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Thank you for visiting; this is a blog that chronicles my playthroughs of various Super Famicom, PC Engine, and general strategy RPGs. Feel free to respond here to introduce yourself, let me know what your favorite SRPG is, whatever.

I generally update on Saturday or Sunday. I play one strategy RPG, then two Super Famicom (or PC Engine) RPGs.

I’ve now finished the links to all the previous posts, so you can use the links at the top to see the full list of played games so far. Also, if you are only interested in certain types of posts, you can filter by categories (see the bottom of the sidebar). The three categories are Strategy RPGs, Super Famicom RPGs, and PC Engine RPGs.

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SFC Game 115 – Dark Half

Dark Half (ダークハーフ), released 5/31/1996, developed by Weston, released by Enix

This game tried a lot of interesting new system ideas, but ultimately I didn’t like it.

The idea of the game is that you switch off between two protagonists — one is Falco, a hero, and then Rukyu, the Dark King. 1000 years ago, six heroes defeated Rukyu. He is now out for revenge against them, whereas Falco hears of the Dark King’s revival and gets caught up in the attempts to stop his evil plans.

The game takes place over 7 days. For the first 6, you switch off between Ryuku and Falco, and the 7th day is the final chapter. The two protagonists work differently, but have some similarities.

Both characters have “soul power” (at the top left) which goes down with every step you take, and for Rukyu it powers his spells. If it hits 0, you get a game over. The dungeons have a lot of traps that are designed to steal your soul power or make you walk a bunch of extra steps. The save points give you 500 soul power back but you can only use each save point once, and there aren’t very many of them. This makes the game quite frustrating to play if you want to play it straight — I used save states.

Rukyu has demon/monster allies — starting in the second day he can use the Dark Gate to capture monsters. This powers up his spell levels but also allows the monster to join the team. The battles are on a grid, but you can’t control the monsters at all, even general AI settings. Also Rukyu cannot move or attack, only cast spells. So even if a monster comes right up to him (like in the image above) all he can do is sit there and take the hits. Healing also doesn’t work on him; all you have is a small amount of HP you recover at the end of each fight.

For Falco, you have human companions. You get scrolls from defeating enemies that can be used as spells, and also “Chaos Orbs” that increase stats. There is no normal levelling system. You can control your allies and Falco but you can’t move freely, you can only choose who you want to attack — this is annoying because the spells have areas of effect but you can’t actually move your characters into specific positions to take advantage of them.

Because of all of this, the difficulty level is quite high if you want to play without any assistance. If you know some tricks you can make it somewhat easier, but there are still some frustrating boss battles where the enemies seem to get 5 or 6 turns for every one turn of yours. The most powerful equipment is also hidden in random areas on the map.

When you walk around as Ryuku, you gain soul power by killing the humans in the towns and absorbing their spirits. The dialogue is always interesting when you do this as the humans beg for their lives or else are resigned to their fate. When you are Falco you can come across these dead bodies and take their “light of hope”; if you can collect 90 of them throughout the game you can get the best ending.

Now for the plot spoilers. As you continue in the game with Ryuku, there are hints that he’s not really a “dark king” — ultimately it turns out he is the creator of the world, who was ready to destroy humans because of their sins, but decided to wait 1000 years to give the humans a chance to do better. Now the 1000 years are up and they haven’t done any better so he decides to wipe them out.

Meanwhile on the Falco side, the king who was once one of the 6 heroes has decided to use Ryuku’s ring to control the world himself. Once you complete the first 6 days for both characters, Falco and Ryuku do a final showdown. You can pick which character you want to control for the fight.

I picked Falco because if you have the Dark Gate for him you can kill Ryuku in one use of the spell. I did not have 90 lights of hope so I got a medium ending where Ryuku entrusts his ring to Falco, who becomes the new ruler of humanity but it leaves the question open of how Falco does that. I looked at some of the other endings but they looked equally vague.

As I said in the opening, I didn’t like the game. I found the system annoying and poorly implemented, and the plot was only so-so. It has a translation patch so you can try it out for yourself, if you want.

SFC Game 114 – Treasure Hunter G

Treasure Hunter G (トレジャーハンターG), released 5/24/1996, developed by Sting, released by Square

This is Square’s final game for the Super Famicom. It’s classified by some people as a strategy RPG, for me it’s perhaps SRPG adjacent but isn’t quite there. The game follows Red G and Blue G, the sons of the treasure hunter Brown G who has disappeared seeking something. The brothers go north of their town to look for an “iron bird” that appeared there, which begins an adventure that leads to the usual world-saving quest.

The battles take place on grids like the above. Each character has a certain number of ACT points, which decrease when you take actions. The enemies have colored areas around them, and moving within them takes more ACT points the stronger the color is. Also there is a “grid level” to the whole map which also affects how many points all the actions take.

Overall this is an interesting system. The biggest problem with it is that you cannot take back any move, meaning that if you hit the wrong direction you can end up wasting a large amount of points. The attacks can also go wrong — if you try to attack empty air it won’t use any points, but you can attack your own allies and that will take up points. So you need to pay careful attention to which way you’re facing (you can change with the L and R button).

Each character also has abilities that use up SP. SP go up by levelling and then paying 50 gold to a priest (who also saves your game). After a battle, each character will recover some HP, and you also recover HP when you gain a level (even in battle).

