Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Game #53: Pool of Radiance (NES) - Sink or Swim (Finished)

I'm done with this game, so why do I need further rewards?
Pool of Radiance wrapped up rather uneventfully. I don't think the NES port was balanced for a party capable of three fireballs in a single round of combat. After the pyramid, the party basically snowballed through the rest of the game. Well, at least right up until Tyranthraxus.
Found the lizardmen keep in the middle of a marsh (forest tiles)
The lizardmen keep had a number of set encounters, but no random ones; however, it was covered in an anti-magic field. Reduced to physical damage it became noticeable that my ranged attacks seemed to have a higher chance of hitting. I easily made my way in and out of the keep to rest, and each combat capped out at five lizardmen; no threat.
I'm... uh... yeah... sure... right after I go the opposite direction
Further avoiding the graveyard, I stumbled upon the Buccaneer's Base to the west of Phlan. Most locations aren't obvious on the map until discovered. Inside a slave pen there I found the missing Bivant heir. I tried to bargain for him, but without a pass to speak with the captain I was denied the chance. I released some animals for a distraction, but they were all rounded up before I could reach the boy. It was during one of these distractions that I managed to corner myself in one of the buildings. Normally a set encounter to fight buccaneers or leave moves the party back a space out of the building: from the corner it's right back into the corner. With no other choice I attacked the full force.
Funny, I was thinking the same thing
Hold Person is a powerful spell, and so is Fireball and Stinking Cloud. Sleep surprisingly useful as well. I returned for the reward, and finally resigned myself to clearing out the graveyard. I kept reloading until I managed a clear path to the vampire. On that path was an old man that pleaded I help him rid the graveyard of undead. He led me to the vampire, and then turned on me immediately. Samir Ahwahl, the efreet, poured out of his bottle and joined the attack... from the back line. After one close battle the vampire retreated to his tomb. There I finished him off easily.
Seriously, this AI can't trace a route from the white square to the pale blue sprite
I searched the site of the first battle, and came away with a lightning wand. The clerk rewarded me, but had no more missions. Zhentil Keep awaited, and according to the map in the manual was as far to the west as I could manage. There I was welcomed, and treated to a lavish dinner. We discussed politics. I'm not sure if it was my negativity towards Cadorna, or always scripted, but the guards attacked the party in the middle of the night. I came away with another lightning wand, and gloves of ogre power.
I'm sure they're thinking that if I can survive an assault on Zhentil Keep, then surely I can take out Stojanow Gate
The only quest left was to break through Stojanow Gate. There's an option to use a wagon and bribe the bugbear guards, but even on the other side, I didn't find an easy way to take out the gate without being exposed. Attempting to return through the gate alerted the guards, and they attacked. Pushing back through triggered a fight with six ettins. After that the gates were open. The only area left was Valjevo Castle.
I know I was ordered to slay him as a traitor, but I released him instead... role-playing a good party I suppose
Up until this point every area was a 16x16 grid. However, the castle comprised of four of these grids aligned in a square. I cleared out the buildings surrounding the castle with various encounters: the castle blacksmith had a good assortment of weapons, there was a laundry room that provided disguises (although they failed immediately--I'm lousy with disguises), I found Cadorna and set him free in exchange for the castle gate password, and many, many encounters with giants (some of the fire variety).
A priest at the temple of Bane attacked immediately with a fireball outside of combat
Inside the castle gates was a hedge maze. There were two gates, each leading along separate paths. One path led to an imposter of Tyranthraxus. I killed him, and then pushed through the hedge, killing my cleric (slain). I tried to press on, but the contingent of eighth level fighters guarding the pool took me out easily without my second source of hold person.
I'd be remiss if I didn't post at least one full party wipe screen
On second attempt I buffed up with protection from evil, empower, and haste. Haste is... special. This version of the game has a very wishy-washy way of implementing attacks per round. Bows normally have 2/1 and darts have 3/1, but not all the time. Shark, my 8th level fighter should have 3/2, but that never happened. Even with haste I barely reached 3/2, and ranged attacks remained the same. Movement speed was properly doubled at least, but reaching the enemy was never an issue. I recruited Genheeris (sic), to help with the assault, but he spent most of his time canceling his spells because his AI failed to find a good target for fireball and stinking cloud.
Ah, the cliché join the big bad option... I'm never brave enough to say yes
The battle with fighters was much easier with two characters capable of Hold Person. Tyranthraxus was a bit odd though. He was completely immune to all magic I could cast (Lightning Bolt, Magic Missile, etc.); strangely, Genheeris was able to land a couple magic missiles. In the end, I had to beat him down with my weapons. Shark fell, slain by dragon fire, but Tyranthraxus fell to a well placed arrow. Maybe if Shark landed a few more hits he wouldn't have died.
Tyranthraxus... you mean like a T-Rex?
Even though I destroyed the shell of Tyranthraxus, his spirit burst through his dragon form ready to possess one of my party. Before he could attach to someone though, Bane pulled him back into the pool for failing him, sealing his defeat.
It's almost like Bane said, "no, really, the game is over, time to come home"
The ending then played, showing each character on a nondescript background. Various art was shown: a progression of the journey. Then the credits rolled. I'm happy this game is finished. Control resumed in New Phlan where I received my final congratulations and reward, a password based export option, and finally the ability to continue exploring the land. That might be a first for a console RPG.
Someone should have recalled this game
The more I played, the more I explored, the more I wanted to play the PC version instead. There are just so many aspects to this game that fail to be reproduced. From the hobbled thieves to the joke that is haste, this is one large disappointment. I'm not even sure invisibility properly worked. As far as I know, there aren't any US released games that used the character sheet passwords. Curse of the Azure Bonds was released on the Famicom, but there never reached the states. A familiar disappointment.

