Sunday, January 31, 2021

PCE Game 36 - Alshark

Alshark (アルシャーク)
Released 8/26/1994, port developed by Ocarina Systems

This game was initially released on computer in 1991, and this port was done 3 years later (along with one to Mega Drive CD). The result is similar to what we've seen with previous computer games ported to PC Engine -- an old fashioned and somewhat peculiar system with voiced cutscenes. It's frustrating to see the designers spend all their effort on adding in the voiced cutscenes, but do nothing to address the interface issues. 

The original developer of the PC game was Right Stuff. It seems to have been their first game. They went on to make Emerald Dragon (which I played earlier), Sword Master (which I played on my SRPG blog), and Alnam no Kiba (which I'll be playing later). They struggled after 1994 and went bankrupt after releasing their last game in 1998.

The main character is Shion. At the beginning of the game, a mysterious comet or asteroid has come down nearby and his dad goes to investigate, telling Shion to stay home. But Shion rounds up his friend Shoko and they decide to go see what's up.


They grab one handgun from Shoko's house and head out.

The battle system makes it look like there will be some sort of grid or positioning system, but it's just a normal RPG system and the way everyone is represented on the battlefield has no purpose. Whether it's a hand-to-hand attack or a gun attack the position doesn't matter. It's the usual Dragon Quest II system.

Reaching the asteroid area, Shion and Shoko see Shoko's dad with some of the Imperial troops (who are the villains of this game). Shoko's dad seems manaical and they kill Shion's dad and the other humans, and then leave. As Shion's dad is dying, he tells them to find Scrap Joe who will help them out. Heading back to town, they find that Shion's mom has run away from home, so they chase after her, taking the house robot Saru for help.

After picking up a few items from shelves, I headed down to Hamack, hoping to find Scrap Joe.

Scrap Joe is in a garbage dump near the town, along with a bunch of robots that attack. Once we find him, he's an ornery old cuss. But once he knows who he are, he changes his tune -- it turns out that he was close friends with Shion's and Shoko's dads. So he agrees to help, and shows us his ship that he's outfitted himself. It turns out Shion's mom headed off planet so we'll try to save her.

We manage to catch up with the ship that took off from the planet, and get onto it -- Shaina (Shion's mom) is there, captured by the Jagma Forces which are the elite troops of the Empire. Maon (Shoko's dad) is also there, ranting about some great mission he has, and that even his beloved friends couldn't be allowed to stop him. He's found some great power. We might have all been killed but a woman named Milets comes in to rescue us, and Shaina is freed. Maon leaves, telling us not to interfere anymore.

Milets takes us to her ship, where we join her in doing missions -- the first one being on a nearby planet Zajil. We use Joe's ship, and he has a menu:

Using "scrap" that you get from beating enemies, you can upgrade the ship's components as well as make weapons and armor for your group.

Now we can fly the ship through space. I found this part very hard to navigate.

 There is a map but it's difficult to understand, and there aren't any landmarks to help you know where you are. Every so often you get in a fight, where you just watch the ship shoot the enemy until it dies. Just wandering around I gained a bunch of levels because the enemies could barely hurt me. Eventually it turned out that the planet I needed to go to was really close to where I had started, but you move so fast that you blow past it in a second if you aren't inching along.

This is where I stopped playing. The story seems potentially interesting and some of the gameplay elements might work, but it just feels like a 1991 game and with the PC Engine I'm not interested in a game where I'm just going to be holding down a turbo button for every fight.

Next up is Mother 2/Earthbound!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Game 56 - Cyber Knight II

Cyber Knight II: The Ambition of the Terran Empire (サイバーナイトII 地球帝国の野望)
Released 8/26/1994, published by Tonkin House 


This is a followup to Cyber Knight, originally released for the PC Engine in 1990, and then an enhanced port for the Super Famicom in 1992. It was one of the earliest games I played on this blog, although I didn't finish it because I found the system obnoxious and the random encounter rate too high. Nowadays I would probably enable cheats to finish it, but at the time I just skipped because it had a translation patch.

