Thursday, October 31, 2013

Game 20: Dragon Warrior II (NES) - Final Rating

If there's one thing to say about the combat, it's that it never gets too easy. Once I thought I had a handle on the enemies the game decided to ramp up the difficulty. However, the rewards for engaging the enemy don't keep up with the risk. Combat, like the first game, is completely menu and stat driven. Each character in the party is assigned actions in order

Unlike the first game there are additional party members for added strategy, items to invoke, and more spells (some actually useful (or maybe they were only useful because those character's physical attacks were useless)). The odds are stacked against the party in the final area, but while tensions were high I still felt like I was made progress. In the end, I think I just got lucky.
Rating: 6
I still can't get over how useless this spell is
The Dragon Warrior series at this point still hasn't introduced any customization for the characters (beyond naming the hero). A lot of equipment is only for the main hero, and the other two are little more than support characters. The controls still feel stiff; I think it has something to do with the character stats that appear when standing still. I hope this is addressed in later games. Many times while steering my ship through rivers the party would disembark on land rather than make the next tight turn.
Stare at the text and imagine the equipment on your character
One thing that's definitely improving are the number of side quests. Everything fits well with the world, from random captured enemies to a shipwreck. The riddles, rumors, and hints do well to slowly introduce the world. If only there were a little more direction with the main quest. Half the time I didn't know why I was collecting the crests. At least when I was lost for something to do I knew in what general direction to look, even if I couldn't survive long in battle.
Rating: 4
I'll have you know, this hint only took me 1 hour before it clicked
The story is rather generic. Some evil force is back and it's the party's job to destroy it. Did no one notice the monsters teeming from Rhone? I understand not having all of Erdrick's equipment from the get go for game balance purposes, but it isn't ever explained why the king can only afford to offer his one heir to the kingdom a copper sword and 50 gold. How about opening the treasury up, pops?

The story unfolds at a brisk pace, and introduces some intrigue with a stolen loom, a stolen key, and a ship to travel the world. The only thing really missing is a way for the player to influence the story. One NPC claimed to seek the Gaia Armor, but there was no way to give it to him.
Rating: 4
I'll meddle where I wish
This really isn't a game series for collectors. Sure there's variety on offer, but inventory space is so limited that there's no way to store everything. Luckily if you do need to toss a unique item, or do so accidentally, it'll be in its original treasure chest. This also means it's possible to sell an item, and then retrieve it again: the Staff of Thunder is a keen example. I didn't do it in this instance, but if I were to play again I'd definitely take advantage. Money is always a valuable commodity, even if I wasn't losing half my reserve upon death.
Rating: 4
I wonder what goodies awaited in the lottery; I never won... I guess my luck only extends so far
The world is much larger than the previous Dragon Warrior. The lack of direction and slow movement speed make it feel even grander since areas will need discovery more than once. There are a number of little areas to find, but only a handful are outside the necessary path to complete the game.

The graphics are only a slight improvement. It's a bit of let down that the tile sets only include one for towers and one for caves. The music seems to have a shorter loop than what I remember from the first game, even if there are more scores. There's always a sense of discovery when exploring uncharted islands, even when the findings are small.
Rating: 6
Finding this lone monolith felt like such an accomplishment
Final Rating: 27 [45%]

Overall this was a fun experience. I'm glad I got to play it again after all these years. Will I do so again? Probably not. There isn't much on offer for a second attempt. This one is going to sit on my shelf for quite some time (in fact I may sell it, but we'll see).

Next up is a little known title--Little Ninja Brothers. It's an action-RPG, and I know the sequel on the SNES is rather short. I worry about running into a game where the first post is a winning one, but this should last at least two.

Before we get to that though, I ran through the game list on There are a lot of games I added from that list, enough to break the 1000 game mark. Many of them are likely to be discounted, but it's good to have them on the list. This means I've missed discussing a couple games though, so I'll revisit at least one of them before starting up a new game. I think I'm still on track to wrap up the game year by the end of the year, but it might be close.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Game 20: Dragon Warrior II (NES) - And Win!

