Thursday, May 16, 2013

Game 14: Super Hydlide (Genesis) - First Impressions

Game 14

TitleSuper Hydlide
Year1990 (1989 JP)
DeveloperT&E Soft
PublisherSeismic Software
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Real-time

I'm going to spoil you guys... I just know it, three posts in a row. I have to tell you, I was not looking forward to this game. I heard from a couple of sources that it was just as bad a game as the first. It's been a pleasant surprise so far, although there are some quirks to it that I can see would rub some people the wrong way. I think I've been a little light on the details in the past, so I'll dig a little deeper with this one. Luckily I have the manual to help me out.
Oh boy, bring on the translation woes
The back story is a rather generic, but I don't expect much from these early games and my expectations of this one are already low. Deep in the heart of Fairyland they've known only peace for many generations. An old evil may have returned. How else would you explain the giant crack in the ground followed by a pillar of flame reaching the sky? Those living in the nearby city of Forest have selected a youth to be their champion and investigate. Following their choice they wonder if they made the right decision... that's comforting.
Yes, when fire erupts from the depths of the earth something is wrong
Character creation is simply selecting a name and class. I chose monk out of that, Fighter, Thief, and Priest. Fighters are generalists with average stats. Thieves are actually more physically capable, but start with low morals and very little magic power. Priests are physically weak and have low armor, but great magic power and morals. Monks excel in nearly all attributes except hit points. Stats are randomly generated and can be re-rolled before confirming.
The game starts in the city of Forest, where I suspect the townsfolk shoved money into this poor sap's pockets before leaving him to his own devices. I wondered into the weapon shop, and deftly avoided the first major pitfall, item weight. It's possible to buy all the basic gear with starting gold, but the weight of all that equipment will slow movement to a snails pace (actually slower).
If you buy this at the beginning, you're going to have a bad time
Weight capacity increases when the character levels up. Levels are gained by killing monsters for experience points that are exchanged for levels at the local temple. Experience points are also used to purchase spells, which introduces an interesting dynamic. Fighters and Thieves pay double for spells, and they can only learn the first six out of twelve.
Confirming my beginning stats
In addition to juggling weight, experience, and spells, the game is further complicated with the need to eat and sleep. Eating is automatic if the character has food rations (which are obscenely heavy), and sleep is only initially taken care of by the inn. Some camping gear is found later, or so I've read. Forgoing food results in hunger, which drains health, and without sleep the character's stats start to drain temporarily.
Challenge considered...
One last thing to note is a handle attribute, which limits the use of weapons. If the weight of a weapon is higher than the handle weight of the character, then the attack power is subtracted from the character's total attack ability. This means while I could afford and carry my new ax, it was weaker than my club until I leveled up.
At some point I realized I was carrying 7 clubs, 6 were dropped by enemies
Whew, that's a lot to take in all at the beginning of a new game. Without the manual I'm not sure I could have inferred all that; there are no warnings in game while purchasing equipment. I can guess many a would-be-adventurer bought the best gear they could afford before stepping outside and walking as if through molasses. (I actually did this while testing out the game... I wondered if my controller broke because I didn't move at all for a solid 10 seconds holding the d-pad).
You can change the speed of the game, to make it seem like you're walking normally again
Like Hydlide, combat is in real-time, but this game improves upon the charge-to-attack method of dealing with monsters with an actual attack button and weapons with range. Maneuvering around enemy fire is still a necessity, and it's best to sneak up behind or attack from the side, or if a frontal assault is imminent there is a crouch button. Normally, crouching is used for searching the ground, but it also increases evasion.

Let's finally get on to some of the game. I stocked up on some food rations and healing medicine for safety, and grabbed a club before heading into the field. I nearly died within the first minute due to underestimating the damage done by enemy projectiles. I popped open my first medicine to save myself, I'm sure it wouldn't be the last. I spent some time grinding on a few of the more docile enemies.
Take that slimes!
I was quickly weighed down with gold (yes, gold has weight too) and headed back into town to get my first level up. I also picked up the first spell, Illusion, which seems to spin enemies and myself around in place. I think it changed the music as well, so maybe it has a timed effect (manual says it just turns the enemies around). It's at this point, buying more supplies, that I noticed the cost had gone up a bit, and I then remembered something about a moral fiber attribute.

