Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Game #46: Dragon Crystal (Game Gear*) - Because Dragons Are Cool (Finished)

Game 46

Title: Dragon Crystal
Released: 1991 (December 22, 1990 JPN)
Platform: Game Gear
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Rogue-like
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (related to Fatal Labyrinth)

There was no clear release date for the US, so I stuck this at the end of the year in hopes I'd have a 3DS capture device by now. Unfortunately, that's not the case, so I used an emulator for now. Hopefully one will become available by the time I reach Defenders of Oasis (I've already completed Crystal Warriors). All US released Game Gear RPGs have been made available on the 3DS Virtual Console for those interested in playing them in an official manner. Trying to get video output on a Game Gear is complicated, and takes some soldering, so I opted not to go that route.
A short game from beginning to end, but getting there takes a few tries
My warrior by the end was not nearly as well equipped as the one pictured. Dragon Crystal is a rogue-like game with randomly generated floors, items of mysterious effect, and turn based action. Every action uses one turn, and enemies act after the player. Identifying each item is done by using them, or throwing them at enemies. Weapons and armor are static, but can randomly be cursed. The goal is to reach the 30th floor, and touch the dragon crystal. The story is inferred from images that show a normal looking man trapped in a crystal turn into a warrior. This game is very similar to Fatal Labyrinth, but it's not clear if they're supposed to be the same game, or merely were developed in unison.
The emulator I used had an optional overlay, which obscures the screen to the standard resolution, but I chose not to use that for this title. The result was graphical artifacts normally hidden from view that disoriented me many times.
Everything's fine, just keep your eyes focused on the center
The items in this game differ slightly from Fatal Labyrinth, and some are unique to this title. Scrolls are replaced by books, and there are rings, staves, and potions in addition to weapons and armor. There's a food meter, but no fear of eating too much. HP regenerates over time as long as the player is fed. Levels are once again obscured by titles rather than a set number. In my travels I only reached Dragonlord, which is two below max level. The floors are revealed by walking along the walls, where they'll change color from a dull grey to each level's color palette. The early levels are this forest green.
Exit in the very last place I look
Each floor has an exit denoted by a six-pointed star hiding along the wall inside a room. The rooms can contain enemies, gold, or items. Connecting each room are single-file passages clear of anything interesting. Enemies keep to their rooms unless aroused by the player's presence, whereupon they may give chase into the hallways. The player is accompanied by an egg, which grows into a dragon as progress through the floors is made. This dragon doesn't do anything other than act as a barrier to enemy movement, and he always trails behind the player.
Ninja throw shuriken guarding some food
Enemies have unique patterns that require their own strategy. Ninjas teleport around a room randomly, but will target the player if they're in a straight line. Most enemies will follow the player, but some get an extra action while others won't move at all. Even others move at half speed, and one type is asleep until attacked. Later enemies have permanent status effects such as lowering strength, levels, or rusting equipment. Sorcerers can cast dizziness or fog, and land sharks steal food. Enemies get stronger each floor, and after about floor 20 every battle is dangerous enough that I started to avoid them as much as possible. The last couple of floors contain dragons that hit for over a quarter of my HP, so taking them on is out of the question.
Especially since most status effects don't work; like the reshape staff that softlocks the game when used on a dragon
It took three good runs to reach the end, and a number of false starts. Many of the items can result in an unrecoverable situation. Knowing when it's safe to experiment, and which items are useful for dragons is half the game. Overall it was an enjoyable game, but there's not much to it. Death isn't permanent, but it costs gold to continue; more each time and it might be limited. I don't think I took out a single dragon in my winning run, mostly due to dying on the 29th floor. Getting to the crystal was nerve wracking, and unfortunately I forgot to take screenshots during that run, but at least I remembered during the ending sequence. I'm not sure how easy it would be to repeat this success.

Elapsed Time: 6h45m (Final Time: 6h45m)

