Saturday, October 8, 2016

Below the Cut: Gemfire (NES, SNES, Genesis)

(Source: GameFAQs)
Gemfire - Rating(6 RPP)
1) 2 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 1 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 0 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 1 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 2 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 0 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

It's well known that D&D has its roots in war gaming. So, it's understandable when a strategy game includes set characters, stats, and improvements that some might tend to call it an RPG. However, these characters are rarely influential to the story. In the case of Gemfire, a small country is at strife. The play selects a family to control as well as a scenario, which dictates how many territories are under the family's control from the start. As with most KOEI games, the player improves each land and conscripts armies to gain more land. The ultimate goal is conquest.

Characters lack advancement options. A land's stats can increase, so I gave it a point for that. Different families have different special units, but there's no customization. Character and land stats don't influence turn based combat as it's the armies that do battle. There's no store, items, or equipment.

The plot doesn't progress during the game. The entire world is rather small; however, it is fully accessible from the beginning. There are no additional quests or puzzles to solve.

It's a fine game, and on the shorter side compared to other KOEI strategy games. We'll have to wait until Dragon Force to get closer to a true strategy-RPG, although Langrisser did well. On paper, strategy games seem to fit neatly in as a hybrid of RPGs; however, there are so very few of them that accomplish full integration. Now, I glossed over a lot of details, and may have missed some aspects as I didn't play it. So, if any of this is misinformation, or there are missing details that might tilt the scale, do speak up.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Game #61: Ghost Lion (NES) - To Hope, To Dream (Finished)

Game 61

Title: Ghost Lion, Legend of the
Released: October 1992 (July 1989 JP)
Platform: NES
Developer: Kemco
Publisher: Kemco
Genre: RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone

This seems like a strange choice by Kemco, localizing a three year old game denounced as a Dragon Quest clone. I wonder if they'd hoped to ride its success in the west as the fourth title was to release at the same time. The game wasn't well received; even the female protagonist (and the woman on the front) failed to sell the game. It also suffered an identity crisis as the manual, cart, and box list only Ghost Lion as the title, while the title screen shows Legend of The Ghost Lion.
This is another one of those thankfully short games
The story began with Maria's parents leaving on a trip to solve the mystery of the white lion that once attacked their small village. It was driven away by a young warrior that threw a spear at it. The lion fled into a cave east of the village, never to be seen again. Instructed to wait for them, Maria instead visited the village elders who told her to embark on her own journey.
It's dangerous to go alone, take this (this intro is really well done)
According to the manual, her parents were gone for mere days, while the game itself suggests they were never heard from again. The elders gave further instruction to search for a lamp. Providing her with a wood key as well, they sent her into the cave alone. Their last word of advice was that the lion was rumored to reside beyond the Gate of Evil.
So they trapped Maria inside a cave. A menu is used to select actions to take: Speak allows Maria to talk to anyone in front of her, Goods enable her to use or drop items, Look searches the ground (mostly to open treasure chests), and Vigor lists the current status of her and her spirits. The wood key opens up the only door visible. Further in the cave is a chest with the lamp, a dagger, and a second key that opens a gold door. (It's interesting to note this is the only time the game uses keys.) This cave seems intended as a safe area to play with the interface before plunging into the main game.
She awoke near a lake with three fairies. They explained the hope (level), courage (HP), and dreams (MP) values. There's no experience in the game. The only benefit to combat is money (called rubies). Instead, Maria finds fragments of hope inside treasure chests to level up. This increases her stats as well as the power and spells of the summons she calls upon. The spear summons the young fighter named Moja, and the lamp materializes an old magician called Twana. Maria isn't completely defenseless though, as she is able to attack with the dagger. Still, it's better to rely upon Moja or Twana to do the bulk of the fighting. Their power level acts as their HP and action points. Once it reaches 0 they vanish, but can be called once again as long as Maria has enough dream.
All summons have a defend option, which shields some of the damage done to Maria when she's the target of an attack -- multiple summons using defend can reduce the damage to 0
The game is seen from a completely top-down perspective. Towns serve as a hub for information on the main quest and the next goal as well as shops to buy restorative items: bread increases courage, tears restore dream, a blue ring increases Maria's defense, and a bomb that did decent damage in the early game. Dungeons are rather small compared to those seen in a Dragon Warrior game, even the first.
The first town also has a ship that can take Maria to different locations
Unlike Dragon Warrior, the game has a number of interesting side quests. Not mandatory to the game's completion, Maria can help a woman stave off hunger, find a music box, and exchange a magic horn for a broomstick that allows fast travel to any pixie lake. The rewards for each of these range from hints to the main quest that are easily discovered, or rare items like the broom or a rope that binds enemies. A good number of the dungeons are optional, but hold fragments of hope or summoning items.
Exited the cave above, and missed the town to the left hidden in the mushrooms my first time through
I've avoided going on about the main quest because it's rather rote if you've played RPGs before. Maria is set on finding the white lion (forget her parents). First she has to recover some stardust from a goblin that stole it. Returning the stardust to the Cave of Giants opened the path to Davis, a town hidden among mushroom. Werewolves infest the area. I missed Davis. Instead I discovered the lair of the KingWolf, and recovered the dog's eye before I even knew I needed it. Then in the very next battle I died. Death is barely a setback. Maria regains consciousness at her last save point (pixie lake) with all items she'd already obtained, but half as many rubies.
Finishing up the Bread side quest, I'd like to think this is a bread dagger
The Dog's Eye fit into a statue of a dog inside a cave west of Davis. My reward was access to a passage where I found a magical horn. Blowing the horn at some rocks further west opened the path to the town of Pixie. In an optional cave south of Davis, I found the Red Ring and Rapier, which allowed me to summon Hafling (a defensive summon) and Elf (magic based) respectively. Magic replaces a spirit's fight command. The elf became my most valued member as soon as she learned the hold spell. The halfling is obviously a defensive summon as his menu is swapped (defend first and fight second), and judging by how ineffective his attacks were in general.
