Monthly Archives: July 2021

Wikipedia’s list of SRPGs – games I didn’t play

 

Wikipedia has a list of tactical RPGs that seems fairly comprehensive although it doesn’t have all of the games on my list. It does have some games I didn’t catch that I later added, but I keep forgetting which years I’ve checked so I want to start making a list of what I’m rejecting and why.

This list is through 1996. At least for now I’m only playing games that were originally released in Japan for a console, so that excludes some of the games already. As a quick review of my criteria: the game has to (1) be based around a series of fixed maps rather than random battles, (2) have unique characters that you can develop rather than just generic troops, and (3) have a developing storyline rather than just a frame narrative. 

Please let me know if I’ve mistakenly excluded a game by my own criteria (not whether you personally think it’s an SRPG).

Bokosuka Wars (1983, FC port 1985) – Nobody considers this an SRPG; some say it lay the foundation for the SRPG genre but I’m a bit skeptical of this. I feel like Fire Emblem drew its main inspiration from games like Daisenryaku and Famicom Wars, and I’m not sure that either of these games are all that indebted to Bokosuka Wars. I think maybe we can say that it had certain elements that would later be in the SRPG genre, but I’m not sure if it deserves credit for starting the genre.

Moryo Senki MADARA (1990, FC) – One debate that often occurs among SRPG fans is about games like this. The game is basically a standard RPG except that when you get in a random battle, the battles take place on a grid with some strategy elements. For me, these are not SRPGs (thus criteria 1 above).

Bahamut Senki (1991, MD) — MADARA is an example of a game that’s too far to the RPG side, and this is an example of a game that’s too far to the strategy side. There are a number of games that are sometimes considered SRPGs that (to me) are basically strategy games instead. This has only a frame narrative rather than a developing story (criteria 3) and is almost entirely generic characters (criteria 2).

Chaos World (1991, FC) — I don’t understand why this is on the list. It’s just a normal RPG with an auto-battle system.

Crystal Warriors (1991, GG) – I may have wrongly skipped this game. It’s the forerunner to Royal Stone, which I did play. I believe I cut it because it didn’t look like it had a developing story. But there might actually be one, just a very thin one. 

Master of Monsters (1991, MD) – Same deal as Bahamut Senki.

MT: Last Bible (1992, GB) – This seems to be another mistake on wikipedia. Another Bible is an SRPG but this is just a standard RPG.

Dark Wizard (1993, MD-CD) – I actually started this game, and it’s possible that it technically qualifies. It did not feel like SRPG to me, though (it felt more like a Bahamut Senki type game). In the end I skipped it because it seemed very long and slow moving, and it’s available in English.

Super Barcode Wars (1993, SFC) – I think this is another Bahamut Senki situation. However, even if it does qualify, it can’t really be played the way it was intended to play because no emulator supports the barcode scanner peripheral that was made to go with the game.

BB Gun (1995, SFC) – No developing story.

Kou Ryuu Ki (1995, SFC) – Rise of the Phoenix in English. This is another type of difficult game for me to assess because it has a storyline in a sense. But I don’t think it fits criteria 1.

Monstania (1996, SFC) – This one is so close that it might be an SRPG, my question is whether it qualifies for criteria 1. In the end I decided to skip it because I will end up playing it anyway on my other blog.

Treasure Hunter G (1996, SFC) – Same comment as for Monstania.

In the future I’ll include Wikipedia entries in the previews of each year.

In addition to the above, I have two games that I missed on my first go through — The Hybrid Front, and Nage Libre. I’m going to do Nage Libre when I reach that point in my SFC blog. I will get to the Hybrid Front eventually; right now I’m not in the mood to go back to a Mega Drive game.

SRPG Game 57 – Energy Breaker

Energy Breaker (エナジーブレーカ), Super Famicom
Released 7/26/1996, developed by Neverland Company, published by Taito

This game was released in the waning days of the Super Famicom. There are still a few well remembered RPGs after this, but Playstation and Saturn were starting to pick up steam, and once Final Fantasy VII was released at the beginning of 1997, that was basically the end for the system. After this game, my list is all Playstation and Saturn until 1999 (except for a couple of PC-FX games that may not qualify as SRPGs). Because of the late release I think this game was not given a lot of notice, as we can perhaps see from the prices of used copies of the game.

