Thursday, September 19, 2013

Game 19: Swords and Serpents (NES) - Final Rating

Combat is a flood of random encounters that never really provide any sort of challenge. It's possible to target the head, legs, or body, but I rarely saw a marked increase in damage for the obviously lower hit-rate. Offensive magic is mostly useless; spell points are better relegated to buffs and healing. Party death isn't much of a deterrent; it results in losing all gold and reviving at the nearest temple.

Enemies have no special tricks beyond their basic attack. Some are quicker than others, some even attack multiple characters, but none cast spells or have other tricks. It's nice there's no instant death, poison, or paralysis; yet, without them there's nothing to fear except low HP. The final boss, the only unique enemy, was equally dull. Rewards for combat quickly fall off as gold, experience, and even dropped items become useless, or worse yet, a hindrance.
Rating: 3
These are the most time consuming battles as the wizards hit all character with each attack
Beyond the names selected, the attributes rolled, and the classes chosen, there's little distinction between the four adventurers. There's no outward appearance, max stats are universal, and there are no character levels, only a single party level. Spells are found scattered about the dungeon rather than gained upon level-up. About the only positive thing I can mention here is the ability to play any* party you desire. I threw in an extra point for the multi-player aspect, even though I can only imagine it bogging down the game.

*Beating the game requires at least one magician
Rating: 3
Even with starting stats like this Pathos only had 30 HP at max level
Well this is surprising, one of the highest puzzle scores in some time. This is helped by the riddle like clues spread throughout the dungeon that are pieced together to navigate the final level successfully. There's probably only one that's truly necessary, while the rest of the map could fall to trial and error.

Beyond that, the main quest is clear: kill the serpent. To do so you'll need to collect the ruby treasures, which opens up a teleporter to the final three levels. The bit with the horseshoe and the collection of all the spells also help to prop up this category. The game is still shaky, but it offers enough of an experience to keep it from becoming stale. If only it offered more puzzles.
Rating: 4
Hopefully you've found all the hints
The story is rather light, but I don't expect much from a dungeon crawler. The collection of equipment, advancement, and overcoming individual challenges are normally what this style of game is all about. NPCs do appear sporadically to offer advice for how to progress.

Really though, it feels less like I'm headed down to defeat the big bad dragon serpent that's terrorizing the land, and more like I'm off to kill a dragon serpent lounging in his pad minding his own business. Despite a clear and present danger, I enjoyed the bits of story elements and the scrawlings of past adventurers hinting on how to get into the dragon serpent's lair. (How exactly did they know? Did they make it all the way there, only to escape back to level 4 and write it down?) There's no wrap up; just an ending screen with congratulations and passwords for my characters that suggest either replayability or a sequel that never materialized.
Rating: 3
In the beginning I praised the number of items that dropped from combat. By the end I'd come to curse my constantly full inventory. With four pieces of equipment taking up six available slots plus unequippable ruby items and keys filling up the rest, I only had one or two slots open. Drops are given only to the one that deals the killing blow; however, if they don't have room, then there's no drop. If only there were a place to store items.

This game has by far one of the best examples for equipment stats. Even better would be to see the stats of equipment before purchase. In any case, the efficiency (used in calculating turn order), power, AC bonus, price, and number of attacks are all listed for each piece of equipment, in addition to what character class can use it. It's just too bad most of it is useless junk. For anyone reading for hints, feel free to drop the keys after use.
Rating: 3
"Jewels" turned out to be just useless gold
Dungeon crawlers often suffer on exploration since the sights to see are rather mundane. About the only thing that changes from one level to the next is the color of the tile. Magic fountains, pressure plates, and stairs are all seen through text. All music and sound effects are passable, except for the title music, which I try not to listen to for long.

As a world, it's not very believable, but exploring every square of it often yields interesting rewards, such as spells or new pieces of equipment. Exploration is really only limited by the strength of party, and how far you want to push them. Although there are literally invisible walls on one level, I'm not going to fault the entire game for it. There are obvious limitations, such as requiring a crystal on level 12 to get the last ruby item, which once all seven are collected opens the final area. It's just too bad there weren't more points of interest.
Rating: 3
Enemies are the only interesting sights
Final Rating: 19 [32%]

While not the best game we've seen, it's at least a step above Wizardry. That's not really saying much, but when it comes down to it, I can't suggest this as a game to play. I can only see multi-player adding more frustration than fun.

This review really wouldn't be complete without pointing out the speedrun done in 52 minutes. This is a stream recording; so, while not the best quality, I think it works well enough to ask, "what should I do with the other 11 hours of my time now?"

Next up is Dragon Warrior II. This one shouldn't disappoint, unless the save battery gives out in the middle. If that happens I'll just have to marathon the entire game one weekend. I don't remember if I personally beat the game, but I remember watching my brother do it and I may have played up until the very end. The final dungeon is well known for being difficult.


