Saturday, September 21, 2013

Game 20: Dragon Warrior II (NES) - Erdrick's Heirs

Game 20

TitleDragon Warrior II
ReleasedDecember 1990 (January 26, 1987 JP)
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn Based
Series - Dragon Warrior

After the mediocre sampling of RPGs recently, it's nice to get back to a mainstream title. I think this is one of the first games that really hooked me into the story, even though by now I hardly remember anything beyond getting the companions. The cart I had required the NES was powered to keep the battery alive between play sessions.
When Dragon Warrior II was released in the US, Japan was already enjoying Dragon Quest IV. It's interesting that such a long period of time elapsed between releases, but I do enjoy the touch-ups the developers added. One the of most enjoyable was a completely new opening sequence showing the fall of Moonbrooke Castle.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first example of a game introducing the back story through the in-game engine. Phantasy Star I and II had stills paired with text. It's now commonplace to give some back story before the game begins, but most games I've played for the blog so far have just plopped you into the game.
So far the music has really impressed me. The range they got out of the NES so early in its life is amazing. While the title music is probably one of the most recognizable, I feel the file selection/creation score is the best so far.
The ancient history given in the prologue, and more in depth in the manual, is that hero we played last time married the princess. From their love grew three children who moved from the land of Alefgard to found the kingdoms of Midenhall, Cannock, and Moonbrooke. Peace has reigned for the past 100 years.

That peace was broken when an evil force attacked Moonbrooke, an evil believed to be brought on by Hargon. The King attempted to get the princess to safety, but they were overwhelmed by demons. Only a lone soldier, heavily wounded, managed to drag himself from the besieged castle all the way to Midenhall (I'm not sure how he managed as I could barely make that journey).

Upon his arrival, he relayed his story to the king of Midenhall. It spread quickly from there as normal townsfolk commented on the fall of Moonbrooke. The king, too old for such an adventure, appointed his heir to the task, and suggested he seek out his cousins from Cannock and Moonbrooke. I named the main character Gustavyo, which helps to determine the names of the prince of Cannock (Lars) and princess of Moonbrooke (Kailin). I can just imagine the schoolyard arguments about what their real names.
This is about the point where the Japanese intro begins

Erdrick, Erdrick, Erdrick... it seems that's I all I hear about
The interface is similar to the first game: menu based actions for talk, search, and other normal actions. One improvement is that stairs are accessed immediately by walking on them instead of through the menu.
*Plop*... finally ;)
I remember seeking out the companions immediately while keeping my level low was a good strategy since it keeps everyone's level at about equal pace. I forgot exactly how annoying this was to accomplish.
I remember these moon ga... I mean traveling whirlpools
Lars, the prince of Cannock, is the easiest companion to get. He only appears after chasing him down from his castle, to the Spring of Bravery, to Midenhall, and finally to Leftwyne. I suppose this is to help the hero get his feet wet, gain a few levels, and some gold.
Uhhh, this is Midenhall...
Kailin, the princess of Moonbrooke, was in the castle during the attack. Hamlin, a village nearby, acts as a base to explore the area. Here a dog follows the party around when spoken to, a hint that something isn't quite as it seems.
There really is no excuse for getting lost at this point
I ran into quite a bit of trouble trying to make it through this area underleveled. Dying is quite a setback. Only the main character is brought back to life, and half the party's gold is taken as payment for those services. There's still the cost to raise the other party members. I broke down after my first few attempts and gained about 3 levels before I tried again.
Seriously? I'm trying to save the world here
In Moonbrooke, which is overrun with monsters, the ghosts of the inhabitants haunt the ruins. The king's spirit tells the hero that his daughter was turned into a common mutt. Piecing together a couple of hints, one from another spirit that tells us where to find the Mirror of Ra, and a randomly informed NPC, I found the mirror and broke the transformation spell.
Reflect, like a mirror, gotcha
Why is it called the Mirror of Ra?
With the party fully assembled, I went back to the starting area to explore the land. I learned from the Spring of Bravery that the Token of Erdrick would play a role. I ended the session on a return trip to Midenhall, on my way to a monolith to the south. I learned about that from an old man who spoke of his brother staying there.
You'd think they'd keep better track of their family heirlooms
I was looking forward to playing the following night; unfortunately, my cart (more accurately my save) was struck down by a faulty battery. I thought I had a different cart. Apparently I either have the original, or this one has the same problem. At least it happened at the beginning of my adventure instead of half way through.

