Friday, January 4, 2019

Game 33 - Super Chinese World 2

Super Chinese World 2 (スーパーチャイニーズワールド2 宇宙一武闘大会)
Released 10/29/1993, published by Culture Brain

This is yet another game in the prolific series "Super Chinese", a series of mostly blends of action and RPGs, with a few pure action or fighting games. Zenic Reverie covered a few of the earlier entries that had been localized: Little Ninja Brothers, Ninja Boy 2, and Super Ninja Boy. The previous games seem to have had a mix between platform stages, random action-based battles, and command-style RPG fights for the boss battles. SCW2 dropped the command-style fights and retained only the action and platformer sections.

I'm not all that good at action games. I've managed to complete most of the early Mega Man games, but fighting games are a particular weakness of mine. When Street Fighter 2 came out I was never able to get Ryu to do the Hadoken, and I've never really improved that much. So this game is not my preference. I often felt like the characters weren't doing what I wanted them to do, but that could be my own lack of skill or emulator issues, or game design.

The game begins at a "space peace conference", but then the Galaxy Warriors (who I gather are standard antagonists in this series) arrive. They kidnap the rulers, including the ruler of Chinaland where our main characters Jack and Ryu hail from. Shubabarn, a leader of the GWs, demands that we enter a martial arts tournament to get him back, but to even reach the tournament we'll have to find a bunch of star fragments.

Jack and Ryu set out, but crashland on the first planet.

A nearby town has the first shops and a convenience store, which gives you a password. Yes, in 1993 we're using passwords to save. Fortunately emulators have save states to get around that annoyance. Also the first battles.

A battle shows you the enemies, and then gives you the chance to run or fight. I'm not a big fan of the way the fights develop. They start with 2 or 3 enemies. When you beat one, another comes in. The fight simply ends after a while, based on a combination of time and how many enemies you beat. I would prefer simply beating the enemies there to end the fight. There are boxes that give you items (I never figured out what the S icons did), especially good is the hammer that kills enemies in one hit. There are various moves you can do, and L can use items (like a sword), whereas R does techniques (healing, escape, fire rain, etc).

You soon gain the ability to transform into "Hyper Chinese" form by holding down L until the K-meter at the top left fills. This gives a bit more power and some new moves, including special moves that I never really learned how to use (I should have had an instruction manual for this game).

The other aspect of the game, which comes up quickly, are the platform sections.

This was definitely my least favorite part of the game. I felt like the control was clunky compared to designed action games like Rockman or Mario. A lot of them have scrolling screens where if it catches up with you you die (and lose half HP). Enemies often knock you way back into pits. And such. I used a lot of save states to pass these parts.

The game goes in a standard way -- you arrive at a town, have to solve some problem there, and then get either a way to progress to the next place, or a star fragment. There are five galaxies with several planets each, which might make it seem like quite a long game. But after the first two galaxies, the remaining three have no world maps on any of the planets. Maybe they ran out of development time, but in the end the game is pretty short.

About 3/4 of the way through the game you get very powerful swords that pretty much slaughter the rest of the bosses with little trouble -- I was happy to see this given my difficulty with the action aspect of the game.

Eventually we reach the tournament, which is a bunch of bosses one after the other. Jack and Ryu win, of course, and then beat Shubaban. But it turns out that Ginga Maola, the head of the Galaxy Warriors, abandons Shubaban and begins to use a big weapon that will destroy all planets in the galaxy. After fighting some old bosses again (including a mind-controlled Shubaban), we reach Ginga Maola.

He has several forms, but the powerful swords plus some healing techniques make it not so bad. The only tough one is the first form, which you have to beat with counterattacks. I never got the hold of guarding vs. moving backwards (both of which are left/right D-pad), but I managed to do it just by mashing the buttons until it worked.

Jack and Ryu save the universe and their king, and live happily ever least until Super Chinese World 3.

