Saturday, November 16, 2019

Game 26 - Shining Force CD

Shining Force CD (シャイニングフォースCD)
Release Date: 7/21/1994
System: Mega Drive CD
Developer: Sonic! Software Planning
Publisher: Sega

Back to Shining Force again. This is a remake of the two Gaiden games for game gear, plus a new 6-stage scenario and then a bonus "museum" level where you fight all the game's bosses. I did the Gaiden games in their own posts, so this will just be about the six stage third scenario.

The basic idea is that on Kurisu's coronation day, some old woman named Dava captures Princess Anri, and we have to go save them. You can use the teams you built up during the first two games.

The stages are all gimmicky and have a lot of hidden items, but overall I didn't find it very hard.

Stage 1

The first stage is in a graveyard, and additional zombies keep coming out of the graves in successive turns. The most dangerous enemies cast spells, but they can be easily taken down.

Stage 2

I forgot to get a screenshot of this one. You have a bunch of drunken dwarves and centaurs. More periodically wake up as the stage progresses, and eventually you have to fight the (easy) boss at the top of the screen.

Stage 3

This stage has a bunch of women ninjas; some of them cast nasty spells and they drop in unannounced.

There's also a fake ninja sword but you can get the real one from the suit of armor there to the left of the 忍 sign.

Stage 4

Under construction! But that doesn't really affect the stage much.

Stage 5

Here we fight our shadows. If you unequip the weapons before the stage then the shadows will have reduced strength, and the characters can re-equip them afterwards in the battle.

Stage 6

Final stage. This is the only one in this episode that really presents any challenge. Dava begins by using a laser attack that's like the cannon from Shining Force 1; there's nothing that can be done to dodge this. I sold all the equipment from the units I wasn't using and bought as many of the Blessing Rain (heal all HP) as I could.

I took everyone up the left side. Dava begins to bring out mushrooms that can use confusion, which is nasty if they use it on your spellcasters (including heroes). They won't use it if there's only one person in the area though. Once you reach Dava, she summons all the bosses from the past stages. At first I tried to just go for Dava and ignore them, but this doesn't work. I took out the close bosses and then set things up like this:

This ensures that Dava won't use her spells, and the mushroom won't use the confuse. The archer and axe user can both attack, and Bill can heal Arlong. With this setup Dava goes down easily.

Then it turns out the whole thing was just a test to see if Kurisu was a suitable Emperor, and he passed.

Now there is still one battle left; a "museum" where you fight all the past bosses. I decided not to do this stage -- there are multiple videos of the stage on youtube if you want to see it.


Since this post was short I'll just do the wrapup here. Overall I enjoyed this game possibly even more than the real Shining Force games. It's certainly not as complex or lengthy, but the battles are fun and the interface is clean. The music is good off the CD.

The biggest omission is the world map and town exploration. Some SF fans may not like the game because of that. I don't think it's that big of a deal that it doesn't exist, though.

I really don't have anything else to say about this -- it's kind of an inoffensive, very playable game that doesn't excel in any area but doesn't fail in any area either.


Next up would be Langrisser 2. My usual practice is to play a remake as long as it's released within a couple of years. I went back and forth on whether I should play Der Langrisser instead of Langrisser 2. For a while I thought I would do Langrisser 2 as the "light path" and then do one of the alternate paths for Der, but after asking on a Langrisser forum I decided that just doing Der is fine. However, I'm going to wait until Der actually comes up in the list in 1995 to play it. So next up will actually be Feda Emblem of Justice, which I will play in the Saturn remake.  (But let me know if you have any comments on the Langrisser 2 issue.)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Game 25 - Record of Lodoss War

Record of Lodoss War (ロドース島戦記:英雄戦争)
Release Date: 5/20/1994
System: Mega Drive CD
Developer: Group SNE
Publisher: Sega

Unlike my other blog, I haven't made any strict rules for how long I have to play each game. Considering I have over 500 games on my SRPG list, I wanted to be flexible so that I could deal with bad games quickly, particularly bad games that are long or difficult. This game is a bad game; I've played a few hours of it, which is apparently about a third of the game, and I don't think it's going to get any better. It's by far the worst game I've played so far.

In many ways it looks similar to the PC Engine Lodoss War, which I played on my other blog. I actually thought that game was fairly good, so I was hoping this one would be decent as well -- alas.

To give a brief background, Lodoss War is a franchise that began as "replays". These were written acocunts of RPG sessions (such as Dungeons and Dragons) that were published in magazines. These seem to have been quite popular in Japan, and I've seen several other series from the 90s that began this way. From there, the franchise expanded to novels, anime, games, and other properties.

