Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Game #38: Shining in the Darkness (Genesis) - The Four Trials of the Ancients

No title screen when loading... how strange
Game 38

Title: Shining in the Darkness
Released: Auguest 1991 (March 1991 JPN)
Platform: Genesis
Developer: Climax Entertainment and Camelot Software Planning
Publisher: Sega
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-person
Combat - Turn based
Series - Shining

This is the closest the game gets to a title screen
Compared to most RPGs that is an impressive localization time. I think most people are familiar with the Shining series, but many are probably more so with the Shining Force games. This however was the first, and Camelot was not the lead developer even though they would take over full-time development of the series after the first Shining Force. Climax is the company responsible for the loosely related Stalker series of games--LandStalker, Lady Stalker, and Time Stalkers--of which I'll review only two since Lady Stalker wasn't released in the US. This all makes sense now since I've heard Pyra, one of the characters here, makes a cameo appearance in Time Stalkers.
Of course I am, and don't forget modest, extremely modest
The kingdom of Thornwood is facing a crisis. The king has misplaced his daughter, last seen with the hero's father, and desires to find her. Seeking the princess, the hero hopes to find the whereabouts of his father as well. The king fears some dark deed has whisked them away. I received 200 gold and instructions to equip myself for the task.
I wasn't quite sure what to buy. Zenic, what I named the hero, had a basic weapon and armor, but lacked a shield and helmet. Helmets were quite expensive, so I settled for a gauntlet, an antidote (called depoison), some healing herbs, and an Angel Feather that returns the party to town. At the tavern the local riffraff were discussing the disappearance of the princess and Mortred, Zenic's father. When I returned to the castle, the local labyrinth was pointed out as potential launching off point for the investigation, and confirmed with the sudden appearance of the antagonist.
Oh good, she's safe with Dark Sol (aka Mephisto in the Japanese version)
Dark Sol, not to be confused with DarkSol from Shining Force, requested the kingdom in exchange for the safe return of princess Jessa. The king instead decided to depend on Zenic to rescue the princess from Dark Sol's clutches. With that, the game opens up most of what it has to offer.
The first of many battles: like other RPGs this one begins with slimes
The problem with describing the play-by-play is eventually I get to dungeon crawlers where the story slows to a crawl. Most of the game centers on combat. Combat that occurs erratically. Available commands are limited to attack, magic, items, and running. Actually, only the first character, Zenic, the hero, has the ability to run; both other characters, which come later, are able to use their turns to defend. So far this resembles how Dragon Warrior II's battle system worked, with about as many options. Since the hero doesn't have magic attack and item use are the only choices. Glad I picked up those herbs.
I tend to enjoy making my own maps for these type of games. Actually, I've noticed that it's rather the most enjoyable part of the game. Combat is so simplistic and the story so sparse that the minute to minute game I'm happiest about is marking my progress down by hand. In the end, once the game is done, if I weren't writing these blog posts, I'd have the maps as a tangible reminder of my days playing this game. Back in town the tavern owner spoke of friends looking for me, but they were nowhere to be found. A brother and sister were split apart when Dai was summoned to the castle to assist in the search of the princess. The tavern doubles as the standard inn to replenish HP, and eventually MP, for the party (currently of one).
I listened to this bard's song once, and never saw him again; hopefully he went to practice
I continued, as is the case in these games, to fight many battles, gain a few levels, and refresh myself back in town. I bought myself a sword called Sword and a helmet. Eventually I delved deep enough to find a steel door, a solemn statue, and fight a Kaiser Krab. The latter of which had a Royal Tiara in its possession. Back at the castle I presented my finding to the king, confirmation that the princess was inside the labyrinth. If she was in the Labyrinth Proper though, she was currently beyond my reach. First I had to form a party, after which I would learn from Melvyl and Theos, the king's advisers, that I needed to pass the four trials of the ancients to be accepted into the Labyrinth Proper.
I probably could have gotten more at the store for it you know...
Back at the tavern I met up with Pyra, a magician from a fine line of magic-users (her own words). After picking her up I ran into Gila, a mercenary hired to search for the princess. It's rare for a game to have a cast of NPCs on the same quest, even if I know they won't make any progress. Milo was waiting for me at the shrine, which acts as the sole save point and place to restore ailments, remove curses, and revive characters. Milo takes on the role of the main party healer and defensive caster, while Pyra specializes in aggressive magic. Both are fairly capable melee fighters though, and magic is often better used for healing (like most games).
Party assembled for the first time
At the castle once more, this time with my friends to back me up, I was told I needed to face the four trials: Strength, Wisdom, Courage, and Truth. I received the Dwarf Key, and was told the first trial began beyond the door it opened. Apparently there was no record of any knight that actually succeeded in passing this test. Best to send their youngest knight, and his two childhood friends.
1 / 24 inventory slots permanently used
