January 23, 2014

[Game 043] Sansara Naga (NES - 1990)

Translation by aishsha

Prosaic title screen aside, I was quite pumped up to give this one a go as soon as I found out that it had a monster breeding element to it (dragons, in this case).  I've been known to ranch some monsters in my day and am keen to see how this early example of the genre stacks up.  The opening story is short and sweet; I'm a brat who steals a dragon egg from my own village and buggers off with it.

I'm such a little scamp (and kinda dumb as well).

With angry villagers hot on my heels, I follow a fully grown ostrich for some reason to a dilapidated house where a crazed old man implores me to embark on a fetch quest for him.  He wants me to travel to a large tree on the western peninsula to find a special item for him.

What's brown and sounds like a bell?

Of course, I am attacked while en route but since I'm weaponless and armourless, I'm going to flee from all these battles.  If I'm fleet of foot enough to be able to outrun furious villagers, I think I can handle these freaks of nature:

Oh man, Sansara, you've already earned
yourself several points for monster design.

Finding the tree is easy enough but there is no poop on the ground so I guess I have to climb the tree.  I don't climb up it so much as climb through it; its trunk is hollow as well as most of its limbs.  There are no monsters here and I'm just crawling around and exhausting all the possible options.  Ah, here's a pile up near the top.

Why, oh why, didn't I bring a baggie?

I also found a rusted sword and armour so now I feel slightly more confident about tackling me some foes.  On the way back, I beat down some daphnia (the freaks pictured above) but don't get any gold or experience.  No gold, I can see, but no experience?  What's your game, game?  At any rate, the coprophiliac is quite happy to receive his turds and he claims that it makes great medicine (sure, buddy, sure).  He rewards me with a real dragon egg and, as a bonus, I also get a real title screen.

Mmm-hmm.  That's more like it.

I'm so excited that I run back to my village to show my grandma my fantastic dragon egg but she is more interested in drawing me a warm bath and putting me to bed.  Darn grandma!  The next day, she gives me a boxed lunch and sends me on my way.  I try to talk to one of the other villagers but they are still upset about yesterday and proceed to beat the snot out of me until I have but only a single hit point left.  Darn villagers!  Just for that I'm not going to show 'em my egg at all.  I get another bath, sleep, and boxed lunch from Grams and then leave this stupid place to find a place to incubate my egg.  Peace out, losers!  But where to go?  Hrmm... the scat man mentioned something about following the nearby river to a hostel where a man wants to chat with me.  Maybe he'll know where I can hatch this egg!  I'll just keep running from all these fights since this rusty armour is ass and I'm still getting hurt pretty bad.  The man at the hostel is quite nice and he tells me about how I should become a dragon-taming Dragoon.  Sounds good but I don't even have a dragon yet!  Leaving the hostel, I continue to follow the river until I come upon the capital city of Hoverpool.  This place is huge!  There are so many shops and I get constantly accosted by marketers.

Thanks, but I'm more of a Red Rain© man.

There's a dragon nursery here but they said they needed a hatched dragon and not just the egg.  Shucks!  I guess there must be an incubator in another village or sumthin'.  I'm searching and searching but can't find another town in this huge world.  I can't run from everything all the time so I'm dying lots as well which means I lose half my rupees and start back at grandma's place.  I'm going to buy some stuff before I lose all my cash money.  This leather shield looks nice but I don't think I have enough rupees... oh, you'll still give it to me?  Thanks, nice shopkeep!  Well, time for more wandering.  La la la, death, la la la , death, la la la, death.  Okay, grandma, I have a good feeling about today... oh hello, mister man, what do you want with me?  Huh?  You're with Nico Loans and you've come to collect on an overdue payment?  WTF you talkin' bout?  I never agreed to or signed anything nor do I even have enough money... ow!  ow!  ohmygod!  Not my kneecaps!  Why is this happening!?  I'm too young to understand commerce!  I guess in order to pay off this strange debt concept, I'm going to have to bite the bullet and sell off some Snapper Scales.  I owe about 800 rupees but the weird thing is that, at their main branch in Hoverpool, they only allow payments in increments of a thousand.  Oh well, I'm sure they will adjust the amount or give me a credit or something.

Or the entire system will just completely break down.

I don't even know how to begin paying off a loan of (blob)11635 rupees, so I'm pretty sure Nico Loans is one shady business.  My only choice is to restart my life all over again.  I'll do everything the same except this time I'll keep better tabs on my available funds.  Well, almost the same.  Before the loan fiasco happened, I discovered that I could make money by selling off the corpses of the few enemies I did slay.  So this time, I'll fight more often and... wha wha wha?!  My dragon egg!  It's hatching!  Golly gee, I didn't need to incubate it after all!  I just needed to not be a pussy!

OMG!  So kawaii~♥!

Awww, but she's too little to fight just yet so I'm going to drop her off at the nursery in Hoverpool.  I can buy all kinds of stuff for her (not that I can afford it just yet), like toys, equipment, and delicious foods.  I can also — get this — feed her the corpses I've been collecting instead of selling them.  LOL!  It's completely awesome and disgusting at the same time.  Whenever I stay at the inn, they also give me a nice report on her progress.

