Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Game 12: Final Fantasy (NES) - What Game Am I Playing?

This is the main menu? How Spartan
Game 12

Title: Final Fantasy
Year: 1990 (1987 JP)
Platform: NES
Developer: Square
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn-based (Party)

"We've come from the four corners of the world, each holding an orb, arriving at a time and place we're needed most. The world is in turmoil... the earth rots, the wind has ceased to move, fire spontaneously consumes, and the waters rage at all who dare traverse. Yet, somehow we've arrived on this distant plain seeking our destiny, drawn forward by the orbs."
Final Fantasy is the biggest name in console RPGs in the U.S. While not always well received, the franchise spans movies, music, and toys. In Japan, it's rivaled by Dragon Quest, and though Dragon Warrior was released first, it didn't catch on as well in the U.S. as Final Fantasy did.
We didn't start the fire... it was always burning since the world's been turning
The first game begins by giving a short back story of four prophesied warriors of light that would bear four orbs. These orbs once glowed with the light of each element (earth, fire, water, wind), but have dimmed over the past 2000 years. The world is troubled by unrest due to the existence of the four fiends. My quest, to destroy each fiend and return light to the corresponding orb.
For the past few months I had a poll up, which I used to determine my starting party. Taking the total votes and dividing by four, I came up with the total votes needed for each character. Since none had double that amount, I just picked the top four: Red Mage (Gioz), Black Belt (Tont), White Mage (Pipi), Black Mage (Kili).
Gioz and Kili are now characters, Tont and Pipi are characters I've used before
The party starts outside Corneria. In town and at the castle, they learn the princess was kidnapped by someone named Garland. As warriors of light, we take the quest and dispatch Garland. Rescued, the princess bestows a Lute upon the adventurers. This Lute has been a royal treasure for thousands of years, it must be worth something. The king, in honor of his daughter's rescuers, orders the north bridge rebuilt. Here the journey begins.
Now that's a title screen
From here, the game continues on a linear path of moving on to the next town or dungeon for no other reason than all other ways are blocked. There's not a lot of direction, no indication where the fiends are located, and purchasing items are kind of it and miss with no way to tell who can use what equipment. That is, if it weren't for the manual, I'd be completely lost. The manual acts as a guide, describing suggested equipment, spells, and providing maps of the surrounding areas. In fact, it walks through the first two fiends, up to the airship and class change.
An in-game map? That's got to be a first
The game was also originally packaged with maps of some of the dungeons, and a table of weapons, armor, and magic. Nearly everything was described in a similar way modern games would describe them inside the game. I'm not sure how far I'd want to take all this advice and where to draw the line between walkthrough and helpful hints. For now I've mainly been using it for equipment and spells, while I've done my own exploring without the use of maps.
Why buy a ship when we can take one from pirates?
I've managed to get a ship from some pirates, and am now on a quest to rouse a sleeping elf prince, return a crystal eye, and find a crown deep in a marsh cave. I've had to grind quite a bit to even make small progress. I often find I'm quickly outmatched by many encounters that can paralyze, poison, and stone. I've gotten used to targeting during fights, and having ineffective attacks if the target enemy dies before I'm able to attack with some of my characters. In a sense, it adds to the strategy that I need to remain thoughtful of who is attacking what enemy and if I can get away with splitting my attack or if it's best to focus.
Sounds legit

Session Time: 4h00m (Total Time: 4h00m)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Below the Cut: Spud's Adventure (Game Boy)

(Source: Defunct Games)
Spud's Adventure - Rating(6 RPP)
1) 4 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 0 - 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) 1 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 0 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 1 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

How does this game get added to an RPG list? This is absurd; nearly as bad as Pinball Quest. The only reason I can think this would be in the list (came from Wikipedia) is that there are NPCs and dialogue. Also, I suppose it does have experience points and levels that offer health increases. Beyond that it's a poor man's Adventure of Lolo. The game is a set of floors, which are often maze-like, sometimes have puzzles, and offer a choice of stairs to take.

The game comes from the creators of Kwirk and Amazing Tater, and I suppose they were trying to expand on their genre of push puzzles. A princess is kidnapped, and you're the last in a line of heroes that have attempted to rescue her. As you make your way through the tower, you'll find the previous rescuers and they'll join your party, offering different weapons. All weapons shoot out from you, but some have a wider range, do more damage, or have different patterns (one is a banana boomerang I believe). After a certain number of floors a boss will appear, defeat him to move on to the next area.

There aren't any other quests, there isn't an inventory, and there's a lack of rewards for combat. There's little use to fighting after reaching max health. The endless monsters get really annoying after the first floor. On at least one floor, there was the option to fight one of two bosses depending on the path taken through the maze. I had the chance to play through the entire game, and it only took about 5 hours (3 hours according to the game, which probably didn't take into account the game overs). I was hoping for something a little more from Atlus, which has quite the library of RPGs.

Below the Cut: Flying Warriors (NES)

(Source: Tomorrow's Heroes)
Flying Warriors - Rating(7 RPP)
1) 3 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 2 - 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) 1 - 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

Flying Warriors is another Culture Brain game--the company that's doing its best to blend genre lines by mixing in RPG elements before anyone else--which has brought us The Magic of Scheherazade and the up coming Little Ninja Brothers. I'm not sure any of the Culture Brain games did exceptionally well, but we really don't see them hit a series until Little Ninja Brothers (also known as Super Chinese).