Elapsed Time: 8h15m (Final Time: 31h43m)

Combatant - There's little challenge to the combat aside from avoiding cheap tricks like instant kill poison and level draining. The AI is incompetent. The enemies rarely feel different. Stats do seem to matter, but it feels unbalanced. Rewards are heavily dependent on random treasure with gold and gems providing the majority of experience. Many rules are poorly implemented, or completely absent, making this a very poor port.
Rating: 5
Seems there was some coordination, but maybe not enough play testing
Admirer - Combat icons aren't selected, unlike the PC version. Abilities do advance, and magic-users get to select spells, but there are only a limited number of useful ones. Controls in combat are slow. The same drab color palette is used throughout the game.
Rating: 3
At least we can export the characters for the next game
Well, it takes a password...

... not 1, not 2...
... but 3 screens long
Puzzler - The clerk acts as a good source for the main quest and side quests without any kind of dividing line between them. There are a few puzzle elements, but it's rather light. The rewards are really good, and I was awarded experience every time I cleared just a single band of undead in the graveyard. There are multiple ways to handle many of the scenarios, some of which avoid combat altogether.
Rating: 6
I wonder if slaying him would get me extra points with the clerk, but if I had I'd need to find another way through the gate
Instigator - While light on narrative, there is a story behind most of the activities in the game. I'm sure if I hadn't taken out all the different bands that could have joined Tyranthraxus, then I would have faced them inside the castle. The taverns act as a hub for hints, and the dragon Diogenes directs the party towards the next appropriate task. There are many options to influence the main or side stories that take place.
Rating: 5
I could pay 25,000 at this point
Collector - There are a lot of different items available in the game. Unfortunately, inventory space is terribly limited. I would often toss out potions and other situational items to drag back magical equipment. The economy is very tight in the first hour, and then it's obscenely irrelevant. I had over 200,000 gold and 1,000 gems by the end of the game. There's no weight or encumbrance, and ranged ammo is unlimited, a couple of welcomed changes.
Rating: 4
How does the game expect me to have room to carry all of this?
Explorer - The over world map is the most interesting part, but the locations are well hidden. The music is better than the graphics, but that's not saying much. At least exploration is wide open from the beginning of the game.
Rating: 4

Final Rating: 27 [45%]
Finding what I thought was a random base in the middle of the wilderness
Overall a very disappointing experience, although that's due mainly to my time with the original game. I enjoyed reliving the story and build-up from normal gear to fully decked out magical weapons and armor. What I missed was the full experience I remember from my childhood. If you're going to play any version, definitely find a way to play it closer to the original. While Curse is out, Hillsfar does back an appearance on the list. I wonder if these passwords would work there.

