Saturday, May 8, 2021

PCE Game 39 - Startling Odyssey II

Startling Odyssey II (スタートリング オデッセイ2 魔竜戦争)
Released 10/21/1994, developed by Ray Force
 

This is Ray Force's third (and final) game for the PC Engine. SO1 was a basic, cookie cutter RPG. SO2 is another basic, DQ2-clone RPG. It is more polished than the first one -- the graphics are better, there are more voiced cutscenes, the interface is cleaner, and the game as a whole moves more quickly. So if you like old-school, basic RPGs this one is probably not bad. There's even a translation patch, although it probably doesn't translate the voiced cutscenes.

As usual with this kind of game, I have very little to say about the gameplay. You buy the best equipment you can afford, use auto battle for most fights and hold down a speedup key, and go through dungeons and open chests and find the boss or goal. Rinse and repeat.


The game starts with some kind of magician or researcher causing demons to come into the world, and then the main character Robin killing a Chimera with one hit. He's well known in the kingdom for being the Blue-Haired Knight



Back in the capital city, Robin talks to the king's daughter, who is his half sister. He gets a new mission to head to Neria town to the south and see what's the matter there, taking his two best knights with him.

The townspeople say they saw a dragon, and going through the cave we come across the room where the magician from the opening was summoning the monster, but now it's gone. So back to the castle...where it turns out monsters have overrun the castle and killed the king. Robin's sister has gone on ahead to try to seek safety, so we follow her through the underground passage.

 
Robin's two knights have to push him away and collapse the corridor when they're attacked by dragons, and Robin goes on himself. Attempting to continue his escape a bridge falls away, sending him into the ravine.


He wakes up later in the care of Julia. He's been out for three days and is only now recovering. But when monsters attack the town, he heads out even in his weakened state.

The PC Engine allowed for more violence and sexual content than the Super Famicom. Anyway, this reopens Robin's wounds and he has to rest for a while more, but after he's healed he finds out that a child in the town is sick and needs a special item (the wing of an animal) to heal him. Julia joins him and they go out in search of the wing. They have to beat a boss:



And then find the wing and cure the child. At this point Robin decides he needs to continue on his journey (to find Patricia, his sister) and Julia decides to come with him.

This is where I stopped. As I said in the intro, this is a playable DQ2 clone -- if that's the kind of game you like this is a better game than other examples of the style. At the same time, I really would like to see them doing something innovative in 1994. Even Dragon Quest itself didn't make any true DQ2 clones.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Game 61 - Glory of Heracles IV

Glory of Heracles IV: Gift from the Gods (ヘラクレスの栄光IV 神々からの贈り物)
Released 10/21/1994, published by Data East
 

 

This is the last of the five Glory of Heracles games that Data East published. The series began in 1987 as the first Dragon Quest-style RPG after DQ itself, and continued with one Famicom game, one Game Boy game, and two Super Famicom games. The third game is usually considered the high point of the series because of its strong storyline. This game is better than 3 in its interface and gameplay, but the story is not quite as good as the game is fairly short.

As with the previous games, the setting is based on Greek mythology, this time centering around the land of Atlantis


 

Kurisu begins as a dog in a temple, with no intro or backstory. There's another dog that is sad to see me go, and an old woman -- Atropos, one of the three "weird sisters" spinning the world's fates. She is surprised to see I'm a dog, and then restores my memories, which leads to an extended flashback sequence.

Kurisu was born in Atlantis, 9000 years ago. There he was one of the students of Almora, who was researching eternal life. Kurisu's friend Platon is also a student, and they both have a crush on Elpira. But soon the Greeks attack the island, and though Hercules himself comes to protect him, the Greeks overrun the island. Kurisu escapes into the depths of Almora's research lab, and though everyone else is killed, Almora opens an Orichalcum box at the bottom. (There are battles in this section but you earn no XP)


 

The box turns out to be Pandora's box, which of course releases all the monsters, but Almora puts Kurisu and Platon inside the box. He tells us to come back to Atlantis to recover our bodies. Kurisu then appears 9000 years later as a disembodied spirit, charged by Atropos to figure out why the threads of fate are disappearing from the world -- this could lead to the extinction of humanity. Since he has no body, Kurisu has the ability to take over the bodies of certain people in the world he has an affinity with (the first one being this dog, Tanto).


