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.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Game 30 - Seiken Densetsu 2

Seiken Densetsu 2 (聖剣伝説2)
Released 8/6/1993, published by Square

Final Fantasy Adventure was one of the earliest action RPGs I played, which was for the Game Boy. In Japan it had the additional title Seiken Densetsu ("Legend of the Holy Sword"), and that continued to be used in Japan for future entries, while the US went with other titles. This was Secret of Mana here. I remember playing this when it came out and enjoying it but being annoyed by a lot of the things that still annoy me about the game -- I can't really say it's overrated because it does get a lot of criticism, but I feel that there's a lot of nostalgia glasses coloring people's memory of the game.

The game has a complicated development history. Originally it was planned to be Final Fantasy IV, with what we now know as IV being planned as V. Then this project was spun off on its own and planned to be a collaboration with Akira Toriyama called "Chrono Trigger" that would be a launch title for the Super Famicom CD add-on. When the CD project fell through, the game was redone as a regular SFC game. This forced the development team to scale back their plans a lot -- this may account for some of the rough parts of the gameplay, as well as the second part of the game where dungeons seem to be lacking where you would expect them.

One aspect this did help was the music. The company always intended to spend a lot of effort on the music, but the game's long development time meant that the composer, Kikuta Hiroki, had much more time to work on the music than would normally be the case, and he was able to revise and perfect not only the music but the sound effects as well. This definitely paid off; it's still one of my favorite video game soundtracks and even decades after I played it I could remember certain themes like the Palace theme, the Gold City theme, and the final theme playing when you fly on Flammie.

It's just too bad the gameplay is not more enjoyable. It's not terrible, but here are some of the things that annoyed me at age 13 and still annoy me now:
  • The "ring" interface system is cumbersome and annoying to use
  • It's too easy to get trapped by monsters because of the long recovery from a hit
  • Magic is way too powerful
  • The weapon levels are ultimately pointless because the charge up attacks are so hard to use -- they take way too long to charge and it's too easy for the enemies to knock you out of them once you try to use them. This is especially true of anything level 3 and up.
Despite those complaints I do think it's a fun game. I played about half of it this week.
The game starts with Kurisu falling off a log and finding a sword, which talks to him. This makes the village angry and they kick him out, but he follows the knight Jema and begins a worldwide quest to protect the Mana Seeds.

There's a little freedom of order in the early game but I got the girl first:

I named her Sakura, and then the other character I named Sprite (I was never sure whether Sprite was supposed to be male or female).
The early game, before you get magic, has some tough bosses, especially the tiger boss in the witch's castle, which I didn't get a screenshot of. He has this cheap tactic of sitting up on the walls and casting spells and fire breaths, which you have no chance to dodge. If you get unlucky and he just sits up there for a long time you can't do much -- it is possible to hit him with distance weapons.
The variety in the weapons is fun (sword, axe, spear, javelin, whip, bow, boomerang, and fist) since they all have different styles of attacking. I wish the weapon levels were more important -- I usually try to get the main guy to have the highest weapon levels in everything even though there's no real point to it.

Eventually we help out Undine, get magic (for the girl and sprite), and find out the main purpose of our quest -- to fuse the mana sword with the eight mana seeds, and stop the Mana Fortress from being resurrected by the evil Empire.
So far I have three of the seeds -- the water, earth, and wind palaces. I just recovered the fire seed from the cold area and now I have to return it to the fire palace.

This is kind of a short update but I'm not sure these well-known games need as detailed treatment (and I'm kind of busy this weekend -- hopefully next Saturday when I have the game finished I can be a little more detailed), so I'd love to hear all your experiences with the game in the comments.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Game 29 - Bazoe! Mahou Sekai Review

I believe this will be the last time I use these categories for the review; they're too limiting and I don't always have things to say at each point.

At the beginning I wasn't sure I would agree that this is one of the worst SNES games, but in the end I do -- it belongs in the garbage heap with Light Fantasy, Dual Orb, Fist of the North Star 5, and Cyber Knight.

Story/Characters: This is the strong point of the game -- in comparison to other games from this period, the story and characters are much more detailed and developed. There's also a nice difference from the usual "save the world" story at least in the beginning, when the main character is trying to become a magician. If this story had been combined with even a boring but competent battle system this would have been a great game.
World: Nothing much to say here, it's standard fantasy.
Game Flow: Overall this is fine, but there is a steep difficulty spike near the end of the game that makes an already bad game even worse.

System: This is where the game becomes a mess. Almost everything they did was bad. The battle system with the different depths is an interesting idea, but in the end just makes things take longer. Enemy status effects are way too harsh, especially sleep which can cause a game over. Weapons and armor barely have any effect. There are 64 spells but most of them are worthless and important spells like "escape from dungeon" and "revive" are missing. This is especially disappointing in a game that is so heavily focused on magic. The 8 schools of magic don't really mean anything since anyone can learn any spell.

