Monday, July 15, 2019

1993 wrap-up

1993 had six games:

Albert Odyssey
Ogre Battle
Shining Force Gaiden II
Super Robot Taisen 3

Shining Force II
Sword Master

In terms of new developments, Ogre Battle is the first real-time SRPG on my list. Along with Super Robot Taisen 3, it also brings in the multiple paths and endings that become more common with SRPGs as we move forward. 1993 has the first Super Famicom game and the last PC Engine game.

Choosing a game of the year is tough here -- I know that a lot of people would pick Shining Force II, but as I said in my review I was somewhat disappointed with it. Ogre Battle would be another popular choice but once again I found it frustrating. For me, I think I would have to go with Super Robot Taisen 3. The branching storylines, multiple endings, and large cast list are a huge advance on SRT 2 and I had a lot of fun with this game. It's difficult until you figure out how to manage the system, though.

In addition to SRT 3, I would recommend Shining Force II, Shining Force Gaiden II (better to play the CD remake), and Ogre Battle. Albert Odyssey is not a good game. Sword Master has an impressive story and visuals, but the gameplay is not especially good.

1994 is all Super Famicom and Mega Drive games (the last 3 MD games I'll be playing). Fire Emblem 3 is probably the biggest and best known game on the list, but I'm interested in Hioden, which is another real-time game that has SFC mouse support.

One other thing that I'm going to try to do going forward is make at least one video for every game, even ones that I'm skipping because I've already played them or they're ports. A lot of these games either have no videos, the videos that exist are short and of poor quality, or you won't find them unless you search the game name in Japanese. At some point I would like to go back and make videos for the games I've already done but that's not a priority.

Games of the year:
1990: Fire Emblem
1991: Langrisser
1992: Just Breed
1993: Super Robot Taisen 3

Monday, July 8, 2019

Game 20 - Sword Master wrap-up

 FACTS

  1. Turn type: Player turn/enemy turn
  2. Maps: Medium to large. There is terrain that gives bonuses.
  3. Character Customization: None; characters promote at some point but you have no control.
  4. Character Development: Standard XP level system.
  5. Party Size: For most of the game, your entire party (up to 24 units)
  6. Equipment: Four equipment slots -- weapon, armor, two items.
  7. Game Flow: The game is purely linear with no returning to previous battles; there are dungeons where you can explore and fight some optional battles.
  8. Saving: Anywhere, but only one save slot
  9. Death: Permanent.

 IMPRESSIONS

This is the final game of 1993 and the last PC Engine game. The PC Engine continued on strongly through 1994 and limped along until 1996, but no more strategy RPGs came out for the system.

The story is pretty good for 1993. Most of your party members have little to no presence in the story but Aks and the main characters have developed backstories. There are a lot of cinematic sequences and voiced sections of the story. 

The gameplay, unfortunately, is not as good. The game suffers from pretty serious balance issues. The first problem is that the damage you take or do can vary widely -- with reloading I've seen the same attack do 1 damage, and then do 23 damage. For reference, the final boss has 32 HP and your characters will likely not get into the 30s. This wild luck also seems to affect the level up bonuses. A lot of times you get nothing on a level up.

But the most serious problem to me is the XP awards. I'm not completely sure what the formula is, but it's clear that by far the most important factor is the amount of damage you do. There seems to be a small effect from level difference and from killing a monster, but if you kill a monster at 1 HP by doing 1 damage, you will get almost nothing. This makes it extremely difficult to use your full party, because you can't really catch up the weaker characters. The game has no money or shops, meaning all the equipment you get is pre-determined, and there's nowhere near enough equipment to outfit your entire party.

The game is not especially hard since you can save as many times as you want, and having a few strong characters is good enough to clear the game. But it's more satisfying to be able to use a larger party rather than just having them sit back and watch.

So I probably wouldn't really recommend this game; as I said, the story is interesting enough, and if you really like the PC Engine it might be worth a play. But there are better SRPGs even in this period.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Game 20 - Sword Master (Part 3)

Battle 16

On the way to the dwarf village we encounter a group of Dark Elves -- despite the story making them seem scary they're just basic enemies.

The dwarf chieftain initially refuses to help us but when Aks shows him the God Orbs he agrees to help, and gives us a bunch of armor and weapons. They're just basic upgrades like Chainmail, so I'm not sure what makes them particularly useful against the dark elves. There was also a movement ring which I gave to the iron golem -- he moves so slowly that I haven't even gotten to make an attack with him yet; I'm not sure this upgrade will help much but he might get a chance.

