Monthly Archives: August 2020

PCE Game 33 – Cosmic Fantasy 4

Cosmic Fantasy 4 (コズミック・ファンタジー4 銀河少年伝説突入編 伝説へのプレリュード)
Released 6/10/1994, produced by Telenet

This is the fourth and final game in the Cosmic Fantasy series for PC Engine. It’s divided into two parts, one which starts the characters from CF1, and the second which stars the CF2 characters. I have not been a huge fan of the series so far, although I was hoping that for this final game they would improve things — particularly the dullness of the battle system and the high random encounter rate.

The main characters are “Cosmic Hunters”, people who go to various planets and solve problems. This game starts out with a section that seems like it’s trying to be an adventure game. You can look at things, talk to people, search, and move.

Unfortunately this section is a waste of time. There are no puzzles, real choices, or even freedom of movement — you just choose each option over and over again until the game lets you advance. Although it does introduce the characters and the basic plot, I don’t see anything here that couldn’t have been done with a normal RPG style. At least if they wanted to do this style gameplay they should have made it less tedious. As usual, there are a lot of fanservice scenes in the game.

Yuu and Saya are the pair from the first game. Their mission this time is to go to a planet and rescue a princess who has been captured. While Yuu goes after the princess, Saya will have to pretend to be the princess so that nobody notices she’s gone.

Once this long opening scene is over, Yuu reaches the planet, and the game switches to the standard RPG mode. Yuu meets up with an old woman who is separated from her tour group, and decides to escort her to the capital — there are a bunch of digressions and side quests along the way.

They actually did change the battle system a bit. That yellow bar fills up and then it’s your turn, although you can wait a bit longer and the bar will start filling up green. I think the more green that fills it the stronger the attack is, but a full green attack is definitely stronger.

Yuu is by himself for this first part of the game. He has a lot of MP which are enough to heal and cure poison as much as needed, especially since a level up restores all HP and MP.

The first little quest is to turn humans in a village back from monsters; it turns out this monster at the top left did it because he was lonely, but in the end the villagers accept him and he can play with the village children.

Next up, we have to recover a healing grass from a dark cave.

Even though these kind of caves are an RPG staple, I’ve never really liked them. You have to blunder around in the dark passages and press random directions to find the hidden passages. At least there are no encounters.

Next up, the old woman gets kidnapped by thieves, and we have to rescue her. There are two boss fights here, the first against two of the underlings.

Then, we fight the leader. This fight took forever. Sometimes she switches into a defensive mode so you have to wait until she’s out of that or she’ll counter. I was never in danger of losing the fight because I had enough MP restore items, but it took a long time.

Then, Yuu reaches the capital. They won’t let us in to the castle so Yuu has to sneak in with help from some people he is supposed to meet here (that the initial dialogue told us about).

Now I have a party of 4. I was glad to finally get some party members, until I got into a fight. Now we have 4 people’s bars filling up. It’s like the Final Fantasy ATB system, but there are two issues. In FF4, when someone’s bar fills up it automatically switches to them. Here, you have to select them. This is fine, especially since there’s the extra green bar and some characters you might want to leave ready (like a healer).

What is not fine is the enemy turns. Unlike FF4, this is a Dragon Quest like system where everyrthing is done through text boxes showing the hit and damage that you have to clear. I found that dealing with 4 enemies bring up text boxes while also trying to select characters and attacks (which bring up text boxes) was incredibly annoying. After suffering through two battles I was done — presumably I would have gotten used to it after a while, but it was almost the end of the week anyway.

If you like the Cosmic Fantasy series, this is probably the best of the games (assuming the battle system becomes easier to manage after you get used to it). The random encounter rate seems lower, and there’s more speech and CD music. But it’s still not a great game.

Game 50 – Popful Mail

Popful Mail (ぽっぷるメイル)
Released 6/10/1994, developed by Falcom

This is another Falcom action RPG, and it has a similar path to many of its previous games. It first came out for the PC-88 in 1991. By this time the PC-88 had been abandoned by most developers in favor of the PC-98, but Falcom decided to bring this out to cater to those who still had the machine. It had impressive graphics and sound for the aged system. The next year an upgraded version came out for the PC-98, and then in 1994 it was remade for the Sega CD, Super Famicom, and PC Engine. Unusually, all three of the console versions are very different from each other in gameplay, stage design, and plot details.

The Sega CD version was localized by Working Designs, who (as usual) jacked up the difficulty and added a lot of pop culture references to the script. The title Popful Mail is theirs; the Japanese is poppuru meiru. “Meiru” (mail) is the name of the main character, but poppuru is not a word — presumably it’s meant to suggest a bubbly or positive feeling to go with the main character. Popful seems OK as an English rendering.