 Energy Breaker was developed by Neverland Company, which is known to Western gamers primarily through the Lufia and Rune Factory series. On the whole, the game is weighted towards the RPG end of the scale. The battles are small, with at most 5 player characters. The towns and dungeons may be explored, and a good deal of the game is in walking around the various places. However, there are fixed battles (numbered) so it does qualify as an SRPG under my definition, though just barely.

The game begins with no real backstory — the main character, Maira, wakes up out of a dream where she sees a woman named Selphie talking to her. It seems that Maira has lost her memory, although exactly what she’s doing in the town isn’t explained (maybe it’s in the instruction manual). Her friend Irene tells her about a fortune teller in town who predicts everything perfectly. It turns out to be Selphie, who gives Maira a green gem. Maira’s goal seems to be to find out who she is, and she heads to a nearby forest to track down a researcher named Lenardo who is looking for companions to find a flower that can supposedly recall the dead to life.

This is just the beginning of the story, which overall is fairly decent for the time. The characters (including the villain characters) are all developed and have interesting connections to each other and the main characters. There is enough dialogue to flesh everything out. Since there’s an English patch I don’t want to say too much about the story (even though I know that many readers will never play the game, so I probably should do the whole story…I guess you can watch a youtube playthrough.)

As you explore the towns and dungeons, you can hit A on almost everything to generate a response from Maira. There are a lot of hidden treasures, although the inventory space is fairly limited (for game balance reasons, I think). Everything is done in a 3/4 view like Tactics Ogre and such, with the battles taking place on the same maps as the exploration. You can jump up places by holding a button. There are a lot of hidden passages also and chests/treasures hidden in places of the map you can’t see, so the game rewards poking around everywhere.

 When you talk to people, most of them just give you a short line. But some have more options; you can give them things, or take different attitudes with them, or ask them about specific things. Only a few characters have specific things that you can ask them about. The attitude has no real effect on the game; I was barely able to find any places where it even made a difference to what the people said, much less having an effect on the plot.

The world map is a Mode-7 area where you just choose your destination. However, there are other world maps beyond the one you first see. The world is kind of semi-fantasy, semi-steampunk, with trains and robots and such.

In the non-town areas, entering a screen will sometimes produce a battle (though it doesn’t always happen until you’re partway through the screen). The first time you encounter the battle you have to fight it. If you return and activate the battle again, you can fight it again or you can choose “run away” and skip it, which is much appreciated. Each battle has a turn limit; most of the time that’s the loss condition but in some cases you win by surviving that number of turns.

The battle system resembles Tactics Ogre in that it has both height and facing. An attack from the front deals the least damage and the opponent will counter. A side attack deals the same amount but no counter, and a back attack deals the most. I am not completely certain how the mechanics work, but you will notice that when you attack, a damage number will appear, and then roll up or down (sometimes severely — like 28 down to 2). This has to do with Dexterity, and I believe it’s the difference between the attacker and defender’s DEX stats. So don’t neglect DEX.

Each turn, a character can take as many actions as they have Balance points. Each character has a set maximum Balance that will never change through the game (except for one unique item that increases it by +1). Each ability costs a certain amount of balance — moving costs 5, a basic attack is 3, using an item is 1, and abilities cost from 3-10 depending on their power. There are no other MP/AP costs or anything like that. Any ability can be used as many times as you need to in each battle as long as you have the balance. The 1 cost for items does unbalance the game a bit (no pun intended) but the limited inventory space keeps it from getting too ridiculous, as does the fact that the shopkeeper inventories for the more powerful items are limited and only refill a few fixed times during the game.

 

At the beginning of a turn, a character recovers some of their balance points depending on their remaining HP. The lower the HP, the less balance they recover. This sucks for your guys who sometimes have such low balance they can’t even move, but the enemies can also be reduced to low enough balance that they can’t use their attacks. This system does provide a lot of flexibility in what you do on each turn, and there’s a tension in deciding what you want to spend your balance points on for each round. If a character is defeated in battle, they just exit that battle and will return afterwards (you recover all HP at the end of each battle).

Each character learns abilities by assigning points to four elements (wind, water, earth, fire), both to “light” and “dark” sides. At first I thought you would have to choose between them, but you can assign points to both. There’s both a maximum (from 0-7) and the points you actually have assigned. By the end of the game at least some of your characters will have enough points to max out all 8 areas and assign most of the points. You learn new abilities by assigning points to the right places then taking an action in battle, upon which the character will use it and then you have it (as long as you keep the points assigned). You can figure out where to assign the points by finding certain books in the game that tell you, but there are also some hidden abilities.

