Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Game 34 - Aretha wrap-up

Rather than category review posts, I'm going to make "wrap-up" posts like I'm doing on my other blog where I just write whatever I feel like about the game.

I'm also thinking possibly about a three tiered ranking system that's just based on my subjective experience playing the game. I have resisted numerical rankings or objective systems, but perhaps this can express my general feelings towards each game. It would go like this:

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

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

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

I think the B rank could also be given plus and minus:

B+  These games are almost in the A rank, but have one or two bad gameplay decisions that knock them down. A good example would be Jungle Wars 2, which would have been A if not for the insane random encounter rate (even by early 1990s standards) in the second part of the game.

B-  These games are almost in the C rank, but are saved only by virtue of being easy and short. A good example of this is Villgust.

This is how I would rank the games I have played so far:

[A]  Dragon Quest V, Breath of Fire, Sword World SFC

[B+] Glory of Heracles III, Jungle Wars 2

[B] GD Leen, Benkei Gaiden, Elfaria, Xak, Metal Max 2, Danzarb, Odysselya, Silva Saga II, MADARA 2, Ranma 1/2, Super Chinese World 2, Seiken Densetsu 2

[B-] Maka Maka, Villgust, 3x3 Eyes*, SD Gundam Gaiden 2, Albert Odyssey

[C] Light Fantasy, Hokuto no Ken 5, Cyber Knight, Hero Senki, Song Master, Dual Orb, Bazoe!

*3x3 Eyes is a special case because the game has a ridiculous glitch at the end of the game that makes it nearly impossible to finish without exploiting another glitch or cheating. My rank of B- is assuming you use a cheat or glitch to get around the problem. If you're playing this on real hardware it's a C.

Romancing SaGa is hard to place. I was not able to finish the game and because of that I'm tempted to give it a C, but I don't feel like the game is as bad as the other games I have in that rank.

There have been distressingly few games in the A rank so far, but as I keep saying, I have high hopes as we continue forward.

Now, on to Aretha, which I think gets a solid B rank.

The story is OK. It's nothing amazing, but for 1993 it has more dialogue and a bit more character development than the average game, despite the short ending. Aretha 2 is a direct sequel, so it will be interesting to see whether it does any better.

The gameplay is also OK. As I said in the first post, I am always appreciative of any combat system where the magic users can actually use their magic. A big problem with games of this era is that MP is so limited, and MP recovery items so hard (or impossible) to get, that magic users tend to be reduced to one role -- healing and buffing in boss battles. This game has cheap MP restoration items and high MP. The fighters are less useful but later in the game you get swords that hit multiple enemies at once, which helps.

By far the biggest problem is the baffling decision not to display damage numbers. I'm not sure what the designers were trying to do with this, but it's incredibly frustrating to not know if your attacks are doing 5 or 500 damage. Are Ariel and Doll's regular attacks effective? Even after beating the game I have no idea. How much better is Force B than Force A? Who knows. Is Force A doing more damage than Ariel's damage spell? Anyone's guess. Fortunately I think the designers realized their mistake, because in Aretha 2 the damage number is displayed.

The use of enemies on different sides is not especially meaningful. Enemies don't do any more damage from the back or sides, so it's just about group spells only hitting enemies in front of you.

The dungeons are not especially interesting, and there are a lot of one-path dungeons.

Finally, the item crafting system is poorly implemented. The idea of putting different elemental "souls" into the items and mixing them sounds good, but it's impossible to predict what you're going to get, and there's no relation between the number of souls you put in and the item you get. 3 Fire souls may get you a better weapon than 90 fire souls. It's also possible to get ridiculously powerful equipment early on in the game.

So overall this is yet another game that's average for 1993, but doesn't really rise above the pack in any meaningful way.

Now I am excited for the games that are coming up. Soul & Sword and Romancing SaGa 2 have unusual gameplay, Dokapon IV is a completely different type of game (board game RPG), and Illusion of Gaia is fun. So maybe you'll see more positivity from me in the coming weeks?

