Thursday, November 29, 2018

Game 9 - Shining Force (Chapters 4-6)

Chapter 4 - The Great Fortress of Balbazak

We come to the moving town of Pao, which is a carriage or train that moves around from place to place. The story borrows (perhaps) from Fire Emblem in having Elliot, an enemy commander who hates Darksol but still supports Runefaust, so we have to fight him.

Battle 12

Elliot is the hardest boss so far, but he wasn't too bad. I think in general bosses that have no area-effect attacks or other annoyances can't stand up to the full assault of your forces (a similar problem happens in a lot of SRPGs).

Battle 13

There's my part at this point. I decided to only promote units that needed to promote for equipment, otherwise to wait until level 20. This was possibly a mistake -- one thing I don't like about this game is how much of a stat hit units take on promotion. I basically could not use Zappa (Zylo) or Bleu after promotion because they were just too weak and I didn't want to have to do the acrobatics that would be required to level these guys doing 1-2 damage a hit and getting instantly killed by most attacks. I really hope this aspect of the game is tempered in the sequels. I also decided to use only at most one of each class (Gort is promoted here).

The battle itself is easy; having flyers like Kokichi and the wing unit help a lot.

Battle 14 

Now we are at Uranbatol for the ship. Of course, there's a fight at the docks.

There are the usual challenges here of protecting all the guys from the flying units. The hardest part is probably those three artillery units above the Dark Priest. But as usual losing a couple of guys isn't that bad. I ended the game with 250,000 gold and even at the end of the game it was costing about 250 per person to revive.

The boss won't move even if you use distance attacks, so you can guess how hard he is.

Now we have a ship!

Chapter 5 - Gateway to the Hidden Shrine

The ship gets beat up a lot by successive ship battles which always send us to a place we don't want to go.

Battle 15

Still the same party. And a really easy stage.

Now a mermaid invites our hurt group to Waral.

And I decided to promote the Hero, giving him a new face.

Battle 16

The Mermaids and the other people who live on this tourist attraction need us to solve their problem, so while the ship is being repaired let's do it.

Still no party changes.

The skeletons are somewhat stronger but my party is still pretty good so no big issues.

Battle 17

Back to the ship....which gets attacked again.

Same party. This is an easy battle but I actually had to retreat the first time because I charged ahead too much. This is (I think) the first stage where new enemies appear during the battle. The reinforcements aren't hard, but if you're too far down the stage dealing with the initial enemies they might cause problems.

Chapter 6 - Descendant of the Sacred Dragon

We end up in a strange town where children seem to control most of the place, and learn about a friendly dragon that we have to go save.

Battle 18

Finally a new party member, Lyle. I subbed out Diane for the mounted archer. Still mostly unpromoted. Arthur is a very poor unit that I'm trying to build up because people say he's the best centaur knight. Ultimately I will ditch him because he just doesn't advance fast enough.

The main annoyance of this battle is the terrain, and making sure your units don't advance too quickly and leave the slow ones behind.

Battle 19

And another new party member, Bleu (or Baryu in Japanese). He starts out pretty good. Unfortunately once I promoted him he did 1 damage to everything and died in 1 hit, and I never even got him to promoted level 2 even though I used him in every battle.

The main difficulty here is Cain, the hardest boss yet. I guess I got lucky because his insta-kill "sword of darkness" never worked, and he tried to use it about 3 times. Those free turns were very useful given his fast regeneration.

Cain had been controlled by Darksol, but now with his help we can open the Dragon shrine to try to protect the book of secrets...of course Darksol was just waiting for us to do this so he could steal the book himself. Mean. Now the only option left is to find the Chaos Breaker to deal with Darksol and the Dark Dragon.

Battle 20

Another tough terrain map. Same party, not really that different from last time.

Battle 21 

We go to Mishaela's castle. This is one of the toughest battles in the game, I think. The difficult part is Mishaela herself, who is at the empty spot in the center below.

Only one short range fighter can fight her at a time unless they are flying. She has a large HP regen, does pretty strong damage spells, and has an unusually high defense as well. This took me several tries and some lucky criticals to beat.

Two chapters left! I already beat the game so the next post should be up Saturday and then the wrap-up soon after that.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Game 9 - Shining Force (Chapters 1-3)

Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention (シャイニング・フォース 神々の遺産)
Release Date: 3/20/1992
System: Mega Drive
Developer: Climax and Sonic
Publisher: Sega

This is the first strategy RPG I played. A friend of mine had a Genesis with a cart copier, and so he was able to give me the floppy disk with this game that I played on Genecyst. I didn't beat it, and I'm not sure I even got halfway through. But I definitely remembered it. 

Shining Force is technically in the same series as Shining & The Darkness, but the previous game was a first-person dungeon crawler. This game takes strong inspiration from both Dragon Quest and Fire Emblem -- the creator claims he was not inspired by Fire Emblem but I find this hard to believe. The "100 xp = level", promotion at level 10, per-character base stats and growth rates, and other aspects seem clearly to have been taken from Fire Emblem despite the creator's claims.

However, I would also not call this a simple Fire Emblem ripoff. Of course it's in the same genre, but this game takes a large stride towards a true "Simulation RPG", that is, a game where both the simulation/tactics and JRPG elements are fully developed. In many ways, this is like a standard RPG but with tile-based strategy RPG maps replacing the dungeon exploration. There have been games before (stemming from Ultima III) where the random encounters took place on a grid. But they tended not to have terrain as a feature, or set enemy formations.

I believe this is the first game I've played on the blog that does not have an automatic counter attack by the defender. It also has a speed-based turn system rather than player/enemy, but unlike Lady Phantom each character gets one turn per phase.

The opening narration is also covered in the instruction manual and is pretty typical. 1000 years ago, the peaceful Rune continent was nearly destroyed by the Black Dragon, but the dragon was sealed away. But this is mostly forgotten now, remembered only as the legend of the "God's Bequest." The Guardiana Kingdom has protected the seal on the Bequest. Our main character has washed up on the shore of the Guardiana Kingdom, severely injured and with no memory (apparently this part of the story was omitted in the English translation). The priest Lowe found him and nursed him back to health. He shows an unusual aptitude for swordsmanship. But now the kingdom of Runefaust, led by the general Darksol, is invading Guardiana, hoping to use the God's Bequest for themselves.

Chapter 1 - Runefaust's Invasion

The game starts in Guardiana. The town music is very similar to Dragon Quest and the little beep sounds that play when people talk (at different pitches depending on the character) is also taken from Dragon Quest -- the designer apparently said his primary inspiration for this game was Dragon Quest, so that makes sense.

Anyway, our team has to investigate the Gate of the Ancients.

Battle 1

This is an easy battle. The enemies don't rush you the way they do in Fire Emblem or other games -- sometimes the AI is shockingly bad and they'll refuse to move in and attack you even when you're sniping them or using spells. But then other enemies show more intelligence.
I wish you could turn off these battle sequences

One other aspect that makes this game relatively easy is that defeated characters can be revived at a church, and the revive price is extremely cheap.

Battle 2

The second battle has us fighting our way back to the initial castle. This stage showcases one of the more annoying aspects of the game -- the limited mobility of many of your units makes it easy to get stuck in passes where nobody can move. Later in the game when you get more flying units this isn't quite as bad, but at this point it's frustrating. In the screenshot above, you can see another rather poor aspect of the game -- those units will not move no matter what. So if you want, you can sit on the other side of the river and throw spears/arrows or cast spells until they're dead. Otherwise you can only move one guy into their area, who then gets attacked by all three units.

Battle 3

Back in Guardiana, the King is dying, but tells us that we need to stop the key of the Gate of the Ancients from getting into the hands of Runefaust. We head up to Alterone to begin the quest to find the key, but of course enemies appear. Apparently I didn't get a screenshot of this battle, so here's this girl that appears whenever you start the game -- there's an odd frame story where you're waiting for her grandfather to get home, and she asks you to read the book while you wait. So the whole game is what you're reading in that book.

The battle has flying bats, which can put you to sleep. Otherwise the pockets of enemies are rather small and this isn't too bad.

Battle 4

The king at Alterone screws us over, springing a trap on us and then imprisoning us -- he's joined up with Darksol. But we escape, and fight through his measly troops. Another priest joins us. Her name is "Khris" in the English version so I was afraid this was going to be a second "kurisu" in addition to the main character, but her name is Chip in the Japanese version so it was fine.

The main problem in this battle is the mage, who can cast Blaze 2 (with a 5 area range). One way to deal with this is to surround him -- the range spells can only be centered on a square with an enemy unit, so with four guys surrounding him he could only cast it on one enemy at a time. But even if you don't do that, the revive cost is so cheap that as long as you can win the stage it's not that important if a bunch of guys fall to the Blaze 2.

Afterwards the king apologizes for joining up with Darksol and shows us a secret passage on to the next area.

Chapter 2 - The Spirit of the Holy Spring

We have reached the land of Lindolindo (which was shortened to just Lindo for the English version). Unfortunately all the ships are gone except one, so we can't get to the eastern continent. The mayor refuses to let us use his ship, so the only choice is to go outside and wander into another battle.

Battle 5

The flying units can always circumvent your defenses and get around to weakened characters, but the AI is definitely not laserlike; they will often tend to attack whoever they're next to even if they could go kill a weaker guy. The previous town also had Power Staves which lets the mages and healers attack, making it a little easier to level them up.

Battle 6

This one is in the Cave of Darkness.

The undead enemies are weak against fire, but the mages are the usual danger and there are priests this time as well that heal. There are also a bunch of treasure chests that can be opened during or after the battle -- after is more annoying because the main character has to open them all and can only hold 4 items, so you have to constantly exchange items (this is a problem in town too).

Now with the Orb of Light, Kurisu finds out that his destiny is to defeat Darksol (what a surprise). But the mayor still won't let us have his ship unless we find his son, who is hiding in the circus building....along with enemies.

Battle 7

This stage has a bunch of dolls and undead, but the real danger is the boss, who has a lot of HP and Freeze 3. So make sure not to cluster people together, and try to trap her so she can't move to target the spells better. I lost a bunch of guys but still won in the end.

Now we have the boat....but Mishaela, who was controlling the previous enemies, sinks the ship, leaving us to go north to find another ship in Ulan Bator. Step one along the way is Shade Abbey, which is quite suspicious.

Battle 8

Undead aplenty, but they're all the same normal guys so it's not too tough to take them down. Now I get two winged soldiers. I like the flying characters because they don't get in the way of everyone else and can move freely around.

Now it's off to the north, to continue our journey.

Chapter 3 - Runefaust's Secret Weapon

In Bustoke, the men have been captured to work in the quarry on a new weapon, the Laser Eye. There's some kind of technology in this game but at least up to now they haven't explained where it came from.

Battle 9

That's my party for now, although I didn't give it much thought. I got caught in a pass again:

That's a nasty setup because the priests can heal the mage. Fortunately the mage is not that strong and the winged knights, at least can get around the edge even though their weapons are weak.

After this battle we can get Zappa the werewolf (Zylo in the translation). He's one of a number of characters that can't equip anything but (in theory) have decent stat gains to go along with it.

Battle 10

Now it's off to Pao Bridge to take out that laser eye. This is just a regular overworld battle; nothing too difficult. Zappa is useful since he's not slowed down by forests.

Battle 11 

This is a tough battle if you're not prepared....sort of. The Laser Eye takes 10 rounds to charge up and then fires a huge beam that hits everything, enemy or ally, along its path. I hadn't checked a guide here so it took out 7 of my guys. But I still had enough left over to beat the few enemies beyond the laser eye. I'm pretty sure this is the farthest I got when I played the game in high school.

On to chapter 4! I'm having fun with this game so far -- it's probably the easiest game I've played so far (maybe along with Little Master) but the RPG elements are nice, and the variety of characters is fun.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Game 8 - Fire Emblem Gaiden wrap-up


  1. Turn type: Player turn/enemy turn.
  2. Maps: Small to medium. There is terrain that gives bonuses.
  3. Character Customization: Promotion of units at predetermined levels, by visiting goddess statues. A small number of units begin as "townspeople" and can be promoted to multiple different class tracks.
  4. Character Development: Standard XP level system.
  5. Party Size: Two different parties; on the maps you get different numbers of units (from 5 to 13 or so).
  6. Equipment: One item for each character (weapon or armor)
  7. Game Flow: Most of the maps are required and must be done in order, although in chapters 3 and 4 you can do Alm or Celica's route in either order (and switch back and forth). There are some side maps that can be used for grinding, and a few optional maps. The game has towns as well, although they are much smaller than the towns from RPGs of the era.
  8. Saving: Only outside of battle.
  9. Death: Permanent death, although there are statues that can revive units a limited number of times.


