Saturday, April 29, 2017

Game 6 - Maka Maka

Maka Maka (摩訶摩訶)

Released 4/24/1992, published by Sigma

I've never liked Japanese gag manga. The one most familiar to Americans is Bobobo-bo..etc, but every manga magazine has one or two. They often rely on a lot of bizarre randomness and silly humor, and manzai-style comedy. I've never been able to get into any of them. Maka Maka is essentially an RPG based on the gag manga style. The character designs were done by Aihara Koji, a gag manga artist, although he didn't have much to do with the storyline of the game.

This game is widely known as an archetypal "kusoge". Not only because of the bizarre setting and characters, but also because of the numerous bugs. A lot of old games have bugs, some of them pretty bad ones (e.g. Final Fantasy 1's non working spells and elemental weapons). But Maka Maka has bugs that can render the game unplayable, freeze you in place or trap you in glitchy areas, and interface bugs that are obvious to anyone playing it.

How did this happen? No one knows for sure. One theory is that the bugs were intentional, to fit with the theme of the game. Another story is that a beta version was accidentally released as the full game.

In any case, the game starts out with your parents being turned into water fleas for no reason, and then you have to set out to find your girlfriend's father, who is a scientist you hope will be able to turn them back to normal. I gave the main character and girlfriend silly names to go along with the theme (Goppoyon and Bayoppi♥).

One issue I've had with this game is that the emulator's screenshots are flawed. The title screen and name enter screen are fine, but once you get to the actual game the screenshots are squashed in a strange resolution. I don't know if this is another bug in the game or the emulation, but I'm going to have to manually fiddle with the screenshots and they won't look as good.
There are some interesting ideas in the game. Your characters gain the ability to use magic (or "transform abilities") by visiting a save point and learning about their past lives. They can then transform into those past lives to use spells. The graphics are pretty good for the time. The characters are large and colorful, and the enemies have bizarre but memorable designs. There are appropriate animations for each attack (which change depend on the weapon you have equipped) and animations where you turn into your past selves to use the techniques. This is definitely the strong point of the game.
A fight against a Banana man, and Grunt Commanders
The momongas attack the hero

Johnny transforms into his past self, a scientist, to use a lightning spell

Unfortunately that's pretty much where the good parts of the game end. We have to chase the professor to an airplane, which you sneak on to with the help of Johnny, a travelling adventurer. He sneaks on the plane by hiding in an orange box, which then becomes his permanent clothing for the rest of the game. This is where you also encounter a horrible bug. Outside of battle, only the hero's spells can be used. If you try to select another person's spells, it shows them, but then the hero's spells come up instead. It still subtracts MP from the character, which allows it to go lower than 0 and roll over to 65535 -- this might seem good but then that character's spells become glitched in battle and can't be used.

The effect of this bug is if any characters have out of battle spells, they can never be used. Johnny has an "escape from dungeon" spell that is impossible to use, and he also has the poison heal spell which would be very useful early in the game but can only be used in battle.

The plane is soon attacked by people from the Maka Maka group (who were shown in the intro trying to take over the world.)
Yes, that's a nose on the left.
We crash on a tropical island, and this section has the usual "islander" stereotypes; the art and situation evokes the worst of Western-inspired racist portraits. You have to get married to the prettiest girl on the island, who is instead depicted as very ugly. Of course we have to escape, so the next sequence is saving a phoenix with a medicine, who then walks you off the island (it was the wrong medicine).

The next town has nothing but croquettes (fried potato cakes) walking around. You are shown into a restaurant, and then you fall into a pit and get turned into a croquette yourself, and served to Princess Gourmet, who immediately eats you.
A feast fit for a princess
The next dungeon is inside Princess Gourmet. This is where I first encountered another horrible bug in this game -- sometimes when you change floors, you can either get trapped in a wall or just be unable to move, and you have to reset and reload your game. Apparently you can avoid this by not taking the most direct route to the next floor. 