In any case, Just Breed for the Famicom is next on my other blog, an Enix strategy RPG that's actually quite good.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Game 34 - Aretha Part 2 (Finished)

I'm noticing a common structure for RPG stories of this era -- I wonder what was the first game to use it? The game starts with the main character traveling to a bunch of places. Usually the main goal or antagonist is not clear, or the main character at least doesn't know what it is. After this, there's a longer middle section where you have to do a group of fetch quests -- find the 6 orbs, defeat the 4 spirits, whatever. Then there's a final section, sometimes with surprise twists or a coda.

Aretha seems to be following this pattern as well. First, Ariel was looking for information on her ring. Now we're after the Elemental Dragon, which will lead to the next phase of the game. First up, we get captured by a giant, but freed by some sort of beast-man.

The giant does big damage, but spells and some buff items were enough to beat him.

The party now comes to a desert, and we find that we need an Amber Lens held by some ants to see the way to the fairy kingdom, where the Elemental Dragon is. The ants are split into red and blue factions, and we get in between their war.

Fortunately the ants aren't very smart so after the red ant queen tries to use us to destroy the Blue ant queen, we turn the tables on her and get the amber lens, opening the way to the fairy kingdom. A few more dungeons lead to the treetop village.

Here Ariel meets the little gnome she saved as a child, who gave her the egg that hatched into Fang. He says some unknown person told him to give the egg to her, so it must mean something. This is where we also find the Elemental Dragon, although he is currently in the form of an elf. He is missing four sources of his power, which we have to collect to restore him to full form. 

  • The first is in the rainbow town, a strange place inhabited by Zoppies.

  • The second is in an ice area to the north.
  • The third is out in the sea -- Doll rejoins the party, and we get eaten by a Leviathan but that's where the spirit source turns out to be as well.
  • The last is in the Dwarf fire area, in a fire tower.
 I'm skipping over a fair amount of gameplay there, but once we get all the spirit fragments, it's time to restore the Elemental Dragon -- except that someone named Zyhalt from the Vandal Empire arrives, along with a woman named Layla who looks just like Ariel.

Once we fight off Zyhalt, the Elemental Dragon reveals that Ariel is actually the descendant of the royal family of Aretha, and thus the Aretha Princess (surprise surprise). A curse split her in two, and Layla is her other half (although why is she with Vandal?) Fang stays with the Dragon to grow into his final form while we head out to find the other Aretha rings. This requires heading to Vandal and beating some of the heads of the Empire. This also gives the first taste of these enemies:

These soldiers and their palette swaps show up again and again in the final parts of the game, and they are incredibly annoying. Only magic works against them, and since the game doesn't show damage numbers it's hard to know how much the magic is even doing. Doll's Force seems to be the best way to beat them, but even then it takes forever to win one of these fights and you get almost no XP for them.

Anyway, Ariel begins to free parts of the world under the control of the Vandal empire by beating the leaders, like this one:

Next up, save Queen Anastasia from a castle with a bunch of those knight fights that I mentioned before. Arrgh. The only good thing was that Doll learned Force B which cleared the enemies out a lot more quickly, but still very annoying. Zafan then returns, mind controlling Doll again, and going to a sky castle. Fang reappears in full form though, and now we can fly! The first thing you should do is go to a small island with a forest, where you fight a blue dragon and then get the Trinea item. This fully restores MP and HP. It can't be used in battle, but as far as I can tell it has unlimited uses outside of battle.

Layla also gives up on Vandal and joins us; she's a very powerful attacker.

Zafan was actually somewhat challenging -- I lost the first time. Doll has good buff spells at this point -- defense and attack up spells that work on everyone. Basically what I had to do was use those buffs, heal with Ariel, and then fight with Layla and Fang. Zafan's attacks hit everyone for a lot of damage, so after that it was heal heal fight fight until the end.

Now Ariel's grandmother returns, having been captured by Zafan. And all that's left is to go to the capital of the Empire and take down the Emperor himself. First, Duke Barbatos is waiting, but he goes down easily. Although the castle has a bunch more of those really annoying knight fights.

