Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Game 6: Dungeon Explorer (TG-16) - Cut and Run

It was bound to happen. I mean I'm basing my evaluation of the games I've never played on various videos and reviews I can find to come up with how close it is to what I consider an ideal CRPG. This one was already a close call, but playing it forced the realization that it lacks one thing I thought put it over the top. It doesn't actually have a leveling system based on repeated or practiced actions. Instead, levels are gained by collecting gems when defeating bosses. The bosses don't re-spawn, so levels are limited. Here's the breakdown:

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

I considered just playing it to the end to be done with it. It was some fun; but then I thought, "what about all the other games that scored 8 or 9 that I'm passing up?" So--playing longer than I probably should have--I called it quits at a three-headed dragon boss (or maybe it was Cerberus).
Pretty sure that's a dragon
The game started out promising by showing a grand overview of the surrounding kingdom. The first town had a number of NPCs offering advice. All of this was completely unnecessary though. Only one person is necessary to trigger events, the king. After visiting him, the way south is opened up. None of the NPCs offer quests, and the advice they do give is inconsequential to actually completing the tasks. Bosses are the main way to move the story along; beat a few bosses in a row, and then talk to the king again to tell him you haven't found the stone yet.
Duneon Exporer was an alternate title
The main goal is to find something called the ORA Stone. This magical device controls the will of the people, and the king (who hid it in the first place) wants me to retrieve it for him in order to protect it from invading aliens. One catch, he doesn't remember where he hid it. So off I go, with the "help" of the King's adviser Judas to search various dungeons for the stone.

Really though, everything is just an excuse to try to explain why I need to go into these dungeons. I found it easier to ignore most NPCs, kill all the pointless enemies I could find, and destroy all of these alien bosses. I did give it a solid effort, even though I was fairly sure nothing would change after the first 30 minutes. It seems like a short game, and one that's a lot more fun with other players. I think it'd be a bit more interesting if destroying regular enemies had a purpose.

I'm glad I tried it though, it has potential, but lacked at least one other key element to push it over the top. Moving right along, I'm actually going to take a short break until next Tuesday when I'll pick up Faxanadu. Until then, have fun.
Call for a good time: JBBNJ-HDCOG
Session Time: 2h25m (Later played for another 55 minutes for a total time of 3h20m)

P.S. I'm going to finish the game outside the blog for anyone interested. I'll update the comments with how long it took, and anything else of note.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Game 6: Dungeon Explorer (TG-16) - Introduction

Ever wonder how Gauntlet would be a better dungeon crawl if only it had equipment, levels, NPCs, an actual story? Well, maybe not; the visceral action is quite cathartic on its own. However, someone seems to have posed these thoughts and answered by creating Dungeon Explorer. The quick story has a king recruiting some random PCs to find a magical stone that will return the land to former glory. Off we go...
Why is everyone glowing? I don't think that stone is healthy
Dungeon Explorer was created by a little company called Atlus. Okay, not really a little company; Atlus was well into their legacy as the creators of the Megami Tensei series, yet before they hit it big they developed various games including this gem. It was published by Hudson Soft, which had stake in the NEC co-designed PC-engine (TurboGrafx-16). Being released on the TG-16 explains why I hadn't heard of it, but it seems it was well received by at least two reviewers that gave the game 5 out of 5 stars.

The game sports 10 classes to choose from: fighter, thief, warlock, witch, bishop, elf, bard, or knome [sic] (Princess and Harmet are unlocked later on according to super secret sources). Due to the opposite of foresight, I didn't make a poll to choose the character I should play, so if anyone has any strong opinions, then please express them in the comments. The game also supported multi-player like any good Gauntlet game. Five players could play simultaneously. Now your fifth gaming friend could join in! Really, who had this many people to play with? Oh, am I the only one that played alone? Maybe that's why I prefer CRPGs.
Let's do this!
Anyway, I'll be playing on the Wii Virtual Console release if that means anything to anyone. The 5 player option is retained in this version through the use of four Wii-motes plus 1 Game Cube controller (sorry to those that missed out on the Game Cube compatible Wii consoles). I still don't have 4 other people to play with regularly, so we'll keep this playthrough a strictly solo affair. Hopefully I remember there is a turbo button inherent to TurboGrafx games.

Currently I'm leaning towards going straight fighter, as I'm not sure what my survivability is with going solo. Wish me luck.

Blog Updates - Emulation Hoooo!!

Embrace the Emulator
That's right, the poll has been over for quite some time, and the majority opinion is that emulating isn't that bad in your eyes. Honestly, I thought there'd be more of a mix, but at least half here feel that games should be free (I'm sure for various upstanding reasons). Others expressed their understanding that most emulation doesn't harm developers and publishers if there's no way to purchase the game from them any more.

I can't outright give up my own feeling that playing on the original system is best though, so I'll still strive to collect the old games and systems. Any games released for digital distribution are definite buys as well. However, I won't be skipping games anymore, and I won't break the bank to collect everything. The most significant change here is the TurboDuo games are most likely going to be emulated (unless someone wants to let me borrow one with all the games; I swear I'll give it back).

I'll play it by ear and announce in the game year posts which games I'll emulate and why. Hopefully this allows others enough time to express their distaste or to find any known issues with emulating. Not having emulated much myself, it'll be a learning experience trying to get it working. First game up to emulate is Miracle Warriors, and while I'm heading back in time, I figure I might as well go all the way back.

Jonothan pointed out a flaw in my plan. I didn't include all consoles in my search. I thought games before the Master System just didn't matter because they didn't include enough CRPG points or they didn't have a proper ending. Turns out I may have been wrong (happens all too often unfortunately). Here's my current list (from Mobygames), please help me to expand it:

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin Cartridge
Swords & Serpents (not related to the NES game)
Tower of Doom

Gateway to Apshai

My plan is to add these games I've passed over at the end of the current game year. So, after Magic of Scheherazade, I'll go on to Miracle Warriors, and then try to figure out how an Intellivision emulator works. This is fair warning, tell me now if I'm missing any more games before I pass them up again. I can always go back, but I'd rather knock these out in one fell swoop.

