Saturday, October 26, 2019

Game 40 - Monster Maker 3

Monster Maker 3: Magician of Light (モンスターメーカー3 光の魔術師)
Released 12/24/1993, developed by Sofel

Monster Maker is a franchise that started out as a card game but grew to include a CCG, a tabletop RPG, manga, and such. There were a number of video games based on the franchise as well. The first couple of games used card mechanics and apparently were somewhat innovative, but after that they switched to a regular RPG format.

Monster Maker 3 seems to get a lot of criticism for its high encounter rate (even for 1993), unfair random encounters that can kill you quickly, and large dungeons with traps. This site has good maps for the game, which are useful. At least the fights give good rewards so that you level quickly.

The game begins in the manner of Dragon Quest IV -- you name your hero but then have to go through some preliminary chapters that introduce other characters.

Chapter 1 begins with Alshark, a fighter who hopes to become a knight. He gets his chance when the king puts out a call for people to defeat a monster in a nearby castle, and save a foreign princess.

As I said before, the random encounter rate is very high. Another problem is that twice now the game has frozen during combats, so I will be using bsnes' auto save state feature to deal with this. In combat, the characters move around the field and can only attack within their range. So it's a little more than just the usual AMID battle system but it boils down to basically the same thing. Unfortunately it has another feature of older games in that the magic users' MP is so low that you can't really use their spells freely. 

Make sure you stay out of the forests because there are monsters in there that do "scream" attacks that hit everyone and do big damage.

Alshark has to go through a cave to get to the monster castle, both of which have a bunch of traps in them that you have to pull switches to disable. The castle fortunately has a save point in it. There are also strange notes here and there from the "captured princess" warning you of traps and pointing you to where keys are.

Eventually there's a boss.

So far I haven't found grinding to be an issue because the encounter rate is so high. Since it's just Alshark there's not much I can do except attack and heal.

It turns out that this "monster" was charmed by the elf princess Roryeen, who set up this whole scenario to find a strong fighter who could join her in figuring out what's going on with all the increased monster activity. But the king is still happy and awards Alshark his knighthood, and a mission to go south to Kyubikku, which has been ravaged by kobolds.

Roryeen has a bow so she can sit at the back and shoot the enemies. Sometimes she gets 2 or 3 shots but I haven't figured out exactly when this happens. The encounter above is a fixed encounter -- in addition to random encounters there are occasionally fixed encounters you can see walking around. Typically these are harder, as in the above case. That thing at the back uses the scream attack for big damage, and the kobolds can try to block your access to it.

Eventually Alshark and Roryeen reach the kobold king and defeat him, upon which he wakes up from some sort of mind control and wonders what's going on. Rather than solve that puzzle, our heroes move on to the next village, where a monster is demanding sacrificial victims from the people. Roryeen offers to be the next victim, hoping Alshark will save her, but this is where chapter 1 ends.

Chapter 2 moves to the elf kingdom, where Prince Ersais is wondering where Roryeen has gone, and he and Sarla go out to find her. After making their way out of the forest, they come to a mining town where an angry dragon is menacing the miners. The dragon is calling for her child, wondering what she did to humans to deserve this. So we go to a "monster maker" house nearby to find the small dragon locked in the basement along with other monsters.

The monster maker was asked to keep these monsters by this pink haired mysterious woman below, but the monster maker sacrifices himself to let us escape and take the small dragon back to the mother, who then lets us pass.

Now Ersais and Sarla are able to make it through the kobold cave to get to the same place as chapter 1, where Alshark is wondering how to save Roryeen. They manage to sneak in and confront the monster, and Roryeen who is annoyed that it took so long for us to get there.

The key to this fight is to keep casting the spell that seals magic, otherwise Barbara will use hit-all magic spells that do a lot of damage. Once we save Roryeen, a pegasus takes us back to the castle to hear the stock JRPG cliches -- darkness is coming on the world and we need to find the girl who is the chosen warrior of light, etc. Chapter 2 then ends and we shift locations again.

