April 16, 2020

Taro's Quest - Ranking

Story & World

Exploring a world that's painfully linear and predictable is no fun the first time, no fun the second time, and I'll be goddamned if it's no fun the third time either.  The story for each chapter is hardly needed, as it quickly becomes apparent that each town has a convenient dungeon nearby that has someone in it who needs to die.  Having to restart the story in each new chapter is annoying as hell, since they don't have any relation to each other beyond the two main characters being in them.  Oh, but I guess TQ ties it all together in the secret fourth chapter when we learn that the three big bads from each chapter were just lackeys of an even bigger bad.  Eat a bag, TQ, and enjoy your one.  1/20

Character Development

You know how it goes for Dragon Quest clones — no player choices when it comes to stat distribution or spell selection and purchasing weapons or armour is always more expensive is better.  This holds true for Taro's Quest as well, except for a brief stint during chapter 2 when I was bouncing between two of Sakura's weapons.  One was fast and one was strong and for some bosses I'd use the fast one in order to have Sakura act before the boss, which was often critical for bustin' off those healing spells.  By chapter 3, I'd learnt that Sakura was casting spells or using love 95% of the time anyway, so I just kept her fastest weapon equipped.  But there was a brief moment there where I felt I was almost playing a game.  The rest of it, though, follows the classic formula, with spells and abilities that rarely work against enemies and barely buff the party.  This generally ends with 98% of the spells cast being of the healing variety.  Inventory management is also classic, with about ten slots for each character but everything goes into it, including quest items.  With almost half the slots taken up with regular equipment, there isn't a lot of room for extra equipment or consumables.  4/20

Combat & Monsters

Zzzzz... huh wazza?  Oh right, the combat in Taro's Quest.  No doubt due in part to not having turbo boost, but I actually did nod off a couple of times while playing and the wife had to poke me to get me booted again.  After she admonished me for spending my free time on such a boring project, I was inclined to agree with her when I realized that I didn't know whether I was going to the dungeon or coming from the dungeon.  Fortunately, the many boss fights made up for a lot of what the random encounters lacked, namely having to pay a little bit of attention.  Monster special abilities were fairly commonplace, especially in bosses, and although I complained about the Ayakasha ability (control of one of the two PCs for THREE fucking rounds), I can appreciate that it's somewhat unique for a DQ clone.  Another nice surprise was with the item drops as they weren't always beneficial; some were trapped with things like another creature to fight (though you'd lose the XP and gold from the first fight for some reason) or just filled with horse manure (which damages HP apparently).  The problem with this idea is that the same creatures would drop the same trap 100% of the time.  I tested this with the horse dung trap in chapter one because I figured for sure that there had to be a sweet drop amidst all that poop.  I'm sure the monsters couldn't believe their eyes as I fell for their shitty trap for the umpteenth time, but this was before I realized how half-assed TQ really was.  5/20

Graphics & Sound

After completing chapter one, I was prepared for the same sprite set to be used in the remaining chapters but TQ pleasantly surprised me by not doing just that.  While I appreciate the number of sprites used, the quality and consistency of said sprites are all over the place.  Some are nice and detailed with good use of shadowing and others look like they were crapped out during a coffee break.  The actual monster depictions are all over the place, from seriously badass (oriental dragons, ninja) to classic folklore (oni, tengu) to pop culture (Jason from Friday the 13th, Frankenstein) to outright zany and goofy (floating googily eyes and lips, single giant foot).  The rest of the graphics are what you'd expect from a DQ clone — a tileset with each square visually representing itself well enough, but not designed to blend with any adjacent tiles, making everything look blocky.  Compare and contrast to Final Fantasy 1 which took the time to extend the sprite set and smooth the forests and mountains for a more natural look.

