Monday, December 29, 2014

Game 33: Tombs & Treasure (NES) - Square Peg, Round Hole

Game 33

Title: Tombs & Treasure
Released: June 1991 (August 1988 JPN)
Platform: NES
Developer: Compile
Publisher: Infocom
Genre: Adventure-RPG
Exploration - Top-down & first-person
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (Asteka in JPN)

So, who made this game?
Let the record show that deep down I don't believe this is an RPG. Someone (Infocom) took an adventure game, and then reworked it to accommodate enough trappings to force it into that genre. If my scale took into account time and effort invested into each area, then this would definitely come up short; however, that's much too complicated and I'd rather just play through some short games than stress over into what genre a game most cleanly fits.
I must be losing my touch, I didn't suspect the guide at all
Even more complicated than the genre was the development history of the game. Infocom was definitely the US publisher, and added the RPG elements in order to appeal more to the console market (edit: the RPG elements were added in the Famicom release, not the NES one). The story was reworked a bit from the original Falcom release to fit these changes. Tokyo Shoseki was the Japanese publisher. Tombs & Treasure was based on Asteka II, originally developed by Nihon Falcom. Why then do the credits list artists and programmers that worked exclusively on games developed by Compile? My best guess is that Compile created the port to the Famicom, but the company was left uncredited (a not too uncommon occurrence).
Old books only speak truth
The game began with some back story on Prof. Imes. He took an expedition to Mayan ruins, and his men started to mysteriously disappear each week until only their guide, Jose, was left. The player takes control of a boy that tags along with Prof. Imes' grand(edit: my mistake)daughter. After naming both the adventure opens with the pair in Prof. Imes' office; his secretary was standing there.
Don't all teenagers solve mysteries during the summer?
Before I began playing, I dug up the map and manual that originally came with the game (I only have the cart). The map had hints marked for each location that weren't alluded to in the game. Also, the manual had a hand written section from the point of view of Prof. Imes. I jotted down everything that seemed relevant, and kept both handy as I spoke to the secretary and read the professor's in-game notebook. This is the map I used.
Ma'am, I think your eye is drooping (partial *Plop*)
Prof. Imes' belongings were found at the Well of Sacrifice, which had been drained at the time, but quickly filled up with water. I added the sword, lighter, and silver key to my inventory, which began with a bandage in it; then I read his notebook. It mentioned a sun necklace in the Warriors' Temple that needed a wash, and demons that could be fought with a sword. Lastly it mentioned Tentacula as the demon lord to defeat. First I needed to find the Sun Key.
I'll just call you Zombie Jo
Jose, the last of the professor's expedition crew, was there to meet me as I left the office. He mentioned that all the demons had reset the puzzles, and the first place I should go was the High Priest's Tomb to retrieve a mosaic tile. Actually, before that I should grab the Ixmol Jewel at the Nunnery. Looking into the jewel provided a password to resume the journey.
*Plop* (full control gained)
Once I entered the Mayan landscape I had no way back to the office with the secretary. To the north was the Nunnery, which only held the Ixmol Jewel. There seemed to be nothing more to do there for the time being. I made my way to the Tomb of the High Priest, but was blocked by the first demon. Any action I took caused Skorpor to appear. It was an easy fight, as were most battles.
These are the only stats seen
Combat was a joke. I was either strong enough to kill a monster or not. Monsters were not random, and the same ones always appeared in the same place until defeated. In this way they act more as gatekeepers for each area. Experience, and thus levels, were gained from defeating monsters and solving certain puzzles. Attacks either badly damage the enemy (this indicates winning is possible) or hardly damage at all (running is the only option). Also, the lead character was the only one who participated in combat, which was as simple as selecting the Fight option. Blows were traded, dodges happened automatically, and there's a slight element of randomness to determine who wins in the end. Running from battle was as easy as leaving the area, and HP is fully regained as soon as combat was over.
