Thursday, September 9, 2021

Game 60 - Langrisser III (Saturn) - Stages 1-12

Langrisser III (ラングリッサーIII)
Released 10/19/1996, developed by Masaya

We're back to the Langrisser franchise as the series moves to the Saturn, where the last three games in the series game out. Rather than continue to refine the gameplay of L1 and 2, Masaya chose to complete reinvent the gameplay. I think the result was not well received because for L4 and 5 they returned to the gameplay of the first two.

The graphics seem to be based on Der Langrisser FX, and like DFX, there's a fair amount of voiced dialogue and some anime scenes. However, they returned to the L1 and 2 single-path storyline rather than the branching paths of Der (although there are some secret stages, and a "true ending" with 2 extra stages).

Parts of the gameplay are similar to the previous ones. You still hire troops, and the basic unit compatibilities are the same. The classes are similar, although this time you don't choose a class path, you unlock additional classes that you can switch between (and they will get better); this makes things more flexible so that you can hire more of a certain type of unit depending on the stage.

The biggest change is that the battle system is now done in a semi-realtime. You choose how you want to move your guys, and then all the commanders move at the same time. Then each unit can attack someone they're close to. The individual army members no longer act like units, instead they're just extensions of the commander -- they affect the range of the attack and also the damage (more troops is good). However, this time even if troops die, they can be brought back by heal spells or the Heal command. This is annoying when powerful enemies are just healing over and over again; you really need to gang up on the bosses with 3-4 squads.

The effect is rather chaotic; units are often packed into small spaces almost stacked on top of each other, and it's not always easy to tell who is going to be attacking who. You can switch formations (which I don't really understand the purpose of) and switch between move/defend/normal which lets you speed up (at the cost of defense) or defend (at the cost of not making an attack). You can also view attack sequences but they're so slow I can't imagine doing that for the whole game.

There are 5 equipment slots now.

Stage 1

This is similar to the previous Langrisser stages; our guys start out on the left (just me and Tiaris). Story stuff happens on the right side and basically this is just so you can fool around with the battle system a bit before the story stuff plays out. I just moved Dihalt and Tiaris around and fought the Pegasus units. Even Tiaris and her guardsmen had no real trouble with them, although I cast a Heal 1 once. 

 

Stage 2

This is another typical early Langrisser stage; all you do is escape down to the bottom of the map. Maybe you can try killing some of the top enemies (if you save all the villagers you get a bonus item) but I just escaped.


 

Stage 3

The first real stage, against undead. I almost lost. Initially I sent everyone north but I noticed some undead groups were evading me and heading down to where the villagers were, so I had to sent Dihalt and Gilbert back down to the bottom. They actually had a surprising amount of trouble dealing with the undead, maybe because I don't fully understand the battle system yet. Grop keeps summoning undead which I was fighting off, but Grop was too difficult for just Ruin and Tiaris to beat, so I had to send Gilbert up to the top. He got stuck fighting some undead and Dihalt had difficulty dealing with the bottom on his own. I just barely squeaked out the win; I think one more turn I would have lost all the villagers but Gilbert managed to make it up to the top (with a Move mode) and then I had to move Tiaris out of the way so I could get Gilbert in there with his horsemen. 


 

Stage 4

I just moved everyone west and ordered the NPCs to go right. Once the enemies caught up to the villagers I had the new NPC forces attack; the enemies are outclassed so this isn't too hard.



Stage 5

I moved everyone along the road, and then when I neared the castle, I had Gilbert in Move mode go up around the side of the castle while everyone else stayed there to fight the enemies. Once Gilbert reaches the castle the stage is over.

I'm starting to get some of the class changes; it's interesting that you change your class to have different units rather than simply hiring different guys (at least at the moment).



Stage 6

This is a really short stage -- the goal is to get two opposing forces to fight each other and then retreat. I thought you would actually have to move around so that the two sides had a battle, but all you have to do is move close to the enemies until there's dialogue, and then run away. You only need one or two units. 

Jessica shows up after this. I guess she's used the "youth" magic again.

Stage 7

This is a tough stage. I actually had to restart because I didn't have the right troops. One thing I'm discovering is that it's very difficult to do a 1 on 1 fight; because you can use the Heal to even bring back your troops, I often need 2-3 units to take down a strong enemy even if the compatibility is good.

I went with Soldiers for Dihalt and made Rifanny a hunter so I could use bowmen (this ended up not mattering so much).

The basic strategy was to proceed slowly at first, saving Tiaris' heal spells for the last part of the stage. I took down the initial pikemen with Dihalt and Ruin, and then took everyone forward into the fortress. I used my hours units and Runa to take down the soldiers, then moved Ruin up (with his pikemen) to deal with the horsemen and flying units (along with Rifanny). I used one Heal from Tiaris during this time.