This is the main system feature of the game. There are 101 characters throughout the game that Platon and Kurisu have "affinity" with. When you talk to someone and there's a flash of light, that means you can switch to their body. Each character has a specific weapon type they are proficient with, and also abilities that can be unlocked by gaining "FP" (fitness points) in battle. Each character has ten fitness levels. Bodies can be freely switched in and out of battle. Occasionally the switch can also have some benefits outside of battle, changing what people say or allowing you to access areas you wouldn't otherwise, but this doesn't happen that often.

Overall this is a fun system, and there is a wide variety of characters and abilities. I found two drawbacks, though. The first is that some of the abilities are very unbalanced. The sheep you can get in the first town has an ability that puts most monsters to sleep, including the final boss. Another character can quadruple the attack power of an ally.

The second drawback is that most of the good abilities are unlocked at Fitness Level 10, but at that point you want to switch to another character and so you don't really get to use the ability. Of course you can switch back and forth in battle but the interface to do that is (to me) too cumbersome, and the encounter rate too high, to really make that an attractive option. So it meant that a lot of times the interesting abilities went unused. I wish they had done something like this: rather than being able to switch to any body in combat, you can "equip" 3 or 4 bodies that you can switch between. You can change the equipped bodies out of combat. This way you could switch back and forth without having to scroll through 101 choices to find the person you're looking for.

I was the dog for a little too long because I couldn't figure out how to actually take the people's bodies (when you see the flash you then can get them from the "body" choice in the status screen). The world map seems to be based somewhat on the Mediterranean:

And the battle system is pretty much what you would expect.



The game also has the same shrine system as the third game, where you visit shrines of the greek gods around the world to learn spells. This time there are teleporters in the basement of each shrine that can send you to all the other shrines, which makes it much easier to pick up all the spells when you get a new person (this was an issue in 3). The priestesses are also all characters you can turn into.

You can get items from wells and pots in town, but your save file tracks how many times you've "stolen" and your party members don't like it. There's no game effect other than that, though.

Soon I met up with Platon. We recognize each other because one power we got from Pandora's Box was the ability to jump from a high place with no injury.


Platon is the only other character who can freely switch bodies. Together we decide that we need to get back to Atlantis, as Almora told us to do, in order to recover our original bodies. This requires a bird feather that can be enchanted to go anywhere; once we catch the bird, get the feather, and get the proper enchantment, it's off to Atlantis.

But there, the whole thing is sunk under the sea and only the battlements are left. Platon refuses to accept this is Atlantis until he sees graffiti that they left there as kids:


Incidentally this game makes frequent use of Mode 7 on the world map and benefits a lot from the HD Mode 7 feature on recent BSNES versions. (Right is original, left is 720p HD):


Heracles also appears at Atlantis and we leave in a ship, which crash lands on a different part of the continent. Continuing on, we learn that Trantia's king is called Almora, and he's apparently researching eternal life. Obviously this is our teacher that has somehow survived this long, and so now we try to chase him down. Trantia also has two very useful roles; a massage therapist that can cure status effects for everyone, and the researcher that can quadruple damage. We also get a fourth party member, Delia, whose mother is sick. She's interested in the eternal life, and is taken by Almora to his research lab, so we later follow them.


Almora is in his secret research lab, which has a bunch of puzzles to solve to reach the end.
 

But Almora is already gone; he's moved on to the Pyramids in Egpyt to research mummification. We get a ship to Egypt but have to work as slaves to get the use of these desert creatures that let us travel on the desert. For some reason once we work a bit as slaves we're able to get the creature and then never work as slaves again -- the dialogue made it seem like we had been tricked and sold into slavery, but I guess not.

The Queen of Thebes is a useable character, and it's fun to walk around and talk to people as her. She also has pretty good stats, and can use any weapon.



Delia is in the pyramids, but she's been turned into some kind of zombie or mummy and doesn't remember her mother. Almora left a note apologizing that mummification isn't the right way to do eternal life, but he has moved on. At this point Heracles gets pissed off that we're putting our search for Almora and Atlantis over killing monsters, and he leaves. We move on back north, heading to Greece. The Spartan soldiers have all grown cowardly, thanks to the Fear monster in a nearby cave (presumably released from Pandora's Box).


Sparta also has an alchemy place and a "polishing" place where you can make weapons and armor. You can also melt down the ones you have to get the items necessary to craft new ones. I didn't make much use of this during the game but perhaps I should have used it more; I think you can get some good weapons and armor from using it.

Athens is up next, where there is a weak child king and a mute woman Paris that he seems to love. It turns out that Persia is preparing to attack Greece, and Platon really wants to stop the war, so we head off to Persia (with Paris following us). The random encounters I thought got much more difficult after this point in the game. In Persia we defeat the Hatred spirit that seemed to be messing with the king, but then fall into the underworld. Delia knows that she's done this before.