Speaking of adding games to the list, I've been discussing the proposition of remakes with Canageek. I'm of the mind that a remake isn't worth the time for someone who's played the original, but if this latest poll has taught me anything (other than emulation is good) it's that my opinion is most likely in the minority on a fair number of things. So, I'm opening up a new poll to get feedback from everyone on how they feel I should handle remakes and enhanced ports. The games in question aren't ones where the remake is the first US release, but a game where I've played or will play the original, and a later remake comes up. The most recent example is the Game Boy Color version of Dragon Warrior. Should this be added outright, or on a case-by-case basis? Cast your vote, and we'll discuss in a few weeks.

Now for some random things that don't have a good tie-in. I'm pretty sure I don't need to do this, as it's plastered everywhere, but just in case I have one or two readers that haven't ventured into other blogs (I have no delusions of this, I'm not that interesting) I'm pleased to inform you some game from the 80s is getting a sequel. It's not console related, so don't get your hopes up over Miracle Warriors 2. Wasteland 2 has a Kickstarter project going, and there's still time to reserve your copy. I hope they're able to throw the original in the mix as well, but that might be a stretch. Interestingly, the developers are giving back to Kickstarter by helping to fund future projects on Kickstarter. They've pledged 5% of profits to other Kickstarter projects in a new movement called "Kicking it Forward." Do support CRPGs, it's good for the community and the genre.

Lastly, a couple updates regarding some blog exposure because I think it's interesting to note when others take note. I've been asked to help out a new site as a featured contributor: RPGFanatic. So far, I've only had time to add one, but I expect things to go a little faster as I get more comfortable with navigating the site. It seems like a good resource for all CRPGs once it gains some traction, so keep on eye on the site and help out where you can.

Probably the biggest surprise this weekend was waking up on Sunday to a huge spike in page views. I knew Dragon Warrior was popular, but I didn't think it'd drive that much traffic. Looking at the stats I found Chrontendo was the source for all the traffic. How much traffic? Well, we'll see if the spike turns into a plateau, but his mention tripled the daily traffic. Welcome to the site everyone, enjoy your stay, and feel free to make suggestions.

Dr. Sparkle was kind enough to make a mention of my site and goal on his blog (and he's added me to his side bar). His Chronogaming projects are an awesome piece of video game journalism/chronicling, and his dedication is inspiring. In case you haven't watched every episode of Chrontendo, Chronsega, and Chronturbo, I strongly urge you to set aside a weekend or two and catch up; his insight is enlightening, and his narration makes even the sports games enjoyable to learn about. Thank you for the support, and I'll try to hold off my mental breakdown long enough to at least breach the PlayStation era.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Game 5: Dragon Warrior (NES) - Rating

Being the first console RPG developed in Japan, we really can't ask for much here. 'Basic' is definitely a theme throughout; many of the staples of turn-based combat are here: Attack, Magic, Run, and Items. This is one of the few games where using magic throughout normal combat isn't a hindrance. Many of the helpful spells are low cost and effective the majority of the time; especially in the case of Stopspell, where harmful spells would cost more in healing magic than preventative.

There's never a time when combat becomes too easy, unless you count visiting old romping grounds. Without liberal use of the run command, it'll take many attempts to finally get to the Dragonlord and take him down. However, running isn't recommended early on because fighting is vital for survival. Grinding is a necessity to gain enough levels to challenge the next area (and grind more). The developers seemed to have thought better of this, as the remakes of this game have the grinding reduced a considerable amount.

Many iconic monsters were created in this game; from the ubiquitous Slime to the cutesy Drakee. While not quite on as grand a scale as Phantasy Star, it's easy to tell what the monsters are supposed to represent. I used to think palette swapping was a lazy technique, but it can help ground the player's judgment in past experience.
Rating: 5
I only found one Metal Slime, it got away
Here's an area that we lose out on. Even with the goal that we're supposed to identify with the hero, it's just an ideal. Sure we get to tack a name of our choosing to the character, but he still looks the same (not to mention he's still a he) no matter what name we choose. He always gains the same spells at the same levels, and there are no options to choose as we advance. Controlling him is a bit awkward at times when the status screen appears--good luck moving only one space in this case. One interesting bit is that the character's name is used to choose which of four stat progression paths to use. I suppose not much emphasis was put on customizing a character to keep things simple, but simple just doesn't cut it here.
Rating: 2
The only idea I have of my character
No puzzles to speak of, but we do have a number of riddles and hints to figure out. They fit well if we consider prophecy as part of general information gathering possible by most NPCs. I never lost sight of the main quest, and was never lost for somewhere to explore--although there were times I couldn't quite survive in those areas. There are two side quests, one for the Fighter Ring (I'm still not sure what it does), and saving the Princess. That's right; saving the Princess is optional. Although, finding Erdrick's Token is much harder without Gwealin's Love, it's not impossible to keep track of the hero's location manually. In the end, there's not much to do aside from saving the Princess and defeating the Dragonlord, and there's only one way to do it.
Rating: 3
You hid it there didn't you?
The game really shines by balancing hints and general world lore. There's nothing distracting from the world or story; however, there's little information on the items and equipment aside from Erdrick's Sword. Even his armor is never described as magical or protective. The player's involvement in the story is at an absolute low. Granted there are times when the he is asked a question, but the answer doesn't matter (in fact talk to the NPC twice to get all the information) or it's forced on the player; why even ask in that case?
Rating: 3
No means no
There are some cool possibilities with the items in this game, but most only have a single use. The Silver Harp is one of the more interesting ones, but it's necessary to trade away shortly after finding it. Having the Stones of Sunlight act as a Radiance spell or the Staff of Rain as a Repel would have been very cool for very little work.

