Sunday, February 23, 2020

PCE Game 29 - Star Breaker

Star Breaker (スターブレイカー)
Released 2/10/1994, developed by Ray Force

Star Breaker is one of three RPGs developed for the PC Engine by Ray Force. The first, Startling Odyssey, was a cookie cutter RPG that I covered briefly some time ago. They followed that up with Startling Odyssey II, but Star Breaker came between them. I can't find much more information about the game than this.

I'm going to try giving a bit more detail about the game by blogging while I play rather than taking notes and writing the post later.

The opening narration tells us that in the year 2550, humanity has expanded into the galaxy, fought two huge wars with "non humanoids" and then created the Alliance Army, which both protects humanity and also keeps the peace in the galaxy. The main character is Harry, who serves in the 7th fleet. He's testing out a new type of fighter, the Pegasus. He engages the warp, but there's some kind of error and he's blown into another dimension, and then shot down, crash landing on a planet.

He awakes in a room in a castle, unable to understand what people are saying. But a woman comes out, who calls herself Princess Aria.

She uses telepathic means to help him understand the language and also to learn about him. Apparently he's been shot down by the Doran, who are enemies, and he's on Menalis planet. She asks him to talk to her father the king. Now we get to control Harry.

The status screen looks pretty typical (I assume ESP is the magic of this game, and PP will be for the psychic/magic characters).

I explored the castle, finding some basic equipment to outfit Harry. The king had basically nothing useful to say, so I went down into the basement to see how the Pegasus is doing. Apparently they can't fix it, but the Pegasus tells me that if I can find some parts from the Doran ships, it should be possible to repair it. So we'll have to infiltrate a Doran base nearby.

Surprisingly (or not) Aria begs to come along, and the king lets her, also sending the ship technician Oregano.

Aria has a healing spell, and Oregano has Antidote. They also have some battle spells. The PP they have looks very low, and I'm afraid this will be yet another game where you really can't use magic because it's so limited. Time to go out to the castle town.

Oregano and Aria came with equipment, so I just gathered information -- the most important was an old man who told me to look for a guy named Baki who could help us with getting into the Doran base, and gave us a music box. Now for the world map.

Usually at first I try to get in a fight right around town to feel out how difficult the encounters are.

There's an auto battle; given my resources now I think I'm pretty much limited to attacking and healing. The enemies took a lot of hits to take down, but they gave 9 XP and my guys only need 19 to raise a level so I'll gain one or two levels before moving on. I generally don't like grinding but often it's important right at the beginning.

The level ups turned out to be pretty significant; they provide full heal of HP and PP, and the stat gains are high. At level 2 I started exploring a bit beyond the area, and soon reached level 3. I also bought better equipment for everyone.

Of course you can't see what the stats of equipment are. It's 1994! Final Fantasy VI is coming out in two months!

The next town, Soreid, gave me some information. I'll need to take down a shield to make it into the Doran base, and the mine nearby has been taken over by Doran. Baki turns out to be the mine leader, but he's drinking in a bar. They want me to bring his wife to the town to restore his confidence. This is in another town, but my guys are now strong enough to beat the random encounters in this area with no problem.

The music box I got in the first down plays their wedding theme, and she agrees to go with us back to Baki. He lets us know that the shield generator is in the mine, and gives us some dynamite to help out with that.

The mine has the same enemies as outside, so my level 5 party had no difficulties, especially after finding some equipment upgrades for Oregano and Aria.

There's no boss fight, so I destroyed the shield generator with the dynamite.

On the way out, I met this nasty enemy, who I think is just a random monster. But everything heals him except Oregano's attack spells.

Now that the shield generator is gone I can head north to the base. The cave leading to the base had the same enemies as before, so I got through there fairly easily, moving up one level in the process.

The base is nearby. The monsters seem mostly the same, but I did encounter these nasty frogs, who use all-attack spells and can't be hurt by most of my attacks.

Aria was at 7 HP so that was close. Now inside the fortress there is a tantalizing save point that I can't get to yet:

But it was easily reached by going up those nearby stairs. Proceeding through the fortress, I eventually found the C Module I needed, but then a boss appears.

