Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updating Less Routine

Just a quick update tonight. I'm trying something a little new in case you were wondering where all the posts went. I'm slowing the pace a little bit to prevent possible burnout. I have a lot of posts to get to, and I'm aiming at catching up in the next week or two. I'm still playing on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays as much as I can, and I'm glad to see a few familiar names in the chat. So, even if I'm not posting, I'm still playing.
In the last poll I asked about playing remakes, and the majority thought we should vote on each. Well, I'm going to need everyone's help with that. I'm not always aware of remakes, so please point them out to me in time.The current list reflects what I plan to play; I need help from others to point out if I'm missing out on an original or a remake that deserves some attention. On the list, I not only have shunned remakes, but also original games in favor of a port. The first example is the Ys game I just played. I passed over Ys I for the SMS because it's basically the same game as the first part of Ys: Book I & II. This'll be the first poll: Should I play Ys I for the Sega Master System?

To wrap this post up, I'd like to draw everyone's attention to Operation Manafall. It's a focused effort to get an officially translated international release of Secret of Mana 2 (Seiken Densetsu 3, originally released on SNES in Japan only). Hot off the heels of Operation Windfall--which helped to convince Nintendo to release three Wii RPGs--the hopes of those involved is that someone at Square-Enix (hopefully someone with enough authority) will notice the amount of fans begging for this game, and a re-release will come to a current console. Wish them luck, join their cause, like their page, and (most importantly) help them add another game to my list! [More info]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Game 8: Ys: Book I & II (TG-CD) - Final Rating

I had decided to split the rating in two for Ys I and Ys II, but after writing it out and grading each game it turned out they scored very closely. The only points lost for Ys I are a weaker combat system, and less puzzles. So, to simplify, I just averaged those two scores. It is one continuous game after all (there's no way to play just Ys II without going through Ys I), so there's a good reason to have one score. Time to CAPICE:

Bumping to hit removes the need to be dexterously accurate, but takes away some of the challenge from fighting enemies. Much of the "challenge" is getting to an appropriate level, and having the best equipment. During Ys I, bosses were either pathetically easy, or impossibly hard depending on the equipment I had. There are a few that required a bit of thought and strategy to beat, but rarely was it necessary (the mantis boss was the standout here). In Ys II, all bosses had some kind of weak point, and very often it felt gimmicky. The only real challenge came in the final battle. Still, some were fun to figure out.

Normal enemies in both games don't stand a chance, and most will wander around or charge at Adol at varying speeds. Adol has access to rings to improve his stats during Ys I, but magic is introduced in Ys II. The only combat relevant magic is fire, and it completely obsoletes melee fighting (especially once the idols are found). If only they did more with magic this may have been higher.
Rating: 4 (Ys I gets a 3, and Ys II gets a 5)
This boss isn't the boss...
There's a lot of missed potential here. With the limited equipment, the paper doll effect we just witnessed in Faxanadu could have been reproduced flawlessly here; if not for the original, then for this remake. There's not much in the way of customization for Adol, and every player is forced into using the same equipment for the final encounters with Dark Fact, and Darm. Both episodes get points for levels with actual stat increases, and good control (even at fast speed).
Rating: 2
They have Adol with sword or no sword, why not go a step further?
The main quest is long with intertwined tasks that has the potential to keep things entertaining until the end. Some of the tasks are obscured by very little to no hints (I'm looking at you Luta Gemma), but not completely outside the realm of logical reason. Side quests are available, although at a minimum (maybe one per game). The logic and puzzles really stand out in Ys II when compared to the first game, and especially surrounding the use of the transformation magic. One thing that bothered me was the strict one off items only used to solve a single puzzle. In fact, it wasn't limited to items, as one of my spells turned out to be the solution to puzzle, its only use.
Rating: 4 (Ys I gets a 3, and Ys II gets a 5)
No hint on where to use the ice drops, but this seemed the most logical place... they're now useless
The main story is comfortable in a cliche kind of way. Of course, games this old are going to seem this way, but I'm not judging based on past standards. Lost civilization, magic books, hidden goddesses, and of course the all power evil that only the hero can defeat. It's helped through by some good dialogue, but I never felt invested in the story. Many of the wandering NPCs (those moving around towns) offered very little advice, which made them irrelevant to the story. There's no way to influence the direction of the narrative, and all acceptable actions lead on to the next step in the quest.
Rating: 3
"Rather than have you look for this item, I'll just give it to you"
There are numerous items to find; many become quest items though, so while I felt like I may have found something unique, it turned out necessary to get in the end. I only missed one item, the Cape of Holy Spirit; it heals Adol outside of towns. Rarely did I need to heal outside of town, and when I did it gave some tension to what I was doing. Much time could have been spared, but looking back--I'm glad to have not found this.