The number of inventory spaces are limited; only two or three items beyond the quest related ones, magic keys, and herbs have filled things up already. Equipment is limited to only one sword, armor, and shield at a time. Judging strength is easy, as the Erdrick items are the only ones found outside a shop, and in shops the highest gold cost is the best. For completionists, you'll have some idea of getting everything, but there's no way to know for sure at a glance.
Rating: 3
One page inventory, already mostly full
The music is very memorable. Graphics other than enemies need a bit of imagination, and sound effects are the same for all hits, crits, and misses. Traveling the continent of Alefgard is fun, but I wish there was more to discover. It definitely would have eased the grind to have another cave or two to explore. Hauksness (the demolished town) and Cantlin (the fortified town) are the most interesting places to visit with an interconnected history that adds to the feeling of a world in pain; other locations seem to lack this one world feel, and mostly act as hubs. Exploration is extremely open, but I'm still waiting for the time when it's possible to walk right up to the final boss no matter how futile it is. Even though it's possible to go almost anywhere, the likelihood of doing so is limited to survivability in combat.
Rating: 5
All caves look the same

Final Rating: 21 (35%)

I hope I don't garner too much hate from this rating, but while Dragon Warrior offers a lot as the first Japanese console RPG, it suffers for the same reasons. Phantasy Star and Zelda II had time to learn from Dragon Quest (not to mention DQ II) and improve upon it. As a trailblazing venture, this score years later stands as a testament to just how much the game did right. It's enjoyable, but requires a lot of grinding. Even with fixing that, the hero himself is still just a cardboard cutout with just as much personality.

In an era where players have already experienced Phantasy Star, this game feels like a step down in many ways. We're still waiting for things to improve from those early days. For those who started gaming with Nintendo, Dragon Warrior offered a quick glimpse into CRPGs.

I wonder if any game will challenge the top spot before we get to Phantasy Star II. Next up is Dungeon Exlporer, our first TurboGrafx game. Reading the description, I'm excited to see how this one shapes up.

Game 5: Dragon Warrior (NES) - Finished!

How wrong I was to think this was a quick night. At level 19 I was in no way prepared enough to take on the Dragonlord. At the start of the night, I remembered a man in Kol that kept telling me to come back when I had found the ultimate weapon. I figured he'd reward me in some way by finally collecting all the pieces of Erdrick. No, sadly, he's nothing more than a troll for insisting I come see him as soon as I have the most powerful weapon.
That's cool man
After this let down I moved on to Charlock in order to grind on the enemies near the entrance. It only took an hour to get the two levels I planned, so I continued to think this would be an easy end to the game. Here is where I was proved wrong. The enemies on my way to the Dragonlord had other plans for me. Red Dragons with their sleep lock, and Armored Knights were the worst of the bunch. It seemed running from these two caused me the most grief. In order to even have a chance against the Dragonlord I needed to have my full health and magic, which wasn't happening at this level.
Because he has more armor than the other knights
Even on my best attempts when I did reach the Dragonlord, it seemed like I just wasn't landing enough hits. By this time the chat had a whole five people at least, and many were helpfully looking up HP totals. I was told that he had anywhere from 100 - 150 depending on the source they referenced. Many times the Dragonlord's first form wore me down enough that I was opening with a Healmore in the main fight. I wonder if this is the game that started the whole "more than one form for the final boss" thing.
Who was fooled by this?
Hitting my head against a wall for an hour is fun and all, but I decided to ease the pain a bit and grind up another level. Getting to 20 didn't take long even with the additional 1,000 experience requirement; only 25 minutes, which tempted me to gain one more, but I decided I'd stick to the original plan of gaining one level and trying again. This time I gave it a valiant effort.

I arrived in front of the Dragonlord mostly unharmed, and dispatched his first form with ease. The true dragon emerged, and he didn't even take the first round hit like usual. Things continued to go well throughout the fight, and I felt like this was the one to do it. Then, I used my last Healmore; he hit me again. A quick calculation in my head told me I only had two hits against him before I was toast. Was it really supposed to be this hard? Someone in chat mentioned that I'd gotten really bad luck with hits and damage this time, but I still couldn't see how I could have beaten him at level 19. Luckily, my next hit ended him.
For real this time, right?
After the battle, I retrieved the Ball of Light(s)--an automatic thing--and was transported out of Charlock with full health and MP. Good thing too because I wanted to get to the victory feast without having to walk all the way back. Waiting for me was the King who offered me rule of his realm. Thinking on it, I turned him down because his realm was much too small (and something about blazing my own trail). I decided Princess Gwaelin should accompany me as my bride because she's just the coolest (help me). The game fades out as the hero leaves the castle with Gwaelin in his arms.

I don't think I've ever actually seen the ending, at least I don't remember it. It's nothing exciting, but it definitely gets the job done. There are even hints of a sequel, which I wonder if this was in the original. It's easy to say there are more games coming when in Japan they're wrapping up DQ IV at the time this was released. For those looking forward to the sequel, it's coming in 15 games.

Session Time: 2h35m (Total: 12h30m)
Until next time...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Game 5: Dragon Warrior (NES) - Winning

Battles are so much easier when using the correct strategy. I wonder if there are any games that let you research enemies before having to fight them. CRPGs seem to reward the well prepared, yet the only way to prepare is by fighting first and reloading after learning what to expect. In my last fight with the Axe Knight, I found he could cast sleep. So, this time I made sure stopspell (silence) took effect, negating the turns he cast sleep. Those few turns--plus my own sleep spell--allowed me enough time to finish him off.
See the axe, and he's a knight: Axe Knight... get it?
After the battle I searched the ground to find Erdrick's Armor. Due to Zenic only having room for one armor, he dropped the Full Plate instead of selling it. There goes 1,500 gold. The armor has a couple of beneficial side effects beyond the increased defense. First it heals me 1 HP per step; this reduces my grinding time as I now don't have to go back to gain magic points since I'm not spending as many on heal spells. Second, the armor protects me from damaging tiles; barriers and swamp tiles now do 0 damage. Quite useful for getting to Erdrick's Token, which is in the middle of a swamp.

