Sunday, October 15, 2017

Below the Cut: Dungeon Explorer II (TurboGrafx-CD)

Dungeon Explorer II - Rating(8 RPP)
1) 2 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 3 - 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) 2 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 1 - 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

I actually played through the first game before realizing it wasn't quite up to muster as an RPG. Here I'm cutting this one down as there isn't much difference between the two. Rather than repeat myself, go read up on the first game, and the bit I played through.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Game #72: Ninja Boy 2 (Game Boy) - Ninjas vs. Pirates, In Space! (Finished)

I had planned to use this color palette,
but forgot when it came time to play
Game 72

Title: Ninja Boy 2
Released: April 1993 (November 1991 JPN)
Platform: Game Boy
Developer: Culture Brain
Publisher: Culture Brain
Genre: Action RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Action (turn-based bosses)
Series - Super Chinese (Japanese name)

So, we're stuck with the default colors of the Game Boy Player
Released as the second action RPG of the series in Japan, from all I can tell the localization on this made it the third in the US. Even so, it's difficult to place them along a timeline. There's no indication other than the NES title being the first. The story began after the boys have been away from Chinaland for a few months. On board their starship with their friends, they were attacked and need to abandon ship.
I don't remember them going off to travel in space
Warriors of the Galaxy attacked the ship. Jack and Ryu escaped in a life pod that crash landed on an unfamiliar planet. All of their friends missing, assumed dispersed around the galaxy, Jack and Ryu set off to find them. They also took some time to blame the Galands for their current situation. Prior to starting the game, there's a difficulty option of normal (default), easy, and hard. Whenever I start a new game, I usually go for the default option unless I know that'll prove too simple.
Strangely without gear, and luckily a small amount of gold, I made my way to the first town of Sandstar. All of the parents were kidnapped by the Galands to work in Egymid, the capital city.
Some blatant advertisement
and additional marketing
This game follows Super Ninja Boy in nearly every mechanical way. Random battles pepper dungeons and overworld exploration. These battles are all action based where Jack (or Ryu) can punch, jump, and even swing a sword once one is acquired. There are no more than two enemies spawned at a time, and each battle ends as soon as a set number are defeated. Throughout the adventure they collect different kinds of magic throwing stars and other abilities that consume ninja power (NP).
Some special NPCs have a close-up view when speaking
The escape-leaf magic helped to cut down on the number of random encounters when I failed to flee, and there were many. The encounter rate is a bit high, and after the first dungeon my standard response was to run, fight when I couldn't, and use the escape leaf when winning wasn't worth it. I met with a resistance movement (there always seems to be one, and always open to new membership). They provided a bomb that I used to open up the tomb where the Libra Ring rested, the first of seven treasures (to collect and hand over to the big bad guy eventually I'm sure).
Some indication of the timeline -- Blu Boltar makes an appearance as leader of the resistance and references the battle in Chinaland
I rented a camel, and made my way west to a warp zone that had just been repaired. The next area was Dinostar, which had its own issues. It was on this trip that I realized I picked up the Vitalizer magic that restores HP, but I'm not sure when or where. In the capital city, White Castle, I met Ragyu who gave me a Bonzebot. This along with the capsules purchased at the store remain a mystery--whenever I tried to use them I received a message saying it wasn't the time to do that. Emperor Tyranno directed me south to retrieve the Orion Ring from Sanjo Castle; strangely it lacked a boss fight.
Seriously, it was just sitting there behind a door
With the ring in hand, we had apparently defeated enough of the Galands to open up the interstellar train line that allowed the boys to reach Mecha Colony. This world was being forced to create weapons for the Gallands. Freeing them, and Dr. Justice, rewarded Jack and Ryu with a spaceship.
Translation errors are always fun to point out, but I can't be too choosy about space transportation
Every town has an inn where it's free to rest, an item shop to purchase healing items and equipment, and a convenience store to find out the password and switch to two-player mode. The NPCs there offer a nice variety of hints and levity. Most have a building where the more important plot triggering characters reside. Dr. Justice took up residence in one of those while the party ventured further to destroy the Dreadstar weapon, and retrieved the Aries Ring (again without a boss fight).
In a few dungeons the battles occur in tight corridors
The next planet (which is a bit of misnomer, as the view from my spaceboat shows them as disc shaped) was Fantaland. There I learned the secret to riding dragons from a dragon knight, and faced off against the evil Robo Doc. Only the second boss (although fourth treasure), and I hit a wall. Apparently I had been escaping from a bit too many battles, as I found myself under-leveled. Dying is a small set back of half gold and reviving at the last convenience store. With no other options to explore, I needed to grind. One battle in particular helped offset my experience deficit. The normal enemies in this encounter were slow, and shot fire, but if I waited long enough a dragon appeared worth 6 times as much experience as the entire battle would normally award. They also didn't count towards the kill total, so I could consistently grind on them alone.