There are two types of defense — F Guard (front) and B Guard (back); often it’s better to attack enemies from behind, although it may take more movement points to get there. Some weapons have 2 range and will hit any enemies/allies in that range. Axes knock enemies into another square and also usually turn them around.

Inventory management is a huge headache. Each character can only carry 20 items, and you get a lot of items so that quickly fills up. You’re constantly having to discard items or sell them — I’ve said this before but I’ve never played a game where I thought it was fun to frequently manage inventory. Inventory space doesn’t necessarily have to be unlimited, but when you are having to do inventory management multiple times in each town or dungeon and after every couple of battles, that’s tedious.

The game also has unnecessarily “cute” ways of doing town services — you pay for the inn and then have to walk to the bed yourself. You buy things by picking up items, then going to the clerk and paying for them, and then deciding whose inventory each will go in (at which point you can’t see the stats or who can equip). There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel like this for something that makes the experience worse.

The graphics are fine — they are a good example of late SFC style. I feel that the sprites are kind of fuzzy and they remind me of Donkey Kong Country; I think I prefer the more typical sharper style of RPG sprite but it’s not a big issue.

There are four characters in your party:

  • Red is the typical sword fighter. He gets a lot of action points and can equip powerful weapons. He also had sword techniques — the “double attack” is particularly useful in boss battles.
  • Blue uses spears or axes. Spears have a 2 range; sometimes it’s one front and one back, sometimes it hits both enemies in range, other times just the one 2 away (depends on the spear). His moves are all trap-laying moves that require enemies to walk over them. I never bothered using them, or any of the items that have the trap effects.
  • Rain is the healer, she uses Chakrams which have a 2 range and can also cast fire spells. But the healing is her main virtue.
  • Pongo is a monkey, who has a wide variety of elemental spells and also uses 2 range boomerangs. His AoE spells are very useful in a lot of battles.

The battle strategies tend to revolve around minimizing your AP expenditure moving, but you also need to get in position to do good damage (especially if you have to attack from behind). Spells can help a lot. Sometimes there are enemies that hide at the back and attack all of your guys or summon people, and so there you have to be able to either beat the front enemies quickly or manage to get around them to the back.

For the most part I did not find the game particularly challenging although there are a few tough battles. There are often heal points in dungeons, and the enemy encounters do not regenerate until you leave the dungeon so it’s not uncommon that you can heal completely after each fight if you need to.

The plot is a pretty basic “collect 7 items to stop the Dark King from destroying the world” plot with only one or two twists. There is some evidence of haste; several characters are introduced that seem like they should be involved in the storyline but barely make an appearance at all.

This game is OK but could have been a lot better if they had a better inventory system. Nevertheless, it’s probably still worth playing for SFC RPG fans, and I believe there is a patch.

SFC Game 113 – Gokinjo Boukentai

Gokinjo Boukentai (ごきんじょ冒険隊), released 5/24/1996, developed by ITL, released by Pioneer

The title of this game might be translated as “Neighborhood Adventure Group” — I think the title is supposed to evoke the idea of a bunch of children pretending to be adventurers. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the main character Mana is a preschooler and the various party members you get throughout the game are other people in her preschool class.

The game occurs over 6 months. In each period, you first do the preschool section during the week, and then have the exploration/event on Sunday.

You choose two subjects that Mana will work on during the week — speaking, playing, napping, building, or exercise. You can also pick a friend to work with, and sometimes a third friend will join as well (I’m not completely sure what determines this). Each activity will be done 3 times and has three different results — failure, OK, or success. The better you do the more your stats increase. When one of those dark green bars fills up completely, you get a blue gem that indicates that stat has increased.

There are no experience levels in the game so this is the only way (other than equipment) to change your stats.

Mana’s mom then wakes her up on Sunday and the adventure part of the game starts. Each Sunday has an event, although some of the events require Mana to have certain stats for them to activate. Sometimes there are alternate events provided — for instance, on 4/28 there is one even if Mana’s strength is above 16, and an alternate event if it is below 16. Other times if you don’t fulfill the requirements there simply will not be an event that day. You can tell this is what happened if there is no cutscene between the training and mom waking you up, and if mom doesn’t say anything beyond her usual wakeup speech. In that case you can just do whatever shopping or talking you want to in the town and then tell mom you’re ready to go to bed. You can also sometimes skip events entirely by going to bed, or later in the game by visiting the “clear man”. You can only skip through some of the days like this, though.

On the first day Mana meets God(!) who then sets up shop in the pipe in that picture; this is where you can save your game and add companions to your party for the day. There are a total of 5 party members aside from Mana, although I believe that 2 of them are optional. Mana’s cat also hangs around randomly and can sometimes do helpful things in battle.

Mana can then wander the town. Apparently 1/3 of the size of the cart is text, and there are a lot of people in the town who frequently change what they say. This is mostly window dressing, though. The town is pretty complicated to navigate, and I would recommend using a map or making your own, noting what the various stores sell and where key people are. The shops that sell the weapons and armor for characters aren’t always immediately evident. They change inventory each month.

Money is relatively limited in the game. Mana will get an allowance from her mom each day, but it’s not that much money. The cat will sometimes return with money, but this is unreliable. You can sell items for money; enemies drop things like Crowns and Iron Scrap that you can trade with some people in town for items that can be used in battle or sold.

