March 29, 2012

Final Lap Twin - Ranking

Story & World

Points for uniqueness have to be awarded but it's not getting much more than that.  It's a pretty dull world to be in considering the only thing anyone is interested in is racing.  Shops sell nothing but car parts and fuel.  All Dad ever talks about is how I'm going to be the reigning world champion for years to come.  I just wanted to be an accountant, Dad!  I don't want to live your dream anymore!  Uuuuhh huhhuhhuuuh.

Barely need to interact with most NPCs as they give either obvious hints or say something about racing.  A nice touch was having the dialogue change for a town after I had beaten that town's champion.  When I first got to the town, they'd be all like, yeah, our champ is the best, you have no chance, loser.  After I whupped that champ they're all like, oh wow, man, yer so awesome n stuff.  Those straight hounddogz need to get up off my dick, know whut'm sayin'?

With everyone pushing Shen on to become the next world champion, there's little time to focus on anything else.  The bikini-clad pool girls side quest turning out to be a red herring also really grinds my gears (which was then projected into the boogie board).  3/20

Character Development

Well, since the character himself doesn't improve at all, I'll have to grade the car instead.  Car dynamics are only improved by purchasing or finding better equipment.  There are very few choices to be made when upgrading the car as most times the better piece of equipment is more desirable.  The only consideration that comes into play is to not let the engine outclass the tires too much or there'll be a helluva time trying to control the vehicle.  There is no experience system; only cash is gained from "fights".

Purchasing equipment to further develop the car is merely a matter of being able to afford the latest part.  The secret parts won off bosses are very useful in-game tools, such as having a world map or granting the ability to teleport.  On the other hand, there's a boogie board.  3/20

Combat & Monsters

"Combat" in Final Lap Twin is really a two part affair.  The first is against the other driver in the race and the second is against the track itself.  The track designs range from basic shapes to more complex structures with many hairpin turns.  The game mixes and matches opponent driving styles with the different tracks.  The two don't always blend well and certain foes always seem to spend half the time off the track due to sharp turns.  Oh well, easy money.

There are a good number of different characters to race against in each town's area and each has a different driving style (though the same styles carry over from area to area).  I really liked the short trash talk that racers give to ol' Shen prior to a race.  Fleeing from encounters is next to impossible when dealing with a brash, new opponent.  After defeating said opponent a few times, though, it became much easier to reject the challenge.  8/20

Graphics & Sound

A car as the main sprite would have done wonders.  Since it's a tile-based game, a square car would have looked much better than a compressed human.  It's a minor detail but it pisses me off.  The rest of the graphics are ugly (and stupid).  The music is about as forgettable as that one thing I forgot about.  The engines sound alright and make up 99% of the sound effects for the game.  6/20

Gameplay

Cash rewards for defeating opponents are generous and little grinding needs to be done.  For most of the game, I would attempt to refuse any challenge and the cash from the ones who dared to refuse my refusal was sufficient for the majority of purchases.  Normally, I would say that the easy economics works against the game (who doesn't love to grind?) but in this case it succeeds.  A single random encounter in FLT takes a lot longer than in most other RPGs.  Having to find all the best pieces of equipment makes the economy moot for the last quarter of the game.

Thank goodness the controls weren't pooched as they functioned very well.  I know who's to blame when they can't perform well in action-based games.

It's a straightforward world with linear progression which opens up a bit after getting that seaworthy item (whatever it was).  The difficulty was fairly high for me but for someone not having the reflexes of a sloth, it would be more cake.  The very short game time again breaks convention and benefits FLT instead of hindering it.  I can't imagine anyone's sanity lasting long if this game lasted into double digits.  Perhaps this game is more suited to be played for a little bit every week or so instead of all at once.  10/20

Final Ranking:  30/100

March 27, 2012

Final Lap Twin - End Game

During the final stages the game expanded a bit past just finding the next town and boss fight.  The first was to get an item that would allow Shen to traverse the seas.  Hearing rumours that it was located at the Cool Pool which is under lock and key due to it being filled with girls (!?).  The key is retrieved after defeating one of the bosses and Shen finds the sacred spa near the final town.

♪ Girls, girls, girls!  ♫

As luck would have it, Shen just missed out on the girls (story of my life) but he did get the sea-faring item.  I was hoping for hovercraft or even a good, solid raft.  But no.

Are you kidding me? A
fucking boogie board?

