March 27, 2014

[Game 044] Fire Emblem: Dark Dragon and Sword of Light (NES - 1990)

Translation by Quirino

Fire Emblem is the first proper strategic RPG for the NES and is entirely the reason why I included some strategy games in my outline.  I've had a raging hardon for the series ever since I first played Blazing Sword all those millennia ago.  I played this particular version, albeit with a different and incomplete translation, perhaps a year before starting this blog.  Luckily, since that's longer than a month ago, I've forgotten pretty much everything about the game.  One thing I missed from when I played previously was waiting before starting the game, as Fire Emblem deigns to give a complete rundown of every character class, complete with stats and everything!

Wow!  A WLV of 5!... What's a WLV?

Oh, weapon level (figured it out as I typed but can't be bothered right now to come up with a different line... maybe later).  Anywho, Shen, let's try to not make the first entry on this gem a stream of consciousness post and focus on the game!  Right!  So the story starts off as one would expect for such a game; there's an evil army that the protagonist, Prince Marth, must stop with his own army.  The dark dragon, Mediuth, was vanquished hundreds of years ago but has returned to attempt to again take over the world (of course!).  Even though Prince Marth was dethroned from his Aritian homeland, he's a decent sort of chap and decides to muster what forces he can in order to help stop the big bad.  He's already got a good group of pals with him, including the sultry Sheeda, who rides a pegasus and is cute as hell.

U-u-uh, g-g-good, and y-y-you?

Others include a pair of mounted knights, Kain and Abel; a paladin, Jeigan; a walking meatshield, Doga; and an archer, Gordon.  As in real life, the males are all expendable (except the prince) and I will devote most of my efforts to keeping Marth and Sheeda alive.  Eh?  What's that?  Oh, you didn't expect a NES game to serve up some hardcore permadeath?  Yeppers, if a unit is lost it isn't just out for that particular level, it's out for the rest of the entire game.  This aspect, in addition to being awesome, can also have some repercussions other than just losing the unit itself.  Some recruitable units will only join Marth's side if certain characters talk to them first.  If that certain character is dead, then — too bad!  No unit for Marth.  In my previous playthrough, I'm pretty certain I would restart the level if I lost any unit but the Inconsolable project plays games as they were meant to be played (except for those times when I don't — *cough* *cough* Wizardry).  I'm fairly confident that I'll be able to keep most of the units alive (the cool ones anyway).

Bros like Riff here will help me keep that confidence.

The first mission is a simple all-out assault on a group of pirates that have taken over a small fortress.  The nearby townsfolk implore Marth to get rid of them and, smelling a good source of XP, he obliges and proceeds to lay waste with his vastly superior units.  Now, it's not just a matter of amassing all the units into a front and pushing forward.  There are also different types of buildings that should be visited, consisting of huts, shops, storage vaults, and town halls.  Huts contains general info or hints and can be visited by anyone.  I usually use Sheeda because of her excellent movement rate which is not hindered by terrain, and also to keep her out of danger since she's a delicate little flower (not always though, she still needs experience).  Purchasing weaponry at the shops is crucial since all weapons not only have a limited amount of uses, but character classes are restricted in which armaments they can employ.  Again, I generally use Sheeda or the less combative classes (clerics, thieves) to run fresh weapons to the front line.  The town hall can only be accessed by Marth and it's always a good idea to have him accomplish this right away.

Cha-ching!

Battles include all the variables one has come to expect from the genre.  Terrain types are in full effect and it's always a good idea to attack first rather than defend.  Not only does striking first give the chance for a quick kill, often a character will get an additional attack after the opponent has counterattacked.

Jeigan maximizing the amount of force he's about
to put into the tip of his lance.  I like how utterly
flabbergasted his foe is from such an insane
maneuver... finishes indeed.

