Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Game #74: Sorcerer's Kingdom (Genesis) - Understandably Forgotten (Finished)

Game 74

TitleSorcerer's Kingdom
ReleasedJune 1993 (February 1992 JPN)
Developer: NCS/Masaya (& Technical Wave)
Publisher: Treco
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based (strategic)
Series - Standalone

It's difficult to pin down a development company for this one even though they received full credits -- as best I can tell they were a bunch of contractors or part of the original publisher
This game is no grand epic. It's about as middle of the road as a game can be while still being above a threshold of good. The story is run of the mill -- a land filled with adventurers, a new young warrior is finally of age and seeks to follow in his father's (who has been missing for some time) footsteps.
Selecting a name is almost as difficult as picking the 'right' combination of starting classes
Kanan, the hero's father, left some years ago and hasn't been heard from since. Now Norick, the name I gave him, has requested the king to permit him to do the same. Of course he does; there wouldn't be much more if the king denied him. The title of Adventurer was granted to young Norick. He was also provided a magic map that allows for quick travel and indicates completed quests.
Speaking with the people in the courtyard outside the castle, and in the town beyond, I learned of a wizard to the west that I should visit for important information. The hero's mother stands outside the inn to wish him luck throughout the game, and she offers some starting money. Now with 100 gold to my name I picked up a hand axe that cut my attack speed in half, but increased my attack power by more than four times. I didn't have enough for armor, but it also has a trade off: slower movement in battle to offset increased defense.
The first combat of the game introduces how deadly it is without some additional equipment -- I'm moving into position after initiating battle
Combat is about the only unique aspect of the game. Enemies wander around on the same screen as the characters in real-time. When an enemy gets within striking distance, or any time the player chooses from the menu, battle commences. Pulling enemies away from each other, getting only a single opponent on screen, is typically the best way to take them out. There's no visible experience. As characters act in battle they will eventually get stat boosts based on their actions. The Wizard appears after defeating all the goblins on the hill west of town, and he thrust a magic stone into my possession. It contained some password that opens the kobold king's secret hideout.
Early game overs -- I pushed my luck a little too far at the first boss battle
The kobold area is fairly easy when taken at a moderate pace. I grinded up a few levels to beat the kobold king and his four lackeys. Surrounding myself with trees on all but one side proved necessary. With the kobold hoard dealt with, Crale Village was able to harvest lumber once again. Gott, the woodcutter went to work right away, clearing a path to the elf village. In the meantime, I visited with the mayor of Crale, received my first sword marker on the map for an area completed, and advanced to the next title given by the king.
Most NPCs will change their dialogue as the story advances
The elf village elder directed me to the dragon rock they guarded. It had just been hit by a large lightning bolt. There I found a strange person named Elrad fending for his life from kill hounds.
Maybe next time come a little more prepared
Back in the elf village we learned that something called the elf orb had been stolen, and the elder's daugther, Astina, led the charge to retrieve it. Hearing this Elrad ran off after her before he had the chance to join the party. So, I was forced to fight solo. The basilisk at the end seemed doable until it spewed some gas turning the hero to stone. Astina and Elrad showed up just in time to save the day, and clinch the victory. So joined Elrad, but Astina left to return the orb to the village.
Just one little quest needs to be done before she'll consider us worthy
The king bestowed new titles before we made our way south to get some iron for a blacksmith to repair the east bridge. Elrad's powerful magic made quick work of the enemies in the plains. Too bad his MP is so limited. A deserted village appeared after we cleared them. There we met Midi who opened a path further south into the mountains. You'd think having an extra character would be beneficial, but combat is funny in this game. Nearly every enemy gets an action when any character takes a turn. Luckily you can choose any one to act each turn.
Thank you to whoever placed these regeneration points in the enemy dungeons, they're great at restoring all HP and MP
After some grinding off the restore point (because it was easy), I headed deeper into the volcano. A wizard lay waiting, one that I supposed served the Warlock on mount Serbia. The wizard spawned some mirror images, but their damage was rather pathetic, so I ignored them as I easily beat down the original.
Well how about that, wasn't expecting to find this game using the four elements shtick as well
