~ NEO METAL FANTASY ~
It's unfortunate that this game garners little reverence, as it's a fantastic old-school RPG that does practically everything right. Following the lead of the legendary Phantasy Star II, Neo Metal Fantasy takes a traditional tale of adventure and infuses it with science fiction elements. You'll still explore a green-field-dominated overworld, purchase shields and healing items, and visit caves and castles. You'll also pilot giant mecha, meet mechanical centaurs, and take off into outer space. NMF's not quite as atmospheric as the compellingly bizarre PS2, and it's nowhere near as challenging, but it proceeds at a faster pace and is even more enjoyable to play.
As you'd expect in a game that draws inspiration from PS2, the dungeons are extremely large. We're not talking about labyrinths consisting of pointless space and redundant corridors, though. This title offers variety in its location designs and plenty of good stuff to find via thorough exploration.
Well-constructed mazes aren't NMF's greatest asset, however. No, that would be its bosses, who are absolutely ENORMOUS. We're talking full-screen terrors here.
The artwork employed for regular adversaries is also very nice, and the fast-paced battles are handled with a neat system that makes you earn magic points by defeating your well-drawn foes.
Most of the good guys are pretty cool too, with centaurs and a little blob accompanying your standard warriors and sorceresses. Of course, wherever there's a little blob, there's bound to be comedy, and NMF delivers the laughs, especially during a sequence that sees your characters deck themselves out in cult garb to do some sneaking around.
The story delivers some drama as well. There aren't many cinemas early on, and the ones that are present occasionally stumble with awkward character depictions, but most of the later intermissions are exciting and well choreographed.
The music is another element that sees its best moments during the latter half of the game. The gameplay, on the other hand, is rewarding all the way through. Constantly entertaining and afflicted with not a single significant flaw, NMF can make a strong argument for a spot amongst the best 16-bit RPGs.
(Be sure to check out Justin Cheer's excellent NMF walkthrough here.)