Saturday, March 21, 2020

PCE Game 30 - Kaze no Densetsu Xanadu (Part 2)

I'm going to structure this post as more of a review than an account of my playthrough -- at times I've considered that the whole blog should be like that; one initial post covering the first few hours of gameplay and story in detail, followed by a review post. This is partly because it's easier to write, but also I notice that when I read other blogs like CRPG Addict I find myself mostly interested in the first and last post, and tend to skim the middle posts unless I've played the game and know what he's talking about. In some cases (like Dragon Quest V) I've found a lot to write about in each post, but often I struggle to say much because the gameplay is so repetitive and the story is not that interesting.



Anyway, back to Xanadu. First, the gameplay.

The game's 12 chapters are mostly structured around the same idea. You warp into a church in the area, and then have to solve a problem in the area to be able to move on to the next place. This involves a great deal of running back and forth from place to place. The NPCs and towns do have a lot of life, with memorable people whose dialogue changes as the game progresses. It reminds me a bit of the Trails series in embryo. It's also an interesting touch that you knock on the doors to the houses instead of just blundering in.



The backtracking gets excessive at times. You will find yourself having to talk to person A, then go all the way out to a cave or area to talk to person B, then go back to A again, and then once again back to B. This to me is the weakest aspect of the game and I've seen Japanese players complain about it as well. The only thing that saves the game from being unplayable is that the travel speed is very fast and you can buy Wings to warp back to the towns (which are trivial to afford after the first few chapters).



Another issue is that it's often not clear what you're supposed to do next. There are a lot of places where you have to talk to a specific person or go to a location to make the next plot event happen, but sometimes they don't give you any real clues. You'll stumble upon it eventually because the areas are fairly small, but I found this game a lot more tolerable with a walkthrough.



The final stage has a 31 floor castle that puts the Darm Tower of Ys to shame; this is possibly the longest and trickiest final dungeon in any game I've played (Ao no Kiseki had a pretty long final dungeon too). Overall when you think about how short the Ys games tend to be, this game has an impressive volume.



The combat is Ys style. As I mentioned in the first post, the distinctive feature here is leveling up your weapons and armor. This means a lot of sitting in place letting the enemies beat you up, but eventually you'll have a strong enough armor to survive everything in the chapter.



Death is interesting. If you get to 0 hp with no healing items, you turn into a ghost. This actually lets Arios fly freely around the map (through walls, etc), but cannot interact with anything or use stairs. Sometimes this is actually helpful in a dungeon to figure out where you need to go to get to the stairs or item, but you have to make your way back to the town where the priestess can revive you. But this means that there is no such thing as a game over.


I found the side-scrolling action scenes to be the weakest part of the game. There are only two healing items in the game -- one that heals 1000 HP and the other that heals you fully. The full heal elixirs are very rare until the final chapter where you can buy them (for a huge price). So you rely mostly on the 1000 HP heals. In the early chapters, you can easily get enough of these that the action stages are trivial. You just run through them and let the items heal you, and the bosses go down without much trouble as well.



But there's a rather sudden change from this to the point where your HP is too high for these items to be worthwhile. Then the action stages are very difficult. There is no invincibility frame, which means a wrong move can cost you half or more of your HP. I used a lot of save states in these scenes; I would not have had the patience to go back to the church to get revived over and over again. The second to last one is by far the hardest -- I would actually recommend that you use all of your elixirs against the boss; you'll get more than enough in the last stage to make it through the final action stage (which is significantly easier, especially considering how easy it is to make it up to 999,999 HP). Now, I'm not all that good at action games so it's possible others won't have as much of an issue with this.



The graphics are serviceable but a bit disappointing; the PCE is capable of better, which Falcom will deliver in Xanadu II next year. The cutscenes between stages are not as good as the ones in other games like Emerald Dragon.



The music is good as usual for a Falcom game. It's unfortunate that all the music outside of the cutscenes are chiptunes, but they probably didn't have the space to make CD audio for all the BGM they wanted to use.

The story is fine. It relies on a lot of old cliches -- chosen descendant, legendary hero, age-old evil, etc. There's not all that much about the overall main plot that's unfamiliar (although the earlier chapters have some interest). What Falcom does do right here is flesh out all the party characters better than most games are doing in this era. They don't just join your party and then never talk again. This, coupled with the rich (for this era) NPC dialogue, makes the world seem more alive.