Turns out this is a side quest as well, although it didn't feel like one at the time
In Pixie I was told of a pixie that was kidnapped to the south. There I defeated Hugeslug that became another summon. The pixie rewarded me with a rope, which at the time I mistakenly decided was just another quest item. I found out near the end of the game that you can use it to bind an enemy. Once bound they're tied down for the rest of the fight. Elf gets a similar spell called hold, but unlike the rope, she can hold any number of enemies at a time; there can be up to three per battle.
This'll make sense in a minute... maybe
I journeyed north to Ranya Tower where I found a water jug. A young girl told me about a music box she'd lost in the witch's forest; however, I wasn't able to locate it. I found a lake further north, slightly east, where I filled the jug with pure spring water. West of there was the witch's forest where I exchanged the horn for her broom. I doused a rainbow child with the spring water and restored her vigor. As a parting gift, she built the rainbow bridge across a river that allowed me to journey onward.
Strangely the remaining towns are all on top of towers
I continued to find interesting items. The Rockwing was another summon, the Wingman. As a straight up fighter, he was kind of a let down. I took the boat to Alko, but only found an arrow, which was by far the best weapon at that point. I retrieved some pixie wings from a man in Kapi Tower, but the pixie I returned them to only confirmed that I should retrieve a crown from an evil island. I really didn't know where else to go until I took the boat, and noticed a cave to the north of Kapi Tower. The crown was traded with some random man in that cave for access to the next continent.
How pertinent is this to the main quest?
Spirit's Tower held the Town of Hope. There I learned of some shoes that would help me cross certain terrain, and a statue that would allow me to defeat a dragon. The missing doll was rumored to be in Orange Moon, which lay beyond the dragon. I found the dragon to the south, completely immune to any attack. Batasa's Forest Town was near the dragon's cave. An old man there told me that the statue could only be used by one familiar in the ways of magic. I picked up some glasses for a friendly witch before departing. The store sold something called Aurora. It cost nearly all my money, but for that price I figured it must be a good weapon. It turned out to be a better defensive item than the blue ring. I should have gone north all along to get the ice shoes in a pyramid so I could get through two caves to the east and claim the statue. I also picked up a magicaxe that summons a dwarf.
The statue banished the dragon immediately
As soon as I used the statue, Twana appeared from the lamp, and with it confronted the dragon. In a bright flash of light both the dragon and Twana disappeared. The party definitely took a hit to overall power with that loss. While Elf was more useful, Twana's magic had a lot more utility. I returned the glasses to the witch, and she told me that I needed a klein jug to drain the lake that blocked the Gate of Evil. Further, she went on to suggest two statues were needed as well, but I don't recall them ever coming into play.
I happened across this innocent looking lake, which turned out to house a dungeon area where I had to fight a frog to gain it as a summon
I found a silver cup and gold rock in the cave with the witch: two additional summons (centaur and some useless mage). The frog was nearby, and I found him before I gained the hint from the town to the southwest: Orange Moon. I purchased a lightning whip there, and dug up the doll for the little girl. She rewarded me with her father's sword, which was actually weaker than the whip. I took a trip out to Mods Island, and picked up the crystal, which housed the last spirit (a giant).
Someone in town told me of a three-cornered deadlock created by the slug, frog, and hydra
Without the three-cornered deadlock in full effect, the hydra won't take any damage from attacks. I retrieved the klein jug, and used it at the lake to drain the water. The Gate of Evil was a big pyramid. At the end, the white lion lay there waiting for me. He was the toughest enemy by far. Before I could get any defenses in place he attacked for nearly 1/3 of my health. Things started to go smoother once I got Aurora up, Elf cast return (which has a chance to reflect an attack back), and summoned a number of spirits for defense. There aren't any healing spells. Restoring courage is limited to ingesting bread--50 courage at a time.
I should have known! Just look at him
So the white lion turned out to be my friend Twana who joined me since the beginning of the game. He had created these trials to encourage Maria to have hope, be courageous, and always dream of a brighter future.
For a second I thought maybe this wasn't the end of the game, but on reflection this may have implied a sequel that never materialized
Maria received a pendant as a parting gift, and then slowly drifted between consciousnesses. She awoke in her mother's arms. Apparently Maria nearly drowned in the river, and she was scolded by her mother for looking for them, proclaiming the white lion was only a legend. The pendant that still hung from Maria's neck proved differently.