This game is better than the original, but I still don't like it. It didn't get good reviews at the time, so I'm not alone, but I think I just don't appreciate what the designers were trying to do. 

Like its predecessor, Cyber Knight II tries to create a more realistic sci-fi system. What this means is that your main characters never gain any "stats" or HP, they just level up their skills. Your mechs never gain any HP, and the only way they can upgrade stats or get new weapons is by getting parts from certain enemies and then analyzing them back at the ship. But this can only be done once per enemy. This certainly is more realistic than having the mechs level up, or having some vague currency that can magically turn into mech upgrades instantly. But I think it makes the game less fun; there's a very pre-determined feel to your power levels. You have very little choice in how you upgrade or equip your mechs, and grinding is almost entirely eliminated, especially since defeating enemies earns you basically no experience.

I also feel that the galaxy is more style than substance. You make L Jumps to choose a system. Then S Jumps to go to a planet, and then you land in a particular place, and then leave the ship and explore. But typically each system has a single planet that you can land on, and a single place you can land on the planet. Then when you land, you almost always land right next to the city or base you're trying to go to. So the majority of the time it seems like you're just wasting time in menus to create the illusion that you're exploring the galaxy. And it means that in terms of what you can actually access, each star system is about the size of a small RPG town.

 The story is a direct sequel to the first game. The six characters were on the Swordfish ship, which was transported to another galaxy. They made it back to our galaxy, but they brought back "over technology" which the Terran Empire is now exploiting for their attempt to conquer the galaxy.

I will link back to the original post on Cyber Knight for the gameplay, which is basically the same. One big addition is the auto battle. This game has the same annoyance as the first game where if you try to attack but the enemy moves in or out of your range on their turn, you lose your turn. But this game has an auto-battle which is quite good and avoids this entirely because the auto battle is able to decide on its attacks after the enemy has moved. I don't think this is a good mark for the battle system that this workaround exists, but I ended up using auto battle on virtually every fight in the game except the boss fights where it's not allowed. The only other change they made is that when you are outside, the 3 members who are not in your main party can do support attacks or moves before the battle starts. Sometimes they can kill the enemies themselves.

The story is divided into five acts.


It turns out that while the main characters were gone, Earth underwent a lot of trouble, and now a military government is trying to recapture its glory by all out war with other systems. Our home base is a planet called Kyazarin where there is a resistance movement; this is the hub during the game where you get information and new missions. We head to Mars to try to find the Swordfish itself, but it's already been moved. A mysterious woman CJ appears here and there to give information. On the whole this act is just introducing the situation and fighting against the Earth forces on the outskirts.

Act 2

The main things that happen in this chapter are a plague on Gagarin, which kills a childhood friend of Nijina (one of our party members). Also an increase in terrorist activities and resistance movements, which we support ("terrorist" meaning resistance in this case).

I often found the boss fights hard, and the only way I beat a lot of them is that for some reason, Vind in the blue mech could not be hit by anything. I don't know if this is a glitch or just some broken game balance, but that helped me all the way through the game including the final boss. I doubt I would have finished the game if it weren't for that.

Act 3

Most of this act is devoted to us trying to get the leaders of 4 different planets. Some of them accept the documents easily, others have to be convinced (or unmasked as secret Terran Empire operatives). But by the end we've got the big alliance. Finally at the end of the act we find out where they've taken Swordfish, and infiltrate it to get its powerful Jump Generator, which will allow us to access more planets. However, MICA, the artificial intelligence that helped us out in the first game, has been removed from the Swordfish and we don't find it.

Act 4

In this act we supply the alliance with weapons, and also see that on some planets, dead people are rising again. Hmm...

Act 5 

All the mysteries are revealed here -- the dead people are rising due to nanobots, which are going to replace humans in the entire universe. The Terran Empire, in fact, is also being controlled by them. But we finally find MICA. She tells us that if we can defeat the Braniac Computer on Earth, she can interface with the nanobots and get them to stop. But this will instantly increase her intelligence a millionfold, and she'll no longer be MICA.

