Saturday, September 18, 2021

PCE Game 42 - Travelers: Densetsu wo buttobase!

Travelers: Densestu wo buttobase! (とらべらーず! 伝説をぶっとばせ)
Released 12/29/1994, published by Victor Entertainment

This is the final game of 1994! It's a pretty standard RPG with some meta-elements -- the back story is that 1000 years ago a demon attacked the world, and after it was defeated, the king created schools to train people who would become "travelers", which are basically adventuring parties. The main heroes are one of these traveler parties, with the usual fighter, mage, priest, etc. They take missions from the Guild and go around solving problems.

However, there are several reasons why I didn't play it much. The first is that the voice audio is mixed so low compared to the music that I can barely understand what they're saying. I've encountered this problem before on other PC Engine games. Every time it happens I wonder if it's an emulation issue or just my non-native Japanese abilities. But I found some Japanese players playing on original hardware who have the same issue; one blogger said "I can't understand the story at all."

In the first area (the school) I got a mission to go somewhere, but I have no idea why I'm going there or what I'm doing because I can't understand the dialogue.

Second, I really do not like the art. All the characters have this creepy, dead-eyed look.




Third, it has all the usual problems of a game this game this age (and worse). The interface is terrible -- you can't tell who can equip things or what the power of items are in the shops. Everything takes more button presses than it should and moves slowly.

The battle sequences divide into front and back:


Only the front characters can attack with melee weapons; back characters have to use magic or spells.

From what I have read, the game is very easy once you move up a couple of levels at the beginning. You level very quickly, the magic is overpowered, and the game itself is quite short. One blogger said it was worth buying it at 10% of the original price.

So that's about all I will say about Travelers. That ends 1994; next week I will have a preview of the first part of 1994, and then Lufia II, a game I am very much looking forward to. Langrisser III is taking a long time, though, so I'm glad for that buffer week.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Game 69 - Dual Orb II

Dual Orb 2 (デュアルオーブ2)
Released 12/29/1994, published by I'Max

 
Dual Orb 1 was complete garbage, one of the worst games I've played so far for this blog. I was not looking forward to the sequel. Fortunately it's considerably better than the first one -- it's still average, perhaps below average, but at least it's playable. The developer I'MAX mostly did Mahjong, Shogi, and other gambling games; the Dual Orb games seem to be their only foray into RPGs. The game has a translation patch so you can give it a try.

The system is pretty basic DQ2 style. The main distinctive feature is the weapons; rather than buying new weapons you mostly upgrade them in towns. Each character has only 1-3 weapons they can ever get in the game; beyond that you have to find +X versions or upgrade them at a blacksmith. +20 is the maximum and if you get it that far you get a special move you can do with the weapon when you're in critical health. The cost goes up drastically as the +X gets higher but the better the blacksmith is, the cheaper it is to upgrade. You can also find already upgraded versions in dungeons but they might also be cursed -1 weapons (you don't know until you equip it).

This is an interesting system but I don't think it's implemented particularly well. You will not get any weapons to +20 (or even close) without doing a lot of end-game grinding for money. 

The random encounter rate is high; not as high as Last Battle or some of the other games like that, but high enough to be annoying. The balance on the whole is not good. Enemies do a lot of damage, even grunt units. Bosses frequently require a lot of grinding to beat just because they hit so hard it's impossible to survive -- particularly when they have hit-all spells (there's no heal-all spell), and they can often take multiple turns for your one.

Here's the intro from Arcadia's Gamefaqs walkthrough:

A dragon appears in the night sky, intent on destroying all it
sees. Elsewhere, a man and a woman, Alex and Sera try desperately
to stop it. With no other option left, they decide to use their
final plan, the Orb. Alex activates the Orb, sacrificing himself
in the process, but also destroying the dragon.

Many years later, a man, walks through the snow, carrying a baby
he found. The man is a priest of Kaleid, on his way back from a
training journey, in order to be promoted to High Priest. He shows
the baby to the King. While he was walking in the Coriander
mountains,a group of white-clad people suddenly appeared, gave the
baby to him, along with a strange crucifix, then disappeared. The
king looks at the crucifix and wonders of the strange people were
sent from God. The High Priest has decided to keep him, and names
him Ales. The King brings his son, Ragnas, and shows him the baby,
insisting that they grow up to be friends. He sends the soldier to
spread the news of the High Priest's promotion and prepare to
celebrate.

...