With the token, I was able to prove to the last of the three keepers I'm Erdrick's heir, and obtain the rainbow drop. Honestly though, anyone could have come along and found in his token, so why does this prove anything? The drop took both of the previous items to make, and is used to create a bridge to Charlock (the Dragonlord's Castle).
Think they could have sprung for a different icon for a Rainbow Bridge
Now, the grinding begins. Let's just skip to the end and say 2 hours later I gained 3 levels, had enough gold to get the Flame Sword, and started to explore the Dragonlord's Castle. Most of the enemies there are still too much for me to take on; I can deal with green dragons if I can heal all my hit points afterwards, and wizards aren't so bad if I land a stopspell. Being level 17, I just gained Healmore, which seems to bring me back to max HP.

Using my new found healing abilities I've been looking for a way to get a treasure chest in the middle of the tunnels. Before getting there I found the path to the Dragonlord (not right up to him, but I think I saw him). There's a second path that I haven't followed to the end yet, but it went down quite a bit. Finally, the last path I tried that night led to the treasure I saw before. Turns out it was Erdrick's Sword. It's a great improvement to the Flame Sword as my damage per hit has increased from 20s to 30s.
There's an NPC in Charlock: must be the Dragonlord
There's an old man in Kol I forgot to visit once I found the sword. He kept making mention that I should come back once I had a powerful weapon. Other than that though, I'm fairly sure it's just the ending ahead of me. I'm going to gain a couple more levels and attempt to take the Dragonlord out.

If I don't get it after a few tries, then I'll grind out another level, and try again. It's about all there is left to do in the game. Gaining levels has actually gotten faster though, as the amount of experience needed for each level hasn't gone up since level 15 (3,000 EXP), but monster experience has almost doubled. With luck, I'll finish early tonight, and be lost for something to do.

Session Time: 2h55m (Total: 9h55m)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Game 5: Dragon Warrior (NES) - Grinding

I'm sitting here wondering, "how do I make grinding levels sound exciting?" Having come up with no good answer I'll just ramble. At the beginning of the night I decided that I'd get enough gold to buy the Broad Sword. This took about an hour to finish, during which time I gained a level. Unfortunately, this level made the enemies I was fighting fear me. They started to run away.
Looks like it's already gone
Now that's an interesting concept, and one that very few games incorporate on consoles; however, it's just not fun if I have no way to stop or catch them. It just wastes time having to watch the beginning of the battle, even more if they run after a couple of hits. Escape is guaranteed for the enemy, unlike me where the enemy can block my escape. I actually would rather just not get into the fight if it was going to lead nowhere. It makes grinding take longer as well.

When I grind I'll usually fight until I'm about to be wiped, then I'll head back to heal. Even if I have a particular goal in mind I'll finish up the grinding round before continuing on. This time that means I ended up with enough to purchase the Broad Sword I planned on, and a Large Shield. I also bought another set of keys and opened up the doors in the towns I'd visited. In Garinham I had hoped to find Garin's grave and the Silver Harp, but didn't see it beyond the door.
Guess what the other guard says
With no other hints to go on, I explored a cave I had previously seen. This one was filled with monsters. Luckily I had gained the spell Radiance, which shows a much better view of the dungeon compared to a torch. Quickly getting through the cave I found a Fighter's Ring. An NPC mentioned before that all real warriors wear rings, so why not. (I've been told by someone in chat that the ring doesn't actually do anything due to a bug; still it's fun to pretend.)
Three whole squares in every direction!
There's only one NPC I hadn't spoken to yet because he's on the other side of some barrier looking tiles. Last game I tried to cross something like that was Ultima, and there it meant instant death if I didn't have the right mark. Here it only takes 15 HP away, and I receive the hint I need to find Garin's grave. Before this though, I grinded to get Full Plate, and up to level 12.

So far, I really do have to commend the game on excellent and well placed hints. There's still some exploration involved to find towns and caves, but I haven't been lost for things to do yet (just too low level to do them). Having the manual isn't without its benefit though; I just found mine, and looked up the barriers. Here it says plainly that they deal 15 points of damage. Even so, it's no great loss to save and experiment (like usual).
From Zenic's perspective, why is the wall dark?
In Garin's grave--which looks like any other cave--I found the Silver Harp I had expected. This harp when played summons a monster to fight. It might actually be helpful in grinding except it takes about as long to play the harp as it does just walking back and forth. So, I decide to trade in the harp for the second fabled item, the Staff of Rain.

Knowing that my next hint led me into more dangerous territory I grinded up another level; the time this takes is really starting to add up. Exploring near Hauksness turned out to be tougher than I thought, so I gained another level. Instead of going through Hauksness I decided to search for Cantlin--a town someone told me to seek out. The enemies in this area were much more than I could handle, so I spent the majority of my time running away and healing.

Finally I stumbled upon the town, and found it guarded by a Golem. I'd heard enough rumors to know that the Fairy Flute picked up earlier would lull him to sleep; he stayed that way while I hacked him to bits. Nobody in town made mention of the Golem, which is odd since he was guarding the town; I guess they don't get out much. I picked up some more hints, one about an armor, and another regarding some proof that I was Erdrick's descendant; also picked up the Silver Shield. An interesting bit of game lore is suggested here as some of the townspeople mention their grandfathers having come from Hauksness. I guess this is a refugee town, which makes the wall around it more understandable.
Hey Nester, you're about as useless as in the comic
It was getting on in the evening (morning), and I wanted to see what else I could wrap up; so, I headed to Hauksness and located the tree spoken of in Cantlin. Here I found a tough enemy; he killed me. I'm fairly sure he's guarding Erdrick's Armor. Changing gears I instead head for the green dragon in the cave I found early on. Sleep (the spell) wasn't nearly as effective as the first time, but I managed to put him down after a tough battle. Beyond a door here I found Princess Gwaelin. Returning her to the castle raised the spirits of King Lorik, and the Princess rewarded me with something. I ended here for the night, so I'm not sure what she gave me. If I remember correctly it's some kind of compass that leads back to Tantegel Castle.
"Let me ask you question, and you're going to have to answer yes."
While it may sound like a lot happened, the majority of the time was spent grinding levels or gold--really both. I'd estimate out of the time I spent this session 3 hours was grinding. So yes, there's a lot of fighting in this game, but I'm not tired of it yet. My next step is to get the armor from the Axe Knight. He put me to sleep last time, so I think I need to silence him with Stopspell, and put him to sleep myself to stand a chance. After that I need to get the proof I'm Erdrick's descendant, and then I believe I can get the third item. I've also heard of Erdrick's Sword, but the only rumor is that it existed and could cut through steel. With some luck I'll have this wrapped up in the next session.