Now the tough part starts. I used Attack+ on Dihalt and had him and Ruin take out the pikemen (with help from a Thunder spell). Then I healed and moved forward, doing the same thing with the next group of pikemen. Meanwhile you have to deal with attacks from bowmen above; I see no good way to take them out.

Last up is Freya. To enable the best ending you have to get Dihalt near Freya so they have a conversation, then let Freya attack Dihalt (do not attack Freya with Dihalt) then defeat Freya with someone other than Dihalt. Initially I had too few units in there and so I had to reload a save from a few turns ago and move both my horsemen and Luna in there. Rifanny stood back to draw the fire from the archers. There are mages that cast spells as well, but with a Protection from Dihalt and my last Heal from Tiaris, I was able to finish the stage -- just barely.

I hope this is one of the harder stages!



Stage 8

They reused the "burning field" stage from Langrisser 2. This one moves a lot more slowly so you have time to move. I initially tried splitting my force but that turned out to be a mistake, so I just went in kind of an upside down V direction. Rifanny was surprisingly effective against the pikemen and archers with direct attacks. 



Stage 9   

I thought this was a fairly tough stage also. You first have tribesmen to deal with, then Emarinc's troops. Emarinc will kill some of the enemies but probably won't get very far (I wonder if the best way to deal with this stage is to go to the NW at the beginning and let Emarinc and the tribesmen fight it out.

I had this mess:


 

It seemed like I was not doing all that well and I was completely out of spell points by the time I had the battle under control, but at least I was destroying one troop or so per turn.

I think the Heal command is too powerful in this game, although maybe that benefits my team a lot as well.

Stage 10

You have a 19 turn limit here. I think on my first try I tried to move too quickly and got killed by the Shamans and bosses. It's not necessary to go that fast. I got bogged down by the initial pikemen and was worried about my turn count but once I got past them, the stage opened up a bit. Eventually I was able to reach the boss without killing all of the intervening enemies, which turned out to be a good thing. Other enemies come in afterwards, and the shika tribe will help you fight them. The shamans are especially useful -- their fireballs suck when they're coming at your party, but they help a lot directed at the enemies.



Stage 11

This stage is a nice breather; there are a lot of enemies but they aren't very hard and they come at you in small batches. The priests can get some EXP by killing the ghouls and other monsters. The boss can hit hard (I lost Luna) but when she's by herself it's not that bad. Although it was hard to tell what kind of units she had.

So Bozel is back, of course, he and Jessica seem to be two constants in the games. 

Stage 12  

This is the "save the bridge" stage from Langrisser 2. I was worried at first because I didn't see how I was going to beat all enemies in 14 turns, but actually you only have to defeat the infantry group on the right side of the bridge, then the turn limit goes away. From there I didn't have too much trouble; I summoned some Dark Elves to help against the flyers. Ruin was able to hold off all the horsemen with his pikes, and the archers helped pick up the slack.


On the story, this game does a better job than previous Langrissers (and other SRPGs) of showing what's happening on a large-scale war -- too many of these games make it seem like it's just your own force against the entire enemy army, and you don't really understand why the army isn't doing anything while you're fighting one battle in one area. But here they have a map between stages that shows the territory of each army and where important characters are. So even when we're doing something like trying to secure a Gate to prevent demons from coming through, other wars are still going on.  

It is odd that the plot started up with the wars between the countries but then almost immediately we go off to defend the Gates while the war keeps going. 

There are 36 stages so I'm 1/3 through.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Game 59 - Arliel Crystal Legend (Game Gear)

Arliel: Crystal Legend (アーリエル クリスタル伝説)
Released 12/13/1991, published by Sega
 
Why do some of my retroarch screenshots include that note at the top?
 
 
I skipped this game on my first pass through, because it looked like it did not have a developing story. I think this basically a correct judgment although it might technically qualify. It's notable as a very early SRPG example -- it would have been game 5 if I had played it on my first pass. It was released in English as Crystal Warriors. As usual, the box design was replaced by Western-style art -- the Japanese art was done by the same artist that did the Monster Maker series. I recognize the huge eyes.
 

It's the forerunner of Royal Stone, which I did play. You can see the connection between the two games; Royal Stone is better in almost every way, but for a handheld game in 1991 this one's not terrible. I played about half the game, which was enough.

The story is that Queen Ellis of Arliel Kingdom has to fight against the magician Gram who wants four crystals. This is the whole story. There are no story sequences between fights; the only text comes from townspeople you can talk to between stages (who mostly just talk about what to expect in the next fight). The entire dialogue of the game is given in the GameFAQs walkthrough and barely fits one screen.