Several years later, and old man [Hardwick] awakens on a table, surrounded by
a scientist and three others. The leader, Oldras, rejoices, having
succeeded in his plans. This man is the key to their finally
gaining the power of the ancient relics...
You begin with Ales, who is training with the king's son Ragnas. After a brief sparring match they head home but are ambushed by thieves -- fortunately a bard Cornelius comes in to save them.
 

After returning, it turns out Cornelius is from Highlandia, which is being attacked by a foreign nation that is unearthing ancient technology. He wants to find the ancient ruins before they can do so. The King decides that Ales and Ragnas should go with him. Ales has healing spells but also attacks decently, and Ragnas is just a fighter.
 

It takes a while to get any good weapons -- you start off with wooden sticks that don't do much. Until I found the spear in the first dungeon I basically had to run from everything. One general annoyance about this game is that they often like leaving you in situations where you can't buy anything or use an Inn.

We find a green jewel and the girl Sara from the opening, although she doesn't remember anything but her name. The priests in town thinks she's a goddess because the jewel is glowing, and it only does that in the presence of the goddess. We also learn that the Red, Blue, and Green jewels are around the world and can unite to form the Orb.  Sara joins the party; she's also a healer and attacks with guns -- her weapons cannot be upgraded, but you find new ones in ruins. She tends to be a pretty good attacker if she can survive.


Meanwhile Hardwick has attacked Kaleid. We try to save the King but he gets killed; all we can do is escape and head back to the ruins where there's a suit of armor that hears Ragnas' cry for help, and bonds with him. Now he can cast magic, which his helpful (he has a def buff and some elemental spells). Hardwick tries to stop us but Cornelius holds them off while we escape.

Our next goal is the nearby kingdom of Corodos, which is allied with Kaleid and should help us. But we need the help of our next player character Saladin to get through a forest. Saladin is also a combo fighter-mage.


Unfortunately Corodos refuses to help because they're too busy fighting off goblins from the SW ruins, which is odd since goblins usually don't want anything but food. There's also a mysterious masked figure, and once we find out that the "goblins" are actually the Gurica tribe of demihumans, it's obvious the masked man is controlling Corodos. One of the Gurica (Najif) joins temporarily in place of Sara.


We get back to Corodos but the king already knows about the Gurica, and he's the one who sent the army against Kaleid. We beat him up, and then destroy the staff that the masked figure was using to control everyone. Now that all that has been dealt with it's time to go to the ruins.


This ruin is like the other one, with advanced technology, a boss guardian, and this time the Red jewel, which joins with the green. Back at the Gurica village Sara has recovered but the masked figure is back. He tries to kill us but Saladin is able to fight him off with a spell (he seems to have a hidden identity). Although Saladin stops the dude from killing us, he kidnaps Sara.

We're not sure where Sara is, but time to cross the sea -- this is the usual "get a ship" part of the RPG. Cornelius returns; turns out he's a spy and can show us the way to the hidden spy city (which moves). Unfortunately Hardwick is already there and tries to kill us, but Ragnas agrees to go with him (he wants Ragnas' armor). Hardwick decides to kill us anyway, but the power of the jewels teleports us away to a mysterious mountain.

We go down the mountain and head for a port to take a ship. We run into another future party member Carline, who is trying to rescue her brother from pirates. Since Cardosa is blocking the sea we can't really get across anyway so we decide to help her find her brother. This involves hunting down the pirates and beating them up, although we get involved in a fight between rival pirates in the process.

There's a part where you have to do a puzzle to push casks into specific areas; it's actually a somewhat challenging puzzle and is not optional.

Eventually we recover Elliot and reach the friendly pirates' location, Gadmos, which is actually a giant turtle. It also turns out that Elliot and Carline are the children of the King of Highlandia, so that's a nice ally to get. We also learn in Highlandia some of the past lore -- if the three jewels come together they can make an Orb. This Orb can help us defeat the ancient weapon that Hardwick is trying to unearth, which seems to be a flying fortress.


We head out to Gassa to try to form an alliance, and there find the third jewel. This is the toughest dungeon so far, with a guardian that does an enormous amount of damage. There are shops in Gassa but they're hard to find and I didn't know they existed until after I finished the dungeon. Fortunately there is a heal spring in the dungeon, so I just used that to grind about 10 levels until I had Full Heal on Ales. 