Regular updates with a bit more substance will be back next week. I'm skipping Aktarion, localized as Secret of the Seven Stars, and Ys IV, which I played a couple of years ago (and isn't all that good). Next up is a PCE action RPG called Ruin: Kami no Isan.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Game 32 - Ranma 1/2 (Finished)

[Updates may be sporadic over the holidays. I should be able to return to regular Saturday updates on Jan. 13]

This game reminds me a lot of Villgust. It has the same feeling of a development team assigned a game as a money making venture without any real idea or passion for the task, and making the most basic, unimaginative game they can. This game is not as bad as Villgust, but it's just as methodical and cookie-cutter. Like some of the other games I've played, I think a step-by-step account of the entire game would be just as boring as it is to play it, so I will hit the highlights.

The game is entirely one path, always obvious where to go next. There are only one or two places where you have to do anything but just walk to the next place on the map. The dungeons have a bit of exploration but it's mostly just for treasure chests that often aren't that useful -- one other lazy aspect of the game is that all the equipment in the game is buyable. There are no optional quests, events, dungeons, or anything of that nature.

The story also lacks the humor and interest of the original manga. The credits indicate that Rumiko Takahashi had nothing to do with the project, so basically the scenario writers were just trying to copy her style, and it shows.

I still had two treasures to get. The next one is the Sakura Sword, and we have to fight through Mousse, who is being controlled by the enemies, and Ranma's father, who has just joined the enemy because he was promised a harem.
One thing I did forget to mention about the battle system last time is that you can hit X to go into a "brawl" auto battle; it seems to prevent the enemies from using their special moves, which can sometimes be useful since they do a lot of damage to all PCs. But you can't get out of it and it can't be used against bosses.

My basic party was usually Shampoo (for buffs), Akane (for healing), Ranma (for damage), and then a fourth character to do more damage, but you can't pick the party until the end of the game.

In the course of getting the last treasure, we fight other characters from the show who are controlled by the enemies, and then Suzaku, the second of the four kings of the enemy group. The principal of the school then takes all the students back to the real world and takes us to the next area. Here after a sequence of dungeons we end up bringing the three treasures to an altar that gives us the Star Crystal, but the leader of the Red Cat Gang uses it to become a god instead. So that will be the final boss.

The last dungeon first has us fighting previous bosses again in powered-up form, then the final boss.
This was the first game over I got. You first have to use an item to remove the crown and cape (temporarily), then you can hurt him. I used a powered-up Ranma and items to heal and restore his technique power. He has a lot of HP and in the end I had lost most of my units and items, but I did manage to beat him.

Then Ranma goes home, the end.

As may be clear now, I do not recommend this game. It's not likely to appeal to fans of Ranma, or fans of RPGs. It's definitely not the worst game I've played, as it doesn't have any serious bugs or major design flaws that make the game hard to play. It's just dull, methodical, and shows very little spark of originality.

Next up on the list is Arcus Spirits, but this is not an RPG, so the next actual game will be Super Chinese World 2 (a game in the series that was localized as Ninja Boy).

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Game 32 - Ranma 1/2 Akanekodan teki hihou

Ranma 1/2: Hidden Treasure of the Red Cat Gang (らんま1/2 朱猫団的秘宝)
Released 10/22/1993, published by Toho and Shogakukan Productions

This is another game based on an anime -- so far on this blog I've played games based on Dragon Ball Z (just for a bit), Fist of the North Star, and 3x3 Eyes. They've been pretty bad on the whole -- I did give DBZ some credit for at least trying to implement a system that represented the atmosphere of the source material. The other two were just straight RPGs, and it was hard to avoid the feeling that they were just relying on the name to sell the game.

Unfortunately I feel like this game is also just riding on the name value -- it's nowhere near as bad as 3x3 Eyes or Fist of the North Star 5, but there's essentially no attempt to make it stand out from any other cookie cutter RPG released in this era. There are still a number of anime-based games to come on this blog (among them Sailor Moon, Slayers, and Magic Knight Rayearth) so it will be interesting to see how this thread develops.

If you're not familiar with Ranma 1/2, the premise is that Ranma (and many of the side characters) fell into a cursed spring in China. All the people who fell into the springs change into something else when doused with cold water, and revert to normal with warm water. Ranma changes into a girl, and his father Genma into a panda (in the image above). Ranma lives with his "fiancee" Akane and her family.

