Monday, May 27, 2019

Game 37 - Romancing SaGa 2

Romancing SaGa 2
12/10/1993, Square


This is the 5th game in Square's long running SaGa series. The hallmark of the series is to go against standard RPG gameplay; in the Game Boy games this was mostly in the way level ups were handled, but starting with Romancing SaGa, there is also a "free quest" system that introduces a lot of non-linearity to the games.

RS1 was one of the first games I played on the blog. Overall I really appreciated the idea behind the game, but I found the implementation of it was poor and ultimately I didn't like the game much. I reached the point where random enemies were one-shotting my entire party despite them having the best buyable equipment in the game, and I gave up.

I have always heard RS2 described as one of the most punishing, hardest old games from this era, so I'm expecting to possibly get stuck again. I typically don't make a lot of use of walkthroughs but I at least read the basic gameplay and browsed through the GameFAQs forum to see if I could get any general tips on not getting stuck. We'll see.

The basic idea behind the game is that the "Seven Legendary Heroes" have returned, but in fact they seem to be evil. You are the Emperor of Avalon, trying to fight against the neighboring kingdoms held by these "heroes". One peculiar aspect of the game is that you are supposed to die -- every character has HP and LP. HP are restored at the end of each battle. If they hit 0, the character loses an LP, and loses an additional LP if any damage is taken beyond that. If the LP hit 0 they are dead. If your Emperor's LP hits 0 or if the entire party is wiped out, a new Emperor takes the throne and inherits the old Emperor's skills. The game is intentionally designed so that you will be losing characters and replacing them with new ones.

The game begins with Emperor Leon taking his son Gerard and some other minions on several local quests.  The system is the same "symbol encounter" system as RS1 but the vast improvement is that your formation now only gets messed up if you get attacked from behind, not the sides. Also, they got rid of the system where certain weapons can't be used in certain positions. It's also easier to avoid enemies, so all of that is a big improvement.

The battle system is much like RS1. You can equip 4 attack items (either weapons or heal/etc items). As you use the weapons you level them up. Unlike RS1 you don't automatically learn skills on levelling up; instead you have to "spark" them in battle, which seems to be highly random. A huge improvement is that the skills are now associated with a type of weapon rather than individual weapons, so it's no longer the case that unequipping a weapon forgets all the skills, or that a stronger weapon comes with 0 skills. You get a specific number of "tech points" at the end of a battle but I'm not sure why since there's no way to check what that number actually means for your characters. I really don't understand that -- is there a reason they can't show us how many points our characters have?

Anyway, the first dungeon is short and simple. Gerard has nothing, but he sits at the back of the formation, making him easy to protect. The enemies have resistances vs. different types of weapons, which takes some testing. One difficulty I had was getting trapped by slimes, which take almost no damage from anything -- eventually I found out that Light Ball hurts them, and hits everyone, so they can be taken out.

Chests give you enormous amounts of GP; one of the other interesting things about this game is that your empire has a treasury that gets filled as you go -- each battle gives you "taxes" based on how big the empire is. Your personal wallet can only go up to 10,000 gp but the treasury can hold millions; apparently this money can be used for things like researching magic and weapons, and building new parts of your capital city.

After a few more initial quests, the first of the 7 heroes, Kujinshi, shows up and attacks Avalon, killing Gerard's brother. Leon leads us out to defeat him, but is himself killed by the same Soul Steal attack. Fortunately a witch helps him transfer his skills to Gerard.

With Gerard, I first went to defeat the goblins that attacked Avalon, and then on to fighting Kujinshi himself. Fortunately Leon figured out a way to dodge the Soul Steal attack before dying, and passed that on to Gerard. I still found Kujinshi fairly difficult because after a while he regenerates HP every round, and he can use some nasty attacks. On the third try I managed to beat him.

Afterwards Gerard moves on to the next kingdom over to solve its problem.

I wanted to make this first update just to talk generally about the game; I should have more to write about with this because each dungeon isn't just "Mash A in every battle".

Saturday, May 11, 2019

PCE Game 25 - Aurora Quest Otaku no Seiza IN ANOTHER WORLD

Aurora Quest Otaku no Seiza IN ANOTHER WORLD
Released 12/10/1993, published by Pack In Video

This is a complete remake of a Famicom game. It was designed by two mangaka, one of them (Motomiya Hiroshi) is well known for Salaryman Kintaro, a popular series in Japan. From what I can tell, the original Famicom game was not well received or liked, partly because it came out in the waning days of the system. But somehow there was a pachinko machine based on it, and then an idol group (pop singers) as well, thus spurring the remake.

