Sunday, July 26, 2020

Game 48 - Dream Maze: Kigurumi Adventure

Dream Maze: Kigurumi Adventure (夢迷宮きぐるみ大冒険)
Released 4/15/1994, published by HECT

This is a rather bizarre game that got a fan translation. It begins with a boy having a dream.

The frog says he was chosen randomly to be a hero, to save four princesses who will then use their power to help him defeat the Akumu ("bad dream"). Unfortunately that's the extent of the story -- there aren't any developments, twists, or anything. 

The game is a first-person maze.

The game takes place through 5 areas with a total of over 60 floors, so there's quite a bit of volume. On each floor you can buy a map that will show you the floor's layout, although there's no way to know where anything is on the map (stairs, shops, etc.) The areas are suitably kid-dream themed (Cake Tower, Pudding Tower, etc.)

The "kigurumi" (wearable animal costumes) from the title comes from the way the characters can wear the outfits of defeated monsters.

Any large monster you fight (like the chicken in the middle) will leave behind a suit as long as they are the last enemy defeated. You can then visit a "changing room" to change suits, and there are also tailors that can make custom suits by combining multiple suits -- this doesn't seem necessary, though.

Unfortunately that's the only way to change the characters' power. There are no experience levels or equippable items. You gain "candy" from fights that act as money, but what you buy with those are healing items or single-use damage dealing items. The problem with this system is that it feels pointless to actually explore the various levels of the dungeons. All you get is money that you can use to buy healing items, which let you continue to explore to get money to buy healing items. Once you've gotten good kigurumi suits from the current dungeon, all you need to do is get to the boss. So exploring the huge dungeons seems like more of a chore than a fun experience. There are a few helpful items in the levels, particularly the ones that raise your max HP (which is the only way to do that). But I still feel like having to explore 10 floors of a dungeon to find a couple of useful items feels wrong.

The levels are mostly empty; there might be a treasure chest (which you have to walk directly over to find) but often there's not even that. But what you will find are the wizardry-inspired warps, spinning floors, and trap doors. But they seem to have gone out of their way to make it annoying -- there are levels with complicated warp sequences that lead nowhere useful, you can just ignore them and go to the next floor.

The battle system has you choose "punch" or "kick", and then an area of the screen. Each suit has a different punch and kick rating, and monsters typically have one type of attack they're weak to. Some suits also give you special abilities like Fire.

Once you choose an area, the monsters might move out of that area and dodge.

There are other characters to find in the dungeon but they're quite difficult to find if you don't know where they are. Once you get them, you can do a combined attack that does more damage.

The main problem with this game is that it's just not that fun to play. Wandering around in the mazes feels like a waste of time because you're not finding anything useful or getting stronger. But if you use maps, you can probably beat the game in a few hours. The bosses in each tower are at the same level as the grunt monsters until the final boss in the last tower, who is a huge step up in difficulty. As I said before, there are no plot developments.

I think the idea of the kigurumi is interesting, and I feel like this could have been a much better game. They just needed to add some other reason to explore the maps and fight the monsters, and make at least a tiny effort to develop a storyline. I wish they had combined the kigurumi system with some kind of more traditional RPG system. As it is, I do not recommend this game at all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Final Fantasy VI

I've now reached the point where FF6 came out. It's amazing to me how far ahead of everything else it was. I knew it would be better than other games but it's almost like Square was on another plane altogether -- what other companies were doing wasn't even coming close.

I've also always considered FF6 a late SNES game but in fact it's rather early; I'm only a bit past the 1/3 mark. I think it's because FF6 is the last SNES game I played new when it came out. After that I was more interested in computer RPGs and didn't play Chrono Trigger until much later on emulator.

Now on to Dark Kingdom.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

PCE Game 32 - Monster Maker: Dragon Knight of Darkness

Monster Maker: The Dark Dragon Knight (モンスターメーカー 闇の竜騎士)
Released 3/30/1994, published by NEC Avenue

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. I previous covered the third game in the series, for SNES. I thought it had a lot of potential but was hampered by some poor design decisions, and I was hoping for an improvement.

Unfortunately this game is much worse, and is an infamous kusoge for the PCE. It was hampered by a long development delay of 2 years. Even then, when it finally came out it was riddled with bugs, including ones that delete your save games or stick you in impossible to win situations. They even had to include a flyer in the package warning you about one of them. There are also freezes, combats ending for no reason, not being able to move on the world map, and others. Furthermore, the game ends suddenly in the middle of the story with "To Be Continued," but the sequel was never made. One contemporary reviewer for a PC Engine magazine refused to give it a score because of how unfinished it was.

The early games had a card-based battle system. Monster Maker 3 changed this to regular RPG but did have some positioning elements that made it a bit different. This game goes back to just Dragon Quest II style.