Overall this is a decent game for the period. I'll be interested to see what changes or improvements they make for Legend of Xanadu II.


Next up will be a return to Super Famicom with the game Kabuki Rocks (after Majin Tensei II on my other channel).

Saturday, March 7, 2020

PCE Game 30 - Kaze no Densetsu Xanadu

Kaze no Densetsu Xanadu (風の伝説ザナドゥ)
Released 2/18/1994, published by Falcom

 

This game is part of the long-running "Dragon Slayer" franchise by Falcom. The title Xanadu first appeared as the second Dragon Slayer game, which CRPG addict did a review of (although he didn't like it). For a while I thought the PC Engine would be a remake of that game, but it's actually an entirely new title. Falcom normally did not develop console games, relying on other companies to make ports of their games to various consoles. But here they actually were behind the development, and of the 1995 sequel.

There is a fan translation in progress, but I believe it is stalled for a long time over the voice acting to dub the cutscenes.


It looks and feels like a combination of Legend of Heroes and Ys. The main gameplay is the top-down "run into the enemies" style of Ys, but each chapter ends with a side-scrolling action section that recalls the earlier Dragon Slayer games. This game also carries over from the older Xanadu the system where each weapon and armor has its own experience level. When you get a new weapon or armor it typically starts anywhere from 30-50% power. So if the sword has a max 100 power it might start only at 50. You level up weapons by attacking, but not killing, enemies (so once you start killing enemies in one hit, you can't level up the weapon on them anymore). You level up shields and armor by taking damage, although eventually enemies in an area won't be able to harm you anymore.


This system results in a rather comical growth in the numbers -- the first weapon has a max power of 12, the strongest weapon has a max power of 598,000. The game also does not have experience levels; you gain HP from resting and from getting hearts from enemies.

The game is divided into 12 chapters, each of which takes place in its own little area usually with a couple of towns and dungeons. This game is well known for having a lot of running back and forth between places talking to people, and it's not always clear who you are supposed to talk to or why. I definitely think this game benefits from a walkthrough.


The main character is Areios, a knight commander in the kingdom of Ishtar. He begins shipwrecked on a small island. His goal is to get back to the kingdom, but while he's waiting for the boat he decides to solve a problem happening in the island. Two towns, which produce different kinds of alcohol, are rivals, causing a bunch of problems.


The graphics are somewhat disappointing, but serviceable for the game. The music is good but unfortunately it's almost all chiptune music instead of the CD-quality music that Falcom used to such good effect in the Ys games. The only voiced sections are the short cutscenes between chapters.


The action scenes are not too bad; the enemies do a lot more damage than the ones in the normal areas, but you get to shoot a wave out of your sword.


If you equip the healing items, you get restored 1000 HP when you get to 0, so that makes the action scenes fairly easy -- even if you don't really figure out the boss patterns you can just sit in front of it and attack and you might use a couple of heal items, but that's easily replaced.


I'm up to chapter 3 now, so I'll say more about that in the next update. The story is not bad, and the NPCs and towns are memorable. Overall this is a pretty good game although the fetch quest nature of the gameplay can get somewhat annoying.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

PCE Game 29 - Star Breaker

Star Breaker (スターブレイカー)
Released 2/10/1994, developed by Ray Force


Star Breaker is one of three RPGs developed for the PC Engine by Ray Force. The first, Startling Odyssey, was a cookie cutter RPG that I covered briefly some time ago. They followed that up with Startling Odyssey II, but Star Breaker came between them. I can't find much more information about the game than this.

I'm going to try giving a bit more detail about the game by blogging while I play rather than taking notes and writing the post later.




The opening narration tells us that in the year 2550, humanity has expanded into the galaxy, fought two huge wars with "non humanoids" and then created the Alliance Army, which both protects humanity and also keeps the peace in the galaxy. The main character is Harry, who serves in the 7th fleet. He's testing out a new type of fighter, the Pegasus. He engages the warp, but there's some kind of error and he's blown into another dimension, and then shot down, crash landing on a planet.


