Monthly Archives: December 2021

PCE Game 43 – Dragon Knight & Graffiti (NSFW)

This is yet another game in the Dragon Knight series of eroge. The second and third games had already been released in non-ero ports for the PCE, and they decided to release the first game in 1995. This game was originally released for PCs in 1989, so understandably it’s going to be somewhat outdated by now.

The “graffiti” part of the title refers to the “graffiti mode”, where you can see profiles and pictures of the girls from all three games — you can sort the lists by age, bust size, name, etc. The example is Priscilla from Dragon Knight III (Knights of Xentar).

Like the second game, the first one is a dungeon crawler. The hero as usual is Yamato Takeru, a wandering adventurer who happens on the town of Strawberry Fields, where he doesn’t see anyone. It turns out this is a place of only women, which piques Takeru’s interest. A woman named Ann sees that he is a knight prophecied to save them, and leads him to the Queen. It seems that Gabirlban, the head of the Dragon Knights, has taken six jewels that are necessary to revive the goddess Aqualine. Takeru’s goal is to find one gem on each of the six floors of the goddess tower. Everyone seems a bit uneasy about Takeru because he’s so casual and focused on beautiful girls, but he sets out anyway.

Takeru is given a gem that lets him cast spells — just two spells, a healing spell, and an attack spell that hits all enemies (and can also do some damage to enemies that aren’t hurt much by regular attacks).

Fortunately there’s an automap, so the game plays smoothly. The balance is what you might expect from a 1989 game, though. At first the enemies are very strong and you can only last 2-3 battles before having to go back to town. Healing and restoring MP costs money, so there’s almost nothing left over for upgrading equipment. The enemies also get stronger as you level. But once I hit level 5, the enemies stopped increasing in strength and it became much easier to explore the level, and by level 6 most of the enemies on the first floor couldn’t even hit me. Then I was able to fully explore the level and upgrade my equipment.

The first task is to remove this golem so you can get a key. The wise woman in town has a potion that puts it to sleep. With the key, we can save one of the warriors who was captured by the enemies. This is where the ero-scenes all come in.

As usual we’re faced with the uncomfortable situation where all of the ero-scenes involve the women tied up, captured, or threatened by enemies. Unlike the other DK games, there is no sex. I found a set of pictures from the PC game and many of them don’t even have nudity; the amount of censoring they had to do for the PCE release was very minimal (for instance, the picture I gave above is exactly the same in the PC version).

Anyway, this girl is guarded by 6 goblins who can’t damage me. She gives Takeru a password to reach the next floor, where there’s another captured girl.

She joins the party; you can have one other person with you (this is an addition in the PCE game). She also gives a further password that will let us reach the first of the Dragon Knights, on the first floor.

At level 7, the boss could barely hurt me but had a large HP pool. I just healed once and it was no problem. Takeru then recovers the first of the gems.

We’re now ready to tackle level 2. But even at level 8, the enemies here were so strong that I could barely survive one battle. It seems like the balance continues from the way it worked on the first floor, and I would probably have to do some more grinding on level 1 before I could proceed. But I thought that was a good place to stop.

On the whole this is not a terrible game as long as you’re wiling to put up with the 1989 balance issues. The floors have a bit more interest than some of the empty dungeons from this era. The conversation scenes are all voiced, with some amusing dialogue. The creep factor of the tied-up women is hard to ignore, though.

That’s the last game in the first block of 1995, so in a few days I’ll have a post with the lineup of games for the next three months.

Happy new year!

SFC Game 75 – Esparks

Esparks (エスパークス・異時空からの来訪者)Released 3/31/1995, developed by Tomy

Merry Christmas!

This game is based on characters that originated on kids’ notebooks and other stationery, produced by the San-X company. Apparently the storylines were done in manga distributed with the stationery but I’m not clear on the details. There were 9 storylines, and this action RPG is based on the 7th and 8th stories. It was apparently intended to come out in 1993 but was delayed to 1995; despite this the game is very light on content, and it seems that even with the two year delay it didn’t come out with all the expectations.

The game begins with an unnamed boy at his house in Page Village, celebrating his birthday. His father is coming back from Sandoria Castle, but there are Protorude monsters causing havoc in the area. The boy has an older brother Saggitarius who is a ne’er-do-well. The first part you have to talk to everyone and then talk to Dr. Flipper (it’s hard to tell when you’ve talked to everyone).