Fortunately you meet your next two PCs -- the girlfriend of the main character, and Masa, who wants to be the greatest chef in the world. Upon escaping from the stomach of the Princess it's then time to fight her:
Princess Gourmet

She's not that hard. Once she goes down, we can reach the plane where the professor was, unfortunately he's gone, but his notes are still there. And now we have to go to Castle Gourmet to defeat (I guess) Princess Gourmet's father and move on with the game.
Here's another bug, the status window glitched out

That's where I left off for this time. Some miscellaneous notes:
  • There are a lot of normal annoyances from this era:
    • The walking speed is slow. 
    • The encounter rate is high. 
    • You can't see the stats of weapons or armor in the shop (or even who can equip it).
    • You can't equip just one thing; if you want to equip anything you have to re-set all equipment
    • Inventories are limited (at least you can hold more than one item in a slot)
  • You can find "rusty blades" and the like which then can be assayed to possibly become good items (Was it Suikoden that had this too?)
  • Other bugs I haven't encountered yet but have read about:
    • Your party can get glitched and you end up with multiple copies of the main character
    • If your stats go above 128 they roll over to 0, which apparently will happen by the end of the game if you're not careful
    • A bug can render you unable to equip anything
In the worst case scenario it is possible to have bugs that force you to restart from the beginning; it doesn't sound like this happens to everyone, but if it does I'll move on to the next game.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Game 5 - The Glory of Heracles III Review

Overall I would say this is the best game I've played so far (out of a whole 5), but it's still really an NES-hangover game.

Story/Characters: The story is a strong part of the game. It starts out relatively slow, but odd things keep popping up here and there. It centers around a group of people who are immortal, and who have no memories aside from their names. Huge pits have appeared around the world and monsters are coming from them. Who are these mysterious immortals? Why are the monsters coming? These initial questions deepen into further mysteries, and the ultimate reveal is fairly satisfying. Some of the plot developments cause a little head scratching, but overall it makes sense. The ending is bittersweet as well.

Now, it's still a pretty rudimentary story on the whole, but for 1992 it's pretty good.

World: The world is based on Greek mythology. You visit many of the well known cities, such as Troy, Athens, Sparta, and the Persian lands. Many of the gods are present, and you will fight a number of famous mythological monsters as well. If you are a fan of this kind of thing, it's a lot of fun.

Game Flow: I would say this is above average for a game of this era. There are some places where I think they could have provided more clues to where to go next -- a lot of times you can just explore where you haven't been, but in some cases you have to backtrack to specific places that aren't well identified.

The endgame is a big problem, though. The last few bosses suddenly take 1 damage from every non-critical attack and do enormous amounts of damage, sometimes to all party members. You can overcome this with buffs, but I had to grind and exploit a bug to beat the final boss. Since the grunts get stronger as you raise levels (but give the same XP), you also die a lot in the final dungeon trying to level.

System: The game is very derivative of Dragon Quest so if you've played those, you'll find yourself at home here. One welcome quality the game has is that everyone has lots of MP so that casting spells, even in grunt battles, is actually feasible. The game also has a pretty good AI system, which is good, since sometimes you have to use it. The game assumes that the main character is giving orders to the others. So if the main character is paralyzed, asleep, or unconscious, the AI takes over until the main character is back. Sometimes it's fun to fight alongside the AI, though. In one early boss battle the main character was KO'ed on the first boss attack and I had no revive items or spells, so the entire battle was AI.

The magic system has you visiting temples around the world dedicated to various gods, and gaining that power. Unfortunately this means you have to revisit all the temples every time you get a new character, but it adds an appropriate theme to the magic system.

As is typical for games of this area, your inventory limit is annoyingly small, especially since there's no way to get rid of plot items, even after they're no longer useful.
Side Quests/Optional Content: None of any consequence.

Interface: We still can't tell what the magic spells do without the instruction book, or know whether a piece of equipment in a shop is better than what you have equipped. At least this game has a general-purpose button so that you don't have to pick "talk" or "search" from a menu. The items and equipment are in a common pool (so that you don't have to transfer an item to another character before they can equip it). So once again, it has some of the annoyances of the era but overall not too bad.

