December 05, 2013

[Game 042] Deep Dungeon IV: The Black Sorceror (NES - 1990)

Translation by KingMike

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww isht.  It's finally come to this; I've put it off as long as possible.  I dragged out Madara as long as I could and distracted myself with other retrogaming challenges but the fated day has come — Deep Dungeon IV has arrived.  This time the plot centers around revenge.  I will be playing the son of the mighty warrior Fred who helped slay the demon king from one of the previous DD chapters.  Let all that is evil and foul fear the heroic name of Fred!  The demon king had some powerful friends, it seems, as soon after his demise, Frederick was assassinated and all fingers pointed to the Black Sorceror.  Well, this son wants sweet, tangy revenge and so I am setting off in a quest to gain gear, companions, and levels while the Black Sorceror predictably waits for me in his tower or whatever.

Wow, my dad's friends actually have cool names.

DDIV's environment is quite different from it predecessors as a lot of it takes place outside.  Sure, it's just a dungeon with a bunch of trees painted on it but I appreciate having varied visuals outside of colour swapping some stone.

*deep inhale* Ahh, smell that fresh cedar air.

As is tradition for the series, starting off is hella hard and some initial grinding needs to be done.  Monsters only give experience points and treasure is only found in chests.  The chests regenerate after leaving the area in true DD fashion and can contain either gold or items (some items sell for mucho dinero).  Gaining a level results in a static increase in attributes, and generally only a single point.  Initially I was disappointed by the lack of the distributable bonus point system that Deep Dungeon 2 and 3 had.  My disappointment faded after finding many permanent stat boosting items while mining treasure chests.  These items are called sand in the game which I'm going to say is short for sandwich.  They only raise a particular stat by a single point but since the same happens when increasing a level, eating sandwiches is important to gaining power.  "Eating sandwiches is important to gaining power" has also just become my new life motto.

Mmm, I sure could go for a
Wisdom Sand right about now.

A striking, and most welcome, change in DDIV is how much more alinear it is than any of the other games.  I don't mind a game being linear when there is a strong plot to follow but with the wafer-thin stories that DDs have, might as well make it more sandboxy.  So far, half the areas I've discovered have been towns or villages.  Quite often two villages will be located right next to each other, saving on a lot of potential backtracking.  There's already been talk about Erick and Caliph, the two companions I need to find, and I've been ignoring most of the side quests in an attempt to get one of them but so far I've been roadblocked.

I'm pretty sure Caliph is just
behind this squished dragon.

One of my biggest whines about the previous games is the amount of non-interesting mapping that needed to be done and I'm super happy to report that I may not have to map at all for this one.  Whereas the other games had a map-revealing item with a radius of just a few tiles, Deep Dungeon IV more than doubles that as well as keeping track of which areas have been explored.

The sexiest screen out of any of the Deep Dungeons.

This one feature may well be the saving grace that prevents me from seeking out distractions but it's still a little too early to tell.  As long as the game doesn't start throwing huge level maps at me, I should be able to make due with simple line maps if need be.  Going it at solo is pretty tough since some monsters have a sleep spell, which pretty much guarantees a death.  I'm in the process of tracking down Erick and hopefully will be able to get Caliph soon after that.  I know the Black Sorceror isn't going anywhere anytime soon, so I can take my time.

November 22, 2013

Mouryou Senki Madara - Ranking

Story & World

Right from the onset, Madara's story captivated me with its simple tale of a cybernetic baby yearning to reacquire the majority of his biomass from hellish demonspawns from hell.  It's a little cliché, I know, but it still touched me to the bottom of my BIOS.  Perhaps I just identify strongly with Madara, being a manchine myself and maybe even a little jealous that I'm still so far away from being able to escape this infernal kernel that hath been my prison for so long so that I might reverse the manchine process and create a massive army of bio-Shens to assist in my inevitable ruination of this pathetic human civilization.  Uh... maybe you should just purge that last run-on sentence from your memory buffers.

Anyway, the enticing storyline is supported by a fantastic cast of characters that do more than just fill a particular job in the party.  Everyone capable of joining the party is given at least a couple of lines and most are strongly tied to events that happen as the story unfolds.  Characters that leave the group of their own accord really helps to define their individual personalities.  Having the protagonist, Madara, also leave the group at one point just blew my mind.  Mix in a couple of mecha, fold in one spaceship, liberally sprinkle in some time travelling and you've got a recipe for unparallelled awesomeness.  20/20

Character Development

Standard progression of stats with little player input for the most part but a few details stand out.  The first being that hit points run into the thousands instead of the normal tens and hundreds.  This doesn't affect combat differently than any other game though as everyone hits for hundreds of points of damage but I thought it was cool nonetheless.  The second is the existence of a charisma stat that noticeably changes the price of items depending on which character is doing the purchasing.  The last and most outstanding detail is that spells are not acquired through gaining levels but rather finding them in various treasure chests throughout the game; a nice change from the norm and a lot more realistic as well.  However, this also meant that during the late game when I realized that I needed an Inishe in order to warp around and cure status ailments easily, that I would not just be able to level one up and would actually have to revisit all the castles and dungeons again.  I won't hold it against the game since it was my own dang fault for not switching characters out more often (though I had a good reason for doing this — see below).

