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)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Below the Cut: Dungeon Explorer II (TurboGrafx-CD)

Dungeon Explorer II - Rating(8 RPP)
1) 2 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 3 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 0 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 2 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 1 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 0 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

I actually played through the first game before realizing it wasn't quite up to muster as an RPG. Here I'm cutting this one down as there isn't much difference between the two. Rather than repeat myself, go read up on the first game, and the bit I played through.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Game #72: Ninja Boy 2 (Game Boy) - Ninjas vs. Pirates, In Space! (Finished)

I had planned to use this color palette,
but forgot when it came time to play
Game 72

Title: Ninja Boy 2
Released: April 1993 (November 1991 JPN)
Platform: Game Boy
Developer: Culture Brain
Publisher: Culture Brain
Genre: Action RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Action (turn-based bosses)
Series - Super Chinese (Japanese name)

So, we're stuck with the default colors of the Game Boy Player
Released as the second action RPG of the series in Japan, from all I can tell the localization on this made it the third in the US. Even so, it's difficult to place them along a timeline. There's no indication other than the NES title being the first. The story began after the boys have been away from Chinaland for a few months. On board their starship with their friends, they were attacked and need to abandon ship.
I don't remember them going off to travel in space
Warriors of the Galaxy attacked the ship. Jack and Ryu escaped in a life pod that crash landed on an unfamiliar planet. All of their friends missing, assumed dispersed around the galaxy, Jack and Ryu set off to find them. They also took some time to blame the Galands for their current situation. Prior to starting the game, there's a difficulty option of normal (default), easy, and hard. Whenever I start a new game, I usually go for the default option unless I know that'll prove too simple.
Strangely without gear, and luckily a small amount of gold, I made my way to the first town of Sandstar. All of the parents were kidnapped by the Galands to work in Egymid, the capital city.
Some blatant advertisement
and additional marketing
This game follows Super Ninja Boy in nearly every mechanical way. Random battles pepper dungeons and overworld exploration. These battles are all action based where Jack (or Ryu) can punch, jump, and even swing a sword once one is acquired. There are no more than two enemies spawned at a time, and each battle ends as soon as a set number are defeated. Throughout the adventure they collect different kinds of magic throwing stars and other abilities that consume ninja power (NP).
Some special NPCs have a close-up view when speaking
The escape-leaf magic helped to cut down on the number of random encounters when I failed to flee, and there were many. The encounter rate is a bit high, and after the first dungeon my standard response was to run, fight when I couldn't, and use the escape leaf when winning wasn't worth it. I met with a resistance movement (there always seems to be one, and always open to new membership). They provided a bomb that I used to open up the tomb where the Libra Ring rested, the first of seven treasures (to collect and hand over to the big bad guy eventually I'm sure).
Some indication of the timeline -- Blu Boltar makes an appearance as leader of the resistance and references the battle in Chinaland
I rented a camel, and made my way west to a warp zone that had just been repaired. The next area was Dinostar, which had its own issues. It was on this trip that I realized I picked up the Vitalizer magic that restores HP, but I'm not sure when or where. In the capital city, White Castle, I met Ragyu who gave me a Bonzebot. This along with the capsules purchased at the store remain a mystery--whenever I tried to use them I received a message saying it wasn't the time to do that. Emperor Tyranno directed me south to retrieve the Orion Ring from Sanjo Castle; strangely it lacked a boss fight.
Seriously, it was just sitting there behind a door
With the ring in hand, we had apparently defeated enough of the Galands to open up the interstellar train line that allowed the boys to reach Mecha Colony. This world was being forced to create weapons for the Gallands. Freeing them, and Dr. Justice, rewarded Jack and Ryu with a spaceship.
Translation errors are always fun to point out, but I can't be too choosy about space transportation
Every town has an inn where it's free to rest, an item shop to purchase healing items and equipment, and a convenience store to find out the password and switch to two-player mode. The NPCs there offer a nice variety of hints and levity. Most have a building where the more important plot triggering characters reside. Dr. Justice took up residence in one of those while the party ventured further to destroy the Dreadstar weapon, and retrieved the Aries Ring (again without a boss fight).
In a few dungeons the battles occur in tight corridors
The next planet (which is a bit of misnomer, as the view from my spaceboat shows them as disc shaped) was Fantaland. There I learned the secret to riding dragons from a dragon knight, and faced off against the evil Robo Doc. Only the second boss (although fourth treasure), and I hit a wall. Apparently I had been escaping from a bit too many battles, as I found myself under-leveled. Dying is a small set back of half gold and reviving at the last convenience store. With no other options to explore, I needed to grind. One battle in particular helped offset my experience deficit. The normal enemies in this encounter were slow, and shot fire, but if I waited long enough a dragon appeared worth 6 times as much experience as the entire battle would normally award. They also didn't count towards the kill total, so I could consistently grind on them alone.