Even at just 5cm, she can pack away 15 daphnia
in a single meal.  Who's my big girl?

The matron at the nursery is super nice and keeps giving helpful tips, mostly consisting of stuffing Amai's face with various things in order to make her happy, stave off disease, etc.  I guess I'll have to sell off some corpses in order to get better gear for myself but most of them are going to go to the little love of my life.  Along the way, I'll hopefully learn more about how to become a Dragoon as well.

January 14, 2014

Deep Dungeon IV - Ranking

Story & World

None of the Deep Dungeons have a particularly gripping storyline but the title alone gives a good indicator that one will be immersed in much crawling of the dungeon variety.  DDIV manages to fare a little better than its parents by fleshing out the non-Shen characters and having more solid side quests.  The main quest of hunting down the black sorceror, though, gets somewhat lost during the midgame as the party has to deal with the various problems that the villagers have, none of which have anything to do with getting the revenge.  There was no Ruu this time but I can't decide whether that is a good or a bad thing so I'm just going to be neutral about it.

Despite its title, DDIV has no dungeons to speak of, just caves, castles, forest, and mountains.  Of course, in the game world, these all function just like a dungeon but with a wider variety of skins.  After how samey the first three games looked, this was a great decision on the part of the developers.  The only better decision would have been not to make a Deep Dungeon IV in the first place (ooh! sick burn).  The open-endedness of any game world is always appreciated, even if here it caused me major problems at certain points (totally my fault, though).  With lots of villages (and villagers) and more distinctive areas, DDIV comes out ahead of its predecessors in having a more worldly feel.  8/20

Character Development

Only three characters are available here, down from four in DDIII.  There is a fourth slot available for temporary characters (escort quests) and it can also be filled during combat with one of the two summoning spells.  The cost of having better developed secondary characters is that there is no room for any kind of party class configuration.  Switching out Caleph for Saito hardly counts as they are essentially the same character.  Development is further reduced by never giving out any stat-boosting sandwiches other than in the first forest.

The standard model for magic is used here and thankfully all the characters have access to a decent amount of spells.  While each character definitely had an area that they were more focused in, their entire spell list wasn't stereotypical of their role.  Items that replenished HP or MP are painfully underpowered and become a waste of an item slot very quickly into the game.  While annoying, this did add to the challenge but perhaps Erick and Caleph/Saito could have been a little more robust in regular melee to compensate.  5/20

Combat & Monsters

Another regression from DDIII, combat is back to the typical scheme of mostly mashing a button to assign melee attacks.  The situation gets a little better later in the game when the characters have more MP and spells to play with.  A big plus in combative magic is that status ailment spells usually work on enemies!  Nothing makes a big batch of nasty efreets seem like piddly newts after being completely silenced and/or slept (at least until it wears off).  Monsters had more special attacks than in the previous games (not a difficult feat), which helped make battles a little more interesting.  5/20

Graphics & Sound

The "dungeon" tiles are automatically going to score better due to them having vastly different looks to them but I will say that, even on their own, they look quite nice.  Enemies are well drawn with not an unreasonable amount of palette swapping.  Due to the layout of the screen, larger creatures appear to be squished a bit and I'm sure the graphic designer had fun trying not to make them look too ridiculous.

Music has improved and almost — almost — makes it to mediocre status.  Sound effects are practically nonexistent, just a few beeps when navigating menus or casting a spell.  8/20

Gameplay

No manual mapping!  No manual mapping!  Huzzah!  This one aspect made DDIV much more tolerable than the previous titles.  The saddest part is that, even if I did have to make maps, it wouldn't have been that bad as areas are compact and laid out in the traditional setup of corridors and rooms.  It's only by having the Deep Dungeon moniker attached to the game that makes this stand out from what is otherwise quite a normal map structure.

The economy is strong with this one.  I only ground on chests right at the beginning and relied on natural exploration for the rest of the gold.  After blowing most of my cash on the two flutes, shit started getting real as resurrecting characters (I'm looking at you, Caleph) got increasingly more expensive as levels were gained.  I was down to my last few farthings, I was, before fortunately beating Cymer.  The only downside to the economy is that there wasn't much to purchase by midgame other than consumables (most of which sucked).

The pacing was good and the rough patches I encountered were utterly of my own doing.  I do consider it a plus even to be able to hit such patches as long as it's because of my own decisions.  DDIV took about half the time of DDIII and was closer in length to the first two games.  It's a little sad when one of the best things about a game is how short it is but, for the Deep Dungeon series (excluding DDIII), this is one of its biggest merits (but it's still not getting points for it).  12/20

Final Ranking:  38/100

January 07, 2014

Deep Dungeon IV - End Game

I said no many times but eventually had to say yes.

Abandoning the search for Caliph to look for Erick turned out to be a time-consuming mistake.  It wasn't obvious until after I had recruited Erick and headed back to Caliph's area that I was overpowered.  The fights in Erick's area (Kalim Tower) did seem pretty tough but not impossible.  At least until I got to the point where monsters started being able to paralyze me.  Paralysis when you're all by your lonesome equals sure death.  However, the monsters weren't the only things dishing out such lameness.

