Rastan Saga, originally known in Japan as ‘ラスタンサーガ’, is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Taito and released to the arcades in 1987. ‘Rastan Saga’ is based on themes of fantasy and mythology and was released simply as ‘Rastan’ outside of Japan. It was a popular arcade game and was subsequently released on many home platforms.
Personal Recollection – I first came across an upright version of the arcade game in the Student Union of Halesowen College in 1987. It was right next to a standard upright version of ‘Outrun’ and whilst ‘Outrun’ initially received more of my attention, I quickly completed ‘Outrun’ and found ‘Rastan’ to be the more challenging game.
In the game you play as ‘Rastan’ a barbarian warrior who will recapture a kingdom for a princess by embarking on a quest to slay a dragon. Upon your journey to the dragon’s lair you encounter all manner of monsters and hordes based on mythological creatures such as harpies and chimeras.
The following introduction is largely based on the text provided with some of the home conversions of the game, in which the story is somewhat changed:
“Rastan, barbarian King of Maranna/Ceim is the only man tough enough to liberate his kingdom from the evil influence of the wizard Karg. In an attempt to gain control of the barbarian race the nefarious necromancer has released a host of beasts and demons upon the land.
Protected only by leather and bearing his trusty sword, Rastan hacks his way across a horizontally scrolling landscape of underground passages, grim citadels and rocky cliffs. Unexplored parts of this hostile terrain are connected by flights of steep steps and ropes swinging perilously over lakes of fire. Remote areas boast deadly streams and lava flows: contact with either of these results in instant death.
The wizard has enlisted a grisly crowd of allies, ranging from docile looking lions to ghoulishly aggressive demons. Their instincts are to attack on sight, and the more humanoid beings have seemingly unlimited shot power.
Rastan can find and collect a number of helpful items including more powerful weapons, bonus shields, mantles and also medicines which reduce vulnerability. Some enemies carry jewellery which bear a variety of mysterious powers, and more devious opponents attempt to fool the warrior king by carrying poison in the form of a magic potion.
Each level hides a particularly powerful adversary which must be defeated before passing on to the next. A beating heart and attached energy gauge record health status and should all of Rastan’s five incarnations be lost, the player is given the option of starting again on the last level visited. This option is offered three times after which Rastan’s quest is started again from the beginning.
The barbarian king’s mission reaches its climax in a final confrontation with Karg himself. The wizard takes on the most powerful form he knows: the body of a soul-sucking dragon. Only the most legendary of heroes has the power to pierce his hide.”
You control our hero using an eight-way joystick complimented by attack and jump buttons. By using the joystick in combination with the jump button, the player can control both the height of Rastan’s jumps, as well as the direction.
There are a total of six rounds, each consisting of three areas: an outdoor scene, a castle scene and a throne room where the player must confront the individual stage’s boss.
The outdoor areas are themed around fantastical landscapes with changing colours, details and sky effects. The bosses encountered at the end of each stage consist of ‘Graton’ (a robed but skeletal warrior who wields a halberd), ‘Slay’ (a demon swordsman who can sprout wings), ‘Symplegades’ (a wizard), ‘Laios’ (a dragon knight), the ‘Hydra’ (a five-headed snake) and the final boss, the ‘Dragon’.
You can pick up items by walking over them; new weapons are obtained by striking them with your current one. All of the weapons and power-ups are only equipped for a short period of time. Icons appear the bottom of the screen to indicate which weapon or power-up is currently equipped and disappear when item’s effect has expired. This is also where the number of lives left, life gauge and ’round’ indicator are shown.
Rastan can only wield one weapon and one piece of armour at a time. Weapons consist of a sword, a mace, an axe and a special fire sword that can also shoot fire balls. Armour consists of a shield, a mantle or a body armour. Other items, such as rings and necklaces, are simply decorative but also add to the cumulative score.. ..they can also be worn at the same time as the current weapon and armour.
