Monthly Archives: March 2020

SRPG Game 32 – Majin Tensei II: Spiral Nemesis (Scenes 1 and 2)

Majin Tensei II: Spiral Nemesis (魔神転生II SPIRAL NEMESIS)
Release Date: 2/19/1995
System: Super Famicom
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus

This is Atlus’ second attempt at a strategy RPG based on the Megami Tensei franchise. As with the other games in the series, the highlight of the game is the ability to recruit monsters to your side and fuse them to make different (hopefully stronger) monsters. It also features the alignment system from the other games.

The major differences from the first game are:

  • The story is much more developed. The game takes place mostly in Tokyo (although in different time periods).
  • Some monsters can equip things. The monsters have a fixed level but you can raise their rank; unlike MT1 they can raise up many ranks (at least 50) and they improve their stats in addition to gaining new abilities.
  • You can turn off battle animations.
  • Recruiting monsters is much easier; rather than going through a random dialogue tree you can just give them MAG or gems and they’ll join up. You can also combine monsters by just moving them into each other; I don’t remember if this was possible in MT1.
  • Movement is more restricted, with more walls and terrain that slows the characters. This can be very annoying at times, but it fixes one of the big problems I had with MT1, where monsters could swarm your weak monsters by just going around all your other characters.
  • If one unit’s speed exceeds another unit’s by 6 or more, that unit will get a second attack.
  • Before attacking, you get a much more detailed analysis of what will happen, showing the attacker and defender’s stats and compatibility, as well as if they will get a second attack.

One big problem that many Japanese players complain about is how long the enemy turns take, particularly the “thinking” time. I’ve seen Japanese players saying they would read books or clean their house on the enemy turns, which at some points in the game can take over 10 minutes for a single turn. This is definitely a game you want to play on an emulator with a speedup key.  

The game is divided into six “scenes” (although the game itself doesn’t seem to recognize them; it’s six separate overworld maps). I’ll cover the first two in this post.

Scene 1 – 1996 Tokyo

The backstory for the game is that someone has used demons and monsters to suddenly take over Tokyo. In response, people have formed a resistance group called Partizan. The main character Naoki joins Partizan and meets Tomoharu and Kaoru. Their first task is to free Shibuya.

The goal is to reach the red square on the left. Right now we cannot summon or talk to the demons yet, so we just have to kill everything. I used this chance to move the main character up levels. As usual in the MT series, you can’t talk to a demon that is higher level than you. Because of this, you don’t want to spread out the XP too much among your human characters.

By the way, the place immediately below the main characters is a train line. These are constant annoyances in the game, reducing your movement rate to near zero unless you cross at the station (where you still need to go slowly).

Initially I was dividing points between Strength, Vitality, and Speed. But I realized that Speed is much more important than Strength because you can get a second attack. So eventually I was putting most of the points into speed.

We learn that Naoki’s parents are scientists, but the same day that all the demons came into Tokyo, there was an accident at the lab that blew it up, apparently killing both his parents..although he thinks they might have survived.

Next up is Meguro, where we get into a research lab.

In the lab, Naoki meets a mysterious woman named Karen who seems to know who he is, and gives him something important. They then head back to the Partizan HQ. It’s been attacked, and Ogiwara, who is the leader of the enemies, has appeared himself. Naoki is able to get away, but the rest of the companions are left behind.

He ends up in Ikebukuro, where he meets Aya, and also figures out that Karen gave him a computer called DIO. Now we can recruit monsters. As I said above, it’s much easier to recruit monsters in this game than in MT1. Although at least at the moment we can’t recruit Light or Dark enemies, just Neutral. (Light and Dark enemies can still be fused, just not recruited.) Now there’s a “world” map.

The green dots are places I’ve cleared, and the coin is a shop. The shop interface is inexcusable! You can’t see what the power of weapons/armor are, or who can equip them. This is 1995! We’re not in the NES era anymore; designers really need to be taking responsibility for making a usable interface.