The game opens with a vocal song and an intro, which is the typical "animated images" sequence that they used on this system and the PC Engine.

When the game actually starts, though, there's a real full motion anime clip. I assume this is taken from the OVA series although it's been so long since I've seen it I don't remember.

But I think this also shows why companies were reluctant to try full motion video on the PCE and Sega CD. The Genesis was rather limited in the number of colors it could display, and the anime clips look pretty bad in consequence. Perhaps it seemed impressive at the time since most systems (PCs included) were not really capable of doing FMV at the time.

Afterwards Parn and Eito, the beginning characters, head out to deal with some zombies appearing in the town cemetery. In the town you just choose the location you want to go to.

This may be the first game where the direction you're facing makes a difference. But the interface is a mess; you can't view the whole map or see the enemy information. Spellcasters can't use spells after they move, which makes it really hard to use some of the magic. The healing is weak enough as it is, and it makes it even weaker to restrict it to pre-move 1-range. You can't move past your own guys, and the narrow corridors in many battles (such as the above) make it too easy to get trapped when you get 6 characters in the party. If the spellcasters are blocking the way they have to waste a turn moving (where they can't cast spells). In stores you can't see who can equip anything, the stats of the equipment, or even what the items cost. This is completely unacceptable for 1994.

The story is pretty simplistic; it's following the OVA (I guess) but there's only a few lines of dialogue at a time.

So this game is bad, but it also gets very difficult after the first few battles. You can train in an arena in one of the towns, but only the person who makes the kill gets XP. There's really no reason to play this game, which may explain why it was so hard to find even basic information or videos. I did finally come across one small walkthrough but that person said the game was bad also. The contemporary Famitsu reviews were 6,5,4,4  which is pretty bad too.

Next up will be the small concluding scenario of Shining Force CD.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Game 24 - Super Robot Taisen EX

As with the previous Super Robot Taisen games, this is a collection of message board posts from over 10 years ago when I played this game. They are somewhat sparse because I found it hard to say much about this game -- the story is virtually nonexistent and until you get to Shu's route (the third one) the game is brain-dead easy. Apparently this was an intentional choice by the designers to get kids interested who didn't remember the old 70s anime series that the previous games were largely based on.


Eight months after SRW 3, the next game, called SRW EX, came out. EX is an oddball in the franchise -- although the focus is on the original characters and the whole thing takes place in La Gias, there are licensed characters in the game as well. It's the first time the idea of the original main character appeared (even though the main characters had all been in SRW 3).

This is somewhat speculative, but from what I've seen on Japanese sites, it looks like the early SRW games did not sell particularly well. Apparently the games were seen as being mostly for adults that remembered the Super Robot anime from the 70's -- this also explains the major focus on Gundam that is seen in the early games. Supposedly SRW EX was an attempt to reach out to younger players who were not familiar with the old robot anime.

All the series from 3 return, minus Daitarn 3, Combattler V, and Raideen. New series appearing are Goshogun and Aura Battler Dunbine.

The system is based on SRW 3 but takes more steps towards the modern SRW engine. The changes I know of are:
- Once you see the hit percentages, you can now hit B to take the attack back.
- You can now upgrade weapons.
- The numbers have been scaled up a lot (i.e. Cosmo Nova was 2000 in SRW 3, and 6800 in EX).
- If a robot has multiple pilots, they can now all use seishin rather than just the main pilot.
- In SRW 3, all range 1 (and only range 1) weapons were post-move; EX adds the "P" designation that later SRWs have to show that a weapon is post range (and it's not just all range 1s).
- The animations in EX are a little more dynamic -- weapons now appear on the sprites, and the sprites can move in all directions (not just left and right).
- You still can't decide on the fly whether to dodge, block, or counter. But now you can decide between "always dodge/block", "always counter", etc. on a per-unit basis rather than having to just select one option for your whole team.
- MAP attacks now have animations

There are three different routes in the game; I will be starting with Masaki's.

Stage M1 - Disturbance in Langran

Compare this stage to the first stage of SRW 3, and you can see that they were going for an easier fight. 1 vs. 5 here, and SRW 3's first fight is 9 vs. 18 (including the reinforcements). You can win this fight in one turn with Cyflash.

