Saturday, May 27, 2017

Game 8 - Light Fantasy

Light Fantasy (ライトファンタジー)

Released on 7/3//1992, published by Tonkin House.

This is third in our five-game "kusoge" series. The game was published by Tonkin House, who also handled the (bad) port of Ys III to the SNES. The cover looks cute, and gamers may have thought that "light" meant it would be easy to play. The name instead seems to center around a "Light vs. Darkness" battle, which is an old cliche, but that's not necessarily a bad start. 

The King of Light is having trouble holding out against the King of Darkness. His daughter Lefina offers to be a hostage to buy time, but if she doesn't return, she wants Kurisu (our hero) to try to save the world.
"Father, I will be a decoy."
As you can see, there are facial portraits for all the characters (even random townspeople). This is also the first game I've played in this blog that has normal kanji and kana in the text.

Anyway, the king tells Kurisu that he's willing to give up the last artifact of light (a mirror) in exchange for his daughter. Kurisu is a scared wimp, and you have the option to refuse the mission. This isn't a fake choice; if you refuse you get thrown in prison. Either way, you have a dream about Lefina:
"I couldn't hold back the darkness. But you, who are descended from the Jiyuu Hero who created this continent..."
And then agree...unfortunately the mirror has been stolen, so the first quest is to find it. Now you head out into town, and one of the features of this game is that you can recruit random townspeople. Only fixed ones can be recruited, but in the first town you can get a boy, a bartender, and a dancing bunny girl. You can freely rename them in the temple.
The bunny girl's specialty is "sex"
Now, the starting money is too low to buy more than one or two pieces of equipment, but that's not necessarily a problem. So far, this game doesn't seem so bad!

(One thing that you should do at this point is go to the settings menu, and do the first part of the Konami Code on the second controller. This brings up a hidden menu where you can set the walking speed to "fast". You have to redo this every time you load a save, or if there's a scene where your character automatically moves somewhere. But it's worth it.)

And then you leave town and get into your first random battle, and everything comes to a screeching halt.
4 people vs. 1 metal beetle
I immediately got a game over in the first fight of the game. When you look at Japanese playthroughs, reviews, and such, the universal consensus is that this could have been a classic RPG if not for the deeply flawed battle system. What's wrong with it? It may be hard to tell from the above screenshot, but it was clearly modeled after Ultima III. Here's a rundown of the problems:
  • Battles move very slowly and take a long time. The field is large and movement is slow (Ultima III was much faster). In a 5 vs. 8 battle it can take forever just to get people in range to attack. Range weapons are far superior to close combat weapons for this reason. Some units have odd movement rates (e.g. the devil and metal beetle can move 8 spaces forward, but only 1 space the other directions. This isn't 8 spaces the way they're facing, but 8 spaces up (or down for the enemies).)
  • When enemies die, they leave behind pots that can't be removed until the end of the battle. You can walk through them, but cannot stop on them. Because of the short movement rates it's easy to get stuck:
  • The enemies on the whole are too hard. The status effects are especially devastating, and hard to cure (and when your character gets a status effect, their sprite changes to a sick face which is the same for everyone, making it hard to tell who is who.) Equipment can't increase magic defense.
  • The encounter rate is very high. (You can flee.)
  • The dodge rate (on both sides) is too high, lengthening combats even more.
  • When anyone gets hit, a speech bubble with a silly, childish sounding message comes up indicating how much HP they have remaining. The same silly quotes are used for anyone, whether it's a demon king, a mushroom, a devil, or a dog.
Here's a video that has a number of fights, if you want to see examples:

Because of this, a lot of the advice on walkthroughs is about how to minimize battles. There are two helpful tricks/bugs for doing this:
  1. There is a number matching game in the bar. After you choose your numbers and the person says じゃあ、めくるよ, if you hold down up, L, R, and Y, and press A, all your choices will be correct. This lets you overcome the money problem at the beginning.
  2. There is an item called 女神のお守り that eliminates random encounters for a while. If you use this, save your game, reset, and reload the file, the effect will be permanent. You can reverse it by loading a different save, using the item, and then reloading your original file.
So after my initial beatdown I got a bunch of money from the matching game to get decent equipment, and then set out. In the second village you get a powerful dog ally plus you can buy bows, which is a big help. The first dungeon is under the large tree in the village. This has the old Dragon Quest system of needing torches or light spells in the dungeons, although when you get in a random battle or take poison damage the entire screen lights up briefly. In the dungeon you have to remove a key that's hurting the tree, and you also find a trapped pixie:
I wasn't doing anything but but I can't get my wings loose!
The pixie is one of the "destiny" people that you can't freely add or remove from your party. She's worthless because her movement is the smallest possible (not even 1 diagonal square) and she can't equip the bow. But we have to take her along. The key opens the cells in the starting castle, and I was able to pick up a demon there to join my party. He got equipped with a Chainsaw.

