Monthly Archives: March 2021

Masakari Densetsu – Kintaro RPG-hen

Masakari Densetsu: Kintaro RPG-hen
Released 10/28/1994, by Tonkin House
 

 

The games I’m choosing for these “off week” posts are going to be two kinds: games that are forerunners of Super Famicom games I’m playing, or games that came out around the time I’ve reached but for a different system. That’s what I’m covering this week; a game boy RPG that came out in late 1994.

Despite the obvious technological superiority of the Game Gear, the Game Boy remained a strong system — the smash hit Pokemon came out in early 1996, when the Game Gear was essentially dead. There were RPGs for the original Game Boy coming out as late as 1998, almost a decade after the system’s initial release. The Game Boy Color was released in the same year and development for the original GB stopped pretty soon after that.

One quirk of the games released around this point is the existence of the Super Game Boy, a Super Famicom cartridge that enabled you to play Game Boy games on your SFC. I highly recommend Christine Love’s series of articles called Fuck the Super Gameboy, which is an entertaining look at the technological capabilities of the cartridge and the squandered potential, as well as some games that used it well.

 The game I’m looking at today used the Super Gameboy in the way that most games coming out around this time did — just a custom border and an assigned color palette. These were pretty easy things for game designers to provide, and my estimate is that between mid-1994 and the release of the GBC in 1998, around 75% of the Game Boy games released in Japan had at least this basic SGB feature.

I can’t find a whole lot of information about the game today. It was made by Tonkin House, responsible for the Light Fantasy games and two of the SNES Ys games. Kintaro is a famous legendary figure in Japan. There are various versions of the Kintaro legends, but the one this game follows is that he was abandoned at birth and raised by a yamamba mountain witch. He usually just wears a fundoshi loincloth and carries a type of axe called a masakari (thus the title of this game). He defeated the demon Shuten Doji and eventually joined Minamoto Raiko along with other warriors to deal with bandits and demons.

Tonkin House made two games around this idea — an “action hen” (action game) and an RPG. The RPG is just another Dragon Quest II clone; it seems like at least for the Super Famicom, designers were starting to accept that you couldn’t just clone DQ2 forever and at least try to add some new features, but I feel like designers didn’t always value the portable systems highly and were sometimes willing to shovel inferior products on there with the knowledge that the portability was an automatic draw for some people. Only 6 RPGs came out for the game boy in all of 1994, so the competition was not especially fierce. 

The game begins with Raiko sending out his team to deal with various oni threats. Kintaro is paired with Tsuna since Raiko is afraid that Kintaro won’t actually do his job and just go out to play pranks. He gives Kintaro a Legendary Masakari.

There’s really no specific goal given, but Princess Kaguya’s adoptive parents are in a house in the city saying that she was taken. That’s at least a goal but there’s no real advice on where to go. The people in the town are all accusing Kintaro of having played pranks on them…

The battle system is exactly what you would expect. The random encounter rate is quite low, and the advancement seems fairly quick so I think this would be overall a pretty easy game to play.

The stuff in town was too expensive so I just went on exploring for other places. First we cross a bridge, and Kintaro tries throwing his masakari in the river in the hopes that the river spirit will give him a better one, but she can’t because the river is poisoned. He just gets a regular masakari instead…I found a village on the east side of a forest, and they told me that a bunch of people have been captured in a cave to the south, so that seems like a reasonable place to go.

There’s a nice feature in the caves where the Super Gameboy background actually switches:

So Tonkin House did more than the bare minimum for the SGB support. The enemies here were hard, especially the fire spirits, so I did a bit of grinding and bought better equipment before trying again. In the cave are some captured women.

They want me to defeat the demon in the cave to free them. This is where I stopped; it’s a perfectly functional DQ2-clone RPG but nothing special. The various mythological references may provide some interest, and there is some nice humor in the conversations. I often find that portable games in this era are hard to judge fairly because they were still at a point where the capabilities of the handhelds lagged way behind the consoles, and the portability was a big bonus of the games. But nowadays the portability no longer matters unless you insist on playing everything on original hardware. That’s not to say that no one managed to bring out any portable games that were competitive with the console games, but games like Masakari Densetsu just don’t seem all that worth playing now.