This title doesn't quite make the cut though, as it has a lack of NPC interaction, town/stores to buy and sell items or equipment to, and puzzles to solve. It does offer some innovative leveling and character combat stats for a beat'em-up / platformer. We won't quite make the transition into RPG-beat'em-up yet. Once again, I'm sure we'll get there, but it just hasn't happened yet.

For those looking to play this game, it's one of many games available for free on Virtual NES, online Java based NES emulation. No need to download anything, just have Java installed and play.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Below the Cut: Arcus Odyssey (Genesis)

(Source: World 1-1 Blog)
Arcus Odyssey- Rating(7 RPP)
1) 2 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 2 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 1 - 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) 0 - 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

Many games try to mimic the Gauntlet series, and some of those go far enough to breach the line towards RPG dungeon crawlers. Dungeon Explorer was an example of this, and even I was fooled into thinking that game would prove to have enough in common with an engaging and interactive RPG. I hope to avoid that in the future, and it seems I'll pass on Arcus Odyssey . It actually has more in common with Dungeon Explorer than Gauntlet, and I wonder what inspired the game in the first place.

I considered playing, but I don't think it would offer enough in the end. I'm certain we're going to get to the tipping point eventually, just look at Diablo. I think I may have had this on my original list (before I decided to keep everything and rate it as an RPG), but cut it because it didn't quite fit. This is the same reason I didn't have BattleMaster and other games added based on lists composed by SeedyGamer. BattleMaster is one I plan on playing as it seems to offer enough while still in the same genre (I could be wrong).

In any case, we're removing Arcus Odysser from the playlist because once again there's no leveling of the characters, no stores, little NPC interaction, a single quest, and a very linear world with separate levels. The combat is action oriented, with what seems like items and equipment, possibly puzzles to solve later on, and upgrades for the character after each boss. There's a choice of four characters, and it seems like a fun game. David Izat seems to think so at any rate.

A Cut Above: Cadash (TurboGrafx-16)

(Source: Turbo Play Magazine Archive)
Cadash - Rating(9 10 RPP)
1) 4 - 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) 3 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 1 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 0 - 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

Cadash represents a subset of beat'em-ups that I actually enjoy, those that employ weapons, spells, and (especially) a fantasy theme. My favorite of these are the D&D games on the Japanese Saturn [Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara], which I'm sure would do well if they ever decided to release them in the U.S. (if they have, I've missed them, and would appreciate someone telling me).

Beat'em games tend to contain certain aspects that ensure we won't see many on this list, or played for the blog proper. Most notably the game world progresses level by level and puzzles and quests are non-existent. A lack of NPCs, stores, character levels, and stats keep most of these games from even being considered, but Cadash does employ some of these, yet not enough for me to put it on my play list.

I haven't actually played Cadash, and I based the score on videos of the first couple levels, so I may be off. As always, correct me if I'm wrong or if anyone feels I should really play through this game for the blog. Hopefully Guardian Heroes for the Saturn doesn't turn out to be the only game I end up playing from this genre. Only time will tell (unless someone wants to look it up).

Cadash is originally an arcade game released on the TurboGrafx-16 and Genesis. The TG-16 version enhanced the arcade version to better balance the classes, and offers the original four classes; however, the Genesis version only included two of the four. For those looking to play the game, it's included in the Taito Legends 2 released on the Xbox and PC (original game and hardware is expensive).

Edit: It turns out the game does offer shops to buy and sell equipment. So, based on the comments below, I'm adding this back to the list. It'll be a year before I get to it, but I'll need to think about getting it sometime soon. If anyone has any suggestions for what version I should get, then speak up before then. I'm thinking the Taito Legends 2 version, which has some other games I want to check out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Game 11: Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - Final Rating

Over half the game is combat, so it's no surprise that the basic combat starts to wear my patience. Tech points are best saved for healing in the early game; it's more economical than casting spells in combat, which left me with one option, attack. It's helped mildly after finding items that give unlimited spell use, but even that gets old by the final dungeon. Having to use items or techs in the late game really drags out the combat, about a minute or two to each one.

Enemies are unique, and vary from robots to dragons, giant owls, mammoths, rabbits, and strange rock or golem creatures. It's a strange mix, but that's expected in these early fantasy games. Boss fights are few and far between, and actually do require some strategy. Once tech points and one-use items are gone though, everything reverts back to heal and stab.
Rating: 5
Enemies continue to be animated, some better than others

The roster is impressive for it's time. When it comes down to it though, the need for this is very limited. The best well rounded fighter is the main character who can never leave the party. Rudo, the tank is also the most consistent damage dealer. Amy the healer comes early and is the best buffer. After that you have your pick of Anna, Hugh, Wrecker, or Shir once Nei becomes useless. Any one will do, as they all have their perks (some more than others). Each character comes with a personal story to give some background.

About the only customization possible here is naming each character as they join, except for Shir... she's bugged or something and wouldn't let me change her name. Each character has a set progression for stats and skills. Controls in combat are cumbersome once there's a need to do anything other than attack.
Rating: 4
If only this continued to show party equipment and techs

There's a main quest, although motivation gets a bit fuzzy as things progress. You could call mapping dungeons a puzzle. The game originally came with a hint book. Forgoing that was my own choice, and seems to have added about 10 hours to game; I'm not sure it was worth it.

