Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Game #39: Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy) - Mana Mana (Finished)

Game 39

TitleFinal Fantasy Adventure
ReleasedNovember 1991 (June 1991 JPN)
PlatformGame Boy
PublisherSquare Soft
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Action
Series - Mana (Seiken Densetsu)

Thankfully a short game
I've been looking forward to seeing what games I missed on the Game Boy specifically. We had the handheld in the house, but we never had any games beyond Final Fantasy Legend (not even Tetris). I suppose we didn't travel enough to get more, and we had the major Nintendo consoles to keep us busy. Still, I feel like I missed something special with this game. I don't have the nostalgia built in for this title. While playing through it I could see a fun game, and it had its moments, the repetitive dungeons soured the experience. I remember enjoying Secret of Mana, so I'm glad the series had its start, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it evolves going forward. Maybe it's the Game Boy as a platform that limited the scope of this action game.
The story in a nutshell
The game begins with the naming of a boy and girl. The boy takes the lead, while the girl takes her place as sidekick and eventually kidnappee. Not much is known about where he came from, only what he does currently.
The current empire is known as Glaive. The hero, who I named Zeni, met up with his fellow fighters in their cells after their respective fights. Every day they battled for the amusement of the dark lord, who cared not when they die. Willy, a fellow fighter, succumbed to his wounds during the introductory sequence. He suggested I seek out the Gemma Knights to defend the power of Mana against the Dark Lord. Not sure how he knew so much, but he pointed me towards a man named Bogard near the falls. On the directive of another captive fighter, I charged the monster entrance in the arena to find the exit.
Wait a minute! I was risking my life fighting some tiger monster for your amusement and you weren't even watching?!
As I escaped I overheard Dark Lord and Julius, his commander, discussing the matter of the Mana Tree on top of the waterfall, and a girl that was the key to reaching it. I was spotted, and in my haste to escape I ran my back up against the falls. The Dark Lord blasted me into the falls, and I came too near the town of Topple. In town I learned nothing. Seriously, only more talk of a mysterious girl, the mana tree, and an old man that lived near the falls. I actually found old man Bogard before I found the girl, but he wouldn't speak to me at all.
Without the girl his dialog stops at "Go away!"
The girl was hiding out a couple screens below the path I walked around the river. There I discovered her guardian, Hasim, was mortally wounded. The girl, who I named Gani, was on her way to Wendel, but first needed to consult with Bogard. Since we were both headed to the same place, and honoring Hasim's dying request, I escorted her to Bogard. The old man noticed the Pendant of Mana, which was passed to Gani from her mother. He recognized it from many years ago when the Vandole empire attempted to use the power of Mana to take over the world. It was Gani's mother that helped foil their plans. Bogard provided a mattock to break rocks on the path to Wendel. There I was to seek out Cibba, but the road was treacherous.
I knew we should have stayed in the same bed... you know, for safety
Even though we had planned for rocks, it was tall grass that actually did us in. We were stuck, with no other option than to bed for the night at some shady looking inn. Should have known better it being free and all. Before drifting off to sleep Gani imparted the cure spell to Zeni. Asking others about her produced dumbfounded looks. Some other guests commented on a mirror that revealed people's true nature, and a key to a nearby cave where the mirror was held was in possession of some lizardmen to the south. All it took was defeating them, and exploring the cave. Inside was a man who offered to help me as many young women had disappeared from that inn.
Using the sickle I found in the cave to take down some two-headed dragon
The mirror I earned from the dragon was used at Kett's inn to dispel the guise of the man that guarded the entrance to Mr. Lee's private quarters. Revealed as a werewolf, I battled my way to the basement. There I rescued Gani from a coffin. On the way out I had to fight Mr. Lee, a vampire. I've noticed that most Game Boy games have limited enemy AI patterns, and once learned it's easy to avoid their attacks. I arrived in Wendel to the south thanks to the sickle that cut through the tall grass. There I met with the man that helped me in the cave. In the large house in the center I found Cibba waiting for me.
Maybe Zeni never had a mom
With Cibba's guidance a message from Gani's pendant of Mana was revealed. An image of Gani's mom said they were part of the Mana family, seeds of the Mana Tree. She sealed the path to the tree with the pendant. The Gemma Knights are sworn protectors of the tree. After the image faded the man who helped me in the cave suddenly appeared to tell me the dark lord had arrived, and he would take Gani to a safe place. Zeni, being the gullible type, said, "Okay."
I'm not even sure who this is lying on the ground, but I got knocked back into him and had to read his dialog multiple times
The man turned out to be Julius, the dark lord's right-hand man. Really Zeni? Shouldn't be letting Gani run off with random men when you're the one supposed to guard her. Julius overpowered me, and Gani was kidnapped. When I came to, Cibba told me Julius escaped to the west in his airship. Unfortunately the cave west was a living cave named Gaia that only enjoyed the taste of silver. The silver mine had a cart that needed to be oiled, only available in a shop to the south.
Trying to aim with the axe proved very difficult, so I eventually switched to the sickle
At the bottom of the mine I found Watts, and he joined me until the end of the cave. A large centipede type creature guarded the silver. It took some time to defeat as it crawled across the screen and disappeared into various holes. With the silver, Watts made some equipment, which he generously sold to me. Bogard joined me on the other side of the cave of Gaia. Julius' airship was refueling nearby. Gani was trapped inside a cell with no way out, except maybe the window. Bogard stayed behind to ensure she wasn't taken from it while I scaled the outside to the window.
Finally doing the smart thing and separating the pendant from the girl
Before I could get Gani out though, Julius showed up and blew Zeni off the side with a fire spell. I guess at some point the airship took off without my notice and I was now in a different part of the world. I landed on a thatch covered house, which just so happened to belong to Amanda, a fighter from Glaive that had also managed to escape. Too bad she was in some kind of trouble, and took the pendant from my unconscious body. Someone in the town of Menos told me of a chocobo egg nearby. The chocobo is a great partner as it allowed me to ignore all the enemies and travel faster over land. Jadd, a desert town to the west, was where all the real excitement took place. With a poison gas field, and complete silence.
Well that's something
