Friday, December 15, 2017

PCE Game 2 - Cosmic Fantasy

Cosmic Fantasy: Adventure Boy Yuu (コズミック・ファンタジー 冒険少年ユウ)
Released on 3/30/90, published by Telenet Japan

The PC Engine CD add-on had two early hits with Tengai Makyo in June of 1989 and then Ys I&II in December. The next RPG released for the system was Cosmic Fantasy, the first of four games in a series released between 1990 and 1994. The second game was localized by Working Designs.

This game provides an interesting contrast to Tengai Makyo. Both games are examples of the 80s early style of JRPGs, one that I associate most with the Famicom -- although I'm finding that many early Super Famicom RPGs are in this category as well. Tengai Makyo is a good example of this type of game, and Cosmic Fantasy is not. Zenic Reverie has already covered Cosmic Fantasy 2, making the following comment: 

It's the games like this: bland, mediocre, unpolished filler that makes it difficult to feel motivated to play another hour.
This is also an accurate description of Cosmic Fantasy, and it makes me relieved that for these PC Engine games I've made the decision to stop after a week unless I'm actually enjoying the game.
Part of the opening
The game opens with Yuu, a Cosmic Hunter, and his motorcycle-pet Monmo. Their spaceship crashlands on a planet, where the rest of the game takes place. Unlike GDLeen, this game seems to offer no explanation for why this planet is at sword-and-sorcery technology level but recognizes Yuu as a Cosmic Hunter and has no problem with his high tech stuff. Yuu has to explore the planet while his ship's self-repair process completes, and this is how he gets drawn into saving the world.
Yuu and his parents, from a photo in the ship
Apparently the #1 complaint against this game at the time was the long load times, which could reach 20+ seconds in some cases. Of course this is not an issue playing from an ISO but even from the ISO the voices take several seconds to start. Like Tengai Makyo, this game has a lot of voiced dialogue and semi-animated cutscenes like the ones above.
My first fight
The battle system is your basic early RPG, although you have an auto-battle option. Yuu has magic powers which are "psychic", but can only use them at pre-determined points in the story where some event makes him upset at a specific boss, and they go away after you beat the boss. That's why Yuu's MP are listed as 0/5 in the picture above. This is a poor way to implement the system because it means that most of the time Yuu has no options except for attacking. And so that means that early in the game before you get your second character, you have to grind, a lot. I spent a lot more time grinding in this game than I did in Tengai Makyo. Part of the problem is that a game over returns you to your last save, so you keep nothing that you gained. But there also tends to be a huge difficulty leap in the monsters in reaching a new area, and running away rarely if ever works against stronger monsters. So even after Saya joins you still have to grind a lot, and always have to be refilling your MP-restoring items.
The world map, rendered useless by a lack of indication of where you are
Zenic commented that Cosmic Fantasy 2 was far too easy. This certainly is not the case with CF1. Any random encounter can prove deadly because you can quickly get overwhelmed, especially when status effects come into play. Unless you do extensive grinding before entering each new area, you're going to have a lot of frustrating game overs.

After a few areas you pick up the second character, Saya. This starts a Cosmic Fantasy tradition of the heroine always being introduced through a shower or bathing scene.
For some reason, the PC Engine became the primary console for games with content like this. The situation was the same as now where genuine eroge only came out for PCs, but the PC Engine had a much higher tolerance for nudity than most other consoles did at the time (and do now). Saya is from the planet and can use magic regularly, which helps out a lot. Also you can actually buy MP restoring items for a cheap cost, and money is almost worthless because of how much you get in the requisite grinding. The only time you can spend more money is when you encounter this cat merchant character, who seems to show up in all the games.
Here they charge us all our money for a laser cutter
The cat sells things like bombs, guns, and force fields in the game but they're not that useful. The guns are expensive and quickly run out of bullets, and the force fields depend too much on luck to be a reliable strategy.