I’m afraid that I will need one more of these off week posts before I get back to Super Famicom — Bahamut Lagoon is turning out to be a little longer than I thought, and I have family visiting this week so I may not have that much time to play. But I should definitely be back with Wizap the weekend of April 10th. (EDIT: I think I should be done with Bahamut Lagoon by tomorrow so we should be OK.)

SRPG Game 52 – Bahamut Lagoon (Stages 1-13)

Bahamut Lagoon (バハムートラグーン)
Released 2/9/1996, developed and published by Square 
 

  

1996 begins! This is the twilight of the Super Famicom; Playstation and Saturn were starting to rev up their production starting this year, and by 1997 the SFC was in decline. I have five more SFC games on the list — four this year, and then the bizarrely late Fire Emblem 5 in 1999. Bahamut Lagoon is one of those games that I’ve heard about ever since I first discovered emulation in the late 90s, but I never played it. I usually play these games in Japanese, but for this one I decided to use the new patch recently released by Near (the developer of BSNES and other emulators). It’s a model of a good translation patch. 

The basic idea behind this game is that you have several parties, and each party has an associated dragon. The dragons affect what spells and moves the party members can use. The party can issue a general command to the dragon (Come! Go! or Wait!) but the dragons act on their own, and have stats like Timidity and Affection that affect how well they follow your orders.

The dragons’ stats are affected by feeding them items — they will eat everything from potions to plate mail to fire rods. The dragons have various elemental stats, which enable them to use different kinds of breath (and affect the elemental skills their associated party can use). They also have strength and defense for basic attacks. Dragons will evolve form when they gain levels in various stats, and there are unusual dragons and secret transformations as well.

I like the late-SNES era graphics.

Battles are done on a player/enemy phase system. You move a party, then the associated dragon will take its action. Units can either use a “field attack” which has a direct effect, or attack an enemy party. If that happens you go into a separate battle screen and enter commands for each party member individually. This slows the game down a bit but on the whole I don’t find the tempo to be all that bad.

 

Player characters have a class that determines their skills and what equipment they can use. There aren’t any class promotions although I think one character changes class from the story.

Using spells and techniques of certain elementals causes changes on the board — you can destroy things with thunder, set trees on fire with fire, freeze water with ice to cross, and remove poison fields with heal spells.

The first few stages are basically just to get you used to the system and aren’t very hard. After the first one you get a “ship” (which is an island, that’s what the “lagoons” of the title are).

Chapter 3 introduces catapult enemies, which are nasty, as they can attack from a pretty far away range and have an AoE attack. I did manage to beat all the enemies but it was rough and I lost a few dragons. Death is not permanent and you can revive the human characters on your team (if you can revive dragons I don’t know how to do it).

Chapter 4 has a ton of enemies, and healing enemies that are annoying but you can take care of by attacking with the human parties and just focusing on them. 

Chapter 5 has monster enemies, but they’re not hard.

After this chapter I found a “Princess ???” item in Yoyo’s bed; apparently if you collect 5 of these and feed them to a dragon it evolves into Bahamut. Getting them all without a walkthrough is hard.

Also after this chapter you can start doing “side quests” which are really just repeatable battles to build levels and get money. There are only 2 to choose from now. I didn’t bother.

Chapter 6 has some surprise reinforcements but nothing I couldn’t handle.

Chapter 7 introduces artillery things on the board that shoot at you if you stop in front of them. But they can be destroyed with thunder magic.

Chapter 8 is against dragons fought from outside the ship.

Chapter 9 has a floodgate you can release to hurt the enemies, although they immediately start healing themselves so it’s only useful if you can rush them.

Chapter 10 introduces treasure chests, which have either treasures or traps.

Chapter 11 has us going to a lake to find the next Divine Dragon (which all become summons for two of the characters).

 

Chapter 12 has some passages that close on you if you are in them, but that just stops your move for a turn.

Chapter 13 was the hardest one yet for me — there are “generators” that open up to make enemies, or you can lightning them to have them appear. I lost several characters but in the end I still won.

 

I will try to take more detailed notes for the rest of the battles (although I often say this and then don’t!)