The other characters help to solve puzzles only
With combat as basic as can be, almost mimicking an adventure game itself, I almost called the game off as not an RPG. Why does Jose, a character who's supposed to be much strong than the lead character, do absolutely nothing during combat? Instead, I get to use his strength to push, pull, or turn things. He's the only one that can push open up the secret passage. Inside was a tomb, and the mosaic tile I sought was sitting on top. The lid opened as soon as I took it, revealing the skeleton of a high priest. He had a strange one-eyed burial mask, which I picked up as well. Jose pointed out that the tile was used to open a secret passage in the El Castillo Pyramid.
Each location showed a little walking animation as the party entered
The demon guarding the pyramid was the fearsome two-beak. At first I thought I was in the wrong place as he nearly killed me off, but it turned out to be a bout of bad luck and I easily put him down on a second attempt. I was then free to explore Castillo. The first room had a strange hole in the floor, which I could do nothing with; a second room lay ahead. That room was a small hallway with a hollow set in the far wall. When I placed the mosaic tile into that it caused the walls to raise (or lower... I'm not sure) and revealed a treasure filled room.
This could be a trap...
This was a strange room. The girl wouldn't let me leave before I found everything, which I did finally by trying every action on each item in the room. By looking at the flask in the upper right I found a small rod. I easily picked up the golden mirror, small bowl, and golden stand. I also took the silver globe from the statue's arms. Something shined from within the tall green flask, but I couldn't find a way to get it out. I ended up having to smash it (one of the many actions available in the scrolling icons menu).
Before I could say "cursed ring" the girl slipped it on her finger
After all that she still complained that I could carry more. I looked over my inventory now that I picked up some items. The small bowl seemed to have a pin sticking up in the middle. I tried to combine it with a small rod, and voila, a compass was born. Not helpful at that time, but I'm sure it would come in handy. Still not enough to leave I turned my attention to the stone box. It contained some heavy tablets, but I couldn't read them in such little light. I tried to use the lighter, no luck. Seemed the game wanted a very specific solution to my lighting problem. In the end I found I needed to move the pile of coins in order to find a red jewel.
Fitting the red jewel in the sword made it more powerful; fitting it into the one-eyed mask allowed me to see things otherwise unseen
Once I found everything I was allowed to leave Castillo. I headed for Caracol. I had tried the Warriors' Temple, but found the Cadaver enemy there proved too powerful. The same was true of the Ball Court with its Hornskull. The Snake Master at Caracol was a bit too much though at level 5. I ended up at the Well of Paradise to wash the mirror off; I retrieved the golden pipes there and reached level 6. There's no announcement when gaining levels, it just happens in the background. I explored the last couple locations. There was no enemy at the Well of Sacrifice, but the Court of Columns had one called El Slug.
It's also possible to look at the enemies to gauge their difficulty
I was able to beat down El Slug, but couldn't find anything to do at the Court of Columns. I made my way back to El Caracol, and easily defeated the Snake Master. With the demon out of the way I explored the room with a single window and pedestal. Out the window I could somehow see directly to the Court of Columns. The pedestal looked like it would fit the silver globe perfectly, and it did, but nothing happened. Jose mentioned there should be a second floor, but I couldn't find a staircase. Only an hour in and I was starting to get stuck on clues. I consulted the map for hints, and noted that the girl should play music at Caracol, but the pipes were cracked. I stumbled upon the solution to fixing them while staring at my inventory: the bandage. Back at Caracol, the lead character played them poorly, but the girl was more musically talented.
Go thatta way!
Following the beam of light back to the columns, I found the one it was pointing towards and dug at its base. Buried there was a golden sphere. Performing the same actions at Caracol, this time with the golden sphere, resulted in a different column highlighted. At the base of that one was a stone head. My first thought was to place that on the headless statue at El Castillo, but for some reason I failed to choose the correct action. Instead of the 'put' command, I tried the 'use' command and it told me I couldn't use it. I was stuck trying to figure out what I did wrong for quite some time. What threw me off was the statue was described as a woman, but the head was in such poor shape that I couldn't determine the gender.