The game begins with the Cursed Spring Guide accidentally releasing the spirit of Nekmaoh, a ghost cat. At the Tendo Dojo (where Ranma lives), after a morning spar with Akane, people from the Red Cat Gang show up and capture Genma.

We spring to the rescue, and the first place to investigate is the nearby high school. The town is overrun with Red Cat Gang enemies. Shampoo, a Chinese girl who turns into a cat, joins us after a bit. Unfortunately the walking is very slow, with no run/speed up button.

The battle system is standard AMID. The only difference from usual is that the M part is martial arts special moves, which drain your 闘気 (touki, "fighting spirit") meter. The meter refills as you walk around, or if you defend in battle or use a refill item. This is appreciated because it means you can actually use the moves without just having to save all your touki for boss fights.Using a bucket or a kettle you can turn the characters back and forth from their human and changed forms, but this isn't as useful as it could have been. I think part of the laziness of the designers shows in the fact that even characters like Shampoo and Ryoga, who turn into little animals, retain all their stats in their changed forms but just can't use some techniques. So most of the time you don't want to be in the changed form unless you have to for the story. Ranma is exactly the same either way. I guess this does match the anime for Ranma at least.

Soon we learn from Shampoo's grandmother (Cologne) that the Red Cat Gang is a legendary group, and to stop them we will need three items: the Peach Gem, the Cherry Blossom Sword, and the Forest Mirror.
Ucchan, Ranma's other fiancee, sells healing items
At the school, the principal (who was paid off by the gang) ambushes us and knocks us unconscious with a pineapple bomb. Ranma wakes up alone in a separate world in a jail cell. He quickly breaks free and makes it to the nearby Strawberry Village. There's a Peach Village nearby which sounds like it might have the peach gem, but first we have to rescue Akane from the Apple Village. Ryoga (who turns into a pig) joins up.
The principal
To save Akane we have to sneak into a women's bath (by having Ranma as a girl and Ryoga as the pig) and make our way through an underground cave. Since this party has no healing techniques it's important to have a lot of healing items to make it through, especially since you have to fight a tough boss at the end. Fortunately we get Akane back at the end, who brings along some nice healing arts.

Now we head south to the Chestnut Village, where we learn that Peach and Persimmon Villages have been taken over by the Red Cats. The Peach Gem is in the White Tree Shrine, which we can get to with a Hajutsu paper. Unfortunately a villain arrives and steals the mayor's daughter, and we have to rescue her from the tower to the south.

The boss in the tower is Rasetsume, who takes the paper and gives it to Genbu. But of course she refuses to give the kid back, so we have to beat her up. Now it's off to Peach Village to see if we can get the gem back.

Since I started late in the week that's all I did. There is a translation patch for this game, but even if you're a Ranma fan this really isn't that good of a game. It does seem to be short, though, so maybe I can finish it in another week.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

PCE Game 23 - Startling Odyssey

Startling Odyssey (スタートリングオデッセイ)
Released 10/22/1993, developed by Ray Force 

As I've said before, this blog is still primarily a Super Famicom blog, so I have stricter standards for continuing to play the PC Engine games. Startling Odyssey is a perfect example of a cookie cutter RPG put together with a string of cliches and standard RPG gameplay. If this were on the SFC I would play it through, but for the PC Engine I'm fine playing it for a few hours and moving on.

The opening scene is familiar territory. Long ago there were evil forces in the world, but beings of light came to save humanity, and then left, but there are still descendants of those beings of light, and darkness is once again appearing in the world.

The opening scene has some nice orchestrated music, but then of course you go from the voiced cutscenes to this:

The main character, Leon, is a sword user who also studies magic under an old man in town. His friend Sophia has recently returned from three years of study in a seminary.

 There are a lot of earthquakes lately, and increased monsters. On the day the game starts, an evil guy named Zowder comes to the town, looking for descendants of the beings of light. It turns out Leon's mother is one of them, and she fights the enemies off with spells, but Zowder uses a hostage to capture her and turn her into stone. Thus begins Leon's quest to save her.