Elapsed Time: 8h16m (Final Time: 8h16m)
See you in the sequel... not really
Combatant - The combat is challenging in the beginning, but tapered off quickly. As rubies became less important, combat really only served as a way to delay the inevitable win. Most of the interesting combat options disappeared with Twana, but I wasn't even using half of them at the time. The enemies are a standard fantasy fare. While Maria's strength didn't raise with each level, the summons did seem to have hidden stats that increased.
Rating: 5
This was the best combat, having nearly all my summons out
Admirer - Leveling up increases the spell selection and strength of each spirit, but it comes at a higher dream cost to summon. This higher cost encourages the use of newer summons, and is the main reason I used the Elf over Twana early on. There's no appearance adjustment or customization other than the choice of who to use more often in battles. Using a summon more often has no effect on their increases.
Rating: 2
The lion waits patiently as I moved to the beat of the music thinking I'd be able to avoid combat... it seemed to work
Puzzler - The main quest is well defined, but it centers around combat. There aren't any puzzles to solve, although the number and variety of side quests is surprising for the genre at this stage in development. Everything presented fits well with the world, although the rewards are sometimes merely hints for the main quest. As for multiple solutions, there's only one way through.
Rating: 4
There's no way to be better prepared
Instigator - There's not much to the main story. It's set in the beginning, and not really clear Maria is making any progress until we're near the doorstep of the Gate of Evil. NPCs are helpful in getting us there, but there's no development of a main plot. Descriptions of the world lore are lacking, and there's no decisions to influence. In the end, it was all a dream (or was it), so maybe the nonsensical nature was apt.
Rating: 3
Mom scolding Maria for doing exactly what she went off to do
Collector - There's a fun assortment of different tools beyond the ones used to call the summons. The economy gets broken near the end, but not until after the dragon. Once it does though, it makes combat pointless. There's nowhere to store items, but inventory space isn't too limited (there is a limit though). It's hard to tell what items do, or how powerful a weapon is without trying it out in combat. Collecting everything is difficult as well. Although summons fit nicely on one screen in combat, there's not a good way to tell Maria has all fragments of hope (26 seems like an strange number).
Rating: 3
I wonder what this magic pendant is supposed to do
Explorer - Developed and produced by Kemco, the music has a distinctive style reminiscent of Shadowgate (same composer). The graphics were well done, and the environments varied enough that I wasn't bemoaning yet another tower town. Exploration was closed off: progress made by finding quest items in dungeons that rarely made sense. It didn't detract from the overall experience.
Rating: 4
It'd be nice if it went through all the summons I'd found
Final Rating: 21 [35%]

