Sunday, June 13, 2021

Dragon Quest / Adventures of Valkyrie

I'm on the last stage of FE4 so I should be back next week with Aretha II.

I think I said last time I was going to try to do Dragon Slayer for the Epoch Super Cassette Vision. I had trouble finding an emulator and in the end I didn't think it was worth spending any more time to play a game that probably wasn't going to be very good anyway -- CRPG Addict did a very full report on Dragon Slayer anyway.

Dragon Quest

 

This is another game I don't think needs a detailed introduction and coverage; even CRPG Addict did an entry on the game. It's the first game that really matches the true "JRPG style" that we think of. Is this the first game to combine the Ultima style top-down world map/towns, with the command-based Wizardry combat? I don't know of any game that does it prior to this but there may be a computer game that does so.

I remember when this game came out in the US. They gave away free copies if you subscribed to Nintendo Power, and there were hint guides since they were so scared Americans wouldn't know what to do (although Japan had lots of hint guides as well). The US version was actually an upgrade from the Japanese version that improved the graphics and replaced the password system of the original with a battery-backed save. The translation used a pseudo-archaic English that isn't in the original Japanese.

Also they changed the cover -- this is something that US publishers do with Japanese games for a long time after this. It's not hard to understand why; when DQ came out in Japan, Akira Toriyama was already very popular for both Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball (which had been running for 2 years at that point). So the cover naturally uses Toriyama's art, which was surely a selling point for the game.

Since this art would not have meant anything in particular to American audiences, the localizers were probably concerned that it would look too childish or cartoony for the target audience of young boys. So they changed the cover to this:


I have to say that I always found this rather patronizing and wondered if it were really necessary. But CRPG Addict has been harshly critical of the cartoony graphics of Zelda and other games, to the degree where he almost does not want to play them because of the art style. He mentions it every time he plays a Japanese game on his blog. I have a feeling that his opinion would have been the dominant one in the 1980s before anime had really become mainstream in the US, and so I suppose the localizers knew what they were doing.

I don't think this game really holds up other than for nostalgia purposes; the vast majority of the game is grinding levels and money. The many remakes seem to have modified the numbers so that you don't have to grind as much.


 

A couple of other notes:

  • This may be the first RPG for any system where the villagers actually sound like real people and flesh out the world a bit. Most prior RPGs either had no NPCs to talk to at all, or they just give brief hints like "EXODUS LIES BEYOND THE SILVER SNAKE".
  • Toriyama's monsters are the best looking monsters of any RPG so far, not only because of his art but the graphic designers' ability to translate them into the screen. It's no accident the slime has become so iconic.
  • At the end of the game you can choose whether to marry Princess Laura or not, although if you refuse she just asks the question again. This "Laura choice" (as it's sometimes called) was repeated in future Dragon Quests to a point where it became self-parody, and other games sometimes do this as well. 


 

Dragon Quest II came out only six months after this game, which is extraordinarily fast development. According to the English wikipedia it even had delays, although the Japanese wikipedia does not confirm this.

Adventures of Valkyrie


 
I have been familiar with Valkyrie the character for a while because she's appeared as a cameo in so many Namco games (particularly the Tales series), and several characters from the games are in Namco x Capcom and Project X Zone. She was the heroine of four games -- this one, a 1989 arcade game, and two mobile phone sidescrolling action games with RPG elements.



The original Famicom game is a spiritual successor to Hydlide, with Zelda influences. There are many similarities; the main difference is that you actually press a button to swing a sword. This is probably influenced by Zelda, as is the assignment of items/spells/weapons to the A and B buttons. Also, unlike Zelda and Hydlide, this game has a scrolling world map rather than different screens -- this was easier to pull off on the Famicom than on computers, although computer RPGs did eventually introduce scrolling. The dungeons are also more Zelda-like than Hydlide-like.

As with Hydlide, a good portion of the game is just grinding levels, and wandering around the world with no hints trying to figure out what you can do. You can apparently finish the game in less than an hour if you know where to go.