Instead of doing the sensible thing and grinding up a few levels for Pyra and Milo I took them on a small tour of the corridor behind the Krab boss, and then delved right into the trials. The Krab boss was now a random encounter that could appear around any corner. The game has a few of these types of monsters. They are random encounters, but with set limitations such as corners, pools of water, or holes in the ceiling. In addition to random encounters, there are treasures scattered throughout the dungeon, and some are even home to monsters. Enemies encountered outside normal random battles are a bit more difficult to handle, especially during this first trial. Pyra wiped out a number of times until I raised her level to about 10.
I have a better question, how did you get past the door without the dwarf's key?
Gila, pictured above, tipped me off that the Orb of Truth was located in the Cave of Courage. Well, strangely enough, I was in the middle of the Cave of Strength when I found him, and with no idea that I even needed the orb. The Trial of Strength ended with a red wall bleeding into an angelic mural of steel. It announced that I had completed the trial, and opened up the pathway to the Cave of Courage. Passing the Trial of Courage was the same as the previous trial. Explore a 30 x 30 square map enough to find the red wall that marked the end. There wasn't any sort of boss other than the slightly more difficult enemies that appeared randomly.
It introduced these MP sapping tiles as well
Even though I'd passed two trials I couldn't proceed to the next without that orb. So, I explored the sections I had failed to map before reaching the end marker, and found another boss-like encounter. By that time Pyra had learned the Boost spell, which doubled a character's attack power. That combined with Zenic's high attack made short work of the boss. In fact most bosses seemed to fall within 3 rounds of action. Turn order is based on a speed attribute, but between my characters it's set with Pyra, Milo, then Zenic acting. This makes buffing before an attack simple. I recovered the orb, and moved on to the next trial. The orb is used to reveal hidden demons inside certain walls.
Who knew you could put a wall to sleep
In the Cave of Truth the game introduced spinners. Those anti-navigational devices aren't too bad in this game as they always spin to the same direction, facing 90 degrees counter-clockwise (true when entering backwards as well). Monsters were getting progressively more difficult. One type of enemy would strike as a group for more damage than an individual, and ghosts would appear from treasure chests to cast Desoul, which had a chance to kill a party member outright. With no revive capability at the time that meant a trip back to the shrine in town. Characters don't gain experience while dead. Another section had walls that would appear from the ceiling if I dared an attempt to enter their square.
The rare falling ceiling caught in mid-descent
The Trial of Truth ended once again with a red wall that announced I passed; however, I had bypassed an imprisoned Jessa that requested I release her with a False Idol found somewhere in the labyrinth. I actually had the item, but suspected a trap. It was a trap, but a necessary one. The prisoner turned into something called a Doppler, and a Rune Key was my reward for defeating the beast. That key unlocked the final trial, Wisdom. The Cave of Wisdom was littered with hidden pits. Two maps contained in chests showed where most of them were, so I avoided most of the time wasting backtracking. Yet, I still had the urge to complete my auto-map as much as possible. I also found Dai hiding behind a series of one-way blue doors.
It took longer than I care to admit to figure out that all I needed to do in order to open these was to push on them
Rescuing Dai, while nice, didn't reveal anything crucial, but I now have the gratitude of Dyan and Edward back at the tavern. Once again the end of the trial came rather unexpectedly and without any build-up. With the Trial of Wisdom complete I returned to the castle to announce my success in passing all four. Now I could enter the Labyrinth Proper and start the actual task of rescuing the princess. With five above ground levels I'm probably only half way through the game at this point. The last message before wishing me luck was that I needed to find the Arms of Light to vanquish the darkness. Back at the tavern I ran into my companion's parents. Apparently, they were kept in the dark about the whole rescue the princess operation.
I wonder what would have happened if I told them Pyra and Milo weren't integral to the party
Making it this far into the game unlocks the trader, a small tent between the weapon shop and the tavern. Inside was a new assortment of armor, helms, shields, and weapons. I was beginning to think the game forgot I had all this money piling up and nothing to spend it on. I had already purchased the best of what the other stores had to offer. I found some dark blocks and mithril ore during my adventure; its use was finally revealed here as I could now craft equipment. Creating items requires me to choose the material, the person, and then the type of equipment without any way of knowing what it will produce, or how it compares to my current inventory. Shooting in the dark seems to be how this game rolls.
Oh, and payment in advance, no refunds
I tested the waters a bit by purchasing a helm for Zenic, a shield for Milo, and--using the dark block-- some armor for Pyra. The helm worked best on Milo, the shield on Pyra, and the armor was cursed. I thought, how bad could the curse be since the the defensive improvement was huge. Turned out it makes Pyra heal the enemy after a random number of turns after the first round of battle. Forget those dark blocks. Knowing that I'm only half way through the game is a little off-putting. Combat hasn't been terribly difficult, although I tend to run out of resources multiple times in each cave. Getting into the Labyrinth Proper is easy enough as there's a red wall on the first floor that's been waiting for me since the beginning of the game, so I haven't been lost yet, and am actually nearing the end of the game in real-time. Wish me luck.