The way the morals work in this game is that enemies in the field are really broken up into two categories: good and evil. Good enemies are docile and won't attack unless provoked. Evil enemies launch into attack mode as soon as you're near. Well, I wasn't exactly waiting around to figure out the difference. I must of plowed through too many good enemies because my moral compass was lost (completely destroyed more like it). I had a 0, and somehow think it would be negative if the game allowed it. Ah well, I guess I'm evil.
My first 'quest'; I wonder what game will have the first quest journal
It was getting late (in-game time), so I headed over to the inn for a nap. Well, the inn is actually rather expensive, so I ended up needing to eat my last food ration to free up some weight in order to grind up some more gold. It seems like it's too easy to fall into a vicious cycle of killing enemies for gold just so you can sleep at night without losing your ability to fight. Sleeping is also how the game is saved.
You charge how much?
Feeling more comfortable and confident after a couple of levels, I started to branch off in straight lines from the starting town. I found some points of interest rather quickly:
I found the crevice!
There was a money changer here, which helps manage my weight by converting small coin denominations
Now were did I put my ID?
It looks like a small settlement, but it's actually a giant music box
This last place had a sound test for the music in one of the buildings. It's an odd addition to the main game, but a nice easter egg if you like the music. Personally, I'm not a fan of it, but it's not too grating. As far as I can tell it's all synthesized tracks. I think the title track is my favorite if I had to pick one, but I didn't sit long to enjoy them as we have a land to save, and probably a princess if we work our cards right.
This is the title of one of the music tracks... spoilers man!
At one point during my travels, after having gained a fair number of levels, I found my class had changed. I was no longer a monk, but a bishop. I would have thought that class more apt to follow priest, but who am I to argue.
Ah, not right now, I rather enjoy the title of monk

Oh, so by 'may' you meant 'must'
Rumors of the tower Habel drove me north. There I found what looked more like a cave than a tower. Inside offered more difficult monsters the deeper in I ventured. Further rumors suggested there was an elevator that needed power restored to operate. I found a magic talisman that does... something. According to the manual, it increases magic time.
That's one way to learn chests might be trapped
I made my way around the level and found the inoperable elevator. The enemies continued to increase in difficulty and soon I encountered vampires, which nearly killed me in a single hit.
Wow you're strong... I was at full health
On the fourth floor I found the power source for the elevator. Seems simple enough. I headed to the elevator to see just how many floors this tower has. Since there weren't any more stairs up, the elevator was really the only option. Well, let's see, 2nd, 3rd, 4th... what this?
I can count to one hundred: 1, 2... 100!
So, we basically skip to the end of the tower and have available floors 198 and 199. The top is said to have a giant beast. I don't think I'm quite ready to take it on, and I may purchase a bow and arrow to compliment my melee attacks.
I bought the arrow earlier, but found it lacking for normal enemies and I needed to travel lighter
There's also the mysterious castle that requires an ID card. The world on the whole seems small, and also wraps around, so I haven't gotten a good sense of exactly how small. I have the bankbook to find if I ever want to invest my money.

I've bought spells to cure poison, heal, advance time (haven't had a use for this yet, although I've used it twice), and I just learned 'Learn', which oddly just disarms trapped chests. I've bought some armor since I need the added protection. I noticed when I equipped it that the character sprite reflected the change. If didn't know Faxanadu did it first, then I'd be mighty impressed, even if it is a simple sprite overlay.
My current ax wielding fully armored... Bishop
Well, I wasn't expecting it, but I'm having a blast with this game. Maybe it's from coming into it after Wizardry, but so far the game has impressed me overall and done very little to irritate. I have high hopes for this one, although the world either needs to open up, or I'm going to be horribly lost for what to do next. There's always the chance it's just a really short game.

