Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Game 3: Ultima: Exodus (NES) - Cave Crawling

Dungeon crawling is an erratic game of chance in Ultima: Exodus. The main reason are the enemy encounters. Unlike the over-world enemies, those found in dungeons don't seem dependent on the party's level. No matter if I were level 1 or 5, I'd still run into gargoyles, demons, and griffins; so, I've bit that bullet I mentioned before and leveled my characters for good. Everyone is level 5 and happily at 550 max HP, and it's a good thing too because caves are much harder than I first imagined.

Battles in caves are random; when I say random, I mean chaotic, unpredictable, wildly different between each encounter. I could traverse multiple floors without fighting a single enemy, or have three battles in three successive steps. That's not the worst of it though, the enemies themselves range from simple to "OMG, I'm going to die!" Then there's the fact I have to deal with anywhere between 1 - 8 units. Early on I learned that the only way I'm going to get through more than one battle per cave was to exploit the AI (I mean... use better tactics). So, instead of good tactics, like protecting my flanks, I put one person in front causing a pile up.
Even at full health, this is what death looks like
There are some things that make the whole endeavor endurable. First of all, mapping is made much easier with gems. These show a screen that has the map of the current floor, but not just the layout; it shows ladders, secret doors, and other points of interest shown as question marks (?). Mapping on my own takes a lot of time, and is prone to errors. Second, spells: both clerics and wizards have spells that move the party up or down a floor. I'm not really sure what happens when (or if it's even possible to) move into a wall this way. I think I might try that out some time. Also, if MP is low, or being saved for the aforementioned spells, there are tents to heal the party. Lastly, there are fountains that will either poison, cure, damage, or heal. Unfortunately, they all look the same, so CanaG has been my taste tester most of the time.
*blushes* We just met... ;)
Preparation is key for exploring any of the caverns. I've ensured I have full HP and MP, enough torches and gems, and crossed fingers before entering. Torches (or glow/light spells) are needed to see in the dark, but there are some spaces that will blow them out, so it's important to have a stockpile. There are traps as well, and the first I ran across reminded me of the 'Order' command, which allows me to put Trick in front to disarm them (he has about as much luck with that as chests). I also keep forgetting about the Sands of Time I purchased, which are supposed to freeze the enemies. This is probably most helpful on the enemies that have magic attacks.
What's Powder? Hey, where'd my Sands of Time go?! Oh...
So, last night Chet got some new Iron armor (honestly, I noticed no difference), we stocked up on food, raised the party level, and we're off! Some bad luck with enemies had everyone dying within 10 minutes of being in the cave. I'm sure that isn't the last time to happen. Next venture goes much better, and I start making some progress on the Cave of Gold. Not sure what I'm looking for (other than "marks"), the best place to start looking is probably on the bottom floor. So, any time I find a ladder I go down. I'm not sure if I got lucky, or if it's just this easy, but I found a ladder chain from level 2 down to level 8. Exploring this area reveals a fountain that heals me, and the Mark of Fire. "Yeah! My first mark!" I shout. Not 10 seconds later, "Yeah! My second mark!" as I unexpectedly find the Mark of Kings cater-corner to the previous mark. I easily escape, and save, thankful to finally feel like I've made some progress.
I am the Fire King!
With new found confidence I galloped on to the next cave thinking I could easily pass two more by the end of the night. How mistaken I was...

The Cave of Fire was my next stop. I didn't think much about the connect between the name and what could possibly be found, so off to mapping I went. Then bad luck hit, 3 encounters within moments of each other depleted my health, but I managed through it back to the exit. Being on the first floor, this actually wasn't too much trouble. Healing up and heading back in proved a bit easier. After mapping everything though, I discovered no ladder. Searching for a secret door allowed me to find it on the first wall I tried. On the third floor is when I ran into some more trouble (and when I started using my "improved" tactics). Beaten down and very close to death, I searched my tool bag for the tent I knew was there. My hope that I could use it inside proved well placed, and I felt a bit better about continuing on. I also realized I had plenty of gems to do the rest of the mapping for me.
Please arrange a queue in front of AmyK, and we'll get to your death in the order received. Thank you!
Gems were now my only mapping tool (although for more complex paths to the next ladder I drew it out to better remember), and I easily made my way down. Before I met any greater threat I found a fountain, and luck was with me this time. With full health I pressed on, and ran into the toughest enemy yet: griffins. Luckily there were only two, but they had magic attacks that did nearly 100 points of each. I could only counter with 10 - 20 at best. Somehow, I defeated them with no losses, but once again I was low on health. My only hope was to reach the fountain before the party met with another strong opponent.
Why make my own maps when there's an auto-map this good?
Once again I found myself at the fountain with full health; however, after facing some of the toughest creatures, I wondered if I could manage this cave. I resolved to get to the end though, risking all progress to see what's at the bottom. Getting there wasn't a problem though, it was getting out that was the toughest challenge. So, I made my way to the bottom floor, checked my gem and find only another ladder. Following this lead me to some more fountains, and in a side room, another mark! The Mark of Fire! "Wait... I already have the Mark of Fire..." was what I said as another thought slowly crept in, "what else did you expect to find in the Cave of Fire?"

So, I left mostly empty handed. I mean I did have the extra experience and gold, so it wasn't a total wash, but it was definitely less than what I could have gotten in safer conditions outside. As I'm making my way back to the fountain (my safe spot), I fight some tough fights. When I start to ascend again (the action, not the spell), I realize I have enough MP to use ascend (the spell, which is also the action). There were many fights, and by the time I get out, none of my characters had more than 100 HP (most enemies hit for 30 - 40). But, I was out, without a single death. Instead of waiting to heal fully, I start to make my way back to the castle, and I come face to face with a hard enemy.
Just wait right there, I'll be right back

I'm fairly sure I'd be toast if I didn't have my horses. While they don't allow my party to actually move faster, I'm getting the feeling it allows them to move more spaces between enemy movements. I turn back to the cave to reset the enemy encounters, and I make it back to the castle without incident when I leave again.