Grasping for something to do, I used the One-eyed Mask in that room and found I could then read the stone tablets
While searching I attempted to battle the last two monsters at the Ball Court and Warriors' Temple, but both were too powerful. The one at the ball court suggested I needed a blue jewel. I saw that jewel in the head of a jaguar statue at the Warriors' Temple. Viewing the tablets put me up another level, just enough to defeat the Cadaver. There was a statue of a girl there, and she held the sun necklace. Ripping that away from the statue caused the jaguar statue in the middle to come to life. From the tablets I knew I could transform it back into a statue if I could play music at noon; however, I couldn't know the time of day until I washed off the necklace.
It's nice it came with instructions on the back
When I returned to the Temple of Warriors I found the jaguar and statue missing. Behind it was a suspicious hole with an iron key stuck inside. My first thought was to find something magnetic, but looking in my inventory I couldn't think of anything that fit. Messing around for too long caused the jaguar to return, and I used the pipes to return it to statue form. I was then able to pull out the blue jewel from its forehead. That jewel, affixed to the sword. allowed me to defeat Hornskull. Inside the Ball Court was a mechanism held together with a stone pawl, and there was a corridor that led deeper.
Well that's not suspicious
Along the path I found a blue stone. I passed by the first time and headed deeper still. In the next room the wall again looked suspicious, but I couldn't find a differently colored block. Attempting to go any deeper was met with a warning that it was too dark to go further. Apparently no one had figured out how to make a torch. I made my way back and took the blue block. This opened a side passage with a green jewel sitting atop an engraved stand. It looked like a trap. I took it anyway.
It was a trap
Up to that point I felt confident that the game wouldn't allow me to dead end myself. Since combat allowed me to restore with little issue, I figured the game had certain safeguards. The "press reset" was meant quite literally. I took passwords while playing, but it became apparent I would need to start from the beginning as I loaded up the game and took stock of my options. Most notably I had the severed silver head, the key in the hole, and the mystery of the second floor of Caracol to solve. First though I removed the pawl from the Ball Court entrance and noted it closed off the corridor.
Also found a use for the blue stone
The blue stone fit into the hole in the Castillo Pyramid. The room below had another gear system, but while this one had a handle there was no pawl to keep it in place. I tore off the pawl, placed it there, and used Jose's strength to turn it into place. This caused a rushing of water somewhere nearby. It was the Well of Sacrifice emptying out. With nothing else proving fruitful I headed over there and climbed down, ignoring the warnings of Jose that I needed the Akbal Jewel (the green one), crystal key (never seen this), and the mirror (the only item I had). Jose and the girl stayed behind as I climbed down.
I promptly died
I was out of ideas at that point and called it a night, hoping that I could come back with a fresh mind. I've already finished the game at this point, but I was a bit frustrated at the time. It seemed like such a short game only to get hung up on mechanics I consider bad design. Join me next time for the exciting conclusion.

Elapsed Time: 2h23m (Total Time: 2h23m)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Game 32: Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Genesis) - What's Second? I Don't Know (Finished Today)

A bit lackluster
I thought the game would be longer, and I had a theme going for the titles. Apologies for forcing it; I'll try to plan it out better next time. The second and third generations blazed by in less time than the first. I really didn't anticipate it wrapping up when it did.
The monsters sure got stranger
Divisia had some new equipment, and I ended up having enough to fully deck out Nial, Mieu, and Wren. To the west was the rebel army. Who were they rebelling against? Apparently Lune. I'm not sure why they were called rebels honestly since Lune wasn't their king or ruler but an invading force. When I arrived, the leader (Ryan) thought I was working for Lune since he'd heard that I'd "released" Alair.
This one line convinced him I was on the rebels' side
Ryan joined after Lune appeared out of nowhere to gloat, and Ryan imparted the sub part for Wren. With it I returned to Aridia through the southeast cave in Landen. That cave was accessible thanks to the Twins' Ruby in Ryan's possession. In the single town in the land of Aridia, I learned of a whirlpool to the southeast. A whirlpool that didn't actually appear on the map. I had to use my imagination to find the hidden spot at the end of the river.
What passage would this be, and where's the whirlpool?
