December 20, 2014

[Game 048] Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei (NES - 1987) (SNES Remake)

Translation by DDSTranslation

Normally when I decide to do a remake, it's a game that I've played before and only if it's a 16-bit remake of the 8-bit original.  In this case, about a month after this translation was released, one was also released for the Famicom version.  However, as this remake contains the first two Megami Tensei games and there is no telling if and when the second original game will get translated, I'll just be going with the remake.  Plus, with this version, the characters can be carried over to the second game, which is always hot for a cartridge.  I'm sure it'll just carry over the names while resetting the stats, but I do know that some additional content gets unlocked this way.  DDS:MT is based off a series of novels involving a young genius who programs his computer to summon demons in order to get the revenge on a high school bully.  Something goes wrong and all sorts of devils are released, including such biggies as Loki, Set, and Lucifer.  The young hero and his female companion (who is the reincarnation of a goddess) must battle said devils and all their minions while also convincing the lesser demons to join their cause against their masters.  Yes, instead of generating party members yourself, the player must convince the enemies in the game to turncoat.

For now though, it's just me and my little Gummy.

The game ostensibly takes place entirely within a first-person dungeon crawl framework, like Wizardry, and, figuring that any self-respecting demon wouldn't listen to a couple of level 1 punks, we decided to grind out a few levels before even attempting communication.  When we finally did attempt to parlay, we were surprised to find a multitude of choices: offer a gift, soothe, persuade, and intimidate.  Some of these options led to a sub-menu with even more choices.  Demons give positive or negative feedback based on the choices made and, so far, always ends with us having to offer a gift of some kind.

This sweetheart just wanted a bunch of macca (golds).

Demons aren't just one dimensional representatives of hell, either; they have their own alignment system as well (good, neutral, evil).  So far, evil demons are unrecruitable; they can't be reasoned with, it seems (makes sense).  Perhaps when Gummers and I gain more strength, we'll be able to intimidate them into submission.  Until then, we'll have to be content to have a bunch of neutrals and goods on our side.  Also influencing the chance of successfully recruiting a demon is the current phase of the moon; the more full the moon is, the more difficult it is to gain a demon's allegiance (a full moon gives no chance at all).  I can maintain having up to four daemons while exploring with another three stored in my compie.  Summoning a demon from storage always costs macca, the total depending on how powerful it is.  But that's not the only resource one must consider when handling yo demons, oh no.  DDS:MT kicks it up a notch by introducing the concept of magnetite, which essentially fuels the demons while they exist in the "real" world.  This resource drains with each step and scales up by both the number of demons as well as how powerful each individual is.  Keeping a full roster of one's most powerful demons comes at a cost and careful party management becomes that much more critical.  Magnetite is rewarded through encounters just like macca and XP are, but only from certain creatures.  XP only applies to Gumpus and I; demons never gain levels.  This forces an ever-shifting party composition as older allies wear out their usefulness.

Poor Gnomer here can only withstand
two solid hits with a soft pillow.

As if all this configurability wasn't enough already, another feature allows the fusing of two demons to form a new one.  Old friends aren't merely trashed like last night's tofu stir-fry.  Rather, they are given one last chance to serve their benevolent and good-looking overlord by engaging in sleazy daemonic coitus.  This is all done at the Cathedral of Shadows at the town, unsurprisingly overseen by some old priest.

Fyuuuuuu-jon — HA!

The beginning tower, Daedalus, consists of eight floors (the top floor being the town) and downward progress was slow but enjoyable.  The encounter rate was high but with the frequent changes in party composition, it never got too old.  Many demons come with spells, which have nonsensical names, and those are fun to experiment with.  There is no shortcut back to the town (at least until the tower boss is defeated), so there is lots of returning to town to heal everyone up.  Thankfully, Guminator can cast spells as well (unlike me), and has been the main source of healing for the group.  All this backtracking through the easier levels left lots of time to have some deep discussions about the nuanced differences between human and demon philosophy with my minions (I'd interact more with Gumdrop, but all she talks about is chocolate and Hello Kitty™ and chocolate Hello Kitties).  This caused quite the deficit in my stock of magnetite.  Not wanting to have to unsummon my chat partners, I decided to disregard my advice about good party management and grind out a bunch of magnetite.  Loot is static dependent on creature type and there are also static encounters placed in particular rooms, which regenerate even if one leaves and then immediately re-enters.  I picked one such place and settled in for a good ol' fashion grind session, by gar!  The demon turned out to be another eerie parallel to the first Wizardry.

Long lost cousin to Murphy?

With magnetite overflowing out of our pockets, we continued battling our down through the tower.  The combat system has a few interesting aspects not often seen.  The biggest being that the player cannot assign targets for any party member's attacks; each attack picks a target at random.  This means that larger groups of enemies are exponentially more dangerous as each individual's chance to survive a round increases.  This also makes group attack spells more valuable, as well as spells that cause turns to be wasted, such as sleep and confusion.  Another cool battle mechanic is that every non-group attack, whether it be physical or magical, has a chance to strike twice.  This doesn't replace critical hits as they are present as well.  Battles feel very chaotic and frenzied when there are many participants on each side and I revel in cheering on my daemons as they smash and annihilate their former brethren.

Cancer will hopefully finish off that weak red orc.

An encounter doesn't always mean direct combat, however; if I already own a demon of the same type as encountered, I can choose to give peace a chance and both sides will go their own way.  Heck, sometimes the other demons will even give me a token amount of macca; I guess it's their way of showing approval for us bridging the human/demon cultural gap.  Most demons aren't as progressive as those ones, though, especially not the boss of Daedalus tower, the dreaded Minotaur.