The events frequently deal with Nanako (the pink haired girl) who is the daughter of a rich CEO and bullies everyone else. Other antagonists (or semi-antagonists) are Gojirin, whose underlings remind me of Earthbound.

There are also some fantastical elements, such as meeting kappa in a river, and helping ghosts.

The events always end with Mana’s mom coming to get her, scolding her for being late for dinner — she’s able to find you anywhere.

The battle system has some peculiarities. You recover all your HP at the end of each battle. Techniques cost HP to use, so there is some limit on what you can do in that respect.

By rotating your formation at the bottom you can change the stats a bit. I found that in general the difficulty level was relatively high, especially at the beginning. If Mana’s HP reaches 0, you get a game over, but God will then take you to train and you will upgrade one of the three main stats (atk, def, spd) and try again. These upgrades go away when you beat the enemy — I believe that if you keep getting game overs the upgrades stack, but I’m not 100% certain about that.

Although most of the game is just foiling Gojirin or Nanako’s mischief, a pattern emerges of people being possessed by some kind of evil spirit that we keep driving out. Eventually that leads to the final boss, who is some sort of embodiment of those negative feelings.

In the end Mana moves away because her father gets a job transfer, but all her friends say goodbye to her as she goes.

You can then replay the game in V-MAX mode, which doubles the gains you get from the training/school parts and thus makes it much easier to qualify for the events that require certain levels of stat (you can easily qualify for them without V-MAX, though, if you know what they are in advance — the one you have to work the hardest for is Level 4 Conversation by 8/25, but even this can be done without too much trouble.)

On the negative side, the balance can be a bit weird sometimes. I had several instances where enemies surprised me and got the first turn, and killed Mana before I could act. However, given the way the game over works that’s not a huge deal because you’ll come back with better stats and they may not get the surprise attack. Sometimes the hints for where to go next are hard to find or even nonexistent, although being able to skip days means that it’s hard to get completely stuck. There are some interface issues — you can’t see what items do when you’re buying them, which is annoying given the limited money. You can only see what the abilities do from the status menu, not when you’re in battle. It’s a little surprising that in 1996 companies are still not providing basic information like this to the player in a helpful way.

But overall I had fun with the game and it’s definitely worth a play. The cuteness and quirkiness sets it apart from the other RPGs of the era, and there’s a lot you can do and explore in the little town.

SFC Game 112 – Adventure of Hourai High School

Adventure of Hourai High School!! Transfer Student Scramble (蓬萊学園の冒険), released 4/19/1996, developed by J Wing

This is a game based on a somewhat extensive 1990s franchise that began with a “play by mail” game in a magazine — this is about the third or fourth game I’ve covered that started as one of these magazine games. From there they made a tabletop RPG with supplement books, and several manga and novelizations. This was the only video game. The setting is a huge island with a sprawling high school campus as well as some other locations that can serve as places for adventure.

The main feature of the system are the school clubs, which I imagine was a big part of the other versions of the game as well. Each character can be a member of 3 clubs, each of which has 3 levels. This is basically a job system, and when you “master” a club you can keep its abilities even if you switch to another club. Each club requires a certain kind of personality to join, so only certain people can join certain clubs. Some also have level requirements.

This is an interesting system but there are three issues that make it not as good as it could have been:

  1. You cannot see what abilities do in battle, only from the out of battle status menu. This is annoying given the large number of abilities.
  2. Switching clubs is a hassle because you have to go to the club building for most of them, but some of the better clubs are in other locations that require you to go through dungeons or make long trips. When you have a party of 10 people or more it’s tedious to do that.
  3. Finally, the game is so easy that the club abilities aren’t really necessary. The random encounter rate is very high. You do recover HP and GP (for the abilities) on level up, so you could use your abilities frequently, but it’s easier just to hold down a turbo button and speedup key. The bosses are easy enough that I beat them all just using a few basic club abilities, mostly the “triple hit” from the Kendo club and the heal abilities that you can get from one of the starting clubs as well. Although I rarely even had to heal in a boss fight.

You get a lot of companions throughout the game and earn “friendship points” that you can level up people’s connection to you, which strengthens their friendship ability that you can use before a battle. I tried using these a few times and they failed so I pretty much ignored this.

Sometimes I feel like this kind of criticism is a bit unfair to the game and may not reflect everyone’s experience — because of this project I’m doing, I’m usually looking to cut corners to finish a game faster unless it’s an exceptionally fun game. I imagine that if I had this game as a teenager I probably would have spent a lot more time with the job system.

The story involves one year in the life of a transfer student, who you name and choose the sex of. She is complaining that the plane trip is taking too long and so they push her out of the plane — her parachute doesn’t open so she lands in the middle of the new semester assembly, sending one student to the hospital. She immediately joins the school newspaper, and a lot of the game involves seeking scoops for that paper.

As you might be able to see from that description of the start, the story is relatively silly and involves a lot of gags and surreal things. It takes place over thirteen different dates in the year.

The first chapter is in April, and is basically just the introduction. Trying to get a scoop, you overhear someone seemingly hypnotize the student council into approving a “horse fight” competition (which you can see above). In the US we usually do this in a swimming pool, but when I was in Japan on the JET program I saw them do this on dirt fields in both elementary and middle school — I couldn’t believe people didn’t get seriously injured (you have to try to knock the top person off).

In May the first of the new “rules” goes up, that students have to exercise every day. In the jungle we do the competition, but also free someone named Hinako from a cell; someone unknown imprisoned her because she’s descended from some ancient priestesses.

