Format: Sega Mega Drive
US title: Beyond Oasis
The Story of Thor is an adventure game (or you might classify it as an 'Action RPG', as it features an RPG structure and stats, but uses a beat-'em-up style combat system) developed during the creative peak of the Sega Mega Drive (1993-5). It features sound and music by Yuzo Koshiro (one of the founder members of Ancient) and some relatively stunning graphics and animation, mainly using flat, cel-like patches of colour.
The story involves a young prince (called 'Ali' or 'Thor' depending on whether you are playing the US or Japanese/EU versions) who discovers a Gold Armlet when excavating a cave on an island. The Armlet is possessed with an ancient spirit, that tells of its counterpart (the Silver Armlet) and how they both wield immense power. The usual console RPG fare. Ali sets off to explore his home land to find out who holds the other armlet.
The game is refreshingly light on text, and dispenses altogether with a trading system. All the items and weapons you need for your quest can be looted from chests and fallen enemies. The lynchpin of the game's design is the system of elemental 'companions' who can be summoned by casting a bolt of magic from the armlet onto something of their element (for instance a torch for the fire elemental Efreet, or a mountain stream for the water elemental, etc.).
Each elemental can perform three different spells, but these drain your spell points (regained by eating certain foods). This adds a large element of strategy to the dungeon wandering, as you need to carefully ration your spell energy and weigh up whether you should summon a particular elemental while you can, or struggle on alone in the hope that you will find another summon point later.
The real-time combat and frequent use of platform-style puzzles (albeit fairly simple ones) ensure that you need good reflexes to make progress. Luckily you can pause the game to use items and change weapons using an unintrusive iconic menu system.
One of the most impressive elements of the game design is how fluid it is- after the first few introductory quests, the game requires practically no backtracking and swiftly advances the story once each dungeon area is negotiated. There are even a few neat touches that are now commonly found in 3D adventure games (such as overheard conversations, and the need to shoot switches with your bow).
Although it might take a little time to get to grips with, and the graphics aren't quite as impressive as they once were, I can safely say that Thor is one of the best games of its kind on the platform. The name is a bit of a puzzle though- there's nothing particularly Norse-related in the game. There was apparently a sequel on the Sega Saturn.
Emulated with high accuracy by Gens.