Many of the enemies drop jewels that add bonus points if collected.. ..there are also potion bottles that will either restore or deplete the player’s health depending on their colour. A much less common item dropped by some enemies is a golden sheep’s head which will completely restore Rastan’s health.
Hints and tips
The following ‘tips and hints’ can really help to complete the arcade version of ‘Rastan Saga’ and ‘Rastan’. If you want to go simply for a ‘speed run’, keep moving forward and ignore the caves (the game can be completed in a little over 20 mins by really experienced players):
- If you are playing with a decent sound system you can actually hear your heart beat getting faster and louder as you run out of health. This matches the heart icon on the health bar which also pumps faster as your health weakens;
- Pushing up and the jump button together will cause Rastan to jump higher than pushing the jump button alone. A common feature now, this was quite revolutionary at the time of the games release;
- Always go after the special weapons where possible; if special weapons run out, jumping and striking doubles the damage done with the sword;
- If you are going for a high-score, always ‘pick-up’ the poisons. They are worth a lot of points;
- In ‘Rastan‘ the game attract sequence does not reveal the purpose of the rod. If you are carrying it, killing an enemy of any type causes all other on-screen enemies of the same type to die.. ..cool eh!;
- The ring can always be obtained in the first round castle. Proceed past the 3 ropes used to traverse the first large fire pit, down the next long chain and then up the next long chain. Slowly nudge this chain off screen and two guards appear on the left-hand side, one of which always carries the ring;
- Chains in castles can often be traversed upwards much quicker by repeatedly jumping against a nearby wall. Others needing to be traversed downwards can be missed by jumping off and falling. The round 4 boss is virtually impossible to defeat unless this tactic is used;
- The ‘mud pits’ first encountered on round 2 will not kill you, they just cause you to sink, requiring many quick jumps to escape them;
- Repeated high vertical jumps are a good method to ‘stall’ on slopes approaching bouncing fireballs.
The original Japanese version entitled ‘Rastan Saga’ features a really nice opening sequence, which thoroughly explains the purpose of Rastan’s journey. This opening is absent from the other versions released worldwide. In addition, when the player completes a round the ‘victory’ screen text continues the story-line in the Japanese version, which is simply generic text in other versions, stating “You are a brave fighter to have cleared such a difficult stage“.
However, the non-Japanese versions do feature a different attract sequence which shows all the items that can be obtained by the player along with their effect.. ..but this still offers little in regard to what the actual story is about.
Finally, in the original Japanese ‘Rastan Saga’ there are far fewer bats in the castle of Round 1 than in overseas territories.. ..which is great as they are an unnecessary nuisance.
The corollary of all of these changes is that the original Japanese version of the arcade game, ‘Rastan Saga‘, is slightly more enjoyable to play, overall.
‘Rastan’ is based around a fairly complex PCB that has many similarities to the Capcom CPS1 boards, but is actually unique to Taito. The main CPU is a Motorola 68000 with a Zilog Z80 acting as a co-processor. The excellent music and effects are provided by Yamaha YM2151 and OKI MSM5205 sound chips. Whilst all of this is the same as the CPS1 system the roms are not simply replaceable as a ‘cartridge’ on the Taito board.
The board adheres to JAMMA standards and has proven relatively resilient.. ..although there are numerous reports on arcade forums of graphical aberrations, which are fortunately fairly easy to fix by re-flashing the appropriate eproms. As to be expected such issues are usually exacerbated in the bootleg versions of the game.
Both ‘Rastan Saga‘ and ‘Rastan‘ were supplied as upgrade kits for other Taito machines, where the main PCB board, marquee, screen bezel and control panel stickers were provided. Some of the machines therefore have either the wrong side-art, no side-art or simply a generic Taito artwork.
