High school freshman Astyanax (named after the hero of Greek mythology, "he thinks", although otherwise not related to his namesakenote ) keeps having visions of a girl. Walking to school one day, he finds himself teleported to another world by a fairy named Cutie. Cutie is the advisor of Princess Rosebud, ruler of the kingdom of Remlia. Unfortunately, Rosebud has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Blackhorn. It seems Astyanax is The Chosen One, as he possesses "The miracle power within him", and so it becomes his job, with the help of Cutie and a magic ax called "Bash", to save Rosebud and restore peace to Remlia.
While the arcade version was released on an unspecified date in 1989, the NES version was released on December 21, 1989 in Japan, March 8, 1990 in North America, and July 13, 1990 in Europe.
Tropes common to both games:
- An Axe to Grind: The main weapon in both versions of the game is an axe, though it can be turned into a sword or spear in the NES game.
- Excuse Plot: The arcade game scrapes by with the barest minimum of a story: evil demons terrorize the land until a hero named Roche decides to stand against them. That's basically it. Averted with the NES game; while it is a bog-standard Save the Princess plot, it does at least boast a simple narrative with story cutscenes, and its characters were written to have some semblance of a personality in them.
Tropes exclusive to the arcade game:
- Defeat by Modesty: Whenever Astyanax strips a female mook with his ax, she covers her breasts and runs away squealing.
- Flaming Axe: In the arcade version, the axe's blade catches fire when it's at full charge.
- Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: Almost literally! After battling through a fantasy world inspired largely by Greek mythology, the last level of the arcade game puts you into a Xenomorph Xerox setting where you kill wave after wave of Facehugger-like creatures, and take on the Alien Queen herself. It does not fit in with the rest of the game at all.
- Womb Level: The final stage inexplicably drops you in a Giger-esque alien hive, complete with facehugger-type creatures, and the Hive Queen as a final boss.
Tropes exclusive to the NES game:
- American Kirby Is Hardcore: Inverted; Astyanax looks less manly in the NES version's cover illustration than in its Famicom counterpart (which used the same artwork as the arcade version's brochure).
- Attack Its Weak Point: Defeating each main boss requires striking the one weak point on their body multiple times.
- Big Bad: Blackhorn, who kidnaps Princess Rosebud to kick off the game's plot.
- Boss Rush: Well, actually a Sub-Boss Rush. The final stage, Blackhorn's Tower, makes you fight a handful of sub-bosses from earlier levels (without healing) before you get to fight him yourself.
- Damsel in Distress: Princess Rosebud.
- Dem Bones: Blackhorn really loves his skeleton minions... There are very few levels in the game that don't have skeletons lying in wait for our hero.
- Detachment Combat: Caesar, the first boss, fights by throwing its head at you.
- The Dragon: Thorndog.
- Fairy Companion: Cutie. She speaks to you in cutscenes, and if you break a statue when you run low on magic, she'll appear and offer to refill your Mana Meter or alter your weapon.
- Gameplay and Story Integration: After Cutie sacrifices herself to save Astyanax from a trap in a late-game cutscene, the item representing her won't show up from statues anymore.
- Hearts Are Health: The Life Meter has hearts to measure how much Life you have left.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Cutie sacrifices herself to destroy Thorndog's seal and allow Astyanax to get to the Tower. In return for rescuing her, Princess Rosebud resurrects Cutie as a human in Astyanax's world.
- Horns of Villainy: True to his name, the evil Blackhorn has horns.
- Humanity Ensues: Cutie, Astyanax's fairy friend, sacrifices her life to save him near the end of the game. After Astyanax defeats Blackhorn and is sent back to Earth, he realizes it all really happened when he meets Cutie, resurrected as a human girl.
- Life Meter: Represented by a LF meter that where Hearts Are Health is in play.
- Magical Mystery Doors: Those in Thelenea, level 6-1. The only way out is to enter the doors guarded by skeletons.
- Magic Knight: Astyanax supplements his up-close melee fighting abilities with spells.
- Mana Meter: Represented by an SP gauge with yellow bead-like objects that have red dots in the center, as seen in this screenshot◊.
- Morph Weapon: Your player's weapon can assume the forms of an axe, a short spear, or a sword. The axe has average stats all around; the spear is weak but consumes less MP when casting spells; and the sword is strong but consumes more MP.
- Nintendo Hard: Marshy in particular with all of its tough Lovecraftian fish folk and inconveniently-placed enemies just waiting to knock you into any of its many pitfalls. Once you get past that, even that Boss Rush near the end doesn't seem so difficult by comparison.
- Nothing but Skulls: Level 4-1 (Marshy) has a bunch of them. It's also the only level with a non-unique (relatively speaking) sub-boss; you fight a golden skeleton at the end.
- Even more so in the following Level 4-2 (Grave) which evidently takes you right through a crypt, as the background is full of coffins and shelves with skulls on them and many more of those skeletons emerge to attack you along the way.
- One-Word Title: Also a Protagonist Title, as Astyanax is the name of the character you play as.
- Protagonist Title: Also a One-Word Title, as Astyanax is the name of the character you play as.
- Psychic Link: Rosebud can speak telepathically with Astyanax.
- Reformulated Game: The NES game bears little resemblance to the arcade game of the same name; even their basic premises are totally different. They do both have the central mechanic of an energy bar filling up after you swing your weapon: the longer you wait, the more powerful your next blow will be.
- Save the Princess: The story of the NES game is to rescue Princess Rosebud.
- Scaled Up: After defeating Blackhorn in humanoid form, you then fight him as a dragon on the next screen.
- Spiritual Sequel: To the TurboGrafx-16 classic The Legendary Axe, which was developed by the same team at Aicom.
- Summon Everyman Hero: Astyanax is a regular high school freshman, summoned to rescue Princess Rosebud.
- Teleport Spam: Blackhorn employs this tactic. If he appears right behind you or in front of you, he'll attack with his sword. If he spawns further away, then he'll cast a spell on you after a short channeling period.
- Time Stands Still: The Bind spell freezes everything on the screen for a few seconds. You can use it on the first two bosses, but every boss after that will simply ignore it and keep attacking you anyway. A few of the later bosses use it on you.
- Warm-Up Boss: Caesar at the end of the opening stage. His attacks are predictable and his head is a very easy-to-hit weak spot. Once his head is chopped off, you face off against his rider, who goes down even more quickly.
- Xanatos Gambit: Thorndog pulls off one in the battle against Astyanax. If he wins, then Astyanax dies and all is well. If he loses, then his curse ensures they both die together. It's only thwarted because he didn't take into account Cutie's Heroic Sacrifice.
- You Kill It, You Bought It: Breaking Thorndog's seal means bringing his curse upon yourself as well, so that you'll die with him. However, this curse is transferable...