It's harder to tell if everything was found in Ys I, but it appears I filled the inventory spaces at one time or another in both games. Some items are actually used up after their use, and leave an empty square never to be filled again. Also, the last items I got didn't end at the edge of the screen. Equipment is obviously filled, but there's little reason to have everything. The economy is a joke, and in both games I maxed the gold counter by the end boss.
Rating: 4
After this point I grind another level and hit max gold
One of the advantages to being a CD based game is to have a rockin' soundtrack. A second benefit is enough space for detailed colorful sprites, and full screen character portraits. Even some live voice acting was thrown in. It all added to the effect, but most of the areas were lacking any standout visuals. The dungeons had little variation in the twisting passageways. While there weren't many unique sights, everything was consistently good. Looking for secret passages is necessary, and often rewards Adol with a small optional item. I'm sure the Cape of Holy Spirit was hidden in such a spot.
Rating: 5
By far the best background is in Belfry

Final Rating: 22 (37%)

For a remake of a 1987 game, it holds up well against its peers. It's a fun game, and I'd definitely suggest it to anyone interested in playing older action-RPGs. The combat takes some time to get used to, but afterwards you'll hardly notice you're even in combat half the time. It's possible to get through the game much faster if you can avoid getting lost (and find the necessary secret passages). Definitely check the game out if there's any passing interest, and from what I'm told, this is the version to play.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Game 8: Ys: Book I & II (TG-CD) - Finished!

Following up on my hunch, I headed to the last door I hadn't checked. Unfortunately, the uniqueness of the door proved there was a different key to open it. With no other leads I headed back to the boss. Once again I found my sword was no use, and fireballs bounced ineffectively off his sides. I tried everything: the time wand, transformation, light, peace of mind ring, and all combinations I could think of. One thing I didn't try were the idols. Of course, I found his weak point finally; it's directly in front of him where he continuously shoots.
In the line of fire
Had I tried one of the idols, I probably would have noticed that they turn my fireballs into enemy seeking missiles. I had no idea the game was so easy. In fact, there's an item I completely missed--probably in a secret passage during the first part of the game. The Cape of Holy Spirit continuously heals HP much like the Heal Ring in the previous game. It would have saved me from a good number of deaths, and returning to the villages just to heal. I'm actually glad I didn't know about these effects, as I enjoyed the challenge, and diminishing that would have taken some of the fun away from overcoming the game.

With this boss out of the way I found the demon Keith. He provided Adol the Canal Key. This unlocks the door I spoke of earlier, and allows Adol to drain the water from the sewers. While exploring, I found the way to the next area, but decided to fully explore before moving on. I haven't been mapping at all. Most top down games are pretty easy to get through without doing so, but in all the twisting passages in the sewers I got lost. I can't say for sure how much time I spent it was probably a good 20 - 30 minutes.
Here you are Keith; couldn't you have led me to the exit?
I don't mind getting a little lost in most CRPGs. Usually it can lead to some unexpected discoveries, or ease grinding. I did find one treasure in my additional exploring, but did very little grinding. Most of the sewer was sparsely populated. Getting lost here was just frustrating.

Eventually, I did find the exit and moved on with the quest. I found the Goddesses Castle, and am told of the fate of Maria, one of the villagers taken as a sacrifice. Maria is on the bottom floor behind some kind of barrier, and she's to be killed at the fifth bell sounding at the top of the tower. So, Adol races to the top just in time to see Dalles (the wizard who turned Adol into monster previously) ring the bell a fourth time. Dalles laughs at the pathetic attempt Adol has made, and as Adol stands by, Dalles rings the bell a fifth time.
He must be evil; he's cloaked in shadows
This was one of the most boring sequences for me. There are no enemies (except for one boss upon entering the tower), and the approach is completely scripted (bells toll at set locations). More so, Adol needs to walk all the way down a still completely empty tower because there's a treasure chest he must retrieve.