Br...brats?  *sniff*  You know, sometimes
words can hurt just as much as weapons.

After his defeat, we were rewarded with the oddly named Sphere of Silence, which unlocks the elevator for the entire tower.  From here, there is a long passageway leading to the next area, which we've been told connects to a floating city.  Sounds pretty boss, and we've got a lot of macca on hand to spend.  Hopefully there's a nice restaurant that caters to demons as well, since I'd like to reward my friends for their admirable performances thus far.

November 29, 2014

STED - Ranking

Story & World

I heap tremendous amounts of dislike on RPGs that choose to go with a non-fantasy setting and then proceed to do little with it.  The whole game feels like a fantasy game with a partial sci-fi skin on it.  The first two Phantasy Stars are eerily similar to STED in a lot of ways, but they managed to blend any traditional fantasy elements a lot more seamlessly.  The looooong "dungeon" in the final tower also reminded me of the likewise annoying set of last dungeons in PSII.  It also irks me that my robot buddy, Gap, ended up more of a liability when, in reality, it should have kicked more ass than the three meatsacks combined.  Additionally, I would have liked to able to use Gap's superior positronic brain in order to figure out what was going on half the time.

I'm not sure if the mangled story is the fault of the original game or the translation, so let's just place the blame equally on both parties.  NPCs spew nonsense at regular intervals and those trying to help fail horribly (or should that be terrifically?).  Not giving any indication of what to do with the three gems is probably one of the biggest blunders in a plot I've ever encountered.  In the FAQ I read, the author admits to finding the solution purely by chance, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't just me missing something (which was always a strong possibility).  3/20

Character Development

A character can be developed as a fighting man or a magic user or any combination inbetween.  I kept with my original plan of Actes/fighter, Corona/mage, Shen/multiclass, at least until the late game when I buffed up Shen's ESP capabilities.  At one point in the middle of the game, a computer lets you reset a single character and redistribute all the points they had accumulated.  Unfortunately, the room in which this took place was graphically glitching the hell out and I was too scared to attempt anything other than to leave the screen.  The level system itself bears mention as it uses a unique naming system.  Instead of just getting plain old numerals, a colour word is prefixed to it.  It starts off with whites and reds and ends with silvers and golds (all my characters got well into the golds).  Every time a new colour level is attained, the character gets double the normal amount of points.

Arms and armour follow the standard model where the more expensive it is, the better it is.  There are no weapons that have special effects of any kind, although a lot of weapons usable by Actes and Gap have to be powered by batteries (just another item to take up valuable slots).  ESP abilities give a little more versatility but will mostly be saved for healing and doing damage to monsters resistant to normal attacks.  9/20

Combat & Monsters

Battles require a lot of attention, which is good for normal progression but bad for grinding.  In addition to having a character's attack miss if the target dies, regular random encounters will often have creatures resistant to normal attacks.  This leads to having to memorize each creature's nonsensical name to determine the correct path to an efficient victory.  Forget memorizing by the picture because only the first creature in the enemy list is shown.  Fortunately, name memorization is easy-peasy, as there is so much grinding in the game that a player will have no choice but to.  No joke, at least a third of the time spent on STED was in pure grind mode (and that's at turbo grinding speed).  The Bowser and Shiseikan boss fights were epic in their difficulty and length, even if they did end up becoming wars of attrition.

The damageable body location system is cool in theory but only really comes into play if one forgets to get a checkup when returning to a town to heal or if one forgets about the system altogether (hey, why are you looking at me like that?).  There are items to restore these points but I never ended up needing them, as trips back to a town are frequent due to other factors.

I think I bagged a little too hard on the monster types not being robotic or futuristic enough.  Most of the other monsters are not derived from fantasy lore and are clearly mutants (it actually ended up reminding me of Gamma World except less fun).  There are few status ailments that monsters can inflict and most of the time it's sleep which wrecks any carefully planned battle orders.  11/20

Graphics & Sound

The monster graphics are nicely done and show a lot of creativity but everything else ranges from par to subpar.  While the overall visuals are recognizably futuristic, it just... I don't know, doesn't look futuristic enough, you know whut I'ma saiyan?  It looks like it's about halfway between fantasy and future and can't bring itself to go full tits futuristic.

The music doesn't fare much better as it's pretty generic.  Sound effects in battles will net a few points as each weapon type has its own sound and those do sound future-y.  6/20

Gameplay

If one wants to be able to purchase anything in STED, one better be prepared for massive grinding.  Even then, the rewards sometimes aren't worth it.  For example, I ground out 30-freakin'-thousand credits just to get PsyShield which protects the entire group.  Too bad it didn't seem to do a damn thing, at least again bosses (which is what you want it for).  Still, I'd rather have an overly restrictive economy than one that breaks by midgame.

The economy, in addition to the vagueness of the quests, makes for a very slow-paced game.  I took so many breaks due to lack of stimulus that this single game took just over 30 hours stretched out over two months.  Jumping back into it was never a problem, though, since the player never really knows what's going on anyway.

An STED replay would be one of those rare cases where the second time around would actually be more fun than the first.  One wouldn't have to worry about getting stuck and the character development is just barely configurable enough that a replay would be slightly more enjoyable.  Too bad a player would always have to endure the initial playthrough — and if there's just one word to describe STED, it's endure.  3/20

Final Ranking:  32/100

November 19, 2014

STED - End Game


STED — the leading edge in SCIENCE!