He uses a nasty all-attack and some big attacks, and my healing can't really keep up (both Aria's healing spell and the Heal Ampures I've been getting from fights and chests) heal less than a single attack from the boss. I died the first time so I guess I'll try one level up and see if he's easier at level 8. Harry had gotten a move that takes 1/8 of his HP off, but it seemed to do almost the same damage as a basic attack, so that's not worth it.

This was sufficient to beat him. Of course he blows up the base, and then takes off in a ship, which goes over to destroy the castle.

Making my way into the castle, I learn that the King has been captured, and agree to go after him, so it's time to fix the ship.

The ship is soon fixed, and Harry decides to stay in this dimension for now to help Aria find the king. They take off, and head to space station Ios. This is a neutral area with many Doran soldiers. There's a shop which seems to have things for the ship, but they're way too expensive.

The next destination seems to be the other planet in this system, Rimurus, so I head over and land there.

This menu indicates that there is some sort of space combat, but it's evidently not a major part of the game.

And I land on Rimurus.


That's where I'm going to stop this game. As I've said before, PC Engine games have to clear a higher bar for me to play them beyond a few hours. By far the biggest surprise in this blog has been how slow developers other than Square and Enix were to innovate. Final Fantasy VI comes out two months after this game. It's just stunning to me that at this late of a date, it's still acceptable for studios to be publishing RPGs where the gameplay is essentially Dragon Quest II. 

This game also makes fairly poor use of the PC Engine; there was one voiced sequence at the beginning and some of the music is off the CD, but it's mostly just the same as you would see on the Super Famicom.

Next up will be Xanadu, an original action RPG by Falcom for the system.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

PCE Game 28 - Emerald Dragon Part 2 (Finished)

At the end of the last post we had retaken Durgwand Castle from Ostracon. The next main goal is to defeat the demon king Garcia, who is (appropriately) in the Demon Castle. We hope that the Priestess of the Sea, living in the Kasha Islands can help us. On the way, a researcher named Warumaru helps restore Hasram from the black crystal that Ostracon trapped him in.

The Priestess of the Sea tells us that we need the Mountain Priestess' help as well as various ancient documents that can be recovered from nearby caves. As we explore, Garcia's troops attack us to stop us from getting that power. Once all the documents are recovered, the Priestess gives Tamlyn a "teleposta" (without explanation, and it can't be used) and a secret message.

Now it's on to the Mountain Priestess, and along the way we actually have to fight Garcia himself.

Fortunately the priestess helps us out, and Garcia flees after we beat him up. Now on the Mountain Priestess, whose temple is right next to the Demon Castle. Garcia kills the priestess but she opens up the way to his castle.

The castle is a very long dungeon with a whole bunch of boss fights. This is really where I felt the tedium of the game.

Eventually, we come to Garcia himself.

Who really is not that hard. Tamlyn has learned this laser beam spell that does an enormous amount of damage, and when she can use that rather than healing it makes the battles go a lot more quickly. If only I could get her to use that instead of healing the other NPCs!

Now once Garcia is beaten, the game's not over yet. He reveals that it was the Hors people that summoned him and had him get the Avesta. We've been hearing about the Hors throughout the game -- they created the world, they were called gods, etc. And Tamlyn reveals that she herself is a Hors, as she uses the Teleposta to take us out of the crumbling Demon Castle.

So while the world celebrates the defeat of the Demon King, the party decides to continue investigating to see what the Hors are up to.

After a few quests we manage to get through a cave to the land where the Hors live. A bunch of them confront the party, but after realizing that Tamlyn is the princess, they take her and throw the rest of the party in jail.

It turns out that Tiridates, the Prime Minster, has taken control of the government after the king's death and Tamlyn's disappearance. He wants to use the Avesta to attack and conquer the outside world. Fortunately a faithful knight Jessil rescues everyone and we prepare for the final assault. The final dungeon is not very long and has a lot of really good equipment for everyone.

First we defeat Tiridates, and then he turns into the demon Zandig, who had been controlling his body. Zandig is not very hard with Tamlyn constantly laser beaming him for thousands of damage a turn, and he goes down quickly.