The reason Delia lost her memories is that she drank from the Lethe River in the underworld to be reborn. But when we beat up Charon she recovers her memory, and he sends us to Hades to figure out if we can be reborn. Heracles is also there, and he tries to convince Hades to let us go back, but instead he throws us into Tartarus.


It turns out that Paris is actually Epifa, the Atlantis girl that we both had crushes on. She's been reborn over and over again, but now gets all her memories back. It's easier than it should be to escape Tartarus, and we fall back to the earth. I'll pass over a few things and eventually we reach Troy, where we finally meet Almora. His goal is now to get revenge on all the gods for the destruction of Atlantis, so now we have to stop him too. Troy also has specialists in all the kinds of weapons, and they have some good abilities to learn. We're both now trying to get back to Atlantis, and for us, that means an underwater ship.

 

Unfortunately Poseidon sinks the ship and generally acts like a dick, but eventually Heracles talks him out of his anger and we finally make it to Atlantis....only to find that we can't open the way to the lab. Who else could do it but Atlas?



Unfortunately Almora is also trying to get Atlas to open the way, using his tower to support the world instead. Atlas begs us to get Medusa's Head and turn him to stone so that he can't be used for evil purposes. This requires using pegasus to go up to heaven, but we do manage it. Poor Atlas.

But now how to we get in? Wait, how did Heracles get in 9000 years ago? Well, he used the "Tear of Zeus", and by making one of those (from the King of Greece's necklace) we manage, at long last, to get into Atlantis.

This is the last dungeon.

 
At the bottom, we get our original bodies back!
 

Almora is there too, taken over by the spirit of Vengeance. First we have to fight Almora, who is immune to all the status effects and uses defense raising powers, and gets 2 actions a turn. This was the hardest fight in the game but Heracles has a defense-ignoring power which is the key to winning. Vengeance itself can be put to sleep.

 
And that's the end. The monsters stay in the world, though, so our heroes still have tasks to do. There's not much of an epilogue, though, so it's not clear exactly what they will be doing.


Overall I think it's a pretty good game. As I said, the interface could have been improved a bit and it's not very long. But it has a translation patch so I recommend giving it a try.


Friday, April 30, 2021

What is a "DQ2 clone" or "AMID game"?

I finished Glory of Heracles IV and I will have that post up probably on Sunday. The next game would have been Basted for the PCE but that turned out not to qualify as an ARPG by my standards. Next after that is Startling Odyssey II, but I will only be playing a few hours of that -- it's another DQ2 clone, and my practice has been to not finish those on the PC Engine.

I've repeatedly disparaged games as being DQ2 clones, and I used to refer to them as "AMID systems" but I'm not sure I ever fully explained what that really means.

In essence, a DQ2 clone is a game that doesn't go beyond the system that Dragon Quest II introduced in 1987. You have a fixed party of people with set roles that cannot be changed or modified. The magician character will learn spells at level up but cannot do anything else. In battle, your choices are Attack, Magic, Item, Defend (thus AMID).

Furthermore, these games typically copy one of the worst features of early RPGs. They were based on Wizardry which was based on Dungeons and Dragons, and the result is that magic tends to be very hard to use. The random encounter rate is high, MP fairly low, and MP restoring items either rare or nonexistent. This means that effectively in most fights you are simply mashing attack over and over again, with magic being reserved solely for healing, or sometimes boss fights.

Startling Odyssey II is an example of a straight DQ2 clone, without even basic modifications. It's more common for there to be some minor, token system modification -- maybe you buy spells instead of learning them on level up, or the fighter character has spell-like "techniques". There might be a front and back row of monsters. But these slight modifications do not change the fact that you are still basically mashing "attack" in every battle. 

A DQ2 clone is not necessary a bad game -- Glory of Heracles III is an example of a slightly modified DQ2 system that is fun, and you could make the case that Breath of Fire 1 counts as well. Both of these games are saved by the story and/or interesting dungeon design. And games that do not copy DQ2 are not necessary good -- Wizap! and Kigurumi Adventure are prime examples.

The worst is when you have the straight (or slightly modified) DQ2 system combined with dull, featureless dungeons, a generic fantasy world, and a boring story.

I'm curious to see how long these kind of games continue. Honestly if you had asked me before I started this blog I would not have thought they were still coming out in late 1994 but now I'm expecting to see them right up to the end.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Game list (1994, September - December)

Rather than a game update this week, I will post my list of games for the remainder of 1994. This begins with a list I cobbled together from various sources; the bold games are the ones I'm actually going to play. This is the last major release period for the PC Engine -- there are 6 in this block of games. But after this, there are only 6 games in all of 1995 and just one in 1996. So anyone who is wishing I would stop playing these PC Engine games and focus on SFC will get their wish soon.