Then begins the back tracking to previous events. The meeting taking place that I listened in on is now over, and the room contains a chest necessary to fix the statue that turns people back to flesh from stone. How do I use it? Climb that mundane tower again, and use it there. At each step, I needed to go through a long speech from the goddesses who tell me exactly what to do. After reviving everyone, I'm given a golden necklace that transports me to where Dalles is hiding out. Before going there though, I am given the Cleria Sword and Armor by someone else that was turned to stone. The fight with Dalles goes quickly with the help of the Life Drop that revives Adol should he die.
Oh, and one more thing...
Continuing on, I run into past NPCs that are now helping me to confront the real threat behind all the dark acts. In one of the final rooms before the fight with Darm a lot of narrative is given, and two NPCs from Ys 1 show up to give Adol items he needs to defeat Darm. We also learn Feena was one of the goddesses of Ys. The game then wishes us good luck. It felt a little rushed though being given all these items at the end without needing to seek them out. No time to think of that though; on to the final battle.
I hadn't noticed until this snapshot that those are goddess statues on fire, nice detail
What a final battle. This fight is rightly the most difficult one in the game. Much more of a challenge than the one with Dark Fact. There aren't any tricks to getting through it, no special weak points to exploit. All equipment is predetermined except for the magic you bring in. Full Cleria gear is required, as is wearing the Goddess Ring. Of course, I say you can select any magic you want, but only the shield wand (recently acquired) is the correct pick; everything else is useless. It took nearly an hour of attempts, with fights lasting at most 2 minutes. In the end, I'm fairly sure I was getting better, or at least luckier.
Close up of Darm as he taunts us
In the middle of this I decided to gain a level to see if it would help. It was then that I noticed I still had the game set to fast speed. There are two settings--slow and fast--and I've switched between the two often in the game, usually keeping it on fast speed though. It doubles Adol's walk speed, but also makes fighting enemies rather difficult. Still, turning this off didn't help much in the Darm fight. Maybe if I were max level it'd be a bit easier. I was 60, max is 62 by most reports. Here's a video of the final battle, sorry for the poor quality (I need a better computer):
And so it ends. A long sequence of each NPC telling their side of the story unfolds, and we learn tidbits of information about each of them. Most of them are descendants of the six priests, and others are just there for the ride. The goddesses thank Adol for his efforts, and announce that the problem was magic, so they'll take it with them and leave Ys forever. Obviously something happened later on as there are many more Ys games, and if I remember rightly there's magic in them.

Session Time: 3h25m (Total Time: 14h00m)

I'm not sure if I'll play tonight or not, but we'll be moving on to The Magic of Scheherazade as soon as I get some other posts up. I didn't really get any negative feedback from combining play sessions (in fact the only comment was positive), so I'm considering not being so strict in writing one post for every night I play. I'll put up a poll just to make sure the silent majority agrees.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Game 8: Ys: Book I & II (TG-CD) - Catching Up

*Plop 2*
My observant self was on break when I started playing again, and I didn't take notice until the game started talking about magic (about 10 minutes in) that I now had magic points. Rings were replaced by Magic in the equipment slots. Unlike HP, MP aren't automatically regained by standing still. There still aren't inns to refresh oneself; the game resolves this by providing an unlimited supply of magic replenishing nuts. With most magic costing fractions of a point instead of whole points, I've yet to run out completely. At least the game isn't completely broken though, they have yet to give me healing magic.
Can you tell I didn't read the manual?
The first step is to return the six books of Ys to the statue of the priest that wrote it. I'm still not certain of the connection these books have with Ys, or in fixing the problems they have here. All but one are readily accessible through a cave of twisty passages.

In search of the sixth, I found at all ways dead ends until I decided to search for secret passages (i.e. blindly trying to walk through walls). This proved fruitful, even though the first passage was another empty dead end. Eventually--in one of these secret passages--I found an item that allowed me to open another passage in town; here was the last statue. The game has lost my trust.
Can you find the secret passage?
When transitioning from Ys I to II, Adol pretty retains his stats: level, HP, and experience. This led me to think that it's possible to over-level. It wasn't the case. Many of the monsters killed me in only a few hits. Luckily magic evens the odds a little more in my favor. Actually, it more or less tips the scales over into my favor.

The first spell Adol gets is the fireball (the only offensive spell so far). It harms and pushes back the enemy, and costs about 1/10 of a MP: max MP is equal to max HP. At this point I can cast fireball about 1500+ times, and it takes 4 or 5 hits to kill an enemy. I found a certain spot that continuously spawns 5 - 6 monsters while I stand still firing pot shots. Levels don't seem to have the same impact as they did in Ys I, and I found myself mainly grinding for gold to get the latest gear. This is probably how they balanced out the possibility of having max level character start the game.
With the TG-CD turbo button I finally get a break
Bosses have also taken a step back in challenge. They're more gimmicky now with little variation in attack pattern. Shoot one with fireballs when its eye opens. Shoot another with fireballs only when its mouth opens. Shoot a jumpy one when he lands. I'm currently stuck at a spider, probably because I don't know when exactly to shoot him.