When I exited the volcano Astina showed up to join the party, informing me that was Mount Serbia and the wizard was the warlock. The king advanced out titles, and the story once more. With the bridge repaired we headed east. Midi was at the end of the bridge, and decided she was going to join as well. With a full party (I could tell from the menu), Norick had a full three people to watch him be awesome. Most often it wasn't worth spending MP to cast magic, and Norick had the strength to take enemies out in a hit or two. Midi did okay as a secondary fighter, but better as a backup healer. Astina was the main healer. I hung out around another restoration point in the next dungeon to make sure the other characters didn't fall behind too much in their stat gains.
Astina buffing Norick as we faced a hydra guarding the water spirit
Another area cleared, and another new title. Title changes aren't just for show. Each one grants new spells (to all except the hero, who can't cast magic). While most new spells cost more, the extra punch they provide is usually worth it. At the end of the previous dungeon, I learned that I had to release all the spirits to gain a special power to defeat the great evil plaguing the land.
The bartender is probably the most useful NPC for pointing the party in the right direction to progress the story
Taking his advice, and checking out a snow-covered village named Argel, I found the townspeople there had all become shades. All except the shop owners and innkeeper luckily. One dungeon later, with another restoration point I used to its full extent, I left behind the bodies of three dead giants and removed the town's shadow form, as well as released the wind spirit to boot.
The map fills with another sword to indicate a completed area, but sadly can't be used to escape dungeons quickly
By this last dungeon though, Midi had learned the escape spell that allowed quick exit. I returned to the king for a new title. We heard tale of something called wind wings that would allow the party to fly far to the east. We gathered leather from the Argel village (not sure what animal they came from), lumber from Crale, and had the wizard on the hill magic them to make us the wings. I also took this opportunity to make sure everyone was outfitted with the best equipment I could purchase. We flew from the east of Argel, landing in a new area.
This scene lasted much longer than was necessary; if it wasn't animated I might have thought the game froze
While there was no town, we found a restoration point, and used it as a base to explore some nearby ruins. It was a maze of twisty passages, hidden corridors, and pitfalls that dropped us to floors below. There was a lot of treasure to find. Good equipment upgrades that rewarded as much exploration as I was willing to take on. I'm not sure I found everything, but I found enough to press forward towards the end.
Each character has their own inventory, which is limited
At the end of the ruins, the party found themselves in the middle of an audience with the king, advisor, and fanfarers all. The king, about to bestow a title, decided that DEATH was more fitting. Of course, this was all an illusion as they all turn into enemies and a battle begins. I had Elrad cast spark to take down the skeletons, and afterwards Norick cleaned up first the wizard, and second the boss (a lich), with Astina spot healing as necessary. Even at this late stage there aren't any group healing spells.
A dragon... you don't say? Go to Dragon Rock? Okay!
The end game came quickly as the king received a letter from Kanan detailing his banishment to Blood Island. The king and all his soldiers left to rescue him. The Legendary Sword, passed from from king to king since ancient times was given to me by the Minister. On Dragon Rock, I invoked the spirits with the sword, and received the Elemental Sword, which was now equippable by the hero, and made my attack power jump from 160 to 500. I don't think I missed any upgrades in between, but it's possible.
Wondering how to get to Blood Island was unnecessary as Dragon Rock formed a cave that took me straight there
The cave path was filled with easily defeated pyrohydras, which were exactly like the hydra boss except purple. I found the king's men all lain about in a short passage with the king on his last legs. He dropped a heavy amount of exposition before giving me a medallion and telling me Kanan was actually heir to the throne, which probably means Norick will be king by the end. Further in the cave we found Kanan. He healed the party with the last of his medicine, without realizing there was a restoration tile next to him. He handed us the other half the medallion before we faced off against the black dragon.
In case it wasn't obvious whenever you enter battle mode
Finally Astina had a group heal spell, and it's a good thing too as the dragon has a lightning attack that severely damages the under leveled majority of the party. They lasted just long enough to maintain their health as they buffed Norick, and burned through their MP. Elrad dropped first after unleashing his ultimate spell, Explosion. Once the dragon fell, the spirit of the sword withdrew, and thanked the party after restoring the fallen members to life. We returned to Landale to find Kanan was now king.
Especially Astina and Midi
Everyone on the dais poured accolades on the party. When asked what they would do now Norick admitted his wanderlust filled heart, and committed to further adventures. Astina and Midi wanted to return to their people. Elrad wanted to seek out awesome powers. I foresee a sequel where Elrad ends up becoming corrupted by ultimate power drawn from the black dragon. Of course, no sequel exists, so we'll never know what plans, if any, were thought up to continue the story.