The main character, Laia, is a half-elf who was abandoned and raised in the village of Ferund. She likes talking to the fairies outside of town, but is chased out of town when the town is attacked by other dark-haired elves like her. She is given her mother's circlet and has to go on a quest to find the truth of what happened and her background.

She quickly gets two kobolds and a fighter named Mary in her party -- the Monster Maker title means that there is some monster recruiting element, but like MM3 it's poorly implemented and not necessary to use.

There's a fair amount of voiced dialogue with some big name actors, so that's probably the high point of the game.

In order to reach the elven village, she first has to pass a barrier station. But the leader of the station won't let her pass until she investigates what's going on in Derius Castle. At the same time, a dragon egg she got in the mountains hatches, giving a baby dragon.

This is basically where I stopped. The Derius Castle part requires you to go through 3 dungeons with no opportunity to heal or save. Healing items and spells do very little and I could see this was going to take a fair amount of grinding just to get through this introductory part, and with the game's reputation I see no reason to do that.

After this game, it was 8 more years before Monster Maker 4 came out for GBA. I don't know how that game was, but this is the last we'll be seeing of MM on this blog.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

PCE Game 31 - Princess Minerva (Part 2, Finished)

Chapter 2 takes the women to the next outlying area of the kingdom, which is a desert land. This is annoying because touching the desert does damage, and you have to cross the desert to reach the dungeons you need to. You get shoes later in the chapter that protect against the damage, but not at first.
Bonus fanservice

I noticed that in this section the SNES version has an extra floor for the dungeon; there are several places in this game where the SNES version's dungeons are larger or an optional dungeon becomes required. Once again the heroes defeat a corrupt barracks commander as the Cutie Kamen group.

The boss of this section, the fire spirit, is in a volcano, so first we have to go get an item to freeze the lava to enter the volcano. This involves a Sphinx, who fights and then does a quiz.

Each question you get right gets you a treasure chest, and if you don't get them all you get warped back to the beginning and then can try again up to a limit of 3. I believe that after that you get the item you need regardless of how many questions you got right. They are pretty difficult questions about history and literature; I got lucky guessing some of them and knew some other ones.

Then it's on to Fire Pressea, who use a lot of hit-all magic. The Fire Sailor Outfit is good, as are freeze/water techniques.

Now Chapter 3, where we have a big bridge that's broken and requires some elven shoes to fly across. The elf with the shoes doesn't trust us humans, though, so we have to save the elf's daughter from yet another corrupt commander. Time for another cutie kamen segment, although this time they parody the Mito Komon movies.

Then the elves also decide to improve our half-elf child's magic abilities, which requires them to wear sheer clothing.

Then it's off to the air tower to beat the boss, where there are invisible platforms you have to traverse.

She's not a tough boss, especially now that the little elf girl has a strong mass heal.

Chapter 4 is in a water area, so the boss is the water follower:

We first have to deal with some slavers (Cutie Kamen style). The water lady doesn't like them either because she wants to capture all the girls herself. Here, we get the "King Sailor Outfit" which you equip to make the characters naked, with special poses:

Does this flag my blog?

Also one of the characters leaves temporary for a personal vengeance, which is annoying because now one of the parties is down a character.

The water tower has the boss, and once again she slinks back to Dynaster having accomplished nothing:

Chapter 5 is the last chapter, and we're back at the capital city to save Minerva's parents. First off, we get tricked with fake "Dragon Armor", which is the most powerful armor. This is how they think the "most powerful armor" is supposed to look:

That looks like it provides great protection against monsters. Anyway, it's cursed, and now that means that until we can get it removed, it provides the lowest possible defense, making this chapter a bit harder. Eventually after many sequences and dungeons we find the sage who can remove the dragon armor.

He also reveals that Dynaster is actually Minerva's sister, who was given to him as a baby based on a prophecy that said she would bring ruin to the kingdom. He trained her as a wizard but then she turned evil because she was so upset about how the king treated her.

So now let's head back and deal with Dynaster! The last place is two fairly large dungeons but they're not too bad. Healing items are plentiful in the game so you can just beat everything up.

She's not that bad. By now my technique was just to have Tua block until she's needed for healing, then the other two people attack.

Oh no, the sage was the secret enemy!

Dynaster helps out against the sage but it's the same technique. Then there's a final final boss:

Apparently the SNES version has some special transformations for this fight but not the PCE one. Same technique.

A fanservicy ending scene where Dynaster decides to go out on her own instead of staying in the castle. Minerva follows!