The world below Aridia was lush and vibrant; however, the only interesting location was a temple. This time it housed not a booming voice, but a young girl watched over and cared for by either old people that have lived for 1,000 years or cyborgs. Housed in the temple was Laya, Laya's younger sister. Not confusing at all. The younger sister of the woman who battled Orakio was kept alive all these years through cryogenic sleep.
Here I learned the original Laya's fate... black sword, where have I heard that before?
After reviving Laya, one of the caretakers told me with her stone (the Mystery Star) I could now travel southwest to Frigidia, and the town of Mystoke held the key to truth. Frigidia was a snowy wasteland with Mystoke as the only accessible town. The townsfolk were waiting for Laya, and instructed the party to venture into the monster infested castle to find Laya's Pendant, and her final message.
Orakio and Laya ran off together never to be seen again
Laya revealed through her pendant that she and Orakio discovered they were being manipulated by an ancient evil, and were going to seal it. It seemed they succeeded, although it's unsure what become of them in the end. Still, as Dark Force does, he returned after 1,000 years.
Fan[ny] service
In Mystoke, another random character told me to head for Aerone, south of Divisia. The cave back to that land was locked, but with Laya's Pendant I traveled quickly from one temple to the next. Temples exist next to every cave without exception, which is helpful for fast travel. Before I left, I adjusted the techs on Laya, which included healing. Finally having two characters with with healing really relieved my need for healing items. The game just kept getting easier and easier.
Every four spells are balanced against each other, and adjusting them makes one more powerful while another becomes weaker
When I arrived in Aerone, home of the pilots, I was told the two satellites were named Dahlia and Azura, and they orbit the homeworld, Alisa  III. I was then instructed to find the rocket shuttle to the east of a path to reach Dahlia, home of Lune.
What path? Follow it where?
I was a little lost for what to do there. I explored the land outside thinking I'd find some path outside. I wandered around, but only confirmed these worlds really were bare except for the important locations. When I returned to Aerone and spoke to everyone again, it occurred to me that the message might be quite literal. I followed that short cobblestone path to the right, and before I hit the woods I found myself in the rocket lab.
Well that explains the bubble worlds, but how could someone forget they're on a spaceship?
The satellite Dahlia was actually a space station orbiting a cluster ship, the Alisa III. While there were monsters on the surface, they were strangely absent from the inner dungeon where I found Lune. He was experiencing some form of mania after being locked away for so long. He was slightly harder than the king of Cille, which really isn't saying much.
Confirmed Power Blade was set in the Phantasy Star universe
Once defeated, he recognized Laya's Pendant and called off his attack. He recalled his entire army. With that Nial's quest ended abruptly. I suppose with the threat of Lune removed, there wasn't anything more to accomplish. Except, you know, selecting a woman to marry.
Called it!
I chose Laya since I'd actually traveled with her. With that union, the Orakians and Layans finally united into a single bloodline. Born from that couple were twins, Adan, a boy and main character for the third generation, and Gwyn, a girl. Both were capable of healing, and I once again was accompanied by Wren and Mieu. At the tender age of sixteen Gwyn starting having nightmares about falling into a black hole.
Or was it 15...
What really started off the adventure was a huge earthquake. Nial commanded Adan to investigate, and Gwyn tagged along. He suggested Lune as a good place to begin. Speaking with random people, the prominent rumor mill talk was of Rulakir, the last competent pilot still around. On Dahlia I was told to seek out Skyhaven in Frigidia, but I'd first need the aero part for Wren, which was coincidentally in the dungeon. I learned that the earthquake happened when we were hit by debris of another ship just like ours being destroyed by a different ship just like ours. Supposedly ours and the aggressor were the last two ships. That mysterious attack remained unanswered.
Kara is Lune's daughter, and she joined the party
With Kara joining, we had a full party very early on, and another healer. That's four out of five characters now capable of healing the party. With that, I now felt completely overpowered. I delved into the dungeon and retrieved the aero part while everyone gained obscene amounts of experience.
