Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Below the Cut: Tecmo Cup: Soccer Game (NES)

Tecmo Cup: Soccer Game - Rating(2 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) 0 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 0 - 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

As far as I can tell, this is even less of an RPG than the RPG mode in Pinball Quest. Sports based role-playing games may have their day, but not today. Even considering the sport itself as combat, this game seems to have very little depth . Offensive options are to dribble, shoot, and pass, and defensive options are to tackle, cut, or wait. Every character has these, some at higher costs than others, but there's no indication that one character is better than another. Stats are invisible, and if they improve, I didn't see it happen.

It's nice to see a sports game with a story, but it's such a light touch that rarely goes beyond "good luck in the next match" or "watch out for Eric, he's a strong player." There's no exploration, quests, or equipment. The turn based shots, blocking, and random encounters on the field with invisible opponents blocking the ball felt like it lacked control over my player's actions, which hurts a sports game. There's a Genesis version that adds a few more details, but the game is basically the same.

For those looking forward to Cosmic Fantasy 2, the posts are delayed as my TurboDuo CD stopped playing music. While I can do without music, this is a sign of bad capacitors that could damage the whole system. I'm waiting on a capacitor kit that once replaced should fix the issue. If it doesn't, then I may move on to Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest until I can find another solution.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Game #58: Defenders of Oasis (Game Gear) - Aladdin's 1001 Thieves (Finished)

Game 58

Title: Defenders of Oasis
Released: September 1992 (July 1992 JPN)
Platform: Game Gear
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone

Why do Arabian settings feel less distinct from each other than generic fantasy?
A battle between light and dark raged for all of history. Then Ahriman, the Wizard of Darkness, was sealed away by Jamseed who had three rings given to him by the Wizard of Light. However, the Snake King Zahhark attacked the kingdom of Shanadar, and killed Jamseed, bringing another age of darkness. 1000 years passed before another champion of light, Fallidoon, defeated Zahhark. History passed into legend, and now the empire of Eflaat threatens the boarders of Shanadar.
Swap out the names, and it's basically like any other high fantasy game, but the Arabian setting is seen as a novelty because few games ever bothered to use or explore the mythology. I'm not sure the setting has enough depth to support more than the handful of games that bothered to utilize it. We were already introduce to many of the cliche elements in Magic of Scheherazade: genies, desert bandits, magic carpets, magic rings, magic lamps, an oasis or twelve, and the standard scimitar. Of those, I think only magic carpets were missing from this game.
Look, bandits with scimitars
Defenders of Oasis begins with the prince of Shanadar, only referred to as Prince, welcoming his future bride, the princess of Mahamood. She's assaulted by some uncouth bandits while wandering about, and very grateful for the Prince's timely rescue. That night, the evil empire Eflaat's army attacked Shanadar. The King ordered the prince to escape through a secret passage, and take the princess safely back to her kingdom.
Oh yeah, and you might as well take this ring, it has the number 1 on it
However, as they reached the princess' ship, one of the king's trusted generals, Kohle, attacked. Armed with a magic sword provided by Ahriman, Prince was struck down. Rather than reach a game over though, Prince miraculously awakened in the care of resistance fighters. They told of a magic lamp in the king's treasury with the power to protect the wielder from magic swords. With it, I sealed Kohle's magic sword and vanquished him. The Genie inside is a controllable character in battle, and the only magic user who just so happens to have a spell that specifically seals this type of magic sword.
The game is broken into chapters, although past places are still accessible once transportation is gained
The game has an odd number of triggers to progress the story. In the second chapter, Prince and Princess escaped on a ship. Saleem, the first mate, accompanied Prince on an island in search of water while Princess waited on the ship (she doesn't participate in battle anyway). While there's no water in the town to gather, returning to the ship triggered the capture of Princess at the hands of Al Karria, the elite royal guard of Eflaat. Saleem's father, the ship's captain, died at his hands, and the party was powerless to stop Al. Stranded on the island, the townspeople helpfully pointed us to a temple that a man had entered and never returned from, a man named Fallidoon.
Inside was a strange script that I couldn't read
Reading the unreadable language advanced the plot enough that the mayor remembered I needed a mirror to read it. Asking around town caused the mayor to remember that he had the mirror, and he handed it over. The script was decipherable using the mirror, and throughout the game these messages provided either clues or new spells for Genie. At the end of the temple was the teleportation spell needed to travel to set locations. I took it to Mahamood, and began chapter 3.
Unlike other characters, Genie's stats increase through the use of special items
Combat rewards the party with experience and dinars (gold), and levels came frequently. It's a simple game, and I had no trouble getting through. The items needed to increase Genie's stats are overly expensive from the shop, so the majority are gained from random drops after combat or treasure chests. Each human character can equip a weapon, head protection, and armor. Most items are restorative, but some are limited to combat only. Combat two status effects come in two forms: sleep and poison. Unlike other games, poison doesn't drain health; instead it knocks the character unconscious if it is left untreated for five combat rounds.
One of the few instances where the name of the Wizard of Light is referenced
Each character can attack, parry, use an item, or use their special move. The Prince can run from battle, the Genie uses spells, Saleem has a move called Dance that hits all enemies (a chance to hit), and Agmar, pictured above, is a thief that can hide. When hidden he's immune to physical attacks, and can strike with an assault move that does 1.5 times normal damage. The Genie is also immune to all status effects (sleep, poison, and KO). Parrying reduces damage by half, but has no other beneficial effect.
Pictured here are a Kashaf and a Pazuzu an evil wind demon that had a Final Fantasy dragoon's jump attack
Back to the story, Saleem broke the bad news to his mom in Mahamood. The party then spent some time running around to learn that we should head to Gylan to rescue Princess. We learned that Al was after the rings, and had already stolen Princess' by the time we got to her. Kohle slowed us down a bit, but defeating him was necessary to gain his key. With the princess in tow, the party (now including Agmar) returned to Mahamood. Upon our return, the resident sage told us the third ring was in a tomb near the village of Ulk. The princess also gave us an amulet to put dead spirits to rest. Chapter four then began.
I'm sure that will not matter at all
Teleporting to Ulk, we arrived to find the village waylaid by bandits. They had the same ability to hide as Agmar, and provided a small challenge. Once again, in a strange bit of trigger searching, I had to learn the fake password of Open Sesame, attempt to use it at the bandit hideout, then return to town to be given the idea to wait outside and listen in on the bandits as they entered. Even though I had tried to do that exact thing, it only worked after those steps above.
Seriously, he used his real name while sneaking around inside
I retrieved the hammer from the thieves, which allowed me to break open the seal of the tomb. Inside the tomb I found the final ring, and a bunch of new spells. Once outside, Genie's lamp was stolen in a strange scene where the evil Al disguised himself as Princess and asked for it. Back in Ulk, we ran into a resistance fighter that requested Prince lead the revolt against the empire's occupation of Shanadar. Although combat was a little more tense without my healing source, it was easy to get inside the castle. We exchanged the rings for the captive king's safety, but we soon found he was nothing more than a zombie, and he held the Genie's lamp. Both fell quickly, and Prince used the amulet to banish the shade of his father forever. I regained the lamp, and prepared to retrieve the rings.
Yeah, we watched him do it earlier, but the party ran away instead of collecting these ashes earlier
The final chapter was over a third of the game. We breached the inner chamber of Gylan with a spell picked up in the tomb. There we saw Al burn the rings and release Ahriman. Through a series of conversations, I learned that the ashes still retained the powers of the rings. I collected them, and then went after Ahriman at a tower that rose up out of the desert. I had to defeat Al to gain entrance. Most equipment is purchased from the stores, but finally started finding useful pieces in chests. In what might be the first crafting system, Shanadar had a hilt I could buy, and combined with an F Stone I created a fire sword. I also found a poison sword that worked wonders on the giant Roc that would only take me to the alternate dimension Ahriman was holed up in if I could defeat him. I also found a pillow that had incredible defense, but kept the wearer asleep all battle (with the small advantage of being healed at the end of battle).
I guess that would be a little too easy
Ahriman was actually one of six great dark wizards that I needed to defeat. Salwa was by far the most difficult as I needed to fight him four times in a row before he finally perished. Every other boss, including Ahriman, was a pushover by comparison. Agmar's hiding ability was key in the final battle. The Genie went down in a single hit, which had me expecting my first real combat loss of the game. It wouldn't have been much loss though, as the game auto-saves before every battle. The manual boasts that you can turn the game off at any time, and return to the spot you left off. The corollary to this is that it's difficult to experiment with the many items that lack descriptions, in-game or in the manual.
The Genie reformed the rings and sealed Ahriman
The Genie then went into a speech: only with my great effort could the rings reform, had I given up the rings would have been lost forever. Saleem and Agmar parted ways as Prince and Princess settled down in Shanadar. Agmar ended up in the same cell in Gylan, and I'm sure Saleem returned to Mahamood. Overall, a rather short adventure that dragged on during the final dungeon.