Graphics/Sound: I would say both of these are average for the period. The graphics look very NES-ish, and the music is nothing especially memorable. One annoyance is the "heat shimmer" effect in the midgame, as well as the way the ground pixellates and shimmers when you're flying on Pegasus.

It sounds like what I'm saying overall is that this game is above average for its time, but wouldn't be near the top of best RPGs for the SNES. If you like the older Dragon Quest-style RPGs, it's a good play.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Game 5 - The Glory of Heracles III Part 3 (Final)

Whew, this game takes a huge difficulty leap at the end. But I'll get to that later. When we left off last time, we had reached the place that appeared in our dreams, and a few pieces of the puzzle start being filled in. It seems that a man named Baor used the Medusa's head to turn these people to stone, but it's not clear why, or where he went. The people of the area seem to regard him as a hero, although he was chased away from his original home.

When you do finally reach the exact place in the dream, you get an unexplained vision:
Who is the mysterious woman?
The next part is a fetch quest which I'll skip over -- we need to find three "blood masses" of the three Furies in order to revive Atlas. It's not made entirely clear why this needs to be done, but you're working with King Albion to get this done. We also manage to get the means to call Pegasus, and can now fly around the world. The graphics are annoying, though. I think they were trying to simulate the world being far below you, but it's all blurry and makes flying around a chore.
It shimmers as you fly
 Along the way, there is a strange boss fight against Baor, although he's a titan that doesn't talk at all. Is this the Baor we heard about? The mystery deepens! Finally, we reach Atlas and try to use the blood to revive him.
Not holding up anything?
However, Prometheus comes down to stop you during it, and seems upset that you didn't do what you were supposed to do (of course, he never explained exactly what it was we were supposed to do). It's too late now, Zeus is ready to destroy the world with a flood (recalling the myth of Prometheus and Decalion). The flood gets us just as Hercules is returning with our memories. Surprisingly, the entire world is actually destroyed except for one town:
The shops are all gone!
Fly around for a while and find nothing, then we get sucked into the underworld. This is where there's a huge spike in the difficulty of the game, something I never like to see. You go from reasonable progress to doing 1 damage to bosses and having them attack you for 90% of your HP, sometimes with attacks that hit everyone. From here to the end, boss battles become about luck, stat buffing spells/items, and exploiting a bug. Even regular encounters can wipe your entire party out if you're unlucky.

This is also where the big plot surprises and twists come; I'm going to leave that for now and finish talking about the gameplay so I can put the plot stuff under a spoiler button in case anyone wants to play the game for themselves (there is a fan translation).
Hades and mininons
The next fight is against Hades, and you have to fight him alone. He comes with two guards that are easy to kill, but revive each other, and Hades can order them to block him. If both of them die, Hades will resurrect them. Hades starts out mostly by draining your MP each round, and then will finally start to attack you once he's done with that.

The way I beat him was to start with two uses of an item that increases defense. With that, the minions do 1 hp unless they get a critical hit (which ignores defense). I equipped a sword that does double damage for 1 mp, used the Silver Ring to get two attacks per round, and then started wailing on Hades. When my MP got low I used Blue Nectar to restore it. It was still touch and go because the minions will sometimes help Hades with buffs and you can always get criticalled, but I did manage it eventually.

The next real boss is the final one, who has three forms:

The last boss
Once again this represents a huge leap in difficulty. All your attacks do 1 damage, and he can do more than your max HP with a single hit and use huge damage spells that hurt everyone. You can see my poor results above. To win this I had to grind up to level 40 to learn the "heal all" spell for the main character and Reion, and also use what I assume is a glitch.

There is a spell in the game that is supposed to kill the caster but then add his stats to the target. It doesn't stack. However, the caster can use it on himself, in which case it just adds the base stats. In this case it does stack, so if you cast it 4 times you have quadrupled your strength, speed, and intellect. You can get items that use the spell. With this plus "one more" for two actions, you can do a huge amount of damage. Even with this it still took a few tries to beat him because you can get unlucky with his moves and die before you can buff or heal.