I agree with CRPG Addict (I'm glad I took on his rule to only reset/load a game when I've been completely wiped out) that the experience of surviving through all odds--of coming back beaten, battered, and bruised, but alive (at least partially)--makes for some of the best moments in a game. It also makes for some good stories... if I ever have anyone to tell them to. Four caves Fool, Sun, Moon, and Death, and Ambrosia are all left to explore. Also, the castle of Exodus, but if the hints are true, I shouldn't head there until I have all four marks. Speaking of marks, I don't know what use they actually have (if they have one beyond Exodus). I'm also told that some Guild store has a pick I need. So, I'm going to find a way inside the guarded town next, and maybe explore Ambrosia again before going into another cave. I'm still looking for those shrines I heard about so long ago.
P.S. Thank you to whomever built the ladders.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Game 3: Ultima: Exodus (NES) - Foresight

There's one difference between RPGs on the computer/console and those on the tabletop that doesn't get highlighted nearly as often as others: the ideal of keeping player knowledge and character knowledge separate. In tabletop RPGs, keeping these two knowledge banks separate is cornerstone to the gaming experience, while in video games it remains mostly non-existent.

For those not familiar with these terms, character knowledge encompasses everything your character could possibly know in their lifetime from their perspective, and player knowledge is what you the player knows. This most often comes up when a player has knowledge that the character has no way of knowing within the game world. As an example, if your current character falls through an illusory floor to his death, your new character has no knowledge of this trap, and may fall in herself. Also, a rural farmhand turned adventurer shouldn't know the secret greetings of the thieves guild you may have learned with a previous rogue character. This goes beyond previous character knowledge into the realm of reading monster manuals for the best way to defeat an Iron Golem, or spying on a new player's character sheet to see if they truly are the ranger they claim to be. (These last two examples are still frowned upon by most gamers though, and discussed later.)

Focusing on the first two examples, we can see this concept doesn't translate well to video games. Aside from the fact there's no ever-watchful GM to keep you in check, there are many cheap deaths that will never allow you to progress without knowing they're there. In video games, playing the game is put above playing the character(s). It's rather expected to learn from your mistakes and prepare better for the adventure once more should the party be wiped out. Character knowledge is never encouraged; however, it is at times strictly enforced.
Pray? I think I'll try this strange thing you suggest...
There are many cases where dialogue options are locked until you've learned the correct piece of information. Sometimes, events don't take place, or items don't even appear until the character's have learned some vital clue. In Phantasy Star, I guess Alis didn't think a Hovercraft was useful until someone mentioned it, and that key behind her house was useless (read: not even there) unless she learns someone put it there. In Ultima: Exodus, I gained a new command after talking to a priest, the Pray command. Of course, praying sounds like something characters facing danger at every turn should already know all too well.

It seems that instead of characters being the point of a game, they are only a means for the player to learn how to beat it. Player knowledge reigns above character knowledge. Imagine if it weren't that way; it's acceptable to make maps of all the dungeons you're exploring, but should your characters die you'd have to throw them away and put aside any memory of the dungeon layout, traps, or treasures. Luckily it's not this way, and we're able to build our knowledge as we go, mapping a little more, learning from failure, and becoming familiar with how best to game the system. Sure we can choose not to do this by handicapping ourselves through creating imperfect characters, not picking the best dialogue choices, and not reloading after every failed attempt to get max HP for each level.
No? I guess I really can't run away then.
I mentioned in a previous post that save systems encourage this sort of behavior: stat-maxing, fixing gambling games, exploring alternative paths a character normally wouldn't take (seriously, who hasn't tried to kill Lord British... I'm sure even Richard Garriott tried (if he hasn't may he comment on this blog to say so)). There's really no way to get away from this because the more we play a game, the better we'll be at it through an increased understanding and foreknowledge. Unless we played a game up to and no further than the first game over screen (only saving and reloading for breaks), player knowledge will always affect our judgment.

However, there's part of comparison that still stands for video games, and other entertainment: spoilers. Many feel experiencing a game for the first time shouldn't be spoiled, so we strive to keep experienced knowledge out of the hands of new players. We warn others when discussing a game's inner workings in an open forum, and beating a game on one's own is often seen as better than eliciting help. Whether this is leads to a more enjoyable experience is hard to say when we're continuously trying to explore a dungeon that hundreds or thousands of others have already mapped, or solve a puzzle whose solution is just a few clicks away. Going it alone, as others have, may lead to camaraderie between peers; almost like a shared experience participated in by individuals, throughout the years, this experience is held higher than others. Having a fresh experience is a one time affair, and can never be recaptured again.
Well, I won't be trying this spot again.
With the amount of hours necessary to pour into a new game, how much is that first time really worth? It seems nearly priceless to most with sentiments abound of wanting to play a game again as if it were new, while others are content at playing through with guides on their lap. Personally, I enjoy figuring out a game on my own unless I'm completely stuck. So, I continue on.

For those wondering, why yes, my party did die... multiple times. I've made hardly any progress in the nearly 5 hours on Saturday night. I did learn the Pray ability, and tried it nearby to find myself the proud owner of a shiny new silver horn. Some NPCs hinted (not sure how they knew) that a silver horn would remove the snake blocking the path to Exodus. In one iteration I raised my level, which is the only way to get pirate enemies to spawn I learned. The only way to get a ship is to attack pirates and steal theirs. Somehow I ran across Fawn (still can't figure out how), and wow, this town has everything (when I say everything, it even has an inn to save). I was able to get a Bow for Chet, and stocked up on tools.
I was told to stay away, only one said he ever made it back, that number didn't go up
Some things I've learned, but my characters currently don't know: I've mapped a couple of caves, the whirlpool is a gateway to a place called Ambrosia, there's a town that's blocked off by NPC guards, the barriers damage for more than 550 HP, and I've found I need to level; however, leveling makes getting gold harder. I wonder if I should grind enough for the best armor, or continue to plunge into dungeons mostly unprepared for full exploration, making maps along the way for use in the next attempt. Aside from a hint of four marks, I really don't know why I'm going into these dungeons. There are also a few items mentioned: silver and gold pick axes, and a mystic sword and armor. At least grinding gets my characters somewhere because character progress feels more accomplishing than increasing my own knowledge of the game.
Oh, and I got horsies! Contrary to popular opinion, they do not make traveling faster

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Game 3: Ultima: Exodus (NES) - Progress, at a Snails Pace

So, I'd like to take this time to welcome back CRPG Addict. I'm sure everyone here is already aware, but it doesn't feel right to not say something when writing a blog and playing a game with a character that are mostly based on him. When I decided to start this, before his hiatus, I had hoped to compare some of the games on my list with the ones on his. While many of the early ones are covered, there are still some later ones like Drakkhen, Hillsfar, and Eye of the Beholder that would lack comparable reviews.