 

The one exception to this learning method is Staa, who has to defeat certain enemies to learn attacks (in addition to having the right elements set). This is rather annoying because he tends to lag behind since there’s no indication of which enemies give you which skills. But there’s also an item Fortune Slip that can teach him abilities without having to beat the enemies (if you have the points assigned).

Not every character can learn every ability, so each character remains individual. The stat buffs are important, and probably the most crucial ability is Poison Drop, which lowers all stats of the target. This is a brutal attack when it’s directed against your own guys, but also works very well against strong
enemies. You can buy or find scrolls for many of the spells and use those instead.

In most battles you also have a robot who cannot attack or be attacked, and has 5 balance a turn (enough for one move). So you can use him to block the way for enemies, but I rarely found this helpful.

The graphics are well done; typical late Super Famicom style. The BGM is also strong, with several memorable and atmospheric tunes.

There are some flaws in the game. Parts of the story are undeveloped (supposedly the development time was cut short). Items are perhaps a bit too powerful, and the inventory limit and shop limit doesn’t entirely compensate for that. A few places in the game don’t have many hints to figure out where to go next. But all in all this is an impressive late-SFC game that’s definitely one of the better games I’ve played so far on this blog. Give it a try, if you like SRPGs that are closer to the RPG end of the scale rather than large scale army vs army games.

SFC Game 65 – Breath of Fire II, Part 3 – Defeating God

In the last post, we had gained a way to fly on the world map at a cost. This was in order to fly to the Evrai temple to deal with the problems they were causing. Unfortunately we get trapped in the town and they want us to convert to Evrai.

Fortunately there’s a resistance group we find that leads us into an underground tunnel. The place you escape has the best fishing rod, allowing for fishing the most powerful sword for the main character — the best way to do this is with Coins (“gold” in the English translation), although I noticed that bsnes’ turbo feature does not register fast enough, at least mapped to the middle DS4 pad, to do it. So I had to mash.

Now joining up with the resistance, time to storm back into Evrai? No, we need money, meaning we have to find everyone’s favorite thief Patty. Once we do this, we can break into Evrai. I don’t know what boss this next picture is but it must be around this point.

This might be the fight against the Dragon that gives the main character the G. Dragon power, which does 999 and is very useful against future bosses. In any case we launch the assault on Evrai church but the leader is more powerful than we thought. As we continue to chase him, there’s a sad scene with Rand:

His mom sacrifices herself to let Rand go on and join the party.This is a long dungeon, but eventually we reach the boss:

There are three endings to the game — one bad one, and then two others that I’ve seen called “normal” and “good” although both have sad/happy parts. If you want the “good” ending you have to avoid killing the old man here (hurting him is fine). So no Dragon powers, which makes this fight one of the harder boss fights.

The old man Ganer then puts himself in a machine at Community so it can fly. I’m not sure what happens if you defeated Ganer instead because the machine has to fly for the rest of the game to work.

Unfortunately you lose the bird which is dumb because the bird flies faster, and I believe it locks you out of some of the fishing areas.

 

Now we finally can go back to Gate, the town from the beginning of the game. This is the final sequence of dungeons. I created some MP restore items through the cooking guy (although not enough as I found out later) and some Biscuit items (hard senbei) that restore everyone’s HP and add defense.

I didn’t really bother with the shaman fusions because they get removed when someone gets to low HP, and this happens constantly (especially since so many enemies in the final dungeon have instant death attacks). This was a really poor decision by the designers and made the shaman fusion much more of a hassle and less important than it could have been.

Before we can enter the final battle, we need…Patty? Yes, it turns out that she is the main character’s sister. The villagers foolishly decide to bomb the dragon out of the way, but this just opens the gate

At this point you can choose to have the Dragon continue to protect the gate. This leads to the bad ending, where the demon in the gate eventually gains enough power to overwhelm the world. So instead we should have the Dragon move aside so we can go in and kill it.

The final dungeon is long, although it has several places where you can rest, save, and one place with shops. I needed the levels from the dungeon to do the final boss. Midway through the dungeon, we happen on an underground village with the remnants of the Dragon clan who tell Kurisu that his destiny is to defeat Death Evans, the “god” that the Evrai church has been following. There’s also a long flashback scene with Kurisu’s mother.

First, though, we have to beat Barbary.