Kuro and Shiro, Masaki's familiars, make their first appearance here. They have never been mentioned before (unless they were in Hero Senki?) [2019 Kurisu: They are not in Hero Senki]

Surprisingly, they did not reuse the SRW 3 sprites:
[2019 Kurisu: Sorry for the photobucket watermarks; it would take too long to get the original images and fix that]
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Stage M2 - The Summoning

In SRW 3, this stage would have been hard. You fight Jerid, Kakricon, the three Black Stars, and some grunts, and your only decent units are Goshogun and Cybuster. But here it's pretty easy. Even the named units go down easily.

Goshogun makes its debut here, although from what I understand, the robot never actually joins you properly during EX.

There is a lot more dialogue in this game than there was in SRW 3.

Stage M3 - Attack at Imortal

Mio appears in the Diablo here.
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Kouji and Sayaka also show up here. Here's the Mazinger comparison so far:
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But this is kind of interesting; jumping the gun a little bit but look at the SRW 4 Mazinger:

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It looks like they went back to the SRW 3 sprites after EX.

Stage M4 - Aura Battlers

Aura Battler Dunbine enters SRW with Shou in the Bilvine and Marvel Frozen in the Dunbine:
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This stage is the first one to represent a very slight challenge; the floating fortress has a lot of HP and can do some decent damage. But really just smack him around with Mazinger and you'll be fine. Unfortunately you still can't see how much damage you're doing if the guy has over 10,000 HP. I hope they fix this by 4.

Stage M5 - Holy Girl
Stage M6 - Solatis Temple
Stage M7 - Demon Hack

These stages are pretty repetitive; just fighting one type of enemy (mostly demon golems) on each one. Stage 5 actually presents the first real challenge of the game; you have Ruozor who gets double move, but you can't kill him. So you just have to hope he doesn't kill anybody before you get the demon golems.

Stage M8 - Coral Canyon
Stage M9 - Coral Canyon again

Stage 8 is just a story sequence; basically the idea of these two stages is that Leena was kidnapped so you fight ZZ and F91 for a few turns until she gets saved. Tytti also appears (her name is often spelled Tootie or Tutie but Tytti is a real scandinavian name).

Now a little digression on why this game is boring. It's very similar to SRW 3 in that the story is pretty thin -- it's basically just "Now we're going to place X, uh-oh, more enemies." The Shutedonias Army is basically the Divine Crusaders with a couple of new mechs. The main difference is that the named characters lack the background that the source anime give them. Jog and the woman from this stage are completely unmemorable because they have no backgrounds and no personalities.


I really don't have much to say about these stages because they are almost the same. The maps are so easy that there's no individuality to the boards (you just use MAP attacks and everything dies, including the bosses). The story is still lacking but Shuu has come in so I guess it might get a bit more interesting. I'm looking forward to 4, though.

Ryuune 1-3

Ryuune's route so far is similar to Masaki's, but with fewer MAP attacks. The enemy groups are the same, though. For this route I get Getter G, Zeta, and Nu Gundam, all welcome sights.

Stage 4-7 (Ryuune)

This route takes place at the same time as Masaki's, but shows another side of the story (with Kirkus' armies). Kind of an interesting idea, but the plot is just too thin for it to be interesting. So far Ryuune's route is a little harder than Masaki's, but not a whole lot. There's a lot of good terrain to sit on with EN regeneration.

(Sorry these updates are short; EX is pretty boring so I'm not that motivated to make longer updates or post screenshots.)


Still snoring along, up to Ryuune 12 now. Hathaway Noah is a character in this game; he's a rare character in SRW. Other than that, Ryuune's route is pretty much the same as Masaki's route so I don't have much more comment.

Stage R13 - Protect Zeb Temple

This stage was actually fairly hard. You have to kill all the enemies in 9 turns. I was able to make almost 200,000 from Luck plus the good enemies, but I finished the stage with almost the last attack on stage 9.

Ryuune agrees to a date with Zash (Kirkus' son); I guess Masaki has a rival now. Maybe this will be continued in MK part 2.

I finished Ryuune's route; the final stage is semi-hard, against 2 Valsion Kais and the Eurid. It wasn't too bad, though. The key to the game, like most of the early SRWs, is to update all your most powerful non-beam attacks. You can kill a Valsion Kai each round until they're dead, then go after Eurid. Put your battleship out in front because the enemies like to attack it; 5 or 6 guys should have Love seishin, which is enough to keep your HP up.

