Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Game #45: Final Fantasy II (SNES) - Meanwhile...

Has anyone ever said no? I often chicken out even when I know it's not a real choice
Our party was last outside Fabul. When we explained the situation to the king there, he expressed the same doubts Yang had about Cecil's character, even though the shop clearly sold dark knight armor. The men quickly put the lady folk out of the party to tend to the defenses. With as Yang the only fully trained karate master, we were easily pushed back multiple times. The final stand took place in the crystal's chamber through a cutscene where Kain appeared as an antagonist. Kain challenged Cecil, and a scripted battle began in which I was destined to lose. Rosa and Rydia showed up to stop Kain from dealing the final blow. However, behind them, Golbez suddenly appeared. He seemed to have control over Kain, but upon seeing Rosa it nearly broke. To maintain control Golbez took Rosa and the crystal, commanding Kain to follow. Rydia cured the party, and we dragged ourselves to the king's chamber, who had been injured in the attack. He bestowed the black sword upon Cecil, and arranged a ship to take us to Baron. So, we set sail for Baron on a short 3 hour cruise.
What could possibly go wrong?
Having the ship attacked by a giant sea monster didn't factor into our plans. Cecil woke up alone on a beach just outside the town of Mysidia. The very town where he had stolen the water crystal, and killed many wizards. Most of the inhabitants were aggressive towards him, even going as far as casting spells that turned him into a toad or pig. The elder heard his pleas though, and described a trial he would need to overcome at Mt. Ordeals to the east of Mysidia to prove his change of heart. He would need to give up the dark sword and become a paladin. To spy on... I mean aid him in his travels, the elder ordered Palom and Porom to accompany him.
And so continued the journey of Cecil to find a princess that would kiss this poor toad
While the music and graphics are a great improvements, it's the combat that really deserves a bit of recognition. It isn't the standard turn based model, and it's not quite action based. Instead, each character (and monster) works off a personal timer; once that timer is full they get to enter an action for their turn. There's also a delay between selecting and executing that factors in, which depends on actions. The rate at which the timer fills varies from character to character, and is probably reflected in their stats. I haven't talked about character stats at all because, while accessible, there's no control over them; I found no reason to look at any point in the game. In my previous post, I mentioned how each character has a special attack, except Cecil's was removed during localization. Apparently, Tellah's was removed as well. He had an ability called recall that would cast a random spell, since his spell list was so limited. The fact he didn't remember the other spells never really came across in this translation. Palom and Porom came with an ability called Twin that casts either flare or comet, but costs quite a bit of MP.
During the climb up Mt. Ordeals, I was treated to a sneak peak of what Golbez was up to
Some foreshadowing of the boss I'd face against in Mt. Ordeals was shown while I climbed up. I ran into Tellah, who seemed a bit befuddled about why he was there, and made a vague reference to some hidden power. At the top of the mountain was Milon, the earth fiend, one of the four fiends in service to Golbez. With no surprise he was fairly easy to take down. Weak to fire, and me with plenty of fire attacks, I didn't even blink when I faced him a second time on the other side of the bridge. He raised as a zombie Milon, which made him weak against cure magic as well. Beyond him was a mirrored chamber where Cecil faced his reflection. A light spoke to him, calling him son, and granted him the legendary sword of light; however, he then needed to overcome his dark past. During the battle the voice told me that to become a paladin, I needed to learn when to fight and when to not. In this case I waited out the battle by parrying, and it ended before too long.
Cecil's reflection could use Darkness, so why couldn't he?
As you can see I changed some of the names, but I'll still refer to each by their originals. After the battle, the blinding light shined bright again, and Cecil was truly a paladin. Tellah recalled all the spells he had forgotten, including the powerful Meteo (although with not enough MP to cast it). Back in Mysidia, the elder was pleased to learn we had succeeded, and wondered if this could have anything to do with an ancient Mysidian prophecy, the same one inscribed on the sword Cecil now carried.
And nobody has any clue what this means
The elder now accepted Cecil's commitment, and opened up the serpent road. A magical gateway that connected Baron and Mysidia before the attack. Palom and Porom continued to accompany me, and we soon found ourselves in Baron while the elder prayed... I mean "wished" for our success. I found Yang in Baron. Suffering from amnesia he had accidentally became one of the commanders for the guard. After knocking some sense into him, he joined the party with a key to a secret waterway that led into Baron castle, bypassing all the guards. The same key opened up the previously locked equipment shop. The castle was strangely empty, except for Baigan, the king's advisor. Cecil, being the trusting individual that he is, allowed him to join the party on our way to confront the king. Palom and Porom sniffed him out as a monster, and a fight ensued. His two arms acted as separate enemies that took their own actions. Of course, even with at least one misstep where I accidentally cast Flare (using Twin) on Baigan after he cast wall (which reflects spells), him and the water fiend that the king turned out to be were once again easy battles. Kainazzo, the water fiend, died in a single round.
I think this is the first truly heart wrenching moment I experienced in a game
Once the fake king of Baron was defeated, Cid showed up to challenge him. He found the party instead, and joined us. He was leading everyone to an airship before we could realize having six party members upset the cosmic order, so someone had to leave. A small entrance hall was rigged as a trap in the event that Kainazzo died. The walls started to close in. All hope was lost, except in the minds of the twins. It doesn't come off well my description, but they had a lot of banter that made their company rather charming. Palom and Porom turned to the walls, and cast stone on themselves. This somehow stopped the walls from moving any closer, and illogically unlocked the doors. Tellah attempted to heal them, but they remained stone through their will. As the party solemnly made their way to the Enterprise (Cid's latest airship), I was treated to a cutscene where Golbez described a plan to trade Rosa for the final crystal.
Followed by another cutscene where Kain told the party the same thing
At this point the game loosened the reigns a bit by allowing me to explore the entire world with the airship. Actually, there are a couple caves that remained unreachable since they required access by hovercraft, which was stuck in the small area near Damcyan. In my travels I found Silvera, a small mining town with a stock of silver equipment; Agart, home to a bottomless well, and a people born from a Hidden Land; and Toroia, home to the Earth Crystal, which was recently stolen by a dark elf. The elf's cave was on a secluded island with nowhere to land the airship. The only access available was by black chocobo, which can only land in forests. The council requested I recover the crystal, and agreed to let me borrow it for a short time after.
I just realized I never returned to this point, and I have no idea what's behind this door
Edward was in the castle, bedridden, but alive. He couldn't join the party, but insisted on giving me a twin harp. I was also warned that the dark elf's cave restricts anyone wearing metallic equipment. The town helpfully sold non-metal items for everyone, but I opted to instead run away from every encounter. I knew that the restriction was lifted when I faced the dark elf by Edward playing his other harp. The melody protected the party from the elf's magic, and he fell quite easily after an initial battle that required me to lose. Unwinnable battles that the player controls are a pretty terrible idea. It usually turns into a waste of resources. Most of the unwinnable battles in this game are obvious after a turn or two, so they don't drag on. However, I think this is a pitfall in other RPGs, especially the lack of distinguishing it from a normal boss battle. I gained the crystal, and returned to Toroia to find Kain had been monitoring my efforts.
He led me to Golbez's floating tower, and then disappeared
At this point in the game it's only possible to ascend to the tower with the airship, but it's thankfully possible to return to the airship and land next to Toroia. I wonder why they would bother to lock the airship down like that, but it might be the only mechanism they had for giving access to the tower, which is never seen on the world map.