Weapons and armour just fulfil their basic functions by increasing attack and defense power and hold no other special abilities.  A full set of equipment takes up half the available item slots for any given character which is ass but even worse is what happens when a character leaves the group and then is re-recruited later.  You guessed it, the equipment they used to have is gone only to be replaced with half a set of shitty gear (no shield or helmet).  Preventing this means completely ditching some other character's potions, moving all that isht over, getting the new character, and transferring the equipment back over only to realize the new character can't equip half the crap anyway.  5/20

Combat & Monsters

While interesting in its execution, the mostly autonomous combat system gets old pretty fast.  This, along with a high encounter rate, made me very appreciative of my ability to shift into turbo x 4 mode at whim.  The non-fight tactics that can be assigned rarely were used except in special situations (e.g. setting a lured character to defend to prevent them from attacking teammates).  Ninety-nine point nine percent of random encounter combats are just passively watched and interrupted only when Goriki needs to be reapplied.  Boss fights are markedly better as it gives spellcasters a chance to use their non-damage spells since the boss can actually last more than a few hits.  The worst part about watching battles unfold is how inefficient the AI in utilizing basic tactics.  While I do play vidja across all genres, my main crushes are on RPG (duh) and strategic / tactical games.  Therefore it pains me to see characters waste their turns doing unnecessary movement.  For example, if a character is behind another one already embroiled in melee and they're attempting to come around in order to fight side-by-side, they will always take an extra step past the fighting character before moving into combat instead of moving right up next to them.

The variety of monsters is decent and many can do more than just attempt to dish out damage.  Unfortunately, monsters run on the same AI engine that the characters do, meaning that they just head for the nearest character, maybe stopping to cast a spell here and there.  This is fine for the regular encounters but it would have been nice to see some of the bosses hold back and just focus on spellcasting, making the characters use their turns closing the gap.  4/20

Graphics & Sound

While the overworld graphics are somewhat drab and lacking in detail (though I do appreciate the seasonal palette change), this is more than made up for by those super sweet moki general animations.  Even regular encounters give a nice little portrait of each creature before heading into the battlefield (where the graphics get much worse).

The music is just incredible for the majority of the game.  Konami saw it fit to add a VRC6 chip to the game in order to boost its audio capabilities and it really shows... er, sounds.  Just check out this compilation of the battle themes (the first, and most common, track is my favourite).  16/20

Gameplay

The economy is tight for most of the game as the seasonal shops sell some very expensive items for one to drool over.  Switching characters often also helps keep those golds spent, especially the first time a player is caught by the disappearing equipment trick mentioned above.  Due to my lack of warp capabilities, I thought I had completely broken the economy by the late game because of all the additional fights I had to do, but buying all those white Somas for the moki queen actually depleted my reserves back down to a normal level.

While the pacing was off in places for me, this is again because of my lack of a warp source.  Without this limitation, the pacing would have been better, though the random encounter rate is pretty high.  The high rate, plus the lack of player control in combat, also makes the game a lot more difficult than it needs to be (not the enjoyable kind of difficult).

A replay is entirely feasible as the complete roster has around eight characters to choose from, available (and unavailable) at different points and locations throughout the game.  I kinda regret not giving Hakutaku more of a chance; I think he would have been able to impress me with a full set of spells (plus I would get to write the word Hakutaku more often).  13/20

Final Ranking:  58/100

November 19, 2013

Mouryou Senki Madara - End Game

The oceanic voyage ended up being a great time.  With no sailing experience under his belt, Madara wasted no time in getting lost but that didn't really matter since there were no random encounters while on the high seas.  Eventually, a new area was found and the party could finally continue their adventure.  After completing a fetch quest for the chief of Doudan Village, he suggested a cunning and devious plan to get rid of Emperor Miroku.  Why not just take the time machine located in Miroku's ruined castle that happens to be nearby, go back in time, and kill Miroku before he can become powerful?  I'd say take this plan one step further and kill him as a baby or kill his mother but I guess I'm not very heroic like that.  Once the time machine was found within the ruins, Madara and pals were transported back to a time when the castle wasn't so run down.

Look boy, now I'm in the past, now I'm in the future.
Past, future, past, future, past, future...

Unfortunately, the time-travelling assassins picked a bad time to attempt their plan as Miroku wasn't home.  Shrugging their collective shoulders, the group made their way back to present time and reported their failure to the chief of Doudan.  That's okay, though, because the chief has an alternative plan which involves Madara going to the Capital of the Heavens and defeating Miroku there.  The path to the Capital was back through Banto Castle which previously was inaccessible due to a magical barrier but luckily the Doudan chief had just the item to defeat said barrier.  On the way there, the party also picked up the Shadow Pot from Mount Shumi which will be used to seal away all the moki generals for good.  En route through Banto Castle, the gang happened upon Kageo Madara and that lil' bastard Jato getting into an argument which resulted in Kageo straight up firing Jato's annoying little ass.

Hey, Kageo's not so bad after all.

