Sunday, November 10, 2019

Game 40 - Monster Maker 3 (Finished)

Chapter 5 is the last one. I began by sailing around to some of the towers to boost Lufeea's magic. I finally figured out what the yellow magic spells are -- it means your level is not high enough to use them without a chance of failure.

A lot of what happens in this chapter is somewhat aimless; just proceeding to the next town without a clear goal. The main goal of this chapter is that now Lufeea's sister has been kidnapped as well. This means that the enemies have both the master Monster Maker and the High Priest, which can't be good.

A random dude has captured two of the side characters from the previous chapters, but we manage to save them pretty easily. There's then a sequence where we need a kayak to access new areas, requiring trips through several more dungeons. They have the usual array of traps, switches, confusing passages, etc. I'm going to skip over this part and resume near the end of the game, crossing a mountain peak.

After beating some minions we have to deal with these three warrior women. It's a bit tricky at first with all of them going for you but if you can beat one it makes it a lot easier. Lufeea's area effect magic is good because most of them can cause various status effects like confuse and freeze.

After this, there's a town where we help find a boy who ran out to get his dog. While we're out of the town, a flying castle appears.

The castle obliterates the town, killing the boy's mother.

Apparently this was an attempt to kill us, so that's not good. The castle goes off to the desert.

Now we need to make it into the desert, but it's too dangerous because of worms, so we need to have a Monster Maker combine some honeys together to make a spice so that we can control the worm (I guess the creators like Dune).

Once the worm is tamed, you can ride it around the desert. There's a large dungeon that's optional but gives Lufeea her most powerful spells. I never ended up using them much (partly because I never hit level 48) but going through the dungeon is also worth some extra treasures so I did it. This was one of the most annoying dungeons in terms of encounters because I had to run from almost every one.

A few more miscellaneous things -- we save some women from a king's castle, who captured them at the request of one of the villains, Dioshel. Next up is the Water Dragon Cave, which will lead the way to a castle where we may learn the truth about what's going on.

Finally, here's Kurisu, the character I named at the beginning. She was one of the heroes who defeated evil before, with the help of the white dragon Bran, which magicians and heroes created. It turns out that Lufeea is a reincarnation of Kurisu, and Bran has become the Black Dragon that the enemies are using. Gaiane hopes to use the power of the Black Dragon along with the captured High Priest and Monster Maker to revive the Evil God. We need to stop that, and of course Lufeea now wants to try to save Bran the dragon.

Lufeea also gets access to various shrines that have the best equipment for her -- the Kurisu Robe, the Kurisu Hood, etc. This is a strange way to use the named character; I'm not sure I've seen another game where it's not someone you actually control.

We get to the final dungeon with the help of Mito, the dragon that we saved early in the game. He's now grown enough to get us there.

The final dungeon is very long, but there are multiple save points inside it and they provide ways for you to open shortcuts so it's easy to leave. What's also nice is that there are few encounters that you have to run away from so I was able to gain a fair amount of levels. Dioshel has been turned into a crow and trapped in a jail for some reason, but we save her on our way to the final battle.

Gaiane is in the final room, hoping to revive the Evil God. First we fight one of her warrior minions who isn't hard, and then the Black Dragon. He isn't as hard as I thought he would be. Now it's the final fight. Gaiane fuses with the Black Dragon to reveal the final boss.

The head will revive the arms, and the arms protect the head. However, they can be frozen, so having Lufeea cast Death Freeze helps, as does the Dark Ball spell which stops all magic for a while. Once the arms and head are defeated, the torso is left.

The torso casts nasty area effect spells. I thought I might lose, but by casting Dark Ball every chance I got and using items to heal, I was able to eventually defeat it -- at one point I was down to only one character with 70 HP left, so it was close.

After this, the Black Dragon turns back into Bran, and he disappears to turn back into the earth and air he was created from. The closing scene is mostly wordless as everyone goes back to their lives.

This game is very flawed but not the worst I've played, and I'll discuss all of this more in the wrap-up post next week.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Game 40 - Monster Maker 3 (Part 2)

I think this game would be very hard to play on a console, especially if you tried without the dungeon maps. Even with the battle setting on the highest speed the battles don't go that quickly, and the encounter rate is extremely high, especially compared with the long dungeons.