 

The battles have the same element triangle as Royal Stone: Wind->Water->Fire->Wind, with Earth neutral to all of them. Each character has an element. You start with a party of 6 and can hire more people at the Inn before certain stages. Between stages you can also buy equipment, items, and spells.

The classes are roughly the same as in Royal Stone; you have magic users, healers, and a few types of fighter.

The battles themselves are simple; they take place on small maps. Each map has some set enemies -- as in Royal Stone they appear first as question marks until you use the Scan magic or fight with them once, then you can see what they are. In addition there will be some monsters on the map.


 

Fights work similar to Royal Stone. When there is an attack, each side gets 2 turns; they can defend, attack, use a spell, or retreat (which may fail).

In Royal Stone you could capture monsters, something I didn't realize even after beating the game. Here the system is more integrated. Whenever anyone (other than a mage or healer) kills a monster, they will acquire that monster. In a fight, rather than using your turn you can send out a monster instead. This makes it easier to exploit the elemental weaknesses of the enemies and is a nice feature that I wish they had retained in Royal Stone.


 

There is a limited equipment system (there seem to be only a few items each character can equip, and they only have one slot).

I played to about stage 6 and then got a game over because I moved Ellis poorly. I thought that was enough; this is not a particularly good game. Royal Stone improves upon it in almost every way and I would definitely recommend that over Crystal Warriors. But I can see that this was probably not a bad game at all for a handheld system in 1991.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Game 58 - Sakura Taisen

Sakura Taisen (サクラ大戦), Saturn
Released 9/27/1996, developed and published by Sega


This game is not an SRPG; it's really a visual novel with tactical battles. The tactical battles aren't just fluff -- while the system is not as developed as some of the SRPGs I've played up to now, it's not as bare bones as something like Farland Story. Where this game fails in my criteria is that the characters cannot be developed in any way; you can get them some stat bonuses for each chapter but the bonuses go away at the end of the chapter. However, I'm going to play the game anyway. I've always been interested in the series and several friends of mine are big fans of it, so this seems like a good time to play it. 

I could have played the PS2 remake but I decided to go for the original instead. My general view of remakes is that especially with a series like Sakura Taisen, I want to see how the series develops. The PS2 remake was released after Sakura Taisen 4 and probably incorporates a lot of the developments in the series that were made in the three sequels.


The setting is the Taisho period, but a cyberpunk version of it with a lot of steam engine technology (that gets pretty ridiculous at some points). The setting is inspired by various stage drama, particularly the all-female Takarazuka Revue and kabuki. The main characters are actors in a troupe that seems a lot like Takarazuka. The presentation is similar to an anime, with a fair amount of FMV videos, and each chapter ending with a "next episode preview" narrated by one of the characters. 

The character designs are by Kosuke Fujishima, at the time a major manga-ka known for Ah! My Goddess. He had designed the characters for Tales of Phantasia the same year, but in this format they could directly translate his character designs to the game itself rather than just having them appear in the instruction manual. 


The story involves Ogami Ichiro, who is assigned to be the captain of the Imperial Attack Squad, which moonlights as the Imperial Stage Revue (pronounced the same way) -- this has elements of magical girl anime in it, and I wonder if the popularity of Sailor Moon (which was running its final season when this game came out) had an influence. Tomozawa Michie, who played Sailor Mars, does the voice for one of the game's characters.

The majority of the game is reading text (and listening to the voice acting for some of it), so it will not appeal to everyone. The general flow of the chapters is you have long sections of dialogue, with some choices. The LIPS system requires you to choose your choices in a limited time, or you can wait for the time to run out and then your character will stay silent. By choosing various options you affect the girls' trust in you, which raises their stats for the battles. You can also have some free exploration points where you can go to various rooms and talk to the girls, although it's a bit annoying that you can't see who is where (so sometimes you waste all your free time going to places where nobody is). The trust values reset at the beginning of each chapter (and can never go below 0), but there's also a hidden "love" stat that accumulates throughout the game and affects the later chapters.


Eventually there will be a battle (some chapters have just one, some have more than one). The battles are basic tactical combat style. Each character can take two actions a turn, although you can't use two attack or two defense actions. In addition to move, you have basic attack and special attack, and then defend, heal, and build power. To use the special attacks you need a full power gauge, which goes up when you get damaged or when you use the build power command. Finally, Ogami has a "cover" skill which will negate all the damage to a girl from one attack (can be done 8 times per battle). Each girl has their own type of attack:

  • Sakura is just a 1 range basic attack.
  • Maria has a longer range gun attack (but only in straight lines)
  • Sumire has a 2-range halberd (which can attack two enemies at once)
  • Koran has a range attack that isn't limited to straight lines and affects a 1-radius area
  • Kanna is just a 1 range basic attack
  • Iris attacks all the enemies in a 2 radius range from her mech.

