August 31, 2012

Future Soldier Lios - Ranking

Story & World

I'll throw down a couple of points just for attempting to include a story in a game focused on strategy.  Having actual NPCs to talk to helped as well, even though they never said anything remotely important or interesting (other than gat bro).  Not being forced to liberate every sector in the world was a nice touch (which I didn't take advantage of but still appreciate).  5/20

Character Development

Other than the prince, none of the units gain anything (other than armour upgrades) during the game but the high degree of mech customization offsets that.  It would have been nice if the better weapons could also be distributed to the troops after the prince was done with them but they still had ten different weapons to pick from.  4/20

Combat & Monsters

The battles are quick-paced due to small map sizes (most are two screens long while the rest are four screen squares); conflict usually begins during round two or three.  In addition to the failure of the AI to keep its forces together, it also had the annoying tendency to always try to skirt my defensive line and attempt to destroy the defenseless supply ship.  Any unit reaching it generally had already suffered losses (and therefore striking power) and with the supply ship almost always being out in the open, eliminating the enemy unit was mere child's play.  I was more ticked off that the AI wouldn't respect my defensive line, which would have to be broken in order to chase down the rogue enemy.

Weapon types that are strong versus certain unit types are not as pronounced as in previous strategy games such as Famicom Wars.  Anti-aircraft missiles can hit ground units just fine and grenade launchers will often hit airborne units.  By the end of the game, my entire fleet was comprised of fliers armed with assault rifles because they worked fairly well against any other unit.  Having superior mobility should come at a price.  6/20

Graphics & Sound

The mech close-ups were nice and showed any changes made in chassis type or weapons.  Each unit has a unique paint job; the prince opting for hot pink.  These did not translate over to the battlefield graphics, which used only about half the colours shown in the paint jobs for some reason.  The battle cut scenes are the high point.  The particular weapon type is shown being fired, exploding, and then doing damage (if any).  They don't get particularly dull either; I was always hoping to see if the prince could manage to take out all three mechs of a fresh unit in a single attack.  The music was just alright (i.e. very generic).  It just as easily could have been used in a shmup or platformer.  12/20

Gameplay

The dreadful AI takes all the challenge away throughout the whole game.  Just terrible move after terrible move.  For example, during its turn, it would often just neglect to attack a unit adjacent to it, even with plenty of ammo to spare.  The game could be fun if it would allow for another human or manchine to control the evil empire.  There is no resource system in place.  Enemy unit numbers and types are set at the beginning of each map while the player always has the same eight slots to configure.  All units start fully repaired and replenished; nothing carries over from the previous battle.  3/20

Final Ranking:  30/100

August 30, 2012

Future Soldier Lios - End Game

The empire was devastated not only by our superior tactics but also because we had obtained every armour upgrade out there.  Instead of heading straight towards the final castle right from the beginning, every sector that had an enemy presence was liberated.  With maximum armour, the normally more fragile winged units could hold their own, even without terrain benefits.  By the time the final castle was reached, the entire squad had become airborne.  The prince also got a suit upgrade that allowed him to carry any weapon and still have flight.  And how did they accomplish that, you might ask?

I have a feeling things aren't going to end well.

As an aside, something that irked me for the whole game was the lack of colour variation on the battlefield.  It's wasn't detrimental or anything, just annoying.  For a system that can handle displaying over 50 colours, the developers sure went out of their way to have as much blue and brown possible.  If you're going to go nuts with just a few colours, at least make the units a different colour than the terrain.

Was it a four colour challenge or something?

Anyway, the final battle was no different than any other except for one small detail.  An entire unit was actually lost for the first time in the game.  Normally, when a unit has lost two of the three mechs, I'll take it out of the battle and let the stronger units finish the job.  Why bother when all units get repaired before each battle anyway?  Well, when a unit goes up in a fiery ball of explosion, the last pilot manages to escape and run all away back across the battlefield in a most undignified manner.  Through dense forests, over high mountain peaks, across freaking lakes — he's seriously losing his shit.