It's nice to finally see this screen
Let's put another game behind us, shall we? While Dragon Warrior II's final area wasn't as bad as replaying Wizardry, I think it does live up to its name as one of the hardest NES Dragon Warrior games (possible one of the hardest RPGs, but we'll get to that). We'll get to confirm that over the next few years, but the final battles came down to sheer luck.
When last we left, I was dying for the fifth time on the road to Rhone
After the floor with many pits, in the cave to Rhone, was the maze of madness (my name for it). It twisted back on itself so many times that I finally had to break down and map the rooms on paper. The mind boggling aspect came from the rooms existing as individual parts instead as a cohesive path. Dungeons in in this game have areas of darkness when transitioning from one room to another, and this was used to great effect to link rooms in weird ways.
Reaching safety on the other side
Upon exit from the cave, I had a very uneventful expedition to the nearby monolith. Inside was a cleric that offered full services for free, and saved my game. This location acted as my hub for the remainder of the game. I then proceeded to die more times in Rhone than my current total for the game thus far.
Every encounter in Rhone has the potential to wipe out the party
As expected, the end game required a good amount of grinding. The enemies here offered great experience, although paltry gold, compared to any I had faced. All in all, this final stage took about 4 hours of leveling up while I explored the castle and surrounding area.
The white background looks strange on the desert backdrop
Hargon's Castle presents the player with an illusion of Midenhall. It's obviously fake as none of the stairs go anywhere (same with the travel door), and chests are all empty. Any changes made inside the illusion are reverted after leaving or dispelling it. Breaking through this final trap is easy with the Charm of Rubiss. Once shattered, the false image reveals a castle filled with damaging tiles and ghosts. Deep inside there's no obvious path; it's only revealed through the use of the Eye of Malroth.
I'm not deceived, mostly annoyed
While in Rhone I gained a good number of spells. The princess learned Explodet, and the prince learned Defeat. Explodet does about the same amount of damage as the hero, but with the potential of hitting all enemies (and a greater chance to miss). Defeat has the potential of wiping out a group of enemies, but frequently misses.
And the award for most useless spell goes to...
Then there are the useless spells, like Sacrifice. It was used on my own party, and completely wiped everyone out. When I got it I expected to use it for the same effect. While this is overwhelmingly overpowered for enemies, it is completely underwhelming in my hands. It kills all enemies, destroying Lars in the process (the one person with a Revive spell), but the party gets no experience or gold. What's the point? It doesn't even work on the bosses. The next useless is the Open spell, which could take the place of keys. Why not just keep the keys?
I saw lot of this
Many attempts at even reaching the castle met with failure. I tried my hand at the castle after a few good levels, but was stonewalled at the first mini-boss: Atlas. Sorry for the lack of screenshots, I didn't remember to take them for two of the bosses. I really need to get into the habit, but I normally rely on recordings and taking stills after the fact.
Guess what I'm going to buy
I saved up my gold, thinking a Mink Coat would increase Lars' chance of survival. I got some lucky drops such as the Sword of Destruction and Gremlin Armor, and invested every 8000 gold into a Dragon Killer. Since gold is cut in half upon each full party death, items are the only way to keep milestone values. No one should bother to get the Mink Coat. It's overpriced, and seemed to have a worse defense against magic and breath attacks compared to the Magic Armor. In fact I should have just invested in three Shield of Strengths, which heal the user when invoked in battle.
You mean, Kailin tried to distract Bazuzu with the bodies of the fallen and failed