As far as I got, there wasn't a whole lot of story. The goal is to defeat Morgan, who is the tyrant of the world, although I can tell from the koryaku site that there is a further dungeon and boss after you defeat Morgan. You journey from place to place, taking care of whatever problem is happening in the town. Eventually I began to face the Four Generals of Morgan, and by the time I stopped playing I had beaten two of them. The bosses tend to be very easy because you have to grind so much just to survive the dungeons to reach them that by the time you actually get there, they go down easily.
Riding Momon lets you revisit any previous town.
There are some minor story touches, like returning a necklace from the ghost of a defeated warrior to his girlfriend. She gives you an ocarina which Saya then plays to pacify the ghost.
Saya and the ocarina
Overall this is not an unplayable game, but I think it's too dated, slow-moving, and grindy to appeal much to players now. As I said, Tengai Makyo is a much better example of this style of RPG. CF's world is not as interesting as TM's, and despite the designs being done by a manga artist, the enemies are bland and unmemorable, compared to the colorful, distinctive enemies of TM. CF does seem to have more cutscenes than TM, however.

As of this post I still have not gotten my package with Metal Max 2; it's supposed to arrive by Dec 21 but I'll be gone on holiday then so if I don't get it in the next couple of days I'll have to continue the PC Engine games through the new year. If that's the case, next up is Death Bringer, a port of a PC-88/98 first-person dungeon game. In the future I'll buy the SFC games several games in advance so I don't get this problem again.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

PCE Game 1 - Tengai Makyo Ziria

Tengai Makyo ZIRIA (天外魔境 ZIRIA)
Released on 6/30/89, published by Hudson Soft

This is the first entry in what became a popular RPG series of the time. The English title "Far East of Eden" refers to a (made-up) series of fictional novels by P.H. Chada. The idea was that the lang of Jipangu that the game takes place in would be a stereotypical Japan as viewed by foreigners. However, it's really more of a stereotypical Japanese view of medieval Japan.

The game was the first RPG released on a CD, I think for any platform, but definitely at least on console. Along with Ys I&II, it promoted the PC-Engine CD in the early days and helped its popularity. Some people complained about the load times but fortunately nowadays you're most likely to play these games as an ISO file (even if you legally buy them from the Game Archives) so that's not a problem.

I'm playing this game on the Mednafen emulator, which seems to offer the best and most accurate emulation of the PC Engine.

In 1989 when this came out, the first three Dragon Quests and the first two Final Fantasies were available, as well as Destiny of an Emperor, three Deep Dungeon games, Megami Tensei, and others that I'm not very familiar with. The first Tengai Makyo doesn't do much that those games don't do in terms of gameplay -- it ticks a lot of the boxes on that list of "bad early RPG features" that I mentioned in the previous post.

What sets it apart is the CD technology, which allowed for a number of innovations. The font uses kanji and kana. There is a large amount of voiced dialogue, drawing on a number of well-known seiyuu of the time period. The graphics are somewhat better than the Famicom, though not at the level of the Super Famicom (or even at the level of later PC Engine games). Unfortunately the music is not played off the CD -- this feature was used by a lot of games (including Ys I&II) because they had a lot of leftover space on the disc, so the music is recorded directly to CD tracks which can then be played from the game. This game just uses the internal PCE music chip.

I think that this is a decent 1980s RPG -- I would compare it most closely with Dragon Quest II in terms of system and playability. It doesn't really try any innovations on the level of the class system of DQ3 and FF1.

Our hero is Jiraya (or ZIRIA?) one of the three descendants of the Fire Clan, whose mission is to gather the other Fire Clan members and defeat Masakado, a demonic commander rebelling against Imperial rule (I guess).
The legendary Fire Clan, who opposed Masakado's rebellion
Jiraiya is given the mission by his grandfather. You can see that they use inset graphics to enhance the dialogue scenes. These are done not only for major story people but also for some of the random villagers as well.
Jiraya and his grandfather
For the first part of the game you're on your own, and at the very beginning you can't do anything but attack, so this part of the game just requires being at a high enough level and having the best equipment. The enemy monsters are colorful and detailed:

The first boss Tanuki
The first goal is to get past a cave, but Jiraiya gets tricked by tanuki. Once they're beaten, though, Jiraiya is able to use a whisker to bother the large catfish in the cave, who breaks down a boulder blocking his way.
The giant fish
Moving on, there is an old man who will teach Jiraiya a skill (basically the chance for critical attacks) if he's defeated. I needed a bunch of heal potions to deal with him. Then I found the first Kumogiri village. These are small villages dedicated to helping the Fire Clan, and there are identical ones all over the world. They have simple shops and inns, and you get a frog that can teleport you to any of the Kumogiri villages. Soon Jiraiya also gets the first spell, a healing spell. The spells are interesting in this game because you can switch them from character to character, so you can choose how to distribute the spells. This is one of the few innovations of this game compared to the classic NES-era RPG.
Boss tanuki
The next boss is a giant tanuki; once again since Jiraiya's healing is very limited it's just a matter of being at the right level and you win. The next town has the first of Masakado's 13 generals, named Gomon. He has turned all the people into stone and tanuki have taken over the town, so you can't use any of the stores until he's defeated. This boss required the most levelling so far.
The sprites are not as impressive