Elapsed Time: 7h26m (Final Time: 7h26m)
The credits are a nice sequence of revisiting areas and bidding farewell to the party
Combatant - Combat is fairly straightforward with very little challenge overall. Having said that, it is easy to overextend in the first few areas when it's just the hero. Stats play a big role in battle, and reduce the penalties of higher tier equipment. Unfortunately grinding stat increases isn't feasible for all characters, and I didn't quite see the potential of Midi as a fighter. The enemies themselves have two modes: melee fighters or offensive magic-users. There's little strategy in fighting other than bashing their faces in, and maneuvering the more squishy party members away from melee range.
Rating: 5
Full credits like these are becoming more common in the 16-bit era
Admirer - There's no customization, although like most stat based grinding games, I suppose it's possible to spec out Astina as a fighter. Everyone has powerful weapons, but most of the mid to late range weapons prevent magic use in combat. Appearance of the characters don't change with equipment, but that's rarer than I thought was the case when I started these ratings. There aren't any advancement options per se, only a single path. Character control is intuitive, and focusing on a single character's development is easily accomplished.
Rating: 3
That's a lot of graphics work
Puzzler - There's never a chance of losing sight of the main quest. From the obvious sword placed on the map when an adventure is completed to the NPCs in town helpfully pointing out what needs doing next, especially the bartender, there's no losing your way. No side quests, no puzzles, and only a single solution to the problems the game presents bring this rating down a bit.
Rating: 3
I don't remember much about the music, except for the credits theme, which seemed rather experimental
Instigator - It's a simple premise. Go off to follow in your father's footsteps fighting evil. Find some orphaned elemental spirits. Draw on their power to defeat a black dragon bent on regaining its power to terrorize the land once again. The world is detailed, and the changing NPC dialogue as the story goes gives a good sense of progression. In a small game world like this it works well, but I have reservations about such a system when it gets too large. Having to go back to each character to possibly get new information seems like a chore that's better handled in other games by introducing a new town.
Rating: 6
I wonder what the difference is between a 'thanks' and a 'special thanks'
Collector - There are a good number of items, mainly equipment, but there's too much to fit in all the inventory slots of four characters. Without a vault I was forced to sell some of it off, though it didn't have much use beyond equipping, even the magic items. The economy does well to maintain its usefulness through to the penultimate dungeon where better equipment is found in the dungeon than is purchasable. The strength of each item is readily available, although there are hints of magical effects that remain a bit of a mystery. With no indication of a complete list , the treasure seeker will have to be ever vigilant for secret passages.
Rating: 4
By this point we've said farewell to Midi, and we're now headed to the elf village to drop off Astina
Explorer - Compared to most games of the era, the world is small. There are no more than two screen transitions between areas of interest. The graphics are well made, with enemies doing well to standout from the background. It's the normal high fantasy fair with goblins, wolves, and golems, as well as wizards, lizardmen, and skeletons. There are a few palette swaps, but most are unique sprites. The dungeons are simple, but not bland. The sound and music is a bit forgettable. There aren't any Easter eggs, at least that I found, although secret areas do exist in the dungeons. While past areas don't become boarded off, the world doesn't open up until the current quest is completed.
Rating: 4

Final Rating: 25 [42%]
See those tiny pointy ears, that's what makes her an elf
Overall it's a fun little diversion. It doesn't hold a candle to other deeper experiences like Phantasy Star or Warsong, but it is also short enough to fit into a weekend. I wonder what I'll remember of it down the road. Probably that it was easy, had an interesting battle system, and miles ahead of similar games like Traysia. Though, I don't really recommend it today. It doesn't do enough new that hasn't been done better before.
Time to look towards the next adventures
Up next we have another Dungeon Master game, Theron's Quest for the TG-CD. Not quite a port of the first game, it seems to be a bit of remixed version, but we'll see how much it really differs next time. Posts are still going to be off the regular weekly schedule (since when has that happened?) through the rest of summer probably, but I hope the delays don't trouble anyone too much. After Theron's Quest, what I'm really looking forward to is Shining Force. A series of games I've heard only good things about, but never really played for myself.

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.