On one hand combat is a dull affair, always facing off against the same kind of enemy; on the other, I'm not sure there's anything else to expect from an ancient historical account of war. Not represented are animals, siege engines, or strategic movement. The majority of fights are won through brute force. Tactics really only hit their stride late in the game, but points quickly run out after only a couple of battles.
Stats play a big role, as upgrading a weapon that doubles attack can often more than double damage. However, leveling up has no influence on these stats; it only increased soldier count (HP) for certain generals and a small increase to tactical points (which strangely leveled off at some point). There's a set strength and intelligence throughout the game for each general, and weapon and armor power dependent on equipment.
I was ready to claim how simple combat was (and it was simple for the majority of the game), but near the end it became a lot harsher with the introduction of enemies capable of casting An Sha (instant death), Ji Mian (negate physical attacks), and Wan Fu (full health). It's nice to see enemies equally get these skills, but it becomes unfair when they can cast them freely (they don't have a TP limit).
|I'll just use this resurrect glue to reattach your head|
I'm torn by this category. Here I was, promised to lead Liu Bei through the restoration of the Han Dynasty, only to have him ripped from my party after the first conquest. I had a feeling something had to happen plot wise since he wasn't gaining HP when leveling up (only a handful of characters do). Most generals are only useful for a short time after you find them due to this. Some do gain tactics, but everyone is so interchangeable that it's hard to get attached to any one group.
The party is represented by the first three members, which I can only guess was chosen to show the first three starting generals traveling together. There aren't any choices for advancement; everything follows a set path from when characters leave and what spells are lost when learning more. The most positive point here is the character speed. I'm sorely going to miss this when I get to the crawl of more traditional games.
|Stats for all generals are available with most having individual character portraits, even enemies|
I'm not seeing puzzles come up very often. Main quest, check. Side quests, semi-check. Only a couple side quests are available outside the main quest (recruiting Lu Bu, which I missed, and collecting the named swords), and they're both along the main path. The main quest is clearly marked as it's the only path available, but the majority of the goals are to kill the next warlord.
There are a couple encounters or scenarios I'd consider puzzle-like (building a bridge in the beginning, and waking Zhu Ge Liang as a stretch). The puzzling events are more knowledge based as opposed to logic. Either you know the trick, or stumble upon it. There definitely aren't multiple solutions here.
|Yeah, I didn't really have a good screen to represent puzzles|
The story, as well as overland exploration, follows a linear path (except for a small opportunity to jump ahead), which is commented on by NPCs in the local villages. Unfortunately, current events don't seem to trickle back down as talk of the Zhang brothers and the Yellow Scarves still have prominent places in conversation with early villagers. There are some choices offered, but they really aren't very good choices (one continues the story while the other stalls it).
|Oh, the dialogue|
Well, there is stuff. All items are generic though, same for armor. The only unique weapons are the five swords and the halberd. There's nowhere to store items. Only those generals in your party have an inventory; once they leave the items are stored in limbo until another general takes their place. Beyond that there are the generals themselves, but the army is limited to 64. This leaves a number of generals out in the wind. If you seek out only those with tactical abilities, then it may be possible to have a complete set in the roster.
There aren't any achievements (the game doesn't care that I skipped Lu Bu, or that I killed him early for that matter). The game economy is a joke; I purchased all equipment as soon as I saw it. Food management was an issue in the beginning when I hadn't fought any warlords yet, and at the end when my army was so large it started consuming more than I gained naturally from capturing castles and fortresses.
|I forgive you for making my swords. What do you mean stolen!|
You could probably play up to the first fight with Dong Zhou and have seen everything the game has to offer visually (castles, a cave, fortresses, and an overland tile set that feels ripped straight from Dragon Warrior). One thing I enjoyed was the change in overland music after certain plot advances.
While there are some items to discover, and a hidden horse, the world is so linear that there isn't anything to discover that won't be shown. There's little opportunity for open exploration, and nothing really stands out as unique. I gave this an extra point for changing landscapes with bridges built at certain points, and collapsing a mountain to cross a river.
|This is Lou Zh... no Chang A... no, no, Chin Castle... I think|
Overall, like Dragon Warrior, I think if I played this early enough I'd think of it more fondly. I haven't seen anyone claim it's a terrible game (except for one review where a bug was found that stopped all progress), and it's remembered well to those that enjoyed it young. Coming to this late, I can only think there are better games to get to. I don't think anyone would be crazy enough to attempt a speedrun, but at least we have the TAS showing off luck manipulation at just about 80 minutes long.
Is it too early to say we're one step closer to the end of game year 1990? Keeping this pace up I should be able to wrap things up by the end of the year easily. Next up is Final Fantasy Legend.
For the longest time we never had a Game Boy in the family, and once we did this was the only game we had for it. Given that, it's no surprise I've beaten it before. My recollection was that it was rather confusing, so it'll be interesting to play through it again. Any ideas for starting party? I'm considering one human, two mutants, and a monster. I think I beat it last time with two humans, one mutant, and one monster. Votes for all of one type? I'll start it up tomorrow night, other things always seem to come up when I try to sit down to play.