 Fortunately the game has the DQ "die and lose half your gold" feature so you can try the bosses even if you don't think you will win. There's also an auto battle if you hit select that helps a lot (especially coupled with emulator speedup).
Gomon, kicking my butt
After this fight we enter a new area and finally get the second party member, Tsunade. She's an axe-wielding young girl.

She has a battle command "pretend to cry"; I'm not entirely clear what it does but of course you can also give her spells. By this time I also had a fire damage spell, a sleep spell, and a lightining spell that hits all enemies. But because MP are so limited, one person is going to have to save MP for the heal spell against bosses.

One other interesting thing about the game is that you get XP not only for winning battles, but for accomplishing events like getting key items, new spells, characters, etc. That reduces the grinding time somewhat.

So that's where I'll leave this game. As I said, it's not bad for 1989. If you're a player who likes these really old console RPGs it's definitely worth a try. I could probably finish this for completion's sake and be OK about it, but I'd rather move on to something else.

Now what should my next game be? Metal Max 2 still hasn't gotten here and it sounds like a game that I really want the instruction booklet to. The next games on the list are:
  • Ihatovo Monogatari. This is not an RPG because it has no combat. It's based on the works of Miyazawa Kenji and is more like an adventure game. It seems to be praised for its music and story, but I'll skip it.
  • Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. I technically shouldn't skip this, but I will, for three reasons. First, it's widely considered one of the worst RPGs for the system. Second, it has some non-RPG things in its system (all the encounters are entirely fixed, meaning your level is always the same at any point in the game, and the battles are heavily dependent on luck). Third, there is an English patch so anyone can try it for themselves.
After that is Ogre Battle, which I think I am going to play despite it being questionable as an RPG (I'm not sure it fits my criteria for a strategy RPG) and it's available in English.

So this week I will either start Ogre Battle or play the next PCE game (Cosmic Fantasy: Adventure Boy Yu). Any preference?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The PC Engine

 (Image taken from Wikimedia Commons)

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, since I have yet to get my Metal Max 2 package yet, I'm playing Tengai Makyo Ziria for the PC Engine this week. Playing PC Engine games is actually a natural outgrowth of what I wanted to do with this blog, despite the name. The reason I chose the Super Famicom is that it's a nostalgic console for me that has a lot of RPGs never localized in the US that I wanted to play.

This is actually true of the PC Engine as well. I had a friend in middle school who was in one of those unfortunate situations with a rich stepdad trying to buy his affection. He had every video game console possible with tons of games for each one. At one point he lent me his Turbo Grafx CD with all his games, so I was able to play Ys 1-3, Exile, Valis, and a few other games. I've rarely been so blown away by a console. This was before the release of the Super Nintendo, and these games had voice acting, music played directly off the CD, and graphics that were somewhat better than the NES.

Alas, the Turbo Grafx failed in the US. In Japan it was a very popular console that rivaled Sega and Nintendo, and there were a lot of RPGs for it. Some of these I've always wanted to play (like the Tengai Makyo series and Ys IV).

I did not start this blog from the earliest Famicom games because I wanted to avoid that era of RPGs. I can play some old games, but there's a limit to how far I can go back. The old graphics don't bother me, but there are a number of gameplay and interface problems that were fine when I was a kid, but I find hard to deal with now. Some of these are:
  • A lack of strategic options in battle, so that grinding is often necessary
  • Slow walking
  • You can't see the stats of equipment when buying it in stores (or when equipping)
  • Magic users that can't use their magic freely because every point has to be saved for boss battles
  • Severely limited inventories
  • Cumbersome interfaces for equipping, viewing status screens, healing, etc.
  • Very high random encounter rate
  • Places with heavy dependence on luck -- e.g. monsters that can cast instant death spells when there's no revive spell or item
I'm finding far too many of these in early SFC games as well but I think by the end of the console's life it improved overall. Unfortunately the PC Engine library is closer to the Famicom than the Super Famicom in gaming style. That's why when I do one of these PCE games I'm only going to play it for a week, unless I actually think the game is good enough to keep playing.