Next up is a cave where some sort of cat or dog humanoid has been trapped. Once you reach the cell on the third floor, you have to fight a boss (Miradi).
The demon is above him, but can't attack. For some reason there's no way to attack the boss from above. But because of the money trick I used my characters are probably a little better equipped than they should be so it wasn't too bad. Note the dog has over 300 HP.

So that's where I am right now. I'm hoping that being prepared will let me make it through the game despite the battle system, but we'll see.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Game 7 - Villgust Review

As I said in the opening post, this game really seems like Bandai realized they had to make a video game out of the Villgust franchise. They handed it to a team that had no interest, and slapped together the laziest, most cliched product possible. I honestly don't have that much to say about the game.

Story/Characters: Although you have 8 different party characters, they have no personality or backstory in the game itself. The story is cookie cutter -- an evil wizard trying to revive a demon god, and a chosen hero attempting to stop him. There are one or two places in the story that are somewhat original, but only somewhat. There are very few story sequences. The villains are also generic. Most of them appear out of nowhere in the dungeons, say "I'll defeat you!" and then die with you barely knowing who they were.

World: Generic fantasy, with an emphasis on generic. It's hard to distinguish between the towns. There are two continents, but there's not a clear indication of kingdoms or any other administrative districts. There are apparently different races, but once again, there's little to no information in the game itself on that. Perhaps they really expected most fans to own the Gashapon stuff or seen the OVA.

Game Flow: On the whole, there's little to stop your progress through the game. With a couple of exceptions, it's obvious where to go next, there aren't any puzzles, and as long as you fight battles along the way you'll quickly be high enough level to trounce the next boss. 

System: The battle system is your basic attack-heal-attack. Magic users don't have enough MP to do anything but save it for healing. The magic system seems incomplete; there are no party heal spells, and the attack spells aren't very useful. I didn't find that any of the items aside from the heal items were of any use.

The one aspect that is unusual is the scaling of the numbers. You begin with around 80 hp, and by the end of the game you have over 40,000. The first sword you get has an attack power of 20, the strongest weapon is 10,000. I'm not sure why they did this.
Side Quests/Optional Content: None.

Interface: Average for the time. You can't see the strength of weapons or armor, but the game won't let you buy something that's weaker than what you have equipped. Of course this means there's no special properties of weapons; it's purely a question of which one has higher attack power. At least there's a "universal" command button so you don't have to pick everything from a list. 

Graphics/Sound: Bland and forgettable. I don't know why the characters have such large heads, though. I guess it comes from the SD style which probably originated in the original Gashapon toys. Why can you walk through the townspeople? When you do things like board ships, there's no animation. You just disappear and reappear at the destination. The battles are also weak; enemies disappear, then reappear near the character they're attacking.

Just writing about this game bores me.

Up next is Light Fantasy, another game with a terrible reputation.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Game 7 - Villgust Part 2 (Final)

I have to apologize for this post; I didn't take as many screenshots or notes as usual so this is a little thin. Maybe I can use the excuse that if the developers didn't care about this game, why should I care about this post? Nah.

As I suspected, this didn't take very long. I mentioned in the last post that you go to a new continent (with no animation at all, you just disappear, supposedly take a boat, and are instantly in the new place). You then begin switching back and forth between two parties; the one from the beginning, and this one:

At least this party is a little more varied in its weapon use (axe, claw, boomerang, staff), but they're just as generic as the first party. Other than their names, you learn nothing about them. Every so often they interject some bland lines but that's about it. At least the boomerang hits all the enemies. But this party switch can be annoying because sometimes you upgrade your party's equipment, using all your money, and then it switches to the other party.

The new continent is indistinguishable from the old one. The towns look just the same, with the same buildings. You continue to visit each town, then the dungeon nearby or in the town, then move on. The villains, although they're now more connected to this "darkness" group, still appear out of nowhere in the dungeon, say two lines, and then you fight them.