Capable of doing half current health, and going first is a bad combination
With just two more levels ahead of that first loss, the defense boost reduced the damage by 1/3. Such a dramatic change was unexpected, and the battle at that point was like all previous ones, easy. Boss combat is much different from the action battles. I get to choose Jack's actions, and Ryu randomly selects from bout or sword strikes (had I a second player connected with the Game Boy Link Cable, we could use that ninja power pool that goes to waste). Bout randomly punches, jumps, or kicks. Kicks tend to be weaker, while jumps and punches cause about as much as sword strikes. Sword use is hidden under Items, and with 6 M bubbles collected during normal battles I can summon the Might Ball under Magic, which is disappointing in this game. I'm not even sure what the Run command would do, I never attempted it.
Robo Doc enters his second form, which acts exactly like the first form
Magic might be a bit more interesting if it weren't too costly except for the healing spell. Defeating Robo Doc rewarded us with an antidote, which I used on the kingdom to restore their sanity. The princess rewarded the party with the Virgo Ring. The king allowed us passage to Wood Planet. It makes me wonder what prevented me from it at all.
Traveling to the "planet" Wood
The main town on Wood was Beatle, and I expecting some kind of Ringo joke, but I think it actually might have just been a spelling mistake. I picked up Magidoor (exit dungeon) and Magiport (warp to last starport) spells, which made backtracking on a single planet much quicker. Wood had an impossible forest maze that required a guide. The current guide had grown too old to travel, so I received an egg of a creature that could show me the way. We hatched it thanks to Dr. Justice's incubator, and it showed us through the forest in a short cutscene.
The magic password for getting through the lost forest
On the other side, we contended with the Galands that had taken up residence within King Wood, a giant tree. We received the Capri Ring, and nothing else. This time, strangely, there was no direction to the next location. It was simple enough to find, as I traveled the mostly linear space path to find planet Water World. Flotown is an underwater town that required I visit Dr. Justice once more for a submarine.
There is also the only gambling establishment in the game, but I was never hurting for money
The game dumped a bit more plot than normal as it told me of Fort Mars where another resistance movement, led by someone named Sanada, was battling against Ninja Master Puma with the stealth six. This has nothing to do with the current planet. To get the Quasi Ring I had to visit a fortune teller in order to learn I had to backtrack to Dinostar to get Ragyu, return to King Wood for some reason, and finally plug the hole on Water World that's slowly draining the water. Why are the Galands doing this? It's never discussed; they're just bad.
She also gave me the errand bot, which gave me access to purchase healing items from anywhere
Ragyu helped pull out a cork tree, and plugged the hole with it. Someone in town passed on the Quasi Ring as a reward. The fortune teller congratulated me, but didn't walk me through the rest of the game. So, I headed further along the path to find Fort Mars.
Nearly caught up in the battle -- I wasn't hit, so I'm not sure what happens; maybe I should experiment a bit more for this blog
The solar cannon firing from Fort Mars once again required me to consult Dr. Justice for the solution. Outfitting the spaceboat with a radar deflecting material prevented the cannon from firing. I'm not sure how I feel about the short back and forth "quests" involving Dr. Justice, which don't require anything more than visiting him. At least they're short, but at the same time he acts as a Dues Ex Machina with all the answers, stepping in to solve nearly every obstacle by his mere presence.
I found a shrine in the bottom left corner, and it's apparently somewhere I have to visit later
With a short trip to Dr. Justice out of the way, we're back in the game fighting our way through the Stealth Six. This set of six bosses (all action based) are some of the hardest or longest fought battles. Luckily they don't have to be defeated back-to-back. At end of the spiral space station we destroyed the solar cannon, and retrieved the Leo Ring. We tracked Puma to the King's Planet, which I missed somehow on my first pass of the surrounding area of Fort Mars. Upon entering the prince's hut in Bunnme on King's Planet we found Puma holding him hostage.
Guess what he wanted in exchange for the prince's safety
He locked up Jack and Ryu before heading out with the treasures. A bunch of their friends showed up after an indeterminate amount of time to set them free, and move the story along with some additional plot. Apparently there's supposed to be a slate in that bottom left corner temple that details the whole point of the treasure: to control the stars. I returned to Dr. Justice to better understand what that meant, but he only gave me another flying machine capable of entering the sun. There I faced off against Puma in a real turn-based battle, and trounced him. With rings back in hand we could finally control the comet that allowed us to cross some space dust to the final battle.
That is the Apollo Temple, and the comet I couldn't take control of until now
All that remained was the final battle. The final dungeon didn't offer much challenge, but General Lion was something else. It all came down to getting lucky as even when I grinded a few levels I didn't seem to do any more damage or take any less. With some lucky shield placements, and a lot of dodging, I won. In the end, General Lion escaped, vowing he'll get us next time, and all the friends flew back to Chinaland as if this was just another wacky adventure where nothing actually mattered.