One thing that helps when I get stuck is taking a break. Often I'll come back at the game with an idea on how to proceed, and when it works I wonder why I couldn't think of it at the time (when it doesn't I continue to wander around aimlessly). Maybe that will happen with this boss, or maybe I just don't have the right "key." This game likes its lock and key type puzzles, and many items lose all function beyond their one use. Light magic, which I'd been carrying around since nearly the beginning of the game, was completely useless until I found the one place where it has a purpose. Now it's completely useless again.
I still don't know what this is for, but I'm sure it will only have one use
The most interesting magic is the transform wand, which turns Adol into a monster. In this form he can speak to other monsters, and even towns people who scream in terror or confess to helping the dark powers. I've found this the most enjoyable part of the game.

Slight spoiler here, but there's one portion where demons are discussing their plans. The only way to hear them is listening through a crack in the door while wearing special earrings that enhance sound. Even with figuring that out it gave me the message that I didn't understand their language. Thinking I'd missed somewhere to learn to speak demon I wandered around a bit, but I quickly ran out of possibilities. Sitting in front of the door I had the idea to transform while wearing the earrings, this being the solution. Combining these two previously used items/magic in a very logical combination should be the cornerstone of the game. Unfortunately, it's an exception that I'll probably not witness again. Whichever game designer came up with this puzzle, I'd like to thank you. You give me hope for the potential of future games.
I'm the yellow one
Shortly after this point though, I got stuck again. I'd just found a key that opens all the locked doors in the shrine, yet even after seeking all doors in the shrine progress was halted. Thinking on it after I had called it a night (my mind wanders while drifting to sleep, usually towards games) I remembered another door that I hadn't tried. This one was deep in a dungeon area, so I hadn't considered it part of the shrine even though it was under the shrine. I'm guessing behind it I'll find a way to swim (it's engraved with a sea dragon), and I've seen another door across some water. We'll see what tonight brings.

Session Time: 5h15m (Total Time: 10h35m)

I mentioned previously I'd been behind on posting, and it doesn't look like I'm catching up at my current pace. So, I've decided to make a combo post here; this post covers the last couple play sessions. Let me know if this is better or worse because I may just do it again. To keep it close to the same length, I cut out most of the details and left more of an impression. I hope it's still enjoyable.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Game 8: Ys: Book I & II (TG-CD) - Book 1 Finished, On to Book 2!

I've completed the first game, and got a nice cut-scene showing Adol being flung to the floating island of Ys. Here he's woken up and brought to a town by a girl named Lilia. We'll pick up this game in the next post.

Last we left Adol he was in Darm Tower where a hallway was sapping his strength. In order to pass, I needed to find a way to destroy one of the pillars creating an eerie tune. "Maybe my sword was enough for the job," I thought, so I tapped on every pillar I found. Nothing came of this except for wasted time.
One of the few bosses that require strategy
I decided that I must have missed something. Then I remembered the boss I bypassed, but I had yet to find anything significant to beat him with. Continuing further back I came across a chest I had overlooked. (I missed it because while previously exploring I died in a certain hallway, and decided not to go back that way.) Inside was the Silver Sword, which is just what I needed to beat the Mantis boss. Behind him was a hammer. Just what I needed to destroy the pillar. It's nice when things come together.
I want to smash them all...
The next challenge ahead of me was a mirror maze. Before I could start this though, I'd been told about a broach that allows Adol to see more than his reflection in mirrors. Noticing a side passage as my only alternative, I came across a rock boss. There seemed to be no pattern to his volley except the initial spread; it seemed more like luck than skill when I finally took him down.

With the broach in hand I navigated the maze--with a number of missteps. The key here is to notice all the mirrors. Finding the Silver Armor completed my silver equipment collection, which becomes very important for the last two bosses. Progressing onward I came across a nice grinding spot, and decided I could use a number of levels.
Fancy meeting you here

Having my fill, I move on to find the girl Feena trapped again. I had rescued her from the shrine earlier, and now she's gotten herself captured to give me a message. Somehow she knew I'd save her. She reveals the final enemy Dark Fact can only be harmed by equipping all of the silver gear. The next boss is two floating heads surrounded by fireballs. Only the orange head can be hurt, and once hit it will swap places with the purple head. This makes hitting them when they're overlapping the most ideal situation. Strangely the number of fireballs reduce as he takes more damage.
Doesn't the boss normally get harder as the fight progresses?
Behind him is the door to the final boss; however, it's locked with an evil power that the Evil Ring doesn't dispel. I beat my head on this door a number of times trying every item I can think to use; luckily the door will never kill as it only does damage equal to half Adol's HP or 0 if it's already 3 HP. It turns out that I'm suppose to return to an earlier NPC once I retrieved a book of Ys his ancestor wrote. At this point he decides I'm worthy of the Blue Amulet, which gives me access to the final boss. The backtracking is bad enough, but not to give any indication that I should return to this otherwise useless NPC forces me to search randomly. Sure, I suppose some people would make the connection of the last name Gemma, but I did not.