Not a bad little game, and one I'd recommend to those looking for a different experience. It's a bit unfair to call this a Dragon Warrior clone when it did so many things differently. About the only thing they have in common is a top-down perspective and similar dungeon presentation. The summoning aspect is rather unique, although there aren't enough times when Maria can make effective use of the whole party.
Apparently only Moja and Twana matter though
Next up is Dragon Warrior 4. I've reshuffled the list to accommodate on-going hardware trouble. I've just recently acquired the tools to repair the system, and--with luck--I'll have a working system by the time I wrap up the next game. First though, a post to cut Gemfire. An interesting strategy game that employs enough statics to be mistaken for an RPG.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Game #60: Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (SNES) - I'll Take a Double Scoop of Nostalgia (Finished)

Game 60

Title: Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
Released: October 1992 (September 1993 JPN)
Platform: SNES
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square
Genre: RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Final Fantasy

This game is often spurned by Final Fantasy fans for being too simple, childish. In fact, that does seem the direction intended by the developers. The thought process was that RPGs weren't as popular in the US because they were too complicated. A strange notion as I see it, since most western RPGs popular at the time were much more complicated than anything a console had seen. The game was ultimately a failure in its goal to bring RPGs to the mainstream, but what was created was a fun-loving easy adventure through a familiar story of four elemental fiends hoarding the power of four corresponding crystals.
And it's short, very short for a Final Fantasy game
The game opens with the hero (named by the player) entering the Hill of Destiny after his village was swallowed by an earthquake. An old man on a cloud instructs him to run and jump over a gap (that's right there is a jump button). He then goes over the story: four fiends, four crystals, you're the knight of prophecy, here fight this monster.
It's possible to game over here, but the game allows you to resume from the beginning of any battle
We're then automatically put in the Level Forest, which is looking decidedly dead. The old man instructs us to save the earth crystal before running off. We then need to talk to another old man, and help him push a boulder that's blocking the path to Foresta. Before heading off, he tells us to seek out Kaeli, and show her a withered branch so she will help us heal the forest.
Kaeli comes with an axe that unlocks the rest of the forest area. I picked up the Cure spell in town before tackling the boss. Aside from the jump button not normally seen in RPGs, the hero is able to use his currently equipped weapon. The sword is used to reach high switches, the axe can chop down trees, there's a bomb that breaks open passages, and claw that enables him to climb certain walls (and a later upgrade that allows him to cross certain gaps). Kaeli chops down a glowing tree, and out pops a Minotaur that poisons her. She helps finish the fight, but collapses afterwards, giving us the axe.
The world map has set destinations, and flashing arrows once you've opened the path to the next location
Scattered around the world are battlefield areas that have ten fights to clear. Each rewarded me in some way (experience, gold, or an item) once I'd cleared all ten. To the north was the Sand Temple where the elixir to cure Kaeli was held. Tristam, a treasure hunter, had already collected it though. He offered to sell it for the exorbitant amount of 9,000gp. We struck a deal; I'd help him with his next score in the Bone Dungeon, and he'd give it me. In the process, he also sold me some bombs to open up passages inside.
I avoided a well known bug where the party member elemental and special defenses aren't updated unless you restart
Defeating the Flamerus Rex at the end of the dungeon provided Tristam with the Dragon Claw he desired, and restored the Earth Crystal. I made a short trip to give Kaeli the elixir before continuing my journey on to Aquaria through the Focus Tower. Tristam left the party in search of more treasure. On the way, the old man on the floating cloud suggested I find someone named Phoebe and Captain Mac. Phoebe was in the Libra Temple where she recruited me to free her grandpa Spencer from the frozen water in town.
Using the claw Phoebe gave me to climb walls
There are no random battles in this game. Enemies in dungeons are normally visible, but block choke points that force you to fight most of them. Bosses are also visible. I obtained a Libra Crest, which allowed me to teleport to the Life Temple where I got a drop of Wakewater that restored the heart of the town. This didn't unfreeze the whole town, but it thawed the pass to the Ice Pyramid where I could restore the Water Crystal. To get there, I had to traverse the frozen Falls Basin, which was full of block pushing platform leaping puzzles.
I remember being stumped here when I first played for quite some time, not realizing that the sword could reach this switch
The Ice Pyramid culminated in a battle with an Ice Golem that was rather easy with two fire spells. Phoebe was so excited to see her grandpa that she left me to find my way back. Aquaria was finally unfrozen, and the path under Phoebe's house led me to Spencer, one of Captain Mac's friends. Spencer told me that Captain Mac was stranded on a rock ledge after a lake dried up. While Spencer continued to dig a hole to the captain, he gave me a key to investigate some earthquakes in Fireburg.
Guess I'm helping you save your dad
In Fireburg, I found myself teaming up with Reuben to save his dad. This involved finding Tristam to give us a key to open a lock of a cowardly explosives expert that gave us the mega grenade, a throw-able bomb. I took this to the Mine across from the giant boulder, and through a maze of one-way treadmills and trolley buckets I made it to the summit where I threw a grenade to move the boulder. This opened the way to the Volcano where I could investigate the earthquakes. With a near unlimited supply of seeds, I used my most powerful magic in every battle from this point to the end.
I'm pretty sure I missed the life spell somewhere, it's the one empty slot I had at the end of the game
The defeat of the Dualhead Hydra freed the Fire Crystal. After I freed each crystal, a coin was found nearby that opens another area of the Focus Tower. The next area led to a bridge where Reuben fell. He was fine, but on a cliff I couldn't reach. Tristam was there to pick up the slack. Party members don't share in the experience, and thus don't level while in the party. The only time their level increases is when they rejoin at a later time. On the other side of the bridge was a giant tree blocking the way. Seemed I needed to find Kaeli to speak with the tree, and ask it to move.
Wow, Kaeli, where have you been grinding?
I returned to Aquaria, where Spencer and Tristam joined up to find some treasure. The tunnel was slow going, and Phoebe thought she'd help by blowing it up. That collapsed the tunnel, and now I had to drag Kaeli, who was recently bed ridden, all the way to Windia. The giant tree wanted us to clear out the monsters inside of it before he would move. The boss was a chimera named Gidrah. Defeating it dispersed all the other monsters. In Windia, Otto wouldn't assist us until we saved his daughter, Norma.
You mean I killed all those monsters for nothing
At Mount Gale nearby, I confronted the monster Dullahan. He caused the strong winds that broke apart the rainbow bridge that led to Pazuzu's Tower. I found Norma right away, and sent her back home. Pazuzu was holed up in an elevator, and escaped whenever I came near. The key to getting him to stick around was to seal off the shaft on every even floor. The tower itself was more long than tough, but that may have to do with unleashing full spell power at every chance. Defeating Pazuzu unlocked the elevator, which I rode to the top to free the crystal and collect the coin.
Back in Windia, we discussed the Captain Mac's situation with Otto. Reuben showed up, and told us of a stairway to the top of Focus Tower. Just then Otto had a brilliant idea. We could drain the lake water from Spencer's cave all the way into the dry lake. With the cave-in, the only way to reach it was to increase the power of the Rainbow Road with a Thunder Rock. Reuben joined to help fetch the rock from his father. Filling the lake only moved the ship down to the nearby cave. Getting to that cave required me to find the Mobius Crest inside Spencer's cave, and the tile within Windia that traveled there. I rescued Captain Mac, and met back up with Phoebe in Windia where we learned something startling.
Alright, let's go get Chaos... I mean Dark King
Focus tower was a push through four floors of a boss rush against powered up versions of the four fiends. The room before Dark King refilled my seeds, heals, cures, and arrows. Honestly, the restorative items are thrown at the party so fiercely that I wasn't in fear of running out. They're also so weak that they're useless in the final battle, except seeds, but I only needed 2 at most.
I'm not really sure this boss needed four forms
With Dark King vanquished, peace returned to the world. The old man floating on the cloud revealed himself as crystal of light, guiding me throughout the adventure with cryptic messages (I didn't bother to mention many of them, but they weren't exactly helpful). The hero revisited all his companions, and said his goodbyes. Instead of settling down, he sailed off into the sunset in search of another adventure.