Elapsed Time: 13h39m (Total Time: 13h39m)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Game #37: Drakkhen (SNES) - Hidden Spells of Stonehenge Forever Lost (Finished)

Game 37

Title: Drakkhen
Released: August 1991 (May 1991 JPN)
Platform: SNES
Developer: Infogrames
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-Person / Third-person
Combat - Active
Series - Drakkhen

I can't wait!
When I think of RPGs on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) my mind doesn't immediately go to Drakkhen, but maybe it should. As the first RPG available during its launch month, I'm sure many people bought it expecting an experience similar to Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, or Phantasy Star. Drakkhen is unlike any of those; in fact I can't recall a game similar to it other than its sequel. Exploration outside uses a first-person perspective, but it transitions to third-person when entering combat or dungeons. Combat is in real-time, but unlike most games the player doesn't have full control. Party members act on their own volition based on a designated strategy. Only a single character can be controlled.
It's only possible to re-roll stats three times per character, the third roll you're stuck with or restart all character creation
I've already beaten the game once before, so going through it again wasn't too difficult. The party is comprised of a warrior, scout, magician, and a priest. Each character can either be male or female, although aside from changing warrior to amazon and priest to priestess I didn't notice any difference. I was lucky to get some relatively good stats for each character, some even on the third roll. Once the characters are assembled the story begins. A story that seems so butchered as it made the transition from the Amiga to DOS, from English to Japanese, and then back to the English in the US.
Humans wiped out dragons. An island was made for the Drakkhen; half human, half dragon beings. The drakkhens plan to destroy humans unless four chosen warriors can succeed in figuring out this game. Gone is the part about magic failing in the greater world, and seeking a way to restore it. Before getting dropped in completely, the game suggested to visit the castle Hordkhen off in the distance. Seems simple enough.
Can it be for this one?
Story aside, the controls for the game are very well detailed in the in-game tutorial. That's right, this may be the very first time game controls are explained in the game. The icons read from left to right, top to bottom are: character info (stats, equipment, spells), speak or listen, tutorial, take, combat options, push or use, look, exit castle, and save game. There are two save slots, but they're exclusive, meaning you can't make a back-up. Even rather obscure controls, like pressing L and R to run from combat, are explained in detail.
The in-game map does it's job, but could stand to have some more detail, like the merchant outpost hidden nearby
So let's get to business. Hordkhen's castle was easy to get to, right in front of the party from the start after all. Moving about the 3-D world is a bit odd at times, and the map doesn't help a whole lot when I'm supposedly standing right on top of the building yet it's nowhere to be seen. The first room provided the first challenge. All the doorways have energy fields blocking the path. This theme  repeats in all castles, even the friendly ones. To advance I had to touch the correct symbol, as requested by the disembodied voice when I looked around. Since I knew this was the Earth Prince's castle, a fact described when I first entered, I just needed to figure out which symbol stood for earth. There's only four, so how hard could it be?
Turns out it's incredibly easy
The earth symbol (hidden by my scout) looks just like water, except inverted. I noted these for later even though looking at the symbols in any castle will tell you their order. Exploring the castle I learned of a group called the Ninth Tear Allies, and how I needed to inform Hordkha that Hordkhen is going to betray them. Hordkhen himself gave no indication of any betrayal, and instead sent me on a mission to speak with Hordkha to the east. It's a bit strange after the introduction that any Drakkhen would be friendly to humans. From some battles in the castle I found two bows, and gave them to my spellcasters. Bows in this game are very overpowered, and by the time I left to seek out Hordkha I had gained a couple levels.
I think you mean Hordkha, I just came from Hordkhen's castle and it's fine... don't worry, I get them confused too
Going straight east isn't an option, and the first real obstacle in the game doesn't present an easy solution. There were a few choices. One, do what I did as a kid and walk backwards through the barrier. The game isn't smart enough to push you west, and instead just pushes you backwards. Two, normally you can't cross the border to the north or south because an old man will pop up and say you're not strong enough; however, there's a small section to the north where the rainbow road stops before reaching the water territory border. Third, and one I didn't know until recently, there's a teleporter that will send the party from the west side of the island to the east.
Huh, this is a strange formation, I wonder what happens when I woo...ahh....
It's quite a trip. On the other side of the island was Princess Hordkha's castle. Her attendants greeted me from her ruined castle to inform me that Prince Hordkhen's troops attacked. Well that's strange, I was just sent by the prince to... wait, seems the story is changing and it was in fact Prince Haaggkhen's troops that have captured Princess Hordkha. Back to Hordkhen to inform him of this confusing news. Of course, that is if I can get past the new killer shark installed in the moat.
The trick is to cross only after the fin appears on the right side of the bridge... it's funny that the game already knows my scout is dead before the shark has actually touched him