So, I head back to Dark Fact, and the first time I completely blank on decking Adol out in all silver. It's a quick fight, over in two hits. Figuring out my mistake after the first hit, I correct it before the next fight. Round 2 goes by much more smoothly, and Ys I is at an end.
Four hits... made me anticipate a second form
All the power of the six volumes cause Adol to surge with power, and he flies off towards his adventure in Ys II. This seems like a good point to break, and I called it a night. It's nice to have the obvious break between games, but I wonder what it would have been like to have these two games really be one seamless adventure. Even the saves state my files from Darm Tower are "Ys I" and probably not selectable. No matter though, I save and find I'm in Rance.

Session Time: 2h22m (Total Time: 5h20m)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Game 8: Ys: Book I & II (TG-CD) - Bump to Attack

"I watched as Adol arrived by boat. A woman approached, calling out to him. We learned her name is Sara, and she believes Adol is a hero that will save the land. First we must prepare for the journey; Sara suggests (instructs) Adol gets a sword, shield, and armor before venturing forth. Only having enough for a sword and armor we save up for a shield (the most expensive piece of the set). Before heading out we stop by the bar where we learn a man would like to taste of a special fruit, and another has lost his engagement ring. The ring is in a secondhand store, but sells for more than we have. I've noted it for later."
My first task--before I set out to save the world--is to prepare by buying some equipment. Somehow Adol has money yet no equipment; not really sure what the back story is, but an adventurer carrying 1000 gold with no weapons or armor doesn't seem very smart to me. Exploring the town leads me to conclude that most random NPCs are useless. I find the equipment stores, and can only afford two out of the three recommended pieces. I go with a sword and armor.
So close
I put a good number of tries into getting enough gold for a shield only to be faced with a 'game over' screen shortly before reaching the goal of 700. Eventually, I noticed that the harder enemies really aren't any more rewarding, and focused my efforts on the first group of easy enemies. This made it much easier; I purchased the shield and returned to Sara who informs me of the Books of Ys.
You see... there are these books about Ys, and they're called...
These books are described as the history of a country called Ys [pronounced like 'east' minus the 't']. When the land of Ys vanished so did the books. Sara mentioned she has a crystal that indicates one of the books is in a nearby shrine. Off I go! I'm not really sure how this will save the world, but collecting mysterious things is usually a good first step.

I'm really liking the game at this point. The combat is quick--although repetitive--yet still manages some challenges; I think I'm managing it a bit better now that I've gained some levels. HP regenerates automatically when standing still outside, so for the most part, healing items are unnecessary. Everything starts moving along at a manageable pace, but then the enemies spike in difficulty. My only answer is to grind. Twenty minutes later I have enough to purchase all the high-end equipment from the store.
The key is to find a good grinding spot
At this point there's little else to purchase, rendering gold useless. Getting through the shrine to find the first book goes by quickly with my new equipment, but I'm left wondering if I prepared a bit too much. Nothing to do about it now.

With one of the books of Ys collected, I return to Sara; however, she's gone into hiding and left something with a local poet. Instead of just giving me what Sara left behind, I need to find this poet's lost harmonica. The only area to explore is a nearby cave where enemies have wrecked me in the past. With a few more levels due to getting through the shrine I'm now on par with most of them. Once again the challenge has jumped, and what I thought was over-grinding may have just been grinding early.
How does this make sense? Stolen goods in random chests deep in caves...
In fact, once I arrived at the boss in this cave I found that I couldn't touch him. After multiple attempts without ever making a dent I returned to the town with the Silver Harmonica. For my trouble I gained some experience (two levels) and another book of Ys. Maybe it was these levels, or the next one gained getting back to the boss, but when I returned to the cave boss I enjoyed the opposite experience. He couldn't harm me, and I quickly took him down. If this is how all the bosses go from now on, then I can't really say I'm going to enjoy it too much.
From impossible win to impossible to lose
After collecting the Silver Sword some NPCs led me back to the Thieves' Hideout where the secret entrance to Darm Tower lies. Shortly after entering the tower all of the silver gear I had collected was stolen. Picking my way through the tower I find another boss I can't hurt. Luckily he's not blocking the way forward, so I went on as far as I could, but seemed to be missing something. Having no immediate ideas I ended here for the night. I was stuck at the tunnel where my HP continuously depleted.
Music so bad it kills you
I seem to be nearing the end at this point, but I still have a number of items I didn't find a use for. I have a ruby, a necklace, and the seed of the Roda tree. In fact, I thought the seed was given to someone asking for it, but apparently Adol doesn't care to part with it. It's a little confusing having these items sitting around. Maybe they're just there to sell to the secondhand store for extra cash, but I'm definitely not suffering for gold.
I have it right here, but you can't have it--nah nah nah