Afterwards we get the third jewel and also learn more about the past; Sara and Alex (in the opening) were fighting against Chandra, who is Alex's friend. Alex sends Sara to the future to help future generations deal with Chandra while he stops him (temporarily) with the orb. There's also a lot of side stories here (I'm just touching the broad elements of the story; it's more complex than this). The mages of Gassa then send us back to Kaleid, where we started.

The high priest in Kaleid gives Ales a cross and sends us to Coriander mountain to learn the truth about Ales. There, we find another advanced technology tower and a hologram from Alex. Alex tells us about Chandra, who misused the technology to almost destroy the world, and it was only the Orb that saved the world. Now Ales (a clone of Alex) and Sara have to use the Orb again to defeat Chandra. 


We now get a flying Ornithopter (buried by Alex) and can go anywhere in the (small) world. There's a town Cronheit that has the cheapest blacksmith in the game, although it still costs a huge amount of money to upgrade any weapons to max. But the next destination is Hardos, which Hardwick has attacked. Unfortunately Carlina has been captured so it's time to save her, vs another tough boss fight.


This is another time when you get stuck with no shops, and have to do a lot of grinding. The enemies just hit too hard and too fast to do otherwise -- there's a spell that paralyzes enemies that works on the robot grunts but even with that you can get hit really hard. Buffs stack, so often if you just keep casting the def+ and mag+ over and over again you can get to the point where your defense is finally high enough to withstand some attacks, and Saladin can do 9999 with his spells. At this point if you also have Full Recovery and Full Heal, it's possible to beat the enemies. Around level 50 is enough to win the rest of the fights in the game through this method, if you also grind money to level up your weapons. I will admit that I got frustrated enough that I used a money code to upgrade my weapons because I had done so much grinding in the game already and I was not looking forward to the prospect of even more grinding (I didn't do this until the final dungeon, though).

Anyway, next up is the flying fortress that destroyed Hardos. There's another tough enemy here, but the aforementioned strategy works.


Ragnas is with Hardwick at the top -- he seems to have been corrupted to evil now. The Armor that he found early in the game is actually a vessel for Chandra to return. There's yet another difficult combat against Oldras, one of Hardwick's generals, which you have to fight with only 3 guys.

If you want to earn money legitimately, go to Cardosa to fight gold beetles for cash -- it's time for the final dungeon.




The final fight is Ragnas; first you have to fight him in several forms (the buff strategy works fine on this and the final boss).




Then Chandra (with the regular battle music!)


And that's the game.

--

The story is the best part of the game; I just sketched the outline above but there are a lot of sideplots and background for the various characters. It doesn't seem to have any connection to Dual Orb 1 and I'm not even sure why this is "dual" orb since there's only one orb in this game. There is a translation patch as well.

The gameplay could be a lot better, though. The game balance forces a lot of grinding, which I never like, and as I said above I think the weapon upgrade system is flawed. I barely got to use the special attacks except at the very end of the game, and even then you can only use them when you're in critical HP and it's very easy to get killed by the enemies. There is a good XP code that just gives you max XP after a battle (raising you 2-3 levels); this allows you to skip some of the grinding without having totally overpowered characters.

So this is light years better than Dual Orb 1, but it's still a flawed game in many ways.

Next up is a PCE game and then we're done with 1994!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

PCE Game 41 - Alnam no Kiba

Fangs of Alnam (アルナムの牙 獣族十二神徒伝説)
Released 12/22/1994, published by Right Stuff 
 
 
Right Stuff is the developer responsible for a few other games I've played (Emerald Dragon, Alshark, Sword Master). This game takes place in a world with humans, and then 12 tribes of demihumans (who transform into beasts) who are treated as lesser beings by the humans. One day mysterious beings called Shishimura appear, and threaten the humans. The Empress of Alnam, Marien, calls on representatives from the 12 tribes to come to the capital. The main character is Genbu, studying sword use under Ouken. Ouken is supposed to be the representative, but he's killed by one of the Shishimura trying to protect Genbu, so Genbu goes in his place.

The game begins with an extended cutscene; as is common for these late PCE games, the scenes are well done.





The battle system is pretty simple. You can choose "attack" or "beast attack". Everything you do uses Qi, which is a bit annoying at the beginning because everyone's Qi is so low that even just doing basic attacks quickly exhausts your supply. The problem is made worse by this game's ridiculous random encounter rate, one of the worst I've seen (it may even be worse than The Last Battle although this game's areas are much smaller).



