Friday, December 5, 2014

Game 31: The Sword of Hope (Game Boy) - Where's the 'Win' Command? (Finished)

The border is one of many available from the Game Boy Player
Game 31

Title: Sword of Hope, The
Released: June 1991 (December 1989 JPN)
Platform: Game Boy
Developer: Kemco
Publisher: Seika
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-Person
Combat - Turn based
Series - Sword of Hope

This may be a first, but it won't be the last at the rate I'm posting
Due to the length of time between posts, I've actually finished The Sword of Hope. Titled Selection in Japan, the game is a hybrid of RPG and adventure game. Coming from Kemco, it's not much of a surprise. They had a fairly solid grasp of adventure game mechanics, and an engine used in the three NES MacAdventure ports; it was an easy transition to introduce a similar title on the Game Boy. And, while this is the first RPG by Kemco, it definitely won't be the last.
Anyone else getting tired of legends about destiny and looming darkness? No? Good, me neither
The story begins on the fifteenth birthday of Theo, secret heir to the kingdom of Riccar. Tucked away by Pascal--a faithful servant of the royal family--he was raised in secrecy since the day the king tried to slay the child while under the influence of a dark power. An evil dragon, once held captive in a painting, used its will to command the king to remove the sword that sealed his full powers. The dragon, partially revived summoned Mammon (strangely absent from the game) who transformed nearly all the people in the land into trees.
Already starting with the grammar errors, this isn't a good sign
To protect the handful of survivors, three magicians sealed the king in his castle and caused it to sink underground. They also retrieved the Sword of Hope, the one that sealed the dragon, and one of them held it until the day the chosen one would retrieve it. Prince Theo, born with a dagger shaped birthmark, was told all of this by the now elder Pascal. He was unsure which of the magicians had the sword as their messenger pigeons have been prevented from delivering messages lately. Something was amiss. The dragon might emerge.
Before I left, the old man told me of the Shaman, who would heal and preserve my game. Theo then received the copper armor and probite sword (anyone know what probite is supposed to be), and packed away some wheat and an herb to heal HP and MP respectively. Lastly, a magic book to hold his spells. At this early stage he only had one, a teleport spell to set locations (the old man and shaman were most important) for no MP cost.
I just wanted a nice quiet stroll through the woods, but the trees kept talking to me
The menu commands of look, open, and hit interacted directly with objects in each area. Moving between areas was accomplished by selecting the direction of the exit. Item, such as recovery or event items, are accessed through use; this command doesn't require selecting an object to use the item on, it always selects the best target. Magic powers outside of combat were limited to teleporting, healing, or special event related spells. Power listed Theo's stats, including the amount of experience necessary for the next level.
The humor seems out of place, or poorly translated
The Shaman charges for his healing, and the cost goes up in relation to Theo's level. In fact, so do healing items purchased from shops. The Shaman had a crystal ball that would reveal a password to resume the quest. Nearly every area had a tree that would reveal a little bit more of the story, but most repeated the prologue. I came across a forest shop, then grinded enough to afford the silver armor. Upon my return she told me of a scroll in the back she didn't need anymore. Reading the scroll allowed me to decode one of the spells in the magic book: Grace, a meditation spell (only used at one place).
Don't get many visitors, do you?
I found a tree that told me about a larger tree that snatched a key from a pigeon. Another knew a little of my mother, and described a ruby charm she had in her possession. Still yet another spoke of an old swordsman, before the time of the king, who died of epioemic illness (I swear the game is making up words, and so does Google); his spirit was so sad that he shed many tears upon the land. The swordsman's grave was said to rest at the edge of Martel's domain, if only I could gain access. The three areas of each magician were visible from the start, but each was barred by a locked gate. If only Theo could climb.
I think Theo is scared of heights
The treant pictured above attacked as soon as I hit it. You'd think it was defending itself or something. At level 4 I'd already learned a couple combat spells. Firebal2 was most effective against. Defeated, he lamented his ways and gave me Martel's Key, which he'd stolen from a bird. It fit cleanly into Martel's Gate. But, when I reached Martel, instead of welcoming me, he demanded proof that I was actually the prince. He haughtily suggested I pray for guidance at the worship site. He opened the previously sealed door, and I did as suggested.
Grace and charm, exactly what a prince needed
A ball of light appeared after using the Grace spell at the altar (misspelled alter on some screens). It spoke of my destiny, and passed a charm to me. I later realized that was the spirit of Theo's mother. It's not explained how she died (so we can just imagine the most gruesome way possible). Taking the charm back to Martel snapped him to the reality of the situation. He lamented that he did not have the Sword of Hope, but he did upgrade mine to a 3 Star Sword. Strangely, the game is a bit bugged, and the damage increase wasn't applied until I died in combat. Before I left his house, I bopped his pigeon on the head and gained the white egg.
Perfect timing, as I need to find it now!
While exploring the area behind the worship site, I found a tree that said it knew where the next key was, but it forgot just as it was about to tell me. After proving myself to Martel, it suddenly remembered a slug had taken it to the bottom of a well. I found the well on the other side of a graveyard on the far side of the worship site. A different tree mentioned there was a vampire around, but he was nowhere to be seen. Inside the well were goblins and mimics. It was actually a mimic where I died for the first time and found I was doing about four times the amount of damage when I returned. Death wasn't too much of a setback. Theo revived at the old man's house with 20 HP/MP, and retained all of his gold and experience earned.
There was a hole out of the well, but I didn't have a rope to climb
I retrieved a doll and a message from the only chests that weren't mimics. Both were useless. The message was very generic: "Once a brave armored knight fought against the darkness." The doll had no effect in combat when I first used it, and none outside of combat either. I fought the slug at the bottom of the well twice (dying once due two successive acid attacks that took half my HP, an event all too common in this game), and retrieved Shabow's Key. Nearly every tree in Shabow's area was too quiet to hear. Looking carefully at the surroundings in one area led to a secret passage into his cave.
The Shabow is strong, The Shabow is courageous
To test Theo's courage, Shabow tasked him to find a moon fragment hidden in a nearby cave. The only way to get there though was to be thrown into the river by Shabow, which he did with a smile on his face. When I entered the cave, it was described as the Tricky Cave. It definitely had some tricks, with more mimics, warp areas that wrapped back to the entrance, and traps in the form of doors, holes, and riddles. One special riddle was one that proclaimed a blue pot was happiness and a red pot was unhappiness. When I examined the left pot, it was described as a brilliantly shining vermilion pot. This might be difficult for a child I thought. The right pot...