Unfortunately the remake also seems to have been poorly received. It looks to me that by the end of 1993, even hardcore Japanese RPG players had gotten tired of basic RPGs that offered the same battle system unchanged from Dragon Quest II.

The story is a little embarrassing for 2019 -- the idea is that somehow five women have come to Earth, devastated by a world war, and taken control. They live in a floating city and are representatives of the goddess Maria. The world is ruled by women, and men have become marginalized and are all called "otaku". The main character was found unconscious near a teleportation device between the Earth and the floating city, and his goal is to make the 5 goddesses recognize his strength as a man.

You start out on the Earth, and have to beat a monster to open up the transport area that can start transporting you to the floating cities where the five women are.

The battle system is completely standard AMID, with a high encounter rate. It even has the old "ineffective" thing from FF1 where if you attack a monster that then gets killed, your attack is wasted.

At least the monster graphics are detailed, although this aspect reminds me a lot of Maka Maka. As I said back then, I've never found Japanese gag manga particularly funny. Although the above bat might look good, the vast majority of enemies you fight are more along these lines:

Once you reach the floating platform, there's a small overworld where you travel to several towns. The towns all have music themes, with the mayor being a "manager" and the city halls being discos or live music houses. The goddesses are all dancing at the top of disco buildings with followers, while the men (all named "otaku") are wandering below.

To reach the first goddess helper, Yang, you have to clear some monsters out of a flower shop and an antique store, and get three entry tickets (one from each town). With those you can enter the disco. Yang herself wants you to show her your kindness, which involves bringing her a rose from the flower store you saved earlier. After that she says she'll recognize you if you defeat her.

Once you defeat Yang, she regains her memory and tells you to "awaken" the other four women as well. She also gives Jonjon a plasma crystal that lets him use spells.

The second world is basically the same thing; this time I had to get three sets of armor to let me withstand the attacks of Rin's bodyguards, then show Rin herself my "beauty" by bringing the right set of clothes.

Rin also regains her memory upon being defeated, and remembers that they came to Earth to find a man who would save the world by defeating the forces of darkness (sigh). She gives another crystal, so now Nekketsu can use spells.

I think this is where I will stop -- it's clear from looking at the walkthrough that after you save the five women the story changes to a more standard "save the world" plot.

This game is probably worth a try if you don't mind the old gameplay. At least the world concept is different, and it has a retro vibe (maybe an out-of-date vibe?) The enemy graphics are detailed and colorful, albeit offputting sometimes. There's a lot of equipment, and it looks like the story is OK. Apparently there's a translation patch for the original Famicom game coming out soon.

Next up will be Romancing SaGa 2 -- I put it back a bit because I wanted to get the instruction manual, but I still don't have it. I'm playing Shining Force II on my other blog, but once I finish that I'll start RS2 whether I have the instructions or not.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Game 36 - Soul & Sword (wrap-up)

This game is another attempt at a "free mission" system where there is no set order to do the various events and quests. Obviously the closest comparison is going to be with the Romancing SaGa series. In comparison to RS1 I think this game wins in a number of aspects.

First of all, it's much easier to find quests than it was in RS1. You don't have to pay to travel around the world, and the quests don't involve talking to random people in specific towns at specific times. If you just take good notes, you'll probably find almost all of the events and quests in the game.

The scaling of the monster difficulty is done much better as well. RS1 had this problem where you would suddenly start fighting ridiculously hard monsters, whereas the S&S difficulty is much more graded. On the whole it's a pretty easy game, with only a few parts that require special tactics or equipment.

One interesting decision the S&S designers made was not to have any sort of overarching story. There really is no final boss and certainly no "save the world" plot. There is one quest that does seem intended to be the last quest, but even that isn't hugely epic. The use of multiple endings was an interesting choice as well, with the ability to leave the island any time you want to end the game.

The battle system is pretty boring, as is typical for games of this era. The random encounter rate is way too high, and you have to walk out of dungeons, which makes the quests more tedious than they should be. Even well-designed quests like the horror themed doll quest or the satirical fairyland quest are undermined by the constant heaps of random encounters that detract from the experience. This last part is why it took me so long to get through the game.

At least the magic users can make good use of their spells because MP restoring stuff is so cheap. The lack of healing spells is odd. I never made much use of the "waza" (tech) abilities.

Ultimately I would give this game a B rank -- a game that's not terrible, but I did have to force myself to finish it. I may need to re-evaluate the criteria for abandoning a game. I'm not sure it benefits anyone to have almost a month be taken up by posts about one game that's only being stretched out that much because I have to force myself to play it.

Next up is a PCE game, "Aurora Quest", which I'm not expecting good things from.