  • The Glory of Heracles IV: Gift from the Gods 
  • Startling Odyssey 2 (PCE)
  • Basted (PCE) - I initially had this on the list but it does not qualify as an ARPG for me; there's no equipment, levels, or items. It's more an adventure/actino game.
  • Feda: Emblem of Justice - SRPG, already done on the other blog.
  • Ilvanian Castle - I've seen some places categorize this as an SRPG but to me it's just a strategy game; all of your units are nameless grunts you summon.
  • Shin Megami Tensei if... 
  • Magna Braban: Wandering Heroes 
  • Monster Maker Kids: I want to be a king! -- I'm skipping all of these "RPG board game" hybrids because as far as I can tell, they have no real story mode or plot and most of them can't be played solo. If anyone knows of one of these games (for Super Famicom) that can be played solo, or that does have some kind of plot, let me know.
  • Ultima VII Black Gate - English release, also a horrible port of a great PC game.
  • We're Hiring Heroes Now: Seconds - Same comment as Ilvanian Castle above.
  • Gotzendeinner (PCE) - Some sites list this as an RPG but it's more of an action/puzzle game.
  • Cosmic Fantasy 4 Part 2 (PCE) - I did part 1 but I don't see the point of trying part 2; part 1 wasn't that good.
  • Aretha II: Ariel's Mysterious Journey
  • Breath of Fire II 
  • Dokapon 1-2-3: Friendship that Calls a Storm  (RPG boardgame)
  • The Last Battle 
  • Sugoroku Quest++ (RPG boardgame)
  • Lodoss War II (PCE) 
  • Albert Odyssey 2 - SRPG, done on other blog.
  • Daikaiju Monogatari 
  • Power of the Hired - SRPG, done on other blog.
  • Ryu Knight 
  • Fangs of Alnam (PCE)
  • Dual Orb II
  • Travelers (PCE) 
A lot of sequels here. BoF II is the most notable game here but hopefully some of the others will be good as well.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

PCE Game 38 - Megami Paradise

Megami Paradise (女神天国)
Released 9/30/1994, published by NEC Home Electronics

 

As you might expect from the title and the PC Engine's library, this is a fanservice RPG with a lot of girls -- aspects of the game remind me of Princess Minerva. It's based on some kind of reader-participation game that ran in Dengeki PC Engine. These games seem to have been popular in the 1990s but I'm not clear on exactly how it worked. I think it's sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure or Lone Wolf style game that you can create characters and play on your own from the magazine. Along with the game there was a manga, OVA, and this PC Engine RPG.


 

The story and setting is silly. The main character is Rinrin, studying at the Megami Academy to become a Megami (goddess). When she gets there she comes across the "MegaQ" orbs that the Academy guards, and not knowing what they are, throws them away, hits them with baseball bats, etc. and scatters them around the world. She then begins her registration to enter the school, but they learn about the "disappearance" of the MegaQ orbs. Rinrin has the help of Pop, a fairy, and is sent to go find them. Also sent out are the four goddesses of the school -- Lulubell, Juliana, Lilith, and Stacea.





 

Opposing them is the student council, who is secretly working for the Yamamama (Darkness Mom), who wants to find the MegaQ to take over the world.


 

There is a lot of voiced dialogue and cutscenes. It may seem obvious since that was the PC Engine's selling point (especially in late 1994), but a surprising number of games only add a tiny amount of this content to the game.

The first part of the game is entirely in the school. The student council sends out a message to all students that they should beat up Rinrin for going against the council, so the first random encounters are students from the tennis club, anime club, soccer club, etc.

The combat system is standard RPG except that all attacking is done through spells (which cost no MP). Each character can have 4 spells, which are learned by finding sunflowers that will teach them. One annoyance for me is that there's no way to tell what each spell does, although the names have some onomatopoeic clue. However, this is an interesting system.

I found the first part annoyingly difficult. Since it's just one character, you basically have to level up a lot. As usual the balance is way off; the bosses are much easier than the random encounters so if you can just survive to the bosses you'll probably win.

The first area involves going around to the different school buildings, beating up the leaders of the clubs, and getting keys to the next area. There is a shop in the main building that sells outfits and items. Outfit changing requires you to go to a changing room, then you can equip different things. Each one has a "beauty" value and then raises one of three stats -- goddess, defense, or speed. I think goddess is attack. I'm not entirely sure what the "beauty" value does, but the in-game explanations indicate it's important to always have that as high as possible. Even a better defensive item, if the beauty is less, might not be as good.