The main character, Mail, is an elf bounty hunter. She comes across a wanted poster for Nuts Cracker, of the Marionette Thieves’ Band, but she’s unable to catch him because she trips and falls. She almost gives up on bounty hunting but finds a 2 million gold wanted poster for a magician Material, and decides to make that her last attempt. The story is short (it only took me 5 hours to beat the game), but it goes beyond the bounty hunting to involve a bigger plot. They introduce a fair number of characters, and I get the feeling that they were hoping this would become a franchise since some of the characters have very little role in the story. Along the way, Mail is joined by two other characters — Tatt, a magician, and Gau, a monster.

The gameplay is a side-scrolling action game, basically. In the PC-88 version Mail ran into monsters like Ys, but in this version you actually swing your sword. Mail also has a down stab and can duck to stab enemies. Tatt has several different kinds of attack magic, and Gau has several different monster powers like fire breath and swinging his tail. Gau can also jump higher, although Mail can jump longer.

 The game has five stages. You can revisit previous stages but there’s not much reason to — once you get Gau I think there are a few places you can get to in previous stages, but I’m not sure what’s there since I didn’t feel like going back. It’s not any equipment. The stages have varied layouts — there’s an ice place with slippery floors, an underground cave with limited visibility, a forest, and such. Each area has several parts, and it’s not just a linear sequence. I often found it hard to traverse and I went around in circles. Once or twice I had to look at a video playthrough to see what I was missing.

You find shops in each stage, which sell recovery items and equipment upgrades. There are no experience levels, so the only way to strengthen the characters is to upgrade equipment. Gau can find powerups to increase his attack power (you need all three to have a chance in the final stage, where each character has to fight a boss on their own). Gold is gained by beating monsters which then increases the amount on your “enemy card”, which you have to redeem at a shop. I think the only purpose of this (which seems unique to the SFC version) is that you lose your enemy card points but not your gold if you die.

If you reach 0 hp, you recover to full but are sent back either to the last save, some invisible checkpoint, or the beginning of the boss fight. It’s annoying that you can’t switch characters in the boss fight because then you’re stuck and if you want to try a different character you would have to reset and reload your save. I also found that the final stage was annoying because you hit these story points where you’re sent into forced battles with each character against a boss, and if you didn’t find all the good equipment and powerups for the character you basically have to reset. I have a curse of always choosing the path that leads to the story development rather than the optional chests, so this bit me a lot.

Overall this is an OK game. It’s pretty light and short, but it has cute graphics, a passable story, and a decent system. I never played the Sega CD version so I don’t know how it compares. The PC Engine version was released in August so I’ll give it a try when I get there, although I may not play the whole thing.

Game List – 1994 (July through September)

I’m almost at the end of the first half of 1994, so I’ll make another list of games from July to September of that year, with the ones I’ll be playing in bold.

Slapstick – Released in English as Robotrek.

Sansara Naga 2 – Sequel to an NES game.

Sword World SFC 2 – I enjoyed the first one so I hope this is a worthy sequel.

Dragon Knight III (PCE) – This is Knights of Xentar. I doubt I will play the whole game but I want to do at least one post for contrast with CRPG Addict’s coverage of KoX.

Tenshi no Uta: Prayer of the White Wings – The first two games for PCE were OK, but not great. We’ll see how this does.

ZOOL’s Dream Journey – This isn’t even close to an ARPG; I don’t know why it’s on my list.

Kishin Korinden Oni

Popful Mail (PCE) – Not sure if I will play the whole thing since I’m already doing the SFC version. They’re very different, though.

Cyber Knight II – I hope this is much better than the awful CK1.


Super Drakkhen — Released in English.

Alshark (PCE)

Mother 2 – Despite being released as Earthbound, this is too famous for me to skip. I’ve never played it

Live a Live – I’ve heard good things about this game for years.

Wizap! King of Darkness

Down the World

Xak III (PCE) – The last in this series of ARPGs.

Megami Tengoku (PCE)

SRPG Game 41 – Little Master 3

Little Master: The Rainbow Stones (リトルマスター〜虹色の魔石〜)
Released 6/30/1995, Developed by Zener Works, published by Intermedia

Amazon | リトルマスター虹色の魔石 | ゲームソフト
  1. Turn type: Player/enemy turn
  2. Maps: Medium, Terrain bonuses and lots of gimmicks on each level
  3. Character Customization: The monsters can be combined into a new monster.
  4. Character Development: Standard XP/level system.
  5. Party Size: Max 6
  6. Equipment: One accessory.
  7. Game Flow: A series of required stages in order. Some of them can be repeated, and there is a bonus post-game dungeon.
  8. Saving: Outside of battle.
  9. Death: Defeated characters are removed from the battle but return afterwards.