So once again, there's a limit to what I can say about this without becoming tedious. Basically the idea is that Baros, the leader of darkness, is looking for three items so he can revive some dark god. Michiko (your girlfriend) is also involved in this somehow; he needs her to perform some sort of ritual. So you're trying to find the three items before Baros does. 

The only twist comes when you fight Rushizu, who kicks your ass. Afterwards, you find Michiko's school uniform in her room, and realize that somehow Rushizu is actually Michiko. Dun dun duuun! (Actually it turns out it's just a copy made from Michiko's memories)

At about 3/4 of the game you run into an annoying problem. I mentioned in the last post that HP and stat numbers are on a huge scale. Unfortunately the heal spells and items heal a fixed HP rather than a percentage. There's one dungeon in particular where the boss does an earthquake attack that hits everyone for 4-5K damage. Your best healing spell heals 2000, and your best healing item heals 5000. There are no party heal spells or items in the entire game. Given the lack of strategic options in battle, all you can do is grind levels until you can beat the boss without healing before you die. A good example of poor enemy design in an RPG. Fortunately after this you get the 20K heal spell which is useful up to the end.

Let's jump to the final dungeon to get this over with. Eventually you reach the point where Baros has all three items he needs to revive the dark god, and has Michiko in the temple. You've managed to open the door as well as find the bell that will disrupt the ritual. Throughout the temple you get the best equipment for Shun as well as see your other party members fighting (one odd thing is that there are only two equippable armors for Shun in the entire game -- the Leather Armor he gets near the beginning with a defense of 20, and the Dragon Armor in the last dungeon with a defense of 4000.)

Then, one by one your party members leave to hold off enemies, leaving Shun to battle the final bosses himself. Although this might seem like a poor decision, whether you have 1 person or 5 your viable options are limited to attacking and healing (and maybe the defense up spell), so tactically it makes no difference.
I was at level 67 by this point, and Baros went down fairly easily. He had a lot of HP but Shun has the 20,000 HP heal spell so it was just a matter of attacking a few times, healing, rinse and repeat.

With Baros defeated, Shun tries to rescue Michiko, but of course Rushizu is still around.
This would never have been released in the US
Rushizu is far stronger than Baros, so you have to do some tricks to beat her. First, if you show her Michiko's school uniform, it stops her for a few turns. If you use the Mirror Shield, it lowers her defense enough to allow for you to do reasonable damage.
Rushizu, the final boss
After that it's the same as the Baros (and all the other bosses in the game) fight -- attack and heal until you win.

The ending scene is very short, and ignores almost all the side characters, although since they were ignored through the entire game, there's no reason to focus on them at the end.
Undine, queen of the exposition
After being told by Undine that you successfully stopped the rise of the dark god, you are sent back to Earth.
Michiko, who has no lines of dialogue in the game after the opening scene
They throw in a little trick at the end, where Ryukia, the cat girl from above, has somehow been transported to Earth as well, and turns into a cat. What does that mean? Who knows.
TO BE CONTINUED...fortunately it never was.
Then the credits roll over the cat picture and that's it.

I mentioned before that this is a rough time for this blog, with 5 "kusoge" (shitty games) in a row: Maka Maka, Villgust, Light Fantasy, Fist of the North Star 5, and 3x3 Eyes. That's two down, three to go. Villgust review to follow later in the week, although as I said before, this GameFAQs review is very accurate.

By the way, if any readers have seen the Villgust anime, I would be interested in hearing thoughts on that.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Game 7 - Villgust

Armored Dragon Legend Villgust(甲竜伝説ヴィルガスト)

Released 5/23/1992, published by Bandai

Villgust was a Bandai franchise that started out as Gashapon figurines, but later expanded into manga, light novels, media books, and two games. The franchise is based around a relatively generic fantasy world, and one of the perks of the figurines was that you would be able to change their equipment or "level up" by collecting stickers and other things from the gashapon machines.

