Friday, April 30, 2021

What is a "DQ2 clone" or "AMID game"?

I finished Glory of Heracles IV and I will have that post up probably on Sunday. The next game would have been Basted for the PCE but that turned out not to qualify as an ARPG by my standards. Next after that is Startling Odyssey II, but I will only be playing a few hours of that -- it's another DQ2 clone, and my practice has been to not finish those on the PC Engine.

I've repeatedly disparaged games as being DQ2 clones, and I used to refer to them as "AMID systems" but I'm not sure I ever fully explained what that really means.

In essence, a DQ2 clone is a game that doesn't go beyond the system that Dragon Quest II introduced in 1987. You have a fixed party of people with set roles that cannot be changed or modified. The magician character will learn spells at level up but cannot do anything else. In battle, your choices are Attack, Magic, Item, Defend (thus AMID).

Furthermore, these games typically copy one of the worst features of early RPGs. They were based on Wizardry which was based on Dungeons and Dragons, and the result is that magic tends to be very hard to use. The random encounter rate is high, MP fairly low, and MP restoring items either rare or nonexistent. This means that effectively in most fights you are simply mashing attack over and over again, with magic being reserved solely for healing, or sometimes boss fights.

Startling Odyssey II is an example of a straight DQ2 clone, without even basic modifications. It's more common for there to be some minor, token system modification -- maybe you buy spells instead of learning them on level up, or the fighter character has spell-like "techniques". There might be a front and back row of monsters. But these slight modifications do not change the fact that you are still basically mashing "attack" in every battle. 

A DQ2 clone is not necessary a bad game -- Glory of Heracles III is an example of a slightly modified DQ2 system that is fun, and you could make the case that Breath of Fire 1 counts as well. Both of these games are saved by the story and/or interesting dungeon design. And games that do not copy DQ2 are not necessary good -- Wizap! and Kigurumi Adventure are prime examples.

The worst is when you have the straight (or slightly modified) DQ2 system combined with dull, featureless dungeons, a generic fantasy world, and a boring story.

I'm curious to see how long these kind of games continue. Honestly if you had asked me before I started this blog I would not have thought they were still coming out in late 1994 but now I'm expecting to see them right up to the end.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Game list (1994, September - December)

Rather than a game update this week, I will post my list of games for the remainder of 1994. This begins with a list I cobbled together from various sources; the bold games are the ones I'm actually going to play. This is the last major release period for the PC Engine -- there are 6 in this block of games. But after this, there are only 6 games in all of 1995 and just one in 1996. So anyone who is wishing I would stop playing these PC Engine games and focus on SFC will get their wish soon.

  • The Glory of Heracles IV: Gift from the Gods 
  • Startling Odyssey 2 (PCE)
  • Basted (PCE) - I initially had this on the list but it does not qualify as an ARPG for me; there's no equipment, levels, or items. It's more an adventure/actino game.
  • Feda: Emblem of Justice - SRPG, already done on the other blog.
  • Ilvanian Castle - I've seen some places categorize this as an SRPG but to me it's just a strategy game; all of your units are nameless grunts you summon.
  • Shin Megami Tensei if... 
  • Magna Braban: Wandering Heroes 
  • Monster Maker Kids: I want to be a king! -- I'm skipping all of these "RPG board game" hybrids because as far as I can tell, they have no real story mode or plot and most of them can't be played solo. If anyone knows of one of these games (for Super Famicom) that can be played solo, or that does have some kind of plot, let me know.
  • Ultima VII Black Gate - English release, also a horrible port of a great PC game.
  • We're Hiring Heroes Now: Seconds - Same comment as Ilvanian Castle above.
  • Gotzendeinner (PCE) - Some sites list this as an RPG but it's more of an action/puzzle game.
  • Cosmic Fantasy 4 Part 2 (PCE) - I did part 1 but I don't see the point of trying part 2; part 1 wasn't that good.
  • Aretha II: Ariel's Mysterious Journey
  • Breath of Fire II 
  • Dokapon 1-2-3: Friendship that Calls a Storm  (RPG boardgame)
  • The Last Battle 
  • Sugoroku Quest++ (RPG boardgame)
  • Lodoss War II (PCE) 
  • Albert Odyssey 2 - SRPG, done on other blog.
  • Daikaiju Monogatari 
  • Power of the Hired - SRPG, done on other blog.
  • Ryu Knight 
  • Fangs of Alnam (PCE)
  • Dual Orb II
  • Travelers (PCE) 
A lot of sequels here. BoF II is the most notable game here but hopefully some of the others will be good as well.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