The third chapter in May involves tracking down the Twilight Penguin group who stole test answers to sell — it turns out one of the teachers was involved, but we foil their plans.

In June (chapter 4) we meed Isaac and Julia, an international student couple (interracial! in the US even in 1996 this was unusual in media, and in some ways still is). A ghost joins our party, and we defeat a Devil Jinn accidentally summoned by a member of the occult club.

Chapter 5 (July) involves going to Shinmachi north of campus to a Star Festival, but some mysterious group (not the penguins) has stolen the necessary prayer book for the festival, and we have to track it down.

Chapter 6 and 7 (August) involve a school trip to Africa where the plane crashes midway and we’re stranded on an island. There the young principal sneaks into a forbidden temple to try to recover some kind of ancient artifact, which turns out to be a notebook owned by the founder of Hourai. It also turns out that we crashed on the Hourai island, the plane barely made it out of the runway before crashing.

Chapter 8 involves the inventor club’s robot going berserk; it is controlled by Shin, one of the people in the same group as Rachel (who was hypnotizing the student council at the beginning). His goal was to implement strict new rules for campus, but nobody is following them.

In Chapter 9 we learn the secret group is “Kouzan Nostra”, looking for some kind of secret items to take over the school. Chapter 10 is Christmas, and you have to investigate fake Santas to find out which one is working for Kouzan Nostra.

In Chapter 11 we go to the campus’ research lab to once again stop Kouzan Nostra from acquiring an item they want, and we learn the name of their leader, Jomra. Professor Daiouji tells us that KN needs to implement all the rules in their secret book to be able to take over the school, but we can stop them with three secret items (a pencil, a ledger, and the first student ID card). We happen to already have 2 of them, and Chapter 12 nabs us the third one.

Now in Chapter 13 it’s time to stop the Kouzan Nostra. First, we fly into the student assembly to stop the hypnotizing of the entire class.

Jomra flees under the school, and reveals that the Kouzan Nostra are descendants of miners who were excavating ore from the island when Hourai High School was suddenly built on top of them, trapping them underground. Now it’s time for revenge. He shows us the Mogemoge Idol which is the god they all worship, and then uses the power of the “Keystone”, a special stone made with the island’s ore, to transform into a monster.

After beating Jomra, the Mogemoge idol comes to life, which surprises Jomra because he had just made up Mogemoge as a way to intimidate Kouzan Nostra into following his plans. But it seems all the bad feelings in the campus have crystallized to give life to the “god”. The three items give us power to fight the final boss.

The game ends with the closing ceremony, and you get your “grades” which is a record of what you did in the game. But what happened to the Keystone? It was destroyed, right? Dum dum dum…

This is a pretty average game. There is a lot of content and a lot of stuff to do in the game, even if a lot of it isn’t very meaningful (I didn’t search for the “7 wonders of Hourai Campus” for instance). If the interface and system were a little more up to date it would have been a lot more fun.

SFC Game 111 – Mahoujin Guruguru 2

Mahoujin Guruguru 2 (魔法陣グルグル2), released 4/12/1996, developed by Tamtam, published by Enix

This is the followup to the first Guruguru game, released about a year later. In my post on the original game I gave some background on the series but I failed to notice that although the original manga had ended in 2003, there is a “Mahoujin Guruguru 2” that started in 2012 and is still running in the online version of Monthly Gangan.

The first game was only marginally an RPG; it had no real story and was based on randomly generated dungeons. This game is a full-fledged RPG though, essentially an unusual type of action RPG.

As in the first game, you only control Kukuri, while Nike automatically fights the monsters. However, this time the battles take place on the same map as the exploration. When the battle starts, Nike will face up against the enemy and try to attack. You can change AI settings for him but without the instruction manual I was never sure what they did. Meanwhile, Kukuri can run around the map and cast spells to support Nike or damage the enemy. The spellcasting is the same as in the first game and I can copy my comments from the post there:

“To cast a spell, you first choose one of four elements (wind, fire, life, water). Then you pick an area of effect, and then a style (like “powerful”). This makes a possible 64 combinations that result in 64 different spells. The idea is interesting but as with most games that offer this many spell choices, there are a few that are really powerful and the rest aren’t worth using.” In the 2nd game you get all of the effect/style/element factors by moving forward in the story. None of them are hidden or optional. I don’t remember if this was the case in the original, but here you also have to have Kukuri at a certain level to be able to cast each spell. It’s hard to keep track of what is what; I had to make a list of the useful spells in my notebook.

If there is more than one enemy in the area, the other enemies can attack Nike or Kukuri with spells or other moves. Kukuri can try to deal with those enemies on her own but for the most part she’s more effective helping Nike deal with the monster he’s fighting. Nike often is not all that effective; his attacks frequently miss and it takes him a long time to kill an enemy unless you are way above the enemy’s level.

The game balance is problematic beyond what I just mentioned. There are bosses that will kill Kukuri in one hit from full HP even with the best equipment she can buy, meaning that there is no way to beat the boss other than levelling up. For the majority of the game, I found that if I was strong enough to reach the boss I was also strong enough to beat it, but there were a few times (the last boss in particular) where grinding was necessary. Fortunately there is a code where you can set the XP you get from a battle; if you set it too high it messes up but if you put it around 500 XP per battle you can quickly level up to wherever you need to be.