Here's the plot details, although I would not recommend reading them if you have any intention of playing the game.

Overall an enjoyable game. Review in a couple of days, then it's on to (sigh) Maka Maka.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Game 5 - The Glory of Heracles III Part 2

This is a much better game that any of the ones I've played so far. It is an NES hangover Dragon Quest clone, but there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. I've made a fair amount of progress this week and I hope I can finish the game by next Saturday.

The next destination is Athens, where you are not allowed into the city. Instead you have go to a side area where the slaves live. You might think you can climb a tower and jump off to enter the main section, but if you do that you just get arrested -- this does reunite us with Reion, though. We also discover that the King of Athens is hiding in the slum area, observing slavery, and doesn't like what he sees.
I'm pretty sure this isn't historically accurate
You have to lead the king back into the palace through a secret passage, which is a strange dungeon that you have to dig out while you explore. Like all the NPCs, the King has his own stats and attacks, although he's not very effective.
In this game you don't get the chance to become King
Once he's back on the throne, he abolishes slavery(!) and then becomes your ally in the war against all these monsters that are threatening the world. But for now it's off exploring more. This is like many older RPGs where it's not always clear where you're supposed to go next, but you can usually figure it out just by trying to go everywhere you can. You also find Hercules in town, who joins you, but he's not any more powerful than any of your other guys.

We find a lot of cursed items in dungeons as well as in the holes you can jump down to explore the underworld. These are usually good items, but they lower your stats or give you bad status effects in battle. If you use a Sacred Drop, it removes the curse and you get to keep the equipment. So it's good to equip several pieces of cursed stuff on one character and then use the drops.

Speaking of equipment, anyone can equip anything. For weapons, however, if you don't have proficiency you won't be able to use the weapon well. Each character can have three proficiencies, and you learn them from talking to certain people around the world. That's an interesting customization method.

An annoying heat shimmer
This will be a long post if I detail everything, so I'm going to skip over the next few dungeons: in short, you find a hidden temple to get new spells, and a fierce heat starts up everywhere you go, although the cause is yet unknown. You also meet a stonecrafter and his servant. The stonecrafter thinks he might be one of the immortals, the same as your characters, but isn't sure.

Unfortunately on the pass, rocks come down and fall on everyone -- it turns out that the servant, Steira, is the immortal, not the stonecrafter. He only saw the dreams because he was close to Steira. So now you get a 3rd party member, and it's time to go back and revisit all the old temples to teach her spells. (From what I've read they made this less annoying in Heracles IV)
"Don't talk!"
In Troy, you get a wooden horse to go out and defeat the huge fish that swallowed you earlier. One unusual aspect of the battle system is that you can choose between AI-controlled party members or giving them orders. But if the main character is sleeping, paralyzed, or knocked out, he can't give orders, and the AI kicks in. When I fought the fish, the main character was knocked out by a critical hit on the first turn, and the rest of the fight was just the AI -- they won, so I guess the AI isn't that bad.

Now that the fish is dead we can head to Persia, where the Persians are eating centaurs to try to gain immortality. We were escorting a child centaur, but he got captured by the Persians! You can head to the centaur village where in a fit of anger, the leader of the tribe turns you into centaurs.
Can we stay like this?
We get thrown into the Persian jail, and then have to escape by evading soldiers, walking around when they're not looking. If they catch you it's back to the jail. This is a rare thing in the NES era; I wonder what the first game to have this idea was? 

I'm going to skip over some things again -- you save the child centaur, get turned back into humans, kill a monster for the Persian king, and then go to "New Athens" were the King of Athens has located, near Olympus. Our next goal is to actually reach Olympus, which we accomplish with Daedelus' help. He makes a sort of kite or gliding machine. Now is one of those times when I had to use a walkthrough; you can jump down cliffs on the overworld to get to new areas. Then I also had to use a walkthrough to find out that you need to jump off a tower in Troy to reach Olympus -- Troy is nowhere near Olympus on the map.

