Before Tales and Dark Souls, Namco Gave RPG Fanatics the Druaga Games

Before Tales and Dark Souls, Namco Gave RPG Fanatics the Druaga Games

The publishing giant has been cheerfully abusing gamers for decades.

On this day 29 years ago, Japanese publisher Namco officially released the game The Return of Ishtar in arcades. It was a work of mad ambition and remains one of the most fascinating arcade creations I've ever played.

You may never have heard of the game, and that's no surprise; it made the merest blip in the U.S. It's probably best-known for its inclusion in the Namco Museum anthology series for PlayStation, and even there it was the kind of game most people either skipped past entirely in order to play Pac-Land... or else they skipped the entire volume altogether.

And really, it's understandable. The Return of Ishtar does not take pains to make itself accessible to newcomers. It was the sequel to The Tower of Druaga, a game that expected arcade players to survive a massive tower full of hidden secrets, procedurally generated dungeon layouts, and no continues one coin at a time. What a brutal and unfriendly idea! However, Druaga earned a loyal fanbase, and Ishtar was directed straight at them: A rambling action RPG filled with monsters, hidden secrets, and unconventional mechanics.

Ishtar centered around the recently rescued Princess Ki; no longer the distressed damsel she had been in the first game, she provides the point-of-view for Return of Ishtar. However, she didn't have to go it alone; a second player could take the role of Gilgamesh, the hero of Druaga, and help protect Ki from roaming monsters... to a point, anyway. The game camera paid little heed to Gil's movements, and if he attacked too many monsters he'd run out of juice and die, game over. Pretty weird!

But, like so many Namco games of the era, The Return of Ishtar offered great music and visuals along with ideas that had never appeared in an arcade game before. It was wholly unique, and wholly challenging. The game saw several sequels itself, including The Quest of Ki and The Blue Crystal Rod, and the Druaga name still pops up from time to time — most recently as an anime series. These days, its place in Namco's ecosystem is filled by Tales (the teamwork and anime protagonists) and Dark Souls (the opaque, unforgiving combat)... but fans of the classics know that both modern franchises wouldn't be here without the Druaga games to blaze a trail.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

A Massive Stardew Valley Update is Dropping Very Soon

The free 1.4 update is just around the corner for PC players.

Xbox XO19 Could be Where All of Microsoft's Shiny New Studios Start to Bear Fruit

It looks like the many, many studios of Xbox will have some news to share.

Bethesda Starts a New Studio Around the Original Prey Development Team

Human Head also worked on Prey 2 for Bethesda prior to its cancellation in 2014.

You Should Look Closely at the Switch in Pokemon Sword and Shield’s First Room

Game Freak gives the Switch a unique salute in Sword and Shield.

Shovel Knight's Final Expansions Are Coming Next Month

They'll mark the end of Treasure Trove, but not for our brave blue Knight.

Pokemon's Level Limits Won't Stop You From Collecting Shiny Pokemon

You'll encounter Pokemon you can't catch in the Wild Area, but don't fret about missing out on a shiny.


Sly 2: Band of Thieves' Stellar Heists Still Can't Be Topped, 15 Years Later

Sly 2 turns 15, making us all feel very, very old.

Why the Dreamcast Still Matters

Why the Sega Dreamcast still resonates with game enthusiasts on its 20th anniversary.

Final Fantasy 8 Was Always Good

Reexamining one of the most divisive games in the series on its 20th anniversary.

10 Years Ago, Batman: Arkham Asylum Showed Us That Superhero Games Could Be More

Nothing before could capture the Dark Knight quite like Arkham.