Sunday, March 29, 2020

Game 32 - Majin Tensei II: Spiral Nemesis (Scenes 1 and 2)

Majin Tensei II: Spiral Nemesis (魔神転生II SPIRAL NEMESIS)
Release Date: 2/19/1995
System: Super Famicom
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus



This is Atlus' second attempt at a strategy RPG based on the Megami Tensei franchise. As with the other games in the series, the highlight of the game is the ability to recruit monsters to your side and fuse them to make different (hopefully stronger) monsters. It also features the alignment system from the other games.

The major differences from the first game are:
  • The story is much more developed. The game takes place mostly in Tokyo (although in different time periods).
  • Some monsters can equip things. The monsters have a fixed level but you can raise their rank; unlike MT1 they can raise up many ranks (at least 50) and they improve their stats in addition to gaining new abilities.
  • You can turn off battle animations.
  • Recruiting monsters is much easier; rather than going through a random dialogue tree you can just give them MAG or gems and they'll join up. You can also combine monsters by just moving them into each other; I don't remember if this was possible in MT1.
  • Movement is more restricted, with more walls and terrain that slows the characters. This can be very annoying at times, but it fixes one of the big problems I had with MT1, where monsters could swarm your weak monsters by just going around all your other characters.
  • If one unit's speed exceeds another unit's by 6 or more, that unit will get a second attack.
  • Before attacking, you get a much more detailed analysis of what will happen, showing the attacker and defender's stats and compatibility, as well as if they will get a second attack.
One big problem that many Japanese players complain about is how long the enemy turns take, particularly the "thinking" time. I've seen Japanese players saying they would read books or clean their house on the enemy turns, which at some points in the game can take over 10 minutes for a single turn. This is definitely a game you want to play on an emulator with a speedup key.  

The game is divided into six "scenes" (although the game itself doesn't seem to recognize them; it's six separate overworld maps). I'll cover the first two in this post.

Scene 1 - 1996 Tokyo

The backstory for the game is that someone has used demons and monsters to suddenly take over Tokyo. In response, people have formed a resistance group called Partizan. The main character Naoki joins Partizan and meets Tomoharu and Kaoru. Their first task is to free Shibuya.



The goal is to reach the red square on the left. Right now we cannot summon or talk to the demons yet, so we just have to kill everything. I used this chance to move the main character up levels. As usual in the MT series, you can't talk to a demon that is higher level than you. Because of this, you don't want to spread out the XP too much among your human characters.

By the way, the place immediately below the main characters is a train line. These are constant annoyances in the game, reducing your movement rate to near zero unless you cross at the station (where you still need to go slowly).


Initially I was dividing points between Strength, Vitality, and Speed. But I realized that Speed is much more important than Strength because you can get a second attack. So eventually I was putting most of the points into speed.

We learn that Naoki's parents are scientists, but the same day that all the demons came into Tokyo, there was an accident at the lab that blew it up, apparently killing both his parents..although he thinks they might have survived.

Next up is Meguro, where we get into a research lab.


In the lab, Naoki meets a mysterious woman named Karen who seems to know who he is, and gives him something important. They then head back to the Partizan HQ. It's been attacked, and Ogiwara, who is the leader of the enemies, has appeared himself. Naoki is able to get away, but the rest of the companions are left behind.


He ends up in Ikebukuro, where he meets Aya, and also figures out that Karen gave him a computer called DIO. Now we can recruit monsters. As I said above, it's much easier to recruit monsters in this game than in MT1. Although at least at the moment we can't recruit Light or Dark enemies, just Neutral. (Light and Dark enemies can still be fused, just not recruited.) Now there's a "world" map.


The green dots are places I've cleared, and the coin is a shop. The shop interface is inexcusable! You can't see what the power of weapons/armor are, or who can equip them. This is 1995! We're not in the NES era anymore; designers really need to be taking responsibility for making a usable interface.

Anyway, the goal is to get to the enemy HQ over at the right. Once there, Ogiwara is gone, and we easily free Tokyo from the demons. But a mysterious machine in the base transports them somewhere. It seems to be Ueno, but it turns out to be Ueno from thirty years in the future.

Scene 2 - 2040 Slum Tokyo


Scene 2 introduces two types of places -- the Remix shop on the left, where you can combine monsters in an easier to use interface than doing it on the battle screen. The purple area on the right can be repeated and lets you recruit monsters you might want. You can't win the battle so the only way to get out of it is to use a smoke bomb or Escape (which loses money). I did need a Pixie for an optional event in Scene 3.