Anyway, the goal is to get to the enemy HQ over at the right. Once there, Ogiwara is gone, and we easily free Tokyo from the demons. But a mysterious machine in the base transports them somewhere. It seems to be Ueno, but it turns out to be Ueno from thirty years in the future.

Scene 2 – 2040 Slum Tokyo

Scene 2 introduces two types of places — the Remix shop on the left, where you can combine monsters in an easier to use interface than doing it on the battle screen. The purple area on the right can be repeated and lets you recruit monsters you might want. You can’t win the battle so the only way to get out of it is to use a smoke bomb or Escape (which loses money). I did need a Pixie for an optional event in Scene 3.

Tokyo in 2040 is a ruin, and there are a lot of damage areas. I continued to recruit new monsters in this area as well as get better equipment for them, and focus the XP on Naoki. Eventually Tomoharu and Kaoru rejoined, and both Kaoru and Aya develop magical ability so they can start using spells.

At the end of this scene, Karen appears again and reveals more of the back story that involves time travel and such — since this game has a translation I won’t give away too much in the first post. My goal usually for the first post is to introduce the gameplay and give some intro for the story, but the rest of the posts may have spoilers. I’m going to take more detailed notes for Scene 3 and beyond, but this is where I will stop for now.

PCE Game 30 – Kaze no Densetsu Xanadu (Part 2)

I’m going to structure this post as more of a review than an account of my playthrough — at times I’ve considered that the whole blog should be like that; one initial post covering the first few hours of gameplay and story in detail, followed by a review post. This is partly because it’s easier to write, but also I notice that when I read other blogs like CRPG Addict I find myself mostly interested in the first and last post, and tend to skim the middle posts unless I’ve played the game and know what he’s talking about. In some cases (like Dragon Quest V) I’ve found a lot to write about in each post, but often I struggle to say much because the gameplay is so repetitive and the story is not that interesting.

Anyway, back to Xanadu. First, the gameplay.

The game’s 12 chapters are mostly structured around the same idea. You warp into a church in the area, and then have to solve a problem in the area to be able to move on to the next place. This involves a great deal of running back and forth from place to place. The NPCs and towns do have a lot of life, with memorable people whose dialogue changes as the game progresses. It reminds me a bit of the Trails series in embryo. It’s also an interesting touch that you knock on the doors to the houses instead of just blundering in.

The backtracking gets excessive at times. You will find yourself having to talk to person A, then go all the way out to a cave or area to talk to person B, then go back to A again, and then once again back to B. This to me is the weakest aspect of the game and I’ve seen Japanese players complain about it as well. The only thing that saves the game from being unplayable is that the travel speed is very fast and you can buy Wings to warp back to the towns (which are trivial to afford after the first few chapters).

Another issue is that it’s often not clear what you’re supposed to do next. There are a lot of places where you have to talk to a specific person or go to a location to make the next plot event happen, but sometimes they don’t give you any real clues. You’ll stumble upon it eventually because the areas are fairly small, but I found this game a lot more tolerable with a walkthrough.

The final stage has a 31 floor castle that puts the Darm Tower of Ys to shame; this is possibly the longest and trickiest final dungeon in any game I’ve played (Ao no Kiseki had a pretty long final dungeon too). Overall when you think about how short the Ys games tend to be, this game has an impressive volume.

The combat is Ys style. As I mentioned in the first post, the distinctive feature here is leveling up your weapons and armor. This means a lot of sitting in place letting the enemies beat you up, but eventually you’ll have a strong enough armor to survive everything in the chapter.

Death is interesting. If you get to 0 hp with no healing items, you turn into a ghost. This actually lets Arios fly freely around the map (through walls, etc), but cannot interact with anything or use stairs. Sometimes this is actually helpful in a dungeon to figure out where you need to go to get to the stairs or item, but you have to make your way back to the town where the priestess can revive you. But this means that there is no such thing as a game over.

I found the side-scrolling action scenes to be the weakest part of the game. There are only two healing items in the game — one that heals 1000 HP and the other that heals you fully. The full heal elixirs are very rare until the final chapter where you can buy them (for a huge price). So you rely mostly on the 1000 HP heals. In the early chapters, you can easily get enough of these that the action stages are trivial. You just run through them and let the items heal you, and the bosses go down without much trouble as well.