 Afterwards, Doll completely recovers his memory and remembers defeating the evil Gatansoa (apparently in one of the GB Aretha games). It's then time to enter a dimensional portal to the Dimension Castle, a one-path dungeon with some good equipment and the final battle. The Emperor goes through the usual JRPG thing where he tries to summon and control Gatansoa but gets taken over and killed instead.

He's a tricky boss. He can use an ability that causes Fear in everyone (cannot act). He has another move that I think removes buffs, although it's hard to tell. His other attacks damage everyone. I did the same thing as in the Zafan fight -- Fang and Layla fight, Doll and Ariel heal. I had enough MP restoring items to do the fight, and I never got attacked multiple times while everyone was Fear.

Once the Emperor is defeated, you get a text-less ending sequence where Ariel and Layla merge back to a single body. I guess to find out what else happened we have to play Aretha 2 in a couple of years.

I'll post a wrap-up in a bit -- this is not all that great of a game but certainly not the worst I've played.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Game 34 - Aretha The Super Famicom

Aretha: The Super Famicom (アレサ)
Released 11/26/93, published by Yanoman

I'm not especially happy to see Yanoman's name appear again; they were responsible for Song Master, one of the worst games I've played on the blog. Aretha, fortunately, is nowhere near as bad as Song Master but still has some strange gameplay decisions.

The Aretha franchise consists of 6 games -- three for the Game Boy, and three for the Super Famicom (the third game may not be an RPG, it's an action game that's right on the borderline of ARPG but I'll evaluate that when I get there.) There is some connection between this game and the GB games but not having played them I can't say how much of a connection there is. From what I've read, the GB games had a monster recruiting system. This was removed in the SFC game and replaced with a system where you get "soul" crystals from enemies that can be forged into items.

The game begins with the heroine, Ariel, having a dream about a castle getting attacked. She wakes up, and gets sent on a small errand by her grandmother, to deliver medicine to a nearby village. If you ever forget what to do next, you can choose "talk" from the status menu and the characters will tell you.

The portrait graphics are nice; a rare thing from a SFC RPG up to now.
Ariel greets her grandmother

Ariel sets out
The first fights happen in the forest.

The monster graphics are colorful and detailed. It's a back AMID battle system -- fortunately Ariel has enough MP to actually use spells (and MP restoring items are cheap). You have to use magic to learn new magic. The other quirk is the "left", "back", and "right". Enemies can appear from all sides. You can switch with the L and R buttons. This doesn't have that much of an effect; from what I can tell, enemies don't attack better from behind, for instance. The only significant gameplay effect it does have (besides lengthening the combats) is that area affect spells often only affect the group you are facing.

The random encounter rate is medium for a game of this era. The monsters give good XP, though, and levelling is quick. Once you have levelled a few times in an area you can dodge most of the attacks from monsters and flee from most combats, so the encounters don't bog the game down as much as some other games do (although it still takes a certain amount of patience).

One really bizarre design choice is that there's no indication of how much damage you do with your attacks or spells. The game is so easy this isn't a huge deal, but sometimes I just don't understand what the development teams are thinking.
Ariel levels up
Ariel hears about a kid named Jack who is missing, and delivers the medicine. On the way back, a small gnome runs into her and drops his bag, picking up hers by mistake. Following after him, Ariel finds out that Jack got his hands on a cap that lets him control the gnomes. She gets it back from him and gets a green egg as a reward...that hatches into a dragon.

The game now moves some years in the future, with Ariel and Fang (the dragon) grown up.

Ariel heads to the town again, but an old man wants an escort to a nearby mountain. She agrees even though her grandmother told her never to go to the mountain. There, the man steals her "Aretha Ring", and shuts her up in a cave.
Ariel and Doll
Ariel rescues a magician named Doll from a crystal (apparently Doll is from the GB games). She(?) is able to help them escape, but when she gets back to the house it's been destroyed and her grandmother is gone. Ariel heads to the town again to find out what the "Aretha Ring" is. Apparently there was a goddess named Aretha, and an Aretha Kingdom, but it's now been taken over by the Vandal Empire. Ariel decides to set out for the Aretha Kingdom. To help out finding it, she recruits a guy named Maddock.