The dungeons are relatively well designed, I think. They have a lot of traps, switches, alternate paths, and such, so that it's not just wandering through a featureless dungeon finding treasure boxes. But I can also sympathize with the criticism of this game's difficulty -- one thing you have to do in pretty much every dungeon is figure out which encounters will kill you if you try to fight them. If you try to fight enemies that cast charm or sleep, or have area effect magic/attacks, you're running the risk of a game over even if you enter the fight at full strength. Even if the risk is minor, it's not worth it given that a game over sends you back to your last save, and the dungeons are so long. Fortunately running away is relatively easy, but I have gotten game overs even when I tried to run.

Chapter 3 introduces another character, princess Diane. Her brother is sick, and she thinks it's because of the growing power of the monsters, and sets out to find the problem. Her father forces her to go take a magician along with her. Also she can pick up an "underling" Robber who can find traps and also fight in battle.

The magician is training in a forest, and his master sets up a trial to see if we're really ready to go out adventuring. We pass. The magician characters are interesting because their regular attacks shoot magic out of their wands that does a decent amount of damage at a distance; this makes up somewhat for their low MP.

The rest of the chapter is pretty short. Diane has to save a statue maker who can make a goddess statue to ensure safe travel over the seas. Along the way she meets up with the heroes from the previous chapter.

Chapter 4 begins with Lufeea, who seems like the main character, but the person I named at the beginning is Kurisu, so I don't know what's going on there. Chapter 4 is quite long, and overall the time that elapses before you get this main character is much longer than in Dragon Quest IV. The main goal here is for Lufeea to travel around to various magicians and learn their magical powers as we still try to discover what's going on with the increase in monster activity.

It also seems like she's a prophecied person because everyone knows who she is; destined to become the most powerful magician in the world. Her sister is a high priest. After leaving her village she quickly meets up with the three characters from the former chapters, and this is the party for a long time (maybe the rest of the game?)  The first goal is Bolgard tower, where a mage puts Lufeea on a trial through various traps and tricks in his tower, and then teaches her magic.

After that, she heads off to meet Daruuan, but the shadowy villains of the game have captured him. As he's being captured he throws Solomon's Ring to Lufeea; with this we can now get monsters on our side. It's similar to Megami Tensei (I think one of the MT developers worked on this game), but I haven't used it much yet. Getting a Goblin or Robber is helpful because they can detect and disarm traps. But one of the complaints I've seen about this game is that the system is implemented in a way that makes it hard to use the monsters -- you have to completely sub out your party for the monsters (temporarily) and they can only be revived at monster maker huts which aren't necessarily in convenient locations.

The majority of this chapter is just finding the towers with the magicians in it, with no real developing story. A few important things do happen -- we save the daughter of the King of Fetoland by going into her dream, and Fetoland's brother has stolen a ring from the Elves that we return.

Near the end of the chapter we have to go to a volcano to stop the villains from doing some cliched ceremony, and also to stop the volcano from blocking access to other continents. This is the hardest dungeon so far because most of the encounters are game over chances. So it's a lot of fleeing.

Eventually we meet up with a Black Dragon and one of the antagonists, Diosheryl. This is a hard fight but we just have to survive for 6 turns before an earthquake shakes the area. We get saved by the dragon from chapter 2, and the chapter ends with us being able to explore the southern continent.

I'm still not sure what's up with that character I named at the beginning of the game. It almost makes me wonder if I hit the wrong button and went with the default name (Lufeea?) but I'm pretty sure that in the dream world there was a mention of Kurisu. We'll see.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Game 40 - Monster Maker 3

Monster Maker 3: Magician of Light (モンスターメーカー3 光の魔術師)
Released 12/24/1993, developed by Sofel

Monster Maker is a franchise that started out as a card game but grew to include a CCG, a tabletop RPG, manga, and such. There were a number of video games based on the franchise as well. The first couple of games used card mechanics and apparently were somewhat innovative, but after that they switched to a regular RPG format.

Monster Maker 3 seems to get a lot of criticism for its high encounter rate (even for 1993), unfair random encounters that can kill you quickly, and large dungeons with traps. This site has good maps for the game, which are useful. At least the fights give good rewards so that you level quickly.

The game begins in the manner of Dragon Quest IV -- you name your hero but then have to go through some preliminary chapters that introduce other characters.

