Going through my generously modified NES Classic, I stumbled across this title and thought that the artwork looked cool enough to just give it a go. I was genuinely surprised by how good of a time I had; It was no legendary must-play like a Mario or Zelda, but this hidden gem should not be passed up!
Once you fire up the game, you are given only a start menu and a continue option, which will play a vital role later because this won’t be a ‘one ‘n done’ type of game. Unless you have the original booklet or box, you won’t have any sort of story or lore to go along with the game. I had to do external research just to gather some sense of story and also found a manual. From what I gathered, Arkista is an Elfen village that has a magical ring that provides peace and harmony to the world. A shogun with a ninja army gets wind of the ring and steals it, throwing the world into turmoil. Then, the courageous Christine, armed with her bow, an apparently infinite amount of arrows, and courage, shows up and rises to face the evil Shogun.
Arkista’s Ring is about getting Arkista’s Ring back, and to do that Christine must journey through an actually well made and diverse map leading up to her showdown with the Shogun. You have to find the key within each level, which will appear on a differentiated tile after defeating a certain monster or a certain amount of monsters. You don’t hear the key drop so you have to keep checking on the floor as you destroy the bad guys. Once you find the key, you have to go to a gate to head to the next area. Transitioning from area to area is seamless and smooth; for these older games, creating a land and layout that can stay consistent as you travel through it can be hard, like going from a pixelated forest to a pixelated city without giving context to the story or travel it took to get there. Arkista’s Ring actually makes the different stages tell a story as you travel through them, like going from a forest, to a city, to a cemetery, to a tomb, all while not making it feel broken up or segmented.
After you shoot and try aiming at the first few bad guys that show up, you will notice one of the hardest mechanics of the game to overcome: Christine can’t turn and shoot well. You have to actually step in the direction you want to shoot, which may not sound like a big problem, but when you are running from a herd of 10+ ninja and have to turn backwards a whole step to try and fend them off, then you are in a pickle. If you take a look at the rest of the screen, you will see that you have 5 hearts for taking damage, and a few empty boxes underneath representations of Christine’s head. The heads are your remaining lives and the empty boxes represent the your inventory, where you store items that can damage all the enemies on the screen as well as full healing potions. However, items are not the only thing you can pick up. Most bad guys will drop a bag on the ground once they are defeated, but what is in it is completely random. It could be a fire staff, a full heal potion, or a piece of armor! Christine can gather up to 5 pieces of armor that get placed next to her hearts and act as health extenders. This is super convenient as you go further in the game.
After you work through 31 stages, you finally have your final showdown with the Shogun, and while definitely a difficult battle, if you prep properly by farming bad guys to get more healing items, then he isn’t too bad. Once you defeat him, you get the Ring back and see his Shogun Castle demolish behind you.
Then you start Stage 33.
Arkista’s Ring has 4 rounds of 32 stages each where you go through all the same stages in increasing difficulty. It isn’t like bonus content or anything, but its a way to make sure players got more out of their game. The enemies are faster and harder to kill, but Christine doesn’t go in without upgrades of her owns. Once she actually gets the Ring back, she has the ability to heal herself every 10 steps to where she can keep getting her hearts and armor back and you’re not dependent on potions. There are two more artifacts you can find to collect, as well as make sure that you can maximize your inventory space.
One thing I really enjoyed about it was that I can’t relate it to any game I have played before. It was a completely brand new adventure! While it may sound no different than just playing a game on a higher difficulty, the challenge from keeping going after stage 32 was fun to do, and while I didn’t make it to final 124th stage, i still had a blast! As I play through more NES games I am hoping to find more hidden gems like Arkista’s Ring to enjoy and share!