Elapsed Time: 3h38m (Total Time: 6h16m)

Sorry for the lack of posts. This one should have been posted already, or been twice as long, but work has been cutting into the time I usually devote to this. Hopefully after this week things will settle back into a normal routine. I've actually beaten Lagoon, so I need to do some serious writing to catch up. Looking forward to doing that over the 3-day weekend.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Game #45: Final Fantasy II (SNES) - Slipping Into Familiar Shoes

Game 45

Title: Final Fantasy II (IV JPN)
Released: November 1991 (July 1991 JPN)
Platform: SNES
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square Soft
Genre: RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Active Time Battle
Series - Final Fantasy



This intro is so good, but I never got that they were flying away from Mysidia
First of all, I'm amazed by the release schedule for this game: only a five month gap between regions. Granted the translation isn't great, but the amount of text to translate is a great task. Someone also decided it'd be less confusing to renumber the game since the actual II and III never made it to the US. For quick reference, simply multiply by 2 to get the actual number for the SNES Final Fantasy games.

The intro sequence sets the stage for Cecil, commander of the Red Wings, and his internal strife over the recent command to steal crystals away from helpless individuals. The kingdom of Baron created airships, and now the king was using them to eliminate any threats to his total control.
I'm sure he has his reasons; he's a complicated guy
Cecil didn't blink while carrying out the act, but he had plenty of time to think about it on the ride back to Baron. The crew shared in his doubts, but discussion was cut short when monsters suddenly attacked the flying ships. Still the intro, I watched as Cecil took out two groups of monsters using magic items that were removed from the game in this version. There are actually a number changes in the conversion, including the removal of a lot of items. As an example, status effects used to have an item associated to cure it (antidote for poison, soft for stone, etc.), but those all got replaced by the remedy item, which was renamed to Heal. Many of these changes made the game easier, but they weren't all that way. Cecil lost his Darkness ability, which deals damage to all enemies.
One time use combat background
Back in Baron, Cecil faithfully delivered the crystal, but he couldn't keep silent over his reservations towards stealing from helpless people. The king stripped him of his command, but decided there was a way to make up for his insolence. All Cecil had to do was deliver a package to the village of Mist, home to a people known as Callers. They had the power to summon monsters to battle. Kain, longtime friend of Cecil, came to his defense, but he only managed to get assigned to the same task. In the middle of a short dialog where Cecil apologized for getting Kain mixed up in his troubles, the game suddenly broke the fourth wall and started talking about controls (e.g. use the Control Pad and A-Button). It appeared as though Kain was saying those things.
*Plop*
Even the residents of the castle spoke in hushed tones about how the king had changed. It was the king who ordered Cecil to master the dark sword, but strangely Cecil thought it was for a good cause. On my way to Cecil's room, Rosa welcomed him back, but had no time to talk. Cid, master engineer, creator of the red wing airships, stopped me to ask how the ships were handling. When he heard what happened, he assured me he never intended them to be used as weapons. Still loyal to Baron, Cecil rested for the night hoping this task would reassure his king of that. In the middle of the night Rosa came calling. After hearing Cecil's tale, she berated him for being mopey. In the morning, Cecil met up with Kain, and headed to the city of Baron to gather more information.
Upon leaving the castle, the final scene of the introduction plays out
The story telling is beyond anything we've seen so far. Even with the reduced script lost in translation, there really isn't anything else to compare it to. Obviously this was possible by the increased space available, but even compared to other 16-bit titles I feel the story has more depth than any of the Phantasy Stars. Many of the guards commented on the state of the king, the Red Wing crew voiced uneasiness with the events that took place, and nearly everyone in town feared the Dark Knight of Baron (except for one kid that thought he was kind of cool). The music is outstanding, the locations large enough not to get lost, but not too small either. The pacing is well spaced, and one of the defining features is the number of unique boss-like fights that occur in nearly every dungeon.
These training rooms were added in the US version, and may also be the first in-game tutorial in an RPG
Most training rooms have a character called Namingway that allows the player to rename anyone in the current party. I chose not to rename them right away, but as the game went on I felt I should probably make use of him. While this is the only appearance of this character in the series, another makes its first appearance and becomes an iconic figure: the chocobo. Although first presented in Final Fantasy Adventure, this is the first in the main series (that made it to the US). Yellow chocobos can cross rivers with ease, and they easily dodge enemy encounters. White chocobos refill magic points, and black ones can even fly if you can catch them. Catching them involves chasing them down and talking to them, a reverse on the annoying NPC always in the way. Speaking of NPCs, when trying to move through them they'll move faster and usually out of the way unless they're cornered.
A big chocobo is hidden until it smells a carrot; it'll store items, but hardly necessary