Session Time: 4h40m (Total: 7h00m)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Game 5: Dragon Warrior (NES) - Exploring

"I came to remember a time long ago--maybe in a past life--when I learned I was the heir of Erdrick, destined to save the land of Alefgard from the Dragonlord. I arrived at Tantegel Castle, and immediately was admitted to King Lorick's chamber where he informed me of the great deeds Erdrick had accomplished in the past, and I now must follow in his footsteps. Many of the guards speak of a princess kidnapped by the Dragonlord, yet the king is so overcome with grief that he cannot speak of her. In searching for her, I found a tablet buried deep in a desert sinkhole north of Tantegel. Inscribed was a message from Erdrick addressed to me that told me what I need to reach the Dragonlord. My quest firmly set before me I make way east in search of the fair princess, and to vanquish the evil corrupting the land."
One of the goals for the original Dragon Quest according to Yuji Horii (Creative Director) was that he wanted the player to see themselves as the descendent of Erdrick. Taking inspiration from Wizardry and Ultima, Horii-san wanted to recreate his experiences with those games where he'd imagine himself as one of the characters. With the growing popularity of the NES, it was certain this was the platform of choice. Due to the limited control interface (controller vs. keyboard), the game needed a design fitting for simple selection. His hope was to push the CRPG genre from hardcore gaming enthusiasts into the realm of mass market appeal alongside the likes of Super Mario Bros. He succeeded, at least in Japan.

Another design decision that pushed Dragon Quest into the hands of a wider audience was the idea that the game is playable from the first moment it's turned on. Not having read the manual should not be an impediment to playing, nor should the game require a tutorial; everything must be intuited from the interface. Now, I don't know how close to this ideal Dragon Quest actually got--since many of the words for spells in Japanese were nonsense words--but so far Dragon Warrior is a simple enough to understand. Many of the NPCs will tell you how to play (e.g. "go get equipment," "you need to raise your level before traveling far")

Lacking some originality, I chose to name my character Zenic (I'll get more elaborate in the future). Luckily the US release has saves instead of passwords, and even more fortuitous the battery still works on this cart. Having played this game many times before, I knew my first stop was to get some equipment from the nearby town--one of the guards also helpfully informs me of this point. Before I get to that I have to figure out how to get out of the thrown room.
They look like regular treasure chests to me
I wonder what drove the decision to necessitate the need for selecting take treasure chest and going up or down stairs. Why couldn't these be automatic? Background on the development suggests Horii-san was meticulous when playtesting his games, and would make modifications to the most minute of details such as the delay between opening menus and executing commands. Still, moving is a little delayed when the stats window is on screen, which is annoying when I only want to move one space.

For my equipment I chose to go with some cloth armor and a club; it's possible to purchase a small shield as well if I bought a bamboo pole instead. After speaking to everyone in the village I got my first hint. There is a town to the northwest if I head for the shore and follow it. Before I go off adventuring though, I need to gain some levels, and upgrade some of my equipment. And so, the grinding begins.
At least the game is honest about its grinding
Stray too far from the first town and Drakees and Ghosts make quick work of Zenic, so I'm relegated to working my way up 1 experience point at a time fighting slimes. Once I reach level 3 I get my first spell: heal. Having a cure spell goes a long way to increasing my exploration range. The next level increases my MP to allow me to cast it 4 times instead of 1.

While the grinding is so far the majority of the game, I haven't found it completely overwhelming. I enjoy calculating how many enemies I can kill in an outing, how much more gold I need to upgrade my equipment, and how far I could make it if I really tried. Maybe it's been ingrained in me through playing many console RPGs, but grinding really doesn't bother me; in fact, I enjoy it to some extent when trying to figure out the most optimized method to gather experience and gold.
An early enemy that can cast the spell Hurt, which hurts
Upon reaching the second town, I received news that the princess was kidnapped and taken east. Finding a cave to the east I stocked up on some torches, and delved in expecting some tough fights. However, the cave was strangely empty except for a single chest at the very end. Inside was a tablet written for me--the heir of Erdrick--to find. It described the path to the Dragonlord would open when I gathered three artifacts left behind by Erdrick. Entrusted to three worthy keepers, their descendants are now watching over them.
How did Erdrick know evil would come again, he'd fail to defeat it?
Having not found the princess, I journeyed further eastward in search of another cave, and found the town of Kol. Here I learned there is an island to the south. So, I head south and find a cave, and a fearsome green dragon. I remember from previous experience this is the guardian of the princess. I'm definitely not high enough level to take him on though as he would quickly kill me when going toe-to-toe.
That's half my hit points
I decide to get some magic keys in order to open up some more areas. Unfortunately, I died trying to reach Rimuldar. Wolves are just too strong to take on, but of course I don't realize this until I took a hit from them. Death doesn't mean a game over though. Instead you get put back in Tantegel Castle (starting point) in front of King Lorick with half gold, but full experience.
Yeah, sorry about that, and thanks for bringing me back to life
The second trip out was more successful, and I came away with four keys--two were used in Rimuldar to meet Howard who informed me of a magic item found in Kol. As an aside, there's another character that's being discussed named Nester (haven't met him yet). Howard & Nester were a comic in Nintendo Power that gave hints to a particular game. As an example, here's the one on Dragon Warrior. With keys in hand I return to Tantegel, open a door in back, and find the cellar where one of the three keepers has been waiting. Hadn't he heard I already arrived? Why didn't he come to me instead? I walk away with the Stones of Sunlight, and am brusquely sent on my way. I also went to Kol and found the Fairy Flute, which will prove useful if I ever find a Golem to soothe.
Guess the honeymoon is over
There are still 3 or 4 doors I can open, so I'm going to grind a bit to purchase more keys. Further exploring the over-world is currently too difficult. I could also focus on upgrading my equipment, as there's a better sword, armor, and shield I know about. My goals include the other two items (I know one has to do with rain), find a silver harp, which is probably behind the door in Garinham (the second town). Someone mentioned a minstrel named Garin built the town. We'll see how far I get.

