Monday, June 15, 2015

Game #40: Uncharted Waters (SNES) - From Pirate to King (Finished)

It's a relief to reach the end of this game
Now, I don't mean to say I didn't enjoy the game. I did. However, the quests to track down specific ships drag on for far too long. There's just not enough information. It's possible to find a ship in the open seas, but if it reaches the edge of the screen it could disappear completely. Also, while the above is not the final screen, I felt it was better than this.
Which is the same screen after death
In preparation for my first serious battle against Ali's warships, I focused not on investing in the various mercantile establishments, but putting that money towards purchasing a fleet of carracks. I'd yet to find a shipyard that offered galleons, which comprised most war fleets and pirates. Trade routes became easier with each ship I bought as I made more money with each trip from the increased cargo capacity. Finally, after assembling a full fleet, I sought out Ali. Last known location was somewhere off the coast of Southern Africa.
Cape Town is one of the piddly ports around the coast of Africa that offers no more than a place to restock
I made it all the way to Cape Town before I had to turn back due to insufficient resources (a full crew burns through rations very quickly). With no sign of Ali, I decided to instead turn my attention back to exploring and discovering unknown ports of call. I filled my ships with sugar, firearms, and max money to afford provisions at the various ports. I started by surveying the entire area of the Mediterranean Sea. Istanbul, which was at war with Portugal, held no ill will towards me and even welcomed me. Purchasing goods at Turkey was inexpensive as the market was at the lowest possible. This allowed me to make quite the profit buying art and selling it elsewhere.
During this time I even made a couple of ill-fated voyages to explore Russia and North America, both port-less
On the open water there are a number of options. Most have to do with management of the fleet. Strangely there's a menu option to pick a direction to move, but it's faster to simply use the d-pad without calling up the menu (alternatively pressing L or R will rotate counter or clockwise). More useful are the options to cast anchor, which keeps the fleet stationary, and the debark options to either enter a port or camp on land. While on land the crew can make repairs, set sail, or search for either water or treasure.
During my exploratory phase I decided to see what changing rations from 50% to 30% would do to my crew, it wasn't pretty
It's possible to gather information on ships and ports by investigating. Survey, available once a sextant is acquired, gives the longitude and latitude in 5 degree increments based on the current screen. Negotiate works best with friendly ships, and is a good way to gather additional information. Communication with enemies or pirates is a quick way to start a battle. Initiating a battle is a another option, but I rarely used it unless I knew an attack was imminent. The last two options have sub-menus for stats about the fleet and giving orders. Orders include adjusting rations (note, if it goes below 50, then crew start to desert), distributing gold to mates, dismissing mates, and dismissing a ship. Honestly, none of the orders are useful.
After many failed attempts to find Ali off the coast of Africa, I found out that he was headed for Istanbul... now I wait
It's difficult to describe the frustration I felt while trying to track down one ship in the vast ocean with only a long. and lat. who knows how many days old, and by the time I arrived the ship is nowhere in sight. My only recourse: return to an inn, get a new location, and hope I can guess why they are traveling along that path. The only way I've successfully found a target was through sheer luck while waiting at a specific port. Good news: Ali was headed for Istanbul, so I waited nearby. I built up some funds in the area, and upgraded my fleet. Even better news, Istanbul had galleons available.
Purchasing my first galleon!
Soon after my first purchase, Ali finally turned up. I initiated the attack. It was a hard fought battle. Options in battle are quite limited. Move, wait, look, fire guns, rush, or flee is all that's available. Battle experience and strength of each mate plays a large role in determining attack strength. Gun type is also relevant. Ships can be outfitted with saker, culverin , or cannons. Honestly I can't see any benefit to using saker as they're weaker than culverin, but have the same range. Culverin are mid-range damage, but have an extra tile of reach over cannons. By the end of the game I had everyone equipped with cannons except for my flagship.
Sizing Ali up while in battle
Protecting the flagship is key. Losing that results in a complete loss, for either side. A flagship fleeing off the edge is another way to end combat. There's also a time limit, which is the number of turns before the sun sets. Apparently night battles aren't an option. If neither side wins before the sun sets, then it's a draw. This never happened while I played. In most battles, the AI wasn't smart enough to protect the flagship. I only lost a single battle: I was surprised with a bad formation and my flagship was surrounded. Whichever side initiates combat gets to move first. Combat experience is heavily weighted towards sinking or capturing ships.
Every victory is a great victory
There are two ways to take a ship out of commission: reduce either its hull or crew to zero. Both are reduced by taking direct fire, but crew is lost faster by rushing an adjacent ship. In fact, when two ships are touching, firing guns is not an option. I tended to keep my crew light, and relied heavily on my guns taking down the flagship. Accuracy of guns isn't a factor; if it's in range it'll hit. Damage is dependent on battle experience, possibly strength of the captain, and number of guns. Number of crew may also play a role, but I'm not certain. Victory over Ali won me a sizable amount of gold, enough for another galleon, and a gold bracelet to gift to the princess. I named the galleon Ripali, and headed back to Portugal.
