Monday, November 30, 2015

Game #48: Crystal Warriors (Game Gear*) - Crystals Gained; Warriors Lost (Finished)

Game 48

Title: Crystal Warriors
Released: Sources vary between 1991 - 1992
Platform: Game Gear
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: SRPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (in the US)

Simple and to the point
Finding an accurate release date for this title was difficult when I planned out the year. Most had the it as late 1991, and others as late as Dec. 1992. I didn't notice until too late that the title screen listed 1992 or I would have moved it on to the following year. In any case, it's a short, easy, and simple enough game to tackle now. Once again my only option was use emulation in order to get screen shots, but this game is available on the 3DS Virtual Console if you're interested in checking it out or playing on the go without using 6-AA batteries. This time I used the emulator's built-in overlay to obscure the screen to the correct display resolution.
Peace ending is how most RPGs start
Centuries of peace were disrupted when the Jyn empire attacked the kingdom of Ariel in order to capture the four elemental crystals. At the end of the invasion though, they noted only three, and a missing princess Iris. Emperor Grym's plan to dominate Tyramus with the crystals was thwarted. He sent his men in search of the princess, and gain the last crystal.
The princess Iris was joined by three fighters, a healer, and a mage. Each stage has static monsters as well as enemy forces that encroach on the party's starting location. Every unit has an elemental affinity, and the game uses a rock-paper-scissors mechanic for enhanced damage and defense. Fire > Wind > Water > Fire, and Earth sits as a neutral element. The princess, healer, and mage are earth while the fighters are one of each type. Paying attention to the weaknesses of the enemy was key to overcoming them easily. The mages are the most dangerous since they don't have an inherent weakness, and can potentially cast spells matching the weakness of any character. However, not every enemy mage had every elemental spell. To offset this, each fighter can capture monsters they defeat, and summon them to battle in the fighter's place.
Unfortunately the enemy army is hidden until attacked or scanned, so picking out initial placement is random
Each map had the enemies starting at one castle, and Iris at another. If the castle became occupied by opposing forces, then the opposing forces won. Most of the time, it was better to wipe out the enemies to gain more experience. Control alternates between player and enemy, and all units can either move plus take an action, attack, or cast a spell. Terrain didn't seem to contribute to combat. There was plenty of healing and MP to go around; however, it's not a complete a cake-walk. Any unit lost during battle were permanently removed from the army. Between each map the party rested at a town where hints, equipment, spells, and units were bought.
Spoilers: this guy died to test out what happens to units when they collapse in battle
There's also a fortune teller that reveals the composition of the enemy army (if they favor one element over another). Deciding which enemies to deploy didn't come into play until the army had more than nine units. Most of the free hints from NPCs were for flavor. The game became even easier once I raised my healer to max level. It caused her stats to become completely overpowered compared to other units. This took some effort to accomplish as experience is only gained when a unit delivers the killing blow.
The ultimate fighter is my healer
At certain points in the game, Iris gained additional crystals, but they were merely set pieces with no added benefit to battle. The towns cycled through various equipment with little rhyme or reason as to what was available. Spells were the same way. Although the later stages tended to have better spells and equipment, I often received offers late in the game for starting spells and equipment. The available recruits shuffled each town as well.
I missed getting a screen shot of the ending boss again; I'm really bad at taking live shots
Eventually we came to a point where Iris took out Grym, and then a final map where we took on a great evil (a jinn I think) and triumphed. I'm sure you can tell how vested I was in the story. There were a couple of named generals, but overall every mapped blended into each other, every town looked the same, and I felt like I was taking on the same 5 enemies with little change to my tactics. The only strategic part of this game was juggling around my units to ensure everyone was at an equal level. After 16 stages, the game ended.
Legen... wait for it...
My experience with this game was just bland. If I didn't end up leveling my healer, then it could have taken longer, but I don't believe it would have been any more difficult. Often she was eating up experience that could have been useful for other units. It's easy enough that I don't think anyone would have trouble with it, but there's no intrigue to grab a player's attention.