I don't know much about the franchise as a whole, but the Super Famicom game seems like it was handed off to some bored developers who didn't really care about the project and just hurried something out before the fad ended. It's a lazy, uninspired, bland game that is nothing but RPG cliches and the most basic RPG gameplay. Right off the bat, they can't even get the spacing of lines in the windows to look good:

Start the game and there's a short cutscene:

"I got you a present for your birthday!"
Shun and his girlfriend Michiko leave school, Michiko sees a white rabbit, and they're suddenly warped to a fantasy world. Immediately Shun meets 4 adventurers (I guess) who join him, and the game starts. Who are these adventurers? Perhaps their backstories are in the instruction manual, and I know that if you watched or collected the other media you can see some of it, but in the game there's nothing beyond their names and appearance. Why can Shun fight? Who knows. Here are the first five characters you use:
Shun, Kui, Chris, Youta, Fanna
You'll notice that 4 out of the 5 characters use swords. I guess they were constrained by what had already appeared in the Gashapon series, but that was consciously based on video game RPGs. Isn't a variety in weapons usually a staple of such games?

Anyway, the story of this game is nearly nonexistent. For about the first half of the game you're supposedly trying to find Michiko, but what you're really doing is taking each town in sequence, going to whatever dungeon is near the town, and beating the boss inside, then going on to the next town. Every so often they offer a flimsy justification, but your characters talk so little that there's no way to know why they're doing all this. Finally about 1/2 or 2/3 of the way through you get the overall story. Shun is a chosen one who has been summoned to the world to defeat an evil demon who is going to revive soon. Sigh.

Why these bighead character designs?
The battle system is just attack attack attack. This game has a common RPG issue that the magic users don't have enough magic points, so you tend to save their MP for healing spells or bosses, and the rest of the time it's just fight. The animations in battle are pathetic; all enemies attack by their sprite disappearing and reappearing near the character they are attacking, with no animation. Spells cause some little effects to come out, but that's it. Your guys have a small animation when they attack, but their sprites also disappear and reappear.
2 monsters
One unusual thing about this game is the random encounters. The XP you get from enemies goes down as you level up, and also the frequency of random encounters drops as well. Eventually there won't be any more encounters in an area. People who enjoy grinding may not like this, but I've never been a huge fan of random encounters so this is a good thing to me.

Another quality of this game is the inflation of the numbers. As you can see in the screenshot above, they start at level 0 with 70-80 HP. The first sword you start with has 6 attack power. By the end of the game your guys have 50,000-60,000 HP. The best sword in the game has 10,000 attack power. In the end this makes no real difference because enemy HP and attack values also scale up to match you. But I don't think I've seen another game with that much difference between level 1 and endgame.

The text is annoying to read. It uses fewer spaces than most of the all-kana games, and there's also no punctuation. So you get text boxes like this:

How many people
I will show two people around
There is also a lack of any confirmation dialogs or prompts. When you buy something, it just exits the menu without confirming you bought it. At least the game doesn't let you buy something if you already have it equipped on that character or if it has less power -- of course, this means that none of the weapons and armor have any effect beyond raising your defense, so there's never any choice for what to equip.

On the whole this is a hard game to blog because everything is the same. All the towns have the same assortment of stores, which all look exactly the same on the inside. There are palette swaps of various types of people wandering around (who you can walk through for some reason). They give you very little information about the individual town or the world, they just comment on where you're going next. Your party members rarely make any comment, and when they do, it could have been said by any of them. Bosses in the dungeons just appear out of nowhere, with no more motivation or existence than "I will defeat you!" So a step-by-step journal of this game would be repetitive and boring.

Eventually you sail to a second continent, where Michiko has been taken. This is about the halfway point of the game, so I'll stop here. I'm about 80% through the game so the next post will probably be the final one; the second continent has a little more story....if "A group literally called 'darkness' is taking over the world and we have to get three items to stop them blah blah blah" counts as a story.
The goddess Undine, telling you the string of cliches
To be honest, this GameFAQs review from 13 years ago is pretty much exactly how I feel about the game.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Game 6 - Maka Maka Review

The first thing that has to be mentioned with this game is the bugs and glitches. This is the buggiest game I've ever played; many other games have glitches, but they're usually not as obvious and potentially game breaking as the ones in this game. I mentioned many of them throughout the review, but here are the worst of the ones that I personally encountered:

  • On the map, you can't use any spells but the main character's (this is a sure thing, not something that randomly glitches out or activates)
  • In the latter third of the game, the defense stats of three characters can flip to 0 for no reason.
  • Sometimes when you switch floors in a dungeon, you end up in a black area where you can't move.
  • Sometimes the text boxes will glitch so that you can't read anyone's status or any of the command/interface menus, until you enter or exit a dungeon or town.
There are frequent graphical glitches as well. Now, these bugs can be worked around and the game can be played. There are apparently bugs that can prevent you from finishing the game but I didn't encounter any of them. So the question is whether this game is worth fighting through the bugs to play? I say no, but let's do the review anyway.