Well, let's get into the thick of it. I remember this being a challenging game, so it may take a while to get through... no wait, I breezed by the Mist Cave where I fought a Mist Dragon controlled by a caller. In the village of Mist the package I was carrying sprang open. Fire creatures poured out, burning the village in their wake. Rydia, a small child, was the only caller to survive; however, when she learned that I was the one that killed the dragon, and her mother in the process (some kind of psychic link that never comes into play for Rydia), she summoned a titan that sealed off the valley. Cecil woke to find Kain missing, and Rydia unconscious. A vast desert lay before Cecil, and an oasis in the middle supplied the town of Kaipo with water. In the middle of the night, while resting at the inn, guards from Baron showed up to finish the job I started. I'm not sure how they got through the sealed pass (let alone how they knew one caller survived), but taking them out proved to Rydia that the man whole killed her mother wasn't all bad. Mistakes were made.
How did Rosa get here from Baron?
Rumor around town was that a young woman had wondered in with a terrible fever. Turned out it was Rosa, and the only cure lay in an Antlion cave accessible only by Damcyan royalty. The passage through the only cave north was blocked by an old man that forced himself on my party. Tellah, the sage, told us how a wicked bard tricked his daughter, Anna, into running away with him to Damcyan. We might as well travel together. At the end of the watery passage was a giant octopus called Octomamm (no relation to Octodad). Another troublesome part from my memory was a cake walk. Just beyond the cave entrance was Damcyan, and steps away from walking in I was treated to a scene of the red wings bombarding the castle, completely destroying it. Inside, Anna was dead, and Tellah raged hard at the bard that stole her away.
and thus a meme is born
Well, Anna was mostly dead. Her last breath(s) stopped the fight between Tellah and Edward, the prince of Damcyan who only pretended to be a bard. She described the attack: someone named Golbez commanded the red wings, and stole the fire crystal. Tellah headed off to find Golbez, leaving the party. While Cecil was eager to figure out who was Golbez, Roas still lay ill. Edward bemoaned the loss of Anna. Rydia had to knock some sense into him, telling him he wasn't the only one to have lost a loved one, but he had a chance to save someone else by retrieving the Sand Ruby. He agreed, and provided a hovercraft that allowed the party to cross over shallow areas of the water.
Once again, Antlion easier than I remember
The Antlion Cave was easy, and the Antlion itself much easier than I remember. Mainly, I recall his counter move dealing more damage. He strikes back any normal attacks, but it wasn't a problem. Edward remarked before the fight that Antlion was tame, but times were changing. Monsters were becoming commonplace, and tame animals were turning wild. Sand Ruby retrieved, the party rushed back to Rosa. Once revived she joined the party, and explained the events that took place after Cecil had left. The king of Baron gave control of the Red Wings to Golbez, a mysterious man who seemed to control the king rather than the other way around. His intent was to collect all the crystals, obviously for some nefarious purpose.
Strangely, the only time a character joins without a job title
That night, while the party rested, Edward ventured out near the oasis to reflect on his lost love. From out of the watery depths a water hag appeared. A vision of Anna appeared, spurred him on, and he easily trounced the hag. Before disappearing, the ghostly vision told Edward to believe in himself, fight, and to prevent Golbez from obtaining the crystals. The next castle with a crystal was Fabul, across Mt. Hobs; however, the path was blocked by ice. To pass through, Rydia needed to overcome her fear of fire. As a caller, she has a natural talent for black magic as well as summons. Although, even though she'd called a titan to cause an earthquake, she can only manage a lowly chocobo at the moment (and an imp summon, which I found after a fight with imps). After some coaxing, and reassurances (mostly pleading), Rydia overcame her fear, and melted the ice.
Attack animations have a variety that make each character unique
At the top of the mountain we met a karate master from Fabul. Yang was ambushed by monsters, and while he took most out without problem the party jumped in to assist with the MomBomb. It exploded into six smaller bombs, but we wrapped up the fight cleanly after that. Yang explained that he was out on a training exercise when these monsters appeared. He was the only survivor. We explained the danger to the crystal of air at the castle, and the party surmised that the monsters here weren't meant as a distraction to weaken the castle. Cecil explained all their motivations for stopping Baron, and Golbez, from obtaining all the crystals even though he was a dark knight. Yang agreed to their assistance, and the party was now full at five members.
I ended the first night outside Fabul
In this short time the game has provided much more enjoyment than many titles I've already played through. Even so, the ease with which I've progressed makes the experience feel a bit shallow. I played through this game many times in my youth, grinded for hours to gain early levels, and find rare item drops without really knowing which enemy they might come from. The grinding I did while young felt necessary, but coming back to it years later I wonder why I felt that way at all. Obviously difficulty is subjective. With as much experience as I have now, I know what works and what doesn't. It's nice to experience something I loved so much, but it's not the same experience it once was. I think that's why when I look at the list I'm more eager to get to the games I've never played before.

