Monday, June 18, 2018

Game #73: Dungeon Master (SNES) - All Things in Moderation, Including Moderation (Finished)

Thanks for the game, too bad it wasn't better
After this and Might & Magic III, I have the opinion that the SNES was never intended to support a first-person perspective. The amount of lag from such basic commands as opening a menu gives me some dread for similar games, Eye of the Beholder specifically. At least we made it through this one. I'll be happy if I stop running into save-wiping bugs. A dead battery is one thing, and I fully anticipate having trouble with that (although it has only happened with a single game so far), but my qualms over the stability of PC games seem less substantial when something like this happens on console ports. In any case, we start again from the first floor.
Knowing I could bash down doors, I was able to get this chest beyond the door that said none shall pass
Going through the floors a second time allowed me to find alternate ways to some of the mysteries I came across. It was easily redone, but the game moves so slowly that it still took hours to get through the first few floors. I hadn't noted where items were, so I still explored nearly every square. In addition to the new chest on the first floor, I found a shortcut on the third, but still explored it fully.
This teleport field appeared after a gold coin was placed in a slot, but it didn't teleport anything... not sure what use it had
Sound in the game is rather sparse consisting mainly of ambient water drops along with combat sounds from monsters, attacks, and spells. Music is only activated by stepping on set tiles. Any time they're activated the keyed music is played once (unless it's already playing).

