Saturday, June 26, 2021

Game 65 - Breath of Fire II - Part 1, Hunting the thief

Breath of Fire II: The Destined Child (ブレス オブ ファイアII 使命の子)
Released 12/2/1994, developed by Capcom

About a year and a half after the first Breath of Fire, Capcom released a sequel. The game has no immediate or obvious plot connection to the first game, but the game system is very similar and the "Ryu" and "Nina" names return. 

The game starts off with a mysterious introduction, where Kurisu (Ryu, of course) is a child. His dad wants him to go find his sister Yua, who is talking to a giant dragon that supposedly protected them. After this scene, Yua is suddenly missing and no one recognizes Kurisu. He's taken in by an orphanage but escapes with Bosh, a dog-human hybrid.They are confronted by a monster and beaten badly, and the monster recognizes Kurisu as the destined child (a more literal translation would be "child with a mission" but that doesn't sound as good).

Then it's 10 years later, and they're working with the Rangers' Guild elsewhere.

Bosh can hunt things when you see certain grass spaces on the world map. I was never able to kill anything so I just started ignoring them. There's also fishing places but I haven't used those either. The battle system is essentially the same as the first game, although this time you only get to see the HP of an enemy after you've won one combat with that enemy in it (so it doesn't have the thing from the first game where bosses have extra HP at the end of their life bar).

This game has balance issues, and it's really one of the things I'm having the biggest problem with. Monsters hit hard, the random encounter rate is high, and XP and gold rewards are low. Revive items are expensive, and enemies will frequently gang up on a character, killing them sometimes from full HP. The GBA remake doubled all the experience awards, which makes sense. I've gotten more game overs in this game that any other game I remember playing up to now for this blog.

The first mission Kurisu and Bosh get from the rangers' guild is to find a pet pig who is lost. The owner, Mina, is one of the winged people like in the first game.

First we have to cross a mountain. There's a revive pool which is useful, but the first boss battle is pretty tough. The key is that the left and right harpies are weaker and can be defeated more easily.

Now we reach a ruined hut where the owner is beset by nasty cockroaches. Japan has giant flying cockroaches (which can also be found in the southern US, called "palmetto bugs").

He is quite happy afterwards and offers a meal -- it's the pig! Fortunately we get to it before it gets cooked and return it to Mina. Later at night, someone visits Bosh with a mission. He wants to recover something that the town's rich man stole; unfortunately someone else gets to it first and Bosh is accused of the theft. We manage to smuggle him out of the town, but the first major quest is to find the woman thief to clear Bosh's name. Kurisu is on his own again, while Bosh stays back to help the man build the ruins of his house. 

These ruins will become a town throughout the game; one of the new systems is that this town grows and you can invite people from around the world to live there, opening shops and such.

Kurisu heads to the next town, Colsea, where there's a battle tournament. It seems like the thief might have entered the tournament, so Kurisu hopes to catch her by entering himself. But the only way to do that is by replacing the person that's scheduled to fight her, so we have to go to the north woods.

I don't feel like the dungeon designs are quite as creative as they were in BoF 1, but here there are some zip lines to ride around. I had to die a lot to finish this, but when you die you reappear back at the last place you saved with some lost gold. You can store gold in the bank to prevent this.

Once Kurisu beats Babadel, the original fighter, he can take his place (and your name temporarily changes to Babadel). Now it's time to fight the woman in the colosseum. Kurisu gets 1000 gold because this dude has set up a pro wrestling like situation where after the fight, the woman will get hit with poison darts. Kurisu takes some antidote to protect against it.

She's tough (and not the thief, as it turns out). Once you beat her you have a split second to press up on the controller to block the darts from hitting her; I didn't do this so she gets poisoned. This doesn't have a big effect on the game, though, it just delays her joining your party a bit.
Now we decide to deal with the dude who set this up, and he changes into a monster!

We're joined by Rand, one of the other fighters. His in-battle ability can revive someone or heal their status effects, although it's a low chance. I don't believe he has a map ability. Afterwards, the thief whose name is Rinpu (Katt in the US version) joins. She can break some obstacles in dungeons with her staff. We all head back to the 共同体 ("community", the name for our new town). Rand stays there and Rinpu joins us as we get further sidetracked in the first town. Mina's older sister Nina is getting blackmailed by a Joker thief group, and they kidnap Mina, so time to save her.

Nina is a magic user. Her special ability is to recover MP (which works better if her MP are low). Of course when we reach the thieves' hideout we find out that Joker has also been possessed by a monster (or perhaps killed and replaced? Or changed into?)