There are no side quests and there's only one area in a dungeon I'd call a puzzle (requires a certain skill). That one area really doesn't have a logical reason to exist, and that's a theme oft repeated. Everything is straightforward enough that the only difficulty is knowing exactly where to go.
Rating: 1
Dungeon puzzle: Left or Right?
The story started strong, but seemed to get lost among all the dungeon delving. Speaking to NPCs offer some background, but are not much help in figuring out where to go. Dialogue options are unclear in many cases, and I found myself having to answer both to get anywhere. There aren't any descriptions for items, and any potential lore is not explained (for example, Nei, the character, and Nei, the equipment).

This is the first game to offer a progressive story. We don't get the end goal right away, although we get hints. There's no alternative or way to influence any part of the story. Due to the leaps of logic, I felt disconnected from the whole experience, and was glad to finally be done with the game.
Rating: 3
If Nei means that, what does that have to do with the equipment?
Unfortunately, the game suffers from its interface in both battles and inventory. You must try on a piece of equipment in order to know who can use it, and if it's even worth having. Buying items from a shop will tell you if someone can't use it, but if they can, then you've just bought that item. Each character has an inventory, which is limited to two pages [16 items]. There is a storage container, but it's also limited to 16 items. In addition to the limited space, sorting an inventory is unbelievably difficult. Sorting goes like this: select the item, give the item, select yourself, the item moves to the end.

There is no way of knowing if your collection is complete. In fact, there's a point in the game where you collect items with the prefix 'Nei' and there's no way to see if you have them all other than returning to the quest giver. Some items have a tech/spell effect in combat, but most are low powered and repeated across multiple items. The economy did better than most games. I was running out right up until the last planet where rewards overwhelmed what I needed to purchase.
Rating: 3
Why does this room hold exactly as much as one person can carry?

There's nothing that excited me about exploring the land. While some interesting places were described, once reached, these places looked very similar to any other dungeon. The explorable area is sectioned off into plot locations, with "keys" needed to progress to the next area.

This is the first game where I felt the graphics detracted from exploring. In every dungeon there's a parallax scrolling foreground that often obscures the surrounding area. Also, the view of the surrounding area is a little wobbly since it doesn't center on the party. The music is well done, and there's even a way to listen to each one.
Rating: 3
The majestic final stronghold of the Espers... looks like another dungeon to me
Final Rating: 19 (32%)

Overall I expected more from this game. As a follow-up to the first Phantasy Star, I found it a little off-putting. From the changes to combat to top-down view of dungeons, it didn't quite feel like a proper sequel. The length of each combat coupled with the a sparse story that often left me wondering, "what's the point of that?" sapped my desire to play. I'm not sure the game would have been much better had I used the maps in the hint book, but it would have been shorter.

The rating puts it on par with Ultima: Exodus, but I'd much rather play through that game than take another shot at this one. Even with the possible challenge of playing through with only Rolf (this seems to be a thing), I can't see it offering much more.

Next up, I'll finally get to the poll and the next game, but first I want to clear up the list a little by cutting a few games. Also, I plan to update my other blog. I'll definitely be starting up Final Fantasy this weekend. I'm sorry for not being more consistent with posting and making progress. I think going more than a week without posting is a mistake, and I'll aim for twice a week, but won't let things get out of hand again. Thanks for sticking around.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Game 11: Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - Finished!

I bet you weren't expecting this post so soon. I decided to push through to the end without another post about how there's basically no additional plot points beyond, "here's a prism, go dungeon crawling."
I hardly notice the scrolling foreground anymore
Last I left it, there was only one small area on the Dezo over-world left to explore. There I found a crevasse. On the other side was the strange man mentioned by the Dezo people. Lutz, previously known as Noah in the first Phantasy Star, welcomed Kyle. He has been watching over Algo for 1,000 years, ensuring the line of Alis would live on to save the star system again (minus one planet). He even once saved Kyle from a spaceship collision 10 years prior. It seemed someone was trying to end the line of Alis, and seize control of Algo.
Actually, you haven't said my name yet. Translation issues?
In order to stop the nefarious plot, I'm tasked to find some enchanted items called the Nei equipment. Wait... Nei? As in, my fallen companion Nei? No, she's actually not mentioned and the game never explains a connection. Maybe it's just coincidence. I was given a prism, which unlocks four new towers to explore. You see, they were invisible and intangible before and now they're not.
My sketched map of Dezo over-world. Triangles are the hidden towers. You can see one of the easy ones on the other side of the paper on the right side.
These last areas range from mildly annoying to 5 hour slogs (less if I used someone else's map). Nothing too difficult, only time consuming. Combat is what really drags on. Not much thought needs to go into how to handle each fight, and by the end of the game I wondered how the final battle(s) would deal with an otherwise lacking combat system. While spells are helpful, I'd be out of them by the time I reached the actual dungeon if I relied on them heavily.
And here is the nightmare dungeon that took upwards of 5 hours to map and explore. (Not to scale.) I got kind of lazy towards the end and didn't even bother mapping the bottom two floors.
So, instead I spend a good minute or two each battle. Now, I know part of this is my own fault. I got rid of Rudo (Luke), which is huge chunk of damage and tanking gone. I suspect he would rival Kyle for damage dealing by the end. The game pretty much told me who I should have in my final party by giving me the Nei Shot, Nei Crown, and Nei Slasher, which are only usable by Rudo, Amy, and Anna respectively.
Finally a Nei item I can use!
After collecting all the Nei items, I returned to Lutz and was given the Nei Sword. Lutz then offered to transport me to the final dungeon. This dungeon is actually rather simple. Going the wrong way usually brings about a dead end quickly. Like a few other dungeons, this one is lacking treasure chests; however, a mimic style boss tempts the unwary traveler. It seemed out of place, as the only treasure that blocked my path in the entire game. I prepared myself for a fight, and, on the advice of Sean (once again), saved my game.