Speaking of childhood experiences, I'll cut The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past next, and then play through Arcana. Both took up a good portion of my childhood play time. I'm not sure why I played Arcana so often, but something about the card based characters endeared the game to me. Link once again doesn't quite live up to what I consider an RPG, and I'll explore that once more. Arcana on the other hand, while simplistic, does meet at least the character development and combat criteria.
Only in my memories

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Game #53: Pool of Radiance (NES) - Keeping My Head Above Water

Meet me at The Pit at midnight
Realizing I passed on The Pit on first pass, I made my way back, and I'm glad I did. As I entered, the party bumped into a buccaneer who demanded recompense for the transgression. Shor gave him the tip of his sword. I began the battle with a Mirror Image spell, and easily won the duel. My prize was a long sword +4 (still my best sword), and chain mail +2. I moved on to Cadorna's Textile House in search of his lost treasure.
The only required point for a thief as far as I know
My first find in the textile house was a well (with flashing a neon sign, "THIEVES HIDEOUT"). Selecting my thief to scale the walls down the well introduced the party to Restal, the guild leader. He offered to lead me to the treasure in exchange for a share of it. Being good and wholesome adventurers I regrettably declined his generous offer. I took the box out of the hands of an ogre and his men. I never did find Skullcrusher, but I wasn't in a hurry to scour the area as I kept running into ghouls, which paralyze on touch.
Not suspicious at all
The iron box was removed from the party, Cadorna family seal still intact, and I received a small reward in the morning via the clerk. I'm curious what was in the box, but not enough to reload. Given my run in with the ghouls, I didn't feel prepared to take on the Graveyard just yet. Instead, I started to branch out into the wilderness. The first location I found was a large cave with a friendly looking dragon flying around.
The plot is that way!
Diogenes helpfully pointed the party to the next location. Far to the east, and with a bit of back and forth searching, I found the kobold cave. There was an option to enter a small hidden cave, or a large exposed one. Just inside the small one was a pond that I tripped over a couple of times, and lost my necklace of missiles and a few potions. Of course, I didn't notice that until after I had saved and while in the middle of a battle with the kobold king's army.
I recruited a former prisoner named Fatima
Emboldened by the new addition to the party, I strolled right into the king's throne room. We interrupted a meeting between him and two envoys of the "The Boss." Three waves of kobolds paired with a troll attacked. After the first, the kobolds fired a volley of catapult fire (the cave really didn't look big enough to fire them), and I took heavy damage. Though with luck, and Stinking Cloud plus Hold Person, I managed to make it through with only my main line fighter fallen.
Facing off against the royal guard after dispatching the envoys; trapping trolls is really the best approach
Damage works a little different in Pool of Radiance compared to other RPGs. A character that falls to 0 is considered unconscious, and removed from combat, although easily revived by healing in camp. Dropping below zero slowly bleeds the character out at -1 HP per turn. At -10 HP, the character is slain and requires resurrection at a temple. Any conscious party member can bandage any fallen character at the cost of a turn by selecting guard, which will stabilize the bleeding character at 0 HP.
Ye... <efreet eyes turning angry> NO, no, not at all, love garlic
I found the way out to the larger cave by making my way past a Wyvern. I had to toss a number of potions, one of the dust of disappearances, and a few scrolls to make room for all the loot. In the end it wasn't worth it. Bidding adieu to Fatima (I never did get directions to her camp), I made my way to the nomad camp after checking in at Phlan to offload. I was greeted warmly, and quickly recruited in the wholesale slaughter of encroaching kobolds.
Fear the kobold hoard as they perfectly align themselves for 2 sleep spells
Hassad, the chief, rewarded me with a wand of paralysis, and promised not to join Phlan's enemies. The party was then ushered out as the nomads prepared to mourn their dead. I collected some items from battles in the wilderness, including another wand of paralysis. At some point I also picked up a long bow +2 (for my elf) and darts +3 (for my cleric/mage).
My next stop was the secret pyramid in the middle of the lake
The pyramid, occupied by Yarash, was dumping toxic waste into the river. Biologic experiment on various life-forms was the cause. Navigating the pyramid involved blindly jumping into various unmarked teleportation tiles. Some would trigger right away, and others gave the option of throwing stones into them before entering.
I... uh... ran into a bit of trouble
I met a whole slew of different enemies. Some were friendly looking elves, dwarfs, and humans either paid by or controlled by Yarash. Others were D&D creatures such as stirges, dryders, minotaurs. Lastly were the mutant lizardmen resulting from Yarash's experiments. While they were worth quite a bit of experience, they ground my party to near extinction. Luckily Arqtiq survived the final random encounter, and I was able to rest shortly after the above screen was captured. Fully healed after a couple days hanging about, I managed to find the source of the pollution and destroyed it. Yarash waited for me in his office beyond that room.
A strange message when using dispel magic to remove the paralysis affecting Shor (Yarash already dispatched)
Among Yarash's papers I found another letter of recruitment from the boss. On the back was a response from Yarash where he proclaimed to work alone. It's addressed to The Boss at Valjevo Castle. That confirms where I need to head towards to end the game. When I managed to get back to Phlan, I received enough experience to finally level up a magic-user to level 5, gaining access to level 3 spells (a.k.a. fireball).
Decisions, decisions... FIREBALL
At this point, my commissions are to prevent lizardmen from joining the enemy, find and rescue the son of the Bivant family (no direction for where to look), deliver a letter to Zhentil Keep for Cadorna (how do we still trust this guy), and continue to ignore the Valhingen Graveyard. Ghouls and level drains are the number one reason I reset in this game. I've tried to play the battles out, but they take so long to resolve. I've managed to survive some, but when my main fighter loses 20,000 experience I'd rather just load my save.
18 Str? Why am I not getting a damage bonus for thrown weapons?
Having finished the game already, I have to say I would rather have played the computer version. The differences only detract from the game, and don't enhance the experience at all. The convenience of console doesn't outweigh the cons. Join me next post for the thrilling conclusion and review.