Hey, where the hell is my car in all of this?  I gave the game a pass up to this point on using a person sprite instead of a far more appropriate car one but this flies about as well as the Avro Arrow.  It would even make sense for this part as well.  Car gets upgraded to become amphibious.  Boom, you're done.  I'm extra suspicious now that this was part of some abandoned RPG and they didn't want to waste what coding had already been done.

Getting the *sigh* boogie board opens up a few previously unattainable places which nets Shen a few rare parts as well as more evidence for my theory.  After visiting some twins on an island and getting a lamp from them, Shen is able to go and explore Matt's warehouse.  The dark and spooky warehouse contains some excellent parts but there are no random encounters at all.  It's just a matter of wandering around the rather small "maze" and exhausting all the paths.  This is the only spot in the world that has this pathetic attempt to incorporate a dungeon into the game.  Methinks this is another example of having some unused code kicking around which was to be used to simulate exploring a dark dungeon.  Oh well, at least the items themselves were decent enough.


♫ I wear my Adidas when
I rock the beat. ♪

With all the boss items gathered and owning many top-of-the-line car parts, Shen just needed the master mechanic, Mr. Minute, to put it all together.  It took less than a minute and the result was superb.

Pimp my ride, yo.

The final match is against world champ, Alan Pross, and includes all the other boss characters as well.  In addition, the race is five laps long and being held on a brand new track.  It was during this time that I found myself wishing there was a way to abort during the race because Shen got his ass stomped many times.  This led to many races in which Shen had given up and sat idling in his car in the middle of the raceway, giving thumbs up to Alan as he got lapped for the third time.  This is why I stick to turn-based games, folks.  My reflexes fucking suck.  Don't tell anyone this but I save scummed my way through this final track.  This technically violates one of the rules but since they were already violated by doing an action-based game, it balances out or something?  No one in game noticed anyhow so I win.

I'll tell him the truth
on his deathbed.



March 25, 2012

[Game 018] Final Lap Twin (TG16 - 1989)



Vroom vroom.  Vroooooooommmm NeeeeeeenNEEEEEEEN SCREEEEEEEECH *KAKRASH* *tinkle tinkle*.  I know I'm suppose to do doing turn-based games only but I couldn't resist sneaking this racing RPG into the list.  They're pretty rare and I was surprised to see one this early on.  Unfortunately, this is strictly racing and the vehicles are not weaponized, as in the awesome Autoduel.  It'll be interesting to see if this game is designed as a racing RPG or if it's a racing game with the RPG element thrown in at the last minute.  The first two menu options involve just doing normal racing and the RPG option is listed last so it's probably an afterthought.

We'll just use these graphics from our
failed Christmas in Compton game.

Let's not judge too harshly on the appearance of the towns.  After all, there's also an overworld that will be explored and where I'll be randomly challenged by other drivers.

They'll even find you in the depths
of the forest somehow.

The core of the game is the racing, though, and it works very well (thankfully).  It's a bit simplistic with just accelerate and brake buttons; there are none of my beloved handbrake turns.  Turbo is in full effect, though, so it's not completely base.  The racing screen is split, oddly enough, with you able to keep on eye on your foe.  It's not necessary as the track mini-map does the job even better.  I think this is just a carry-over from initially designing the game engine with two players in mind.


Though I do like watching
the comp wipe it.

There are two types of encounters.  The random encounters are a single lap in length and the boss encounters are three laps long.  Randoms are a heads up match whilst the bosses fill up the track with about eight other cars.

Those other cars are on
your payroll, aren't they?

Failure in any race sends one back to the beginning town, crying to daddy.  The dad consoles his loser of a losing son and gives him some cash to dry those tears.

Thanks, Hulkster, I mean dad.

The stats of the game lie solely in the car and the parts that are purchased for it.  Winning races nets cash only; there is no experience system.  Special items are acquired after defeating boss drivers and are needed to complete the game.  Thankfully, the very first item is a teleporting box that takes one to any visited town.  The path through the world is very linear and having to redo the whole journey after each loss would have been infuriating.

I've acquired half of the special items needed so it's looking to be a pretty short game.  Probably a good call as the random races get pretty dull after the car is upgraded enough for consistent wins.  This also leads to the rejection of many challenges which becomes easier the more times a particular foe has been beaten.  However, there are certain challengers that I'll race every bloody time, just because of their crappy attitude.


Flip me the bird, will
ya? It's go time!

