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.