Only one thing left to do, grind more. The grind didn't feel too bad since I mixed in attempts on the bosses. I finally broke through Atlas after trying to use Sacrifice on him (surprise, it doesn't work). Bazuzu was next; he's a spellcasting boss, who was a pushover on the second attempt. The only way I managed through him is Atlas remained defeated upon my return. Likewise Bazuzu and Zarlox remained defeated on the second attempt at Malroth.
I never did try the 'no' option
Throughout my time in Rhone I just wanted it to end. I felt like a lot more grinding was ahead of me, but I had hope as soon as I defeated Zarlox. As I made my way through the castle I noted a lack of random encounters from the floor with Atlas on up. This made the ascent manageable. All that remained was Hargon, and then the expected hidden final boss.
This definitely brought back memories
Since I was weakened by Bazuzu and Zarlox, I barely defeated Hargon and was subsequently trounced by Malroth. Anyone able to get through all five bosses in one trip? It doesn't seem doable at the level I reached, nor with the equipment I had. I noted after the end that I missed the Sword of Thunder, tucked neatly in a corner of the cave to Rhone. Also, no guide suggests the Mink Coat, so that was a bad decision as I suspected.
You aren't very good at predictions
The final battles were a bit one dimensional for my taste. Prince of Midenhall (the hero) could only attack. The other prince and princess could not physically damage any of them, so I relied on spells. The problem with that is most spells were useless. Increasing my defense or reducing the enemy's modified damage by only a point or two. While these buffs and debuffs seemed to stack, the damage I received forced me to heal nearly every turn. I didn't even bother to try Sleep. Stopspell was my only hope, and the princess healed. The additional party members were little more than meat shields.
Now that's a final boss; look, his sprite even obscures the display
In the end, all five battles came down to luck. I was lucky Atlas didn't take out the princess, and instead focused on hitting the Gustavyo (the hero) each turn. Bazuzu never cast Sacrifice, and stopped healing long enough to die. Zarlox actually didn't take much effort, so I'm not sure what massive spells he neglected. Hargon in the first battle didn't heal, and in the second I landed an early Stopspell. This was followed by him spamming a sleep breath that never landed.
What do you mean you just watched?
Malroth was a different beast altogether; during the first battle he basically spammed full heal interspersed. In the second, he cast it the first two rounds, but then promptly forgot he had the ability. None of my spells seemed to work against him. Kailin cast full heal on whoever was attacked the previous round. Malroth could two shot any character, and a few times he happened to change targets rather than finish off a character. Poor Lars wasn't that lucky.
Anyone else tired of castles collapsing when the boss dies?
After Malroth fell, Rubiss revived Lars and fully healed my party. Then I was left standing outside the fallen castle, still in control. There were no monsters.
News travels quickly, huh?
For some reason the game felt the need to have me search for the ending. Returning to the start was the most obvious option, so I took it. The hero's father, and a procession of guards, waited to greet me. I wonder if I missed any special dialogue somewhere though. I sold the Dragon's Potion, so I couldn't check if the dialogue was different. It was for every other save NPC. Anyone have any interesting insights regarding this? I'm curious, but not enough to play through the ending again.
Not this again!
The throne was forced on the hero while the other prince and princess were charged with assisting in the future. Everyone cheers. Then peace returned, again.
Until the next game...
The end grind really wasn't too bad, but in the end it was due to luck that I even pulled out a win from that level. I imagine others grinding well into the 30s. In fact, someone over at GameFAQs posted their final stats, which were 6 levels higher. I think I got out easy. Better get out of here before my luck runs out.
Google has an auto gif creator now, but I think it runs a little fast -- what do you think?
Elapsed Time: 6h29m (Final Time: 24h18m)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Game 20: Dragon Warrior II (NES) - To Defeat Hargon's Forces