But there’s a rather sudden change from this to the point where your HP is too high for these items to be worthwhile. Then the action stages are very difficult. There is no invincibility frame, which means a wrong move can cost you half or more of your HP. I used a lot of save states in these scenes; I would not have had the patience to go back to the church to get revived over and over again. The second to last one is by far the hardest — I would actually recommend that you use all of your elixirs against the boss; you’ll get more than enough in the last stage to make it through the final action stage (which is significantly easier, especially considering how easy it is to make it up to 999,999 HP). Now, I’m not all that good at action games so it’s possible others won’t have as much of an issue with this.

The graphics are serviceable but a bit disappointing; the PCE is capable of better, which Falcom will deliver in Xanadu II next year. The cutscenes between stages are not as good as the ones in other games like Emerald Dragon.

The music is good as usual for a Falcom game. It’s unfortunate that all the music outside of the cutscenes are chiptunes, but they probably didn’t have the space to make CD audio for all the BGM they wanted to use.

The story is fine. It relies on a lot of old cliches — chosen descendant, legendary hero, age-old evil, etc. There’s not all that much about the overall main plot that’s unfamiliar (although the earlier chapters have some interest). What Falcom does do right here is flesh out all the party characters better than most games are doing in this era. They don’t just join your party and then never talk again. This, coupled with the rich (for this era) NPC dialogue, makes the world seem more alive.

Overall this is a decent game for the period. I’ll be interested to see what changes or improvements they make for Legend of Xanadu II.

Next up will be a return to Super Famicom with the game Kabuki Rocks (after Majin Tensei II on my other channel).

PCE Game 30 – Kaze no Densetsu Xanadu

Kaze no Densetsu Xanadu (風の伝説ザナドゥ)
Released 2/18/1994, published by Falcom

 

This game is part of the long-running “Dragon Slayer” franchise by Falcom. The title Xanadu first appeared as the second Dragon Slayer game, which CRPG addict did a review of (although he didn’t like it). For a while I thought the PC Engine would be a remake of that game, but it’s actually an entirely new title. Falcom normally did not develop console games, relying on other companies to make ports of their games to various consoles. But here they actually were behind the development, and of the 1995 sequel.

There is a fan translation in progress, but I believe it is stalled for a long time over the voice acting to dub the cutscenes.

It looks and feels like a combination of Legend of Heroes and Ys. The main gameplay is the top-down “run into the enemies” style of Ys, but each chapter ends with a side-scrolling action section that recalls the earlier Dragon Slayer games. This game also carries over from the older Xanadu the system where each weapon and armor has its own experience level. When you get a new weapon or armor it typically starts anywhere from 30-50% power. So if the sword has a max 100 power it might start only at 50. You level up weapons by attacking, but not killing, enemies (so once you start killing enemies in one hit, you can’t level up the weapon on them anymore). You level up shields and armor by taking damage, although eventually enemies in an area won’t be able to harm you anymore.

This system results in a rather comical growth in the numbers — the first weapon has a max power of 12, the strongest weapon has a max power of 598,000. The game also does not have experience levels; you gain HP from resting and from getting hearts from enemies.

The game is divided into 12 chapters, each of which takes place in its own little area usually with a couple of towns and dungeons. This game is well known for having a lot of running back and forth between places talking to people, and it’s not always clear who you are supposed to talk to or why. I definitely think this game benefits from a walkthrough.

The main character is Areios, a knight commander in the kingdom of Ishtar. He begins shipwrecked on a small island. His goal is to get back to the kingdom, but while he’s waiting for the boat he decides to solve a problem happening in the island. Two towns, which produce different kinds of alcohol, are rivals, causing a bunch of problems.

The graphics are somewhat disappointing, but serviceable for the game. The music is good but unfortunately it’s almost all chiptune music instead of the CD-quality music that Falcom used to such good effect in the Ys games. The only voiced sections are the short cutscenes between chapters.