Dr. Flipper is inventing time travel machines. Anyway, the father comes back and we celebrate the birthday, including a gift of a pendant from Dad. But an enemy called Barba comes, killing both parents and critically wounding Saggitarius.

Kurisu (who got his name on his birthday) is saved by someone named Key-suke who comes in and drives Barba away. Also then Dr. Flipper uses something called the ESP Seed to save Kurisu’s life, and it turns out that both he and Key-suke are “chosen” by the ESP seed. Key-suke himself came from a different time; he escaped Barba with the help of a friend Esparks who sacrificed himself to save Key-suke. The pendant also transforms Kurisu into a warrior. Now we can buy weapons, items, and ESP (spells) and then head out.

The game is top down action; you swing the sword with A and occasionally get critical hits. There are different types of weapons (bows, spears, swords, axes) that have different ranges and methods of attacking. When you level up you restore HP although the enemies never give much XP. The party members can be given commands by pressing L and R to choose from a set of AI commands.

Kurisu and Key-suke head to Clap Village. On the way I found a “god statue” of a mouse — these are scattered throughout the world but they don’t seem to do much. Occasionally they offer a clue for what to do next, often they just say useless things.

In Clap Village, the mayor tells us that we are the chosen ones to save this time and that there are three more ESP Seed chosen ones we need to find to drive off the Protorude.

Barba seems to be in the Eicha Cave to the E of Clap, so we go there and find him — before that, a mysterious “white knight” tells Kurisu to awaken his power; it turns out that Esparks gives Kurisu his power, including the magic of Soul Blade. Barba is at the end of the cave; I beat him at level 9.

Now we have to go all the way back to Page Village, through several caves and overworld areas. This introduces by far the worst aspect of this game — there are very few locations in the game, and you have to visit all of them over and over again, including a large amount of backtracking. Even the final boss is just in a location that you’ve already visited three times before (and fought three bosses in the same room).

Back at Page Village, we use the time machine to go back and try to save Kurisu’s parents. Unfortunately we go back too far, back to Key-suke’s time. Dr. Sashi, who we meet in the past, has a son that has gone to the desert, so that’s our next destination.

Unfortunately this requires going all the way through Tekken Cave, to Clap Village, through Eicha Cave, and then out to the Furui Fortress, where we fight the next set of bosses. Then you have to walk all the way back to Page Village through those locations. It turns out Sashi can repair the Time Machine to send us back to the present, but he needs an item that will only be found in Rich Village. Back to Tekken Cave where we blow up a rock, leading to a new area.

Rich Village has a junk dealer that can supply the item, but all his goods were stolen by Gobi, who is in the Tomtom Cave.

All the way back to Page Village, where Dr. Sashi is able to send us back to the present, slightly before the parents die. Now the brother Saggitarius joins (he’s the next of the ESP Seed Heroes). Now it’s back through Tekken cave, Clap Village, Eicha Cave, back through Furui Fortress again, through Furui to Sandria Castle. Here we see the origin of Barba’s arrival in the present time, but we’re too late — he heads back to Page and kills the parents before we can intervene. So we get to walk all the way back: Furui->Eicha->Clap->Tekken->Page Village. Back to the original present time, and we hear about disappearances in Rich Village.

There we meet the fourth ESP Seed warrior, Shira, and fight Barba yet again in the Tomtom Cave (he ate the villagers). Then it’s Tomtom->Rich->Tekken->Page->Tekken->Clap Village, where the elder tells us we have one more companion to get. He’s in Furui Ruins, so Eicha->Furui to fight the boss Prudence. This has to be done with Kurisu only, but he’s not too bad.

The items are fairly cheap so you can load your inventory with them — for some reason you can’t figure out how many of each item you have (you also don’t see damage for attacks, another interface issue).

Prudence tells Kurisu that his real father was Bariscros, a hero who fought with Prudence, Kurisu’s adopted father, and another warrior against the Protorude. Presence joins and tries to teleport us home but fails, and we get sent to Haga-chan island. There are pirates there, but they’re so weak and spineless that all we have to do is guess a correct barrel and they hand over the pirate ship. At this point you have visited all the locations in the game.

