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Invigorated by the success of his previous blog for Gamasutra, Felipe Pepe has compiled another list, which this time comprises only 12 titles, of role-playing games that brought something new to the table. The list includes a series of titles that go from the relatively well-known, like Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magicka Obscura and Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra, to the very obscure, like Rings of Zilfin and Star Saga: One - Beyond the Boundary, a first attempt at mixing pen and paper RPG with software.
A snippet on The Magic Candle, and its subversive take on the standard "save the land from a demon" plot beats:
The Magic Candle (1989)
Remember Ali Atabek and his Rings of Zilfin? I hope so, or you have short-term memory loss (or didn't read what I wrote up there). Well, he went on to found Mindcraft and develop The Magic Candle series, one of the most unique RPGs of the 80's.
Although your quest is to save the world from an evil demon, said demon is already defeated & imprisoned when the game starts. But he's imprisoned inside the eponymous Magic Candle, which is melting. Once it burns out, the demon will escape, so your quest is actually to find a way to stop the candle from melting entirely.
Time-management is the core of Magic Candle, as you have a limited number of days to complete your quest (determined by the difficulty setting). To make the most of your time, you can split your party, sending each character to perform a different action. You can send the mage to learn spells, the warrior to train with a weapon master and the elf to work as a tailor to earn money while you take the hobbit to explore the town and try to gather clues on how to save the candle.
All this culminates in an extremely unusual ending where, instead of fighting an end boss or enduring a final dungeon crawl, you must perform an elaborate ritual to restore the candle, one you spent the entire game putting together and collecting ingredients for, based only on rumors, legends and old books (and taking notes on paper, of course the game won't record any of this).
While almost entirely forgotten today, the The Magic Candle left a mark for many years, being chosen "the most rewarding game ending ever" by Computer Gaming World in 1996.