As for my dragon feeding, I’ve been doing it rather randomly. I suppose it’s probably better to have one really powerful dragon but I’ve been spreading around the food. One thing I noticed is that the item drops you get from enemies depend on the elements you use to defeat them. So that can create a feedback loop where you’re getting nothing but fire equipment unless you make an effort to spread around what you’re using. There’s an ultimate form of the dragon you can get if you max all of a dragon’s stats but that seems hard to do. I especially have a hard time increasing life and poison.

Glory of Heracles II

Glory of Heracles II (ヘラクレスの栄光II タイタンの滅亡) 
Released 12/23/1989, published and developed by Data East
 

  

When Data East released the first Glory of Heracles in 1987, console RPGs were still in their infancy. You had the first two Dragon Quests, two Deep Dungeon games (first-person maze crawlers), and a number of action-RPG hybrids like Hydlide and Adventure of Valkyrie. So there weren’t a lot of established rules for how the console RPGs should work, and Glory of Heracles has a lot of oddities in its system.

In late 1989 when Glory of Heracles II was released, the situation was totally different. Since the first game, there were many other DQ-like games released for multiple systems: Dragon Quest III, Final Fantasy I and II, SaGa 1, Phantasy Star II, Mother 1, Tengai Makyo, and others. The Dragon Quest clone had become fully established as the dominant console RPG style, and Glory of Heracles II follows the pattern. All of the oddities of the first game are gone — the durability of weapons and armor, the passwords that don’t preserve which bosses you’ve beaten, and overworld and towns on the same field, for instance. 

The wikipedia article says that what did make this game stand out was the Greek mythology theme, as well as the tragic story that was somewhat more developed than other games at the time.  

 

The game begins in the town of Nana, with naming your hero, and then talking to a girl and naming her. The hero (Kurisu)’s grandmother has gotten a letter looking for people to go out fight the Lord of Darkness. She tries to hide it from him, but Kurisu finds it in his bed and heads out. The Queen of Nana tells me to find Homer, who should know more about what to do. I bought a sword and then headed to the mainland, to Athens.

Homer’s already left Athens, but I meet a doctor who tells me to find Deadelus in Selan because his son Icarus is injured. Selan is to the east, and I gained a few levels before going there.

The battle system doesn’t need description; it’s Dragon Quest II. I did learn from wikipedia and reviews that there are monsters later that can break your equipment, which is pretty annoying. There’s also a day and night system like DQ3, and it seems like the random encounter rate is much higher at night. The enemies give a lot of XP though so raising levels was fast.

 

I made it to Selan and found out that Deadalus wasn’t there. Homer had gone north to Minoa, so that’s where I headed next.

Homer was there, and told me that we need to find the Chaos Axe to break the seal leading to the Dark God. That’s a big quest with no direction, but at the same time a centaur being bullied tells me that there’s a great treasure in the cave to the east, guarded by Cerberus. Unfortunately there’s no inn in this town so that’s a hassle to walk back and forth.

This is where I stopped; it seems like this is a perfectly playable (for 1989) RPG that has an interesting theme. I believe this has a translation patch so if you like early NES era RPGs, give this a try. Next week I will cover the Glory of Heracles game for Game Boy that came out in 1992, six months after the third game. I should be done with Bahamut Lagoon by then and I can move on to Wizap and two PCE games.

SFC Game 59 – Down the World

Down the World (ダウン・ザ・ワールド)
Released 9/30/1994, developed and published by ASCII
 

  

As I said in my previous post, I swapped the order of Down the World and Wizap because I couldn’t figure out how to play Wizap — I tried to order a copy from Japan but covid is still messing up the mail so I can’t get it. However, I think I have found enough resources that I should be able to play it (it’s a very short game if you know what to do).

As it happens, Down the World is by the same company as Wizap. ASCII is also known for Itadaki Street, the RPG Tsukuuru (and other Tsukuuru series), and seems to have developed a number of late SNES RPGs like Milandra, Solid Runner, and Dark Law. The strange title of this game is a reference to traveling between worlds in the game, where you go “down” a door or teleporter and fall into the next world.

 

One surprising thing on starting the game is a vocal song in the intro! I didn’t know any other games besides Tales of Phantasia had done this, and it’s impressive to see it 2 years before ToP. It’s not as long as the ToP one but it’s still interesting. If you want to hear it, there are several videos of it on youtube. The song plays while the fairy-tale like background is introduced. 