Elapsed Time: 2h38m (Total Time: 2h38m)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Game #44: The Bard's Tale (NES) - The Title Changers Tale (Finished)

Game 44

Title: The Bard's Tale: Tales of the Unknown
Released: November 1991 (December 1990 JPN)
Platform: NES
Developer: Interplay Productions, Inc. (Port to console by Atelier Double Co. Ltd.)
Publisher: FCI; Pony Canyon, Inc.
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-person
Combat - Turn based
Series - The Bard's Tale


Bard's Tale or The Bard's Tale... you decide
Welcome to another edition of, "How did this make it onto the NES from PC?" Well, the answer as always is because of FCI and Pony Canyon. It's just a bit odd in this case because Interplay already had experience creating a game on the NES with Swords and Serpents; however, as far as I can tell, this port first started as a Japanese title, and was translated for the North American market. Maybe it was a package deal since EA controlled the license for this game and others FCI published. I'm fairly impressed at the conversion done for console, granted many things were removed. This version is much simpler, and thus easier, than the PC.

(Before I get too far into this, I apologize for the screen shots, which are muted in color. I'm not sure why, but the capture card I use seems to lose some color from RCA sources. I have the same trouble from my Genesis (and I'm guessing will have the same from SegaCD and TG-16), but it's very pronounced in this game (especially the borders). If anyone has any ideas that might help I'm open to try them.)
No intro sequence with the bard singing... actually, where did the bard go?
Unlike Wizardry, I couldn't find a way to wipe the information from past adventures. I deleted all characters and past adventuring parties without even bothering to check their gear. They were all dead anyway. Character creation is limited to a choice of six classes: Warrior, Rogue, Hunter, Bard, Sorcerer, and Wizard. Stats are rolled randomly for each of five attributes, and the available starting range depends on the class. This means trying to roll a vitality for wizard as high as one for warrior is impossible.
One of the first viable warriors I rolled; maybe I'm too picky
Party composition is usually one of the hardest for me to settle on. I always feel like I don't know enough about the game to pick the optimal party. I read the manual, and I knew from past experience that I wanted at least two healers (I played the Apple II version as some point). I figured I could get away without having a rogue as wizards gain a spell to disable traps at second level. I thought a warrior, hunter, bard (it feels wrong to play this without a bard), sorcerer, and two wizards would work out well. However, I could never seem to roll up a good hunter, so I ended up with a second warrior. Once again I named most of the characters from the viewers on Twitch.
*Plop*
Along the same street of the guild was a weapon shop, tavern, temple, and review board all in a line. In addition to character creation, the guild allowed me to name my party for easy continuation. The guild acts as a home base for saving the current state of each character. There are also options to add or remove single members, break up the whole party, examine members in reserve, and share gold among the party (strange this option is only available here). I set the text speed to fast and set off into the cruel world. Outside, the party has the option to use an item, cast a spell, sing a song, change party order, initiate party combat, and check the status of a member. It's also possible to change the combat line (inside the new order option), which allows 3, 4, 5, or 6 members to participate in melee combat. This is the first time I've ever seen an option like this, and I'm sad to say I didn't get to use it.
I realized after I finished that everything beyond the flute was sold to the shop by past adventurers
The weapon shop allows each character to buy, sell, or identify items. Gold can be pooled from the party to afford a particularly expensive piece. I outfitted everyone with robes, and my front line with short swords and leather gloves. The warriors also got a round shield. I listened to rumors at the tavern. I had my bard purchase a root beer (thank you Nintendo censorship), and when I tried to purchase grape juice I was told it was sold out. The temple provided healing services, of which I had no need. Options to restore individuals or the entire party were available. At the review board I once again had little to accomplish. They offered advancement to the next level, and spell levels for purchase once I advanced enough. I then struck out from this starting street, where I strangely never encountered a single enemy, and started to explore the rest of the city.
There are a lot of these
Care to point out my mistake in the above screenshot? That's right, I forgot to equip my gear. What a rookie mistake... luckily running from enemies has a high success rate. For my first (real) battle, which is crucial, I faced off against 3 groups of goblins (1, 3, 3). There can be up to three groups of monsters in any given battle, and each group can have up to 9 enemies (huh, that's just like the last game). About halfway through the first dungeon I realized that each group only gets 1 attack each turn. This means it's more important to take out a single group to reduce the number of attacks. I knew this game had a reputation for being unfair, so this surprised me a bit. That and how easily I overcame all the battles inside the city.
