Back in 1993, Asmik released an RPG for the Super Famicom entitled Lennus. It was a very unusual game featuring a bizarre sci-fi world, primarily pastel-based graphics, excellent level design, a sophisticated magic system, and 30 playable characters. It felt a little like bizzaro sci-fi Dragon Quest. It was later released in 1994 in the US by Enix America under the name of Paladin's Quest. Yeah, I can see that meeting:
Enix Guy #1: So we're localizing this game called Lennus?
Enix Guy #2: Lennus? What's that? Some hot girl's retarted little brother?
Enix Guy #1: No, it's actually the name of the planet where this weird and well designed RPG takes place.
Enix Guy #2: Nobody is going to buy a game named Lennus. Let's change it to something else so people can instantly know it's an RPG. You know, like take a D&D term and add Quest to it.
Enix Guy #1: You mean like Paladin's Quest?
Enix Guy #2: Exactly! Fantastic! Let's use that!
Enix Guy #1: But there aren't any paladins in the game. In fact, the hero & heroine are both wizards.
Enix Guy #2: Who cares!? Paladin's Quest it is!
Enix Guy #1: *grumble, grumble*
Awful name aside, it was really a great game. Sadly, very few people played it and many of those who did play it were scared off by the weird graphics, bad music, and weak localization (the spells & items were very limited in the length of their names with the result that most of the names were almost completely unintelligible). Those who pressed on discovered one of the true unappreciated classics of the era. Some of the highlights:
The magic system - Rather than having 1 magic stat, characters had separate stats for each of the 8 spirits of magic. The more you used spells of a certain spirit, the more that particular stat would increase. Oh and there was no MP; all spells used HP. Because of this, there were no basic heal spells; instead, you would find heal bottles in dungeons (each with 9 doses that could be refilled at towns) and would use those for your healing purposes. As a result of all this, magic played a much bigger part in the game than it does in most RPGs. Oh and if I remember correctly, support & debilitating magic actually was useful in this game, shock of all shocks.
Mercenary system - 4 character party. For the vast majority of the game, you had your 2 main characters, the hero and heroine, both of which could be customized with equipment & gain access to additional spirits. In addition to those main characters, you could also recruit various mercenaries (28 total) that you found throughout the game who weren't as customizable (they couldn't gain new spirits or change their equipment). One neat thing about this was that some mercenaries had their own personality quirks. For example, there was one powerful warrior who would only join your party if you let his wimpy little brother come with you. Another mercenary was desperate for companionship and refused to let you force him out of the party (there were other ways that he'd end up leaving though).
Control system - Rather than use a standard menu system, it used a system where you the D-Pad appeared in the middle of the screen with various selections around it. Rather than have to select an option and press A, you'd simply move the D-Pad in the direction of the choice you wanted.
Good level design - I remember the game having some neat levels for the time like one with a rising and lowering lava flow.
Here are some screenshots.
Yes, the main character's default name in the US version was Chezni.
A sequel to Lennus came out in 1996 in Japan, but due to a poor reception of the first game and the fact that the popularity of the SNES was waning, the game never officially made it to the US. FAQs, walkthroughs, and other assistance for the English-speaking fan can be found online though. I can't comment much on the game's quality since I just started playing it, but so far it seems promising. Story sounds like it'll be more interesting than the first game (which was fairly mediocre in the story department) and among other things, there's a new Save Anywhere feature (you can't save in an impossible spot since it gives you the option of escaping dungeons at the cost of half your gold when you load up). Music seems to be much improved (I remember it being pretty bad in the first game). Here's a few screenshots: