Saturday, January 19, 2019

Game 12 - Vixen 357 (Stages 9-14)

Scene 9

On this stage we get a new member, Reiko Machida, as well as a ship that can carry another mech -- I didn't find this all that useful. On the whole, the missions are getting trickier simply because the grunts are so strong. I was able to beat this and the next scene without any deaths or game overs, but it's a little annoying having to go through the mission at a snail's pace, killing 1 or at most 2 grunts a turn.

Scene 10

Main thing on this stage is getting Kiel, one of the enemy units, who is a good pilot and comes with a good mech. 

Scene 11

This is another slow stage with pillboxes that shoot at your guys -- the dialogue indicates it will be tough but they don't do that much damage. It was another very slow stage as I took out one at a time, but after a while the boss sends the rest of the units at you, and then I just retreated and fought them out of the pillbox range.

Scene 12

The "fairy trick" is becoming more and more useful. This is done with Harry, Nina, and Chay. Basically you have one of them out in the Fairy, use the Marb Clamp to do damage, then return to the ship, and send one of the other pilots out to repeat it. This does a lot of damage to many units, but since the Fairy is weak it takes some time.

I notice that here and there the walkthrough author recommends levelling up by intentionally equipping weak weapons. I didn't do this, but I probably should have.

Scene 13

This is a difficult, long stage.

There's a wall of shield defended units, and then two bases at the back that spit out one unit a turn. Since the grunts are so strong I failed the first time actually trying to fight them all. The better strategy is an all out attack, moving forward as quickly as possible and destroying the bases as fast as you can.

Scene 14

This is where my playthrough ended. I notice that the youtube guy who was uploading videos of this game didn't finish this stage, and the walkthrough author said it was the hardest stage he had ever played in an SRPG. After an easy initial group, the boss comes in with reinforcements and gets your guys in a pincer attack. The grunts are even stronger than the ones in the past stages, and the boss is very strong and heals himself too. I failed a number of times and then tried following the exact strategy in the GameFAQs walkthrough and still couldn't do it.

This may be because my guys were underlevelled, and I might have been able to beat it if I used codes to increase the levels or started over and levelled more. But I'm only going to do that on games that are really fun, and this one is not (to me). Also there's a translation patch so anyone reading this can try the game for themselves. It has promise, but for me it was too slow and hard in a way that wasn't fun.

Next up is a Macross game, from the abandoned Macross II continuity.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Game 12 - Vixen 357 (Stages 1-8)

Vixen 357 (ヴィクセン357)
Release Date: 10/23/1992
System: Mega Drive
Developer: Masaya Games
Publisher: Nihon Computer

This is a mecha game by Masaya, the same company that did the Langrisser series. This is not much like Langrisser, though. It's the sequel to a 1990 PC Engine game called Hisou Kihei X-SERD (see a review and information here). I had rejected X-SERD as being an SRPG but that review mentions that the mechs can gain experience so it might actually qualify. In any case, this one definitely does

The opening sequence shows the various pilots with some animation and their names.

The instruction manual gives the backstory (also given before stage 1). In 2384, there was a war against an alien invasion, beaten back by the help of the new robot units called X-SERD. Earth took a lot of damage, and in order to deal with any future invasions, lots of time and money was poured into new weapons. But this also increased people's greed and ambition as well. In 2396, a new country called Merismahap developed VECTOR units, and created a battle squad composed only of these new units to test them (called Slash). The goal is to have the robots operate on their own, but for now pilots are necessary.

Murasawa Takuya, along with other pilots, is part of Slash and practicing at a test base. One day away from the base, they receive word that it's being attacked by an unknown squadron of Vectors. They return to the base to protect it, and that's where the game starts.

I'm conflicted on whether to say a lot about the story or not. Since Vixen 357 has a translation patch, you can experience the story for yourself -- on the other hand, some people might just be reading the entries without ever intending to play the game, and then could find story information useful.

Stage 1

The game starts out easy; you have three allies and then a bunch of NPCs attacking the enemies.

The "10" may remind you of Langrisser but it just represents the percentage of total HP the unit has left. The A and M show that the unit can still Attack or Move (or S for Special ability). I like that they displayed all that information in a clear, non-intrusive way.

Each unit has a melee and ranged attack. The dots next to the pilot show their ability in Hit and Evade for melee and shooting. Levelling the pilots up doesn't seem to do a whole lot; it adds a few points to their stats but takes quite a while to even gain one extra circle. Takuya is good at both melee and shooting, although the starting configuration for his mech has a much better melee weapon. Melee fights allow for counterattacks, ranged weapons do not.

Each battle has a short fighting sequence which can be turned off via options, but (as with Lady Phantom) they don't display any information about the result of the battle. If you are playing on an actual console it's probably worth doing in some of the later missions with lots of enemies, but on an emulator I found it better just to hold down the speedup button so I could better see what was happening.