Initially you pick a blood type and a zodiac sign which affects your starting stats and the pace of levelling. I did B, which is faster levelling at the beginning, and Taurus which gives you a balanced magic/fight.

The first destination is an inn on the right where you can get a password, recover HP and MP for money, and raise levels. From here I grinded up to level 5 and then headed around west to where I saw a treasure chest. There was a big thing blocking the area but if you just keep attacking it freezes him. He dropped a key, but I was unable to open the chest.

If you want to see more about the game, here's a good video:


EDIT: I realized something else after I posted this -- this is the earliest JRPG with a woman main character, and it may even be the first Famicom (console?) RPG, beating Metroid by 5 days.

I hope you enjoyed this little dip back into the early days of RPGs -- back to 1994 next week.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Tower of Druaga / Hydlide Special / Legend of Zelda

As I thought, Fire Emblem 4 is very long, so I'll need at least this week and possibly next week with side posts.

For this post I want to look at a few games from very early in the JRPG tradition -- on the sites I've been using to compile my game lists, they are the first three listed. Obviously these sites have a very broad (and inconsistent) definition of an RPG, and I often have to cut games that are on their lists. But I think especially in the very early days of the genre, the core RPG ideas had yet to be established. In particular, there were a lot of different ways that designers tried to mix action and RPG elements.

I don't think you can really do a true history of JRPGs without covering early computer games, and also looking at the early Japanese reception of Western RPGs (particularly the Wizardry series). I had always thought that Dragon Quest was likely inspired by Ultima III, but Ultima III came out in Japan only 6 months before DQ, so it seems more likely that it was a combination of Hydlide and Wizardry. Although the Japanese Wikipedia article does seem to indicate inspiration from Ultima, so perhaps I was right all along.

So this is not really going back to the roots of JRPGs, just the roots of what a console-only player would have had access to. (Panorama Toh, Black Onyx, and Mugen no Shinzo are games I have seen as particularly influential early RPGs or proto-RPGs, but none of those were released for consoles at the time.)

Tower of Druaga




I don't think anyone considers this game an RPG, but it unquestionably helped lay the groundwork for the JRPG genre. The arcade version came out in 1984; it was made on leftover Mappy circuit boards that Namco wanted to use up, and it became unexpectedly popular.

The gameplay is relatively simple. You are Gil, trying to rescue Kai from the evil Druaga. There are 60 levels. On each level you have to grab the key and then go to the exit door. You press and hold the attack button to draw your sword, and then you can attack enemies by running into them. You have to be careful; the slimes can only be killed if they are stationary when you move into them; if they're moving into your square Gil will die. If you unsheath the sword, Gil can block projectiles and other things with his shield. There's also a time limit, and if it runs out additional enemies come out.

But the real meat of the game is that every stage has a secret treasure box that appears when certain conditions are fulfilled. Some of these are easy to find -- the first stage's box appears when you defeat two slimes, which most players will do. Others are essentially impossible to get on your own. You have to get a fair number of these items to win the game. When this came out on Wii Virtual Console in 2009, US reviewers lambasted the game for this, correctly noting that the game is impossible to finish without help -- there are no clues in the game that would show you how to get these items. Some of them are difficult to get even if you know what to do.

So why was this game so popular in 1984 when it came out? Here's my guess. In 1984, the idea of "finishing" a video game (especially an arcade game) was still a pretty new concept, and most games could not be beaten. You just played for a high score. So players would not necessarily have been immediately bothered by the difficulty of completing the game. Furthermore, there was a community aspect to the game, where people might find some of the secrets on their own, or read them in a magazine, or see someone else at an arcade do them. People traded the secrets, and once you knew how to do them, it might be fun to go to an arcade and show everyone else that you're able to finish it. There wasn't anything else like it in the arcades at the time. But I would be curious to know more about what the designers were thinking when they created it -- did they already have a plan to publish the secrets in magazines or the like?