Prince Hordkhen is a bit miffed about the whole kidnapping news, and directed me north to the swamp castle of Prince Haaggkhen. Before heading over I explored a bit and found the previously mentioned wandering merchant outpost. Not much help at this point, but I bought a couple healing phials. In the swamp I stopped by the house on the map and found the water prince's old adviser, relieved of his post on the whimsy of the prince. He confided that the only way to enter the castle was the unlock magic. I already had the spell, so I set out for the castle. The rooms inside each castle so far have had a very empty feeling. Not only the castles, the whole wilderness is devoid of unique features. Some rooms have equipment hanging on the walls for any would be adventurers to grab, and others might have a red dot or two that indicate something small to look at or take. Some are letters or books, and others are things like keys or phials.
Except for this one, I couldn't find where that red dot in the center actually indicated
Prince Haaggkhen was nowhere to be found; however, I did manage to find my way into his dungeon. A fearsome water elemental dared to bar my way, but with some strategic maneuvering I lured him away from the door and skirted around. Inside was a prisoner who, once freed, told me princess Hordkha was transferred to Princess Naakhtkha's castle. Before heading there I was told to visit Prince Naakhtkhen in the northeast to get directions. Well, I didn't really need directions, but the entryway was guarded until I visited the air prince.
The story is so convoluted that it can't even keep itself straight
Seriously, I'm not sure if the game is purposefully misleading, or if it just keeps getting the names mixed up
So, the story so far is that the fire prince has an alliance with the prince of water and princess of air. The earth prince seems to want to join the fire alliance, but he has yet to be accepted. That alliance has kidnapped the earth princess, and destroyed the air prince's castle. The air prince is willing to assist me in gaining access to the air princess' castle where the earth princess is being held. The air princess plans to kill the earth princess for her gem.
The Anak is the only place to revive a fallen character (unless there's a high level priest spell as well, but I didn't level very high)
The air princess, like the water prince, was strangely absent from her castle. I found a note that suggested a high priest was to carry out a sacrifice, and then send the gem to the princess. Afterwards, there was a plan to do the same to the air prince and send his gem on the Hazhulkhen, the Fire Prince. In the dungeon, I found Hordkha, still alive. She told me of her involvement with the 9th Tear Alliance, and connected the tears to the gems that each Drakkhen lord holds. She then gave me her gem, and she instructed me to seek out Haaggkha, the Water Princess. Before parting she mentioned that I should seek the priest in the middle of the swamp if I ran into trouble. In the end, it was merely another Anak.
It's not like they have bloody signs on them
The water princess instructed me to destroy Hordkhen before he had the chance to join the fire alliance. With the way he reacted to his sister's kidnapping you'd think that'd convince him to stay with the 9th Tear. She passed on a Dragon Slayer sword, and told me to come back with the prince's gem. Hordkhen was less than thrilled to see me again and suddenly attacked.
This is when the game kicks things into high gear
Even with fully decked out armor, the drakkhen lords do so much damage in a single hit that it's impossible to avoid dying. This is probably the main reason every review I've looked at suggests the need to grind. All it really takes is some luck. When I returned with Hordkhen's gem, the water princess rewarded me with her gem. My next task was to follow up with Hazhulkha, the fire princess, another member of the 9th Tear who hasn't been heard from for some time.  When I arrived at the castle to the southwest the door was shut tight. A nearby tent informed me that the doors would only open at dawn.
Uh... all?
Hazhulkha's castle was a mess. Corpses lined every room. Hazhulkha herself was slain, pierced through the heart while she sat on her throne. Her gem was gone. Luckily the thieves had not gone far. In the next room was an easy battle for her gem, held by one of the fire alliance troops. Naakhtkhen entered the room as I recovered the gem, and declared that he would avenge Hazhulkha. By that, he meant order me to avenge her by killing his sister Naakhtkha.
These prices sure escalated quickly
Naakhtkha quickly took out my fighters, but her ranged attacks seemed ineffective. I switched from bows to fireballs for the first time, and eventually whittled her down. I had to use a couple quaffs from the MP phials. As her body fell, her brother showed up, again late for the party. He passed his gem to my party, and the final task of retrieving the water and fire prince's. The water prince was by far the most difficult with a ranged attack that took out everyone except the priest. I ran through 8 uses of the MP phial before I finally gave up on that first attempt. On the next one, I defeated him within a couple of rounds. The battle system in this game makes little sense, and just seems like a random mess.
None shall pass!
The fire prince's castle was guarded, and I didn't have a clue about how to enter. However, while I circled the outside of the castle, I remembered that I needed to enter it from the south. I don't recall where I received that clue from, but there was mention of some kind of secret passage on the south side when I last played. Once inside, I made quick work of exploring the place. The path divided into two. The left way led to a set of dragon armor and sword. On the way I met a drakkhen in the service of Haaggkha who had gained the confidence of fire troops, and he was now working as a double agent. All this intrigue is interesting, but it never led anywhere.
That sounds very unimportant, write that down
The game feels incomplete with all the empty clues, as if they rushed it out the door to meet launch time without fleshing out the game. In another room an old man suggested I needed to pray to some primordial gods, but I found no way to do so, and in the next breath he chastised me. In four of the castles I found tombs with strange inscriptions. The priest at the air zone's Anak mentioned these tombs held the key to eight spells that should be cast at the Stonehenge. The messages are rather cryptic, and I'm not sure how they could correspond to spells:

Earth Castle - "the almighty..." "...the gods."
Water Castle - "of life and death..." "...the source."
Air Castle - "from your humble.." "...servants."
Fire Castle - "remorse..." "...must be accepted."
There's also a couple mentions of "the jade" that baffles me
At the end of the right path from the beginning of the fire castle is the lord of that castle, Hazhulkhen. As the final boss of the game I'd expected a big fight, but someone forgot to give him a ranged attack, and he only sat there. Once defeated one of the priests appeared, and told me to take the gems to island's center. So, I took them to the rainbow road in anticipation of creating the ninth tear. Four giant dragons descended from the sky, used their magical eye-beam lasers, and ended the game. They went on for a bit about how I accomplished a great deed, and how justice was restored. I have no idea how killing the drakkhen and stealing their gems was justified. Maybe everything will be explained in the sequel!

Elapsed Time: 5h40m (Final Time: 5h40m)

Figuring out why this game was made...
Combatant - Combat is a chaotic mess. One character is controlled, while the others are automated. All mechanics are hidden, so it's difficult to tell when someone is hitting, when they've missed, or why they took so much damage. The bow and arrow is completely unbalanced. With experience gained from each successful attack, it can be difficult to get melee characters leveled up. The spellcasters don't get damaging spells until level 3, so they basically require a ranged weapon or will never level up. Luckily everyone starts with a strength spell that seems to increase damage and accuracy. There are some spell options, enemies are strangely interesting yet mostly deadly, and everything is based on stats even if I don't understand the interaction. Rewards for combat are okay, but rarely match the risk involved.
Rating: 3
Alright, who let their kid draw an enemy?
Admirer - I liked the paper doll aspect, although there weren't a lot of choices for equipment. Characters, and even party make up, are set in stone. You'll always have one of each class, and they always level the same way. Experience gained is hidden, so it's hard to tell how much grinding really helps. Controls outside have some slowdown, but transitions are smooth. During combat and indoors the characters move slowly, but the option to quickly switch between characters and even explore solo is welcomed.
Rating: 4
My ending stats; there's really no reason to grind
Puzzler - This game could have been filled to the brim with puzzles, and in other versions may have been. There are riddles, and expositions that suggest there's more to the game than I found. What is the jade? Where is Stonehenge? What are the spells indicated on the tombs? I never got lost for what to do in the main quest, except for finding the clue that would allow me into the fire prince's castle. It might be the water princesses, or possibly a house I missed. There are no side quests, or they're so obscure I didn't find them. The use of the symbols throughout the game was interesting, but their significance wasn't explored.
Rating: 3
The only true riddle in the game can just be brute forced with 16 combinations
Instigator - Wow, the story. An incoherent mess if I ever saw one. It's possible to piece it together, but there are so many loose ends and inconsistencies that make it difficult. In the end it doesn't get in the way of completing the game, but there are times when names get mixed up in such a way that I wasn't sure the game knew what kind of story it was telling. There's no influence I could instill, and any time I started to get into it I was jarred out by confusing names or premise.
Rating: 1
Oh really?
No, not really
Collector - There sure are a lot of items in the game. Rings a plenty, and staffs that enhance the characters. Weapons and armor share a different inventory from those general items, which also includes keys, torches, and restorative phials. Both are limited however, and with the need to keep additional armor since each piece has a hidden durability, they fill up quickly. There's no way to tell if one equipment is better than another except by equipping it and seeing what changes. Even then I couldn't tell what the life or magic staff did at first glance. The currency is called jade, and it's hard to come by in quantities enough to purchase all the available equipment.
Rating: 3
I hoped "see" would mean identify, but it only meant see the inventory of a character
Explorer - I think the best part of the game is its soundtrack. The music uses soothing tunes throughout the game. The graphics are detailed inside, but outside it's barren. It would have been nice to find Stonehenge and possibly other unique features, but there's very little reward for doing so and so much open area to explore. The open world isn't so open right away. Each elemental land only opens up as the story progresses. At least the game is short.
Rating: 4
I do wonder if this sight is actually in the game... looks like the desert land in one of the corners

Final Rating: 18 [30%]

Overall the game feels unfinished, but playable barely. Maybe with another year of polish this could have been a great title, like Dragon View (Drakkhen II). Unfortunately with the flop of this game confidence in the second wasn't very high, so it didn't do as well as it should have. Another game finished, and now we move on to Shining in the Darkness. I've only played it a bit (I remember a crab boss), so it should be fun to complete.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Game #36: Fatal Labyrinth (Genesis) - Is It Still a Rogue-like If I Only Play Once? (Finished)

Game 36

Title: Fatal Labyrinth
Released: August 1991 (November 1990 JPN)
Platform: Genesis
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: RPG (Dungeon Crawler)
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (Although Dragon Crystal is a close cousin)