Elapsed Time: 9h55m (Final Time: 9h55m)

They both officially changed their names to King and Queen
Combatant - Combat isn't as impressive when magic is limited. It's not until late into the game that the Genie could restore MP, so I kept his magic use to key points beyond healing. The MP restore can only occur during combat, and requires the Genie to remove himself from combat. The creatures fit the setting really well, and stats factor in heavily. One weird thing about combat was the order characters take actions; it isn't set. I'm not even sure the speed stat factors in.
Rating: 5
Admirer - Spells are gained by reading messages in dungeons, so they're slightly customized, but there's no downside to learning them all if you can find them. The stat boost items are store bought in the late game. No other character has any customization choices exist.
Rating: 3
Puzzler - There are no puzzles, and a main quest that takes so many triggers that it's sometimes difficult to track the next step when you've already figured out the third one ahead. No side quests, puzzles, or alternative solutions exist.
Rating: 1
Instigator - The story is rather basic with very little twist and turns. The game hits many of the classic Arabian themes. NPCs offer a few hints, but the majority are there merely for flavor. There are no item descriptions, and many usable items need to be tested to discover their power. I wasted an action trying out a bottle on the final boss (it blew at Ahriman and did nothing). There's no way to influence or alter the story.
Rating: 2
Collector - The items in the game world are rather unfamiliar to standard tropes. The only way to truly know what they do is to use them. Barrels heal the whole party as well as talismans. The economy doesn't allow for purchasing all that I could. In fact, there were some bits of armor I couldn't afford even by the end of the game. On top of that, there's the money sink that I could have used to boost the Genie. Inventory is (as far as I could tell) unlimited, but with the economy it's difficult to invest in all the equipment options to test relative strength.
Rating: 4
Explorer - The world feels a bit limited even though it's mostly open. There are no walls that prevent the party from returning to past areas. Music and graphics are well done, but there's just not much joy in exploring the long and mostly pointless dungeons. Most treasure, except in the final dungeon, is old equipment that's barely worth lugging around for the sell price.
Rating: 4

Final Rating: 19 [32%]

It's hard to say that the game is too long, but a couple of the dungeons and battles really dragged on. Overall, I had fun with the story and setting, but even after two games it feels a lot more similar than any other two fantasy games I've played. We'll see how the setting feels once I get to the Exile games. For a Game Gear title, it's great, and quite possibly the best it has to offer. I won't be playing Shining Force: Sword of Hajya on Game Gear as it's one half of Shining Force CD, so I'll cover it in that port. It's still a few years away.
The final scene of Shanadar
Next up is Cosmic Fantasy 2 on the TurboGrafx-CD. Even though I've already played Ys: Book 1 & 2, this will be the first non-port. None of the other Cosmic Fantasy games came to the US, so jumping in and then dropping out of the series feels a bit strange. Hopefully it stands well on its own, but judging by the system it's on it might be another forgettable title.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Below the Cut: Ninja Taro (Game Boy)

(Source: GameFAQs)
Ninja Taro - Rating(7 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) 0 - 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

Rather than bank everything on the next installment of Rolan's Curse, NMK leveraged their Game Boy engine of the first game with their Ninja-kun franchise. Judging by the front cover though, it seems the localization team thought the American audience wouldn't be interested in cutesy ninjas. In kind, Sammy marketed this one as an RPG as well. I'm going to guess that it wasn't well known as it's not even in MobyGames' database. I might add it myself, but dislike having to write up the description.

There are stat increases, but they're found in chests, so no experience or gold. Combat is action based with monsters running around a top-down world map. There is a selection of weapons to choose from, but I couldn't determine if items ever came into play. The story is minimal, but there are towns and NPCs. As for everything else, it's non-existent. I give this a very generous C for effort.

I appreciate what Sammy tried, and as a publisher for games that pushed boundaries I'm glad they took chances like this. However, this and Rolan's Curse definitely fall more into the realm of action-adventure. With Might and Magic done, we actually don't see the name Sammy again until Rolan's Curse 2. No other RPGs were published by them in the US as far as I can tell.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Game #57: Might & Magic: Secret of the Inner Sanctum (NES) - Finding Inner Peace (Finished)

