Saturday, October 8, 2016

Below the Cut: Gemfire (NES, SNES, Genesis)

(Source: GameFAQs)
Gemfire - Rating(6 RPP)
1) 2 - 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) 1 - 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

It's well known that D&D has its roots in war gaming. So, it's understandable when a strategy game includes set characters, stats, and improvements that some might tend to call it an RPG. However, these characters are rarely influential to the story. In the case of Gemfire, a small country is at strife. The play selects a family to control as well as a scenario, which dictates how many territories are under the family's control from the start. As with most KOEI games, the player improves each land and conscripts armies to gain more land. The ultimate goal is conquest.

Characters lack advancement options. A land's stats can increase, so I gave it a point for that. Different families have different special units, but there's no customization. Character and land stats don't influence turn based combat as it's the armies that do battle. There's no store, items, or equipment.

The plot doesn't progress during the game. The entire world is rather small; however, it is fully accessible from the beginning. There are no additional quests or puzzles to solve.

It's a fine game, and on the shorter side compared to other KOEI strategy games. We'll have to wait until Dragon Force to get closer to a true strategy-RPG, although Langrisser did well. On paper, strategy games seem to fit neatly in as a hybrid of RPGs; however, there are so very few of them that accomplish full integration. Now, I glossed over a lot of details, and may have missed some aspects as I didn't play it. So, if any of this is misinformation, or there are missing details that might tilt the scale, do speak up.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Game #61: Ghost Lion (NES) - To Hope, To Dream (Finished)

Game 61

Title: Ghost Lion, Legend of the
Released: October 1992 (July 1989 JP)
Platform: NES
Developer: Kemco
Publisher: Kemco
Genre: RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone

This seems like a strange choice by Kemco, localizing a three year old game denounced as a Dragon Quest clone. I wonder if they'd hoped to ride its success in the west as the fourth title was to release at the same time. The game wasn't well received; even the female protagonist (and the woman on the front) failed to sell the game. It also suffered an identity crisis as the manual, cart, and box list only Ghost Lion as the title, while the title screen shows Legend of The Ghost Lion.
This is another one of those thankfully short games
The story began with Maria's parents leaving on a trip to solve the mystery of the white lion that once attacked their small village. It was driven away by a young warrior that threw a spear at it. The lion fled into a cave east of the village, never to be seen again. Instructed to wait for them, Maria instead visited the village elders who told her to embark on her own journey.
It's dangerous to go alone, take this (this intro is really well done)
According to the manual, her parents were gone for mere days, while the game itself suggests they were never heard from again. The elders gave further instruction to search for a lamp. Providing her with a wood key as well, they sent her into the cave alone. Their last word of advice was that the lion was rumored to reside beyond the Gate of Evil.
So they trapped Maria inside a cave. A menu is used to select actions to take: Speak allows Maria to talk to anyone in front of her, Goods enable her to use or drop items, Look searches the ground (mostly to open treasure chests), and Vigor lists the current status of her and her spirits. The wood key opens up the only door visible. Further in the cave is a chest with the lamp, a dagger, and a second key that opens a gold door. (It's interesting to note this is the only time the game uses keys.) This cave seems intended as a safe area to play with the interface before plunging into the main game.
She awoke near a lake with three fairies. They explained the hope (level), courage (HP), and dreams (MP) values. There's no experience in the game. The only benefit to combat is money (called rubies). Instead, Maria finds fragments of hope inside treasure chests to level up. This increases her stats as well as the power and spells of the summons she calls upon. The spear summons the young fighter named Moja, and the lamp materializes an old magician called Twana. Maria isn't completely defenseless though, as she is able to attack with the dagger. Still, it's better to rely upon Moja or Twana to do the bulk of the fighting. Their power level acts as their HP and action points. Once it reaches 0 they vanish, but can be called once again as long as Maria has enough dream.
All summons have a defend option, which shields some of the damage done to Maria when she's the target of an attack -- multiple summons using defend can reduce the damage to 0
The game is seen from a completely top-down perspective. Towns serve as a hub for information on the main quest and the next goal as well as shops to buy restorative items: bread increases courage, tears restore dream, a blue ring increases Maria's defense, and a bomb that did decent damage in the early game. Dungeons are rather small compared to those seen in a Dragon Warrior game, even the first.
The first town also has a ship that can take Maria to different locations
Unlike Dragon Warrior, the game has a number of interesting side quests. Not mandatory to the game's completion, Maria can help a woman stave off hunger, find a music box, and exchange a magic horn for a broomstick that allows fast travel to any pixie lake. The rewards for each of these range from hints to the main quest that are easily discovered, or rare items like the broom or a rope that binds enemies. A good number of the dungeons are optional, but hold fragments of hope or summoning items.
Exited the cave above, and missed the town to the left hidden in the mushrooms my first time through
I've avoided going on about the main quest because it's rather rote if you've played RPGs before. Maria is set on finding the white lion (forget her parents). First she has to recover some stardust from a goblin that stole it. Returning the stardust to the Cave of Giants opened the path to Davis, a town hidden among mushroom. Werewolves infest the area. I missed Davis. Instead I discovered the lair of the KingWolf, and recovered the dog's eye before I even knew I needed it. Then in the very next battle I died. Death is barely a setback. Maria regains consciousness at her last save point (pixie lake) with all items she'd already obtained, but half as many rubies.
Finishing up the Bread side quest, I'd like to think this is a bread dagger
The Dog's Eye fit into a statue of a dog inside a cave west of Davis. My reward was access to a passage where I found a magical horn. Blowing the horn at some rocks further west opened the path to the town of Pixie. In an optional cave south of Davis, I found the Red Ring and Rapier, which allowed me to summon Hafling (a defensive summon) and Elf (magic based) respectively. Magic replaces a spirit's fight command. The elf became my most valued member as soon as she learned the hold spell. The halfling is obviously a defensive summon as his menu is swapped (defend first and fight second), and judging by how ineffective his attacks were in general.
Turns out this is a side quest as well, although it didn't feel like one at the time
In Pixie I was told of a pixie that was kidnapped to the south. There I defeated Hugeslug that became another summon. The pixie rewarded me with a rope, which at the time I mistakenly decided was just another quest item. I found out near the end of the game that you can use it to bind an enemy. Once bound they're tied down for the rest of the fight. Elf gets a similar spell called hold, but unlike the rope, she can hold any number of enemies at a time; there can be up to three per battle.
This'll make sense in a minute... maybe
I journeyed north to Ranya Tower where I found a water jug. A young girl told me about a music box she'd lost in the witch's forest; however, I wasn't able to locate it. I found a lake further north, slightly east, where I filled the jug with pure spring water. West of there was the witch's forest where I exchanged the horn for her broom. I doused a rainbow child with the spring water and restored her vigor. As a parting gift, she built the rainbow bridge across a river that allowed me to journey onward.
Strangely the remaining towns are all on top of towers
I continued to find interesting items. The Rockwing was another summon, the Wingman. As a straight up fighter, he was kind of a let down. I took the boat to Alko, but only found an arrow, which was by far the best weapon at that point. I retrieved some pixie wings from a man in Kapi Tower, but the pixie I returned them to only confirmed that I should retrieve a crown from an evil island. I really didn't know where else to go until I took the boat, and noticed a cave to the north of Kapi Tower. The crown was traded with some random man in that cave for access to the next continent.
How pertinent is this to the main quest?
Spirit's Tower held the Town of Hope. There I learned of some shoes that would help me cross certain terrain, and a statue that would allow me to defeat a dragon. The missing doll was rumored to be in Orange Moon, which lay beyond the dragon. I found the dragon to the south, completely immune to any attack. Batasa's Forest Town was near the dragon's cave. An old man there told me that the statue could only be used by one familiar in the ways of magic. I picked up some glasses for a friendly witch before departing. The store sold something called Aurora. It cost nearly all my money, but for that price I figured it must be a good weapon. It turned out to be a better defensive item than the blue ring. I should have gone north all along to get the ice shoes in a pyramid so I could get through two caves to the east and claim the statue. I also picked up a magicaxe that summons a dwarf.
The statue banished the dragon immediately
As soon as I used the statue, Twana appeared from the lamp, and with it confronted the dragon. In a bright flash of light both the dragon and Twana disappeared. The party definitely took a hit to overall power with that loss. While Elf was more useful, Twana's magic had a lot more utility. I returned the glasses to the witch, and she told me that I needed a klein jug to drain the lake that blocked the Gate of Evil. Further, she went on to suggest two statues were needed as well, but I don't recall them ever coming into play.
I happened across this innocent looking lake, which turned out to house a dungeon area where I had to fight a frog to gain it as a summon
I found a silver cup and gold rock in the cave with the witch: two additional summons (centaur and some useless mage). The frog was nearby, and I found him before I gained the hint from the town to the southwest: Orange Moon. I purchased a lightning whip there, and dug up the doll for the little girl. She rewarded me with her father's sword, which was actually weaker than the whip. I took a trip out to Mods Island, and picked up the crystal, which housed the last spirit (a giant).
Someone in town told me of a three-cornered deadlock created by the slug, frog, and hydra
Without the three-cornered deadlock in full effect, the hydra won't take any damage from attacks. I retrieved the klein jug, and used it at the lake to drain the water. The Gate of Evil was a big pyramid. At the end, the white lion lay there waiting for me. He was the toughest enemy by far. Before I could get any defenses in place he attacked for nearly 1/3 of my health. Things started to go smoother once I got Aurora up, Elf cast return (which has a chance to reflect an attack back), and summoned a number of spirits for defense. There aren't any healing spells. Restoring courage is limited to ingesting bread--50 courage at a time.
I should have known! Just look at him
So the white lion turned out to be my friend Twana who joined me since the beginning of the game. He had created these trials to encourage Maria to have hope, be courageous, and always dream of a brighter future.
For a second I thought maybe this wasn't the end of the game, but on reflection this may have implied a sequel that never materialized
Maria received a pendant as a parting gift, and then slowly drifted between consciousnesses. She awoke in her mother's arms. Apparently Maria nearly drowned in the river, and she was scolded by her mother for looking for them, proclaiming the white lion was only a legend. The pendant that still hung from Maria's neck proved differently.