Yes, a great shame
I have two options at this point: emulate or marathon the game in a single session. I'm leaning towards emulation as I, 1) already have the game, so don't feel so bad about doing it, and 2) it keeps play time in sync with posts, so I can get feedback from you guys. If I played the game straight it'd take up an entire weekend, I'd get dirty looks from my family, and either create one gigantic post or have to piecemeal my experience up to certain parts. I won't have time to play this weekend in any case, so I'll mull over it in the mean time.
This is my only lead for something to do other than random exploration
I'll work on getting a save to the same point, and then continue on from there unless there's a great calling to burn through this game in a single weekend. I can now stream an emulator, so for those that watch the stream you'll still have that option.
There's also this, but I have no idea where it is; Oh, and that's Lars the ghost
Session Time: 1h33m (Total Time: 1h33m)

Edit: I've since run through the same actions (with less dying and meandering), and am at the same point in my now lost save file. Kailin, the princess, is 1 level higher since I didn't waste money on a fairy water that prevented some overland battles. I have a precedent apparently where I just add the time it took to get back, and I'm pretty surprised it only took 30 minutes.
I also got a lottery ticket, which I'll talk about next time; one added benefit to emulation is true resolution screenshots
Session Time: 0h30m (Total Time: 2h03m)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Game 19: Swords and Serpents (NES) - Final Rating

Combat is a flood of random encounters that never really provide any sort of challenge. It's possible to target the head, legs, or body, but I rarely saw a marked increase in damage for the obviously lower hit-rate. Offensive magic is mostly useless; spell points are better relegated to buffs and healing. Party death isn't much of a deterrent; it results in losing all gold and reviving at the nearest temple.

Enemies have no special tricks beyond their basic attack. Some are quicker than others, some even attack multiple characters, but none cast spells or have other tricks. It's nice there's no instant death, poison, or paralysis; yet, without them there's nothing to fear except low HP. The final boss, the only unique enemy, was equally dull. Rewards for combat quickly fall off as gold, experience, and even dropped items become useless, or worse yet, a hindrance.
Rating: 3
These are the most time consuming battles as the wizards hit all character with each attack
Beyond the names selected, the attributes rolled, and the classes chosen, there's little distinction between the four adventurers. There's no outward appearance, max stats are universal, and there are no character levels, only a single party level. Spells are found scattered about the dungeon rather than gained upon level-up. About the only positive thing I can mention here is the ability to play any* party you desire. I threw in an extra point for the multi-player aspect, even though I can only imagine it bogging down the game.

*Beating the game requires at least one magician
Rating: 3
Even with starting stats like this Pathos only had 30 HP at max level
Well this is surprising, one of the highest puzzle scores in some time. This is helped by the riddle like clues spread throughout the dungeon that are pieced together to navigate the final level successfully. There's probably only one that's truly necessary, while the rest of the map could fall to trial and error.

Beyond that, the main quest is clear: kill the serpent. To do so you'll need to collect the ruby treasures, which opens up a teleporter to the final three levels. The bit with the horseshoe and the collection of all the spells also help to prop up this category. The game is still shaky, but it offers enough of an experience to keep it from becoming stale. If only it offered more puzzles.
Rating: 4
Hopefully you've found all the hints
The story is rather light, but I don't expect much from a dungeon crawler. The collection of equipment, advancement, and overcoming individual challenges are normally what this style of game is all about. NPCs do appear sporadically to offer advice for how to progress.

Really though, it feels less like I'm headed down to defeat the big bad dragon serpent that's terrorizing the land, and more like I'm off to kill a dragon serpent lounging in his pad minding his own business. Despite a clear and present danger, I enjoyed the bits of story elements and the scrawlings of past adventurers hinting on how to get into the dragon serpent's lair. (How exactly did they know? Did they make it all the way there, only to escape back to level 4 and write it down?) There's no wrap up; just an ending screen with congratulations and passwords for my characters that suggest either replayability or a sequel that never materialized.
Rating: 3
In the beginning I praised the number of items that dropped from combat. By the end I'd come to curse my constantly full inventory. With four pieces of equipment taking up six available slots plus unequippable ruby items and keys filling up the rest, I only had one or two slots open. Drops are given only to the one that deals the killing blow; however, if they don't have room, then there's no drop. If only there were a place to store items.