The battles are completely normal AMID, and the encounter rate is high. However, it is nice that the MP values are high enough that you can frequently use spells, and the "escape dungeon" items are cheap enough that you can explore the dungeons and then leave when you're weak rather than grinding until you can survive.

The first quest is to find gunpowder in a tower so that we can blow up the rocks blocking a tunnel to the mainland. This will also help the island which is suffering since ships are no longer able to come to the island (due to the monsters and earthquakes).
A boss
When I reached the mainland, I then had to make it through a mountain pass that was supposedly guarded by thieves, but instead it was just monsters. After making it through that, the king in the next castle charged me with clearing out monsters nearby.

So that's where I stopped. Everything I read about this game says it's a completely average, playable RPG from this era. So it's not bad, but there's no reason to play it anymore.

Next up will be Ranma 1/2 for the SFC, after Little Master 2 for the Game Boy on my other blog. Ranma should be interesting and rather nostalgic.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Torneko no Daibouken (skip)

So this game is not really an RPG, it's a console version of a roguelike game. If you want to play it, there's a patch available. It has quite a good reputation.

The next game on my list is Trinea, which doesn't qualify for my definition of an action RPG.

So the next actual game on the blog will be the PC Engine game Startling Odyssey, which later had a PS1 remake. Not sure I will be able to play it enough by Saturday to do the normal Saturday update, though.

Also check out Shining Force on my other blog.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Game 31 - Sword World SFC (Post/Review)

Sword World SFC (ソード・ワールドSFC)
Released 8/6/1993, published by T&E Soft

The cover of this game is quite different from the usual anime-themed cover of Super Famicom RPGs -- it almost looks like the box cover art that would be used for the English release of games. But it does indicate that this game is quite different in many ways from other RPGs. I actually had a lot of fun with this game; it has flaws and it wouldn't appeal to everyone, but I probably enjoyed this game more than any one I've played so far other than Dragon Quest V.

It's based on a tabletop RPG that came out in Japan in 1989 and still is (supposedly) the most popular RPG in Japan. I think what was so endearing about this game to me was that it captured the nostalgia of playing D&D in the 80s and 90s with friends. The game is built around 19 short scenarios (of which only 12 constitute one playthrough). They feel like the kind of adventures we would make in high school -- get some sort of mission or quest in the town, explore a dungeon or maybe solve a short mystery, do a few fights, and get some treasure. Most of the quests are stand alone, but there are a few recurring characters and they do manage to do a wrap-up climax in the last two missions. The story's not going to win any awards but it was interesting enough.

In fact, after this game's release, there was a companion book for use with the tabletop RPG, that had all the quests from this game and the PC game, plus another 37 that they hadn't been able to include for space reasons. So I can definitely see this having been even more fun to players at the time who did play Sword World, the same way I enjoyed the Gold Box AD&D games more because I was a D&D player.

You start the game by creating a character. You get to pick a race (human, elf, dwarf, grass runner, or half elf). If you pick Human or Half-Elf you also get to pick a background for your character. All of this determines your starting stats and levels. Rather than a strict class/experience system, you can freely level in different classes, with a max of 5 in each class. Your "character level" is the highest level you have in any class, and determines damage reduction and a few other stats.

The classes are Fighter, Thief, Priest, Shaman, Sorcerer, Ranger, Sage, and Bard. The way the class restrictions work, some classes don't work well with each other -- for instance, Sorcerer needs a magic staff to cast spells and only light armor, so that doesn't go so well with Fighter. One problem I did have with the game is that without the TRPG rulebook, it was hard to tell what some of the classes did or what levelling up the class would help. Sage was the biggest puzzle; the instruction manual says that this means you have a lot of knowledge, but it's not clear what gameplay effect that has.

I chose a human who had been a scholar, and thus started with Sage 1. I then used her initial experience to level her up to 2 in Priest.