March 23, 2012

Dragon Quest - Ranking

Story & World

Decent layout for a world that's a little on the small side.  Everything ties together nicely and key locations are well-described and easy to find.  The game has a light tone what with its simplistic storyline and smiley monsters.  The legend of Roto (Erdrick in DW) is pervasive throughout and it being the focus of the story works well for a game this brief.

Yeah, I don't know what was going on with the translation but at times it seemed like it was one step away from making a Simpsons reference.  I would have preferred if it was played straight but I'll admit there were some amusing parts.  Townsfolk were a colourful bunch but had good hints to be found in all the dialogue.  There are a few fake-choice dialogue choices.  You know the ones.  Where you can answer yes or no but if you choose no it just repeats the question.  Even if you answer no another infinity times.  I suspect this is how the princess got Shen to marry her.  11/20

Character Development

No choices at all for character design.  A three stat system is used (Strength, Agility, and Vitality) which determines the character's other attributes.  All stats are raised randomly each level and spells are gained at specific levels.  At least they gave him some spells.

Equipment is a basic three slot affair with weapon, armour, and shield.  Most equipment just increases attack or defense though some do have special effects (taken from the static spell list).  Browsing armaments at the shop shows how it will affect character stats.  Most special items bought just duplicate spell effects and become useless once the particular spell is learnt.  5/20

Combat & Monsters

Very simple melee combat system supplemented by a limited spell selection.  Most monsters have melee attacks only and with there only being one-on-one action, this makes battles play out very much the same.  Most magic points end up being used for healing, saving the attack spells for bosses.  Utility spells function well in the game and cuts down on needless travel.  All spells got used at least once; the spell list is small but practical.

The Dragon Quest bestiary has a good mix of unique and classic creatures.  However, they all act the same unless it happens to have a spell or spell-like ability (most don't).  Encounter rate is spot on; I never once got frustrated while trying to travel and explore.  7/20

Graphics & Sound

Bright and vibrant graphics complement an excellent score with catchy tunes throughout.  Monster sprites look a little dated for a 16-bit game (*wink*).  Sound effects are lacking in numbers but the few there are suffice.  16/20

Gameplay

Economy stays fairly stable for most of the game until the last town is found.  There's not a lot to buy but prices are high enough that a little grinding is generally necessary to get all the new items when discovering a new town.  Features a bank that allows the character to store gold in case of death (results in half gold on hand).

Controls are slick and allow for a great deal of movement freedom.  One nice feature involves having a single button doing whatever is appropriate on the screen, instead of navigating through the menu every time (e.g. opening a chest if Shen is in front of it).

From the starting castle, there are only two "paths" to be explored and movement is restricted by many impassable mountain ranges (no airship to save you here).  Replaying is only feasible if it's the ONLY GAME YOU OWN.  Seriously, you'll see everything the game has to offer the first time.  Not too difficult but not a cake walk either.  Game is over quick but packs a decent punch in that limited time span.  13/20

Final Ranking:  52/100

March 22, 2012

Dragon Quest - End Game

Just like last night with the wife, Dragon Quest is over so quickly I barely remember even being there.  This was partly due to having a fairly accurate replication of the world in my memory banks.  Dragon Warrior (the North American release of DQ) was the first 8-bit RPG I ever owned and was the only RPG I had for my NES for many months.  Do the math.  I had other games, for sure, but they were mostly geared towards two player action.  The discovery of genuinely engaging solo gaming would be something that would serve me well during those sulky teen years.

That's a skeleton not a
wraith, Mom, you idiot!

Getting back to the quest, even though the dragon guarding the princess killed Shen with ease initially, after a few levels the tables were turned.  After dispatching the great beast, a battle-weary Nung was treated to a VERY grateful princess.

Whoa, slow down, sister, I've
only got 8 hit points here.

Two spells later and we're back at Radatome castle to drop the princess off with the king.  The princess escalates her infatuation with Shen to the next level and promptly scares him back into the monster-infested field.

Damn, girl, I've known you for less
than five minutes.  Ease up.

Et tu, King-ay?

Fleeing the evidently deprived royalty, Shen gets back to slaying beasties and gathering items.  The Stones of Sunshine and the Rain Cloud Staff are to be combined into the Rainbow Drop which creates the bridge to the Dragon King's castle.  The remake here gets muchos points for a super sweet rendition of the creation of the bridge.

My god, it's full of multicoloured
concentric rings.

The final assault on the castle holds the toughest fights but also yields the greatest experience points (no, I didn't manage to kill any metal slimes this time).  One clich√© that I forgot to mention previously is the classic two-forms end boss.  You initially fight what seems to be an unimpressive final boss but after its defeat it shows its true form and the real battle begins.