The plot is as usual mostly a parody of Dragon Quest-style RPGs; overall it’s pretty light and has only a few turns. According to the kusowiki description, the plot makes more sense and is more satisfying if you have read the manga.

The beginning of the game is actually the hardest part — you have to do a tutorial battle with only Nike and also one with only Kukuri. You can’t do any levelling or upgrades, you just have to beat the fights. The battle system is very unintuitive at first — I died so many times in these tutorial battles that I seriously thought of skipping the game entirely, but I watched a video where someone beat the Nike part just by holding down the attack button at the start of the fight, and while that didn’t work completely for me, it was enough to beat the boss. To beat the Kukuri fight you need to figure out how the initial spell works; it’s easy to hit yourself with it and at level 1 that does a huge amount of damage (of course you have no healing items).

Once you get past that the game is still a bit tricky until you level up a bit because you still have to be careful of hitting yourself or Nike with the fireball. Fortunately all but the very early spells autotarget the enemies so it’s not an issue after the first area.

The game is entirely linear. You come to a new village and have to solve a problem there, then you automatically get moved on to the next village — you can revisit old areas with a flying shoes item, but the only reason you would want to do that is that grinding is easier in previous areas than in current ones.

Basically you do the same thing in each area — fight the monsters in the area and find the treasure chests until you can reach the boss (and have the best equipment and a good stock of healing items), and then beat the boss. Level up if you can’t do it. If you die you lose half your money but keep everything else.

The hardest part for me other than the beginning was the Nekojita Valley because the healing items weren’t keeping up with Nike and Kukuri’s HP and I had not gotten the healing spell yet, so I basically had to grind until I was much more powerful than the enemies.

Eventually you get the glimmer of a story — in order to defeat Giri in the Underworld, Kukuri and Nike need the power of the four spirits. At the same time, they hear about another person from Kukuri’s clan who tried to get the power himself and sealed the spirits away.

This turns out to be the final boss Rido, a failed guruguru user who tried to get the power to defeat Giri himself but realized he was too weak, and now decides to test the heroes to see if they can do it. Giri actually extends his power to corrupt Rido for the final boss; Kukuri has to be level 77 to survive his attack but once you’re there the battle itself is not too bad as long as you immediately heal Kukuri. For Kukuri I spammed the spell that makes Nike attack faster.

The ending is bizarre – Rido tells the heroes they are strong enough to go into the underworld and face Giri. First the heroes decide to go say goodbye to everyone, but then after that they decide the underworld sounds too scary and give up, and nobody knows what happened to them after that. I guess this fits with the comic tone of the series?

Overall this is an OK game. The system is unusual and original, but everything seems not quite fully polished, and the battles can be frustrating when enemies are spamming attacks that cancel Kukuri’s spells or when Nike can’t seem to hit at all. You can also switch screens and have Kukuri get stuck inside a monster and if you can’t manage to free yourself you can’t cast any spells. But this certainly is far from the worst game I’ve played and it’s better than Guruguru 1.

SFC Game 110 – Rudra no Hihou (Part 2)

As I said last time, I am just going to give a general review here of the game rather than going through the entire story. Unfortunately I think my view of the game was somewhat colored by how long it took to play it and the circumstances I was playing it in, but overall I would say it’s one of the better Super Famicom RPGs.

One thing I wish I had done differently is not try to play each storyline day by day; I found it too hard to keep track of the stories as well as remembering where I was supposed to go next (this is a flaw of the game I will discuss below). I would recommend that if you try this, as much as you can stick to one story at a time — only switch to another one if you are totally stuck and want to try the other ones to learn new mantras or just take a break.

I’m going to revive my old review categories that I used in the early days of the blog.

Story/Characters

This is a strong point of the game; the story is detailed and interesting, and they do a good job of having each of the three stories have a self-contained arc and resolution while still tying in with the other stories and the final ending.

Perhaps the main complaint here would be that the sub-characters in each story are not always fleshed out very well; some of them basically seem to just exist to fill out the party.

World

The world is a cyberpunk-ish setting mixed with fantasy, something that was pretty normal for RPGs at this time (including Square’s recent Bahamut Lagoon release, Chrono Trigger, FF6, etc.) There is also an underworld and sky world.

Game Flow

When I came up with this category it was meant to indicate how smoothly the game plays. Things that hurt this category are excessive backtracking, very high encounter rates, sudden jumps in difficulty that can only be overcome with grinding, and such.

A lot of the difficulty and smoothness of the game depends on your mantras. You can definitely end up in places where the mantras you have simply are not sufficient to deal with the enemies, and I did find that the game needed a fair amount of grinding.

One big issue I did have was the complexity of travelling the world along with the amount of backtracking you have to do. There is no in-game world map (as far as I know), nor are there any town warp spells or airships/etc. It can often be complicated to get from one place to another — it’s not uncommon later in the game for the method to get from point A to point B to involve warping to the underworld and taking another warp, exiting the building and going to another place, then using that warp 3 times to reach a place, then leave that place and go east to your destination. This is another reason I suggest playing each story in turn; I think it may be easier to keep track of where you’ve been and how to get back.

System

The mantra system is of course the big distinguishing feature of the game. It is well done in the sense that you can gather mantras from all over the place, including seeing enemies casting them. You can also guess some mantras. One annoyance were the chests in the dungeon that give you a mantra with one symbol missing. I’m not sure what the intent of these chests was; in some cases they are English loan words you can fill in but a lot of the times you would just have to randomly guess, which doesn’t have a very high rate of success.