As expected, certain classes will be strong or weak versus the class attacking them.  Pegasus knights like Sheeda are easy pickings for archers and tanks like Doga take minimal damage from most physical attacks.  But Fire Emblem doesn't stop there.  There are also speciality weapons that can be purchased that are effective against a specific class, but less useful against anything else.  These weapons stack with the class system and so it's easy to make a tank or a knight killer.  Each unit can carry up to four different weapons/items, so this provides a huge amount of versatility in unit configuration.  As if all this wasn't enough, FE also is nice enough to have ranged weapons available for most of the non-archer classes (e.g. knights get a javelin, fighters a throwing axe).  Of course, these secondary weapons aren't as powerful as the primary and are easily outclassed by archers and mages, but it adds another tactical option and those are always appreciated.  And those extra tactics are needed, as the second mission right away has the player (most likely) splitting the army into factions to deal with two fronts.  The same thing occurs on the third map, but with a twist.  Two new characters are introduced, Julian (thief) and Rena (priest), who are fleeing from their bandit captors and offer to join Marth if he will protect them.  How many units and which units should stay behind?  Well, those decisions are half the fun of Fire Emblem.

This looks like a good spot for
a bottleneck.  Run, fools, run!

Unfortunately, one of the fighters, Maji, ended up being on the receiving end of a critical from a high level mercenary and perished instantly.

Aw jings!  Oh well, fighters kinda suck anyway.

The formula stays the same for the next couple of maps; eliminate all opposition and take over the fortress that's guarded by a powerful general.  Generals aren't too difficult as they always stay on the fortress tile, even as the rest of his army is being decimated out in the field.  Then it's a simple matter of ganging up on him.  Each map so far, however, throws a little something in to keep the player's attention.  One has an arena that characters can fight against a random opponent, allowing for some risky grinding if desired (a character may be put against a class that he's weak against).  Since it's still quite early in the game, new character classes are popping up quite frequently.  Apparently my memory about my previous playthrough is better than I thought because the floodgates opened wide after recruiting the first available mage — my homeboy Marich!

Yes!  Yes!  Show me all the magics!

Marich has a ranged attack that does a hefty amount of damage and is effective against heavily armoured units.  He'll end up getting massive level gains since he almost always eradicates his opponent outright (XP gained is much higher on a kill).  Throw in a badass outfit and you have one of my favourite characters from the Fire Emblem series.

HADOUKEN!!!

Lest you erroneously think that Marich didn't get the quick kill I bragged about before, he actually immediately followed up with a second attack and terminated that cleric... permanently.  Accumulating all these extra troops comes with a cost in that eventually Marth can't just bring everybody into the next battle.  As in any great SRPG, choices must continually be made in as many different ways as possible.

Hrmm.. Sheeda's falling behind a bit... must remember
to have her attack / steal kills more.

Certain maps will entice Marth to bring in units that generally don't get selected too often (at least by me).  For example, one map has the fight take place inside a castle rather than outside.  The castle holds treasure chests which can only be opened by a thief.  One could just ignore the chests and fight a regular battle, but I think that I'm the same as a lot of you in that...

We're totally hardwired to want loot.

Marth can't just take his time either on this particular map; enemy thieves will loot the chests and destroy the item if they get to the chests first.  The race is on!  Liberation of this castle nets Marth the titular emblem of fire.  This acquisition validates Marth's epic struggle against the heaving tides of Mediuth's vile army.  For the first time since beginning his campaign, Prince Marth of Aritia feels the faint glimmer of hope welling up inside him, growing stronger and stronger with each successive victory.  Beware, Dark Dragon, for Marth Vader is coming for you!

March 12, 2014

Sansara Naga - Ranking

Story & World

I always appreciate big, fat, vast, open worlds to wander and having to plan and navigate around the various terrain types added another layer to exploring that has not been present in most games thus far.  There are no impassable terrains, other than the endless chasm that makes up the world border.  The capital of Hoverpool serves as the central hub for the majority of the game, which I like rather more than in a linear game where, once a town has been mined of its quests and items, is left behind, ne'er to be seen again.  NPCs are capable of doing more than just spewing off a couple of lines.  In addition to any NPC being attackable, certain ones will actually initiate combat if particular dialogue choices are chosen.  The sketchy lower town of Hoverpool felt all the more dangerous knowing that I could be assaulted at any time by any one of the shysters dwelling there.