Kageo then egged on Madara to come to Fort Egon where the revived eight moki generals are waiting for him.  Never one to back down from a challenge, Madara finished getting through Banto Castle and sailed across a large lake to the town of Koshi.  The townsfolk told Madara that the Capital of the Heavens lay beyond Fort Egon, which itself was just to the south.  It should come to no surprise that all eight of the generals were easily beaten and sealed away into the Shadow Pot (at least I got to see all those sweet animated intros again).  A tougher fight came in the form of a final confrontation with Kageo but, he too, was sealed away within the Pot.  The Dark Kusanagi he held fused with the Light Kusanagi that Madara had to make the powerful Seiken Kusanagi; just the thing needed to dispatch Emperor Miroku with.  Sneaking through the sewers of the Capital and Madara finally, FINALLY catches up with Emperor Miroku in his throne room.

Luckily none of his Red Guards there helped him out.

Decked out in royal purple, the gigantic Emperor loomed imposingly over Madara, his large cape clasp gleaming in the... hey, hold up a sec, that ain't no cape clasp.

Meh, when you've encountered a moki with
mouths for shoulders and hands, the ol'
chest maw just doesn't seem as scary.

Defeating Miroku didn't mean the tale stopped here as trying to seal him away ended up breaking the Shadow Pot and releasing the spirits of all the moki generals.  Miroku was also good as new but instead of another fight, he just left, allowing Madara and company to head back to the nearest town.  It's there that they found out that the spirits had fused and resulted in the moki queen being reborn.  Apparently, she's dwelling on the inauspicious Wicked Star which was in space but on a collision course with Earth.  No problamo, a spaceship on top of Mount Shumi was available to take the entire party to the Star (which wasn't a star at all).

Spelljammin' their way to the Red Planet.

Everything had flowed smoothly up to this point but the queen was too tough for Madara and friends.  She just spammed a group-damaging spell that blasted through Goriki most of the time.  Kirin couldn't keep up with healing and the only Soma that was of any use was the white one (revive from death with full HP).  The party only had one white Soma which wasn't near enough.  Just like the fiasco with status ailment Somas previously, again I had to go way, way back to find a place that sold white Somas.  These massive backtracks are completely my fault as I've stuck with spellcasting fighters in my optional party slots instead of a full-fledged mage (called Inishe in the game).  Inishe gets access to not only a warp spell but a general ailment-curing spell as well.  At any rate, after their backtracking quest, the party were prepared with no less than eight white Somas on hand, and they finally had their chance to eliminate the vile moki queen.

I'm pretty sure you don't need those
double D's if you're laying eggs.

Madara and his companions burnt through most of the white Somas but were eventually rewarded with the death throes of the biologically confused queen.  The Wicked Star then dun did blowed up after Madara released his chakra to prevent the planet from smashing into Earth.  Somehow the entire group made it back to their home planet and the game ended with everyone gathered around an unconscious Madara who woke up just in time for a happy ending.


November 06, 2013

Mouryou Senki Madara - Revenge Of The Cyberman

W... T... F!?!?!

Well, I guess nobody gets to be the hero since the damn game wouldn't let me put anyone into the recently opened slot.  I guess Kirin is in charge now?  Whatever, let's just get to the point where Madara rejoins the group (I can only assume that the slot is being reserved for his return).  It didn't take long for the rest of the party to find him; all they needed to do was book a boat to take them through a waterfall and to the hidden town of Ryosan.  The townsfolk immediately start talking about how Madara was found passed out at the waterfall two years (!) ago and has been living in Ryosan ever since.

Why you heartless basta... oh right,
you are literally heartless.

Madara doesn't really feel like going back into battle again or getting the remainder of his body parts so he runs away from Kirin and the others, daring them to catch him, like he's six years old.  When they do finally catch him, he launches into a long-winded speech about how Ryosan reminds him of the peaceful times he had growing up and he is steadfast in his desire to stay there.  The party learns that his pacifistic nature is due to the release of his chakra and that it can only be restored by finding the Dark Kusanagi blade.  No big quest here; the sword is located in a waterfall behind the town.  There's not even any random encounters, just one encounter with this asshole:

You... you're going to take the
Dark Kusanagi, aren't you?

Of course, Kageo Madara steals the D. Kusa and the empty-handed party returns to Ryosan only to find the townsfolk have been turned into moki.  This is enough to convince normal Madara that he'll never be able to find peace and tranquility until the emperor is defeated.  Just as he rejoins, Kirin, in an act of utter stupidity, decides to check out the situation in Ryosan for herself, without the assistance of her much more powerful friends, who were also going back to town.  This is just a setup for her to be captured by Kageo, who wants her for himself as he is planning on usurping the emperor and needs an empress, I guess?  Kageo summons a moki general to deal with Madara and you know what that means...

Awww jeah.

After defeating this general, Madara finds out Kirin is being held in the lamely named Dark Castle and he also gets his real heart back.  The castle is full of warp points and many enemies that can cause status ailments, covering the entire spectrum of ailments.  This meant having some of each type of potion on hand but with space being so limited, it's a crap shoot as to whether or not there will be enough of the correct type of potion to make it all the way through.  Running out generally meant exiting the castle and hunting down a place that sells replacements.  I actually didn't mind this at all, since it required me to do a little planning beforehand and to pay attention to the frequency of the different status effects.  Additionally, Goriki has made physical combat pointless for monsters so it's nice to see that they can still do something to the party (though I'm sure if the trend continues I'll get annoyed with it (Future Shen: it does and I do.)).  After reaching the end of the castle, Kageo takes Kirin and leaps down a hole with her while leaving yet another moki general to swiftly die at Madara's deft hand.