Now the power of the Emerald Graces restores the Emerald Dragon, who seals away Zandig. Atorushan decides to stay in the human world with Tamlyn, and the game ends.


Overall I found that the game got pretty tedious as it went on. The story is fine, and the visuals and music are great. There's lots of voiced dialogue, and the animated sequences are well done. The ability to talk to your characters (by pressing start) is a good touch that fleshes them out a bit.

The real problem is the gameplay. At first I felt like the encounter rate was reasonable and the battles were enjoyable. But eventually I got tired of every battle being the same thing -- you just run into monsters, and maybe use a healing item every so often. Tamlyn has a lot of interesting spells but you can't control her use of them at all (and because of the way the battles work she tends to use a healing spell most of the time). I think this is an artifact of the game being made originally in 1989.

The other problem is that it can be hard to tell where to go next. You often have the name of where you're supposed to go but it's not always clear where that is, especially when you have to backtrack and remember which one of the 6 similar forts you visited is the one you're supposed to go to.

I'll try out the Super Famicom version when I get there (in 1995) to see how that version goes. My other blog has a good number of SFC games coming up so be sure to check that out as well.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

PCE Game 28 - Emerald Dragon

Emerald Dragon (エメラルドドラゴン)
Released 1/28/1994, published by NEC

This is a port of a computer game originally released in 1989 for various computers. It was then remade for the FM Towns, a computer designed for multimedia and games. The game was then remade for the PC Engine in 1994, and finally the game was remade again for the Super Famicom in 1995.  The SFC version has a translation patch.

The game begins with you controlling the dragon Atorushan on the island of dragons. They haven't been to the mainland Ishburn for thousands of years because of a curse on dragons there. A girl named Tamlyn washes ashore, and grows up with the dragons.

There is a lot of voiced dialogue, and animated cutscenes (of the usual PCE type). Eventually Tamlyn decides to go back to Ishburn, and Atorushan gives her part of his horn so that she can call for help if necessary. A few years later he decides to go looking for her, and the White Dragon elder at the same time would like him to investigate the curse of Ishburn. Apparently the land is overrun by the Demon Army controlled by the Demon King Garcia. Atorushan gets the Silver Scale which allows him to become human, thus avoiding the curse.

Atorushan looks for Tamlyn, but she has gone to help a magician Bagin try to keep a golem from being reborn. Atorushan goes to find her, but falls into a trap and ends up in a cell with Tamlyn. After a reunion, they head to Bagin, who then releases the golem for them all to defeat.

The battle system is fairly simplistic. You only control Atorushan, The number by the character shows their remaining "action points", which are used to move and attack. Usually an attack consumes 4 points, but different weapons can use more or less. The other characters move automatically; you can tell them who to attack but that's it. I would have appreciated a little more control, but the AI is fairly good. The spellcasters seem to have unlimited MP, but there's no way to even see what spells they have.

One feature that seems to have been added in the SFC version is the dragon ability, where you can use the Emerald Graces (of which the Silver Scale is one) to transform Atorushan into a dragon; this takes most of his HP because of the curse, but does a big attack. If this is in the PCE version, I can't find a way to use it. The system is simple, but since battles are fairly quick it's not a huge deal -- I certainly prefer this to just mashing "attack" in a typical RPG battle.

Once the golem is taken down, Bagin joins us as we continue to fight the demon army. The next destination is Elbard Castle.

This game, like Ys, has no world map but different screens where the towns run continuously into the wilderness. You can get maps that will show the surrounding areas, as above. It can be somewhat frustrating to find out where to go next. If you press Start you can see your party talk to each other which will usually remind you of where to go next, but it's not always clear which direction that is, and sometimes you have to remember between several forts or towns.

At Elbard, we clear out a traitorous noble, and then the prince (Hasram) joins the party.

Atorushan and Tamlyn are the only characters who can level up, so the other characters join and leave fairly frequently. Hasram joins us to launch an attack at Zama Fortress, along with Falma. It seems to be controlled be a guy named Ostracon but he's gone, so we take out his lieutenant Barago instead.