The 1985 Famicom port is pretty much a faithful one (with worse graphics, of course). They added a second set of levels called "Another Druaga" that has different conditions for all of the items. I played through the first quest using an unlimited lives code and a walkthrough. I actually had fun with it. Even with the walkthrough it takes some skill to do everything you need to do to win. It only took me a couple of hours to win.

This youtube video is a good walkthrough of the arcade version that's fun to watch.

Hydlide Special 




This technically came out a month after Zelda, but since the computer version predated (and likely inspired) Zelda, I'm flipping the order. This is probably the most criticized and misunderstood Famicom RPG, because it came out in 1989 in the US, well after Zelda and other games that did things better. But in Japan, the original computer version was a huge influence on JRPGs. It was the first game to have an open world system (as small as the world is). There's no story development and no towns, but you can level up and get a few equipment upgrades.

The Famicom version is actually a remake with some elements of Hydlide 2 built in. It apparently was not well received even in Japan; the Famicom had a much younger player base than computers, and like Druaga there are no hints to help you figure out what to do.

You can put the main character Jim in attack or defense mode, which is reminiscent of the Druaga system and it wouldn't surprise me if it was directly based off Druaga. But now you can explore the area, and level up by defeating monsters. The game as a whole is short and if you know what to do can be finished in less than 2 hours. But if you play blind it can be quite difficult because as I said above there aren't many hints to help you figure out what to do. The goal is to save three fairies and take on the final boss, but even just getting started is rough. You will die a lot, although thankfully there is a quicksave/load you can use (this is one thing AVGN got wrong in his great video on the game -- the passwords are only necessary if you are turning off the game and coming back later.)

Hydlide to me is not as fun as Druaga, and I'm probably not the only one who feels this way because Druaga had several remakes and has been re-released many times on numerous consoles, whereas the whole Hydlide series has essentially vanished into the history books. It can be hard for an innovator in a genre to hold up against later imitators who improve on the basic concept.

Legend of Zelda



 

This game is very well known and I don't think I have to say much about it. It was one of my favorite NES games as a kid and I can't count the number of times I played through it. I think that most people do not consider this game an RPG, but when it came out I feel like Japanese players would have seen it as being basically the same kind of game as Dragon Slayer and Hydlide. There seems to be clear inspiration from Hydlide but I wonder if the item system was not inspired by Druaga. The sword and shield upgrades could be from that game, the bomb is sort of an implementation of the mattock, and both games have candles. It's certainly a more flexible and robust system, but the origins may be the same.

In Japan, this game came out for the Famicom Disk System, an early peripheral for the Famicom that sought to overcome the limitations of the cartridge storage, and also provide a way to save games. This never came out in the US so when they released Zelda it was with a battery backup cart. The Disk System was a fairly short lived peripheral; there were piracy problems and issues with reliability of the disks, and eventually cartridges became much cheaper and could hold more space, and also had battery backups. 

Of course unlike Druaga or Hydlide, Zelda went on to an entire franchise that is still releasing blockbuster hits today. I could never adapt to the 3D games and so my Zelda experience stopped with Link's Awakening. 

I had played all these games before this week so I'm just writing them up. In next week's post I might go on and play a little bit of the next two games on these sites -- Dragon Slayer for the Epoch Super Cassette Vision, and the original Dragon Quest. But we'll see.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Aretha Series (HG101)

I was going to make a post on the Game Boy Aretha game, but Hardcore Gaming 101 has a nice set of articles on all the games in the series, so I will just link to that.

Please also take a look at my other blog for Fire Emblem 4! And I will be back next week with something else.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Game 63 - Magna Braban

Magna Braban: Wandering Heroes (マグナブラバン〜遍歴の勇者)
Released 11/18/1994, developed by Ask Kodansha
 
 
 
A number of roleplaying games have auto battle systems. Sometimes (as in Shin Megami Tensei) it just makes everyone attack until the battle ends. Other games have some kind of AI (like the Dragon Warrior games), customizable or not. But every so often a designer tried to release a game where the characters are not under your control except for AI. So far I've played Elfaria, Down the World, and perhaps Ogre Battle (although this one may not exactly qualify). Magna Braban is another game in this vein.

