November 17, 2016

[Game 061] Rings of Power (GEN - 1991)


Looking at the title and accompanying screen, one may think that this is a Tolkien game, what with the stubby-legged hobbit there and all.  But no, Rings of Power is an entity all unto itself, though it does follow many of the tropes all ready established at that point.  The god Nexus created everything with the help from his Rod of Creation and it was good.  Then the god Void came along, stole the Rod, and took a big dump on everything, causing a cataclysm that lasted a whole 66 years.  Nexus, who was doing lord knows what during those 66 years, eventually battled with Void in a pay-per-view of such epic proportions that it shattered the Rod in half.  Each took one of the halves and split it even further to prevent the other from ever reassembling this ultimate artifact.  Five hundred years later and the segments of power are nothing but a legend to most — but not young Buc.  He's a bright lad who probably should have been named Shen but wasn't.  Buc is a young Sorcerer, devoted to the powers of the mind and one of the six schools of magic that almost everyone belongs to.  From the vaunted high priests to the lowly serving wenches, all have at least some spell casting capability.  It's so common, in fact, that most people don't even use weapons or armour, Buc being one of them.  Buc's master, Thalmus, also believes in the legend and has tasked Buc with leading a party, with each member representing one of the schools, and finding said rings.  Anatomy-minded readers may have already picked up on the tone of the game based off the name of Buc's master, but here's some more evidence, keeping in mind that this is the very first thing that Buc comes across.

Yes, it's that kind of game.

Talking with individuals gives more options than the standard one-liner, with Buc being able to inquire about jobs, class, the local city, and his quest.  Most people will go on at great length on any particular subject.  Unfortunately, 95% of the dialogue is shared between all inhabitants of the same city or class, with some professions bantering exactly the same no matter where in the world Buc is.

Lemme stop you right there.

After doing a minor fetch quest for Thalmus, the students are all gathered for a final briefing, when all of a sudden one of the students assassinates Thalmus, no doubt an agent of Void.  During his death throes, Thalmus teleports each student to a different part of the world.  Buc ends up near the city of Division and is almost immediately accosted by some beggars.  Giving them 50 golds treats Buc to a bunch of ramblings from an obvious madman.

♪ Obsessed with fantasy, possessed with my schemes
I mix reality with pseudo god dreams
The ghost of violence was something I seeeeen
I sold my soul to be the human manchine! ♫

Beyond this, crazy dude also lamblasts censorship while ironically censoring himself and also complains about having to reprogram the blitter code and buc1.bc file.  The developers are obviously having a bit of fun here but it really alters the tone of the game, and not in a way I particularly like.  I can only hope that this guy is the exception and not the norm.  After the chat, Buc enters Division and proceeds to explore a little bit.  He takes a break near the docks to write some stuff down and all of a sudden — BOOM! — bear attack.  Bears can cast the claw spell, which functions exactly the same as any creature swiping with a pointy paw.  Buc can counter with his ranged Stun spell, which thankfully does a little more damage.  Combat is mostly automatic with an option to be fully automated; I can choose Buc's spell and mood (four different ranks of aggression).  Tactical movement is always handled by the AI, which consists of a lot of shuffling and moonwalking about while occasionally attacking.  I'm not sure I understand the point of the movement system, as it takes place on a complete flat field with no terrain or obstacles of any kind.

Oh yeah, it's also in space for some reason.

If Buc spends one of his phases retreating, the opponent will just spend one of its phases to close the gap.  Perhaps with a full party the AI will develop a front rank and attempt flanking maneuvers, but I'm assuming that things like flanking aren't even considered and that full party combats will just be a clusterfuck free-for-all (I have no faith in artificial intelligences that aren't spelt S-H-E-N).  So combat at this point is funny to watch everyone getting down with their bad selves, but is otherwise completely unenjoyable.  At any rate, hanging outside in town is obviously not safe like I thought it would be, so it's best the Buc get off these docks and — BOOM! — two bears attack!  Damn, is the circus in town or what?  Why are these docks so infested with bears?  Well, Buc knows that discretion is the better part of valour and decides to flee to the nearest dwelling.  He meets with Hack, who will allow a knight named Slash to join him if he does some fetching and a fight first.  Being a knight, Slash does have a weapon but needs to cast a spell in order to use it.  With no real leads about any of the rings, Buc and Slash head south to the city of Blood, where the necromancers play.  Buc figures that it'll be another quick fetch n' slay and then he'll add a necro to his ranks, but he is woefully wrong.  He is suppose to take a corpse to a grave site somewhere on a hill south of Blood and is even given coordinates to the exact location.  Problem is, Buc doesn't have a sextant, though he does know one is located in a cave behind a waterfall west of the city of Cathedral.  But he doesn't know where Cathedral is.  So Buc packs up the corpse and heads off into the world to try to find the apparently rare sextant.

No worries, looks like it should keep.

Since the journey could be a long one, Buc breaks out the map he received at the start of his quest.  And what a map it is!  An accurate tile-by-tile representation of the entire world, though lacking any annotations such as city names.  I spent the better part of fifteen minutes just randomly scanning for locations that I think Buc might enjoy hitting up some day.

And admiring the handiwork of some
obviously drunk highway engineers.