Especially with the help of the bard's songs
The bard, even though not necessarily a required member, is one of the key members to any successful party. His battle songs are most useful in the early game:
  • Freeze Voice - Has a chance of freezing enemies, preventing their attack. In this first battle, I used this early, and the enemy never even got a swing off.
  • Lucklaran - Said to weaken the magical powers of the enemy (actually says to lose), but there was never a noticeable effect. I hardly used it, in favor of the next song.
  • Falkentyne's Fury - This increases the battle skill of all melee members. Most noticeably it increases the damage of every blow. I'm not sure it stacks with Battle Skill (sorcerer spell).
  • Badh'r Kilnfest (Voice of Kylearan in the manual) - Is a one time song that causes some of the enemies to become confused, and fight for the party's victory. I hardly ever found use for this.
Outside battle the bard has a second set of songs:
  •  The Traveller's Tune - Instantly returns the party to the guild. There is nothing like this in the original game, and I believe it's the number one reason this port is much easier than any other.
  •  Wayland's Watch - The only description I have is that it "soothes savage foes." I'd guess it either reduces the encounter rate, reduces the number of enemies in an encounter, or as in the original game, reduces damage done by the enemy.
  • The Seeker's Ballad - The manual says it lowers the AC of the enemy, but it's the party's AC that drops by 2.
I didn't really try these until I gained some levels, and thus had an additional number of songs to sing before my bard's throat went dry. When his throat is dry, the only way to recover is to drink root beer, or consume a drop from the weapon shop (restores only a single song). My go to song was Seeker's Ballad, and to save my last for Traveller's Tune. Strangely, it's possible to retain the effects of a song from outside battle, and one going on inside the battle (i.e. the bonuses stack). Checking the status of the bard will show how many songs he has left.
Easily reaching level 2
Upon leveling, HP and MP seem to increase at a linear rate based on a simple formula, and current values get set to max. This makes leveling equal to a free healing. Also, a random stat increases, and I do mean random. More often than not Regasin would gain intelligence, and Celdia seemed to favor strength. At second level I was able to purchase spell level 2 for all my spellcasters. At 100 gold a pop I was lucky I hadn't splurged on equipment first. Sorcerers and wizards each have their own unique list of spells. Wizards start with Mage Flame (to light dungeons), Arc Fire (a basic damaging spell), and Gleam (said to frighten away a single monster with a flash of light). Sorcerers have Image of Terror (I don't remember using this), Scry Sight (gives coordinates and current map), and Battle Skill (which increases the melee damage of a single member). Level two unlocked a wolf familiar and a weak group damage spell for the sorcerer, and single target healing for the wizard as well as a defense de-buff (corrosion), and a melee spell.
The city gate confirms we're stuck here
Before I knew it I'd mapped out the city, and reached level 4 as well as spell level 3. Of all level 3 spells, Starflare (group damaging wizard spell) is quite useful. I'd found a castle, a locked gate, a temple full of heretics, multiple taverns, and two statues: one of a Mangar Guard, and one of a wizard. I went for the more innocuous sounding statues, and tackled the wizard. Most of the rumors pointed me to the Scarlet Bard, which lay on the other side. There I asked for some grape juice, and was told to explore the cellar if I really wanted it. The cellar, and the sewer below it, are the game's first dungeon. The enemies are slightly tougher, with skeletons and spiders providing the first challenge (didn't die in a single hit). I was surprised by the complete emptiness of the cellar. A few signs mentioned grape juice storerooms, but there was no juice. A set of stairs led to the sewers.
I had no idea how dangerous a prospect this was, even with Trap Zap (gained at level 3)
I ran across a few chests early on, and didn't think anything of opening them with Trap Zap. I figured this was a 100% chance of disarming the trap, or at least a safe prospect. Even with this though there is a chance the trap will go off, which always explodes for 50 - 70 damage. Twice I ran foul of this, once losing my bard--so I had to walk all the way back to the guild. At least the early spoils allowed me to outfit my front line with chain mail, and I was lucky to avoid a full party wipe many times. Opening chests at low HP was not an option, and I avoided it as much as possible.
Level 3 sorcerer spells are wind warrior, disbelieve (destroys enemy summons), invincible (which never worked), and sorcerer sight (sensed nearby key encounters)
More evidence that the NES port was made easier is that there are no traps in the dungeons, any dungeons. The only traps are on chests. There are also no areas of anti-magic, darkness, or spinners that the classic PC RPGs are so well known to stock. This makes mapping trivial in most cases. There are still one-way doors, and teleport squares, but they're few and far between. This game is also a fair bit shorter, as the sewer only has a single floor with an exit near Mangar's Tower, a statue of a spider, and a magic mouth that spoke of an old king's tomb under the heretic's temple. A second magic mouth spoke of Tarjan, the heretics' god who was once a wizard, but was locked in stone until made whole again.