I'm still unsure what a series of small buttons did on the walls south of the main room on the fourth floor. On the fifth, I managed to find an extra key I had missed. It allowed me to pick up an extra magic box; I still hadn't used a single one. I also dived into all the pits I could find, now that I knew some hid secret areas. There were some extra items, but nothing extraordinary.
Healing up after a fight
In the above screenshot I'm drinking a potion to heal HP, and restore some lost strength due to a body injury (shown by the red highlight). The lost strength has temporarily caused some severe encumbrance, which makes recovery after actions take longer. I'm also poisoned (red highlight around mouth icon), and have leveled up (blue highlight around eye icon). Leveling up increases character stats related to the class that increased. By the time I recovered all my lost progress I also regained my levels, and then some.
The use of the Skeleton Keys should have dawned on me earlier
The skeleton keys I'd found starting on floor 7 opened up a quick staircase that granted fast access from 7 all the way to 10. This gave me the idea that floor 10 was final floor to explore. I would find it was just the beginning of the end.
It began with an innocuous message on the wall
Followed by another... wait, this is where the stairs up just were
Without much announcement, the tenth floor was filled with squares that teleported the party between very similar 4x4 rooms. The squares triggered based on the direction they were entered. To track these changes I used items on the floor to tell when I'd been transported to a different room. There wasn't any danger, at first, except for the possibility of running low on water without a way to replenish it. Eventually I stumbled into a third look-a-like room where a keyhole fit an iron key I picked up earlier, and this led to a solid key in a chest that fit into a key hole in a fourth room. Using that unlocked a path beyond the chest. The rest of floor 10 was a bit more straight forward.
Well, aside from these non-corporeal slimes that were a pain to fight
Down a poison filled hallway I swiped a sword called diamond edge. In a side room I picked up a sword capable of firing fireballs (at an unknown power level). After a series of passages with crossed keys, I found a small riddle that asked for an enlarged view where I used a magnifying glass on an eye in the wall. This opened a passage to a ruby key. The final skull was there as well, which allowed for quick backtracking once I located the final key of Ra.
Make sure to save before using coins in this area as you can lock yourself out of some exploration and items (not necessarily from the end of the game though)
I delved into the eleventh floor still anticipating having to backtrack to the sixth. Dashed were my hopes that I'd find the end on the 10th. Damn you Wizardry for setting up my expectations of dungeon crawlers. The 11th was fairly simple, though I missed an enemy on my first pass that made me feel like I was stuck. Eventually I found it; it dropped a topaz key, and everything else fell into place. I found the last key of Ra, picked up a master key that I don't remember using, and found another skull passage that I wasn't expecting (which connected the one I thought ended on the 10th floor with this one, and an additional staircase down to the 12th).
I think these were by far the most annoyingly tedious enemy, dodging most attacks while doing a good chunk of damage
Before I went too deep, I thought it best to go back to the sixth floor for that staff that seemed ever so important. The sixth floor was filled with rock golems capable of doing half my HP while I swung for single digits. Magic seemed like the way to go. The ruby key was necessary to open up the rest of the level. Clues spread throughout led quite blatantly to the idea of using the firestaff to seal away chaos, not destroy him. I'm not even sure if the SNES version of the game has an option to end the game any other way.
Bringing balance to the force
Anyone know if these scrolls are in the PC version as well?
All in all, there were about 8 scrolls that detailed how to get a power gem, and finally seal away Chaos. Among the debris in that area I found another key of Ra that took me around to the firestaff as well as another staircase that led to a different area of the 12th floor. Before getting lost in that area though I found a switch that quickly connected both of the shortcut staircases together on the 7th or 8th floor. I decided the original set of stairs was best to explore first. They dumped me in an area that had pits open under my feet, taking me to a 13th floor. I almost loaded my save as my map already seemed a bit piecemeal. I stuck with it.
Finding dragon meat all game, and finally finding a dragon
The dragon was actually fairly easy as the room I dropped into allowed for a lot of maneuvering. Still, it took a lot of damage, and a good amount of fire protection to overcome. Defeating it probably wasn't necessary, but it felt like a big achievement. The dragons lair held the power gem I needed to fit into the firestaff in order to power up the flux capacitor, the key to which was hidden under a pile of ashes. The power gem was released using a spell I learned from a scroll, or the only odd spell spelled out in the back of the manual.
The stairs up from the dragon room brought me face to face with what I assumed was Chaos
I had to defeat a number of lesser fire demon looking enemies, and set past some black pyres that hurt me when I stood next to them for too long. Actually surrounding him took a of trial and error as I figured out how the flux cages worked. They wore out, disappearing quickly, so I needed to place them down while chasing Chaos around the small area I decided as the best place to trap him. The lag inherent in the game really showed why the SNES was the wrong console to put this game on. The magic boxes I had been saving up freezes enemies, but they don't work on Chaos.
Once surrounded, using the fuse command completes the game
Somehow Chaos automatically fuses with his good half and returns the Grey Lord to his former glory. Again, I'm not sure there's another ending, even a bad one for killing Chaos and having Order rule all. As curious as I was, I didn't bother trying to find it as I couldn't damage Chaos with any of the attacks I initially tried when I first encountered him.
Yes, the sinister plans of hiding out in a dungeon
Elapsed Time: 18h34m (Final Time: 37h12m) [9h13m replaying]

