Monday, March 12, 2012

Game 4: Willow (NES) - Ufgood Times

"We began our journey in the quaint village of Nelwyn. Willow introduced me to his family, and I politely stood by as they bade their farewells. Stopping by his neighbors the High Aldwin, and Vohnkar, Willow further prepared to face off with Bavmorda. Heading north towards Dew we heard rumors of an evil man twisted by the witch queen's influence. It turns out the father of the current man in charge had succumbed to the dark forces abound in the outlands. He sunk to level of stealing food...which doesn't sounds all that bad except he's doing it with evil powers! So, we travel further north into the forest, and come across the entrance to his cave. Standing guard is a skeleton that requests tribute to enter. Instead of dispatching this abomination to nature, Willow believes it's best we listen because...well, I don't rightly know why."
Willow (the game) leads a long line of upcoming games that follow a certain formula to create a good action-adventure-RPG mix. It's obvious that Zelda and Ys are inspirations for much of the game, but many who played this game had probably only enjoyed the former. Many games come from a similar point of origin; though, depending on what we're first introduced to, we will compare (fairly or unfairly) new experiences (games) to those of our past adventures (games). While it's easy to say games like Lagoon and Crystalis borrow heavily from Willow, it's probably more true that all these games are born from the lineage of Ys (or some other obscure game). I've even heard someone call the Shin Megami Tensei series a rip off of Pokemon, most likely due to their experience with Pokemon first. Soon we'll see how things look once we get to Ys, and then I'll get to call it a ripoff of Willow.
Why do you need to tell me your name every day Vohnkar?
With that little aside out of the way, let's get to what happened the first night. There's an introductory narrative when first powering up the game that describes the setup for the story. Bavmorda is the big bad, and Fin Raziel has the power to stop her, but failed. Enter our intrepid hero to save the day. Willow starts very unceremoniously in front of his house. Like Zelda, Willow starts with no weapon, and only by exploring the starting village do we find our first sword and spell.

Fighting is a little awkward at first. Willow seems unfamiliar with all swords at first, which causes him to swing slowly. As more enemies are defeated the sword strikes become faster. Luckily the training time for new swords isn't all that long, but it still seems like an area where realism is creeping over enjoying the game. There are two attacks: a thrust that occurs when pressing a direction and attacking, and a stationary attack that swings the sword in a wide arc. This is definitely a nice feature, but would be better on a system with more than one button to attack.
Willow's magical floating sword (not real magic)
The second button is relegated to activating magic. These come in the form of spells or items that imbue magical powers. Acorns are the first magic item available, but I've yet to get these to work properly. They're supposed to stone (freeze) the enemy for a short time. Maybe the snakemen are immune to the effects, but other than those enemies, I don't have much use for a 'hold' spell. Healing magic is always a good fallback when deciding what to spend magic points on, and before getting to the first boss we are given a healing rod. This proves to be the best magic item yet.
The coolest spell so far, too bad MP is rather limited ('real' magic)
After retrieving a golden statue to give to the skeleton guard, we're allowed access to the first cave, which is a maze of twisting passages that all look the same. I've been able to get through without a map up 'til now, but I think mapping is the way to go for the later caves. So, I've gone back through the video, and mapped everything. It seems I've done well at not missing anything so far.

Once the boss here is defeated--after some game overs--I head back to the entire village thanking Willow. Well here now is a first, a game that acknowledges accomplishments by changing NPC dialogue. I must note this to compare against Ys when I get to that in a few games. Dragon Warrior may also do this, but I'm unsure to what effect as my memory is a bit fuzzy on that game's particulars. This technique is used many other games, and I'm more surprised when completed quests pass without a nod from those I've just saved.
Scene change for boss fights (First boss: Bogarda)
Wandering around is what I've enjoyed the most. While the game is fairly linear by locking areas until I've found a "key" or accomplished some task, it still feels open enough that it's not a concern. Also, the game is quick enough that once I do reach a barrier, it's overcome within minutes. Even if I had tried to venture ahead, a helpful NPC tells me that I would have been blocked at a bridge by an invisible wall, but it's been expelled with the defeat of Bogarda.