Session Time: 2h58m

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Game 8: Ys: Book I & II (TG-CD) - Introduction

Game 8

Title: Ys: Book I &II
Year: 1989
Platform: TurboGrafx-CD
Developer: Nihon Falcom (Alfa System)
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Genre: Action-RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Real-time

Ys: Book 1 & 2 is a compilation of first two Ys games originally released in 1987 and 1988 in Japan. The two games were originally envisioned as a single game, so this compilation sees that come to fruition. Ys is a series that draws on Falcom's past experience with the Dragon Slayer series, and introduces a lot of the staples for action-RPG and action-adventure games for years to come.
The opening sequence is very random, but I know Adol is the main character
Having only played Ys III, I'm looking forward to playing through this one (or two) to see how the series started off. If only more in the series was released in the US. In my research while making the list I ran across a website dedicated to action-adventure-RPGs. XyZ is named after the three main series the website covers: Xak (released only in Japan), Ys, and Zelda. Since Ys is the only one in the series I expect to play (beyond Zelda II which already passed), I thought I'd mention it now. Unfortunately, the person who created the site seems to have given up on filling out the content (stopped at Xak).

I've been kind of lagging on the posts here, but hopefully things will settle down over the weekend for me to catch up. I still plan on playing tonight and Saturday though. Sorry for the short post here (and late), but I'm eager to get to playing more.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Game 7: Faxanadu (NES) - Final Rating

It was great to delve into an old favorite. Testing and relearning the skills I'd previously built, it was interesting to see how much I've retained over the years. It was fun while it lasted, but now we must judge the game; I expect it to fall slightly above Willow although still not make a great impact on the current leaders.

Fighting does take some getting used to as judging hit distance is a little tricky in the beginning. Learning the right timing for jumping and slashing is necessary for long-term survival. The variety and originality of enemies invigorates the game in such a way that it feels fresh compared to other action-RPGs and adventures of the time.

However, random enemies become pointless quickly, and so long as you don't die much you'll find yourself with plenty of gold that bypassing them will still allow purchasing the best items and equipment. Magic offers some variety, but most of the spells fire a single shot forward with varying range. Once the best equipment is in hand, enemies will drop fairly quickly, including the final boss.
Rating: 4
Who's ever heard of a dwarf with wings and firing fireballs?
The nameless hero represents the player in the game world, yet it still lacks many of the customizations to truly feel like an accurate personification. Ranks are the only thing gained from experience, and improving your character is not possible except in this way. These ranks are supposed to allow equipping more costly armor and weapons, but they also determine the exp and gold total you have upon remembering your mantra and resuming the game.

One of the greatest advancements the game made is the paper doll effect as I've heard it called before. The equipment currently selected is represented on the character in the game world. (i.e. the Hand Dagger is small, but the Long Sword is much longer.) It's very noticeable when wearing all of the high end gear. Seeing him decked out is pretty cool. Magic like other equipment is selectable, and I suppose this can be considered is a customizable feature. The controls are smooth and consistent, although jumping takes some getting used to.
Rating: 4
Three pronged sword is probably the coolest weapon
Aside from the main quest--and the side adventures necessary to complete it--there aren't any other quests to be had. There aren't any mini-games, riddles, or puzzles to really piece together, and getting to the end really just comes down to exploring, killing, and speaking to all NPCs. There's no need to figure things out.
Rating: 1
Is this enough to consider it a side quest?

The story is all rather cliche and shallow. In fact, the writers obviously didn't try very hard (or maybe it was just the translation) with references to the Evil One and the Evil Place. Still, it's enough to keep the game flowing towards the end goal, and there's hardly ever a feeling of being lost. That is unless you get lost because you weren't paying attention to the one NPC that hints at what to do next.