Session Time: 2h00m (Total Time: 2h00m)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Game 13: Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (NES) - Final Rating

Combatant - Has anyone beaten the game without grinding on Murphy's Ghost?
Combat is the central focus of Wizardry. There isn't much to the game outside of overcoming the next battle, and then the next, and the next, until Werdna. There are a few exceptions, but most fights beyond the second floor can quickly overwhelm the party if not kept in check. I felt dread at each encounter, which may have been what the developers wanted, but I found it absurd. Playing Wizardry is like attempting a high wire act without a safety net, over a pit... with spikes (and snakes).

The best strategy I found was to take out (or silence) enemy spellcasters as soon as possible, and immobilize all others with hold spells. Poison, a minor annoyance in most games, is a major pain during the early stages. Paralysis completely removes a character from combat and exposes delicate spell casters to physical attacks. Level draining often takes more HP than actually gained in a level. Healing spells are limited to one character (no party heals). Once I had the most powerful spells I relied on those completely; once exhausted I didn't bother continuing to explore until I recharged.

The rewards for successful combat are so skewed that I found it best to fight a set battle on floor one against Murphy's Ghost until I was high enough to face off with Werdna. I saw no reason to explore floors 5 - 9 once I found the route to the tenth (especially after I encountered the first null magic area). On the tenth floor I still faced near instant death, but reaped impressive items from successfully disarmed chests. All chests containing items are trapped, and thieves are the best at disarming. In the end I used the spell CALFO to identify and my ninja only attempted to disarm traps that wouldn't wipe out or severely hinder the party.
Rating: 4
I was at full health before these monsters surprised me, and this is a small group
Admirer - Has anyone completed the game with any special party arrangements? (All clerics?)
Graphics are sparse; the only representation of the party are character sheets. I noticed there wasn't a division between the sexes, so whether or not you had a male or female is up to your imagination.

When creating a character you get to choose a race, which determines base stats, and assign random bonus points, which seem to range 5 - 9, 15 - 19, and 25 - 29. Then based on these values you can select a class. Classes have minimum requirements (the ninja requires 17 in every stat), and there are some elite classes not available in the beginning. Those classes aren't all they're cracked up to be though, I had a ninja, and he mostly sucked.

A character can change classes at any time so long as they meet the minimum stats for their new class. Doing so ages the character 4 - 6 years, and drops their stats to their racial minimum (no bonus points this time). Crawling back up is quite an effort, and the characters always seemed weaker than before. The manual suggests aging past 50 is detrimental to stats and introduces the potential of dying due to old age. I took a fairly extreme approach and had all characters with some kind of spell casting ability (3 had mage and cleric spells, and were not Wizards/Bishops).

There are a number of what I'd call useless spells, where there's an obvious best spell to save at each level, and the other options seem frivolous. I had a hard time becoming attached to the characters as I cycled through them very quickly.
Rating: 3
Useless or completely overpowered? I can't decide
Puzzler - Has anyone beaten the game without using the elevators?
No puzzles, move along now, nothing to see here. As I said above, combat overwhelms the experience. There is what I consider a single side quest, but the game seems to consider it part of the main.

Really though, it's all combat.
Rating: 1

Instigator - Does anyone know why the story elements just fall off after a certain point?
Who needs a story? Well, there's Trebor, the mad overlord, who had his amulet stolen by Werdna. Trebor offers a reward to retrieve the amulet that amounts to a pittance of what the party hauls back with them once the adventure is finally complete.