First off, a word about the text in the game, which is a travesty. It's written in all hiragana which is normal for this age (I wonder what the last all-kana game will be?) But it uses quotation marks constantly for half the words in every speech bubble, rendering the text very hard to read. Here are three examples with translations in the captions, and this looks as odd in Japanese as it does in English.

The rumor is that they are gathering the "strongest" "warriors" to "form" the "demon lord * defeat squad"

By using this, I'll show you that we can "control" that "continent" without any "loss of life".

My "mother" suffered a great "injury".

I do not know why they did this, but imagine reading a whole game's worth of dialogue with this constant use of quotation marks.

The game opens with the son of a shepherd, Kurisu, wanting to go participate in a fighting tournament in a nearby town. His parents are both against it, but he sneaks away and participates, only to be beaten down. He drinks his sorrows away with two other people who also lost, a magician Geena and a fighter Getz. While they're drinking, the demon lord sends an attack force at the tournament area, killing everyone. Kurisu and the other two show up to see what happened, and when other soldiers arrive, they assume that because the three were able to survive, they must be great warriors. The King knights them and makes them the new "defeat the demon lord" unit. 

 

This kind of humor and irreverence towards the standard RPG plot is entertaining; unfortunately it only carries through the first half of the game or so. After that it turns back into a standard RPG plot and the comedy and satire elements go away. I wish they had continued it through the rest of the game.

Kurisu gets kicked out of his house by his parents, but his mom gives him a Singing Crystal to remember her. They decide to head to Geena's magic guild to find some way to get stronger, since they're really in no shape to beat the demon lord. Here's where the battle system comes in.

 
You can assign some pretty detailed AI to people. There are four general options, and within those options you can set what they will mostly do, and two things that they will sometimes do.

 
The big problem with the system is that the battle provides no feedback on how anything is working. You don't see how much damage anything is doing, which makes it hard to know what to actually set people to do other than just attacking. It also means you can't really follow what's happening in the battle, you're just watching the sprite animations go, and focusing mostly on the numbers at the top of the screen for player HP.


Also the game is real time, but you can pause at any time and use as many healing items or spells as you want from the menu; even people who are at 0 hp can use spells. This makes the boss fights trivial for the most part, since it's hard to get a game over.

On the other hand, the grunt enemies are difficult. You will need to do a large amount of grinding in this game -- the new equipment is expensive, and there's always a huge jump in difficulty when you go to a new area. The random encounter rate is high, and inventory space is limited so it's hard to use the boss "item/heal" tactic throughout the whole dungeon without running out of items if you're weak.

I'm just not sure why developers felt the need to try to make a system where you can't directly control the characters. I get that maybe they wanted to do something different from the normal system, but is this really all they could think of? It's true that if you are just picking "attack" over and over again that's not a whole lot different from an auto battle, but there's something about the system in this game that doesn't quite work.

The dungeon design is also terrible. There are no chests, no traps, no buttons, no puzzles, no anything -- just corridors and a boss or an exit. 

I often get accused of being too harsh on the games, or being jaded -- I did look around for other Japanese reviews and although the Amazon brief reviews praise the game, all the extended reviews I found on other sites were negative and criticized many of the same parts I did. (One of them pointed out that the title "Magna Braban" is never used or explained in the game) Two of the reviewers expressed surprise at how positive the scores were on Amazon.

Anyway, at the Magician Guild they meet Baktun, who offers to make a strength potion if they will just get him the last ingredient -- a Dream Mushroom piece. In a nearby town they meet the elf Lilliana, who tells them that they can reach the Demon Lord's area from Elf Land, and joins the group.


The Dream Mushroom turns out to be the mushroom king, who tells the party he'll give up a bit of himself for the potion if they get him a life-extending potion from the nearby witch. The witch wants a dragon scale to make anti-allergy medicine for herself.

So finally the party ends up in the dragon cave, where they watch another knight group take out the dragon and then leave, so we can just go in and grab a scale without fighting the dragon.