There's also a little event you can do in town (I'm not sure if it's optional or not) with a wounded child. This gets me 20 healing herbs, and then a dwarf joined the party. Now we continue on to Crystoll Temple and encounter another set of Dark Elves.

Battle 17

I now have 22 units which makes the turns take a while. This is a really long fight because of how long it takes to move everyone and how many people do 1 damage. This is a general problem with this game and it's exacerbated by the way the XP system works. It seems to me like your XP gains are partly dependent on the amount of damage you do, which means weaker characters have a really hard time catching up.

After this, Aks makes it to the port town that will take him to Crystoll Temple. But the ship only holds 10 people, so you have to select who to bring. I took my highest damage dealers, and a magician and priest.

On the other side of the ship, there's a black fog that separates Aks from his companions, and all four Shitteno are waiting for him.


He's ready to fight them all, but...


Arselia is there, and they threaten to kill her. So they start beating Aks up and he doesn't resist...but then they kill Arselia anyway. This pisses Aks off so much that some light energy comes out of him and gets rid of the black cloud, bringing in the companions.

Battle 18

You would think a fight against all the Shitenno at once would be difficult, but it really wasn't. Partly this is due to the horrible AI, which made the Shitenno hardly move and sometimes not use spells even when they were in range. But also they seem to be the same strength they were when you first fought them. So Gazes, the first one you fight, is incredibly weak.


Once the fight is over, Aks apologizes to Arselia's corpse....


Except she's still alive! The dragon gave her protection against the Shitenno earlier in the story, so this protected her. She an Aks share a romantic(?) moment.




She then opens the temple for us, and Aks has her go back to her village while he goes in. No battles here, but Aks receives the Holy Sword from a goddess who watches over those from Aks' village. He isn't sure why someone who is the son of the devil can use the Holy Sword, but the goddess doesn't have answers. Aks heads back and picks up all the party members, as well as two new Holy Knights from the temple -- they're helpful because they have healing spells.

From this point on we have all 24 members but the game never gives you enough equipment to make using them all viable. In the last set of battles I basically used a small party of Aks, Ganesha, and the ninja guy for damage, Mute for magic damage, all the healers, and then the dragon knights and horse knights in cases where I needed to charge ahead and take out magicians before they could do too much damage (or to do the last 2-3 necessary to kill something). I also got another MP restoring ring which meant I could use the other magician as well.

Aks heads towards the cave leading to Dark Castle, and meets Arselia along the way, who tells him that there's another evil power in the castle besides Balgas.

Next up is a series of 4 or 5 grunt battles as Aks makes his way through the caves to Dark Castle, and then the castle itself. None of them were particularly hard; with all that healing and the powerful attacks of Aks and Ganesha, plus two magicians with MP restore, the enemies are quite easy.

Finally, Aks reaches Balgas' room.


Balgas threatens the party, but Aks just retorts that Balgas is a plaything of his dad. And that seems to be the case since he has low HP and is no harder than any other boss in the game (he has the same HP total as the first boss in the second stage of the game). Balgas does indicate that he's serving some other boss than Aks' dad but doesn't explain further.

After the battle, Aks sends Balgas' spirit back to the demon world, and then you get a chance to talk to one party member (with a voiced sequence). Aks says he has something else to do, and then goes back with a small party to a warp zone behind Balgas' throne.




This is Lucifer, who serves Aks' dad Satan(!); he initially pretends to be congratulating Aks but then declares he'll control the world, etc. The fight is not very hard because Aks is ridiculous and you get two healers. Aks then decides to use Satan's power one time to banish Lucifer.

Aks now returns to the mainland and begins to live a quiet life with Arselia, which includes sex because this is on the PC Engine.






But after a while Aks decides he needs to go settle the score with Satan before he can live in peace, and leaves Arselia in the night, saying he'll be back. She cries and the game ends -- nice happy ending!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Game 20 - Sword Master (Part 2)

One aspect of the battle system I overlooked in the manual that's useful to know -- if you have multiple allies around a monster (up to 3) they can all attack at the same time, and the enemy only gets to counterattack the initial attacker. This is very helpful to let weaker characters join a fight. The enemies will also use this technique against you.