The next quest involved my first map for buried treasure
The king congratulated me, promoted me, and then days later requested I bring him the mythical Silver Ladle. Rumor at the inn was that someone in Mecca by the name of Selma knew where to procure it. After saving up for the trip around Africa, buying a couple more galleons, I made my way to Mecca only to be told I really needed to speak to someone in Azov. Then it was Naples. Then, I acquired the map above. Showing this map at various inns suggested it was to the northwest.
Gathering water from natural springs
As this was going on I started to attract hostility from the Spanish. Apparently they didn't take too kindly to taking over the investment market and stealing allied ports. I was now attack on sight material, but they were hardly a threat (see above for the one exception). This necessitated a moderate crew size, which caused rations to deplete quickly. Since I wasn't sure how far away the treasure site was I decided it was best to set sail from London with as much food as possible. Ports are the only way to get food, so taking a ratio of about 2:1, I banked on my ability to search for water in the middle of the trip. Success was found on my second trip out.
Probably the longest quest out of them all, but I enjoyed it more than finding random ships
After this I was rank 6 and counting the days before the king would give me his next task. I was at 23K fame, and with a max of 50K according to the manual, I figured I would need to reach each 10K mark to get the quests for rank 7, 8, and 9. Fastest way to get fame seems to win support for Portugal. I stuck around the Mediterranean getting back all the ports taken from Portugal while I was away. Spain is very aggressive, but Turkey less so. In fact, Turkey never had a single allied port beyond Istanbul.
Tip waitresses enough and they start giving you the low down for random ships
This was enough to get the next quest: find the Hydra Ring. The waitresses at the inns directed me from Alexandria to Vera Cruz to Venice to Naples to Genoa before telling me that the pirate Gonzales had the ring. On the trip out to Vera Cruz I took a trove of firearms to the Caribbean, sold them at each port, and bought support for Portugal. In addition to fame, this also crippled the Spanish influence and their economy. Not as many ships attacked after that (or possibly I'd wiped most out by then). Problem with having high hostility with a foreign country is a random encounter at their allied ports where they attempt to arrest me. When caught they confiscate all trade goods.
Where's the fight option? Where's the bombard port option?
Gonzales was headed for Da Nang, and his last known location was on the eastern side of Africa. I raced around the coast towards Da Nang, which I learned is in Vietnam. When I arrived (converting every port along the way to Portugal) I found a very small port with only a restock option. I suppose this is the type of port a pirate would call home. No sign of the pirate. So, I made the best of it and traveled into China and Japan. There were a lot of trade goods. While spices are worth twenty times as much in Europe, the value per unit is too low. It was much better to invest in either Chinese silk, Japanese silver, or Arabian quartz. When I made it to the next port with a waitress Gonzales was suddenly spotted near Europe, so I made chase once again. By the time I arrived he was circling the Caribbean and headed back to Da Nang.
Best way to find a ship, wait at their preferred port by casting anchor
It took Gonzales 6 days to emerge once I arrived. I have no idea what he could have been doing inside for that amount of time. I tried to peacefully bargain for the ring, but negotiating with pirates always initiates a battle. The king was delighted to have his treasure, and again sent me on my way with a higher rank. Only two more to go! I went to London unloading my money by investing in the shipyard. My hope was they would eventually have a mega-galleon. Unfortunately there's no way to check without selling one of my own, so I was waiting for them to max out. After a couple of trips back and forth the king suddenly had some urgent news for me. The princess had been kidnapped. Simancas from Spain was the culprit.
Waiting outside Seville was again the best strategy
Simancas fell like all the others, and I returned to Lisbon with the princess on January 27, 1509. The manual suggests it'd be quite the feat to complete the game within 20 years. Here it is in seven. I'm sure others have done it faster, but 20 years seems obscene. Returning to the king with the princess in tow started the ending sequence. Surprising as I wasn't actually able to reach the final rank. I wonder if it required easing into the fame a bit more. When the king thanked me he mentioned how I routed all the pirates. I'm not sure that's quite true, but it's not like there was a list of them.
Which would you choose?
I chose the princess' hand in marriage as my reward. This resulted in the king abdicating the throne so I could rule in his place. He mentioned how he had planned to marry her to Spain. Honestly, after the way they've treated Portugal I can see why the king can't trust his own judgement any longer. I didn't explore the other options, but if you know the results please comment. The princess and hero sailed off into the sunset. It's a bit strange... in the sequel the Franco family isn't the royal family. Is this the only ending? On to a quick rating, and then the next game.