Elapsed Time: 8h14m (Final Time: 8h14m)
Don't you mean spaceboat?
Combatant - Out of all the Ninja Boy/Chinaland games, the combat here is by far the most streamlined. It's challenging while not overwhelming so, with random battles' encounter rate on the high side, but enough options to escape that it's not terribly obtrusive. Rewards aren't well balanced; grinding later levels takes quite a while as the combats take much longer. The variety in enemies and their attack patterns keep combat fresh through most of the game. It's too bad many of the special attacks are worse than just using the sword, or don't function at all.
Rating: 6
If only... this would be a couple hours shorter if that were the case
Admirer - I doubt we'll ever see a Game Boy game where the player character changes in appearance or have much of any customization. Here there's none. It's always the same Jack and Ryu with the same abilities. In fact, it's actually only Jack since Ryu is only playable by a second player. The controls are solid throughout the whole game, without any slowdown during the active battles.
Rating: 3
Seems we have at least one admirer
Puzzler - The main quest is well laid out, but there's a definite lack of side quests. The mini-games are missing compared to past titles. There aren't any puzzles really. That one gambling game is rather useless as money is so generously rewarded.
Rating: 2
Until next time...
Instigator - The story is quirky and lighthearted. Plenty of on topic NPCs keep it moving. There aren't many descriptions or lore though, and most of the names are descriptive rather than speaking to some deep history. These really aren't deep games.
Rating: 2
This is confusing, do you mean I'll win again?
Collector - Items available are either consumable or equipment to obsolete previous purchases. There's not a whole lot to find. Money isn't a problem; usually I purchased everything available upon entering a new town. I still don't know what the capsules are for, but I bought 8 of them just in case.
Rating: 4
Credit where it's due
Explorer - The area covered, with all planets, overworld, and dungeons, borders on the side of excessive. Each individual place doesn't feel too large, and most are linear. Every place found is used for the main quest though, so there's no reason to explore unless directed as there's nothing to find early or extra.
Rating: 3
Actually, with a team of six this game is a little more impressive
Final Rating: 20 [33%]

Tying with the previous title in the series is probably on point, although I had more fun with this. The battle system was a more fluid, but the story and puzzles suffered a bit. Some obvious places to put boss fights were left unfinished, and I'm not sure why so many rings were simply found at the end of dungeons. Overall it was fun, but it's nowhere near a standout title, and as the last Culture Brain RPG we'll see here it's unfortunate they didn't go out with more of a bang.

Next up we'll see how Dungeon Explorer II doesn't add enough elements to trick me into playing it this time, followed by Dungeon Master. This'll be my first experience with the title, having played Eye of the Beholder some time ago as the only similar style of play. It'll be nice to get back into some graph paper mapping.
Until next post...