Capable of doing half current health, and going first is a bad combination
With just two more levels ahead of that first loss, the defense boost reduced the damage by 1/3. Such a dramatic change was unexpected, and the battle at that point was like all previous ones, easy. Boss combat is much different from the action battles. I get to choose Jack's actions, and Ryu randomly selects from bout or sword strikes (had I a second player connected with the Game Boy Link Cable, we could use that ninja power pool that goes to waste). Bout randomly punches, jumps, or kicks. Kicks tend to be weaker, while jumps and punches cause about as much as sword strikes. Sword use is hidden under Items, and with 6 M bubbles collected during normal battles I can summon the Might Ball under Magic, which is disappointing in this game. I'm not even sure what the Run command would do, I never attempted it.
Robo Doc enters his second form, which acts exactly like the first form
Magic might be a bit more interesting if it weren't too costly except for the healing spell. Defeating Robo Doc rewarded us with an antidote, which I used on the kingdom to restore their sanity. The princess rewarded the party with the Virgo Ring. The king allowed us passage to Wood Planet. It makes me wonder what prevented me from it at all.
Traveling to the "planet" Wood
The main town on Wood was Beatle, and I expecting some kind of Ringo joke, but I think it actually might have just been a spelling mistake. I picked up Magidoor (exit dungeon) and Magiport (warp to last starport) spells, which made backtracking on a single planet much quicker. Wood had an impossible forest maze that required a guide. The current guide had grown too old to travel, so I received an egg of a creature that could show me the way. We hatched it thanks to Dr. Justice's incubator, and it showed us through the forest in a short cutscene.
The magic password for getting through the lost forest
On the other side, we contended with the Galands that had taken up residence within King Wood, a giant tree. We received the Capri Ring, and nothing else. This time, strangely, there was no direction to the next location. It was simple enough to find, as I traveled the mostly linear space path to find planet Water World. Flotown is an underwater town that required I visit Dr. Justice once more for a submarine.
There is also the only gambling establishment in the game, but I was never hurting for money
The game dumped a bit more plot than normal as it told me of Fort Mars where another resistance movement, led by someone named Sanada, was battling against Ninja Master Puma with the stealth six. This has nothing to do with the current planet. To get the Quasi Ring I had to visit a fortune teller in order to learn I had to backtrack to Dinostar to get Ragyu, return to King Wood for some reason, and finally plug the hole on Water World that's slowly draining the water. Why are the Galands doing this? It's never discussed; they're just bad.
She also gave me the errand bot, which gave me access to purchase healing items from anywhere
Ragyu helped pull out a cork tree, and plugged the hole with it. Someone in town passed on the Quasi Ring as a reward. The fortune teller congratulated me, but didn't walk me through the rest of the game. So, I headed further along the path to find Fort Mars.
Nearly caught up in the battle -- I wasn't hit, so I'm not sure what happens; maybe I should experiment a bit more for this blog
The solar cannon firing from Fort Mars once again required me to consult Dr. Justice for the solution. Outfitting the spaceboat with a radar deflecting material prevented the cannon from firing. I'm not sure how I feel about the short back and forth "quests" involving Dr. Justice, which don't require anything more than visiting him. At least they're short, but at the same time he acts as a Dues Ex Machina with all the answers, stepping in to solve nearly every obstacle by his mere presence.
I found a shrine in the bottom left corner, and it's apparently somewhere I have to visit later
With a short trip to Dr. Justice out of the way, we're back in the game fighting our way through the Stealth Six. This set of six bosses (all action based) are some of the hardest or longest fought battles. Luckily they don't have to be defeated back-to-back. At end of the spiral space station we destroyed the solar cannon, and retrieved the Leo Ring. We tracked Puma to the King's Planet, which I missed somehow on my first pass of the surrounding area of Fort Mars. Upon entering the prince's hut in Bunnme on King's Planet we found Puma holding him hostage.
Guess what he wanted in exchange for the prince's safety
He locked up Jack and Ryu before heading out with the treasures. A bunch of their friends showed up after an indeterminate amount of time to set them free, and move the story along with some additional plot. Apparently there's supposed to be a slate in that bottom left corner temple that details the whole point of the treasure: to control the stars. I returned to Dr. Justice to better understand what that meant, but he only gave me another flying machine capable of entering the sun. There I faced off against Puma in a real turn-based battle, and trounced him. With rings back in hand we could finally control the comet that allowed us to cross some space dust to the final battle.
That is the Apollo Temple, and the comet I couldn't take control of until now
All that remained was the final battle. The final dungeon didn't offer much challenge, but General Lion was something else. It all came down to getting lucky as even when I grinded a few levels I didn't seem to do any more damage or take any less. With some lucky shield placements, and a lot of dodging, I won. In the end, General Lion escaped, vowing he'll get us next time, and all the friends flew back to Chinaland as if this was just another wacky adventure where nothing actually mattered.