The first round went to Dark Force (the game doesn't name him, but that's my best guess), but I was victorious in the second. Dark Force is definitely the hardest fought battle up to this point. His attacks either turn a party member evil or damage everyone for about a third of max HP. Evil characters have a high chance to do nothing for their turn.
Casting "Snow Crown" [doubles defense] before the fight with Dark Force
I haven't decided if my first attempt was very unlucky, or my second was extremely lucky. Maybe both. The only thing that makes this fight manageable is the Nei Sword, which has a small chance to dispel the evil presence from the party and this happened zero times, or in the case of my second chance, nearly every time the party had fully turned evil. I was a little worried by having burned through all my Star Mist [heals party fully], but I pressed on.

Mother Brain was waiting for me just around the corner; however, I thought it best to fully recover first, which meant another trip through the dungeon. For this final battle, I fully expected a tougher fight than Dark Force, which is exactly what I didn't get. Mother Brain is pretty much a pushover. She has two attacks as well, hit everyone or hit one. Everyone in the party could heal themselves more than she could hurt them. A battle of attrition began and ended with the inevitable.
This battle is very psychedelic with Mother Brain cycling through all the colors of the rainbow
With Mother Brain defeated, it was time to leave. Mota needs rebuilding. But wait! Lutz tells me there's someone else on this space station. Could it be... Nei? No, it turns out it's just a bunch of humans that were behind Mother Brain all along because they had tarnished their home planet of earth, and came to this star system in order to control the evolutionary path of the people of Algo. Well, we won't let that happen! Cue the slaughter of the last remaining humans.

Let me guess, you ruined nature in pursuit of technology thinking you could control everything?

Somehow I fully expected Nei to return at the end. Why are all the final equipment named after her? I still don't know what the GR Sleeves item was supposed to do. Well, time to read up on walkthroughs and make a final rating post. Thanks for sticking around. I'm going to update the poll afterwards, make some cuts to the list, and finally start up the next game this weekend, Final Fantasy.

Session Time: 13h29m (Total Time: 38h00m)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Game 11: Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - Dezo Slow

Things slowed down enough to get some gaming into my schedule. Even so, it's hard to motivate myself to play Phantasy Star II. I've played about 5 hours in the past month and I've barely mapped Skure, plus part of the overland on Dezo. But, let's get back to it now. Maybe, with luck, I'll be done with the game by October.
Off to a new frontier
"Let's make it more challenging," I said, "it'll be fun." Well, it is more time consuming. The battles are taking longer due to tougher enemies, but I'm also doing less damage. I found myself making little progress and needing to recover after one or two battles. It took about an hour of grinding before I could explore past Skure. The robot enemies, which are still around in moderate force, have the highest defense and require the use of magic to defeat in a timely manner. I have found some items that allow indefinite use of some spells.

I've been fortunate to discover that the Snow Crown doubles my defense, and everyone has an item that does 20 - 30 damage. The crown alone has increased my survival rate to a point where I'm comfortably roaming without fear of dying from a single fight while at full health. I still only have 3 healing items, and am wondering if I missed one.

I've discovered three towns, Zosa, Ryuon, and Aukba. I believe there's only a small portion left, and while not expecting to find any more towns, I hope to find a dungeon soon.

My new party is disappointing.

Sean (Hugh), the biologist, only has a single heal spell, Res. He does have one of the most potentially powerful spells though, Vol. I say 'Potentially' because it misses the majority of the time. I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but all magic seems to have a small chance to miss, yet Vol has only hit once out of 10 tries. He's not outstanding in any other way so far.

Did that just say 510 damage?
Cana (Anna) has proved to be one of the best characters in my new party. I've got her wielding dual slashers, which hits all enemies in a single group. Robots are proving to be a problem, but I've been told they fade away after a while.
Gotta slash them all!
At this point, I'm really beginning to dislike Shir. She has a random chance of stealing an item when exiting a shop. The drawback, she leaves the party when this occurs. Here I am, in the middle of nowhere, and Shir decides to wander off, forcing me back home on another planet to retrieve her. The gain is a paltry item worth about as much as a single good fight. Beyond that, her tech skills are underwhelming. Her only redeeming quality is a high agility, which allows her to act first or second. She's using the Snow Crown to protect the party before enemies charge.
Not even a goodbye
There's lost lore abound in abandoned Skure. Humans used to live here, but left many years ago due to a leak of poisonous gas. Cats, kept as pets, were still roaming around and it's possible to hear their thoughts with a Magic Cap. I also learned, and found, a fake Magic Cap called Mogic Cap; I was warned to beware.