I enjoy reading other views on the same game. In fact while I'm playing Exodus, I took a peak at his posts, and noted that it only took him 10 hours to get through Exodus (I didn't read past his spoilers warning, so maybe he explained this quick expedition). Maybe this is due to his previous experience with the game or a difference in the port, but I'm expecting at least double that.
I prefer the screen with character stats on the side
I'm 6 hours in, and have very little to show for it. I was able to check out the main island, found some towns, a lot of dungeons, and moon gates. The one dungeon I ventured in I hardly explored because I got scared off by the harder enemies. Grinding for gold, I managed to upgrade Chet's armor who passed on the leather to AmyK.
Who would have predicted CRPG Addict would be back so soon?
I think I've already mentioned it, but I'm wary about raising my level due to expecting the enemy level to increase as well. Without increasing my other stats, I feel that fighting stronger enemies would act as a hindrance to progress (not that I'm making much of that as is). Maybe I should just bite the bullet, and have a little more faith in the game; however, in this era of gaming, I'm slow to trust the game to stay within hand. So, I've explored all the towns I could find. Only finding the odd rumor and unhelpful dialogue, maybe this wasn't the right approach. All of the armor and weapons are the same, but I did find some guild shops to purchase keys. Even with the keys though, the doors in the castle don't lead to much.
Sounds good, thanks for the tip...
Now, wait a minute...
There's a prison, that didn't prove very helpful, although there are still two doors to open and some NPCs standing in deadly areas I've yet to talk to. A fortune teller that charges obscene amounts of gold was a little useless at this point. The cheapest hint definitely didn't endear her to me. I may try again once I have some cash to burn. Lastly, the boat I'd been so eager to get to was stuck in the moat, and I couldn't find a way to sail it out to shore. (I only found one NPC, who said he was guarding the castle. More like slacking off.)
This doesn't look safe
The most drawn out part of all this is the fighting. Battles can take a long time to resolve, but I need to get through them for the money (plus I've yet to find a way to retreat). Then there's the choice of opening just one treasure, with the risk of getting poisoned. Actually, I had not recalled that the open spell automatically avoids traps, and continued to forget this. With this firmly in mind now, Trick is mostly useless for that task, although he's still good for stealing from shops if I choose to go with that approach. Also, I had been neglecting the Repel spell, which is actually very handy for taking out the early living enemies I've found.
Wow, look at all that treasure! Wait, where'd Trick go?
I'm definitely enjoying the game; it all has a certain charm: the random exploring, trying new things, and making incremental progress. Now that I've explored a bit I'm fairly sure that I need to delve into the dungeons. Maybe I'm being a bit too cautious, but the early party wipe caused me some concern. With the only save point at Lord British's castle, I still haven't wanted to stray too far. Next steps are to collect some gold, get a blowgun for Chet (I was really hoping for some kind of bow), stock up on food, and fully explore one of the dungeons. There are Shrines, which I've been unable to find, and flowers somewhere that a girl named Sherry is asking for. Also, a ship would be great. Maybe horses for 800 Gold isn't too bad of a deal, at least it'd help me travel faster.

I'm noticing a lot of dialogue directed at the player. The fourth wall is more like a parapet with quotes like "are you a descendent of Link?" and "I'll tell you a secret. I really enjoy Ultima V." Immersion is often broken because of these quips, and it's hard to take the game seriously. I'm not too concerned with this though, as I haven't found myself thoroughly drawn in even without running into these NPCs. It's hard to think of this as another world when many conversations are repeated, and other NPCs will spout off random nonsense. What am I supposed to think when an NPC responds, "I'm Jane. I'm on a diet." without any context?
I know he meant this to be funny, but playing it decades later, it takes on a rather sad context
And many believed Richard Garriott's avatar was Lord British...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Game 3: Ultima: Exodus (NES) - Blundering Through

"We received word that Lord British requires help in the land of Sosaria. When we arrive, we're greeted by Lord British himself. Making note that we are the only ones to head his call, he tells us that a great devil, Exodus, will soon awaken. Should that occur, darkness would fall across all the land, destroying the world. Our task, to seal away this dreadful creature before it brings about this ruin. With no other clues to go on, we resolve to exploring the land with rumors of a fiery island being home to Exodus."

I'm excited about this game. The Ultima series is one that I never really got into until Ultima VII (in fact it was only that and the Underworld games I played). I remember the Guardian scaring me at the beginning, and hoping I'd never have to run into him. I feel like I'm missing out on a lot of history by ignoring these games for so long; I'm glad to finally get around to them. Maybe I'm missing out on some things by not playing them on PC, but this is better than nothing right?

So, I created my characters rather than using any of the pre-made ones. Chosen by poll, I have a Human Ranger (Chet), an Elf Thief (Trick), a Bobit Cleric (AmyK), and a Fuzzy Wizard (CanaG). I tried to maximize my stats somewhat, and ignored the non-class specific ones like Int and Wis for Trick, Wis for CanaG, and Int for AmyK. 
We begin outside, a castle and a town not far off. This is Lord British's Castle, and the city is dubbed The Royal City. Visiting the castle seems like a good place to start. It houses an inn that acts as a save point, a doctor to cure what ails me (and to take my blood), and Lord British who is only interested in leveling me up. Searching the outskirts, I saw a boat floating in the water on the opposite shore. Possibly one of the locked doors would allow me access. (Thinking on it now, I only assumed they were locked, I wonder if I could just open them.)

After exploring the castle, I took stock of my equipment and found it substandard, so on to the town I went. My reasoning led me to purchase a sling for my wizard, and maces for the rest. I found that the sling I bought can't be used by my wizard or cleric. (I'll give the game credit though; it did try to warn me, but I pressed the button too quickly to heed it.) I passed the extra daggers to CanaG for extra ranged weapons. I found the armory, the weaponry, and grocery stores, but NPCs tell me there are four stores. Ignoring that for now, I stocked up on food as best I could, and prepared to fight enemies in the wild.
Looks like you're the only ones, guess you get the job
Battles are a lot of fun, and I think I misspoke in a comment regarding the first strategy RPG being Shining Force. Each enemy killed gives experience to the character that killed it, and after battle a treasure chest is left. However, most of these are trapped. It's possible to get straight damage to one or all members, have someone catch a cold (not really sure what this does), or set off a poison trap that effects everyone.