So, yeah, the spot I was missing was, in no way, discussed or hinted at during any point in the game.  One is just suppose to know that the center point of these four rocks are important because... uh... symmetry?  And it's not like I didn't search that area the first time I found it, before having all the gems, only to find absolutely nothing.  You know what would have made more sense, STED, if you just had to go with such an ambiguous scheme?  How about three rocks, arranged in a triangle?  You know, because there are three gems and that at least gives some connection, however feeble, between the two.  *sigh*  Anyway, I had to spoil myself with a walkthrough on this roadblock and I'm actually glad I did because: a) I never would have figured that isht out; and b) fuck STED.  If this was the only example of this kind of nebulous bull, maybe I'd feel worse, but STED is chock-full of this crap.  NPCs often give either confusing or outright false information.  For example, the fellow who eventually fixes the harp needed to find the hermit mentions that new strings for it can be found in a nearby cave — right before handing over the completely fixed harp.  For another example, some NPCs have their cardinal directions reversed (here's a hint, guys, north is always towards the top of the screen).  For yet another example... well, I could be here all day if I start goin' off on this.  Okay, just one more; when talking with NPCs that give you crucial details (e.g. passcodes) needed to advance the game, the player only gets one chance to write/memorize the detail.  If that finger slips and taps the A button, sorry Charlie, you're SOL.  You'd better hope you realize that something important was missed so you can reload.

Thankfully, nuggets of wisdom such as this
can be repeated as often as necessary.

The final tower proved to be a real challenge (the good kind, not the frustrating kind).  It has a very long path compared to the other towers, complete with traps that force you to warp out to the beginning and try again.  Near the end, one can tell that the developers began to run out of level design ideas — the last two floors are just hallway spirals to maximize the chance of random encounters.

To its credit, there were finally
some cool robot foes.

When I reached the final boss, I took a quick glance at my remaining inventory and cringed.  Almost completely depleted.  I didn't want to risk the levels I had gained getting here, so I warped out in order to grind creds for the EP-restoring Brainers.  At 5K a pop, this took a very long time.  I found an area where the monsters are likely to drop Porno (sells for 1K) but one particular creature there likes to destroy inventory items, so that place was out.  Just can't catch a break with this game.  A couple hours later and I was brimming with Brainers and MentalCs (for Gap).  With the true path mapped out, I made it back to the final chamber to endure the last stretch of STEDness.

Encounter-free and pointless "maze" — check.

Villain speech that doesn't
really make sense — check.

End boss that's a dragon or wizard...
Whoa! — NOT CHECK!

Seriously, Shiseikan is looking all kinds of badass.  There's no part of this guy that doesn't scream awesome.  I especially like the ironic heart he wears on his lower torso; he's a destroyer of humanity but is still playful about it.  I think this is his way of showing us that, even after he succeeds in killing all humans, the spirit of humanity will still live on within all the monsters he's creating.  He was almost successful too.  I thought I had overstocked for this journey but I'll be damned if that Shiseikan didn't manage to drain almost all my items.  Gap ran out of MentalCs and bite the dust but the rest of us managed to finish Shiseikan off.  And so the galaxy was saved...

Well, planet really, but I guess
galaxy sounds more epic.

I always like to post the final end screen and even here, STED manages one last middle finger directly to the player's face (though it's completely the translation patch's fault but somehow still seems completely appropriate).

November 10, 2014

STED - Stumpsted

Often in these older RPGs, I'll reach a point where I get completely stuck.  I spin my wheels for awhile, revisiting old towns and dungeons until I figure out what I missed.  I don't hate this aspect; it adds to the challenge and sometimes it's my own damn fault (okay, most times).  But usually there'll be just one major roadblock and once it has been hurled, the rest of the game goes smoothly.  STED has issued me two such roadblocks and there's still more game to go, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.  Last I spake with thee all, I was having problems with the uber-tough Bowser.  Even with micromanaging all my available resources, he was still a tough customer.  At one point, I was beginning to think that he wasn't actually taking damage and that I needed a special item or weapon of some kind.  I barely managed to eke out a victory but what a victory it was.  The celebration was short-lived as, soon after, I realized that I'd need a password for the computer... which I didn't have.  After administering a spanking to myself (which was hot), I exited the tower and went back to the nearby towns to quiz the folks a second time.  It doesn't help that the majority of townsfolk spout off the obvious instead of a clue (or even flavour text).

Well, I guess this isn't one of
those places, huh, asshole.

I was aware that I had an unfinished quest involving finding a hermit.  I even knew the general area that he was hiding in (thanks to a vague clue from a useful citizen).  I searched every goddamn rock and tree in the area but to no avail.  This was the first roadblock.  I wasted a lot of time tooling around, hoping to stumbling across something.  It was during this long, aimless trek that I started to fade out a bit as the redundancy of encounters took their toll.  During this hazy-headed time, something in the back of my mind clicked — something that had been bothering me since the beginning but that I wasn't even conscious of.  The little music jingle that plays whenever a random encounter happens is the same as the one that plays whenever a level is selected from the map screen in Super Mario Bros. 3.  Fascinating, right?  But that didn't help me in my quest.  What did though was realizing that I had a quest item in the form of a harp that I hadn't used yet (or had any clue what it was for).  I tried the harp on all the rocks and trees and voilà, my first hurdle was hurdled.  After getting the password from the hermit, I climbed the tower again and got another gem from the computer.  Now it was off to the next continent and finally some new monster types.

This Sith's light saber is just too adorable.

