So let me take you on an adventure once more into the land of Yuria where we get to meet some of our “favourite” high fantasy characters.
Death Adder has invaded the Kingdoms of Firewood, Nendoria and Altorulia and killed the royal families in the process. To counter Death Adder’s power, you, the lone unnamed hero (AssNugget) must search the 9 labyrinths to find the 9 power crystals in order to restore peace to the Kingdoms once more.
Along the way you’ll discover your favourite characters, Tyris, Gilius and Ax, who all teach you their magic powers, as well as dozens of hidden denizens who vary in usefulness.
Because this is a game called Golden Axe, you eventually find the Golden Axe, and use it to defeat Death Adder.
This is NOT a Beat ’em up/Hack and slash. This is a Zeldalike Action RPG where you crawl dungeons, powering yourself up, and obtaining items to allow you to reach new sections on the world map. So if you have played the original Legend of Zelda you should know what to expect from the gameplay.
Except… Golden Axe Warrior is sodding HARD. The in-game currency is “Horns”, 100 horns will buy you a Golden Apple which restores health, 250 will buy the shield that is slightly better than the starter shield. But getting money (or health/magic pots) is a pain, I literally cleared the entire map preparing for the final labyrinth, and only got 100 Horns. If you go into a Labyrinth, and exit it, the enemies will respawn, but expect some significant grind to earn your money. When you die, you lose some money, and start on 3 health/3 magic much like Zelda. But unlike Zelda, there are no Fairy Fountains to make life easier, there aren’t magic potions (until very late) to give you magic and health back, and the economy of Horns is not as buoyant as the Rupee Trade Index is in Zelda. It does’t take long to max out your money in Zelda, here. Tough shit, get grinding.
On top of this, if you die too many times, your armour becomes “rusty”, and becomes much less effective. This means you need to buy the Magic Oil to reupholster your gear. Guess what? That costs about 90 horns.
You really are punished for dying here, there isn’t (thankfully) permadeath/gameover and if you die in a Labyrinth your progress is saved. However, if you take too long, or leave and return, all enemies will respawn. Considering the rust issue, it means your best tactic is to leave the Labyrinth and grind to max health/magic again as if you risk running the dungeon on low health, and die, then you have a VERY expensive repair bill on your hands.
You can stay at an inn to regain all your health, but this’ll cost you 20 to 40 horns (free at your hometown). If you’re on the 3rd continent, then cheap accommodation is a bit of a schlep away.
Like Zelda there are tonnes of secrets hidden in the overworld, and a lot of these items are crucial to your progression, however, unlike LoZ, the townsfolk are actually useful in telling you what you need, and roughly where to go. There is no Hungry Goriya “grumble grumble” obtuseness. Townsfolk will say, things along the lines of “You need Earth Magic to get passed there“, and “oh if you go east there is somebody hidden in some caves that’ll teach you that skill“. You still have to find the hidden person, but you are given enough of a clue as to what the hell you’re supposed to do.
I’m going to call them dungeons from now on, as I still keep spelling Labyrinth wrong, and am having to spell check it every time…
I love the dungeons, they are all really well designed. You don’t get a map/compass to navigate them, but you don’t really need them either. The dungeons are maze-like, but you can navigate them via intuition. The final dungeon has lots of teleports, like Death Mountain, but again, these actually make sense, and I could figure it out without a guide. Something I still can’t do in LoZ.
The combat is fiddly as hell, like Beyond Oasis, the combat is grid based, but you can be in two grids at once, it means that if you are not correctly aligned with the enemy they’ll be able to hit you, and you can’t hit them. At first I thought this was a bad design, but as you progress, and get different weapons, this system makes much more sense. The sword, isn’t your friend on the grid based attacks until you get used to it, which takes a while. But the sword has decent range, meaning once you get your head around the controls, it becomes much more useful at distance attacks.
The Axes have much shorter range, but they attack in diagonal slash like the swords in Link to the Past, it removes the grid based problems of combat, but means you’re more susectible to enemy damage. It offers a good trade off, and the ideal would be “get good with swords”, but after about 24 hours of playtime I was still ropey with the sword…
Enemy movement is erratic, and so is boss movement. It means you have to rely on skill to beat a boss, you can’t just memorise a pattern, and attack accordingly, you have to actually be nifty with the controls. Again, this takes getting used to, but it adds a level of challenge that I haven’t found in other Zeldalikes.
If you are able to get to Dungeon 7 and beyond, the game starts to get easier. I was dying, every other room in D7, until I got the dungeons item. I then left, went and got the overworld items the item unlocked (better armour/sword/healing magic and more health) went back and absolutely pooned. From here I started to steamroll. Enemieson the overworld were mostly dying in one hit, and they barely scratched me. So I was able to grind that money, buy the Golden Apples, buy the Magic Oil, and have left overs to stay at a near by in. A good player might be able to do this sooner, but from here I was beating dungeon 8 and 9 in one run.
The final Dungeon is rightly the hardest, but by this time in the game I was finally au fait with the controls, and was able to attack things from distance, and swap items, and take on the larger enemy hordes.
I really did enjoy Golden Axe Warrior, there were A LOT of rage moments during the middle sections and D3-D7 were particularly tough for me. But I always felt that this was from my lack of skill, and not poor design.
There is actually a really deep story going on here too, that puts to shame the other games in the series, as well as the first two Zeldas. I don’t like the Golden Axe arcade Trilogy, but Golden Axe Warrior does an impressive job of expanding the lore, explaining origins, and simply having a story, something lacking in-game in LoZ.
If you look at websites like How Long To Beat, the site reckons the game is 7-10 hours long, I guess if you get good, then it could be true. But I sucked balls, and it took me well over a week of solid play to beat this. So don’t expect to come into this and beat it easily or quickly, it is a challenge, and it can be frustrating at times. But stick with it, and you have a pretty hardcore version of the Original Legend of Zelda that is satisfying as hell once you manage to beat it.
Pros: Honestly surprised how much I enjoyed this, a good Zelda-clone, the boxart isn’t 1005 terrible like all other SMS boxes.
Cons: Hard as granite, erratic enemy movement, difficult combat
Back in the Day
Reviewing very well worldwide, and scoring mostly 80%+, the British press decided the game wasn’t very good because “it wasn’t like the arcade games”.