Finally with the ship we don’t have to do all the tedious backtracking anymore through so many areas. Back in Page Village we learn that people are getting sick mysteriously, and we head to Sandria Castle to see what’s going on — there we fight Troma and Guilty, other A-Rank Protorude. Guilty says something about trying to ease the suffering of the Protorude but there’s never any more dialogue about this.

Back at Page Village, Dr. Flipper tells us that the sickness is actually caused by miniature Protorude that are in everyone’s blood. At that moment Guilty reappears (he can revive himself endlessly) and sends Kurisu to the future (where the Protorude have taken over) and scatters the companions.

Shira can be found in Tomtom Cave, where she’s fighting Gobi. After another boss fight, we manage to get back to the present, where Dr. Flipper tells us that Guilty is in Future Sandoria Castle, and gives us a treasure box key. The time machine is also fixed so we can freely transport times. Now there are several things to do:

  • Find the companions (in various times and places)
  • Get the ultimate equipment (from locked chests)
  • Get an upgraded pirate ship from the future that can time travel

Once all this has been done, it’s time to go to Sandoria. Guilty is there again, but even defeating him he will just get stronger again. Fortunately Dr. Flipper has figured out a chemical that can destroy the cells.

Back to Sandoria yet again, where Barba has appeared and absorbed the Guilty cells to change into a final boss form. I used a ton of items but in the end I did defeat him at level 29. Now in the ending everyone goes back to their places, and Kurisu goes off with Key-suke on new adventures (we never did save the parents).

This game is not really worth playing. As I said, by far the worst aspect is the extremely small amount of content — there are only 4 small dungeons that are used over and over again, and the amount of backtracking is the most I’ve seen in any game. Despite that it’s still a pretty short game. The story is nothing special, and the interface has a lot of frustrating features. The game had a lot of potential, but I guess they should have delayed it a few more years.

SRPG Game 63 – Arc the Lad II (Final)

In the last post I had cleared the “god tower”, now it’s time to go to Palencia Tower where we’re hoping to deal with Andel. Unfortunately he’s basically using this tower as a trap and he’s already moved on. Instead we fight Tosh’s dad, who has been resurrected as a zombie.

You have to fight him with Tosh alone — I had been using Tosh frequently so this wasn’t too bad, but I wonder how this would be if Tosh was severely underleveled. Probably not too bad because Tosh can just use his range move to avoid counterattacks (and dodging) and heal as necessary.

Now there is a long sequence where someone (I chose Arc) has to go back in time to charge up Kukuru’s spirit mirror with the spirit energy — we can’t do it in the present because they’re already weakened too much. In the past Arc teams up with past Kukuru to do this.

Fortunately the fights are easy (especially with Arc’s Total Healing and Weak Enemy). Kukuru goes down easily for the most part, but Arc can beat all the fights by himself.

Back in the present, we know that the main brainwashing towers are the south and north pole, so we have to create two separate parties to take on the towers at the same time. They switch back and forth when each team hits an orb. I made sure to have Fujin and Raijin split between the teams, and to have Poco (healer) on the opposite team from Arc — other than that I believe I used Shu, Tosh, the loincloth fighter guy, and then a few other characters who weren’t as useful.

At the end we finally take on Andel, after two games of chasing him around. He’s really not very difficult — Weak Enemy doesn’t work on him, but Raijin’s spells do enough damage that just a few hits from that takes him down, and the enemies that he comes with can be neutralized with Weak Enemy.

Now it’s time to take on Romalia. First we have to go through the city proper and lower a number of defensive barriers. This is where I really thought the difficulty level jumped — the enemies are now level 98-103 and my guys were in the upper 60s or low 70s (the best characters at least). Physical attacks could not be relied on at all.

Once we reach Romalia Castle, it’s the last chance to do any optional stuff, and then we take on the final dungeon — Romalia Castle takes off into the sky and we have to ram into it with the Silver Noah to gain access.

There’s yet another big jump in enemy levels here, with the enemies being as high as level 120 here. There are healing spots you can access but it takes some backtracking. There is an interest area where you have to take 6 characters into doors and fight some enemy from their past; this is a nice set of scenes near the end to develop the characters once more.

The last of the four generals, Zalbard, has 2496 HP; quite a jump from all the previous enemies. Buffs are important here, as are debuffing the non-boss units. Magic Shield helps block against all the magic, but this is a tough fight.

