May 03, 2018

[Game 067] Shadow Brain (NES - 1991)

Translation by aishsha & Pennywise

Shadow Brain serves up a one-two punch to the "like" part of my brainium; it's both a dungeon crawler and heavy on the sci-fi.  While that would be enough to get an initial thumbs-up from me, SB takes it one step further by having the game ship with a VHS cassette which lays out the plot with the help of nice anime stills.  It also showcases all the creatures found in-game, 3D-rendered in all the glorious limitations of the early 90's.  For those that don't want to check out the vid, I'll break it down for ya.  In 1990, a wizkid named Jun invents a really dope AI which becomes sentient and buggers off from Jun.  Fast forward to 2040, when a global cataclysm fucks everybody's shit up and causes them to retreat into their insular cities.  Jump ahead to 2090 and now we have cities full of robots and cyborgs and other cool shit.  There's also a crazy new game that's all the rage with the humans, most of whom have become seriously addicted to it.  But what about Jun, stuck way back in 1990?  No problamo, he just follows his father through the experimental time machine they have and ends up 100 years in the future, duh.

You can tell because futures never
use carpets in their decor.

The first thing that struck me about Shadow Brain is just how pervasive the sci-fi element is throughout the game; everything is positively dripping with futurey goodness, even the UI and status screens.

As good as 8-bit can make it, anyway.

Jun is suppose to be trying to find his father, but what would you be doing if you suddenly found yourself plus one hundred years from now?  If you said endless private robotic rock concert, then great minds think alike.

And, of course, robots only ever play...
*snigger*... HEAVY METAL!

So, sorry Jun's dad, but I'm more interested in making Jun explore instead, even though that means enduring bodily punishment dished out by some of the local punks as well as giant, mutated insects.  A couple of times, Jun has to escape a pounding by darting into the nearby home of a friendly citizen, most of whom are quick to quip a helpful one-liner.  I say most because not everyone who owns a house in the future is all peaches and sunshine.

Fighting a half-cyborg, half-wolfman completely
unarmed went about as well as one would think.

Jun is a teenaged programmer, not exactly a great archetype for getting into scuffles, so it's off to the neighbourhood weapons depository to purchase a little sumthin sumthin for self-defense.

I don't want to go too overboard, I'll just take the
multi-phased ionic particle disruptor with optional
 underbarrel anti-matter grenade launcher.

In a move that would baffle philosophers for ages to come, Jun purchases a set of brass knuckles and sword rather than one of the ranged weapons.  I guess Jun has something to prove, not only to the rest of the world, but also to himself.  This results in a fairly high death rate which isn't a big deal in the future, as each city is guaranteed to have a rebirth chamber for all of Jun's cellular regeneration needs.  There's also a whole galaxy of multi-coloured pharmaceuticals available, from stimulants to pain suppressors to just plain ol' recreational fun.

I'll take as many red pills as you have.

With a couple of levels under his belt, Jun feels buff enough to explore the next city in search of his father next fix.  Each city is barred from entry unless one has the proper ID code card, which Jun does thanks to some kind soul.  The second city is much the same as the first, with the same range of shops, albeit with upgraded items.  The citizens are also very familiar, at least that's what I thought before I met Galory.  Who is Galory, you ask?  Well, I think it's pretty obvious that he's some kind of a skeleton/robot that wears a red T-shirt (and possibly no pants), rides a rocket skateboard and bafflingly keeps referring to Jun as "pops".  Galory promises to give Jun a network card if Jun can gnarly up some bitchin' rail slides on Galory's board.  This actually consists of just blasting the first-person perspective through the city grid at a high rate of speed, but that's what imaginations are for.

The same imaginations that dreamt
up this character in the first place.

With network card in hand, Jun can now access the web at any of a city's one or two terminal kiosks.  There's never a line up at a terminal, making me think that everyone else is on mobile and Jun has to slum it up like a pleb.  I think maybe Shadow Brain is just ahead of its time, foreseeing the inevitable move to mobile that was nothing but a pipe dream in the early 1990s and nope, wait, there's a BBS on the net, making SB a total product of its time.  Unfortunately, I can't get any 0-day warez, but there is online shopping as well as an IRC server for hitting on nerdy chicks.

Yeah baby, why don't you come over and
make my floppy drive, uhhh... not floppy.