Princess Sara, the creator of life, has been pierced with a small thorn, causing her to become sick and cry. If she cries all of her tears, the world will be destroyed. She created ten heroes from ten of her tears, called the Blue Tear Knights. This was King Mamran’s plan, but Mervil opposed it and has created lots of monsters to go out in the world. The first 9 knights all died, and the 10th knight, a weak, cowardly knight named Gao, is all that’s left. Sara has only 3 tears left — when all those are gone, the world ends.

So the game starts with Gao setting out to find the Hero who will help them, along with the fairy Belbel to help. She can use her wings to revive Gao if he falls in battle, but only 6 times (you can get items to restore the wings). It’s an odd start because Gao starts walking around, talking to people, and going into a dungeon and fighting monsters, but you have no control over any of it. Finally he reaches a town that’s supposed to have the Golden Ship that will call forth the hero. Still no control. Finally he climbs up a ferris wheel and the golden ship descends, along with the hero…that turns out to be the player.

 Gao turns to the plyer and asks your name, and then says you can use the strange device in your hand to tell him what to do. And now you have control as Gao goes “down the world” to the first world.

However, the battle system is still semi-auto. You give your characters a general tactic and watch them fight on a grid. The tactics are customizable and you can even make your own pattern and save it (with a name). However, I never found this necessary — mostly the ones they provide you with are good enough maybe with small tweaks. Ultimately I think these efforts at making auto-battle systems like Elfaria and this game fail. In theory it shouldn’t be much different from the RPGs of this era where you’re mostly just mashing attack over and over again. But at least there you can stop and heal or run away. It’s a shame because I think this would have been a really enjoyable system if they let you control Gao and have everyone else on AI. As it is, you spend most of the time just watching, and directing heal spells.

 

The characters will use heal spells automatically, but this doesn’t happen until the people are fairly low on HP, so I often had to heal manually.

There’s also an interesting system where by pressing X, you can direct Gao to go back to places you’ve been. This is not a teleport spell but he will actually walk there. The system is impressive because you can direct him to go from the depths of a dungeon all the way to a specific shop in a town. You’ll still have random encounters but the pathfinding is good so I guess it saves some time. You can also ask him to go a specific direction or follow walls, but I never used this.

Gau’s first world is the rock area, where people are obsessed with gems. Here, Gau learns that Mervil was one of eight sages, and turned the other ones into animals when he decided on his ambitious plan. Most of them don’t seem to care about what’s going on, but the last one, Bararaata, decides to join the group. Soon after, the smith Joshua joins up, bringing out team to three. After that, we head to the Jawald Temple to find the door to the next world, Flowerlandia.

 

It seems that Flowerlandia is actually Snowlandia, though, as the entire place is covered in feet of snow. It turns out that this is caused by the dragon Girin. As it turns out, this is also where Gao originally came from — the base of the Blue Tear Knights is here. His mentor powers up the sword but then they all disappear, after reassuring Gao that Sara made him a Blue Tear Knight for a real purpose despite his weakness.

The basic goal of this section is to find the Flame of Desire that will deal with Girin, and also get a sled to get to his mountain. The flame is held by a dancer Kirara no Kyoka, and we are also joined here by the knight Gacha. Once Girin is defeated, the land returns to spring and we go Down the World to the next place.

The next land has a Wind area and a Fire area. We need to get through to the Fire area in order to proceed to the next world, but it’s been blocked off. The King of the wind area has become a coward and stopped fighting against the Fire area, which wants to take it over. We add a new party member here, a Blood Knight that was created from Princess Sara’s blood. There’s also Bone Knights created from her bones, which doesn’t leave much left for her.

Eventually we manage to get a flag that can put out the fire, reach the Fire area and defeat the boss Gadarl, who is working for Mervil. Once we beat him, Mervil’s voice comes out and tells us to stop trying to save Sara — we should just let this world end so a better one can be reborn. Obviously this is not what we’re going to do, so it’s on to the next world.

In this world, we need to save three sisters who will combine their powers to let us progress to the next world. Two of them have been captured by minions of Mervil, and the third has been put to sleep. But we manage to solve the problems and restore all the sisters (Joshua and Maria, the last one, seem to fall in love), and it’s off to the next world. This world also contains a village of witches, who have isolated themselves from everything else so that even when the world dies, they’ll be able to survive.