Elapsed Time: 8h16m (Total Time: 23h28m)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Game #53: Pool of Radiance (NES) - Getting My Feet Wet

Game 53

Title: Pool of Radiance
Released: April 1992 (June 1991 JPN)
Platform: NES
Developer: Marionette Co., Ltd. (Originally developed by Strategic Simulations, Inc.)
Publisher: FCI / Pony Canyon
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-person
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (on console)

Come to Phlan they said, see the sights they said
Now it's time to return to another childhood classic. Of course, instead of the DOS version I played hundreds of times (not beaten, just played), I'm diving into the console port on the NES. I haven't completely decided how I feel about it yet, but suffice it to say it's definitely lacking. A single save slot is available, and luckily the battery still works in my cart. I bade farewell to the previous adventuring party. There were three default characters, not quite enough to fill the party of five, but I always enjoy the character creation process (it's probably the reason I played this so much).
Instead of choosing class, race, and gender separately, the game lists all possible combinations
I decided on a dwarf fighter, a cleric, a fighter/magic-user, a fighter/magic-user/thief, and a magic-user/cleric. One of the greatest drawbacks of the NES version is the inability to modify stats. I was left to re-roll stats for nearly 2 hours before I settled for slightly above average. My dwarf did max out at 18 (99) strength, but the other two fighters settled for 17. Adjusting the character's combat model is also missing (the aspect I enjoyed the most as a kid).
At least Rolf is still here, although he looks a bit worse for the transition
There's no grand world saving plot in Pool of Radiance. Some time ago, the city of Phlan fell to an invading monster horde. More recently, a group of enterprising individuals have retaken a portion of the city, dubbed New Phlan, and have sent a call to all adventurers whether interested in fame, treasure, or good deeds. They've established a council, have shops, a tavern, training hall, and multiple shrines. The party found themselves working together for the good of the city (or themselves). Rolf ended the tour by showing us the way into the slums; the first area to clear in our quest.
The first thing to do was properly equip the party. They started with no gear and a mere 540 gold to their collective names. I managed shields for everyone, long swords for the fighters, maces for the clerics, and a mix of banded, chain, and leather armor. I bought a couple slings to have some ranged weapons, and found clerics weren't able to equip them. Seems I needed something called a staff sling for them. The council is the hub for quests. Three quests are given at a time by the clerk; to start I was commissioned to clear the slums, clear out Sokol Keep, and recover some old books on old Phlan. I memorized my spells, and headed off into the slums.
You forgot the "yet"
Memorizing spells is a necessity in old D&D. Spells must be selected for memorization each and every time. It's a shame this game doesn't recall which spells were previously memorized. It gets a little tiresome, and I recall it in the PC version. It can only be done while camping, and requires a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Clerics have access to the full assortment of spells if they're capable of casting a particular level, but mages must seek out scrolls to scribe into their books. To offset this, each level gained grants a magic-user one spell to scribe from any spell level they're able to cast. All mages start with detect magic, read magic, shield, and sleep. Detect magic in this version is not useful at all as no non-magical items are ever found outside stores. Sleep is over powered in the early game, and I'm glad to have the ability to cast it three times.
The mix of voice makes this strange to read; stopping by the friendly tavern
The slums proved relatively easy. The game limits the number of random encounters per map. Once cleared I was free to explore the area unhindered. I discovered a number of treasures that allowed me to deck out my party with long swords +1, some chain mail +1, some magical shields, and banded mail for everyone. I'm saving a dust of disappearance for when I really need it, as well as a necklace of missiles (fireballs) that I gained by retrieving a potion for a mage named Ohlo. Most battles were limited to 3 or 4 enemies in the beginning, and easily taken out with sleep. However, I avoided the troll battle in the lower left. From previous experience,  I knew it was going to be trouble.