Elapsed Time: 6h44m (Final Time: 6h44m)
Thanks for the short game
Combatant - Combat is simple, and easy. The AI rarely makes an effort to avoid obvious traps, and will walk right down choke points. Mages offer easy ways to reduce enemy units, but enemy mages can counter any attack. This won't be the last time we see rock-paper-scissor style combat. It seems to be something of a phenomenon in this genre. Stats make a huge difference, but it can be such a pain to get the right units leveled. Under-leveled units have little chance to make up the gap if they fall too far behind. Gold is gained from each defeated unit in addition to 4 experience points.
Rating: 5
A couple healers duke it out
Admirer - Spells are customized with four slots per character, and separated by healer and mage spells. Mages have scan, and elemental spells. Healers have healing, and status effects that only work when they're participating in combat. Iris has a few specifically for her, but there's always an obvious best choice when deciding how to equip a character. Appearance doesn't change, and there are no advancement options. Controls are decent enough, and I don't remember having any problems.
Rating: 4
Manabu who?
Puzzler - I suppose as long as the game has a main quest this category will never be less than 1. Unfortunately, that's all this game gets. No side quests, no puzzles, and nothing else aside from combat and preparing for combat.
Rating: 1
I don't even remember seeing the unit on the right
Instigator - The story hardly pushes the game forward. I couldn't even tell if it was the same town I returned to, or 15 different towns. The helpful fortuneteller, mostly useless, is the only NPC worth any time. Everyone else drones on about how hard life is since Grym attacked, but there's really no evidence to support such claims. There aren't any decisions, and I can't say I was immersed in the game at any point.
Rating: 2
Fire vs. water, easy to tell who comes out on top

Collector - There's equipment, but only two levels for each type of unit. No other items exist in the game. Gold is in short supply, and with recruiting, buying random spells, and random equipment, it's hard to say when a good purchase will pay off. Spells and equipment are replaced with newer ones.
Rating: 1
I have no memory of the music, sorry Macky
Explorer - There's no world: it's set map, followed by town, followed by set map, followed by town, followed by (repeat until game ends). There's nothing hidden in the towns or maps, and no reason to explore. The graphics were well done, and while I don't recall the music, I don't think it annoyed me at all. Exploration is completely closed to either the current map or the current town.
Rating: 2
Oh, there's the final boss, which took a whole round of characters to bring down
Final Rating: 15 [25%]

While not the best game, it's definitely not the worst. I can't say I enjoyed the experience though, and I'm unlikely to ever revisit the game. I wouldn't recommend it. The best thing I can say about it is that it wasn't terrible. It's probably the most basic strategy RPG we'll see, or at least I could hope so.
Thank you Captain Elf
Moving on, we have the gaming year 1992 to cover before heading into our first game of that year: Ys III: Wanderers of Ys. I've owned the game on SNES since it was released, and that's the version I'll cover. It was released on Genesis and TG-CD at about the same time. While it might be interesting to look at the others, I'm going to stick to my one port policy. I might cover a few differences in the starting areas to give some comparison, but don't plan to play through each version.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Below the Cut: Battlemaster (Genesis)

(Source: dammit's secrets)
Battlemaster - Rating(5 RPP)
1) 1 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 1 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 2 - 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) 0 - 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

We have here another oddity of time. Most game lists categorize this as either an action adventure, or strategy game, while the box says it has role-playing action. It has a mix of character and troop management, exploration, and inventory that give it a feel similar to RPGs. However, it lacks character advancement, stats, and customization. There are multiple races and classes, each with their own starting missions, and possibly story. You control a main general that has a squad of troops. Once again I didn't play this for very long, but as far as I could tell equipment is the only thing that plays a part in combat. Equipment is varied, and items seemed to range between obvious and obscure uses.

The game consists of separate mission-based areas where the goal is to destroy enough of the enemy forces to conquer the territory. There's an option to purchase equipment from the spoils gained on previous missions, but no option to sell anything. There is a story, although I didn't get very deep into it. I didn't find any NPCs, and there weren't any side quests within the first two missions I played through. In the end, it doesn't play well and there are tons of instant death traps that take memorization to pass.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Below the Cut: World Court Tennis (TG-16)

(Source: IGN)
World Court Tennis - Rating(5 RPP)
1) 0 - 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) 0 - 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) 0 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

World Court Tennis seems to have been the prototype for Final Lap Twin. It took a completely different genre, and wrapped it up in a story and open world to call it an RPG. "Combat" takes place on the tennis court with random encounters occurring in the open world. A single round of tennis against these random opponents determines if it's a win or loss, but sets and matches might come into play by the time the player reaches the evil tennis king. Oh yes, there's a story. The no-name kingdom had enjoyed many years of free tennis, but now the evil king has beaten all the tennis champs, which entitled him to the entire kingdom. Now no one is free to play whenever they want, and it's up to me to stop the evil king. The previous king provided me some basic equipment, and starting money (a pitiful sum). With that story I'm not sure how I'm able to face off in tennis matches against random people.