Have you noticed you're in a monster infested tower?
It's strange to think of the world teeming with monsters, and yet I control the only group capable of overcoming these odds. Where are the legions of guards? Why did no one see this coming? Who was keeping watch?
What's that; follow you through this monster infested tower? Sure thing!
I made my way slowly through the Stars Tower (still don't know the right name, but we'll go with this). At the top I met a guard, who said he was guarding the land of Hargon; however, I think it's a mistranslation. He is a human sprite first of all, and second, he pointed out where Hargon dwells, in Rhone. I think watchman would have been better, but he seems equally effective in that regard.
What! The random old man in a monster infested tower tricked me?
In another section of the tower was an old sage who I found in a room alone after seeing a monster run into it. Obviously he could be trusted. "Follow me," he said. "I know what you seek," he said. Well, that makes one of us. I mean I know there's a crest here (from the melodious echoes), and I guess it doesn't matter which one, but I still feel lost in this big wide world.
I faced off against two of these guys to get the ship... finally remembered to get a screenshot of them
Combat has changed quite a bit since the first Dragon Warrior. In addition to managing the actions of a party of three, the number of monsters in each fight can range from 1 to 8. Larger sprites like the Gremlins take up two spaces on the field, while something small like a slime takes up one. The lead character lacks any sort of magic, but is able to equip all equipment (including the Erdrick artifacts, making him the true heir). The prince and princess are capable of magic, but at the cost of being squishy.
What exactly are these crests?
Gold and experience (and sometimes random item drops) are gained from combat, and up until gaining the ship the increase for vanquishing tougher enemies was noticeable. After this tower the gains from tougher fights, which now have the potential to kill the party on turn one, are marginally better.
I spent so much time in that tower I was able to afford the most expensive shield
Magic is balancing act of damage, utility, and healing. Unlike most games I've played, it isn't completely skewed towards saving everything for healing while waling on the enemies (like the first game). Group damaging spells like Inferno and the utility item Staff of Thunder are still handy for groups, even if their damage potential has only seen a marginal increase. I may just be imagining that last part.
Have you noticed you're in a monster infested cavern?
That leaves us with utility spells, which have been more useful than in other games; however, when fights only last a couple of turns, I start to wonder what the point of raising my defense or lowering theirs (especially since it only dampens damage by a point or two). Sleep and Stopspell are the most useful, and I've fallen back on them quite a few times. Damage spells aren't always the most reliable either; with a chance to miss I'm often better relying on physical attacks when it's a single enemy.
Uhhh... we're both in an island cave, and we are surrounded by LAVA
After the Stars Tower, I set off for the next tower: the Moon Tower. I forgot to take any screenshots, but it was rather short. The enemies were just a hair tougher, but with the new shield I was able to get through in a couple attempts. Inside was the Moon Fragment, which held the power to shift tidal forces. Well, really only the shallow waters surrounding a specific island cave.
I thought this was a house of healing
The cave was a large step up in difficulty. There was one point where Lars was wiped out. He is the only one who has spells to transport the party outside dungeons and return everyone safely to town. Somehow I dragged my party out in more or less one piece. I'm not sure I mentioned this, but the Leaf of the World Tree is the only revival item so far. You can only have one at a time. Once used, another will appear on the same island.