Anyway it may seem odd to start doing PCE games here but the blog will still be primarily Super Famicom.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Game 19 - Albert Odyssey (Final/Review)

Albert Odyssey (アルバートオデッセイ)
Released on 3/5/93, published by Sunsoft

Western gamers may be familiar with Albert Odyssey from the Sega Saturn game. That was actually a "gaiden" title that was a normal RPG, in contrast to the two strategy RPGs released for the Super Famicom under that name. This is the first strategy RPG on this blog, so I will start with my own criteria for distinguishing a strategy RPG from a regular simulation or strategy game. I consider two factors important:
  • There must be a narrative you play through, and not just win conditions.
  • At least some of your force must be individual, named characters that can develop through levels, stat increases, equipment, etc.
Albert Odyssey is a pretty early SRPG. From what I can find, there are only a handful of strategy RPGs before this -- two Fire Emblems, two Shining Force games, and one Langrisser game might be it (for some reason all the sites I use classify Langrisser as a regular strategy game, but I can't see why.)

All of the previous strategy RPGs use the same technique of having individual maps that you clear in succession. Shining Force added some normal RPG style towns and exploration but basically stuck to the formula. Albert Odyssey's big change is that there aren't separate "chapters" or "battles" -- instead the entire world map is one large battlefield. There are bosses, usually placed in your next destination, but defeating a boss doesn't end a chapter or a map or anything like that. You just move on to the next place.
The world map

This is an interesting change, but it slows the game down a lot. Even if there are no monsters around, you have to move each character individually, turn by turn. Your party is much smaller than the other games -- only 4 characters at a time, with the option later in the game to switch out the main 4 for three other characters. Even so, moving all 4 characters one by one is tedious when you're not actually battling. Entering a town is frustrating -- you have to move one character in, then go to the party screen to switch back to the outside map, see the battle data, then move the next character in, etc.
A battle sequence

It also makes it really important to know where you are supposed to go next, because if you go the wrong way you're in for a lot of wasted time. Unfortunately the in-game directions are vague, and the map in the instruction booklet is very rough, making it hard to tell if you're on the right track. In most towns you can buy "Memories of [Town name]" to return there later, which does help a lot.

There isn't a whole lot of story, which is disappointing for a strategy RPG. Your characters never talk after the opening until the ending scene. The villains are barely sketched; they try at some sort of tragic backstory for one of the bad guys named Sin, but it's hard to feel anything since it's so abrupt and undeveloped.
Part of the opening

It starts off promising. The instruction booklet tells the story which is then shown in an opening cinema. Oswald the magician revives he magic of an ancient kingdom called Globas, and uses it to bring forth a bunch of monsters and take over the world. But after he kills the parents of a girl called Sophia in front of her, she calls on some mysterious power to defeat Oswald instantly. 10 years later, he's back, and trying to find the crystal he needs to call forth Globas' power again. Albert, who is descended from a hero (sigh) has to go find the crystal in order to save the world, along with Sophia, Noiman the priest, and a warrior named Slay. There's more backstory in the manual than actual story in the game, though.
Noiman the priest