 

You can unlock special skills by equipping certain pieces of clothing, or by combining certain outfits. Apparently you can also get cutscene pictures this way as well. 

Eventually I made it to the student council room and faced Rouge, one of the 4 followers of Yamimama. She brought out a Mazinger Z ripoff to fight, but with repeated healing and attacking it was fine.

Rinrin gets the yellow MegaQ (that talks to her and raises her stats). Now Rinrin is sent out into the world to find the other MegaQs, but she takes off in balloons and gets sunk by a storm.

She washes onto a beach and meets Kurisu (the dude you name at the beginning of the game). In the next town, all the 4 goddesses are there and you can pick 2 of them to join your team. There is also a way to warp back to the school so you can use the sunflowers to get spells for the new members.

 

This is where I stopped. I guess this is an OK RPG for this era; the spell system and outfitting are interesting features, and you can progress in the game fairly quickly. There are a lot of well known VAs (well known for the 90s, at least) and a good amount of cutscenes and voiced dialogue. The silliness and fanservice will probably turn a lot of people off, though.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

PCE Game 37 - Xak III

Xak III: The Eternal Recurrence (サークIII ジ・エターナル・リカーレンス)
Released 9/30/1994, developed and published by Micro Cabin 
 
 
 
This is the final game in the Xak series, which had three main games and two side games. As I said in my previous post on the game, it is clearly modelling itself on Ys: an action RPG with meaningless short name for the series, and a first game split into two parts.

As with the previous games, Xak III began as a computer game and was later ported to PC Engine. From what I could see on Youtube, the port is pretty faithful although the computer version had a stat called EP in addition to HP and MP, I don't know what that is and don't think it's in the PC Engine version.

The first two games had the Ys-style "run into enemies" system, but this game has you press the button to attack. The port is disappointing like the original games' was -- there is hardly any voice or cutscenes throughout the game, not even at the beginning. I actually wondered if there was something wrong with the copy I had but the first cutscene doesn't happen until a bit through the game and there are only two more (a very brief one near the end, and then the ending scene). However, this might be good because surprisingly this game actually has an English translation patch -- they don't do anything with the voiced cutscenes, but they don't add much to the story and you can almost guess what's happening in them just from the pictures.

The game is quite short as is typical for ARPGs of this era (the youtube playthrough is 6h30m). However, it does conclude the story of Xak, as Ratok takes on the third evil general (having beaten the other two, Badu and Gospel, in the previous games). The question of what happened to Ratok's father is addressed as well, and there's sort of a conclusion to Pixie and Frey's stories too. You could definitely play this without playing the first two, though, since anything of importance in those games is repeated here.

The graphics in the dialogue scenes are not bad.

The opening scene is the bloodiest thing I've seen yet, where this dude comes into the castle and kills the King, ripping his head off. The princess then says he might as well take her head too, and he rips it off, leaving both heads on the throne. The PC Engine generally allowed more explicit content (in both violence and sex) than the Super Famicom did.


Like the last game, this game has jumping puzzles, but they're nowhere near as annoying as the previous game -- for one thing, you don't die if you miss the jumps, and the graphics make it much easier to see where the platforms are and where you're supposed to jump.

There's also a dragon riding part again, but it's quite easy.

Unlike the first game, you get companions in this game -- most of them are from the other games (Frey and Ryun, for instance). They just run around and fight on their own, and are actually relatively helpful unless they die -- you can't change screens without reviving them.


 

Overall the game is easy. There are some parts (particularly near the end) where the grunt enemies hit hard, but the bosses can almost all be beaten just by mashing the button and taking hits -- as with the previous game, it's easy to level because the amount of XP you get from the enemies never goes down. You can also buy tons of healing potions since there's nothing else worthwhile to spend money on.

There's a lot of laziness in the interface and presentation -- you can't see stats of items at all, so you have no idea what to equip (I can't believe we're still seeing this at the end of 1994). You can "teleport" back to any place you've been with no explanation for why. There's no real backtracking or exploration, it's more like a series of stages.

This is not an especially good game, but it's not terrible either. That being said, the Ys games that were coming out around this time weren't all that great either (except for Dawn of Ys, I suppose). But somehow Ys was able to continue on to the present, but Xak never produced another game after this. I'm not sure if that had to do with Micro Cabin itself, or the sales of Xak relative to Ys.