The game is not especially difficult. I think this Barago fight was one of the few that gave me any trouble -- as usual for a game of this period, there really isn't much strategy to use, so it's just a matter of having the necessary levels and healing items.

As we move on, we hear about a cave that supposedly has dragon spirits.

It does indeed -- this is the Silver Dragon, who created the Silver Scale that Atorushan is using. There are five of these "Emerald Graces". Unfortunately the Emerald Dragon itself is dead, but legend says that if we can unite the five Emerald Graces a miracle will happen and the forces of evil will stand no chance.

Now while all this was going on, Bagin has left the party and charged ahead on his own. He left a letter saying that 20 years ago he tried to get the Purple Gem (one of the Graces) with a friend, who died. To make up for that, he's going to kill Gomes, a demon terrorizing Nanai Village. So we'll set out to catch up with him.

Nanai is not an easy place to get to -- it requires help of the American Indian knockoffs of this game, the Dardwa people. Along the way we have to go through several other fortresses and towns, including a meeting with Ostracon himself.

Atorushan wounds him so he flees, leaving one of his minions behind to fight. Eventually we reach the Dardwa, but because of their rules, they refuse to let us find the way to Nanai village. However, the son of the elder, Yaman, decides to guide us there. He is thrown out of the village by his father...but I guess we can get to Nanai.

At Nanai, we learn that Gomes is demanding sacrifices from the villagers. To deal with this RPG cliche we head off to fight him -- only to find that he's managed to take out Bagin.

Bagin reveals that he was originally in the demon army, but that a friend helped him escape (who was Falna's father). He gives us the Purple Gem, and we can pay him back by beating Gomes. He also powers up Falna, who is fairly useless -- I think at least now she has more spells, but she tends to just run and attack instead.

Back to the main mission of clearing the demon army out of various strongholds, and finding the other three Emerald Graces. Ostracon is continuing to cause problems, and he sets us to fight his third minion, Bashita.

Now we learn that Hasram (who had returned to Elbard) has been taken captive by Ostracon. He traps him in a black crystal, and then asks for the Avesta (a gem in the Dardwa forest) in exchange. Of course heroes being heroes, we have to go get it from the Dardwa Temple. This requires getting more reluctant cooperation from the Dardwa, and making out way into the temple. A fairy there gives some world background, and then we fight a Dragon Zombie to recover the Avesta.

Of course you know the story -- the heroes stupidly trust Ostracon to give us Hasram in exchange for the Avesta. Does he?

Of course not, he just crushes the crystal, killing Hasram. So, it's time to fight Ostracon. He's not as hard as we might think, but as usual defeating him just makes him run away, and Hasram's still dead. Now Garcia will have the Avesta -- nice job, heroes.

But, now we can continue on with the main mission. We decide, based on some info, to visit a sage Fushrunum who might have some useful information. Along the way, Yaman gets killed by a random arrow.

Kind of a sudden development, but it's a way to clear the lower leveled character out to replace him with a new archer named Sayoshant. He's known as a hero so a nice person to join, but he's mostly interested in recovering his master's bow from Ostracon. Fushrunum is living in a hermit hut through a cave, and has some useful information about world backstory, but not much else. He also thinks that Hasram is likely still alive.

Now it's time to get Ostracon for good. He's in Durgwand Castle, which the resistance movement has already seized. Making our way through, we finally get to Ostracon. He resurrects his three minions, but since they have the same stats they did when you first fought them, they're not very hard.

Once he goes down, he asks for extra power from Garcia, and becomes a bigger demon.

I think I was a bit overlevelled because I had trouble finding some of these places, and he went down easily. He has no more tricks up his sleeve, so he (apparently) dies, and we recover the bow, and the crystal with Haslam in it.

This is not a bad game, and the music and visuals are great. I just wish the battle system was a little more involved -- I'm in the common position of not being able to say much about the battles because they're all kind of the same. You can only control Atorushan, and his only options are attack or item. I feel like this is a perfectly playable and decent game on the verge of being a very good game.