Here are pictures of the two bosses so far (the Draxil and the Eurid):

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[2019: This is in a response to the usefulness of the Dunbine units in the SNES version compared to the Playstation remake] Raising them to 130 morale in the original version is too hard, because they have no defensive seishin, and there just aren't enough enemies. You would basically have to kill one enemy, end turn, kill a second enemy, end turn, etc. until you kill 5 or 6. You can't really use counterattacks, since you can't pick counter or dodge on a per-attack basis (also you can't upgrade mobility and there's no items, so the famed 0% of AB units is not in this game). In Masaki's route it's much faster just to use Breast Fire and Thunder Break to kill the Vorkruss parts. I agree with mediocrity that they are almost certainly better in the CB version.

I played through Shu 7. His route is kind of fun, because Shu is neat, but the gameplay is still mostly the same maps as before. This was a LOL:
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Safine: Watch very carefully, so that Monica doesn't get her hands on Shu!
Chika: You don't have to worry about that, Safine. My master has so little interest in women that I sometimes wonder if he's gay.

(Maybe that's only funny because they made Shu's voice actor Koyasu Takehito.)

Shu's route is the hardest in the original game. In Stage 9 you can get the Sazabi and a Doven Wolf but you have to beat all the enemies in 6 turns, without Granzon. It's tough, but you can do it if you have Safine focus on the Quin Mantha, and take out the Dai with a hot blood MAP attack from Quattro.
Beat the game. Shu's route is definitely better than the other two, although it is harder. What you want to do is get all the optional units and characters. Fully upgrade Granzon's Black Hole Cluster, Solgadi's most powerful attack, Terius' mech's most powerful attack, and Sazabi's fin funnels. For the final stage vs. True Vorkruss you can set up all your guys outside of his attack range (one person has to be in his range, though, or he'll move) and kill him in 2 or 3 turns:
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Safine will be an enemy in the last stage if her level is 30 or lower. After the battle, Monica says this:
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Monica: Safine...she was vulgar, domineering, sadistic, masochistic, a nymphomaniac, a bad person, and there was nothing you could do about it...even so...

This is her quote in the character database of Alpha Gaiden; I always wondered what the context was. (It always sounded to me like she was saying this to Safine, and I wondered what came after the "so...", which turns out to be "she didn't deserve to die like that") However, I think having Safine die is not canon because she's in 4.

Finally I'm done with EX. As I said in earlier posts, this is not a very good game. It's definitely the worst SRW I have played so far. Shu's route was kind of fun, but that's about it.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Game 23 - Hiouden: Pact with the Monsters wrap-up


  1. Turn type: Player turn/enemy turn
  2. Maps: Medium to large. There is terrain that gives bonuses.
  3. Character Customization: None.
  4. Character Development: Standard XP level system, with promotion at level 10 with an item.
  5. Party Size: Typically 12-15 units on a map although you get many more.
  6. Equipment: You can equip one weapon at a time, and have 3 in reserve. There is no other equipment.
  7. Game Flow: You play stages 1-20 in sequence, no repeats, and if you fulfill certain conditions you can do the last two stages.
  8. Saving: Between battles.
  9. Death: Permanent.


I mentioned in the introduction that I almost missed this game. It was on my RPG list for my other blog with a question mark, and when I went to check it I realized it was actually a SRPG. I'm glad I caught it because it's pretty good. They did an admirable job of taking the computer game and translating it to the SNES, working within the limitations of the system but still giving a satisfying experience. The music, composed by Sakuraba, is obviously good, and it was fun to see all the things that will appear again a few years later in Tales of Phantasia.

However, there are some flaws that I think prevented the game from crossing from good into great. The game needs a way to slow down the speed, as well as set up a pause during a spellcast. Sometimes the game moves so quickly that you can have a character go from full HP to dead in literally a second or two, and at times I had to basically unpause the game and then immediately click to pause it again. It's impossible to tell what's happening in these situations.

Second, it's too easy for your guys to get stuck when you have all 6 squads (24 units). Especially in narrow areas (but even in wide areas sometimes) your units will get trapped in the middle of other squads and it can be very hard to maneuver them. You also can't keep them away from the damage floors, and it's hard to make sure the right people are at the front.

Having said all that, I did enjoy the game for the most part, and it's well worth a try with the fairly recent translation patch. The story is a little thin but for 1994 it's not bad.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Game 23 - Hiouden: Pact with the Monsters (Stages 16-20)

Stage 16

This stage is like stage 5, putting you in the middle of a bunch of enemies. But then there are other groups that pop up afterwards. Despite the huge amount of enemies, the open field made it much easier to maneuver my guys and overall I didn't find it especially difficult.