I don't really see it... maybe if I tilt my head... or squint
By this point I had amassed enough to afford plate armor and mithril axes for both my warriors. I also bought the Bard Sword, which I suppose now I wouldn't normally have had. It didn't seem to increase my damage much if any from the broadsword I was using. I took my time to fully explore the sewers, and by the time the spider statue was the only thing left to pass, I was level 8, gained level 4 spells, and purchased more ill-gotten gains in the form of a dayblade, and two diamond helms. I'm not sure how much they helped in the end, and I wish I had realized something was amiss earlier. It's this reason console games should all have had a way to reset to default. Beyond the spider statue (which was a tough battle with a widow), I found the body of a heretic. I confirmed it was a heretic by removing the "hereticproof." This item allowed me access to the catacombs underneath the heretic's temple.
That sweet, sweet proof
Level 4 spells for sorcerer allowed me to summon a wind ogre, strike down groups of undead with magic water, and for the first time heal a party member with rejuvination [sic] (which also cures old age). Wizards got their own summon, which was much worse, a more powerful single target damaging spell, another armor reduction spell, and one to turn an enemy to stone (which hardly succeeded). I was still mainly using their magic points to heal, which became more powerful at level 3 with flesh restore, and also doubled as an antidote. There were three floors to the catacombs, and each one was progressively tougher. Many magic mouths gave hints, although few had necessary information. There was a cleric chamber with a tome detailing how Tarjan was missing an eye, and a mouth mentioned that Aildrek, the dead king, had the crystal eye in his crypt. Aildrek had been awakened as a death knight by Mangar's evil magic, another mouth spoke.
One of the most deceptively devious monsters in the game
Now, while I can say the monsters got progressively more difficult, it's a bit hard to imagine just how bad it got. Wizards became commonplace, and could summon wind ogres. A key strategy to keep in mind is the three group rule. An ogre can't be summon when all three are already full. Wind ogres can deal massive damage, and are difficult to hit. Seekers, a floating eyeball, can summon as well as cast starflare for massive damage, and the have a confusion spell that makes a party member "NUTS." Strangely, phantoms, as well as wights (they share the same sprite), are not considered undead, so magic water was useless against them. They were very difficult to hit, and could cause a condition known as OLD, which greatly reduced a character's damage to a tenth or less of their previous ability.
I finally found a use for party combat!
I have all sorts of ways to recover from the above, but the worst was the Doppler. It's a rather weak creature on its own, but it has a strange ability to silently disappear from combat. Actually, when it does that, one of the party members becomes replaced. This party member will then attack the party during combat without warning. It's possible to circumvent this by telling them to guard, but any other action has them wailing on someone I'd rather keep alive. Their condition doesn't reflect this state, the temple cannot heal it, and the only indication that something is wrong is a Doppler disappeared. The only solution is to kill off the offending member. That is, until level 7 spells are unlocked where the sorcerer gets the Inspect spell that obliterates any replaced party members, and restores the original.
Aildrek rises from his coffin and assaults the party with a bad translation
By the time I reached Aildrek I had level 5 spells, which are unlocked at level 14. The wind giant is the sorcerer's only constantly useful spells. He gained an anti-possession spell, which is nice, and a mass confusion one, which hardly ever worked. The wizard on the other hand gained spells that carried the party with flesh anew (a party heal for hundreds of hit points), arc blizzard (large amounts of damage to a single group), and Arcyne's Magestar, which hardly ever saw any use. I managed to land it on Aildrek right before he died. It blinds an opponent so they can't act. I recovered the crystal eye from Aildrek, and moved my adventuring location of choice to the castle in the northwest corner of the city.
The castle where Tarjan rests was guarded by a dragon that only let me pass if I held the crystal eye
I haven't mentioned it yet, but the game has a mini-map. Most of the map has visible walls, but there are some portions that are obscured. In many locations this isn't a problem, but as the game progressed, more of the map was unseen. This was especially true in Mangar's Tower. In any case, I'd been mapping everything on paper since I enjoy it. The first floor hid a white mantle, that I guessed would allow me to sit on the throne (I didn't try beforehand). Sitting on the throne teleported the party to an area with stairs up. The second floor had many teleport traps that deposited the party into a 'prison' area where they forgot to lock the door. A magic mouth proclaimed that the same magic that sealed Tarjan also sealed Kylearan's tower.