Well this was unexpected. I had fun with it, but I'm a bit glad I didn't have to repeat the entire game more than once. Fatal Labyrinth was first released on Sega's Meganet, a networked dial-up service that allowed people to play games by connecting their Mega Drive to a telephone line. The game inspired a similar title on the Sega Master System, Dragon Crystal, later ported to the Game Gear (which we'll get to soon). I assume positive feedback for the game prompted the release of Fatal Labyrinth on the Genesis. With that, we have our first rogue-like, or what I assume is one as I haven't played it through more than once.
The game begins almost immediately after the title screen, but instead of diving right into the castle the player needs to speak with everyone in town to gather some information. I walked away knowing that I should be careful when using items, and weapons have a trade off between hit rate and damage depending on the type. A dragon living in the nearby castle of Dragonia had his ghouls steal the Holy Goblet. In doing so, the land was plunged into darkness, and the call for a hero to step forward to defeat dragon was answered by a nameless warrior. Armed with only a knife, he entered the mysterious castle.
This is where the game really starts
For those that aren't familiar with rogue-likes, Rogue was a simple dungeon crawler game that randomized items, equipment, and floor layouts every game. The real charm of this genre is the sheer depth of actions available any given turn. For every action the player takes the enemies take one as well. While that's true in this game, the number actions are more limited. The player can move into or attack an adjacent square, search, or use an item from the menu. Equipping items is a free action; however, you can also throw equipment at enemies for extra ranged damage at the expense of the equipment. In this first room I didn't have much faith in my knife, so I maneuvered myself to the axe and used that. Axes are the least accurate, but at this level have three times the damage.
I'll take your car sir
The display shows the current floor, food level, and gold in addition to the player's rank, HP, and combat stats. It didn't dawn on me until the end of the game that the L01 in the above picture was the current floor level, and not the player's level. The first few floors went by quickly with my trusty axe. I felt confident enough to equip every ring, taste every potion, and read every scroll. I was very lucky not to suffer from any ill effects during this experimental phase. I decided to try out all my items because I thought I was stuck. Items come in the form of staffs, rings, potions, scrolls. Each one begins with only a color description; the only way to discover their true nature is to use the staff, equip the ring, quaff the potion, or read the scroll. Equipment on the other hand have set names, and their abilities are probably not random.
Not stuck, just needed to search every wall
Running through all the items, I identified a lot of anti-magic staffs, the healing potion, a permanent power-up potion, and rings of healing, armor, and fire. I wasn't sure what the fire ring did while equipped, but when I hurled it at an enemy it caused fire damage. The only scroll I had was monster confusion. For those looking for hints on beating this game, my biggest suggestion is to test items after clearing out all monsters and with some food nearby to pick up. Running out of food causes HP to slowly drain, and removes the natural healing that happens every 8 steps or so. The healing ring halves that number, so I had to keep switching between armor and healing rings. Even more annoying are bows, which require selecting use from the menu each time to attack.
This is the main reason I didn't use a bow more than once