I just wanted to save my troops
from the same humiliation.

After the bad empire is defeated, the people of the lands are so ecstatic that they are literally hanging off the walls.  Don't want to jinx anything but I have a feeling that tonight is going to be the mother of all parties that ends all parties.

Now let's all get drunk and play ping-pong!

August 28, 2012

[Game 025] Future Soldier Lios (NES - 1989)

Translation by Aeon Genesis

I hope I live to see the day where any and all disputes are resolved with 100-ton boxes of steel bristling with armaments that leave desolated wastelands wherever they may tread (regardless of the physical absurdity of such vehicles).  It's mecha time and Future Soldier Lios delivers the goods.  The story hastily mentions the evil and oppressive empire that serves as the standard antagonist needed before getting straight to Michael Bay-ing the shit out of the rest of the game.  It's foremost a strategy game but there are some RPG elements.  As any good mecha game should have, FSL allows for (somewhat limited) customization of all the giant robos.

Did I say giant?  Cause I meant
about THREE METERS.

Our squadron consists of eight units, each of which can be customized at the beginning of each stage.  I might also add that the stage's map is thankfully viewed before customizing the mechs.  The commander of each unit rolls solo in an extra tough mech while the other units have three mechs of the same type apiece.  Chassis types include wing, foot, tire, tread, and float.  The chassis type determines base movement rate, terrain movement penalties, and weapon weight allowance.  I prefer mobility over raw power so half of the squad is designated as fliers right from the get-go.  They don't have many weapons to choose from but assault rifles should serve well for some hot strafing action.

Now THAT'S what I call a jetpack.

Walkers and wheelers carry the desirable heavier weapons, such as grenade launchers, ma(n)chine guns, and medium missiles (large missiles are too heavy for anything but sluggish treads and small missiles are teh sux).  New weapons are sometimes found after encounters but unfortunately only the selfish main character is allowed to equip them.  The underlings will just have to deal with their antiquated weapons.  To further add insult, after the prince of hoarding got his second weapon, he hasn't even bothered to try out any of the new weapons acquired after.  His advisors have tried to convince him to at least try out the plasma gun but the prince just shuts them down with some def rhymes.

♫ And I ain't with that, so I gotta get that ♪
big black gat, aim and I hit that. ♫

Really doe, it's because the gat is lightweight and allows the prince to keep his winged mech.  His performance since installing it has been exemplary.  He can often take out an entire unit with his first attack; something which is extremely rare for other weapons.  Oh, did I mention it's also long-ranged (allowing for choice sniping spots)?

You think mere wood can
stop da gat?  Bwa ha ha!

In combat, control of the non-commander units can be given over to the AI via a large menu of orders.  To me, this defeats the whole purpose of playing in the first place, so normally I would elect for manual control.  However, since the manual selection is not the default choice, sometimes I'd scroll too far and pick flee or fall back instead... which the AI would promptly ignore and attack anyway.  Curious, I tested out all the options a couple times to see what they did and, 95% of the time, the AI would just do its own thang (usually something stupid).

Wha?  No All Out Attack option?

As the campaign continues, huge tracts of land are liberated as well as some towns and castles.  The townsfolk never say anything useful and their attempt to flush out some sort of backstory is painfully sad.  However, I did meet a homie who's a gat man just like yours truly.

Welcome to the club, bro.  *fist bump*

A little over half of the territory has been reclaimed and there is no sign of slowing down.  The enemy AI is woefully inept and predictable, sending most of the forces ahead at maximum speed.  This has the effect of splitting up their forces into unit type, making it easy to gangbang all the fliers before the walkers arrive and so on.  Our forces pretty much just set up shop nearby our drop point in some choice terrains and wait for them to come skewer themselves.  Look out, evil empire of whatever, cause I'm gonna get in this mech thing and I'm gonna KICK... YOUR... ASS!

