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HuCARTography IV: Jaseiken Necromancer

Jaseiken Necromancer

Developer/Publisher: Hudson | 22 January 1988 (JP)


Early in this project I alluded to just how complicated the PC Engine platform looks to an outsider. It has an 8 bit central processor with 16-bit graphics processing. It has multiple variants, some of which include minor chip variations while others include CD-ROM units and different BIOS revisions. Those CD-ROM cards are particularly hairy, and kept me off trying to emulate the system for years. These factors are often cited as to why the platform, it is argued, was not a success compared to its brethren.

Another factor often cited was the relative lack of RPGs, this at a time when the format was coming into its own both critically and commercially. Where are all of the Final Fantasy clones? Why isn’t there a Dragon Quest equivalent on my TG16? It’s just shooters and late 1980s arcade ports all the way down, right?

Well, dear readers, in truth the platform wound up with a goodly amount of role playing games by the time of its death. Indeed, there were roleplaying experiences of all types. Ports of western PC games, strategy, and certainly a few games that owe their entire inspiration to one Yuji Horii. As it happens, a majority of these were either 1) exclusive to Japan, 2) released on one of those pernicious CD-ROM formats, or 3) both. And as it also happens, the sixth game ever released for the PC Engine meets the first case.

Jaseiken Necromancer has an immediately striking piece of box art. Done on commission by no less than Hans Ruedi Giger, it evokes a horrific biomechanical setting which sets it leagues apart from the friendly cover art of Toriyama or the wispy fantasy works of Amano. This is an RPG with some Fucked Up Stuff, probably.

No Caption Provided

My working foreknowledge of this title is as follows:

  1. This is a fairly simple JRPG, having been made to live on a two megabit HuCard. Its primary innovation is the ability to swap between multiple premade characters into different parties of three, each of which trios have their own strengths and weaknesses. Strategy is built around determining which pairing is best for a given challenge.
  2. Being a JRPG from the late 1980s, the amount of grinding is too high to chart.
  3. There is a partial translation of the game on, one which unfortunately leaves all the plot and text boxes untouched for technical reasons. Between this translation and a detailed guide done by Griever_GF on GameFAQs, this game is mostly playable by a non-Japanese reader.

HowLongToBeat indicates that Jaseiken Necromancer clocks in between 30 and 40 hours long. I can therefore guarantee I will not be finishing this game, now or ever. With that in mind, how is this thing?


I’ve messed with quite a few “classic” JRPGs at this point. I’ve finished Final Fantasies I and I, Dragon Quests I and II, Phantasy Star II, and fiddled with various console ports of Wizardry and the like. I don’t recall any of those games filling me with as much dread as Necromancer did when, upon defeating my first trash mob of one bug, I was awarded one (1) single experience point and two (2) gold.

Now, we can deduce a few things from there. As it turns out the gold yield was tolerable, allowing for a stay at an inn every three mobs or so. The experience yield, however, is a little on the low side. Even if the leveling tables for characters have small increments, this is going to be an absolute grindfest.

Fair play, this does look a good deal more impressive than your contemporary Famicom JRPGs.
Fair play, this does look a good deal more impressive than your contemporary Famicom JRPGs.

I played about two hours of this to really get my sea legs and have some force to put behind my opinions on this game I will not finish. In that time I learned a little bit. It turns out the choice of party you make is actually permanent, meaning once you choose two of the five possible companions you are thereby locked into that choice for the next several dozen hours. This is kinda cool, in the sense that your playthroughs of this game can be somewhat different. The companions available to the player are Lime, a damage magic specialist; Chaos, a recovery magic user; Baron, a physical attacker with better damage output than the protagonist; Maist, a rogue with high speed but relatively low damage; and Romina, an all rounder who requires quite a bit of leveling to become great at anything. A Red Mage by another name, basically.

Upon assembling your merry band of misfits, it’s out into Starting Town™. This game has allocated a sparse amount of tiles to label its buildings in town, which are 90% the same little house but with a roughly 4x4 pixel placard to indicate that a service is provided therein. Starting Town has an inn, a resurrection shop, an item shop, a place to buy swords, and a magic store.

One of the truly cute things about this game is that you start with a basic weapon for most classes, but you must manually equip said weapon lest you enter your first fracas unarmed. This is done by a very much cribbed from Dragon Quest style menu, with options for Talking, Inspecting, Inventorying, and Statusing your boys and girls. Having to select a menu option to speak to NPCs is a depreciated thing these days, but for a game developed in 1987 This Is Fine. Having the players walk into combat with their swords holstered because they fail to check if they’re equipped by default? That’s some bullshit.