I'm pretty sure this could have been simplified by combining the look button 'C' that allows me to face the character in a direction without moving them, and the search button. Bows aren't all that useful in the first place though as most enemies have some kind of range attack, they're prone to missing, and the damage is low. I flipped between my starting hand axe, to a silver sword, and then to a trident. The ability to actually hit the enemies more often outweighed the extra damage of the axe.
Level 10 was a large open room that would have killed me without a confusion scroll
Floor 10 was when the game got serious. At the time I didn't know there were only 30 levels to the castle, but I noticed the tile change. Without a confusion scroll to use on level 10, I'm fairly certain all the enemies would have line of sight and head straight for me. Confusion makes their movement random, except if they have an attack that can reach me. When moving while in range of a monster's attack, they get to take an attack of opportunity. On the very next level I ran into a ghost that outclassed other monsters. I think my armor was lagging a bit behind because I had to burn through 2 healing potions just to survive. Floor 12 provided a good number of armor upgrades along with a Shinobi Sword, which just about doubled by weapon power.
Trying to grind didn't work out very well
The blue jelly enemies split randomly, but I'm not sure how experience points and rank work as I killed over 40 of them without gaining any more levels. There may be a cap for each floor. The red tile illustrates a trap. There are only two types of traps: the alarm alerts all enemies to the trapped room, and a pit trap that drops down to the previous floor. I'm thankful the layouts don't change between visits as an endless series of random pits would be a nightmare. A hidden timer ticks in the background, and will respawn the enemies once reached. The respawned enemies will auto-target, and they are also much stronger. Not a big deal in the early stages, but quite deadly on later levels.
Dancing randomizes movement, another enemy confusion scroll saved me here
At level 20 the floor tiles changed once again, this time to yellow and grey. The levels breezed by until I ran into a couple cursed items. I wasn't cautious enough with them. Even though I had potions and scrolls to remove curses, they didn't restore my food, which dropped to zero due to the curse. At one point I had to rush through a level hoping to find food. Once I found the food I was surrounded by enemies. Luckily I had a teleport scroll and ended up in a defensible location.
While still low on food I rushed through the last two levels. Once again I lucked out that I had exactly two confuse scrolls left, so I didn't have to worry too much about the monsters. I found a Masamune, which I used through the end of the game. On level 30, I found what I assumed was the dragon, and blew through all my magic rings. It wasn't the right dragon, and found I could instead walk right up to the holy goblet. I claimed it for my own.
I missed picking up that sword as it disappeared with all the enemies when I grabbed the goblet
Blinding light emitted from the goblet destroyed the enemies and illuminated stairs to the roof. On top of the castle, the dragon lord was waiting for me. The goblet had fully healed me, and brought my food to 50. With that it's hard to imagine losing. The dragon is easily dodged, and it's possible to regain all HP. He casts teleport and dance randomly, and it can't be suppressed with an anti-magic staff, but it relies on line of sight. The dragon dropped armor that allowed me to fly back to the town.
I can fly, I can fly, I can fly~~
With that, the game is over. It would definitely have grown old after a while, and I know I would have run into bad luck on subsequent attempts. As a rogue-like(lite?) it's fairly easy and forgiving to allow as many strategic mistakes as I made during my run. Also, there's no save system, so I needed to beat it all in a single session. There are apparently continues at every 5th level had I died, but I'm not sure what it saves. On to the rating!