Battle 7


Aksu's party continues towards the cave, stopping at a fortress. Enemies attack and the entire fortress battalion flees, but two remaining archers join the party. The enemy attacking is Prince Serius. I guess I didn't get any screenshots of this battle but it wasn't too bad. When we beat Serius, a disembodied voice tells us that he was being controlled by evil powers, and so we just killed the prince who wasn't acting out of his own will.

Battle 8

This is actually a series of battles in the cave; the first one is the hardest battle I've faced yet. 12 gargoyles who have very long movement range and do decent damage. I had to reload a lot and keep repositioning my guys until I survived. Aksu's Return magic doesn't work in these fights.

I believe this is one of my failures
The cave has a bunch of tricks and traps, and you have to find two keys to get through to the final room where the next of the Shittenno is waiting.

Aksu is pretty great
She was strangely easy, doing only 1 damage to everyone while I beat the tar out of her.  Unfortunately, she kills Ris Tis, who can only tell us to find the 4 Jimmu orbs (I mistook these as "god weapons" in the last post) to turn into the sacred sword which can beat Belgas. The first of the orbs is in the Dark Castle.


This ends the cave section and now we're on to Dark Castle itself.

Battle 9

The castle is similar to the cave, with several intermediate battles and then the boss, who is the next of the Shitenno. He was the one who controlled Prince Serius, and now guards the blue orb, the first of the God orbs.



After the fight we get the typical "castle is crumbling" but we can't escape, until a dragon rider shows up to save the party.



Not only does Akurus save us, but he also offers to lead us to his home, where the Red Orb is in the care of a dragon.


After the long cave and castle, there's now an extended section with no battles. First, we travel to a fortress where we actually get some equipment ugprades! It's disappointing that the previous dungeons have no chests or items, but the fortress gives some weapon and armor upgrades, and some herbs. Of course they can't spare anyone but in the next town there's the opportunity to trade a jewel from the fortress to hire a mercenary. You have a choice between 3 (this is why the instruction manual says you can get 24 out of 26 characters in a playthrough). I chose the female warrior.


Next up is the cave. First we reunite with Aselia, who is sad to hear about Ris Tis' death. She has been summoned here by the dragon Bistors about the Crystoll Temple.



Bistors seems to know who Aks is, calling him the たわむれの落とし子 -- I'm not sure what a good translation for that is. Joke child? The dragon thinks that Aks can defeat Balgas if he can gather the 4 orbs and unseal Crystoll Temple, where the orbs will become the Holy Sword -- this is something only the Meifu Clan can do, and Aselia is the only one of them left. She isn't sure how to do this, but they eventually find out that Aks needs to use an item Ris Tis gave him. Aselia heads for Crystoll by herself while Aks looks for the other orbs (and gets the red orb from the dragon). But the cave gets attacked by the 3rd of the Shitenno.

Battle 10

The 4th of the Shitenno has a strong attack, but other than that the battle's not too tough. The damage in this game is so variable that you can just reset until you get 2-4 damage instead of 18 damage.



Aks' next goal is across the sea, where he hopes to meet a magician who knows more about the orbs.

Battle 11

Crossing the sea is tough because there's a ghost ship. Of course it attacks the ship Aks takes. The ship itself has a few battles against skeletons, and then the boss, another Shitenno. He's not especially difficult.

On the ship we also find out the spirit of Prince Serius is there; sorry for killing you.

On arriving in the new continent, it seems that Aks is a wanted man -- everyone there believes that Serius' evil activity was part of the kingdom's wishes and that everyone else associated with Saturnia is bad. But somehow Aks immediately convinces him otherwise, and the king of this new place gives us the green orb! Also some new weapons, armor, and companions. How trusting!

Battle 12

This is a long battle on a large map, but it's just grunts, so no problem. Our force is getting bigger -- you can always use your full group!


Battle 13

Next up is Damud cave. This is another long cave with a lot of warp zones and incidental fights against grunts. Once we get through all that, Aks gets taken to a  room with the magician Zabra Muba, who reveals a lot of backstory.

Aks' name
It seems that Aks is the child of a human priestess and the evil god, who was accidentally(?) summoned by these villagers. He reminds Aks that if he used his innate power he could crush Balgas without the Sacred Sword, but Aks is determined not to use his father's power. It turns out that Zabra Muba was a childhood friend of Aks' mother and escaped the village with her. After Aks was born, his mother returned to their village to warn them about its impending destruction, but it was too late and she was killed (maybe) along with the village. Zabra Muba and Aks were both put into hibernation by "that person" (Aks' father?) 1000 years ago, and now they're both back to deal with Balgas. So it's off to Crystoll Temple.