There are also some supporting characters like Ayame and Yoneda the commanders.


 

The battles on the whole are not very difficult, but they require enough skill and thought that they don't feel like they were just slapped into the game. The lack of real advancement or learning new skills is a bit of a letdown but overall I thought this was a decent battle system for the game.

This game has a patch, and the patch actually subtitles the FMVs -- I guess they're stored on the disc in a format that makes this possible. So check it out!

Now a brief chapter runthrough:

Chapter 1

Ogami joins the squad and learns about the secret mechs! They run off psychic power, so all the people are in the squad because they have the power necessary to operate the units.


 

The enemy is Tenkai, who wants to use magical power to restore the Tokugawa Shogunate and send all the foreign stuff away. He has four underlings, and you fight one of them (Satan) here. This is an introductory battle so it's even easier than most of the already easy battles. The standard tactic against the bosses is to attack normally until their power gauge is almost full and then unleash all your special moves.

I did not use a walkthrough, so I just picked whatever options in the dialogue sections seemed good to me throughout the game. A few times I restarted from my last save when it was pretty obvious I had picked bad choices, but I feel like the game would not be impossible even if you picked all the worst choices in every dialogue.


Chapter 2

Koran joins here. The battle introduces missile shooters that can target your guys from far away, so you have to be careful to avoid them.


 Chapter 3

And now we get Kanna. This is vs Setsuna, one of Tenkai's other followers. The next few episodes follow a typical anime trope where each chapter focuses on the backstory of one (or two) of the girls. In this case it's Maria, who was a fighter in the Russian Revolution (so this must take place in the later part of the Taisho period, early 1920s?).

You have two paths to reach the end -- I took the longer path because it looked safer, but I was probably too much of a scaredy-cat. Losing one person lowers your relationship with them so it's good to keep everyone alive, but there's no other drawback.


One other thing you start encountering is minigames -- each girl has one. You can play all of them when you beat the game, otherwise they're only available in certain short periods. Koran plays Hanafuda with you, and Maria makes you remember instructions to make a stew, and so on.

Chapter 4

This episode focuses on Iris, whose psychic power goes haywire at a scary movie. She then starts to believe that no one in the group cares about her. (She also destroyed the whole movie theater and some things around it; that must cost a lot of repair money...)

The fight is against Rasetsu, who has an annoying power to teleport people around, which makes it rough to fight him. But you can take him down with the same basic tactics.


Chapter 5

This chapter focuses on Kanna and Sumire, who are the classic "don't get along but also seem like friends" characters. You have to investigate a haunted mansion -- I found this part rather annoying because you have to keep investigating empty rooms over and over again with no indication of where you should go next, and I think the "repetition for comic effect" would have worked better as an 8 minute segment of an anime episode rather than something that can take an hour to work through.

The battle is against Miroku, another one of Tenkai's underlings. It's a long stage because you have to climb a cliff area with a lot of those missile launchers. Miroku herself is just another basic boss strategy.


Chapter 6

This one is Sakura-themed. Everyone is preparing for a party, but Sakura doesn't return from buying snacks. She and Ogami get trapped underground and we see Sakura's psychic power go into overdrive to save them both. Meanwhile, Tenkai has finished setting up the magic areas that will let him attack Tokyo in full force.

The fight is against Miroku again. This is an indoor map where you have to open doors (although apparently you can defeat Miroku through the wall without going into her room; I didn't realize this).


Chapter 7

This is the last stage of Disc 1, so obviously not the end of the game -- once again this is patterned on a pretty common anime trope where the first major enemy is not the true final power. The goal here is to beat Tenkai. The stage has several battles, and you have to beat Tenkai twice. I didn't find that the exact same tactic worked on Tenkai as the other bosses, but with judicious use of Ogami's block skill you can make Tenkai's super attacks much less scary.


Chapter 8

Several months pass, and it's New Year's. The main enemy is now Satan, who was the underling of Tenkai but now takes center stage with his own underlings. The plot also goes off into bizarre areas -- I have to say I didn't like this part as well as the first one. I liked the "restore the Edo Bakufu" of the first part; it seemed to fit in really well with the overall theme. But here it turns out that Satan is literal Satan (the Devil), and the Archangel Michael appears as well.

First, there's a date with the girl that you have the highest love rating with. For me it was Sakura. I wonder if that's just the natural result if you don't specifically try for one of the other girls.

There are three battles in this chapter (the last three chapters are all longer than the first ones). In the first one you mostly get your butt kicked until the ship comes in and saves you -- this is an excuse to destroy all your mechs so that you can get more powerful ones. Unfortunately that makes no real gameplay difference, but it fits with the usual powerups in mech and magical girl anime.