The tennis game is well done, although the controls are restricted to only two buttons. Considering it as the combat for the game there's not much strategy, and stats all lie with the equipment; however, equipment is graded, so there aren't any decisions to make. Winning a round rewards the player with gold, which is spent in the store to purchase new rackets, shirts, or shoes. These may improves the character's abilities in the game, but I couldn't even afford the first upgrade. The only character choice beyond naming is whether to play as a male or female. There aren't any side quests or puzzles to solve.

The world seemed to be open, although I didn't make it very far in the game. I missed this game on a first pass through, but chat mentioned it in passing. I can see why it doesn't make many lists. There's no game over screen in quest mode. In fact, when you lose the good king gives you a small amount of money, so even if you're bad you can still make progress. It probably deserves less on the story rating, but I'm feeling generous as I didn't play very far to give it a fair shake. It's definitely not an RPG though.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Game #47: Lagoon (SNES) - A Bridge Over Muddy Waters (Finished)

Game 47

Title: Lagoon
Released: December 1991
Platform: SNES
Developer: Zoom
Publisher: Kemco
Genre: Action-RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Real Time Action
Series - Standalone

Was it all just a fairy tale?
These were really the formative years for my perception on console RPGs. Final Fantasy II was great, and I even had fun playing Drakkhen. Lagoon was a short game we rented that I ended buying with my own money because I enjoyed it so much. I don't know if it was the music, the graphics, or the jumping, but something about it resonated with me. The music has a synth motif reminiscent of tunes one might attribute to the Genesis. It's only years later that I'd come to find that this, and Drakkhen, were considered bad games by the majority of opinions on the Internet.
They're probably bathing in it
The story begins with Nasir's mentor, Mathias, instructing him on his destiny. Muddy water drives the plot, and of course there's those demons everywhere. Nasir arrives in Atland to investigate a way to purify the water, and rid the land of demons. There's a short intro sequence that showed a princess, and a man known as Thor that had one red eye and one blue. While traveling in this monster infested land, Nasir failed to realize he should bring a weapon, or armor. So, we arrive in Atland with nothing but the clothes on our back.
The townspeople pointed me towards the mayor, who helpfully funded an expedition into a nearby cave after a man was found badly wounded outside told a tale of a man named Giles trapped within. With some gold in my pocket I purchased a short sword, bandit armor, and an iron shield. The cave was a twisty maze of passages that all looked alike. Combat is a little difficult to get a handle on; the sword has such a tiny range that I found myself running into the enemy more often than actually connecting with it. Unfortunately, that caused damage to Nasir. With a shield I sometimes naturally deflected those hits, but Nasir was wide open while swinging his sword.
Damage causes knock-back, which makes it hard to connect multiple times
Experience and gold increased after defeating an enemy, and there's no real fanfare for leveling up either. HP and MP naturally regenerate while standing still, so the game isn't too difficult with some caution. I found Giles on the mountain top, but he was badly hurt and asked for a healing pot. The first time I tried to give it to him I accidentally pressed the button to use it on myself. I can just imagine the scene, Nasir slowly drinks the potion down to the last drop right in front of him. I purchased another from the item shop, and retrieved him. He followed me back to town at a snail's pace. Once I returned him, Giles pointed me to the faith healer. She told me that a demon named Samson lay behind a locked door in the cave, and gave me the key.
This is how close I have to be to hit him
I gained the fire crystal after defeating him. Magic is equipped by selecting a crystal and staff. The combination allows the use of one spell at a time. An old man in Voloh directed me to find three tablets that could unseal Philips Castle. The mayor provided me the earth staff (combined with the fire crystal gave me the fireball spell) as well as an item to free his people from the castle. The store didn't have much for sale, but there was an overpriced Shiny Ball (10,000 gold), which was said to increase regeneration. There's no way I was going to afford that; I don't think I had that much even by the end of the game. Oh, and some princess named Felicia disappeared. A man named Zerah appeared to be the main antagonist, and was seen right before her disappearance. Thor was in town, and he gave me his third of the tablet as well as helped me find the tablet hidden in the plains. The last was just outside Philips Castle.
Let's be honest, who else has forgotten there was a jump button by this point and walked off the bridge?
With all three tablets found, the old man in Voloh translated the spell (Hieke Larmerila Kemuhi--I wonder if this is just gibberish, or is meaningful to someone) to unlock Philips Castle. Thor had his own business to attend to and left. Inside the castle I found some gold armor and keys to the prison. Once inside the prison, I used the mantle on the elf prisoners who rewarded me with the key to the boss room. I picked up a large shield along the way, and then found myself facing a two-headed lion with wings on the roof. This was the first real challenge, and I'm glad I remembered I to save just outside its door. Magic doesn't work on bosses, and regeneration is halted while fighting them. Items can still be used, but only one of each can be carried, so there's no chance to stock up on potions.
After defeating this boss I learned its name was Natela