I think someone dropped the ball on this description
Another message in a chest mentioned that in the light of the full moon, the treant would bear magic fruit. I actually lost my first night's of notes, and completely forgot about this hint. Apparently it comes into play late in the game, and the magic fruit fully heals HP and MP. The cave also held a chest that when approached caused a black market merchant to appear. He sold me the gold armor for 250 gold. It's interesting to note that 255 gold is the max, and Theo exclaims he's carrying too much to add any more to his coffers.
I have no idea what this message in the chest was all about... at first I thought they might be obscure directions, but now I realize it's what the developers thought of the players
A couple exits from the cave delayed me from finishing. One dropped me in front of Shabow, and the other exited the cave at a hole that was strangely one-directional. The moon fragment was guarded by a Shadow monster. It wasn't a very difficult fight. As I returned to Shabow, Theo was startled by a mysterious man tapping his shoulder. He mentioned that the whole country was powerless, and only a man chosen by the sword could destroy the darkness. Then, he vanished, and I forgot about him because the meeting was rather pointless. Shabow thanked me for finding the fragment, provided an upgrade to my sword as once again the Sword of Hope was in another castle, and his pigeon popped out the blue egg for me. The Extra Sword was equipped, and Theo could now hear the trees that were too quiet before.
How does a bird blush?
What I still didn't have though was the key to the next area. Camu's key was easy to fetch from a lizard living under a bridge that crossed the swampy river. Even though I'd searched there before, now that the trees told me he had the key and where to find him, he popped right out of the water and laid into me. Well, not really. He was a pushover who wasted his turns buffing himself. The trees also spoke of a mudman that was infatuated with Camu, but I couldn't find it at the time.
A sample of the password screen
Up to this point I really enjoyed the game. It was a fast paced light time after the long arduous games of Lemmings and Dragon Warrior III I'd just played. Side note: I'm doing a side project where I'm streaming all Game Boy games to completion. For Game Boy RPGs though, I'll continue to play those in chronological order according to the RPG list. That project won't interfere with this one as I'm doing it during my off days. In any case, this was the turning point. The game went from a light combat adventure to a grindy pain.
I just don't know when to quit
The next area was Camu's, and she was missing. Her likeness was seen in several reflective ponds. She silently mouthed words, but there was no way to free her. A sealed pagoda towered over the land. Grinding was necessary for two enemies: a yeti that would attack if I hit his rock, and an imp that would attack if I looked at his rock. The yeti used an arctic wind that slowed Theo and did about 45 damage. Getting lucky was the key. Checking now, even the FAQ suggests getting lucky. I managed to get through with the help of the PilageHP. This kept me afloat most of the time. Whenever he'd strike with arctic blast, I'd switch medium recovery until I was back to full health. For the imp, once again the trick was to get lucky. At 19 though, Theo learned Arctic2, the only spell the imp does not resist.
Many, many times did I feel powerless
Defeating the Yeti rewarded me with a saphire (sic), which  I didn't have a clue what it did. Before I managed to defeat the imp, I wandered around looking for anything I missed. It so happened there was a room off to the side of the worship site altar that contained a pipe organ. Hitting it caused a strange note to play, but I couldn't open it to find out what was wrong. In my frustration, I tried using every item; the charm caused a red glow to emerge and merge with it, creating the ruby charm. Still no closer to freeing Camu, I then found the one spell that harmed the imp. With it, I easily killed him--mainly because stole my gold instead of casting spells that did 70 damage.
The letter the imp dropped was one written to Camu by mudman. Camu was lured to the pool with this letter. He was found in the swamp area in Shabow's domain. Mudman was yet another arduous battle based purely on how lucky I got with random numbers. I'm not even sure how I survived in the end; I died many times. Mudman dropped a ring, which allowed me to speak to the women in the ponds. One was a fight with a lamia (I should have known better, the tree did warn me). Another was a sprite that asked me a handful of questions before passing judgment. I was deemed a stuck up liar because I thought she could give me something, treasure chests were more than mimics, I said I liked everyone in the world, and I was confident I could find the sword. Honestly, looking up the "correct" answers in the FAQ, I think something was lost in translation.
The real Camu was in the third pond, or at least a reflection of her since she's really in the pagoda
As it turned out, Camu was trapped in the pagoda after transforming into a unicorn to escape mudman. Mudman broke off her horn and used it to seal the pagoda door before passing it to his good buddy the vampire. So, I made my way back to the graveyard to fight him. I stopped by the altar to pray for guidance, and Remy suggested to use a sacred item against the vampire. My first thought was the ruby charm for some reason, and it worked. The vampire spent a few turns biting me, which plummeted my agility, but I focused on killing him with the charm. The unicorn horn I gained from the fight opened the seal on the pagoda then leaped from my hands to land three stories up to Camu's head.
This is how the full moon was made
Camu rewarded me with yet another sword upgrade, but lamented that she did not have the Sword of Hope either. Her rude bird wouldn't give me his egg... that is until I suggested I rip him open to get to it. Along with the red egg, I also picked up an item called spore in the tower, which I found could put enemies to sleep. Head hung low, I returned to old man Pascal to tell him of my failure. He tenderly explained I had done exactly as planned. The Sword of Hope could only be wielded by one honed in the ways of wisdom, courage, and love.
Could this be the Sword of Hope?
I wish... actually it is, not sure why they renamed it
With the Sword of Hope in hand, I was then shown the way to the underground castle. It was in the room next to the old man all along. Nice place to hide Theo all these years... right next to the entrance of the evil lair. The road to the castle was littered with traps, warps, and long twisty passages. First was a room with whispering doors that needed the ring to hear. I found a message to the left of that room written in a chest that said, "plant ivy seeds to enter [the castle]." The true path soon diverged at some ivy vines. Climbing the right one led me to a foggy passage that the FAQ explained was a shortcut had I answered the sprite's questions correctly. The left led to some additional trials in the form of dwarfs that led me astray and a river crossing that no matter what I chose sapped some of my strength. The only option I didn't try was to lie about having a ticket to cross the ferry. Seriously... a ferry with a full crew just sitting here? How does that make sense?
Three options that don't work at all