It's pretty early in the game but I'm going to put all my chips on the table and say that this map is the best part of the entire game.  It's huge and — and this is the important part — completely open to explore.  Purchasing a ship isn't prohibitively expensive; the biggest concern is the purchase of food and water.  Yes, Rings of Power isn't happy with just a food clock, it also adds a separate water one as well.  Travelling through different terrains depletes each clock differently, roads being the cheapest.  Preparation and planning is required before heading out of any city.  God, it's so nice to have a non-linear world to explore.  Quests are also completely non-linear and multi-layered, requiring a lot of note taking, which I do not mind in the slightest.  There's also a world economy of sorts; each city specializes in production of a product while giving a high price to a certain other product.  There's going to be a lot of backtracking I'm sure, so I've been keeping a log of all the best deals, just in case I run into a cash crunch. I've found five cities so far (including Cathedral), no new party members, seven sextant locations, and have about four pages of notes.  Combat continues to suck the big one though, with encounters that end in Buc and Slash's deaths before they even get a chance to adapt being thrust into the cosmos.

Hey, is that the Rosetta space probe
over ther — oops, I'm dead.

Buc is close to getting the sextant (I hope), so that this party can really get started.  First priority is getting some party members to help prevent all the deaths.  Ideally, I'd like to get a full party before searching in earnest for rings, but I'll play it by ear, exhausting any leads in an area before heading back to follow up on any previous ones.

November 02, 2016

Jubei Quest - Ranking

Story & World

I almost always inject at least a little of my own homebrew story into these games, but it feels like I did it quite a bit with Jubei Quest.  At first, I was thinking maybe I should reduce the score and give the points to myself for delicious hording.  I eventually decided against that since JQ was still the impetus to all my internalized RP.  Even without my additions, JQ still manages to hold its own.  The intro adventures for Shiro and Rock are just fantastic and I thought it was super keen how I could switch back and forth between those and the main quest at my merest whim.  There's also a good mix of fantasy and sci-fi elements, which is always a good thing in my book.

The supporting cast of helpers is great, though there should probably be quotation marks around helper when talking about Jirokichi.  The rest them though are swell and cover a range of activities, such as deciphering ancient text, talking to animals, or upgrading items.  These activities could have been accomplished simply via an item, so I appreciate the extra effort to tie it into a character (after all, it's much harder to make fun of an item).

As expected for a JRPG, the world is quite straightforward and joys of exploration are significantly hampered because of it.  There's some branching off in the dungeons/castles, but these lead to either dead ends or trapped chests for Jirokichi to fuck up on.  The final castle was especially bad for having rooms with nothing in them.  The "airship" also came far too late to have much fun with.  I did a once-over of the entire world but didn't find anything other than the endgame locations.  Oh, I did find it funny that Mt. Fuji (where I became a dragon) was right next to the beginning town, just blocked off by a mountain range.  14/20

Character Development

Six stats rise variably with each level and spells/abilities are generously given to all characters (except Rock).  Level gains are quite high for the first 30 levels or so and then dips appreciably, curtailing the usefulness of grinding.  Three equipment slots are available for a weapon, a suit of armour, and a charm.  No special abilities for any of the pieces of equipment, just a straight stat boost, though the charms are least affect multiple stats in differing ways.  Both Shiro and myself had a large AP pool with most abilities costing very little; both of us having a good mix of offensive and defensive capabilities.  Jubei, in addition his (smaller) arsenal of spells, also had special melee attacks (with only Raiden costing any AP).  I mentioned his double attack but he also could do things like target multiple enemies or attempt a low to-hit/high damage attack.  There's a good number of consumables available with extra cool shit like machine guns, flamethrowers, and bazookas.  Each character can hold seven items and can purchase a donkey to double their capacity.  13/20

Combat & Monsters

A four member party with positional combats is all it takes to keep a JRPG from becoming stale.  Adding to this is that attacks do not carry over if the target dies, although Jubes has two melee attacks that spread, as well as spells that Shiro and I could perform.  Jubei Quest also has the commonplace high encounter rate whenever I'm trying to get somewhere, then dropping to virtually nothing when I'm trying to grind (yes, this is definitely coloured by human perception).

Welp, there wouldn't have been near the number of monstages if I didn't dig the monster design.  Despite a lot of JRPGs having that sameness to each other, the monsies are at least very creative.  Groupings mostly appear well-thought out and one has to rely on careful experimenting and implementing of the various spells and abilities to efficiently deal with them.  There's generally not enough healing available to dick around with encounters, at least up until endgame.  14/20

Graphics & Sound

Now that I've experienced the magic of colour cycling, I don't know how I'll do without it.  i do hope I'll see it at least once or twice again in the future.  Other than that, JQ follows the standard formula; boldly coloured tiles, nice looking monster sprites, and big, impressive bosses.  Nothing that really rocks my world (other than the colour cycling), but nothing that ticks me off either.  Did I mention that I like the colour cycling?  Cuz I do.

The music follows in the graphic's footsteps; it wasn't bombastic but not irritating either.  A serviceable accompaniment all around.  Too bad music can't colour cycle because I like it when things do that.  12/20

Gameplay

Money was pretty tight throughout, but a big part of that is due to me buying so many different outfits and you know that I have to purchase matching shoes for each one, girlfriend.  Sometimes a purchase would require a sizeable cash investment for a paltry stat increase but I would still buy it anyway instead of waiting until the next town because I can't resist a good sale.

The pacing is solid and there were few times when I felt like I had to grind, especially since fleeing was fairly reliable for the majority of the game.  I really like the chapter system for breaking up the story, even if it did slow down completion of this game by a factor of several magnitudes.  Hey, if it works for books, why not vidja?

The challenge level was decently high; random encounters are tough enough to make one seriously consider fleeing from certain creatures as the risk/reward ratio isn't high enough to justify battle.  Doing a run on each castle requires some serious planning on minimizing the path length to the boss; exploration of a castle generally means having to warp out at least once to top up.  15/20

Final Ranking:  68/100