Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Game 27: Magician (NES) - Warmed Up ("Finished!"*)

Game 27

Title: Magician
Released: 1991 (US only -- title screen has a copyright year of 1990)
Platform: NES
Publisher: Taxan
Genre: Action-RPG
Exploration - Side-scrolling (light platforming)
Combat - Real-time
Series - Standalone

I'm fairly sure most will remember this ending if any
I considered cutting this game altogether. It's on the edge of RPG status according to my scale. It offers a large selection of spells, stats to track, items and equipment to use, and Paul (the main character) increasing in power as the game progresses. My main point of angst is the character progression. The only stat that increases is max mana, and it only does so after completing quests or searching certain areas. Mana ties into the spell system though, and having more does allow the casting of more powerful spells. It's disjointed, and not in the hands of the player.
The demo holds a secret spell; one of the best things about Magician is the music
Still, here we are with a full post, so you already know my decision. I played it anyway, to the end, although I ended up missing the best ending. For now, this is what I have, but I hope to get a better ending at some point. The main reason I included it is nostalgia. (What better reason?)
I can FLY?!
This was a game I played heavily as a child; however, I always had difficulty. I remember managing to at least the lake level, but the platforming prevented me from getting any further. My brother, on the other hand, beat it at least once (although I don't know if he managed the best ending, or subsequent loops). We seemed to be the only ones that had even heard of it, let alone played it, among our friends and family. Even today it seems an obscure title; one I suggest anyone give a try if interested in action-RPGs like Faxanadu and Cadash.
The demo makes it look so easy
The story is a standard affair. Abadon, a previously good natured wizard, decided evil was more his style, and summoned evil spirits. He built his evil castle on an evil mountainside complete with creepy caverns. To ensure no other wizard interfered with his plans he destroyed them all with ease because no one thought evil would ever come to the land. A newly apprenticed wizard, Paul, was overlooked because he's a weakling. He's the only one left standing between Abadon and complete domination. The game really wouldn't be complete unless I was going to find some otherwise useless items to defeat Abadon, so there are also four elemental potions to create an ultimate potion that will seal Abadons power.
So it begins...
Before we get to the game, I want to highlight the developer, Eurocom. This was their first game, and their only RPG in their 20+ years of existence. Seems the only legacy the game left behind was the musical score by Neil Baldwin. Instead of following the game up with another action-RPG, the team decided straight action platforming was a better avenue to explore. They never returned to these roots. While it's by no means a perfect game, I would have enjoyed seeing improvements in a sequel. It's such a unique and curious game.
Let's get to it! Paul starts out in the town of Serenna. As an apprentice he doesn't have a single spell to his name. He starts with 1,500 gold to fund his journey, which he'll spend on spells, tips for gossip, and to gorge himself on innumerable foodstuffs.
Two minutes in and he's already hungry
The first town offered an easy level to get acquainted with the game. There were doors to enter (most barred), NPCs to chat up (most unhelpful), and shops to purchase all necessary equipment. The majority of the doors, including what I assume was Paul's home, were barred and no one answered when I came to call. Those with signs (e.g. "Ye Olde Guild") transitioned to a selection screen that gave various options: listen to patrons in a tavern, purchase items in a shop, or speak directly with main characters. Wandering characters that weren't completely hostile offered some nonsensical tip (e.g. "all wizards have gone crazy, don't trust anyone"), handed over their life savings, or (after the first town) provided a spell word to enter into the spellbook (a manual process, which I'll cover later). Paul quickly became famished and parched by his arduous trek after crossing his home town. Seriously, by the end of the game he drank 20 gallons of water, consumed 9 whole chickens, 10 legs of ham, 12 crusts of bread, and 10 bowls of hardy vegetables. I'm fairly sure this was all accomplished in a single day.
Uhh... thanks!
To gather information at the tavern I had to ply the bartender by ordering a tall glass of milk. (That's right, milk, it does a body good... got milk?) I learned of a house in the wilderness without doors or windows. From the local gossip I learned a wizard was turned into a statue, and someone near the wise man was holding a rummage sale. The wise man was found in the middle of town, and asked Paul to deliver a letter to "Ye Olde Post" for him. He also offered a flask of magic water, sure to come in handy. I never did find a use for it, and I think it's the main (possibly only) reason I didn't get the best ending.
This is a unique portrait for the game, most are blank stares
The rummage sale actually has some key items
Here's a good example of the game's difficulty. Levels are confined. There's no going back. If an item is missed it is gone, and it's perfectly easy to do too. There's one hint (normal for this era) that someone is having a rummage sale, and it's given after some off-handed gossip about pigs with a fever. This key--only available at one unmarked shop in the first town--is the only one in the game. Leave town without it and you can't complete the game. Strangely, I was able to buy three even though they aren't consumed. Three is a limit on all items though.