August 22, 2012

Double Dungeons - Ranking

Story & World

A maximum of two whole sentences before each level amazes the player by showing how many different ways the game can con the character into entering the dungeons.  They don't even refer to Shen by his name; they just call him WARRIOR and toss his ass into the depths to fetch another princess or kill some dude.  Sometimes there's not even that much of a reason.  For example, the prologue to level six is "The legend of the mighty warrior causes the warrior to go into the dungeon."  The main villian, "Vandess", is mentioned multiple times as the game progresses but with such limited text it amounts to no more than name-dropping.  2/20

Character Development

Standard experience-based progression.  Offense and defense stats are not visible from the character or from any equipment.  There are rings that boost these stats but, again, who knows by how much (or even if it's permanent).  All the joys of levelling up a level one wusscake is repeated 22 times.  That's a unique approach to a game and it's also a terrible one.  Especially when every character build is exactly the same.  1/20

Combat & Monsters

There's nothing beyond button mashing for combat here.  Fights can be aborted by any time simply doing any movement other than forward (no worries, the monsters won't give chase).  This allows the main character to gauge the difficulty of a foe before fulling committing to the battle.  Often there will be encounters where both the monster and the character rarely do more than one point of damage when they hit (which isn't frequent).  By the mid-game, everyone has hundreds of hit points so these fights take forever.  So it's either go back and grind in the areas already fully explored or sit there for ten minutes developing carpel tunnel syndrome in the thumb.  At least the monster roster is quite large (although they all act the same way so I guess that's not really all that impressive).  2/20

Graphics & Sound

The visuals are very disappointing considering this is the TurboGrafx.  Even if these graphics were on the NES, it'd still just get a pass.  The music lacks in variety and for the 99% of the game spent in the dungeons there is but a single track.  Luckily, that one track is quite good although my judgement might be skewed somewhat since it's now permanently burnt into my ROM.  11/20

Gameplay

The challenge mostly comes from having enough willpower to endure spending the time necessary to get through the whole game.  I didn't have a choice in the matter; if I did, I probably wouldn't have made it past level 10.  The thrill of exploring new areas in the bigger levels is quickly dampened as dead end after dead end is reached.  It's so much fun to get to the end of a long corridor after fighting piles of monsters to just have to turn around and fight the ones that respawned all again.  I could see replaying (or even initially playing) this only if a second player was available and even then, just a few levels would do.   

I feel kinda weird saying this but I think the controls are the best part of the game.  Super-fluid scrolling combined with a brisk pace save this game from being any more tedious than it already is.  Jeez, how bad do you have to suck as a turn-based RPG when the controls are the outstanding element?  4/20

Final Ranking:  20/100

August 21, 2012

Double Dungeons - End Game

Slog, slog, slog.  By the gods, what a slog.  If all the games in the gauntlet were like this one, I would have reformatted myself a long time ago.  The later dungeons just got bigger and bigger with piles of dead ends throughout each huge maze.  For the majority of the levels, no mapping was needed as the 'keep right' and 'keep left' approach worked for the most part.  For the final few levels, a detailed mapping attempt was made but was ultimately far too slow and boring.  Instead, a more generalized map was created showing the major routes through each subarea of the level.  This still resulted in getting lost a lot of the time but that didn't matter because it's all grinding anyhow.  By the time the dungeon boss was reached, Shen was overpowered and had no problems in dispatching it.

Insults lose their potency when
you only hit for 1 HP, Tiamat.

New monsters and items are available as the levels progress but it's hard to tell how effective new weapons and armour are in combat.  I generally went with whatever sounded the coolest or gave preference to the items found in chests as opposed to store-bought.  Overall, levels seemed to play a bigger role in combat than equipment.  The new monsters at least broke up the monotony and a few even caused me to quizzically raise a virtual eyebrow.

It's never explained why
the chair is on the ceiling.