I didn't bother to argue with this scary looking man over the 1,000 gold price tag for every level
Taking a break from the slums, I headed over to Sokol Keep. In front of the gate I found the skeletal remains of an elf. He had a scroll on his person that the party thoroughly memorized. Using the words from the scroll allowed me to avoid fighting the patrolling undead (a rough battle for my low level party). In the main hall I encountered a large party of goblins and hobgoblins led by a couple ogres. The keep was mostly free after taking them out. The had a letter that ominously referred to "the boss." I learned that the old guard of the keep were bound as undead; their leader had long ago locked them to this fate. Speaking to the head cleric, Ferrann Martinez, I told him of the current reconstruction effort, and he imparted the names of those that destroyed it long ago: Tyranthraxus, Edranka, and Torath. Before departing, he told me of an armory behind an illusionary wall, and of Mendor's library with records of the attack.
Nothing I could do with the floor lamp... the pile of treasure next to it was nice though
With Sokol Keep wrapped up, and a couple more levels under my belt, I decided to have my hand at the troll fight back in the slums. Trolls are harsh enemies at such a low level. I suspect the developers intended a party to use the necklace of missiles or dust of disappearance to make it manageable, but I'd rather save both for later. Capable of attacking three times, and regenerating hit points every round, it's nearly impossible to do on the first visit to the slums without additional magic.
Unlike the DOS version, there are kobolds (instead of ogres) capable of being slept to block the trolls, which are immune
It turned out I was worried for nothing. The trolls were paired with kobolds that I slept, trapping the trolls at range. I took them down with well placed arrows and staff slings, and cleaned up the kobolds before the trolls regenerated back to life. I fulfilled another commission, and then headed to the library. On the way was Kuto's Well, which I'll come back to later. I left the well alone, but rescued some woman in the area. More importantly I gained some treasure hidden in her cell.
Searching randomly for books; ACTUALLY random whether any useful books are found
I fought a basilisk in the library. I recalled this fight, and had brought brass mirrors, but they didn't reflect the gaze of this beast. I shamelessly restarted the fight rather than walk back with a statue for a party member. There was also a madman trapped in the library, but he ran off when I tried to take him back to town. I refused to make him go by force. A garden took up a corner of the library, but it was covered in green acidic slime that I could find no way around. So, I gathered as many books as I could, and went on my way; however, my way was blocked by the specter of Mendor.
Give it up man, you're already dead
I recalled having a way to avoid this fight in the PC version, but could find no way of doing so here. I was stopped every time I attempted to exit the library. The fight took place without any option to parlay. Most encounters give the party the option to attack, flee, wait, or parlay (this has additional options for tone as well). I reloaded this fight a single time as I was completely unprepared the first time, which resulted in a few level drains.
I came away with a number of good items, including a manual of bodily health, which I have yet to see a benefit to having read
One of the biggest gripes I have with the game is the limited inventory. At just 8 items per character, it leaves little room to collect all treasure in an area. This is especially true as I continue to collect useful scrolls, and other items that I'd rather save for later. I haven't fully searched the town, but I don't recall any kind of bank or storeroom. I returned for my fulfilled commissions, and was given three more: discover what item was to be auctioned at Podol Plaze and who wins it, discover who now resides at Kovel Mansion, and assist Braccio with a special task. In addition to those, another council member, Cadorna, had a side task to recover a package from the old overrun textile house.