The story had not only an interesting premise, but enough twists and turns along the way to keep things fresh.  Losing Amai at one point and then having to hunt her down again was both thrilling and annoying at the same time.  Completing minor quests really felt like I was building up my Dragoon's reputation and the NPCs did a good job of acknowledging my burgeoning fame.  The cut scenes expanding on the dragoon/dragon relationship were nicely done, though I built off that and transformed it into more of a father/daughter kinship.  There were a few quests during the story that felt too much like filler (most notably the set of Rakshasa quests), especially when I was at the point where I just wanted to get on with it, man!  17/20

Character Development

It's all about the dragon in Sansara Naga.  The main character never gains levels or even more HP but is solely reliant on equipment to facilitate increases to STR and DEF.  Unfortunately, as pumped as I was to raise Amai, my input mattered little concerning her attribute increases.  Most of her gains came at specific plot points (when her profile pic got updated) but even feeding her creatures is a crapshoot since the game doesn't display the changes.  The only way to track any changes would be to either to stay at an inn immediately after a fight or use a "mobile inn" item (tents in this case).  Far too expensive to do early in the game and by the time the dragon evolves to its adult stage in the late game, any attribute changes are going to be too piddly to matter much.  For me, the only enjoyable aspect of raising Amai was when she was a baby and stuck in the nursery, with me deciding which corpses to feed her and which to sell in order to buy her toys.

To make up for the lack of a normal experience system for the main character, the game allows for six equipment slots (one weapon, five armour).  This is a welcome feature but stumbles a bit as there weren't many pieces to go into each armour slot; most slots were upgraded only once.  A feature that is now prevalent in modern RPGs but rare in this era is the ability to forge pieces of equipment.  It's very basic here as it just consists of the blacksmith using parts that are sometimes dropped by particular creatures (and there's no combining of different parts), but it's still a nice touch.  I also must mention the inventory system, as it had the balls to do what so many of its kin were afraid to do — having a reasonable amount of space!  I never reached the inventory maximum and easily had over forty items all up ins there.  5/20

Combat & Monsters

Battles are quite bland, even with Amai riding shotgun.  There are no spells or items that can be used in combat; items are generally reserved to cure status ailments inflicted by monsters.  Amai seems versatile with four attack options but the first three are plain old melee attacks and I didn't notice any difference between them.  There's an option to attempt to bribe creatures with an item, but I never got this to work (and didn't really try it all that often).  The monotonous combat is further aggravated by the high encounter rate.

As boring as the combat is, the monsters themselves are wonderfully designed and have an Earthbound-esque feel to them.  There's a good mix of creatures; some taken from Hindu folklore and others just straight up goofy.  They only are able to inflict a few status ailments (poison and sleep) but that's still two more than either Amai or I could do.  8/20

Graphics & Sound

Graphics are on par with most of the other Dragon Quest clones with a couple of differences.  First, talking with an NPC always displays a nice little pic of their face, although these in general are poorly done (but better than nothing).  Second, the visual approach to some of the bigger bosses was a great addition; it really helped get their size in perspective before starting the actual combat.  Third, dem cutscenes.

Music and sound effects worked well enough.  My favourite sound effect was the little high-pitched squeak Amai would make when I would try to talk to her as a baby.  Dawwww, so cute.  13/20

Gameplay

The high encounter rate absolutely kills this game during the middle glut of quests.  There's a lot of going back and forth between Hoverpool and the outlier towns; the warps at the Haratama Huts help a lot after they become affordable (though sometimes I had problems just finding them).  Thankfully, the high rate is countered by a flee option which has a decent chance of success.  Still, a high rate with a large world is going to slow down the pace quite a bit and most times I would be exhausted after completing a single quest and have to pack it in for the day.