Strangely never released in the US
I didn't realize just how close I was to the end of the game. I expected another grand dungeon after breaching the final door in the astral plane. The key was a card received by correctly answering the volcano giant's riddle. There was hardly an indication that's where it was either. Before I got back to that though, I diligently searched the city of gold for messages, of which I only found one.
Not exactly a helpful one either
One mystery was cleared up. With doors of glass, ruby, twinkle, rainbow, and crystals in the city, I surmised the answer to the ruby riddle is crystal instead of prism. I found a way around the crystal door however, so I didn't bother to solve that. I found an item called Thundranium and a white queen idol that was one half to helping Og. Instead of scrounging through the remaining dungeons in hope of finding another idol or more messages, I went to the trivia grove to see what 4/5 answers would get me.
Apparently 50 gems for each correct answer
Since I was near the volcanic islands again, I pondered the giant's riddle. I thought of Percella who may have fought against Sheltem. I thought of Og who may have lost his sight due to his failure. Finally thought of Gala, who had traveled to the volcanic islands. Had I taken down the clue word for word, I would have noted that she was called brave and that she failed her attempt to sooth the savage natives. I was rewarded with a key card, and returned to the Astral plane to slip it in the slot.
A final riddle before the end of the game
I kind of blundered into the answer to the final riddle. I searched through my inventory, and came up empty handed. There wasn't an answer to give, so I rested before giving up: that was the solution. I found myself on the other side of the barrier being congratulated.
My Inner Sanctum?
The Data Keeper congratulated me, and informed me that I had a new assignment on the other side of the Gates to Another World. At the gates in B1, I received another congratulatory message, and was told that to pass through I must now find "Might and Magic: Book Two." Cue credits roll, and another game completed. Rather anticlimactic in the end, and a fair many riddles left unsolved.
In case anyone is interested in carrying on the adventure (I'm not even sure this would work on the PAL SNES or SFC versions)
Elapsed Time: 3h58m (Final Time: 74h38m)

Combatant - Combat was challenging, and remained deadly throughout the game. I think that's mostly due to the bugs that plague the NES port though. The number of spells available make strategies interesting; however, eventually there was a tipping point where most combat was a chore due to low rewards.
Rating: 7
This is the only combat where I felt adequately rewarded with a high level piece of equipment
Admirer - The only positive thing I have to say about this is the ability to generate any party arrangement. I don't know how viable it is to have 6 wizards, but if you can manage to level 11, being able to cast Sword six times seems really good. On the other hand, the Robber class is completely worthless in combat. The menu system is a bit clunky.
Rating: 4
Thanks to JVC for the game
Puzzler - I think this is the first 0 I've given for the main quest. It's just not there. I had a lead on it at one point, but then it kind of evaporated before I stumbled into it again. I didn't even know it was the main quest. At least the side quests are interesting (the entire game feels like one). The option to solve riddles for many of them was a welcomed change of pace. I eventually managed to solve the magic square in Hawkseye; I'm fairly sure there are multiple solutions, but only one is accepted by the game. For my trouble everyone received +2 int, and small amount of experience, gold, and gems.
Rating: 4
How about a little more clarification on the main goal in the third installment?
Instigator - Honestly, I'm not even sure what the story is supposed to be about in this game. Some history and descriptions were presented that allowed me to answer some questions to the puzzles. However, if I look just at the story told, then it boils down to an escaped alien impersonating the king. Uncovering him allowed him to escape to worlds unknown, and I then went to the Inner Sanctum for a new assignment (told to buy the next game). Definitely not the high fantasy save the princess, world, universe we often see, but this is barely anything.
Rating: 3
I'm going to blame this guy for everything
Collector - There are a lot of items in the game, but not an overwhelming amount. Figuring out what each one does is the most cumbersome aspect to the game. If it's some form of protection, then it requires a trip to the fortune teller in Algary, but some are identifiable by a change in base stats. The economy is balanced for combat, but there are plenty of ways to get virtually infinite gold. There's no storage, and no real compulsion to collect all items as most are random drops.
Rating: 4
Would a vault for items have been too hard?
Explorer - The music is wonderful. The graphics are superb for the system, and a major step up from the original. The world is interesting to explore, and the atmosphere it creates is intriguing. The completely open world offers an experience few games have. Discovering everything through bits and pieces with hardly a clue as to what you've found is a missed opportunity in games that hold your hand throughout.
Rating: 8
I'm going to blame this guy for not properly crediting Masaharu Iwata for the music... unless I somehow missed his name in the credits roll, in which case I blame myself
 Final Rating: 30 [50%]

For a 60+ hour experience I expected something more from the story; however, I don't find myself disappointed in having played through to the end. It was fun deciphering all of the cryptic clues, even if I didn't manage all of them this playthrough. It has taught me to take more exact quotes in this style of game, as even the most innocuous adjective could potentially be key to solving a riddle. I'll continue to celebrate these open world games. I may be on the wrong platform to expect more, but I hope to find gems like this every now and then.

Up next is Defenders of Oasis for the Game Gear. I still have no way of streaming my 3DS, so I'm forced to painfully reproduce every screen in the game by hand for your viewing pleasure. I know nothing of the game except I believe it's a strategy RPG much like Warsong and Crystal Warriors. But first, we have to cut some garbage known as Ninja Taro. It seems to be a game based on the Rolan's Curse engine, but with even less weapon management or stats.