The basic flow of the game is that you find a place to get a job (usually an inn). But first you need 4 companions, which you can choose from a number of people that are wandering around the two inns in the starting town. I got the following:
  • Bart, level 2 fighter, 1 Ranger, 1 Sage. I ended up using him as a Ranger with a long bow.
  • Balam, a dwarf, 2 Fighter, 1 Priest.
  • Rooks, a level 2 Thief
  • Maira, a level 1 Sorceror and 1 Shaman. I used her mostly as a Sorceror.
After this, it's time to equip the party. Once again I was hampered by my lack of knowledge of the system since there's no clear indication of how a long sword, a maul, a morning star, and a spear are different. Some classes have restrictions -- mostly that they can't use metal, or that their armor or weapons can't weigh more than half of their strength. All characters have a restriction that the equipment can't weigh more than their total strength. When you buy weapons and armor, you can choose a range of weights depending on the item, and presumably a heavier weapon does more damage?

I beat the game pretty quickly, and so I don't think I'm going to do a blow-by-blow account of all the missions. I'll describe one in detail and then summarize some of the other key jobs that are related to the final story.

The first job involves an antiques dealer who is collecting God Statues that resemble weapons, and he has arranged to buy the axe statue from the Dwarf mountains. This actually turns out to have a connection to the overall story, but for now it's just a fetch mission.
The world map

Unfortunately it turns out the axe has been stolen, so the first real quest is to get it back from goblins. The dungeons have a convenient automap feature, which also feels tabletop RPG-ish.

There are no random battles, instead when you meet monsters the game switches to a battle without going to a separate screen.

The battles play out on a grid, with faster units going first. The interface is very easy to use. Spells don't seem to have a range, but they can have an area of effect. You can also boost their damage or effectiveness for more MP, and can use magic stones to substitute for MP if you're low. As far as I can tell, the enemies do not return if you leave the dungeons, so you can rest freely. Misses are very frequent (on both sides), which also reminds me of a tabletop RPG.

The rewards for beating monsters are not especially high; you mostly get XP for completing quests. On the whole, the biggest problem I had with this game is a lack of feeling that your characters are getting better. HP and MP you have to pay for, and it's pretty expensive -- I never actually increased any character's HP or MP.

At the bottom of the cave we find a dark elf.
He's pretty tough -- fortunately you can save anywhere. The second time I tried the fight I used Sleep Cloud and it put all the enemies to sleep, which made the fight easy. In general Sleep Cloud is quite a powerful spell for most of the game.

Now with the axe, we can head back to the city and get our reward. Job 1 is finished! The XP can be used to buy level ups or stat increases.

The second job involves poisoned food -- first we have to investigate the harbor, and then a cave where Sagran, a disciple of the dark sea god Milreef, is plotting.

The third job involves the thieves' guild. A thief seems necessary for this game -- not only to disarm traps and open doors and chests, but to enter the thieves guild for information.

Job 4 is also important to the overall plot; it introduces Tsure, who is trying to be leader of the nomadic desert people. He needs to find a water crystal in a tower to prove he is worthy to be the next chief. After saving his sister from assassins sent by a rival, we help him get the crystal and prove his worth.

Job 6 is protecting a ship from undead attack -- it turns out they are related to the Dark Sea God (from mission 1), and are sacrificing ships to the god.

Job 8 has us rescuing another adventurer from the Lex ruins. He's looking for secrets in the Dragon Temple. We run into Tsure again, who seems more sinister this time -- the nomad people are looking for the god weapons (from the first mission) and threaten to kill us if we get in their way.

Job 10 brings Sagran back, and in Job 11 we learn that the nomad people are trying to get the god weapons to summon the God-Killing Dragon, to deal with the Dark Sea God that will soon arise.

This brings us to the final quest, stopping Sagran and the Dark Sea God. This is the longest quest yet and involves a number of dungeons, with mostly undead enemies. The Holy Light spells work well, since many of these enemies cannot be hurt except by enchanted weapons -- as far as I can tell there aren't any magic weapons you can find (another disappointment about the game), so you have to cast Enchant Weapon to kill them.

Along the way, Tsure is injured and we receive the God Statue from them, to help us in the final battle.

Eventually we find Sagran, but he runs away and leaves grunts to fight. After dealing with them, it's another dungeon, but then the final confrontation with the Dark Sea God.

The first step is to use the God Statue, which makes the God Killing Dragon arise and drive away the god.