Killing off Natela rewarded my with a silver sword and unlocked a door on the side of the castle, which housed a passage to the Dwarf Desert. I picked up the Sonic Armor in Denegul, the next village over, but had to put off the purchase of the Great Shield until another time. One of the old men in town provided an ancient book about a moon blade, made of moon stone, and the sky staff. I ran into Thor who lost his pendant back in Voloh, and he asked me to retrieve it. There's no fast travel, so I had to trek back and forth. One of the elves had the pendant. Thor exchanged the pendant for a powerful mirror, which destroyed a couple large rocks outside the Dwarf Cave. Inside was a wind crystal, magic sword, and a protective ring. Rings constantly drain MP, so they're great for boss battles, but not much else.
Oh, yeah, and I picked up some stone too, which I promptly forgot about
Back in Denegul, Mathias appeared to tell me that the princess Felicia was taken by Ella, who works for Zerah. She escaped through the Dwarf Cave. I showed the moon stone to one of the dwarves as requested, and was rewarded with the freezing pot. That allowed me to freeze a lava flow in the Dwarf Cave, which was the hardest area in the game. Having to go through it three times didn't make it any easier. On the other side was Felicia, being dragged off by Ella. She asked me to save her before they could use her power to move Lagoon Castle, the source of all water. I chased after Ella, but ran into her pet instead. This rock monster was only vulnerable while its eye-stalks poked out.
I never really understood pet rocks, but this one was named Eardon
The next town was suffering from a disease assumed to have come from the muddy water. The priest in Poper asked me to retrieve some mint from Siegfried Castle. He'd go himself, but you know, demons. The enemies there weren't much trouble, and I came away with a maxim shield, thunder armor, and the mint. I was then directed to some spirits underneath the chapel. The thanked me, but also issued a warning of the coming battle between light and dark. I received the star staff, and a key to Duma's room, the next boss guarding the path to Lagoon Castle. On my way there I collected the force sword, and two more rings. Duma could crush with his hands, and his face was only vulnerable during a short time when his mask was open.
I took a lot of damage from being crushed
The power ring was my ring of choice. I gained the water crystal and key of Siegfried for my trouble. At the back entrance of the castle I ran into Thor, apparently working for the bad guys. I watched helplessly as Lagoon Castle rose to the sky on a pillar of water. At least they left a teleportation pad to Lilaty, home of little people. They spoke of an ice cave that required a fur mantle, which was held by a big liar. Someone gave me a fire of truth to smoke him out. Without the fur mantle equipped, the ice cave causes constant damage. Before I headed in, I also gained an angel's bell to awaken some nymphs. Hugging the walls led me to the boss room where I faced a huge snowball, named Thimale. Definitely one of the more difficult battles, but mostly due to not knowing its weak spot. I first had to destroy some ice pillars, and then place myself in such a way as to attack the ball without getting hit.
Then they blew me away to Phantom Hill
Nymphs were waiting on the other side. They gave me the moon staff before sending me off to Phantom Hill in pursuit of Zerah. This hill was sparsely decorated. The only notable feature was a small hole where Ella was hiding out. Ella was another tough battle. She would teleport randomly, and spray out fireballs. The more damage she took, the faster she went. Defeating her made stairs appear. At the summit I watched as Zerah and Mathias faced off in a heated battle. Zerah escaped, but Mathias was mortally wounded. He revealed that Thor and Nasir were sons of the gods, one light and one dark. What's with these games where a big reveal is that the bad guy is related to the good guy? With the last of his strength, he passed on the thunder crystal, and blew me away to the clouds.
Only some clouds can support Nasir, others are death
At the end of the clouds, I leaped on to the floating island supporting Lagoon Castle. At the threshold, I read a message that the moon stone could be used in the moonlight to create the moon blade. By this point though, I had completely forgotten I already had the moon stone. So, I scoured Lagoon Castle multiple times looking for it. I found the moonlight early on, rescued the king and queen, and rescued the princess from a magic mirror. I found a healing ring, the moon armor, and defeated Battler (a magician with two powerful minions). Battler teleported around while his minions stalked the room in a set pattern.
Somehow I ended up getting a double KO on him one time, note the full health bar that is filled after defeating a boss
Beyond Battler was an island where the evil spirit was revived. Inside the cave I found the time ring, a mostly useless item. I was still searching desperately for the moon stone, so after exhausting all paths in that cave I returned to Lagoon Castle. I found the moon shield, and then finally, I thought I could defeat the final boss without the sword. I gave it a valiant effort. The final boss consisted of multiple battles. First a large head inside a bubble, then a gargoyle with a whip, then Zerah, then Thor (two forms), and finally a red gargoyle. However, the game let me fight through all of these monsters without trouble up until the red gargoyle, which only took damage from the moon sword.
This is Thor's final form; why can't I turn into a bird?
Thor and Nasir shared a touching reunion as Zerah's control was broken. Thor's soul entered his pendant ("by the power of the secret place") as his body died. I tried to fight the red gargoyle many times before I finally resolved myself to returning to the moonlight. I then remembered, with the help of my chat, that I had already picked up the moon stone four hours earlier. With the moon blade, I easily defeated the red gargoyle, and was congratulated by the disembodied voice of Nasir and Thor's father. The game ended in a montage of cut-scenes, and the final screen seen above.

