September 24, 2011

[Game 005] Wizardry I (NES - 1987) (SNES Remake)

Translation by Aeon Genesis

Ahhh... Wizardry.  The game that beat my ass the two times I attempted it in the distant past.  At least the PC and the NES versions did.  For this undertaking I will being using the Super Nintendo version which also includes the next two chapters in the Wizardry saga.  The ability to carry the party over to the next game in the series is my main reason for playing the remake but also to avoid repeating titles.  

Wizardry has a reputation for being an extremely difficult game, requiring painstaking mapping skillz and the virtue of patience.  It can be very unforgiving as it kills, poisons, and paralyzes the characters into submission.  A resurrection or paralysis cure at the Temple of Cant is very costly for a low leveled party.  So much so that characters will often have to stay deceased while the survivors gather enough gold for the uber greedy priests. 


Yeah, you'd better keep
your face hidden.

To do this, one must create new characters, gain a few levels, and hope that the n00bz don't get killed as well.  While this frequent switching out of characters within a party does mean more grinding, it also gives a great depth to the game as well.  Instead of having a set cast of characters like most console RPGs do, every character has a mortal fragility about them.  No one character feels like the hero of the story.  A story with a defined hero has a certain amount of permanency, like in the movies.  The hero may get injured and even die but you know deep down that they'll always overcome.  Wizardry lacks that and I find it works extremely well for a RPG.  It gives an added tension that no one is safe from the perils of the dungeons.  The higher the level of the character that dies the more expensive it is to resurrect them.  A high level character could be out of commission for quite some time before the funds become available.  If they keep dying, it could be time to let them rot and focus character building efforts on guys who don't suck nads.

Possible nadsuckers.

If that isn't enough to keep a party in constant member flux, Wizardry also incorporates a basic alignment system (Good, Neutral, Evil) for characters.  A party cannot be made with good and evil characters in it (neutrals are fine with everyone).  The handling of certain events in the game can result in an alignment shift for a character.  The simplicity of the system makes it easy to bypass any of these effects (good and evil choices are obvious) if desired.  I personally like this for a role play standpoint and will pick the "wrong" choice from time to time and see if anyone shifts.  


All of these factors have aggregated to result in having a good-based party and an evil one.  I'm role playing it so they are in direct competition with other.  When the good guys come back from an expedition, they must rest while the baddies try their hand at exploring.  It'll be interesting to see which one will eventually slay the game's antagonist, Werdna.

Pictured: Not Werdna.
Not even close.

So far, the difficulty seems to be nerfed from the non-SNES versions.  There was not much problem getting characters to level 5 or so with few hinderances.  This was a worry at first because if the SNES is indeed easier, I cannot claim my Wizardry achievement badge without the caveat that it's the SNES version.  At dungeon level three, it finally started getting a little more like the Wizardry I remember.  I had just started getting lazy and speed tapping through the fights because my all fighter front line were barely being hit and had enough Hit Points to soak up damage anyhow.  An encounter with a large group of Zombies and Slimes quickly brought my ass into check with poison and paralysis martinis for everyone.  The two who didn't drink had to drag their comrades, two apiece, back through the treacherous dungeons to the town.  One died from poison despite the Priest sinking all the healing spells into him.  Hey, I got out of line for just a moment and Wizardry gave me a bitch slap reminder of just who I was playing with.

At least we got this
groovy dancing frog.

That was bad enough.  It wasn't until after I got back to the town that I realized that the priest of the group was actually experienced enough to cast a paralysis curing spell.  Cursing my stupidity, I thought I would still be able to get the paralyzed members from the temple and cure them myself, saving hundreds of golds in the process.  It was then I noticed that the evil priest had turned good and would now refuse to heal his evil ex-comrades.  Isht.

The Evils now have most members incapacitated and will require fresh meat to refill their ranks.  Luckily a high level associate of the Goods has recently turned to the dark side and can now guide the fledglings to a more sure bounty of experience points.  But first the Goods get their attempt to map the rest of level three...

September 19, 2011

Spooky Kitaro 2 - Ranking

Story & World

The world in Spooky Kitaro is chock full of Japanese folklore, from Aka-Oni to Zunbera.  Every creature (at least the ones I looked up) seems to be from various old Japanese folktales.  I'm sure I would have been able to visualize and enjoy it more if I knew the stories behind these creatures so I'm not going to hold that against it.  The whole main map is shaped like Japan which is nice attention to detail (and one I didn't realize until I started flying around).  Getting around the world was a mess with long and convoluted paths.  For a good chunk of it, I never really knew where I suppose to go next.  It amounted to a lot of trekking back and forth across said paths.  

The NPC dialogues were mostly the one liner type but at least they were helpful.  Or, I should say, they tried to be helpful.  There was mentioning of places and boss names but I was so disoriented for most of it that I had no idea what tower or castle I was in.  Thankfully, some of the NPCs were astute enough to mention compass directions in their kind words.  A few instances when I thought I was approaching a boss monster, it turned out to be a helpful friend who you never see again.  Most NPC interactions were one stop affairs.  A few demanded an item to be delivered before giving Kitaro an item in return but then they were also forgotten.  I can see why Kitaro just let them all sink in the end with no remorse.

The main quest was hazy right from the get go and actual got muddier somehow as the game progressed.  I had no idea why I was I killing the monsters I was or fetching the items I gained.  5/20

Character Development

The single character of Kitaro gains abilities as he progresses through all ten of his available levels.  They are all attack related with the ones having higher Spell Point costs doing more damage (a healing ability was the one exception).  Very basic stat structure consisting of Attack, Defense, Hit Points and Spell Points.  Kitaro maxed his level out about three quarters of the way through leaving little reason to fight anything outside trying to gain items.

Kitaro found a few weapons in his journey that offered a weaker attack than his "spell" abilities.  Once a new weapon is found, there is no reason to ever use a weaker version again.  This system is what Kitaro's basic attack should have been instead of a system that uses precious Spell Points to deal basic damage.  Usable items ranged from healing to mobility to light sources.  All were fairly useful, especially the Crow Bait which allowed unrestricted movement across the map.  3/20

Combat & Monsters

Kitaro's main attacks were spells in the sense that they used up Spell Points but other than one healing spell, they all did a normal damage based on how expensive in SP it was.  They could have just drained an endurance meter or something.  Combat was very limited with one vs. one at all times.  When Kitaro called forth a crew member, they essentially replaced Kitaro for a single turn, taking a possible hit in return.  Since they just did a normal damage attack it was fairly pointless since Kitaro would normally do more damage.  One feature in all encounters was an option to speak to the creature.  If friendly, the fight would be avoided.  If hostile, Kitaro would take a kick to the groin.  An inconsequential addition but I'm trying hard to find something nice to say (for some reason).

The enemies had the same rich diversity as the rest of the game world.  Some were so unique I had a hard time even making out what they were suppose to be (poor graphics are also partly to blame).  They all acted the same however with a single attack for each creature, including bosses.  The dodging of Kitaro attacks got a little silly at times with some able to dodge around five times in succession.  Couple that with groups of three enemies (fought one at a time) and Kitaro could easily be brought down from full power to nearly drawing his last breath.  Even at the maximum level 10, Kitaro would sometimes have troubles with a random encounter even against monsters he was battling at level 5.  The random encounters near the end of the game were just too tough for him to handle more than one (thank goodness for the always successful run away).  2/20

Graphics & Sound

Subpar graphics made a lot of creatures that would be hard to identify in the first place even more difficult.  The overland map looked very much tiled; it did not have a seamless look.  Music was very bland and the few sound effects were muted and dull.  2/20

Gameplay

This is a chore RPG.  There were a few amusing scenes with NPC and bosses (fighting a giant nose is always fun) but generally no fun was being had during the process.  The time log shows many sessions that lasted only 15-30 minutes before exasperation set in.  Battle difficulty was fair in the beginning and increased in toughness along with Kitaro but then just kept going.  Kitaro maxed out at level 10 at around mid game and the enemies kept getting harder.  Kitaro had such massive legs at that point that running was always the best bet anyhow.  Wish I could have run away.  1/20

Final Ranking: 13/100

September 18, 2011

Spooky Kitaro 2 - End Game

I probably could have got at least one more posting out of Spooky Kitaro 2 but seriously, this game isn't worth it.  It became pretty evident that the entire game was going to be made up of extremely vague and long fetch quests.  Kitaro spent most of his time journeying to places he had already been multiple times just hoping that something new would happen.  The rest of the time was him meandering around hoping to stumble across a new area.

You didn't have to make the
Pacific to scale, game.

There is one correction that needs to be made from last time and it concerns the crew members that Kitaro has been gathering.  They actually are usable in combat but I hadn't realized that the combat menu icons could be scrolled up or down to give different options.  Most of them were damage dealing types of attacks though one guy had a attack decreasing ability.

There were a few places of note throughout all these gathering quests.  One involved Kitaro descending through the circles of Hell to get the powerful Hellfire weapon.  In order to cross the river of lava, Kitaro must pay a Charon clone half of all his items in order to cross.  This is a big hit to the inventory as most other NPCs who "charged" Kitaro for information just took a single item.  It was made worse that Kitaro found nothing after crossing the river and had to come back at a later time and repay the river toll.
 
He's so cute standing on his desk like that.

Another interesting quest was Kitaro being dispatched to take care of a large brain at the bottom of a pit surrounded by lava.  Before the brain could be defeated however, Kitaro must first slay its eyes, nose, and mouth which are all located in different places but easy enough to find now that Kitaro had a raft to access the islands.  The brain thought it was tough but forgot about the reason why skulls exist.

"The big brain am winning
again! I am the greetest!"

A major quest involving the retrieval of four orbs to gain access to the final area was never completed due to a game glitch.  As Kitaro was exploring the vast oceans in his shiny new raft, he was sailing alongside the field barrier and fleeing any encounters, as is the norm.  After one such fleeing, Kitaro found himself on the other side of the field and basically stuck in the very outside edge of the world map.  Eventually he managed to reproduce the glitch warp back to normal waters.  Being a clever fellow, Kitaro sailed to the one land mass that was still obscured by a field and beamed his way into the final area, bypassing the four orbs quests.

After a few more easy boss fights, Kitaro was on his way to Pandemonium for the showdown with Chi, the Final Boss.  This marked the first and only dungeon that had any decent maze elements in it.  Pit traps were fairly common but could be avoided by edging around the center of the room.  Chi had two forms with the second one being far more hurty than its first.

A distant relative of Myau?

After hellfiring and sealing up Chi's defeated spirit, the tentacle chick from the very beginning comes and gives Kitaro his props.  Everything starts to earthquake for some reason and Kitaro buggers off in his raft and watches the island sink.  I think all of his friends were still on that island and Kitaro has ample space on that raft.  That's cold, Kitaro.

"I needed the room for my fondue pot."

September 12, 2011

[Game 004] Spooky Kitaro 2 (NES - 1987)

Translation by aishsha & Djinn

The first entry for a translated JRPG is based on the very long running manga GeGeGe no Kitaro about a cast of spirit monsters called yokai.  The main character, Kitaro, is a little yokai boy who is missing his left eye.  Which is alright because he's got an emo cut to keep his hair over (and presumably in) his gaping socket.  Whatever, as long as he's got some dope monster powers since he's having to take on the whole yokai army.

The adventure begins by having Kitaro on his little raft (pictured above) being accosted by some tentaclely (of course) spirit who delivers two lines of dialogue about saving everyone and BAM!  Ditched on a beach sans raft.

Raft mighta come in handy.

Exploring to the south a tad and Kitaro finds his house in the middle of some woods with two options to sleep or watch some TV.  The only show on was a password so it was nap time for Kitaro.  With no clue as where to go, Kitaro began to wander randomly.  Thankfully, most enterable places are shown in a grey tile and easy to spot.  Since Kitaro is still a tenderfoot, he only has one attack in battle.  Chambering his fists to his hips and dropping into a horse stance, Kitaro gathers his ki and screams out in rage and he rushes forward and delivers a devastating headbutt to the torso of the enemy.  Every time.  I would have thought that a small boy, running at you as fast as his little legs can carry him, with his head tucked down and maybe some tears evaporating into the rushing wind, would have difficulty hitting a target once, much less multiple times.  Crazy spirit world.

Come on, Kitaro, bring it.  BRING THE NOISE!

No surprise but the headbutts don't kill these yokai in a single blow.  With only eight Hit Points to his name, Kitaro can't stray too far from home.  A house to the west gave Kitaro his first quest to rescue a girl named Yumeko from a northern castle.

Thanks giant melted candle!

Here's where things get a little strange, gameplay-wise.  The overmap consists of many levels arranged like a topographical map with a few access ramps between each level (and usually not near each other).  This results in long pathways to be traversed compounded by the fact that many of these lead to dead ends.  This in itself is not innately bad but the encounter rate is extremely low (zero chance in certain areas) plus Kitaro has a 100% chance of fleeing combat, which is kinda dumb.  Guess all yokai are inherently lazy.  Anyway, this results in a lot of walking around with nothing happening and no progress being made.

A lot of RPGs will keep a character within a certain area through the use of terrain (mountains, rivers, etc.) but this is the first time I've ever encountered an invisible force field that does that.  It only becomes visible when Kitaro bumps up against it and is visually extremely annoying.  It flashes between the normal overmap and a solid black screen with dots showing where the field is (and fields can easily take up most of the screen).  I think the NES can handle more than two layers so this may be a case of sloppy programming.  I've tried to recreate the effect below but it should be about 10X faster than this.

Do I need to add a seizure warning?

So this isn't a big deal.  It stops as soon as Kitaro stops touching the field.  It's just another dead end in a long line of dead ends.  Spotting a cave close to his house, Kitaro prepares for the underworld.  The cave is a short one, with two exits at either end with the entrance in the middle.  Exiting the cave brings Kitaro back to the overmap with one important difference.  Now he is inside of one of the fields.  Which means the flashing is going on constantly.  Nuts to that.  Kitaro heads back the way he came and tries that northern castle he heard about.  Since he can flee from every fight, Kitaro reaches the castle boss at max power.  He puts up a good fight but just can't contend with Kitaro's new attack he received at level two (shooting hair or maybe spikes from his head).

He never bothered to get out
of his chair the entire fight.

After defeating this thing, Kitaro proceeds to wander about aimlessly, looking for the elusive grey huts, temples and castles.  A few places give items but none give a clue as what to do next.  He'll just to have to explore everywhere.  A house near the coastline had a saucy gal named Neko who joined Kitaro.  He was quite excited as he thought he'd have to take on everyone by himself.  After Neko joined however, she doesn't appear during fights and there is no reference to her on any info screen.  Alone again, Kitaro continues searching random places.

Just send my wages to my
forwarding address. Kthxbye!

The only other place of note was another castle which had more floors and paths to take than the first one.  Which, of course, doesn't matter because of the automatic fleeing.  The end boss at this battle though comes back from the dead unless his soul is trapped in a statue which Kitaro happened to have (it was the only special item he had).  Winning this fight nets Kitaro the Pass, which surely will be used to open up new areas to explore.  Now if he just had any clue whatsoever as to where to use it.

How do you like being headbutted, Kitaro?

September 07, 2011

Phantasy Star - Ranking

Story & World

The Phantasy Star world successfully blends a classic fantasy world with high tech society.  The shiny domed dwellings in the unruined towns give a slick look that Phantasy Star makes all its own.  This is nicely balanced with the dirty look of the ruined villages, giving a constant reminder that all is not right in the worlds.  Since this is a game more about personal revenge than it is about saving the world, it doesn't offer much in fleshing out a back story (in game anyhow, the manual gives a few paragraphs).  Most of the quests undertaken don't have much impact on the world other than opening up access to different areas for the party.

Towns are filled with people, both standing around outside and standing around inside.  A small fraction give plain flavour text but most give some nugget of insight into the game world however vague.  Practically everyone had only one thing to say though there was a branching dialogue with Damor the Soothsayer which was ultimately lame (I failed it multiple times).  Certain characters are necessary to talk to in order to unlock a certain event but these are few.

In the same vein as Final Fantasy, any side quests to speak of are merely there to gain some item that allows the characters to advance to the next section of the plot.  Not all dungeons need to be complete as each one usually contained one item or event that needed to be done to keep advancing.  No dungeons contained any kind of special weapon or items which dampened the desire to search every nook and cranny.  9/20

Character Development

All four of the characters are static in class and identity.  There are a bare minimum of stats (Attack, Defense, Hit Points, Magic Points) and increases are automatic upon gaining a level.  No customization available at all.  Alis and Myau are both fighter / magic user hybrids though I didn't really use many spells other than for healing and transportation.  Odin is definitely a pure fighter class with Noah a pure magic user (though most of his attack spells suck).

Weapons and armour came in three distinct sets: one for Myau, one for Noah, and one for Alis and Odin.  Most of the weapons are melee weapons though Odin has a choice of guns to choose from as well.  Further restricting weapon usage is that each character only upgrades their arms around three times (sometimes less for shield slots) throughout the whole game.  It follows the standard "more expensive means more power" model prevalent in most RPGs.  Weapons show up with differing visuals in combat but after awhile all you see are a bunch of slashes (with the occasional pew pew of a laser).  All equipment is purchased through shops and shops give access to all weapons and armour available in the game.  4/20

Combat & Monsters

Most combats tend to be button mashers with everyone going full tits forward with melee attacks.  Combat magic was usually saved for boss creatures but was only about as powerful as the best melee weapon in the party.  By far, magic points were sunk into healing and transportation spells.  Lack of status ailments for characters and foes alike restricted any tactics (only one status of being Binded resulting in the loss of one or two turns).

Like the game world itself, Phantasy Star is full of unique-looking monsters with the majority having standard melee attacks and some having additional spell-like abilities.  Limited role play is available with intelligent monsters either through the menu choice to Talk to them (as long as they speak the same language) or using magic, such as Noah's Tele (telepathy) spell.  This merely results in some idle chit chat and the encounter is avoided.  A nice touch to counter the hack 'n' slashing-through-everything approach.  I already whined about the encounter rate before and that didn't change by the end of the game either.  6/20

Graphics & Sound

The annoying encounter rate was muted somewhat by the spectacular monster sprites.  Good use of colour and a wide range of monster body types (with some real strange and fantastic ones).  Monsters got larger and more intimidating as the game progressed (so glad Dragons never came in groups).  Crawling around the monotonous-looking dungeons became mind numbing to try to map.  On more than one occasion, the party would become lost and have to exit the dungeon and try again from the start.  Music was suitable for the tone that the Phantasy Star universe sets but nothing too special.  Sound effects were annoyingly clunky and most sounded like they were taken from early 80's arcade games.  The laser gun was especially annoying with its high pitch squeal that would go off once for each enemy in the group.  10/20

Gameplay

In the Phantasy Star world, people use meseta instead of golds.  It is a crucial resource since weapons and armour are rarely found in the dungeons.  Whenever the party came across a new town, there was always some new piece of equipment to note to come back to and purchase.  We rarely had the meseta available to purchase all the goodies at once and decisions needed to be made on who needed what the most.  There were also a few essential pieces of equipment, mostly vehicles, that were very expensive and kept the party nice and poor and hungry for more meseta.  There's not a whole lot of equipment to buy though and very few useful items outside of healing.

The worlds within Phantasy Star were somewhat nonlinear in that you could enter most areas but random encounter difficulties would soon press you back from whence you came.  The game did well in keeping the party advised on the next quest that needed to be done and where it was.  The difficulty was really high off the start, then became more managable as the party gained its other characters.  At end game, it became more difficult again although mostly do to insanely long dungeon paths.  Replayability gets a big fat goose egg (see Character Development).  It was a blast to play for the first 4/5ths but then got bogged down by too many fights in too long of dungeons.  12/20

Final Ranking: 41/100

Phantasy Star - End Game

We got off track in a big way after finishing off what remained on Dezoris.  Heading back to Motavia, we decided to check out the wastelands again.  On own initial visit, we hadn't checked around the perimeter and found if we stayed right along the coastline, the vapours wouldn't harm us.  At one point along the way, we spied a town maybe eight steps or so away.  Throwing caution to the wind, the party marched in and made sure to get Myau to Cure everyone every few steps.

Ewww, Noah, lay off the burritos, mang.

Managing to brute force our way through left everyone exhausted but luckily there was a hospital in this town of Sopia.  Not much information was gained other than a lead that the Mirror Shield was buried on an island in Motavia (needed for the upcoming battle with Medusa we assume).  We lacked a vehicle that could go on water so decided to check out the only two places we had not fully explored.  They were both temples with very large maps and difficult encounters.  We had to exit back to a town to heal and return to explore many times.  Part of the problem was that the party decided that running from battles was a waste of time since it seemed like it was rarely working (unlike the earlier parts).  We got a lot of mapping done but couldn't get through either one so the gang decided to chill for awhile and strategize.

After much debate, it was agreed that everyone was sick of fighting for now and decided to revisit every town in hopes that someone had something new to say.  It was a long shot, as, up to this point, it seemed that civilians only ever had one thing to say.  Turns out we just missed a house from our previous visit (and usually I'm good about talking to everyone in towns) which set us towards the junk piles of Bortevo (the same place we picked up Hapsby).  Joy!  A hovercraft is found!  There needs to be more hovercrafts in RPGs.  While maybe not quite as badass as an airship, the option to go over land or sea is just... hey... wait a minute.  This hovercraft doesn't work on land, just sea.  This is not a hovercraft.  It doesn't even work on beach terrain!  How is this a hovercraft?  You'd best believe that Phantasy Star is losing points because of this cruel deception.

It's not even full of eels.  Rip off!

Anyway, we now were able to retrieve the Mirror Shield and head on to one of the temples that was mostly mapped out.  Time for Odin to get a little revenge on the most popular of the Gorgon sisters.

Too bad we can't take the head with us.

The party is quite strong at this point due to all the roaming around this place from before and Medusa provided little resistance.  With Odin's vengence fulfilled, the party headed to the tower of Baya Malay (also heavily mapped) and climbed their way up to the top.  Holding aloft the prism earned at Dezoris caused the clear blue sky to reveal a floating castle. But how to get there?  Myau finally eats some nuts that the party had been carrying for awhile and transforms into a majestic cat-pegasus thing.

Heh.

Oh.  Didn't know he was a boy
until now. And what a boy!

Since I'm inundating you with images already, here's what we fought on the way up to the castle town.

Good dragon or Gold dragon?  YOU decide!

Hrmmm.. no rest spot is available in this town.  Just some townsfolk who don't say much and an entrance to another dungeon.  Myau was down to about half of his MP (he's the main healer) and since the party really needed to conserve on HP they attempted to start fleeing battles again which worked more consistently again (proving the earlier hypothesis about fleeing wrong).  Eventually we found Lassic in his hidey hole but since Myau was almost out of MP, he pretty much had his way with most of the team.  Alis was the only one who didn't take too much damage from him and eventually she took care of him all by herself.

Finish him!

Roll end credits.  Nope, wait, we're still in the dungeon and were told to go back to the governor on Motavia.  It was lucky that we had an item to Exit Alis out of the dungeon and that Alis is the sole possessor of the Fly spell which got her back to Camineet to resurrect and heal the others.  She most certainly would have perished if she had to walk back out the dungeon on her own.  Going to the governor's mansion drops us into another dungeon (of course).  Not as long as some of the previous ones but at this point we are all quite sick of dungeons and fighting.  After falling into a pit trap and wandering around a level that was a closed loop, we recalled that several townsfolk along the way had told us about illusions in the dungeons and to not trust our eyes.  Looking directly at every wall eventually revealed a secret door (wonder how many we missed in other dungeons).  There was a healing point just before entering the mansion so the party was almost at maximum power.  Then this came.

Uhhh... finish him?

It's a good thing we saved right before entering because this Dark Falz took many attempts to slay.  It only has one attack that it can use twice per round and can do up to 100 damage.  Even with everyone almost at full, Dark Falz still managed to survive after everyone had used up their MP.  As her beloved comrades began to fall, Alis held aloft her mighty Laconian Sword and bellowed "Not this shit again!" and cleaved Dark Falz with the strength of 10 gorillas.  Now roll end credits.  But not before posing in a victory stance for a final portrait.

Most of you should be dead.