All spells have an adjustable power rating from 1 - 4 that increases the effectiveness of the spell at the cost of more mana
Spell scrolls are available in some shops as well, and I took the manual's advice in my purchases and how to handle the hostile warrior on the outskirts of town. As I completed quests (discovered the unmarked shop, spoke to the wise man, and delivered the letter), I gained experience. Experience in this game translates directly to an increase in max mana. Once max mana reaches a certain threshold, the rating moves to the next level. This is the only semblance of progress and leveling in the game. The "Level" on the menu is the game level, of which there are eight (nine if the fight with Abadon counts as a separate level). All experience must be gained to achieve the rating of magician, which unlocks the best ending.
Each level completion is accompanied by a screen transition
One of the most unique features is the ability to enter spells directly into the spellbook if a spell's runic transcription is known. By entering up to five different runes, spells are created at the cost of 50 mana. This allows the player to save money used to initially purchase the spells on subsequent playthroughs. The very first character of the wilderness imparted mi-ol-st to "make light of situations," which turned out to be the light spell. Spells are usually useful near the time of their acquisition, but the light spell doesn't come into play for a couple more levels.
I just remembered I never did use those sunglasses here, probably would have been helpful; oh, and did I mention the game only allows saving 15 times?
The manual also offers some hints. Most item hints in there are the useless kind like, "This has to be good for something," and, "if you throw it in..." A general hint to search everywhere is the only clue I found to a hidden egg and scroll in a hollowed out tree trunk. I suppose the hole in the tree trunk might be enough to pique interest, and the walking past two locations hinted at by description of a powerful magic sensed by Paul without a means to interact with them should raise suspicion. The scroll is the reveal spell, which caused two otherwise invisible objects to appear.
Entering a spell a random wizard just told me about
One of the invisible objects revealed was a statue of a wizard. Using the spell above I just learned, revived him. He told me his name was Belseth, and he was turned to stone by Abadon. His thanks was a scroll, a vial, and I gained some experience. The turned out to be one of the super important elemental potions; this one is earth. The other revealed location is a store, which sells mana potions, health potions, and anti-venom. All are very expensive. I ended up purchasing an anti-venom and health for the boss at the end of the level.
The game has a strange way of scrolling text
Further along were more hostile enemies. The only potential rewards gained is gold dropped, which really doesn't offset the risk and time involved. When I try again I think I'll just skip them all. Learning an optimal path is a puzzle all its own, and one the game intends the played to learn over the course of many restarts. Learning where to place a save is also key to continuing forward progress.
There was also a dry well I fell down. The chest has a mana potion and the fly spell, enough to get out as long as you bought a key
I saved at the edge of a marsh, which I knew from past experience was very deadly (it's also in the description). There are certain key locations where descriptive text scrolls. Sometimes these are innocuous, such as describing the destruction of the buildings in the background, while others hint at dangers and notable features. The marsh was far too large to use my newly gained featherlite spell (without which Paul sinks), even when combined with the fleetfoot spell. With both at level 4 they still don't last long enough. The key was to fly, but the danger wasn't over. Fireballs leaped from the water to the height of my flying character, doing minor damage.
All deadly plants spit poison
In the middle of the marsh is the first boss. It shoots venomous projectiles, but with an anti-venom potion on hand I didn't really have to worry about it. The boss dropped a chest, and while it's easy enough to fly to the exit at this point, the chest contained both a mana potion and a rune stone. Combining this stone with the cane purchased in town (it happened automatically) created the Staff of Power. It has the ability to cast an attack spell (lightning-1 I believe) without consuming mana. This was used to great effect from that point on.
Maybe this really did all happen in a single day
The game continued in much the same way. Walk from left to right to complete each level while overcoming challenges. Talk to NPCs, open chests, and slowly gain more mana. The lake area began with a new attack spell and boatman sitting idly near the shore who neither spoke, nor responded when spoken to. It was only when I gave him some gold did I suddenly appear on the boat. I remembered spending all my gold by this point when I was younger and found some hidden in a bush nearby the boat, which I decided to collect.
Looks like a storm's approaching