Chapter 1 begins with Alshark, a fighter who hopes to become a knight. He gets his chance when the king puts out a call for people to defeat a monster in a nearby castle, and save a foreign princess.

As I said before, the random encounter rate is very high. Another problem is that twice now the game has frozen during combats, so I will be using bsnes' auto save state feature to deal with this. In combat, the characters move around the field and can only attack within their range. So it's a little more than just the usual AMID battle system but it boils down to basically the same thing. Unfortunately it has another feature of older games in that the magic users' MP is so low that you can't really use their spells freely. 

Make sure you stay out of the forests because there are monsters in there that do "scream" attacks that hit everyone and do big damage.

Alshark has to go through a cave to get to the monster castle, both of which have a bunch of traps in them that you have to pull switches to disable. The castle fortunately has a save point in it. There are also strange notes here and there from the "captured princess" warning you of traps and pointing you to where keys are.

Eventually there's a boss.

So far I haven't found grinding to be an issue because the encounter rate is so high. Since it's just Alshark there's not much I can do except attack and heal.

It turns out that this "monster" was charmed by the elf princess Roryeen, who set up this whole scenario to find a strong fighter who could join her in figuring out what's going on with all the increased monster activity. But the king is still happy and awards Alshark his knighthood, and a mission to go south to Kyubikku, which has been ravaged by kobolds.

Roryeen has a bow so she can sit at the back and shoot the enemies. Sometimes she gets 2 or 3 shots but I haven't figured out exactly when this happens. The encounter above is a fixed encounter -- in addition to random encounters there are occasionally fixed encounters you can see walking around. Typically these are harder, as in the above case. That thing at the back uses the scream attack for big damage, and the kobolds can try to block your access to it.

Eventually Alshark and Roryeen reach the kobold king and defeat him, upon which he wakes up from some sort of mind control and wonders what's going on. Rather than solve that puzzle, our heroes move on to the next village, where a monster is demanding sacrificial victims from the people. Roryeen offers to be the next victim, hoping Alshark will save her, but this is where chapter 1 ends.

Chapter 2 moves to the elf kingdom, where Prince Ersais is wondering where Roryeen has gone, and he and Sarla go out to find her. After making their way out of the forest, they come to a mining town where an angry dragon is menacing the miners. The dragon is calling for her child, wondering what she did to humans to deserve this. So we go to a "monster maker" house nearby to find the small dragon locked in the basement along with other monsters.

The monster maker was asked to keep these monsters by this pink haired mysterious woman below, but the monster maker sacrifices himself to let us escape and take the small dragon back to the mother, who then lets us pass.

Now Ersais and Sarla are able to make it through the kobold cave to get to the same place as chapter 1, where Alshark is wondering how to save Roryeen. They manage to sneak in and confront the monster, and Roryeen who is annoyed that it took so long for us to get there.

The key to this fight is to keep casting the spell that seals magic, otherwise Barbara will use hit-all magic spells that do a lot of damage. Once we save Roryeen, a pegasus takes us back to the castle to hear the stock JRPG cliches -- darkness is coming on the world and we need to find the girl who is the chosen warrior of light, etc. Chapter 2 then ends and we shift locations again.

I think that this game is OK, but if I were not using the dungeon maps and emulator speedup it would be a lot more frustrating to play. There's also a no encounters cheat code which might be helpful. But the graphics are decent and the interface is fine, with one quirk. I don't understand how the shop interface works in showing you the stats of the weapons compared to your equipped ones. The important thing is that if no numbers are shown that means the weapon or armor is better than what you have equipped, but that doesn't really make sense.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

PCE Game 26 - Ys IV: Dawn of Ys

Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys (イースフォー ザドーンオブイース)
Released 12/22/1993, developed by Hudsonsoft


The Ys series has a strange history. The first three games came out for computers, and then were ported to many different consoles. Up until very recently, Falcom did not employ any console programmers, so they always outsourced their console ports to other developers.

Ys IV is an interesting case because there are actually three versions of the game. In 1993 Falcom did not make a computer Ys IV, but instead outsourced the development to two different companies. Tonkin House brought out Mask of the Sun for the Super Famicom, and Hudson brought out a completely different game Dawn of Ys for the PC Engine. Both games were confusingly labelled "Ys IV". Almost 20 years later, Falcom developed Ys: Memories of Celceta, which was a completely new game in the same setting that is now considered the canonical Ys IV.