I was not a big fan of the elemental system; in the end it seemed more cumbersome than fun. As I said in the first post, virtually every piece of equipment has an elemental property, and you can see at the bottom of the equip screen what elements your character is currently favoring. The problem is that unless you’re using a walkthrough there’s no way to know what the best element will be for upcoming dungeons. You might spend all your money on the strongest armor in the equipment shop only to find that most of the enemies and the boss of the next section use the elements that armor is weak to. It means you have to carry lots of equipment and buy most of what’s in the shop if you want the best results. I suppose it does increase the tactical choices and I can see some people liking this aspect of the game a fair amount.

The ability to choose the order your party moves in is a nice touch and one I wish was offered in more games.

Side Quests/Optional Content

There are a few genuine side quests, but there are also plenty of times when you can ignore what you are supposed to do next and instead visit other areas or towns to find treasure/items/etc.

Interface

By this time, major developers like Square are no longer struggling to present a useable interface to the player…I would have liked to see the actual stat difference when buying something in a shop rather than just an arrow pointing up or down, but that’s a small thing.

Graphics/Sound

The graphics are what you expect from a late-era SNES game, and are a definite high point. The music was fine but did not leave any lingering impression.

Next up will be Mahoujin Guruguru 2 — I expressed some doubt about whether it would be an RPG or not but unlike the first game it is a full-fledged RPG.

SFC Game 110 – Rudra no Hihou (Part 1)

Rudra no Hihou (ルドラの秘宝), released 4/5/1996, developed and published by Square

This is the last RPG developed by Square for the Super Famicom (they published at least one more but it wasn’t developed by them). The title means something like “Secret treasure(s?) of Rudra” — Rudra is a Hindu god associated with Shiva.

The basic setup for the story is that through the history of the world, different races have been in control of the world — Danans, Merfolk, Reptiles, Giants, and finally humans. Every 4000 years a race is nearly wiped out and the new one takes control. The game begins 15 days before the end of the 4000 year time period for humans.

This is another game that makes use of the “hi-res” mode for text, like Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3

The effect this has on the story is that the entire game takes place in 15 days, although the progression of the days is controlled by story progression rather than the actual time you take. You have control over three parties led by Shion, Surlent, and Liza, which all take place at the same time. Having multiple parties is not a new thing, but what is unique (I think?) to this game is that whenever you load your save, you can choose any of the three stories. So you can play the game in a number of ways; you could complete each scenario independently, you could play one day of each character, or any other combination. I started out playing Shion’s scenario but around day 5 I decided to switch to playing day by day. This can get confusing, though, trying to remember where you are in the story or what you are supposed to do next.

Another big feature of this game is the spell system, which takes place through “kotodama”. You can create spells by simply entering any combination of up to 6 katakana. Any combination of symbols will create a spell, but guessing randomly will most likely give you a spell that is weak and overcosted.

Instead, you can learn the “real” spells by a variety of means. Sometimes people will simply write them for you. Bartenders’ drinks give clues, and you can find some clues in chests. If an enemy uses a spell you can then write that spell yourself. Some of the spells are created from suffixes or prefixes — Shion begins the game with “igu” (a fire spell) and “iguna” (a hit-all fire spell), so you can immediately see that the “na” suffix will allow you to target all characters.

This also means that if you have already played the game or use a guide, you can begin the game with very powerful spells. But even if you are not cheating, playing multiple character’s paths can let you learn spells in all 3 paths, and if you are struggling against a boss in one path you might be able to learn a spell in another path that will help.

I’d be interested to know how this was dealt with by Aeon Genesis in making the translation patch. From what I can see in the English walkthroughs, the mantras in the fan translation are not all simple transliterations of the Japanese terms. Some of them are, but others are not; it seems like it would have required fairly extensive hacking to get this to work but maybe it’s not as hard as I think.

Other than that the system is fairly normal. One minor aspect is that you can control the order your party will act, by pressing triangle and then moving the white circles around. Another aspect that I find rather annoying is that virtually all equipment has an elemental property. This becomes annoying when you are in boss fights because you may suddenly find that all your good armor has weakness to the boss’ spells and then you have to either switch to inferior stuff or take everything off. I can understand that it perhaps adds some strategic choice to equipment but it just feels fiddly and time-consuming.

Unfortunately I’m not done with the game yet so in this post I’m just going to cover the beginning of each scenario to introduce it, and then I will do more spoilery stuff in the next post.

Shion is a soldier from Cryunne Castle, who spends the first few days participating in a fighting tournament during the day. During the evening/night he is investigating cultists who are sacrificing children to Rudra, who is supposedly going to end the world (I don’t believe that the characters are initially aware of the “15 days until the 4000 year time ends”).

Shion pursues the cultists to the Giant Tower; he wants to get something called a Jade from the “Lago stone”. There is also a giant trapped in the stone, and another giant called Surt who is there — in the process of fighting Surt, Shion slices off his arm, and the jade from the lago stone goes into Shion’s eye. Surt runs away, killing two of Shion’s friends in the process. Back at the Giant Tower, Shion gets another giant (Ture) to join his team, and he also has a woman named Foxy.