 Back at the witch's house, she gives us the potion, but Getz immediately spills it all. He replaces it with alcohol, hoping the mushroom doesn't notice.

The king doesn't seem to notice, but he never had any intention of giving us the mushroom piece -- instead, he drunkenly attacks. After we beat him up he gives up a bit of himself and we go back to Baktun.


 But it turns out Baktun is a servant of the Demon Lord and has made a control potion, not a strong potion. He kills some of the magicians and runs away. Geena's grandfather, the head mage, gives us a bell to remove the control from the potion from anyone who falls under the spell, and we go on to look for Elf Land.


We take an underground passage from the guild, but run into ghosts blocking our way. Fortunately there is a cleric nearby who can help us (although Geena gets jealous of her), and that obstacle is dealt with.

The next town has Lototo (a parody of Loto from Dragon Quest) who is supposedly the descendant of a great hero and even has the hero crest, but something seems suspicious about him (this plot element is never followed up on).

Then we get captured by the king of a nearby land; of course he's being controlled by Baktun. Lototo somehow knows how to pick locks so we escape and use the bell to free the king. At this point Geena is so jealous of Kurisu that she takes off on her own with the other girls who get captured by dwarves (controlled of course). We get on a ship to chase after them.


This is pretty much the end of the comedy and the "heroes accidentally blundering into stuff" part of the story, so it gets less interesting from here on out. We get Ann, a princess who can fight, as our next character. The dwarves are trying to revive the Dragon of Destruction and even though we ring the bell to free them in time, the Dragon revives anyway so we have to kill it.

After freeing Geena, Kurisu decides she is the most important person to him and gives her the Singing Stone. He also asks everyone what their purpose in fighting the Demon Lord is.

Now we can finally make it to the Elf Village, where we have to do a few fetch quests to open up the way to the Ice Land that has the path to the Demon Lord. Meanwhile Baktun comes and tricks the rest of the party into drinking poison, so Kurisu has to go alone to find herbs to heal them (this part is annoying).


By the time he gets back with the herbs, Baktun has already charmed the poisoned party members (including Getz, who had the bell) and captured them, although Geena left behind the singing stone. The rest of the party chases after them, and has the final showdown with Baktun in the Ice Tower. After beating him, he brings out Gina to fight us, and destroys the awaken bell. But Kurisu is able to free Geena with the Singing Stone, and she kills Baktun. Now all that's left is the Demon Lord.


 

We have to defeat the Demon Lord three times -- with a bunch of healing items it's not that hard, it just takes a while.

The conclusion has everyone go back to their lives, and the final scene is Kurisu and Geena married and living back in Kurisu's hometown as a shepherd. He tells his kids the story of how they met.


 

I suppose this game is not terrible, but it has a lot of squandered potential. I don't know how many more of these auto battle games there are (at least Elfaria II) but I hope the next one finally figures out how to make it fun.
 
Next I am playing Fire Emblem 4 on the other blog; that's a long game and I'm also going to be out of town for a while in June so it could be as long as a month before I have the next SFC game post (Aretha II). I'll have some short posts the next few weeks -- either forerunners of games (Aretha, Kaiju monogatari) or some other games coming out around this time. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Game 62 - Shin Megami Tensei If...

Shin Megami Tensei If... (真・女神転生if...)
10/28/1994, developed by Atlas 
 

 

The third SMT game for Super Famicom, it was released only 7 months after SMT 2. So unsurprisingly, the system is almost the same and there are a lot of reused assets from the game. The idea was to make a SMT game that took place more in the real world, in a small area, rather than the post-apocalyptic or fantasy settings of the other games. The high school setting, and the "guardian" system, were direct inspirations for Persona. The title of the game may have been taken from the British movie "if..." which is about bullied studies staging a violent revolution at a boarding school.