Elapsed Time: 8h14m (Final Time: 8h14m)
Don't you mean spaceboat?
Combatant - Out of all the Ninja Boy/Chinaland games, the combat here is by far the most streamlined. It's challenging while not overwhelming so, with random battles' encounter rate on the high side, but enough options to escape that it's not terribly obtrusive. Rewards aren't well balanced; grinding later levels takes quite a while as the combats take much longer. The variety in enemies and their attack patterns keep combat fresh through most of the game. It's too bad many of the special attacks are worse than just using the sword, or don't function at all.
Rating: 6
If only... this would be a couple hours shorter if that were the case
Admirer - I doubt we'll ever see a Game Boy game where the player character changes in appearance or have much of any customization. Here there's none. It's always the same Jack and Ryu with the same abilities. In fact, it's actually only Jack since Ryu is only playable by a second player. The controls are solid throughout the whole game, without any slowdown during the active battles.
Rating: 3
Seems we have at least one admirer
Puzzler - The main quest is well laid out, but there's a definite lack of side quests. The mini-games are missing compared to past titles. There aren't any puzzles really. That one gambling game is rather useless as money is so generously rewarded.
Rating: 2
Until next time...
Instigator - The story is quirky and lighthearted. Plenty of on topic NPCs keep it moving. There aren't many descriptions or lore though, and most of the names are descriptive rather than speaking to some deep history. These really aren't deep games.
Rating: 2
This is confusing, do you mean I'll win again?
Collector - Items available are either consumable or equipment to obsolete previous purchases. There's not a whole lot to find. Money isn't a problem; usually I purchased everything available upon entering a new town. I still don't know what the capsules are for, but I bought 8 of them just in case.
Rating: 4
Credit where it's due
Explorer - The area covered, with all planets, overworld, and dungeons, borders on the side of excessive. Each individual place doesn't feel too large, and most are linear. Every place found is used for the main quest though, so there's no reason to explore unless directed as there's nothing to find early or extra.
Rating: 3
Actually, with a team of six this game is a little more impressive
Final Rating: 20 [33%]

Tying with the previous title in the series is probably on point, although I had more fun with this. The battle system was a more fluid, but the story and puzzles suffered a bit. Some obvious places to put boss fights were left unfinished, and I'm not sure why so many rings were simply found at the end of dungeons. Overall it was fun, but it's nowhere near a standout title, and as the last Culture Brain RPG we'll see here it's unfortunate they didn't go out with more of a bang.

Next up we'll see how Dungeon Explorer II doesn't add enough elements to trick me into playing it this time, followed by Dungeon Master. This'll be my first experience with the title, having played Eye of the Beholder some time ago as the only similar style of play. It'll be nice to get back into some graph paper mapping.
Until next post...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Game #71: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra (SNES) - A Game Unwinding (Finished)