Not long after this we run across two of the supporting characters from the movie; up until now the only clue this was based on the movie were the Nelwyns, and back story with Bavmorda and Fin Raziel. The comedy relief brownies make an appearance here, and request that Willow steal the Crystal Ball of Life from an aging dragon. Not being into dragon slaying, and the dragon not into fighting (nor inclined to part with his treasure), Willow instead receives a bracelet dropped by previous thieves. There's no description for the bracelet, and unsure what to do next, I head back out of the cave.
Let's be friends!
Just as I'm about to exit the cave, a wall opens up. This new exit leads to the lake of the Fairy Cherlindrea whom I was searching for. My only guess is the bracelet belonged to the brownies, and magically allowed passage to the lake. From her, I gained a magic cane that would allow me to transform Fin Raziel back into her human form. Next step was to find her. First though, we get to run across a main character from the movie, given a supporting role here.
Well, it's the thought that counts
Madmartigan is one of the characters I remember most from the film. At first I really couldn't tell if he was a good guy or bad guy (the only distinction I had at the time). I was torn between the two because at first he's caged up for crimes, but then he takes care of the baby, yet loses her later on and doesn't care much (this is all from memory). He's a good guy in the end, but it really had an impact on me that someone could seemingly go back and forth between bad and good. It may have been the first shade of gray character I knew.

In the game we meet him on the side of the road sitting down handcuffed. I can only imagine that he's shackled to the ground as well because he's made no effort to move; stranger still, the key to unlock him is stashed in a chest nearby instead of on the person who bound him. After releasing him, he mentions his gratitude, hands over a cheap necklace, and leaves. We seem him make another appearance in a nearby inn where he tells Willow of the wakka seed that allows someone to breath underwater, helpful for the next area where the path is flooded.

Nearby, I found a strange sword that had double the attack strength of my current weapon, but it wouldn't hit anything. At first I thought my swings were just too slow, and I wasn't landing any blows. After some time I switched back and wondered if it was cursed; maybe I needed to unlock the ability to use it. Forgetting the sword for time being, I searched for Kchil of the Nail Clan whose supposed to have wakka seeds; however, he's moved on from his position at the bridge.
We would have met again sooner if you hadn't moved
A good 20 minutes pass wandering around before I run across him again in an area I previously explored. I hope this isn't a theme, as searching places I've already looked is something that I don't appreciate. Maybe I could forgive this if the area was obviously inhabited, but no one was around and this was on an otherwise normal looking side of the road off the beaten path. One thing this did force me to do though was explore a previous area where an old woman asked me to find her pet Po. I remember this bird creature allowed me to warp between different areas quickly, so I'm glad to have stumbled upon the quest to find him.
Maybe I should keep trying anyway to see what else you turn into
Fin Raziel was on the other side of the waterlogged path, but attempts at returning her to her previous form proved futile unless you consider a goat closer to a human than a opossum. Helpfully, Willow is informed he's just not 'experienced' enough, which I took to mean that I need more magic or levels. Continuing on, I ran into Sorsha; she's too busy searching for Madmartigan to bother with me, but she's also blocking the path. The only recourse is to explore a nearby cave.

The cave system here twists and turns once again, and I got fairly lost on where to go next. Some good came out of this though, as I thought about the enemies I couldn't hit, and the sword that couldn't hit any normal enemy. Trying the sword out on these previously invincible enemies proved the right thing to do, and I could finally take revenge on the wizards that continuously turn Willow into a pig.
In one area, I found a ghost woman who's searching for her lost love. She gave me a flute, but shortly after that I succumbed to a game over once more; this means most of the progress I made is negated. I stopped for the night after retrieving my password.

That's right, unlike Zelda, many game companies didn't want to risk the expense of battery backup, so they relied on password systems to restore progress. This means I don't need to fear losing my save, but it does mean I need to write these down correctly. Back in the day, I know I'd look at a password and not know if something were an I, an l, an i, or a 1, not to mention O and 0. Today, I'm recording the game, so there's no fear in losing the password, but I still might find trouble entering it back in. Passwords were great for things like continuing an adventure on someone else's cartridge, or sharing a game while being able to pick up the game where you left off without change; however, I don't know anyone that prefers them over battery backed up saving.

Many of the batteries are still going strong today, over 20 years later. I've suffered my share of lost games, but sometimes keeping the game in the system will charge the battery enough to keep saves intact. Hopefully this method continues to work for me in the case of any games with a faulty battery. I know it's possible to replace them, but I don't have any desire to mess with the internal workings of these magical devices.
In case anyone wants to play along


  1. I still have plenty of working saved games from ancient cartridges. Although, to be fair, I haven't played my real consoles for probably a couple of years. I guess something could've happened by now.

    "One thing this did force me to do though was explore a previous area where an old woman asked me to find her pet Po. I remember this bird creature allowed me to warp between different areas quickly, so I'm glad to have stumbled upon the quest to find him." - Maybe this was a necessary trigger to find Kchil?

    As a sidenote, the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter project is on. Any chance for a post? It seems relevant to the kinds of people who would care about old RPGs.

  2. I'm not sure what triggered Kchil, but my guess is that it was the conversation in the inn with Madmartigan that did it.

    Sure, I could plug Kickstarter, although I don't know how much good it'd do. My readers are probably a subset of CRPG Addict and the Adventure Gamer. CRPG Addict would probably want to make mention of it. I'll see to it after Willow.

