Set in a sort of old Japan with fantasy overtones, Benkei Gaiden is a standard overhead RPG. Battle scenes are random and turn based (with quite a nice bit of music), and the game relies very heavily on Japanese text based menu systems.
This game is unrated due to reliance on Japanese text.

You say...
First off, what drew me to this game was the soundtrack and the ost from the folks at Sunsoft is definitely the standout feature with the battle theme being one of the most upbeat, catchy battle theme I've ever heard. That's a good thing too since you'll be hearing a lot of it.

What's interesting about the game is the fact that it's set in the historcial setting of the Kamakura period with historical characters like Minamoto no Yoritomo, Minamoto no Yoshitsune and the titular Benkei making an appearance among others. You would think Benkei played the starring role of the game. Though he doesn't, he will eventually become one of your party members.

You start the game as Kijaku, adopted son of a local monk being tasked with saving a child from a monastery overrun by demons. From there you'll proceed to the imperial capital where the emperor tasks you with finding the three imperial treasures to overthrow the demons trying to take over the land. From there the game takes a somewhat non-linear approach as to where you go next. The game offers hints when you speak to townsfolk and fortunetellers. You will visit new towns, buy new weapons, do some backtracking to fill out your party to a roster of four and eventually acquire a ship that will completely open up the world map to exploration.

Because the hints you receive are often quite vague and the game will allow you to go anywhere you want, once you acquire a ship you'll probably end up following several events out of order to a dead end in search of the actual next story trigger. This is made worse by one of the highest encounter rates I've ever seen. You can have a random encounter any step and walking ten steps without one is a rarity.

The menu definitely ages this game with the I button opening up a menu that includes the 'talk' and 'search' feauture. Visually it's quite simple with white text on a plain background. It does features some nice portraits of your party members. Inventory space is limited and can really become an issue later on with the amount of key items you'll gather and cannot get rid of. When buying weapons and armour you can't tell what stats it will give you and who can equip it, so it's best to save your game before you buy any new equipment. Thankfully the game does support battery backup if you have that option.

Battles are viewed form your party members'perspectives. Enemy sprites and are nicely drawn despite sporting a somewhat low resolution and you will encounter plenty of palette swaps of earlier enemies later in the game. The game has an basic day/night cycle with some battles randomly featuring a red evening sky background.

The game is difficult to recommend by today's standards or even compared to the quality of life improvements of later PC Engine RPGs. The game is maybe 20 hours long in total and without the ridiculous encounter rate it could be half that. That said the early Japanese setting is somewhat rare and nice to see and the game was succesfull enough to warrant a Super Famicom sequel. For 1989 this game is simply a product of its time and feels like a decent effort for it.
Marco Wolken

SOUND TEST: (You need to be able to read Japanese for this) Enter as your password: O GO RE RU MO NO MO HI SA SHI KA RA ZU