A strange scene that wouldn't be in most games.
In the skies you first have to help Phateon find the horses to drive the sun. Then we fall back to earth with the Temple Key and can enter the locked temple to Olympus. Here, the main character has to face a challenge alone. Once you make it through and beat the boss, it's finally time to meet the gods in Olympus.
This is not how I pictured Olympus
All of the familiar gods are there, and they greet us with either anger or resignation -- Zeus has decided that humanity will be wiped out. Meeting Zeus doesn't even change things; he just tells us to go back to Earth and die with everyone else. Fortunately, Hephaestos is some help. He gives us a key that we can use to enter a tower in Olympus and find Prometheus, who is the one that gave us immortality.

The tower has a number of puzzles, but when we finally meet Prometheus he refuses to tell us why he made us immortal. It has to do with saving the world and there are only 3 of us, but he wants us to find the answer out for ourselves. So after all that, it's back to Earth to continue our journey.
Thanks for nothing
Next up, we'll finally reach the place that we saw in our dreams, and perhaps unlock the secret of our immortality.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Game 5 - The Glory of Heracles III

The Glory of Heracles III: Silence of the Gods (ヘラクレスの栄光III:神々の沈黙)

Released 4/24/1992, published by Data East

The next game on my list is the third game in a five-game series. Two of them were released for the Famicom -- Shen Nung at Inconsolable has played both the first and second games in fan translations. The third and fourth games came out on the Super Famicom. There is a fan translation for this one; I don't believe IV has gotten one yet. Finally, a fifth game came out for the DS 18 years later, and was released officially in English. The series was published by Data East, a venerable gaming company that stopped making games in 1999 and went out of business a few years later. Some of the employees started Idea Factory, which continues to produce loli/boob games with Compile Heart.

These games have been described as "Dragon Quest in ancient Greece." The game is very reminiscent of DQ, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Even the music is a little bit like DQ.
Dragon Quest III?
We begin with our hero waking up in a village, with no memory of anything but his name. After talking to people for a bit a huge pit opens up, and the hero falls down it but survives -- he's immortal! All the townspeople are also revealed to be fairies, and our hero Kurisu sets out to see if he can find out who he is and what happened to him. When you rest, you enter a strange dreamland with people, but you can't get much information out of them.

A future companion, who you first meet in dream world
Nine fairies join you and become your first companion. They can help you out in battle but leave immediately when you go to the first town.

0 to 10 in no time
The battle system is recognizable. The main early feature is that there is a row system, and only certain weapons can hit enemies in other rows. In order to use different weapons you need to learn proficiency from people in the various towns. Magic also sort of follows this line -- by entering springs in temples you gain the power of that god or goddess and then can learn magic of a certain type. The first temple you encounter is to Demeter, and you learn cure magic. You start out just with Pau, the weakest heal spell, but as you level you can learn more powerful magic. Unfortunately you have to return to the temple with each new character to let them get the magic; it's hard to tell at this point how annoying that will be. 
Kurisu and fairies vs. snails and birds
You start off on the island of Crete, and have to get into Knossos to find a ship to sail to the mainland. Unfortunately they won't let you in, so you have to do a fairly bizarre sequence to make this happen. You go to the nearby town of Gortyn. You'll find an old couple who has lost their daughter, and you have to steal her clothes and dress up in them so that a slaver will hire you to go to Knossos with him! The grandfather does say he wishes someone would steal the clothes so that they weren't always faced with the memories, but even so...

Here's the image from the later mobile phone release of the hero dressed up as a woman:

Apparently the dress also comes with fake boobs

Arriving at Knossos, you get shut in with a bunch of other women who are apparently not slaves, but future sacrifices, They're waiting for a strong man to come and release them, so you rip off your clothes and reveal the true nature. 9 slaves then join your party as you escape in an underground passage.