Dragon King digivolve to
Mega Draco King.

Peace returns to the land and Shen is now heralded as a true hero.  Townsfolk clamour to just get a glimpse at him and minstrels begin composing their epic ballads about the mighty Nung.

Thank you, thank you.
Autographs start at 10 golds.

The princess has her own plans for poor Shen, however, and promptly marries his ass after his return.

Uh, what's your name
again? Mulva?

We all hope that Shen lives happily ever after but I doubt the princess will ever let him leave the castle again.  For Shen, this is definitely...


March 21, 2012

[Game 017] Dragon Quest (NES - 1986) (SNES Remake)

Translation by RPGONE & Evilteam

The granddaddy.  The venerable one.  The big Kahuna.  The pimp daddy hustler stack money.  All of these words are a good description of me but also could be applied to the legendary DRAGON QUEST!!! I guess.  Does it seem strange that DQ is all the way down at #17?  Wouldn't this game have been the quintessentially perfect game in which to kick the blog off instead of that terrible Ultima?  After some research, I found out that when the Cyber Police originally compiled the game list, the release dates for Dragon Quest 1 through 4 were the dates for the North American releases.  Normally this wouldn't be too much of a problem as I'm not a huge stickler on East vs. West release dates (they're usually pretty close).  In the case of the Dragon Quest series, however, this would have meant that Dragon Quest 5 (only released in Japan until much later) would be played before Dragon Quest 4.  AND NUNG WILL HAVE NONE OF THAT!  So what I, the infallible Nung, have dun did is backtraced it and hacked the list to get the DQs closer to their proper spot.  I've spaced them evenly out amidst the games from now until DQ4 because fuck doing three DQ games in a row.  Cyber Police, ya dun goofed, but what can I expect from a bunch of rubes who can't even manage to delete the experimental prototype manchine from the Internets kernel?  Word.

Having said all that, this is the SNES remake released in 1993 so it's not like I'm even doing the original game, lol.  If you want a detailed history of the Dragon Quest series, be sure to check out episode 30 (part 2) of 16-Bit Gems.  I'll be here doing what I do best; trying to make dick jokes and over-analyzing game minutiae.

No prob, I was busy looking
at your tits anyhow.

The remake features many improvements over the original.  Movement is far smoother and there are many interface upgrades reflecting the standards of '93.  Dialogue is expanded and helps flesh out the story in better detail.  Obviously, graphics and sound are also greatly enhanced, especially the music.  Enhanced is the key word as everything still looks and sounds like Dragon Quest; from the glorious opening theme to the dull thud after ramming into a wall.  Some things are best left untouched, however, like this iconic figure:


Bigger than Mario in my book.

In fact, all the monsters encounter so far have been very close to their original counterparts.  A little more shadow and deepening of colour but otherwise identical.

Their little smiles just brighten my
day before I smash them to bits.

I'm going to stomp your
corpse into legal tender.

Since DQ is the standard setter for all JRPGs to follow, it'll have a Circle of Protection: Clich√© for the duration of the article.  They're all here!  Save the princess.  Kill the foozle.  Gather the MacGuffins.  Grind your face off.  Mute main character.  Or how about what happens when one wanders unknowingly into the area that contains the next level of monsters?


Yeah, that's the stuff.

I won't go into too much detail about the story itself as many others have already covered it but here are a few tidbits.  An interesting encounter was had in the village of Maira involving Shen taking a break from fighting monsters and just kicking back and chillaxin' for awhile.

Five hundred golds later.

I have my doubts as to how accurate this translation is but then again, nothing coming out of Japan surprises me much anymore.  Found another guy at the inn using some to cure his sleep apnea.

Erdrick's not here, man.

I also really like how the game reacts whenever a chest is opened.  No matter what lies within, the narrator is always blown away.  Even when Shen knows full well what is in the chest because it's a quest item.

Found by the very man who was
seeking them.  How ironic.

Hmmm... what other excuse can I use to have more pics up in this piece?  Hey, I know.  Dragons need no excuses...  Ever.

Hey, princess.  I'll just deal with this
adorable little dragon here for ya.


On second thought, I think
I'll die in three hits.

March 18, 2012

Miracle Warriors - Ranking

Story & World

The small viewing window used while exploring the lands detracts much from the experience and it becomes easy to go from wandering into being lost.  The functionality of the terrains with their vastly different encounters is a welcome change from the norm.  The few dungeon areas are very small and require little to no mapping (perhaps only the final dungeon).  Towns are very similar to one another in terms of services available.  Only the layout of the town changes which just makes it harder to remember where the healer dude is (accounting for 98% of all town visits).