I think that this game is OK, but if I were not using the dungeon maps and emulator speedup it would be a lot more frustrating to play. There's also a no encounters cheat code which might be helpful. But the graphics are decent and the interface is fine, with one quirk. I don't understand how the shop interface works in showing you the stats of the weapons compared to your equipped ones. The important thing is that if no numbers are shown that means the weapon or armor is better than what you have equipped, but that doesn't really make sense.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

PCE Game 26 - Ys IV: Dawn of Ys

Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys (イースフォー ザドーンオブイース)
Released 12/22/1993, developed by Hudsonsoft


The Ys series has a strange history. The first three games came out for computers, and then were ported to many different consoles. Up until very recently, Falcom did not employ any console programmers, so they always outsourced their console ports to other developers.

Ys IV is an interesting case because there are actually three versions of the game. In 1993 Falcom did not make a computer Ys IV, but instead outsourced the development to two different companies. Tonkin House brought out Mask of the Sun for the Super Famicom, and Hudson brought out a completely different game Dawn of Ys for the PC Engine. Both games were confusingly labelled "Ys IV". Almost 20 years later, Falcom developed Ys: Memories of Celceta, which was a completely new game in the same setting that is now considered the canonical Ys IV.

Back to 1993, Dawn of Ys is superior to Mask of the Sun in every way. It's a followup to Ys I&II, going back to the traditional "run into enemies" gameplay and involving a lot of voiced dialogue and a few cutscenes (more of both than Ys I&II had).

This is also unusual among PC Engine CD games in that it actually has a full patch. As I've said before, fan translators have a tough time with PCE CD games because, a least in all the games I've played so far, they have a lot of voiced dialogue with no subtitles. But for Ys IV someone actually made a full fan dub of the game, plus a translation patch for the rest of the text. So this will be more of an overall review than a step-by-step account of the game.

I've wanted to play this game for a long time. I remember somehow knowing about this game when I was a kid, even though it never came out in the US. It must have appeared in some magazine as a possible upcoming game?

The game opens with Adol and Dogi returning to Esteria, where Ys I took place. But he's only there briefly before he sets out for Celceta where a new adventure awaits. The opening cinematic sequence is like all the PC Engine games; a combination of voice, still pictures, and slightly animated pictures. Some baddies are trying to revive an evil demon of some sort -- a familiar sight in RPGs. They fail, of course. Adol arrives in Esteria and soon meets several important NPCs, including Karna.

The battle system, as I said, is the same "run into enemies" as before.

I feel like the screen is a little bit squished; I feel like they could have reduced the size of the border and the HUD at the bottom while still allowing it to be within the PCE's processing power, but maybe I'm wrong.

If you've played Ys I&II you will be in very familiar territory in thise game. I think that after Ys III, Hudson wanted to repeat the success of I&II by making basically the same game in a different setting. The graphics are somewhat better but the game is the same length as I&II, roughly.

At times another character (usually Karna or Dogi) will accompany you. They can kill enemies often in one or two hits, which is somewhat helpful, but it also means they're stealing your XP.

Because this game has a full translation patch I don't want to give away too much. The story is run-of-the mill, but the voice adds some memorableness to the villains.

In the first section of the game, Adol is solving various small problems that pop up while trying to figure out what's going on in Celceta. Eventually the main villains are revealed -- the "Clan of Darkness", who is working with a winged being to revive a lost castle.

At the same time, Adol gains control over the ancient magics of Celceta while learning the backstory of what happened to the land. There's a neat part where you get to return to Esteria and even go to Darm Tower again, complete with the music from Ys I (fortunately you find a secret passage so it's nowhere near as long a dungeon).

In contrast to Ys I&II, many of the bosses require you to use the fire or freeze magic to shoot at them. Otherwise as always you have to figure out the attack patterns of the bosses, and when and where you can hit them. Of course, being at the proper level helps as well. There's a very useful item you can get later in the game that slows your movement but every non-boss enemy dies in one hit. With this item, grinding is much more manageable.

 Overall the playing experience was very smooth. There was only one part that really annoyed me -- I didn't get a screenshot, but you have to make it through an area where jets of flame come up periodically, and if you touch even a pixel of the flames, you die. What makes it worse is that Dogi is following you, and if any pixel touches him then you get a game over as well. So you not only have to learn the pattern but make sure you move so that Dogi doesn't lag behind and get caught up in the flames. I probably died 25-30 times trying to get through this...and you have to do it twice! Fortunately the second time is without Dogi, but come on.

If you are a fan of the older Ys games, or retro action RPGs, there is no reason not to play this. It's one of the best from this era.

Ys will appear one more time on this blog, with Ys V for the Super Famicom in 1995.