This is in fact what happens, and MICA then combines with the nanobots and they all go into another dimension. It turns out that CJ, the woman helping us for the whole game, was a manifestation of MICA that sent herself back through time to help us.

Overall the story is fine, but I just didn't like the gameplay. I can see some people really enjoying it because it's unusual. I know it seems like I complain when the game has a normal RPG system and then complain when it has a different one. But different doesn't always mean good.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Game 55 - Kijin Korinden Oni

Kijin Korinden ONI (鬼神降臨伝ONI)
Released 8/5/1994, developed by Pandora Box and Winkysoft


This is the fifth game in the ONI series of RPGs. The first four were all for the Game Boy. After this game, there's one more GB game, one more SFC game, two Playstation games, and finally a DS game in 2007. The game developer, Pandora Box, has been in this blog before for Danzarb, and I'm about to play their PSX SRPG Sengoku Cyber on my other blog. They are also notorious for the PS2 game "48 (temporary)", a legendary kusoge.

From what I can tell, this is the first ONI game to take place in the real world. It's set at the beginning of the Kamakura period, when Minamoto no Yoritomo is the Shogun. The game opens with his brother Yoshitsune's death, but it seems that after that, his spirit has returned to get revenge on Yoritomo. The main character, Hokutomaru, is a foster child of Yoritomo, and he sets out with Yoritomo's son Yoritoo (who seems to be fictional) to defeat Yoshitsune's spirit.

 The game actually begins with Yoritomo's daughter being abducted by an evil spirit raised by Yoshitsune, and we have to head out to rescue her. The interface is clean and easy to use, and I hope we're entering a period of games where this kind of thing becomes standard -- the walking speed is fast, you can see the stats of equipment when you buy it, who can equip it, and whether it raises their stats or not. You get descriptions of what techniques do both in and out of battle. There's no annoying inventory limit, and the battles are a decent speed. 

Characters do not have experience levels. Instead they have levels and XP in four areas -- attack, defend, speed, and faith (magic). All four will level up as you fight things, but if you defend or use magic in battle, or run from battle, you can level those areas. I don't know whether this actually increases the total amount of XP you get in a battle or just divides it differently. 

Speed is the hardest one to emphasize because running from battle is done individual per character, it often fails, and you end up getting killed while trying to run. So if you're going to try you need a lot of healing. I never did figure out what causes your HP and MP to increase. I think it has something to do with either your total levels or maybe average level but I'm not sure.

The battle system is mostly standard, but the magic is done through getting kami to join the party, associated with different characters. You can then use spells from those kami, although most of them require a certain Faith level to use. Some kami give several spells, with stronger versions appearing as you gain Faith levels. Overall this is a nice system; the only problem is that virtually all of the kami are optional, meaning that you may miss important magic if you don't do a lot of backtracking or looking for out of the way places. This does mean there's a lot to do other than just going to the next plot location, but it's sometimes frustrating because you have to backtrack to places for no reason and with not many hints.


There is also another system involving five god weapons; each character is associated with one of them and when they get them, they can transform into yokai monsters. In that form they cannot use their spells but they have stronger attacks that are more effective against certain monsters. You can use the settings to decide whether they will start battles in their human or yokai forms.

We start out in Kamakura. The map is based on Japan, and a nice touch is that when you use the item or spell that warps you to different towns, you get a map of Japan.

Finally, there are NPCs you can get (to a limit of 8, I think). Some join automatically (like Naozane in the first town), others you have to pay money or give items to. One of the most useful is Zourin, who lets you run faster by holding down L or R. Others will heal you during battle or make attacks.

Saving Yoritomo's daughter takes us to the north of Japan, to an underground castle. Along the way there are some subevents and other things to do, many of which involve traditional Japanese yokai like onibaba (demon hag) or the like. We also get Hourin, a drunken priest, and a warrior Hitaka. Hitaka is looking for the god weapons so he can find the one that matches him. We do find one of the god weapons in the underground castle, but it's not Hitaka's -- it actually turns out to be Hokutomaru's.