Elapsed Time: 7h36m (Final Time: 7h36m)
This screams sequel, doesn't it?
Combatant - Combat was often more aggravating than challenging. Getting into the right position to connect with the small sword was the biggest issue. Magic is available, but quickly becomes useless by either adding long wait times to allow for regeneration or are completely ineffectual. Enemies are varied, but lack animation. Rewards are well paced, and max level just out of reach without grinding. Although an action game, stats play a large role.
Rating: 5
Lagoon Castle returned to it's rightful place
Admirer - There aren't any additional abilities, but magic is customized based on personal preference. In the end, everyone has the same character. Equipment alters appearance, but if you're not using the latest piece then you're going to have a bad time. Controls are a bit stiff, and there aren't any advancement options.
Rating: 3
Nasir remembered his lost brother
Puzzler - No puzzles to speak of, although it's puzzling how I could forget I had a certain item. The main quest does well to remind the player of what to do next. No side quests, and no alternative paths through the challenges.
Rating: 1
Thor's strange eyes stare into my soul
Instigator - The story is a bit strange. While investigating muddy water at the furthest point from the source, we get wrapped into evil plans to be evil. A princess is kidnapped, and great demons are summoned (to stand idly by in dungeons). The NPCs do well to inform the player, but the game lacks descriptions for items and any way to alter the course of events. To move the story along I was often seeking out bosses without really knowing what purpose lay beyond. All in the name of good I suppose.
Rating: 3
I guess Nasir hooks up with the princess
Collector - There's lots of stuff, but most of it isn't optional. Getting the Shiny Ball is probably the true collector's task. The economy keeps a nice balance throughout, and there's a slot in inventory for every item. Only one of each can be had at any time though.
Rating: 6
The final screen pans up to the moon before the book closes
Explorer - The graphics are bland, and lack detail. The music was well done however, and I was surprised to hear such sounds come from a SNES game. The world doesn't offer much reward for exploration, although the background in Phantom Hill is nice. There's definitely not much to write home about. This was a port from the X68000, and it shows how little was done to enhance the experience.
Rating: 3
Final Rating: 21 [35%]
The intro sequence made it seem like Nasir and Thor work together
Overall, I had fun. I can see why some might not like the experience; it's definitely a bit trying on the patience with such a small weapon. The lack of magic against bosses limits combat strategy a bit. I just have such good memories of the game as a child that are hard to separate my bias from spilling into the review. It's a fun little action RPG, and at about 6 hours I think it's doable for most fans of the genre. Definitely not a good choice for a first time, and easily skipped by most.

Next up, I have a couple games to cut, and then we'll wrap up 1991 with Crystal Warriors. That's a game I had no experience with going in, and it turned out to be one of the easiest games I've had to date with a little thanks from a strange max level "bug."