Along the way we stop at a town to pick up a new party member (an Iron Golem) and then the next fight.

Battle 14

This battle had 1 enemy, which seems like a bug or programming error. There are other areas of the game that I feel are this way also -- a few characters gain almost no experience from killing things, for no clear reason I can see. Sometimes you get no stat increases on a level up, particularly at odd-numbered levels.

Battle 15

Next we stop in another fortress, which gets attacked once again; this time you fight the two mercenaries that you didn't hire back earlier in the game. I also started getting class upgrades here (which seems to happen around level 18-20). I'm not sure what the class upgrades do other than give you some stat boosts.


Then in the next town Aselia is there -- she stayed back to warn us that the Shitenno are back with Dark Elf weapons, and the only way we're going to be able to deal with those is to visit the dwarves in the nearby forest and get their special armor.

So that's where I am now. Based on a Japanese "let's play" of this game on Youtube, I'm at about the halfway point in the game.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Game 20 - Sword Master

Sword Master (ソードマスター)
Release Date: 11/19/1993
System: PC Engine
Developer: Right Stuff
Publisher: Right Stuff


This is the final game of 1993 and the final game on the PC Engine (check out my other blog for lots more PC Engine games, through 1996, but none of them are SRPGs.) It is almost totally unknown in the West and doesn't have much presence in Japan either. There is a playthrough on youtube and a few blog posts about it, but no walkthrough sites.

The first thing I want to point out is the package; the back of the CD case just has a collage of combat scenes, which aren't that impressive, and no text at all. It gives no indication of what kind of game it is or what it's about at all.


According to the instruction manual, a great power once destroyed the world. Our main character, Aksu, has been born with a cursed destiny, and wanders the world by himself. He sees dreams that indicate he is the son of this great power. He has access to some sort of power but sealed it away.

Here is a video of the game up to the end of the second battle:


The game begins with a cinematic opening and a vocal song. Aksu then reaches a small town, where he comes across a girl stumbling into the bar; her village has been destroyed and the chief kidnapped. Aksu decides to escort her back. Along the way he meets some Orcs.

Battle 1


The battle system is pretty typical, although I believe this is the first game I've played that lets you move and attack in any order, with all your guys. That is, you can move a few people, attack with one of them, then move another, etc.

I noticed here that there is no money in the game. I still have not gotten any drops from monsters yet which means that everything you get is decided at specific points in the game?

The battle sequences are standard:


One annoyance is that sometimes people will get multiple strikes, and the enemies sometimes go before your character. The damage also can vary widely; I've seen 11 damage which on a reload was 1 damage. You can save any time, but there is only one save file. Aksu has the "Return" spell which works like Shining Force, so as long as he hasn't moved yet it's safe to save unless you're in a battle that doesn't allow Return (which the instruction manual mentions).

After the battle, Aksu refuses to spare the Orcs' lives:


Yikes!

Battle 2

Aksu goes to see King Dalk VIII, who tells him that Balgas, an evil being, seems to have been reborn. Aksu takes immediate interest in that and decides to go take him out. The King gives him two companions -- Ganesha the warrior, Belzes the knight, and Sesca the priest.

But before that, the King tests Aksu's ability by having him fight some guards, which are no harder than the Orcs.

Battle 3


Before this battle there's a cutscene where Balgas reawakens, and his four Shitenno minions agree to carry out his will.

Here is a video of the third battle:


After that battle Aksu and the party head on to the next town, Premia. Although you can explore the towns, the game is (so far) linear in that once you leave a town and clear the next battle, you can't go back. Your progress follows a map:


This battle is pretty tough because the first of the Shittenno is there. His 32 HP are difficult to deal with, since he can attack 3 times in a round -- I retreated the first time but the second time I won with reloading. Hope for misses!

You get medical herbs before the battle. These get equipped on a character, and when they reach 0 HP, the herb will automatically be used to restore to full HP. Since there are a limited number of these and no money or stores to buy new ones, I'm trying to avoid using them -- I will let them get used on a boss battle or something like that, but if a random orc happens to do more damage than a character's max HP (which has happened a few times) I'll just reload.

Battle 4

The townspeople complain about monsters, and the chief tells us that without the God Weapon we won't be able to seal Balgas -- maybe the Meifu Tribe in Systore Village knows where it is. The chief doesn't think they'll talk to Aksu, but Aksu seems to know more about this Meifu tribe than the chief does...