Story/Characters: The characters are a diverse lot; your main character is a college student, but you will recruit a worldwide adventurer, an alien hero, a girl who used to be a boy, and others. They all have past lives which explain their ability to cast spells. Each one has a little bit of development and side story exclusive to them -- not especially detailed, but equal to other games of this era.

The story is bizarre. The creators were clearly going for a gag story feel, with a lot of random plot events and sudden happenings. For a game made in 1993, the story is average overall. I didn't find the jokes very funny, and in the end it is a normal "save the world" plot. I did like that the past lives were actually an element in the story and not just a joke used to explain their spellcasting.

The villains and monsters are unusual and distinctive; they're not developed all that well but many of them you wouldn't see in any other game, such as an old man singing karaoke, a nose with hands and feet, or a fish named "Mambo No. 5" that has the song as its special BGM (in Japanese, a "mambo" is a type of fish).

World: The game takes place in an unspecified world that combines modern and medieval type stuff; since they're going for jokes and gags there's not much consistency or development of the overall world. Some of the towns have some character or interest but other than that it's standard. 

Game Flow: This is fine overall. There are a few choke points where the difficulty suddenly ramps up, but it's not too bad. I did feel like the random encounters were often too difficult. You have monsters that can cast spells on your whole party or 2 members that do about 1/3 of their HP; when you encounter a group of 3 or 4 of them it can be hard to survive. Running is usually effective, though. 

Map a speedup key to a button on your controller though. When you enter battle or a new area, there's load time. Yes, on a cartridge. I suppose this could be intentional delay but I don't think it is. (Also the walking speed is very slow as usual.)
System: The battle system is a side-view turn based system. Mostly you will be attacking or using one of your "transform moves". These are both spells and techniques. I found that generally my characters had enough MP that I could use these on tough grunt enemies, and every character is fairly effective in both attacking and using spells/techs. Ul Ul Boy's barrier techniques are ridiculously powerful but other than that you can swap characters freely without fear that they won't be effective (unless they get hit by the 0 defense bug).

Outside of battle there's nothing unusual. Dungeons are typical RPG fare, with few puzzles. The towns just have the usual assortment of shops and people who give clues. I didn't find any minigames.

Side Quests/Optional Content: Near the end of the game, there is a part where things open up a bit -- you have one thing you have to do, but you can explore around and find a number of optional events. This isn't especially common in FC and early SFC games so it's a nice touch.

Interface: The interface is bad, but similar to other games of this era. There's no universal command button so you have to select "talk" or "search" from a menu every time. Inventories are individual, with 9 slots including equipment, so the normal annoyances apply there. You can't see the strength of weapons or armor until you try to equip them (or take it to an analysis shop). There's no way to know what the spells, items, or accessories do from the choice menus.

Graphics/Sound: The graphics are the one place where I think they did a pretty good job for this time period (not counting the glitches). The battle sprites are large, colorful, and detailed. They have attack animations and "hurt" animation for both enemies and allies, and the animations reflect the weapon you have equipped. When you cast a spell, the past life appears and has a special animation. The graphics outside of battle aren't quite as good but they're OK. The walking animation of the sprites on the town/dungeon map is not very smooth.

The grunt enemies are the same way, and the game makes very little use of palette swapped enemies, so there's a lot of variety.

The music isn't all that great, and it doesn't sound very good -- the samples they used to play the music are poor quality and so even songs that might be good sound annoying.

I don't really recommend this game at all; it might seem like there could be a "so bad it's good" quality but instead it's just annoying to play. Unfortunately the next 4 games up on my list are regarded as crappy games, so this may be a slog until I reach Dragon Quest V.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Game 6 - Maka Maka Part 3 (Final)

At the end of the last session I had gotten to the point where the end goal was clear -- get to Maka Maka castle and defeat Maka Maka to stop the world from being turned into water fleas. Yeah.