Yes, there are hints, but they won't always seem relevant. They also change based on the rank you currently have, so if you're too low level you'll miss hints entirely. I'd already found a shield and helmet, and talked to the Guru. Unfortunately, it was an armor I needed before I talked to the Guru to receive the next ring to unlock the way to the final area. Even with a couple missteps, the story elements fit well with each other a produce a consistent narrative. I only wished more was done to draw out more of the lore, and there was more involvement on my part.
Rating: 3
Fascinating and completely irrelevant

This is definitely not a collector's game. There are only four of each type of equipment, and a handful of items--most of which are keys. Many of the items become useless, and stuck in the inventory since you can only sell them to a store that sells those items in the first place. I bought a Mattock late in the game because a town near the end had one, and ended up not having a place to use it.

Relative strength of equipment is fairly easy to evaluate since there are only four choices, and the graphical upgrades are obvious. Sadly, the item portion of the inventory is maxed out fairly quickly, especially with wanting to fill the inventory with red potions for excessive healing. Completion is tracked somewhat, yet I believe there was a spell or two I may have passed over and it's not reflected in the menu. Max rank seems to have more negatives than positives as the Wing Boots timer is shortened the higher rank the player achieves. I'm unsure of the real benefit of rank beyond resuming the game with gold.
Rating: 3
That blank space is I'm guessing the elixir

The atmosphere in the game makes it a unique experience unlike any other game I've played since. It takes a hit from the closed off sections that require certain rings to make any further progress. Getting these rings isn't difficult, so having them in the first place definitely feels arbitrary. How does a ring even unlock a door?

The music and sound are enjoyable, and exploring is engaging even if the world is relatively small. Yet, I found very little that stood out on its own to give any unique features to the landscape. Most of the changes came from transitions between areas; one is filled with mist while another looks like tree branches. Towns reuse the exact same graphics.
Rating: 4
Does it look like I'm climbing a tree?

Final Rating: 19 (32%)

The rating is reflective most on the shallowness of the game compared to other CRPG experiences. It did end up edging out Willow, and Ultima, which I think is fairly accurate. Not quite as fun or challenging as Zelda II, and not quite a classic CRPG as Dragon Warrior to compete, I believe Faxanadu holds a place in history. It's short enough to be enjoyable to most, but as a CRPG it's rather light. By my own standards it skates by barely with the implementation of ranks (whatever those determine), and without that I don't believe it fits in the RPG genre.

Let's move on now to a game that spawned a series with many sequels, yet I've only played one of those games. Ys Book 1 & 2 is next.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Game 7: Faxanadu (NES) - Finished!

Before I wrap up what happened, I must say the password system in this game has led to more restarts than any other game during my youth. The 'f' and 't', 'c' and 'e', 'O' and '0' only have a few pixel differences that can be hard to distinguish. I got it on the first try this time, but only with the help of a screenshot. I pity all those who weren't able to recover their games because of an incorrect password.

I set off last night to find out what was beyond a boulder dropping enemy in one of the castles I'd previously passed on. I took some time to prepare and made my way back. Unfortunately, I didn't prepare enough, and needed to go further back to buy another K-Key. I'm sure there's something to be said about the keys being Jack, Queen, King, and Ace, but I can't think of anything. In any case, luck wasn't with me last night as I didn't find the ring in that castle.
All this trouble for an Elixir... the punchline is I die shortly before getting to it
Defeated on that front I started the toilsome task of talking to every NPC I'd already spoken with. Starting with the town furthest along, I only needed to go back one town; thankfully this process was rather easy. Apparently, to get the ring I was required to get the Battle Helmet and Armor. Was I told this? Maybe...
Which Shield?
I'm also told that it's not my rank that's preventing me from wearing the armor, but that I need to wield the Dragon Slayer sword in order to wear the two Battle armor pieces. 0n this note I wonder it rank really does play any part in thc game. Moving on, I spend some time grinding to get the last spell.

Feeling well prepared for the final assault I start looking for the final ring that will unlock the last area, and the boss. Already knowing it lies in the hands of a guru I keep my eyes peeled, and find him without much effort. As luck would have it though, he doesn't give me a ring. It seems he's under an event lock, so I go exploring more.

Eventually I find a dragon, and what's that I hear... boss music? It seems this is the Dwarf King that swallowed the Dragon Slayer in order to keep it safe from the Evil One (and me).
I choose you... Grieve!
It takes a couple of tries, and on the second attempt I realized the Wing Boots would be really helpful to fly up to the dragon and beat him down in the sky. It takes very little effort with this strategy. Heading back to the Guru produces the last ring.