A final score is strange to see in an RPG, but I suppose this indicates what quests I've completed
KTOW? Anyone have any idea what this might do?
It was difficult to gauge just how close to the end I was, and how difficult the final maps were going to be. Especially in a game like this where I expected I would need more pearls, a few more years to cure the loveless princess, and maybe even solve all the pyramids to unlock the fountain of youth. I first went to the Tomb of Terror, which was merely rooms filled with undead monsters. Luckily known of them aged my characters. Even the fight with the vampire king couldn't stand up to all the buffs.
I guess I went through these dungeons in the wrong order -- I forgot to return after becoming an Ultimate Adventurer
The Diabolical Maze was a bit tougher with minotaurs around nearly ever turn, although the buffs made even those battles a cake walk. Both dungeons allowed for teleport, so getting through them if you know exactly which squares to hit is rather quick. I picked up both hologram cards I was missing, and 6 orbs in total (the maze had 4). King Tumult provided the Blue Priorty Pass Card, and the title of Champion of Good.
I guess this is just another level of access, but I was expecting a bit more to happen after I drank from it
With that card in hand I went straight for the pyramid on Fire Isle. The only hazard to this area were the terminator enemies with seemingly only a single weakness: Implosion, which has a chance of doing 1000 damage. This led to a lot of party wipes if they happened to kill off my sorcerer. Through many reloads, I pushed forward, and finally stumbled upon Corak and Sheltem dueling. As I entered the area, Sheltem escaped as Corak was distracted by my presence. They both entered tubes, and I followed using the passwords received from Greywind and Blackwind.
A short cutscene showed an escape pod leaving Terra as we followed Sheltem and Corak
The tube led to a pod where we learned Terra was an experiment of the Ancients to create a land commanded by the four elements, where settlers could live. Sheltem was to act as custodian, preparing the land; however, something went wrong when the first settlers arrived. Sheltem treated them as invaders. Corak was created to correct Sheltem, and they've been warring ever since. The party, Sheltem, and Corak flew on to the next experiment, and the next adventure.
I'm not sure which shrines this was referring to
The final score followed the cutscene in the pods, but there was another hallway with even more terminators that I save-scummed down in order to find the statues that gave me the password to provide to the Ancients. I'm guessing the game originally came with a postcard to send back to New World Computing with that password and score. Of course, if I were going to do that I might have explored more to find every secret the game has to offer. But, there's a long list of games ahead of me, and this isn't the version I'd want to do it with.
This terminal offered some additional information, but wouldn't accept any of the passwords I had... a secret for another time
Elapsed Time: 2h49m (Final Time: 60h53m)

Combatant - The Might and Magic series, and this title is no exception, offers a very binary challenge. Fights are either too easy, or impossible. There's rarely any middle ground. Spells offered some variety, although it was difficult to gauge their effectiveness against each enemy. Once the right combinations of fountains were found though, all combat became trivial, and enemies rarely lingered long enough to enjoy their differences.
Rating: 7
The credits were found at a second terminal at the end of the hallway of terminators, and this is where I stopped the timer
Admirer - The variety of classes was nice in the beginning, but by the end there wasn't much difference between the fighters (except the knight who seemed capable of killing even minotaurs in a single hit). Portraits rarely changed to indicate status effects. The only ones represented were stone, death, and eradication. Spells remain locked to specific classes, so it was nice to have extra sorcerer and druid spells. This version takes some hits by the laggy controls. Party composition could take any form really, although I definitely don't recommend a party of robbers. A sorcerer allows for the quickest travel.
Rating: 4
Someone actually tested this game?!
Puzzler - The puzzles are the best part. Some are a little cryptic. Others are downright unfair (I still don't understand the Queen's countersign), but for the most part very enjoyable. I'm sure there's some way to reason through them all. Not knowing if something is on the main quest or just a side quest for additional rewards is a running theme to this series. This makes it seem there are multiple ways to get through the game, but those really necessary bits aren't too bad. Everything fits well into the world mostly because the story is based on being constructed. I went through a couple of pyramids after beating the game, and there were some plainly detailed answers to some of the puzzles.
Rating: 7
This one didn't seem like much of a puzzle
Instigator - The main story doesn't come to light until the end. Still, the puzzles drive towards answers that lead the party to the quest. Notes gathered while exploring eventually detail where the end game is, but the real revelation doesn't come until much later. The hints from the taverns are helpful in opening up the world for further exploration. In the end, the story felt present only for the need to put the puzzles into some context.
Rating: 5
Evidence that this game is less about the story, and more about the accomplishment
Collector - This game has one of the worst inventories, and worst economies that I've ever seen. Constantly dealing with a full inventory was the most annoying part of the game, even beyond the lag of transitioning every screen to get there. Add in key items that can't be traded or discarded, and it's completely unmanageable by the end. About the only thing this game does right is include a way to identify the strength of items. It also might be the first game to include achievements to mark a character's progress. There are 3 lines that I'm not sure what they are for, but I'm not going to play this version for another minute.
Rating: 5
In the final map I found an interspacial tranport box that enabled the party to jump to any map -- still a horrible mess to play
Explorer - Exploring the game was fun, really fun. I wouldn't have played for 5 hours at a time if it wasn't. The graphics and music were well done. The sound effects cut in and out, but weren't distracting. Finding strange things scattered through the world encouraged an unquenchable desire to explore more. The game is completely open from the beginning, and can probably be beaten very quickly, if you know what to do.
Rating: 8
The exposition that comes at the end details the whole story
Final Rating: 36 [60%]

Overall, this is a great game, and I recommend everyone give it a shot (on DOS, or some other PC version). There is a lack of feedback, but that could be a version thing as well. I'm not even sure where I used the hologram cards, if I did, or why I needed all 6. I didn't even use those passwords from Swamp Town, although they probably would have been useful in other pyramids. Even though I've beaten the game, I'm still thinking about it, and that's a sign of a memorable experience.