Next up is New Queen Town, where a monster has taken over the queen's position. She forces you to take off all your clothes.
"What an idiot, to show your dick before an enemy! Now do a naked dance!"
Fortunately Goyoppo is able to escape, and then we can head out to a Botan tree to get a fruit that will block the woman's attack. This is a good place to level because you meet an enemy called Tome-san. Normally he heals one of your characters and then runs. But if you use the main character's "Zako destroyer" move, it will kill him and give you 10,000 XP. With the Ul Ul Car you can keep running into the mountains over and over and getting into battles. This is the best place I found to level right up to the end of the game. You will meet one other odd character called Andou, a shirtless dancing man. He heals your characters 1000 HP, but this causes a bug that overflows your HP and makes you die in one hit in the next battle.
Thank you Tome-san
With the fruit in hand, time to fight the Baseran, alone:
Vaseran? Baseran?
These solo fights are annoying because the enemies do too much damage.She's weak to ice so the main character can do pretty well, but you can still get criticalled and die. 

The next step is to go to a secret factory and try to stop the Maka Maka plan.
Here's a glitch where townspeople have turned into palette swapped Johnny
People at the factory tell you that if you can bring a rare gem and throw it in the cauldron, it will destroy the machine. The only place you can find that is in the South Country, so it's back to the islanders, and this time Cynthia has to join your party in place of your girlfriend, who runs away upon finding out you married Cynthia.

Unfortunately as I said earlier, Cynthia's portrayal is pretty bad; Japan has its own colonial past with pacific islands, and isn't always kind in their depiction. They also may have been influenced by older Disney cartoons. I apologize for this, but here's Cynthia's battle sprite:
The less said the better
Cynthia has the stone necessary, and you throw it in. Unfortunately we got tricked -- the helpful people were actually Maka Maka group, and throwing in the stone is what activates the device and turns most of the world into water fleas. Actually when you go to the town it's partially glitched because only about half the sprites change to water fleas even though most of the town inhabitants speak like they've been changed.

Now we need to obtain a means of flying to move on with the game. Remember the "big hand woman" from the last post? She's still serving as the ship's rudder, but if you bring the fat-head Mafia boss to her, she'll cure him, he joins your party, and she gives you her big hands. Now you can flap the big hands to fly.
Oddest means of travel ever in an RPG?
The next sequence involves fighting a vampire in order to get the Book of Rebirth so that we can go back into the past life. There are some fetch quests in here but I'll just skip to the vampire fight. The enemy's name (Dorakyue) is a pun on both Dracula and Draque (the shortening of Dragon Quest).
Trademark lawyers, turn away
The big event here is that after you beat Dorakyue, the mysterious person controlling him is revealed to be your girlfriend! She thinks that her past life and clan is responsible for everything that's happening and refuses to join you anymore. So it's back to the past to find out what happened. This is a nice touch to the story; I assumed the "past lives" thing was just a throwaway joke to explain how your characters can use spells and techniques, but it actually does get worked into the story at this point.

In the past, you find the Shabashaba clan fighting the Nyabanyaba clan. The former is where the hero's past self is from, and the latter is the girlfriend's past self. We try to broker a peace, and it doesn't work. But it turns out that the king of Nyabanyaba has had his position secretly taken over by his retainer, Maka Maka. Lemia (girlfriend's past life) is a hostage, but she throws herself off the top of the palace so that Shalm (main character's past life) can kill Maka Maka. He does so and then jumps to his death himself. Your party follows(!) but it turns out there were cushions underneath so everyone has survived. You receive a golden sword as well as a stone of light, which you can use to restore the girlfriend in the present world to her senses. (The Nyabanyaba castle has the strongest sword in the game but you have to pay 500,000 to identify it so I didn't bother.)

Now all that remains is breaking the barrier around Maka Maka castle and going in to defeat the final boss. But first, we have to deal with the defense bug:

From left to right, "Attack", "Defense", Speed"
Randomly in the latter half of the game, the defense stats of your hero, girlfriend, and Johnny will fluctuate -- most often they go to 0, but apparently they can also go to 255. As you see in the picture above, the hero's base defense is now 0. Fortunately the endgame is easy so this didn't matter.

In order to open the barrier to Maka Maka castle, we have to revive the Phoenix for real. This requires setting up something in the past world so that we can get a fire stone in the real world. First, we have to get the ship in the past world. The ship is another glitchfest; most often it disappears when you land, so you have to make sure you remember where you parked it. But often there are two or three ships on the screen, or the ship itself is glitched.
Maybe it's supposed to be two separate ships.
This is actually an interesting part of the game because you can travel around the past world and meet all the past lives of your party members, and see small scenes that will give them additional spells, weapons, or armor. All of this is optional, though. All you really have to do is see one scene that lets you pick up a fire stone in the present world, then you get the Phoenix:
That glitched square flies around the screen while you're on the Phoenix
Now we can finally break the Maka Maka barrier, killing the Phoenix in the process, and defeat Maka Maka himself. There are five set encounters you have to beat before you can reach him. Fortunately they're fairly easy. Ul Ul Boy has a spell that makes you invulnerable for 3 rounds, so if you just use that you can beat every enemy without taking any damage, even the final boss. The only exception is the "atomic zako", which kill you automatically if they get a turn, so you have to beat them before they can do that. Girlfriend is the only one who had enough speed for me, so I used her area fire spell.