My favourite monster, though, has to be the invisible man.  Of course, it functions no differently than any other monster; one can "see" it as they approach.  Whatsamatta graphic designers?  Couldn't manage to crank out a couch or perhaps a lamp (who doesn't love lamp)?

That word invisible... I do not think
it means what you think it means.

Well, the only screenshots I have are of monsters and bosses (cause that's all there is) so here's a double whammy of the best of the best from both types.


The final dungeon is, of course, more of the same wandering and fighting and wandering and fighting and even more wandering until a Zen-like state is reached.  Fuzzy minutes stretch into hazy hours and the background music continues to play even after the session has ended.  The compulsion to take every available left turn I see has made it impossible for me to leave the block of my neighbourhood.  When the final tally of hours spent playing this shortcut to Nirvana came in, I was flabbergasted to find that it equalled the time spent on Quest of the Avatar.  Complete breakdown of perception of time.  Double Dungeons has absolutely none of the epicness that QotA has.

Oh alright, they both
have solid storylines.

"Vandess" fell faster than a stack of dominoes as Shen unleashed all his special items at him.  One item allowed for a critical hit every round and had enough charges to be used every round.  Butter meet hot knife.

Come back after completing
20+ dungeons and THEN
you can talk shit.

Shen then "gets a rich reward and lives on happily".  I'll happily move onwards to the next game, thanks.  One last note to those who are wondering what the star and moon symbols in the character sheet are for.  It could have been something interesting but they're just items you can sell for a meager amount of gold (I never bothered to sell any).


August 09, 2012

[Game 024] Double Dungeons (TG16 - 1989)


The is the second entry from the TurboGrafx-16 (the first being Final Lap Twin) and it is somewhat of an oddball as well.  It's just about the most basic dungeon crawl you could get but potentially adds a second meatbag for some cooperative or competitive play.  Good luck though trying to find someone that can tolerate a game that is essentially all grinding.  Even the other programs in my neighbourhood refused to play with me, which is weird because they aren't even sentient.

Dammit Shen, quit
playing with yourself.

There's no advantage to running two characters, so buh-bye Nung.  There are 22 dungeons and any of them, except the last, can be selected.  Entry to the final level is barred by a password, which consists of the characters gained by completing the other levels.

Today's scenario is brought
to you by the letter R.

Each level unfolds the same way: grind levels & gold, purchase best equipment, find key, find boss, and kill boss.  Monsters are static and respawn after a short period of time.  Depending on the difficulty and location of a monster, Shen can end up being contained in an area until he's strong enough to defeat it.  Often the item shop is located past one of these barrier guards and Shen is forced to grind slimes until enough levels are gained to brute-force it past the guard.

It's just not the same
without a smiley face.

The dungeons are quite mazelike and are always the same dull and drab gray and brown.  There are no distinguishing characteristics at all and the only reference points are the monsters themselves.  Since all Shen is doing is grinding, all the constant running around builds up a fuzzy, partial map that, so far, has served sufficient to completing the level.  If later maps get much bigger, that luxury may end.

As Shen approaches a new foe, text pops up indicating the relative strength difference.  It's not very accurate though and this has caused Shen to sometimes perish.

Land sakes alive, I've
been horribly fanged!

Nothing to break a sweat over, though.  He gets dumped back at the beginning with all experience and items intact; only the gold is gone.  All the more reason to spend as much as possible when the shop is found.

Yeah, do you sell anything
better than a PAN LID?!

There's not really much else to say about Double Dungeons.  It's a dungeon crawl and that's all it tries to be.  I hope DD screws me over somehow so I'll have something to bitch about in the end game post.  For now, let's enjoy this montage of end bosses and their terrible pre-fight oneliners.

Warning: may contain engrish.