This game has by far one of the best examples for equipment stats. Even better would be to see the stats of equipment before purchase. In any case, the efficiency (used in calculating turn order), power, AC bonus, price, and number of attacks are all listed for each piece of equipment, in addition to what character class can use it. It's just too bad most of it is useless junk. For anyone reading for hints, feel free to drop the keys after use.
Rating: 3
"Jewels" turned out to be just useless gold
Dungeon crawlers often suffer on exploration since the sights to see are rather mundane. About the only thing that changes from one level to the next is the color of the tile. Magic fountains, pressure plates, and stairs are all seen through text. All music and sound effects are passable, except for the title music, which I try not to listen to for long.

As a world, it's not very believable, but exploring every square of it often yields interesting rewards, such as spells or new pieces of equipment. Exploration is really only limited by the strength of party, and how far you want to push them. Although there are literally invisible walls on one level, I'm not going to fault the entire game for it. There are obvious limitations, such as requiring a crystal on level 12 to get the last ruby item, which once all seven are collected opens the final area. It's just too bad there weren't more points of interest.
Rating: 3
Enemies are the only interesting sights
Final Rating: 19 [32%]

While not the best game we've seen, it's at least a step above Wizardry. That's not really saying much, but when it comes down to it, I can't suggest this as a game to play. I can only see multi-player adding more frustration than fun.

This review really wouldn't be complete without pointing out the speedrun done in 52 minutes. This is a stream recording; so, while not the best quality, I think it works well enough to ask, "what should I do with the other 11 hours of my time now?"

Next up is Dragon Warrior II. This one shouldn't disappoint, unless the save battery gives out in the middle. If that happens I'll just have to marathon the entire game one weekend. I don't remember if I personally beat the game, but I remember watching my brother do it and I may have played up until the very end. The final dungeon is well known for being difficult.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Game 19: Swords and Serpents (NES) - Finished!