When talking with the local denizens I heard the same conversations, that Dezo people are the best in Algo. The local shops were prohibitively expensive. I lacked any leads. Luckily I had Sean (the person, not the character) around to give me some hints. The one that helped the most, I should use the Mogic Cap when talking to Dezo people instead of the Magic Cap. Why was this necessary? I'm not really sure, but it cut prices by half and gave me some actual insight for progress. Maybe the Dezo people were the ones that created the fake caps, but that's only a guess.
What, no Dezo women?
Three cities later, I was going to continue exploring near Aukba, but Shir decided it was time to steal again. Two clues: an invisible place that can't been seen or touched, and a strange guy is living in isolation on Dezo(oh, and he never ages). Word of an eclipse-torch blamed for the reason of the accident is also mentioned. I'm expecting a prism to come up soon. It was mentioned in the manual as an item that allows one to see invisible objects.

Session Time: 5h00m (Total Time: 24h31m)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Game 11: Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - As if Millions of Voices Suddenly Cried Out

And so, it came to pass; that the space station Gaila, prison colony for those against Mother Brain, crashed into the planet Palm, which joined the company of Alderaan.
What was on that station to cause the destruction of an entire planet?
Before we get to the update proper, I apologize for the long delay. A combination of factors we'll just call life hindered my progress. The past two play sessions have been early in the morning as the only opportunity to grab some gaming time. I'm sorry to anyone who tries to catch my stream in the evening.

Back on track, I left Kyle reeling from the news of a world-wide flood, and that he was the only hope to stop this catastrophe. All he needed to do was find four key cards to close four dams. Simple enough; too bad no one remembers where they put their keys.

Game logic to the rescue! Piata, being the only town where a story event hasn't occurred, is the ideal place to start looking for the secret control tower. Here I find a path only accessible from the top area of the town, going along the bottom causes the group to leave town.
Too far to the left, you must leave town
Such areas were common in console RPGs; I remember skirting the edge of every town hoping to find a secret area, especially in Dragon Warrior games. Do these still exist in games today; if so, why? Why hide areas accessible only through trial and error where the point seems to annoy and frustrate the player just because they don't know which magic tile or area transports them out of town, and which ones keep them safely within its borders?

At least the dungeon is easy (the music "puzzle" didn't trip me up thanks to comments), and I begin my attack on the dams; however, one of the reasons I hesitated to play again cropped up: I'm bored with combat. The constant beating of the attack button gives no opportunity for any sort of strategy. Item selection is minimal (healing only), and using skills would only take away from my stock of healing. All of my tech points are saved for heal spells. After every battle I need to heal at least one party member to stave off death. I hoped this would change with the wrecker, but I get through about four fights before I get through all his tech and revert back to basic attacks.
Touch = return to town
I continue my trudge through yellow, then green, then I wipe out, game over. This was the end of my first session. It wasn't a big loss, I had just saved, but it stung because it was right before I planned to return (just one more battle!), and I failed to run 8 times in a row.
Game over screen confuses Algo with a planet
During my next session I was told by a viewer that I had missed the Laser Sword, which was superior to the double knives I was using. At the same time, it dawned on me that I had gained some new equipment from various treasure chests. I remembered from the manual that equipment had uses in battle, and while I had tried all the equipment purchased from shops, I imagined only items found later on would prove useful.

So, I went about trying the new items and found two cast Gires, the moderately powerful heal spell. By the third dam I obtained many more pieces, another item to cast heal, two helpful damaging spells, one agility buff, one that has an odd effect that hasn't worked yet, and lastly a mysterious reflective shield placed on my party.
Anyone know what a Crystal "nish" is? It casts lightning if that helps ;)
Once I discovered each of these uses I found myself enjoying the combat, even if the only thing to break up the monotony of attacking was casting indefinite heal spells. The less physically inclined members now had damaging spells available to cast at will, which made them much more useful, combat was shorter, progress through a dungeon was steadier.

Opening up the last dam alerted some robot guards. Even though I was at full combat ability, and threw everything at them, none seemed to be going down. After a number of rounds I was told I'd been captured.
Army Eye used "End Combat," it was super effective
I found myself on a space station, held in bondage, somehow depleted of tech points and items. I wondered out of my holding area, not really a cell; with no hope of fending off the enemies I had to run from each encounter. The place is devoid of any interest.

Suddenly, an alarm started blaring. It warned of the impending disaster. My only hope was to reach the controls and get the station back in orbit. From far off I saw them, but they were still out of reach. Making my way through damaging tiles and continued encounters, I found myself in front of them unable to alter our course. Then I blacked out.
Someone forgot to style check this image (Parma and Motabia?)
I received visions of Alis fighting Dark Force. Kyle doesn't know what these mean, and I wouldn't either if I hadn't played through the first game. It's a bit confusing as to why he's having these visions in the first place.
What's with the hair?
I woke to find myself on a pirate ship. I thank Tyler for saving me, a space pirate who left Palm many years ago happened to return at this moment. He informs me I was lucky to be alive given the space station I had been on collided with Palm in a rather epic explosion. Seeing as how my roster is already full, I bid him farewell; he deposits me on Mota after making some vague comments that I was heading for the planet Dezo.