Jack also gives her the Monster Book.
Gotta catch 'em all
The group sets out by ship. At a harbor stop, Maddock goes out for some business and Ariel follows him.
Ariel, Fang, and Doll
It turns out he's talking to an old man who offers the first use of the soul forging system.
Soul forging
Unfortunately it's a rather underwhelming system. You just pick how much of each soul you want to use, but there's no indication of what you'll make or even what the various souls mean (other than their element). You can get really strong stuff for just a few souls -- I'm not using a guide and I still managed to immediately get stuff that was double the defense or attack of what I had.

Ariel continues her journey through several places; one of them is a castle town -- you can't enter the castle, but you hear about knights who want to fight the Vandal Empire. One of them ends up dead in the next mountain, wanting you do something (but at the moment not clear what).

After crossing over several mountains and taking ships, we finally arrive at a town in the old Aretha Kingdom. But since it's been taken over by Vandal, there are a bunch of enemy knights there. We get out quickly and head for a nearby "Aretha Temple" that's supposed to be haunted. Although the temple is ruined, there is a priest there who tells us about the 4 Aretha Rings that have been stolen. It's quickly obvious that he's a bad guy trying to get information out of us, and when we can't provide it, he sends us to Baron Zareos. Zareos seems to have taken control of Doll, and Fang is nowhere to be found.

He also wants to know where the other rings are and shuts us up in a dungeon. Fortunately a young woman Marie saves us, although not revealing who she is at the moment.

After letting us out, Marie along with two companions leaves, and the old man tries to attack Ariel again, only to be fought off by a swordsman.

This is Kyle, who joins the party. Fang is in a nearby town -- a little girl had adopted him and made him promise to stay forever, but she lets Fang rejoin us as we leave. Ariel decides to return to Listhorn where Maddock is, to try to find the rings. They stow away on a ship and get discovered, but a nobleman named Darahyde who is entranced with Ariel's beauty saves them and joins the party.

The party is heading to Bangi desert where they think the rings might be -- this requires a lot of backtracking and new places, but eventually we reach the temple. Indeed, Ariel's cold ring is there, as well as a Silver Ring that is immediately taken by a woman Layla, who looks a lot like Ariel. A long lost sister?
A localization problem

Now Ariel could go back home, but she decides that she needs to find the other rings to learn the secret of Ariel Kingdom and perhaps find her grandmother. She has no lead, but has a dream that night where a voice tells her to seek the Elemental Dragon on the Holy Mountain. Off on another journey, and this seems like a good place to stop the first post.

On the gameplay side there's not a whole lot to say -- I have been learning new spells with Ariel, and finally got a group effect spell that makes the fights somewhat easier. But as with a lot of these early games, it's mostly just hold down the attack button on all the fights.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

PCE Game 24 - Ruin: Kami no Isan (Finished)

The next part of the game is pretty light on story; it's basically just the king sending you out to various places to find the other God Stones.

Now that the heroes have the "magic" thread, they can make a sail that will take them to the next continent. However, first Schwartz leaves the party temporarily to escort Jan's mom back to their hometown, so we'll be without him for the next boss.

As usual, the next dungeon has both a stone and a boss.

Despite the lack of Schwartz he's not especially difficult. I was able to do a bit of damage with Jan this time rather than just healing.

On our way to the next ruin, we get attacked by a guy in a dark cloak, the Beast King!

It's a story mandated loss, but as is typical, he leaves us alive while attending to something else. Two of his minions stay to beat the rest, but Schwartz reappears to save us.

The last god stone seems to be in a northern village that is supposedly the first village made by the gods. The town itself is fairly non-descript, but in a nearby dilapidated village, we find the old woman who narrates the opening cutscene.