About halfway through the game, all possible story elements drop off, and it's combat all the way through to the end. I believe they correct this in future games, but it seems strange to have all these little secret areas through the first half while the second is devoid of any points of interest. There's no interaction with NPCs and descriptions for items leave me with nothing but questions.
Rating: 1
Wait, I thought this was Trebor's Amulet
Collector - What are some of the best pieces of equipment you've found?
There are some really cool sounding weapons and armor in this game: Epee of Excellence, Sword of Slicing, Blade of Biting (someone really likes their alliteration), Sword of Dragonslaying, Shield of Nothing (most likely cursed), Blade Cuisinart, Sword of Evil, and so on. I just really wish I knew what all it did, and how useful they were. I can guess that dragon slaying sword is good against dragons, but how does it compare to the Sword of Slicing or Cuisinart? Damage is so variable, and fighting the same enemy is so rare (unless you count Murphy) that trying to determine damage range, hit chance, and special effects seems as likely as guessing based off the name.

There's a limited inventory and no storage, unless you count the character roster... I envision characters named swords, armor, and cursed (to test for cursed items). One thing I really liked, and would love to see in other games, is the store would display and sell back items you've sold to it (at a mark-up of course). This way you're not complete throwing an item away.
Rating: 2
According to this strategy wiki, I made the right decision, except I should have kept the Sword of Evil... oh well
Explorer - Did I miss out on anything by not even touching floors 6, 7, and 8?
The graphics are dated, but the music is well done with a different score for each option in town and dungeon and combat music that didn't make me sick. The game keeps up the harsh environment by punishing the curious. Pit traps that look like points of interest found earlier, not to mention spinners, darkness, and anti-magic all conspire to make you regret looking any further than for the next floor. There are secret doors that are seen randomly or are completely visible with a 'light' spell.

I enjoyed the solid walls, but there is also an option for lined walls that replicates the original game. There's very little of the area that's blocked off to a starting party, and if you truly wanted to, you could take the stairs down quite far with a level 1 party. Actually, some set encounters might have something to say about that.
Rating: 3
Press 'start' to remove the party info
Final Rating: 14 (23%)

Overall, I don't really understand why I stuck this one out. I just can't stand to leave a game unfinished I guess. I hope I never run into a game that is actually impossible to win. I wonder if I'll ever find a CRPG worse than this one on console. If I do, you'll hear (read) me say (write), I'd rather be playing Wizardry.

I can see why it did well back when it was released. A lot of this is revolutionary for the time, but the game design decisions wouldn't fly very far in today's market. Mostly I hated them because the game purposefully wastes my time. Have difficult combat. Have one turn kills. Have mysterious items. But have the decency to be fair about it. I just don't think there's enough feedback provided to make challenging decisions in this game. If we could pick our luck, how fast do think you could beat Wizardry? Under a minute?

Out of curiosity, I've read through a few FAQs that claim AC for the party is bugged. Also, the time when characters are saved is directly after a battle, so if I was inclined to, I could have reset after most of my party was wiped to get another shot at a battle. Once I saw the tombstones though it truly was game over. I thought about using this if the second fight against Werdna went as well as the first. Luckily I didn't have to resort to such tactics, but the majority opinion I've read have no qualms over resetting. The only questionable actions I took were overuse of Murphy's Ghost to gain all my levels. Well, that and abused class changes.

I'm moving on to Super Hydlide next, which I know almost nothing about (I've glanced over the manual and tested that the game works), but I've heard it's just as bad as Hydlide for the NES. I did my best to denounce that one as not enough RPG for me, but I can't seem to do that with this one.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Game 13: Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (NES) - I'm Finished!

I wasn't expecting this screen again
I had gathered my party for some treasure hunting before I dived into the final battle. I figured some extra gear would help my survival, so I selected Yrebe (my ninja) to identify and disarm all the traps. His 18 agility told me he could easily disarm them. Well, I didn't listen to his 12 luck saying otherwise.
My ninja isn't very stealthy
I ignored the warning signs: failed identifications and triggered traps. Even after switching to Calfo to identify didn't help his ability to disarm. The gear provided only incremental improvements to armor, and I can only guess some kind of improvement to my weapons. (Any idea if the Sword of Slicing is better or worse than the Sword of Dragonslaying?) Well, no equipment seems to provide protection against a trap.
Oops? What do you mean oops?
Teleporter huh? Well that can't be too bad. I mean easy enough to find my way out of the dungeon on this floor. I start to wonder if teleport traps can send me up levels. Well, they'd have to put me somewhere on the map, right? No, not really.
Here it is. Yet another way to instantly die
I nearly gave up hope at this point. I was already formulating the post as I stared at the headstones, "well, Wizardry wins." I fiddled with the menu afterwards, checked what characters I had left to throw into a party, and then, as I counted the names available, I realized all the party members of my lost expedition were listed. I added them to my roster, making sure they were real. They were real alright. Dead, but real.