 

But the much bigger issue than this is that the game is full of bugs, almost at the level of Maka Maka. There are numerous graphical glitches here and there, but also a large number of bugs that cause freezes

Some examples of the bugs:

  • The strongest fire spell freezes the game (even if enemies cast it).
  • The strongest weapon (the Fang of Alnam of the game title) sometimes has negative attack power due to a bug.
  • Bosses are frequently absent; you have to leave the dungeon and come back (if it's the final boss you have to reset)
  • There are other bugs where when you enter or exit places, or use stairs, you get stuck and have to reset
  • For two characters, if you level them up too much before a certain point in the game it will always freeze during a cutscene
  • Characters appear and disappear, or have the wrong face portrait
  • There are multiple places where after a cutscene, if you try to backtrack instead of moving on, you get stuck and have to reset

There are a lot of other minor graphical glitches as well. For some of the bugs you can save your game in a bugged state where you can't win the game, and since there's only one save slot you would have to start over.



Once Genbu reaches the capital, he's ignored and insulted by most of the humans but eventually reaches the Empress, who tells everyone about the Shishimaru and asks for their help. Throughout the game Genbu will work with various representatives to deal with the Shishimaru and also figure out his place in the world.


 

Most of the sites I looked at praised the story and visual scenes, and in fact the game was remade on the Playstation as an adventure game with no RPG elements. A sequel RPG came out for the Playstation in 1997 and there was supposed to be a third game, but Right Stuff went out of business before that could happen.

Given the high encounter rate, basic battle system, and the bugs, I didn't see any need to play the game beyond this point. It's a shame because the visuals do look good and there is potential in the game. It has a good interface and everything plays quickly and smoothly.

Next up will be the final SFC game for 1994, Dual Orb 2.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Game 68 - Haou Taikei Ryu Knight

Hao Taikei Ryu Knight: Lord of Paladin (覇王大系リューナイト)
12/22/1994, released by Bandai


Ryu Knight is an anime series that started in early 1994 and was still running when this game came out. It's a mech anime that's based on fantasy role playing games, with "class changes" and class-ups, and clear RPG-style character classes for the main characters. I encountered the series in Super Robot Taisen NEO for the Wii but I don't remember a whole lot about it. The story of the game does not directly follow either the anime or OVA.

It begins with Adeu, a knight, receiving the Ryu mech from a mysterious sage who tells him to seek the Earth Blade and win a great tournament to become the Lord of Paladin. I'm not sure how the TV series works, but Adeu seems to already know the other characters (Paffy the mage, Izumi the priest, Sarutobi the ninja).

The game is an action RPG with some open world-style content. There are 12 areas you can go at the beginning, each one with an anime-style episode name. You can visit most of them right off the start, although you won't necessarily be able to do anything there -- sometimes to make events happen in one area you have to do something in another area. This can be confusing and it can be hard to know what to do to progress unless you're taking careful notes.



Some of the areas, quests, or dungeons are optional, but I'm not exactly sure what is required to win the game. There's a clear final event and there's at least one event you have to do before that, but one walkthrough I looked at said you needed to do "all events" before the final one will open -- I don't completely know what they mean by that, because there was one area I never found out how to get into and I didn't do everything.


I started off with the first area. One thing you notice immediately in the first town is how expensive the weapons and armor are -- the store is selling 10,000 gold equipment. You start with 1000 gold and get very little gold in the early areas. Enemies do not drop gold, you only get it from chests and finishing missions. This brings on immediate worry that you need to scrape together every coin, never stay at an inn or buy unnecessary stuff, etc.

But, this is a mistaken idea. The equipment the stores are selling are special weapons and armor that you never need to get. The main way you upgrade your equipment is by "fixing" your armor or "tempering" your weapon. This doesn't seem to do anything when you first do it, but when you reach level 11, 21, 31, etc. you "class change". At this point you can do the tempering/fixing and after 2-3 tries (at 100 gold each) it will upgrade to a stronger form (I think the GameFAQs faq author who never finished the game did not know this; I hope it was in the instruction manual). So you really don't have to save money as much as you might think; I never ended up buying the special weapons and had over 100,000 gold at the end of the game.

You can also buy items. Some of them are the usual cure items, but others are equippable things that give effects like periodic heal, walk on air, jump off platforms, etc.

I started out in the first place they put you. It's a western style town.