Elapsed Time: 8h16m (Final Time: 8h16m)
See you in the sequel... not really
Combatant - The combat is challenging in the beginning, but tapered off quickly. As rubies became less important, combat really only served as a way to delay the inevitable win. Most of the interesting combat options disappeared with Twana, but I wasn't even using half of them at the time. The enemies are a standard fantasy fare. While Maria's strength didn't raise with each level, the summons did seem to have hidden stats that increased.
Rating: 5
This was the best combat, having nearly all my summons out
Admirer - Leveling up increases the spell selection and strength of each spirit, but it comes at a higher dream cost to summon. This higher cost encourages the use of newer summons, and is the main reason I used the Elf over Twana early on. There's no appearance adjustment or customization other than the choice of who to use more often in battles. Using a summon more often has no effect on their increases.
Rating: 2
The lion waits patiently as I moved to the beat of the music thinking I'd be able to avoid combat... it seemed to work
Puzzler - The main quest is well defined, but it centers around combat. There aren't any puzzles to solve, although the number and variety of side quests is surprising for the genre at this stage in development. Everything presented fits well with the world, although the rewards are sometimes merely hints for the main quest. As for multiple solutions, there's only one way through.
Rating: 4
There's no way to be better prepared
Instigator - There's not much to the main story. It's set in the beginning, and not really clear Maria is making any progress until we're near the doorstep of the Gate of Evil. NPCs are helpful in getting us there, but there's no development of a main plot. Descriptions of the world lore are lacking, and there's no decisions to influence. In the end, it was all a dream (or was it), so maybe the nonsensical nature was apt.
Rating: 3
Mom scolding Maria for doing exactly what she went off to do
Collector - There's a fun assortment of different tools beyond the ones used to call the summons. The economy gets broken near the end, but not until after the dragon. Once it does though, it makes combat pointless. There's nowhere to store items, but inventory space isn't too limited (there is a limit though). It's hard to tell what items do, or how powerful a weapon is without trying it out in combat. Collecting everything is difficult as well. Although summons fit nicely on one screen in combat, there's not a good way to tell Maria has all fragments of hope (26 seems like an strange number).
Rating: 3
I wonder what this magic pendant is supposed to do
Explorer - Developed and produced by Kemco, the music has a distinctive style reminiscent of Shadowgate (same composer). The graphics were well done, and the environments varied enough that I wasn't bemoaning yet another tower town. Exploration was closed off: progress made by finding quest items in dungeons that rarely made sense. It didn't detract from the overall experience.
Rating: 4
It'd be nice if it went through all the summons I'd found
Final Rating: 21 [35%]

Not a bad little game, and one I'd recommend to those looking for a different experience. It's a bit unfair to call this a Dragon Warrior clone when it did so many things differently. About the only thing they have in common is a top-down perspective and similar dungeon presentation. The summoning aspect is rather unique, although there aren't enough times when Maria can make effective use of the whole party.
Apparently only Moja and Twana matter though
Next up is Dragon Warrior 4. I've reshuffled the list to accommodate on-going hardware trouble. I've just recently acquired the tools to repair the system, and--with luck--I'll have a working system by the time I wrap up the next game. First though, a post to cut Gemfire. An interesting strategy game that employs enough statics to be mistaken for an RPG.