PCE Game 38 - Megami Paradise

Megami Paradise (女神天国)
Released 9/30/1994, published by NEC Home Electronics


As you might expect from the title and the PC Engine's library, this is a fanservice RPG with a lot of girls -- aspects of the game remind me of Princess Minerva. It's based on some kind of reader-participation game that ran in Dengeki PC Engine. These games seem to have been popular in the 1990s but I'm not clear on exactly how it worked. I think it's sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure or Lone Wolf style game that you can create characters and play on your own from the magazine. Along with the game there was a manga, OVA, and this PC Engine RPG.


The story and setting is silly. The main character is Rinrin, studying at the Megami Academy to become a Megami (goddess). When she gets there she comes across the "MegaQ" orbs that the Academy guards, and not knowing what they are, throws them away, hits them with baseball bats, etc. and scatters them around the world. She then begins her registration to enter the school, but they learn about the "disappearance" of the MegaQ orbs. Rinrin has the help of Pop, a fairy, and is sent to go find them. Also sent out are the four goddesses of the school -- Lulubell, Juliana, Lilith, and Stacea.


Opposing them is the student council, who is secretly working for the Yamamama (Darkness Mom), who wants to find the MegaQ to take over the world.


There is a lot of voiced dialogue and cutscenes. It may seem obvious since that was the PC Engine's selling point (especially in late 1994), but a surprising number of games only add a tiny amount of this content to the game.

The first part of the game is entirely in the school. The student council sends out a message to all students that they should beat up Rinrin for going against the council, so the first random encounters are students from the tennis club, anime club, soccer club, etc.

The combat system is standard RPG except that all attacking is done through spells (which cost no MP). Each character can have 4 spells, which are learned by finding sunflowers that will teach them. One annoyance for me is that there's no way to tell what each spell does, although the names have some onomatopoeic clue. However, this is an interesting system.

I found the first part annoyingly difficult. Since it's just one character, you basically have to level up a lot. As usual the balance is way off; the bosses are much easier than the random encounters so if you can just survive to the bosses you'll probably win.

The first area involves going around to the different school buildings, beating up the leaders of the clubs, and getting keys to the next area. There is a shop in the main building that sells outfits and items. Outfit changing requires you to go to a changing room, then you can equip different things. Each one has a "beauty" value and then raises one of three stats -- goddess, defense, or speed. I think goddess is attack. I'm not entirely sure what the "beauty" value does, but the in-game explanations indicate it's important to always have that as high as possible. Even a better defensive item, if the beauty is less, might not be as good.


You can unlock special skills by equipping certain pieces of clothing, or by combining certain outfits. Apparently you can also get cutscene pictures this way as well. 

Eventually I made it to the student council room and faced Rouge, one of the 4 followers of Yamimama. She brought out a Mazinger Z ripoff to fight, but with repeated healing and attacking it was fine.

Rinrin gets the yellow MegaQ (that talks to her and raises her stats). Now Rinrin is sent out into the world to find the other MegaQs, but she takes off in balloons and gets sunk by a storm.

She washes onto a beach and meets Kurisu (the dude you name at the beginning of the game). In the next town, all the 4 goddesses are there and you can pick 2 of them to join your team. There is also a way to warp back to the school so you can use the sunflowers to get spells for the new members.