These two clowns were guarding the Eye of Malroth... I think they had some funny dialog, but this is all I captured
At the bottom of the cave I found the Eye of Malroth. It was a maze of stairs, and I had not bothered mapping. Somehow I made it through to the end, and left quickly once I had my prize. I'm not sure there was anything more to get, but I'm far past that now.
Once again I had enough to afford the most expensive sword, but its power is worse than the Iron Spear
In preparation for the road to Rhone, I bought Lars a new sword. I was torn between the Light Sword and the Falcon sword. I figured the Falcon was more expensive, so more powerful right? Nope. The reason it's so expensive, yet has a worse attack power, is it attacks twice. Still, the two attacks are of about equal power to the one attack of another weapon. Two attacks means double the chance to crit, and a single miss is only half damage. Maybe it's worth it, but I haven't done the math.
This is the last place to search, and nothing to be found (sorry, lack of screenshots again)
I took stock of what I needed: the water crest and the life crest. Well, the life is on the road to Rhone (I learned from an NPC), but going over my notes revealed no mention of the water crest anywhere. I picked up the life crest and then wandered the world whistling my flute.
I remember this being important, but where did I take this screenshot?
After about an hour of searching, I finally remembered where I had seen that jail (it was in Hamlin, and it was more or less the last place I considered before it struck me). Behind the bars were two Gremlins, but they had changed color and named themselves something else. Killing them allowed me to search the ground, and find the crest.
With our powers combined!
Returning to the monolith in the sea gained me the Charm of Rubiss. I need this to dispel Hargon's spell that he's placed on the town near his castle. Now only one more step: getting to his castle.
How hard could that be? (*last words*)
The road to Rhone has by far the worst enemies with the least payout. The Flames can call for help, have high HP, and hurt everyone for 15 - 30 damage; there are attack robots (very strange to see high tech in Dragon Warrior) that have very high defense; and the different colored gremlins capable of casting sleep, and using fire breath doing 10 - 20 damage to everyone. Unless it's a single enemy (and sometimes even if it is) I'm running from every fight.
The end of one fight starting at max HP
I've had one small victory though; I beat my first metal babble. I don't even remember killing a metal creature in the first game, but I do remember the experience being mighty. That one fight was worth 5 - 10 times any other battle in the same dungeon. Strangely, subsequent babbles have been about half that amount. I must have killed a super special one.
What the heck is the Dragon's Potion?
Unfy, a regular follow for the past few games has noted on a few occasions that I seem to incur obscene luck while playing. Apparently the above item is a 1 in 128 or 1 in 256 chance, and only drops from metal babbles. If that's so, then I can hardly argue with his assessment. As I continued through the dungeon, running away from nearly every encounter the first try, he got fed up and left (expecting me to die horribly I assume, or real life tore him away). Not a minute later I get into a fight and am unable to run away. I think Unfy is more a lucky charm than any inherent luck I may have. Still, I don't know how this luck helps if it's only going to net me an item that allows me to save anywhere. Seeing as how death and saving/loading get me back to the same place (the last safe town), and gold soon to become useless I couldn't really care less about this feature.
What's in this room?
I continued through the dungeon, and left off mentally mapping a room with dropout floors. I have a method, so I hope it holds up; otherwise, I've wasted about an hour of play time dropping through the floor with little benefit. At a guess, I only have the rest of this cave, the trek to the nearest town, and then an assault on Hargon's fortress. Wish me luck.