The boat trip took me to the first in is a series of islands. The first is rather large and housed a thriving community of hostile warriors. A couple of patrons in the tavern argued over the proper phrasing of the jump spell, which I gladly noted. I also learned there was a warlock imprisoned in Abadon's tower. On the far end of town is where the real challenge of this level began, and the only platform section in the game. Using the new jump spell, I propelled Paul across small islands jutting out of the water. The key was to adjust the power of the jump spell based on the distance to the next island. Spirits of past hapless adventurers haunt this area as well, and fire bolts of spectral power. Halfway across I came to a point that looked too far to jump, and then I remembered I could fly.
At the end of this section was a lone gargoyle that prevented the screen from scrolling to the end of the level. As he flew around he would fire fireballs. All spells have a specific property, and shield spells for each are obtainable. Attacks degrade these shields until Paul takes damage directly to his health (or venom, which degrades health over time based on a percentage). Altogether this created a delicate balance of mana, shields, and health. Add in food and water which depleted over time, and it's an intricate system that rewards preparedness while at the same time provides a sense of urgency.
Taking damage causes characters to flash grey, but a shield will cause projectiles to bounce off with a "clink" sound
Some flavour text; Merl Forest is on the other side of the lake, and has a rather creepy atmosphere.
The next level was Merl Forest. A giant toadstool firing, you guessed it, more venom was my first encounter. Like the other bosses, the screen refused to budge while it lived. The remainder of the enemies in this area were easily bypassed. This left only some short dialogue with NPCs that garnered two new spells. The forest also had a poisonous pool of water. Hindsight moment: this is where I probably should have used the magic water. Further along the path, a strange face set in a tree was sleeping. Waking the tree and using the translate spell gained from the petrified wizard I learned about three doors, and a path through a maze.
Wood-worm treatments? This could be important
The forest is home to the brother of the wise man in Serenna. He acknowledged and thanked Paul for sending off the letter, then warned of the treasure room behind the second door. A beggar who appeared to be mediating also calls the forest his home. I tried to meditate with him, but to no avail. I tried to give him gold, but he did not accept. I then looked to the Help spell. I bought it in the first store and to this point had no need for it. The hint given was "he needs no gold," which I had already figured out. Food is what he wanted, and offering him three portions gained me three hints for the three doors to come. Only the first bit of food gained Paul any experience, and any more food beyond three resulted in a polite "thank you."
Riddling the three serpent names; the last hint said the third is neither Shome nor Venmor
With all this knowledge gained, I quickly forgot it and brute forced my way through guessing the serpents' names. A wrong guess was instant death, but I saved nearby. In addition to the serpents, a trap was laid in the second room. A Ring of Ven was waiting for an unwary traveler. My curiosity got the better even with the wise man's warning, and I picked up the ring. It automatically equipped, and continuously released poison. I could cure it, but it would build up over time again. Beating the game with this ring equipped seems like a fun challenge.
Beware the treasure in the second room huh? Well, I'll just pick this ring up very slowly, and oops it's on my finger
The first door contained an ogre. He had powerful physical attacks that could kill Paul in three to four swings. He was very manageable though as he wouldn't attack unless Paul was some distance away. I remained close and used the Staff of Power. The treasure he left behind had two spells: boulder and power shield. The third and last door was the exit from the level, a secret entrance into mount Vulnar, atop which sat Abadon's castle.
Fangs enough to still kill me
Following the forest was a cave system where I finally found a use for the light spell. Immediately, Paul is set upon by a venomous spider as the game began to ramp up the number of hostile enemies. The Iron Boots spell gained in the forest was necessary to break through a decaying part of a rickety bridge. There's no fall damage in the game, so leaping down pits blindly didn't seem all that dangerous, until I got to this level.
"Alas, your quest is over" is I phrase I saw a lot in this game
One cave at the bottom held a dragon who traded a magic charm for the egg found in the wilderness. No egg? Not sure, but either death or dead end I'd assume. Three charms were necessary to pass this level. Another was behind a puzzle room; the first of many in the game. It seemed a strange addition as the game changed to an overhead view and time stood still. The puzzles involved slowly uncovering the correct path to take to reach the other side. Choosing incorrectly has little lasting consequence, and just wastes time. Exiting and entering these rooms is unrestricted.
The last charm is gained from defeating this animated statue