Flying around without random battles is the best feeling, but take-off and landing are only possible at the airstrips
With access to flight I found a couple new towns in Frigidia. Gwyn also came with Laya's Pendant, so I still had access to the teleport temples. I've heard other generations don't get such fast travel so early. I guess I got lucky and picked the quickest path through the game. Anyway, the first town was New Mota where ancient historians actually recorded the full history and origin of Alisa III and the full fleet.
The history in nice easy gif form
Turned out everyone on these spaceships were survivors of Palm. Destroyed back in Phantasy Star II, Palm was the home planet of Alis. The people of the planet knew of an impending doom, and created 400 of these spaceships to escape. Only two remained, the Alisa III and New Palm. Now Dark Force is working to destroy the last two, and end the bloodline of his ancient enemy. The other town was Skyhaven, floating in the air just north of Mystoke.
Now I have to collect some weapons to defeat Dark Force
The wise men of Skyhaven told me I would need a word of power to re-energize the legendary weapons of Orakio's Sword, Miun's Claw, Siren's Shot, Laya's Bow, and Lune's Slicer. I already had the bow (passed on to Gwyn from Laya), and the slicer (passed on to Kara from Lune).  Before I left I gathered the aqua parts for Wren from the local dungeon, and I learned of a sage near Cille that could teach me the word of power. The sword, I remembered from the beginning, was stuck below the lake of Landen. Getting there required the aqua part and the sub part.
Seemed strange to pull the sword out to defeat Dark Force when he's supposed to be sealed by the sword
After pulling the sword, Adan learned Megido, which is a very powerful spell that I had no control over. There's no way to use the technique, and it sits in a slot off by itself. With sword in hand I fooled the wandering cyborg in Aridia into thinking I was Orakio. She powered down, and I swiped her claw. Four out of five weapons, I thought I might as well see that sage to check for hints. Turned out Siren was waiting for me inside, but collapsed after finishing a lamenting monologue about our true enemy.
We are the knights who say Nei!
In addition to the power word for the weapons, Mieu learned a technique called Grantz. I was then told to returned to Skyhaven with the word to power the weapons. I did so, and they were renamed Nei <weapon type>. That left only Dark Force to take care of, if only I could find him.
All seven areas were available during the last scenario
The only areas left unexplored were the bottom right and far right. I checked the bottom right first, and quickly found a floating city as described by someone in Skyhaven. By the conversation I had with the first NPC I arrived, it seemed I was in the correct place.
Yep, this looks like the right place
Unfortunately, I couldn't get in. As soon as I had entered, that lady in yellow walked forward and blocked my path. I tried to get by her, talked to her a couple times, but she just wouldn't budge. I guessed that I might have missed something. There was a whole other circle I had left unchecked. So, I left and looked for something there. I found three villages, but all the hints there seemed inconsequential to defeating Dark Force. After wasting an hour exploring, I came back to Lashute only to find the character that blocked me before walked in a different direction. A completely random chance to move caused me to waste an hour.
Aren't you the pilot I was supposed to locate?
Rulakir waited for me at the end of the floating city. While the fight was long, it wasn't difficult with the amount of healing I had available. Rulakir was working for Dark Force by steering the ship into the black hole, possibly even might be Orakio's twin brother, but it's not very clear through only this storyline. Apparently each path adds a bit more to the story, and each third generation has a different ending (even though all the basic actions are the same).
This was right before I faced Dark Force... I might be overleveled, but I never grinded
Beyond Rulakir was a dungeon maze with a few chests. In one of the chests was Dark Force. I'm not really sure why he was hiding in a chest, but it sure did surprise me. Luckily I had more than enough power to get through the fight.
Is that a second face in your crotch?
Like all the other bosses, Dark Force posed little threat. His attacks were a bit more annoying, but I dedicated a couple people to Gires (party heal) duty, which kept the damage in check. With the amount of meseta I had saved up I could have just as easily bought some star mists (full party heal) for each character. Dark Force was a bit different, and consisted of three parts: his hands and head. The right would attack, his left would heal, and his head would either attack or use a tech that would damage everyone. Instead of doing the smart thing and focusing on the healer though, I buffed everyone up and attacked the right first, then the left. I got lucky the healer didn't revive the other hand, but once I got both hands down his head was easy. With that Dark Force was finally defeated!