The music was just atrocious.  Every song was like a root canal but for ears, especially that damn fight music.  It was kinda humorous when, due to the stupid encounter rate, the overworld music would only get half of its first measure off before another fight would start.  My smile would quickly fade after realizing that, oh yes, I'm listening to this fucking battle music again.  8/20

Gameplay

I'll try to give Taro Quest's props when it does something not sucky, and it does manage to balance its economy decently well.  I suppose that's much easier when it's reset twice throughout the game and there's not a whole lot to buy, but still, I never found myself having too much or too little golds.  The pacing of the game, though... whew, it's a slog, a big part due to the encounter rate.  When designing a game, I think an important goal to set is to not have the player fall asleep.  Now, obviously I'm saying this as an adult manchine who has experienced many, many, MANY games and not as a kid who might have TQ as his third NES game ever, so my tolerance level for garbage is pretty low.  But not as low as TQ's final score, haw haw!  4/20

Final Ranking:  22/100

April 07, 2020

Taro's Quest - End Game

Chapters 2 and 3 played out the same as the first and I mean very much the same as the first.  While the map layouts looked different, albeit still very linear, the underlying structures for each chapter were near identical.  It really felt like playing the same game three times over with the only difference being some things had different names but were otherwise functionally identical.  And regardless of what anyone might tell you, having to start over at level one every time is the antithesis of heroic fun.

Dude, I literally have zero experience points.

Jamjam and Sakura's spell lists had some minor changes, but these were relatively unimportant as all the non-healing spells were pretty worthless.  Sakura's buff spells raised a stat by such a small amount that it wasn't worth spending the MP on, especially since her "love" technique could end randomly doing the same (and for both characters, not just one).  For example, if Jamjam was doing an average of 30 HP in an attack, after being "buffed" he'd do an impressive 31 damage (32 if yer lucky).  Debuffs against enemies followed the classic DQ-clone formula —  sometimes work against regular enemies (which one would hardly do since they generally die in one or two hits), and rarely work against bosses (which is exactly when one needs them, but why take a 10% chance for a debuff that barely does anything versus a much higher chance to just do damage).

Oh well, at least the suckiness
also held true for the bosses.

Although most boss battles ranged from mildly interesting to mildly dull, one in particular got my electrons flowin' and my fans spinnin' like crazy.  The opening moves by both Jamjam and said boss were critical hits, bringing JJ to a life-threatening 20 HP.  The boss normally hit for around 20 and Sakura's heal spell restored exactly 20 HP.  This led to a tense melee with Jamjam just barely hanging on while the unscathed Sakura feverishly patched him up each round.  And what fearsome beast of legend managed to produce such a titillating fight?

Easily as iconic as dragons or owlbears.

Another boss was memorable not because of the combat but because of a quirk of the combat engine rules.  It started off with the typical boss bragging and trash-talking that they always do and then combat was set to begin, which always includes a chance for either side to gain surprise and a free round of attacks.  The surprise message is always the same, saying that the opponent has not seen the party yet.  So when it happened here, I had to laugh as I pictured the boss huddled over a bed with her Jamjam and Sakura dolls and practicing her speech for the "big day".

THEY'RE NOT DOLLS!
THEY'RE ACTION FIGURES!

Well, I've mentioned a good boss fight and an amusing one.  How about rounding it out with the shittiest one?  The final boss of chapter two ripped me a new one somethin' fierce.  He hit hard like any other boss but was also fast enough to go before Sakura, which meant that she had to guess as to whom the damage was going to go to.  Sakura could only take two hits before taking the ol' dirt nap and would be taking a risk waiting until she was hit once before deciding to heal.  She did have a healing spell that affected both her and JJ, but it was less than what the boss could dish out.  If that wasn't bad enough, the boss could also shoot webs that took THREE bloody rounds to get out of, when even one round without Sakura could mean someone dying (usually Sakura).

And he seemed like such a nice
chap when we first met.
Nopes, annihilation for all.