Remember when games thanked the players?
Combatant - Combat is well balanced with a number of strategies dependent on random item placement. Enemies seem to be a hodgepodge of different types without any explanation for them to exist in the dungeon. Stats do play a role, but equipment is more important than character abilities. It's difficult to tell when the next level-up will happen as experience is hidden from the player. Later levels were rarely boring.
Rating: 7
Credits are strangely short
Admirer - There's not much here to excite a customizer. There aren't any abilities or special skills gained. About the only thing to customize is equipment, which changes the appearance of the character. Controls are smooth, and I had little problem with doing what I intended.
Rating: 3
I wonder how many of these people worked on Fatal Labyrinth
Puzzler - I'm only giving this points for the variability in how to reach the end goal. Different items and level layouts lend to different strategies, and figuring out how to optimize exploration against resource acquisition leads to interesting decisions. No side-quests, no actual puzzles, and not much to do outside combat.
Rating: 2
There's an SMS version, but it wasn't released in the US
Instigator - There's kind of a story here, somewhere. It's only a framing device to give the player some motivation to reach the end goal. It doesn't contribute to how a player might approach the game. Even the dragon following the player is never explained, and disappears at the end.
Rating: 1
It's easy to see in these shots the resolution of the Game Gear
Collector - While there are many items in the game, inventory space is very limited. Each category of item has 8 slots that quickly fill up by mid-game. Trying to have one of each is out of the question. Equipment strength is only identifiable while equipped, and offloading useless pieces is troublesome as they must be dropped or thrown one-by-one. Gold is available, but it's only used as payment for extra lives.
Rating: 3
Coordinated what exactly?
Explorer - The game is pleasant enough, but I don't think it's anything to write home about. It's interesting that the path to the end is completely open from the beginning. Being strong enough to get there is another matter entirely. Just take a look at the TAS (Tool-Assisted Speedrun), which uses this fact to manipulate the RNG for a path straight to the end in about 1 minute. Extra bonus points for the new world every time.
Rating: 3

Final Rating: 19 [32%]
Thank you especially to these people and/or companies
Tied with Fatal Labyrinth makes sense given how closely they resemble each other. It's fun to play through the game every once in a while, but I don't think I'll have time to touch it again. I feel this game is harder than Fatal Labyrinth, but Dragon Crystal benefits from a run button.

Next up we have a childhood favorite. Lagoon holds a special place in my heart. I'm not even sure why I like it so much, but it's a stand out title that I enjoyed renting so much that I eventually bought it. We'll see how it holds up to the test of time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Game #45: Final Fantasy II (SNES) - Unfinal Fantasy (Finished)