Tokyo in 2040 is a ruin, and there are a lot of damage areas. I continued to recruit new monsters in this area as well as get better equipment for them, and focus the XP on Naoki. Eventually Tomoharu and Kaoru rejoined, and both Kaoru and Aya develop magical ability so they can start using spells.

At the end of this scene, Karen appears again and reveals more of the back story that involves time travel and such -- since this game has a translation I won't give away too much in the first post. My goal usually for the first post is to introduce the gameplay and give some intro for the story, but the rest of the posts may have spoilers. I'm going to take more detailed notes for Scene 3 and beyond, but this is where I will stop for now.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Game 31 - Gundam: Cross Dimension 0079

FACTS

  1. Turn type: Unclear (see below)
  2. Maps: Each stage has a few separate maps chained together.
  3. Character Customization: Prime Point system (see below)
  4. Character Development: Standard XP level system.
  5. Party Size: 3, from what I saw.
  6. Equipment: None
  7. Game Flow: 20 stages, no alternate paths, no repeating.
  8. Saving: You can save between battles.
  9. Death: If Gundam dies, you get a game over although you keep your XP. If other units die they leave for that battle.

IMPRESSIONS 

This game is on the borderline of SRPG status; I didn't find it on my first passthrough but I added it later. It has a translation patch and a good walkthrough; I'm just going to give a general review of it -- I played about 10 stages but it's not really my cup of tea. The game is divided into two parts: the first 14 stages are the story of First Gundam (0079), and the last 6 are a new side story taking place immediately after the end of FG with new characters. This little side story later shows up again in the SD Gundam G Generation series.


After an initial cutscene, you control Amuro in an easy fight against the two hapless Zaku units.


The 120 there is the Gundam's power; this goes down from moving and also from getting hit. "Member" lets you see the maps and choose other units, and "Lost" sends you back to the beginning of the map with your XP gains preserved. However, that's also what happens when you get a game over so there's not much purpose to that since you might as well fight and gain some XP.


You can either attack with ranged weapons, or close in and fight. Once you close in, the fight continues (with the two trading blows) until you either kill the enemy, or disengage from the fight with the B button. This gives the enemy a free attack, though.


Between stages, or when you level up, you can assign "prime points". You can freely assign them on this screen, even ones you've already assigned before. This is also where you give the units items that restore energy or special weapon power. The ability to refill your items when you level up is an essential part of the game. Part of the issue I had with the game is that after the first few levels, the stages are impossible to finish without a lot of energy refills.


You also have these fighting-game style special attacks. As you use them, the percentage increases and when it hits 100% you can use them as your initial attack to start a fight.


Because of the Minovsky Craft particles, you can only see a little bit of the area around you, and have to rely on this "heat detection" to find out where the enemies are.


After a few stages you get the Guntank and the Guncannon, which have ranged attacks that can hit multiple enemies. They're not well balanced, though. The turn system is strange -- you move one of your units, then the enemy moves, and then you can move any unit you want again. This means that most of the time you just want to use the Gundam, and trying to move the other units up levels is a tedious process that requires using your Gundam as a damage tank while the other units pick at the enemies. If the enemies close in on the tank or cannon they're helpless. This is another problem I had with the game.


The last stage I played was vs. Char and Lalah. First,  you have to chase Char all over the maps -- this happens in a number of stages, but it's especially annoying in this one. Once you attack Char once, he flees to a different map. If you miss too many times, or have too much trouble finding him, you run out of energy and can't deal with the second part of the map where you have to fight Lalah and her Elmeth with the bits. Some of the bits require ranged weapons to beat, so you have to keep some weapon refills. I kept losing on this stage either because I missed Char too much or couldn't find him, and I just got tired of it.

Maybe there are aspects of this game I didn't appreciate, but I think it only technically qualifies as an SRPG under my definition; it doesn't really feel like one. There is a translation patch, though, so try it out if you want to see for yourself.

Next up is Majin Tensei II.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Game 30 - Power of the Hired wrap-up

FACTS

  1. Turn type: Player/enemy turns.
  2. Maps: Medium. Terrain gives bonuses.
  3. Character Customization: None, although through the summon monster system each character can have their spells on an ad-hoc basis (see the introduction post)
  4. Character Development: Standard XP level system.
  5. Party Size: Max 4 summoners, each with 2 summons (12 total).
  6. Equipment: None
  7. Game Flow: 18 stages, no alternate paths, no repeating.
  8. Saving: You can save between battles, and make one in-battle save.
  9. Death: If the summoned monsters die, they just leave for that battle. If any of the 4 human characters die, it's game over.