The next world is the final one, a dead world where a disease created by Mervil has ravaged the population. Meanwhile Sara has cried two more tears so she only has one left — once she sheds that, the world will end.

Here we have to reach Dead End Tower, where Mervil is. There, we fight the 4 generals of Mervil before finally encountering him at the top.

Mervil repeats himself about wanting to restart the world and do it better this time, but after beating hits three bosses Gao just cuts his jewel open and kills him.

Now it’s time to go to the final area, the Life Kingdom to save Sara. Sara is in the back of a room, and Gao has to open the door by using four spells that he got in each of the worlds, rearranging the letters to spell “Revive, Sara!” Then the door opens, but only the Hero (player) is allowed to enter to see Sara.

Sara says that as soon as the door was opened, the thorn was removed. But she says that it wasn’t Mervil who pierced her with the thorn, but a different enemy from outside the world. She appoints the Hero leader of her troops to guard against the eventual invasion of this other enemy, and says she’ll call on me when it’s necessary. I found this somewhat disappointing; the story up to this point was not that bad (it had a lot more detail than I gave in the post), but everything Sara says just seems like foreshadowing for a sequel that was never made.

In any case, all the characters get sent back to their home worlds and the game ends.

As I said, it’s really a shame the battle system is so boring. The setting, story, and characters are all pretty good for 1994 and if it had just been paired with a good battle system this could have been a classic game.

SFC Game 58 – Live a Live (Part 2)

Four chapters remained after my last post.

The first one I did was the Chinese Kung Fu-themed one. This involves an old man who is the last practitioner of a martial arts technique you get to name. I went with 邪悪闇拳 “Evil Darkness Fist”. The first thing you have to do is go out and find three disciples.

The disciples are a fat guy who likes eating, an orphan thief girl, and a boy who wants to learn. The next part of the chapter has you fighting training battles with them. Each battle increases the disciples’ stats and levels. Here’s where I messed up the first time I tried it. The disciples will learn techniques that you use on them. Also the only disciple you will actually control is the one you train with the most, and they have to fight the final boss on their own. Since none of this is stated, I split my training evenly among all the disciples and didn’t bother using a variety of techniques on them. This left me with an underlevelled disciple with almost no techniques against the final boss.

When I restarted, I did all the training with Lin (the thief girl) and made sure to use all the techniques on her. With that done, the final boss was quite easy. But everyone else dies.

Next I did the “modern” story, which is structured like a fighting game. You play Masaru who has to fight six different guys and then the final boss. It’s a pretty short chapter.

In addition to beating them, you want to learn their techniques by getting hit by them (this time they tell you in the intro that this will happen). This whole chapter is just another instance of controlling your positioning to make sure the enemies use or don’t use their techniques. The Hulk Hogan ripoff is the hardest one, even harder than the final boss.

I continued in chronological order, so next was the “near future” story which is a parody of Kamen Rider and Mazinger Z-like stories. Akira lives in an orphanage of some sort in a town where there is a motorcycle gang running around causing trouble. He has psychic abilities, and you can press Y to read the thoughts of people nearby. 

A mad scientist in town is working on trying to revive “Buriki Daioh”, an ancient giant robot that ran on psychic ability. But Akira isn’t strong enough to revive it. It’s up to a motorcycle riding friend (and crush of one of the orphanage workers) to activate it, but die in the process.

The boss is a weird parrot deity, another anagram of Odio. You fight it with the giant robot and it’s a fairly easy fight. 

The last character is a robot, on a ship returning to earth. This is an interesting chapter because there are no battles other than the final one (and an optional “arcade game”). Your character is a constructed robot. This has a 2001 or Aliens feel to it, taking place on a small ship with a group of people that were in cold sleep and have been revived. There are mysterious deaths, betrayals, a monster, and other elements.

It’s sometimes hard to figure out what to do next (this is problematic for the whole game, but especially in this scenario). But eventually we solve the problem in a 2001-style ending.

Now all 7 scenarios have been completed, and I was presented with an 8th scenario — the “medieval” story, starring a knight Olsted.

Olsted starts off in a duel with his friend Strongbow to gain the hand of the princess. He wins, but a dark spirit appears and kidnaps the princess — it seems to be the Devil King revived. So Olsted has to track down the former heroes that defeated the Devil King before and do the job once again. Unfortunately the hero has grown so bitter towards humans that he stopped caring, but we’re able to revive his spirit and head to the Forbidden Land.

