one later that came with the travel map.  The cart and map cost me $10, not a bad deal at all.  Even though I wanted that map specifically, I didn’t use it at all for my playthrough of the game.

I decided for this playthrough that I would record the entire thing and post up a true longplay on YouTube.  I tend to shy away from that because I often play games in short bursts and there’s a lot of overhead when I have to set everything up for video capture.  I don’t have a dedicated recording or streaming setup at my house.  I set my laptop up in the family room to record, then take it all back down later so my kids aren’t tripping over wires.  Despite all that, it is a good idea to try something different. In the long run, it will be better to have full recordings for long games.  This was a good guinea pig since the game isn’t terribly long, but long enough that I would not be able to beat it on one sitting on my second try.

I would say my playthrough of the game for the first time playing is pretty average.  I spent 10 hours playing through this game, fewer than I thought.  There were a few hangups that I remember, mostly minor things.  In Chapter 3, I got stuck for a little while and kind of wandered the map until I realized I needed to change my class to advance the plot.  Some of the demon fights I did not understand the first time through, so I spun my wheels and messed around until I figured it all out.  I got lost in a few of the maps.  Some of the maze areas have hidden holes that take you out of the maze entirely.  It took quite a few tries on some of them to figure out how to get through.  I often backtrack short distances and test out different branching paths just to be sure I’m not missing anything that I would have a hard time coming back to later.  There was also time lost to context switching.  Because I played in shorter sessions, there was more backtracking to the mosque to get my password, and then the next session I needed a little extra time to reorient myself to my current situation.  These kinds of things are bound to happen in a blind playthrough on my schedule.  I don’t expect anyone to actually watch my longplay, but now that I’ve done a full, long game, I’m happy to have the archive of it available.

The Magic of Scheherazade can probably be classified as a hidden gem on the NES.  The graphics and music are mostly well done, just a little on the simpler side.  The controls work well, and I like that you can configure your action buttons, though being able to assign any command to either button would have been a nice improvement.  Jumping can be a little wonky at time, particularly in the towns around townspeople.  Minor issues aside, the gameplay is where this game really shines.  There are so many different systems at play, and once you break through in understanding how it works, the variety of gameplay and the amount of content really drive the experience.  There’s a wide cast of characters so you can configure your party whichever way you want.  You have plenty of options with the different spells and weapons at your disposal.  There’s time travel!  There are mappable dungeons with cool boss battles at the end.  There’s a lot here, almost too much at times.  The game has just the right amount of length and you are almost always making progress, which sure feels good.  This is a neat game and I’m glad I got to experience it all.

#145 – The Magic of Scheherazade

Posted In: Finished
  1. J Allred

    Ah, such great memories of this game.. We were lucky enough to have it available at our local video rental/pizza place–which, looking back, seemed to purchase quirkier, lesser-known games to rent out (ie. Princess Tomato, Tombs & Treasure, Shadowgate, etc.) As you mentioned, I remember being impressed by how much more there was to this seemingly simple game. Collecting new allies with varying abilities along the journey was really fun.

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