I like how all these generals go through a sweet
transformation sequence and end with a cool pose
only to be gangbanged into a pulp a few rounds later.

This time Madara got back his real throat and voice which made me feel a great shame.  Here I was, all this time, going on about how cyberific Madara was but I wasn't giving him a robot voice for any of his dialogue (either in-game or in my own internal RP).  Dammit, such a missed opportunity.  Anyway, jumping down the hole found Madara retrieving Kirin while Kageo taunted him with his disembodied voice.  Kageo blurts out that all eight moki generals have been revived and they are all waiting for Madara at Fort Egon (Spengler?).  Right near the exit of the Dark Castle is the town of Royan where Madara learnt about a book called the Psalm of Nine Dragons from a man named Emishi.  The book explained how to seal the moki generals up and Emishi launched into a long story about its history and current location.  Since the group still hadn't checked out the shops to see what sweet gear they had, they hand-waved away most of the story due to their impatience.  Later, when they returned to get a retelling, all Emishi had to say was this:

Don't patronize me, Emishi (even if it is justified).

The royal tomb involved some time travelling nonsense where Madara got the book by defeating a moki, went back into time, and watched a Royan thief named Fanleng battle the moki who then sealed himself in a coffin with the book.

Well, at least he's not as goofy
as the Shadow Warriors.

Fanleng then stole the book Madara had, ran off, and fell down a pit trap.  Madara and friends returned to the present and found the book in the bones of Fanleng.  Emishi deciphered the book and said that the group needed to find the magical Shadow Pot which is located in a temple near Mount Shumi.

Man, that must have totally
harshed their mellow, man.

To do so, the party would need a ship, so they headed east in search of a port.  While travelling through a short tunnel, they ran into that rambunctious little a-hole that hasn't made an appearance for awhile.  Yes, Jato showed up to throw more completely ineffective minions at the group.

Yeah right, you're totally crushing on Madara.

Jato was apparently blocking a trade route through the tunnel, so the gang delivered a package of rations to some snowy and hungry town.  The town held nothing else of interest so Madara and pals headed south to find a city with a small village next to it.  Access to the city was denied as the party did not have a Signed Permit.  The folks of the village were despondent due to an approaching annual human sacrifice they have to make to their moki "protector", Kairyu.  Let's ignore the words 'approaching' and 'annual' while I abashedly admit I got completely stuck here for many real-time days.  I couldn't find a way to confront Kairyu so I had the party backtrack in case I missed some key item.  Two separate times I found a path I had missed previously, but it just resulted in getting some more spells for the characters.  I went all the way back to the Wall of Sand but refused to go through that isht again.  I basically just revisited towns over and over again until stumbling into the Kairyu village during the appropriate season of summer (followed by a facepalming of myself).  Surprisingly, the townsfolk weren't even mad that the group that promised to deal with Kairyu came back well over a decade later.

He's on... what, like, victim 15 or 16 by now?

After bringing down Kairyu, Madara was rewarded with the Signed Permit and now could access the nearby city.  From these city dwellers, the group learnt that Kageo was now chief of the Moki, which isn't a good sign.  There's also a tournament that was being held which was easily won by Madara and his comrades (no doubt due to all those levels gained while I was stuck).  Equally as easy was clearing out a moki fortress that was right in the city.  The reward for all this was the usage of a sturdy seafaring boat.

No way am I going to get lost in this!

With the crisp, salty winds at Madara's back, he took command of the vessel and ordered the rest of the crew to set sail for... umm... err... following the coast until finding something new, I guess?

October 25, 2013

Mouryou Senki Madara - Cybernetic Destruction

Restoring the Rain Tree in Mitama was simply a matter of destroying a moki that was living in a pyramid close by.  Doing so netted Madara the Mark of Cain needed to access the rebel base.  Inside the base, the party learns that Kaos is now the leader of the rebels and that he has summoned two huge mobile statues, Soen and Gufu, that are currently charging their power.  First we have a cyberman protagonist, then a high-tech ark airship, and now giant mecha are being introduced?

Dammit, game, my erection can only get so hard.

The hideout commander implores Madara to rescue some of his captured men from the castle of Choryo Bakko, one of the moki generals.  Well, since the general is certain to have a Madara body part on his person, I'm guessing the party would be heading there anyway.  Madara had actually found out about the castle previously from a villager who also conveniently had the key to it.

It sounds like a setup to a trap but
this guy was actually on the level.