The second fight is against Inoshishi, one of the followers of Satan.

Chapter 9

Satan is trying to revive the Seima Castle in Tokyo Bay. This stage also has several battles. In the first one you are trying to prevent the enemies from entering the base, while also having to destroy some machines that are making additional enemies. Despite the difficult sounding goals, I didn't find it too hard.


The second fight is against Cho, another underling.

Chapter 10 

Final stage, as we attack the Seima Castle. There's a new battleship -- the technology gets kind of ridiculous here but I guess it's part of the anime/cyberpunk theme. All the bosses revive, and the first section is devoted to killing off the entire party (I have a feeling this was directly inspired by the end of Sailor Moon's first season). However, Archangel Michael revives them all so it's fine.


The final boss is annoying because he pushes you back with his attacks, which force you to move back up. I was afraid that I would have a lot of trouble but I managed to beat it only losing one person (although if he had another 25% HP or so I would have been in deep doo-doo.)


Everything's back to normal! I guess Tokyo rebuilds? After they sunk so much money into the new mechs and ships? Maybe the theatre can make their own money.



--

So overall I think this is a good introduction to the series. The game succeeds at what it's trying to do -- combine a visual novel/dating sim with tactical combat. It won't appeal to people who are primarily looking for tactical combat because so much of the game is just reading text. I would also recommend playing this in one of the remakes (for the Dreamcast or PS2) because they incorporate some QoL improvements that were in later titles. 

The story was more interesting to me in the first disc -- I liked the Edo Bakufu-related plot and the character focus. The second part seemed out of left field and the Judeo-Christian stuff didn't fit as well with the theme.

Sorry this post took so long to come out. Next I'll be going back to 1991 for Crystal Warriors, and then move on to Langrisser 3. Sakura Taisen 2 came out in early 1998 so it will be ~25 games until I play that.

Also, I mentioned this on my other blog, but Blogger is getting worse and worse. I can no longer edit the sidebar except as a mass of unformatted HTML, so I'm cutting out the "recent and upcoming" parts. I have added all the remaining 1996 games, as well as Crystal Warrior and Hybrid Front, to the "list of finished games" area so you can see what's coming. Part of me wants to find a different home for this than Blogger but I'm too lazy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Wikipedia's list of SRPGs - games I didn't play

 

Wikipedia has a list of tactical RPGs that seems fairly comprehensive although it doesn't have all of the games on my list. It does have some games I didn't catch that I later added, but I keep forgetting which years I've checked so I want to start making a list of what I'm rejecting and why.

This list is through 1996. At least for now I'm only playing games that were originally released in Japan for a console, so that excludes some of the games already. As a quick review of my criteria: the game has to (1) be based around a series of fixed maps rather than random battles, (2) have unique characters that you can develop rather than just generic troops, and (3) have a developing storyline rather than just a frame narrative. 

Please let me know if I've mistakenly excluded a game by my own criteria (not whether you personally think it's an SRPG).

Bokosuka Wars (1983, FC port 1985) - Nobody considers this an SRPG; some say it lay the foundation for the SRPG genre but I'm a bit skeptical of this. I feel like Fire Emblem drew its main inspiration from games like Daisenryaku and Famicom Wars, and I'm not sure that either of these games are all that indebted to Bokosuka Wars. I think maybe we can say that it had certain elements that would later be in the SRPG genre, but I'm not sure if it deserves credit for starting the genre.

Moryo Senki MADARA (1990, FC) - One debate that often occurs among SRPG fans is about games like this. The game is basically a standard RPG except that when you get in a random battle, the battles take place on a grid with some strategy elements. For me, these are not SRPGs (thus criteria 1 above).

Bahamut Senki (1991, MD) -- MADARA is an example of a game that's too far to the RPG side, and this is an example of a game that's too far to the strategy side. There are a number of games that are sometimes considered SRPGs that (to me) are basically strategy games instead. This has only a frame narrative rather than a developing story (criteria 3) and is almost entirely generic characters (criteria 2).

Chaos World (1991, FC) -- I don't understand why this is on the list. It's just a normal RPG with an auto-battle system.

Crystal Warriors (1991, GG) - I may have wrongly skipped this game. It's the forerunner to Royal Stone, which I did play. I believe I cut it because it didn't look like it had a developing story. But there might actually be one, just a very thin one. 

Master of Monsters (1991, MD) - Same deal as Bahamut Senki.

MT: Last Bible (1992, GB) - This seems to be another mistake on wikipedia. Another Bible is an SRPG but this is just a standard RPG.

Dark Wizard (1993, MD-CD) - I actually started this game, and it's possible that it technically qualifies. It did not feel like SRPG to me, though (it felt more like a Bahamut Senki type game). In the end I skipped it because it seemed very long and slow moving, and it's available in English.