Session Time: 2h20m

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Game 5: Dragon Warrior (NES) - Introduction

Finally, a game everyone should know! If you haven't heard of Dragon Warrior, then you've probably been living under a rock, outside of gaming circles, or in another country where it's called Dragon Quest. While Phantasy Star is well known now, Dragon Warrior was well known during its time. However, it actually had a bit of a rocky start. During the first few months the game wasn't selling well at all until articles ran in Shonen Jump (a popular manga magazine). The articles were written by Yuji Horii, who was also the creative lead behind the game. Sales increased so much that the sequel Dragon Quest II was highly anticipated, creating the first blockbuster game in Japan.
The opening music is great, actually most of the music is
Dragon Quest was the first CRPG released for the console market. The purpose of the game was to create the computer RPG experience on consoles. So, they took what they liked most, and attempted to appeal to a wider audience. Game mechanics are simplified from the likes of Wizardry and Ultima, both inspirations for Yuji Horii and Kochi Nakamura.

Dragon Quest arguably started the console-RPG genre, and for that it has a place in many hearts across the globe. Coming to America, the name changed from Dragon Quest to Dragon Warrior. This was due to a role-playing system called DragonQuest already existing, so to avoid any rights disputes the name was altered slightly. Strangely, this tabletop RPG was originally going to be called Dragonslayer, but was changed to Dragon Quest because of the Disney film (released by Paramount).
The reason we got Dragon Warrior in the US (Source: Wayne's Books)
Dragon Warrior was one of the first RPGs we had actually bought. I remember that when my dad would play he'd travel over each and every tile in order to make sure he ran into enough monsters to raise his level. The main aspect that follows this game is the grind. Hopefully it's not all bad though, and can stand up the test of time a bit better than Ultima Exodus (which used Dragon Warrior's menu based interface).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Game 4: Willow (NES) Final Rating

Before we get to the full rating--in case anyone is curious how the game measures on the scale--I've included the RPG scale here because the game actually gained a point overall.

Willow - Rating(12 RPP)
1)  - Character advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2)  - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3)  - Items and equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4)  - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5)  - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6)  - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

The point gain came from the descriptions for each item. It's an interesting addition, but it would be better if it were available to read in the menu as well. On to the review...

Willow is small, but he wields a big sword. The range of his swing is pretty forgiving, making landing hits very easy; of course, this is also true for enemies as well. Many times I wondered how an enemy even hit me, as I was sure Willow was out of range. There's not a lot of time between vulnerability either, so many times one hit turned into two or three before I properly reacted. Bosses are the worst offenders, and Kael wins first place. Strangely healing items are disabled during these battles where they'd most useful. Fortunately, the cheap hits are spread far enough apart not to overwhelm the experience.

There's no deep strategy as MP is best saved for healing, and many enemies are easily killed by continuous swings or hitting their weak spots. A variety of enemies are introduced throughout the game, but many are recolored to indicate a higher difficulty. One sword is used on magic wielding enemies, while all others are only effective against normal enemies. This gives our first taste of a weakness dynamic; however, it's gone a bit too far here since there's no choice involved when selecting a weapon, it's either right or wrong. Each weapon has a level requirement; if not met, swings are slowly executed. It's not difficult to compensate for this, but it really doesn't add anything to the fun. By the middle of the game, combat becomes stale. Other than the bosses, no new enemies are introduced.
Rating: 4
Face Eborsisk, the two-headed dragon... one head at a time
In case you didn't know, you play as Willow. There's no customizing his appearance, and while the sword and shield aren't present when one isn't equipped, they all look the same readied. By the end of the game it's necessary to be close to max level to ensure you have enough MP for Bavmorda, and gaining the couple extra levels to max out really doesn't affect much. Experience is only gained through defeating enemies while magic spells are acquired from chests or taught by NPCs. There's no way to customize Willow into anything personal. Controls are handled well, except for when getting stuck on corners.
Rating: 2
Most enemies are just as big as Willow
Most goals are clearly defined when speaking to all NPCs, which is necessary as there are many hidden triggers for certain events. However, there are a few glaring omissions where you're left to wander around until you find the proper place. I don't know what's worse, the NPC you need to return to later, or needing to enter a previously barred area to find an item. There are no hints for either. Other puzzles have no hints, but the solution is fairly simple to figure out by trying every combination of magic.