Traps are best avoided by opening chests with a dexterous character, like a Thief. Lucky for me I have one, but I still set off the occasional trap. Poison slowly drains HP, but that's not the worst part; paying to cure everyone that's the real biter. Cure poison costs 100 gold per character, chests range from 60 - 80 gold, and I need to pay for food too. Saving up is going to take a while. An interesting option does exist for the doctor; each character can give blood and get 30 gold. Giving blood means losing 100 HP, but with MP regenerating quickly it's a good deal. It certainly keeps my cleric busy constantly healing. When I do need to grind, I find it best to fight a bunch of enemies, before opening any chests. That way poison traps only affect my party once; I'm also guaranteed to have the gold to afford curing.
Cleaning up my treasure droppings. Why yes, I did get poisoned again...
After a number of fights, my stocks of food dwindled, and I noticed an issue: only Trick had gold. Being the only one opening chests, he'd need to buy food for everyone, but there's no obvious option for that. Each character buys food only for themselves. Consulting the manual reveals options to evenly disperse food and transfer gold between characters. So, I pull up the menu, and nothing. I push left and right in the menu, and nothing. Start button, nothing; select button, ah finally. (One good thing about the NES, it only has so many buttons to try.) During battles the menu is even more obtuse. There's no undo button, and no way to move the character after it's initiated. One wrong button press means skipping a character's turn.
One Undead spell, at level 1 can take out 8 skeletons... over powered much?
Learning curve aside, I've tried to explore. Yet I can't seem to stray too far from the first town and Lord British. The first time I did, Trick and AmyK died because I blindly walked into damage inducing terrain. In my defense I was walking through the forest, and could only see one tile ahead. No problem I thought, "I'll go resurrect AmyK, and grind up some money to get Trick back... what's that? Oh, AmyK just turned to ashes. Let me go explore that blue barrier looking thing next to the doctor and... okay now the whole party is dead." Strangely, CanaG gets magically revived at Lord British. This isn't very helpful though, as I'm still in a position that requires me to restart. While the thought did cross my mind of trying to continue on, I brushed it aside as an undue burden. I hadn't saved too long ago, so it wasn't a big loss.
The change in sound from *crunch*crunch* to *thud*thud* should have been a dead give away
Overall, nothing's been too detrimental (except for the whole party death thing); I've gained some confidence now, and some levels. Leveling gives a character more hit points. Chet has been raking up the experience with his Undead spell, wiping out most groups of ghouls and skeletons single-handedly. The sling was handed to Trick rather early, as I found ranged weapons are best. This was quickly upgraded to a blowgun, and some leather armor for him and Chet as well. Chet also saved up enough for a sword. As soon as Chet reached level 3, I noticed stronger enemies started appearing. I remember there being a way to increase stats later, and with stronger enemies lurking around I'm definitely looking forward to that. Next trip out I'll better prepare by reviewing the manual a second time. My plan is to explore all I can of the over-world. I hope to find some more towns, and maybe my first dungeon. I actually have some clues, but no way of knowing how to follow up on them.
Are you my ship?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Game 3: Ultima: Exodus (NES) - Introduction

The original game, Ultima III: Exodus, was released in 1983 for many PC platforms including the Apple II (I have fond memories of trying to play it with my dad). It was a great advancement for the series with many new additions, and much polish. Battles now take place on a separate screen, and with multiple party members, it takes a more tactical approach to defeat the enemy. The setting takes on more focus with a fully medieval-fantasy setting, gone is the futuristic themed parts. Using what the party can realistically see, the player now has a limited view of their surroundings based on the terrain. Dungeons are drawn with textured walls, and sprites are animated.
Wow, the music here is maddening...
This game may have had the greatest influence of all on the console RPG genre, so it's great to see it ported to the NES. All games that followed it show strong evidence of the impact it had. From the use of an over-world map; separate screens for battles, towns, and dungeons; and the four character party to magic points used for spells, and the proliferation of the medieval-fantasy setting, the game echoes throughout time.

An NES port was an obvious choice as the leading console of the time; following the success of games like Dragon Warrior (1986 JP) and its sequel (1987 JP), which take most of their inspiration from here, and seeing Dragon Warrior II become the first blockbuster game in Japan (seriously, people camped out days in advance to get the game), cashing in on this market is a no-brainer.

Changes were necessary though as the NES had no keyboard. To fit everything to a 2-button controller interface, the game used nested menus to fit all the options (much like Dragon Warrior). The graphics are more colorful than the original versions of the game, and the music changed to fit the NES hardware. All the manuals were reduced to one, and no map was included. I feel like I'm in for a bit of a challenge with the reduction in exposition.
The party that never was (also this music is pretty catchy)
I remember having rented this game as a kid. I never beat it. In fact, my memory of it is all rather hazy. The most memorable part of it is my struggle with understanding the moon phases. Moon gates were the bane of my young addled brain. I'm fairly certain I didn't get very far, and would jump on my brothers save file to check it out.

Mostly, I'm going into this blind, and from what I hear I'm going to struggle with unhelpful NPC hints. There's also mention that it is not possible to brute force through the game, and the final boss is more of a puzzle to pass. I've tried to keep this research spoiler free, so I don't have much more to report. There's evidently a 64-page hint book floating around as well, which I'll take the time to peruse after completing the game.

There's not a lot of mention of this game when reminiscing about classic console RPGs with friends and forums, so I have to wonder how the Ultima series continued to be released on consoles through Ultima VII. In fact, there's two Ultima games released for the Game Boy that look more like Zelda than Ultima, but I'll give them a chance based solely on the series. One of the most unfortunate omissions of the series on console is the lack of an American release to the PlayStation port of Ultima Underworld.
I didn't even vote in this poll...
I had a poll up for the last week to help me decide characters. It looks like Ranger & Thief edged out Paladin & Lark. This gives me a party of Ranger, Thief, Cleric, Wizard; in honor of the CRPG Addict, The Trickster, and my top two commenters, I'll be naming them Chet, Trick, AmyK, and CanaG respectively. Thanks for all the inspiration and support guys. I'm really looking forward to this one.