Elapsed Time: 3h52m (Final Time: 3h52m)

Next adventure?
Combatant - Combat is challenging all the way through, although the final boss is a bit of a pushover. The options throughout the game kept things interesting, and the enemies are varied well throughout. Battle prowess centered around the armor and power stats of the character. Rewards for battle are limited to experience towards the next rank, but since it's hidden it's hard to say how things are balanced; I never felt overpowered.
Rating: 6
I really don't
Admirer - Rank is advanced by defeating enemies, but there aren't any options for how to build up the character. He never gains any abilities, and magic is limited to one-time use items. One nice thing is that the character's appearance changes based on equipment, but the number of graphics to represent each piece is limited to the type of equipment. Controls are smooth considering the game runs on a series of turns of movement.
Rating: 3

Puzzler - There aren't any puzzles, although I suppose the random items offer some strategy to minimize negative effects. The main quest is laid out in the beginning, and nothing really changes. I gave an extra point here for the multiple ways items can interact throughout each game.
Rating: 2
Sounds cursed... let's equip it anyway!
Instigator - The story is just a framework for the dungeon crawl. Nothing happens between the intro and ending scenes. There isn't much to be immersed in, and there's no influence on the story throughout the game. Still, the additional descriptions for items help quite a bit, so I gave an extra point here for that.
Rating: 2
That's quite a mouthful
Collector - There's a large number of items in the game. So many in fact that I still had some ???? items in my inventory at the end. However, inventory is limited to 8 of each type. There were many instances where I had to skip over additional rings and potions. It's only possible to place items on the ground, but all those are lost after ascending to the next floor. There's no stairs down. The strength of each item is revealed once equipped or once an identify scroll is used. There's gold too, but I have no idea if it's actually used for anything (maybe for buying continues).
Rating: 4
So many potions that I just started using them to make room
Explorer - What exactly is there to see in dungeon after dungeon. At least the tile-set changed every 10 levels. The music was pretty good, but nothing amazing. Graphics were decent too. There's nothing to really discover though, no points of interest, and the atmosphere is bland. The only other positive aspect is that there's nothing really preventing a player from ascending to the top and killing the dragon except for having the proper equipment and levels.
Rating: 2

Final Rating: 19 [32%]
Let's fly home
Up next is Drakkhen. I've beaten the game before, so it's infamy doesn't phase me. I expect it to be rather short, and then it's on to a Shining in the Darkness. That's a game I played while very young when someone brought over a Genesis, and didn't have a chance to play again until I joined a game service called GameTap. I was on the beta team for quite a while and tried out many of their titles.