On the other side was a door that could either be pushed or pulled. Each led to a different area of the map. Both eventually wrap back to the same section with another black marketer peddling some overpriced items, and the front gate to the castle. But, I was stuck at that point for some time. I wondered how I could get one of the ivy vines here, and thought that maybe the spores played a role. I prayed at the worship site, and was told to seek the advice of the roses... what roses? I searched the whole maze and found a yellow fruit; that didn't work either (in fact, it drained my MP when I used it). I ended up taking my frustration out on the only vines I'd seen up to this point. I hit them, but nothing happened. Opening them was the key, and out popped an ivy seed. I took it back to the castle gate, and got them to grow by talking very sternly with them.
Grimrock mad! Wait, is this where Legend of Grimrock got its name?
Probably not, even the game can't keep names straight
Still in the mood to rip something apart, I hit the throne as soon as I entered the king's room. This caused a false leg to pop off and a scroll to fall to the ground. The scroll taught me how to read the Secret spell. I found the queen's room, but only noted a familiar scent. I randomly tried the Secret spell in the living room, which caused a mirror to melt away, leaving an eerily dark secret passage. On the other side was the mirror world, which had the best music in the game. It almost made me forget how completely lost I became in it. Unlike the other side, the mirror world held no special notes to find out about Theo's past. There was a rose garden though, and through speaking to them I found a secret passage into a cave. Inside the cave, behind one of the many rocks, was a ladder to a sealed door. A door I couldn't figure out how to bypass.
A pointed tool, what could it be?
I ended up trying the door to the left first, and was warped out. I then returned and tried every item in my inventory. None worked, so I left to explore everywhere I'd been before. Back in the real world castle, I found a self portrait with a hint that I needed to enter the mirror world (been there done that). I found using the ruby charm in the queen's room summoned an image of her. She explained I'd need a spell from the throne (got it) to enter through the mirror (did that). She then disappeared. In a study was a book with a sketch of baby Theo. That's it, no other clues. I found myself going back over the entire map looking for anything I may have missed. I noted the well, and the room I wasn't able to ascend without a rope. Turned out I just needed to hit the wall.
Oh yeah, I guess it is teardrop shaped... you know, in my imagination
Above the well was the grave of Poliniyak. His ghost appeared as I approached, and he asked that I return the saphire (sic). If it were described as a teardrop I might have had the idea to seek him out earlier. Alas, there's no way to examine items in the inventory to determine their properties. With his gem back, he gladly parted with his platinum armor (lot of good it did him). I'm pretty sure it wasn't a pointed tool, and really there's no way to use it or the sword. You know, the same sword that's nice and pointy that I'd used on all the monsters. Seems Theo forgot about this property as I had him staring down the door for the fifth time. With nothing left to try I examined the door again to get some idea of what to do. The message on it mentioned the word "rooted" many times. I tried the y fruit again, but it still only drained my magic. Desperate, I went through my entire inventory again. This time, the ruby worked and the door opened.
So what was the difference? Well, turned out that looking at the door first was required before opening the door with the ruby. How did I figure this out? Well, I had many chances to try as I died over and over again to the boss on the other side. Theo's father was waiting for me, and he attacked as soon as I wiped away the dust on the painting of the dragon. He was capable of putting me down with two spells. It took five minutes to get back to him each time. Somewhere in all this mess I discovered escaping from combat was succeeding every time. I'm guessing it was the armor, but I'm not certain it wasn't reaching a certain level.
Oh, and not only was he immune to all my spells, he reflected them right back at me
The only hope I had against him was getting lucky with a couple of things. First, I discovered that the doll I found way back in the cave had a chance to lock down enemy spells. It lasted for either a random number of turns, or had a chance to break whenever the enemy cast a spell. At some point I tried the y fruit (as well as the ruby and ring, which did nothing), and discovered it was harmful to enemies when used in battle. It had a better damage range than purely attacking, so my plan was doll first, then fruit, and pray his spells were locked for the entire fight (healing when necessary). Also, I needed to luck into dealing the final blow during a turn he tried to cast a spell (thus wasting his turn). This was because he could still harm me with physical attacks.
This battle happens right after the one with the king; the dragon goes first; and anything less than full HP was pretty much a death sentence
Another luckfest for the dragon. I could only harm him with the Sword of Hope, but only after his first attack, which caused blood to trickle down Theo's arm and stain the birthmark . Theo then noticed that it's on his left arm, and so he switched sword hands. After that point, almost all attacks were criticals. I say almost because there were times he'd randomly do normal damage, which was only a single hit point. The dragon only has his normal attack, and the ability to heal for 40-50 HP. His normal attack did 20 - 80 points of damage (give or take), and Theo had 120 max HP at level 26. The dragon always acts first. It's all luck. Theo had a max heal spell, which helped, but two bad rolls on damage and I was toast. I'm not sure how many hits the dragon took, but it was a good enough number that trying to trade blows and heal just wasn't cutting it. I switched to another tactic.
A shot right before I got the best of the dragon, yes the situation was getting dire
Instead of relying on luck the entire battle, I spent the first half of the battle alternating between raising my agility and healing. I did this until I finally started going first each turn. This meant I could take advantage of healing only when necessary. It wasn't guaranteed I'd go first, but about 90% of the time I would, and I worked the dragon down until I had no healing items, no MP recovery, and only one more casting of full heal. The final blow was made when I had at most three more attacks.
I wish this game would end... oh wait, it is!
The dragon was driven back into the painting, and Theo's father came to with no recollection since the time of his possession some 16+ years prior. The king recognized Theo by his birthmark as one prophesied to destroy the dragon. There was no time to explain though, as the whole area started to crumble away. Theo helped the king out of the mirror world, and they exited just in time as the mirror in the real world shattered. Then everything was hunky dory, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Who's going to clean that up, we don't have any maids left in the castle
Well, that was a game. I'm not really looking forward to the sequel, Dumber Luck (Sword of Hope 2 in a couple game years). There's no preparation for the later battles; no special strategies to try; nothing to assist in easing through the game except maybe grinding out a few more levels. The problem with that was each level started taking over 2500 experience, and each enemy provided a paltry 15 - 30. It was a nice idea, and I'm glad I got to experience it. I dare say the worst grind to date, although I'm sure it won't be the worst in the end. Time for the review, and then on to what I hope is a better game: Phantasy Star III.