In any event, upon leaving town you encounter Late 1980s JRPG Encounter Rate Combat. If you haven’t taken the plunge, allow me to explain. You know the trope of these games having a random encounter every pace or so? Absolutely in play here. You will be fighting trash mobs for hours and hours and hours. And you really need to be doing this, as the enemies outside of the immediate orbit of town will beat you bloody. My party of Hero (the canonical name if online guides are any indication), Lime, and Maist got to work fighting these moths and zombies for a while.

It turns out this game has a neat mechanic whereby different characters have different level tables. Unlike a lot of role playing games with EXP mechanics, this hearkens to more of an AD&D experience (or, more likely, a Dragon Quest II experience) where some characters will accumulate stats faster than others. In my case, Maist hit level 2 before Hero, and well before Lime. This has the feeling of your classic “Linear Warrior, Quadratic Wizard” trope, where physical damage dealers scale faster but eventually tail off in utility to a magic user with a range of wild and crazy spells for different situations. I like this!

"Yep, that's a Japan-exclusive Dragon Quest clone alright. Bad news is once you get one you've got a couple dozen at least. I hope you have good home owners insurance, friend, because ho boy."

Another nice touch are the enemy sprites. The competition in the console role playing game space at the time relied on static sprites for enemies, perhaps set against solid black fields and/or in windows. Necromancer draws reasonably detailed sprites onto environmental specific backgrounds, and they even have some light animation. Furthermore, upon death, they spurt blood! It’s kinda nifty and adds a nice visceral weight to the game’s combat.

Alas, that’s all I have to report. I fought dozens of fights against swordfish, bugs, and zombies in various formations. I bought a spell. I stayed at an inn several times. I walked around a lake looking for a town, based on the highly reviewed GameFAQs guide. Then the weight of the task on hand fully fell upon me and I realized that nothing here was going to really grab me. I’m relying on a translation with reasonably done menus and spell names but no plot or dialog is in English, so I can either rely on machine translation and attempt to suss out a Japanese horror/eldritch video game plot from the Showa era, or try to engage with a Showa-era JRPG on a strictly mechanical basis. To that end I’ve played several of those (the Showa era having ended in 1989) and this absolutely another one. I’m good.

The historical positioning of this game is, to invoke one ArbitraryWater’s terminology, dubious. It is the first role playing game on the platform, and would remain the only one for a good long while. In that sense it had its niche. On the other hand, this had the incredible misfortune of launching directly between Final Fantasy I and Dragon Quest III. The former is a bit basic, but the six class party system alone allows for a more varied experience than Necromancer. The latter is arguably the best JRPG on the Famicom, a high water mark for the genre. Both games put this one right into the ground.

Not gonna lie, the title screen art is less Giger and more witch house.
Not gonna lie, the title screen art is less Giger and more witch house.

I’d extend that assessment to the music as well. The soundtrack is not nearly varied enough for a thirty hour game, and even if you were to remind me that the quantity of music is not that far off from FFI or the early Dragon Quest titles on the Famicom, I’d argue the music in those games is infinitely more memorable than what is on offer here. Uematsu wrote the Final Fantasy Prelude in literally minutes and we’re still humming it thirty five years later, it is instantly recognizable. I stopped playing Necromancer three hours before writing this and I have forgotten the town music already.

So, that’s Jaseiken Necromancer. It’s worth noting that this game is still available, for now, on both PSN through the PS3 and on the Wii U Virtual Console in all territories. That’s right, Konami is selling an entirely Japanese role playing game from 1988, with zero translation niceties, for a couple bones on the Wii U right now. This was also included on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 Mini in all territories, again untranslated. Is that a good deal? Well...

Party members resurrected: 1. Don’t stray from the starting town until you’ve gotten a level or two on you.

Encounter to Steps Ratio: 1 to 3 or thereabouts. Not for the faint of heart.

Turbo Ratio: Not applicable. However, when you factor in the roughly $8 cost of the game on the Wii U Virtual Console versus a complete HuCard, you could make the case that we’re in about 1:2 territory for the $20 physical copy. However however, given that most of you don’t own a Wii U (and that I traded mine in a few years ago when I realized I was never going to use it again, Game & Wario be damned), the cost of a used Wii U plus the game makes this a silly proposition. Not to mention the Wii U eShop is closing in short order.

<---HuCARTography: Year I Round Up