This is Zener Works’ third and final game in the Little Master series. The first two were for Game Boy, and I felt that they had a lot of potential but were hampered by the limitations of the portable system. I knew that this game was coming up on the SFC and was eager to see how it improved on the formula. After playing it, I think it did make some big improvements but in other areas it still disappointed me.

The graphics are a high point. Obviously they’re better than the Game Boy but even compared to other SFC games they have a nice colorful style that stands out.

The backgrounds, characters, and sprites are all well done. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously (as you can see with the ghost pirate in the first screenshot who does a basketball shot with his skull). The different monsters (both enemy and character) have detailed and individual attack animations, with several variations per character.

The story is also considerably improved from the first two games — there are a lot more story sequences, and there’s more plot development. It’s still a fairly pedestrian story but it’s nice that they put more attention into it.

What made the first two games stand out was the map variety, and that continues here. They kept a lot of the same map ideas from the first games — random tornados that move you around, warp tiles, and monster spawns. There are new ideas like a map where you have to search snowmen while a monster throws snowballs around the map, fake treasure chests, flooding maps, seesaws where you fling your people to other parts of the map, and other things. Although a few of them end up being more annoying than fun, I like that they tried different ideas out so that each map feels unique.

The most disappointing part of this was the battle system and the monster combination, because this is where they didn’t really improve on the older system. They added two main new features. There is a day/night as well as rock/paper/scissors attributes for each character. This changes the compatibility between characters and makes certain units get stronger at certain times. The second is a just frame system where you can hit A at the exact point during the attack or defense where the move hits, and increase/decrease the damage.

But there’s still far too little variety between the characters. Tamtam is back from LM2; she can heal and if she gets attacked she turns into a monster. There’s a new character who can switch between an offensive or buff/debuff mage. But other than that, every character can only move and attack. They differ in the range, but that’s it. Your main character can move and do a range 1 attack. That’s what he can do on stage 1, and that’s what he can do on the last stage of the game. He never learns any new moves, and you can’t change his equipment except for an accessory. This means that the colorfully designed monsters and units are a lot less individualistic than I would like.

The other problem is the monster system. As with LM1 and 2, the only way to recruit a monster is to visit houses on the maps. This means there are a fixed number of specific monsters you get in a playthrough. You can combine them to make stronger monsters, but you can never get any more than the 18 specific units the game has pre-determined. Since you have to combine two monsters to make one of a higher “rank”, there’s a limit on what you can actually achieve. They did allow the monsters to level up in this game, which means you can make any monster good.

What they did add in this game is a post-game dungeon that has repeatable floors. Here you can go to the houses over and over again and rank your monsters up as much as you want. But it seems like they went a little too far with this; my monsters at the end were in the 30s or 40s of rank, but the strongest monster is rank 175. You would have to do a lot of repetition in the postgame dungeon to get that.

Overall this is not a bad game at all; it’s definitely the best of the Little Master series and worth a try. I just feel like there was a lot of missed potential if they had allowed some kind of monster recruitment, or given the monsters more abilities.

    SFC Game 49 – Dark Kingdom

    Dark Kingdom (ダークキングダム)
    Released 4/29/1994, Published by Telenet 

    I’ve played a few Telenet games on this blog for the PC Engine, although some of them were ports. They did the Tenshi no Uta series, Deathbringer ports, Xak ports, Lady Phantom (on my SRPG blog), and the Cosmic Fantasy series. This is the first game I’ve encountered on the Super Famicom by them. It has an interesting premise — you are part of the Demon Lord’s army which is taking over the entire continent from the humans.

    The dark army is divided into 12 different species of 4 ranks. The main character, Jenn, is a shinninzoku, which are in the second rank. They look like humans, which is why they aren’t in the top rank. He enters the dark army in the hopes of finding out who wiped out his village. The opening has him taking a test by walking through a gate, which determines his position in the army. He gets the best position, an officer, and enters at the lowest rank of officers.

    The majority of the game involves taking missions from the commanders in the Demon Castle, leaving to go out and do them, and then receiving a promotion. You can hire mercenaries to accompany you (up to 9). They can equip things and level up, but they cannot upgrade their skills or magic. Eventually you get enough “real” people that you can stop using the mercenaries. In theory they are still useful because if your main party gets wiped out, the next 4 characters can come in and continue the battle. But I never actually made use of this.