Now it’s onto the final boss — this fight is a frequent target of criticism in the game. It starts with a pretty easy fight where Kukuru takes on the boss by herself, but they balanced it so that even a totally unused Kukuru will win. The same cannot be said about the 2nd and 3rd fights. The next form of the boss has 4152 HP, and the last form 9999 HP. This is a pretty absurd difficulty jump, and in addition to that he has a very narrow attack window so only two people (one with range 2) can hit him at a time. I will admit that after losing once, I used a cheat code to level my guys to level 1000 — he’s quite easy if you do that! (I’ve seen people say the fight lasts 2-3 hours if you do it legitimately)

So I did not beat the game legitimately, although I’m not particularly bothered by that — I would not have had the interest to develop my characters enough to win (I found someone on GameFAQs who filled their inventory with Evil Axes and threw them at the boss to win, but I’m not sure what their levels were).

The final scene is pretty surprising, and I suppose matches with the generally grim and dark tone of the game.

As you can tell from my posts, I did not enjoy this game very much — to me it was long, tedious, and unbalanced. I’m not alone in this opinion (any time I have a negative opinion about a well known game, I always check around to see if I’m an outlier).

However, I think that your enjoyment of this game will come down to how much you like the system. If the battle system really clicks with you, this will be a great game. There’s a huge amount of content — the main story itself is in the 40-50 hour range, and between the jobs, the sealed ruins, the ancient ruins, the arenas, and other things, a complete playthrough could probably reach the 100 hour mark.

The presentation of the game is also good overall. The story is entertaining, and despite the large cast they manage to have opportunities for most of them to get some screen time (a few of the ATL1 returnees are a bit marginalized). The graphics are good; I always prefer sprites to polygons in the PSX/Saturn era. The music is excellent.

I wonder what the difficulty progression/balance is like if you do no grinding per se, but do every optional job/dungeon/event whenever it opens. Perhaps the designers were expecting you to play the game this way?

Next up will be Riglord Saga 2, a sequel to my game of the year for 1995. If you only followed my SRPG blog before, I play two SFC/PCE games for every one SRPG game, so it will be a few weeks before RS2. If you only want to follow my SRPG posts, this link will allow you to do just that. Otherwise, next week will be an action RPG for the Super Famicom called Esparks.

SRPG Game 63 – Arc the Lad II (Part 2)

I closed the first post by saying that the story was good but the gameplay was disappointing — the more I play the more it solidifies my opinion there. I would even go further than “disappointing” and say the system/battles are bad.

One big mistake I made was carrying over the data from Arc the Lad 1. From what I can tell, it only does two things. First, if you did the lengthy optional quest to get Choko in part 1, you’ll be able to do another lengthy optional quest in 2. Second, it carries over the levels of your party members. This is a bad thing unless you did a lot of the extra stuff in the first game and levelled up your members a lot.

By far the worst part of the game’s mechanics are the block/dodge effects. The chance for an enemy to block or dodge your attack is based directly on the difference in levels between the attacker and the defender. It is not affected by any stats, or whether the attack was from behind or the side. This aspect of the system has a huge effect on the game and is one of the worst single decisions I’ve seen in an SRPG. It means that it’s quite difficult to use a lower leveled character, because the chance of their attack not working is high and the counterattack will do a lot of damage. (This also means that characters who can attack from a space away are much more useful, if underlevelled.)

Even if you do have a good party that is levelling up, there are many parts of the game where the enemies suddenly take a 20 or so level jump, meaning that even your good characters will have problems with missing and blocking. Now, it’s not that this makes the game exceptionally difficult (at least up to the point I’ve reached), it’s more that it makes it annoying and tedious, and encourages the use of a few powerful characters rather than making full use of your team.

The first place this really affected me was the White House area that I was in the middle of when I made the last post. I think the intention is for this place to be cool because all the characters return from AtL1 and team up with various people from the new party. But if all your AtL1 characters are low leveled, it makes the battles quite frustrating. From what I understand, if you do not carry over data the AtL1 characters start at pretty high levels.

Another problem is the limit on inventory space. It may seem like the 96 spaces are a lot, but there are a ton of different types of items in the game, and many different kinds of weapons and armor. Some you want to save because they can be used in the Combine Shop to make new ones. But I was constantly running into the item limit.

Anyway, let’s get back to the game flow. After a long series of events that I mentioned above, where you use all the different characters in groups of 2-3, everyone meets up at the Chimera Research Lab to take down the first of the four enemy generals, Gallarno.