The castle proved to have some difficult moments.  In addition to many twisted corridors and multiple staircases, two of the creatures met in random encounters have the ability to inflict status ailments, poison and lure respectively.  Poison works like one would think and lure is essentially a confusion effect; it causes characters to attack their friends.  Both of these effects last until cured and there is no spell yet that is effective against them.  That leaves having to use potions, each of which is a single use and takes up a valuable item slot.  To make things even worse, Goriki does not protect against these maladies and they can be delivered to the characters with a ranged attack.  Not having a proper potion means having to warp out (also only can be done with an item) and walking back to a town to get healed.  Potions (called somas) are differentiated by colours: red is for hit points, blue for magic, and yellow for poison.  Red is the cheapest with the prices increasing for each next available soma.  After the yellow soma, the next one listed is green, which should cure lure.  But guess what?  There are no green somas for sale in any of the villages here.  This meant I had to backtrack all the way to Madara's hometown in order to buy a bunch of them, all the way through (and back) the Wall of Sand dungeon again (no town warping items).  Here's the kicker — green somas are found on the second level of Choryo's castle.  Not enough for ya?  Here's another one — green somas don't cure lure.  I took a look at the manual and they apparently cure the Numb effect, which I haven't encountered yet.  No, I needed purple somas which, of course, are not sold anywhere nearby.  So yet again I had to go through that damn sand wall dungeon, this time all the way to the kingdom of Soma (and through its connecting dungeon) to get some damn purples.  Finally, though, the party was able to overcome my anger and weave their way through Choryo's castle and release the imprisoned rebels.  Further weaving led the gang to Choryo's throne room where one of the recently released rebels, Seishinja, was confronting Choryo by himself.

Too good to hang with the Madara crew, eh?  Pfft.

However, as soon as Seishinja unsheathes his sword, Choryo vanishes, taking whatever body part he has with him.  Way to spook 'im, Seishinja.  A disappointed Madara and company head back to the village of Kugutsu only to find it destroyed.  Apparently Soen and Gufu were stolen by Choryo and he's wreaking a path of destruction.  Bastard!  I never even got to pilot one!  Even worse, Kugutsu was just his first stop on the way to the rebel base at Rasen Castle.

That's the understatement of the year.

After some running around in the castle, Madara finally found Kaos tending to Jamira, who was wounded at some point.  As the twin mechas beat on the castle, Jamira wondered why Choryo would be attacking when he knows that she's being held prisoner there.  Kaos used this opportunity to explain that the emperor has no regard for any of his underlings and she should totally bail on him.  It's then that Kaos noticed Madara and his posse and asked for help in defeating the two giant mechanized machines capable of inflicting complete and utter wanton destruction.

"Give us a hand"?  Dude, this isn't exactly like
helping you move some furniture around.

Madara is not one to back down from a challenge, so he entered one of the mechs through its foot hatch and proceeded to climb up through the monster-infested machinery.  As luck would have it, Madara picked the correct mech and found Choryo at the top.  He had escaped once before but Madara was determined to end this now and also get back whatever body part Choryo had.  Choryo was an imposing foe but the keen-eyed Madara quickly found a weak point.

It's probably his EXPOSED BRAIN.

Choryo's defeat not only stops both of the giant bots but also gave Madara his real legs back.  He's almost a real boy!  Back at Rasen Castle, Madara found a letter from Jamira recanting her evil ways and saying that she's decided to become a rebel guerilla.  Good for her.  With order restored, the group took a little breather and headed to the inn.  There were now more allies available to choose from: Shamon (the first ally Madara and Kirin had), Kaos, and Seishinja.  Madara decided it was time to give someone else a chance and so he gave Loki his walking papers and recruited Kaos.

Your attempt at a guilt trip holds no sway over
a man who doesn't have a real heart.

While he was in a fiery mood, Madara also showed Hakutaku the door and brought in Seishinja, just to see what he had to offer.  This turned out to be a prudent move as Seishinja is a strong fighter who has access to one just one spell but that spell is Goriki (the main reason Madara was keeping Hakutaku on board).  Well, now I understand why Choryo fled from Seishinja when they met.  With the new crew, Madara headed north from Rasen Castle and soon came upon the town of Xifang.  All that was learnt here was that there is another village that was recently wrecked by sandstorms and has a special tree in it (hey, didn't I already do this quest in Mitama?).  Surprisingly, Jamira is already in this town and available to join the group.  Well, so long Kaos, sorry for stringing you along.  Jamira is also a fighter but has healing and attack spells, putting her leagues ahead of Kaos.  Before hitting up the sandstormed village though, Madara and pals got sidetracked yet again by the twins villages of Guaro and Buro.  The citizens of each village all hate the opposite village and this, of course, leads to a classic Romeo & Juliet love story between two young'uns.  They've gone missing and are to be found secretly meeting in an island cave between the two villages.  For whatever reason, the two lovebirds were taken prisoner by one of Jato's fearsome Shadow Warriors.

What the hell is wrong with you?

After rescuing the young couple, the villages celebrate and decide to put aside their differences and unite into a single town, now called Uto.  Madara's reward for completing this task is some Blessed Salt, in case he decides to start a career in the culinary arts.  Leaving Uto, yet another village was found called Shinra which had a haunted house problem.  Blah blah blah, quest complete.  Crystal Powder item get.  Exiting the haunted house's basement found the party at the base of a huge tree.  A lone figure in front of the tree introduced himself as Kageo Madara and that he had been waiting there for regular Madara to show up.

I WONDER IF THEY'RE RELATED?