Ho-hum... see you in 1,000 years
With that the game ended. Adan caused the collapse of the evil floating city by automatically using Megido, and Mieu saved the group by automatically using Grantz. The black hole that Alisa III was headed for was averted. Everything was right with the world. In the end, the game felt a bit weak. Dark Force was pathetic, and the story just kind of wrapped itself up. It also suggested a departure from the second game while still being tied into it with the Nei weapons, and the possibility that Earth was colonized.
Is this suggesting the people of Alisa III found Earth? A planet supposedly made uninhabitable by the humans in the second game
Elapsed Time: 7h47m (Final Time: 16h01m)

Overall, I'm glad I got to play through it, but I don't think I'll do it again. I don't have an inclination to play through the other endings. Give it a couple of years though, and I might feel different. Phantasy Star III is an unpolished product with some promise that never truly delivers. Time for the ratings.

Combatant - The combat in this game is very weak. Most fights are over by the end of the first round of auto-combat, and boss fights are the same except for a character or two relegated to healing. I really couldn't tell if buffs had a significant affect on the outcome. Damaging spells are inefficient. I forgot that some items granted abilities in battle, but honestly, I never needed them and it would have only made the difficult more tilted. The monster sprites were varied, but their AI was not (or maybe I didn't see enough of it because they died so quickly). Much like the rest of the game it's passable, but nothing stood out as great.
Rating: 5
You wouldn't like Adan when he's angry
Admirer - It's interesting that the techniques of each character were customizable, although I didn't have any control over what class of techs they had. Also, techs were set; there was no way to gain more techs, and proficiency accumulated slowly. Appearances were set, although with each new generation characters changed. It's difficult to put into words effectively, but characters lacked a connection due to the constant change and the limited dialogue.
Rating: 3
There are some nice shots of the characters
Puzzler - Main quest, I don't think there's a game that won't have one, and there are plenty of hints to keep the party on track. At times this meant speaking to everyone in every town. Miss a character, and it could be a key hint for making progress. No side quests, who needs them. No puzzles or riddles either. Just do what the game says and it'll resolve itself. I'll give it an additional point for the branching paths.
Rating: 3
Most of the game happens instantly
Instigator - As for story, it has some interesting points, but muddies the timeline a bit with references to the second game's special weapons and Earth that don't make sense. Maybe I'm reading more into it and the parallels are coincidental. While there's some lore around the legendary items, the exploits of Lune, Siren, and Miun aren't ever discussed. Maybe I'd learn more about it through the other story lines.
Rating: 3
Just like the hopes of this being another hit game
Collector - Limited inventory with no way to store items. There aren't many items to begin with, and figuring out who can use what was difficult. I didn't even know that Lena could use the needler weapons. There were strange stones to collect, and they could be put into the belt slot, but I never found a benefit to do that. Really they're just keys to enable passage through set caves. Most items were bought, and it's simple to buy them all by the end.
Rating: 2
Not everyone has your telescopic vision Mieu
Explorer - The music is really good. Definitely give it a listen if you're into video game music. The graphics were boring, except for the enemy sprites, which ranged from good to awesome to overly detailed messes. The world as a whole was uninteresting; there was nothing to discover outside the scope of the main quest, and it has a lot of sameness. With no sense of discovery, and sections walled off arbitrarily, there's no reason to stray from the path.
Rating: 2
Awesome, only three more years to wait for the sequel
Final Rating: 18 [30%]

It scored a bit lower than Phantasy Star II, but I think that's fitting. There's less here from each area, and I was bit harsh on the second one due to personal taste. While I liked this one more, I think it has to do with the game not overstaying its welcome (i.e. not wasting my time), and getting through it was rather trivial. I'm okay with a hard game if it's good, but when it's bad my patience grows thin. I had fun, but now it's time to move on to Tombs & Treasure. I've actually finished that one as well, and have been taking this holiday week off from playing while I catch up on blogging. I will start Starflight on Monday at this rate, and have the post for Tombs & Treasure out before then. I hope everyone is enjoying their end of the year celebrations.