Cut and Run: Hydlide (1989)

Hydlide (NES) - Rating(9 RPP)
1) 3 - 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) 1 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 2 - 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

In preparation for the yearly post, I went back and looked at each game. Watching a review of this particular gem, the dread grew deeper in anticipation of having to suffer through it. However, I saw a glimmer of hope. I may have given the game more credit than it deserves. I had thought there were items and equipment decisions to be had, or puzzles to solve. Luckily I found none, yet I had to give it credit for magic spells as something additional to do in combat that I had not accounted for; I'm being lenient giving it a point for the main story.

With the lack of a store, turn based combat, and side quests, I find Hydlide wanting. I hereby dub thee, not an RPG, and am done with it. It is now demoted to action-adventure. Of course, this is all true barring the unforeseen oversight by myself that a helpful reader may provide. For now though, I'm cutting Hydlide. I know it's not a lot of notice (as it's the game following Ultima) to drum up supporters (are there any?), but I was blinded by the experience points and leveling. I'll take another look at Super Hydlide as well very soon.
Maybe next time dear Hydlide, we still have Virtual Hydlide to look forward to.
This is one of the dangers of trying to glean information about a game from videos. I'll grant it that it does come close, so I wasn't too far off the mark. Hopefully this doesn't happen too often, and in most cases I'll play through the game if it's still a good game; this does not qualify. If anyone has thoughts on this, speak up now before I complete Exodus. If I have no other ideas for a poll and the current one regarding changing the name of posts like this runs out before I finish Exodus, then I'll make one regarding this game.

On a side note, does anyone prefer the strike outs vs. the cleaner approach to the RPG scale? I figure this way people are reminded where the point losses come from, and can better recommend modifications. So, on to the third post of the night, and the beginning of Exodus!

Cut Down: Pinball Quest (1990)


Pinball Quest - Rating(2 RPP)
1) 0 - Character advancement: none
2) 0 - Combat: none
3) 1 - Items and equipment: equipment decisions
4) 1 - Story: main story at the forefront
5) 0 - Exploration: none
6) 0 - Quests and Puzzles: none

Do you like pinball? Yeah! Do you like RPGs? Oh yeah! Well too bad, this isn't one. I really got my hopes up about this title. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of pinball, but I was hoping for a different type of CRPG. Even if they don't turn out well, I think expanding the genre is a good thing. Trying out new ideas can bring about innovation.

Unfortunately, all we have here is a pinball game with an embellished story. I remember pinball machines being mostly random affairs, and while the flashing lights, sounds, and scrolling text telling me I had accepted my first quest or space mission should have appealed, I recognized them for the quarter eating machines they were. This is in contrast to other arcade cabinets that I happily fed.

Even so, I enjoyed some electronic pinball, but again I was faced with the idea that these were pure randomness. I could never quite get the ball to go where I wanted it. Here was the promise of something different though. I had images of improving my ball's stats, or gaining skills that would allow me to change direction, travel through barriers, aim, or split my ball into multiples. None of these are fulfilled in this title.
No, but thank you.
There's no character advancement. Combat is a tired affair with no way to improve. I will give it acknowledgement for trying to develop a story, and some upgrades to flippers and bouncers. Yet, I can't help noticing the lack of depth with no exploration or quests. Congratulations Pinball Quest, you're leading the bottom.

How does a game like this even get confused as a CRPG?
Oh, I see anyone can just call themselves an RPG...

Goodbye 1988, Hello 1989: Blog Updates

So, we've already finished a full year of games. Not all that impressive seeing as how we're only two games in, but definitely a time to reflect on the past month of blogging.

First, some bad news. The mapping software is going to take longer than I thought, and I'm still holding out hope that a better option will present itself. Mostly this is bad for me, as I'll have to stick with paper for now. It's turning out that the small prototype is slower than plain old paper and pencil.

Next, some more bad news. If you haven't noticed, I've stopped posting videos to YouTube. Honestly, they weren't getting a lot of attention, or generating interest in this blog, and they took a lot of time to push out in an organized fashion. If anyone wants to watch videos of previous playing they're available on the streaming page for at least a week.

Lastly, it was pointed out that "Making the Cut" comes off as confusing, so I'm going to change it. However, I haven't fully decided to what, so I have a new poll up. Help me decide on a name for the series of posts. Comment here to suggest more names (the theme is to keep the word 'cut' in the title). Currently I have:
  • Cut Short
  • Cut and Run
  • Cut Down
  • Below the Cut
  • A Cut Below
With that out of the way, here are the highlights of 1989:
  1. Ultima: Exodus
  2. Hydlide
  3. Dungeon Explorer
  4. Dragon Warrior
In this year we have two seminal games, Dragon Warrior and Ultima: Exodus. Dragon Warrior is one of the most popular CRPG series next only to Final Fantasy, and I've played the heck out of both. Ultima: Exodus has its fame tied to computers, but the console port didn't fare as well. It's probably most famous for starting off a slew of poor PC RPG ports to the NES. With it next up, we'll learn what held it back.
Out of all of these though, the most reviled is Hydlide, which I had weighed as a 10 on the RPG scale, but after looking it over again, I'm fairly certain it falls short. I'll take a closer look at it after Exodus.

The remaining titles this year are a slew of action-RPGs with the most questioning being Dungeon Explorer. This game is described as similar to gauntlet, but with RPG elements. Lucky for me this TG-16 game (along with Ys) was released on the Wii Virtual Console, so I'm able to play it without the original system or game.

Also of note in 1989 we have the release of the Sega Genesis, TurboGrafx-16, and Game Boy. Even with the 2 year lead over the Super Nintendo, Sega struggles to over throw Nintendo's install base, and the SNES does just as well when it's finally released.

We see some CRPGs (well action-RPGs) released with the TG-16, which is rare for a new console; however, this was probably due to it being in production in Japan already. The Genesis does get out Phantasy Star II within the first 6 months, but I'm not sure how much this bolstered sales. Commercials for the system only showed action a slew of action and arcade style beat'em ups. One of the things that didn't interest me in the system was the lack of console RPGs. Now I'll finally get the chance to play through those games I missed out on.