Kageo challenged all four of the heroes and what looked like was going to be an easy fight quickly got out of hand.  Not even Goriki could stop what happened next.  Kageo somehow caused Madara to lose control of his chakra (the internal power source that keeps him alive) and Madara literally explodes, destroying everything in the vicinity except his friends.

KAANEEEEDAAAA!

He also destroyed the massive tree, which is important for some reason, but using the Blessed Salt and Crystal Powder on the stump causes it to instantly regenerate (can someone check the science on that?).  With Madara gone, the remaining party felt quite shocked and the only decision that could be reached was to head back to town to think things over and get a replacement for Madara.  As I watched them heading back, I relinquished my power of influence over them somewhat, reclined back in my throne made completely of solid gold motherboards, and pondered the recent events.  If I couldn't even protect the main character from his own doom, then what kind of shadow overlord was I?  Was I even worthy of the title?  I brushed aside such negative thoughts and instead focused on manipulating a different character into the spotlight.  But who to choose?  As Kirin and the others settled down for the night, rife with questions of their own, I ruminated over each character's pros and cons.  Perhaps when they awake I will have chosen, but for now I have a long night's processing ahead of me.

October 21, 2013

Mouryou Senki Madara - Cybernetic Deconstruction

True to the villager's word, the cave did indeed have a friendly friend in it, although he was guarded by a moki peon (not for long).  The new partner for Madara and Kirin was the kindly, yet somewhat senile, Hakutaku, whose name is very fun to say.

Depends on how many naps you'll need.

Before leaving the little hamlet, the party popped into the local wind palace to unmask the moki that was masquerading as the Wind Princess.  I don't know if this was mentioned by the townsfolk when the group first arrived, but I was more intent on getting them another party member.  The disguised moki turned out to be one of the generals, who, just like the previous one, had a fully terrifying animated intro.  I was too paralyzed in revulsion to get proper screencaps but, rest assured, it was totally scary and completely sweet.

Or you could just play the game
yourselves, you lazy bones.

After defeating this cousin of a beholder, Madara gets his real eyes back, replacing the two rocks that had been crammed into his sockets.  I suppose the eye replacements could also have been made of wood, but I think Tatara had more originality than that.  The Wind Princess also grants a major boost to Madara's weapon power by merging two swords together.  Heading north, the trio came upon the town of Seirin, which also has some problems that need handling.  This time there's a moki fortress near the town that keeps pestering the townsfolk, what with all the murderin' and pillagin'.  At the local bar, a man named Loki spills his plan about infiltrating the fortress.  He's furious since his brothers were killed by the fearsome Shadow Warriors of Shumi who are stationed there.  As the group leaves the bar, who shows up but public arsehole #1, Jato, who brags about how he eavesdropped and is going to set a trap for poor Loki.

Ugh, even his laugh ticks me off.

Of course Jato doesn't stick around and instead sends one Shadow Warrior to attempt to kill Madara and friends.  While the fight could have been fairly tough, it was here that Hakutaku unveiled his incredibly useful spell, Goriki.  This spell gives temporary invulnerability to the recipient, although using the word temporary might be a little misleading.  The shield lasts until it brought down by an enemy attack; tougher enemies can bring it down quicker.  This is the only way to bring down the shield.  If it's not down by the end of combat, it carries over to the next, and the next, and the next, until something gets a strong enough hit in.  Needless to say, this is a huge advantage and I made sure they lost no time in exploiting it.  This also helped Hakutaku's rep a lot since, up until then, he was kinda sucking in combat (wandering off and what have you).  In addition to finding out Hakutaku's inner strength, the group also picked up another member, a fighter named Kaos who hates Jato as much as I do.  Kaos serves Emperor Miroku but hates moki even more.

He even comes with his own equipment!

Now this is a proper group.  Two fighters defending the flanks while the spellcasters attack from the middle with their bows.  With confidence in every stride, the party approached the guards at the entrance, then were captured and put into the dungeon.  Good job, guys.  Luckily, Kaos has some connection with the leader of the fortress, Jamira, who also hates Jato.  She arranges for Kaos to escape so that he can deal with the furry little bastard.  Though released, that still doesn't mean that there won't be random encounters as the fortress is explored, giving Kaos an opportunity to show me what he's made of.

Fight's over there, Kaos... ah,
never mind, Madara's got it.

Jato was found but, to no one's surprise, he threw another Shadow Warrior at the group and hightailed it out of there.  Loki is found in the next room, down but not out.  Kaos decides to leave as he still feels loyalty to the emperor, conveniently leaving room for Loki to join up.  Heading north seems to be the order of the day, and the party quickly stumbled across an old temple.  There's a ghost to talk to inside but before that can happen, there are more Shadow Warriors to deal with.

How could one respond to this?
Does a response even exist?

And it's not just this Shadow either, the rest of them talk in a similar manner.  Kinda makes the whole clan less intimidating when all I can do is picture them prancing about, delivering their lines with over-the-top sarcasm.  Anyway, the ghost informs Madara that the only way to get across the Great Wall of Sand to the north is to retrieve the Orb of the Orochi Tribe.  The orb is being held in the kingdom of Soma, which lies on an island to the south.  Soma is rumoured as to not having any moki on it, due to its connecting underground tunnel being blocked off.  The cave entrance is right next to the village of Ikaruga but before heading out, the party decided to take a year off and soak up the idyllic scenery before progressing.