Elapsed Time: 8h50m (Final Time: 8h50m)
Honestly, he just had to get away
Combatant - There's good progression, but the simplicity of the game is evident. Monsters are a strange mix of fantasy stylized animals and creatures. Most of the game devolves into simply casting the best spells. Each monster is weak to at least one spell or weapon. The final bosses of the game have some lockdown status effects (paralyze, stone, confusion) that make them a bit RNG, but manageable eventually.
Rating: 5
Who decided the white background was a good idea?
Admirer - At least you get to name the hero. The default name is Benjamin according to the manual. There's no other customization, but you can choose to skip spells or items if you know about them ahead of time. The different weapons usable on the dungeon maps is an interesting mechanic, but they don't reflect the changing equipment (except the dragon claw).
Rating: 3
The character animation for the hero was funny as well
Puzzler - The puzzles are really light, but there are some things to figure out aside from the strategy of combat. Weapons take on a new aspect as they're used for navigating the game world in addition to slaying monsters. There aren't any side quests to speak of, and only a single solution to reach the conclusion.
Rating: 4
I suppose it's these two I have to thank for these elements
Instigator - The story isn't a stretch for the franchise, but they wanted to keep it simple for their audience. In that I think they succeeded. There aren't any detailed descriptions or lore to find, but it's a fun journey (or maybe that's my nostalgia talking). NPCs are rarely directly helpful, and more often have inane comments on the current situation.
Rating: 3
The translation was actually a big step up from Final Fantasy II, although that may have to do with it being geared for an English audience
Collector - The economy is completely broken. I never had to save up or choose my purchases with care. There are a large number of items and equipment to collect, and it's easy enough to find everything (although I still missed the life spell). The most powerful armor is automatically equipped, and only the latest weapons are usable. There are also more than enough space for consumables that storage isn't an issue.
Rating: 6
I think there are more people in the Special Thanks than the total number that worked on the game
Explorer - The music is wonderful. The graphics, especially battle backgrounds, are simple. The world itself is set on rails, and there's no chance to explore or really miss a particular area. It's no grand world to wander around, but that wasn't really the aim.
Rating: 5
It just keeps going
Final Rating: 26 [43%]

Definitely a bit of nostalgia coloring my opinion, but I don't really care to revisit the numbers. It's a simple, light, easy game that you could get through in a weekend. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in finding out what RPGs are all about (or mostly about). It's a good first impression. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane enough that I didn't hate the game afterwards, but I don't think I'd revisit it again any time soon.
Finally reached the end
Next up we have Legend of the Ghost Lion (often shortened to just Ghost Lion). An NES RPG that's a little different from other RPGs. There are no experience points in this one. Levels are instead gained by collecting a certain item. This one just barely tipped the scale in its favor. I actually hadn't heard of it before starting down the list, so I'm curious to see what it has in store for me. Hopefully it takes longer than a week as I still haven't fixed the TurboDuo.
Maybe they expected to continue the adventure