The interface and gameplay have a lot of annoyances. The map constantly rotates around while a character is moving. You can't see what equipment does, and the instruction booklet actually says "Make sure you save before you shop since not everyone can equip each weapon or armor." This is unacceptable. Levels raise your stats so much that equipment barely matters. You can't walk through hexes that your characters are in, which is a huge annoyance.
A town protected by enemies
One other aspect I don't like is that your units never gain any additional powers or moves. There's also no MP or TP so you can use as many spells as you want -- this is better than spellcasters being worthless, but it results in the game being very easy, especially since just raising one level can result in you one-shotting the enemies. All in all even though the game is short I still found it getting dull and tedious by the end.
I don't think it's worth walking through the whole game since it's just going from place A to B until you find the crystal, then heading into the underworld to defeat Oswald and then Globas. There's really no character development or plot twists of any kind, until you get to the ending. The bosses are mostly generic monsters, just with more HP than the surrounding monsters. And because the game is so easy, walking through the gameplay isn't really interesting either -- the same techniques you use for the first monsters are the same you use against the final boss since you never gain any new powers or moves.
Globas, the final boss
The final boss is pretty easy, even though he has two forms. The main thing you have to watch out for is that a lot of the enemies can use "revive" to call forth other enemies, and that can become a chain reaction that can kill you pretty quickly. But I had enough items by this point to heal, and Globas only took two turns to take down.
The King congratulates you
The ending scene is bizarre. The mystery of how Sophia was able to destroy Oswald is answered: it's the power of magic. She's been using magic the entire game, how is that a surprise? What does it mean? Who knows. Then the writers decide that they better do something interesting, so as the four companions are leaving to go back home, Noiman suddenly gets killed. Albert goes to see what's outside and sees this:
Albert: "What! What's happening?"
A bunch of things that look like the final boss are there. Sophia once again calls on her mysterious power out of grief over Noiman, and she dies as well. The end. No explanation as to what those things were.
The instruction booklet ends with a 4-page backstory that gives you more information on the history of Globas and Gort (the above-ground kingdom), and the crystal. But nothing in there has anything to do with the story in the game.

So this is another disappointment. I swear there will be good game eventually on this blog. The next game I'm playing (after my detour), Metal Max 2, is highly regarded by Japanese fans so hopefully that will be a winner.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Random things

Albert Odyssey is a short game so I will likely be finished with it by Saturday. My copy of Metal Max 2 isn't going to get here until next week, so I'm going to do a little detour next week into the PC Engine (Turbo Grafx CD) archives and play Tengai Makyo Ziria.

The PCE is a nostalgic console for me and if I had thought of it I would have probably done PCE before Super Famicom, but it's too late now. Instead I think I will dip into the PCE archives every so often (maybe every 3-4 games). When I play the PCE games I will only play each game for a week unless I want to extend that because I'm enjoying the game (rather than just for completion purposes).


I got a comment (not on this blog) that my blog was too negative, and that I wasn't understanding enough of the early developers' time and money limitations. I have wondered whether I'm too negative at times, and I think there's always a question about whether old games like these should be reviewed how they seem in 2017, or how they would have seemed when they first came out.

So far I would rank the games I've played in the following categories:

  • Good: Dragon Quest V
  • Average: Glory of Heracles III, Benkei Gaiden, Xak
  • Bad: GDLeen, Maka maka, Villgust, Hero Senki, Song Master, SD Gundam 2, Elfaria, Romancing Saga
  • Terrible: Light Fantasy, Fist of the North Star 5, 3x3 Eyes, Cyber Knight
That's 1 good, 3 average, 8 bad, and 4 terrible. That's pretty bad overall, and maybe there is something to the argument that I'm being too harsh (Albert Odyssey is hovering in between Average and Bad for me right now).

However, I'm not sure it's possible to put myself back in time to 1992. I was playing video games at the time, and I honestly don't know how I would have reacted to some of these games if they had come out in English. I was pretty starved for RPGs at the time, but I was also a kid who only got a few games a year. So there was a lot more reason to play a bad game, which is a different situation than 2017 where you can play all these games for free (or even if you want to get them for actual consoles they're pretty cheap).

I know this was early in the SFC lifecycle and developers were still figuring out the new console, but I'm not sure that excuses the quality of the games. Light Fantasy sold for 8900 yen, which at the time was 71$ US. That's a lot of money to play for a game that's barely playable. It's not like the LF designers had no examples of SRPG-type battles to look at -- the battle system is worse than Ultima III, which was made 10 years earlier.

Really all I can do is speak to my own enjoyment of each game, as someone playing these games in 2017. I try to give the creators credit where credit is due (I praised LF's graphics, for instance, and 3x3 Eyes had good music). But the fact that LF may have been rushed for time or money (it clearly was not tested very much) doesn't make it any more fun to play.

I mentioned this before, but I was very relieved at how much I enjoyed Dragon Quest V. I had started to wonder whether I had just played too many games to go back to these 25-year old RPGs and enjoy them. There may be something to that, but I still think I can find some fun standouts, and I'm expecting the general quality to improve as I get through the library.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Game 18 - Xak (Final + Review)

Xak: The Art of Visual Stage (サーク)
Released on 2/26/93, published by Sunsoft

Xak is the first game in a series that began on the PC-88/98 and was then ported to various other PCs and consoles. The Super Famicom only got a port of Xak I. The title is written in katakana as サーク, which would be Anglicized as something like "Circ" or "Sark". The subtitle "Art of Visual Stage" has nothing to do with the game itself, but refers to the graphical engine -- apparently in its initial PC-88/98 release the game was notable for its graphical engine that provided better graphics than other games which were able to show depth of field and such.