Super Barcode Wars (1993, SFC) - I think this is another Bahamut Senki situation. However, even if it does qualify, it can't really be played the way it was intended to play because no emulator supports the barcode scanner peripheral that was made to go with the game.

BB Gun (1995, SFC) - No developing story.

Kou Ryuu Ki (1995, SFC) - Rise of the Phoenix in English. This is another type of difficult game for me to assess because it has a storyline in a sense. But I don't think it fits criteria 1.

Monstania (1996, SFC) - This one is so close that it might be an SRPG, my question is whether it qualifies for criteria 1. In the end I decided to skip it because I will end up playing it anyway on my other blog.

Treasure Hunter G (1996, SFC) - Same comment as for Monstania.

In the future I'll include Wikipedia entries in the previews of each year.

In addition to the above, I have two games that I missed on my first go through -- The Hybrid Front, and Nage Libre. I'm going to do Nage Libre when I reach that point in my SFC blog. I will get to the Hybrid Front eventually; right now I'm not in the mood to go back to a Mega Drive game.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Game 57 - Energy Breaker

Energy Breaker (エナジーブレーカ), Super Famicom
Released 7/26/1996, developed by Neverland Company, published by Taito


This game was released in the waning days of the Super Famicom. There are still a few well remembered RPGs after this, but Playstation and Saturn were starting to pick up steam, and once Final Fantasy VII was released at the beginning of 1997, that was basically the end for the system. After this game, my list is all Playstation and Saturn until 1999 (except for a couple of PC-FX games that may not qualify as SRPGs). Because of the late release I think this game was not given a lot of notice, as we can perhaps see from the prices of used copies of the game.



 Energy Breaker was developed by Neverland Company, which is known to Western gamers primarily through the Lufia and Rune Factory series. On the whole, the game is weighted towards the RPG end of the scale. The battles are small, with at most 5 player characters. The towns and dungeons may be explored, and a good deal of the game is in walking around the various places. However, there are fixed battles (numbered) so it does qualify as an SRPG under my definition, though just barely.

The game begins with no real backstory -- the main character, Maira, wakes up out of a dream where she sees a woman named Selphie talking to her. It seems that Maira has lost her memory, although exactly what she's doing in the town isn't explained (maybe it's in the instruction manual). Her friend Irene tells her about a fortune teller in town who predicts everything perfectly. It turns out to be Selphie, who gives Maira a green gem. Maira's goal seems to be to find out who she is, and she heads to a nearby forest to track down a researcher named Lenardo who is looking for companions to find a flower that can supposedly recall the dead to life.


This is just the beginning of the story, which overall is fairly decent for the time. The characters (including the villain characters) are all developed and have interesting connections to each other and the main characters. There is enough dialogue to flesh everything out. Since there's an English patch I don't want to say too much about the story (even though I know that many readers will never play the game, so I probably should do the whole story...I guess you can watch a youtube playthrough.)

As you explore the towns and dungeons, you can hit A on almost everything to generate a response from Maira. There are a lot of hidden treasures, although the inventory space is fairly limited (for game balance reasons, I think). Everything is done in a 3/4 view like Tactics Ogre and such, with the battles taking place on the same maps as the exploration. You can jump up places by holding a button. There are a lot of hidden passages also and chests/treasures hidden in places of the map you can't see, so the game rewards poking around everywhere.


 When you talk to people, most of them just give you a short line. But some have more options; you can give them things, or take different attitudes with them, or ask them about specific things. Only a few characters have specific things that you can ask them about. The attitude has no real effect on the game; I was barely able to find any places where it even made a difference to what the people said, much less having an effect on the plot.

The world map is a Mode-7 area where you just choose your destination. However, there are other world maps beyond the one you first see. The world is kind of semi-fantasy, semi-steampunk, with trains and robots and such.

In the non-town areas, entering a screen will sometimes produce a battle (though it doesn't always happen until you're partway through the screen). The first time you encounter the battle you have to fight it. If you return and activate the battle again, you can fight it again or you can choose "run away" and skip it, which is much appreciated. Each battle has a turn limit; most of the time that's the loss condition but in some cases you win by surviving that number of turns.


The battle system resembles Tactics Ogre in that it has both height and facing. An attack from the front deals the least damage and the opponent will counter. A side attack deals the same amount but no counter, and a back attack deals the most. I am not completely certain how the mechanics work, but you will notice that when you attack, a damage number will appear, and then roll up or down (sometimes severely -- like 28 down to 2). This has to do with Dexterity, and I believe it's the difference between the attacker and defender's DEX stats. So don't neglect DEX.