I gathered them for what I hoped was my final outing. I was going to head straight for Werdna and end this. The final battle was a little anti-climactic after all this build-up. I was the first to get Tiltowait off, not to mention I landed a Silence before he acted.
Well, this fight's over. RNG is on my side this time
It feels like a hollow victory. There's no great sense of accomplishment. The grinding didn't help, but beyond that the entire game seems too random. There's very little strategy to fighting, and while there are a few interesting spells, interesting doesn't win battles. It only serves to give the enemies an extra turn to tear me apart.
Uh, can you give me something useful?
After beating the game I tried out Mahaman, one of the most "powerful" spells. It has a chance, note 'a chance', of summoning a god's powers to aid in battle. Sound overpowered? Well, it does have a catch. In addition to the spell point, it also costs 1 level of the spellcaster, and that's always charged even if it doesn't succeed.
1) Cure no ailments, 2) Heal a fully healed party, 3) Silence fighters
I really don't see why that spell, with it's obscene cost, wouldn't do all three useless abilities. I bet that raise dead power still has a chance to turn a character to ash. Well, with Werdna defeated, I used his amulet to teleport back to the castle. The game needed to get in one last jab before final victory.
Only about half actually
Half the party drowns after arriving in the moat, but I still get my reward and congratulatory screen.
Wait, don't take the amulet, gold is useless to me
That's it! I'm done with this one! Final rating will come tomorrow, and I'll start Super Hydlide very soon.

Session Time: 1h10m (Total Time: 44h10m)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Game 13: Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (NES) - Shall We Try That Again?

I have a sneaking suspicion that Wizardry ultimately comes down to random dumb luck. Unless there are items that block magic there's no defense for Tiltowait. So, I'm left with only one option. Press on and hope for the best.
Seems I lose a little faith each passing year
I've spent the last few weeks eking out minutes here and there that seem to add up to about 20 hours. I had imagined spending more time blogging on the side quest, as at the same time I was playing through Star Saga Two, but I couldn't quite bring myself to blogging about it yet. I apologize to those waiting for updates there. I'll have something up soon, but I'll get back into playing Wizardry instead of grinding it.

And oh what a grind I had. Twenty hours is quite a commitment to grinding; I could have beaten Final Fantasy in the same time although it'd have taken more concentration. I questioned the time I spent when I noticed after changing classes I was only getting a single hit point per level. Seriously, after all the class changes, only ONE HP per level. At least characters retain their spells from previous classes.
My beefed up party can still fall to a single powerful Tiltowait
I left a couple of characters alone, the samurai and wizard, to see how they would fair. I can't really say they're any better off. At level 16, they have fourth level spells and average HP.

Spell distribution was the main reason I wanted to change classes continuously. A character who knows at least one spell at a given level will learn the other spells at that level even if they're not of a class that can learn magic. They won't learn higher level spells though, so the trick is to get to level 13 mage or cleric, and then switch to another class.
My ninja deftly cuts the head off the ghost... wait what?
I was hoping for HP closer to 200, to ensure survival against the dreaded spells Werdna will unleash. With the additional spellcasters, I have a chance of getting a silence off, as Pacpix suggested. I just need to get really lucky, survive the first volley of Tiltowait, dodge the vampire's draining attacks, and win the game.
First though, let's have some fun with my new powered up party and see if I can't gather up a few equipment enhancements. I'm tempted to rush off the deep end, but a couple more hours of treasure hunting couldn't hurt, right?

Session Time: 20h40m (Total Time: 43h00m)