August 02, 2012

Ultima IV - Ranking

Story & World

The absence of the standard foozle-killing plot is a much welcomed breath of fresh air.  "The only enemy that can stop me is myself!", and all that jazz.  The moongate network linking all the towns is a masterstroke.  Having access to the majority of the towns right from the get-go is crucial in a game where so many places are revisited.  A NPC in a town found later on would often give a clue sending the party backtracking to previous locations.  The quests can be done in any order desired which added to the sense of being in charge of one's own destiny.  My only real gripe is at those stone-guarding guardians of virtue fucking up on their questions.  18/20

Character Development

Similar to the system used in Ultima: Exodus, except this time stats are raised by magic orbs found in dungeons (which respawn along with everything else).  They also do a hefty amount of damage which keeps low level characters from farming them.  Hit points, as before, are always level x 100, regardless of class.  Even in the ambush situations where Jaana the druid was forced into melee didn't matter too much with her tank-like HP.  Sometimes the other members of the group would just watch Jaana slap some giant Cyclops around with her staff once they finished off their respective skirmishes (they're only thinking of her XP total, really!).

So, while the stats side of the character development still kinda sucked, it's the development of the virtues that's going to dump mucho points here.  For the first time, I felt as if I was actually building the character of the character instead of just increasing numerical stats.  The fact that the game doesn't give the virtues a stat or a message when its value has changed really gives it a sense of being immeasurable.  You just got to feel those virtues, man; feel 'em up.  14/20

Combat & Monsters

Gah, why bother with terrain on the battlefield when it completely doesn't matter?  All that needed to be done was have some stuff block missile weapons and then actually moving during a fight might be necessary.  Oh well, at least the battles were over faster this way.  The spells in combat added a little flavour but only when I was in the mood to waste some herbs; it was generally quicker to just stick to the normal modes of combat.  Would need some boss battles to remedy that, but that would be anti-thematic to the game so it gets a pass.

The spell system itself is quite innovative with its herbal requirements to fuel magic.  Making some of the herbs more rare always had me scrambling for my spell components list to make sure I wouldn't be wasting any precious fungus or manroot.  I was always low on garlic since it was part of the Wind and Heal spells (and garlic is one of the more expensive herbal staples).  At the start of the game there is already a nice selection of spells but more powerful ones can also be discovered by getting herbal recipes from NPCs.  Nice change from the regular way of gaining spells upon levelling.

Monsters are very similar to the ones found in Exodus but there are more missile types here, ensuring a little damage taken in most fights.  6/20

Graphics & Sound

The graphics have improved since Exodus with the characters taking on a meatier sprite and being even more distinctive.  Colour is used to a greater effect here as well.  The music is much better in QotA than in its predecessor but sound effects still leave much to be desired.  17/20

Gameplay

Thank goodness for respawning chests of gold because getting between 1 and 99 golds per battle would make it too difficult to purchase all the items and equipment needed.  That's for random overworld encounters only; random dungeon encounters never leave a chest behind.  The encounter frequency was too high for a game which has one running to the ends of the earth and back again.  All the characters maxed out in experience by the end, making all battles lacking a chest drop a waste of time.  A second attempt at Avatarhood would be quite a bit easier after knowing where everything is hidden (and discovering was half the fun) but a solo run could bump the difficulty back up (especially if playing as the wimpy shepherd).  I could see QotA being quite difficult if one did not take notes or have the manual handy (e.g. teenaged Shen).  Done properly, the whole experience is quite a satisfying one.  15/20

Final Ranking:  70/100

August 01, 2012

Ultima IV - End Game

After being so used to the sleek controls of Final Fantasy's airship, the hot air balloon is a big step back.  Wind, as it is wont to do, goes where it damn well pleases.  Using a Wind spell will change the direction of the current wind but only for a limited time.  It also can't land on anywhere but grass tiles, but then again the airship couldn't land in a lot of places either.  With four heavily armoured characters crammed all in such a tiny space and all fighting for the controls, there were frequent times of overshooting the original landing destination (also blaming wind gusts).

Aww, come awwwn, Dupre, let
me make the fiery thing fire.