It's just so frustrating to see a decent story in such a terrible game. It's not quite as bad as Light Fantasy but it's close.

Side Quests/Optional Content: Basically none; I suppose you could count the extra scenario after the credits but I think this is really part of the game rather than a side quest.

Interface: Fine.

Graphics/Sound: The graphics are still early SNES era, and the music is unmemorable.

Next up is a good game, Seiken Densetsu 2 (Secret of Mana)!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Game 29 - Bazoe! Mahou Sekai Part 3 (Finished)

As I said at the end of the last update, I was ready to give up on this game before I remembered that cheat codes exist. I used two of them -- one to make fights give max XP, and another to eliminate random encounters. After a few fights my guys had levels in the high 40s, which is enough to win any combat with ease (although I did reach the 60s by the end of the game).

Last time I left off with the party heading down into the underworld to stop the Beraneed invasion. Upon reaching the underworld, we found a village of people that were all talking about the evil overworlders and how they would soon get their revenge. Meanwhile a cutscene tells us that the seal has finally been broken and that the Beraneed are attacking the overworld in force.
The underworld town
Finally we reach Queen Ines. She tells us her goal -- 500 years ago the humans took over the Beraneed lands and forced them underground, so she's going to use the demon Orhes' power to come back to the surface and reclaim their rightful lands. Kurisu seems surprised and hesitant about proceeding, but Romel doesn't think they have a choice.

Upon beating both Ines and Orhes, the entire underworld starts to shake. Ines tells us that we've just condemned the entire Beraneed race to extinction. She wants Croizel to escape as the last hope of the Beraneed, but he decides there's no point to surviving by himself, and attacks the party instead.

After the fight, Kurisu and the party manage to escape, but the entire underworld is destroyed, and this also causes a large amount of damage aboveground as well. I feel like there should still be Beraneed that came aboveground to fight -- since Kurisu becomes Emperor in the epilogue maybe she should have tried to make up for her near genocide by allowing the Beraneed to live in her empire, but the storywriters thought differently. Instead, it immediately goes to an epilogue telling you what each character did -- Romel becomes head of the knights, and Kurisu becomes Emperor of a small area of the world.

Now if you wait past the credits, there's an extra scenario.

10 years have passed, and now the shadow magician Beliquad is trying to wipe out the magicians -- he's already killed Lot and Nash, and many others. Kurisu and the other heroes were able to learn that Beliquad is drawing power from Bazoe!, and they set out for the island of the Uru race (the wolfmen). They guard Bazoe! in the castle Pamela, protected by a dimensional maze.

The characters get different portraits:

First we have to go through the dimensional maze, which is quite annoying. You have to go through doors that put you elsewhere in the maze, and twice you have to immediately go back into the door you just came out of. Even with the no encounters code on you have to do a fight every time you go through a door. But eventually we make it through, fight a mini boss, and then get to Pamela.
In Pamela, we see a number of ghostly apparitions that reveal the backstory behind Bazoe!. It was created in the Gazelfan era to generate unlimited power, which was used to make Pamela float and do other things. The Uru wolfmen were created by Bazoe! to guard it, and it also gives everyone their magic power. But the use of Bazoe was messing things up, and eventually caused the great catastrophe that ended the Gazelfan era.

Nash and Ricardo (Kurisu's father) had decided to use the Gran Install sword to control Bazoe again, but Ricardo decided to destroy it instead and was killed by Nash. All of Nash's plans were to manipulate Kurisu into bringing out Pamela so he could control Bazoe. But now there's this magician Beliquad who also wants to control Bazoe, and it turns out he's actually the priest Lot. He's the final boss, but with my cheated high-60s levels he was easy.

After beating Lot, Kurisu decides to destroy Bazoe, even though this will take away the world's magic power and also kill all of the Uru wolfmen. Baisen begs us not to do it because it will destroy his race, but Kurisu decides to go for a second genocide and follows through. Everyone aboveground is confused about the magic disappearing from the world, and the Uru wolfmen disappear. Pamela also starts to crumble, and it seems that Kurisu is not able to make it out in time, but the game ends without making that clear.

So that's the game. The story has some problems but is much better than most of the stuff from this era. It's just too bad the gameplay is among the worst I've seen so far. Even if the gameplay had been boring but competent this would have been a good game, but every change they made from a cookie-cutter JRPG made it worse.

I'll follow up with a review later, and then it's on to Seiken Densetsu 2 (Secret of Mana).