This time I was prepared; I knew there would be a tower with a compie at the top and I would not scale it until I had a password.  I had plenty of incentive to explore around; the photon weapons being offered were hella expensive.  While exploring, I found something even better than the SNES.  You know how I ended off the last post with a being-distracted-by-porn gag?  In a hilarious coincidence, STED itself distracted me with much the same.

Nothing happened... just like in real life. *sob*

Things went much smoother on the third continent and soon I had the last gem needed to enter the (hopefully) final tower that had been mocking me since I left the first continent (there's a central hub from which each of the continents can be accessed).  I was in good spirits as the entire party had sweet photon weapons.  Even sweeter was that we could buy Brainers, which restore EP.  This meant we didn't have to carry less efficient healing items as well as being able to weather the random encounters.  A lot of randoms have monsters that can only be damaged by ESP and that takes precious EP away from healing.  Not that that matters to Gap as it can't be healed by normal means.  Speaking of Gap, I hate to bag on a fellow bro-bot, but Gap kinda sucks.  It's a decent fighter, about on par with Actes, but its non-organic status means it has to have its own separate healing items.  Gap also can't use ESP and doesn't gain stat points to distribute like the meatbags do.

The Photon Cannon would be impressive
except for the fact that Corona and
I also have photon weapons.

At any rate, we were set for our assault on the maybe-final tower.  With a deep breath, I stepped forward onto the tower only to have nothing happen.  I walked through it like it wasn't even there.  Dread began to creep up my spine.  I knew there were only three gems to collect and I had 'em, so why wouldn't this stupid tower let me in?  And so we've come to my second roadblock.  Perhaps these gems are used inside the tower and I need a different item to get in?  If so, I have no idea what the item could be.  Guess I'll have to see if the local citizens can clue me in.


Goddammitsomuch!

October 15, 2014

STED - Arrested Development

I should have suspected something wasn't on the up-and-up when a beautiful young lady starts doling out quests.  After retrieving the crystal and waving it right in front of her face, Honeypot kept repeating that monsters had stolen her crystal.  She's either crazy or talking about a different crystal altogether.  I had to talk to a different person entirely in order to gain access to the real elder's house and return the crystal to him.  This elder was a wizened old man with a cane, thereby fulfilling the elder paradigm.  He then immediately broke it after I asked about Litromin, a healing medicine I needed for another quest.

If you're going to be an elder with no wisdom,
you might as well look like Honeypot.

After sorting out that mess, it was off to the multi-leveled tower.  Like the previous tunnels, each level consisted of a bunch of dead ends and rooms with nothing in them, except perhaps an encounter.  The floors are fairly small and easy to map and soon we were at the top floor.  A long pathway led our party to a tough fight with a boss guarding an ancient source of information much more reliable than those damn elders.

Yeah, I got about a thousand
of these on my SPACESHIP.

After giving it the password I learnt from the dude I healed with the Litromin, it used its vast computing powers to print out a detailed analysis of all the monsters in the area as well as a speculative projection as to their origins...  Just kidding, it spat out a Red Gem instead and then turned itself off forever.  Shrugging, we started to make our way back through the tower.  On the way down, I noticed that I was being far less effective in combat than normal and Corona wasn't doing too well either.  Shrugging even further than before, we eventually made our way back to town.  I figured a good night's rest would invigorate Corona and I but I was wrong.  It was then I realized that the culprit was a gameplay element that I totally forgot to mention in the first post.  All the characters in STED have four hit locations (head, torso, arms, legs) which can become injured during encounters, affecting battle prowess.

Darnit, why can't I seem to hit the enemy?...
Ohhh, that's right, both my legs are missing.

I had thought an inn rest would reset these values back to 100 but actually I needed to go to the clinic.  Previously, I had thought that the Regen option at the clinic would repair these areas but they told me that it wasn't needed (which is why I thought the inn just did it).  Well, regeneration is only for when the hit location reaches 0, otherwise the regular check-up does the job.  The cost is one credit per location point and this means that the total cost for each character varies for each visit.  The longer the party is out in the field, the higher this cost will be overall.  This variance led me to believe that the cost was because of the "poison timer" I mentioned in the first post, which doesn't actually exist.  With all this cleared up, I got everyone in the party fixed up proper and soon we were back in the field, exploring far and wide for adventure and fortune but finding something way, way better.

A SNES?  Really?  Well, Imma go
play this instead.  Later, STED!

Unfortunately, the SNES can't be used in the game and instead I sold it to some sucker for 10,000 creds (which they probably ended up selling for 50,000).  The SNES was a nice find amid a slew of tough encounters.  Two new cities and a town also made up for this spike in difficulty but a hefty amount of grinding was still required to have any chance to progress.  A few minor quests between grinds kept things mildly interesting, even though certain NPCs tried to dissuade me from such an endeavour.

But that's all I've ever been!

After feeling experienced enough, the party decided it was time to take on the local tower.  We explored it high and low but didn't find anything of note.  Figuring we must of missed something, we backtracked it all the way to the beginning to retalk to all the citizens.  Too bad the encounter rate stayed exactly the same; soon we were assaulted with many of these:

I'm tempted to come back at endgame
to see how low these values will get.