Each turn, a character can take as many actions as they have Balance points. Each character has a set maximum Balance that will never change through the game (except for one unique item that increases it by +1). Each ability costs a certain amount of balance -- moving costs 5, a basic attack is 3, using an item is 1, and abilities cost from 3-10 depending on their power. There are no other MP/AP costs or anything like that. Any ability can be used as many times as you need to in each battle as long as you have the balance. The 1 cost for items does unbalance the game a bit (no pun intended) but the limited inventory space keeps it from getting too ridiculous, as does the fact that the shopkeeper inventories for the more powerful items are limited and only refill a few fixed times during the game.

 

At the beginning of a turn, a character recovers some of their balance points depending on their remaining HP. The lower the HP, the less balance they recover. This sucks for your guys who sometimes have such low balance they can't even move, but the enemies can also be reduced to low enough balance that they can't use their attacks. This system does provide a lot of flexibility in what you do on each turn, and there's a tension in deciding what you want to spend your balance points on for each round. If a character is defeated in battle, they just exit that battle and will return afterwards (you recover all HP at the end of each battle).

Each character learns abilities by assigning points to four elements (wind, water, earth, fire), both to "light" and "dark" sides. At first I thought you would have to choose between them, but you can assign points to both. There's both a maximum (from 0-7) and the points you actually have assigned. By the end of the game at least some of your characters will have enough points to max out all 8 areas and assign most of the points. You learn new abilities by assigning points to the right places then taking an action in battle, upon which the character will use it and then you have it (as long as you keep the points assigned). You can figure out where to assign the points by finding certain books in the game that tell you, but there are also some hidden abilities.

 

The one exception to this learning method is Staa, who has to defeat certain enemies to learn attacks (in addition to having the right elements set). This is rather annoying because he tends to lag behind since there's no indication of which enemies give you which skills. But there's also an item Fortune Slip that can teach him abilities without having to beat the enemies (if you have the points assigned).

Not every character can learn every ability, so each character remains individual. The stat buffs are important, and probably the most crucial ability is Poison Drop, which lowers all stats of the target. This is a brutal attack when it's directed against your own guys, but also works very well against strong
enemies. You can buy or find scrolls for many of the spells and use those instead.

In most battles you also have a robot who cannot attack or be attacked, and has 5 balance a turn (enough for one move). So you can use him to block the way for enemies, but I rarely found this helpful.

The graphics are well done; typical late Super Famicom style. The BGM is also strong, with several memorable and atmospheric tunes.

There are some flaws in the game. Parts of the story are undeveloped (supposedly the development time was cut short). Items are perhaps a bit too powerful, and the inventory limit and shop limit doesn't entirely compensate for that. A few places in the game don't have many hints to figure out where to go next. But all in all this is an impressive late-SFC game that's definitely one of the better games I've played so far on this blog. Give it a try, if you like SRPGs that are closer to the RPG end of the scale rather than large scale army vs army games.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Rarity of games

I've been trying to purchase most of the games that I play, partially to support the used game community, but also to get the instruction booklet. I like to at least start the game with only the information in the instructions, and some games I've played are obscure enough that even Japanese sites don't have good information on them. I wasn't able to get any during Covid because shipping costs would have been through the roof, but cheap(er) shipping has started again. I also typically skip buying the game if the price is over $30 before shipping. I just went through ebay to see the prices of all the games I haven't bought yet that I have passed in my list. These were the games that were not available for less than $100, which I suppose means they're the rarest:

  • Nage Libre (SFC) (this was not originally on my list but it's been added to 1995)
  • Shining Force Gaiden Final Conflict (GG)
  • Heian Fuunden (SFC)
  • Der Langrisser FX (PC-FX)

I think the most expensive was Der Langrisser, which is not surprising given how poorly the PC-FX sold. However, they are all cheaper than Fire Emblem Thracia 776.

Part of me wants to spend whatever I have to in order to get a complete set of CIB strategy RPGs, but I don't really know what the purpose of that would be.

I'll be back in a couple of weeks with Energy Breaker.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Game 56 - Fire Emblem: Genealogy Of Holy War - Stages 9 to end

Chapter 9

The initial part of this map was difficult. You immediately get rushed by two different sets of units. The first one wasn't so bad but Hannibal's armor group was tricky -- I had a hard time surviving the enemy phases. Eventually I had everyone arranged right. What makes it difficult is that if you want to recruit Hannibal, you can't defeat him, and you have to get Seris down to the second castle. Hannibal will begin to retreat back to the castle when most of his troops are beaten, and you can just block the castle entrance and he'll sit there waiting.


I also sent Fee out to the left to deal with the bandits; it wasn't working at first but she eventually got a critical hit that helped out a lot. Sety continues to be a monster.

