The Super Famicom had a number of excellent action-RPGs, amongst them Illusions of Gaia, Soul Blazer, Terranigma, Brain Lord, and many others. Most of the best ones were localized, but like many RPGs on the platform, a number stayed in Japan. Such was the fate of Neugier: Umi to Kaze no Kōdō (the subtitle translates to "Heartbeat of the Wind and Sea"), developed by the ever-prolific Wolf Team.
The story of Neugier involves Duke, a young nobleman and son of the evil Count Wein of Neugier. He's returning to his kingdom after a period of exile, only for his ship to be attacked by pirates. After fending off a sea witch and a gigantic octopus, he is saved by a girl named Secia, who has been hiding from Count Wein's henchmen. Supposedly, Secia is an outlaw but Duke thinks she's too kind to do any wrong. Duke, indebted, goes off to help Secia, against her wishes, and sees if he can get his father to come to his senses.
The crux of the story lies in the set-up and isn't exactly the focus of the game. And while Neugier is technically an RPG, these aspects are fairly minimal. The closest things to levels you have are indicators which show how powerful your standard and jump attacks are, which increase the more you use them, and you can collect hearts to raise your maximum health, akin to The Legend of Zelda. There are a few items to modify your offense and defense, though not many.
Emphasis is put on combat and solving puzzles, as some get pretty creative, and there is usually a "trick" to defeating most enemies. This is especially true because you only take damage when they are attacking, and merely touching enemies enemies does not hurt you. Studying enemy behavior is crucial to surviving, as Neugier rewards creative thinking just as much as it rewards reflexes. The bosses are huge and appear to be very intimidating, but they're not very tough and fights tend to consist of avoiding the enemy's attacks, wait for them to get tired, and strike when the opportunity arises. None of them are particularly difficult and they are not as imaginative as bosses from similar games. While some of the bosses are cool, like the shape shifting dragon, they're kind of underwhelming compared to the rest of the game. There isn't a "trick" to beating any of them and they don't really test your skills, they're just sort of there.
Unlike most overaction action-RPGs, Duke is capable of jumping, which is used in some platforming segments. The platforming is pretty fun, although it does get frustrating at points. Thankfully, there are no bottomless pits, so falling down just means falling into a lower part of the level. You can just retrace your steps and try the jump again when you get there. You also never take damage from falling.
The most useful item at your disposal is the grappling chain, which is used for both combat and solving puzzles. Unlike in The Legend of Zelda, where you numerous many items that are largely useless outside of the dungeon you found them in, the grappling chain is the only sub weapon you get, but it's really the only one you need. The grappling chain doesn't inflict damage, but instead it pushes enemies back and stuns them. This can give you a chance to strike, especially if the enemy is dangerous. You can also latch onto walls with it, which is not only useful for running away, but also for solving puzzles. Some of the more creative uses of the hook involve standing on a floating platform and using the hook to get you closer to the wall so you can get to door. Other uses involve using it to grab boxes and throw them across chasms or pushing approaching enemies back. Even though the hook is pretty cool, it is not used as much as it could have.
Alas, the visuals are under whelming for a Super Famicom game. The sprites are small and the graphics in general lack distinction. The sound, however, is excellent, and was supplised for Yellow Magic Orchestra vocalist Yukihiro Takahashi.
While a solid game, Neugier has some issues, mostly in regards to its length. While the core mechanics are fun and creative, the game's length is its main weakness. There are only six chapters, each one taking place in a pretty big dungeon, and there are no real towns or overworld to explore. The whole game can be completed in less than five hours, so anyone expecting an epic length quest will be sorely disappointed. Most of the game is linear, and there's no overworld to explore. Neugier gets to the point, and while some may see this as a strength, others may be left wishing for more. On the upside, Wolf Team knew that their game was very short and decided to grade you at the very end. Grades also give you a title. It can call you normal titles like "Average Player" or "Skilled Player", but some titles are pretty funny. If you do your very best, complete the game as fast as possible, and get every health powerup, you are "awarded" the title "Couch Potato".
Neugier is also interesting because it was one of the first games Yoshiharu Gotanda worked on. He was only an assistant, and he was very young at the time (only 17), though he got enough praise from working on Neugier that he could work on Tales of Phantasia, which would be the very first in the long line of "Tales Of" games. Later, Tri Ace would be formed and Wolf Team would be bought by Namco as part of the mass dissolving of Telenet.
Speaking of Telenet, their American branch, Renovation, was going to publish Neugier in the United States under the title The Journey Home: Quest For The Throne. It even had silly new box art in a typically American style, replacing the old one that was drawn by manga artist Kia Asamiya. The game was complete and ready to be shipped, to the point where warehouses stocked cartridges and major magazines such as EGM and Nintendo Power reviewed the game, praising it for some original ideas and criticizing the very short length and apparently awful translation. Neugier is German for "curiosity", which is somewhat important to the overall theme, but the translation changes it to Nogal, which loses a little of the meaning. The Journey Home was ready to be shipped, until Sega acquired Renovation and The Journey Home suffered a similar fate to Psycho Dream. It has been confirmed that copies of The Journey Home exist, some of them being the versions given to magazines for review, but they are extremely rare.
Luckily, Neugier does not require very much knowledge of Japanese to play, and if you'd rather play it in English, there's a decent fan translation courtesy of Haeleth. It's a pretty good translation, much better than other terrible translations from around the time it came out, so it is most likely far better than what The Journey Home would probably would have looked like. However, the menus are not in English, so you have to guess which options do what.