Now just connect your official Nintendo printer to the NES and save this certificate
I was all set to write up an intermediate post. I even had a post title picked out, "and Downward Winding Ways," as the game was quickly losing steam. I nearly called off the final expedition as my spell points started to run low on the 14th floor; I just so happened to bump into a magic fountain as the thought passed. I then decided I'd press on for a bit more, and ended up beating the game.
Thanks for ignoring the warning signs; here's some experience
The last session left off as I started to explore the 9th floor. The stairs down from the 8th proved to be a dead end, although offered another hint about "victory" that I wrote down. The real entrance was back on the 4th, which I previously found. While I was up there I ran through the 3rd and found the gold key, which allowed me access to another useless ruby item (Ruby Glasses).
I missed the hint that explained zoom tubes entered backwards can lead to a different level; glad it wasn't necessary
The only helpful zoom tube on the 9th led to the 13th, which had yet another that connected to the 10th floor. After reading a FAQ, I now know all the tubes on the 13th result in the same destination, but at the time I wondered where the other seven tubes would go.
You have passwall right?
On the 10th was the last temple, stairs to level 11, an old man who likes to count pieces of ruby equipment, and an armory. The temple works like all the others, free healing a recovery; I learned the starting temple after loading a game is based on the floor the party stopped on, not the last temple visited. I also learned the horseshoe can be used every time a game is loaded, not that it's needed.
Two things wrong with this picture; can you spot them?
It was about this time I noticed max HP and SP is 31. This was reached long before max level, which is 16. Attributes still go up, so there is that, but since gold is useless, and experience is now useless, the only thing combat has going for it are item drops. None compare to the Plus 3 or Ruby sword, and once I found the Magic Plate, items were nothing more than a burden that required disposal.
Stop it, Norck! We don't need anymore useless yellow metal
On the 11th floor was the Ruby Sword, found by dancing on its tip (the floor map looks like a sword). Piecing together two earlier clues to turn seven times and the sword was hidden at the point was simple enough. The 12th level contained the Black Crystal, an item sought after since the beginning.
Wow, this looks important, but I never did figure out its meaning
The 12th level was really simple, and I still don't understand the clue. I found the crystal in the very last unexplored room. At least it wasn't all for naught since I picked up the Regenerate spell, which fully heals a character. Delivering the Black Crystal to the old man on level 1 transports the party to an unreachable section of level 13 that is completely walled off.
And so, the noble party starved to death; Luckily a wandering monk brought them back to the temple
I was too loose with my magic, and ran out in the middle of a Passwall maze. With no way out, I had to use "Last Resort" from the menu. This caused all HP to drain, and I awoke at the temple on the 10th floor. On my return trip I learned I was only a single Passwall away from a magic fountain, but I was blocked by a group of mages that had a good chance of wiping out my party anyway. At least it was easy to get the Ruby Amulet on my second attempt.
Teleport to level 14 without escape!
With all seven pieces of ruby equipment the old man who likes to count them teleported me without warning to level 14. I should have expected it by now. Levels 14 and 15 are heavily connected with stairs going up and down all over the place. It was rather uneventful. I ran from most fights I could, but found some encounters were set. I managed to find the stairs down to level 16 before completely running out of magic.
Each level has a name, this one is Dragon... I wonder why
And so began the end game. I looked back over my notes, and they all seemed to line up. I just hoped I hadn't missed any.
Nowhere else in the game does specific movement trigger a teleporter without a trigger message
Even following the messages I became a bit lost, but found my way to the inner sanctum of the dragon. Fighting the serpent was a simple matter of having the mages first buff and then heal the party while the fighter and thief wailed on him. He went down without much fuss.
We all knew there was a dragon, and no one brought a protection from fire spell?
Finally got a fourth silver helm!
I'm a bit glad I pushed through to the end. I mean if I hadn't, then the actual finishing post would have been ultra light. Although I suppose I could have tried to fill it with all the "victory" messages pieced together. That's it, game over guys, time to go home. The ending has the screen flash wildly, displays passwords for all characters, and then the final screen up top. Those loop until you turn off the NES.
Kilian the fighter returns to his barbarian lands with his new dragon head trophy

Norick the thief steals off into the night as he counts his ":362" pieces of gold

Weavil decides to become the new dragon
Pathos attempts to take over the temples and turn them into a resort
Good times, glad this one is over (I always say this) since it was really becoming a bit of a chore near the end. The rewards for combat dropped out completely, and I'm a little disappointed by the ending.

I've already written up the final rating post, just need to review the draft and put pictures in it. I'm eager to start Dragon Warrior II, so I'm hoping to wrap up that post by tonight. And, in case anyone wants the intermediate passwords, here they are:

Norick - X29R7NT9P3BRK
Weavil - WA49YMFGAQQB?
Pathos - 4RZMTMGK6B2K
Game - SQERS???XS94VK

Kilian - XEH6Z73TP9SWCH?
Norick - 279F7PXEP3GJ?
Weavil - ?J4EZ6OKUUZQ3B?
Pathos - NNZI7FK?6C?CW
Game - GQERS??4X7XX9K

Session Time: 5h25m (Final Time: 12h10m)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Game 19: Swords and Serpents (NES) - And Passing Wordy Walls