Also, this is the first place dragons started to appear
Dragons became a normal enemy in the castle. They only ever appear one at a time, and take all three group slots, judging by their size. I'd started to attempt to run from most battles by this time to conserve MP. As far as I can tell there's no drawback to running. If an attempt fails, then the party can still take their normal actions. The third floor contained squares where a mouth shouted, "leave," and forced the party back to near the beginning of the floor. A magic mouth told me of a crystal golem in Kylearan's Tower whose magic could be sealed by using the crystal fighter I'd found on floor two. Tarjan himself was a bit of a disappointment. He attacked me once for only 100 HP, and then I was able to land Arcyne's Magestar, which dazed him for the remainder of the fight.
Not for long
After his defeat, I picked up a crystal key off him that unlocked the gate to Kylearan's Tower. I also received a telepathic message from Kylearan himself explaining that he was still too weak to venture out. Shortly before facing Tarjan I gained level 6 spells. This was by far the most disappointing level for wizards: a better light spell that lasted the entire dungeon, a quake spell that I wrote off when it back fired my first try and reduced everyone's HP to ~30, and a stone to flesh that was useless as I never found a monster that stoned my party. Sorcerers on the other hand received a spell to revive the dead, as well as the Mind Storm spell with the potential to wipe out an entire group of enemies. The cost of spells had shot up astronomically though, and nearly wiped out my funds. So, when I reached level 24, able to learn level 7 spells, I was vexed to find only one person could learn them.
Trying to raise three magic-users is going to bankrupt me
I decided to purchase the spells for my sorcerer for the sole reason that I was once again facing doppelganger monsters, and the spell to rid myself of them was waiting there. The dragon summon was a nice addition as well with it's ability to breath on one group, or attack for as much as a warrior. Kylearan waited behind many winding passageways with one-way doors. I used the crystal fighter on the crystal golem, which trivialized the fight. On the second floor, Kylearan bestowed the Jade Key upon the party, and wished them luck.
I almost expected a fight when I saw this
At this point I still could not afford level 7 spells for either wizard. So, I entered Kylearan's Tower a second time, and raised enough to purchase them for one wizard. Mangar's Tower is terribly difficult without at least one high level wizard able to cast Dragon's Breath (a high level damage spell that hits all enemies), and Restoration (full heal to all party members--only works outside of combat). At one point, I attempted to sell off key items like the crystal fighter, crystal eye, and crystal key, thinking all I needed was the jade key. Turned out I was wrong, but luckily only the crystal key was also required.
When fighting battles like this, you really need to hit hard and fast
The battles in Mangar's Tower confused me. In fights with vampires like above, I couldn't tell if they were regenerating HP, or reordering themselves so the highest HP enemy was taking the brunt of the damage. It felt like I had to deal a lot of damage all at once in order to kill them. Eventually I had enough gold for my second wizard to get 7th level spells. Double Dragon's Breath kills everything. The tower climb took quite a while to map everything due to teleporters on the first and second floors, a puzzle with ordered switches where hints were spread throughout the floor, and a strange door maze where all the walls and doors were swapped. The final floor of Mangar's Tower was a straight shot to him, although through a long and windy road. I also reached max level (36) around the third floor, even with all the running away.
The final floor went smoothly when I returned from refreshing myself
I don't remember all my equipment, but I do remember finding three Kael's Axes, multiple diamond helms I sold off, high level armor, and better shields. My bard had an elven cloak as well. Waiting for me on the other side of this door was a Demon Lord that I confused for a regular monster. Strangely he didn't do anything for the first three rounds. After that I realized this was no ordinary enemy, and I started to buff/debuff. He was able to dish out a Dragon Breath before he fell. That could have been a lot worse had he acted since the beginning. This penultimate battle was followed up by one against Mangar himself in the next room. Instead of a single screenshot though, enjoy this video of the final battle.
I'm not sure if it was the use of Lucklaran that reduced his chance of casting Restoration, but he only ever used it once (and I didn't even notice it that time). In the end, it came down to just dealing out the damage. Having two wizards was definitely a factor in both the amount of time it took to complete the game, and the final battle. With Mangar's defeat a peace settled over the party, and Kylearan appeared, free of Mangar's suppressive magic. He gave thought to Mangar's motives, but brushed them aside. The party celebrated by having a moment of silence for Mangar (seriously, there's no music over the credits).