Combatant - Combat is easy, except when it's suddenly not. In most cases, as long as there's room to move around and side step, picking the enemy apart is a battle of attrition. There's also no cost for resurrection that I noticed. It's not exactly the most thrilling, but the small amount of stat increases do well to keep it interesting. The spells add some strategy, although I tended to ignore the defensive ones as they don't last long.
Rating: 4
Maps flew by during the final scenes of the ending... here I see an area in bottom left of the fourth floor where the buttons are that I never unlocked
Admirer - Skill use increases class levels even outside of battles, which allows for some grinding. I came in way under max level, so it's completely optional. Each character has their inherent strengths, but optionally customized for however you play (except for the character that starts with 0 MP--I'm fairly sure that character can never gain mage or cleric levels). There's a large cast of characters for the party. Controls are bad, and appearance doesn't really change.
Rating: 3
Strangely, the shortcut isn't shown for the third floor
Puzzler - The main quest is spelled out eventually, but can be overlooked if the party keeps pressing forward. Puzzles and riddles are easy enough that I don't think anyone would have trouble with them, and I don't believe there's a way to get stuck in a position where the game is unwinnable. There's nothing that I'd call a side quest, and all steps essentially have a single path to follow.
Rating: 3
The top right portion shows the teleport maze on the 10th floor
Instigator - The story is light, but ever present. There aren't any NPCs to discuss the state of the world, and there's no real lore in the game to speak of aside from how to beat the boss. What was there was enough to keep me going though, and slowly uncovering it was interesting. I added a point for the possibility of multiple endings based on maybe doing something different in handling Chaos; it was a thing on the computer versions, so maybe if I slogged off back to the beginning of the dungeon even though there was no indication that was a possibility I would have found something.
Rating: 3
A console port no one asked for
Collector - There are a large variety of items. Unfortunately inventory is severely limited, even with multiple chests. The comparative strength of equipment is completely hidden. I had no idea by the end if one weapon was better than another, or only afforded slight modifications. Collecting everything is hardly an option as ensuring everything is found is nearly impossible. There's no economy.
Rating: 1
Explorer - There's not much to see in a single tiled dungeon. The sound effects were atmospheric, and the music tiles appears at often strange locations, often jarring as it started out of nowhere. Exploration is completely open, only limited by obvious walls and few locked doors.
Rating: 3
I wonder why they chose to present the music like that, was that how it was in the original?
Final Rating: 17 [28%]

Overall, I'm glad to have finished it. It's a classic on computer, although the console port is lacking the technical superiority I would expect from 4 years of progress. At least I'll never have play it aga... what's that? It's coming up again in a couple games? Well, let's see what they changed in the TG-CD version of the game. I've read it's a bit different, at least in the presentation. It's 6 or 7 sequential dungeons. Before that though, we get a break (self induced) with Sorcerer's Kingdom, one of those games I know nothing about.
If I manage to post Sorcerer's Kingdom's entry by next Monday, then this hiatus can be considered officially ended. We'll see if I can manage that far. A combination of things has delayed this post, and progress on the RPG list in general, but I'm hoping to double my effort so that such a long break doesn't happen again. Thanks for sticking around.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Game #73: Dungeon Master (SNES) - Dungeon Meat of Doom!

I've changed my capture setup.
Game 73

Title: Dungeon Master
Released: June 1993 (December 1991 JPN)
Platform: SNES
Developer: FTL Games / Software Heaven, Inc.
Publisher: JVC Musical Industries, Inc.
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-person
Combat - Active time battles
Series - Dungeon Master