IMPRESSIONS 

I feel like this game had interesting ideas, but didn't quite implement them as well as they could have. I like the idea of the summoned monsters increasing the stats of the summoner and contributing to their magic. But requiring them to be adjacent to the caster limits the use of magic a lot, especially since you can't move and cast, and most battles have something pushing you forward in the battle. I can understand the designers not wanting you to just sit and cast spells, but the MP are already relatively limited. Perhaps making some of the spells not quite so powerful could have helped there.

It would have also been nice if the monsters themselves had some additional powers or skills; as it is, all the monsters are basically the same except some can attack from two spaces away. 

The story is just an underdeveloped tissue of cliches. I know most RPG plots are, but this seemed especially derivative and lazy. There's supposed to be a whole empire attacking, but the Emperor just appears in a field to fight you for no clear reason. The main characters are way too quick to forgive Alef, who has killed innocent people to the point where everyone knows him as the Bloody Fang.

The game is playable and no aspect of the game (other than the story) is bad, but I just feel like there's so much more they could have done with the concept. Some of the stages have good ideas, like the dragon charging up his breath, or the octopus with the tentacles. More of those would have been appreciated.

--

That's it for 1994! 1995 has a lot of big names -- Front Mission, Der Langrisser, Tactics Ogre, Arc the Lad, etc.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Game 30 - Power of the Hired (Part 2)

Stages 6-18 will be covered in this post; the rest of the game. One thing I realized after the last post is that it's better to look at which types of magic each character is good with and pair them with summons that increase those types, so that you can cast the most powerful attack and healing magic.

(I think I accidentally deleted my screenshots of levels 6-8)

In stage 6 we're still going after the main character's brother. This takes place in a graveyard, with necromancers bringing weak undead out of the ground. The graves will run out of bodies after a while, leaving just the mages left to be killed.

Stage 7 requires you to defeat Alef; he starts running away after a few turns so you have to hurry up and get him. A common strategy for me in this game was to sacrifice the summons so that the summoners could survive long enough to get close to the boss and use all their attack spells to kill it. Which is what I did here.

Stage 8 is the last stage of chasing Alef. Like an idiot, he's being used by the Emperor, but once the Emperor comes in and tells him that he apologizes and joins our side. Of course that makes everyone completely ignore all the innocents he's killed, but that's usual for anime/games.

Now we have to chase the emperor. Stage 9 is vs. a dragon:

But we don't have to beat the dragon. All we have to do is get one summoner to the top of the screen by turn 6, which is not too hard.


Stage 10 is a castle with nasty spirits hiding in the walls that come out after us.

On Stage 11, the Emperor just appears for no reason in the middle of a field with not very many troops, and he's not very hard. The game does generally a poor job of making you think that there's an actual empire you're fighting. This stage is surprisingly easy.


It also follows a pattern that many of the later stages do. The essential strategic difficulty in this game is that using magic takes your entire turn. So you can't move and use magic, but most of the stages force you move in order to win (as in this stage, where the reinforcements are endless and the Emperor won't come chase you). So you have to slowly move forward.

In Stage 12 we're heading home and we come across a village where monsters are attacking; strangely given the Emperor is dead. So instead of going home we decide to head for Brozen mountain, where the monsters seem to be coming from. Stage 13 is on our way there; of course the Emperor is back. He's trying to open a magic gate to bring forth a demon that he can control to rule everything.


Stage 14 is against this huge octopus thing with tentacles. The game gets much harder from here on out.


Basically you have to beat all the tentacles first (which is not easy) and then take turns moving in to kill him, with some attack buffs.


Stage 15 is the toughest one in the game. All the enemies start in range. You only need to kill the vampire to win, but it's hard to survive long enough to do that (since any magic user dying is game over). Movement on the first few turns is important, as is Sleep spells and such. If you can survive to the second or third turn the stage can be won, but it took me several tries. Making sure that Alef and Lim (who start in the middle) can cast attack magic is a good thing.

In Stage 16, you have to have someone reach the cave entrance. This seems really hard at first because of the sheer number of monsters, but the important part is that the volcano eruptions on the stage hurt them as well as you, so a lot of them get killed or waste their turns healing.

Stage 17 and 18 are very similar. Both have a boss (Vampire for 17, Emperor for 18) who starts very far away, with endless reinforcements. So as I said above, you have to proceed slowly, keep your summoned units alive so magic can be cast, and then at some point abandon the summons and make a mad dash for the boss. I thought 18 was easier and managed to keep most of the units alive.


After the Emperor is beaten, the gate closes, and we all return home to our lives.