The sheriff wants me to deal with some bandits. When I left the town, I was almost immediately confronted with one of the 3D sections. These are action scenes where you have to try to kill the other mech. I lost 4 or 5 times and then looked for a web page to tell me how to play. It turns out you should charge up an attack, which does take a bit of HP off but it's easier to hit and does more damage. With that I defeated him and got an emblem on my status screen. I'm not sure what the purpose of these are; I think you can get 6 of them during the game for defeating various people but they have no clear effect.

Now that he's gone, I can experience the 2D action system.


It's a pretty basic ARPG; you have an attack and jump button. There are some special attacks you can do but I never used any of them (either I couldn't get them to activate or they seemed worse than the basic attack). When you defeat enemies, you get some XP and they give off a bunch of crystals that give more XP. An annoyance is that you can't see your current HP without going to the status screen.

As you can see in the above screenshot, you can also summon Ryu. This allows you to beat the enemies fairly easily. However, Ryu is large and often gets stuck in areas, and you get much less XP fighting as Ryu. So I tried to do it as little as possible.

Afterwards I headed up to the NE of this area where some more thieves attacked me, bringing up another 3D fight. This guy is pretty easy because he stops for a while and you can bash him with the charge attacks. Another emblem, and some rewards from the townsfolk.

The second area has just a few sidequests that are pretty easy and make you good money, including beating up some thieves and delivering a letter. Katse the merchant joins, but I don't see the point of her since she doesn't fight and leaves later.


The third area is just an elf village and nothing of interest, so I moved on to the fourth. In this area the Dwarves have lost their voice from a dragon. I had to go back to the first area to find a magician to release the dragon, and then beat it (with Ryu) to restore the dwarves.

The fifth area has Freedel and a secret magic guild; I have to find out who is hunting them and defeat them. Doing so has Izumi the priest join. I was never able to figure out how to get him (or Paffy) to use their spells. There's something in the menu that looks like you are able to select spells and it shows the MP cost, but no matter what buttons I pressed nothing would happen, and so all my party members just followed me for the whole game.


Place 6 and 7 have nothing right now.  I was never able to enter Place 8; there's apparently some frog town there but when I try to go to it, nothing happens.

Place 9 has the very rich Mithril Town, but the goblins have stolen their Mithril Ring. This quest has the first 3D battle in a while, and I earn another emblem for defeating the Goblin mech.



Place 10 is Paffy's kingdom, and she is missing. There's not much of a clue to where she is, but we'll try to find her. It turns out she's back in place 7, in a village with a bunch of big ape things (who don't attack, Paffy just joins up when I find her -- I must have actually done this before the mithril town as you can see above).

Sarutobi joins in place 11, giving me the full party. He's the best person to control because he has shurikens, and when they get upgraded they can go in multiple directions or home in on the enemy.


At this point there were still some things I hadn't done, but I headed back to Paffy's kingdom to start the final series of events. Paffy gets kidnapped by Galden, one of the villains from the series (I guess?). They're looking for the gem she has on the end of her staff, although they don't know that's what they're looking for (they just think she knows where it is). Galden is in Freedell Castle, and there's another 3D battle.

Now we return Paffy and the king opens up the way to the tournament area (why is it so hard to reach?) I misunderstood the dialogue and ended up in an optional castle where I could never find a warp tile that you can see in there but not reach. But the XP is really good here so I managed to get up to level 58 (well beyond the final armor/weapon upgrade). Finally I figured out the warp you're supposed to use is actually back in Pafresia castle. This sends you to the clouds, where you need an item to walk around.
 
This whale thing takes us to the teleporter up to the tournament area, which is in a featureless room with no spectators (does this make more sense in the anime?)

 
There are 5 3D fights in a row here. I think because I had levelled up so much in that castle, I was overpowered and they were all pretty easy. Then Ryu becomes the Lord of Paladin and has to fight the final boss, a dragon that threatens the whole world. He was easy too.


 
The closing sequence has the longest list of "special thanks to" I've ever seen in a game credits -- I don't know who all these people are but there are at least 100 names on the list, so many that they have to divide it into sections based on spelling.


Then you get a results sheet that shows the emblems you got, the damage received and dealt out, and which special moves you used in the 3D battles.

--

Overall this game was OK but seemed half-baked in a lot of places. It does allow for a large amount of freedom, although that does come with the downside that sometimes it can be hard to tell what you're supposed to do, and the flags that enable you to do events or quests are sometimes obscure. The story is a little confusing and seems to assume that you already know the basics of the anime (which is common in these IP games). 

Next up is Fangs of Alnam, a notoriously bug-ridden PC Engine game.