Elapsed Time: 13h01m (Final Time: 13h01m)

Combatant - Combat was either a cake-walk or a brick wall. There's no variation in strategy. The spells are a bit odd, with four levels of damaging spells. The first was a random target (including self), the second would always target one enemy, the third hurts everyone, and the fourth affects all enemies. With the overwhelming amount of damage spells do though, the risk of getting hit is more than it's worth to use the first or third in each series. Throw in the fact that on later bosses spells are useless, and strategy gets thrown out the window. Enemies are reasonable although uninspired. The hard fights were only hard because it came down to luck. Most of the points I gave here were due to the stats based combat.
Rating: 3
That is a weird looking cave
Admirer - It's really hard to rate this category for a first-person game. Leveling up and character control are about the only areas possible to score here. There's nothing to customize. We also never see Theo.
Rating: 2
Not even during the ending sequence do we get a picture of Theo
Puzzler - It's easy to find the next piece of the puzzle for the main quest, and I suppose the armor is at least one side quest. The riddles in the game were trivial though, and there's only one way to really get through the game. A shortcut was available if certain questions were answered correctly, but determining those answers was nothing short of luck (or trial and error).
Rating: 4
I hope the sequel addresses my main complaints about the game
Instigator - The story was ever present. It might be a bit cliched with the prophecy to vanquish evil, and a child born with a birthmark to match, but it gets the job done. There's no influence from the player that will alter it though, and no description of items or locations. The mother's history was never revealed either, and one of the big bad sorcerers mentioned in the prologue was dropped from the game entirely. Maybe that's part of the sequel though.
Rating: 3
Wish all you like, someone made a sequel
Collector - There were some items to collect, and it's not possible to run out of room; however, there's no sense of completion. There's also no sense of what items do (e.g. a doll that stops spells, or a fruit that drains magic outside battle yet harms enemies in battle). The economy, while not irrelevant, is arbitrarily capped to compensate for the flood of gold Theo would naturally accumulate.
Rating: 3
When I become a legend, do remember me for my 10 foot stature and ability to shoot fireballs from my eyes
Explorer - The graphics were pretty good for Game Boy. I really enjoyed the music as well. Exploration was fun, but I enjoyed mapping more than the views. Unfortunately there weren't any interesting or uniquely standout locations. The gates from one area to the next feel arbitrary.
Rating: 3
Something cheerleader, something world?
Final Rating: 18 [30%]