I confront the commander, and he tells me to take the space ship on top of his tower to visit the only other surviving planet, Dezo. Wait... take the what? Why didn't you tell me about this space ship before?

Edit: On a side note, I've decided to inject some challenge and role-playing into the game. For those that have played this through, let me know if this is a completely crazy idea.

I'm thinking of taking Rolf, and the three level 1 character as my final party through the rest of the game. Story-wise, instead of going with the line that everyone escaped from Gaila, I'm going with only Rolf/Kyle did. I think it'll make things more interesting, although I might have to grind for a bit to get the rest up to snuff.

Session Time: 5h38m (Total Time: 19h31m)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Game 11: Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - Go Do Something, Somewhere

I have in my possession a stick of gum that allows everyone in my party to breathe underwater. As nonsensical as that sounds, my next statement will make even less sense. I cannot figure out how to go underwater. Why isn't this more straightforward? Plenty of water everywhere, there's one continent surrounded by the stuff yet the buoyancy is such that everything floats.

Based on this gum existing, I know my next step is to find a way to use it to explore the ocean depths. Skirting the coastline doesn't provide any notable features offshore, and trying to use the gum at random points provides little insight.

With no other leads I headed back to the town where the gum was created. One lone, random NPC mentions different colored water comes from the lake. I assume the Climatrol center is spilling lake water somewhere in the ocean, which is noticeably different. I search again, this time expanding my net to include areas of the ocean not visible from the shore.
How does the color of the water change?
The whole expedition is hampered by the game's rubbery display that only moves as I approach the edge, but centers once again after combat. Combat occurs quite frequently. Maybe there's a better hint to follow, but I'm determined to find it, there are only so many places to look. I'm rewarded by locating a small whirlpool, an hour into playing... I suppose the levels were worth the time.
Certainly... (the game gives no more dialogue after this message)
Here, I used the gum and found myself transported into a watery tunnel, complete with parallax scrolling ocean sheen. Did no one complain during play-testing?
Let's blind the player as much as possible!
This and the next few areas were linear, with only a couple branching dead ends. The false sense of security set in nicely and I was woefully unprepared when I entered the main floors of Climatrol. Paths branching everywhere, floor teleporters, loops, redundant paths, and dead ends all made an appearance and threatened my progress.

My next foray into the tower went a bit better, as I broke down and brought out my trusty paper and pencil. I drafted the layout of the floors, not too concerned with proper dimensions, collected treasure chests, and found a blue figure. She looked somehow familiar. As soon as I spoke to her, the comparison was obvious.
Nei? Does she remind you of anyone?
Neifirst explained, humans tried to kill her when she was first created. In turn she wanted to kill everyone, so she turned the biolab into a breeding ground for degenerate monsters. Nei split off from Neifirst during this time, disgusted. Meeting here like this again, Nei is overcome with rage and rushes to the fight, alone. I'm forced to fight, one character down.
Nei didn't last long, and would die anyway
This is the first boss, and what a challenge. I was trounced, even with what I considered over-leveling from extended exploration. Having gained some wealth, I used it to upgrade Luke's weapon (Cannon -> Laser Cannon) and give a weapon to Fera; I stocked up on healing items as well. The second attempt went much smoother, yet Fera still died.

Arriving back in Paseo, I headed straight to the cloning lab. The news wasn't positive; Nei can't be revived because the lab can only clone humans. (If Nei dies from a normal battle, is there an issue cloning her?) The game adds a nice touch by recognizing Fera died in the battle, and seamlessly offers to revive her. I'm told there's a plateau nearby to place Nei's body, never found it.

I returned to the command center and informed the commander/mayor of what transpired. He relayed that Climatrol was now flooding the world due to the spike back in power, and I am now wanted by robot guards in conjunction with this event. Our only hope is to open the dams; the attendant tells me I need an access card for each, red, yellow, blue, green.
Of course you hide emergency dam cards in a secret control tower!
Where do I get them? I don't get to ask that question. My next step? Speak with random NPCs again, and see if one has a hint. Maybe I'll run across some robot guards with the first card. In preparation, I've added Meta (the wrecker) to my group. His machine destroying abilities will prove useful if there's a robot boss.
Where were these robot guards when I was fighting Neifirst?

Session Time: 3h27m (Total Time: 13h52m)

Friday, June 29, 2012

How about an update for the blog instead?

Well, I ended up not playing all week. Sorry for the lack of updates, I'll definitely get some playing in this weekend and get a game related post up on Monday latest.

In the meantime, the poll is over, and it seems most of you finding your way here (and bothering to vote) know what you're getting yourselves into. A couple people seem to have stumbled upon here by mistake, so I apologize to those if anything misled you here.

Not much of an update, but I wanted to get a poll up for Final Fantasy. Help me fill out my party of four by selecting your favorite character (Fighter, Black Belt, Thief, Red Mage, White Mage, or Black Mage). If there's an overwhelming favorite, then that character may get multiples in the party. Hopefully there's a good mix and not everyone picks the same character (single class parties are harder I hear). So, vote away!

