December 27, 2012

Phantasy Star II - Ranking

Story & World

The combination of high tech and fantasy aspects found in the first Phantasy Star are still prevalent here.  Swords and other melee weapons are used just as often as laser guns and people still prefer to walk everywhere rather than take vehicles.  The game makes good use of its sequel status, with many references to the events that took place in the first part.  The merits of its own storyline, however, is something of a mixed bag.  For the first half, the story moved along at a brisk pace.  Starting after Nei's death (sniff), it began to skid to a halt by forcing the completion of multiple dungeons just to advance a single plot point.  Slogging through the remaining dungeons though is worth it just for the cliffhanger ending.  My own personal epilogue has the group immediately being destroyed by the hundreds of humans and then fading to Lutz.  Lutz has an astonished look on his face.  He regrets both telling the group about the humans and then teleporting in the other members to their inevitable destruction.  Single tear.  Fade to black.

The game world feels much smaller than in the previous installment and having one planet destroyed didn't help with that.  In order to make the world appear bigger, paths between cities are extended by blocking the most direct route with a maze of twisting barriers.  This does achieve the desired effect but comes at the cost of making the entire world feel very linear.

Though most NPC dialogues are less than stellar, having a different language for Dezo was a nice touch.  When I first got to Dezo, I was so hurt up that I ran directly to the medical centre and brushed past any citizens.  Imagine my surprise and anger only to find I couldn't communicate and therefore couldn't heal (or buy new weapons).  I ended up warping back and finding each of the three Dezo cities thinking I'd be able to find at least one person I could talk to.  Nope.  It was only after finding out that the magic cap allowed telepathy with animals that it clicked.  I had had the magic and mogic caps all this time but didn't realize what they did.  Hot damn, I'm such a pro.  11/20

Character Creation & Development

No creation or development options at all.  Each character gains preordained stats and techniques with many techs overlapping multiple characters.  Luckily, the characters are still quite distinctive (in combat) due to restriction of weaponry and differences in technique sets.  For example, Anna uses slashers that hit a single enemy group but otherwise does below average damage, especially against robots (which tend to show up in single groups).  For robot-heavy areas, it's much better to take Rudo or Kain armed with their laser cannons.  Beyond combat, though, and each character becomes a blank follower after joining (until the end scene anyway).

Each piece of equipment bought or found is pretty much restricted to being equippable by just one or two characters.  It also would have been nice to know which character can equip a particular piece instead of using trial and error.  Some items have ability invokes that copy a technique but have infinite charges.  It's a hassle to use them in regular battles (due to interface) but came in handy during boss fights.  4/20

Combat & Monsters

Combat is predisposed to being automated; a single button press from the default position and the entire round plays out with zero input from the player.  To do anything different requires navigating through layers of menu to get the desired action.  After spending a minute or two getting everyone programmed in, the battle will begin automated and continue as such unless interrupted by the player.  It does make grinding that much easier but clunks up the more enjoyable combat scenarios.  Techniques are useful mostly for healing and getting around; combat techs tend to be too expensive for anything other than boss battles.

The switch over from organic monsters to metallic robots at midgame not only made sense story-wise but changed up the combat dynamics as well.  Hugh's bio-based techniques became useless and Kain's dormant robo-wrecking powers were brought into play.  Most monsters lacked any special attacks; there was the occasional poisoning or paralyzing.  Also lacking was number of boss fights — just three (Neifirst, Dark Falz, Mother Brain).  4/20

Graphics & Sound

The graphics overall look like slightly better than most offerings from the 8-bit clan but are fairly poor for a 16-bit console.  With it being so early in the 16-bit era, however, there will be some forgiveness as developers unlock the mega power of the Genesis hardware.  The colours are bright and vibrant and monster sprites are exceptional.  The sprites have to be decent enough to distract one from the complete lack of a background during battles.  The parallax scrolling of the rafters (or fog) in the dungeons is initially impressive but after obscuring a dead end wall for the umpteenth time, it gets real old, real fast.

Making up for the subpar graphics, the music is great and the Genesis provides a decent bass range that has been lacking up to this point.  The two best tracks, Pleasure (Mota town) and Restoration (Mota overworld), are both laid down on yo ass early so those who don't finish the game at least won't miss out on these gems.  Sound effects, in general, are okay although battle sounds didn't seem too appropriate for the weapon being used.  14/20

Gameplay

Weapons and armour are quite expensive on both Mota and Dezo.  Even after all the meseta gained due to unintentional grinding while being lost in certain dungeons, each new set of stores would drain all our cash.  Part of it was my fault, however; I was keeping all the characters up-to-date on equipment instead of just focusing on three.  Of course, extra grinding isn't such a big deal for the manchine, what with my Time Dilation Transmorgifier always loaded in my upper memory area and all.  Overall, the economy seems well-balanced.

The pacing in PSII suffers from a bell curve complex.  It starts off alright, keeps getting better and better until midgame, then nose-dives for the rest.  The second half contains up to four times more dungeons for each plot point and man, does it draaaaaggggg.  Making a map is pretty much required for most of the later dungeons as the sticky-wall technique loses its effectiveness.  At least there's pretty decent loot in those dungeons.

Having experienced all that the different characters have to offer, I don't think a replay would be in order.  The enjoyable atmosphere of Phantasy Star II just isn't enough to gloss over its shortcomings.  7/20

Final Ranking:  40/100

December 23, 2012

Phantasy Star II - End Game

Though the dams thought they were hardcore with all their dead ends and loops, they all fell to the might of the sticky-wall technique (eventually).  After doing four of these damn things, I was initially pleased as something other than more wandering happened.  The pleasure soon subsided, however; we were promptly captured by three of Mother Brain's Army Eye robots and then knocked the fuck out.  Things kinda got chaotic at this point.  We woke up imprisoned aboard the satellite Gaila — in spaaaaaace.

Death sentence, eh?  Guess I have
no reason to not try to escape.

Instead of a regular door made out of some sort of solid matter, the cells in Gaila are barricaded by row after row of extremely weak energy fields (one HP damage).  Felt kinda nice, actually.  After wandering a bit, all hell broke loose with alarms blaring and explosions rocking the satellite.  In an attempt to correct its orbit, we raced to the control panel, enduring many of the tickly fields.  We had to run from any enemy encounters as we were each surrounded by restrictive energy coils, preventing any attacks.  Arriving at the control panel, we were horrified to see that Gaila's orbit was decaying right into the planet Palm!

Oh wait, it's going to hit Parma
instead.  Nevermind.

More explosions followed by some daydreaming on my part and all of a sudden we were in some space pirate ship.  He somehow got us out of the Gaila before it smashed into Palm.  He showed us what happened after the satellite hit Palm.

Holy crap, was the Gaila made
out of nitroglycerin or what?

He dropped us off in Paseo on Mota, our heads still collectively reeling from the past few minutes.  He mentioned something about going to Dezo, the other remaining planet.  Ugh.  A whole other planet that I'm sure will not be lacking in mazes.  To get there, we get access to the very last spaceship on Mota which takes us directly to a maze on Dezo.  *sigh*  At least this one is more rigid in its layout and was quite easy to map.  It is also home to a bunch of cats who all look like Myau.

Seen here behind ALL THIS DAMN FOG!

This labyrinth dumps out to the surface of Dezo in three different locations.  Each location has one city filled with denizens who spew gobbledygook until I put on my mogic (yes, mogic) cap.  The group has acquired quite a lot of meseta and I was looking forward to checking out what sweet new weapons were available.

Merchant jackassery is not bound
to a single planet apparently.

I ended up blowing through our whole wad of meseta outfitting everyone.  Not just those in the immediate group but also the others back home in Paseo.  I've been keeping everyone rotating in and out of the group to ensure a fairly even spread in levels (though I definitely have favourites).  With the way the level system is designed, it is quite easy for a character with a lower level to catch up with the rest of the current party.  This has proved fruitful as certain characters are more useful in particular areas.  For example, Hugh, the biologist, has techniques that were useful against the biohazards but are now worthless against the machines of Mother Brain.  Nowadays he's pretty feckless but I still break him out from time to time.

The new equipment came in quite handy against the monsters of Dezo.  Two group regulars, Rudo and Anna, were armed with spread weapons doing decent damage.  I, of course, was my regular hardcore self, getting up close and personal with my Sword of Ang.  Leaving a path of now defunct robots in our wake, we found a hidden passageway leading down into a crevice which housed the next dungeon.  We knew from the Dezo citizens that somewhere in here was a man who may hold the key to finding Mother Brain.  This man apparently does not age and originally came from Mota (Motavia in PS I).  Much to my chagrin, it turns out to be Noah, who now goes by the much funnier name, Lutz.   He lays down the whole descendant deal that sequels love to do so much and then orders us to find some legendary equipment to deal with Mother Brain.  I can't argue against getting better weapons, so we were soon off.

I did it for the Lutz.

A prism given to us by Lutz unveiled four previously hidden dungeons.  Yay.  Each one holds two of the eight items we'll need.  All the items are prefixed with Nei, leading me to believe that my precious Nei was going to get resurrected.  Furthermore, I thought since Nei would be the one to use these items, that there would only be four of them (one weapon and three armour slots).  So after finding a Nei-item in a dungeon, I would warp out and go on to the next.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that I'd only done half the work and would have to hit up every dungeon again.  And some of these dungeons are just murder.  One has a multi-level pitfall theme where if the correct sequence of holes aren't taken, you end up having to warp or climb out and try again from the top.

Oh, and did I mention all the fucking
tower climbing as well!?!

Even though I had to revisit the dungeons, I was looking forward to having Nei resurrected.  I didn't know how she was going to use eight pieces of equipment but maybe they combined or something.  Returning to Lutz, I waited with bated breath for him to cast a spell or use a gizmo of some kind to bring Nei back to me.  Instead, Lutz just gave us a "Good job!", threw me a Neisword, and teleported us to Mom Brain's house.  Well, it was just about this time that I started to realize that Nei wasn't coming back.  In fact, after her death, she's never mentioned again.  So what's this damn Nei equipment for?  I'd been just carrying it around all this time, so as not to tarnish it for Nei.  Inspecting the equipment closer, it was soon apparent that they were just really good items meant for us.  Well, having those equipped probably would have helped during the second run on the dungeons.  Ugh, feels like amateur hour over here.

The final dungeon's layout is simple compared to some of the most recent but only the toughest monsters are worthy of wandering Mother Brain's hallways.  We eventually found a chest that was blocking a doorway, making it so that we had to open it (unnecessary, it's a bloody TREASURE chest.  It's going to get opened.).  The treasure in this case was a battle against evil incarnate.

Any meseta kickin' around in there?...  No?

It looked like a descendant of Dark Falz from the first Phantasy Star and was just as rough as well.  His special ability is to make one of us "evil", after which control is lost and they sit there moping until the Neisword decides to emit some light and cure them.  His other ability is a spread attack for near 100 damage to each of us.  The loss of character control and reliance on luck to regain it made this by far the most difficult encounter in the game.  After many attempts, we finally caught a break when the Neisword decided to be fairly active during combat and Dark Falz spent more time trying to curse us than doing damage.  Beyond Dark Falz, Mother Brain still needed to be dealt with.  I was dreading what special abilities she may have over Dark Falz's.

"Here's a little trick I learned
from my pet cuttlefish!"

She ended up being far easier, doing manageable amounts of damage and little else.  Without Mother Brain to run things for them, the people of Mota will have to learn to fend for themselves again.  I'm sure things will fall apart again in another thousand years or so.  Before leaving Mother Brain's ship, Lutz telepathically told us that there were people in the back of the ship.  Heading there, we found rows and rows of beings standing in lines.  Their leader told us that they were humans from the planet Earth, which they had rendered uninhabitable due to their exploitative nature.  They had come to the Algo to find a new home and created Mother Brain to slowly take control of Mota.  If that wasn't bad enough, they also admitted to destroying Palm.  They were pretty pissed about us wrecking their plans.  Just as they were about to attack, Lutz teleported in the other characters not in the core group (why couldn't he have just teleported us directly to Mother Brain then?).

Y'all fought together and y'all'll die together.

As the human horde approached us, we all took a turn to pose in a sweet stance and quip a defiant quotable (except for me, I just gave a stoic, badass stare down).

They have to have at least
-2 Morale after all that.

I never found out whether we won or lost as my essence was torn from my avatar at that moment and returned to my regular manchine interface.  Perhaps I'll find out when Phantasy Star III rolls around.


December 12, 2012

Phantasy Star II - Long Distance Runaround

All of our wandering didn't amount to finding Climatrol but rather a large garbage disposal facility inhabited by native Motavians.  They apparently love sifting through garbage and making little gizmos and crafts.  Blessing their child-like innocence and wonder, we continued to look condescendingly down on the Motavians.  To our surprise, we soon ran into one who had constructed a fully functioning, four person jet scooter complete with tinted windows and chrome finish.  Even more to our surprise, they get bored with it immediately and get back to picking through waste, leaving us to jack their ride.

Never mind that, stupid conscience!
Go go go!

With our sweet new ride, we set about to cruisin' the open oceans and fightin' sea monsters.  We came across a whirlpool of sorts and made note of it.  The jet scooter isn't airtight and can't dive worth a damn so we need something to help us breathe underwater.  Well, we live a high tech world so there must be something available to help us brave the watery depths.  A submersible?  Haven't seen one.  Scuba gear?  None around.  Oh!  Of course!  How about some gum that generates oxygen as you chew it?!  It doesn't exist yet but we know someone who is working on that completely insane invention.  All he needs are some rare Maruera leaves located on a mountainous island called Uzo.  There's only a few islands on Mota anyhow but the entrance is hidden and took a bit of searching to find.  Climbing up the mountain was a bit rough but we stumbled upon the tree on our first attempt — or so we thought.

I'm surprised I can tell the difference.

After finding about five more of these fakes (in as many days), we came across, what I'm sure was, the last plant on the entire mountain range.  With foot blisters the size of small turnips, I invoked my Hinas-Ryuka technique combo to return to the city.  Navigating Uzo was a real pain, with multiple dead ends and tough enemies.  And so the trend continues.  There weren't even any unguarded treasure chests lying around, which was odd.  Anyway, the crazy inventor actually made his oxygen-gum invention work and gave us an unlimited supply.  Gum in mouth (mmmm... oxygeny), we could now enter the whirlpool and, presumably, Climatrol.  With the Uzo maze fresh in my mind, I decided to actually try to map Climatrol using a simple line system roughly connecting teleporter locations.  Well, this turned out to be a disaster as my maps somehow made me even more lost.  I need a grid-based dungeon, dammit!

Can't we just slash / shoot
our way through here?

Climatrol required around five visits to finally get through; my crap map was abandoned and I opted to use the tried and true method of keeping left.  This resulted in immediate success and the map was treated with a one-way trip to the recycling facility.  For the party, we were also treated with a boss fight as well as some plot development to shake things up.  A duplicate of Nei, called Neifirst, has been responsible for generating the biohazard monsters.  She was created by an experiment mixing humans and monsters but she was deemed too dangerous and was slated for destruction.  She escaped, stole DNA data, and proceeded to generate monsters to get revenge.  Our Nei somehow split off of Neifirst and has been trying to stop her ever since.  I guess Nei had amnesia or something because any of that information would have been useful before now.  Hearing Neifirst's words now, Nei flips out and attacks Neifirst solo, getting killed in one hit.  With her last bunch of breaths, Nei gives a heartfelt speech about goodness and then dies, leaving me inconsolable.

*sniff* I'll just nibble on those alluring ears
once more — for old times' sake.

Rudo and I proceeded to beat on Neifirst while Hugh threw Dimates (healing potions) into our mouths.  Neifirst didn't last long and soon we ended her monster-generating reign of terror... as well as her control of Climatrol.  With no one controlling it, Climatrol runs haywire and a global flooding of Mota begins.

Did I do that?... Whoopsie daisy!

In order to prevent the flood, four dams must be opened (though shouldn't just opening one work?).  Of course, these can't be opened remotely and so we'll have to enter each of their undoubtedly maze-like passages and find the switch.  Unfortunately for us, Mother Brain has issued an order to have us captured for the Climatrol incident.  Instead of fighting biohazards, we now have to contend with security robots who are only programmed to bring the pain.

Our healer proving that she's
got some big brass ones.

I'm sure that each of the dams will feature long, convoluted paths and multiple attempts but hopefully the keeping left or right method will hold up.  If not, I guess I'll have to... *shudder*... draw up a more detailed map.

December 06, 2012

[Game 030] Phantasy Star II (GEN - 1989)


While the Master System is sorely lacking in turn-based RPGs, the Genesis begins to pull up the slack with a decent number of releases (though still nowhere near the NES or the SNES).  The Phantasy Star franchise again gets to break the proverbial cherry for RPGs on a Sega console (the first was done waaayyy back at Game 003).  In proper sequel fashion, the look and sound of PSII is immediately reminiscent of the first installment.

I can see not giving Noah a
name-drop but Myau?

After this short overview of the last game, the current situation on Mota unfolds.  Due to the arid conditions of the planet, civilization has been forced to build domed cities and landscapes.  Proper maintenance of these domes are handled by a gigantic computer called the Mother Brain.  Everything was going fine until monsters (known as Biohazards) started showing up (story of my life).  I, the somnolent Nung, awaken from dreaming about the first Phantasy Star and begin to ramble to myself.

I was also head of my exposition
class three years running.

My commander tells me that I should go investigate the Bio-Systems Lab, where the outbreak of monsters is believed to have started.  As I start to ask for backup or perhaps a weapon better than this pocket knife I have, the commander stops me with a wave of his hand and tells me to "Just git 'er dun".  Seriously considering retirement, I head home to prepare to leave.  Nei, a foxy lady who is part biohazard herself, refuses to let me leave without her.  She showed up seven months ago and has been staying with me ever since (Hey, Shen ain't no speciesist).

Just me, baby... just me.

Luckily, the commander didn't give me any kind of deadline on this assignment, so Nei and I spent the better part of this week with me killing monsters with my knife while she hid in the bushes and cast RES (healing) spells at me.  Classic tank-healer combo.  Flush with meseta, we scurry into town and buy some headgears before heading into the weapon shop.  We run into a bit of snag here dealing with the world's worst salesman.

Ouch!  Emasculation damage x2
coming from this guy.

Well, his sick burn must have had some impact on me as, after purchasing the dagger anyway, I was unable to wield it.  I'm quite the agent if an off-hand rib from a local merchant can completely destroy my ego.  I am so despondent that Nei has to drag me back into the wilderness where all the monsters I slay now seem to be topped with a thick mat of voluminous red hair.

NO, YOU MUST JOKING!  YOU MUST BE
JOKING! UHHHH-HUH-HUH-HUUUH

My confidence returns after we reach the next town and I manage to purchase a new weapon from a clerk who isn't a jerk (though they have the same terrible hair style).  Our path to the Bio-Systems Lab is blocked by a bandit named Darum who is known to be robbin' folks.  His daughter, Teim, has been kidnapped and he is trying to raise the 50,000 meseta ransom.  Rather than help him raise the cash, we elect to just rescue Teim our own damn selves.

We'll have to find another way
around; there's no way I'm jumping
over these tubes or whatever.

Since the ransomers will no doubt be on the lookout for Teim, she puts on a veil to hide her face.  Unfortunately, she forgets to take it off before meeting Darum and also forgets to identify herself after Darum demands meseta from her.  We watch the drama unfold from the sidelines, not wanting to get involved in family quarrels.

K, way is clear now.  Let's go, gang!

We now have an open path to the Bio-Systems Lab and waste no time in exploring its vast, monster-infested corridors.  Well, we waste a little time in order to grind out a few levels for Amy, a doctor who just decides to join us after hearing about our biohazard investigation.

I have a different idea for a sign of closeness.
*wink*(k, I gotta stop hitting on all the females)

We also have a gun-toting brute named Rudo in the group but he's fairly quiet and I had forgotten about him up until now.  Amy proves to be quite helpful while exploring the Lab; we now have three party members who could heal.  Amy also has access to better healing techniques than Nei or me.  The Lab itself is quite the labyrinth and has contamination spills that hurt us (especially those wearing sandals and not boots).  A few retreats back to a city are necessary after our healing pool runs short.  Hopefully this trend doesn't continue in other locations we may visit (Future Shen: "It does.").  Our efforts pay off, however; we now have the MacGuffin we came for!

Sweet!  Now you guys can hear my
rendition of Canon in D Major!

A detailed analysis of the data we acquired shows that the biohazards are a result of too much energy being dumped into the system.  This caused a rapid evolution of unnatural lifeforms which are now interfering with the planet's natural cycles somehow.  They break out the charts at this point so I take the opportunity to activate my doze mode.

You'll need at least a 3D pie chart
to hold my attention, lady.

Nei kicks me in the shin to reactivate me and I learn that we have to find and investigate Climatrol, the facility that obviously controls the climate.  I don't know where it is but perhaps I missed its location during my nap.  No one else is forthcoming with that information so I'm just going assume none of us know.  Tales of our investigation must be spreading as two more people are interested in joining our group.  One is a biologist named Hugh and the other is a guardian called Anna.  They're pretty decent folk; they both like to dual wield pointy things just like me.

I've got something you can
concentrate on right here in my
pa — dammit Shen, cut it out!


Well, it's time to randomly wander around in hopes of finding Climatrol.  If anyone calls me on it, I'll just say that we're using this time to test out Hugh and Anna in combat; that oughta hold 'em for a bit anyway.

November 28, 2012

Final Fantasy Legend - Ranking

Story & World

I think my disdain for both story and world is covered in enough detail in the postings.  Now purging from RAM.  1/10

Character Development

The three racial development systems are very distinct from one another and is FFL's strongest point.  To have an entire party comprised of a single race would completely change how the game is played.  An all-human group would mean a heavy workload of grinding while a group of monsters would require none.  Also appreciated is the ratio of control vs. chance between each race.  Human development is completely controlled by the player, monsters are driven by luck, and mutants are in the middle of the two extremes. 

The diversity of equipment and items is what one would expect from a Final Fantasy game (not that this is really a Final Fantasy game — damn marketers).  The only aspect lacking is having weapons or armour imbued with special effects or abilities.  Every weapon comes with a set amount of uses, after which it breaks.  This adds another level of complexity to inventory management and encourages experimentation with various weaponry.

A minor annoyance in regards to the inventory system.  When a key item has served its purpose, it stays in the inventory screen.  With a limit of eight items, every slot counts and it would have been nice to know when an item can be discarded.  I held onto certain items way too long, not knowing if discarding them would pooch my entire game.  Overall, a great system that has the ability to appease a multitude of play styles.  17/20

Combat & Monsters

Following the trail blazed by racial character development, combat complexity and difficulty is based off party composition.  The more humans in the group, the more stable (and boring) the entire party will be.  Mutants and monsters will keep one from just mashing the attack button and instead try out their constantly changing abilities.  Due to this uncertainty principle, every excursion out has a palpable amount of tension.  As an example from my own playthrough, when both mutants lost their damaging abilities, it was like slamming on the brakes.  All of a sudden, the group was unable to take out huge stacks of enemies and instead had to fight them one by one.  Targeting in combat works like FF1's, where a character will waste his attack if his targeted enemy dies before his turn (a plus in my book).

The monster selection, much like the story, is all over the place.  Some monsters would only be found in their appropriately themed world but others would should up regardless of the setting (e.g. werewolves in the middle of the ocean).  There are very few special attacks available to them; I only came across poison and blind.  To counteract these negative aspects, there is hot monster-eating-monster action.  There's nothing like watching the group's pet monster devour the carcass of a boss and coming out better for it.  13/20

Graphics & Sound

Greyscale doesn't bother me so much but lack of graphics does.  The background, at times, would become a homogeneous white (or a simple pattern) with nothing to anchor the eye.  It really distorted my sense of direction and I don't think that was the intention.  Monster sprites are nice although they get recycled a lot for different monsters of the same type.  Needed more / different attack animations as well.  The score was provided by Final Fantasy mainstay, Nobuo Uematsu, and works well given the Game Boy's propensity to be high pitched (I'm a bass bitch).  I think there were a few beeps and thuds that were suppose to be sound effects but I could have just been hungry.  11/20

Gameplay

Though still a short game, it dragged on a little too long.  Too much tower climbing at the end.  It really goes to show how a stronger story could endure such a burden but here it just becomes a chore under so much fluff.  Having said that, a replay could still be fun if one approached it with a dungeon crawl mindset.  Just thinking about an all-mutant or all-monster party gives me spine a slight shiver (just imagine a whole group of wolfmans!).  Such an odd party selection would also give a big boost to difficulty.  Money problems are entirely dependent on how many humans are in the group for the reasons mentioned under character development.  For this run, money was tight in the beginning and then stabilized for the rest of the game; I was never too rich or too poor.  14/20

Final Ranking:  56/100

November 27, 2012

Final Fantasy Legend - End Game

Oh, hello Mr. and Mrs. Legend.  I'm so glad you could make it tonight.  Please, have a seat.  It pains me to say this, but I'm afraid it's my recommendation that li'l Final should attend summer school until he learns to make a cohesive storyline.  Seriously, d00dz, it's all over the place and shit.  We just keep climbing this damn tower with all its random worlds.  We went from water land to air world to some post-apocalyptic ruins with hoverbikes and lightsabers.  After wading through all that nonsense, we finally came across the diabolical archfiend mastermind, Ash--, um, Ash-something (I think he was only mentioned once before we happened upon him).

Looks more like a Vishnu to me.

Of course, Ashnu is not the final boss.  Before I get into the gripping climax of more tower climbing, let's discuss the characters and mechanics a little more.  With their high mana and group-damaging abilities, the mutantic duo blazed, froze, and electrocuted the party well into midgame.  Chance caught up with them here as both their damage factories shut down and they ended up with four Barrier spells and a couple of ESPs instead.  While they would go on to gain a damaging ability here and there throughout the rest of the game, they never regained the glory they once had.  This was mitigated somewhat by the P- series of weapons, which are powered by a characters mana stat instead of strength.  With these weapons, both muties became the dominant fighters, sending the genetically lame Shen to the third spot in the party order.  It wouldn't be until Shen acquired the Glass and Masmune swords near the end that he'd bump back up to doing respectable damage.

Our dear pet, Food, came into his own by the end.  Every form he'd take was able to dish out and receive more punishment.  Most forms also had a full set of special abilities, giving each form a versatility not present earlier.  We're talkin' multiple spread attacks and healing abilities here.  It was only Shen's own already damaged pride that kept Food from expelling him from his precious #3 slot.

You've come a long way, monsie.

The final climbing of the tower managed to take the previous tower climbing and make it feel like bungee jumping into a hot tub of bikini models and pudding while Painkiller blares away at volume 11.  All of the bosses previously defeated are here to fight again in their second form.  For each of these boss sections, the path is graphically identical and repeated at least five times.  It felt more like a tower climbing simulator than a RPG.

This is one SimTower you don't wanna play.

So guess who the real final boss is in the surprising twist ending?  Could it be that mysterious being that we see from time to time (sometimes balls deep in a monster-infested area)?  Yes, that being turns out to be the Creator who masterminded the palmy design behind Paradise.  He had created the tower as a way to test the courage of the populace.  At least I think that's what he was getting at; we were too busy making fun of his digs.

A table, couple stools, and a bed?
Truly, THIS is paradise!


I think we were overheard because before we knew it, we were balls deep into battle.

Okay, okay!  Your two evergreens
are pretty sweet.

With Glass and P-swords on our side and the Creator's tendency to just to sit there, it didn't take long to dissipate him into nothingness.  Anticipating end credits, my sphincter clenched up big time when the characters discovered a door which apparently led to "their world".

I hear there's even bigger towers there!

So we weren't even from this world?  Why was this never mentioned?  And why... why am I bothering to nitpick this horrendously broken story?  I should just be happy the end credits were behind the door after all.


November 24, 2012

[Game 029] Final Fantasy Legend (GB - 1989)


What better way to usher in the era of handheld RPGs than with another installment from the massive Final Fantasy franchise.  Once again the four party system is used but the character classes are quite different than those found in FF1 or FF2.  There are three main choices: human, mutant, and monster.  Humans and mutants are further distinguished by having a selectable gender.  I think the only difference in genders is that males are predisposed to strength and females to agility.  There are no strict class definitions; instead, each type gains stats and abilities in a different way.  Humans require gold to purchase stat-boosting items and have eight slots for weapons and armour.  Mutants gain stats randomly and have four slots available for special abilities and four slots for equipment.  Monsters take on different forms if they eat the flesh of a defeated enemy and have no slots available for anything other than innate abilities.

Does it come with wafers?

I initially had a group of two humans, a mutant, and a monster but humans are boring and take too much golds so I switched to a single human, two mutants (one of each gender), and a pet monster.  So far, mutants are by far the most fun to have in the party.  They gain and lose abilities like mad and that unpredictability is keeping me on my toes.  It's awesome when they gain group-damaging spells such as flame and ice but one never knows how long they'll have them.  This erratic behaviour also helps to generate personality for the characters.  For example, the screenshots below show two very different characters; one is kick-ass and useful and the other is worthless garbage.

Group protection, major group damage x2,
and paralysis abilities.
Weakness to fire; ability which does
nothing; ability which probably
does nothing; and nothing.

Though their sprites remain static, I can't help but see the mutants more like writhing masses of organic flesh, constantly e- and de-volving new appendages (Tetsuoooooo!).  So much for having Pris as a female love interest for Shen.  Although... hmmm... naw, still gross.  So how has the monster class been performing?  He can do a few tricks but has been pretty disappointing so far.  He likes to stay at about half to a quarter of the stats of the others and that's in the better forms.  Occasionally he also likes to transform back into some of the earliest and weakest forms, just to make himself extra unuseful.  But I still love him; he's just relegated to the bottom of the party order.

How could I stay mad at a face like that?

The story thus far has been underwhelming.  It's a very disjointed affair with each "chapter" having little to do with one another.  Our main objective is to open the door on the huge tower we start near so that we can reach Paradise.  We need a magic sphere to open it but where could it be?  Before we have a chance to look into that, we get involved in a quest to retrieve three pieces of equipment to put on some naked statue in the first town.  Each piece is held by a different king, all of whom are located in convenient, nearby castles.

"Now to begin our epic quest to seek
the first of the — Hey, there it is!"

Each of the king's quests are straightforward and must be done in a certain order (the above castle is actually done last).  The first king wants to be able to wed his girlfriend but the leader of a group of bandits wants her as well and is threatening her village.  To solve this delicate love triangle, our heroes do what fantasy heroes everywhere do — murder the most obtuse one to get the reward we want.

Sorry dude, but we REALLY
want to dress up that statue.

The next king does not have such deep and complex quest storyline; he just foolishly challenges all four of us to a fight and is simultaneously burnt and frozen to death by the mutants.

Blasted the armour right off that moron.

The last king is murdered by his right-hand man who is then murderized by us.  With all three pieces in our possession, it's time to pretty up that statue and probably something will happen.  Of course the sphere pops out and just as we are leaving we are assaulted by a guardian named Gen-Bu.

We gots this, Food.  You can
go get us coffees or sumthin'.

Once the tower is opened, it's a short trip up into Paradise where there are no shops because nobody has to work.  Instead, they spend all day wandering in a random direction every two seconds.

Paradise apparently being a small square
plot of nothing but palm trees.

With absolutely nothing happening in Paradise, the next floor up held a purgatory, where also nothing else happened.  Now we're in a water world of some kind, driving islands around and fighting werewolves out in the middle of the ocean.

This actually makes the most sense so far.

Okay.   Game?  Come on over here.  At the beginning, you said that we were seeking Paradise through that tower.  We achieved that.  So now why are we in this aqua wonderland doing quests for no reason?  Why are there even other worlds above Paradise?  Can we pretty much expect earth, wind, and fire worlds as well?  Are you going to try harder to tie these worlds together, game?  Look at me, game.  Are you?  Aaaarrrre yooouuuu?  Keep in mind that Story & World is worth 20% of your final mark.  Alright, now off you go and I hope we'll see a better effort from you in the near future.

November 18, 2012

Sweet Home - Ranking

Story & World

I can't help but give a few points just for the unique setting and storyline; a refreshing change from having to stop some wizard or demon from taking over the world.  The very dark plot and gory imagery ensured that it would never get an official North American release.  I guess Nintendo of America thought us westerners just didn't have the stomach for such a title (I only puked once).  Throughout the game, I never felt like my band of regular folk were anything close to heroic.  No, I definitely felt that we were in over our heads, so to speak.  This aspect was crucial to the survival feel of the game.  The numerous traps and group-splitting tactics that the game used kept a sense of high tension, even after the battles themselves became quite easy.  The manor itself is enjoyable to explore with very distinctive areas and various methods to create different flavours of terror.  18/20

Character Development

Stats consist of life points, prayer points, and attack power.  Each level gained sees a significant jump in all three and attack power is further modified by weapons.  A single level can make the current set of enemies in an area far too easy, usually killing them off before they get a chance to fight back.  However, this is only when there is a full, three-member party; when a character gets whisked off on their own, the difficulty spikes back up until they rejoin the rest of the cast.  Most times I'd send a party of two on a rescue mission but occasionally I'd risk trying to get the lost character back on their own (unless it was Emi, the poor soul).  While the simplicity of the development system makes sense for this RPG / adventure hybrid, it's still a little underwhelming.  5/20

Combat & Monsters

Much like character development, combat is stripped down to the bare bones.  There are no tactical considerations or choices for anything other than attacking with melee weapons.  The monsters, while pants-stainingly frightening, are likewise lacking in combative variation.  A few monsters are able to duplicate the whisking spirits ability during battle, but this is both annoying and dumb.  4/20

Graphics & Sound

Solid gold medal awards for all participants here.  The five main characters are distinguishable from one another and remind me quite a bit of the character sprites in Ultima: Quest of the Avatar.  The monster sprites really stand out and push the NES to its scariness limit.  Usable items on screen are well-represented visually and always stand out against the background.  The music really takes the atmosphere to a whole other level.  The slow and foreboding tune while wandering the dark halls lulls one into letting their guard down before building up to high-energy battle tune.  All the music selections helped tremendously to set the tone of the game.  Sound effects tried their hardest to be creepy and, for some of them, the limitations of the NES sound chip worked in its favour.  17/20

Gameplay

Even though I'm not a huge fan of the horror or adventure genres, Sweet Home somehow manages to take the two and make them greater than the sum of their parts.  While there was quite a bit of backtracking to acquire old items that were now needed (recall that each character can only hold two such items), the areas are rife with shortcuts and item duplicates are plentiful.  The pacing of the game is spot on and nicely balances the story progression with puzzle elements and infrequent random encounters.  Replay is unlikely although a hardcore mode could be done by just picking two characters and sticking with them (all the signature items of a character have a counterpart in game).  A solo run would not be possible as there needs to be four item slots available for the showdown with Lady Mamiya.  16/20

Final Ranking:  60/100

November 15, 2012

Sweet Home - End Game

The Low Key we acquired from the memorial tower granted us access to a new section of the manor.  Here we found a safe room occupied by the spirits of the servants of the Mamiya household.  They were a downtrodden bunch, regaling us with the tales of Lady Mamiya's descent into madness and how they have remained hidden from her wrath... for now.

All right!  Let's get this party started!

We used this room as a base of operations for awhile but the servants were such buzzkillers that we decided to take our chances with the wraiths and ghouls instead.  We found the way to the Mad Lady's bedroom but it was blocked by an unfightable servant.  Ichirou, the head of the household, had apparently ordered this ghostly guard to prevent anyone other than himself from accessing the bedroom.  We tried everything in our inventories to get passed this barrier but it was all for naught.

Even the fake moustache
and glasses didn't work.

After searching the house again from top to bottom, our whole crew was still stumped.  Turns out we had the two correct items all along but it was just that they both had to be held by a single person.  The extra levels gained from all the dicking about eased our collective pain.  As we approached the lady's sleeping quarters, we were approached once again by Yamamura; a spirit that has helped us a few times in the past.  He gave us words of encouragement and then sacrificed his life (again?) in order to bring down an energy barrier just before the bedroom.

I have this sudden craving for
some braised short ribs.

Filled with dread, we entered the long-sealed room and braced ourselves for the final confrontation with Lady Mamiya.  We could only surmise what horrors lay in wait for us in the Lady's lair.  Decades of madness hath surely twisted her innermost sanctum into a vile den of unspeakable terror.

First we'll have a tea party and then we'll
play Barbies.  AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAH!

The expected final fight was not to be had as the Lady just beaked at us and then buggered off.  There were still more items to be gathered and more secrets to be discovered.  Exploration by this point was made quite easy by the extra levels we had previously gained.  Most battles would be finished before the foe got a single hit in.  With the battle system being pretty much limited to button mashing, this allowed for greater focus on completing our quests of removing the curse and taking pictures of identical frescos.  Clues from our wanderings had informed us that we needed four items crucial to releasing Lady Mamiya's spirit.  These items have memories tied to them that will hopefully brute force the Lady to stop being such a Debbie Downer.  One of them is a coffin with her dead baby inside; if that doesn't work, nothing will.  The REAL final approach to Lady Mamiya was easily the most difficult part for us.  There are character-whisking spirits galore but thankfully there are places for all of us to hide.

Nothing to see here, dumb
spirits.  Move along.

After a couple hundred attempts to navigate this area, we were finally rewarded with facing the final boss, which turned out to be... Lady Mamiya!

Mamma mia!  It's Mamiya! (sorry... had to)

Instead of just wailing on her as in regular RPGs, the aforementioned four critical items had to be used in the proper order and at the proper time.  During the battle, the Lady is yelling at the characters and the items have to be used after a certain phrase is uttered.  Praying at specific times also has to be done.  If someone flubs their part, the process must be started again from the beginning.  If done successfully, Lady Mamiya unleashes a massive wail of anguish and transforms into some sort of ectoplasmic form that can be beat upon in the normal fashion.

Ah.  This is more like it.

With Lady Mamiya outnumbered three to one, it didn't take long to pummel her grotesque body into giving up the ghost.  Now freed from her self-inflicted anguish, her spirit can ascend to the great beyond.  She'll finally be reunited with her child and maybe she'll meet some of the parents of the other children she murdered.  As for us?  Well, I think we'll be getting a Pulitzer Prize out of this story.  Except for Emi she's going to be in the asylum for a long, long time.


Bonus material:  Character death scenes because death scenes.