Back to 1993, Dawn of Ys is superior to Mask of the Sun in every way. It's a followup to Ys I&II, going back to the traditional "run into enemies" gameplay and involving a lot of voiced dialogue and a few cutscenes (more of both than Ys I&II had).

This is also unusual among PC Engine CD games in that it actually has a full patch. As I've said before, fan translators have a tough time with PCE CD games because, a least in all the games I've played so far, they have a lot of voiced dialogue with no subtitles. But for Ys IV someone actually made a full fan dub of the game, plus a translation patch for the rest of the text. So this will be more of an overall review than a step-by-step account of the game.

I've wanted to play this game for a long time. I remember somehow knowing about this game when I was a kid, even though it never came out in the US. It must have appeared in some magazine as a possible upcoming game?

The game opens with Adol and Dogi returning to Esteria, where Ys I took place. But he's only there briefly before he sets out for Celceta where a new adventure awaits. The opening cinematic sequence is like all the PC Engine games; a combination of voice, still pictures, and slightly animated pictures. Some baddies are trying to revive an evil demon of some sort -- a familiar sight in RPGs. They fail, of course. Adol arrives in Esteria and soon meets several important NPCs, including Karna.

The battle system, as I said, is the same "run into enemies" as before.

I feel like the screen is a little bit squished; I feel like they could have reduced the size of the border and the HUD at the bottom while still allowing it to be within the PCE's processing power, but maybe I'm wrong.

If you've played Ys I&II you will be in very familiar territory in thise game. I think that after Ys III, Hudson wanted to repeat the success of I&II by making basically the same game in a different setting. The graphics are somewhat better but the game is the same length as I&II, roughly.

At times another character (usually Karna or Dogi) will accompany you. They can kill enemies often in one or two hits, which is somewhat helpful, but it also means they're stealing your XP.

Because this game has a full translation patch I don't want to give away too much. The story is run-of-the mill, but the voice adds some memorableness to the villains.

In the first section of the game, Adol is solving various small problems that pop up while trying to figure out what's going on in Celceta. Eventually the main villains are revealed -- the "Clan of Darkness", who is working with a winged being to revive a lost castle.

At the same time, Adol gains control over the ancient magics of Celceta while learning the backstory of what happened to the land. There's a neat part where you get to return to Esteria and even go to Darm Tower again, complete with the music from Ys I (fortunately you find a secret passage so it's nowhere near as long a dungeon).

In contrast to Ys I&II, many of the bosses require you to use the fire or freeze magic to shoot at them. Otherwise as always you have to figure out the attack patterns of the bosses, and when and where you can hit them. Of course, being at the proper level helps as well. There's a very useful item you can get later in the game that slows your movement but every non-boss enemy dies in one hit. With this item, grinding is much more manageable.

 Overall the playing experience was very smooth. There was only one part that really annoyed me -- I didn't get a screenshot, but you have to make it through an area where jets of flame come up periodically, and if you touch even a pixel of the flames, you die. What makes it worse is that Dogi is following you, and if any pixel touches him then you get a game over as well. So you not only have to learn the pattern but make sure you move so that Dogi doesn't lag behind and get caught up in the flames. I probably died 25-30 times trying to get through this...and you have to do it twice! Fortunately the second time is without Dogi, but come on.

If you are a fan of the older Ys games, or retro action RPGs, there is no reason not to play this. It's one of the best from this era.

Ys will appear one more time on this blog, with Ys V for the Super Famicom in 1995.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Game 39 - Wondrous Magic wrap-up

The main thing that stands out about this game is the real-time battle system. While this does set the game apart from the other cookie-cutter games coming out around the same time, it has some problems. It tends to be very hard to tell what's happening in the battle, especially since you have 3 AI-controlled units and then enemies on all sides. It's difficult to know who is hitting you, who is causing the poison, etc. Healing can also be tricky. The controls for using magic and items are unintuitive and I felt like I never really got used to it.

Maybe this is why so many games fall back on the cookie cutter AMID system -- it's not great, but at least the designers and players know what to expect and it's not very risky.