Stage 17

This stage is rough. You have to put spheres in altars, each one breaking open an area of the map. Each fight is against 3-5 boss class monsters, and there are no healing areas to recover MP. Now that I know the whole game, I would recommend using some of your MP restoring items on this map. The last set of enemies, which is the most and the strongest, can be avoided just by setting the AI to flee and having one group up near the exit to use the orb as soon as you get it.

Stage 18

This is another hard stage, mostly because of the huge number of enemy spellcasters, and the narrow corridors which make it hard to maneuver your guys into effective combat positions. It got much easier once I abandoned my attempt to equally level my guys and just sent my two strongest squads at the vanguard. It was still tough, though.

Stage 19

This is another stage where your team gets split up. Since I was on the second to last stage I decided to see what would happen if I just let them fight without using any items or tactics. I used a couple of healing potions on the boss. I lost 7 guys but I decided to keep a save at the beginning of 19 and go on to 20 to see if I could beat the game.

Stage 20 

This stage has some initial enemies, and also the final boss who has a lot of HP. However, since you can use all your items here (unless you want to save some for a second playthrough) I didn't find it that bad. By the end of the stage I had used all my life potions and a good chunk of my healing items, but I won in the end.

The ending scene is fairly long and also seems like it covers another 2-3 games worth of content.

Afterwards, you start back on stage 1 with all your levels and items intact, and stronger enemies. You can keep playing through again and again.

Instead, I'll move on. Wrap-up post to follow, then my old message board posts for Super Robot Taisen EX, and then maybe Lodoss War. It's hard to tell whether it's a genuine SRPG or not.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Game 23 - Hiouden: Pact with the Monsters (Stages 8-15)

One interesting side note about this game is how many of the spells later show up in the early Tales games -- Tractor Beam, Thunder Blade, Explosion, First Aid, Nurse, Resurrection, and a bunch of others.

Stage 8

Now we're exploring the depths of the castle to find the King's Sword. This is a pretty annoying stage; a big maze.

This stage gives me the 6th party so now I have 24 total characters. They tend to get stuck if they're all trying to move at the same time through a narrow area like this. I did some splitting up here because you have to flip switches at various places around the maze to open doors, ending with the switch at the bottom left which reveals the stairs.

Stage 9

The instruction manual warns you to keep your party's levels even, and stages like this are why. You have to flip 6 switches, but this requires taking each party on a warp and fighting some enemies. So if each of your parties can't deal with the enemies you're in trouble.

Afterwards, there's a boss mummy who has to be beaten twice. The second time was harder, and I had to reload a bunch of times before I finally beat it without getting hurt.

Now Richard has the Sword of Kings, and we venture out beyond the castle.

Stage 10

The next few stages are outdoors as we head for another tower. This stage is fairly simple, the main gimmick is a set of bridges you have to break to cross the river, and there are mines to hurt your characters. There are also a lot of promotion items.

Apparently this stage was so simple I forgot to get a screenshot.

Stage 11

This stage has us breaking down a bunch of spear barriers with the mattock, and fighting catapults.

I continued trying to catch up some of my lower leveled characters. Apparently I found out later that there is a secret stage you can access by going to a particular place on the map, but I don't know what's in it (it's labeled stage 24 in the videos I watched so that sounds like there are other secret stages as well).

Stage 12 

The last map before the tower, and it's a tough one. This is the second stage where you really need six good squads. The stage starts with no enemies, but once you step on all six switches at once, enemies come out of the huts. I reloaded many times before I finally accepted one death (I have 15 life potions at this point) and moved on.

One particularly annoying spell the enemies have is Pikohan, which stuns your guys, and they die within seconds when that happens unless you heal them with food.

Stage 13

This is another stage where it's a big help if you have even leveled teams. The slug boss has two versions on different places of the map. If you beat one of them, it will revive after a short time. So you have to beat both of them and then the remaining enemies very close in time, which requires splitting up the team. Pikohan was annoying again, but I'm starting to get it on some of my own units.

Before this it's a pretty tedious stage because you have to keep going through warps in small rooms, most of which have nothing in them.

Stage 14 

This is a fire based stage, with some damage floors.

The game gives you a bunch of recovery tiles so this stage is something of a respite, although the end is tricky. The damage floors can be incredibly annoying given the layout of the stage, but I'll get to that on the next stage.

Stage 15 

This ice-based stage has a lot of spiked floors. The end part is especially annoying, and I really think an example of unfair design.