I probably won't say the same thing of the next game, Ninja Boy 2. It's difficult to determine where in the timeline this might fall (before, after, or an aside to the SNES game), but it's another adventure with Jack and Ryu. This year has been a bit slow on gaming, but I feel with this completion the remaining titles won't seem so long.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Game #71: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra (SNES) - A Key Divining

I've really been overthinking this game
This time after being eradicated, and resurrected, there were no negative effects. Maybe due to already going through the process he's now paid his due, or it's random. Moving on, I started to go through the rumors at each inn, but noticed how little they told me. I stopped after Baywatch. Using the red and green keys I went through both dungeons, and gathered 2 Ultimate Power Orbs and a hologram card from each. It makes me think there are two orbs in each colored key dungeon, and a hologram card. Rather than try for all orbs, spread out to all kings, I'm focusing on the neutral king Tumult.
6 keys + 6 hologram cards is nearly an entire character's inventory
I tried to create a couple of characters to hold onto quest items until I found a use for them, and to offload keys to dungeons I've already completed. I then remembered that I'm unable to discard these items. To trade an item, you first have to choose discard, select no, then select yes and pick a character. Problem with these quest items: the option to discard them is disabled completely. This also means even if I found a hireling with a key, I would need to take them along in the dungeon.
The game still surprises me with random bugs as I somehow stepped outside the bounds of the map -- luckily etherialize brought me back in bounds
After completing the red and green dungeons I looted the castles (except Whiteshield's password locked chests as I still haven't solved the countersign puzzle). As I suspected, most of the treasures in the castle led to more gold and gems rather than quest items. There were some ancient artifacts, which got me experience for characters of matching alignment. I also freed up some inventory slots by selling off items that only offered 4 or less AC as I'm running 70+ AC due to mostly obsidian gear.
I'm pretty sure I don't need anymore treasure at this point -- I can probably live off the interest
Now done with most dungeons, I went back through the riddles I had noted. Yud in Swamp Town was the oldest. I tried lake, mountain, town, things that might go up and down without moving. I thought the answer might be something that exists in the game since Yad's answer was. With someone in chat asking if I had just tried ladder, my mind went nearly directly to stairs, which I can't recall actually being represented in the game. So, a small hint, and I received that password, which I still don't know how it'll help though I'm certain it's near the end game.
Did I just find the main quest?
Having avoided the main lands for too long, I decided it was time to fully populate the auto-map on every isle. The swamp land had the most clues. Once a king had 11 power orbs, I would receive something I needed to take to the pyramid on Fire Isle. There I would present the hologram cards. It makes me wonder if the remaining 20 power orbs are spread throughout the other four pyramids. On the Frozen Isles there's a fountain that increases all attributes 100 points, and combined with a well that increases effective level by 50 (which stacks), I temporarily overpower my characters with buffing spells. I managed to tear through three dungeons before the buffs ran out.
There are some statues that say they'll remember me, but even after activating them all I got this same message
Dragon Cavern produced a couple more orbs and a lot of treasure. The Magic Cavern on the desert isle produced the golden key, and the Cursed Cold Cavern delivered the black key. With those I should be able to access the last two dungeons in the swamp land, and gather up the last two hologram cards. I delivered all the quest items I gathered, and returned to the Cathedral of Darkness to get the hologram card there.

This was a lot easier when I took the clues as they were
Again, I was overthinking this puzzle. I thought I needed to apply the key to the full phrase Mighty Moose, which didn't include 'ighty'. I also copied down each letter in the surrounding rooms on a single line, not considering until this time that it was a substitution key where the columns matter. The puzzle of the five heads, however, continues to confound me. I'm just not sure what combination of north, south, east, west, would unlock the orbs. I might be able to brute force it, but time involved is too great. I also try not to do that if there's a clear clue.
I'm just not sure how this applies
So, I feel like I'm staring down the end game. With the fountains and wells at my disposal, it's really only riddles that could hold me up. My next goal will be the two dungeons: Tomb of Terror and Diabolical Maze. Then I hope I have enough orbs to enter the fiery isle pyramid. If not I might need to explore another pyramid for them. Either way, I expect to wrap it up this week.

Elapsed Time: 11h02m (Total Time: 58h04m)