The NPCs soak up enough hits that this first stage is fairly easy; the game does have permadeath so you have to be careful, but you can save at any time.

Stage 2

In Stage 2 we get the ship, Dread. Now units can return to the ship to heal, and also to switch mechs, or to switch weapons on a mech (although you have to wait until the next turn to leave again). Having this flexibility is nice, particularly with some of the more specialized units (like the one that's good in water).

Standing on the castle areas gives you +50% terrain bonus which is nice.

Stage 3

Lots of water on this stage, which is bad (-20% terrain).

The Dread has the special ability to heal itself, but it can only be used 5 times. Other pilots can use their special abilities as long as they have MP and then refill their MP in the ship, but once the Dread runs out of healing it's out until the next stage. There is no way to heal other than the ship or these special abilities, so you have to be careful about how much you let the ship get damaged.

Stage 4

Another big water stage, but this time at least the game gives you one mech that's good in water. There are also a lot of NPC units that help. This game is probably the most generous SRPG I've played in terms of NPCs that are actually somewhat effective.

The game still is not very difficult.

Stage 5

This stage has a lot of enemies, but I didn't find it that difficult -- the ship barely took any damage, and the counter attacks devastated the enemies. As the game progresses, more heroes and mechs join, and new weapon choices become available.

Stage 6

There's a trick to this stage because one of the new "allies" turns traitor along with some of his units. If you went forward too quickly you get pincered and can take a lot of hits, but as long as everyone is on the right of you the new units don't present that much of a concern.

This stage also introduces two annoying special abilities that will be around for the remainder of the game: Vacuum Wall, which gives every unit in range a shield that blocks several attacks. The second (which may actually show up next time) is Marb Clamp, which damages all units in range (and gets through the Vacuum Wall shield).

Stage 7

Here we get our own special mechs -- two girls piloting the Fairy and Panacea, which have the special abilities I described in the last stage. They are NPCs under attack, but they actually head for your ship and dock to heal, which is nice given the common AI in these SRPGs.
The team

Stage 8

I found this stage fairly difficult. Several enemies have the special abilities -- fortunately they can't recover their MP so it is a viable strategy to just send one or two units in to waste their abilities. There is apparently a 100 turn limit on every stage but that's hard to reach even if you take your time.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Game 11 - Shining Force Gaiden

(This post will not be quite as detailed as some of the others; I played the game over vacation and wasn't as careful about taking notes as usual.)

A mere six months after the release of Shining Force, Sega put out another Shining Force game, this one for their handheld the Game Gear. The Game Gear was one of several systems that tried to challenge the Game Boy, but really couldn't. I never had one, but I remember a few friends who did -- although it had the advantage of being in color, it ate up batteries much faster than the GB (and used more of them), and didn't have as good a game library. There are only 4 SRPGs for it on my list.

The graphics are serviceable, and not bad for the era it came out.

The interface is basically the same as Shining Force, but has some improvements -- for instance, you can actually see your character stats during battle.

However, I didn't play the game on the Game Gear. In 1994, Sega remade both Gaiden and Gaiden II as Shining Force CD, and added a short third scenario as well as a bonus "Museum" battle where you fight all the old bosses. So I'll be playing Gaiden 1 and 2 on the remake.

The Sega CD, like the PC Engine CD, was attempting to compete with Nintendo's products by offering the CD technology to improve the games. However, it had a persistent problem that the underlying hardware was not as good as the Super Famicom. So you had much better music and voiced dialogue, but worse graphics, and a generally poorer library (although PC Engine was much better in that regard). I don't know how much SFCD upgraded the gameplay and interface from Gaiden, but it seems fairly similar.

The game opens with a sequence narrated by Mitsuishi Kotono (Sailor Moon and others). The only voiced dialogue in the game are these opening and ending sequences. Like the PCE, the images are static pictures or pictures with minor animation.
For some reason they have English subtitles
The game takes place 20 years after the original Shining Force. Anri, who is now Queen, is put to sleep by a trick of the ruler Woldol of the kingdom of Surplice. The heroes, who are almost all children or disciples/friends of the heroes from Shining Force 1, have to go find a way to restore Anri and defeat Woldol.

The gameplay is almost identical to Shining Force. I only noticed two changes. The big one is that the game has no town exploration; instead, between battles, Larg (from the original SF) offers services that the towns offered before. The second is that the level ups seem more consistent than the original, and the promotion problem I talked about in the SF1 review is gone.

Your party is smaller than SF, but the characters are basically the same. 

The game is also a lot easier than SF, which was already not that hard, which is partly why I don't have that much to write about it. Since CD did come out in English, you can play to see the story for yourself -- it's basically a retread of SF1. I'm going to hold off a complete review until I finish the entire SFCD.

Sorry for the short post but I don't want to get hung up on this game -- I'm already more than halfway through Vixen 357 and I have more to say about that game.