A side note, I've started another blog (Side Quest Saga) dedicated to playing some games on the side. Mainly I'll be playing games at the same time as CRPG Addict (Chet) or The Adventure Gamer (Trickster), and what better way to do that than also blog about it; however, there are also some computer games I want to play that aren't on their lists. First game up is Star Saga: One - Beyond the Boundry.

Rather than dump such out of place content here, I figured it'd be better to separate it. There's no ordered list (although I have a short list of games I might cover) as I'm going to leave it open for scheduling. The console RPG blog is still my main blog though, so no worries about it dropping off. I really just haven't had any chance to play on my consoles.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Game 11: Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - Annoying Habits

I don't expect games to have perfect stories or interface, but there are times when certain aspects are plainly illogical or completely annoying.
Two years? Only level 1 after two years?
Phantasy Star II began with Kyle (Rolf is the default name) reporting to his commander for an important mission. Kyle being a level 1 Agent is given the important assignment of discovering the origin of the strange biomonsters roaming the land. It's a little hard to believe such an important mission is entrusted to someone as apparently green as Kyle. Where are all of the senior agents? If Kyle is their best at level 1, then they're truly in a sorry state. He must have been incredibly lucky and not fought any biomonsters during his two years.
Everyone else seems to be level one, so why is Darum so powerful?
Nei's story makes about as much sense. Her origin is a mystery, but at some point Kyle found her and took her in. With her insisting to come, I have little choice in bringing her. North of town is a bridge where a man named Darum playing bridge troll. With no visible law enforcement, I suppose I'll have to deal with him; however, when I attempt to approach him I get warned that this is the man that attacked Nei and we should avoid him. There's no other explanation so far about Nei, but Darum is important since he's blocking our way.
I almost called him Odin
We learn from the town of Arima that Darum has a daughter, Teim. She was kidnapped by a gang of scoundrels (the game's name for them). At this point I returned home to find Rudo (short for Rudolf, renamed to Luke) waiting for me. With his assistance  manage to fully explore the nearby tower of Shure. Inside I find what Kyle assumes (somehow) are three bodies of the scoundrels, mysteriously slain.
Did the game forget to called them biomonsters?
One had a letter addressed to Darum for the ransom of his daughter Teim. It reads:

"'Darum! I have your daugher Teim locked in Nido tower. Pay 50,000 meseta in one month if you ever want to see her again.' To get the money, Darum turned to crime."

This letter doesn't make any sense. It was meant for Darum. It gives the motivation for his crimes. So, shouldn't Darum have it? This still doesn't explain why Darum, a strong burly man who can steal from anyone unmatched, is resorting to crime in order to rescue his daughter instead of... rescuing his daughter. Also, the letter gives 1 month, but Nei was attacked 7 months ago!

With the letter in hand Kyle muses that we should be able to convince Teim to come with us. I'm not sure how a letter showing she's being ransomed gives her a reason to escape her kidnappers, as if freedom itself wasn't enough. I found Teim in Nido where there was a definite lack of scoundrels. She was waiting patiently on the third floor in an open area. The only locked door was right at the beginning. Why is she here--at the farthest point from the entrance--unguarded?
Why defend her ourselves when we can pretend she's someone else?
Common sense lacking, Kyle decides he must hide Teim's identity from people who might seek revenge against her for the actions of Darum; he places a veil over her head. So, we bring Teim back to Darum so they can have their happy ending. The game doesn't see it that way though, here's a video of the exchange:

What I want to know is, where's all the money Darum's been hoarding to pay the ransom? Based on the music, I'm guessing the game wants us to empathize with this crazy exchange, but the moment is completely dulled by the absurdity of the situation. Did Teim want to die? Darum can't recognize his own daughter's voice? The whole event is over so quickly I almost missed it.

The next town is Oputa (shortened to Opta). Located here is a musician who teaches piano. Apparently not to me though, as he's merely a sound test implemented inside the game (no bardic skills for me). Finally, I find someone that tells me where the biosystems lab is located, in the southern part of town. Bad translation aside, I find the lab south of the town.
I want to learn piano, not just listen to you play
Before heading out, I stock up on equipment and return home in hopes of getting a fourth member; I recruit Fera (originally Amy). She's a doctor; it's always good to have another healer in the group. Figuring out equipment what I need took--and continues to take--some trial and error. The only way to tell if a character can use something is by buying it. The same is true for comparing power levels. Adding to the complexity is multiple weapon choices, and the possibility of dual wielding, two-handed weapons, or shields.

Inside the biosystems lab the enemy difficulty continues to rise at a rate where upgrading equipment is necessary to stand a chance. It feels like I'm barely maintaining an equal footing with the enemies in each area, and leveling up hardly makes a difference to attack and defensive powers.
On the lower floor, hazardous material will harm the party
On the very bottom floor of the lab I found the recorder inside a still active computer. Finally completing my first task I returned to the commander, who's apparently been promoted to Mayor. The cause of the biomonsters is determined to be a power surge in the lab. Power is being diverted from Climatrol (the weather system), causing leaps in evolution not seen previously. Evolution makes creatures deadly and aggressive apparently. Since my last mission was so successful, I'm sent to find the cause of the power fluctuations. I receive a key to unlock the tunnel south of the lab.
See, I drew a graph. Sure it doesn't line up exactly, but it's close enough
Beyond the tunnel I find Zema, a mostly uninspired town where maybe of the residents don't know what's going on. Once again I upgrade my equipment. Not 10 minutes later I find Kueri, with better upgrades that I can no longer afford.