This is where I stopped. I guess this is an OK RPG for this era; the spell system and outfitting are interesting features, and you can progress in the game fairly quickly. There are a lot of well known VAs (well known for the 90s, at least) and a good amount of cutscenes and voiced dialogue. The silliness and fanservice will probably turn a lot of people off, though.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

PCE Game 37 - Xak III

Xak III: The Eternal Recurrence (サークIII ジ・エターナル・リカーレンス)
Released 9/30/1994, developed and published by Micro Cabin 
This is the final game in the Xak series, which had three main games and two side games. As I said in my previous post on the game, it is clearly modelling itself on Ys: an action RPG with meaningless short name for the series, and a first game split into two parts.

As with the previous games, Xak III began as a computer game and was later ported to PC Engine. From what I could see on Youtube, the port is pretty faithful although the computer version had a stat called EP in addition to HP and MP, I don't know what that is and don't think it's in the PC Engine version.

The first two games had the Ys-style "run into enemies" system, but this game has you press the button to attack. The port is disappointing like the original games' was -- there is hardly any voice or cutscenes throughout the game, not even at the beginning. I actually wondered if there was something wrong with the copy I had but the first cutscene doesn't happen until a bit through the game and there are only two more (a very brief one near the end, and then the ending scene). However, this might be good because surprisingly this game actually has an English translation patch -- they don't do anything with the voiced cutscenes, but they don't add much to the story and you can almost guess what's happening in them just from the pictures.

The game is quite short as is typical for ARPGs of this era (the youtube playthrough is 6h30m). However, it does conclude the story of Xak, as Ratok takes on the third evil general (having beaten the other two, Badu and Gospel, in the previous games). The question of what happened to Ratok's father is addressed as well, and there's sort of a conclusion to Pixie and Frey's stories too. You could definitely play this without playing the first two, though, since anything of importance in those games is repeated here.

The graphics in the dialogue scenes are not bad.

The opening scene is the bloodiest thing I've seen yet, where this dude comes into the castle and kills the King, ripping his head off. The princess then says he might as well take her head too, and he rips it off, leaving both heads on the throne. The PC Engine generally allowed more explicit content (in both violence and sex) than the Super Famicom did.

Like the last game, this game has jumping puzzles, but they're nowhere near as annoying as the previous game -- for one thing, you don't die if you miss the jumps, and the graphics make it much easier to see where the platforms are and where you're supposed to jump.

There's also a dragon riding part again, but it's quite easy.

Unlike the first game, you get companions in this game -- most of them are from the other games (Frey and Ryun, for instance). They just run around and fight on their own, and are actually relatively helpful unless they die -- you can't change screens without reviving them.


Overall the game is easy. There are some parts (particularly near the end) where the grunt enemies hit hard, but the bosses can almost all be beaten just by mashing the button and taking hits -- as with the previous game, it's easy to level because the amount of XP you get from the enemies never goes down. You can also buy tons of healing potions since there's nothing else worthwhile to spend money on.

There's a lot of laziness in the interface and presentation -- you can't see stats of items at all, so you have no idea what to equip (I can't believe we're still seeing this at the end of 1994). You can "teleport" back to any place you've been with no explanation for why. There's no real backtracking or exploration, it's more like a series of stages.

This is not an especially good game, but it's not terrible either. That being said, the Ys games that were coming out around this time weren't all that great either (except for Dawn of Ys, I suppose). But somehow Ys was able to continue on to the present, but Xak never produced another game after this. I'm not sure if that had to do with Micro Cabin itself, or the sales of Xak relative to Ys.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Game 60 - Wizap! Ankoku no Ou

Wizap! King of Darkness (ウィザップ!暗黒の王)
Released 9/22/1994, by ASCII 

This is the second in a series of three games by ASCII; they're not really direct sequels but more spiritual sequels (along the lines of the Soul Blazer "series"). The first one was Dark Lord for the original Famicom, and the third game (Dark Law) will be the second to last game I play for this blog.

My self-imposed rule is that if a game has no translation (not even a patch), I have to finish it. I have considered changing this for crappy games but I haven't done it yet. I'm going to bend the rules a bit here -- technically I "finished" this game, but I got a bad ending. The main problem is that I just can't really figure out how to play this game. I wasn't able to get a physical copy due to the covid shipping restrictions, and without an instruction manual there are things about the basic gameplay I can't figure out. 