The story sequences have good artwork to go along with them. I wish a lot more games did this rather than just sticking with the sprites. It gives you a lot more feel for what the characters look like. The rest of the graphics are fairly decent as well.

The game requires too much grinding for my taste. Most of it can be done while exploring the areas, but especially at the end, I had to grind quite a bit to finish the game.

Overall the game is somewhat worth playing. Here's my ranking system again:

A - These games were truly enjoyable, I had fun playing them just as games, not for the blog.

B - These games were average. I found them boring at times, and it was mostly the fulfillment of completing the game for the blog that carried me through. My overall experience with the game wasn't terrible, it's just not a game I would have finished all the way through for fun.

C - These games were painful to finish, to the point where I wanted to give up despite the blog, and had to force myself to play through (sometimes using cheats) just to move on to the next game.

I would give this game a B or maybe a B+.

Next up is the PC Engine version of Ys IV, a game I've wanted to play for a long time. I'm currently playing a real-time strategy RPG for the Super Famicom on my other blog, Hiouden: Pact With the Monsters.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Game 39 - Wondrous Magic (Finished)

I finally succeeded in getting what I needed in the ruined town. At the bottom, we find Kurisu's father, but he's dying. He was trying to stop Irion from reviving the evil god Ivas, but he dies. He does give us the item we need to kill the vampire, though.

The next dungeon is harder because you can't warp out of it, so you have to be a lot more cautious in exploration. I had to move up a few levels while exploring until I reached the vampire lord.

He's tough; he separates into bats and then poisons us. Kurisu mostly had to do healing duty, but eventually I won. Now we have the last part of the staff we need to revive the goddess.

Time to do the ritual!

But no, Irion comes in and destroys the staff, also hurting Kurisu.

Now the remaining members have to go out and find a way to restore Kurisu, which actually just involves repairing the staff. The Dwarves send us on a few fetch quests to do this, one of which involves going to a Hobbit village (the Tolkien lawyers can't read Japanese). One of the Hobbits wants a lottery ticket; you can't solve this subquest until very late in the game and all it does is give you an item that increases your XP by 1 when you use it.

So let's just take the staff, go back and restore Kurisu, and continue on. Now that we have the staff, we can finally bring the goddess Shurel down.

  Unfortunately she doesn't have much power, so all she can tell us is go seek out the Elves to fully restore the power of the staff. This involves going to an island, with the help of mermaids.

The mermaid sends us on a fetch quest for a flute to calm the seas so that we can go out on a ship. The tower isn't too tough, but once we go out in the ship there's a hard octopus boss. I had to level a bit to beat him, but finally we're to the island. The island holds an illusionary garden where only magic users can go, so we lose Soldick for a while in favor of a useless elf. This dungeon also required a lot of grinding and leaving the dungeon.

Eventually, though, we recover the power of the staff, and it's time to head to the final dungeons to defeat Irion and prevent the evil god from returning.

At this point I used a cheat code to level a bit because it was clear that I was going to have to do at least 10-15 levels of grinding to beat the game. There's an optional dungeon that has some useful equipment in it that I cleared next, and then it was time to go to beat Irion.

We also learn here that the one who was going to revive Ivas was not Kurisu, but the other character I have (Fredia) who is actually Kurisu's brother. Irion stole his arm (!?) to weaken him, but having beaten Irion he gets his arm back and is back to full power.

Unfortunately beating Irion is not enough because Ivas has already returned. So one more dungeon to go.

Ivas himself appears in two forms -- a human form, which is not very hard, and a demon form, which is. Fredia has to keep one part of the demon form occupied while the rest of us take on the boss.

I leveled to 50 (max) and still had a hard time beating him. Using items is very awkward and so it was hard to keep people healed and revived, but I did win after many tries.

Ivas is destroyed, the goddess' power comes down, and we win! Kurisu heads back home to be a local healer. Fredia seemed to have died, but...

In the end he survived.

This is a pretty average game, wrap-up will be next and then Ys IV for PC Engine.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Game 39 - Wondrous Magic

Wondrous Magic (ワンダラスマジック)
Released 12/17/1993, by Ascii

There are three more games to go for 1993 (plus one PC Engine game). This is another minor game with no translation patch. 