  1. "There's no wrap up; just an ending screen with congratulations and passwords"

    This is what irked me the most about Swords & Serpents. Its ending is literally "Congratulations! You slew the dragon!"

    A winner is you, I guess...

    The Game Boy Color version of DW2 (actully DW1 & DW2 in a single cart) is a vastly improved version that dramatically cuts down on the forced grinding. This is the version I would recommend to most players who want to start the series.

    I assume you're playing the NES version of DW2 for the sake of authenticity, though. But hey - it can't be worse than Wizardry, right?

    1. Yeah, NES version for that authentic pull your hair out rampant cursing of the game final dungeon. I understand the rereleases cut down on the grinding by as much as half. I think this was accomplished by higher experience rewards, but less frequent battles. I think Wizardry will be held high as a standard of punishment for a long time to come. Of course, I could be eating those words as Heroes of the Lance among others are coming up.

  2. I actually never played any of the DQ sequels. The only game in the entire series that I've played (and beaten) is DW1 for the NES. I tried to play one of the games on SNES once, but I just found it to be too grindy and primitive.

    I guess I also rented one of the NES sequels once, but I honestly remember very little. The only certain memory I have is that you could bet on monster fights. The internet indicates that I probably played DW3, but that's all I'm going on.

    It's weird, as I've played almost every FF game (at least.. in the main series, ignoring MMOs, prior to FF 13), all the classic PS games, and lots of other random JRPGs. I guess I really fell hard into JRPGs in the 16 bit generation (though FF1 was my first JRPG), so I only dabbled in 8 bit JRPGs. The only 8 bit JRPG I played that I really enjoyed was FF3 (the NES game), but, as I said, I never properly played the latter DQ/DW games.

    1. Well, to be fair, I enjoyed both FF1 and DW1 when I played them. But, in retrospect, both games are really primitive. FF1 is easily the better game, but DW1 is obviously the more influential/innovative/important. As a result, I have a hard time really tooting a horn for FF1, even if it was my introduction to the genre.

      FF3, however, is a really solid game. It doesn't really try to have a deep story, but I really enjoyed the mechanics. It plays like an early cousin to FF5, another underrated game. There's little story and focus on characters, but there's more focus on progression mechanics with the Jobs systems.

    2. Yeah, I'm a huge fan of FF5. I played a translated ROM in the late '90s with a Professor SF 2. Also got it in the PS1's Final Fantasy Collection and again for the Gameboy Advance. Definitely underrated.

    3. If you like FF5, you may want to check out FF3. Its Job system is a lot like FF5's. FF5 has more character development and story than FF3, but both tend to focus more on gameplay/progression than, say, FF4.

    4. FF3 is the only one of the first 10 that I haven't played. I don't have the NES version, but I do have the DS remake. Which is the best version to play?

    5. I actually never played the DS version. From what I gather, that's a solid remake. I liked the original NES/Famicom game quite a bit, but I don't really know how the two versions compare.

    6. I'm really impressed by how much more polished Dragon Warrior II is compared to the first. It's still really grindy, but the dialogue is stepped up, the story has more intrigue (even if it still is 'beat the big bad guy'), and the addition of a party fighting against hordes of monsters adds much needed strategy to the battles. And all this was before the first Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star by nearly a full year, considering the release dates in Japan.

      I'm also looking forward to the upcoming Final Fantasy games. We were lucky enough to get a SNES in 1991, a week after release, and rented (eventually bought) Final Fantasy II the same year. I played through a lot of Final Fantasy V and liked it well enough, but at some point lost interest. Final Fantasy III I played on the DS and wasn't very impressed. Of course, I didn't really change jobs much, so maybe I missed out on some of the fun.

    7. I'd say that, with both 3 and 5, the focus tends to be on progression mechanics. If you're in it for the story, neither are terribly strong, though 5 certainly has more character development than 3. Also, neither variant of the Jobs system is anywhere near as good as the system in FF Tactics. They're still cool for what they are though.

      FF4 is an amazing game. When I did my countdown over on the Dtoid C-Blogs, I had it tied for second place in the mainline pre-13 series. FF6 took first place. FF7 tied FF4 for second (which I'm sure is controversial, both from people who overrate it and people who now underrate it). FF4 certainly had some of the best story delivery of its era. Maybe some of the latter DQs/DWs can compete, but it really seems to have pushed the importance of narrative to the next level for JRPGs.

    8. Well, since it's the one I have, I guess it's the DS version.

    9. I do remember FF4 really impressing me the first time I played it, and it's in the next game year, which really surprises me. It's really no wonder that FF is the bigger series here when you had that game coming out the same year as Dragon Warrior III. I look forward to the other titles of that year trying to impress me as much.

  3. I know you're long since done with this, but about all the multiplayer added was a chance for someone else to press buttons, and occasionally arguments about where to go. Still, for the NES era, that was better than nothing.

    1. I wouldn't expect much more. I think the idea was better on paper than in reality. Still, it's a nice idea to have a multi-player RPG.

    2. Like you said, better than nothing. :)