The economy is fairly robust with the exception of that one loophole that I totally exploited (it happened later in the game so I don't feel so bad).  Selling off corpses for cash is such a great way to run an economy.  Contrary to the dragon raising system which hides data from the player, one will learn what monsters fetch the highest prices, with the cheaper ones going straight to the dragon's gaping maw.

If there was more control and variety in the way that a player could raise the dragon, a replay certainly would be plausible.  As it stands, however, I can't see a reason why this would ever happen.  One caveat to this statement: post-game I found that the manual had been translated whilst I had been playing and apparently there are four different colours of dragons that one can initially get.  The manual states that they have their differences but who knows how much that affects actual gameplay (btw, Amai was a green dragon which is "friendly and easy to handle... but, well, it's a bit on the timid side").  One other tidbit gleaned from the manual — SYM does indeed stand for sympathy (now I can finally sleep at night).  7/20

Final Ranking:  50/100

March 07, 2014

Sansara Naga - End Game

My SYM problem turned out to be no problemo as it was directly tied to playing the Dragoon Flute (it doesn't raise morale as I previously thought).  There didn't seem to be any drawbacks to just overkilling the flute playing, and soon Amai was up to maximum SYM and started obeying orders.  I now classified her as a full-fledged adult and we got on with doing piles of minor quests as we both searched for the true meaning of being a Dragoon.

For picking up the ladies, of course.

The quests involved a lot of running around the massive overworld which has a high to ridiculously high encounter rate (depending on terrain).  While I mostly knew where I should going and what I should be doing, there were a few times where I basically had to revisit every town and talk with everyone again in order to trigger the next event.  That aspect really made it tough for me to get into the Dragoon spirit and my sessions suffered for it, both in length and frequency.  I actually played some NDS games in the interim but realized that it's better to have the challenge of dying too much than never dying once through the course of an entire game.

One can only grow by learning
from one's errors, stupid sage.

Though I did find the encounter rate to be much too high, I really liked how the overworld terrain functioned.  Rather than have the normal invisible boundaries that determine monster difficulty, here it is completely based upon the terrain type.  Grasslands always hold the same set of weaker monsters and a (relatively) low encounter rate, while mountains house much stronger enemies with an insane encounter rate (average was one encounter for every two steps).  This makes for some interesting decisions while traversing from one locale to another.  Do I try for a shortcut through some mountains or try to skirt around them, not knowing how far the mountain range extends.

Doubting my chances to pass
through this unmolested.

Most of the quests were predictably of the fetching sort but a few stood out.  At one point, I had to reach the city of Achernar, which exists in the dream of a monster who dwells in a vast desert.  The city pops up in random locations before fading out and appearing somewhere else.  In order to get into it, I had to confront the beast and put it to sleep with the Dream Mirror I had picked up much earlier.

Your name is Shin?  We should totally team up, bro!

At this point in the game, Amai was doing much better.  Her DEF still sucked compared to mine but this was balanced by her having many more HP as well as being able to do more damage.  Her breath weapon could be used in every encounter with no noticeable repercussions.  I focused more on feeding her strong enemies and her stats started increasing dramatically.  Oddly enough, after attaining a Cooking Set from a quest, if I didn't feed Amai a monster, it gave me the option to eat it myself.  This only served to refill my HP as my stats are based off of equipment but it was a nice option to have (if only to picture me tucking into an entire stray dragon by myself while Amai watches me devour her brethren).

No Amai *munch munch*, you can't have *smack*
any. You'll get a *slurp* disease or something.

I wasn't entirely happy with Amai being more powerful than me, so I worked on getting enough rupees to purchase some of the really expensive items from Hoverpool's Lower Town district.  I first wasted a bunch of cash on a suit of armour that almost doubled my current DEF at the cost of being unable to attack (in other words, useless).  The best weapon I could find was the Maser Gun, which almost doubled my attack power.  Ah, now I had far outstripped Amai's strength (though she still had her multi-attack breath weapon) and was feeling back in control, at least until the gun broke.  Damn crappy futuristic weaponry!  More grinding was done in order to purchase another one.  This time, after I had used the maser for awhile, I went to sell it in Hoverpool before it broke.  I was expecting to get about half the value but ended up being quite taken aback.