And once he's taken down, we save Mina. Now Nina and Mina need to go back to their home, Windia, and we accompany them there. Unfortunately their mom only recognizes Mina as her daughter, seeming to not like Nina's black wings.

We then pick up the fourth members, Sten, a monkey. He is able to cross short gaps that have poles he can grab on to. The thief went west so we continue the chase. The next important town is Capetan, where some children are stuck in a well.

The well also has these nasty parasite things that grab onto people's faces, and a monster at the end. This game really likes bug-based horror movie like monsters. This is a tough monster that has an area effect spell. I basically had to try several times until by luck he did not use that spell as much, and I also used all the damage inflicting items I had.

There are also some alternate formations you can do although I'm not sure how useful they are (Nina should definitely be in the back in that screenshot above).

Once you save the villagers, one heads back to your town ruins, which has now become the Community. Rand rejoins and we can now choose our party from among the 5 members (although Kurisu always has to be there, of course). We can also add a witch to the town who gives Kurisu some spells and also begins the "fusion" system where you can get shamans to fuse with your guys. They'll add stats and powers, and if done on the right people in the right combinations, can change their sprite and result in additional effects. Unfortunately at low HP the fusions break -- my guys are at low HP very frequently resulting in a lot of fusion breaks, and you have to go all the way back to the Community to be able to re-fuse. Then we continue back west to chase down the thief.

Next we meet a big frog named Tapeta (Jean in the English version) who tells us to find a witch to turn him back to normal.

The witch tower has a lot of pits and tricks in it, and the witch Nimufu at the top. She seems rather upset that nobody likes her, and even when we beat her she's still complaining that this frog is the only one who ever seemed to pay attention. But all we need is a maiden's kiss to turn it back to normal.
"Normal" is still a frog, just not as big. But now he can join our party. Tapeta's power is to turn into a big frog, which lets us cross some rivers and other places like that and also decreases the random encounter rate. Finally we can get the first of Kurisu's dragon powers, behind a waterfall. In this game they use up all the MP of Kurisu for big damage.
At this point we can also get some new tenants for the buildings in the Community. I just recruited three shopkeepers, including one who has some nice flame equipment. It's expensive, but I bought at least a flame sword for Kurisu. Near the waterfall is a restaurant where they try to eat us:

 But they're no match for the dragon power.

I gave the power you get here to Nina, a 0 cost damage spell seemed good for her.

The last destination in our thief catching mission is Castle Swimmer, where we learn that Tapeta is actually the prince. But a fake prince has come in to take his place, and his sister Patepa wants us to help her prove the fakery. In order to do this, we have a cooking contest, but Tapeta needs good ingredients that we have to recover from beneath the castle. Of course being frogs, they want a bunch of bugs. Time for more yucky boss fights.

This dungeon was especially annoying because the Swimmer store has no poison healing items, and there are enemies in the dungeon with an area effect poison spell. I had to leave this dungeon (via game overs or walking out) more than any dungeon up to this point.

Eventually we get all the ingredients but the taste testers throw the competition to the fake prince. As you may guess, the fake prince is yet another transformed monster.

Once he's beaten, Tapeta is finally recognized as the real prince, although he decides to keep adventuring with us. It also turns out that Patty, the real thief, was locked up in the dungeons, so we take her back to the first town.

Patty lets us know that Trout, the rich man she stole from, is actually a bad guy that's stealing a bunch of stuff himself, which we already knew. And by this point it should not be a surprise that he is yet another monster, who Bosh and Kurisu go beat by themselves.

At this point the initial quest is complete, but Bosh and the rest of us decide that there are too many weird things going on -- we need to investigate where all these monsters are coming from. And the Rangers' guild sends us out to help solve this problem.


I am going to be gone the next couple of saturdays. I will schedule the next BoF2 post for next Saturday, and a Deadly Towers post for the week after that. I hope I can do the next BoF2 post the week after that but there might be a one week gap. Hope everyone is having a good summer.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Game 64 - Aretha SFC II - Ariel's Mysterious Journey

Aretha II: Ariel's Mysterious Journey (アレサII 〜アリエルの不思議な旅〜)
Released 12/2/1994, developed by Yanoman 

This is the fifth game in the Aretha series and the second one for the Super Famicom. This is very much like Aretha 1, which may not be a surprise given that this was released just a year after the first game. The system is almost exactly the same, with some minor graphical improvements and the major improvement of actually showing damage numbers. Most of the monster graphics are reused from the first game, and the characters are mostly the same as well.