Lastly, we have the Game Boy. This system probably went a long way to endear Nintendo to the millions of fans it had with the NES that followed them to the SNES. Being the first handheld game console it was a marvel for the time. True to form, Nintendo once again gets first mover advantage. Unfortunately, we won't see the first CRPG for the system until next year's games.

The name Atari still strikes fear in the hearts of Americans, and being priced at $100 more, the Lynx fails to compete with the Game Boy. We'll see other handhelds enter the market, but nothing has dethroned Nintendo as the leader here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Game 2: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) - Final Rating

While I know playing Zelda II may not have been the popular choice, it was more of a personal one. I played the game when I was younger and planned to play through it again some time. Now seemed like the perfect excuse to do so. There's also the thought that it'll be good to compare it to other CRPGs, especially other action-RPGs, which are coming up in some form soon. So, I hope this helps us get to a better understanding.

Being an action game, Zelda II doesn't offer much in this area to fans of slower paced strategy based games. Positioning Link just right to swing his sword and dodge attacks is more important than gaining power or planning for the adventure. The balance near the end is a little skewed as the bird guardians (the blue and red enemies that shoot swords in the Great Palace) seem completely overpowered and the experience reward is so low that it's not worth fighting them. The need for battle falls off near the end, but mostly due to the low rewards than a lack of necessity for them.

It does provide a challenge, but there is a lack of variety in Link's abilities. With only a few spells useful in a few situations I found it best to save these for the boss fights, or stave off death long enough to reach just one more screen transition. The buff spells (Shield, Fire, Reflect, Fairy) only last until the next screen, so there's no way to fully rely on magic. Dying will start Link back at the last screen transition, or if it was his last, he'll start at the North Palace (beginning of the game) upon continuing.

The enemies themselves are well done with smooth animations and AI that offers new challenges. More enemies are introduced with each area and most palaces have their own monster to introduce beyond having a unique boss. Yet, even with all the good, the challenge mainly revolves around controlling Link with skill. Once this is accomplished, the challenge of combat is reduced so far that leveling becomes unnecessary except to quicken the pace at which enemies are dispatched.
Rating: 4
Death from above! This boss becomes a mini-boss twice over.
You control Link, a hero clad in green wielding a magical sword and shield. He's a set character though, and there's no changing his look. When starting a game, you can name the save file, which is displayed whenever Link starts the game from a new life. Controlling Link is very smooth, and although some jumps are pixel perfect, most platforming is done without much risk. Fighting enemies is fun, and mistakes are rarely blamed on the game.

About the only personalization possible is through omission: not getting certain spells, or not leveling. These aren't always viable options though, so knowing what's possible and what's not isn't easy the first time playing. The most enjoyable move is the downward thrust, which will cause link to kill enemies or bounce off them without harm.
Rating: 4
The shield spell causes Link's clothes to turn red. If only I could use it more often.
Thinking back, there isn't anything I'd really call a puzzle. Unlike the Zelda game after this one, there isn't anything to figure out aside from knowing the layout for each palace. There's some key management to be had, but it's very minimal, and the likelihood of getting into a dead end isn't possible as far as I can tell.

The side quests aren't very interesting, and all involved some "item" to get back to someone. In fact one time it wasn't very clear I had gotten the item in the first place because these don't show up in the inventory. It all mostly fits though with nothing detracting from the story or setting.

Some alternate routes are possible, and in fact there's a well known trick using the fairy to fly through key holes. I'm not sure this was intentional though since it was removed from (or just not possible in) the PAL version of the game. Beyond the above, there are some small mazes to figure out, and NPC hints are necessary if you're not using previous knowledge or a walkthrough.
Rating: 2
Finally! A game that has an alternative way through locked doors.
The main story is (mostly) clearly recapped at the title screen, so the overall goal isn't ever lost; NPCs continue to hint at what is necessary for progress. Getting completely lost would take some effort, and finished castles are obvious by the block tile where the palace should be.

There aren't any descriptions, and it's mostly about the main story, yet there is the tidbit of background. Like towns infested with random NPCs that are actually Ganon's minions, and a hidden town full of refugees from another village full of monsters. However, the rest of the world is lacking; palaces obviously only stand for the item they provide, and statue for unlocking the final palace, not places to explore and understand.

There are no decisions regarding the story, and no way to influence the outcome. The motivation is presented as nothing more than a prophecy and statement that, "you're a hero, go do heroic stuff." Also, the translation is off sometimes, and can confuse some things.
Rating: 3
Translation: "You get some water."
There is no additional equipment, and no inventory to manage. You'll pick up items, but use most automatically. The hammer and flute are specialized, and are always mapped to set buttons once possessed. Getting everything isn't much of a task, as most of it is necessary or easily stumbled upon.

The only other positive thing to note is completion is obvious with a max level 8 stated in the manual, health and magic bars that reach the maximum width by running up against other user interface graphics, and an item and spell list with only enough space to fit everything. Also tracked are game overs, which are a fun stat to note.
Rating: 3
Mostly everything, but that empty space next to the candle concerns me now
I'm not a good judge of things like graphics, music, or sound. It all kind of melts together for me. So, that's why I only consider how fitting or distracting it is. I didn't have much trouble navigating or recognizing anything, and the sound queues plus music were well established. However, there are some graphical glitches near edges of the screen, and not a lot of variety in the music.

The world at large isn't all that large, but fits everything snugly without overcrowding. Each field tile results in different battles, which is nice when the game considers things like that. The caves all look the same, and the backgrounds for the battles as well, but the over-world is the main area for exploration.

Some tiles contain hidden areas that hold high yield experience point bags, heart containers, magic containers, or 1UPs. It's a little exciting running across these when you don't expect it, and being rewarded for exploring is a nice feeling. While not as technically impressive over Phantasy Star, it does match it based on these other merits.
Rating: 6
It makes me wonder what other things I could find through deforestation

Final Rating: 22 (37%)

Now, do note that the rating system I'm using is skewed towards RPGs. So, this being less of one, it naturally scored lower, and while I did enjoy it more than Phantasy Star, it didn't quite satisfy my desire to play a CRPG.

Even so, the great things about it shined through, and it was very close in the end. If one can get past the need of dexterity over strategy, then it is definitely an enjoyable experience. Clocking in at 10 hours on average, it shouldn't outlast its welcome.