This is a game with a lot of good ideas but not great execution; I'll say more in the wrapup.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Game 30 - Power of the Hired (Super Famicom)

Power of the Hired (パワー オブ ザ ハイアード)
Release Date: 12/22/1994
System: Super Famicom
Developer: Nihon Computer System
Publisher: Masaya


The final 1994 game is a rather obscure game published by Masaya for the Super Famicom. The name is kind of strange, but refers to the "hired" (summoned monsters) giving magical powers to the summoners. It seems overall like a fairly short and light game.

The backstory is that the main character (Kurisu as usual) is from a village of monster users, who are distrusted by others. Kurisu's older brother Alef and his friend Rim are leaving for the capital of the kingdom, and the first battle starts while seeing them off.



This is sort of a prologue battle because there aren't any summoned monsters yet so you're just attacking (although Kurisu can use a few spells). The goal is to save the villagers from the monsters, which isn't very hard. After this, the story jumps forward a few years as Kurisu leaves the village herself. Word is that summoners are working for the kingdom, which Kurisu finds unacceptable -- they're supposed to stay neutral from politics and wars. So she sets out to see what's going on. The first real battle pits her against a group of thieves, who have set fire to the area (which slowly advances).


Before each battle, each character selects two monsters. Which monsters they can select are determined by their level.

The monster select screen

Each monster, in addition to their stats, has  獣魔法 numbers at the bottom. In this case, the Wolfman has 4 in every stat. If the monster is adjacent to the summoner, these numbers will be added to the summoner's own numbers to determine what magic they can use. The monsters can level up themselves and gain stats. If a monster is defeated, they leave for that battle. If a summoner (any summoner) is defeated, game over.

Since there is no equipment or items, that's pretty much the game system. The summoners gain MP back each turn, so using the magic is fairly free although you have to use it before moving. Many battles force you to move to complete the mission objectives, so that does limit the ability to use magic. For instance, in this second battle the fire will engulf your troops if you stay in one place for too long.

Every attack is followed by a counterattack (if the defender is in range).

Using magic
Dino comes in after a while, he's more fighting oriented.

So on stage 3 and after I tended to give the more magic options to Kurisu and let Dino have the others.

Stage 3 has us trying to defend a town from some monsters attacking; and it turns out that Alef is in command of them. Rim is hesitant to attack Kurisu, but Alef is now working for the kingdom, and anyone in his way will be defeated. He leaves before we can actually reach him, and there start being reinforcements on this stage. There are also enemy summoners with their own magic, which can be nasty. There is a heal command that everyone has, though, that restores a bit of HP to themselves. It can't be used post move.


On Stage 4 we continue to chase Alef across a bridge, but he breaks the bridge down. One segment crumbles behind you every turn so you have to move forward. The first time I was too quick and got a game over from being swarmed; the second time I just made sure I stayed ahead of the bridge and did fine despite two waves of reinforcements (again, Alef and Rim leave).

On Stage 5, the goal is to protect an allied commander for 15 turns. He gets endless reinforcements, as does Alef, and Rim blocks our way upwards. I found the commander didn't really need that much help, and I thought the enemies were too strong for me to defeat Alf, so I just waited out the 15 turns defeating whatever soldiers got near me.


I also got access to some new monsters -- the gargoyle thing and the Shadow.

There are 18 stages so the game is not very long as a whole; I'll probably have it beaten in a few more days.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Game 29 - Albert Odyssey 2

Albert Odyssey 2 (アルバートオデッセイII 邪神の胎動)
Release Date: 12/22/1994
System: Super Famicom
Developer: Sunsoft
Publisher:
Sunsoft


When I created this blog as an additional project to my Super Nintendo one, I intentionally did not make rules about how long I would play each game. My list of games right now has over 500 games -- a good chunk of those are remakes/ports that I won't be playing, but that's still a lot of games. Too many for me to suffer through a game I don't really want to play.

This is the direct sequel to Albert Odyssey, a game I covered before. I didn't like the game all that much. What makes this game stand out is the decision to have the entire world map be an SRPG-style dungeon. This wasn't the only problem with the original game, but most of what was bad about the game stemmed from that. Although AO2 solves some of the issues with the original game, the "world map is one big battle" idea still basically ruins the game for me.

The game begins by repeating the sudden ending of the previous game, and then switching 10 years later, with a princess named Yuna and her mom running from the Lukrenan kingdom, pursued by dragon riders. She crashes near where the main character (Kurisu) is training with Wiseman. The Queen soon dies, entrusting her daughter to the care of the king.


The next day, the harbor town Maurina is taken over by Lukrenan, and a general comes to the king to ask for Yuna back. The king refuses, and we need Albert's help. Kurisu goes out to his hometown to find him.