Jadd was under the iron grip of Davias, with the ability to curse others by transforming them into animals. The only cure were the tears of Medusa, but her cave was concealed in the desert. Only a random boy knew the location. He wouldn't divulge the secret without something in return: a bag of fangs. I think this is the first RPG where I had to grind on a certain kind of enemy to get a random drop. I only thought to do this because one time they dropped a chest and it was empty. So, not only is the chest drop random, but the fangs aren't always in it. Even with the clue it took quite a while to find the cave.
What a clue...
Even knowing the correct oasis didn't help much... finding the cave was completely by random chance
Inside the cave was Amanda, who had taken the pendant to exchange it for her brother, cursed by Davias, her only recourse now was to fight Medusa and get her tears. During the battle things didn't go quite as planned. Amanda was bitten, and you know what they say... (no game, it's not the same as vampires). Well, without tears from the original Medusa, Amanda offered her own and asked me to slay her before she finished transforming into a monster. Not really even thinking about it, and just pressing the A button to advance the text (also the attack button), I killed her with a single swift strike. Her tears freed her brother Lester, and with his help I tracked down Davias.
Here's one of the many status effects: turning into a moogle (their first appearance)
Now, I haven't talked much about the game since it's pretty basic. There are spells gained at set story events. Weapons are discovered throughout the world, and most of them are necessary for some kind of navigation puzzle. Enemies are sometimes immune to particular weapons, so expect to switch often. Most attack spells are useless, and it's better to save MP for healing HP, except when a status effect hits. Moogle is special as it can't be healed, but poison, stone, and darkness are easily cleared up with magic. Each enemy defeated increases the hero's gold and experience. Levels thankfully come quickly and they restore HP and MP to max.
At each level you choose a stat to focus on, and two related stats increase as well
Davias, like most bosses was a pushover. With his dying breath he laughed at the fact that the pendant was in the hands of Garuda, and he was flying to Glaive. Lester played his harp to clear the gas from the path to Mt. Rocks, which took me to the castle. I fought through a giant metal crab, a cyclops to win a morning star, and a golem as I made my way to Glaive. A bridge that spanned the waterfall collapsed behind me for no reason, cutting off my escape. Inside the castle I faced off against a Chimera guarding Gani. In the middle of our escape I ran out of keys. Luckily there was a shop inside the castle that sold them; however, I think it might be possible to become stuck as doors sometimes re-lock themselves. Save while behind a locked door with no key, and there's no way out. A bit of an oversight that I sidestepped through pure luck.
Someone want to try to decode?
At the top of the castle I faced off against the Dark Lord; however, Zeni again sent Gani off to get kidnapped because it was too dangerous to have her around during the battle. Julius found her, and he had the real pendant. I'm not sure the Dark Lord knew his pendant was a fake. With Gani under Julius' control she reversed the flow of the waterfall and unlocked the path to the Mana Tree. Julius sent me swimming down it before ascending up the water. It's strange falling down the same waterfall and ending up in a different location. This time I fell pretty hard, and couldn't move. My pet chocobo found me, and carried me to the nearby town of Ish.
Dr. Bowow and the newly christened Chocobot, the hydroplaning chocobo
Once I'd recovered from my wounds I found Bogard in a nearby bed, back broken and bedridden. The chocobo injured its leg at some point, and was fixed with a robotic leg that allowed it to run across water. Bogard then told me of the legendary sword Excalibur. It's location was known only to Cibba, so I traveled back to Wendel; however, he wasn't home and there were no obvious clue as to where to find him. Actually there was one clue. Most NPCs retained the same text throughout the game, so imagine my surprised when there was one that did. She told me Cibba traveled to the town of Lorim, on the other side of a snowfield. I got lost for a bit, but eventually found the frozen Lorim. Cibba was trapped inside a room, door encased in ice. The town was frozen over due to Kary, another easy boss.
Why am I trying to carry you?
Cibba gave me the bone key to unlock the Floatrocks Cave beyond the Ammonite Coast. Inside was the legendary Rusty Sword... plus side, I fought a Kraken, and a monster with the strangest spelling of Ifreet.
The translation could have used a bit more polish
Cibba then directed me to find Dime Tower, and he pointed me to Dr. Bowow for help. The good doctor sent me on a quest to defeat Lich, the hardest boss in the game (seriously, I died twice), to recover the nuke spell. Nuke was the only thing powerful enough to destroy the crystals in the desert that would reveal the hidden Cave of Ruins. Inside that cave was a platform where I thrust the Rusty Sword into, which caused Dime Tower buried deep in the desert to rise once again.
Does this guy look familiar to anyone else?
Inside the tower I found a robot named Marcie. He was created by Dr. Bowow 50 years ago, and left to wander endlessly. Also inside was the history of the Vandole Empire. They were the ones that created the tower, and it spoke of a child of hope. I've already gathered that was Julius. In fact most of the tablets of history only reaffirm what I've already learned. On the roof I fought against Garuda. Beyond him was a bridge that connected back to the castle of Glaive, and the waterfall beyond, but it collapsed before I could cross. Marcie threw me, and fell with the tower. It was a very touching moment. Up the waterfall I ascended to face off against Julius. One last lengthy tower climb commenced with many bosses including a dragon, a red dragon, and a dragon zombie.
Many puzzles throughout the game revolved around freezing enemies with the ice spell and positioning them on certain tiles
Finally, after many enemies, I reached the summit and the grove of the Mana Tree. A random woman (maybe Gani's mom) gave me Excalibur, and ushered me on to the final battle with Julius. Honestly, after all this time, Julius was kind of a let down. He had three forms, each progressively more difficult; however, I had collected 3 elixirs from random battles, which nearly fully healed and restored my MP. Without those it'd be quite a bit riskier. The Mana Tree was destroyed during this epic battle. Linked I suppose to Julius' life force, when he fell so did the tree.
Gani's mom instructs her on the way to become the next tree
However, there is hope. Gani is part of the Mana family, a seed of the Mana Tree. The last in fact. She will become a new tree, but she will also be the last. Zeni, a Gemma Knight now, must guard and defend against further attacks in the future. With that, the game was over. Most of it was enjoyable, but some of the dungeons dragged on for far too long with little challenge. I think I've been spoiled with other games, and it wouldn't surprise me if all Game Boy RPGs don't live up to other titles of the same era.
Elapsed Time: 8h33m (Final Time: 8h33m)