By the end of the day, Shen had completely
bankrupted Hoverpool's item shop.

Well, my rupee worries were over and I was carrying around ten Maser Guns and a full stock of healing items.  Now I could just feed Amai everything we came across and she was all the happier for it, quickly rising in power and catching up to my level.

Some of Amai's favourite snacks.

Since Amai and I had explored the entire main continent, we were fairly certain that the end was near since there was only one building we hadn't been able to explore yet.  It was blocked by a Rakshasa who wanted me to fetch him a Beef Bowl to eat.  I had no idea where to get one but was fairly sure that the Cooking Set would be used.  Though I eventually figured out that it was the Cooking Set that allowed me to eat enemies, at this point I thought it was just an item that I hadn't found a use for yet (when attempting to use it from the menu, it gave the message "But I have no ingredients to cook with...").  I was certain that I'd have to accumulate two or more ingredients and then be able to use the set.  Long-time readers will know that when Shen starts into an anecdote and then declares his certainty on something, he ends up being 100 percent wrong.  Yet again, I revisited every single town and chatted with everyone but to no avail.  I got, what I believed to be, one of the ingredients by attacking all the cows that were hanging out in Hoverpool.  Yeah, Sansara Naga has the nice option of letting you attack anyone and anything in the towns (though they regenerate after leaving and coming back).  I had about ten cow livers and set about to looking how to make a nice stock or get some ramen noodles or what the fuck is in a Beef Bowl anyway?  Dread started to creep in as I thought perhaps I missed an item in a dungeon somewhere but then I remembered about the Haratama Huts.  These four huts are spread out across the world and allow for transportation between them.  They also have food available which doesn't heal but the hut proprietor gives a hint on what to do next.  Most of the food options are very cheap and they all result in the same hint.  Except.  For.  The.  Most.  Expensive.  One.  OF.  COURSE.  Choosing the costly take-out results in a battle to the death with a ferocious cow.

Hooves vs. maser.  En garde, indeed.

After all that, I was overjoyed to get the Beef Bowl and be able to continue on my way.  But, oh no, that would be too easy.  As the Rakshasa chowed down on the beefy delicacy, he informed me that Amai would have to be bathed in the blood of a demon called Namuci before letting us pass.  *sigh*  That sounds like it will be much more of a challenge that just ordering some take-out.

Uhhh... ayup.

Namuci wasn't actually all that tough and it softened my heart to watch Amai roll around in its eviscerated carcass, making sure that all that blood got into every nook and cranny.  On the way back, we met up with Ala Singh (the sage who originally gave me the Dragoon Flute) who forced me to let Amai have a rest.  I couldn't get him to relinquish his hold on her, so I just wandered around, picking my nose and fighting the occasional creature by myself, but it just wasn't the same without Amai.  When I went back to see if she was all rested up, I was informed that some Fallen Dragoons had stolen her.  I had to track her all the way back to the cave where I fought the Ichthyosaur and found her slutting it up with three other stray dragons.  As they all prepared to attack me, my parental instincts kicked in and I blasted out a sharp, hyper-amplified note from my Dragoon Flute which smashed into the three horny scumbags with the force of a thousand dads.  After they fled, I was left to reconcile with my dear Amai.

Did you at least use protection during your gangbang?

Well, all her whoring must have done her some good because she was more powerful than ever.

I can see why the boys like
her, just look at those gams!