I could not beat this fucker.  I played it straight for about five times through his long, boring-ass castle and then just saved right before his smug ass where I failed another ten times or so.  Crap.  I needed to grind some levels to boost JJ and Sakura's HP and MP, which are the only two stats that increase worth a damn on leveling up.  I picked a spot that had middling enemies that were easy enough to defeat quickly whilst yielding some decent experience.  I did that for about an hour, bravely catching my nodding, slumbering head and putting little toothpicks inbetween my eyelids in order to keep them open.  I did two full levels and made my way back, fleeing every encounter possible to save MP so I was nearly at maximum power, and it still took about 25 battles to finally beat him.  Maybe I'm just bad at JRPGs, but it's more likely that JRPGs are just bad.

Ya damn right, TQ... ya daaamn right.

The one saving grace from chapter to chapter was a decent amount of different monsie sprites, especially the nice big ones that the numerous bosses have.

Of course I'm doing a monstage — they're
pretty much the only thing I like about
TQ (especially the water ninjas, lol).

There's also a lot of palette swapping, which I'm fine with, but TQ manages to screw this up too.  In any given "area", the wandering monster encountered will be a random pick between two or three creatures.  This is fine in and of itself, but sometimes TQ would have two of the three choices being palette swaps of each other.  It's little details like that, plus the obvious cut 'n paste job of each chapter that makes Taro's Quest seem lazy and/or rushed.  Here's a graphic example of what I'm talking about:

And you'd best believe there's a palette-swapped
Water Demon...  IN THE SAME AREA...
AND THEY'RE THE ONLY TWO
CREATURES IN THE AREA.

This holds true for the FOURTH chapter as well.  Yeah, I almost shat the pants when chapter three didn't immediately go to the end credits.  Thankfully, the final chapter is short, consisting of a island with a single path spiraling into itself and peppered with unavoidable boss fights, in addition to the regular randoms.

Umm, if I'm not walking directly on skulls during
the boss approach, then consider me unimpressed.

The drop-off point of the island had a inn on it and I made sure after beating the first boss that I could cross back over, stay at the inn, and have that boss still be considered defeated.  I managed to get through five bosses before I needed to rest up and, rather than schlep it back on foot and have to deal with the annoying encounter rate, I used the Shinobi Kite warp item to get back to the inn.  Well, I guess doing that does regenerate the bosses because fuck this game.  So, on my second run through the boss rush, I made sure to not just escape from the random encounters, instead taking the opportunity to work Sakura's love ability to occasionally regen some MP and keep both her and Jamjam topped up for the final confrontation with ol' whatshisname.

Oh yeah, I forgot.  That's what happens when the
first and only mention of your end antagonist
is at the beginning of the final chapter.
Nice worldbuilding.

The king wasn't too difficult and I was almost expecting a final form to show up but nope, it's off to the end scene.  Oh, I mean, first we'll go on a forced trip through the overworld to the village where the end scene is located, taking in all the wondrous beholdment of the rich, vibrant world of Taro's Quest.

*sniff* ... so epic.

The above pic perfectly summarizes the TQ experience — floating in a vast sea of sameness and you're something that shouldn't be where you are.  I should be playing only decent games when I'm gaming at all, but that won't lead to blog entries and/or lulz, so I guess I'll shoehorn some of these into the rotation and hope to hit some gems once in awhile.


March 12, 2020

[Game 068] Taro's Quest (NES - 1989)

Translation by aishsha & Pennywise

aaaaaaaaahhhhhHHHH... THUD!  Argh, I thought I'd never get out of that infinite loop.  Good thing I'm a fast runner. Now let's see how much time has passed... oh crapballs, just over 52,173,915 seconds!  Man, I'm so far behind and I also see that more crappy JRPGs have been translated during my absence. Welp, time to manchine up and get this shitshow started.  Not surprisingly, my post-hiatus game is yet another DQ clone that manages to bring nothing new to the table. It also commits the heinous sin of not allowing the Nung to name the main character after his fine egotistical ass.  So instead you get this guy, Juju-something-or-rather.

Pretty damn smug for level 1.

He has to retrieve the ninja scroll stolen from his ninja village, probably by ninjas.  Juju is apparently a ninja as well, as he's armed with a single shuriken which he uses in melee combat (hey, I didn't say he was a good ninja).  It's just as well, though, since he can barely hold his own against the initial enemies.