Xak is heavily influenced by Ys, to the point where it starts to cross over from "influence" to "ripoff". It's an action RPG with an odd-looking title, where the first story is split into two games. You run into enemies to hit them (in the original version) and it has a similar looking item and equipment screen. The feel of the games is very similar.

The Super Famicom port of Xak I redoes the entire game, changing it from a "run into enemies" system to one where you actually swing your sword. It feels a lot like Lagoon in that you have to make sure you stand in the right place, and you can find yourself getting a game over very quickly. Fortunately you can save anywhere and on a game over the game immediately loads your most recent save, so progress is quick even if you die a lot. As in Ys, levelling has a huge effect on the game. Enemies that you start out barely damaging you can eventually hurt just by running into them.

Unfortunately because only Xak I was ported to Super Famicom, you get an incomplete experience -- there is a final boss and some closure to the story but there are a bunch of loose ends, characters that barely serve any purpose (but will be back in II) and a final scene that teases the second game. This makes me wish I had started with Turbo CD games.

As you can also tell from this post, the game is very short. I beat it in a little over 6 hours.

The main character is Latok, who as usual has the bloodline of a god (Duel). His father disappeared half a year ago, so when Pixie shows up to deliver him a message, Latok has to take it instead.
The father's name is "Dork"
The evil god Badu has revived because someone broke the seal to release him. 250 years ago he was defeated by Duel but now that Duel is no longer in the world, it's up to his descendant to destroy Duel. Pixie gives Latok the King's Seal and it's time for Latok's journey to begin.

The first area starts off brutal. It's a pattern throughout the game that at first the enemies crush you, but after a level or two they're manageable. So the first part of the game involves exploring around, finding out where you can go (dying instantly is a sign you're going the wrong way). Eventually I found the Morul Fort, where an earthquake happened recently.
The fort
One key to the game is that you often have to talk to people three times before they'll do anything. This fort also has lots of locked doors, but two of them can be opened by the people inside (who you can't see). I had to use a walkthrough to figure out what to do here, and also found out I missed an earlier boss because I didn't see the path.
Latok carrying Frey
You can find Frey hurt in the forest. She has no further role in this game but she has her own side game and will join the main party in Xak III. This is also the first boss battle, against a tree spirit.
I was way too overlevelled at this point so he only took two hits.

In the Morul Fort Latok finds a statue of Duel that tells him he needs three of the Xak Depuls, which will give him the power necessary to defeat Badu. Other than that your main goal here is just to get through the Morul Fort out to the other side, which involves fighting the second boss. This boss also went down in 2 hits.
A water dragon
Now with the Blue Depul, Latok sets out to the next area, where he takes a mine basket down to a cave.
This cave has annoying bats. They don't do damage or take many hits, but they're fast and hard to attack, and they get in your way when you're trying to fight other enemies. This place also has a pirate hideout, which is a great place to level since you can leave and enter the area, and the enemies are slow and easy to hit. The cave ends with another boss, the elementals:
Fire and Water elemental
After a few hits they combine into the Combine Elemental. Not a hard boss but it does a huge amount of damage so you do have to be careful.

For some reason after this you get a scene where it replays moments from the game so far (less than 3 hours!) and then we're in "part 2".
Part 2 is starting!
The game is not long enough for this. You come out in a Hobbit village (the Tolkien estate's lawyers can't read Japanese) and have to switch between here and the next dungeon, the large Zeglard tower. After finding a ghost, helping out some gnomes, and levelling a lot, we fight a boss called the Necromancer.
All he does is summon undead, and then run after you beat them all. This allows you to progress into the next area, the Lava Zone. There is a small group of humans living here who help you out with information and items. Rachel's father went to the Flame Fort to find some medicine for their sick child, but hasn't returned.