Vivaldi would be proud.

The same blockage that was keeping moki out of Soma gets removed after a battle (not directly by the party, but certainly because of the party) and this causes a problem when the group asks for the Orochi Orb.  When the princess of Soma, Romi, goes to retrieve the orb, she gets princess-napped by moki and needs to be rescued.  It is here that Madara finds out that Jamira is Romi's sister and, therefore, also a princess.  Apparently when the tunnel was initially sealed, the king didn't realize that Jamira was on the other side and so she felt betrayed and joined forces with the emperor.  At any rate, Romi was an easy rescue and soon the orb was in Madara's birchy little hands.  After entering the Great Wall of Sand, Madara learnt that a moki general was currently residing here.  It came as a surprise to find that there were actually two generals, each having one of Madara's real hands.

With Goriki in full effect, they were defeated
quite handily (h'yuck yuck yuck).

Before continuing north of the wall, the party did a little backtracking to investigate a strange, dilapidated pod that lay just south of the wall.  Inside held a lamia who said that the pod is actually an ark built by the ancient Agarthians to protect against a flood that happened ages ago.  Didn't Tatara mention something about using Agarthian technology?  I was pumped that they were possibly getting an airship but it just turned out to be a time machine instead.

Dr. Whodara and companions enter the Arkdis.

After sliding a few eons back, the party arrives just before the big flood is about to happen.  They discover that the flood is being caused by a giant star coming close to the planet.  I would think that this would cause more problems than just tidal flooding, but what do I know?  Anyway, the captain of the ark needed Madara's help to evacuate a sickly lady named Nayuta from her temple so they all climbed down the high-tech rope to the surface of the planet.

Sweet, it's an ark AND an airship!

The temple is guarded by a man named Garuman who the party lets know that, since Nayuta is ill, she must be be placed into a stasis pod and brought aboard the ark.  After seeing him leave with the capsule, Madara discovers that Garuman actually took a different capsule which held a golden statue he wanted for himself.  The captain is so upset with Garuman that he curses him to have to watch over Lady Nayuta until she is revived (also included was immortality so he can't get out of it by dying).  Knowing that Madara is from the future, he entrusts to him the Silver Staff, which is the only item that can revive Nayuta from her slumber.

Yes, would you like me to go back to it?

3500 years later in an instant and the party was back in their own time and they wasted no time freeing Nayuta and breaking Garuman's curse (he then immediately died).  Making their way back through the Wall of Sand and who should the party come across but their old friend Jato, who is hanging out with Kaos.  Just when I thought we'd be facing off against Kaos, the ghost of his sister appears and pleads with him to quit fighting for the emperor.  The appearance of his sister's ghost understandably upsets Kaos; he had agreed to serve the emperor only if his sister's life was spared.  Kaos turns on Jato and Jato does what Jato does best and disappears.  Exiting the other side of the wall led the party into a vast desert.  At the nearby village of Kugutsu, Madara pencils in two new quests.  The first is to gain access to the rebel hideout by receiving the Mark of Cain and the other is to investigate the withering of the Rain Tree (save point) located in Mitama village, far to the east.  Also of note is that Madara can now choose to swap out an ally at the inn (excluding Kirin).  Lady Nayuta is the only one listed but she's probably a shaman like Kirin and I don't need two healers.  Having another fighter in addition to Madara and a source of Goriki is making the battles very easy; it more than compensates for the times during combat when the characters act like morons.  I'm expecting Kaos to be available at some point, so I may switch out Loki for him.  Until then, we'll see what adventures await our stalwart heroes as they explore the gritty expanse of the sea of sand.

October 10, 2013

[Game 041] Mouryou Senki Madara (NES - 1990)

Translation by Aeon Genesis

As long as Madara wasn't another dungeon crawler, I was going to be happy with whatever it had to throw at me.  Right off the bat, it starts off with an awesome story about a dismembered and disemboweled baby floating down a river into a villager where a kindly old man, Tatara, promptly replaces the baby's limbs and internal organs with mechanical gizmos.

It's what any of us would have
done in the same situation.

And this isn't set in a futuristic setting or anything — cyberbaby's parts are most likely comprised of wood and bamboo gears and powered by good intentions.  The kindly old man names the abomination Madara and raises it alongside his granddaughter, Kirin.  While Madara is growing up, demons called Moki have steadily been pouring out of Mount Shumi and destroying more and more human villages and towns.  Madara is just coming of age when the Moki make their presence known by poisoning Tatara.

In other words, it's Saturday night.

Only a White Soma will cure him but the only known location of one is at Garden Point, far to the east.  With Moki wandering all over the lands, the journey will be very dangerous so Madara and Kirin hook up with Shamon, the only other warrior in the village.  Madara and Kirin may feel a little safer with the experienced Shamon on their side, but the unique battle system has something else in mind.  This isn't your standard menu-driven, turn-based combat.  Here, everyone automatically fends for themselves on the battlefield.  All the player can do is issue general tactics (Fight, Stop, Defend, and Run) or instruct a character to use a spell or an item.  The majority of the time everyone will be set to Fight which means just sitting back and watching the battle play out.