Time to wrap this up and move on
Blogger ate my post two weeks ago. I was doing final edits Monday before last when some key combination removed everything, and the undo button didn't work. I tried to close it before the auto-save took hold, but I was too late. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to remember all the details along the way, but Blogger was kind enough to have kept all the images I'd uploaded. The videos I usually reference were already deleted, and the local pictures gone. Thank you for bearing with the blog through technical difficulties, and now back to our regularly scheduled posts.
The tower climb to Golbez had some difficult battles, but the hardest in my memory was the Magus sisters. Each one had a role to play: the tall one in back cast wall on the middle, the middle one revived her sisters, and the one in front used magic so it reflected off the middle one to hit someone in the party (for additional damage, or to avoid any walls I could potential throw up). With this knowledge I focused on the small one, then the middle. The last one had some status effect spells, but nothing too serious. In fact, the whole fight went so quickly I wondered what all the fuss was from the past. Golbez waited on the other side, but handing over the crystal made him completely forget about our deal to exchange it for Rosa. Tellah stepped up to challenge him, and through a scripted battle he cast spells of ever increasing MP cost until finally using Meteo. This weakened Golbez enough for him to retreat instead of finishing off Cecil, and left Kain unconscious. Tellah passed away, but there wasn't much time to mourn. When we awoke Kain to find out where Rosa was, he rushed off to the next room where a trap awaited.
Nice timing, one could almost say it was scripted
Rosa and Cecil were reunited once again. Kain, having regained control, told us how that even through Golbez's control he felt an urge to keep Rosa close. I attempted to cast Exit, but it was locked down for some plot related reason. As I walked out, Valvalis, fiend of air, made an appearance. She had the ability to turn into a tornado. While in that form she would counterattack with a weakening spell that dropped a character's HP down to single digits. Only Kain's jump ability could knock her out of that form. Once defeated, the entire tower started to collapse. Maybe it was the air fiend's power that kept the tower afloat and blocked the Exit spell. Rosa automatically took the entire party not only out of the tower, but to Cecil's room in Baron. Through some exposition Cid explained how the airship was magically back in Baron, and Kain produced a Magma key that led to the next plot point. Even though Golbez had the four crystals, Kain explained that there are four crystals of the underworld, and Golbez needed those to complete his plan (currently unexplained).
Should we move away from the erupting volcano?
Naturally we dropped the key in the only bottomless well we could find, and opened a path to the world below. The land of the dwarves was besieged by the Red Wings, still under Golbez's command. Caught in the crossfire, the Enterprise was damaged. Cid made an emergency landing right outside the Castle of the Dwarves. The king told me Golbez had already obtained two of the four crystals from the underworld, and it was nearly three had Yang not sensed something amiss in the crystal room. Dancing Calbrena dolls were attempting to abscond with the crystal, but we intercepted them. The fight is notoriously creepy, and difficult, although it really wasn't (par for the course). Golbez showed up after we'd won, and put the party under his boot with one hand behind his back. Luckily Cid had previously run off to make repairs on the Enterprise, which made room for Rydia to make a surprise entrance by summoning a mist dragon. With her help we took down Golbez once and for a... actually, he was only wounded, and while Rydia explained that she was taken by Levitan to live in the Land of Monsters (where time moved more quickly and she'd grown up), Golbez's hand came to life and took the crystal.
That's right, even when the party wins we still lose the crystal
The king pointed out that Golbez was launching his assault from the Tower Bab-il, which extended from the over world. He proposed distracting their forces with his tanks while we breached it. We took him up on the offer, and climbed the tower without much trouble. At the top, Rubicant, the fiend of fire, mentioned heading off to deal with the kingdom of Eblan and left Dr. Lugae in charge. He had a robot, reminiscent of Frankenstein's monster. I actually had completely forgotten about this boss. It was a two part battle, and during the second Dr. Lugae merged with the robot where he was promptly defeated with ease. He dropped a key that unlocked the door to a super cannon that was powering up. The guards inside set it to auto-fire before they were defeated. Yang sacrificed himself to destroy it. Explosions went off inside the room, and the party feared the worst. As we made our way back outside, Golbez gloated telepathically, and sabotaged a bridge. The party fell from the tower, but were saved as Cid swooped in with the Enterprise. However, Golbez's Red Wings gave chase, and there seemed no safe harbor to land. We made our way to the surface, and at the final moment before emerging into the light of day, Cid jumped overboard, explosives in hand.
Things go boom, path back underground sealed
Cid's final instructions were to visit his engineering team in Baron to retrofit the Enterprise with a hook. How Cid knew this would help us retrieve the hovercraft and allow us entrance to a cave near Eblan, I'm not sure. Eblan castle lay in ruins, so we did the obvious thing: looted it. The cave nearby housed the survivors, and allowed the party entrance into the Tower of Bab-il. Edge, the royal prince, was deep inside the cave attempting to avenge his parents. Rubicant brushed him aside easily, so we thought it'd be a good idea to invite that weakling along. In the tower we fought his parents, who were transformed into monsters by Dr. Lugae. It was a scripted battle, and ended shortly. We met up with Rubicant a second time, who apologized for the way Edge's parents were treated. Always a gentleman, he healed the party fully before engaging us in a battle to the death. With a full party, and Kain jumping like a madman, Rubicant was defeated with some effort. Not difficult, but not too easy either. We Escaped the tower with ease as we found one of the Red Wing airships. Dubbed the Falcon by Edge, we took it to the Castle of the Dwarves where a recovering Cid was willing to equip it with heat shielding to withstand the magma (honestly, why didn't Golbez do this already).
Putting Edge to work while Cecil and Kain stood by watching
Finally able to explore the underworld I found a blacksmith who had lost his luster, the town of Tomra (where I decked out my party with diamond armor), the sealed cave (where the last crystal awaited), the Land of Monsters, and the Sylph Cave. I remembered Yang was in the Sylph Cave, so I explored it to the end first, but I couldn't interact with him at all. I then recalled using a frying pan from his wife, so I moved on to the sealed cave. I think naturally the monster difficulty suggests the Land of Monsters was next, but I ended up collecting Asura and Levitan after finishing the Sealed Cave. The king of the dwarves provided the key, and instructed me to protect the last crystal. Honestly, if we really wanted to prevent Golbez from getting it we should have tossed the Luka's key (named after the princess of the dwarves) into the magma. Instead, we opened the seal, blasted through all the trap doors, and defeated the wall protecting the crystal. If not one of the most difficult battles, definitely one of the most stressful due to the unseen time limit as it inches towards the party.