Elapsed Time: 21h35m (Final Time: 34h43m)
Literally sailing into the sunset
Combatant - There's little tension during combat. Most of the time, it's targeting their flagship is simple. Strategy is minimized. The AI doesn't vary between opponents or even countries. Stats seem to matter, but it's hard to determine how much influence they provide. Combat is beneficial as a strong fleet will have a lot of gold and enough reserves to act as a temporary port to restock. The gold usually covers the loss of men and ship damage. In the end though, it's better to act as a merchant to make money.

Admirer - While there's no feedback for how stats advance, it's obvious they rise from use. By the end of the game there's hardly any customization as stats easily max out. It's not clear what the various figureheads for the ships accomplish, and the ships always look the same. This is the first game where I was actively fighting the controls to make the ship head the direction I wanted.
Rating: 2
The happy couple
Puzzler - The game does well with it's main quest. It's always possible to get the current step from any waitress, but if there's no active quest there's no motivation given. I'm not sure about side quests since everything leads to fame, which seems necessary to advance the main quest. Searching for the treasure with the map was my favorite quest. The multiple ways to complete most quests is encouraging for general exploration.
Rating: 3

Instigator - The story is built on the idea that the player is supposed to amass a nest egg and marry the princess. It builds up slowly, but never really advances much beyond that point. The NPCs are helpful for information, but history and lore are rather light. I never felt involved in a large story arc as the quests were handed out in pieces that rarely connected.
Rating: 3
So happy...
Collector - There are a variety of items to purchase, but most are bought and forgotten. Treasures can be gifted to the princess, but (like many things) there's no explanation how this influences anything. There's no knowing how many treasures or items are actually in the game.
Rating: 3

Explorer - The graphics and music are good; I enjoyed the soundtrack quite a lot. The world is quite large, and completely open from the beginning, only limited by food and water. While finding ports is nice, I hoped there was more to discover. Every town is basically the same, and it's hard to get a sense for actually discovering new land.
Rating: 6

Final Rating: 20 [33%]
Well, my history at least; the age of exploration is long gone
At this point I'd say that's a fair score. While I enjoyed the game, it falls short of a pure RPG. Even though it scored enough on the scale for inclusion, it doesn't hit a lot of the points to rate among the best RPGs. Most edge cases will fall into this area. If you enjoy this time period or a simple simulation game it's a fun diversion, but as an RPG it doesn't fulfill the itch. After the first day I was already looking forward to getting to the next game. Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday is a strange game to bring to console, and I'm curious to see what steps they took to port it. Judging by the lack of a sequel I can guess it didn't do too well.


  1. Figureheads protect your ship from storms and the like, allowing you to sail into Africa or cross the ocean. Better figureheads like the Dragon make sure you never lose ships to mysterious storms.

    Also, investing in ports allows you to build up their shipyards. Eventually you can get the best figureheads and ships from certain key cities and mess up the AI.

    Lastly, while there are plenty of interesting commercial routes, gold for firearms with Africa is arguably one of the best major trades you can do in terms of ease and time. You can really mess with the economies of certain cities this way.

    1. Interesting to know about the figureheads now, but I think my point remains that there's not enough information given in the game to determine what they do. I just bought the most expensive I could eventually.

      Building up the shipyards seems lengthy and unnecessary. I tried to do that with London, but I'm even sure that port is one of the best. If I had heard rumors about a particular city's ship builders, then I might have been more inclined to invest there. In the end it's kind of a crap shoot.

      Sounds like one of the best investments given firearms are relatively inexpensive in Europe, and every city there pays top dollar for gold. Early trade should probably start with art from Pisa and Istanbul though as those trips are much easier to make. I think the main issue I had was the money cap, and no way to store goods in a home port.

  2. Being a stubborn kid, I forced my way through this game, even though it wasn't what I wanted (an RPG). I don't remember there being multiple endings, though. I really really wanted to like it, but it just didn't happen. (Amazing how, as a kid, you watch awful shows like Full House or Small Wonder just because it's on, and play awful games on your console just because you stupidly rented it for the weekend). Thanks for the memories!

    1. Ah, there probably aren't. I think the next game changed history in order to include Franco's son while not giving the player complete control over Portugal. I'm sure we all did a lot of bullheaded things as kids.

  3. I played the heck out of this game as a kid - even going so far as to map out the entire world in a graph paper notebook I had with each square being 5 degrees.

    I think I even recognize the treasure map image as being Gibraltar...surely I have better use for my memories than video game facts from 25 years ago.

    1. Impressionable images stick with us, but that map is actually somewhere closed to Greenland. It was a fun game, but I don't think I could be convinced to play it to the end again. It dragged on a bit after a while with no real challenge.