The fort itself requires a Flame Mantle to walk through fire curtains, and a gas mask to go through gaseous areas. Rachel's dad is in the fort but his leg is hurt. He gives Latok the medicine but has to stay behind.
A gas area
An old man near Rachel tells Latok that he needs a Dragon Ring to control a dragon at the top of the tower. Up there, Latok suddenly gets the Red Depul from a box he picked up earlier in the game, and is given the Purple Depul soon after -- this is rather odd from a story standpoint. But now comes the worst part of the game.
This isn't the superfamicomshooting blog
It's a shooting game. I hit the max level of 25 in the Flame Fort so there's nothing to do but try this over and over. The boss is really difficult, and of course you can't level any more. So this is essentially a pure action part of the game. I enjoyed Gradius and R-Type but those were much better than this.
Flame Dragon boss
Your shots only do 1 damage, and only if you hit the head. The dragon's movements are unpredictable and he often shoots out a whole bunch of flames in various directions. After a bunch of losses I passed this with heavy save state abuse. I can't imagine how long it would have taken me if I honestly started from the beginning of the shooting part every time I lost. I checked out some videos of this part on different consoles. This seems like the hardest one. The PC versions are similar but seem to be slower moving (the MSX version adds an extra boss!) The PC Engine part is pathetic; the action area is very short and the dragon dies in one hit.

In the next area is the final boss. He kills you in one hit, which is annoying, but he's not very difficult aside from that, despite his two forms.
Badu tells Latok that his father is the one who released the seal, but he has no idea where Dork went. Then there's an epilogue where the Necromancer talks to a ???? person, and that's the end. Like I said, lots of loose plot threads and unfinished business.
Overall the game's not bad other than the shooting section. But probably if you're considering playing this you should go with the PC Engine version so you can actually play the full story. But the SNES graphics look a lot better. The music is pretty good, but it probably sounds better off the CD.

Next up is Albert Odyssey, the first SRPG on this blog.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Game 17 - Elfaria review

Story/Characters: With 16 party characters in a game from this era, it's not surprising that there's almost no development for any of them. A few of them (especially the party leaders) get some story events, but even Pyne, the main character, doesn't get much.

The story overall is fairly good for a game of this time. There are some nice twists and turns, the villains are interesting, and
World: Standard fantasy, but the game gives you a good amount of lore through library books and monoliths that tell you about the past history. There are several different races. The areas blend together quite a bit but they have some individuality.

Game Flow: This is a problem. The game becomes very repetitive and requires a lot of grinding -- also, because you need full or nearly full MP for the bosses, you have to go in each place multiple times to find chests and such, and then when you're ready for the boss you have to run from every fight, which can be very frustrating given the high encounter rate. This game really needs a way to restore MP other than leaving a town.

The main reason this game took me so long to finish is that I couldn't play it for more than 30-45 minutes in a sitting before I got bored. This has made me consider an additional rule which I don't know if I'll actually use -- a 2 week limit for each game, which can only be extended if I'm actually enjoying the game.

System: I commend the designers for trying something new, but in the end it just doesn't work. The auto-battles can be frustrating, especially when unlucky things happen like your healer getting frozen. I like the meld system, but I wish they had retained a normal XP-levelling system. The fixed level is an interesting idea, but the fact that they had to add a secret adjustment to each area based on how many battles you've fought seems like a patch over a flawed system. This is in effect a normal XP system but just implemented in an opaque manner.

Many people will hate the auto-battle system. In principle I don't mind it, but I wish they had made it a little more complex with AI options and other things like that. It's frustrating to watch your characters get hit and hope your healer will cast a heal spell in time but have absolutely no control over whether it will happen or not. You don't have any feeling of gaining additional powers or abilities (because you aren't gaining any) so that the final boss fight feels exactly the same as the first random battle you encounter. This adds to the tedium and repetitiveness.
Side Quests/Optional Content:Very little. At times it seems like there are some options, but the game always expects you to clear everything to raise your level, and sometimes when you have a choice you have to do one first because the other is too hard.

Interface: Why are companies still refusing to include a unified "action" button? This is no longer a new feature that nobody knows about. Other than that the interface is fine. I like that you can heal with an herb by using the X button, and go instantly to the meld with the Y.
Graphics/Sound: The graphics are a strong point. Having a manga artist design characters always means they look more detailed and interesting than most games. The monsters are colorful and detailed, and I like the victory dance they do if you get a game over. The locations are also vivid and interesting.

The BGM is fine, but it gets old after a while since it's the same few tracks over and over again.