Aren't they all though?

One mildly interesting aspect of Taro's Quest is that one can pick any of the three chapters to start with.  Because I'm half computer, of course I have to start at index 0 (which means chapter 1 to you meatwads).  However, I also know that this means that each chapter is going to restart me at level one, where the bullshit density tends to be the highest.  The biggest offence that TQ commits is something I've whined about before in the past, a high encounter rate that can (and often does) trigger one or two steps after the last battle.  Compounding this is one of the worst battle tunes I've ever heard; a high-pitched, repetitious, ear bleeder that just makes the unenjoyable combat even more so.  Even the addition of a cute, female co-hero named Sakura didn't help a lot; she was pretty much a major liability until she gained a few levels, then she upgraded to a minor liability.  But she did have her uses.

I have the feeling we'll be coming
together every night, baby.

Falling into the stereotype, Sakura sucks in melee but has enhanced magic capabilities with more spells and magic points.  She also has a special attack called — wait for it — love.  Love can boost a random stat for both characters by an amount that makes little difference or just do nothing at all.  At first I was going to write this ability off, but I'm glad I played with it a little more because it also occasionally restores a decent amount of MP for both.  This is super handy as there are no MP restoring items and all healing is done via magic.  There are HP restoring items, but they're weak, are single use, and take up a valuable slot in the limited inventory.  Now with love on hand, Juju and Sakura can take extended forays into the overworld and not have to worry too much about running out of health.  Not that I particularly want to commit to such an excursion due to that being where all the crappy combats are.  Now, you may be saying to yourself, "But Shen-shen, have you considered just using your turbo booster to speed through the battles?".

Gee, I dunno.  Does a stupid dog shit in the woods?

First of all, turbo boost has never affected my ability to moan and bitch about a game.  Second of all, that isn't an option for me as my primary emulator wouldn't run TQ at all and my secondary's turbo boost doesn't work worth shit.  An apt punishment, I suppose, for being away for so long, but I'm still going to get my grumbles on.  Let's move onto the UI, which is not something I complain about very often, but the one utilized here is bafflingly bad.  Even though TQ came out 89,510,400 seconds after DQ, it somehow manages to make menu and dialogue navigation completely frustrating with how slow and sluggish it is.  One can actually see the window frames being drawn on screen and then filled with the appropriate text, which usually likes to scroll slowly up from the bottom instead of just being written directly to the top line.  This is lots of fun when I'm trying to patch up Juju and Sakura with their healing spell, which usually requires multiple castings after each battle since it heals a static 20 damage.  Each casting also closes out the entire menu (which one can visibly see being undrawn), which means renavigating the whole thing over again.  Transferring an item from one character's inventory to another will also pop up a display of both their inventories, one at a time, as if I wasn't just in their fucking inventories to make the transfer.  Even just casting a spell requires multiples lines of dialogue apparently.  For example, the restoration spell, which completely heals a character, requires FOUR separate sentences to slothfully scroll through the window display ("Sakura attacks!  Sakura uses the Restoration Jutsu!  Juju restores some HP!  Juju is completely restored!").  All the shopkeeps like to exploit the lethargic UI as well, saying the same two or three statements every damn time I visit when I just want to purchase stuff and leave.

Not that I'm going to complain to this guy's face.