‘Rastan’ is obviously inspired by the ‘Conan the Barbarian‘ saga novels, by Robert E Howard, both in terms of his looks and motivation. Indeed the player select screen shows a clearly aged Rastan sitting on a throne which mirrors the ending of the 1982 film.. ..making it clear that Rastan, like Conan, is not embarking on his quest for purely altruistic reasons, there is a price to be paid by the princess for slaying the dragon.. ..her kingdom.
In the background of the first stage, giant stone statues can be seen which bear more than a passing resemblance to the statues that featured in ‘The Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring’. While the film was produced several years after ‘Rastan’, these statues are based on artwork that featured in the deluxe addition of the Tolkien’s original 1968 book. Clearly the book influenced their inclusion in the game.
Here are some other interesting features of the arcade version:
- The main character, Rastan, appears as a selectable character called ‘Miracle Rastan’, in ‘Champion Wrestler’, another arcade game by Taito;
- There were two sequels to the game – the largely disappointing ‘Rastan Saga II‘ and ‘Warrior Blade: Rastan Saga Episode III‘. The latter of which also contained additional playable characters and was played across two screens;
- The game contains several bonus items that are not normally dropped by enemies – a golden armature, a brown scroll and a yellow scroll. Graphics for these can be seen in the games tile-sets. Indeed, changing the game’s code can cause them to be dropped. The golden armature acts like the existing armature, however, the scrolls do nothing;
- The game contains a built in test mode, activated by the value of two bytes towards the end of the games code. By changing these invincibility can be selected, causing ‘NO-HIT’ to be displayed at the bottom of the title screen. The starting level can also be modified;
- The game forbids players entering the initials ‘SEX’ on the high-score table. If you try, they get changed to ‘AHA’.
The arcade versions of both ‘Rastan Saga’ and ‘Rastan’ contain the same excellent and exciting sound track, composed by Naoto Yagishita and Masahiko Takaki, which really brings the game ‘alive’ (although ‘Rastan’ omits the intro, which also has a really nice track associated with it). Added to this are some really nice sound effects and a powerful rumbling bass.. ..listen out for the excruciating cry of pain, when you lose a life.
Ports to other systems
Due to the popularity of the arcade version, ‘Rastan’ was ported to the Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC in Europe by Imagine Software in 1988 (which had recently been famously taken over by Ocean Software Ltd.).
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum version was particularly well regarded and awarded 9/10 in the July 1988 issue of Your Sinclair. Indeed, it was placed at number 54 in the Your Sinclair’s Top 100 list.. ..although it plays well and is a good approximation of the arcade original I find the enemies tend to blend in to the detailed backgrounds a little too much; as a result you die rather unfairly. In contrast, the Commodore 64 port was rushed and is rumoured to be unplayable due to an impossible platform jump about half-way through.
In 1988, Taito also developed its own conversions of ‘Rastan’ for the MSX2 in Japan and the Master System in North America and Europe (both versions feature redesigned levels, with the Master System also containing some alternative boss characters). The Master System version is particularly good and was later ported to the Game Gear and released exclusively in Japan in 1991.
A demo version for the Atari ST was produced, but the game never was released commercially on the 16 bit computers.
Finally, after these largely substandard ports a practically arcade perfect version of the ‘Rastan’ arcade game was included in Taito Legends Vol. 1, which was released for the Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox and Windows PC in 2006. These are still easy to find and easily one of the best ways to play the game today, without resorting to the murky world of emulation (although they are also, of course, emulated versions of the game)!
Near perfect emulation is available via MAME if you own the original roms.
‘Rastan’ is a fantastic game.. ..fast, exciting and addictive. The gameplay, whilst simple is really satisfying and the soundtrack and effects really add to the overall experience. This is a game that needs to be played with the sound cranked-up loud so you can really feel the bass thumping away.. ..driving you forward on your quest. Fortunately, the ‘Taito Legends Vol. 1’ version of the game is fairly easy to find – so purchase, focus and get ready for a real ‘thrill ride’ of a game.. … totally recommended!
‘Rastan Saga’, ‘Rastan’ and ‘Taito’ are registered trademarks
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