Unfortunately, SD resolution looks terrible now. So enjoy 1080p. (it's the best I can do.)
Well, it happened, again. Put off writing a post turned from one week into two, and ballooned from there after losing my save file. Another glitch, in another game, and my save got wiped. This is definitely the biggest drawback to playing on original hardware. I thought I might get back through it quickly since I had maps already, but the lag of the game has me averaging more than an hour per level. So, I took some time away. Let's get back into it, first with a post covering up to the glitch.
The opening sequence has me questioning my decision to play Theron's Quest on TG-CD
There's a small intro sequence that plays as the game waits for input. Theron's master, the Grey Lord, unleashed the power of Chaos while trying to retrieve a Power Gem from Mt. Analas. Theron, granted with an ethereal form, must stop Chaos by assembling a team of four champions whose souls are locked behind mirrors in the starting area.
Our first look at Chaos as he interrupts our master's message
The manual goes into a lot more detail. In fact, the first half is all backstory. That's 18 pages expanding on the summary above. Actually, I confess, I haven't actually read it yet. I should probably do that at some point; maybe by the end.
For those unfamiliar, Dungeon Master is a popular genre setting game that won critical acclaim on several personal computer platforms. I assure you, the SNES wasn't one of them. My main complaint is the input lag, where it can take up to a second for the game to respond to a command. Don't mash the button though, as the game does well enough to buffer the inputs, and executes them in sequence. Next up is the cursor interface, which strangely was not supported by the SNES mouse. Those arrows in the bottom right can be used to move, but thankfully the game has a movement mode where the d-pad switches from controlling the cursor to moving the party. These two states can be toggled between easily.
Scoping out a character before deciding how they should join the party
Four characters can join the party by either resurrecting them (characters retain their previous class levels) or reincarnating them (levels are wiped, but stats start a bit higher). In either case, each character comes with a select amount of HP, MP, and stamina--some even have starting equipment. Each character can train (use abilities) to gain experience towards one of four classes. I'm guessing those without MP can never gain any as using it is the only way I've found to gain more and earn healer and wizard experience.
Current experience is a mystery, but the game tracks levels as pictured
Fighter experience is gained by attacking, although there's a war cry ability that can be grinded without enemies around. Ninja experience is mostly gained by throwing, although punching and kicking are good ways as well. Healer experience comes from mixing potions that heal, buff, or cure ailments all of which require an empty flask. Wizard experience comes from casting wizard spells, the most basic of which is light, but the most useful is fireball.
My only full party wipe--I underestimated the power of these early mummies by trying to go toe-to-toe
Combat isn't quite real-time, it's more like an MMORPG or Final Fantasy's active time battles. Each action has an inherent cooldown before the character can act again. Enemies are subjected to the same wait cycle, but for them it also applies to movement. This allows the party to duck and weave around enemies given enough space. In hallways this means backing up slowly after each swing. It's not a perfect tactic to avoid damage, but useful in tight situations. Strangely, being inside a character's inventory seems to speed up the cycles (probably reduced lag from not having to draw the enemies), so ducking in to drink a potion of healing can result with coming out hurt more than healed. Potions, food, and water are consumed by take the item to the character's mouth icon.
Chests provide a nice extension to a character's inventory
Food and water are necessary to consume, but as far as resources go both are plentiful with regular water fonts and edible monster meat. Sleep isn't required, although it's a quick way to recover MP and doesn't cost much in hunger or thirst. There are four slots for thrown weapons, which equip automatically when thrown or ammo shot from bows or slings. It's not clear which weapons are better, but each character has a hidden proficiency stat that unlocks better attacks after some use. Armor is fairly standard, and I've just been cycling through both based on how deep in the dungeon I find something. Some consideration is necessary for a character's strength as some armor will wear out stamina quickly, usually not a concern.
Found a compass early on the second floor in a side passage... it's been helpful to avoid spinner traps
Combat is mostly a side act for navigation puzzles. They start out slow on the first floor with a variety of singular keys that open specific doors, levers, and pressure plates that require a combination of weights or a single press (or avoidance). Some doors require nearby switches, magical unlocking spells, or even need to be bashed.
Here I pushed a button to activate a teleporter for a couple seconds, then threw some robes into it to land on a pressure plate on the side that disabled the pit
After choosing the champions, there was a simple corridor that introduced the revive alcove: just bring a dead character's skeleton back to the shrine--there doesn't seem to be any cost. The first proper floor starts the simple key and switch puzzles. There was only one door I didn't quite understand how to get through, with only simple message that none shall pass. The second floor branched into six easy challenges, each rewarding the party with a gold key that opened the path further down. The third floor was a long grind through multiple new enemies. It was fairly straight forward though.