He awakes in a room in a castle, unable to understand what people are saying. But a woman comes out, who calls herself Princess Aria.


She uses telepathic means to help him understand the language and also to learn about him. Apparently he's been shot down by the Doran, who are enemies, and he's on Menalis planet. She asks him to talk to her father the king. Now we get to control Harry.


The status screen looks pretty typical (I assume ESP is the magic of this game, and PP will be for the psychic/magic characters).

I explored the castle, finding some basic equipment to outfit Harry. The king had basically nothing useful to say, so I went down into the basement to see how the Pegasus is doing. Apparently they can't fix it, but the Pegasus tells me that if I can find some parts from the Doran ships, it should be possible to repair it. So we'll have to infiltrate a Doran base nearby.


Surprisingly (or not) Aria begs to come along, and the king lets her, also sending the ship technician Oregano.


Aria has a healing spell, and Oregano has Antidote. They also have some battle spells. The PP they have looks very low, and I'm afraid this will be yet another game where you really can't use magic because it's so limited. Time to go out to the castle town.

Oregano and Aria came with equipment, so I just gathered information -- the most important was an old man who told me to look for a guy named Baki who could help us with getting into the Doran base, and gave us a music box. Now for the world map.


Usually at first I try to get in a fight right around town to feel out how difficult the encounters are.


There's an auto battle; given my resources now I think I'm pretty much limited to attacking and healing. The enemies took a lot of hits to take down, but they gave 9 XP and my guys only need 19 to raise a level so I'll gain one or two levels before moving on. I generally don't like grinding but often it's important right at the beginning.

The level ups turned out to be pretty significant; they provide full heal of HP and PP, and the stat gains are high. At level 2 I started exploring a bit beyond the area, and soon reached level 3. I also bought better equipment for everyone.


Of course you can't see what the stats of equipment are. It's 1994! Final Fantasy VI is coming out in two months!

The next town, Soreid, gave me some information. I'll need to take down a shield to make it into the Doran base, and the mine nearby has been taken over by Doran. Baki turns out to be the mine leader, but he's drinking in a bar. They want me to bring his wife to the town to restore his confidence. This is in another town, but my guys are now strong enough to beat the random encounters in this area with no problem.


The music box I got in the first down plays their wedding theme, and she agrees to go with us back to Baki. He lets us know that the shield generator is in the mine, and gives us some dynamite to help out with that.


The mine has the same enemies as outside, so my level 5 party had no difficulties, especially after finding some equipment upgrades for Oregano and Aria.


There's no boss fight, so I destroyed the shield generator with the dynamite.


On the way out, I met this nasty enemy, who I think is just a random monster. But everything heals him except Oregano's attack spells.


Now that the shield generator is gone I can head north to the base. The cave leading to the base had the same enemies as before, so I got through there fairly easily, moving up one level in the process.


The base is nearby. The monsters seem mostly the same, but I did encounter these nasty frogs, who use all-attack spells and can't be hurt by most of my attacks.


Aria was at 7 HP so that was close. Now inside the fortress there is a tantalizing save point that I can't get to yet:

But it was easily reached by going up those nearby stairs. Proceeding through the fortress, I eventually found the C Module I needed, but then a boss appears.


He uses a nasty all-attack and some big attacks, and my healing can't really keep up (both Aria's healing spell and the Heal Ampures I've been getting from fights and chests) heal less than a single attack from the boss. I died the first time so I guess I'll try one level up and see if he's easier at level 8. Harry had gotten a move that takes 1/8 of his HP off, but it seemed to do almost the same damage as a basic attack, so that's not worth it.

This was sufficient to beat him. Of course he blows up the base, and then takes off in a ship, which goes over to destroy the castle.


Making my way into the castle, I learn that the King has been captured, and agree to go after him, so it's time to fix the ship.


The ship is soon fixed, and Harry decides to stay in this dimension for now to help Aria find the king. They take off, and head to space station Ios. This is a neutral area with many Doran soldiers. There's a shop which seems to have things for the ship, but they're way too expensive.

The next destination seems to be the other planet in this system, Rimurus, so I head over and land there.

This menu indicates that there is some sort of space combat, but it's evidently not a major part of the game.


And I land on Rimurus.