There are a few side quests available, and the rewards for them are beneficial. Also, some magic is optional, although not very useful. Don't expect any branching solutions here, and trying to skip ahead will only mean the NPC you need isn't there yet.
Rating: 2
I don't remember the game telling me the slime avoids monsters, but I got it eventually
Oh the NPCs, why do they like to hide so often? The conversations will change based on some events, but the last full village we find is the second one. Kchil spoke of his village, but we're never able to visit. Everything is geared towards getting us to the end by the time we leave Dew. It's almost as if the designers ran out of ideas for the world, or maybe they attempted to follow the movie too closely. Many events of the movie are at least paid lip service even if their impact on the game is negligible. Immersion is often broken by these elements and the constant wandering around aimlessly looking for the next trigger. The player isn't an active participant of the story, but merely pushed along a certain path.
Rating: 2
I don't believe there really is a village
There are a good number of items, swords, shields, and spells to collect on this adventure. Not all of them are on the beaten path either, so searching every corner is necessary to get everything. Items are passively used, but the manual and game suggest otherwise. Inventory isn't an issue as there's only one of everything in the world and no shops. Everything is found in chests or given to Willow. The best weapon or shield is obvious as shown by increasing the proper stat; spells don't have obvious descriptions, but the only mystifying one is Renew (which apparently turns some enemies into weaker monsters). When receiving an inventory item, a short description is given, but a number of times it only hints at its use.

Collecting all items is obvious as every slot is filled; however, swords, shields, and spells stop short of the bottom. Knowing if you missed a piece of equipment is possible if you pick up a later one, as a previous slot will be empty; this doesn't work for spells or items though as they're more or less randomly placed. Getting the password for the game is only available after dying. Having everything doesn't make the game any easier, and you're still in for a challenge.
Rating: 3
Couldn't come up with three more spells?
The music is enjoyable, but the graphics are a little washed out for my taste. Maybe it's my TV though, as the screenshots seem to have more color. Sound effects are missing for swinging or stabbing the sword through the air, which seemed a little odd. Everything goes well together, and the final town's devastation is evident by the abandoned and boarded up houses. The caves repeat the same layout quite often depending on the number of exits from the screen. Wall color changes based on which cave you're in, but in a single cave there's no telling where exactly you are. There aren't any really interesting sites to see, and even the final boss room is similar to all others. Exploration doesn't feel as open as it should because of the event triggers that much be tripped before the next area opens. With NPCs only appearing after certain times, exploring is most often futile by having to do it again.
Rating: 4
Best view in the game
Final Rating: 17 [28%]

Now this score may seem low, at least it did to me at first, but I think it deserves it when compared to other CRPGs. It offers the least of any aspect so far, and while it's a solid action game, the story and interaction aren't up to par. Still, there's a certain charm to the game. Maybe it's colored by my past experience with it, but I enjoyed it this time around. If you plan on playing it, then I suggest you do so while keeping a walkthrough handy unless you enjoy canvasing the countryside multiple times.

For those that want to take a look at the game and missed my playthrough. There's always the speedrun of this game located at Speed Demos Archive. It'll last about 1 hour 40 minutes.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Game 4: Willow (NES) - Finished!

In case you didn't know
I'm fairly sure I could have finished the night before, but I was feeling the fatigue building to intolerable levels. My reflexes were definitely taking a hit, and my thoughts sluggish. Last night though, I beat Kael the first try. That's it, first try, done. I felt foolish for having died three times before. My strategy was "stand away from his sword and hit him."
Why didn't I think of this last time?
Having just beat Kael--and gained quite a bit of experience (8,000)--I decided it'd be best to take advantage of that and gain another level. Ten minutes later, I gained 1 level, and checked my stats. They didn't raise much at all. In fact, I second guessed that they had changed at all.
That was so not worth it
New level achieved I head back to face off with Bavmorda. One thing I noticed was how empty the way up was. There are some enemies, but at this point they're a joke; most of my the time I was walking through empty rooms, and climbing stair cases. Three levels up I unceremoniously stumble upon the room where the final battle takes place. It looks like any other.

Compared to Kael, Bavmorda is a piece of cake. The only problem I had was I ran out of magic the first attempt, so I had to kill Willow off and try again. During Bavmorda's first form, she only takes damage from the magical cane infused by the power of Fin Raziel. If you run out of MP, tough luck. Her second form falls to the sword easily. 'Form' is probably the wrong word since she looks the same, but it'll suffice.
This fight is really easy. They should have sped her up or something.
Overall, I enjoyed going back through a game I remember enjoying as a kid; however, I don't think I'd really recommend this game to anyone that enjoys playing games without walkthroughs. There are three or four pain points that I'd suggest looking up at the very least if you do plan to play: finding the Wakka Seed, crossing the cursed bridge, getting the key to Nockmaar, and not looking for the crest at the end. Cut all those out, and the seven hours I spent on the game becomes four.

On to the final rating, and then on to Dragon Warrior to once again crush my childhood memories with ideals of good design.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Game 4: Willow (NES) - Mostly Done

Not all done, but I'm fairly sure I'm at the last boss before the fight with Bavmorda. General Kael is extremely tough. I don't know if I'm missing a way to make this fight easier, but magic seems to be blocked, so I can't heal, and he kills me in 4 or 5 hits. I'm thinking I'll just need to find a good strategy, or grind some.
Death screen
We left off after finding Fin Raziel, and getting a flute from a forlorn ghost searching for a lost love. Turns out this lost love was turned into a monster by, you guessed it, Bavmorda. After beating him down he reverts back to his human form. Our path is once again open, and leads to two towers; at the base of which is the baby Elora Danan. That's right; she plays a minor role, mentioned in passing as the future queen. How much influence could a baby really have though right? At least she made it into the game in some form.
Pay no attention to the person holding me, she is just an unimportant NPC
So, I led Willow round and round the tower floors, which are strangely devoid of challenge in the first tower. Reaching the top, I'm given a blue crystal and a red crystal. Then I receive a crest of some kind because I collected these two crystals. It all just felt like busy work in the worst way. Wasting time here has given "time" for Sorsha to move on, and open up the next area.
Hello! *Hello*... hello
We head into another maze, this time in the mountains. Mapping really distracts me from playing. Many times I'd find Willow getting hit by enemies that weren't there just a second ago. Most enemies only appear while crossing the screen. A couple of game over screens later I decided to take a trip to the bar (in-game) so I didn't have to start again from the towers. I also found that my previous assumption that I lost my items when I continue was wrong. It's possible that only applies to caves since the only missing items were those I found inside shortly before succumbing to overwhelming odds (or lack of skills).