Thus ends The Bard's Tale. A rough adventure to play through today, but much easier on the NES. There's no level draining to contend with, and no stone status effects (even if there were, there's a spell to cure it) to bog down the final dungeon. Of course, like most games that let you create characters, if you choose the wrong party, then you're going to have a bad time.

Elapsed Time: 24h21m (Final Time: 24h21m)
The only English name in the credits
Combatant - Combat is a fair challenge throughout the game. There are some interesting strategies, but most come from spells and songs. Useable items are onetime use, even the instruments, which I thought had charges. With such limited inventory it's hard to devote any to those kind of items. The rewards for battle tapered off too quickly, but unidentified items were plentiful. Having two wizards made most of the later half of the game an easy ride.
Rating: 6
Design guy, yay!
Admirer - What guys? Where? Gone is the ability to change classes for magic-users, so nothing is customized beyond original character classes, and names. There aren't any options to advance. The controls are as good as expected, nothing fancy. One nice thing I didn't mention elsewhere, is that the instrument the bard has equipped will change his songs slightly. I only noticed when changing from Lak's Lyre to a Frost Horn, but the octave dropped when I did. I'm curious what a flute would sound like.
Rating: 2
I read this as Graphic Stuff the first time
Puzzler - The main quest, is probably the longest roundabout way to get to Mangar possible. Early actions of the party are ill-defined as the right ones, but there's little else to do. There are no side quests; however, the puzzle elements introduced in Mangar's Tower were a nice touch. The magic mouths are interesting as well, but who placed them? Gone are the scribbles on the walls.
Rating: 3
Yay for coordination!
Instigator - There's not much narrative to follow. How Tarjan's revival is linked to Kylearan's awakening isn't fully explained. How the heretics took over the temple housing the ancient king's tomb isn't explored. I'm not even sure we can call this The Bard's Tale without a bard at the guild singing a song. The disembodied magic mouths are the only source for plot progression until we get to Kylearan. There's no input from the player to decide how the story should proceed.
Rating: 2
Especially since we just killed him
Collector - There's a good amount of stuff, and while not free, it's possible to store it all at the shop. Selling unidentified items destroys them, but if identified first, the shop owner will keep them around in his sale list. The economy never became irrelevant for me, but if a party of magic-less freaks showed up, they'd probably be overflowing with gold after the sewers. Good luck with that though, having no healing. Deciding between one piece of equipment came down to price.
Rating: 5
Programming deserves some praise
Explorer - The music is good (although some songs are questionable), and the graphics well done--even if a bit repetitive. Exploration isn't really interesting. All the taverns look the same, and there's nothing to find on its own unrelated to the main quest.
Rating: 3

Final Rating: 21 [35%]
Sound and music, definitely an integral part of the game
I enjoyed this game far more than Wizardry, and not just for the reduced difficulty. Okay, maybe a little for the reduced difficulty. Not having to wipe out multiple times in hopes of getting a lucky few to level 2 was nice. I really don't think beating the NES port is anything to brag about though, and I don't know who I'd recommend this to beyond the die-hard dungeon crawler enthusiasts. It's not really one you can sit down and enjoy casually. For that we move on to our next game.
Thank you for managing to release this game
Final Fantasy II (IV) is next, and so far has proved even easier than I recall. Let's not waste any more words on the anticipation. Without further ado, let's cut close to the bone as I take a hard look at a beloved console RPG.