No chance to avoid.  No saving throw.  Just death.

I probably should have gone back to the Caliph quest but I was sure I was so close to getting Erick.  The boss of Kalim Tower was no joke either; I had to grind much levels and even then, I had to get lucky on my thirtyish attempt when he missed with a bunch of his attacks.  And after all this, here's the kicker — I still couldn't recruit Erick, who was located behind the paralyzing gas trap depicted above.  I had to get Caliph first and then return with a special item to let us pass the trap.  Also, in order to get Caliph, all I had needed to do was go to an area (Loram Castle) that I had access to, but didn't visit, and get a damn pass to get past the blue dragon.

Verily, the vile dragon will be no match
for this mighty permission slip,
the bane of all dragonkind.

After telling Caliph about Fred's murder and my plan for revenge, he joined me and took the offensive spellcaster role.  We didn't dilly-dally for too long before heading back to the completely memorized Tower of Kalim to retrieve Erick.  Like a true bro, Caliph took the gas trap right in his face so that I could open the door and recruit Erick, who became our defensive spellcaster.  After leaving Kalim Tower (for good this time), Caliph decided he was tired and replaced himself with his man-servant, Saito.

Yeah man, I don't blame you, that was one
helluva slumber party last night.

Saito had worse stats and less spells than Caliph, which was bad because Caliph himself was already kinda shitty.  But no bother, I was just happy to have two meat shields... er, I mean companions to accompany me for a string of unrelated quests.  There was only one quest relating to revenge and that was to find the magic White Blade that Fred had used during his own quest.  During all these quests, Saito had gained a bunch of levels and spells and was really coming to embrace his role as an offensive mage.  So, of course, after finding the White Blade, Caliph decided that he'll replace Saito, even though Saito had a few levels on him.  Both men are functionally the same with the same spell list and comparable stats, so I'm not sure what the point of swapping them around was, other than to require more experience for that one shared class.  One might think I'd be more upset at such wastage, especially considering all the stat-boosting sandwiches that I had sunk into Saito.  Oh wait, that never happened because I never had any sandwiches to give him.  Yeah, that's right.  After talking about how great they were in the initial post, I never saw a single sandwich after that.  That's sooooo Deep Dungeon.

Good work, Party Member #3.  Don't forget
to give all your equipment to the new PM3.

With all the side quests done, the only place left to go was a strange castle in Elm Mountain.  We knew that the evil demon king Cymer dwelt there and that he was the object of our revenge.  Well, it wouldn't be a Deep Dungeon game if there wasn't demon kings involved but I thought we were going after the Black Sorceror?  Is it just Cymer?  Who knows?  The black sorceror has barely been mentioned at all since the beginning.  At any rate, the last castle was worthy of being the final destination.  The battles were super tough and often one bad random encounter meant warping out, healing up, and trying again.  To its credit, DD kept it real with gameplay elements from the previous titles.  High encounter rate but countered by easy fleeing.  High variable in damage, making each battle a test of luck to see whether the party's healing capabilities will be reduced enough to warrant a hasty retreat back to the town.  Monsters who have access to better spells than any member of the party does.

Efreets in particular are quite fond
of having their way with the group.

Erick and Caleph eventually gained enough levels to also gain access the same high level spells that had been thumping us all this time.  This helped but these spells were expensive in terms of MP and every casting meant less available for healing and for Cymer (should we reach him).  HP and MP restoring items were all woefully pathetic in the amounts they would restore and were hardly worth the item slot they took up.  Erick and Caleph did miserable damage in melee, to the point where it practically pointless to even have them engage in it.  No, I needed something for them to do in combat that didn't use up any of their magic.  Since we were at the final castle, there probably wasn't going to be a need to save gold anymore so I ended up purchasing two very expensive items, the Silence Flute and the Sleep Flute.  These items mimicked the spells of their namesake and could be used repeatedly.  Giving one flute to each of the losers, we strolled back into Cymer's castle for the umpteenth time, more confident than ever.  The plan was quite effective, though I found it humourous to picture myself fighting off throngs of minions while the two fruitcakes pranced about, belting out jaunty little ditties whilst blood and body parts flew about the room.  Too bad the flutes didn't have unlimited charges like I thought and eventually broke, taking with them the majority of the party's net worth.  There was no way I was going to grind around a hundred chests to repurchase the magical instruments so I just had to buck up and try to find Cymer before being charbroiled by efreets.  Once that was done, it was just a simple matter of lucking out and being able to flee the most dangerous fights in order to have a good stock of MP to deal with Cymer.

Yes, hi.  We're looking for a black
sorceror to get the revenge on.

Cymer actually wasn't too bad, being about as powerful as one and a half efreets.  At this point, we didn't need to conserve MP so we all let him have it with our most powerful spells.  Even Caleph didn't die.  We got a slight confirmation that Cymer was most likely the black sorceror as his body rotted away, leaving only a black hat on the ground.  That was close enough for me and I considered Fred to be completely avenged.  With this final chapter in the Deep Dungeon saga completed, I can take solace that never again will I have to submit myself to the drudgeries of any of them — Fred would have wanted it that way.