However, when I started, I still had the flute; later I still had a spell that turned Willow into a slime after finding it in the mountain maze. That spell is actually really useful since it stops monsters from spawning, unlike the enemy spell that turns Willow into a pig during which time the enemy gets to take 5 - 10 pot shots while unable to transition to the next screen. It's a very costly spell at 50 MP; I currently have a max of 238 at level 14. Being the slime is also necessary to talk to a guard later on.
I don't remember this part of the movie
After mapping out the mountains I head through a monster infested path with living mouths. Guess what spell we need here. Continuing on we find some random NPCs in a couple of caves, and a cursed bridge. Also, we receive one of the weakest swords in the game, the Wing Sword. Actually, it becomes the most powerful, but first we're allowed to wield it in futility.
Pretty sure he wasn't from the movie either
Now I'm stuck, again. I remember the Nail Clan rodent Kchil, and how he appeared after a triggered event. With low HP, I start heading back towards the hut where I received the spell Thunder, one of the few places to rest. On the way back I decide to talk to the random NPCs again, and this time, one gives me boots to cross the bridge. I'm not sure if it was the attempt to cross, receiving the Wing Sword, or the other random NPC, but what hint do I get that I need to go back to this guy? None. Not a single word indicates that he holds the secret to this bridge. I only succeed here because I've learned to distrust the game.

Realizing that I don't have the MP to cross the monster infested path, I head back to cross the bridge and find the town of Tir Asleen. Here the full force of devastation from Bavmorda is evident. Over half the houses are deserted or boarded up. Beyond this town I find what looks like a castle, and I consider if Bavmorda is here. I wasn't able to enter when first arriving, so I thought I might need Fin Raziel's power to enter; I searched around to ensure there wasn't anything else I missed. A small cave is nearby with a treasure chest blocking another passage, and an old woman who told me she was waiting for the prophesized (it's a word Google! (prophesied sounds wrong, sorry)) savior. Well, here he is standing right in front of her, and Willow continues his silent protagonist act.

Now, it's time to grind. With nothing else to do, I head back to find a good grinding spot near the hut where I learned Thunder. I chose here because it's the closest recovery point to high level enemies. It actually doesn't take too long once I have a good rhythm going, although it's probably the low point of entertainment. Even clocking in at under 30 minutes, one of the fastest grinding sessions I except in the genre, I felt bad for putting viewers through it.
Sorry guys
Level 13 reached, I head to Fin Raziel to change her back to her human form. Why level 13? Because the manual told me so. It actually has some other less blatant common sense hints like "Willow can only walk on pathways," and "Many creatures are best avoided instead of fought." So, I ended up glossing over that section at first. Fin Raziel charges the wand with her magical power, and we're ready to fight Bavmorda. Yet, I feel like I'm missing something.
I bet you want me to beat Bavmorda for you now too
Po! I still haven't found this creature that allows me to warp between places. Rather than spend the time to trek back to Tir Asleen time is better served by finding Po to warp back. Once again, knowing NPCs only appear after triggered I figure he is in an area I've already searched. He ended up being inside the dragon's cave; the one I had previously searched completely. Why game? Why give me an item to help Po if to even have him appear I need to have it? Why can't he be there asking for medicine?
I believe I would have noticed the flying pterodactyl the first time
No use arguing with a game...yet. Having Po allows me to get back to that stronghold, which turns out not to house Bavmorda. Instead it's another boss fight with what I would guess is the two-headed dragon Eborsisk, but only one head appears at a time. Maybe it's just a giant worm though. After this fight I get captured along with Madmartigan, have the crest stolen, and then am freed by the brownies Franjean, and Rool. I'm fairly sure this scene--along with a few others--are in just to say it's based on the movie, but in the original context it was Elora Danan that was captured. Maybe the thought of Willow carrying a baby while fighting all these monsters was edited out because of skittish executives.

Somehow, the treasure chest blocking the cave passage near the stronghold was removed. This opened up the final castle where I found the other bird warrior that enhanced the Wing Sword. He then tells me I need to find a key he gave to an old woman. He gives no hints to her whereabouts, but I do remember meeting her on top of a mountain. Excited to near the end I rush back to Tir Ansleen, head north, up the side of the mountain, and finally reach the plateau where the old woman... was. That's right; it's never easy. Why did she leave? Where did she go? Alright game, now it's time to argue.
More like, "from him"
I eventually find her, head back to the castle, and realize just how small it is compared to the mountain it sits on (the castle base floor is just 5x5). Quickly I find Sorsha, which leads to another scene from the movie. Madmartigan's magically infused professions of love win her over to the side of good, and they live happily ever after. Of course, I still need to take care of Bavmorda. Sorsha tells me the crest is hidden in a cave below the castle. All my searching turns up one empty chest. Really game, this is the most blatant waste of time yet. Not satisfied with me wandering aimlessly after something I need to find, I'm sent wandering aimlessly searching for something that's not even there. Game troll count: 4.
While you're at it, there's this wild goose you could chase
After a few attempts to search the same chest, I give up on this as a red herring, and head to face off with Bavmorda. However, General Kael has other plans, and let me tell you, he's pretty good at executing them (and me). Hopefully my next attempts prove more successful as I know I'm near the end.

This game definitely has irritating design choices, but I'm still having fun with the combat. At least until I got to Kael, which seems like a cheap fight. There's no explanation for why I can't use magic, and Kael does so much damage that I probably need to exploit his AI to have any chance. If only I didn't keep forgetting to switch back to the Wing Sword my attempts might actually succeed.
There are better passwords for the end of the game, but here's what I'm using
I was looking forward to wrapping up last night (a whole night earlier than I thought), but no such luck. Even though I fully expect to beat Willow early tonight, I won't start Dragon Warrior until Saturday. I may play some other games, or may just call it a night and get some rest (possibly do an early write-up).