They actually attack for decent damage

You also free an old man along the way who "rewards" you by having the guards in the town not kill you. But how will you get the ship? It's the innkeeper's ship. There's a show every day in town where a guy jumps from a tower and lives. The innkeeper gives you the ship if you'll put on the show for him. Once you do, you meet up with the other jumper who is also an immortal, and someone you saw in the dream world. Reion joins! But not for long, because on the ship you get attacked by a huge fish, who eats you.

Pinnochio? Where are you?
At the end of this short dungeon you and Reion both get blown to different places, with Reion telling you to meet up in Athens. You wash up in Laconia, where Spartan soldiers are bothering the town. They're bummed because their leader died. So here comes another bizarre sequence: you have to become the Spartan leader by first sneaking into their inn dressed like a girl, and then jumping off a cliff to prove your worth. After that, you get another set of 9 soldiers, and it's off to Sparta, where monsters have been making a mess of the town.

THIS IS.....

The soldiers are fun; they start with 255 HP but as they take damage, individual soldiers can die and that will reduce their attack. They can cover your damage, but also call for reinforcements which will give them back some HP and attack. At the bottom of a nearby cave you fight a boss, who was actually somewhat difficult. Aglio has really powerful attacks and a lot of HP. I was down to very low MP and had used a lot of items by the time I finally beat him.

The first real boss, Aglio
Afterwards the soldiers immediately go back to Sparta, leaving you alone in the dungeon. There's a chest with a dungeon exit item in the back, but I got killed in the first encounter; like Dragon Quest, you go back to the last save spot with half your gold but with the rest of your progress intact, so I just went on from there.

Now it's off to Athens!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Five skipped games

The next five games on my master list fail one or more of my criteria, so I'll cover them all here.

Soul Blader: Released in the US as Soul Blazer. I loved this game as a kid. It was a fun action RPG, and it was easy and short enough that I could rent it and beat it over the weekend (or at least play it enough to have fun). Releasing all the souls was always a fun experience as you see the world build up, and I remember it having good music as well.

It's the first game in what's often considered a loose trilogy; I love all three games -- Illusion of Gaia had a memorable story, and I think Terranigma is one of the best Super Nintendo games.

Zenic Reverie has already covered this game.

Dragon Slayer: Legend of Heroes: This is a port of a computer game; like many of Falcom's games it was ported to a bunch of different systems. I'm a huge fan of the Kiseki (Trails) series so I would like to play this at some point, but I'll probably play the PC Engine (Turbo Grafx) version. Zenic Reverie did this one as well.

Super Inindo Datou Nobunaga: Released in the US as Inindo: Way of the Ninja. This is also a PC port, and was released in English. A friend of mine had it and I remember him not enjoying it, but I don't remember that much about it.

Zenic Reverie is currently playing this.

Card Master: Seal of Rimsalia: Released in the US as Arcana. I remember playing this as a kid; it was just as a rental so I never finished it, but it's one of many first-person dungeon crawl games.

Zenic Reverie did this one as well.

Ultima VI: The Ultima games have a lot of bad console ports, and although I've never played this, I can't imagine it's any good. The PC game is great; I've always been a huge fan of the Ultima series and I liked VI's story even though there were a lot of flaws in the gameplay.

CRPGAddict did the computer version of this.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Game 4 - Romancing SaGa Review

No, I did not finish Romancing SaGa. After dying yet again on a monster that killed all my characters in one move, I decided that I'm doing this for fun, not masochism, and I've certainly played enough of this game (20 hours) to write a final review. This probably looks bad that I've completed 1 out of the 4 games I've started so far, but I guess Sturgeon's Law says that most of the SNES RPGs won't be masterpieces.

Broadly speaking, I think this game had a great concept behind it. You can pick any of eight characters with their own unique backstories. Some of the quests will be unique to them, and the end of the game is the same for everyone, but other than that the game is completely freeform -- you can go anywhere in the world and do a number of quests, with everything moving forward dependent on how many battles you've fought. You also have a lot of freedom in how you build up your characters. There are even three different ways to reach the final dungeon based on your actions throughout the game. So you could play this game a number of times and not have the same experience twice.