To make matters worse, we didn't discover anything new, we just wasted a pile of time.  Heading back to the tower, we decided to install the ScanPak we had all this time (and forgot about) into Gap and perhaps it'll find a secret door or something.  In the end, the culprit ended up being the freehand drawn maps (I knew I should have broke out the grid paper) which neglected to properly show an unexplored route.  Soon we were at the top, facing another computer and another guardian.  This guardian, though, is even tougher than the previous one was.  This guy has resistance to all our basic attacks and seems vulnerable only to fire.  This makes Actes and Gap useful only for soaking damage and using items.  Corona and I don't have a lot of ESP available due to all the healing needing to be done just to get here.  Our second attempt fared much as the first, even though we had more ESP since we had a direct route to the boss.  Corona got herself killed on the way up during our third venture and the fourth saw us using up too much ESP before reaching the top.  Man, I can't believe how tough this boss is.

And to think I beat you on my
first try in Super Mario Bros. 3.

So this is currently where I am stuck.  I could do some more grinding but, meh, I'm kinda sick of it.  I could try loading up on the weak healing items and see if that's enough to prevent too much ESP loss but I think it'll mostly be based off being lucky enough to avoid the harsher random encounters.  I keep meaning to try this lackluster strategy out but my ambition drive is just idling right now, plus I keep getting distracted by porn.

Mmm, that's right, ladies, don't be shy
with one other.  Mmm, yeah, that's nice.
Now... now purge each other's EEPROMs.

September 24, 2014

[Game 047] STED - Starfield of Memorable Relics (NES - 1990)

Translation by J2e Translations

STED is one of those rare RPGs that has a science fiction theme.  It is highly reminiscent of the Phantasy Stars, in more ways than one.  The opening story is short and to the point; unknown aliens are attacking and I'm responding to a distress call on some planet.

Dang it, I was just about to slip into the 
tub — THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME!

I'm not going to get into the logistics of how difficult it would be to attack an entire galaxy but I'll keep in mind that what happens on this planet is only one story out of billions and billions.  As soon as I dock my spacecraft (which I'll probably never see again), I'm left to wander the town and try to get some information out of the local hotties.

So...um... do you like... stuff?

I also have my buddy, Actes, here with me but he doesn't say anything, he just likes to fight.  We find the lady who sent the distress beacon and she explains something about a Space Army cover up.  I'm barely listening as I'm completely engrossed in checking out her sizable asset, namely a sweet robot named Gap.  Gap isn't like the rest of us organics in the group; it doesn't gain experience and can only increase its power via installed components.  Right now, it doesn't even have the capability to attack, but it can still absorb hits.  I also like to think of Gap as being my field analyst to this strange new world.

Gap, cross-index the molecular framework
with the quantum matrix and determine
what the hell is up with these names.

The number after the monster's name is an indicator of its power level relative to us.  Anything five or above is quite tough and, as you can see, some of the battles are overwhelming, especially considering we only get three attacks per round.  Bling for Gap is expensive and I still need to get equipment for everyone else as well.  Actes and I both start with something called a Bosom knife (I don't even want to know) and Corona just grabs her kitchen knife.  As you can tell, the weaponry of the future is pretty much the same as the weaponry of the past.  Come on, STED, you said you're a sci-fi game, so start sciencing it up.

Ah, much better (except for the
what-should-cost-one-credit Wood spear).

I don't mind some grinding right off the bat as I get used to the new environment and gameplay mechanics.  In addition to equipment, magic spells (whoops, I mean ESP because that's what what is obviously magic is called in the future) can be bought for a fee.  What's great about ESP is that it can be purchased for any non-robotic party member (cure spells for everybody!).  The levelling system gives a great deal of customization for each of the meatbags.  Upon gaining a level, a characters get two sets of points to distribute: one between Stamina and Mental (Hit Points and Magic Points) and the other between Attack, Defense, Wisdom (sometimes called Intelligence (which is just wrong)), and Agility.  So far, I've been playing into the clichés and have Actes as a fighter, Corona as a mage, and me as a balanced Shen.  A few levels and some decent new weapons allow us to get to the next town, called Hyu.  There's more stuff to bought here and I guess we'll have to stick around for awhile to purchase it because wandering off is not an option.

By Odin's beard, what foul creature is this that
can carry the breath of a dragon on its shoulder?

Experience points gained after a battle are on a system of diminishing returns; as the party gains levels, the enemy difficulty factor also goes down.  Once it gets into the negatives, XP is often zero, but credits are still earned as normal.  I rather like this gentle nudge into the more difficult areas; might as well try to earn experience and credits at the same time.  Past Hyu, monsters with resistance to standard attacks start cropping up and the ESP must be broken out, adding to the tactical depth of combat.  Adding to that depth is the lack of designated attacks carrying over to another enemy should one die beforehand, à la Final Fantasy.  Enemies also have their fair share of inflicting status ailments such as poison and sleep.  As we have neither the item or the spell to cure poison on our own, we have to head back to town to have it treated at the clinic.  This happened many times which doesn't bother me so much as we're generally near the town anyway, but it did lead to discovering an odd gameplay mechanic.  Instead of having the cure cost just a flat rate or tied to level, it seems to be based on how long since the character's last treatment, implying that the antivenom remains active and slowly tapers off.  For those longer expeditions, curing the poison can only be done with the Serum item, which cannot be bought in the first few towns and must be found.  It's not often I find myself grinding for reasons other than XP and golds, and certainly not for, what would later be, a common item and magic spell.  More than once I had to abort an excursion due to being down to our last vial of Serum.  A similar concept also applies to my buddy Gap, who, being a tin can, cannot heal while the rest of us nap at the inn.  Gap must be repaired and, since the only repair shop so far is at the beginning town, we are reliant on the oddly-named MentalB item to "heal" it.  MentalB can be bought early on, so it's not as high of a priority as Serum, but it's not much of an issue anyway since enemies spew out MentalBs like a busted piñata and Gap has high HP and defense.  STED is also quite generous with a 24 item limit so it's not too tough to be well-prepared for an extended jaunt in the dungeons.  Oh?  I haven't mentioned the dungeons yet?  The dungeons, more than anything else, remind me of the ones in Phantasy Star, except less colourful.