Heading out to Systore there's a battle, but it's an easy one vs. grunt Orcs and Lizardmen.


Battle 5

Unfortunately Systore is deserted. Aksu eventually finds Aselia and some children hiding, who tell him that the chieftan, Tis Ris, knows where the God Weapons are -- but he has been captured. So off to Dark Castle to try to recover him. On the way, there's another grunt battle. It has some slight challenge because you start off surrounded, but the enemies themselves are the same as before.


Battle 6

Aksu and his party reach Quarg, an elf village. The townspeople complain about Balgas, and the chieftan tells us that they sent a party to a nearby cave that connects to Dark Castle, trying to recover Tis Ris, but there was one of the Shittenno there waiting for them. Two elves join our party and we're off to the cave. But on the way another fight with random monsters -- there are new monsters (Gargoyles) here that can move far.


Several people levelled up to 5 and gained no stats no matter how many times I reloaded...that's odd.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Two rejected games

One of the important elements of a strategy RPG for me is a developing story. To me, if it's just a series of battles with no story sequences at all (other than maybe an introduction and ending), it's lacking a key part that puts the RPG in the SRPG.

Sometimes it's hard to tell from videos or descriptions whether games qualify, and my master list is peppered with question marks; I'll evaluate those games as I get closer. Sometimes it's hard to tell even after playing it -- there are games that might technically qualify but are right on the line, and in these cases I just have to make an executive decision.

First on the chopping block is Dark Wizard, a Sega CD game. Although it has an opening sequence and there appears to be some slight story sprinkled around, it plays much more like a strategy game than an SRPG to me. It also looks like it's a fairly long game and it goes slowly (even on an emulator), plus it's available in English, so I'll skip it.

Powers Kingdom, released as Guardian War in the US, is notable for being on the 3DO, an unpopular and expensive system that few people had or played. But as far as I can tell there is no story in the game other than a brief introduction and a very short ending. Once again, it's available in English.

The twitch user Landail who is doing a playthrough of all English RPGs, has full plays of both of these games (on youtube or twitch), so if you want to see them, check out his channel.

Therefore the next game will be Sword Master, a PC Engine SRPG that seems to be very little known in Japan, much less the US.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Game 19 - Shining Force II wrap-up

 FACTS

  1. Turn type: Speed-based system, although each unit only acts once in a round.
  2. Maps: Medium. There is terrain that gives bonuses.
  3. Character Customization: Promotion of units at level 20.
  4. Character Development: Standard XP level system.
  5. Party Size: 14 on a map.
  6. Equipment: 4 items for each character, one equippable weapon, one equippable ring.
  7. Game Flow: 44 story battles; some can be repeated, and I think there may be a bit of freedom in certain parts.
  8. Saving: Only outside of battle.
  9. Death: Revive units at churches; very affordable.

 IMPRESSIONS

This is the fourth Shining Force game I've played so far on this blog, so it's possible I'm getting a little tired of it, but I was rather disappointed in this game. 

As I said throughout my posts, this game is much heavier on the RPG elements than the previous entries. The storyline and setup is more about the normal RPG-style quests and not kingdoms battling each other or someone leading an army. There's a lot more exploration on the world map, and more battles that feel like they could be normal RPG battles if they were just swapped out for random encounters.

And maybe that's what caused my biggest problem with it -- too many of the maps involve generic enemies, on a fairly generic battlefield, with no real purpose or story to the battle other than "this is who we fought on our way to the next place". Unique enemies don't start showing up regularly until near the end of the game.

That being said, this is not a bad game by any means. It fixed one of the major problems I had with SF1 in that units no longer lose stats on promotion, and the stat gains also aren't as wildly random as they were in SF1. 

The story is longer and more detailed than SF1 as well, but does trend towards a standard RPG storyline than what I am used to seeing out of a strategy RPG.

Finally, I thought there were some balance issues in the later part of the game. Too many grunt enemies were doing 1/2-2/3 of the HP of some of my characters, which meant that any double attack (or two enemies attacking one guy) meant death for the unit. I had a few characters that did not take this much damage, and they formed the backbone of my fighting force -- that was almost the sole deciding factor in who I used. It actually turned out that the archer I accidentally promoted to the armored vehicle was one of my best units because of that.

I know that a lot of people name this as their favorite Shining Force game, but it just didn't draw me in.

Next up is Dark Wizard, another game for the Sega CD.