Poor grammar and bad spelling aside, NPCs still uncommonly provide useful information (sometimes it's outright false!).  Even the beneficial hints are usually related to something that the player would find out regardless.  Instead of just having NPCs located in towns and castles, more are found in the random encounters had while traveling.  These NPCs have different sayings depending on where the player is at in the game.  Bonus point for that lying scumbag NPC just because it's such a dick move.

All the quests revolve around finding some cave or monument, beating the bads (if any), and collecting the reward (equipment or companion).  The companion gathering quests were the most enjoyable though it's too bad they ended up functioning so similarly.  There's not a lot of help in game for most of the quests so any locations found while exploring have to be marked down to revisit later.  Occasionally someone might mention the general location of one of the pieces of legendary equipment but players are pretty much on their own.  The main quest is the standard foozle killing that is the staple of so many early RPGs.  7/20

Character Development

No options exist for character creation.  Stats consist of a basic Attack / Defense structure along with hit points and experience.  Interestingly, the experience and hit points of a character are displayed only in bar form; there are no numbers to be found for these stats.  The addition of companions adds little to diversity as they are all fighter types with the same basic stats.  Only differences in levels show any variation.

For non-legendary items, there are two choices for weapons (knife or sword), an armour, and a shield.  The next step up is the legendary items and it ends there.  Every character ends up with armaments statistically identical to each other (the pictures are different though).  A paltry selection gets this category a paltry score.  4/20

Combat & Monsters

Combat is limited to back and forth melee attacks.  Some tactical options begin to creep in as companions get added to the party but mostly results in just spreading around the damage taken.  Magic comes in the form of a few usable items but is limited to mostly straight damage attacks.  The real benefit of magic is that it doesn't count as a turn so all damage from items can be applied with no risk.

Almost all the creatures encountered are unique in both name and appearance.  The monster designs are very creative although in battle they all operate pretty much the same way.  A few creatures have special attacks that damage all party members or puts some to sleep for a few rounds.  The guardian and end boss fights were the toughest in the game and required the player to use all magic items available in order to succeed.  There is an option to talk with any foe but it's pretty obvious in which encounters it can be used successfully.  9/20

Graphics & Sound

Nothing too special in the graphics department.  A lot of monsters have a mix n' match look to them that, while unique, makes them appear silly instead of terrifying.  The music itself was quite standard but the sound quality was very good.  10/20

Gameplay

One of the strongest economic structures so far encountered in a RPG.  Money stays tight throughout the game, sometimes even running too low to pay for basic healing.  The game keeps the costs up during the middle of the game (when more $ is flowing in) by making the player repurchase all the magic items used in the guardian boss fights.  In the late game, cash flow is reduced (unless specifically grinding for it) since the toughness of monsters makes it necessary to flee most creatures.  The secondary fang monetary system is a nice addition.  The only downside is that there is not a lot of variety in the items available to be purchased.

The menus are laid out well and fast to navigate.  The only issue with the controls is the slow pickup time when attempting to move the party from rest.

Fairly nonlinear world requiring lots of backtracking to unlock previously locked caverns and whatnot.  A high amount of exploring is required as many critical locations have no clues to their whereabouts.  High degree of difficulty especially in the boss battles but the regular random encounters have their share of uber beasts as well.  Progression was pretty smooth throughout the game; the only grinding done was in short chunks getting funds to replenish items after major battles.  Game length was a bit short which could have been partially remedied by making the dungeons a bit bigger / more complex.  16/20

Final Ranking:  46/100

March 17, 2012

Miracle Warriors - End Game

The fourth and final companion, Treo, was trapped inside a cave on a remote island nestled in amongst an imposing ring of mountains.  At Shen's cry of "Awake, Giant!", the beast curse that had afflicted Treo was broken and he was free to join with the rest of the party.

Awww, cute.  He looks like a
M.U.S.C.L.E. figurine.