When we return to Kamakura, Yoritomo now tells us that Yoshitsune is going to try to get the three sacred treasures -- the jewel, the sword, and the mirror. (These are the Imperial Regalia which were most recently presented at the current Emperor's enthronement, although there are doubts as to whether they are genuine. As this game indicates, they were all present at the battle of Dan no Ura at the end of the Genpei wars and may have been lost then.) Yoritomo himself has the jewel, and so he wants us to look for the Kusanagi Sword and the Yata Mirror so that Yoshitsune can't get them. The Mirror is in the capital (Heian), so that's where we head next.

It turns out the mirror was stolen by some ruffian children who also steal our money. They live in a squalid village outside the capital. They're actually all orphans, and two older girls look after them. When we convince them that we need the mirror, they return it and one of the girls, Akoya (I think), joins us.

At this point there are a whole bunch of optional places you can go to get various gods for your characters, but the next requirement is to visit Kuraiyama where a demon named Ryomensukuna (from Japanese legend) tells us where we can find the five God Swords. Supposedly if we can find them all, the way to the Kusanagi Sword will be revealed.

So this is the usual RPG trope of traveling the world looking for X number of objects. Hitaka rejoins us along the way which fills out the party to the full 5, of course all of our characters are the God Sword wielders. We have to go all over Japan, including up to the north and down to Shikoku and Kyushu (not Hokkaido though). Along the way we meet Benkei who has become a tengu, gain a lot more gods, and beat up a bunch of monsters. The main revelation in this part is that the main character is actually Yoshitsune's son. (This part is probably half the game's content)

Finally we have all 5 swords, and it's time to go to Dan no Ura to get the Kusanagi Sword. But it turns out that Ryomensukuna was deceiving us, and he now has the ghosts of the dead Heiki soldiers pull us (Genji descendants) down into the land of Yomi.

A mysterious voice helps us break free, and along the way we meet some helpful dead such as Tomoe Gozen. Eventually we learn that Yoritomo's goal is to kill all yokai, even the good ones, and that we need to stop him. After several areas we recover the Kusanagi Sword and use its power to escape Yomi. Now it's time for the final battles. First up is Yoshitsune, who is in a long dungeon in the NW of Japan. We also meet Ryomensukuna, who is apologetic -- he never intended for all of this to happen, although it's a little bit of a false apology I think. In any case he acts as a heal/save point.

Yoshitsune himself is not that hard; by this point it seems like I was quite strong and could handle the bosses. It turns out as Yoshitsune was dying, he was possessed and turned into a yokai by another monster, who wanted to use him for his own ends. Of course we kill him too. Yoshitsune, as he dies reveals that he was actually married to a yokai (so the main character is half-yokai) and he was killed by Yoritomo because he refused to participate in killing all of them.

Now with Yoshitsune gone, it's time to deal with Yoritomo. He's back in Kamakura in the small starting palace. There's also an optional super boss, but you have to have certain items before you do the Yoshitsune part since you can't leave Kamakura once that's done. So I was not able to try.

Yoritomo himself is not very hard, neither is his yokai form after that.

But after Yoritomo is beaten, it turns out that he himself was being controlled by Abihiko. He says that he is the god of the Genji (although Abihiko is a real mythological figure I don't see anything suggesting he was ever associated with the Genji).

And here we get a common thing in these RPGs -- the final boss is a huge leap up in difficulty. He has three parts. The main body does an all attack that did 2/3 of my character's HP, so I died very quickly. I tried 5 times, but it turned out that I just had to grind. Once I had done enough grinding I was able to first take out the right part (which heals) then the middle part (which has the devastating attack) and finally the last part.

After you beat Abihiko the palace crumbles. I wonder what percentage of JRPGs have the final dungeon crumble after the final boss and force the heroes to retreat. It's one of the most common tropes.

So overall this is a fairly decent game. It suffers from a few flaws common to these old games, primarily that the random encounter rate is too high. But it has a lot of Japanese mythology and history in it, there's some complexity to the system, and the interface is smooth and playable. I would definitely put this among the best games I've played so far.