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)


  1. Welcome back! This was a big reason why I didn't use real hardware even though I'm buying most of the games I'm playing from ebay.

    1. Thanks. I just feel more comfortable with glitches on hardware. If this had happened on emulator I'd be in the same boat, except blaming the emulator/rom dump.

    2. Looks like you have to play the second Dungeon Master game just two games later. Good luck.

  2. Wow, man. That is pretty terrible. Well, thanks for sticking with it.

    1. Welcome Jason, I see you've been making your way through the posts. At worst I'll take a break, but this is a project I'm going to stick with until it's done.

  3. I’m very excited to see Secret of Mana and Lunar Silver Star Story coming up. Those are two RPGs that I love a lot.

    I got secret of mana when I was 10 for my birthday and my little sister and I worked our way through it.

    I got the ps1 version of lunar when it came out. It was awesome. I really enjoyed getting the different pieces of equipment from each dragon.

    I wanted to say thanks again for playing through these games.