Colour?  COLOUR?  The future doesn't
need no stinkin' colour!

They're also quite empty despite having lots of single tile "rooms".  Even if there is something there, there is no indicator; one just has to search every space that seems suspicious.  To date, I've only found one item and it was just some consumable.  Getting through the first dungeon leads to Lutharer Island, where I find Mong Village.  Some monsters have stolen their crystal and the town Elder would like us to go on a quest to get it back.  Now, does this sound like something that any futuristic settlement would have to be concerned with, or does it sound like a classic fantasy trope?  I'm really starting to feel that STED is a fantasy RPG that was poorly spray-painted into being sci-fi.

I will say this, though; the Elders of
the future are fucking haaawwwt.

Going to the west will take me off the island, meaning that I'm going through the dungeon again, and then there'll be another trip when I return, and another when I'm done this quest.  Multiple trips through the same dungeon?  Yet another similarity to Phantasy Star.  Will STED continue to emulate PS with longer and longer dungeons?  I give a tentative yes as one citizen has informed me that a nearby tower has five floors.  But first I have to get this crystal back (probably from a dragon or wizard) for Elder Honeypot there.

September 11, 2014

Super Daisenryaku - Ranking

Story & World

Pure strategy games aren't really known for their deep worlds/stories or they wouldn't be called pure strategy games.  At least in Super Daisenryaku, you can use your imagination while playing as different countries to fulfill your insatiable lust for genocidal horrors, you sick fucks.  0/20

Character Development

Here's a shocker — there actually is a smidge of unit development.  Veteran units gain percents in the EXP category, affecting overall combat.  I never saw this go beyond 2%, even though I was totally jawesome at keeping my veteran units from being wiped out.  1/20

Combat & Monsters

You could have called this game Super Famicom Wars and no one would have batted an eye except for the fact that it would have been release for the TurboGrafx.  Also, Super Famicom Wars would be something that exists in the future.  Super Daisenryaku's added unit depth and upgrade to hex appeals to the more mature gamer in Shen.  True for any game, I also appreciate the opportunity to learn anything about the real world during play.  Super Daisenryaku taught me that no one need fear an invasion from China even if they vastly outnumber them and that the French-built AMX-RC10 is sweet because it can go into mountains.  Thumbnails up all around; this one is going into my other gaming rig for those rainy day blues when I'm not up for adrenaline-pounding action.  20/20

Graphics & Sound

Faction colours stand out well against the terrain tiles, which themselves are very distinct from one another.  In a game with so many different units, the designers did an admirable job of making a unique pic for each "named" unit, though there was, understandably, a few that were very similar.  The battle scenes are nicely done and I appreciate the gruesome attention to detail when showing things like a squadron of Gazelles ripping up a bunch of infantry (see last posting).  The scenes get old fast though and just end up making the insanely long turns take even longer.  Thankfully, the animations can be turned off and on at one's leisure during the game.

I won't punish Super Daisenryaku for not using its considerable extra space on the CD to jam it full of digitized tunes as I don't think that necessarily means that the music will be better.  Case in point, the generically rocking' opening tune can't hold a candle to at least half of the ten available BGM tunes (the other half are meh).  Sound effects fare much worse; they are too quiet and focus on the movement sounds of a unit rather than the explosions and screams of pain and anguish.  The ultimate betrayal comes when one orders a formation of bombers to devastate an unsuspecting unit only to hear absolutely nothing at all.  But, oh no, instead let's hear the invigorating creak of tank treads as they slowly rolled up to their target.  12/20

Gameplay

Unlike Famicom Wars, Super Daisenryaku allows the player to change each faction's economic power, allowing for high/low tech games or to allow for handicaps.  Inevitably though, once the unit limit is reached, whoever is winning will start to accumulate excess funds and have no cash worries for the rest of the game.  Cost vs. effectiveness is nicely balanced (though I wish China had at least one good unit).

The turn length is a bit problematic as I could see it turning off quite a few players.  We're talking 10+ minute turns when all four sides have reached unit limit.  During the tense, early rounds of conflict, it behooves the player to watch what the other players are doing, but by midgame one can just view the results during their own turn and garner the same information.  The later parts of the game are well-suited to being played in a multitasking environment.

Replayability is through the roof.  The sheer number of maps and faction choices ensures that should one enjoy Super Daisenryaku, one will enjoy it for eons to come.  SD would be great for asynchronous, online play for those grognards that don't mind the extremely slow pace.  17/20

Final Ranking:  50/100

September 02, 2014

Super Daisenryaku - End Game

So for my final battle I let the wife pick the countries and the map on which it would be played out.  Just to ensure a complete and utter bloodbath, she chose China vs. Japan vs. North Korea vs. South Korea.  I wanted to play as glorious Nippon but she forced me to play as China using her damn feminine wiles.  As is my wont, upon starting the level I hastily checked out my core units — and came away quite disappointed.  Overall, China has less units than most other factions, notably missing a heavy infantry unit and a tank-killer helicopter.  I then noticed that the cost of all the remaining units were about half of the normal cost for most other countries.  While one might initially think that that is a good thing, I know strategy games and knew that this meant that all these units would suck.  Upon further inspection, my apprehension panned out.  The worst example is that payloads for all the air units are cut down to two where the norm is usually around five or more.  The only hope for China was to blitzkrieg right out the gates with masses of the People's Army.