I'm looking forward to getting back to games closer to CRPGs we all know and love with Ultima: Exodus. By the way, I drop the 'III' from the title because on the the NES it's the first, and that's what Nintendo did. But first, I have a cut to make, and some words on the blog to get out.

Once again, I'd like to draw attention to the speedrun for this game. The game page is located here: There are several videos that have different goals or restrictions (such as not dying or warping), but the full game is completed in 1 hour and 10 minutes. The skill is very impressive in the "Best single-segment time" record that doesn't include Up+A warping, as the player doesn't die throughout the whole game and skips the Life spell that heals Link. However, I don't know how long this time will stand, as there's been some talk of improving it recently.

Game 2: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) - Finished!

Link needed to shield himself from Zelda's beauty...
Getting to the end was shear persistence, and once I reached the Great Palace it was only a matter of time before I mapped and completed it. My youthful memories were of an immense maze incapable of being mapped. After a few rounds through it now, I noticed there weren't many paths to choose.

With many ways leading to dead ends, and one to a complete loop, it was easy to track the right way to go. Once I found the final bosses my memory leaped forward to tell me the correct strategy. I nearly completed both without a game over, but even with max health and the shield spell, I could only take 5 or 6 hits from the first boss before dying. Since the bird requires the Thunder spell, I didn't have any magic left for Life. So, I went into the fight with my shadow able to take but 1 more hit.
I didn't even get a hit in
After the trek back I fully expected to fight Thunderbird again, but he was already defeated. So at full health, it was a quick fight to get the Golden Triangle of Courage (pretty sure later games called each piece the Triforce of [Name]... rolls better off the tongue, or mind...).

So we get a nice ending with Link embracing Zelda, but I wonder about a few things. Where did Link get the other two Triforces? Couldn't I have used them during my adventure in some way? What about the Zelda from the first game? Link seems to have forgotten all about her. Really this whole adventure seems rather at odds with its prior game.

In the first game, we're treated to a second quest that is much more difficult than the first. With Zelda II, we have probably the first New Game+ (name originates from Chrono Trigger) in any game. Link can start a new adventure from a completed save file with all levels, spells, and sword techniques, but loses all items and containers (heart and magic).
Beginning the game, again... (note the levels)
It was a fun adventure, but even with the leveling I can't honestly say this was a CRPG. I definitely see the need to differentiate this type of game into a separate genre, and we're getting closer to action-RPGs as we know them today. Many go further than this early game to include more RPG elements like inventories, shops, and more side quests and stories. Going into the final review I'm guessing it's going to score low; not because it wasn't fun, but when reviewed as an RPG, it'll fall short in many areas.

I happened to find the last heart container because while sleeping last night I had an old memory creep in about a heart container in the ocean (this may have been mentioned in a town as well). So, most things were wrapped up, and I believe I completed all the side quests. I visited Error as well, and found he's the one that informs me the way to the third castle is south of the King's Tomb.

Looking for further things I may have missed (none I can find by the way) I'm amazed to find there are 11 walkthroughs for this game (plus 3 foreign language ones) on GameFAQs. Why so many? My only guess is many people enjoyed this game so much that they wanted to write their own for it. Although, it's such a short simple game that I would think one or two is sufficient to cover everything. It seems instead of improving the old ones, we see a "me too" effect here. I do wonder what the point of it is.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Game 2: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) - Only One Remains

Ganon seems to come back eventually in the sequel, so what's the big deal?
After many more Game Over screens I've managed to push my way to the end. Only the Great Palace remains, if only I could get there.

I'm still at odds with the game, and how it fits with other CRPGs. I've already mentioned the pure action, but fighting really has become more about abusing the AI than skillfully out maneuvering the enemies or strategizing to exploit their weakness. Even with leveling up, the difficulty isn't minimized nearly as much as other CRPGs. I believe I'll need to grind to max level in order to have a chance at completing the game. Accurate jumping and slashing are much more valuable than building up levels, but those are two things I lack with any reliability.

Maybe the key thing missing here though is there's no way to prepare for the adventure. There's no stocking up on healing potions, magic potions, or attack items. No variety in equipment and items means a lack of options, and without options the experience will mostly remain the same between players. Having a difference between each play means we can personalize the game, managing the difficulty by over preparing or add to it by trying to accomplish our goals with the bare minimum.
When the jump button doesn't register Link often falls into pits
The difficulty has ramped up a couple of times already. First after taking the raft to the other continent where new enemies are immune to sword strikes, and only vulnerable to fire magic. Second was after removing the guardian with the Flute, which opened an area with floating eyes and many open pits that mean instant death. I fully expect another increase in the Great Palace; the instructions make mention that Link can continue directly from the start of the Great Palace even when a game over screen is reached.

Once again we're faced with game logic that doesn't quite match what I'd expect. There are times that enemies back away from Link and end up off screen... untouchable. Also, I had read the instructions before playing, and noticed the hammer cuts down trees. Honestly, I'd forgotten about that until remembering there was a town hidden in a forest, but how does a hammer cut down a tree? After getting this hammer of tree cutting, I need to find the only raft in existence in one of the castles... but I can cut down trees...
Enemies have a special ability to phase out at the edge of the screen
So, to recap, getting through the fourth palace involved navigating a maze island, and fighting a Wizzrobe using the reflect spell to enchant the shield to shoot back his magic. In the next is the flute, and a boss that swings a ball and chain with very odd hit detection. I believe there's one more heart container that I haven't found yet, but I'm going to go for the end after leveling up a bit. I'll play today to finish it up and hopefully start Ultima: Exodus on Tuesday. Wish me luck.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Game 2: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) - Beginnings

"I found Link staring longingly at Zelda (the original princess) as she slumbered soundlessly on her royal bed locked away in a side room at the North Palace. Even though the current princess Zelda waited for his return, I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was ready to throw his life away for a chance to save this one. Rousing him from his daydreaming didn't take long, and only moments more passed before he had his bearings. In front of us was an arduous quest, and although this was still Hyrule, we found ourselves surround by unfamiliar terrain. Without knowing where these palaces were we aimlessly followed the road and came upon a village. Rumors abound of a Palace in Parapa, we determined this was our first destination. An old wise man knew of our desire to head there, and he taught Link a spell that would shield him from the harsh desert environment as well as deadly creatures."