The boss is down there and you come in from the top. It is basically impossible to stop your guys from walking on the damage floors and just sitting there while they fight or cast spells. If you move slowly along the side you can minimize it somewhat, but eventually they're still going to end up walking on the spikes. I never like it when the challenge is due to interface limitations rather than good design.There's simply no way to control your characters in enough detail to make this kind of level fair.

5 more stages.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Game 23 - Hiouden: Pact with the Monsters (Stages 1-7)

Hiouden: Pact with the Monsters (緋王伝 魔物達との誓い)
Release Date: 2/11/1994
System: Super Famicom
Developer: Wolf Team
Publisher: Enix

I originally didn't have this game on my list, but when I was evaluating it to see if it was an RPG (for my other blog), I realized it was actually an SRPG I had missed. It's by Wolf Team, which later will develop the early Tales games. It has music by Motoi Sakuraba, who had been working with Wolf Team for a while.

Hiouden is a series that began on the PC-98; three games were released from 1992-1994. This Super Famicom game is not a straight port of any of the PC-98 games, although it follows the same basic story idea. A wicked minister has betrayed the king, and his son escapes, but then turns back with summoned monsters to have revenge on the minister. The title "Legend of the Scarlet King" seems to refer to the blood-drenched Prince who takes revenge via the monsters, although the narrator tells you at the beginning this is not true.

The game supports the SNES mouse, and the controls are surprisingly well done -- it's hard for me to come up with places where I think they made bad decisions within the limitations of the Super Famicom.

So let's get right into it

Stage 1

You start at the top of the castle, which connects to a garden. A dryad named Beatrix appears and gives Richard, the prince, a ring that lets him make contracts with ancient monsters that have been sealed within statues in the castle. This stage is basically a tutorial, that shows you how to move, open chests and doors, get monsters, equip things, fight, and such.

The battles happen automatically when your guys encounter the enemies. There's not much you do to directly control them; you can set an overall tactic to have them retreat, fight to the death, withdraw injured characters, or rest. You can change the order in which the magicians will prioritize their spells. By clicking on the hourglass in the bottom right you can pause the game which is very helpful; this allows you to use items and redirect your characters.

Every squad you defeat gives a chest, which has food and other HP restoring items, and equipment.

The stage ends when you reach the stairs down to the next floor. The whole game seems to take place within this castle.

Stage 2

You have three minutes to cross the bridge. There's a healing floor at the beginning to go back to, but I didn't find this necessary. I used one or two healing items and was able to beat the stage.

The map view is convenient because you can issue orders even there -- you can also split the screen between two parties, or between a party and the overhead map.

Stage 3

This stage has several corridors with arrows that shoot out. If you feed a statue some apples it will tell you that you need to leave one party on the switches to turn the arrows off while the other party fights the monsters. We also get the third group in this stage.

Stage 4

There aren't any healing floors here so you have to use the rest (click on the sword until it turns to ZZZ) to regain HP. We also find the Mattock here which can break down certain walls.

The stage ends with Richard and party opening a switch to release water, which washes them down right into the middle of a bunch of monsters including a large boss!

Stage 5

This is an all out fight right from the start, surrounded by a lot of enemies, so I'm not sure there's much you can do to strategize. The characters will blink red when they are low on HP. If you check their status screen it will show what food they like, and if you give them that it restores all their HP. I also have a bunch of magic items, but Nicovideo comments warned against using them early in the game because the later stages are so difficult.

Stage 6

The manual has brief descriptions of the first 6 stages. It warns you here that you should keep the average level of your units high, I guess meaning that it's not going to work to just use one or two squads. So I used my weaker units entirely on this stage.

This is the stage where I started getting promotion items. They can change your characters' classes -- zombies into skeletons, serpents into dragons, etc. There are additional class promotions later on.

Stage 7 

This is the stage where we take down the evil Minister. This requires going through a complicated set of doors that open with different keys, taking down reinforcement enemies, and finally taking on the Minister and a big group of enemies. I used my lower level guys and by the end of this pretty much everyone was in the 15-17 range.

I should have made sure to get all those chests, but it shouldn't matter too much. The Minister tells us that he rebelled because Richard's father wasn't a good enough king, and that we need someone stronger to deal with the surrounding empires. Now that Richard can become the "king of monsters" maybe he can do it? Anyway, time to delve under the castle to find the Sword of Kings before Richard decides what to do.

There are only 20 stages in the game, so it's not especially long, but the stages could get longer as we go. So far I'm enjoying this game; I recommend giving it a try with the translation patch.