Early 1992 saw two attempts to put stronger RPG elements into the emerging SRPG genre. This is the first one. Rather than following the example of the first Fire Emblem, which simply had a sequence of maps to play in order, this game has some optional areas that you can grind in, as well as towns.

With the exception of the remake of this game, FE never tried this style again, and probably with good reason. This game feels odd to play, and there are a lot of frustrating aspects to the game. The RPG elements are rather shaky. The towns themselves have very little to offer (especially since there's no money or shops). There's essentially no RPG-like exploration, with the except of the last dungeon and one or two other small places. The equipment and item system is also not especially well implemented, with no useable items and only one equipment slot (for a weapon or armor). Now, it may not be fair to criticize FE Gaiden for this -- I don't know what the designers were aiming at in their decisions.

But honestly this could have all worked out well, but design and balance problems plague the game as well. There are a lot of maps that just feel unfair -- with your guys spread out all over the place and high movement flying units that are hard to protect your weak units from. The increased range of bows is nice for your side, but when the enemies have bow knights it can really exacerbate this problem of not being able to protect the units on your side. The warping female mages add to this randomness.

The plot is a mess, but I'm not going to fault a 1992 game too much for the story. On the whole, this game just didn't feel fun. The first Fire Emblem, despite its flaws, was (for me) an enjoyable experience. This game was not. I commend the designers for trying something new, but it just didn't work out.

The music is not bad, though.

Finally, I forgot in the introduction to scan some pages from the manual. First off, here's the map:
Then, there are the usual pictures of the characters. This was important in early games because you sometimes couldn't tell what they were supposed to look like just from the in-game graphics. I'll just put the pages up with Alm and Celica.

So that's FE Gaiden. The next FE game will be after another ten games or so. Next up is the other game which was influential in creating stronger RPG elements in SRPG games -- Shining Force.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Game 8 - Fire Emblem Gaiden (Chapters 4 and 5)

Chapter 4 - The Land of Sorrow

Alm and Celica are still separated. Alm is chasing down Rudolph, while Celica is heading towards the Tower of Douma. I began with the Celica side, since she still has warping Silque to help out -- she'll be killed near the end of this part and sent back to Alm. On the whole, the battles get more annoying and more difficult in this section.

Celica begins by finding Nouma in the basement of the temple (he's the one who looked after her as she grew up). Then we head off to the first of the annoyances, poison swamps.

These take off HP if you start your turn in them, and you move through them very slowly. So basically it's the flying pegasus sisters and Warp units. Then you get this map:

This might be the worst designed map I've ever seen in an SRPG. There's a castle below with some enemies, but obviously this is just the Falcon Knights and a couple of warp units. It's not hard, but what were the designers thinking? How did someone look at this and decide it was an acceptable stage for the game?

Next, Celica moves to the lost woods. This is a great place to grind because there's a fight with 8 Mummies, who are worth a surprising amount of XP for how easy they are to beat. There's also a promotion shrine in the woods. I got everyone to their max promotions here.

Just like the Lost Woods in Zelda, you have to take the right path or you keep wandering forever. I used a walkthrough map; there are some chests as well and a village you can get to. This is important because it's the way you get Alm's promotion.

This is Hulk, the high priest of the Douma church, who has had to flee due to infighting with Juda, who we'll be fighting soon. He knows that we're going to Douma tower to find the hidden sword that can bring back Mira from where she is sealed. But Juda will never let us get close. He offers to help any we he can, and Celica asks him to give power to Alm -- that promotes Alm to the Hero class.

Celica continues on to the Douma tower, and meets Juda along the way. I didn't get a screenshot of this, but Juda is an optional enemy on the map -- he can be hurt every 4 turns. So I surrounded him with the pegasus knights and killed him on turn 4. This gets rid of the multiplying eyeballs as well and makes the rest of the stage not so bad.