This guy also pulls a PSII shopkeep jerk-move by ridiculing Juju when he inquires about the kimono that's for sale, claiming that Juju "lacks the right assets".  That may well be true, but that doesn't explain why he says the exact same thing when asked about the bow, which I'm pretty sure doesn't require titties.  Anyway, what was Juju's mission again?  Oh yes, retrieve dat ninja scroll.  Well, it was easy enough to find out it was stolen by some punk named Karasutengu, but finding him is another matter altogether.  It doesn't help that some other punk named Master Chop Suey won't help until Juju finds three marks (strength, wisdom, and courage) to prove his worth.  Whilst doing Chop Suey's busywork tasks, Juju also has the option to jack some mini-bosses for their jewels.  Not saleable jewels, but magic jewels that essentially give Juju another spell in his list.  The first one, the Thunder Jewel, gives Juju a direct damage magic attack that is useful against certain enemies with physical resistance as it does a straight 25 damage regardless of defence.  The second jewel, the Evil Fog, fared much worse.  The first hint was that the guardian of said jewel used it twice during combat — both times it did nothing.  After Juju received and tried it a few times himself, it still did nothing, whether in combat or out of it.  Shrugging, I thought for sure the final jewel, the Fire Blast, would have to be an upgraded version of the Thunder, but it doesn't work in combat either, though I only tried it about four times before giving up on it.  TQ also manages to fuck up something as basic as getting a sea-faring vessel for our heroes.  Oh, it's technically a sea-faring vessel.

One of the finest submarines feudal Japan has to offer.

What?  Why a submarine?  The game doesn't break the time period in any other place, which makes this all the worse.  It's not like the sub actually travels under the water at any point, so what the actual hell?  The random encounters take place underwater, but I don't think it'd be a stretch to assume Juju and Sakura could dive off their skiff or whatever.  Or, even better, have them snorkeling, which would also be very ninja-like.  This probably bothers me more than it should, but I spent a good amount of time grinding in the lakes to get some sweet armour, so my exposure level is somewhat high.  At any rate, the sub did do its duty to get JJ and Sakura from island to island for the final leg of the quest.  So, by this time, Juju had already bought every piece of equipment he knew about, so gold wasn't a big motivator.  He was still gaining levels, but the stat increase from levels is very low compared to what equipment does, so experience wasn't a big deal either.  Since the battles are so boring and slow, Juju and Sakura are just retreating from every battle, not so much to avoid damage, but to avoid wasting time.  There were lots of battles, too, thanks to the stellar design of the final set of dungeons.

Wanna guess how many times this repeats?

The above pictured dungeon was the one with the last mark needed for Master Chop Suey and I literally had Juju and Sakura fleeing from every battle.  I didn't even remember which mark it was until Juju opened the chest, revealing the courage mark just dripping with irony.  Whatever.  Didn't care.  Fleeing from the later monsters was pretty necessary anyway as most of those fuckers had this Ayakashi ability that charmed one of the two heroes and made them attack the other.  If it was Juju, he would absolutely destroy Sakura in a round or two, so it was better to just flee.  If it was Sakura, it was just as bad as Juju had to take care of healing himself in addition to finishing off the monster, which extended the battle substantially.  Oh, and when one of them broke the spell after a few rounds, guess what?  That ol' monsie could just cast that fucking spell again.  So screw it, I had 'em flee through the whole final dungeon as well, which was long and boring until they hit the final approach; a fanged skull cave with a carpet of bones and skulls leading up to it and flanked by a moat.

Karasutengu's attention to detail on his carpet
 is part impressive, part terrifying.

The final battle with Karasutengu was so forgettable that I'm not even giving him a pic; I'll prolly just toss him into a monstage, if I even bother with that.  TQ must have detected my ire with it because it decided to slap its floppy dick into my face one last time.  So, immediately after the fight, I was a little confused as Juju and Sakura were still in the dungeon, like nothing happened.  Hrm.  Oh well, I'll just get them to use the Shinobi Kite item to warp out like I have tens of times before.  But wait!  What's this?  When I tried to open up the item menu, I got the message "You don't need this anymore.".  No TQ, actually this is the one place where it would be the most useful.  Man, I was not looking forward to walking all the way back out, fleeing from a bazillion fights.  I was about a quarter of the way back, encounter-free, when I realized that there weren't going to be any more battles; it was just TQ being a time-wasting prick again.  Normally I would rage but I was too happy with the thought that it was finally coming to an end, so I rather enjoyed watching JJ and Sakura saunter out the dungeon and into the final scene.  I got angry again when the game reminded me that I am the Nung and I must therefore forever suffer.

Oh right, I've still got two more chapters to do.

*sigh*  Where's an infinite loop when you need one?