During the first few days, Shion sees things that are happening due to other stories. The world has very polluted seas and air, but on day 2 the air is suddenly purified. On Day 4, after finishing the final valiant competition, Shion ascends to the top of the tower and meets with the Chancellor, who tells him to continue to pursue the Rudra Cult and destroy it. Of course Shion is also looking for revenge against Surt, and he is also told at this point about the “12 days to destruction thing”. As if this weren’t enough, the place they are standing suddenly lifts into the sky! This was the point where I decided I wanted to play the other scenarios to see what was happening there.

Next on the list is Surlent.

Surlent is working with Dr. Muench, who discovered the Lago Stone of the Giants on the tower, and has also found the Lago Stone of the Reptiles in ruins (these stones preserve the previous civilizations, or at least a piece of them). He wants Surlent to borrow the Holy Grail from a manor to the west, but thieves steal it before he can bring it back.

Surlent goes back to his master Solon to find out if any other items can be used like the Grail; Solon had initially sent Surlent out to learn more about the Lago Stones. Solon does know of some more items and so Surlent goes out, seeing the purification of the air along the way. Surlent journeys further to find more about the Lago Stones and these items, and ends up going to the underworld itself…

The third character is Riza (or Liza).

Riza is a young woman from the town of Karn, who already has a jade on her forehead. She is going out to search for her mother, who went out on a journey many years ago to try to purify the air, but never returned. Her grandfather suggests starting in the City of Babel, which has the only clean air in the world. There she meets Garlyle, who joins to help deal with the issue in town — it turns out a rich man there has imprisoned these butterfly spirits to clean the air, and once we release them the air is purified (this is what the other two characters saw). After this, Riza sets out for the Eastern continent to pursue another lead; apparently a scientists named Dr. Muench knew her.

As you can see, the stories have their own elements but also intertwine. It’s a fairly complicated story (at least in presentation); I doubt that I will fully describe it in the next post. Not only is it long and complex but due to the covid and vacation I’ve been playing this game for almost a month, some of it sick, and I’m not sure I’m up to writing a post of the length necessary to describe it — most likely next week’s post will just be a general review of the game after I’ve completed it.

Game list April – Aug (SFC)

Here’s my master list for the next period:

Out of these, the bolded ones are SRPGs I already played. I do not intend to play the Ocean Fishing game, and a few of these I’m not sure if they are RPGs or not. Especially Mahoujin Gururu 2, since the 1st one didn’t quite measure up.

Sorry for the short post but I needed some padding in July thanks to illness and vacation — but I am fully recovered from Covid and back from my vacation so I am playing Rudra no Hihou (alongside some Another Eden) and we should be able to move forward at a steady clip now.

SFC Game 109 – Ys V

Ys V: Kefin, the Lost City of Sand (イースV 失われた砂の都ケフィン), released 12/29/1995, Expert version 3/22/1996, developed and published by Nihon Falcom

This is the 5th game in the long running Ys series. The first three games were originally developed for computers and then ported to a bunch of different consoles (usually not by Falcom). Ys IV had that unusual circumstance of having two completely separate games called “Ys IV”, by two separate developers. I believe that Ys V is the first time that Falcom themselves handled the original console release of the game. As of now the game has been released only twice — the original Super Famicom release, and a PS2 remake (or reimagining) in 2006. Since they went back to computers for Ys 6, I would be interested to know why Falcom broke their pattern for 4 and 5. My knowledge of Japanese computers is pretty slight but I wonder whether the Japanese-produced computers, by 1995 or so, had not kept up technologically with the consoles as well as they had before. It took 8 years for Ys VI to come out after this, and by then, the Japanese-specific computers had been supplanted by Windows machines.

Back to Ys V, this actually has two releases. The original, and then an “Expert” version 3 months later. Who knows why they came out with this second version so soon. I chose to play it because it (reportedly) is not that much harder, and fixes some bugs, adds a bonus dungeon, and has a bit of additional content.

For the first time in a top-down Ys game, Adol can swing his sword and block with the shield, and jump, rather than simply running into the enemies to attack. But it maintains the idea of having to approach from the proper angle, and you get bonus damage for attacking from the back or sides. Different swords also have different attack styles (piercing or swinging, etc.)

There’s also a magic system but I found it rather cumbersome to use. You can combine elements you find around into jewels that you then equip to Adol to give him different spells. To use them you have to hold down R until a gauge fills up, then you can use the magic (dependent on your MP). You have a separate magic level that gains XP when you use magic. Honestly I used this a bit when the system was first introduced but I found it so tedious that I just ignored it for the rest of the game.

The story as usual involves the silent protagonist Adol arriving in a new land seeking adventure. This time he has not even brought a sword or armor, just a map of the area. The big discussion in this new area is about Kefin, a lost city that supposedly has a lot of treasure. Also recently monsters have appeared and the desert is encroaching on the rest of the land. Adol agrees to help a rich man in town find Kefin, and the adventure begins, although first our goal is to find the daughter of the item shop owner. The original owner left to try to find Kefin many years ago but he never came back.

I had to level up a bit before I could survive the initial enemies, but once you can buy the basic equipment and maybe are at level 3 or so, it’s not too bad.

Another thing that makes this game much easier than previous entries is that you can carry up to 9 healing herbs and use them in boss battles, so often even if you’re not doing very well avoiding or dealing with the boss’ attacks you can just use a bunch of heals until you win.