Evil? I think it's just misunderstood
We then walked the crystal all the way out only to have Kain suddenly take it, and return to Golbez's side. Golbez revealed his plan was to travel to the moon with the power of the crystals. Seriously, the moon. A little bewildered by the revelation, the party took a side trip to the Land of Monsters, and obtained new summons for Rydia as well as a rat tail. Back at the Castle of Dwarves, Cid was spurred by the news of Golbez, and attached a drill to the Falcon that once again opened passage to the world above. While we waited, the king of the dwarves suggested we return to Mysidia for guidance since they had the same legend of incomprehensibility (something about the moon). Once above ground I instead returned to Yang's wife and gained the frying pan, smacked Yang on the head back in the Sylph cave, and gained the Sylph summon for my troubles. Unfortunately, I failed to return the frying pan to his wife, so no spoon (the most powerful throwing item for Edge). I then traded the rat's tail for adamant ore, which was delivered to the underground blacksmith to forge Excalibur from the legendary sword Cecil received when first becoming a paladin.
And then there was the whole getting a giant whale ship so I could sail to the moon
As soon as we got to Mysidia, the elder met us at the entrance. He escorted us to where they were praying (err... wishing) for a miracle. This was answered in the form of a spaceship called the Big Whale. The whale offered a place to rest, a big chocobo for easy storage access (which I hardly used), and a crystal that when activated took the party to the moon. On the moon was a giant crystal palace, the cave of Bahamut, and a cave that housed a strange group of people named the Hummingways.
I thought that guy was a little out of this world
I know I had a lot more to say here in the previous post, but I can't for the life of me remember it all. I made my way to the crystal palace after deciding I should probably not venture too deep into Bahamut's cave. Inside the crystal palace was FuSoYa, a Lunarian, which are a people sleeping deep inside the moon. Actually, this is the second moon orbiting the blue planet, and it was artificially constructed because the Lunarian's previous planet was dying. They thought to come to Earth and inhabit it, but found people already living on its surface. So, they entered a deep sleep until one day all people could live in harmony. One named Zemus had other plans, and wanted the Lunarians to awake and take over the planet. While Zemus was sealed away deep withing the moon, another Lunarian was allowed to go to the planet. It was revealed that Cecil was the son of that Lunarian, and the whale and serpent road were his creation to help the people progress towards enlightenment. However, Zemus' evil influence slowly seeped out into the world and took hold of Golbez.
FuSoYa joined the party to help bring an end to Zemus' control over Golbez. We returned to the planet to find Golbez had activated the giant of Bab-il to destroy every living thing on the planet to make way for the Lunarians. All residents of the planet combined their strength to distract the giant while the party entered an opening in the giant's chest thanks to Cid's airship. Inside, I battled the four fiends once again, but this time in a single battle one after another. It was a close battle, but I managed to get through even without Kain. Beyond them was the CPU that controlled the giant. It had two smaller units, one that attacked and another that recovered. Destroying both caused the main core to outright kill two party members before reviving the units. I ended up out damaging the recovery unit and easily, although slowly, defeated it. Golbez showed up, and FuSoYa broke Zemus' control with a crystal. When he came to, he had some startling news.
Fancy that, that's Cecil's father's name too
It was revealed that Golbez and Cecil were brothers all along. The story doesn't really ever explain why Cecil didn't know any of this, his father, his mother, or even that he had a brother. In fact his mother really isn't mentioned at all except to explain the existence of Cecil and Golbez. What happened to either KluYa or that unnamed woman isn't ever explored. Brushing that aside, Golbez, once again himself, joined FuSoYa to take down Zemus. Kain showed up, also relieved of his mind-control, and joined the party. We escaped the giant, and made our way back to the whale. Unsatisfied with leaving the destruction of Zemus to Golbez and FuSoYa, Cecil decided he should go as well. But wait, how did Golbez get back to the moon without the whale? Ah, never mind that. We're then treated to another scene where we tell the women-folk to stay behind, but when whale arrived on the moon they're discovered to have stowed away. A good thing too; I can't imagine going in without a full party. I collected Excalibur, and visited the king of Baron's ghost, which turned out to be the summon Odin (mostly useless).
Without Rydia, who would learn to summon Bahamut?
Before heading to the Crystal Palace again, I stopped by Bahamut's Cave. The only way I survived his MegaNuke attack was by having Kain jumping in the air. When he landed I had just enough time to use life on everyone and get in enough damage before his next explosion. Good thing too because I mistimed Kain's last jump. I went all out in the cave below the Crystal Palace. It took a couple trips to collect all the treasure, which included final weapons for nearly everyone. None of the battles were difficult, but the behemoths were troublesome; them and an enemy called 'Mind'. I arrived to find Golbez and FuSoYa already defeating Zemus with the same crystal that awoke Golbez from his trance.
Thanks for taking care of the first form guys, we've got it from here
The final battle with Zeromus had some close calls, but in the end it went without a wipe. It began with everyone being wiped out after Cecil used the crystal, but slowly the party's friends prayed for their success, and everyone was revived to full strength. Zeromus' worst attack was Big Bang, which damaged the party for 1500 - 1900, and slowly drained everyone's HP. Rosa and Rydia were on healing duty while Kain jumped, Edge threw old weapons, and Cecil attacked. Every now and then I'd have Rosa use white (holy), and Rydia would summon Bahamut. Zeromus could also cast nuke and virus, which were single target; Black Hole (a status nullification spell); and Meteo, which actually did less damage than Big Bang. The Hummingway's had a store where I could have bought elixirs, which fully heal HP and MP, but I ended up not needing anymore than I had already picked up over the course of the game.
Every little bit of damage helped
Zeromus crumbled, and all was right with the world once more. Golbez decided to stay behind on the moon to look after the Lunarians with FuSoYa. The party returned to Earth. Cecil ascended the throne of Baron, and took Rosa as his queen. Kain left on an adventure of self-discovery. Rydia decided to live in the Land of Monsters. Yang returned to Fabul where he was crowned king. Edward returned to his castle to start rebuilding while Anna and Tellah watched over him from above. Edge also returned to his castle to rebuild. Palom and Porom were restored to life, and returned to their studies. Cid became master engineer of Baron once again. The Lunarian moon then shot off with a solemn goodbye from Golbez. I'm not sure what caused it to leave, and nothing more is really said on the subject.
Raise your hand if you're a main character
Overall an enjoyable game. Not exactly thrilling since I knew most of what was going to happen, but it was nice to experience it once again. I suspect Final Fantasy VI will be even easier since I don't remember having any trouble with that game, but it'll be many years before we get to that point. Without further ado, the review.