    Before you leave on a mission, you can buy things, visit the passport office to allow you to pass between regions, and equip magic. Each person has a number of MP, and can equip up to three spells, each of which cost a certain MP to equip. The spells themselves have a limited number of uses; I’m not sure if it’s based on your MP or level.

    You can also fight in the arena below the castle to level up. You have a time limit to finish each mission, but the time limit is so generous I never even came close to hitting it. The time advances when you are on the overworld map, if you stay at an inn, or if you fight in the arena. You can choose in the arena among 4 monsters (any combination of them), and then fight 1 to 99 battles against those monsters. So you can level up quite a bit from this. I had to do this a few times during the game because I found it a lot harder to level in the actual dungeons.

    The battle system gives you four options. The first one, SWM (Sword Meter), is a basic attack that brings up a swing image:

    The sword moves back and forth and you’re trying to stop it in the middle. The color also changes but I could never tell if that did anything.

    Next you can use AP, which are special abilities. Without an instruction booklet I couldn’t tell what most of these did, and there are combinations you can do. The most effective one seems to be Successive, which gives you multiple strikes in one turn. Every time you finish a mission you can give all your non-mercenary characters one level of an AP skill; I focused on what skills each character started with, but Successive definitely turned out to be the winning skill. There’s also magic and item (no defend).

    When you venture out beyond the castle, you can visit towns where the humans are all scared of you. You can take anything you want from the weapon or item stores and stay in the inns for free (the items are pretty worthless, though).

    The first few missions are lowly tasks and Jenn gets the feeling he’s being used and looked down on by the superiors, especially those who consider his 2nd rank species to be too humanlike. He gathers a few allies to his side as he continues to raise himself in rank. One of the commanders, Beizar, takes a particular dislike to Jenn.

    One big problem I had with this game is that I got a huge amount of freezes — this game probably froze on me more than all the previous 48 other games combined. There were also a lot of problems with the BGM. I would be tempted to chalk this up to emulation problems or a bad dump, but bsnes is usually pretty reliable and the ROM is from NoIntro. I had to use a lot of save states to deal with this problem.

    From here there will be more story spoilers, but my overall feeling about the game will be at the end of the post if you want to jump to there.

    By the 7th mission Jenn’s fiance Judy has joined up, and we go after a new enemy, the Hero Lux. This is a personal request from the Emperor. This becomes kind of a parody because they’re like the heroes in a normal RPG, and there’s a rumor that they are immortal — for just half their gold they can come back to life endlessly. How will we defeat them? Well, once they kick our butt, Jenn changes into a superman and crushes them all, although they do make you fight the battle out. He does this several times during the game but never remembers.

    Next you’re charged again by the Emperor to recover a sword in a cave, but the cave also has something the heroes are looking for. Thanks to a series of traps, Jenn has to team up with Lux to escape the cave. Afterwards, another Emperor mission to beat a new dude that has appeared, Tordes. Tordes knows Jenn although Jenn has apparently forgotten him, and Tordes kicks Jenn’s ass. Fortunately the superhuman transformation comes up again so that Jenn can win the fight and cause Tordes to flee.

    Eventually, Jenn learns that it was Belzar that destroyed his village, and he decides to assassinate him. But at the same time, Belzar has taken out the Devil Emperor, with the help of Tordes. This means Jenn has to flee the capital and for a while it’s just you and Judy. He teams up with the heroes to defeat Belzar. Along the way, he learns that it was not Belzar who destroyed the town, but when Tordes came to kill him, Jenn’s superpower destroyed the whole village.

    Tordes is the final boss, who tells us the truth about Jenn — he was a prototype Super Being sent by the gods to test out a being that would be greater than either the old type humans or the new type monsters. Tordes was sent to kill Jenn. Once you beat Tordes, he dies, but Jenn is unable to control his power and disappears, although Lux is able to escape. He’s hailed as the hero for destroying the Demon Castle.

    Later, Jenn stumbles into a village, ranting about having to escape from the blinding light and warning the villagers to run. They recognize him as one of the demons and put him in a jail cell. The game ends, saying that nobody knows what happened to him. Apparently if you do a side quest in the last chapter someone releases him and it says that maybe someone will be able to save him.

    —–

    Famitsu gave it a 22/40 when it came out and that seems about right.Everything about the game is pretty middle of the road. The storyline is fine for 1994 if you ignore Final Fantasy VI (which would have been hard to do at the time!) The gameplay is a touch above the old cookie cutter DQ2 system, but some of the added things are somewhat annoying (like the swing meter). It is interesting to be in the reverse position of a normal game, aiding the dark side against the humans. The interface is mostly OK, although you still can’t see the stats of a weapon before buying it! How hard is that?