The last cave had an old woman. Once Paul presented the three charms to her, she turned into a young woman; her youth restored by breaking another of Abadon's spells. Her gratitude came in the form of the vial of water, and teleporting Paul into Abadon's castle. I later found I missed an area by not exploring past her cave; however, there wasn't any indication that I should do so as far as I recall. A system of passages known as the Maze of Doom was at the far right end of the level. Inside that maze was a vital spell, and it wasn't until two levels later that I learned I needed it. Luckily I had a save left in these caverns, so exploring to the spell, writing down its incantation, and entering it into my later save game gained me the SlowMo spell.
A sample puzzle room from the dungeon level; this one had moons that teleport and some blank tiles that return Paul to the entrance
The next area was a dungeon. There were a series of iron gates that were guarded by enemies. Beyond them were puzzle rooms and chests, or more enemies that produced a chest once defeated. Most chests here had an artifact with amazing abilities like +15% to all shields or set food and water to 100%, usable once. The two main things to accomplish here were finding the scroll for the spell twin, and releasing the imprisoned warlock. Once again a hidden door was hinted at when walking by, and revealed with the spell. I'm not sure if Paul can enter without revealing the door.
Mensim gave me the vial of air
The final puzzle in the dungeon was a simple door release that needed to be weighted down with something. The recently gained twin spell was the obvious solution. This level seemed like a bit of a reprieve from the constant worry of draining resources. There were fountains of water which relieved the stress of thirst. The chests were plentiful with food and healing. Only one enemy, a giant rat, proved troublesome and truly not worth the time to defeat him.
You wait here, I'll go get Abadon
The main castle was the next area. Abadon constructed a maze of twisty passages interspersed with large swinging balls suspended from chains. These magical balls cannot be leaped over or around (remember, we're in a 2D world). Instead, the only way to pass them was through combining the SlowMo spell with the Fleetfoot spell. This caused the fast moving ball to slow just enough that a speedy Paul could saunter by with getting wiped out. One touch from the ball or chain is instant death. This was the point I was stuck at until I loaded a save in the caverns to fully explore it.
I can feel the wind from the ball as it swung behind me, and then the ball itself as it smashed into my head without the SlowMo spell
Past this point were a couple other balls, but mainly monsters (including spirits, ogres, and skeletons) that guarded passageways. All led to the same room in the end, but some meandered a bit more than others. It took a bit of trial and error to figure out the best path through by balancing the rewards in the each room. I'm still not sure if I have it down completely.
In case anyone else needs a free pass
All paths converged to a bridge made of fire. Fire Shield wasn't effective. Instead it the best solution was Fleetfoot once more, although I suppose the Fly spell might. At the end of the bridge was a fire demon, easily beaten like the other stationary bosses. From him I gained the final vial of elemental potion (fire). Beyond him were three doors... evil, evil doors. The first took Paul back to the very beginning of the castle, the second to somewhere in the middle, and the last to the most subtle puzzle of the game. Apparently there's an unwritten rule somewhere that a sphinx's name must be unique. In any case, hindsight and all that jazz. I was able to guess the correct name on my second try. Strangely, nothing happened when entering the room. The sphinx only awakened when I tried to leave.
Before looking closely at my screenshots I thought there were no hints for this puzzle
The final level, or penultimate, is an ascension of Abadon's tower. Easiest level of the game. There were exits to the left or right of a long open shaft that offered another amulet, some food and water, and a spell to show the credits.
I'm not sure why this is a reward so late in the game, but I guess many would fail to see the true ending
The last two rooms had a fountain that completely restored mana, and recesses where the ultimate potion is assembled from the elemental vials. The battle with Abadon didn't go very well my first attempt, so I spent some time using up my food, water, and artifacts to build up my shields to nearly 100%. I ended up killing him with the staff of power and shield spells to deflect his attacks. The controls allow for Paul to have one item and one spell at the ready. That item can be a scroll to cast a spell (at level 1 power) so two spells are at the ready, but there weren't many benefits to it that I found.
After a certain amount of damage, I was prompted to use the ultimate potion
Abadon is no more, and the land rejoiced! Triumphantly walking past all those NPCs we touchingly became close to in a way only a game can portray minute long conversations as lifetime bonds of friendship, Paul returned to his home town a hero.
Not sure who the woman waiting at Paul's place was; he's a teenager, so maybe his mom?
If you didn't somehow have the foresight to get 100% completion and gather all the experience necessary to reach the fabled rating of Magician, then you'll get the ending at the start of the post too. I'm going to give it another try, and see if I can't get some screenshots of the real ending at some point. Either way, it's a fun game, and we'll see how it does in the final rating.
After Abadon is defeated there's an option to save, but the next loop only starts if Paul is rated as a Magician; otherwise you get the lame ending over again.
Elapsed Time: 3h50m (Final Time: 3h50m)