 

The biggest system change is the Guardian system. Both the main character and the companion have "guardians" that attach to them when they die. The companion gets more spells from this process, the main character just has stat changes. I didn't fully understand the system until halfway through the game since they don't explain it much (I assume the full explanation was in the instruction manual). By fighting monsters you gain Guardian Points, which you can see by pressing X on the status screen. If the bar is yellow, dying will result in a lower rank guardian. If it's red, the rank will be higher. The more full the bar is, the better chance you have of skipping multiple ranks.

This means you really need to control when your characters die, which can be frustrating especially with the many monsters that have instant kill spells. However, it does mean that a game over doesn't send you back to your last save.


 

The other changes: Guns now have limited bullets, you can't do sword attacks from the back row of the party, and you can level up your proficiency with a specific sword by using it a lot. This last thing is a hidden parameter that I didn't know about until just now when I looked at the Wikipedia article. Finally, the Law/Chaos/Neutral system does not have any effect this time except which demons you can recruit, and the alignment is determined purely by what demons you have in your computer.


The game begins with the high school getting sucked into another dimension. All of the exits lead to strange areas of space, so nobody can leave. The rumor is this has something to do with a student named Hazama. The first task is to choose your companion. There are four companions, each with some differences.

  • Yumi, basically the default person. You get the "envy" and "greed" dungeon.
  • Charlie. You get the "anger" dungeon, and there is no final boss fight. The ending is different as well.
  • Reiko, you get the same dungeons as Yumi, but also an extra dungeon at the end that goes into Hazama's backstory (this is probably a good one to do for a first playthrough)
  • Akira, who can only be played after finishing the game once, and has a completely separate route from the others with new dungeons, and a different ending.

This is a nice feature that allows for some replayability. In 2004 there was also a Hazama story released for mobile phones, but I don't know if this was ever released outside of the phone or whether it's even available now. 


 

I went with Yumi since she's the first one that pops up (I wasn't fully aware that I was choosing a partner at this point, but that's fine). Most of the school is free of encounters and has a save point and a healing spot (for the humans), and we can pick up weapons and armor from the sports club rooms. One area of the school on the first floor has some demons, and leads to a gym where we find a summoning circle; the Demon King (Hazama) has us fight a weak monster. I died the first time and had to go back and pick up a Pixie for healing.

Once the monster is beaten, we receive a ring that lets us access the area "Between the Seals", where the ring opens up one of the doors. At this point the rest of the game is accessed from here -- we go through the dungeons of Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, and Greed. After those five, the upper levels of the school are unlocked and the final confrontation takes place. The dungeons have towns with shops and healing places, casinos, etc. There's no real explanation of this. The story also doesn't advance much in these dungeons (to be honest, the story is very minimal, at least on Yumi's route.)

Pride is a simple, short dungeon that doesn't have any particular tricks or difficulties to it -- just get to the end and beat the boss. I think I did a little bit of grinding for money to buy armor, and get some monsters.

Gluttony is a longer dungeon that's a bit more complex. At the end we have to hide ourselves in food to get eaten by this giant monster and then fight a boss inside the monster. It turns out the monster was actually the school principal.


 

Sloth is an incredibly annoying dungeon. On the third floor, slave drivers are making the students dig in the walls. They will dig one area for each full cycle of the moon you spend on the floor, and the encounter rate is insane. So basically you want to make a demon with Estoma (I made Unicorn from Elf and Cassie (the dog)). Even with Estoma it takes forever to advance the time enough to pass this part. I honestly don't know what the designers were thinking -- either the game didn't get playtested enough due to the short development time, or people still didn't quite recognize that they shouldn't put things like this in a game.


 

This is also the point where I had a similar experience to SMT 2; I found that the summoned demons became less and less useful. Especially with the large number of monsters that have instant kill techniques; I could barely keep the monsters alive for any fights and ended up just doing most of the game with the protagonist and the companion.

Envy makes you lose your companion. You can also (if you are the male protagonist) buy a Skull Armor here that deflects all physical attacks back on the attacker -- this totally breaks the game balance; you can't win every single fight just through Auto because not every attack is physical, but it certainly makes the game significantly easier. This dungeon also has a lot of dark places, warps, and places where you can't use the computer.