    Seeing as how this is already at 100K within the first day, I'm sure it'll have no problems reaching its goal, but here's a link now in case others aren't already aware:

    1. I just watched that video, and it actually kind of ties in with this post. At least the skit where the publisher says Wasteland 2 is a derivative of Fallout, and Brian needs to correct him that it was the other way around.

    2. Yeah, I really hope CRPG Addict posts on it. This is really a big moment for hardcore RPG fans, and I don't want it to pass us by.

    3. There have been a half-zillion comments about it on his blog, so I suspect he will if only to shut people up.

  3. One of the things that often puts me off playing a lot of console games (particularly old ones) is that they're so cutesy. I prefer my RPGs to be gritty like Fallout, Mass Effect or The Witcher, so anything resembling Pokemon or Zelda just doesn't attract me. However...reading your posts about these games actually makes me wonder what I've missed. There appears to be a magical and charming element that might just win me over if I gave it the chance...

    1. Ditto on the cutesy aspect. It's a major reason why the only JRPG I've ever played to completion is FF7. I did like it though, so go figure.

    2. Most games are going to have cutesy graphics because Nintendo marketed the NES towards kids, and kids need cutesy graphics. I think Faxanadu is a little less cutesy, and Dungeon Magic (yes, it also bears a close resemblance to Dungeon Master) has less cutesy graphics as well. So, keep an eye out for those games, and let me know what you think.

      Growing up with the games may have had something to do with my tolerance to the graphics. I'm mostly graphically apathetic, so I don't tend to be bothered by good or bad graphics as long is it doesn't hinder my understanding of the game.

      Brace yourself for SNES games though, that's when they go full-on adorable. :D

    3. Hey, some of us were of the right age to like the cutesy pokemon. >.>

    4. There is definitely good stuff out there. They're certainly different from Western RPGs, but there are some classics everyone should play.

      However, if someone was trying to get into JRPGs nowadays.. I wouldn't start with NES JRPGs. The SNES probably represents the 'golden era' of JRPGs, as the games were starting to really come into their own. Also, it was before FMV and fully voiced text made JRPGs that much more difficult to take seriously (with obvious exceptions!!!).

      On the SNES, I would say: play Final Fantasy 6. Stop whatever you're doing. Go get the game on Virtual Console, or PSN, or PSP, or on an emulator, and play it. FF6 is actually sort of weak from a CRPG perspective. There isn't a lot of character customization or nonlinearity until the second half of the game. There the game certainly opens up, but you're basically tasked with a series of optional side-quests and the final dungeon. Your choices boil down to, "Should I go re-recruit this character? Should I go get this awesome weapon/item/esper?" and "Nah, I shouldn't."
      That said, it's an excellent game. I think it's probably the perfect representation of the appeal of JRPGs. It's well designed, well written, has genuinely interesting characters, and continually reshuffles the gaming experience. It's great.

      After that, Chrono Trigger. CT is an easy game, and, while it has multiple endings, most of these can only be realistically accessed through New Game+. Still, it's a beautiful game, with fun, well-written characters, solid design, and a fun story (if not as compelling as FF6).

      If anyone likes tactical RPGs, go play Final Fantasy Tactics. God damn, that game is just amazing. The story is one of the best in JRPG's, and, for most of the game, it avoids typical RPG cliches. Also, it's fun, and it has the best version of the 'jobs' system. Jobs are sort of like classes for the FF series, only they are sort of separate from your characters' 'core' leveling experience. In some of the FF games (especially 3, 5, Tactics, and X-2) jobs level separately from characters, and they can be switched with little repercussion. FFT takes the system further by allowing for sort of multi-classing. It allows you take permanently learn abilities or passive effects from classes and then continue to utilize those abilities elsewhere. However, there are some stringent limitations on how many abilities you can use.

      I also recommend Langrisser, but Langrisser really cuts down on the RP elements. It's more like a scenario-based tactics game (a la Advance Wars or Military Madness) but with a lot of RPG elements attached (leveling heroes, equipment, advanced classes and class forking, magic, etc.). The later games up the RP elements significantly, with branching story paths, secret items and levels, romance systems, opening quizzes that determine stats and classes, and more robust item options. Still, at the end of the day, you go from scenario to scenario and fight. There aren't even the limited world map options of, say, FF Tactics.
      Langrisser also adds a Commander/Soldier dynamic, which, personally, really brings the game together. It's the only tactical RPG that actually looks or feels sort of like a battle. Compare this to FF Tactics, where most battles have ~10 units, including both sides. - Skip the story and watch out for spoilers, but here is some footage of later scenarios in Langrisser 2. That should give you some idea of what's up here.

      I could say more, but I've already said more than anyone will read.