These faces confound me, but they might be just decoration
The new monsters had some variation: flying bugs that attacked quickly, large worms that hit hard, and even some that poisoned. Poison wears off after some time, but it's easier to create a potion to heal it. The final area on this floor required killing a mummy stuck on a switch, and I opted to do so by magic so the fallen ammo didn't continue to trigger it. This caused a lot of worms to spawn, but it was required to unlock the staircase down.
Red takes a hit while Pat lands a blow leveling up his fighter class, a second worm already defeated left a roll of meat behind
The fourth floor's main hallway lead directly to the stairs down to the fifth, but I thought it best to explore the side passage that branched into four large rooms. The first room I entered had an invisible field that teleported the party back without any indication, making the room seem larger than it was. To detect it I threw something ahead, and had it hit me from behind. I found a notch in the wall that when pushed enabled a single path through the room. There were a lot items beyond, but nothing that seemed necessary.
These notches aren't hard to miss as they stand out from the normal texture
The second room had some amulets, a gem, and a few more notches that opened different walls. In the end though, I didn't understand what the final notch might have opened. The third and fourth I put off until later as one had a teleport maze I wasn't keen on mapping, and the other had a pit trap puzzle. Pits have two varieties, both damage the party, but they can push the party back a space, or drop the party down a floor. The fifth floor has the most riddles to solve.
One of the more clever riddles in the starting room
The first room contained four riddles and four alcoves to place an item answering the riddle:
  • I am all; I am none (  Mirror  )
  • Golden head and tail, but no body (  Gold Coin  )
  • I arch yet have no back (  Bow  )
  • Hard as rock; blue as sky; twinkle in womans eye (  Blue Gem  )
The only way to progress further is to place the items for each answer. They can be retrieved once the door has opened. Following this was a combination puzzle with four notches, and no obvious hint I could find to the answer. I brute forced it and found a key that allowed me to move on.
Right before the stairs down to the sixth floor is the second revive alcove
Before moving on I decided it was best to return to the two rooms on level four. The pit maze provided a shield, and the teleport maze had a dart in the maze as well as a store room on the other side with some additional items (another blue gem, more darts, and a poison potion bomb). The sixth floor is locked down, and I don't have access to it yet. I collected a Ra key earlier, which opened one lock, but there were multiple of these to access the Tomb of the Firestaff.
A new enemy type introduced on the 7th floor was immune to physical attacks
The seventh floor is filled with wraiths that require non-material attacks. A spell exists for that, but the Vorpal Sword I found earlier can unlock an attack called disrupt that destroys them in one hit. The floor is filled with teleport squares, and fireballs flying through them. Turning off the fireball mechanism makes the floor much safer to navigate. There are some pits that lead to treasures not otherwise accessible. Many hidden passages here hide some nice loot as well. Another enemy here steals items from the party's inventory, and runs away laughing. Luckily they drop everything when they die, but they can even steal a sword someone is currently holding.
The most annoying enemy to kill, they're fast little buggers
The eighth floor starts with a strange riddle, a message on a wall that asks "when is rock not rock," which meant one of the nearby walls wasn't a wall. Walking into walls does some slight damage, so I opted to throw things at every wall. New strange monsters were introduced; they were tough, but didn't have any unusual attacks. There weren't many new puzzles: some dodging fireballs, some finding the correct switches to progress, and accessing one section by placing in an alcove a strange mineral weighing nothing where I found the stairs down to the ninth floor. Items can be checked by using them on an eye of a character.
Sometimes equipment turns red; not sure what it means, but it goes away after healing
The ninth floor has a symmetrical layout that requires me to choose one path over another until I reach the point where they converge. I then went back and explored the second half. I found another key of Ra, and return to the sixth where I found I needed at least a third key. I felt like the end of the game was nearing, although I'm not quite sure how deep the dungeon goes. Unfortunately I never did find another stairway down.
Something you never want to see, especially after experiencing a glitch
So, I was making my way through enemies as always. One the thieving enemies stole many items from my inventory as I beat it down. It finally died, dropped everything, and as I picked up a drumstick with a chest open in my inventory, this happens:
First sign there might be a problem is that the drumstick seems to be hovering over the sleep button
Wait... what's that other drumstick doing there? Did my eyes and mouth just turn into drumsticks?

Everyone is a drumstick!

No... no

Please no

And that's where my game progress has been sitting for two months. Back to square one. Well, not quite since I have my maps, but I've put in five more hours and only have just reached the fourth floor. It's not a hard game, but it's going to take at least another five to recover all that progress all while the idea of a game ending glitch looms over my head as a possibility. I'm hoping if I avoid switching into my inventory with an open chest it'll help, but I'm unsure how it happened in the first place.

Elapsed Time: 18h38m (Total Time: 18h38m)