Here's Maka Maka, the final boss:
He does have a second form:
Now see my true power!
The first form is tough (if you don't use UB's barrier), but the second form has 1 HP. I think this was actually an intentional joke, not a bug, although you can never be sure with this game.

Having defeated Maka Maka, the world is saved, and 1 year later there are three marriages (Main Character-Girlfriend, Johnny-Cynthia, and Michi-Michael). Of course, the ending scene has to have a bunch of graphical glitches:
Dr. Pascal is supposed to be talking to us, but he walked through the walls and went to the wrong place

Michael and Michi are half cut off, and there are glitched figures at the top
Then the coup de grace; the credits sequence is glitched so that none of the names can be read. Every so often one will pop up that is legible, but they're all fake names anyway.

Really, could there be a more fitting credits sequence?
So that's Maka Maka. It's amazing this piece of garbage was released. I'll post my review on Saturday and try to address the question of whether this would have been a good game if it hadn't been so buggy.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Game 6 - Maka Maka Part 2

Despite the bugs I am making progress through the game, and as long as I don't hit any game breaking bugs I should be able to finish it.

One big annoyance is dying (called "groggy" in the game). As far as I can tell, nobody ever learns a spell that can revive a person, and the one revive item in the game is very expensive and only shows up in stores over halfway through the game. Reviving in town is free, but this means that if enemies get a lucky critical or gang up on one person, you have to leave the dungeon. For me, the net effect of this is that I just want to overlevel outside of the dungeons and then run from every random encounter once I'm in the dungeon. I've always been averse to grinding -- I prefer to move on with the game and only do the "walk in circles levelling" if I absolutely have to. I guess other games have difficulty with reviving as well, but somehow it seems like the random encounter enemies do a lot more damage in this game.

I left off last time just having beaten the Gourmet Queen. So the next step is to head to Gourmet Castle and beat the Gourmet King:
Another gross enemy.
The next part of the game involves the Ul Ul people, who are an obvious parody of Ultraman. We need the power of Ul Ul Man in order to rescue Dr. Pascal, turned into ice.
...but Ul Ul Man is too old.
You first have to go through some hoops to get to the Ul Ul Planet, and lose Johnny along the way. But this frees up your party to get Ul Ul Boy. In order to teach Ul Ul Boy the technique to unfreeze Dr. Pascal, you have to make your way up Ul Ul Tower. This place is a buggy mess where I kept getting caught in black screens where I couldn't move and had to use items to escape the dungeon and try again. I've also been having more problems with the spell window -- I mentioned before that only the main character's spells can be used outside of battle. But sometimes even that doesn't work, and you get a list of glitched spells and a cursor moving around outside the box. Sometimes if you have another character use the hero's spells, it only takes off that character's TP, other times it subtracts both the main character and the using character's TP.

Finally you get UB's technique and the Ul Ul Car, which lets you go around more quickly and without encounters. If you run into a barrier it's an automatic encounter, which is a good way to level up. You also get a rocket that lets you go to any town you've visited for free. This let me go back to the initial town and pick up a powerful dress for the girlfriend. 

Now we've unfrozen Dr. Pascal and fought this creepy face:
This was in the commercial
Dr. Pascal and the assembled scientists can't turn your parents back human, so we now have to look for Dr. Maka Maka. The goal is to find a ship, and the bizarreness starts again. In order to get the ship, you have to do the following:
  • Get slapped by a "huge hand old woman" to swell the main character's face
  • Find another "huge face" guy who agrees to let you fight in the arena
  • Fight a boss in the arena, win the Silver Fruit 
  • Give the silver fruit to the "huge bowl boy" who uses the liquid in his bowl to heal you and protect you from future swellings
  • Defeat "huge hand old woman", then she gets attacked by a seagull and thrown into the ship, becoming part of the ship and thus allowing it to be piloted.
What is going on!?