Now we could finally go beyond the Rakshasa and attempt to enter the dragon realm.  The last hurdle involved two temples, one with male priests and the other with females.  To access the realm of dragons, we needed to break the seal of Rta Sathya by collecting the two Vajras (one in each temple).  Once again, I got stuck in this spot and could not figure out where the Vajras were.  I searched all around the sealed areas, hoping to find a secret door but it was all for naught.  So I played some more DS instead (I know; bad Shen, bad!) and when I came back, decided to just explore every single square in each temple.  Then I stumbled upon something that just made me feel stupid and I rolled my eyes at myself.

Noticeable right from the fucking entrance, too.

Getting the Vajras proved to be no problem and soon Amai and I were on our way to the dragon realm.  Somehow Ala Singh was there and told us that we must defeat the Chaos Dragon before it breaches the barrier between the human and dragon realms.  Cool!  Nothing could stop us now!  What could the game possibly throw at us to impede our destiny?

How about a metric fuckton of tunnels?

Admission time.  I abused my savestates big time here.  The weird thing is that it didn't help much as it still took me a good half hour to find my way through.  Eventually we found the Chaos Dragon who was impatiently tapping his foot and glancing every so often at his wristwatch.

Hot damn, I really like this perspective
that some of the bosses have.

In a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud, the stereotypical end fight was instead initially replaced with a series of dreams consisting of scenes from my past.  Most of these ended with a regular fight against whomever I was dealing with in the dream.  I got to beat up my grandma, a fellow dragoon, and even the professional foodie who hung out at the Haratama Huts.  They weren't just straight up battles either; some dialogue choices were present (though I'm assuming all branches led to a fight).  Being the Shen that I am, I even managed to get stuck during one scene where I was in a bath house with six fine females who were unfightable and all said the same thing.

Now now, sexy ladies, there's more
than enough Shen for everyone.

I thought that perhaps there was bug here and I always worry about game-breaking glitches in translated games, especially when the patch, such as this one, is newly released.  I considered ending the game here and still declaring a win since I WAS IN A BATH HOUSE WITH SIX BEAUTIFUL WOMEN ALL IN LOVE WITH ME.  Alas, I just had to search the middle of the pool to advance.  It's almost as if I hadn't learnt anything from my previous experience at the Rta Sathya temples.  Next up was some strange minigame where I attempted to carve up a watermelon by hitting right and left on the control pad.  After that, I got the classic RPG ending where I'm flanked by soldiers on both sides of me as I approach the king to receive my accolades for winning.

Sike sike super sike.

Then I had to fight some other guys, including a clone of myself, and then finally I was allowed to confront the Chaos Dragon himself.

For realsies this time?

The final battle was as epic as I had hoped.  Father and daughter joining forces against insurmountable odds.  I had run out of maser guns by this point so I had a less sweet sword but Amai was in top form, biting and tearing at our vile nemesis.  The Chaos Dragon could hit me all he wanted as I still had many full heals left but I had nothing left for Amai and her stamina began to wane by round 30.  Just as it seemed that Chaos may get the upper hand, Amai went all out with a massive breath attack that hit C.D. well over ten times.  The Chaos Dragon cried out in agony as his body was consumed by raging green flames.  To my utter dismay, this came at the cost of Amai's life, for it hath been foretold that the Legendary Breath Attack may only be used once by a dragon that had been raised (and loved) by a master Dragoon.

She had a name, damn it... and it was
Amai... *sob* ... AMAAAAAAIIIIII!!!

As I mourned for my dear Amai in the silence of the aftermath, I noticed something underneath her corpse.  On closer inspection, it turned out to be a rainbow egg.  Oh, Amai, why didn't you tell me you were preggers?  Ah, she knew that if she told me that I would just get soft on her and not push her to her maximum potential.  Sweet, precious Amai... you've taught me just as much as I've taught you.  I returned to Hoverpool and received a great medal and a feast in my honour but the food tasted like ash in my mouth.  During the festivities, the rainbow egg began to shake and broke open.  Tears welled up and flowed down my face like a waterfall as the spiting image of a young Amai looked up at me.

Your legacy will live on, Amai.
You will never be forgotten.