Despite all the fanservice this is a fairly good game. The battle and levelling system is fun and everything goes quickly. You don't need to grind. The visuals and voice are great. When I get to this game on the SFC I'll play a bit of it just to see how it transferred over but I would definitely recommend this game.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

PCE Game 31 - Princess Minerva

Princess Minerva (プリンセスミネルバ)
Released 3/25/1994, River Hill Soft

This is another game that started out for Japanese PCs (in 1992) and then had ports to both the PC Engine and Super Famicom. The SFC version has a translation patch. It seems like it's mostly the same game except that some of the dungeons are differently laid out (and they added some new ones). The PCE also has voice and some animated cutscenes that are not in the SFC version.

I've noticed a trend that the Japanese computer RPGs don't just copy Dragon Quest II but usually have some innovation in the system -- it doesn't always work, but at least they tried. Princess Minerva is no exception. It also has a large amount of fan service -- I don't know how much of this survives into the SFC version, but I probably can't even provide some of the PCE version pictures unless I want the blog to be 18+.

The game opening tells us that Princess Minerva got bored and decided to form a Royal Bodyguard of all women, so 8 different women joined up (who represent all kinds of common fetishes -- loli, china dress girl, BDSM chick, etc) Of course they wear armor that makes no sense:

The game opens with them all in a bath.

Minerva is bored, but just then an arrow shoots through the room with a letter, from someone named Dynaster, who has sent out her minions to all the areas of the kingdom, turning girls into monsters. She challenges Minerva to stop her, and thus the quest begins.

As the story indicates, you have 9 party members. You organize them in groups of 3, and in a random encounter it randomly picks one of the groups, with the top one the most likely. Although having 9 members might seem cumbersome, the interface for equipping and buying things is very clean and easy to use, and makes it smoother than a lot of the games I've played that only have 3 or 4 characters. This also means you can make greater use of everyone's magic and skills, partly because the drain is spread around to all the units, but also because tents and sleeping bags are fairly cheap (and can be used in dungeons).

Each character has five different areas to gain XP -- Sword, hand-to-hand, magic, priest, and elf. Each character has their own specialty; you can see Minerva's percentages in the shot above. When you gain XP in a battle, the percentages determine the chance of that XP going to a particular skill. So Minerva has a 50% chance of the XP going to Sword, and only a 15% chance of it going to Priest. When any of the bars fills up, the character gains a skill level and an overall level. The skill level determines learning new skills and magic, and also what armor and weapons can be equipped. The overall level raises the stats, HP, and MP depending on what kind of level was gained (e.g. a priest level gets more MP than a Sword level). There are a few caves in the game where you can drink water to change the percentages, but these are not common.

Battles are vs. 1-4 enemies (all the enemies are girls, often nude or scantily clad). You can attack or use abilities, do a combined attack, and the last option is to repeat the actions from last turn, which is a convenient addition.

The skills can take either MP, SP, or TP.

When you equip a new armor you get a picture:

That's probably the least revealing outfit there is; they provide a lot of "cosplay" type outfits like china dress, school swimsuit, leotard, and even "King's Outfit" which is a naked pose. The PC Engine was definitely the main target for this kind of game.

The game is divided into six chapters; I'll just cover chapter 1 on this initial post and then do the rest in the next one so that people can just see an overview of the game if they want. The first four chapters are in the outlying areas where Dynaster sent her minions, beginning with Dream Navi in the Duchy of Tselmat.

The first small quest is to save the commander of the town guard, who is is a small cave. The reward is supposedly 1000 gold, but when we return he acts like he has no idea what we're talking about.

For the boss battles, you either pick a team, as in this case:

Or for the big boss battles you can choose any three characters.

Whenever Princess Minerva has to deal with one of these evil thieves or commanders, there's a parody of Cutie Honey and other magical girl series where everyone transforms into Cutie Kamen fighters.

The commander is no problem, and then it's time for a bath scene at the inn.

But Dream Navi appears, and kicks the heroine's butts by confusing them in her dream world.

But in usual villain fashion she doesn't kill us here, but tells us to meet her in the No Entry Tower, which is through the No Entry Forest. This requires some intermediate quests to figure out how to make it through the forest, but once we do, it's on to the tower. Fortunately the tower has a recovery spring in front (the walkthrough on GameFAQs makes me think this is not in the SNES version).

Finally at the top of all these dungeons is Dream Navi. 

Minerva, Mizuno, and Bluemoris are weak to her confuse attack (the ones in the bath scene), so as long as you pick other people than that it's not too bad. Potions are cheap and you have a ton of money in this early section.

Dream Navi then goes back to Dynaster and announces her failure, and gets punched out of the screen. On to the next land, and chapter 2!

This is definitely one of the best PC Engine RPGs I've played to date; despite being a fanservice game they actually took time to make a decent system and a clean, usable interface. Good for them!