Greed is another long, warp dungeon but the gimmick is that there are a series of chests near the boss that have some of the strongest equipment in the game, but the more you take, the tougher the boss will be. I went the cowardly route and opened none of them; if you do that, the boss goes down in a few hits.



After this, the upper levels of the school open up. I went back to Greed to get the series regular, the strongest sword Hinokagutsuchi (you need one of the top Guardians to get this). With that sword and the physical attack deflecting armor, most of the monsters are not very difficult. Finally the last few levels have no monsters, and then we fight Hazama at the top

With the powerful sword and the armor he really couldn't do enough to me to put up a real fight. The only difficulty is that he repeatedly uses debuffing powers. Particularly the one that lowers your hit rate is problematic, and by the end of the fight I was missing every attack. You should probably bring along a demon that can cast the hit rate+ spell. Fortunately by that point he was weak enough that he killed himself with a reflected physical attack.


 

The conclusion is pretty disappointing on the Yumi route. You never learn anything about Hazama's motivation or background; the school just goes back to normal and you leave to resume a normal life. Let me know in the comments if you played the other routes.





I could play some of the other routes, but I feel like this basic SMT gameplay is getting pretty crusty at this point. I'd like to see the dungeons do more interesting things. Wizardry 1 back in 1980 built their dungeons mostly on mapping tricks -- pits, spinners, warps, dark areas, etc. Although the SMT games do certainly have more variety and more going on than Wizardry 1, I still feel like they over-rely on these old tricks that just aren't all that interesting anymore.

Next week, another kusoge attempt at an AI-only battle system.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

PCE Game 39 - Startling Odyssey II

Startling Odyssey II (スタートリング オデッセイ2 魔竜戦争)
Released 10/21/1994, developed by Ray Force
 

This is Ray Force's third (and final) game for the PC Engine. SO1 was a basic, cookie cutter RPG. SO2 is another basic, DQ2-clone RPG. It is more polished than the first one -- the graphics are better, there are more voiced cutscenes, the interface is cleaner, and the game as a whole moves more quickly. So if you like old-school, basic RPGs this one is probably not bad. There's even a translation patch, although it probably doesn't translate the voiced cutscenes.

As usual with this kind of game, I have very little to say about the gameplay. You buy the best equipment you can afford, use auto battle for most fights and hold down a speedup key, and go through dungeons and open chests and find the boss or goal. Rinse and repeat.


The game starts with some kind of magician or researcher causing demons to come into the world, and then the main character Robin killing a Chimera with one hit. He's well known in the kingdom for being the Blue-Haired Knight



Back in the capital city, Robin talks to the king's daughter, who is his half sister. He gets a new mission to head to Neria town to the south and see what's the matter there, taking his two best knights with him.

The townspeople say they saw a dragon, and going through the cave we come across the room where the magician from the opening was summoning the monster, but now it's gone. So back to the castle...where it turns out monsters have overrun the castle and killed the king. Robin's sister has gone on ahead to try to seek safety, so we follow her through the underground passage.

 
Robin's two knights have to push him away and collapse the corridor when they're attacked by dragons, and Robin goes on himself. Attempting to continue his escape a bridge falls away, sending him into the ravine.


He wakes up later in the care of Julia. He's been out for three days and is only now recovering. But when monsters attack the town, he heads out even in his weakened state.

The PC Engine allowed for more violence and sexual content than the Super Famicom. Anyway, this reopens Robin's wounds and he has to rest for a while more, but after he's healed he finds out that a child in the town is sick and needs a special item (the wing of an animal) to heal him. Julia joins him and they go out in search of the wing. They have to beat a boss:



And then find the wing and cure the child. At this point Robin decides he needs to continue on his journey (to find Patricia, his sister) and Julia decides to come with him.

This is where I stopped. As I said in the intro, this is a playable DQ2 clone -- if that's the kind of game you like this is a better game than other examples of the style. At the same time, I really would like to see them doing something innovative in 1994. Even Dragon Quest itself didn't make any true DQ2 clones.