Elapsed Time: 5h53m (Total Time: 17h49m)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Game 20: Dragon Warrior II (NES) - Search For Keys and Crests

With the help of Unfy, who pointed me towards a copy of the map inserted with the original game, I've cracked the world wide open. Really I was only missing the location of the island city viewed from the monolith on the other side of the water teleporter in Midenhall. But, before I get there let's review just how lost I was without it.
I'll just explore this land and... oh god, why?
First of all I found the Moon Tower south of Tuhn, but it was surrounded by water not connected to the sea (and there aren't any towers to jump off of so I can float to the other side). I discovered the town of Beran on the large island to the southwest. Not much to speak of there.
Some rude fellow accosted me because I forgot to wind my sundial
I did find the sunken treasure, and returned it to the merchant in Lianport. For my trouble I got an Echo Flute. I played it, but it didn't echo. I later learned there is only an echo if there is a crest nearby. What's a crest you ask? I have no clue.
What great prizes! What do they do?
I even spent some time playing the lottery, which may factor into the game, but at the moment it seems to only offer bonus items. I have yet to win anything other than additional lottery tickets, much like the real lottery. I gave Charlock a spin, but the enemies were much too difficult at this point.
I even explored the Alefgard cavern, and it's now just a long tunnel
Finally, when I reached the island city of Zahan the world became my oyster due to one item: the Gold Key. There were no less than 10 doors to open with it, although about half took me in circles and some I noted were two sides of the same door. The most notable are pictured below:
She has monopoly on Dew's Yarn, but instead of selling it she just tells me to get it myself
The King of Tatengel Castle hiding away lends me no help; maybe I need to find his hope
We will only give you Erdrick's Shield once you find the key, we've misplaced it and locked our sage inside
Erdrick's Token was equally secure behind a gold door. Poor guard was locked in as well
Osterfair Castle also became easily accessible through the teleporter in the monolith south of Midenhall. In this castle I found Gaia Armor hiding in a weapon shop. It wasn't exactly on the 'for sale' list, but I figured I'd help myself since I'm out saving the world. This kind of stuff wouldn't fly in Ultima though. When I spoke to the king here, he challenged me to face a fearsome beast. My reward for besting it was the Moon Crest.
A second crest is basically handed to the party when an NPC says it's at the fire monolith
Two out of five crests collected and I still have no idea what they're good for. According to the manual, there are five: Sun, Star, Moon, Water, and Life. Life is supposedly on the path to Rhone, so I guess I'm searching for Water and Star at the moment. What I really need though is some kind of direction...
Yeah, I supposes that will do
From this point, things just started falling into place. Another door opened up the town of Wellgarth. I was able to purchase the Jailer Key from a shady merchant.
Please buy my unspecified inconspicuous nonexistent wares
The Jailer Key was the last key I needed to gain access to all doors. I was still missing the Watergate Key, but that was last seen in the hands of Roge Fastfinger. The jailer in town mentioned he had him locked up, but that was no longer the case. Remembering the jail in Midenhall, I returned there and confronted a minion of Hargon. My reward was a Staff of Thunder, which casts Inferno (damages a group of enemies) when invoked.
I returned to Tuhn to learn the master weaver is missing his Magic Loom
I was stumped for a tiny bit on the location of the loom before I remembered the town of Zahan was a fishing town. Braving the damaging floor of the local wizard, I discovered the loom hiding locked up in a side room. Providing the loom and yarn, and waiting the standard 6 - 8 week shipping period, I received my very own Water Flying Cloth. I was told specifically that the princess should wear it, so she is.
I even learned that I was cursed, but the free clinic couldn't help me
Feeling a little more up to the task, I headed to Charlock Castle. I had picked up a Dragon Killer sword for the main hero, and Magic armor for Lars. I also exchanged Erdrick's Token for his helm. Maybe I should have waited on that sword though, as the first treasure I discovered had Erdrick's Sword (what was it doing back here). Also waiting for me was the grandson of the Dragonlord.
He was a little more amiable compared to his grandfather
Well, now I knew what to do when I found all the crests. Where to look for them? I figured that tower to the south of Alefgard was a good place to start. This was confirmed when I played the Echoing Flute (which played a nice melody as it echoed back). The enemies here still are cause for concern, as a lucky blow from one of the Saber Tooths took out Lars in a single blow from max HP.
And... I still am slow on the trigger to capture these shots
At the end of the night, I was winding down from having little luck in the tower (I'm not even sure of the name). Then I recalled I still hadn't found Roge Fastfinger, and memory flashed that I would find the Watergate Key back in Wellgarth. I returned to Roge's empty jail cell and search the walls.
Door's wide open, just give me the key
With the Watergate Key, I returned to Tuhn to try to give it back. Once again I was struck with the odd occurrence that none of the NPCs changed their stories, "Roge stole our key and we want it back" is all I heard. As I wondered the town, I discovered a dog on the wrong side of a building. I hadn't thought to explore above the northern border of town.
But, it was her father's name!
In the same area, I found the water gate. It seemed to be holding back some flood waters. Releasing the gate caused a land bridge to flood and grant access to the Moon Tower. Great, another tower to explore.
Is this the prequel to Waterworld?
Even with the difficult encounters, the directionless narrative, and goals that seem just out of reach, I'm enjoying the game. That could potentially all come crashing to a halt once I gain access to Rhone, but for now I'm still in good spirits despite my slow progress.

Session Time: 4h56m (Total Time: 11h56m)