The problem is that the implementation of this concept just didn't work. I don't know if it was development time, money, limitations of the system, or what, but I don't think that what they came up with is a good game. I'll use my 7 categories to explain more why this is the case.

Story/Characters: The eight characters have acceptable back stories compared to other RPGs of this period. The problem is that there isn't much development. With Claudia, the character I chose, once you finish the initial quest, she has only one short unique event and that's it. Others have more, but not that much more. The story development is perhaps hampered by the open world nature of the game, but it is quite thin even granting that. The quests mostly involve a small amount of dialogue, a long dungeon, and then a reward. There is some attempt to link certain quests together in a longer story, but it never really comes together. You can guess what the final showdown is going to be fairly early on in the game (perhaps the opening sequence).

World: The world is large, as it should be for a game like this. However, there is no world map. To open new areas you generally have to hear about them or activate a quest flag, which requires finding a specific person. This makes it hard to explore when you're stuck. Another problem is that you can't travel the world freely; you have to spend money on ships to travel around to the different continents. This is especially difficult at the beginning, when money is very tight, and when the number of quests you can do is the smallest.

There are different areas -- a wild frontier, a jungle area, a knight stronghold, and such. Each town does have its own personality, to a certain extent. 

Game Flow: The idea seems to be that you can travel around anywhere you want and do quests. But there are so few quests available, and they're so hard to activate, that without a walkthrough you mostly blunder around with no direction. Quests often involve talking to specific generic-looking people, or finding specific recruitable characters which will be in one pub, somewhere in the world, depending on the number of battles you've fought. If there were 150 quests this wouldn't be so bad because you would find something no matter what, but since there are only about 25-30 quests total, it's a matter of finding the small number of characters in the large world that will let you proceed.

One interesting feature is that certain stories can advance whether or not you're around, based on the number of battles. So you may return to a city to find it overrun by monsters, or destroyed. Although this is sometimes annoying, it does add to the open nature of the game.

Another problem with the game flow is that the difficulty of monsters often ramps up very suddenly. You'll be at a point where you can mow down enemies with no trouble, but then you'll start encountering enemies within those groups of weaklings who can do huge damage to your party. This means you have to keep saving and reloading within the dungeon if you accidentally encounter these monsters; if you learn to spot them you can use your powerful techniques on them, but in a very long dungeon even this may not be enough.

Now, it's possible that many of my issues could have been solved by better party planning; learning certain magic and building up my characters differently. But this shouldn't be necessary in this type of game -- the whole idea of the open world and free development is completely useless if your characters cannot survive without having specific strengths and powers, especially since things like magic and weapon levels take a long time to build up.

Furthermore, the final boss is evidently very difficult. The person who wrote the GameFAQs walkthrough was unable to beat it without using cheat codes, and a lot of Japanese sites I've seen recommend exploiting glitches to make the fight easier. The final boss' strength is based on the number of battles you've fought, but also scales to the amount of damage you to do it in the first few turns. This is another reason why I gave up playing the game; I had no confidence that even if I slogged through to the last boss, I would be able to beat it.

System: There are no random encounters; instead, there are symbols on the map that give you encounters. There are a lot of them, and they tend to move quickly, meaning that it's hard to actually avoid encounters. If you try, you often get hit from the back or sides, which messes up your order. As I mentioned in a previous post, I wish they had only made back attacks mess up your order.

The battle system itself is fine. The three rows create interesting strategies, and the weapon abilities have enough uses that you can actually employ them against grunts rather than saving everything up for bosses. The ability to equip multiple weapons at a time is also appreciated, since you can use a bow if you end up in the back row, for instance. There is a robust magic system but it's hard to know which spells are useful, and magic uses are far more limited than weapons. The healing magic is also quite annoying because it heals very little outside of battle compared to in battle.

The decision to make 9999 gold the limit is baffling. I see no good reason for this limitation.

Side Quests/Optional Content: Since there are no truly required quests other than the final dungeon and the initial character quest, most of the content in the game is optional. If you enjoy the game you can probably get quite a bit of replayability out of it since you can try different weapons, magics, team setups, and any of the eight characters.