All the equipment for Treo was conveniently located in one dungeon, bringing him up to par with everyone else.  Getting the legendary armaments for the others before Treo, however, was not as easy.  The pieces were just guarded by a single creature; there was no dungeon to navigate.  The creatures themselves, though, were tough as nails and required the usage of all the special items the group had acquired.  The game keeps a strict limit on how many of each item you can keep and makes it so that one cannot rely just on the items to see them through the battle.  Two of the items are damage doers (earthquake staves and sacred nuts) and the other protects against enemy spells (stones of protection).  These items are found in a variety of places around the map and incur different costs.  Staves cost guilders, stones require fangs, and nuts are only found by defeating a certain creature dwelling in certain forests.  After taking on and defeating each guardian, all these items have to be acquired again to have a chance against the next guardian.  The stones are defective as well and only work about a quarter of the time.

Another fifty fangs down the drain.

After all four members were fully decked out with the latest in Iason butt-kicking gear, they got an upgrade to their ship that will allow them to navigate the raunchiest of seas and access the final continent of Areos.  Monsters are so tough here that most of them need to be fled from or else the party's total hit points will be halved.  Makes it tough to explore and exploring was done to the max due to circumstances that will now be detailed.  K, so after Treo joins and brings the fourth and final piece of an ancient scroll to the group, the scroll is now complete and can be read.  It contains the directions to the three keys that unlock the Gelkis shrine, which is where the dark lord, Terarin, resides.

Nice taping job, guys.  I can't
even see the seams.

The directions themselves are not difficult to figure out; there are even hints given from NPCs should one not know where "face not dawn" is referring to.  However, the Saria mentioned in the scroll is an ancient name for a location.  Thankfully, a random encounter NPC says that Medi's town used to be called Saria.  Since Medi was picked up in Doris, the party starts by going south for eight days (i.e. steps) and... end up hitting the edge of the map by step seven.  Something is definitely up here.  After dicking around Doris for awhile, it became clear that the NPC was just a lying arse.  Oh well, back to Areos to continue exploring.  Noticing a suspicious patch of desert in amongst mountains and forest, the party stumbles upon the dungeon containing one of the three keys needed.  Instead of reverse engineering from that point like intelligent beings would do and realizing that it's the town of Tegea that used to be Saria, the party opts to just explore every patch of desert in southern Areos.  The end result is same; it's just more embarrassing this way.

The final dungeon consists of three small levels.  The party didn't fight any of the monstrosities within the dungeon.  They'd rather save their strength for Terarin.  The brave descendants of Iason readied themselves for the final encounter but were caught completely off-guard by Terarin's twin green orbs of power.


This looks more like a job for Capt. Kirk.

Defeating her required using all the items previously mentioned as well as three restorative potions that healed a character completely.  With Terarin vanquished, peace is restored and the monsters stop ravaging the lands.  After a grand ceremony, the four heroic comrades say their farewells and head back to their regular lives, always ready to spring into action should evil raise her head again.

Better get more than just a hug.


March 13, 2012

[Game 016] Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord (SMS - 1987)


Huzzah!  Another title for the Sega Master System.  Now Phantasy Star won't feel so lonely.  Miracle Warriors was missed due to Mobygames listing it as an action-RPG.  Thanks to the RPG Consoler for pointing out this discrepancy (among others).

After a prerequisite thousand years of peace, the Five Lands are experiencing a surge in hostile monsters.  The dark lord Terarin, who was thought to be sealed away, has stolen the golden seal and opened up a gateway to the evil dimension.  As a descendant of the legendary Iason (who defeated Terarin in round one), Shen must find and recruit three other special warriors.  Only they will be able to once again banish the dark lord from the realm.  They also need to acquire all the legendary arms that Iason used before.

Exploring is put on hold as Shen is finding himself taking bad beatings from wandering monsters.  Not having any weapons or armour will do that.  After punching a bunch of the local creatures and ripping out their fangs and selling them, Shen is outfitted with a nice suit of armour and shield and armed with the terrifying knife!  Now more confident that he'll last for more than two fights, Shen starts asking around the town of Garia for hints as to the location of his next companion.

Cansth thee hither unto verily...
uh, what's the question again?

Before gaining his companion, however, Shen will be spending some alone time getting trained up.  Exploring is made difficult in two ways.  The first is due to the limited viewing space in the interface.  The map is shown in the same 5x5 grid as the towns are.  This is mitigated somewhat by the sweet cloth map that originally came with the game.  The second way is due to the unorthodox method of handling terrain tiles.  Normally in a RPG, the different terrains serve only to vary the likelihood of an encounter (e.g. plains are low chance; mountains are high chance).  The difficulty of the encounter is usually determined by preset areas.  In Miracle Warriors, the terrains actually feature entirely different sets of creatures.  The difficulty of an encounter is also determined by terrain (for the most part).  Getting into an encounter on a forest or mountain tile early in the game means certain death for Shen (unless he manages to retreat).  Since some crucial locations lie within these tile types, it makes for a tense Shen when he is forced to traverse these harsh turfs.  Most places, though, can be accessed by staying on the open plains and fighting the easier creatures found there.