    Next up is Popful Mail, the SFC version.

    SRPG Game 40 – Arc the Lad

    Arc the Lad (アークザラッド)
    Released 6/30/1995, developed by G Craft, published by Sony

    1. Turn type: Speed based system
    2. Maps: Medium, Terrain bonuses.
    3. Character Customization: None.
    4. Character Development: Standard XP/level system.
    5. Party Size: Max 8
    6. Equipment: 4 accessory-type items.
    7. Game Flow: A series of required stages in order, but there are free battles to fight as well.
    8. Saving: Outside of battle.
    9. Death: Defeated characters are removed from the battle but return afterwards.

    This is the first SRPG for the Playstation, which had come out in 1994. It was the first in a trilogy of games; they were not released in English until 2003. It seems that this was not originally intended to be a series, but Sony felt that the Playstation needed more RPGs to compete with other consoles. So Arc the Lad was released in basically an unfinished state; the main quest is very short and ends in the middle of the story, to be continued in Arc the Lad II next year.

    The graphics are quite good for the time; the sprite work looks like improved late-Super Famicom graphics, the backgrounds are lush and well done, and the small number of FMVs fit well into the whole. What I find interesting about these early Playstation RPGs is that they were clearly following the Super Famicom model rather than the PC Engine model. The PCE had to rely on a lot of voice work, orchestrated music, and visual cutscenes to make up for the inferior graphics capability of the system. But early games for the PS1 like this have no voicing in the story sequences at all. Arc the Lad has a limited amount of voicing in the battles when the characters act and use their moves, although other games like Suikoden and Final Fantasy VII have no voice at all. This is in contrast to the shortlived PC-FX, which built on the PCE’s success — games like Der Langrisser FX and Power Dolls FX are fully voiced.

    I used the Mednafen emulator, which I have already been using for the PCE and Saturn games. The game ran flawlessly on my 4-year old laptop and used a modest amount of the CPU.

    The battle interface is streamlined and overall easy to use. You can move directly with the D-pad, attack with the circle button, and end your turn with the X button. You only need to open menus to use items or spells. The X button ending turn is tricky for someone used to most other SRPGs — I kept accidentally ending my turn when I intended to take back my move instead (you don’t really “take back” a move in the game, you just move somewhere else).

    Each character has a basic attack, but then also has a number of special abilities that they learn — mostly by levelling but a few characters learn by finding them instead. Arc is a basic fighter, Kukuru is a healer, Gogen is a magician, Poco has mostly buffs and debuffs, etc. The abilities level up as they level. It’s a nice system that keeps each character different. Chongara has summon abilities which produce units that can create platforms, heal, or do other things.

    My biggest problem with the system is the balance. This shares a quality of several other SRPGs — due to something about the damage and stat formulas, a character who falls behind by a few levels becomes nearly useless in battle. It is possible to simply ignore this and only use a few characters. This is what I did, relying almost entirely on Arc and Gogen, with Kukuru to heal. This works, but I don’t like having to do this. I think that you basically have to grind to avoid this. To the developers’ credit they did provide a number of things to do other than the story battles — there’s a 50 floor optional dungeon, an arena, and a training center. So if you do want to grind your characters, you don’t have to just play the same maps over and over.

    The game takes place in a steampunk type world, although the steampunk elements are somewhat muted. You have airships to take you around to different places, but none of the main characters use any guns or anything like that. For the most part you can’t explore towns, and maybe if you could the steampunk elements would be more evident.

    The story begins with the mayor of the starting town tricking Kukuru into extinguishing the Cion Flame, thus releasing the Ark Demon into the world. Later, the main character Arc tries to fight the demon but gets wasted. A mysterious spirit gives him the power of the guardian spirit, and he sets out on a quest to find out more about his father and hopefully stop the monsters who have come into the world. The story is fine and has some nice developments and twists, and the cast is limited enough that you get to know all your companions. It’s hard to say too much about it because this is only the first part of the story — although it does finish after a climax point, you could probably beat this game in 5 hours if you knew what you were doing. If you do all the extra stuff that’s probably another 15-20.

    Arc the Lad II was released the next year; it’s game 72 on my list so I will be getting to it before too long. The game allows you to carry over some things from the first to the second game so there’s a continuity — this is a feature that was enabled by the use of memory cards to save games. Did the PC Engine or Sega CD have any games that used the internal memory to enable a carryover?