The idea behind the game is to be a free-form system. You have 20 days; after that, the dark lord descends to the earth and you get a bad ending. In order to see the real ending you have to do a number of specific events on certain days and do the quests. The game is not very long, and I think the intent of the designers is that you would play it through several times before you finally figured everything out.

So let me preface the rest of the post with a warning: This is based on what I could figure out through brute force and a bit of help from some Internet resources (not a full walkthrough). There may be aspects of the game that I'm wrong about and would be clarified by the instruction manual. 

There's a short opening scene where some kind of dark warrior is going to bring back a being from space to the "paradise" of the world. The game begins by having you put in your name, select a space on a grid to determine your starting stats, and picking a birthday. Then you suddenly start out in a forest with no explanation. Walking north I came to a cliff where I could see a city. It took me a while to figure out just how to get beyond these starting screens; you have to keep walking back and forth on the edge of the cliff until it crumbles and you fall down.

The character wakes up and gets mysteriously healed with no explanation. I then explored this area a bit and came across a town. But I had wanted to see if there was anything else outside....and I realized I couldn't leave the town. The town becomes the base of the game and you can't leave unless you get an "episode" started.

I have zero money; there wasn't anything to do but visit the king, who tells you he'll raise your level with enough XP, and then take a job. There are a number of different jobs (fisherman, woodcutter, etc.). I then was able to do the job, making time pass and changing my stats, and getting a pittance of gold (not enough to actually buy much).

From a walkthrough I knew that on Day 3 if I talked to the jobs person it would open up the first episode. He sends me to find out what happened to three people who got stuck in a mine nearby. This takes me out of the town, and into an area with the first fight against two wolves.

The battle system is in real time, so you mash the attack button (a white box shows you when you're in range) and try to dodge out of the way before they attack. I got slaughtered on my first try. If you die, several days pass and then you wake up back in town. I think this means you can get the real ending but I'm not sure about that.

The second try I did a little better but I still was left with 1 HP at the end. Fortunately I started with a healing spell. Making my way to the cave, I fell down a hole into a black area where one of the captured miners was. Looking at the youtube playthrough it seems like you can find other people in the cave and a blue stone to give you light before doing this, but I was in total darkness (actually looking at the screenshot it's not total darkness; I guess I could have turned off the NTSC filter and brightened it up a bit. Eventually I blundered around and mashed circle enough times that the miner broke his way out and I followed him to the boss fight.

Somehow I was just able to attack the boss from behind and defeated him, but he killed the other miner. From here we returned to town and I got a reward from the jobs person.

I still had no money though, so I couldn't upgrade my equipment. I did jobs for another day and then got the second scenario, which is talking to a guy and doing his "bug killing" job for him. We go out to the forest and I was faced with several battles that I found very difficult. I could barely do any damage to the bugs whereas they took off a third of my HP. I had to use a bunch of save states and about 5 minutes just to kill 2 bugs, and then more arrived. At this point I lost the fight and the bug man said I wasn't cut out for the job and we went back to town. The king raised me one level.

This is where I really had the feeling that I didn't know what I was doing. The youtube video indicates I could have gotten a second party member by examining a rock four times at the very beginning of the game before going to town (I only checked it once). I feel like there has to be some way to get some more money or stats so that I'm not getting obliterated by bugs (the youtube playthrough cuts out all the fights so I don't know what she did).

So at this point my character decided he wasn't cut out for the adventuring life and worked as a fisherman for 18 more days until the dark warrior brought back the evil guy into the world and the game was over. Better luck next time.


My impression from this playthrough is that this game is garbage. But as I said, I'm not willing to completely write it off without seeing the instruction manual...although for now I'm moving on to the next game. Sometimes people complain that modern games have too many tutorials and hold your hand too much, but this is the polar opposite. They even tease you at the beginning by telling you that holding down L will let you search, but that's the only hint you get!

Next week will be Xak III, the third game in the Ys ripoff series.