With the "key" to the final area, I head off to defeat the Evil One in his Evil Place. The last area is truly evil, in maze form. Finding the Evil One is the hardest part of the game. In fact, once I did find him--myself prepared for a long battle, 4 healing potions at the ready--he lasted all of 10 seconds.
For the final boss, let's make him look like all the enemies in one
I fully expected another form to appear after the first, but I was only met with what I guessed was fanfare (first time I'd heard this music). Then I was talking to the Elf King, who suggested I wasn't staying. Off I go on another adventure.
The world always heals so quickly

Session Time: 1h03m (Total: 4h51m)

P.S. Having finished this game early in the night, I decided to finish up Dungeon Explorer. It only took another hour, and I had completed both games. With two short games out of the way, I hope that the next few provide a little more depth.

Also, for those that want to see the game in a bit less time, there's a speedrun for this game too. Clocking in at 30 minutes, I do suggest checking this one out. Even if you hadn't played the game before I think it's entertaining enough to watch considering all the planning and execution that went into making it. Once again, it's hosted at Speed Demos Archive.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Game 7: Faxanadu (NES) - Bolt of Blue

"I've returned home from a long journey. Expecting to revel in a crowd of well-wishers, I'm instead met with a closed gate and a crumbling facade. Quietly making my way through a side door, I note the town is nearly deserted. Needing to know what is happening, I prepare myself for an audience with the Elf King. The local Guru gives me a ring to prove I'm a friend of the elves. Has so much time passed that I'm no longer recognized in my home town? I learned much from the King: the dwarves attacked, an evil power is corrupting them, and I'm the only one that can possibly bring peace back to the land. The path is a treacherous one, and I must prepare for another long journey."
Faxanadu has a simple story that covers just enough for the game to drive the player forward. After getting the back story from the Elf King, and taking some of his money, I equipped myself with the only weapon available plus some magic. I remember from my prior experience with the game that the small creatures are best defeated with magic as my sword swings breeze above them. There's no crouching in this game.

The game relies on a lot of platforming, and active combat. Some of the jumps require very precise timing, but the penalty for failing one is usually only time lost. Dying isn't too much of a pain; while experience is lost up to the last rank achieved, getting it back isn't that big of deal. In fact, I didn't realize what ranks did until I was told. One of the coolest parts of the game is that it shows different weapon and armor sprites depending on what you're wearing. Definitely a first, and probably won't be seen again for a while.
Look, I'm actually using the Long Sword and it's longer
After 30 minutes of playing I had a sudden thought, "I don't think I'm playing a game that can be considered a CRPG." This surprised me. I pushed it aside though and played on letting the idea roll around. Could I really have not noticed a second game falling below the threshold--not to mention a consecutive one, and one I'd played before? The point of contention here was that while I was gaining ranks (levels) by grinding experience, my HP and MP were not increasing, and my character appears to have no stats beyond those.

So, what good are levels if it doesn't make the character more powerful? Well, I'm told that ranks determine what level of equipment I'm able to equip. This really pushes the definition of gaining levels to an uncomfortable limit, but I'm allowing it as I didn't really put restrictions on what levels should mean--only that they exist to show character progression. They do allow for advancement by equipping better armor, and if not the proper rank, then equipping new armor isn't possible. In fact, I have two pieces of Battle armor that I'm not allowed to wear yet.
Anyone know what that's supposed to be?
With that surprise out of the way, I was in for another one as I quickly paced through the game. In fact, I might have been able to complete the game last night if not for missing a key item. Somewhere in the vast world of the game I'd missed a ring. The Sapphire Ring (Dwarf) is what I believe I'm missing, and I haven't found anyone to hint at its location. It's either guarded by a boss, or gained by talking to the right NPC after triggering some event.
Would have been nice if you mentioned that the first time I was here
There is one area in a castle I had failed to explore, and it's here I believe the ring is waiting to be found. I'd left that castle because I had found the only item spoken of there, and felt it was time to continue on. Maybe I should have been more thorough. If it's not there, then I'll have to search the rest of the world. With luck, things will move quickly, and I'll wrap this up tonight.
Beyond this point is unexplored territory
In any case, I'm taking the weekend off from playing again (should be the last time for a couple of weeks), but with the previous game cut and this one wrapping up quickly, I think I'm still on track with my estimates. I really hadn't considered breaks, so overestimating game times has helped to offset that.
The password... hopefully it works
 Session Time: 3h48m