(Some sites claim these SFC games are remakes of the Aretha GB games, but this is wrong. They take place in the same world as the GB games many generations in the future and are completely new games.) 

It has the same "B level RPG" feel as the first game. It's rather short and can be played through in a couple of days. You level up quickly, the dungeons are not very complicated, and there aren't too many points in the game where you'll be confused about what to do.

Just as in the first game, magic plays a major role. MP restoring items are cheap, so there's no problem having Ariel and the others use magic every turn. Ariel has a spell she learns early on that cancels all random encounters for a while, so whenever you feel like you're strong enough you can progress through the dungeon with no problems. I'm not completely sure about this, but unlike the first game I don't believe that using magic helps you learn new magic.

The "soul crafting" system returns from the first game but it's just as opaque as the first one, and much less important. You gain elemental souls from beating monsters, which can then be used at Mistform crafters to make items. But there's no way of knowing what kind of items you'll get, so it's just pure trial and error. In the first game you could easily get powerful items, but every time I tried Mistform I got worse stuff or stuff that was only slightly better than what I had. So I just gave up on the system after the first third of the game or so.

The battle system has the same deal as last time where enemies can appear on the back, front, or sides. The only real effect of this is that mid-level group target spells only work on one side. But enemies attacking from the back don't (as far as I can see) do extra damage or anything like that. 

The game is a direct sequel to Aretha I, although it doesn't really require knowledge of the first one to follow. Ariel is a queen, but she gets a letter from Kyle (a warrior from the first game). He and Doll (a magician from the first game) wandered into a new world that's in the depths of the Earth (sort of a hollow world concept). They were defeated by some powerful enemies and Doll is near death, so Ariel heads out to save them. With the help of a warrior Todd, she reaches the Gaia Crevasse and falls down to the new world thanks to an avalanche.

Ariel quickly meets up with Doll, although if you've played the last game it's pretty obvious this is an impostor. But Ariel goes with him to Zecht Castle, where the Demon Lord Arken is. They fight Arken,but Kyle comes in and reveals the fake.

The party then proceeds to a tower to rescue the real Doll, unfortunately he has sustained a serious injury and the next step is to cure him, but to do that we need to search out the sage Milon. A thief Jabrong joins up, and in the next area we find Zopild, one of the strange Zoppi creatures that were in the previous game as well.

Milon can heal Doll, but we need a moon crystal from a nearby tower to do so. Once this is recovered, Doll is finally able to recover, King Arken tells us what's going on. The dark forces are attempting to revive a Magic Stone Weapon from ancient times. To do this they need four magic stones. Of course now we're into the "collect X things" part of the RPG that is so common -- essentially we get a ship, then find the four magic stones in various parts of the world. Some of them require further fetch quests (like getting a compass to sail the seas, and eventually a magic rod to get a sky flier).


Other new companions join, including Yuno, a combination magic user-fighter who is pretty useful because of her Resurrection spell. She's the daughter of an old companion of Arken's -- they fought against the dark forces many years ago. Another is Minerva, a fighter.

Once we get the four stones, there's another anime/manga cliche. The dark forces have captured King Arken and we have to trade the stones for his life. Of course we immediately comply despite knowing that will result in the revival of the Magic Weapon.

 The bosses starting from here often use "Mind Wave" which reduces MP to 0 for everyone; rather annoying.

Once they save Arken, the enemies cause an earthquake that dumps everyone into a pit. Ariel encounters a little dragon here who she thinks is the reincarnation of Fang (her lifelong friend from the first game). But he leaves very soon after and never appears or is mentioned in the game again.

 Now we have to enter the Weapon to destroy it. At this point you can go do some sidequests to get some powerful things -- to actually enter the Weapon you have to talk to Kyle while on the flying ship, although I never saw any indication that you should do this. So I consulted a walkthrough and started following it, which ended up getting me Testament. This item has been in all the Aretha games and instantly raises your entire party's levels to 99.

 The final dungeon is the longest one, and there are several bosses along the way. All the party members so far join and leave as we go so you get a variety. Eventually we defeat the dark forces, and Arken sacrifices himself to destroy the Magic Weapon.


As with Aretha 1, there's not really an ending -- it doesn't even say how Ariel was able to get back to her world. I read that there was possibly a third game planned but it never came out. The 1995 "Rejoice" game is an Action RPG that takes place in the game boy games' timeline instead.


Basically what you get from this game is a short RPG that is easy to sit down and play. It doesn't offer anything special, but neither does it have anything frustrating about it. There's a bit more depth to the story than the outline I gave above, but it's still mostly cliches.

Next up is Breath of Fire II, which should offer more.

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.