My first try I had a lot of trouble, so I left the entire dungeon and got more Wisdom Balls (+100 AP) which let the main character use G Dragon every other turn. This helps a lot.

Now in the final boss Kurisu uses the Infinity Dragon to make Death Evans vulnerable. There was a long sequence indicating that Kurisu would have to sacrifice his life to use this — maybe I’ve forgotten how they dealt with this but he doesn’t die. Death Evans is much easier than Barbary, though. 

Now after the fight, if you didn’t save Goran, Kurisu has to become the dragon to guard the gate. If you did save Goran he’ll use the town to block the entrance. And the game ends.

The ending sequence goes through the “chapters” of the game and lists all the characters that were in each scene.

 The end!

I think Breath of Fire 1 was a better game. BoF2 has some pretty severe balance issues that make large stretches of it not very fun to play. The plot doesn’t really do anything until the last section. The shaman system is hard to use, and the Dragon breath system is not as robust as the first game. I also didn’t think the dungeons were as creatively designed as the first game. On the whole I had much more fun with the first game than the second — Carlos in the last post said that BoF2 is an objectively better game but I’m not so sure about that.

With this game I am halfway through my quest! (65 games out of 130). I’m playing Energy Breaker (SFC) on the other blog and then we’ll come back here for The Last Battle. I’m done with vacations so we should see fewer “gap” posts in the next few months (although probably there will be one next week).

The Magic Bells (Deadly Towers)

(This is a scheduled post while I’m away on vacation. I’ve beaten BoF2 so that final post will be up next week.)

This is another action game, and an infamous kusoge both here and in Japan. I think there’s a perception that Japanese players liked these games better than we did, but this one got bad reviews in Japan as well. It’s clearly in the lineage of Druaga, Hydlide, Zelda, and such. You have a (small) open world, most of the game content hidden with no hints, and a protagonist who starts very weak compared to the monsters. But it’s closer to Hydlide and Adventures of Valkyrie in that the initial difficulty is quite high, and you’re going to die a lot before you even come across the basics of what to do. One thing that Zelda got right is that you can make a fair amount of progress at the beginning of the game before you run into the really difficult hidden stuff or nasty monsters.

I vaguely remember playing this game as a kid — I may have rented it or just played it at a friend’s house, but I didn’t play it much.

Although the reviews are mostly negative, I have seen some that defend some parts of the game, at least. It really seems like the main problem with the game is how weak you start, and how difficult it is to make any early progress. Unlike Valkyrie and Hydlide, there’s no XP, so fighting the initial enemies gets you nothing but a few Ludder (the money). And in order to spend that Ludder, you have to find the hidden dungeons and then the shops within those dungeons.

Here’s what the dungeons look like (credit to GameFAQs):

S is where you start, X is the exit, and the other letters are the shops (the green blocks are just what the walkthrough writer used to show where you should go). These dungeons seem unnecessarily large given that most of those rooms have no purpose. So you have to deal with a lot of game content to just get even basic upgrades for your character. There are heart containers you can find early in the game (and easily) that raise your max HP by 10, but these provide little help at the beginning because whenever you die you start with 100 HP regardless of what your max is.

So I think this is where a lot of players get frustrated and give up early; it’s hard to keep playing a game when you don’t feel like you’re making any progress. I think it would have helped this game’s perception quite a bit if there were a basic shop near the starting location and if the starting enemies were a bit less hardy.

I’m going to try using a walkthrough to see what the game is like if you know where the secrets are.

The problems with the system are well known — you shoot out a sword, but only one can be on the screen at a time. The enemies take tons of hits to kill, and any time you get hit you get moved down the screen, and if you fall off the bottom you die. Sometimes you get hit back into a previous screen and then immediately hit more enemies.

The first goal is to get stronger equipment, so I headed to dungeon 4.

Using the map it’s not too tough to find the shop, and there’s a certain enemy that is very useful for earning Ludder — it’s a large enemy but if you stunlock it as soon as you enter the room you can kill it easily. It still takes a lot of enemies to get enough money to buy stuff. I got the Hyper Boots, Chain Helmet, and Shield.

I then headed to a second dungeon to get some Armor and a glove to increase attack speed, but I was dying a lot. And I figured that I should be playing BoF2 instead of this so I quit.

The goal of the rest of the game would be to find the hidden areas that have seven bosses, each of which has a bell when you defeat it. You then have to destroy the bells by using a magic fire in the main castle, and then you can progress to the final boss. The areas with the bosses also have additional secret rooms with the most powerful equipment in them. All of these hidden areas (including the dungeons and towers) require you to step on specific places on the maps, that aren’t marked in any way.