Wow, I must have completely blocked out how tough Zelda II is. I'm fairly sure I beat this game as a kid, although I may have had some help from my brother. On first impressions, and I gather from the comment on the previous post, not many feel this is a CRPG, myself included. I look at the game; I look at the scale, but it doesn't quite feel right. I'll get to that later though.
Last night went fairly well. Even with the obvious difficulty of the game I managed not to game over until Death Mountain. It took quite a few attempts to map the mountain of accurate naming, but even so, it took a couple more game overs until I finally reached the hammer, which allows me to break boulders on the path. I'm getting a little ahead of myself though, so let me start over.

It was easy enough to navigate the over-world and find the first towns by following the road. From even these first few moments it was obvious to me that I remembered a lot of this game. I knew the first palace was through a cave past the forest to the west, and I needed to get a candle from inside. For this playthrough though I'm trying to find the clues in the game that lead me to the sights rather than heading straight for the hidden points of interest. Even so, I did end up getting the trophy that unlocks the second spell before being told to do so because I knew I needed to get it.
That's a very conspicuous looking boulder...
The game itself is definitely an action affair with lots of jumping and button mashing sword swinging fun. Link now also has the ability to cast magic. Spells must be learned from wise ones in each town. The first spell is pretty much handed to you while the others require some kind of fetch quest. One thing I noticed that wasn't mentioned in any other review is the lack of money. This never stuck out as strange in my previous plays, but with an eye on note taking for this blog it's definitely an oddity for a CRPG and for the series.

There are hidden areas on the map that stand out by their unique terrain, but sometimes they blend in with the surroundings. They tend to have heart containers, magic containers, or experience bags. Some areas are set, and unavoidable if I need to pass. Traveling over bridges has always brought up a side-scrolling area with set encounters. In these areas, the direction I enter from determines which side I start on, and exiting on the opposite end allows me to pass through. Traveling over anything except roads will cause monsters to spawn in three directions and move around randomly. If Link touches one of these, then a random encounter occurs with link in the middle of an area; the only escape is to leave out the left or right side (or die trying).
No boomerang?! How is this even a Zelda game?
I had thought enemies dropped health as well as magic or experience, but they sadly do not, which really adds to the difficulty. Luckily I've found the Life spell that allows me to heal, but it comes at a hefty magic cost. I've made it through the first two palaces grossly over-leveled, to compensate for my lack of skill, and part way through the third. I couldn't quite handle the horseman, and died during that fight. Completing a palace involves collecting the hidden item, defeating the boss, and placing a crystal in the statue, which brings your experience to the next level. Unfortunately, I didn't plan ahead, so this hasn't been as beneficial as it could. I've collected a candle that allows me to see in caves, the glove that lets me break blocks, and a raft to travel across the ocean.

The hammer from Death Mountain isn't gained from a palace, but it's been the most useful item so far, allowing me to quickly travel back after a game over. I've also been taught the downward thrust, which I remember fondly as my favorite move in this game. Some things can't be found without exploring though, and I don't think I got clear clues for getting the medicine to unlock the fairy spell (necessary to enter the third palace; it turns you into a fairy), nor do I believe there's a clue for getting the trophy, which is why I went out of my way to get it. Probably the most memorable character is Error (Bagu is a close second), and I was told to go speak with him about the palace, but I forgot to do this last night. Hopefully I can remember and document if his dialogue changes (I'm waiting for this to happen in a game, although I suppose "waking up" the monsters may count).
Is that really your name or are you broken?
I believe I'm near the halfway point. From memory, I know I need to find some water walking boots (I actually learned this from a town as well), I'll return some kid to get more magic, get a flute to unlock the next area, have to fight a Wizzrobe with the reflect spell, and a dragon with the upward thrust. The Great Palace is a huge maze that's going to take some luck to get through. Then there's two bosses to face at the end. I may not finish all this tomorrow, but I'll do my best for those that are unconvinced this is a CRPG and just want it to end.

"But this isn't a CRPG!" you scream? Well, let's work on the RPG scale and I ask you dear readers to please point out any flaws (I will cut the game if it falls below 10):

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link - Rating(11 RPP)
1) 3 - Character advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases
2) 3 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options
3) 0 - Items and equipment: none
4) 2 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore
5) 2 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 1 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest

Character advancement is through experience gained from defeating enemies, collecting bags of... experience, and completing quests (placing the crystal in a palace statue). In addition to the stat increase from leveling up that raise attack power, defense, and reduce magic cost, there are life and magic increases in the form of heart and magic containers. Combat uses the attack and defense stats of Link, and allow him to deal and take more damage. Additional combat options exist, although rather loosely, with the upward and downward thrusts; also, some magic is beneficial to combat such as Shield, Reflect, Fire, and Thunder.
I would not look forward to that encounter rate...
The story remains at the forefront with hints about the palaces, and troubles in the land with Ganon's minions (some even hiding amongst townsfolk hoping to be the one to bring Link down). 'World full of hints and lore' is probably the weakest point, but with hints about hidden locations, and snippets of story relating to the people instead of the main quest, I believe it deserves the point. The world may not allow unlimited access, but there's rarely anything absolutely preventing it before completing all previous tasks; in fact, the palaces could theoretically be completed in any order, and exploration is a big part of finding hidden items. I'm leery about locations remaining open though, as palaces do lock you out if you've completed them, but towns and other areas are always open. Lastly, I'm counting hidden heart and magic containers, as well as the downward and upward thrusts, and some unnecessary spells as side quests. Yes, it'd be challenging without all these, but they're still on the other side of necessary.

If it has anything against it that makes it feel not like a CRPG, it's definitely the action parts (i.e. the game). Even without any points for the item section, if the game had a turn based battle system, I'd venture to guess there'd be no question. Are all action games not CRPGs though? I think there's too many to discount them all, so what is it about this game that makes it feel less than an RPG compared to something like Hydlide or Faxanadu. Is it the character lives? Or the lack of necessary grinding? Is an inventory really that necessary? Maybe the scale doesn't take something into account? So, let's get together and hammer at the scale to forge a better one, else I'm finishing this up and moving on soon hopefully. I beat this game before, and by gum if I can't do it again.