The tower itself is three successive fights where Celica has fewer and fewer allies, and things like this:

I'm really not a fan of these kinds of maps that split your party for no reason, in a game where you can't control who starts where unless you play the map, reset, and then switch your party formation around. It's not very hard with the Falcon Knights but still. (I killed Silque in the first map here so she could be resurrected on Alm's side.)

Once this is done, Juda invites Celica to gaze into his jewel to see how Alm is doing. And now you have to do Alm's route. On the whole I found Alm's side much harder than Celica's; his units (for me) were much weaker, and the Falcon Knight sisters were not available. It also takes a while for Silque to reappear with Warp.

As usual, the main problem is protecting weak units from flying or horse units with huge movement, and from the female mages who will sometimes decide to warp to a location on the map. After a few battles Alm comes across the first temple, which allows revival of Silque (yay!) and also has a bunch of useful treasures like a Speed Ring (which raises speed to 40 and movement by 5!)

The first significant place is the castle of Nuibaba, where a priest named Tita is (just a palette swap for Nina from FE1).

She was being controlled by Nuibaba, but now wants you to save Zeke, her boyfriend. He opposes what Rigel is doing but Nuibaba captured her to force his compliance.

Zeke turns out to be Camus from FE1, although I don't believe that's ever explicitly stated in the game. He lost his memory and found himself here. He sympathizes with Alm but can't turn against King Rudolf, who saved his life and took care of him. But he sees a cross scar on Alm's arm. He remembers Rudolf telling him that if he ever finds someone with such a scar he should give his fealty to him. So Zeke decides to join Alm after all. He's a Gold Knight, the top promote of that class tree, so he's a good addition to the force.

Eventually Alm reaches the Dragon Mountains, where he gets trapped. Meanwhile Celica is thrown into the basement of Douma tower by Juda.

Alm has to fight a bunch of annoying fights against these D Zombies -- they're manageable because the priests have this spell that kills monsters instantly, anywhere on the map, although usually one or two will be left behind. You still have to be careful because the dragons have huge range, but after shuffling my troop order around I was able to beat it. There's then a secret shrine that provides a grinding place and the last promotion chance for Alm, so I used that. I also should have levelled my priests to get Reserve and Warp, but I overlooked that -- fortunately I was still able to win the game.

The final battle of the chapter is against Rudolf in Rigel Castle. You only have to beat Rudolf to win the battle.

When I tried just warping Alm there it didn't quite work, but with Zeke as well I was able to do it -- a Japanese site also suggested something I should have done, using a mage that has a Magic Ring to increase range. I found that if I wasn't careful, Rudolf would flee up and I wouldn't be able to chase him, so part of Zeke's job was just to block that from happening.

As Rudolf is dying he reveals that Alm is his son (sigh) so he's the next king of Rigel. Maizen then offers a rather incoherent explanation of Rudolf's behavior -- he thought the gods were too involved in the world so became an evil ruler to cause heroes to rise up who would then create a new age. This is pretty stupid; I've heard that in the remake they made this part of the story a little less nonsensical by introducing a prophecy.

Now Alm needs to defeat the evil god Douma to end the game, which takes us to the short chapter 5.

Chapter 5 - A Reunion, and then... 

Alm heads to Douma Tower, where Celica is underground fighting. As you proceed, Celica's team will randomly take damage when you switch screens. Apparently this can cause people to die, and there are annoying things in the dungeon (like having to go in the correct holes to get to certain places).

The first step is to find the Falchion, and optionally the Gladius spear. There are various fights as you travel around, but none of them are too bad.

Once you have that, it's time to head to where Celica is fighting. The final fight has a bunch of strong enemies, plus Juda and Douma himself.

The first time I tried this I warped Alm up to Douma right from the start, but this didn't work. So the second time, I sacrificed most of the party on the left and bottom. My main fighting force was Alm, Celica, the 3 Falcon Knight sisters, and Maizen with the Gladius. Two priests with Reblow for distance healing were hiding at the bottom. With this force I was able to clear away the grunts and Juda, and eventually get down to just Douma.

First you have to hit Douma until he starts showing damage, which I did using the sisters' triangle attack (just like in FE1, surrounding an enemy gives you automatic critical hits). Then it was time to finish him off. If Alm is next to Celica on the battlefield he gets automatic criticals, so I set that up and it was easy to defeat Douma.