    5. It's amazing how, in a post ostensibly for discussing good starting points for JRPGs, I talked more about Langrisser and FF Tactics than anything else. Hahaha.

      Other traditional and action JRPGs to check out on the SNES: Final Fantasy 4, Final Fantasy 5 (also has a good version of the jobs system, although missing the multiclassing), Live A Live, Tales of Phantasia, Star Ocean, Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3. Phantasy Star IV for the Genesis is a stand-out game. On the NES, Final Fantasy 3 is probably your best bet for a traditional JRPG. It has the earliest version of the jobs system, and it is definitely the best FF game for the system. I never really played the DQ games, as they seemed a little too grind-y.

      Alright. Done.

    6. One more little sidenote: although I was too "old"/"cool" to like Pokemon when it finally arrived here (7th grade or so), I was actually excited about the game before it came out. I even played a fan translated version of the ROM for a while. Honestly, it's a good game. That's why it's so successful. Nintendo (one of the best software developers in the world) made a triple AAA RPG series where you catch animals and train them to fight for you. If it wasn't for the kiddie connection and the anime and all that, I think this series would be seen in a much brighter light by hardcore gamers. Shit, it even has multiplayer.. where you fight the animals you've trained against other people's animals. Think about how awesome that idea is when you mentally divorce it from the fact that primarily 7 year olds play the damn game.

    7. I never got into the Pokemon games, but I liked the cartoon. The fact that they take the exact same concept and put it into a different place with different creatures really turns me off though. They don't even try to hide the fact that the main character does exactly the same thing, catch pokemon, fight gym battles for badges, win when you've collected them all.

      Maybe I'm over simplifying the process though, and these games will surprise me. I doubt it, but that's the thing about surprises, they're unexpected. I don't want to over do it though, so once I get closer to them, I'll put a poll up for which game I should play in the pair/triplet (Red vs Blue vs Yellow); something like that anyway. I don't see the point of playing through the same game twice with only slight variations.

      There are a couple other series that do something similar. Dragon Warrior Monsters 2, and DemiKids Light/Dark are the only two that come to mind though. In any case, I'm rambling now, so I'm off to bed to sleep on the Willow post in order to get fresh eyes on it in the morning before I publish it.

    8. Don't get me wrong, the entire series is built top-to-bottom to make craploads of money. Dual (often even triple) releases, the anime, the multiplayer elements, the constant stream of sequels, movies, merchandising, etc. etc. etc. Also, the sequels have done little to change or update the mechanics or to add more depth to the series. I mean, the games started great, but it's hard to have the same expectations for a DS game as a Gameboy game (over a decade later at that) without feeling a little let down.

      However, this is still a Nintendo product, and they definitely put a great game at the heart of the whole extravaganza. If this was somewhat more adult themed (or, at the very least, not explicitly marketed to young children), it would be a widely praised series, IMO.

    9. Interestingly, the last 2 'games' (4 actual releases) in the series both received 87 on Metacritic. I guess they're widely praised anyway, although I was talking more in terms of popular perception than in terms of review ratings or critical reception.

  4. The other thing to note; The original wasn't nearly as cutesy as later versions, or as the TV show and such made it. Prior to the TV show the pokemon were much more animalistic.

    I think it may have been deliberate to make that cute, to avoid animal cruelty issues.

    Also; You should give them a try, they are really good games, even today. Just stick to the main series, possible one of the older ones, like Gold or Silver.

    1. I did try Pearl, and played it for a while. I got bored really quickly though. I think I had a level 30+ Torterra, and he just killed everything. Not sure, but I believe I had just gotten the Poke'watch thing. Other games distracted me though, and then I gave it away because I didn't think I'd get back into it.

    2. Also, probably the biggest reason I didn't get into it is I realized that it's a huge grind to get all pokemon leveled up. They're not even subtle about it, and while I enjoy a good grind every once in a while, getting all those Pokemon up would take much longer than getting all the Suikoden characters up to the main character's level.

      When I play through them for the blog I think I'll just focus on 2 or 3 Pokemon to level. Should give a good mix of strength vs weaknesses. Then the others will be for utility abilities.

    3. No idea: I don't remember it being very grindy, but I was in grade school, and playing Blue, one of the first two. You will want a full team, but there are ways to do that (XP sharing items and such)

  5. You shouldn't worry about replacing batteries (he said, not realizing he was answering to a post multiple years old), you just open the cartridge, look up the type of battery you find inside, replace it, then glue the cartridge back together. It's a lot like replacing a watch battery.

    1. Haven't been too bothered by this yet. It'll be more of a pain for GB/GBC games.

    2. This was my first rpg game ever.I played this much time,but i never finish.

    3. I think it still holds up pretty well, and beatable within a day, or stretch it out over a weekend.