One of the best sensations is the feeling of excitement about getting back into a game. Even though Swords and Serpents is light on story, I look forward to delving into the dungeon. The game does well at piecing out rewards through set treasure and spells, as well as equipment.
Examine item gives very detailed stats; allegedly, a higher efficiency score is better
One of the worst feelings when playing these old games is coming back only to realize the game is messed up in some way. For those with battery saves, a dead battery or corrupted save are growing concerns. Luckily for this game there's no chance of that with passwords; however, I do seem to continue to run into a bug every time I load the game.
According to the manual the highest cost spell is 4 points
When first loading the game, buffing spells like shield and flight cost too much to cast. I got around it by casting heal first, which then seemed to reset the casting cost of the other spells. I do wonder how this bug even occurs. With that out of the way, I moved on back down to level 3 as loading a game always starts the party at a temple (possibly the last one visited, although I'm unsure).
Does it give me extra luck to carry it?
The third floor had triggers to hit before doors in a hub would open to another area. I found a number of items: wizard's wand, scale, and a horseshoe. I also came across the Deadeye spell, which increases accuracy for one party member for one battle. The last room before heading down to the fourth floor contained a magic fountain that restores all spell points. It only has one or two uses, which I believe are reset by visiting a temple.
I just realized from this screenshot I missed searching the square above
The fourth floor had another trigger puzzle. This time they were all available, but required activation in a specific order. The monster strength increased noticeably on this floor, which took some time to get through since I took the longest route possible. Once all four triggers are hit (one behind secret doors), a door appears to the center square of the map.
Each floor has a message on the wall about "Victory"
I was eager to get to the fifth floor, which promised another temple; the next base camp from which to assault the lower levels. Waiting here was the spell Passwall. This is probably why magicians are necessary. Passwall is a powerful spell that puts the party one space forward, even through walls. It can fail on some walls even when there is something on the other side, but more often than not it succeeds.
On the other side of this very wall was a powerful piece of armor for my mage
I found the temple, another armory, and the stairs down all lumped together. The armory didn't offer anything new that I didn't already have, so I felt a bit silly when I realized I had nearly 3,000 gold and nothing to spend it on. I wonder if the economy will level off again.
I hope these messages will start to make sense
On the sixth floor I finally found one of the fabled ruby items, actually two. The shield and ring were very close together, and increased my armor rating by a good amount. I also found a brass key, which opened two brass doors on the eighth floor. I still have it hanging around my inventory taking up valuable space, but I'd like to get rid of it if it doesn't have any more use; I'm not sure there are more doors to open with it. I stumbled into a teleporter. That's okay, I thought, I've already mapped out most of level six with the auto-map, so I should be able to... wait, the color changed.
That looks like the wall color for... oh no
I was afraid of that
Sent back to level 1, I called it a night:


Instead of posting the above on its own, I pressed on a following night. With the realization that I could randomly find myself off the current floor, I broke down and started my own maps, starting with level 7. Luckily, I remembered a small unmapped square in the upper left corner of level 1, it was surrounded by walls. One passwall later I found myself back at level 6. Not too shabby.
I also found secret level beta, but have no idea what these mean
I remembered a similar place on level 4 and found myself on level 9. There were many teleporters and zoom tubes. A message on some walls warned me not to be too curious. On the other end of one of the zoom tubes, I found myself back at level 1. That was enough of that for now... I think I'll stick with the stairs.
I'm pretty sure I'm here a little early
Even though it adds minutes to exploration I'm glad I made my own maps. Level 7 wasn't too bad, but level 8 has invisible walls everywhere. I collected a couple more pieces of ruby equipment, the Major Heal spell (party heal), and a prize of another 500 worthless pieces of gold. The Ruby Crown is the only piece of ruby ware that isn't armor. I feel like I'm going to run out of room for items before I reach level 10.
Why can't I wear a crown?
Only thing of note on level 8, aside from the horrendous design, was a short pole in the sand. It was such a strange sight that I immediately knew it was important. I didn't have to guess at all since there was really only one item I hadn't used.
I pictured it standing up, but it's actually rather ambiguous whether it's buried or lying horizontally in the sand
Use horseshoe results in throwing it at the pole. Some invisible force decided it was good.
Enough to gain another experience level before calling it a night
It's an interesting puzzle; one that breaks what I would considered immersion in a consistent game world, but at the same time it was rewarding when the above message congratulated me on knowing the game Horseshoes. With that sense of accomplishment, I ended the night.
Passwords abound
Make me frown
An option for a battery
Would imbue much flattery
Instead, I write it down
If I can remember to do so, I'll check out level 3 again to see what's behind the walls. I'm still searching for a black crystal and gold key to bring back to level 1 and 2 respectively. Level 4 did have another passage where I was warned not to explore, and level 9 seems to have the same. I should at least make it to level 10 by the end of next session. I'll probably hold off on posts until I reach level 12 or 13, depending on how much happens between now and then. The game spoils that there are 16 levels.

Session Time: 5h09m (Total Time: 6h45m)