Definitely not the worst game I've played, but I feel like it inflated the amount of time it should have taken with its random difficulty. In any case, I have the sequel to look forward to for improvements. Now on to... wait, I still need to cut Neutopia II. I guess that's next.


  1. I remember playing this game, but since I only temporarily traded my Genesis for my friend's Gameboy, I never had time to finish it... the puzzles were aggravating and made no sense as a kid (and apparently as an adult too). I didn't mind the grinding though (at least then, now would be a vastly different story). So happy to see the end to this and finally know that I didn't miss much!

    1. Glad to have unlocked the ending for you. It was a game that really tried my patience. The amount of time per area grew exponentially and all because certain bosses were unfairly difficult. I'm curious, how far do you remember getting in the game? Apparently grinding to max level (only 5 levels away from where I finished) doesn't add much to survivability at only another 20 max HP and 10 MP.

  2. I didn't realize this was Kemco's first RPG. Kemco currently likes to churn out short, simple, overwhelmingly generic JRPGs for smartphones, which are sometimes ported to other platforms.

    I played SoH back in the day, and I think I might have been higher leveled by the end, because I remember the final battles as difficult but not gut-wrenchingly luck dependent. Your strategy is quite impressive.

    I've also played the sequel, and it is a significantly better game. Just being able to have a party of three rather than a lone hero makes a tremendous difference.

    1. It may have been bad luck on my part. I recently watched someone get through the game at a lower level than I was, and he didn't have nearly as much trouble. Possibly the cart is cursed.

      Thanks for the support. I've also heard the second one had some nice improvements.