Swarm, my minions!  Swarm!  Kekekeke!

This proved successful and soon the great Middle Kingdom was producing as much yuan as the other three nations combined.  Then... the 48 unit limit was reached.  As I was playing on one of the largest maps available, it became very difficult to make any progress.  At most, I could keep some countries at bay using terrain choke points.  At one point I became almost hopeful as my use of river choke points was causing Japan to send most of its units down the river towards the South Korean army.  Alas, this hope was short-lived as the other countries also approached their unit limit.  With their superior firepower, they slowly began to whittle away at my defenses and decimate my units.

Probably doesn't help that the People's
Army is decked out in shorts and T-shirts.

I had initially planned to have a cute little storyline with me as Chairman Nung fending off an alliance of the other three countries and then having their alliance fall apart as they inevitably attack each other (there is no alliance setting in the actual game, it's always a free-for-all).  It's probably for the best as I'm not the most politically correct motherfucker and would likely have my inbox inundated with cries of


The wife scolded me for such a shamefur dispray but did get a chuckle of how the game basically makes fun of China's reputation for cheap, inferior products.  As I didn't capture the ending screens for any of my previous victories, I would still need to complete one more battle.  This time I chose all the factions and went with what I thought to be the most modern so that everyone has access to decent units.  My picks were 2yHeisei (for yours truly), NATO, USA 1990, and Latest.  My hunches proved correct as everyone had at least some admirable units.  The map I chose was one entitled Fortress and, as luck would have it, since I always play as red, I started in the titular stronghold located in the northwestern quadrant.

Aw yeah, everything's coming up Shen!

I have to give the map creator(s) credit — what seemed like an obvious advantage in having the fortress was balanced by restricting the number of units I could create.  Units can only be created in controlled cities near the capital or in and around the immediate area of the capital.  In the fortress, the capital is surrounded by deep water with only one hex leading out.  This severely limited my usual swarm of infantry (most of the red dots you can see in the above pic are airfields) until I had occupied enough of the interior cities to really start cranking out units.  A nice balance to compensate for initial advantage of having the fortress.  Not that I ever got to have a battle anywhere near my homebase; the AI sure does like to take its sweet-ass time capturing cities and advancing its forces.  Other boneheadedness includes acts such as sending units way out into the field with no supply truck and having them run out of gas.  For air units, this means instant death.  For land units, it means sitting there while the rest of the war rages on past them.

"Hey, someone wanna off me?  No?
K, I'll just stay here then, I guess."

The faults of the AI are what makes strategy games like this (and there are many) somewhat boring after the first nation goes down and the victor becomes a powerhouse.  Although there are still some good skirmishes here and there, the grand strategy part is over and done with.  What should happen is that the two remaining powers automatically rally against the new superpower, ensuring another major encounter.  At least the turns sped up significantly as the lesser nations lost units and the funds to replace them.  At any rate, since I didn't get much blog material of this here game, here's a sweet montage of the ending screens.


August 13, 2014

[Game 046] Super Daisenryaku (TGCD - 1990)

Translation by Gaijin Productions

What's this?  A game distributed on CD before the SNES had even been released?  Yes, it's true, but does Super Daisenryaku take advantage of the massive storage capabilities of the compact disc format?  Not really!  There's a modestly rockin' digitized tune at the beginning and some realistic vehicular sounds but music during gameplay is standard BGM.  There's no cutscenes or graphics of any kind that would require a hefty amount of room.  What there is though is around 50 maps of extended hardcore grand strategy.  SD plays like a growed-up version of Famicom Wars, with improvements on all fronts.  Instead of the square grid maps of FW, SD upgrades to the vastly superior hex format.  Most units have a primary and secondary attack, improving their versatility in regards to being able to effectively engage opposing forces.  For example, heavy infantry come with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles but are weak against other infantry.  The game is nice enough to provide a detailed breakdown of unit effectiveness versus all the enemy units.

Just look at these swell
stats... Well?  Look at them!!

Not content to just provide these spreadsheets, Super Daisenryaku gives up more of its internal secrets by outlining the different types of terrains.

Just look at these swell terrains... Well?
 — Wait, have I used this line before?

Not stopping there, SD also allows the player to choose from a plethora of real-world countries.  In what totally isn't a thinly-veiled excuse to pad out the article, here is a list of all the factions available:


• USA 1 • Argentina • Japan
• USA 2 • Israel • China
• USA 1960 • Israel 2 • Best Korea
• USA 1990 • Arab • Worst Korea
• France • Syria • Europe
• Britain • Egypt • NATO
• W. Germany • Libya • 2yHeisei
• Warsaw • Iran • Latest
• Soviet • Iraq
• Sweden • Vietnam

Notice how, even though this game came out over two decades ago, that a lot of countries represented are still the troublemakers of the current international stage?  (dang Sweden!)  The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems.  This is certainly true of the units available for each country within the game.  The variation between each country's units is minimal, mostly slight differences in payload, gas, and cost.  This ensures a fairly even playing field regardless of which faction is selected (edit: not quite true, see next post).  Each unit is named according to its real-life counterpart which should please military buffs.

Watch out AMX-10RC!  Don't drive into
the bottomless chasm that separates
every single battlefield!