The first goal of the game is to find a set of crystals that will supposedly open the way to Kefin. At the same time, there is some ghostly presence named “Stalker” that is following you around, and flashbacks show that he has some wife or girlfriend trapped in ice. Eventually we recover the crystals (and also discover that our original employer is a bad dude) and gain access to Kefin.

Kefin is a huge place. Here Adol finds Stan (the adventurer who disappeared long ago) and also joins a resistance movement against the powers running Kefin. But as I said before, the bosses are all really easy.

In the end this game is quite short, probably 5-8 hours depending on how much you grind. The story is OK but not fleshed out very well, and the gameplay has a lot of useless elements in it. I feel like Falcom was uncertain where to go with the series at this point — the old “run into enemies” thing they did for 1, 2, and 4 was clearly outdated. Perhaps the Super Famicom was not powerful enough, or they just didn’t know how to use it well enough, to do the kind of game they wanted to do.

It’s not a big surprise given this game that it took so long for Ys 6 to come out, and I wonder if fans at the time thought the series was dead. That would have been a fair assumption, but it roared back into action with Ys VI which was a huge hit — but that is a story for a different blog.

If you want to give the game a try go ahead — it won’t take you very long and there is a translation patch.

As a final note, the music is pretty disappointing as well. Falcom games are known for their great Falcom Sound JDK-composed music, but somehow it falls flat here.

SRPG 1997 wrap-up, 1998 preview

1997 wrap-up

1997 was not a good year for SRPGs overall, at least for ones I like. I only gave A ratings to four games: Final Fantasy Tactics, Atelier Marie, TILK, and Shining Force III-1. Atelier Marie isn’t an SRPG and TILK got an A- because of how much I loved the story and atmosphere even though the gameplay was a total disaster. So that basically just leaves two games for the GotY choice.

And it has to be Final Fantasy Tactics. Not just because of the general importance and popularity of the game, but it remains one of my favorite SRPGs and was my introduction to the genre. Despite its flaws, I still think it’s great.

  • 1990: Fire Emblem
  • 1991: Langrisser
  • 1992: Just Breed
  • 1993: Super Robot Taisen 3 
  • 1994: Langrisser II
  • 1995: Riglord Saga
  • 1996: Energy Breaker
  • 1997: Final Fantasy Tactics

Still by coincidence (or is it?) all eight of the GotY are available in English.

1998 preview/list of games

As with 1997, this list is all Playstation and Saturn games. It’s interesting that the Game Boy is completely silent; the last game was March 1995 and it won’t be back until Puyo Puyo Gaiden in August 1999. The list includes some games that I suspect may not turn out to qualify under my rules.

  1. Back Gainer Awakening (PS1) — this is another anime movie game made by the same people as Harukaze Sentai V-Force. I didn’t realize they had tried again.
  2. Farland Saga (SAT) — Hopefully this is better than the previous Farland games.
  3. REBUS (i.e. Kartia: World of Fate) (PS1)
  4. Brigandine (PS1) — I think this is going to be disqualified like Dragon Force but I will try it (in the Grand Edition) and see if I like it.
  5. Sakura Taisen 2 (SAT)
  6. Shining Force III Scenario 2 (SAT)
  7. Tokyo Majin Gakuen: Kenpucho (PS1)
  8. Langrisser 5 — not sure if I will play the Saturn or PS version.
  9. Back Gainer Flight (PS1) — The second of the Back Gainer games; there were supposed to be three but the third one never came out so the story is incomplete.
  10. Masumon KIDS (PS1)
  11. Seirei Shokan: Princess of Darkness (PS1)
  12. Bounty Sword Double Edge (PS1) — Sequel to the SFC original.
  13. Epica Stella (i.e. Vanguard Bandits) (PS1)
  14. Gojin Senki (PS1)
  15. Valhallian (SAT)
  16. Wachenroder (SAT)
  17. Black Matrix (SAT) – Flight Plan’s first SRPG; I love Summon Night but have never tried this. There are several ports; the Dreamcast version seems to be the one that has the best reputation so I may play that.
  18. Houshin Engi (PS1)
  19. Oda Nobunaga-Den (PS1) — The fourth of the Eiketsuden games and the last one to be released on consoles.
  20. Shining Force III Scenario 3 (SAT) – This is the final Saturn game I will be playing.
  21. Guardian Recall (PS1)
  22. Farland Saga 2 (PS1)
  23. Atelier Elie (PS1)
  24. Robot Senki Brave Saga (PS1)
  25. The Doll Princess of Marl Kingdom (i.e. Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure) (PS1) – This does not qualify as an SRPG under my rules but I may play it anyway because it looks interesting.

Rejected games:

  • Monster Seed – I’m having a hard time understanding what kind of game this is; it doesn’t look like it qualifies for me despite being listed as a TRPG on Wikipedia. Let me know what you think.
  • SRPG Tskuuru – Just a construction kit.
  • Hyper Fishing – This has grid-based battles but it’s not an SRPG.
  • SD Gundam G Generation – I think I said this in an earlier preview but I am only going to play the SDGGG games that are SRW-style “mix the series together in one plot”.
  • Dragon Force 2 – I stopped Dragon Force for not qualifying as an SRPG so I’ll skip the second entry as well.

As I said in an earlier post, progress will be slow for a while. I’m going to focus on Super Famicom games to finally finish up that project, although I do intend to play an occasional SRPG.