The story opens with a child, Kurisu, wanting to go find her father and bring him back to her village. He left when she was very little. Her grandfather persuades her to wait until she turns 16 and then she goes with him. Meanwhile there's a general backstory that the Demon god was defeated by humans with the help of magic, but then she vowed to return in the 100th descendant of one of her minions.

The story sequences have good graphics; I'm always surprised that more RPGs didn't do things like this, since the quality of the sprite graphics was so limited.

Neither the towns nor world map are explorable, you just choose a location and go.

The forest outside the town is the first dungeon area. In the areas you can hold down Y to run, and press B to jump (or hold it down to keep jumping); as far as I know the jumping has no actual effect, it just looks funny if you continuously hold it while moving.

Encounters are random, and the battles take place in real time.

The green bars on top are the HP of Kurisu and Linkel. The middle shows the monsters (you use L and R to switch, sort of like Aretha). The grey box to the right shows the last action the character took, and will turn brown when they get to act. You act with the buttons -- Y attacks, holding down A brings up the magic menu when you can then cast with B, and holding down X brings up the equipped items (you can see the bread in the picture) and then B uses it. The large green bar on the bottom is the total HP of the enemies. The system works OK, but I feel like even having played half the game, I'm still not fully used to it.

You can put your characters on AI, which I did -- they don't always make good decisions but I can't imagine trying to control all four characters in realtime (using select to switch between them).

You can also run away from fights with 100% chance if you have a way you can go that is not blocked by an enemy. Losing all characters results in a game over and you reload from your last save.

Of course given the title of the game and the characters, it's obvious that magic is a big part of the game, although Kurisu only starts with Heal. There are two types of magic, one that uses your HP, and another that uses MP. You can equip 9 spells at a time for use in battle. The spells level up sometimes when your character levels up.

When you defeat a monster, you get XP and Onyx. There are two forms of currency -- Onyx, which the monsters drop, and then Bezera which you get from selling things and from chests. This part of the game confuses me because there seems to be no purpose to the two currencies. At least in the half of the game I've played, every shopkeeper accepts both currencies and you can change them freely, and there's a set 10 bezera = 1 onyx rate. There are even expensive items that change all your bezera to onyx. It makes me wonder if this was something that was intended to work differently but they ran out of development time or changed their minds.

In the next town we meet Shira the magician who teaches Kurisu some magic and then puts her on a test to become a real magician --  recovering a stone from tower.

Kurisu has to fight by herself in this dungeon. You often enter dungeons very underpowered, but levelling goes pretty quickly, and I mostly found that simply exploring the dungeons to find the chests and using the escape items/spells when I was too damaged provided enough level gains to proceed. So far I've only had to spend a slight amount of time running in circles fighting.

This dungeon itself isn't hard but once we finish it, a dragon appears when we try to leave the city.

This required some grinding, but at least Linkle joins the fight. Kurisu's frost magic can freeze enemies, so switching back and forth between the heads and freezing them is a good strategy. Once we return to Shira's magic school, she's gone. Linkle suspects that it was actually Shira herself who summoned the dragon to attack them. After questioning the king we move on to the next town to follow Shira. A knight named Soldic joins -- he's 54 years old and Linkle is in his 60s; this might be the oldest RPG party I've seen.

In the next town we encounter the mage Zaifon, who reveals what's actually going on. It turns out that Kurisu is the 100th descendant of Ivas, the demon god. This is why Shira tried to kill them. Zaifon gives them a chance, though -- if they can find three parts of a wand they may be able to stop Ivas from awakening, in which case Zaifon won't kill Kurisu. We get a fourth party member, a magic knight (who dies a lot); he's only 16.

Off to find the first staff, which is in this town. The dungeons are increasingly mazelike and confusing.

The spellcasting menu

Afterwards we have to take an underground passage to the Dwarf village. They agree to let us into the place with the next staff piece as long as we defeat a big crab in the desert.

After that, we get the next staff and move on. At Zev, there seems to be a Baron (who might be a vampire) who destroyed a local town and takes sacrificial victims. The first thing we have to do is go to the ruined town, and then take on the castle to beat the Baron. This is where I am now. As I said, it seems to be around halfway through the game, so this isn't a very long game. The ruined town had tough monsters but I've moved up 4-5 levels just exploring the area so hopefully I can get through it next time.