A garbage dump is the only other location I can access. Rumors of water traveling vehicles leads to me to believe I'll find one here; however, it turns out other people are rummaging through the junk as well. At the bottom I find two people discussing a jet scooter, but there's no way to ask for it. Making sure I've explored everywhere I made my way back up wondering where to go next as I exit.
I almost left before fully exploring this part of the dump
Outside I find the jet scooter waiting for me. Turns out they've had their fun with it, but digging through garbage is so much more enjoyable. Therefore, I'm free to take it. Well that's nice of them.

Able to travel the seas I decide to search the overland before following my only other lead of an island that's home to a tree whose leaves allow me to breathe underwater after being turned into gum. There are colored dams, which need colored key cards to access according to the manual. The only other location of interest is Piata. Here I find even better armor, at a most premium price.
Damn dams blocking my passage
During my travels I managed to stop by home to welcome various guests. Sean (Hugh) is a biologist and believes even the biomonsters have a right to life, but doesn't regret defending humans. Cana (Anna) is a hunter of hunters. (Where was she when we were dealing with Darum?) Meta (Kain) is an engineer, or tried to be until he realized he destroys every machine he touches. Shir (would have been Kili) is a thief that steals things for fun. As an agent of the law, why don't I turn her in right away?

[Note: I say Shir would have been Kili because I had planned to name her that; however, there's a bug in the game that doesn't allow you to change her name. This was one of the most annoying moments I had in this game, reloading multiple times to ensure I was selecting the correct option. Sorry Killias, I tried.]
Except for the things you steal
It seems the last place to look is island mountain with the tree I need to pick. It turns out the island is home to many different trees that all look alike. I don't know which tree I need to find, but somehow Kyle knows.

Overall the dungeons have been increasing in size and complexity, and this mountain is yet another step up. There are caves to travel through with no clear indication of where they exit. Luckily the tried and true left hand rule overcomes the immensity of the mountain, and I find the tree at last. There's no other features to the mountain, no treasure to find, and the other trees are useless.
I can't tell if that's the sky or water
With the leaves in hand I return to Kueri, and give them to someone that can turn them into gum. The gum, I'm guessing, will allow me to search the bottom of the ocean. I'm not sure what for, as I'm still looking for Climatrol, but it's my only lead.
Sorry Mario, but your princess lies in another castle
To make a long post even longer there are a few things that need some discussion to really understand some of the less obvious annoyances. First up is the cast of characters. I have a full roster now, but I've only used the first four. The main reason is that all characters are level 1.

Why would I take the time to bring them up to an "equal" level with the rest of the group? I can't think of anything unless I'm forced to use them at some point. The extra time to level and cost of equipment is preventative. Currently the party is stuck with Kyle and Nei, so the choice of one or two more members means that Kyle and Nei will always have more experience. I'm not sure there's any reason to have a hunter, thief, or biologist in the group? The wrecker might prove helpful if I'm facing off against a lot of machinery, but techs are a pain to use in battle.

Overall, combat is pretty simple. Most of the time you'll be just attacking. If you want to do anything else, then you're in for a cumbersome experience. The combat menu first presents two options, Fight and Strategy. Strategy leads to Order and Run. Order is used to assign specific instructions to a party member: Attack, Use Tech, Use Item, or Defend. Attack allows you to choose which group of biomonsters to attack (default is the left one). Use Tech brings up a menu of combat magic. Use Item gives the option to select an inventory item for that character. Defend increases the defense of the character.
Selecting Nafoi is a short six button presses away, at least it destroys most things
Attack and Defend remain the standing order for that character between battles. Magic and items are one time orders, and revert to attack in subsequent turns even if defend was the prior action. As soon as fight is selected, the auto-battle takes over for each turn until a button is pressed to interrupt it. It's a very clunky interface, and giving orders to every character each turn takes more time than letting the auto-attack handle it in most cases.

One of the biggest annoyances outside of battle has recently been healing after battle. With increased HP, and increasing damage per fight, healing is a real drain. To heal, I have to open the menu, select tech, select the character, select the spell, select the character to use it on, then all the menus close.

I've been trying to move faster while healing, which has led to another issue... selecting the wrong spell. Both Nei and Fera have Res (basic healing) as their first spell; Kyle has Ryuka (Return to town). Going too fast has caused me to go back to town on more than one occasion.
Healing, only four menus to navigate
Two last pain points have to do with exploration. Instead of keeping the characters locked at the center of the screen, the party has to near the edge before the viewing area moves. I'm not sure why this decision was made, but I hope they correct it in the next game. After a battle, the screen will again be centered on the party, which is the way it should be. Adding to the fault of exploration, most dungeons have a parallax scrolling foreground that often blocks the view. 

There are some good points to the game, so don't take this mostly negative post to mean I'm not enjoying it. I haven't had to go out of my way to grind, as exploring seems to have been sufficient thus far. So far, the way forward hasn't been hard to find, and I'm still anticipating the mysteries to be uncovered.

Session Time: 6h03m (Total Time: 10h25m)