P.S. Sorry for the delayed posting. Looking for a place to move has drained me and my time the past couple of weeks, and I probably won't be back to a regular schedule until at least the first week into August.

* - Marked with an asterisk because I only received the bad ending so far. Will update this post or link to a new one if I manage the best one.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Below the Cut: King's Bounty (Genesis)

(Source: MobyGames)
King's Bounty - Rating(8 RPP)
1) 2 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 4 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 0 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 1 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 1 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 0 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

I can see why someone might favor this as an RPG. While it lacks full control over the hero, and there aren't really levels to gain, it offers progression as the player gains leadership points. Leadership determines how many of each unit the hero can lead. Up to five different units can make up an army. Different fantasy units are available from set locations on the map, and they range from dwarves to dragons, orcs to fairies, and so on. Combat has the player commanding these units in battle with wandering enemies or laying siege to castles. It's turn based; the enemy's turn follows after the player's units have finished with their actions. Some can fly across the map, others can fire volleys, and some sap the strength of the enemy for their own. Spells are available during combat to teleport units and damage the enemy.

The hero is chosen from four available options which vary the spell power, leadership, and starting gold. The quest is always the same: collect 25 map pieces to find the king's sceptre buried in a random location. Really it's all about finding that sceptre, and the map pieces only render that task easier to complete. While the full world isn't open from the beginning, it's remains open once unlocked. Unlocking the other continents happens after returning to the king with a set number of completed contracts to capture local evil lords. The main story is laid out in the beginning, but there's little lore. Gathering information only details the necessities: name of castle, name of lord, and estimated army strength.

What the game lacks is minor, and in examining it I nearly talked myself into playing through with a complete review. However, I'm going to stick with my gut and say this isn't an RPG. If you're interested, do check out CRPG Addict's take on the game for PC (there's not much difference between the two). It's a fun game for exploration, a slow build up of resources, and strategic combat. There aren't any side quests or puzzles to solve, and the whole story is laid out in the beginning instead of unfolding in a way to give the illusion of interactivity. Seeing as how Heroes of Might & Magic never really made it to console, this may be the last time we see a game in this genre.