--

That's where I'm going to stop this game. As I've said before, PC Engine games have to clear a higher bar for me to play them beyond a few hours. By far the biggest surprise in this blog has been how slow developers other than Square and Enix were to innovate. Final Fantasy VI comes out two months after this game. It's just stunning to me that at this late of a date, it's still acceptable for studios to be publishing RPGs where the gameplay is essentially Dragon Quest II. 

This game also makes fairly poor use of the PC Engine; there was one voiced sequence at the beginning and some of the music is off the CD, but it's mostly just the same as you would see on the Super Famicom.

Next up will be Xanadu, an original action RPG by Falcom for the system.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

PCE Game 28 - Emerald Dragon Part 2 (Finished)

At the end of the last post we had retaken Durgwand Castle from Ostracon. The next main goal is to defeat the demon king Garcia, who is (appropriately) in the Demon Castle. We hope that the Priestess of the Sea, living in the Kasha Islands can help us. On the way, a researcher named Warumaru helps restore Hasram from the black crystal that Ostracon trapped him in.


The Priestess of the Sea tells us that we need the Mountain Priestess' help as well as various ancient documents that can be recovered from nearby caves. As we explore, Garcia's troops attack us to stop us from getting that power. Once all the documents are recovered, the Priestess gives Tamlyn a "teleposta" (without explanation, and it can't be used) and a secret message.

Now it's on to the Mountain Priestess, and along the way we actually have to fight Garcia himself.


Fortunately the priestess helps us out, and Garcia flees after we beat him up. Now on the Mountain Priestess, whose temple is right next to the Demon Castle. Garcia kills the priestess but she opens up the way to his castle.

The castle is a very long dungeon with a whole bunch of boss fights. This is really where I felt the tedium of the game.


Eventually, we come to Garcia himself.



Who really is not that hard. Tamlyn has learned this laser beam spell that does an enormous amount of damage, and when she can use that rather than healing it makes the battles go a lot more quickly. If only I could get her to use that instead of healing the other NPCs!

Now once Garcia is beaten, the game's not over yet. He reveals that it was the Hors people that summoned him and had him get the Avesta. We've been hearing about the Hors throughout the game -- they created the world, they were called gods, etc. And Tamlyn reveals that she herself is a Hors, as she uses the Teleposta to take us out of the crumbling Demon Castle.

So while the world celebrates the defeat of the Demon King, the party decides to continue investigating to see what the Hors are up to.


After a few quests we manage to get through a cave to the land where the Hors live. A bunch of them confront the party, but after realizing that Tamlyn is the princess, they take her and throw the rest of the party in jail.


It turns out that Tiridates, the Prime Minster, has taken control of the government after the king's death and Tamlyn's disappearance. He wants to use the Avesta to attack and conquer the outside world. Fortunately a faithful knight Jessil rescues everyone and we prepare for the final assault. The final dungeon is not very long and has a lot of really good equipment for everyone.


First we defeat Tiridates, and then he turns into the demon Zandig, who had been controlling his body. Zandig is not very hard with Tamlyn constantly laser beaming him for thousands of damage a turn, and he goes down quickly.


Now the power of the Emerald Graces restores the Emerald Dragon, who seals away Zandig. Atorushan decides to stay in the human world with Tamlyn, and the game ends.



--

Overall I found that the game got pretty tedious as it went on. The story is fine, and the visuals and music are great. There's lots of voiced dialogue, and the animated sequences are well done. The ability to talk to your characters (by pressing start) is a good touch that fleshes them out a bit.

The real problem is the gameplay. At first I felt like the encounter rate was reasonable and the battles were enjoyable. But eventually I got tired of every battle being the same thing -- you just run into monsters, and maybe use a healing item every so often. Tamlyn has a lot of interesting spells but you can't control her use of them at all (and because of the way the battles work she tends to use a healing spell most of the time). I think this is an artifact of the game being made originally in 1989.

The other problem is that it can be hard to tell where to go next. You often have the name of where you're supposed to go but it's not always clear where that is, especially when you have to backtrack and remember which one of the 6 similar forts you visited is the one you're supposed to go to.

I'll try out the Super Famicom version when I get there (in 1995) to see how that version goes. My other blog has a good number of SFC games coming up so be sure to check that out as well.