In the Forbidden Land we encounter the dark shade of the Devil King. But once defeated, the princess is nowhere to be seen, and the former hero says it’s not him — but then he dies. The castle starts crumbling, and Strongbow sacrifices himself to let us escape. Back in the castle, people suspect Olsted of killing the hero, and when a dark spirit comes out of the King, Olsted defeats the spirit and the king dies. Now everyone thinks Olsted is the Devil King. He goes back to the forbidden land and finds out that Strongbow intentionally pushed us out so that he could go save the princess in a hidden passage. Olsted defeats Strongbow, and the princess kills herself in despair. Olsted then decides that there is no Devil King, but he will become the Devil King — Odio.

Now you get to choose a character again for the final chapter. There are two forms — one if you choose Olsted, and one if you choose another character.

If you choose Olsted, you get to play the bosses of all 7 chapters and kill the heroes (in easy forms). If any of them are beating you, you get to use a hidden command Armageddon that destroys everything. But even if you win all the fights, it just says SAD END.

Now if you choose another character you get the last chapter. I did not like the final chapter; it was pretty bereft of any direction, and the random encounter rate shoots up way too high. The idea is that you go around and find the characters you want to recruit. There are then dungeons, one for each character, that have their strongest weapon and other treasures. If you recruit all 7 characters at least once you get the “best” ending but from what I can tell, the best ending is only graphically different from the regular one.

Once you’ve done as much as you want in the dungeons (which are all optional) it’s time to go to the Forbidden Land and fight the last boss. I read that it’s necessary to have Angel equipment to protect against petrify, but I didn’t get any of it and I didn’t think the final boss was very hard.

The ending is rather short — Olsted realizes he forgot he was human, and dies, warning us that anyone can become a Demon King. But as far as I could tell there’s no explanation for why different forms of his were in various worlds or how we all got to the final chapter. The rest of the ending shows everyone back in their time periods, back to their lives.

Without the last chapter I thought this was a pretty good game — I liked the variety in the stories and gameplay, and it has great music. The battle system is fun. But the last chapter is a disappointing conclusion to the story and the gameplay. There is a lot of replayability, with all the optional stuff you can do in the chapters, the different choices of protagonist, and such.

Next up is supposed to be Wizap! King of Darkness. But I tried playing it and I couldn’t make heads or tails of the game — I ordered a copy from ebay but I’m going to swap the order and play Down the World next.

1995 wrap-up

1995 was the longest year yet. Here were the games, which I’ll categorize in three sections — good, average, and bad.

Good: Majin Tensei II, Super Robot Taisen 4, Riglord Saga, Tactics Ogre

Average: Front Mission, Royal Stone, Another Bible, Shin SD Sengokuden, Arc the Lad, Little Master 3, Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict, Bounty Sword, Heian Fuunden, Tenchi Muyo, Sangokushi Eiketsuden

Bad: Gundam Cross Dimension 0079, Farland Story, Super Robot Taisen 2G, Battle Robot Retsuden, Sengoku Cyber, Farland Story II

This year was mostly Super Famicom games, but Playstation and Saturn both had their first offerings. Of course graphics and presentation are improving. Front Mission and Tactics Ogre introduced height and the isometric perspective, and Arc the Lad continued the trend of SRPGs with far more RPG elements than previously.

Which of the 4 good games should be the Game of the Year? For me it’s between Riglord Saga and Tactics Ogre. Both have flaws. But Tactics Ogre’s story writing is far beyond anything else, and it emphasized the role of class changes and job systems. Riglord Saga has an open world, non-linear style, and a neat skill system.

I think I am going to go with Riglord Saga because Tactics Ogre has some pretty serious balance problems, and the permanent death is too severe given the lack of in-battle saves and the frequent places where you have to fight two or more battles in a row. I think the designers realized they messed up there because in the PSX remake the following year you can do in battle saves (I used save states myself). But it’s very close.

Games of the year:

  • 1990: Fire Emblem
  • 1991: Langrisser 
  • 1992: Just Breed 
  • 1993: Super Robot Taisen 3 
  • 1994: Langrisser II
  • 1995: Riglord Saga