October 27, 2011

Nobunaga's Ambition - Ranking

I know running a strategy game through the RPG-focused VIPS is bound to create some anomalies, but shut up, I do what I want.

Story & World

The historical setting of feudal Japan and the attempt to show the actual conditions at each of the time periods scores big points here.  Some of the fiefs seemed to be better producers than others.  If that is also patterned off the history books, then more kudos to Koei are in order.  The firearms unit was particularly nice to see as Japan had just recently acquired the tech from the Portuguese.  Certain random elements, such as typhoons, only came during the appropriate season.  However, after gaining a good chunk of fiefs, future acquisitions did begin to blend together due to their sameness.  Just another fief to micromanage.


There are a few ways to interact with the other rulers but are downplayed by outright warfare (as was the style at the time).  Nonaggression pacts can be made but are short-lived affairs.  Even an alliance by marriage is no guarantee that an invasion won't happen down the road.  With it being this limited, it's no surprise that all the other rulers acted pretty much the same way.  However, you can also interact with them by sending a pile of ninja to try to assassinate them.  I tried once to send 27 ninja but they all failed.  Would have scored more points here if the ninja didn't blow. 

The single objective to unite Japan dominates the entire game and while ambitious, it lacks any distinct flavour.  Domination has to be done through force and diplomacy is just a delay to the inevitable.  7/20

Character Development

Building the daimyo consists of 5 randomly generated attributes, ranging from around 60 to 110.  All of these come into play at some point and mostly affect the effectiveness of decisions made.  Success in certain endeavours can raise stats and, likewise, failure will reduce them.  However, most of these changes are so small as to hardly matter.  A low Health stat is especially dangerous as the daimyo will get sick easier and die quicker.  Character portrait is tied to the nation chosen to play and I certainly can't fault a historical simulation for doing so.  5/20


Combat & Monsters

It wouldn't be much of a historical simulation if it included magic, so that won't be held against it.  The strategy in combat in very basic and laid out in an odd rectangular grid.  There are four terrain types that affect combat: plains, towns, hills, and castles (in order of desirability).  Battles typically play out in the same manner.  Enemy generals have no problems in attacking from the weak plains terrain into a superior location even if a better location was available.  A few memorable battles involved trying to cut off the escape of the enemy command unit but for the most part battles were bland.  An option to bribe enemy units was available but morale was usually high enough to make this worthless.


The only foes are your fellow countrymen and there's thousands of them.  There are three unit types though: infantry, cavalry, and firearms.  3/20

Graphics & Sound

The colours and styles used on the main map serve their purpose and make each nation stand out from the others.  Daimyo portraits are well done and though I only recognized Oda Nobunaga and Takeda Shingen, I wouldn't be surprised if the other portraits were accurate as well.  The battle grid and unit graphics could have stood a little polishing.  Music variety was lacking and, most distressing of all, wasn't even Asian-sounding at all.  That is a huge black strike against a historical period game.  I usually ended up listening to Kitaro (not the spooky kind) instead.  8/20

Gameplay
 
Any strategy game like this has to have a strong economy behind it. The two major components are, not surprisingly, gold and rice.  Rice is needed to feed armies and reward peasants and soldiers.  Gold is used for everything else and a smart daimyo will save his surplus rice and sell only when the price is high.  Investing in various areas of the fief will see bigger returns every fall when taxes and harvests come in.  Gold is always in high demand especially for the first half of the conquest.  Excess gold can always be used to send swarms of ninja.  :)

Controls were fine for fief development but were less responsive during the battles.  The battle interface also made it difficult to quickly pass all unit turns (as usually happens when defending).  Overall control was enhanced greatly by the usage of the SNES Mouse, a boon to any console strategy game.

Whether you want to replay or not, Ambition will force many restarts.  Initial fief choice is critical and determines your chances of making it past the first few years.  Multiple scenarios set at different times can be chosen from and determine the starting land holdings based off of history.  You can play as the favourite, such as Oda in the 4th scenario, or play an underdog and hope to crawl your way up to the big leagues.  The balancing act of resource management and the agony of analyzing a decision's risk & reward ratio is served in abundance.  For example, during those first few critical years, every koku of rice counts and it can be tough not to sell the majority of rice on hand when the price is high enough.  Run out of rice and the peasant's loyalty will start sinking fast, leading to revolts if not handled.  Even if a revolt is suppressed, it still means lost troops that need to be replaced, retrained, and rearmed.  And so on and so forth.  Nobunaga's Ambition definitely falls into the just-one-more-turn category like so many other solid strategy games (I'm looking at you, Civilization).  17/20

Final Ranking:  40/100

October 26, 2011

Nobunaga's Ambition - End Game

After many more failed attempts it was decided to abandon the battle for middle Japan and just attempt to conquer all of it.  The thought process that believed that this was a swell idea will ever be forgotten to the annals of time.  As in the 17 fief version, picking any of the 50 choices here is a crap shoot.  Most get crushed within a few years and about one in ten make it past that.  Having more territory to conquer takes a lot longer and time is something that is not on a daimyo's side.  A busy daimyo ends up being a sickly daimyo.  Upon his death, all lands are lost and become vacant.  Rulers in pre-modern Japan weren't known for their contingency plans, I guess.

I hope this is a nice epitaph.

An exasperated Shen Nung went back to the smaller map option and begun the process all over again.  Finally... FINALLY... a nation made it past the ten year anniversary and was holding strong.  This was probably due in part in starting at the edge of the map (fief #2) and only having three other empires at the borders.
 
Everyone wants a piece
of #16's phat ass.

After a short period of military building and training, the wrath of Nung was ready to be unleashed upon his suspecting neighbours.  A rash of plagues hit many places except for those controlled by Nung.  This opened a window of opportunity for conquest and, by jove, Shen is not the kind of man to miss it.  Once he started, the dominoes began to fall quickly.  Nations protected by surrounding friendly fiefs began to move their troops up to the front lines while training newly hired recruits.  This surge became nearly unstoppable and in another ten years time, the mighty Nung Dynasty had stomped out almost all opposition.

Spreading like some sort of
fabulous hot pink virus.

As is often the case in conquering strategy games, once about half the land is conquered, it's inevitable as to who will dominate.  The ability to send gold and rice from anywhere in the kingdom makes it easy to bolster newly acquired territories.  The final battle was anti-climatic as well.

Your sweet headband is no
match for my beard fu!
 
This is a huge difference to RPGs which usually have the exciting payoff near the end of the game.  In these types of strategy games, the tension is all in the earlier bouts.  By mid-game there are usually one or two other nations that have an equal number of fiefs in their control.  The conquering, relinquishing, and reconquering cycle reaches a fevered pitch and whomever is victorious here usually goes on to defeat the rest.  After cleaning up the remaining nations, Shen Nung becomes the indisputable emperor of Japan.

And he's not even Japanese.

October 21, 2011

[Game 006] Nobunaga's Ambition (NES - 1988) (SNES Remake)


The ailing daimyo lay on his elegant reed mattress trying desperately to suppress his wheezing and gasping.  The servants on hand looked fondly at their failing leader; a faint moistness glimmered at the edge of their eyes.  The doctor (best in the prefecture, they say!) stood solemnly at the bed side, his head tilted towards the floor.  The royal family surrounded the rest of the bed, muffled sobs occasionally escaping into the room.  The daimyo knew he had done well during his reign.  The people had plenty of rice available and the might of the military was known throughout Nippon.  He had seen his people through many hardships, both natural and man made.  The plagues and typhoons that had struck so many of his fiefs had never managed to kill the will of the great daimyo.  He had acquired a hefty amount of land during his ruling years; almost a third of the entire nation.  Now, as he took his last few breaths, the same thought looped around and around in his mind: "Not enough time... just not enough time."

As stated in the outline, some of the titles included are far more strategy-based than role playing.  This is the first one that fits that bill.  There are a few faint whispers of role play in Nobunaga's Ambition but I'm clearly grasping at straws here.  The main objective is the gold standard of strategy games conquer all territories in sight.  In this case, it means unifying Japan during the Warring States period (mid-16th century).  As was evident in actual history, this is much more difficult than one might first think.

The first attempt was not for all of Japan (which has 50 prefectures) but for a smaller area in the middle (17 prefectures).  Before I even had a chance to act in the first turn, I was attacked by a rival from the south.  Defeating him gave me his territory which was promptly attacked by the fief next to it and it was lost.  So when I finally had a chance to act, I was down about half my starting troops.  As per the manual, I went in to change the tax from 20% to 45%.  Apparently just setting the tax rate takes three months (the length of a single turn) because after it was set, the next season started and I was attacked and crushed.  Dayum.

That's what I get for the 25% tax hike.

This game is hard.  Wizardry hard, even.  Oh!  I know what happened!  During the Wizardry playthrough, when it was twisting and warping the fabric of reality around me, some of the difficulty must of leaked out and quantum jumped ahead into the next game.  It's the only rational explanation.  

Anywho, after about ten attempts or so, I finally managed to get beyond Year 1562.  It seems the beginning fief chosen has a significant impact on the early game.  Some places will always start off with a low amount of troops and be attacked right away.  The ones with higher amounts of troops do not get attacked and actually get a chance to build some infrastructure.  I appreciate that this is trying to be historically correct but then those loser nations should not be playable.  Taking a hint from history, Shen Nung took the throne of Oda Nobunaga himself.  Knowing which nations were weak, Daimyo Nung attempted an early attack in hopes of securing a second fief right off the bat.  The defending soldiers fell beneath the crushing weight of the will of Shen as his army battled with the fire of a million Canis Majoris'.

But the superior mustache was
actually the deciding factor.

The early victories were overshadowed by a series of defeats starting in 1570.  Soon Nung's sorta vast empire was crumbling about him and he was forced to commit harakiri.  There are still a few beginning fiefs that have not been tried yet so perhaps one of those will enable Nung to achieve his domination.

October 14, 2011

Wizardry I - Ranking

Story & World

A small town and ten floor dungeon is the entire Wizardry game world.  All the characters know is that Werdna has stolen Trebor's amulet and he'd like it back.  The town has a place to rest, purchase items and organize / inspect party members.  All the places are very impersonal and it felt more like a home base for my team rather than a bustling town. The dungeon levels themselves are well designed and so chock full of tricks and traps that detailed mapping is quite necessary.

Other than meeting Trebor for one panel of text, there are no other NPCs unless you want to count those damn greedy priests at the Temple of Cant (which I don't).

The one and only main quest itself is very basic.  It's a classic dungeon crawl following the time honoured tradition of kill the foozle.  Strap on your gear and start killing because that's all there is to do.  4/20

Character Development

A massive six character lineup allows for a ton of party configurations.  Classes available to a character are stat based with certain classes having exceedingly high requirements.  Characters can change classes anytime they like, as long as they meet the stat requirements.  The character begins again at level 1 in the new class but keeps equipment and hit points.  Wizardry can save up to 20 characters in a roster which is essential in order to have multiple "teams" of characters in case a party is lost in the dungeon and needs to be retrieved.  Gaining a level results in some stats being raised but also a chance of a decrease as well.  Hit Points gained vary wildly, anywhere from 1 to over 20 (with the 1 showing up the most frequently, grrr).  The complexity of the Wizardry party system is perhaps its strongest feature which is nice since there are more chapters to follow. 

  
Weapon and armour restrictions tied to classes are present here and most characters can use many pieces of armour (e.g. helmet, shield, gloves).  Magically bound weapons and armour are described only by their name.  There is no means in game to determine the stats of any magic items.  Trial and error in the midst of combat is the only way to get a feel for how strong an item is.  Even going off the selling price of the item is not entirely accurate as to how powerful it is.  Other items can be used in combat and usually duplicate a spell effect.  The most powerful items are found only after encounters in the deepest recesses of the dungeon and certain drops are very rare.  Favourite sword has to be the Blade Cuisinart (ended up with two of them, heh).  15/20

Combat & Monsters

With the strong six party structure to support it, the tactical options for each battle are numerous.  This is further enhanced by a basic party formation scheme.  The first three positions are in the front line and the last three are in the protected back ranks.  No melee attacks can reach or come from the back ranks with the exception of the thief (who can try to hide from the back line and backstab the next round).  Combat magic has a good mix of spread attack, party buffing and status ailment spells.  The utility spells are relied upon heavily.  Proper spell management is critical to success in the dungeon and most of the spells retain their usefulness throughout the entire game. 


An impressive number of monsters stalk the Mad Overlord's dungeon.  Monster types and attacks are quite varied and encounters can have different mixes of monsters together making for some interesting situations (usually resulting in death).  At the beginning of most encounters the actual foe that is being fought cannot be seen.  Rather, it displays a shadowy generic picture of that creature's base type (e.g. a Giant encounter could be a Fire, Frost, Earth, or Poison giant).  Makes the fights a little more tense when you don't know exactly what it is (especially in the early game).  Encounters can be random or static with the static ones usually set off after passing through a door.  Static encounters are also the only way to get chests after winning.  Every encounter has a chance to be with a "friendly" group of monsters.  Choosing to leave them alone counts as a good act and has a chance of making any evil aligned characters change to good.  Attacking them gives a chance to change good to evil.  It's not much in the way of role playing opportunities but it's something.  14/20

Graphics & Sound

Each level of the dungeon had its own texture and Werdna's interior decorator for level 10 did an absolutely fabulous job.  At the start of the game, when light spells are hard to come by, walking around in the dungeon is downright spooky.  You can barely see the walls to the sides much less farther down the hallway.  Nice ambient touch as opposed to a lot of RPGs that don't let you see at all without a light source.  The only other graphics in the game are the monster sprites and luckily they are very well done.  New monsters kept popping up all the time as the party delved deeper and kept things fresh.  The music was fantastic although a little sparse on the number of different tunes.  Sound effects got the job done but were nothing exceptional.  15/20

Gameplay


The economy in Wizardry at first seemed very robust.  Resurrections are very costly as are poison and paralysis cures.  An entire outing's booty can be used up on a single death (ensuring a good razzing of the resurrected character).  The one shop in town has a few tempting items for the beginning party and with at least six character to purchase for, there was always a reason to pinch some coppers and sleep in the stables.  After finding and pawning the Ring of Death found on level 4, the economy broke and stayed broken until the end.  In future installments of Wizardry, I think this obvious breaking of the system will be avoided if the situation presents itself again.  A lot of the tension goes out from the encounters when you know a resurrection is guaranteed.   

Wizardry is quirky in that while there is a good amount of replayability, it would be used as you are playing.  At any point, an entire new party can be generated without having to start all over.  Much of my adventure had high level characters chillin' with low level ones, showing them the ropes and whatnot.  Once the entire dungeon is mapped out however, there would be little incentive to try it again.  Wizardry had a few very difficult parts (especially in the beginning) but was overall manageable.  I am fairly certain this port of Wizardry is easier than the original PC version but I'm glad it wasn't a complete cakewalk.  Fans of dungeon crawls should be sure to check Wizardry out (regardless of the platform it's on).  14/20

Final Ranking:  62/100

October 13, 2011

Wizardry I - End Game

The last few levels of Wizardry held no new tricks.  I had smartened up considerably from my previous bungling and approached the dungeon with more caution.  Monsters started dropping loot more frequently and more magically.  Finally some interesting items were coming our way.  Identifying objects gives only the name of the item, not any stats about it.  One can only wield, wear or use in combat to see if there are any effects (the way it should be).  This also meant that we were selling off such items as the Armor of Evil, assuming that it was cursed (it's not).  Not that we didn't have more than enough golds to test out any of the isht we found, cursed or not.  Ah well, the evil team didn't make it very far anyhow as most ended up defecting to the side of good.

A new monster ability raised its ugly head in the latter levels.  The same ability that plagued so many AD&D sessions of the past.  Friggin' level draining.  Picture grinding for a couple hours.  You're only grinding for experience points since each party member is rich beyond their wildest dreams.  A group of monsters get the drop on your party and before they can react, the fighters get a couple of levels drained.  This is in a game where the next experience level is about 75% of the character's total XP.  By level 10, we're talking close to 100,000 XP here.  If the party even began to suspect that there were drainers in the group, they hightailed it out of there.  It tops my list for most annoying monster ability EVAR.  The CRPG Addict has a personal hatred for poison but I think that level draining is worse (though poison would be next).  Poison eats away at the physical body while draining eats away at the very soul.  Still, a burning contempt against poison is healthy and Wizardry has that end of it covered as well.

The Addict's worst nightmare.

Getting down to the final level proved fairly easy as there was a chute down to it very close to the elevator exit on level nine.  After the ride on the Super Fun Happy Slide, the party was greeted with a sign that I'm sure took Werdna all afternoon to make!

Uhhh... how old is Werdna again?

Nobody in the party knew Latin so we took the "Contra-dextra avenue" to mean that we should we should take the avenue that Contra would (i.e. kick ass like Mad Dog) and to uhh... I dunno... do it dexterously?  After getting sent back to the beginning a couple times, the party finally came across the ... *sigh* ... office of Werdna.

Seriously, Werdna?  Only
a six hour workday?

Despite the silliness leading up to the final battle, Werdna proved to be no joke.  Armed with all the mage spells, the priests had their hands full keeping the fighters up and fighting.  We didn't count how many attempts it took but it was easily in the double digits.

Can't we just talk about
how much Trebor sux?

Amazingly enough, the party was able to overcome a beard so badass even Gimli had to give it props.  Using the amulet that Werdna stole allows the party to teleport anywhere in the dungeon.  Tired from their long journey, the party just wanted to give it back to Trebor and enjoy their gangs of gold.  The second installment of Wizardry won't come for another 8 games so they have plenty of time to enjoy their spoils.


October 03, 2011

Wizardry I - Difficult To Cure

Any misgivings I had about the difficulty of Wizardry has been rectified in the past week.  Level 3 saw the introduction of ninjas to the monster mix.  Now, Shen Nung is no stranger to fending off teeming throngs of ninja assassins but these ones can kill in a single blow via decapitation.  A pack (murder?) of ninjas can wipe out half the party if they get surprise.  A well-placed Lahalito (fireball) spell can take care of them if the mage can bust it off in time but come on.  He's competing with ninjas here.  I can hardly expect him to keep his shit together when his compadre's heads are flying all over the place.  Thankfully they are the only creatures so far that have the instakill ability.  Stupidly enough, there is another creature in the same level that should be able to decapitate but cannot.

Insert obvious Python caption here.

As the mapping of level three got underway, I was treated to yet another one of Wizardry's tricks.  The layout of the level has a bunch of intersections with a directional message at most of them.  The others are pits, complete with damage taking and an effect that makes it look like one is falling.  Since the damage from the fall itself was enough to kill Shen Nung, I had to restart (as per my rules).  This time the party went without Nung because everyone knew that Wizardry wasn't going to put just one pit in the entire floor.  It didn't take long to find another one.  With the wimpy mage dead this time, the rest of the party ran wildly looking for an elevator or stairs to get back out.  I didn't bother to map while they were down there and I couldn't use Dumapic (location) magic since the mage had died.  It took another pit trap before I realized that level four looked very familiar to level three.  Identical, in fact.  I believed so much in the power of the pit traps that it never occurred to me that they could be faked.  After all, I could see myself falling!  Wizardry impressively warped the very fabric of reality in order to mess with me.  I can't even trust what I'm seeing on the screen.  Perhaps none of these creatures are real.  Perhaps this whole dungeon complex is a single quasi-universal energy consciousness who is just awakening to sentience and is trying to make sense out of what it is to being?

Or perhaps it's just a dick.

My third rule states that if the Nung character should die then the game immediately ends and the last saved state is reloaded.  From a role playing standpoint, my cyber-essence is in the Nung character itself.  Any death immediately blacks me out and I awake back at the nearest saved state (edit: This rule has been altered to allow for resurrection before combat ends.  In death by traps the rule applies as normal).  It also has the intention to increase the difficulty a bit since I tend towards oh-so-killable spellcasters.  In Wizardry however, this rule is a boon as losing an entire party normally leaves the characters and their items in the spot that they died.  Another party has to be made to find and gather them.  Wizardry is so twisted that it has taken a rule that was meant to increase difficulty and somehow exceeded the concept of difficulty itself which then wrapped back around and made it helpful.  How much more twisted can Wizardry get?

"Please save us... from
all the money?"

After finally getting past level 3, progress was a lot more solid for the next two levels.  Nothing too tricksy, just a few tough fights.  One in particular had some high level mages and priests.  The resulting firefight between our spellcasters and theirs left only the hardiest warriors still alive amid the smoking, charred bodies.  Luckily our priest had survived to be able to heal herself and the remaining fighters somewhat.  A search through the dying embers yielded the party's first magic ring.  Somewhat excited by the find, they started scurrying back up to the surface.  About halfway back, the fighter carrying the ring noticed that he was feeling weaker and weaker.  Suspecting the ring, he handed it off to the other fighter who was equally weakened after walking some ways.  Determined to find out what secret power lay in this ring, they kept handing off the ring and letting the priest heal with what little power she had left.  Upon their arrival, they found that it was an aptly named Ring of Death.  It didn't appear to have any other abilities so it was off to Boltac's Trading Post to shuck it off.  The party collectively sprayed from their mouths the drinks they had when Boltac wrote down the selling price of the Ring of Death.

Quarter mil or a ring that slowly
kills you?  Decisions, decisions.

Even after all the weapon and armour upgrades for everyone possible, there is still lots of golds left over.  Resurrection woes are now a thing of the past.  I hope this doesn't go too much to the warrior's heads.  Which they might lose anyway depending on what dwells on the sixth level...