Elapsed Time: 11h23m (Final Time: 17h39m)

Combatant - The variety of enemies, especially bosses, is one of the best parts about this game. There are numerous spells, the majority of which aren't necessary, but it's nice to explore different strategies. The balance edges on the easy side, but defeating each boss is rather satisfying. There are stats, but there's no need to pay them much attention.
Rating: 7
The moon shooting off into the distance
Admirer - There aren't many options when the game spoon feeds pre-made characters. Abilities do advance based on combat, but which characters are available is always determined by plot. It's possible to rearrange the magic list, but spell acquisition is solely based on character level. While sprites don't change with equipment, it's possible to change the one shown while exploring. I look forward to more options going forward in this series.
Rating: 4
For the curious, Kain has blond hair
Puzzler - The main quest is clearly defined, but there's not much to solve. The side quests are interesting, but seem out of place. There aren't any real puzzles to speak of, and there's only one way through the game.
Rating: 3
The real puzzle is trying to piece together the story
Instigator - This may seem like a harsh score, but NPCs lack active advice with many nonsensical dialogue. The plot developed well in the beginning, but it rarely supported the backstory which consisted of a vague notion of familial responsibility with lot of hand waving. I felt less like an active participant, and one that was merely pressing buttons to make the story move forward, a story that isn't influenced by me at all. Maybe I expected more from it, but it's not as impressive as I recalled. Once again I'm looking forward to the next Final Fantasy.
Rating: 4
Credit roll
Collector - There's a rather large inventory, and a place to store items. If only the game tracked collecting them all. The economy becomes rather broken by the end, much like other games, but the game tries to smooth it over by selling high-priced elixirs. The strength of weapons and armor are only known when equipping them, but tends to follow the cost to power ratio trend of early games.
Rating: 6
Still unsure when to use Square and when to use Squaresoft
Explorer - The music alone is brilliant. The graphics have a pleasant style that I enjoyed as well. However, the world itself has few opportunities to discovery interesting places. Exploration is mostly open, but the game contains the open regions to plot related scenarios. My past experience colors my view a bit here, but it wasn't much fun to dive back in a second time.
Rating: 5
Uematsu is brilliant
Final Rating: 29 [48%]

Overall it's an experience I'm glad to have, but I don't think I'll be selling it to anyone else. The story is a bit shallow compared to other games, and the world is constrained. Options to the players are limited in both use and quantity. It's a solid entry, and a milestone for its time, but it doesn't stand up as well anymore. I think if you're curious about the history of Final Fantasy or RPGs, then it's a good experience to have, but as a game it's somewhat lacking.
Completely miss-able named character
At the same time I've been taking some time away from the blog, I've also taken a few weeks off from playing RPGs. I've just gotten back into it, and just wrapped up Crystal Warriors. I'm considering taking a break from playing RPGs until I'm fully caught up on the blog once again. The edge of a year seems like a good time to do so as I'm nearly four (albiet short) game posts behind, and need to research all the games for 1992. For the blog it'll probably be nearly seamless, but it'll help me work through some other games and projects that have interested me. Thanks for reading, and it shouldn't be as long before the Dragon Crystal post.