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.