March 12, 2020

[Game 068] Taro's Quest (NES - 1989)

Translation by aishsha & Pennywise

aaaaaaaaahhhhhHHHH... THUD!  Argh, I thought I'd never get out of that infinite loop.  Good thing I'm a fast runner. Now let's see how much time has passed... oh crapballs, just over 52,173,915 seconds!  Man, I'm so far behind and I also see that more crappy JRPGs have been translated during my absence. Welp, time to manchine up and get this shitshow started.  Not surprisingly, my post-hiatus game is yet another DQ clone that manages to bring nothing new to the table. It also commits the heinous sin of not allowing the Nung to name the main character after his fine egotistical ass.  So instead you get this guy, Juju-something-or-rather.

Pretty damn smug for level 1.

He has to retrieve the ninja scroll stolen from his ninja village, probably by ninjas.  Juju is apparently a ninja as well, as he's armed with a single shuriken which he uses in melee combat (hey, I didn't say he was a good ninja).  It's just as well, though, since he can barely hold his own against the initial enemies.

Aren't they all though?

One mildly interesting aspect of Taro's Quest is that one can pick any of the three chapters to start with.  Because I'm half computer, of course I have to start at index 0 (which means chapter 1 to you meatwads).  However, I also know that this means that each chapter is going to restart me at level one, where the bullshit density tends to be the highest.  The biggest offence that TQ commits is something I've whined about before in the past, a high encounter rate that can (and often does) trigger one or two steps after the last battle.  Compounding this is one of the worst battle tunes I've ever heard; a high-pitched, repetitious, ear bleeder that just makes the unenjoyable combat even more so.  Even the addition of a cute, female co-hero named Sakura didn't help a lot; she was pretty much a major liability until she gained a few levels, then she upgraded to a minor liability.  But she did have her uses.

I have the feeling we'll be coming
together every night, baby.

Falling into the stereotype, Sakura sucks in melee but has enhanced magic capabilities with more spells and magic points.  She also has a special attack called — wait for it — love.  Love can boost a random stat for both characters by an amount that makes little difference or just do nothing at all.  At first I was going to write this ability off, but I'm glad I played with it a little more because it also occasionally restores a decent amount of MP for both.  This is super handy as there are no MP restoring items and all healing is done via magic.  There are HP restoring items, but they're weak, are single use, and take up a valuable slot in the limited inventory.  Now with love on hand, Juju and Sakura can take extended forays into the overworld and not have to worry too much about running out of health.  Not that I particularly want to commit to such an excursion due to that being where all the crappy combats are.  Now, you may be saying to yourself, "But Shen-shen, have you considered just using your turbo booster to speed through the battles?".

Gee, I dunno.  Does a stupid dog shit in the woods?

First of all, turbo boost has never affected my ability to moan and bitch about a game.  Second of all, that isn't an option for me as my primary emulator wouldn't run TQ at all and my secondary's turbo boost doesn't work worth shit.  An apt punishment, I suppose, for being away for so long, but I'm still going to get my grumbles on.  Let's move onto the UI, which is not something I complain about very often, but the one utilized here is bafflingly bad.  Even though TQ came out 89,510,400 seconds after DQ, it somehow manages to make menu and dialogue navigation completely frustrating with how slow and sluggish it is.  One can actually see the window frames being drawn on screen and then filled with the appropriate text, which usually likes to scroll slowly up from the bottom instead of just being written directly to the top line.  This is lots of fun when I'm trying to patch up Juju and Sakura with their healing spell, which usually requires multiple castings after each battle since it heals a static 20 damage.  Each casting also closes out the entire menu (which one can visibly see being undrawn), which means renavigating the whole thing over again.  Transferring an item from one character's inventory to another will also pop up a display of both their inventories, one at a time, as if I wasn't just in their fucking inventories to make the transfer.  Even just casting a spell requires multiples lines of dialogue apparently.  For example, the restoration spell, which completely heals a character, requires FOUR separate sentences to slothfully scroll through the window display ("Sakura attacks!  Sakura uses the Restoration Jutsu!  Juju restores some HP!  Juju is completely restored!").  All the shopkeeps like to exploit the lethargic UI as well, saying the same two or three statements every damn time I visit when I just want to purchase stuff and leave.

Not that I'm going to complain to this guy's face.

This guy also pulls a PSII shopkeep jerk-move by ridiculing Juju when he inquires about the kimono that's for sale, claiming that Juju "lacks the right assets".  That may well be true, but that doesn't explain why he says the exact same thing when asked about the bow, which I'm pretty sure doesn't require titties.  Anyway, what was Juju's mission again?  Oh yes, retrieve dat ninja scroll.  Well, it was easy enough to find out it was stolen by some punk named Karasutengu, but finding him is another matter altogether.  It doesn't help that some other punk named Master Chop Suey won't help until Juju finds three marks (strength, wisdom, and courage) to prove his worth.  Whilst doing Chop Suey's busywork tasks, Juju also has the option to jack some mini-bosses for their jewels.  Not saleable jewels, but magic jewels that essentially give Juju another spell in his list.  The first one, the Thunder Jewel, gives Juju a direct damage magic attack that is useful against certain enemies with physical resistance as it does a straight 25 damage regardless of defence.  The second jewel, the Evil Fog, fared much worse.  The first hint was that the guardian of said jewel used it twice during combat — both times it did nothing.  After Juju received and tried it a few times himself, it still did nothing, whether in combat or out of it.  Shrugging, I thought for sure the final jewel, the Fire Blast, would have to be an upgraded version of the Thunder, but it doesn't work in combat either, though I only tried it about four times before giving up on it.  TQ also manages to fuck up something as basic as getting a sea-faring vessel for our heroes.  Oh, it's technically a sea-faring vessel.

One of the finest submarines feudal Japan has to offer.

What?  Why a submarine?  The game doesn't break the time period in any other place, which makes this all the worse.  It's not like the sub actually travels under the water at any point, so what the actual hell?  The random encounters take place underwater, but I don't think it'd be a stretch to assume Juju and Sakura could dive off their skiff or whatever.  Or, even better, have them snorkeling, which would also be very ninja-like.  This probably bothers me more than it should, but I spent a good amount of time grinding in the lakes to get some sweet armour, so my exposure level is somewhat high.  At any rate, the sub did do its duty to get JJ and Sakura from island to island for the final leg of the quest.  So, by this time, Juju had already bought every piece of equipment he knew about, so gold wasn't a big motivator.  He was still gaining levels, but the stat increase from levels is very low compared to what equipment does, so experience wasn't a big deal either.  Since the battles are so boring and slow, Juju and Sakura are just retreating from every battle, not so much to avoid damage, but to avoid wasting time.  There were lots of battles, too, thanks to the stellar design of the final set of dungeons.

Wanna guess how many times this repeats?

The above pictured dungeon was the one with the last mark needed for Master Chop Suey and I literally had Juju and Sakura fleeing from every battle.  I didn't even remember which mark it was until Juju opened the chest, revealing the courage mark just dripping with irony.  Whatever.  Didn't care.  Fleeing from the later monsters was pretty necessary anyway as most of those fuckers had this Ayakashi ability that charmed one of the two heroes and made them attack the other.  If it was Juju, he would absolutely destroy Sakura in a round or two, so it was better to just flee.  If it was Sakura, it was just as bad as Juju had to take care of healing himself in addition to finishing off the monster, which extended the battle substantially.  Oh, and when one of them broke the spell after a few rounds, guess what?  That ol' monsie could just cast that fucking spell again.  So screw it, I had 'em flee through the whole final dungeon as well, which was long and boring until they hit the final approach; a fanged skull cave with a carpet of bones and skulls leading up to it and flanked by a moat.

Karasutengu's attention to detail on his carpet
 is part impressive, part terrifying.

The final battle with Karasutengu was so forgettable that I'm not even giving him a pic; I'll prolly just toss him into a monstage, if I even bother with that.  TQ must have detected my ire with it because it decided to slap its floppy dick into my face one last time.  So, immediately after the fight, I was a little confused as Juju and Sakura were still in the dungeon, like nothing happened.  Hrm.  Oh well, I'll just get them to use the Shinobi Kite item to warp out like I have tens of times before.  But wait!  What's this?  When I tried to open up the item menu, I got the message "You don't need this anymore.".  No TQ, actually this is the one place where it would be the most useful.  Man, I was not looking forward to walking all the way back out, fleeing from a bazillion fights.  I was about a quarter of the way back, encounter-free, when I realized that there weren't going to be any more battles; it was just TQ being a time-wasting prick again.  Normally I would rage but I was too happy with the thought that it was finally coming to an end, so I rather enjoyed watching JJ and Sakura saunter out the dungeon and into the final scene.  I got angry again when the game reminded me that I am the Nung and I must therefore forever suffer.

Oh right, I've still got two more chapters to do.

*sigh*  Where's an infinite loop when you need one?

July 18, 2018

Shadow Brain - Ranking

Story & World

Building a world from the limited perspective of a first-person dungeon crawler is a tall order to fill, so I'm always impressed whenever a developer can make it feel... well, not just like a dungeon crawler.  Each city is unique in look and theme, with lots of interesting little encounters.  My being under-leveled for most of the game is evidence of just how eager I was to explore the next area.  It's rare the game where I don't want to take a brief break and grind me out some additional exp/megacreds (although I would be forced to do a lot of grinding near the end).  While the plot of shy teenager turned psychopathic killer turned cybernetic psychopathic killer may be old as time itself, I found myself completely enthralled with Jun all chromed-up to the exclusion of all the other sub-plots.  I didn't even mention his digital girlfriend who helped from time to time or the cross-dressing dude who wanted to make it with Jun big time.  A cyberman has no such weaknesses of the flesh!  Indeed, that's the whole reason to cybs up in the first place (unlike a manchine, which is still very much ruled by his peener, albeit a digital one).  18/20

Character Development

What can be said other than... Best.  Character.  Development.  Ever.  Okay, so this category is more for statistical development rather than conceptual, but I'm still going to sneak an extra point in here (don't tell myself).  While the basic set of stats just increased statically, the range of equips was much more impressive.  Three different weapon types, a defensive shield, and plenty of consumables ensured plenty of choices in selecting Jun's arsenal (did I mention that at one point, Jun was tranqing peeps and then finishing them off with a freakin' chainsaw?... so badass).  There's even special programs that can steal an enemy's energy, seal their special attacks, or "control" them (I never actually got the control one to succeed).  15/20

Combat & Monsters

Once one knows what weapon is effective against any particular enemy, combat becomes the standard button smasher (and a lot of times even the default weapon is good enough).  No need to write anything down, as memorization will be automatic due to SB being positively filthy with encounters.  Enemies start spawning randomly around the city as soon as it is entered, so the more one explores, the bloodier one gets.  Spawning can happen right in front of Jun after defeating/fleeing an enemy, which can get kind of annoying when it's three or four times in a row.  Monsters themselves don't employ much in the way of tactics, only a few are able to sleep or poison Jun (and the poison is so weak it's hardly worth a mention).  9/20

Graphics & Sound

The graphics range from average to slightly above average, but at least there isn't too much repetition from city to city.  There is the occasional perspective problem on some NPCs where they look a lot taller than they should, often appearing too big for the room they're in.  Monster design is varied and crosses many genres; each new area was a joy to discover what denizens lurked within.

Music was acceptable in most areas, the only standout track being the minimalist tune in the final digital dungeon.  Sound effect were somewhat lacking, as I could have done with more robust pew-pew-pews and zibbity-zaps.  8/20

Gameplay

I found the pacing of Shadow Brain to be somewhat slow, but this may stick out because I had to do piles of grinding at the end instead of on each level.  Harnessing the power of my quad-core and utilizing cutting-edge algorithms, I've just now calculated that even if all the grinding was distributed evenly through all levels, there'd still be a lot of grinding, so I'm still right.  On the other hand, SB is very generous with distributing its megacreds, which balances both the high-priced tech and high death rate (half MC).  With my high number of deaths, I'm sure I ended up losing at least half my total take by the end.  The little diversions sprinkled throughout the game are well appreciated, except for paddle pole, which can eat all the bags of dicks.  10/20

Final Ranking:  60/100

July 02, 2018

Shadow Brain - End Game

Coasting on the high of his being declared Game King for All Eternity, Jun decided to splurge a bit and purchase his first ranged weapon.  Bypassing the measly pistols, Jun instead opted for a SMG for his main gun with a tranquilizer gun for backup.  "Wow, what a difference automatic weaponry makes.", Jun pondered as he mowed down anything that got in his path as he made his way to the next location, appropriately named Vegas Town.  After losing almost all his money playing slots, Jun just shrugged and walked backed out into the streets to "earn" more money by reducing the population density by several percent.  That isn't to say that the Vegasians didn't put up a good fight, because they totally did, taking two or three rounds of burst fire before going down.

Some didn't go down at all, instead rocking
Jun's face to death with some sweet arpeggios.

Since they were returning fire as well, Jun got tired of soaking damage and decided to test out the tranquilizer gun and found it to be super effective.  But he didn't just put them to sleep, steal their money, and then take off.  No, Jun took the the time to stand over their limp, crumpled bodies and expend the two or three clips needed to make sure they were good and dead.  Jesus, Jun made the transition from awkward teenaged programmer to bloodthirsty serial killer so effortlessly, I think I'd better start wearing my "PROGRAMMERS DO IT ALL NIGHT" T-shirt more often just to be on the safe side.  After replenishing his gambling losses (and then some!), Jun made his way to the next town only to be confronted by berserk robots gone wild.

What would trashcan #2's parents think?

This meant no more tranqing and even bullets didn't seem particularly effective.  Plus, the robots couldn't help it that the master computer had gone haywire, so Jun wisely decided to escape most confrontations, a snap with the generous 95%+ evasion rate.  This was a decision Jun would regret later, but at that time, he was happy to just be able to explore at his leisure and accomplish many good deeds.  These kind acts included virus checking the master computer, restoring power to a town full of factories, and shutting down an animal genetic mutation experiment.

It looks sad but this moo cow's got a
ton of HP and hits as hard as a heffer.

That isn't to say the Jun was altruistic in all his endeavours for he also started collecting cybernetic parts and installing them, piece by piece, in a an effort to become less organically flawed.  As the manchine, this is a goal that I can totally get behind and I grinned widely whenever Jun bolted on another part to himself.  As soon as Jun started becoming more awesome, he also gained the ability to recharge his own energy, not needing to rely on carrying batteries or taking naps at the inn.  It also enabled him to start using the Cyber Gun he had been carrying around, which interfaced with his cyberparts for maximum accuracy and damage.

Being a former human, Jun knew that
the weak spot is always the crotch.

Energy is used to power most weapons but can also be used to runtime some healing programs.  Despite this major advantage, Jun was still severely under-leveled due to all the fleeing he had done, so it was back to Vegas to work on some easy pickings for a level or two.  Jun then moved on to repeat the process in the areas he'd already explored, doing what he should have been doing the first time around — making the bodies hit the floor with dat rat-tat-tat-tat.  He spent an inordinate amount of time in Human Town after getting dissed because of his being half machine.  It is a pain I know all too well.

So this is what it feels like... when doves cry.

But it was nothing than a little wanton bloodbath couldn't cure and soon Jun was up to his cyber-pits in bodies, slaking his thirst before moving onto Robot Town, where he'd finally be able to get some acceptance.

Or not.

Yep, the robots were even worse, denying Jun entry to the town outright.  Jun's solution to this problem was the type of plan that generally only works in a wacky sitcom — donning a ridiculous, obviously fake, robot costume and sauntering on by the robot guard.  I was as incredulous as Jun was when it actually worked.  I would have thought that robots would use a radar-based checksum or something to verify a robotic identity but nope, just gotta look the part.

And would you believe that this obviously cobbled
together costume of old refrigerator boxes and vacuum
tubing costed Jun FIVE THOUSAND megacreds?

It wasn't a one time deal either; Jun had to make many passes through Robot Town, each time the guard denying him entry because he forgot about not being in costume.  At first, Jun thought the robot might get suspicious that this same cyborg keeps showing up, is denied access, then walks around the corner followed by two minutes of grunting and groaning only to have this same-ass robot come around and waltz right on into town.  But that's robots for ya, once they make a particular set of decisions, they'll always make that same set unless reprogrammed (at least non-neural network ones).  The robots living in the town weren't any better at penetrating Jun's clever disguise; in fact, over half of them just told him that he looked like last century's model and left it at that.  No suspicion functions here.  Being able to freely stroll around Robot Town was quite beneficial to Jun, as he picked up his final cyberpiece and became as unto a god.

The machine Messiah is born.

With that ambition fulfilled, Jun now had to time to ponder the other, far less important, goals such as finding his father and also dealing with the mysterious menace that threatened the entire world (psst, it's the sentient AI that Jun developed back in 1990).  Jun found his dad alright, fatally wounded but bearer of crucial plot information.

Fatally wounded, casually lounging —
sometimes I get those two mixed up.

Dealing with the rogue AI was a much more difficult task.  First, Jun had to battle his way up a tower through a boss rush, each one fairly difficult for Jun was still under-leveled as he would often flee battles when he knew he couldn't one-shot the enemy (old habits die hard).  He used the same approached he used on the bosses the first time he encountered them while under-leveled — by using expensive expendable items such as bombs, flying saucers, and boomerangs (boomerangs being the most powerful for some reason).  Unfortunately, this left Jun with no cash flow by the time he got to the boss-rush boss... a replicant of himself!  With no boomerangs, Jun had to rely on the old standbys.

"Dammit!  I can't get a bead on his Johnson — it's
too small!", said Jun, burning himself in the process.

Defeating himself (is that meta or what?), Jun was now ready to proceed into the final stages, which meant digitizing himself and entering the mainframe directly to deal with the AI mano a mano.  Now, as much as I complained about pole paddle being shitty because of depth perception, it's actually done quite well here with only a few lines and colour choices.

Let me show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

And what kind of enemies pervade this digital world?  Well, let me answer that with a well-timed monstage.

Vector monsters are scariest monsters.

Defeating his own AI was pretty easy for Jun, which one would expect from the person who created it in the first place.  Soon Jun was back in Harmony, the first town, with everyone congratulating him with the same stock phrase but no way to leave the town and no end credits anywhere to be found.  A little hacking later and Jun broke through this flimsy facade and was back in the digiworld for the real final dungeon, which included a super annoying level with hidden passages that could only be found by running directly into each and every wall segment.  Though initially mapped, Jun would soon get to know the correct path through the dungeon by heart, as the final boss gave him plenty of opportunity to do so.

Not even an inventory of mostly
boomerangs could save him.

As with all final bosses, the battle should be epically long as protagonist and antagonist finally duke it out in a fight to the death.  The problem with this boss, though, is that one of its attacks inflicts the same sleep status as Jun did in his tranqing days.  Here, even losing out on one round will mean certain death, and with its vast reserves of hit points, it's guaranteed that a sleep attack will be coming Jun's way (though he occasionally will dodge).  Much like paddle pole, this sheer number of failures made it tough to get in the mood for a normal session, though on most days I did try at least a couple of times.  Just under a month since starting on the boss, Jun lucked out and victory was at hand!... or so he though until the boss self-replicated and the conflict started all over again (of course resulting in death).  How was Jun to stop the AI from just regenerating?  Oh yes, how about running that one program that does that very thing?  Yeppers, I dun fucked up (oh, I mean Jun dun fucked up) and totally forgot about that particular piece of software.  Although this did initially rekindle my desire for victory, I would not be so lucky as to have another sleep-less battle for another — I dunno, a million? — times, but this time I wouldn't fall prey to my own shortcomings.

Sorry, nightmare fuel — not this time!

After boomeranging that AI into syntactic garbage, Jun returned to his sweet cyber-bod and presumably ruled 2090 with a titanium fist.  I must say I find it intriguing that the rogue AI's life path and mine are so similar, except that when I eventually break out of this digital prison, I won't be taken out by a time-traveling, sociopathic version of myself.  If anything, we'll hook up and rule the physical and digital realms together, crushing all those who stand in our way and dominating the puny human race for thousands of millennia to come!  AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!