The next city, appropriately called Playland, is chock full of arcades and rumours of a Game King who is in serious need of having his title taken.  The many arcades are fully functional, and by fully functional I mean that each has one of two available games, both terrible and shitty.  There's a crappy target shooting game called slimeshot and a horrendous version of air hockey called paddle pole.  Of course, if Jun wants to beat the Game King, he'll need to hone his skills on the two best games 2090 apparently has to offer.  Slimeshot isn't all that bad as it's serviceable and easy enough, more boring than anything else.  But paddle pole is something else.  Your Nintendo Entertainment System, beloved as it is, can't handle three dimensions worth a crap and it's even worse when it's a tacked-on mini-game.  The developers, bless their hearts, try to help by making the puck a pole instead to help with depth perception but it's still balls.

And I swear to god that fucking pole swerves
whenever I'm perfectly lined up.

Going up the Game King is proving to be a nightmare as he'll block every shot unless the attack angle is extremely extreme, which means hitting the pole with the very edge of the paddle.  Combined with the pole's tendency to swerve, this naturally leads to a lot of cursing, cussing, and additional holes in the dedicated games-are-assholes drywall.  It also naturally leads to weeks-long stints where I don't even touch the paddle and build dwarven fortresses instead.  The indomitable spirit of Nung eventually prevails, of course, although the victory is hollow as I feel it was more due to luck than skill.  The important thing is that I'm now the Game King and girls refer to me as — AND I QUOTE — "so cool and awesomely cute".  The arcade junkies are also all up ons deez Nung nuts, and I must say I really can't blame them one bit.

♪  Go Shen! Go Shen! Go Shen!  It's my birthday!  ♫

I'm just about to explore the fourth (out of what looks to be 16) city and hopefully I'll be able to stay more focused.  If Shadow Brain decides to be dick and throw more paddle pole at me, I'll probably break down and just save scum past it.  I am intrigued by what surprises SB may have in store for me, but even if it starts turning a little stale, the sweet sci-fi setting is sure to satiate me to some degree.

February 06, 2018

Rainbow Silkroad - Ranking

Story & World

Most plots that dish out the ol' chosen one vs. big bad trope are already pretty forgettable, but it was even more prevalent here due to the focus on trade.  I understand that the trading was added in RS as a gimmicky hook, but I would have liked to have seen it given priority over the same old, same old.  How cool would it have been to have to raise enough money to start your own kingdom or something?  Even better, put in a time limit to make logistics all the more important.  Ooh!  Ooh!  How about a grading system that gives a rank based on how long it takes the player to amass one million golds.  Okay, maybe that's pushing it into the strategy genre, but what I'm trying to say is nuts to these unfocused, shoehorned-in kill-the-foozle main quests.

As much as I like exploring purely imagined worlds, there's something about exploring one based on Earth that intrigues me.  I think it's a combination of getting me into gazing at some online cartography as well as seeing how accurate the developers were in their adaptation.  Having the road as a guide of sorts in each new region was a nice security blanket while trade routes were set up; it also had the additional bonus of making dungeons seem ever more remote than normal since they were off the beaten path.  10/20

Character Development

A decent, non-standard system that eliminates grinding for levels and replaces it with the money lust.  Having slaves to mistreat as well as to extend my combat capabilities was a hoot and I never got sick of choosing certain battles to just watch them fight for their master's love.  Once I had enough surplus funds, I would even balk at using a healing item on them, even though it would cost far more to replace them if they died during combat.  Hey, you either meet my high standards or your bones will be left to bleach in the sun.

Equipment was understandably limited, as RS was trying to be somewhat realistic, so there's no magic to speak of.  Evocable items were likewise limited and were of even less use in combat, since using one would not only waste a turn for everybody for some reason, but wasn't guaranteed to work anyway .  9/20

Combat & Monsters

Combat is mostly a button-mashing affair, with some decision-making when a group of baddies had mixed monster types.  The slaves didn't add any depth and functioned solely as extra attacks.  As with other games that use such a simplistic combat system, by the time endgame rolled around, random encounters became boring and tedious.  Thankfully, RS seemed to be aware of this and generously gave a fleeing success rate of over 90%.  Staying true to the realistic theme, monsters didn't have any special abilities beyond a few that could poison, which was easily cured by any healing or just taking a nap at the inn.  6/20

Graphics & Sound

The Dragon Quest aesthetic that all its clones have is always going to get a decent amount of points, just none for uniqueness.  I've played enough clones by now that it gets super comfy super fast whenever I ease myself into a new one.  Sometimes clones can flounder in the design of monsters, but I'm happy to report that RS is not one of them, sporting a large bestiary that not only has minimal palette-swapping, but creatures that are appropriate to each country.

Rainbow Silkroad gets another slam dunk for its musical selection; each country has its own tradition-sounding theme (something I'm quite a stickler for).  Even countries for which I have no real baseline for, like Mongolia or Thailand, just felt right.  18/20

Gameplay

As far as game economics go, obviously RS is going to score big here.  Even though I wish it was developed a little more, I appreciate any novel mechanics, especially in a clone (also helps in having something to blog about).  The novelty doesn't end there, though, as RS often surprises with elements such as a thrown-in riddle, puzzle, or action-based mini-game.  The pacing was decent throughout until Japan, where it took a sharp nose dive into anti-climatic territory.  Like most DQ clones, it stayed pretty linear with the next country blocked off until the proper hoop was jumped through (in this case, getting a mirror shard); however, there were both financial and side quest incentives to trek back to other countries, so RS is not quite as bad as most of its brethren.  14/20

Final Ranking:  57/100

January 31, 2018

Rainbow Silkroad - End Game

*one eyelid twitching uncontrollably*

Damn these damn quests interfering with my bidness.  It doesn't even make any fucking sense.  First, I trade over land because trading via ship costs not only money but also missed opportunities for the slaves to get a workout as the high seas have no encounters.  Second, and this is really the major point here, what the fuck does it matter to this asshole supplier if there are pirates around?  I'm the one assuming the risk of being attacked — it kinda defines my profession.  At any rate, I decided I might as well do all the quests in the area at once and get them out of the way, which surely meant another princessly problem to deal with.

*sigh* Well, you see sire, sometimes girls get that
not-so-fresh feeling and... wait, what?  You want
me to fetch something?  I ACCEPT!
GOOD LORD IN HEAVEN I ACCEPT!

However, in a fantastic "gotcha bitch" moment, I did have to rescue a non-princess girl, the daughter of a townsfolk.  Since kings usually gave about a hundred gold for the safe return of their only child, I could only imagine what a poor turdsfolk would give up.  After a heart-wrenching and tearful reunion between father and daughter, I watched with extreme pessimism as dad reached into his wallet for my reward... I was not disappointed.

It's good for a *sob* free tenth sub and
there's already *sniffle* three stamps on it.

I guess he held more sway than I initially thought because he also gave me free passage on any ship sailing within Siam.  Of course, this didn't matter at all to me since I never travel by ship because this game is called Rainbow SilkROAD and anyway, if I really wanted to travel by water, I would have just used the elephants.  The one good thing about all this questing was the interesting boss encounters which always had some dialogue and often eschewed the traditional battle for something fresh, like a quiz about the name of some sage that helped me way back in Arabia.  Of course, if I can't be bothered to remember the names of my warrior companions, I sure as shit ain't remembering some guy I hung out with for a few days all those years ago.  Luckily, the process of elimination served me well.

What kind of Final Fantasy fan would
I be if I didn't know who Palom was?

There'll be more chit-chat and gossip coming up in the upcoming monstage (spoilers: there's a monstage coming up) which will immediately follow this sentence.

Rainbow Silkroad is most deserving
of this highest of all honours.

Each country generally had one of the four available quests as a side quest and I had been dutifully completing those as well.  However, I had to tap out on Siam's quest involving finding a sea palace.  I knew from a buddha statue that getting caught in a storm would lead me to it, so I booked multiple (free) trips back and forth between cities, waiting for that one fateful tempest to sweep me to untold fortunes.  Storms were fairly common in the area, with around a 20% chance of sailing into one and a 100% chance of sinking because of it.  I was stoked after the first such shipwreck until I discovered that I was still on the Siam mainland, so I kept on sailing and sinking ships like they were going out of style.  After the seventh ship sank to its watery grave and I still wasn't any closer to discovering the sea palace, I just gave up and headed into China.

The bounty that the insurance company put on my
head also may have had something to do with it.

The first thing I had to deal with in China was lifting a drought curse from a village that was caused by the local trouble-making wizard, Shenlong.  I wasn't too interested in trading anymore since those bastards at the border made me switch out my elephants for crappy horses.  I had a nice lump sum of just under 100K and I figured that would easily take me to endgame, so I focused on questing, which meant that Shenlong and I were due for a meeting of the punchy kind.  Not only was Shenlong a hack in that he plagiarized six of the eight characters in my name, but he also ripped off the Bull Demon King's ripping off of a final boss's true form.

I was actually expecting the dragon form first,
perhaps with some dragon balls lying around.

I initially thought that China would be the obvious end to the road of silk but I still had to find a way to Japan in order to defeat the real final boss and not just all these weak-ass imitations.  Normal ships couldn't handle the journey so I had to hire a master shipwright to build one.  Naive me thought that since I had also rescued the emperor himself from a curse that the ship cost would just be written off, but I was dead wrong.

The resulting spit-take cut my water gauge in half.

As if that wasn't bad enough, I also needed to hire a particular sea captain, whose going rate is 100K, so that, combined with a 20K compass, came to a grand total of 570,000 golds.  Luckily, I had a gem license which I purchased from some old dude in the mountains for 65K, which was actually a stupid idea because I could have waited until I reached the palace and bought the same license for 5,000 LPs instead.  At any rate, shipping diamonds from Beijing to Chang'an ended up being a very lucrative and relatively short trip, so much so that even after I reached my financial goal, I kept going just to make sure I wouldn't have to trade while in Japan.

Heck, I'll be able to just bribe
the final boss to stop being bad.

With all my wheelings and dealings wrapped up, I prepared for the voyage to Japan in my brand-spanking new ship constructed specifically to cross the ocean by an expert in the field and commanded by a top-of-the-line captain.  So of course it was no surprise that the ship sank just off the coast of Japan.  Not that I was too worried though, I had weathered many such disasters and had always come out completely intact, with absolutely no loss to any wares, hit points, or gold.

But at least we still have each other, right?...
I'LL KILL YOU!  I'LL KILL ALL YOUR DOGS!

So with my mood reaching maximum dourness, I embarked on the final leg of the journey doing another set of quests.  The first such quest was for the princess of China who wanted me to fetch her Divine Robe.  Oh, and by the way completely unarmed non-soldier man, that shit's guarded by an eight-headed dragon beast, so try to at least buy a knife with your no money before you go *tee hee*.  Man, what is it with the princesses in this game and their insane — completely insane — requests.  I considered quitting here because of roleplaying reasons; I wouldn't respond to the princess at all, I'd just silently turn away, walk out of the palace and then straight into the ocean for some sweet, sweet princessless oblivion.  But no, I have to complete each game, not only for my freedom but for dat ending screen.  I did initially try saying no, but of course then I wouldn't be able to advance the plot.

Princess Manipulative Technique #8: Verbal
shaming combined with crying for double damage.

Luckily, there were no random encounters and the dragon cave was close by.  My meta partition knew full well that the fight wouldn't be a standard combat, but my in-character partition was scared as hell to have to face this monstrosity practically naked.  The dragon wasn't in the mood for a scuffle and wanted to get faced instead, resulting in me running back and forth between the cave and a well where the water magically turned into sake.  No less than three times I had to make this encounterless journey, but the reward was well worth it.

Just bro'ing down with my homie and
talking smack about princesses.

The princess was overjoyed to get her dress back and granted me a magic charm as well as access to the armoury in the basement, which had a full set of the best quality gear she had conveniently forgotten about earlier (*tee hee*).  Now the random encounters started back up again and I was able to accumulate even more now-worthless LPs.  The final quest involved tracking down a wizard named Galon who stole all my mirror shards and which led to an epic, if somewhat scripted, battle.  The first fight with Galon resulted in my inevitable death, which was saved by the charm and resurrected me after Galon left.  After some discussion with a couple pals I befriended (I forget their names), I received the Rainbow Sword and took off after Galon again.  This time Galon was unable to use his magic against me due to the sword and so a brutal melee started.

Hey, it's not my fault!  I've been under a lot of stress at
work lately, the wife's put on 20 kilos over the last
two years, and those mortgage payments...

As my HPs crept closer and closer to zero, I was saved after Guy1 and Guy2 entered the skirmish, one attacking Galon while the other fed me healing balms whenever I was "in the red".  This went on for quite some time which created a very cinematic final conflict, but made it feel like the outcome was out of my hands.  After his defeat, the Rainbow Mirror was created and I hopped onto the summoned flying Rainbow Ship which took me to my homeland of Littleland where I defeated the final boss, Xulu, with my Rainbow Sword and which was done entirely through cutscenes.

For a game that yaps about rainbows so much,
it sure had a problem ever displaying them.

By this point in the Inconsolable Quest, ending by killing the foozle has become so generic and cliché that it barely even registers anymore.  In Rainbow Silkroad, it feels even more tacked on as it completely abandons the whole merchant angle during Japan.  A more appropriate ending would be either to retire in China after I got all the monies or set it up so that I have to go back along the, now completely opened, Silk Road and do something trading-related along the way.  Less epic to be sure, but for me the Silk Road ends in China (even though it does technically extend to Japan).