She gives us the last stone, and relates the prophecy that a hero will use the 6 stones to call the power of lightning to defeat Ruin. And that the Beast King may be Ruin himself. Finally, she tells us the "pendant" Jan has is actually a key to one of the Sacred Areas, where we might meet the gods themselves.

The gods turn out to be people, of course. The backstory is never made entirely clear, but the people on the world now are "replicants" made by technologically advances humans. It was after some sort of disaster and made to preserve the human race, but didn't work exactly as intended, and now the remaining humans ("gods") are in cold sleep. This guy is Gilmore, who is surprised to hear about Ruin -- that project was supposed to have been cancelled. But he believes the prophecies of the Replicants and tries to find a way out of this while we defeat some enemies that broke in.

Run away and heal as usual, and the boss goes down fast. Meanwhile, Gilmore has enabled a weapon that will shoot the "lightning", using the energy from the god stones. We just need to point the controller at Ruin and hit the button. He also gives us an "old" ship to get to where Ruin is, and tells Jan about his father. 100 years ago, some of the humans left the shelters for a while, and it's possible that Jan's dad is still sleeping there. He offers to find him, but Jan doesn't seem to care (why not?)

Next up is the final dungeon.

The Beast King goes down to the usual heal strategy. We think we've won, but then he merges with Ruin to make the real final boss.

He can't be hurt until Jan activates the weapon, which weakens him.

Where Jan is standing is basically a safe space, so just stand there and hold down the attack button until he dies.

The shelter crumbles as everyone flees, and suddenly the ending is "some years later". It basically just says what happens to each character.

Schwartz and Sharol get married, as do Jan and Altena. The humans stay in their cold sleep, apparently forever. Jan and Altena set out in the technological ship to find a new continent. The ending has a vocal song as the credits roll.

So that's Ruin. It's a pretty basic game, and I don't think the gameplay was well designed, although most of the action RPGs that came out around this time had problems. The story is enjoyable, and that alone may make it worth the play.

Next up will be Aretha.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

2 Years

I'm going to schedule the second (and last) Ruin post for a few days from now so that I can do this post instead.

Two years ago I started this blog. If you view this on desktop you can see from the sidebar that I'm 30% done with the game list (which doesn't necessarily mean 30% of the time the blog will take). Thanks to everyone who has been reading me, either the whole time or just starting recently.

A few new readers over at the PC Engine Bible forum commented that judging from my posts, it didn't seem like I was having much fun. There is some truth to this -- I have been disappointed in the quality of the games so far. Before I started the blog, I was thinking about the classic SNES RPGs I had enjoyed as a kid, and all the untranslated Super Famicom RPGs I had heard about that people liked.

Instead, too many of the games so far have basic, dull RPG systems, too many random encounters, poorly designed magic systems, and boring dungeons. It's sometimes difficult to find things to write about in the posts because once I've described the basic gameplay in one paragraph, that's pretty much how it goes for the whole game. You can see a real difference in interest and energy level if you look at the Dragon Quest V posts.

However, that doesn't mean I'm not enjoying the experience. I do like the accomplishment of finishing the games and advancing in the list. I do expect the library to improve as I go on. There are still quite a few games that I've heard good things about but never played. My decision to do the Strategy RPG blog alongside this one was a good idea I think, because the RPGs feel fresher when I return to them.

Lastly, here are some of the games coming up in the next few months that I'm excited about:

Illusion of Gaia - I know this was released in English, but I haven't played it in many years and I loved it as a kid.

Dokapon kingdom - This is a mix of a board game and RPG; there will be several of these on the blog, but I'm interested to see how it plays.

Romancing Saga 2 - Will I like this better than RS1? Will I be able to beat it?

Shin Megami Tensei 2 - I've played 1, and the remake of the NES games.

Forward to year 3!

PS: Geocities Japanese is shutting down soon. This is the source of a lot of walkthroughs and info for older, more obscure games, so it's a big loss.