Right off the bat there are three big improvements made to the game:
  • The item and shop interface is much better than in AO1. AO1's manual actually tells you to save before you buy things because you can't tell who can equip what.
  • The map no longer rotates constantly while people are moving.
  • In AO1, getting into a town was frustrating. You had to move each person into the town individually, and it took forever. Now, the main character just has to move to the town (when no one else has taken a turn) and everyone moves in.
The battle system is basically the same as the first except MP have been added (in AO1 you could use any skill as many times as you want), and hit rates are much lower. Each character attacks twice, although counterattacks can happen as well (cancelling the attack). It's rather unpredictable.


Kurisu learns that Albert has gone on a journey to find a way to cure Sophia (who is in a magical sleep), so Kurisu heads out to free Maurina from the invaders. Meanwhile Yuna is captured so we then have another task ahead of us.

Morse, a priest, and Claire, a magician, join to fill out the team. But now we go to Maurina and there don't seem to be any invaders -- I'm not sure exactly what happened there. Instead, the characters hire a captain to take them over the sea to Bekutora. From Bekutora, we fight through to the city of Akos. Now there are two routes -- an optional dungeon to the north and a shrine to the south. I went to the dungeon first, which has treasure chests. The keys for these chests have to be purchased in the town, which used most of my money.

A useful mini-map
The dungeon levels are very small, meaning you quickly get overwhelmed. I did beat all the enemies on the first floor and recover the chests, but Wiseman died. I wasn't too concerned because revival is cheap at churches, so I headed back to Akos (moving just Kurisu, it took 2-3 minutes). No church in Akos. So I headed back to Bekutran (another 2-3 minutes). No church. I had the captain take me back to Maurina, where I could revive, and then headed back to Bekutran. Some enemies had respawned, so it was going to take another 20 minutes or so just to get back to the dungeon. AO1 had items that could warp you back to towns, but they seem to have been removed from this game.

And that's where I stopped. As I said above, the "world map is one big battlefield" concept just doesn't work, at least in the way Albert Odyssey has implemented it. I'm not aware of any other SRPGs that do this, and playing AO and AO2 it's easy to see why. Even Sunsoft abandoned the concept, and the next time we see Albert Odyssey is the "Gaiden" game for the Saturn that Western players are more familiar with.

 I'll be curious to see if any other title does try this at some point. But having to spend 30-40 minutes to revive a character is ridiculous. I could probably power through this game because it's not all that long, but with 500+ games ahead of me it makes sense to move on.

Here are two other very negative reviews of the game, one from RPGGamer, and the other from GameFAQs.

Next will be the final game of 1994, an overlooked Masaya game called Power of the Hired.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Game 28 - Feda Emblem of Justice wrap-up

FACTS

  1. Turn type: Player and enemy take turns moving units of their choice.
  2. Maps: Medium. Terrain gives bonuses.
  3. Character Customization: None.
  4. Character Development: Standard XP level system.
  5. Party Size: Max 10, with the two main characters required.
  6. Equipment: Each character can have a weapon and a "wrist" armor.
  7. Game Flow: There are 12 "areas" which have several battles each; in some cases you can fight additional battles but for the most part it's a single path.
  8. Saving: You can save in battle but you start at the beginning of the battle.
  9. Death: If the two main characters reach 0 hp you get a game over. Otherwise the character is "captured" and you have to spend 3 days rescuing them, which lowers your Libra (see the first post) and may force you to fight additional encounters.

IMPRESSIONS 

This game has a lot going for it. I think the player/enemy turn system is interesting and I'm surprised more games haven't done it -- it can be unpredictable at times, but so can a speed-based system when it doesn't show you who will be next.

I like the "libra" system and the alternate goals for each map, even if it doesn't always make sense (why should the reputation of your liberation army drop if you destroy robots or slime monsters?) 

The story is decent, and the voiced story sequences are good even if they are out of sync sometimes -- I still don't know whether this is due to the emulation or the game itself. I have had issues with PC Engine games not being in sync with the pictures also.

Unfortunately there are a lot of problems with the game that ultimately made it hard for me to enjoy it.

One is that the game is very slow. There are unskippable animations that are particularly long for spells, and there are a lot of battles (around 75).

The second is that the game is repetitive. Most of the battles seem to involve basically the same enemies, with a lot of palette swaps. Your characters never gain any new powers (with one or two exceptions), so while you are levelling up you don't have that feeling of getting more spells or abilities. Money is limited so that you can't really upgrade your equipment that much.

The third is balance issues that I mentioned before. There are too many enemies that can kill most of your characters in one hit from max HP. The AI mostly goes after Brian and Ain, and you can't see how far the enemies can move, making it hard to know where to move them.

I would probably recommend the SNES version because you'll be able to speed up the battles more (and there's a translation patch).