I think I'll add another 2,000
guilders to my stash.

There are also a good number of caves and monuments to explore as well.  Most are locked and will be visited later when Shen gets whatever he needs to open them.  The few "dungeons" he has been in have yielded a few key items and are host to an array of fantastic creatures the likes of which ye hast ne'er seen before.  A lot of them seem like the parts of three or four different creatures stuck together.

AHHHH, what the hell am I?  Kill me with fire!

Gaining companions is a matter of finding a particular piece of Iason's legendary equipment and then finding the townhouse in which the companion resides.  The first guy, Guy, is just a slightly weaker version of Shen.  Still, you'd think that they'd now be able to double team some monsters.  Maybe even take on some forest creatures.  But no.  These guys are honourable or something and will only fight one at a time.  Essentially Shen has just doubled his hit points, which is still a welcome addition.  After purchasing a ship, Shen and Guy set sail to find the third companion in their quest.  Searching the town of Doris, the gentlemen happen upon her but are needing a piece of Iason's armour in order to get her to join.

Guy, your services are no longer required.

With no real idea of where the armour could be, the two musky men search through all the previous locations they've been to.  This is made much easier with the help of a teleporting feather item.  After defeating the guardian of a cave (that earlier had defeated Shen while he was solo), the armour is theirs and so they claim their third and sexiest companion.  The fourth companion may be tougher to find as the party has found out that he has been transformed into a beast by a black monk.  Geez, I hope the miracle warriors haven't accidentally kill him off already.

March 09, 2012

Destiny of an Emperor - Ranking

Story & World

DoaE cries out epic on so many levels, from the massive skirmishes to the throngs of generals to the sheer size of the world.  The switching out of key generals at different points in the game is a masterstroke in making the story seem so much bigger than any one individual.  However, its monstrous scale is also its greatest liability.  Even my semi-computerized brain crashed a few times as it tried to process the overwhelming number of similarly named generals.  Bonus point for having the Great Wall as the top barrier on the map.

NPCs are numerous as there are many locations for them to be in.  A nice surprise here is that sometimes an innocuous-looking town NPC ends up turning into a fight.  These can be especially difficult if the characters just fought a battle to liberate the town beforehand (and forget to make the inn their first stop).  Very few dialogue branches which were mostly irrelevant anyway.  Will give credit for the five second pause dialogue as it got me good.  Suitable balance between flavour and helpful text.

There are around eight major quests or chapters throughout the game.  It starts from crushing a small rebellion in Tao Qian's lands to bringing peace to the whole of China.  As previously mentioned, no single general is the hero here; it takes many different generals working together to accomplish all the quests.  Most quests involved defeating <general> at <location> but a few minor quests involved item fetching which changed the pace, albeit briefly.  13/20

Character Development

Gaining experience levels is different from the norm here.  Most generals do not benefit at all from leveling.  Certain key generals increase their soldier maximums and can gain new tactics as levels go up.  The experience is applied to the army as a whole; the generals are just mods that can alter the overall effectiveness of the entire army.  However, with just two stats, STRength and INTelligence, it makes picking front line generals too easy of a decision.

Armour and weapon upgrades are merely a matter of being able to afford the best.  There is a slight variation in that bow type weapons fire twice per round and so may actually deal more damage than the next available melee weapon.  Items come in the usual assortments (healing, teleporting, power ups, etc.).  7/20

Combat & Monsters

Random combats are almost always of the going all-out variety.  Generals that show up in the random battles are usually ones that have beaten many times before.  Tactical combat really comes to the forefront in the major storyline battles.  Ganging up on the most threatening general is a typical strategy although sometimes the enemy gets the same idea.  The power of the late game tactics provided the deepest and most enjoyable battles (as it should be).

The monsters consists of all soldiers, all the time.  The large number of generals doesn't make up for the fact that they're all pretty much the same.  Enemy generals able to use tactics help alleviate this somewhat (especially the more powerful tactics available in late game).  The encounter rate is a tad high but bearable.  9/20

Graphics & Sound

The portraits for each general are nicely done but the rest of the graphics are just passable.  Some scenery in the battles would have been nice instead of a solid black background.  The music is thankfully period appropriate and overall well done.  Sound effects are all right but nothing too special.  12/20

Gameplay

Very solid economy for the first half and then breaks down like so many others.  Very little grinding was needed in the game and there is even a system in place to limit the amount of grinding that can be done.  This is accomplished through food management to feed the soldiers.  Food can either be purchased or gained by defeating enemy generals except those from random encounters.  Generous food drops from static encounters are sufficient to keep most armies going and food rarely needs to be purchased.