Douma tells Alm to use his strength and Mira's love to create a new world without them, and not to repeat their mistakes.

The ending scene gives a common RPG thing about the evil in human hearts being greater than gods, etc. Then like FE1 it shows you what each character did after the end. If a character died, it says where. Also some of the characters get alternate endings if their friends or lovers died -- for instance, if one of the three Falcon Knight sisters died. Alm and Celica get married and Alm becomes Alm the First. The end.

So I would rate this as an interesting experiment that is ultimately a failure, but I'll say more in my wrap-up post.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Game 8 - Fire Emblem Gaiden (Chapter 3)

I've finished the game so the last two posts + review should come out staggered throughout this week.

Chapter 3 - The War of Liberation

This and chapter 4 have Alm and Celica's parties on the map at the same time. You can choose which one to move, so you can completely finish one side and then the other, or switch back and forth. Periodically, new enemies will appear from the castles and chase you. I understand what they were trying to do here but it's more annoying than anything else -- if they move into your square you have to fight them but they get the first turn. If you do a battle and then they move into your square you have to fight that second fight without a chance to save, which would be annoying on a real console.

On Easy Mode you can freely transfer items between the two parties, but on regular play you have to find traveling salesmen to take the items between the parties.

I started with Alm. Warp is very important in this game so the smoothest way to play is to do Alm's route, kill Silque on the last map, and then resurrect her on Celcia's side. A Japanese walkthrough suggested doing the first map of Celica's side so you can get the Angel Ring (which doubles stat growths on level up) and then switch to Alm.

Alm is chasing after Rudolph, whereas Celica is heading to the Temple of Mira to see what's wrong there. Along the way, Alm learns that a damn needs to be opened from time to time to release water, and if this isn't done, eventually it will overflow and completely flood Sophia. But this requires both Alm and Celica to visit places on their side of the map, which is the main goal of chapter 3.

Alm begins by going through some grunt encounters and picking up a few new units, then arriving at the fortress of Dozei. Evidently I didn't get a screenshot of this part, but with warp it's not very hard to send some guys right to Dozei and the other difficult units and kill them quickly.

The next part is much harder, though.

Ten gargoyles are tough at this stage -- they are strong to begin with, and their high movement makes it difficult to protect your weak guys. This took me quite a few tries but eventually I was able to win and promote units. Yay! The Sacred Spear is also here, which does increased damage against monsters. Would have been nice against the Gargoyles.
This mohawk guy is a boss of the next map

Finally at the floodgate, there is a boss Tatara, who is controlling a girl to fight against you. This happens until you beat him, so what do we do?
After this map, the guardian of the dam tells us that in order to open it safely, we have to do something at the Mira Temple first. So time to switch to Celica's side. She begins with a fight in a graveyard.
The gravestones have a huge terrain bonus for some reason, which is good and bad. It's bad when a group of random bowknights moves in to the square after the main battle. They can sit on the stones and attack everyone. I had to actually use the "retreat" command here and have them follow me to a better place. The fight also turned into just one bow knight, which was easy enough to defeat.

A guy on the next map has a Dark Sword, which is like the Devil weapons from the first game -- not really worth using.

Now Celica reaches the Mira Temple but the guy refuses to open the dam control for anyone but someone of the Sophia royal family. Of course that's Celica but she has no way to prove it, so it's time to head to Geese's fortress. Along the way you get the choice of two routes, to get one of two characters. I went with Deen.

The fight against Geese would be hard except for Warp. Here's one of the Pegasus sisters (now a Falcon Knight, one of the best classes) sent up to deal with him.

Now after beating Geese, we rescue Est (the third P Knight from the first game) and find a woman who recognizes Celica as Princess Anteze. Apparently Celica's mother was a priest from the same temple as this woman, and was made Empress because of her beauty. But she died right after Celica was born. The woman has a circlet for Celica, as proof that she's of the royal line.

So now Celica can prove to the dam guardian that she's a Princess. Both dams are opened and water is returned to Sophia. Now both Alm and Celica continue on their own paths to Chapter 4.

People on the Fire Emblem discord mentioned that the game gets more annoying starting in Chapter 3, and I agree with that. There are too many annoying stages, and the random enemies that appear are frustrating as well. Chapter 4 is far worse, though, but I'll get to that in the next post.