The action scenes are not too bad; the enemies do a lot more damage than the ones in the normal areas, but you get to shoot a wave out of your sword.

If you equip the healing items, you get restored 1000 HP when you get to 0, so that makes the action scenes fairly easy — even if you don’t really figure out the boss patterns you can just sit in front of it and attack and you might use a couple of heal items, but that’s easily replaced.

I’m up to chapter 3 now, so I’ll say more about that in the next update. The story is not bad, and the NPCs and towns are memorable. Overall this is a pretty good game although the fetch quest nature of the gameplay can get somewhat annoying.

SRPG Game 31 – Gundam: Cross Dimension 0079

FACTS

  1. Turn type: Unclear (see below)
  2. Maps: Each stage has a few separate maps chained together.
  3. Character Customization: Prime Point system (see below)
  4. Character Development: Standard XP level system.
  5. Party Size: 3, from what I saw.
  6. Equipment: None
  7. Game Flow: 20 stages, no alternate paths, no repeating.
  8. Saving: You can save between battles.
  9. Death: If Gundam dies, you get a game over although you keep your XP. If other units die they leave for that battle.

    IMPRESSIONS 

    This game is on the borderline of SRPG status; I didn’t find it on my first passthrough but I added it later. It has a translation patch and a good walkthrough; I’m just going to give a general review of it — I played about 10 stages but it’s not really my cup of tea. The game is divided into two parts: the first 14 stages are the story of First Gundam (0079), and the last 6 are a new side story taking place immediately after the end of FG with new characters. This little side story later shows up again in the SD Gundam G Generation series.

    After an initial cutscene, you control Amuro in an easy fight against the two hapless Zaku units.

    The 120 there is the Gundam’s power; this goes down from moving and also from getting hit. “Member” lets you see the maps and choose other units, and “Lost” sends you back to the beginning of the map with your XP gains preserved. However, that’s also what happens when you get a game over so there’s not much purpose to that since you might as well fight and gain some XP.

    You can either attack with ranged weapons, or close in and fight. Once you close in, the fight continues (with the two trading blows) until you either kill the enemy, or disengage from the fight with the B button. This gives the enemy a free attack, though.

    Between stages, or when you level up, you can assign “prime points”. You can freely assign them on this screen, even ones you’ve already assigned before. This is also where you give the units items that restore energy or special weapon power. The ability to refill your items when you level up is an essential part of the game. Part of the issue I had with the game is that after the first few levels, the stages are impossible to finish without a lot of energy refills.

    You also have these fighting-game style special attacks. As you use them, the percentage increases and when it hits 100% you can use them as your initial attack to start a fight.

    Because of the Minovsky Craft particles, you can only see a little bit of the area around you, and have to rely on this “heat detection” to find out where the enemies are.

    After a few stages you get the Guntank and the Guncannon, which have ranged attacks that can hit multiple enemies. They’re not well balanced, though. The turn system is strange — you move one of your units, then the enemy moves, and then you can move any unit you want again. This means that most of the time you just want to use the Gundam, and trying to move the other units up levels is a tedious process that requires using your Gundam as a damage tank while the other units pick at the enemies. If the enemies close in on the tank or cannon they’re helpless. This is another problem I had with the game.

    The last stage I played was vs. Char and Lalah. First,  you have to chase Char all over the maps — this happens in a number of stages, but it’s especially annoying in this one. Once you attack Char once, he flees to a different map. If you miss too many times, or have too much trouble finding him, you run out of energy and can’t deal with the second part of the map where you have to fight Lalah and her Elmeth with the bits. Some of the bits require ranged weapons to beat, so you have to keep some weapon refills. I kept losing on this stage either because I missed Char too much or couldn’t find him, and I just got tired of it.

    Maybe there are aspects of this game I didn’t appreciate, but I think it only technically qualifies as an SRPG under my definition; it doesn’t really feel like one. There is a translation patch, though, so try it out if you want to see for yourself.

    Next up is Majin Tensei II.