Now all that's left is the final fight vs. Zombie Sagran. This is a fairly difficult fight -- I had the max of 300 magic stones (which can substitute for MP), and basically I enchanted everyone's weapons and then cast my most powerful damage spells. I focused on Sagran until he finally went down and then the others.

After the fight, the players are hailed as heroes, and retire to help support other adventurers or something like that.

I was then told I had completed 65% of the game -- there are still 7 more scenarios I didn't do, and an optional grinding dungeon I didn't touch either. So this game has replayability, since I could also have tried with a totally different party.

So on the whole I enjoyed this game a lot. It has flaws and I can see some people not liking it, especially since in many ways it's closer to a computer RPG than a typical console one.

Also worthy of mention is the soundtrack, which is pretty good. Here's a link to a playlist (starting on one of the dungeon themes). There are 80 songs, which is impressive in a game from this era -- I think that's even more than Seiken Densetsu 2.

Sadly there's no translation patch, but maybe one of the hard working groups will take it up at some point.

Up next is Shining Force on my other blog, then the next game on my list here is Final Fantasy Mystic Quest -- I remember playing this several times as a kid, but since it has an English release I'll be skipping it. Next up then is Torneko's Adventure, a roguelike-inspired game from the Dragon Quest world.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Game 30 - Seiken Densetsu 2 Part 2 (Finished)

Two things happen in the later part of Seiken Densetsu 2 -- it seems like they're hurrying things along, and the monsters get much harder. I think the hurrying is just due to development problems, and maybe that's the origin of the slight enemy unbalance as well. But overall the flaws in the first half of the game are still there in the second half. It's too bad; this could have been a much better game.

Anyway, last time I was heading back to the Fire Palace to return the seed and level up my magic to 4. For most of the bosses in this game I just levelled up magic and used it -- this is a really cheap way to beat all the bosses and maybe I shouldn't have resorted to it, but it's fun to spell-lock the bosses and watch them die without being able to move.

After the fire palace we head to the Empire -- as usual in RPGs, the Empire is not good. They are trying to restore the Mana Fortress to rule the world, but this would be bad news for everyone else. Fortunately there's a resistance we can join.

The resistance base is in Northtown, where we learn that Dyluck (the girl's love interest) is draining people's energy -- obviously he's under enemy control. Unfortunately by the time we break into the castle it's too late. He's gone.

But good news! The Emperor wants a truce. The resistance is a bunch of idiots and actually accepts it, but we all get thrown in jail. Fortunately we escape, and then eventually after a few boss fights we get Flammie, the dragon that can fly us around the world.

Now the game gets hurried along a bit, as the last few seeds are all dealt with in short order, without a whole lot of story. I do remember Gold City from when I played this as a kid, with the great Empire city music.
Eventually we recover all of the seeds but one, which the Empire has already screwed up. They're also invading an underground palace to try to raise the Mana Fortress. This is where the game's difficulty shoots up a lot, but buying the best equipment from Gold City helps a lot. After the dungeon there's even better equipment from Neko.

Afterwards, it's time for the Pure Land, where we fight a ton of bosses and then finally get the level 8 magic and the power of mana.
Unfortunately the Mana Tree dies (and is the main character's mom, or something), but fortunately the spirit is still around. Time to take on the Mana Fortress.

Thanatos has killed the Emperor and tried to take over things for himself, but Level 8 Saint Beam takes him out pretty easily, leaving just the Mana Beast left. Killing the Beast will split the world so that Sprite will no longer be able to meet the main character, but that's a small price to pay.
This is kind of a bullshit fight because it involves sitting through a bunch of un-defendable attacks, and then casting Mana magic on the main character and hitting the dragon, and then repeating. It's not fun, strategic, or anything else. But maybe that's a good representation of the whole game.

There's really no ending sequence to speak of.

I'm not going to say this game is overrated because it gets a lot of criticism, even on the Secret of Mana gamefaqs board. But it could have been a lot better. And I hope Seiken Densetsu 3 is.

Next up is Sword World SFC, but first is the oddball Fire Emblem Gaiden on my other blog.