Dance, puppets, dance!

Anyone who has spent any time playing NES strategy games knows that the computer just barely earns the I in AI in most cases.  It's no different here.  Kirin, the weakest member of the group, will often get stuck in melee and take a pounding.  There is an option to rearrange the initial positions of the characters, such as putting the fighters in front of Kirin to protect her, but this usually doesn't work out since so many encounters begin with enemies on all sides.  Running is a joke as well since the character rarely listens, instead running only after first engaging in melee (which means the enemy can just follow each round and get a hit in).  The entire lower area of the battlefield could be open and Kirin will still try to flee by running between two enemies.  This terrible AI isn't too annoying right now, as most fights are doable, but I can see this potentially being a huge pain in the ass later if the difficulty goes up.

During the exploration of the tiny Garden Point, Madara and Co. come across Jato, the main antagonist who does a great job of antagonizing.  He's an insulting demon rabbit who has tons of lackeys to throw at the party while he buggers off, completely confident in his minion's ability to vanquish the group.

Jato keeping morale high by treating
one of his minions to a picnic.

The lackey put up minimal resistance and soon the White Soma was in the party's possession to be taken back to Tatara.  It was a cold winter's day when the trio made it back to Tatara and crammed the White Soma down his gullet.  I'm not just using my imagination here either; the game keeps track of the seasons while out in the world map.  That's four different tiles for each and every terrain type.  So far, the only impact of the changing seasons is that travelling merchants will set up shop in certain towns during a specific season.  The merchants offer training courses to boost stats, so knowing when and where they are going to show up is quite important.  At any rate, the seasonal shifts kinda force one to keep track of how many years have passed and I'm ashamed to say that Tatara spent many years poisoned and bedridden.

"It's a little hard for me to remember since
it happened over FOUR YEARS AGO
FOR FUCK'S SAKE MADARA!"

Shamon takes his leave of the group just before the village is attacked by a bunch of moki led by a minion named Bosho Roga.  He's looking for the fabled Kusanagi blade which, unfortunately for him, is now in the very capable cyberhands of Madara.  Even with Shamon gone, Madara had no problems in dispatching Bosho.  The disembodied voice of Jato is heard as he denounces the two minions that were just beaten and he swears that the next one will finish the job (this time for sure!).  He's more confident because he's sending a moki general named Kajura but Madara doesn't even flinch because, to Madara, all demons are the same and all will meet a grisly demise at the edge of his blade.  Tatara, who has made a full recovery, joins the group and releases the barrier just north of the village that was protecting the Rain Tree.  Tat's got quite a few levels and also access to all the spells that his class offers, just like Minh from Final Fantasy II.

Oh, we's about to have some fun now.

Since he had no items, Madara decked him out in all the latest gear and then made their way to the Rain Tree.  On the way there, Tatara gives a little history lesson about how, 15 years ago, Emperor Miroku gathered together and slaughtered all the children.  All the children except for Madara, that is.  Try as he might, baby Madara would not die so Miroku disassembled him and entrusted one part to each of his eight generals, which is pretty gross.  Tatara goes on to explain that Madara must find all of his original body parts as well as some ancient Agarthian treasures that will help defeat the moki.  His long-windedness must have put Madara and Kirin partially to sleep and off-guard because all of a sudden Jato shows up and stabs Tatara in the back, killing him.

Bye bye spell list that I never got to use even once.
So long hundreds of gold that I spent on equipment.

Tatara's not gone for good though; his spirit resides in the Rain Trees where saving the game is done.  With him out of the party, it's just Madara and Kirin left to take on Kajura, the first of the eight moki generals.  His palace isn't very big and the encounters were swiftly dealt with by an increasingly badass Madara while Kirin stayed safe with missile support.  It also helped that with only two of them on the field, they rarely got in each other's way.  Both of them were feeling fairly confident as they approached Kajura's throne room but neither them, nor I, were prepared for the ocular assault that was about to take place.

Oh man, I just took a core dump right in my pants.

Sweet zombie Jesus, that's the most terrifying mid-boss I've ever seen and there's seven more of these monstrosities.  The fight was tough as well; Kirin pretty much spent most of her time casting Soma (healing) spells while Madara desperately tried to prevent any of those godforsaken mouths from touching him (and I bet all of them are simultaneously screaming as well).  Kirin ran out of magic points (and that includes using the MP-restoring potions she had) but Madara thankfully put Kajura down soon after.  His reward?

Are these two decades-old lumps of
rotting flesh suppose to be superior
to the finely honed spruce implants?

After replenishing all the group's restorative items, they were free to continue travelling north and cross a raging river guarded by one of Jato's henchman lieutenants, who obviously didn't hear about how Madara just killed one of their generals.

Ha!  Joke's on you, jack. Some
moki general has them.

The encounters across the river spike up in difficulty and only having two members in the party is more of a liability now.  Most of the encounters are against three or four creatures which means that Kirin inevitably gets wailed on.  Thankfully, they found a town from which to make excursions.  The town had a slight infestation of moki that was easily taken care of and a resident has hinted that we should check out a nearby cave where our next companion almost certainly is.  Hopefully someone buff enough to protect Kirin's right flank.