Interface: Compared to FF4 this is not so great. The status menus and equip menus are needlessly hard to navigate. You have to manually take off a piece of armor to equip a different one of the same type. There's no way to tell what the stats of a weapon or armor are without equipping it. It's better than the NES-holdover interfaces of GDLeen and SD Gundam Gaiden, but it could be a lot better.

Graphics/Sound: The music and sound is average. The graphics are what you would expect from this era of the Super Famicom; they're at Final Fantasy IV level.

Ultimately I was really disappointed in this game; I had been looking forward to it, but it's just not very good. Hopefully RS2 and 3 will fix some of the problems with this game and be more enjoyable.

In a day or two I'll post a few games that I'm skipping, and on Saturday I'll do the first post for the next game -- The Glory of Heracles III.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Game 4 - Romancing SaGa Part 5

At the end of the last post, a dragon had sent me on a mission to find the Storm Bracelet. This kicks off a chain of fetch quests -- the owner of the Storm Bracelet wants the Cyclonic Shoes, and you have to trade the Flame Sword for the shoes, but the Flame Tyrant wants an Ice Sword in exchange for the Flame Sword. Finally you can recruit Galahad (or kill him) to get the Ice Sword and then go back through all the dungeons again to chain trade back to the beginning.

Your reward for doing this is small, but along the way each of the dragons and spirits gives you an item that lets you summon it 3 times. I hope these are worth it. It's also an option to kill the owners of the items; they're tough fights but if you win you get not only the trade item you need but also several other good chests. I didn't do this for any of them.

The Sea Dragon sends you to find the Storm Bracelet in the Great Pit
None of the dungeons were particularly difficult. However, near the end of this sequence a problem did start popping up that I referred to in my short post yesterday. The strength of the monsters is dependent on the number of battles you've fought. But it's not like a series of firm checkpoints; some monsters will still be weaker versions. For the most part the enemies are beatable, and the stronger ones can be taken care of by the various weapon skills I have. But every so often I run into a monster that is incredibly powerful; able to do more than my max HP in one hit, sometimes with an area attack that hits everyone. The only real way I've found to deal with this is just to save frequently so that if I run into one of these fights I can reload. The nature of the enemies is not determined until the fight actually starts, so on the reload, the strong enemy will probably not be there.
This seems like it should do damage, but it doesn't.
One other thing that happened during these quests is Jelton being overrun by monsters. There are several events in the game that occur based on your battles, so you can return to a friendly city to find it destroyed, or attacked by monsters. In this case you just have to talk to Flame Tyrant once you give him the Ice Sword and he'll remove all the monsters.

Once I had done all these quests, I next went for the Assassin's Guild in South Estamir. Someone tries to kill you when you sleep there. You first head to the Thieves' Guild but they assure you they're not responsible and let you loot their chests.
The Assassin's Guild was supposed to have been destroyed 300 years ago!
When you reach the end of the Guild, there's a Saruin servant who sends a creepy monster at you, but not too hard.
After this I had access to several late game quests, but I kept getting killed when I tried to do them. Katarina and Grey have maxed their weapon levels so I gave them new weapons (you can equip multiple weapons at once). Finally I found a quest that looks doable; there's trouble with the Knights again. You sneak into the castle (overrun by monsters) to find a map, fight a Minotaur, and next it's off to a dungeon.
Useless Raphael

I'm nearing the point where I can unlock the final dungeon. This quest with the Minotaur requires 800 battles. There are three possible "road to the final dungeon" quests depending on your good/evil nature, which require 880 battles. So I hope to be able to finish this game by next weekend, but I'm still afraid I'm going to be unprepared for the final battle and find it too hard to finish. There are a number of bugs you can use, although I'm playing on the 1.1 rom so some of them may have been fixed.

I haven't been doing a whole lot with magic. Everyone has healing spells and the Water buff spells, and I've been doing a bit with Katarina and energy spells, but I have a feeling this is something I should have been working on for the whole game. The other characters haven't improved much when I find them in pubs.