So is it more tolerable with the walkthrough? Marginally, but it’s still not a good game. With the walkthrough you can at least avoid the problem at the beginning where you’re making no progress, but even with the additional equipment, Prince Myer is weak. You get knocked back by enemies, often into other enemies that then knock you further. You can enter a dungeon room and die before you even see what was there. 

Just as playing early SRPGs revealed to me how well designed Fire Emblem 1 was (for its time), playing these early action games has shown me how well designed Zelda was. Zelda certainly isn’t perfect and I think the obscurity of its secrets would be unacceptable now, but it stands out from the crowd.

SFC Game 65 – Breath of Fire II, Part 2 – What’s wrong with the world?

The quest we’re given by the Guild has to do with a demon near Gate town, which is the same demon that attacked Bosh and Kurisu when we were kids. So of course that’s something that we have to investigate, but this will require a “grass person” to help us talk to the wise trees. Since the beginning of the game a grass person has been in the circus that appears here and there, so that’s our next destination. But first, we have to get a way to sail around the world — in this game that’s not a ship but a whale.

 

The whale “grandpa” appears to have something wrong with it that makes it sleep — of course we can guess it’s some new monster. We go inside of it, and need Rinpu along to hit various places with her staff and open routes.

Once the monster inside him is beaten, he wakes up and we can use him to sail around the world. Now we can head out to the circus with our recruitable grassman.

 

Unfortunately the head of the circus refuses to part with him(?) unless we bring him a rare Uparupa. They live in a cave where we have to use bait to get them. This part is a little annoying because you can only get one bait in the cave, and if you fail to get the right Uparupa you’ll have to do another fetch quest with a pretty difficult boss. But if you get it right the first time you can avoid that…although we decide to let the Uparupa go because we feel sorry for it.

So how do we get the grassman? Just threaten to beat up the circus runner, of course. What a surprise, he is a demon as well.

After he’s beaten, it turns out Aspar could have gotten out at any time but was waiting for a group of heroes that could save the world (was there not a more efficient way to do that?) Anyway, with Aspar we can talk to the trees and find out what’s going on.

 

The giant tree is having problems with its memory (shades of the opening sequence?) and we need a Therapy Pillow to help, which the Music Country has. Just as in the first game, we can’t communicate with the Music Country people without a flute. This whole section is nested fetch quests.

The flute seems to be in Highland Castle, which is actually Sten’s homeland, where he was a knight. This is by far the most annoying section of the game for me. The monsters are incredibly strong and you can’t leave until you finish the quest. I got a lot of game overs here and had to retreat to heal pools many times. To add insult to injury there’s a set of warps near the end of the dungeon that warp you one-way back to the beginning (I wonder if they intended this to be two-way so you could leave and heal?)

The kingdom is being ruled by yet another demon, who is strong but I managed to beat with only Kurisu left alive. And now we have the flute. Unfortunately the queen of the music country is sick…another demon? By enlisting the help of a dietician we’re able to use a magic mirror to get inside her and clear out all the enemies. Fortunately this is a pretty easy dungeon. And now with the therapy pillow we can help the tree out, entering is dream to beat Alzheimer who is afflicting him. This area is a strange dreamlike world where you go to towns made of young, old, and middle-aged people.

It turns out that Alzheimer is the one that made everyone forget Kurisu at the beginning, as well as the tree, and he says the tree was in the way of God.

Now we head south through a fog valley…as soon as we clear the fog by convincing a wind spirit to stop making it (and adding it to our spirit inventory). This dungeon has underwater areas that you have to complete in a time limit.

We then reach Rand’s home town, where this church of Eva seems to be causing problems. Rand’s mom wants us to help farm and then go pray to Namamda, but after we do, she’s suddenly gone and we’re told that the Eva church has obtained her field for a church. So it seems like we need to deal with this Eva church, but their place is only accessible by the air. How do the believers get there? Oh well, in order to reach it we need to return to Windia where there is a legend that older winged humans could turn into birds.

 

Nina reunites with her parents, who are sorry for throwing her out just because she had black wings. She plans to become the big bird (a transformation that can’t be reversed) but her sister steps in and does it instead.

Now we can fly.

I’m going to end there — I’m on the last dungeon so I’ll be finished soon. Next week is a scheduled side post, though.