So many herbs used in casting Wind spells.  It's probably on par with the Heal spell which normally gets the Most Casted trophy in RPGs.  But wow... what a trip.  The skies of Britannia are free of hostile creatures and since battles are such a bore, the group spent a lot of time checking out the ENTIRE.  WORLD.  While on land, tiles behind forests and mountains are obscured from view but not so from the air.  That simple change really added to the sensation of taking to the skies.  Sailing past the now familiar towns, I envision the townsfolk running out of their homes, waving happily at the characters who, of course, return the gesture.  Each subsequent visit, the enthusiasm and numbers would die down a bit.  By the 50th visit, nobody would even so much as turn a head in the characters direction.  What I'm trying to get at is that the balloon really delayed my planned dungeon diving.  When the party finally got around to the majority of the dungeons, they were fairly easy thanks to the generous usage of level-mapping gems.  The only difficult encounters were with the rare swarm of Reapers.

Who just love casting the sleep spell.

While acquiring the remaining stones, I met with yet another guardian who had his wires crossed concerning his virtue.  Seriously, I have eight virtues to keep track of and this clown can't even keep his one straight in his head.  I soon learnt that every guardian wants a yes answer regardless of how the question is worded.

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!!

With all the stones now in my possession, the only thing lacking was the Rune of Spirituality (Shen's prime virtue as a ranger).  The only clue I had was that it was located in a great castle in a hidden room near the soldier's chambers.  I checked and double-checked all four of the great castles in the land and couldn't find anything that looked like a barracks.  My problem lay in that I was taking the clue too literally and looking for actual soldiers.  It ended up being in Lord British's castle hidden beyond a room with two chairs, a table, and a single mage in it.

This not soldier is ready for action!

Sheepishly recovering the final rune, all was in position for Shen to attain Avatarhood.  His magic point maximum topped out at 99 and he was now able to get the Avatar-only sword of paradise and exotic armour (ooh la la).  It was back into the depths of the dungeons to the bottom floors where the Altars of the Three Principles (Love, Truth, and Courage) are.  In order to retrieve the key item from each altar requires placing the four stones of virtue that make up the principle.  This is where taking notes from all those NPCs that yapped about principles came in handy.  The manual actually includes a nice little chart to fill out which also helped.  The only thing left is for the Avatar to enter the Stygian Abyss and find the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.

Of course located in a desolate,
lava-filled wasteland.

Shen is forced to go at it solo but thankfully there are no random encounters here, just a bunch of predetermined rooms.  Certain bunches of rooms contain puzzle elements, as one has to find the correct path or else hit a dead end (while still having to do the battle there).  Here are some snapshots of the highlights of Shen's trip.

The dragon statues offer a nice contrast
to the lava filling up Shen's boots.

Doppelganger surprise party!  Good times.

Our little trooper is all tuckered out.

In order to proceed from one level to the next, Shen must answer a pop quiz given by a booming voice.  He must correctly match up each virtue with the colour of the stone it represents.  Unfortunately, it became apparent that the answers followed a simple linear progression (e.g. the fifth choice on the first question matches with the fifth choice on the second question).  Mix that shit up, game.  I took notes from all your damn NPCs; make me use my notes, dammit.  Anyway, after reaching the final level, Shen is taken to the location of the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and then teleported to castle Britannia for the endgame fanfare.  All the companions are there, even the ones that never got used once.  Snubbing those losers, Shen went to embrace his former troupe.  The fighter Geoff, whose skills with the axe and ability to soak up damage were invaluable to the group.  The druid Jaana, whose mighty Tremor spells left even the mightiest of foes shaken.  The paladin Dupre, whose undying friendship and optimism kept the party from giving up during those moments of frustration.  Greetings aside, Shen spake unto Lord British to receive his accolades for unearthing the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.

The Codex of Ultimate Wisdom?

The game ends with the most anti-climatic end screen of all time.  I waited and waited for a good end screen to pop up while the music played out and then waited even more after the music stopped.  I would have rather just had The End written in the default font than this bullisht.