In the next part I got trolled by this lady thief that steals your gold -- I lost 65,000 gold and couldn't even save the town in the end. Other than that this stage isn't too bad. There's a triple group of dragon riders that come out at the end. I put Lester on the home castle to guard it but didn't bother with the others; I wasn't really concerned about my rank so I let castles get destroyed if it was too annoying to save them.

Chapter 10

The last two stages have a lot of units with sleep staffs. This is annoying because I put the Rest staff on Julia, not knowing that she would leave until the end of the game -- there's only one Rest staff in the entire game. I really do not like the item management system in this game. So what this meant is that often I had to rely on Selis, Fee, and Aress who were reasonably good at dodging the sleep attacks or resisting them. If I did take in my whole force I just had to accept that 5-7 of them would get put to sleep and hope I could finish the enemies before that.


First there's a huge group of mages. I tried a couple of strategies to deal with them but the right one ended up being just charging them and taking out as many as I could in one round.

Next up a group of horsemen arrive. Fee is taking her usual role of speeding ahead to stop the bandits from destroying towns.

The next difficult part in the stage is when Ishtar and Julius are both near the castle.

Julius is very difficult to defeat and both Julius and Ishtar can kill almost anyone. They will both leave when they either kill one of your units, or you kill either of them. So one easy way to pass this section would just be to sacrifice a minor unit that's not very useful (I don't have the Valkyrie staff since I didn't pair Claude with anyone in gen 1).

I was not successful at all in luring them in; what I eventually did was have Altena kill Ishtar; she started out of the range but then I used Leen dancer ability to give her another move. One they were gone the castle fell easily.

The final part of the stage is not hard. This section has an easy choke point.

Move Selis out here to get the Tyrfing.


Then beat Emperor Alvis, and the stage is done. I beat him with Altena -- I was mainly using her because the discord people were badmouthing her so much that I wanted to prove her usefulness.

Chapter 11

The beginning section has annoying mages with sleep staffs so you have to send out some units to beat them. Then there's a wall of annoyance:


Lots of sleep staff mages, and too many enemies to just charge in with Selis. Basically what I did was take as many units as I could at the bottom of the enemy formation, accept that I would get a lot of sleeping units, and move Selis up to take the castle as quickly as possible.

The next part of the game is not difficult; they create a "pincer attack" to supposedly trap you but the units move so slowly that it doesn't matter -- you can just take the top castle and ignore the "pincer".

The next part is one of the hardest in the game and probably the true "final boss".


Those five mages have sleep staffs. The pegasus knights are very hard to hit, and hit very hard in return with Earth Swords that steal your HP. Ishtar is there, as are a bunch of strong units. I lost many times -- one time I managed to do it but the castle got destroyed. Eventually I went back to a save before I conquered the castle. First I took out all the sleep staff mages with Fee. I then moved everyone up and was still having problems. But eventually I got the right formation. For some reason the pegasus sisters decided to all attack Shanan, who was easily able to dodge their attacks and take them out with Balmung. From there the rest of the enemies were manageable, just being careful of Ishtar's range.

At this point the game is more or less over. The last two castles are an interesting setup but I guess they match the way the other games' final bosses have worked. Julius sits in the castle surrounded by 12 powerful units representing every type of weapon. It is apparently possible to take them all on with your main force but it's very difficult and the dialogue clearly indicates that's not what you're supposed to do.



Instead, you need to free Julia from her mind control by going up to the NE castle. I took only Selis, Aless, and Fee. Julia will helpfully follow them, and if you take the roundabout path to the north you can avoid the 12 units from moving. The mages can be taken out pretty easily, then Selis talks to Julia and Julia visits the castle to receive the Naga magic.

 

With Naga, Julia can take out the 12 powerful units plus Julius on her own. I sent Selis with her for the leadership bonus and to help pick off some of the units. As I said, this "special weapon to kill the final boss" has been in all four games to now.

After the credits you get a ranking -- mine was pretty low because I let a lot of castles get destroyed, and lost a fair number of units (it saves the stats even if you reset).


Overall I had fun with FE4 -- I'm not sure that the larger maps had the same quality of design as the previous games, and the numerous palette-swapped characters felt more generic than some of the previous titles. But the story was entertaining, and the gameplay in general was fun. As I said before, I really did not like the way gold and items were handled in the game despite fans of the series praising it.

--

This is the last we'll see of Fire Emblem for a while. The next game was released in September 1999, one of the last games for the Super Famicom. I always find this amazing because at this point the PS2 was six months away and the Nintendo 64 had passed its peak release schedule. But the last game for the SFC came out after the PS2's release!

Next up is Energy Breaker, the last of the SFC SRPGs (aside from Fire Emblem 5).