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Game 29 - Bazoe! Mahou Sekai Part 2

Sadly, this is a bad game. It's a shame because the story is quite interesting, especially for its time -- it's in the top tier of the games I've played so far storywise. Unfortunately this is paired with a horrifically bad system. I'm having a hard time deciding whether this merits inclusion in the shit list (along with Light Fantasy and such). It probably does, since I'm probably not going to finish the game, but more about that later.

Kurisu is now 17 and a mid-rank mage. Her next journey is to Towin town, where the priest Lot is investigating something. Soldiers following a rich man named Barone are harassing someone, and after fighting them off she learns that Barone is controlling the town. After being set on by assassins at night, Kurisu and friends sneak into the Bell Tower and make their way down to a hidden castle that comes from the time before the Great Disaster. Barone is trying to break a seal that would bring the evil Beraneed race to the surface, but we manage to defeat him and stop his plans.

On the way back, we find a wolfman named Baizen who has escaped a slave ship and wants our help freeing other slaves in the north. Kurisu agrees.
In the northern lands, we quickly defeat the weak slavers in the first town, but then join up with someone else, a Viking-like character named Belial. With his help, we make it through a nearby cave into an old tower from the time of the Gazelfan Empire.
A wyvern is there, who has a message from Kurisu's father as well as a spell. He tells us people were here looking for a fragment of Bazoe, but if we want to know about this we should go to a desert tower near Zain. Right now, though, everyone returns home, and through Lot's help we're able to use the Mirror of Paru to see visions of the future. Kurisu sees herself walking through a cave, a dark-eyed man, and the Beraneed race with a silver thread. She is later promoted to Upper-Rank magician.
Kurisu's next task is to investigate an ancient ruins in the Farm area. There's a really annoying boss fight here because you have lots of guys that cast charm and sleep magic, which are almost impossible to defend against. I had to reload five save states to beat the fight.

Upon investigation, it seems like this ruin was once inhabited by Beraneed race -- which is odd because these ancient aboveground ruins from the Gazelfan Empire should not have been used by the Beraneed, which are a subterranean race. But we also save an elf girl, and decide to lead her back to the elf village.

As might be expected, the elves don't like us but are grateful for the return of the elf girl, who turns out to be the princess of the elf kingdom.

Kurisu is now 18, and she decides it's time to follow up on what the wyvern told her -- to go to the tower in the desert. There, she learns that she's the descendant of the Gazelfan royal family, which disappointed me a little because up to now the story has not been so cookie cutter. The one who imparts this information is the god Farl, who also says that Ines, queen of the Beraneed, is trying to summon the demon Orhes. To stop her, we need to craft a legendary sword from the Fragment of Bazoe, and use that and the God Eye to seal Orhes away.

First, we need to gather the support of the other kingdoms to fight against the coming Beraneed invasion. They're not generally disposed to work together. Kurisu hopes that she can use the Tiara she got from Farl, proving she's the descendant of Gazelfan, to convince them. The first destination is Saharl, where the evil minister Gain is working with the Beraneed behind the scenes. He imprisons us, but Milene (the thief from earlier), who turns out to be the princess, rescues us. She says something about the "Kurisu plan" from 10 years ago, but doesn't explain more.

This brings on another bullshit boss fight, where you have 4 guys who can kill someone in two hits, and use sleep/charm magic. I had to buy instant death magic and even then it took many load states to win the fight. But once they're down, and Gain killed, the Emperor is willing to lend us support.
At this point Kurisu gets her last spell from her teacher, and becomes a full magician. She also learns that Seras (the town with the magic guild) has a Bazoe Fragment. The head of the school, Nash, is the one who came to Kurisu at the beginning of the game with Ricardo's last words -- he's been orchestrating some of the stuff to get Kurisu to find out her true nature. Also, the elf princess was actually captured by his men, in order to create a debt to Kurisu which could be repaid by forging the Gran Install sword from the Bazoe Fragment.
The elf king saw through that stupid plan but agrees to forge the sword anyway. Now Kurisu is ready to choose 3 party members (including the elf king!) and descend to the underworld to defeat Orhes.

And unfortunately, I think this is also the end of my play. Starting from when Kurisu becomes a full magician, the random battles take a huge difficulty leap. I got 8 game overs just trying to reach the elf town to get the sword, and another 7 trying to get back to the initial town. Once I got down to the underground area, I wasn't able to make it out of the first room without a game over. The story is decent and I would like to see how it ends, especially since there's some sort of extra story after the endgame. But the horrible system and ridiculous encounter rate are too much to deal with.

However, as I write this, I remember that Richie's FAQ includes a no encounter code and also one for getting lots of XP after a battle. Maybe I can use these to at least see the end -- my updated rules say that if a game has a translation patch I can give up if it really sucks, which this game really does.