Braccio ordered Dirten to join me in restoring the Temple of Tyr that was now overrun by followers of Bane
Since I was kind of following the order of commissions, I dragged Dirten along to Podol Plaza. Along the way I cleaned out Kutos Well. Apparently, an infamous thief named Norris the Gray resided under the well. I picked up some new gear, including a ring of warmth.
I didn't even know this was a thing to do
Podol Plaza was rather sparse. Most of the buildings were run down stores or abandoned houses.
Sorry, I mean, "naban doned" houses
I found a hidden shrine of Il-Mater where I was able to rest and recover. I based my exploration of the area from here, but only found an inn called The Pit, and a temple of Bane that I trashed. The auction was held in the central yard. When first entering Podol Plaza, I had the option of disguising the party as monsters, but either my charisma wasn't high (or low) enough to pull it off, or I was really unlucky because any encounter with monsters would reveal myself. Instead, I chose to hide, and only could listen to the auction proceed. A strange man bought a wand of illumination for 5000 gold. The auction ended peacefully, and everyone went their separate ways. I was rewarded for my report.
The price of healing is steep in the beginning, but isn't too bad by the mid-game
The next area I cleared was Kovel Mansion. It was filled with thieves, but most encounters were a single 6th level thief that would try to run away. The mansion was filled with traps, and locked treasure troves. I left them for later as my thief had no way to open them, and my mages hadn't learned 'knock'. I fought a couple tough battles against six 6th level thieves and a bunch of 1st level thieves, but with stinking cloud and hold person now in my arsenal, I easily dispatched them. Actually, my biggest enemy was fighting the limited inventory; usually finding treasure enough to fill me up before I had depleted my combat resources.
This letter found on the thieves' leader didn't seem to alarm the council or the party that Cadorna might betray them
In the wealthy district I ran into a group of orcs with Bane's crest. I picked up a leather symbol of Bane off their bodies, which allowed me to enter the temple without raising the alarm. One quick battle later against their head priest, Mace, and I had removed the evil aura surrounding the temple. I'm not sure how lucky it was, but I landed a silence spell on Mace, so I didn't have to worry about hold person from him. Dirten stayed behind to look after the temple while I looted the room. Good riddance; his AI was terrible. He'd often burn through hold person on enemies already held, and only cast cure light wounds on himself.
There were three treasure hoards of this size that each filled my inventory
Combat is the standard AD&D fare, initiative based turns with THAC0 (hitrate), and the lower armor class the better. Strength gives a bonus to hit and damage. Dexterity reduces AC and a bonus to hit with missile weapons. Constitution gives an additional bonus HP each level. The last three (Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) are either class specific or don't factor into combat. Spells have a casting time, although sleep and magic missile are instant. Buff time for spells like empower (bless renamed), meditation (prayer renamed), and protection from evil seem to last less than they should. In fact, I had slow poison going on my front line to prevent poison attacks from frogs and scorpions, but it didn't last more than an hour. I have a feeling a few of these spells are bugged. Also, ranged weapons seem to have a higher chance to hit compared to melee attacks, but that could come down to randomness.
Dueling myself in the training hall as I'm short 100 experience
So far, having a thief doesn't seem worth it. Combat lacks critical hits, and more importantly backstabbing seems non-existent. There's no way to distract an enemy; they always turn towards their attacker. I haven't tried it while invisible yet, so I'll report if that changes things. The only use I've gotten from my thief is attempting to disarm traps, which is about as useful as it was in Warriors of the Eternal Sun. There was a section in Cadorna's Textile House where a thief was useful, but I'll get to that next post.
How every battle begins
Elapsed Time: 15h12m (Total Time: 15h12m)