There’s just something about system limitations that brings out something special in gaming; as soon as developers were able to fill their games with pretty cutscenes and flashy graphics, gaming sacrificed its soul to upgrade to that sleeker, flashier style. However, there are games from the past—flawed games working within serious limitations—that still stand to remind us of what made gaming so great in the first place. Sword of Hope 2 is one of those games, so absurd and memorable that even the decade that separated my last two playthroughs couldn’t erode my memory of it. Even better, it’s one of those sequels that doesn’t require any knowledge of the previous game.
At first glance, this isn’t exactly a masterpiece of character writing and plot development, yet when you delve deeper you begin to find that the game’s weird quirks stand out and render those elements lovable. That’s due in large part to the writing, which alternates between surprisingly eloquent scene-setters and strangely (yet charmingly) impersonal dialogue between key figures in the story. While the descriptions of the areas often prove to be surprisingly colorful and evocative, the characters here are no strangers to generic promises of the “by my honor, evil shall be slain” variety. However, such proclamations have since become so commonplace in gaming that these actually transcend their original intent to become an unwitting parody of the “honor-bound hero” RPG convention. It’s hard not to chuckle reading through such heroic tripe, knowing just how much of it came into being after this game was released.
There are no actual challenges to conventions of the RPG genre to be found in this game, though; every time evil rears its head, the hero will be around to lop it off. It’s this kind of simplicity and candor that makes Sword of Hope 2 so much fun when viewed through modern eyes; so many games strive to break free of “the mold” that a game that embraces that mold wholeheartedly is the only one with any real shot at succeeding. In a sense, this is a game that stands out by not trying to stand out. For example: when was the last time you played a game that didn’t have some kind of betrayal? Chances are it’s been awhile, because the norm seems to be for at least one character to betray you in every game. In this game, however, you don’t need to worry about any such thing: Theo will always be heroic, Mute will always be (in Layl’s words) “one serious little dude,” and that creepy NPC who has a strange interest in you will always be a demon in disguise. Put simply, this is a game where a bunch of people go out to kick evil’s pointy derriere and do exactly that.
Sword of Hope 2 uses that old-school, one-screen-at-a-time movement style that you never seem to see anymore. It can be a bit disorientating at first, but the first few areas you’ll be in are small enough to get you nice and comfortable with the system. This system also allows for a number of commands to be present at all times: “look,” “open,” “hit,” “item,” “magic,” and “power” (which shows your stats). The most fun of those is of course “hit,” because there’s something undeniably entertaining about going around smacking NPCs. It doesn’t always let you, to be fair, but there’s usually a unique response. For example, trying to hit your father in the beginning pops up a message that says, “Why would Theo slug his father?” For an early Game Boy game that could easily have a one-size-fits-all message chiding the player for trying to hit strangers, that level of detail is impressive.
The writing and plot have aged well with time, but the virtues and flaws of the combat have remained unchanged since the game’s release. On the negative side, moving sometimes forces you into random battles that can be really, really annoying because of how unpredictable they are. You could just as easily face a single easy enemy as a large group of difficult ones, so it’s difficult to really know what to prepare for. This game has an oldschool kind of difficulty in that sense, which some may appreciate, but most will just find frustrating. A little grinding, however, and you suddenly become invincible, capable of cutting through even the toughest enemies like butter. You don’t need to level your character up to the 90s in order to succeed, either; it’s possible to completely dominate the end boss at level 30, which means that it doesn’t take much leveling in order to overcome the game’s difficulty. Also a plus is the fact that you won’t need to bother with upgrading your characters’ equipment every two seconds like in most RPGs—while there are upgrades, they’re infrequent enough to where an upgrade can help you through far more than in most games.
This is a Game Boy game. Not Game Boy Color, not Game Boy Advance, but the gray brick with the green-tinted screen known as the Game Boy. As such, graphics are totally bare-bones, but within those minimalist graphics are a surprising number of details. Even many NPCs look totally different from one another (though not all), and it’s obvious that a lot of attention was put into character designs.
The music is all bleepy and bloopy as can be expected from a Game Boy game, yes. While some tracks are memorable even in their bleepy bloopiness, many others hit those ear-piercing high notes that forced many of us to play without volume growing up as per the requests of others. The songs really aren’t special enough to justify the piercing high notes, honestly.
Here’s what you should do: