February 29, 2012

Genghis Khan - Ranking

"Khan, what is best in life?"

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the VIPS as I drive yet another strategy game through it."

Story & World

The manual gives a quick synopsis of the history of the Mongol unification and moves right on into the rules.  With so many of these strategy games having a sameness about them, I like to have a solid background to start the game with. The occasional territorial sickness or cold snap sorta livened things up but didn't really have a lot of impact.  This one more than the previous Koei games lacked enough flavour to draw one into the world.

 
A few options for interaction exist with any of the homogeneous chieftains.  An alliance will net you five years of nonaggression and was used quite often in most of my attempts so that I could focus on one enemy.  The other two options involve demanding tribute or ordering them to become a vassal state.  Temujin didn't bother with any of that bureaucratic nonsense and just stomped mudholes in their asses instead.  3/20

Character Development

The same randomized stats as in previous Koei games are present here.  Rolls are made for Temujin and then four family-loyal princes with the baseline dropping for each subsequent prince.  In game, stats can be trained and need to be since doing actions depletes them.  This makes the initial rolls fairly insignificant.  Luckily, there is an option to automatically generate the attributes even though this will generally mean lower stats overall.


An array of six different weapon types seems impressive at first but they all just affect the overall arms level (more expensive weapons add more points).  Imagine the Mongolian horde being entirely armed with daggers instead of spears and halberds.  I limited the army to only buying weapons that were appropriate for horseback and it didn't cause much of a problem.  4/20

Combat & Monsters

With the dumb soldier-killing terrains ruining half the map, battles weren't nearly as enjoyable as other parts of the game.  With the enemy AI just sitting there and duhing it up, battles were swift and final.  Appropriate for the setting, yes, but making for lackluster combat.  I was almost wishing there was a fire option at one point (yeah right, sike!).  Early game battles were the best with everyone low on troops and even a successful defense meant that you'd be slightly weaker and more of a target for some other tribe.


Three basic unit types of cavalry, infantry, and archers.  After some initial experimentation with all the types, it was soon settled that an all cavalry army was the way to go.  Playing Mongols after all.  These are guys who slept in their saddles for christ's sake.  Enemy units always stayed huddled in their cozy little castle and town and I must say that I can't blame them.  I'd be scared too if I saw 2,000 bloodthirsty mounted Mongols barreling down on me (but not if there was just 1,000).  4/20

Graphics & Sound

Pretty similar to the previous titles.  Portraits have that typical Koei look to them.  Music was nothing special and there are few sound effects.  5/20

Gameplay

Decent economic system driven by food and gold as per usual.  More interesting is the workforce system used to increase the two economic staples.  The ruler has full control over the ratio of workers in each of the four fields.  The workforce itself is increased every year and can be additionally increased by hiring troops from another country and then reassigning them to the general workforce.  This flexibility allows for any territory to quickly become productive as long as there is enough population to go around.  The specialty goods aspect of the trading system is a nice addition and allows for a little market speculation on the side.  Late game resource transfers are hampered by the fact that only the base territory where Temujin resides can give transfer orders.  It would have been far better to allow each territory to give such an order, as in previous Koei games.

Good interconnectedness between territories.  Excellent resource management mechanics (workforce system is a big plus).  Resources only start to become useless in the late game when the difficulty of moving goods to the front results in wasteful stockpiles.  The main campaign allows one to play as any one of four major nations so there may be replay value there but they probably all function the same.  15/20

Final Ranking:  31/100

February 27, 2012

Genghis Khan - End Game

After a change in combat strategy and some well-timed diplomacy, Temujin managed to acquire another three territories quite quickly.  Alliances with the western tribes assured a 5 year long peace while Temmy gobbled up the south.  While the other nations fought amongst themselves, the Mongols started selling off the precious goods from the new territories.  These funds were driven right back into purchasing troops and arms.

Stupid long alliances.  Fine, we'll
just train for a couple of years.

As you can see from the map, territory nine is a bottleneck and is therefore very desirable.  Territories six and seven were quickly absorbed before pushing the bulk of the forces into nine.  The new strategy issued by Temujin was working wonders.  Instead of having numerous units taking up room on the battlefield, a single unit of just cavalry would be deployed.  Led by Temujin, the riders would swiftly approach the main castle and challenge the lord there to a duel.  Information on the lord's battle prowess was gleaned earlier by spies and Temujin knew there was little chance of losing.  Success meant either right out victory or a number of enemy troops defecting to Temmy's stack.  This made conflicts resolve in a very short time which is good because the tactical combats are a bit dull.

Normally, a terrain tile, such as forest or mountain, will grant defensive bonuses usually at a cost of movement.  Here, the non-plains tile all do damage to the unit (are forests really that hard to survive in?).  There's no reason to ever fight in any of these squares as castles always have an open plains path to them.  Occasionally a fleeing enemy with head into the hills and then move around a bit until they all get lost/die.  This has the overall effect of making maps have about half usable space.  If each side had large numbers of units it would come into play more but that's just another reason to keep it to one or two stacks.


Luckily, horses stack rather well on each other.

As all this land was being acquire, Temujin was in direct control of each territory.  Giving most orders results in draining Temujin's stats which must then be trained in order to raise them again.  Even after sending a few family-loyal princes to take care of the nosebleed territories, there were still too many for Temmy to give orders to every turn.  For the more developed provinces, this meant passing on their turn.  This resulted in the largest barrage of spousal nagging I've ever seen in a strategy game.  Oh, and multiple spouses as well.  I lost track after the tenth one or so.

Polygamy has its price.

Driven into a mad rage by the incessant pecking of his wives, Temujin mobilized all his forces and swept the remaining territories like a hot knife through butter.  This Temujin managed to unite the clans in the same year that the actual Temujin did (and maybe even a few seasons earlier).  The campaign continues on to attempt world domination but since the real Genghis Khan never accomplished it, I think it would be dishonest to do it in the digital world.  Plus, I, like, never do the major campaign and junk.

Went all game without making a
Shatner reference. *pats back*

February 21, 2012

[Game 014] Genghis Khan (NES - 1989)


The good people at Koei just can't get enough period strategy games and neither can I.  This time we're heading back to the year 1175 and helping a young Temujin try to unite the tribal clans and then conquer the known world (of course!).  For the unification scenario, the player is only allowed to play as Temujin and so we are assured a strong leader will be ruling territory #1 (also the only choice).

Genghis Khan keeps most of the standard Koei elements but sprinkles in a few new additions.  Rice (which requires one to stay put to cultivate it) is replaced by the more generic food, which is symbolized by a beef bone.  Perhaps it's all that meat that made them so aggressive.  A nice bowl of brown rice will balance that yang out and maybe oh god I'm so hungry now.

aaah.  The biggest addition comes in the form of a specialty goods trading screen.  Each territory can produce a single type of special good which can then be sold to the various traders when the prices are high.  Temujin starts with sheep which is one of the cheapest goods available.  So far the only purpose of having these goods is to wait until the price is high and then sell them off.  It adds an extra dynamic to just waiting for taxes to come in or sell off precious food so I'm all for it.

Combat is similar to previous titles with three possible units to choose from: cavalry, infantry, and archers.  Archers can shoot from two squares away and infantry have the ability to hide and ambush incoming units.  Since this is the Mongols we're talking about here, I've opted for a cavalry-heavy swarm.


KEKEKEKE!

After defeating a clan, it can be a tough job to secure the new holding.  Adjacent neighbours are always on the lookout for a sign of weakness.  In addition, the newly conquered peoples have to be mollified with some foods or golds else rebellions will be inevitable.  A captured lord can either be freed, recruited, or executed.  Hmmm, what would Genghis do?

And on my face, the wall, the new carpet...

Another fairly big difference is in the labour management system.  There are four jobs that people can be assigned to: town (for golds), mason (for defense), food (for foods), and artisan (for specialty goods).  These can be shuffled around at any time but what is nifty about it is that the troops can also easily be shifted into the mix.  This leads to always having to balance having a strong enough standing army to defend the territory versus making effective use of the available workforce.

As in other Koei games, the beginning is the most difficult.  After several attempts, the most Temujin has been able to conquer is three regions.  They are fairly well defended but don't have enough troops to threaten any of the neighbours.  For now, Temmy must bide his time and wait for either a major conflict or sickness to reduce the strength of those around him.

February 17, 2012

Wizardry II - Ranking

Story & World

Everything is pretty much the same as Wizardry I but there are a few exceptions.  There are more friendly encounters within the dungeons, mostly to facilitate the exchange of key items, but these are brief.  Gnilda herself is the NPC star with two, count 'em, TWO whole scenes with the characters.  The quest has changed from just killing the foozle to a string of fetch quests but is otherwise unremarkable.  4/20

Character Development

Same as Wiz 1 except that it's hella cool to be able to wear the Knight of Diamond's armour pieces after you kill them.  Bonus point16/20

Combat & Monsters

Same as Wiz 1.  14/20

Graphics & Sound

Same as Wiz 1.  15/20

Gameplay

There was no single item like the Ring of Death to break the economy this time.  It was only into the mid/late game when the party was selling off excess amounts of high quality weapons.  Another nice way of keeping our funds down was having some jackass NPC on the fourth floor charge us 100,000 golds to hear him ramble on about spells.  15/20

Final Ranking:  64/100

Wizardry II - End Game

Things went pretty much as expected.  There was some blood, sweat and no tears shed but also many yelps of triumph and variations of the "Suck it, Wizardry" motif.  The previous assumption that there was ten levels was in error; there are only six.  Each map makes efficient use of the available space and would probably equal about eight of Wizardry I's levels in terms of usable area.  The difficulty was about the same as the first part and the monsters shared the same range of abilities except for having different names and pictures.

Just have a few stories/rants to share.  The first involves the party as they were exploring the fourth level.  The thieving Tetravus had an excellent record for disarming traps.  His failure rate was somewhere in the region of one in a hundred.  Even when he failed on a chest with a teleporter trap, it was of no big concern; the level only has six squares that are solid rock (on a 20x20 map, a 1.5% chance).


The monsters felt bad enough
for us to make tombstones.

Luckily they were available for resurrection at the temple of Cant and moneybags Mr. Nung was able to cover the costs.  I guess even Wizardry isn't harsh enough to perma-death the characters based on one very improbable chance event (thank goodness).

It is, however, harsh enough to get me to break one of my precious rules.  A little back story first though.  The whole Knight of Diamonds deal is that there are pieces of his armour and sword scattered throughout the dungeon.  All five parts need to be collected in order to finish the game.  To acquire each piece, the party must first defeat it in combat.  For example, the breastplate was first and had high hit points and defense but did little damage.  The sword was pretty much the opposite.  This was nice in that each fight required different tactics in order to defeat them.  For the first four, the battles were tough but fair.  The last piece consisting of a pair of gauntlets, however, was a different story.  The first fight with them resulted in the party being surprised and being subjected to a double dose of Tiltowait (most powerful attack spell in the game).  All members dead before I even get a chance to do anything.  I couldn't say exactly how loud the expletives were but I'm pretty sure the other Shen Nungs throughout the multiverse heard it.


Preparing to Kamehameha
our collective asses.

Now, I don't mind having a full party wiped out but I want at least a 1.5% chance of surviving.  So I cheated and restored a previous save state.  If any game was going to make me break a rule, it would be Wizardry.  The second attempt was far less rage inducing.

These are acceptable losses.

With all of the pieces of the Knight of Diamond's equipment in hand, the party was ready to head down to level 6 and begin the final search for the staff of Gnilda.  The bottom level is filled with the nastiest creatures of the game, of course, and this means after every couple of fights, it's back to the town to get healed.  Mapping and light generating magic is banned down here lending to the same creepy atmosphere that the beginning of the game had.  Unfortunately, this means that sprites of some of the sweetest monsters are always dingy.

I like dragons because they
don't travel in packs.

Finding Gnilda was quite easy, as she is located near the sixth floor stairs.  However, she will only allow one character, decked out in the Knight of Diamond's stuff, into her room.  With no party splitting abilities, the group is forced to return to the town to split up.  JexPaine is chosen as the one who will complete the quest, as he is quite mighty and there may be additional trials awaiting.  Given a Ring of Movement to teleport as close as possible, Jex finds out that no more hardships face him as Gnilda straight gives up the staff and teleports him back to the first floor.

Who's up for some lacrosse?

Upon entering the town, Jex is greeted with a hero's welcome and given the highest honour the town can bestow, the Mark of Gnilda.  Five other characters are given less awesome knighthoods as well.

How much will Boltac pay for this?

The use of a few special items gained during play means that some of the characters will begin as prestige classes in Wizardry III.  We will see how the samurai and lord classes stack up against the basic fighter.  A ninja also snuck in as well but since he'll be evil, he may not get used.  Enjoy your rest, my mighty warriors, you'll need it for Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn.


February 10, 2012

[Game 013] Wizardry II (NES - 1989) (SNES Remake)

Translation by Aeon Genesis

The second installment of the fab Wizardry series is more like an expansion pack to the first one.  It tweaks and alters some mechanics but is otherwise the same.  Meticulous mapping is again absolutely essential to victory as is good character management.  All the characters from Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord have been successfully imported into KoD.  Since Team Evil did not end up killing Werdna, they have been rewarded with blissful and permanent deletion.  There's enough sinister evil lurking in the dungeons so it hath been decreed that only good (and neutral) aligned characters are to brave its frightening corridors.

Fear the Dink!

Characters are stripped of their equipment and start at level one.  The stats are kept and all have high stats compared to what could be generated.  As in the last game, we have a main party which does the exploring and a backup party which grinds in known areas.  Should the main party get completely wiped out, it is their task to retrieve the bodies for resurrection.  Shen Nung will reprise his role as item identifier and banker.  He may join the backup party occasionally just to stretch his legs but we'll try to keep him safe.

The first level is fairly easy.  Some item fetching is needed to open up new areas but is not a problem since every nook and cranny is going to get explored anyway.  The party thief also is doing a fantastic job on disarming chests, probably due to the initial high stats.  The second level is where Wizardry starts getting to be more Wizardry-y.  The first scare was when these guys first appeared:


The insta-killing nightmares
from Wizardry I.

Sadly, it appears the ninjas this time have vastly inferior training because no one yet has been decapitated by one.  I know I just jinxed myself by saying that and I'm sure I'll pay dearly.  That's just what Wizardry would do to me too.  I'll just be turbo fighting through my 50th batch of ninjas and then WHAM!  Triple beheading on the fighters.  Don't think that just because the ninjas are underwhelming that Wizardry doesn't have something planned for level two.  The fairly rare Smog Beasts have high HP and fun spells that affect the entire party (damage dealing or sleep).

Also, they travel in packs.
Always. In. Packs.

Really, though, I would have been disappointed if Wizardry hadn't done something like this.  I'm still waiting for the pit and teleportation traps to show up.  We're heading into level three so I'm sure there will more bullisht that will add to the love/hate relationship I have with Wizardry.  Since it is so similar to the first Wizardry, the next post will likely be an End Game one (though might take awhile if there are 10 levels like the first).

February 05, 2012

Final Fantasy II - Ranking

Story & World

While visually very similar to Final Fantasy I, the progress of the story in FF II is not nearly as linear in terms of locations visited.  For the majority of the game, the cities of Phin and Altea are the major hubs of activity.  This gives it more of a novel feel and strengthens the overall story (even though shops never upgrade the weapons they sell).  Coming back from a long quest feels much more like coming home instead of just the last place that has an inn.  Other than that, the FF II game world is the same as FF I (i.e. excellent).

 
The centralized hubs of Phin and Altea mean the characters interact with many of the same characters over the course of the story.  Townsfolk quite often change what they say after completing a quest which is essential since there are few towns.  Fewer NPCs with multiple interactions I find is more compelling than many NPCs with one-liners.  Some NPCs will have been characters at some point, further strengthening the bond to them.  For example, Gordon redeemed his poor fighting abilities just before becoming king which made the party take him more seriously later on.

Much like the first, the main quest dominates with the smaller quests requiring completion to continue the main.  The main quest itself is slightly less bland than the one in FF I.  The characters initially were more swept along with the events as they unfolded.  As they grew more powerful, they ended up becoming more and more important to the destruction of the empire.  17/20

Character Development

The classless system was a pretty bold move but worked out fairly well for the most part.  The ability to fine tune each character the way you want is a great idea but quite open to exploiting.  The game difficulty seems to account for this, as it is quite tough.  The problem with this is that then the game must be exploited to some extent in order to compensate for the difficulty.  The robust training system allows one to switch focus on any character aspect at any time to fulfill any party needs.  The fourth slot member swapping is another nice idea that isn't seen very often (just don't equip them with any really valuable gear). 


A huge number of items are available to be used in the game's seven different weapon and four armour types.  Many weapons and armour enjoy a usable secondary benefit in combat and there are slews of single use items to mimic many spell effects.  As in FF I, there is still no way to determine an item's stats without crunching some numbers.  Unlike FF I, weapons and armours are now stored in a general inventory instead of having their own separate one.  15/20

Combat & Monsters
 

Very similar to the first installment but characters can now be assigned to the front or back row, with back row characters being targeted less frequently but unable to use melee weapons.  Another slight change is that buffing spells have become a lot more useful.  Being able to train up a buff spell to make it more effective is so much better than being stuck with a static spell that never improves.  There are a few more status effects in play and bosses lasted longer than two rounds so bonus.  15/20

Graphics & Sound

Almost a clone of the first game style-wise.  Graphics are fantastic and music is outstanding (Nobuo Uematsu rarely disappoints).  Also has the honour of being the first FF to showcase the unbelievably catchy Chocobo theme18/20

Gameplay

The economy stayed balanced for the first half of the game and became a non-issue at around the midpoint.  This was partly due to the extra fighting time put in while training spells but, more importantly, also due to the fact that there isn't much to purchase for the last half of the game.  Using the same handful of towns for the entire story means no new shops.

High replayability due to the flexible nature of character development.  In this run, they were all warrior-mages but each one focused on a different element type (Shen was fire, of course).  The story is wonderfully paced, though this pacing, as well as difficulty, will vary depending on how much the character development system is exploited.  This allows players to customize the challenge in subsequent runs once they understand how the system works.  16/20

Final Ranking:  81/100

February 04, 2012

Final Fantasy II - End Game

The route out of the Leviathan's innards was short and lacking in any biological disgustingness.  Reclaiming the ship, the voyage continued to the sealed tower which unlocked the power of the Crystal Rod. Tough fights accompanied by some good loot and, the whole reason we're at the tower in the first place, the supposedly most powerful spell, Ultima.

Sweet!  Let me just go dig out my ol' 286.

Can't say I was much impressed with this ultimate magic.  It does decent damage at the start but doesn't increase by a whole lot as it is trained.  Probably tied to the fact that no one's INT really got very high, due to the melee/magic balancing of stats.  Most of the stats would fluctuate in this manner except for two, AGiLity and SOUL.  These never decreased during play, making white magic very strong and dodging melee attacks easier.  Don't know why those ones in particular were exempt from decrease but it really hurts the balancing system the developers seemed to be going for.

Heading back to Altea with renewed hope for the eradication of the emperor, the party was shocked to find the entire town lay in ruins.  The empire had harnessed the power of a whirlwind and destroyed the town.  That whirlwind now threatened Phin itself.  The heroes are obviously the only solution to this crisis.  The only problem is getting in.  Luckily, the Hiryuu egg that was incubated earlier in the game has hatched and the small Hiryuu that emerges manages to find the party at the Castle of Phin.  This powerful flier can easily overcome the gusting gale of the whirlwind.

Uh, are you taking us one at a time or wha...?

Inside the raging storm, the characters battle through many foes until they finally reach the emperor himself.  Richard rages out and a battle ensues.

lol, nice outfit, Emperor.  You look
like a frigging Batman villain.

Upon his laughable defeat, the rebels rejoice but it is cut short as a messenger comes during the festivities and informs them that the Dark Knight is trying to become the new emperor.  They also find out that the Dark Knight is none other than Fabio, lost so long ago.  He is living in Paramekia Castle which lies embedded in mountains.  The only way to get in is via airship so the plucky crew are off to find Cid (I guess the Hiryuu was one flight only).  They find him dying from injuries sustained during the whirlwind attacks.  He bequeaths his airship to them and then the party stops listening because they just got a freakin' airship!


ohnociddontleaveus.  Anyway,
the keys are where now?

Smashing their way through the Paramekian defenses, the group confronts Fabio who is going just a little power crazy.  A surprise visit by the resurrected emperor puts Fabio in his place.  The emperor is pissed at the Dark Knight's attempt to gain power.  After receiving his comeuppance, Fabio and the others escape as Richard sacrifices himself attacking the emperor and the whole place comes tumbling down.

Back at Phin, Queen Hilda is terrified to hear about the emperor's resurrection.  She tells the party that the only way into the emperor's Pandemonium Castle is through the portal called Jade, which exists near Mysidia.  After a long walk through many corridors and multiple teleporters, the nearly exhausted group come to find themselves face to face with the emperor.  Quaffing some all-healing Elixirs, the heroes are rejuvenated and ready to face their most dangerous foe yet.

Hope we've got enough MP.

The arsenal of spells that we had trained up to this point came in very useful as our melee attacks were somewhat lacking.  The defeat of the emperor this time is permanent and the heroes return to Phin to enjoy a proper celebration.  Fabio is still torn apart by his evil past and, even though Elvira wants them all to stay together, he decides to go his own way.  The ghostly visages of all the valiant allies we had throughout make an appearance before fading away forever.  A bittersweet ending to a bitterly sweet game.