All these improvements alone would net Super Daisenryaku Shen Nung's seal of approval but SD takes it to the max and introduces the crowning feature of the game — four nation warfare.  Famicom Wars was strictly a heads-up conflict throughout the entire game.  In contrast, the vast majority of SD's maps support up to four players.  That's hot.  I get overjoyed when I see computer nations destroying each other's units and depleting their resources.  Unfortunately, this strength is also the game's major weakness.  Just like in Famicom Wars, the enemy commanders take for-fucking-ever to complete their turn.  I bitched about it in the FW posts and with more nations, it's even worse here.

It pisses me off even more that I don't
know what the hell being "in cast" means.

Thankfully, the animations can be turned off which helps somewhat but it's still upwards of 10 minutes per turn when everyone is in the swing of things.  The time lag pretty much rules out me completing all ~50 maps unless y'all want my next posting to be in 2020.  The first map alone took me just over 5 hours and that was one-on-one.  The four player map I did next took over 10.  It doesn't help that the computer never surrenders and the player is forced to either eliminate all enemy forces or capture their capital.  SD would be great as a PBeM (Play by eMail)-type game where a player does one turn a day and having human opponents would allow for diplomacy, alliances, and surrender conditions.  As it currently stands, once a single nation starts to accumulate excess wealth (there is a limit of 48 units per side), it's pretty much over for the others.  The "lesser" nations will still duke it out with each other instead of ganging up on the leader.  I'll do one more map for the end game posting, detailing specific strategies and perhaps framing the encounter in a velvety storyline.

July 25, 2014

Final Fantasy III - Ranking

Story & World

It's no secret that I'm a huge Final Fantasy fan and a big part of that is due to this category.  I find the FF worlds to be chock full of character and whimsical quirkiness.  There are so many silly little interactions that never fail to bring a smile to my face.  For example, after completing the quest for the two horns that the dwarves wanted, one dwarf excitedly opens up the vault to allow the party access to its treasures.  But he doesn't just walk over and open it; oh no, he turns around and friggin' moonwalks down the hallway.  Cue peals of laughter from Shen.  All it took was a simple reversing of the direction the sprite would normally face to make it stand out.  I'm also a fan of RPGs where the protagonists are generally mutes as it allows me to easily project whatever personalities I want while playing.

Just like in FFII, NPCs will join the party but this time they don't help in combat or anything.  They just kinda hang around until the next portion of the story is complete and then they're gone.  The party can talk to them at any time and they usually just give a reminder as to what the party is suppose to be doing.  It would have been nice if they did something to affect combat, even if it was just a weak attack or spell every so often.  The Invincible at least had the courtesy to launch a cannon attack on enemies before every fight.

Locations and quests are varied enough that it never gets dull or repetitive; I always had a strong drive to find the next town just so that I could meet its inhabitants.  The story progression was mostly linear but there was a healthy sprinkling of side quests to do once the different airships are obtained (though they are all just either hidden towns or dungeon crawls for loot).  18/20

Character Development

From the standard static classes of FFI to the classless system of FFII, each Final Fantasy so far has made huge changes to the way characters are developed.  With its job-based system, FFIII sets the standard for the majority of Final Fantasy games to follow and is my favourite of the original trilogy.  I was impressed by the sheer number of jobs available, although some of the jobs have little to no staying power and are only useful for variety's sake.  As cool as the ninja and sage classes are, I think it would have been better to leave them out and instead make the endgame monsters give more experience so that the "lesser" jobs would just end up with more levels.  Sure, I could have just chosen not to use those classes and grind out those levels myself, but could you resist not choosing to be the ninja?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

As is par for the course, the variety of equipment and items is outstanding.  Lots of weapons and armour have a secondary ability, some of which have to be activated while others happen randomly during a regular attack.  It is extremely unfortunate that most weapon and armour types are tied exclusively to one particular job; a little overlap would have been most welcome.  16/20

Combat & Monsters

In addition to carrying over all the concepts from the previous game with a few tweaks here and there, FFIII adds another layer to tactical combat by allowing enemies to sometimes attack from the rear, causing front and back row characters to essentially switch positions.  Most character jobs also have special abilities that can be utilized in combat, such as the effective Escape of the thief or the pointless Peep of the scholar.  With the power to change jobs on demand (outside combat), party configuration is far more fluid and dynamic than the static setup of FFI and the grindfest that FFII requires.  The mad stacks of monsters carry on the FF tradition with a healthy variety of special attacks and resistances.  17/20

Graphics & Sound

It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy if it didn't have that Final Fantasy look, feel, and sound to it.  The NES trilogy had the same key developers for each game so it's no surprise that the excellence of the first two games is equally represented here.  I normally give a link to one of the many fantastic tracks, so here's one for the final battle18/20

Gameplay

Gils won't stay in the party's coffer for very long due to all the jobs available and their respective equipment sets.  The bank really starts to deplete if an all-melee party is made and has to depend on expensive healing potions to keep them going.  Even into the late game, when money usually becomes irrelevant, there's always the uber-expensive shurikens to purchase (and then forget to use).

Replayability is the highest in any game covered thus far; the combinations are near infinite since the party can be changed at any time.  There are so many different challenges one could attempt with the job system that it just boggles the mind.  One could attempt to keep all the characters as Onion Knights throughout, or do something a little less obvious and make a group based on the "hidden face" look of the character sprites (black mage, viking, geomancer, warlock, and magic knight).

As with the previous FFs, the overall pacing the game is spot on.  There are a few places where things could slow down, but that's only if the player refuses to change the jobs around.  There's no area that cannot be overcome just by doing a little planning and prepping beforehand.  18/20

Final Ranking:  87/100