Combatant - Combat was challenging in the beginning only due to low HP. Once I gained a few levels it became easier to both kill enemies faster and tank damage. The balance remained weighted in the player's favor until the very end (sans Lich). There were weapon options, but spells sorely lacked punch. The nuke spell might have been the most powerful, but physical attacks were sufficient.
Rating: 4
Looking forward to his other creations on more robust hardware
Admirer - The controls are solid, unlike similar games where hit-boxes make little sense and the possibility of stun-locks exist. The level up system allows for a bit of customization, but the character always has the same abilities. Nothing changes on his sprite when new armor is equipped. Weapons do look different though, and have varying ranges.
Rating: 4
Graphics were pretty good
Puzzler - The random puzzles that do exist are frustrating with little to no hints. I don't think anything is technically a side quest, but the main quest is ever present and never lost (discounting the puzzle in the desert, which I'm not sure how it really fits with the world). Unfortunately there really isn't much going on here aside from combat.
Rating: 2
Is it you I should blame for the puzzles?
Instigator - The story plays out at a good pace. Zeni never really picks up on the whole don't let Gani out of your sight idea. Townspeople are mostly around for fluff. More than half of what they say is completely useless. The player doesn't have any influence over how the story progresses. No choices whatsoever.
Rating: 4
I think you missed a spot... or five
Collector - Inventory is greatly limited, and by mid-game I was dumping items. Mostly I wondered what items like Crystal, Wisdom, and Nectar did when I used them. Gold constantly flows in, and it's easy to purchase everything as it comes up. Equipment and items are kept separately, but it's only items that tend to fill up. There's no way to know if everything has been collected. In fact, it might be possible to miss the morning star altogether.
Rating: 3
The music, especially the scores in the later part of the game, is really well done
Explorer - The graphics, music, and sound are very well done for the Game Boy. Exploring the world is a little underwhelming. There's not much to explore or find. The accessible world is limited at various points by falling from the sky or bridges collapsing for little reason.
Rating: 4