The next area has a large field of flowers that blocks your way, with fairies that kiss you and cause illness. The whole area is all female enemies:
Queen Bees and rambunctious girls
Once again the progression of the story is off the rails. You have to turn female so that you can get into a hot springs and get something that will protect you against the fairies. But to do this, you need the help of Michi, a guy who turned into a girl because of Ramone, a catwoman in Ramone Castle. After delivering some love letters Michi helps you in and you turn into a girl. Michi also turns back to a guy but it turns out the guy she loved was also a guy, so she turns back into a girl forever and later joins your party.
Now you can go to the women's hot spring, then turn back into a guy and go to the fairy park, where it turns out the fairies are actually noses with legs that you have to fight as a boss fight. (Incidentally, while you're women you can't get into fights, presumably because they didn't want to program additional battle sprites and animations.)

Next we continue our goal of reaching Atlas Mountain to find Dr. Maka Maka. First we need to find the legendary Silver Sword to be able to kill some beast awaiting us. This involves going through a cave that is as bad as the Ul Ul Tower with glitches -- there are constant graphical glitches showing random terrain on the sides of the screen, and you can once again get caught in black areas or in the middle of a wall and have to escape the cave.

Atlas Mountain has mostly ice enemies, which makes them good targets for Ul Ul Boy's fire beam and the girlfriend's fire spells. In general the random enemies in this game are strong, with many of them having attacks that hit 2 or all 4 of your guys for pretty harsh damage.

Once we reach Atlas mountain we have to go through a number of challenges before we reach the "monster" that the Silver Sword is necessary to beat (by the way, if you drop or sell the sword you can't finish the game -- this would be a pretty stupid thing to do, but the game lets you do it.)
Even a werewolf isn't allowed to be a normal enemy
This is an annoying fight because the only thing that hurts him is the main character attacking with the Silver Sword, and the boss has a heal spell. Everyone else can only heal or use support magic (UB has useful defense down and attack down spells). This took a long time to do, but I was probably underlevelled.

The werewolf turns out to be Dr. Yan, who Dr. Maka Maka did experiments on. Now we discover the research notes and diaries, and learn that Maka Maka wants to turn the entire world into water fleas, and our main character's parents were the first victims. Now we have the end goal in sight, to find the Maka Maka castle and shut down Dr. Maka Maka's dreams.

I should say more about the party characters I've picked up so far.

The main character is a college student and a silent protagonist. He has ice-related spells and fortunately some heal spells (since you can only use his spells on the map). He fights with swords.

The girlfriend gets unusually powerful equipment compared to everyone else, and has fire spells and fights with a ribbon

Johnny is a travelling explorer; he uses a box to sneak onto the plane at the beginning and then always appears in a box after that. He throws knives. (He leaves the party after being squashed by the Ul Ul ship)

Ul Ul Boy is a ripoff of Ultraman. He has a really useful command that damages a group with fire damage and hurts him for about 20 HP. His weapons are a glove.

Masa is a chef, trying to be the best chef in the world. He has very few spells, mostly just sword techniques. His weapon is a kitchen cleaver. (He leaves the party to train more to be worthy of the Masamune)

Michi (in the last image above) is the stereotypical "cool schoolgirl" but in this case is a man turned into a woman by a magical fountain. She uses yoyos as her weapon.

There are two more characters that I haven't gotten yet.

A major question about this game that often comes up on Japanese sites is whether it would be a good game without the bugs. I'm not so sure but I'll withhold judgment until I finish the game.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What is an action RPG?

For the most part I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what an RPG is without using an objective criteria -- I can tell the difference between a simulation game and a strategy RPG, and an adventure game and a regular RPG. Action RPGs are where I'm rather unsure.

My gut feeling is that Secret of Mana is an RPG whereas Castlevania II is not. But I have a hard time coming up with any objective criteria that would exclude C2 but not SoM. Both games:

  • Have level advancement
  • Are not linear, but require exploration
  • Have "safe" areas like towns
  • Have equippable weapons and shops
SoM has more of a story than C2 but not all RPGs have great stories.

I notice that neither Zenic Reverie nor Shen Nung included C2 in their list so I'm not alone in this, but I'm struggling with why.

This is mostly relevant because there are some games that some sites label as RPGs that I think are very marginal or possibly not RPGs at all. I guess when I get to them I should just play them for a little while and see what I think.