The overall layout is very linear.  There is some backtracking to previously conquered locations but one would never get lost in doing so.  Not much point in replaying this unless one wanted an addition challenge by purposely using crap generals.  Easy game overall except for a few major conflicts which require both good tactics and a little luck.  The pacing dragged at points but wasn't horrible considering the scope of the entire package.  7/20

Final Ranking:  48/100

March 08, 2012

Destiny of an Emperor - End Game

It's too bad the gemsword doesn't have a use outside of recruiting Lu Bu because I ended up having it for the rest of the game.  Trying to give the sword to him in the next encounter left him bewildered as to what it even was.  This is the same sword that had Lu Bu completely destroying the city of Luo Yang in his search for it and he doesn't even know what it looks like?  Well, I'll be damned if I'm going to waste a general's turn repeatedly shoving this gemsword under his nose and waiting for it to sink in.  After a few more fights involving Lu Bu, he ended up dying and the gemsword was ours to keep.  Mmm, shiny.  There was no time to admire the gemsword, though, as a messenger bore news of Yuan Shu somehow getting the Imperial Seal and declaring himself emperor.  One of his first orders as emperor is to confiscate all the girls of the region.  Admittedly, this is pretty much the first order I would give if I ever get the slightest amount of power.  For the townsfolk though, it was a matter of alarming concern.

Come join us for cocktails at the
recently opened Hung Wang's.

The road to Yuan Shu was similar in structure to the rest of the major story arcs.  A bunch of castles and fortresses stand between Liu Bei's army and the chapter's main villain.  A multitude of generals are fought and recruited along the way as well (over a hundred are encountered by the end).  All these generals and places are named and soon after I stopped writing detailed notes, the names all began to blur together.  Even the game itself had problems giving personality to the generals.

Them's fightin' words.

In one side quest, this name blurring proved more aggravating than it should have been (blaming no one but myself).  In seeking out a general named Zhu Ge Liang, the army has to visit many different locations and always ends up being just one step behind.  One of these locations is the village at the very beginning of the game.  When one is backtracking through places, this means that places at the beginning of the game are visited last (still blaming self).  After finally finding him back at his house, we were dismayed to see that he was taking a nap.  His wife told us that she'd call us when he woke up.  So we leave and do some stuff and come back.  Still napping.  Go do more stuff.  Still napping.  K, let's revisit every goddamn place and see if we can trigger some kind of event.  Still napping.  Trying to interact with Zhu Ge Liang brings up a Yes/No dialogue on whether we'd like to wake him up.  Saying yes pisses him off, he yells a bit, and then he goes back to sleep.  Saying no means you just leave him alone.  Maybe I'll try saying yes ten times in a row.  Nothing.  Now I'll try saying no ten times.  Hey, why does trying to tap through no seem so sticky?  I have to tap twice instead of once.  Well, it turns out not doing anything after the first tap is the key to having him wake up.  Five seconds of patience is required.  Tricksy, game, real tricksy.

Just join our army, you ass.

Oh, and then even here Zhu Ge Liang still doesn't join.  He buggers off to castle whatever because he feels like having a little chat with Lui Bei.  So, again, the chase is on.

Yeah, we "finally" made it, you fucking ass.

The difficulty starts to ramp up near the end as more generals have the An Sha (instant kill assassination) tactic (even random encounter generals can have it).  A resurrected general only gets 400 soldiers and the only available healing tactic is one that heals each general for 5K or so.  Really soaks up the available tactic points which are needed for the major bosses.  The toughest general, Si Ma Yi, is fought several times before the final fight.

That's what she said.

Don't worry.  That caption will be used sparingly.  Anywho, between An Sha and Ji Mian (negates all enemy melee attacks) tactics, the fights against Si Ma Yi are quite difficult.  Just take a look at this terrifying final boss.

Adorable hat though.

It took a few attempts until Lui Bei's generals managed to keep the enemy tactics contained while they simultaneously beat on Si Ma Yi.  After he fell, the remaining generals were cake.  Lui Bei has become emperor and peace has come to all of China.  But for how long?