There are no dinosaurs in Dinosaur, a dungeon crawling RPG released by Falcom in the late 80s. I do know that the final boss is named Dinosaur - why, I don't know. I think all Japanese companies should have at least one English speaking guy who looks at their titles and tells them how ridiculous they are. Even today, we're getting games with hilariously nonsensical names like Infinite Undiscovery. It's also termed a "serious" RPG, as if other RPGs were somehow all madcap romps.
A more appropriate (if uninventive) name for Dinosaur would be "Japan Does Wizardry". You wouldn't be able to tell it by looking at Japan's mostly cookie-cutter RPGs of the modern era, but in the early ages of computer gaming, the Land of the Rising Sun had quite a thing for Western-designed first person RPGs like Might & Magic and Dungeon Master. Wizardry was one of the most popular, to the point where it received many console ports (which were never released in their home country of America) as well as its own anime. Yet, outside of Namco's/Atlus' Megami Tensei series, games of this persuasion were relatively rare from Japanese developers, who seemed to prefer Dragon Quest clones. Dinosaur is Falcom's stab at this style of game.
According to Falcom's webpage, this is the story of Ash, the hero:
Ash is the legendary mercenary who is said to return from any battle alive while his allies are defeated. But in this age of peace there is no battlefield for him. Yearning for conflict he is seemingly guided by a white butterfly to Zamhan...a crawling world, in which tragedy gives birth to madness and disorder in the space between life and death, and endless resentment can become the irrelevant words of a distant age. All it can offer is chaos, and then destruction.
Pretty cool, huh? Ash, it seems, is constantly haunted by the ghosts of friends and foes alike, including one female spirit. In his dreams, they gather around him and call him "Grim Reaper Ash". Once you read Zamhan, it's your pretty typical quest - talk to the mayor and run some quests, follow more butterflies, and discover the reason why you've been summoned to this land.
You end up in the first town well equipped (a rarity in Falcom games) and ready for adventure. There's very little atypical about the exploration - all of the movement is comprised of static screens with a little shuffling sound effect. Oddly enough, the view distance is limited in the town but is barely an issue when you start exploring mountains, forests, castles, shrines, and all of the usual fantasy locales. There's no real automapping function, only a consumable magic item that will show a snapshot of the immediate surroundings. If you want a complete map, you're going to need to make your own (or look up them up online.) Unlike some older RPGs, there's absolutely no character customization, and fellow adventurers join you as you run into them.
Thankfully, other parts of the game are far more user friendly. When you're walking around, you can press the action button to rest, which restores a small amount of health and technique points. This practically eliminates the need to return to town to rest, and lets you save your healing items for the fury of battle. Speaking of which, the battle system is also extraordinarily fast. When you're walking along, you'll be alarmed with a polite message that reads "COMBAT", then whisked away to a completely separate screen. All of the enemies are, for some reason, represented by cards on the right side of the screen. From here, you can issue your orders, like any other RPG. Each of your characters has a set class, and their unique attacks are determined by whatever weapon they have equipped. You tell them to attack, and there's no animation, and only a tiny click of a sound effect. The status window tells you how much damage you've dealt or received, and if you've turned up the text speed, it shows up instantly. This means that battles can be over in a matter of seconds. Which is quite welcome, because the random encounter rate is set pretty high. On the negative side, it's rare that you need to put much effort into combat. Even many boss battles can be won in under five seconds by just hitting "Fight" over and over, presuming you're well-leveled. Which, given how often you'll fight, is pretty easy.
Despite how intrusive the battles can be, they still feel less tedious than most RPGs of the day, which makes it remarkably playable even now. There's also a lot to see and do, especially since there are two whole scenarios, which have slightly different plotlines, dialogue, and introduces the characters in a different order. But, like most Falcom games, the real draw of Dinosaur is its soundtrack. While it's certainly not the best they've ever done - it's still trumped by Ys and Legend of Xanadu - many of the songs are catchy and some manage to be surprisingly badass for only using the FM synth of the PC-98. On the other hand, much of the exploration music is pretty low key and therefore uninteresting, but there are still plenty of gems, especially the booming intro theme.
Like most Falcom games, Dinosaur received an overhaul for Microsoft Windows and released in 2002. Dinosaur Resurrection is more or less the same game, but with drastically improved graphics, an improved interface, and other additions. The entire game is now in 3D, complete with smooth scrolling, although the movement is still entirely grid based. The repetitive textures do a good job of emulating the look and feel of the older games while still seeming modern, even if it still pales compared to your typical first person shooter. A mini-map on the corner of the screen will show you the immediate surroundings, and the Search spell opens up a much larger automap that stays onscreen until you're attacked. You can also position your characters in front, middle, and backrows to change their offense/defense statistics. The entire soundtrack has been remixed, and some songs fare better than others - the battle songs are backed by a distorted guitar, while the exploration themes benefit from the added instrumentation, but some of the slower pieces sounded better with the haunting FM of the original version. There's also a whole new rendered intro which, despite not being terribly interested, ends up pretty cool combined with the music.
You can move with either the keyboard or point with the mouse. Combat works much the same way as the original, except it's entirely mouse driven. Just click on a bad guy and you'll fight them - despite some added animations, it still moves lightning fast, and the game even autotargets your next foe, so battles can still be won by repeatedly clicking. Using items, executing special attacks, equipping weapons and buying items is also made much easier thanks to the improved interface. There seems to be a bit of rebalancing, as characters don't level up quite as quickly, and boss battles are somewhat harder. The random encounter rate has been dropped in certain areas, although they still occur frequently. Overall Dinosaur Resurrection is so successful in updating the formula that it practically makes the original game obsolete.
Although it'll still appear ancient to those not accustomed to this style of game, it's definitely the way to go for fans of the genre, especially since they don't make games like this at all anymore. The closest successor might be Arcana, a similar game that was released on the SNES. Thanks to Kyouki for the translation of Falcom's webpage.