Final Rating: 21 [35%]
I never understood why they use Square and other times Squaresoft
Overall I found the game fun; however, I don't think I'd recommend it to anyone that isn't a fan of the genre. It's rather basic, and the final rating reflects that. The action stays fresh as new weapons are introduced regularly, but navigating the dungeons is tiring.

Next up Uncharted Waters. I've been looking forward to a good exploration game, and I hope this is it. This should be a lot of fun. I have a complete copy, so I've been reading the manual and looking over the map the past couple of days. Seems the story is a bit of a mystery.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Below the Cut: Pirates! (NES) and Pirates! Gold (Genesis)

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

What I'd really like to see is a fully fleshed out pirate themed RPG. Of course, that may come soon with Uncharted Waters on the horizon, although I have a feeling that's more of an edge case (albeit with character stats and advancement). Here we have Pirates!, a port from PC to the NES, later remade for the Genesis--re-titled Pirates! Gold. What makes this game compelling is how it handles a slowly unfolding story of a fresh privateer as he takes to the seas. The Caribbean, simulated during the 1600s, is fully realized with many real world towns, random ships and historical pirate encounters, and a hidden story if you dig deep enough. It's also possible to make one trip around the bay and retire.

(Source: Game Oldies)
Unfortunately it lacks character advancement in every respect. It is possible to build up a crew of men (which act more or less like hit points), ships (that only increase cargo hold capacity), and goods, but the player's skill is the only determining factor for success. Combat happens in three ways: ship, land, and duels. During ship combat you select one from your fleet and face off against one ship of the enemies. Land based combat is probably the toughest of them all, there are multiple units or squads of men, and deciding how to direct them against enemy troops is difficult. (I've never successfully won one of these, but thankfully they're rare.) Dueling happens quite often, either against a ship captain, port governor, or various nemeses found through uncovering the story.

Some of the points on the scale I gave are a little shaky. The only character choices are at the beginning where you can choose country of origin, difficulty, and a special perk. The only items are trade goods, food, and cannons. It can be hard to differentiate the side quests from the main, but what pirate game would be complete without buried treasure, which count in my eyes. I enjoyed the Genesis version more than the NES, and recommend it as the superior iteration; not just for enhanced graphics and music, but the controls are better. So, not an RPG, but still an enjoyable game. Standard disclaimer that I only played each version for about an hour, so let me know if I've missed anything.