He is a rather strange enemy because you have to cut away these skin areas before you can actually get to him. I used Gogen to blast everyone with large scale spells. Arc is very useful because he has a statue that restores some of his MP each turn — if this did come from the carryover then that’s one good reason to do it. Arc has Total Healing (which heals status effects and HP), and Weak Enemy, two very useful spells that the MP regen makes it much easier to use. I included him in my party from here on out whenever I was allowed to. Poco’s purpose is to heal and increase attack. Tosh attacks. I think Lieze is required.

After Gallarno is defeated, we have a brief set of scenes involving Iga (the martial arts guy from the first game), and then you can use the Silver Noah to go anywhere in the world. This opens up a lot of new content — you can do a ton of the guild jobs and wanted monsters. You can start exploring the Sealed Ruins which have power units for a robot character (another inventory issue, though). You can even do the Ancient Ruins, as well as go to Mother Claire’s place to work with your monsters.

I did a lot of the guild jobs before moving on, and got Raijin and Fujin. These characters are extremely useful; their spells do huge damage and they have a combo attack. For the rest of the game, I always included one of the two (whichever one was lower level) in any party I was allowed to.

Now it’s off to Brakia, where there’s a long mining dungeon with various trolleys you take through the place. At least here you can use a 5 person party and choose freely.

After that, Gia Temple. The main goal now seems to be to destroy the various brainwashing devices that Anderl is using around the world. This one is guarded by just a random mook who isn’t very strong. Then it’s off to Millmana island, where the Oil Rig we have to go to is guarded by a train with an antiaircraft gun. So take that down first.

The train requires you to split into two groups; putting Fujin in one and Raijin in the other helps a lot. After that it’s the Deep Sea Oli Rig. I found this dungeon annoying; the maps are very small, so you get stuck a lot. The enemies are way above me in levels so they’re always faster and can move first, which means they get a lot of free attacks.

At the end of this section we finally take out Yagun (who was in the first game) — it turns out he was actually the monkey, not the guy sitting there. Next up is a pyramid, where another brainwashing machine awaits. First we have to get a tribesman to open up the pyramid; he wants to ally with the enemies to save his mom, but of course they already killed his mom a long time ago (there’s quite a bit of grisly stuff in this game).

The pyramid itself is short and easy because you can avoid most battles by answering Sphinx questions correctly.

Then it’s off to the “God Tower”, where ancient machines await to attack us. These bumbling comic relief characters follow us and mess things up, but then help us at the end against the boss.

So that’s where I am at this point; it seems like I’m at about the 80% point so I should have the game beaten in the next few days.

SRPG Game 63 – Arc the Lad II

Arc the Lad II (アーク・ザ・ラッドII), released 11/1/1996, developed by Arc Entertainment

Information

  1. Turn type: Player/enemy phase
  2. Maps: The maps don’t have much in the way of features, and they’re fairly small.
  3. Character Customization: None
  4. Character Development: Standard XP/level system, plus levelling of weapons and other equipment, as well as levels for each type of weapon.
  5. Party Size: Max 5
  6. Equipment: One weapon and two other slots.
  7. Game Flow: The game is much more like a normal RPG, just without truly random encounters (some battles can be repeated).
  8. Saving: At specific save points, although if you lose a battle you just try the battle again
  9. Death: After the battle, the character returns with 1 HP.

Arc the Lad was one of the earliest RPGs for the Playstation, and it was released in a fairly incomplete state — apparently Sony pressured the developers to get something out because they wanted some RPG titles to promote on the platform. The original game could be beaten in less than 5 hours and the game stopped in the middle of the story (although with extra content the length could be extended to 15-20 hours).

By contrast, the second game is much more polished and finished, and both the main story and the extra content are significantly expanded. The RPG elements are also greatly increased; you can explore the towns and dungeons, and freely travel to various places. In fact, I would say this game is one that technically satisfies my definition of SRPG but feels much more like regular RPG with grid battles.

The first game ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, but rather than picking up immediately from where they left off, this game begins with an entirely different protagonist, Elc. This is an interesting decision by the writers, since the first game made such a big deal about how Arc was the destined hero who would save the world and such. Also, this game begins by letting you transfer data from the first game.

In any case, the game begins with Elc having a bad dream, it seems that the Silver Noah (Arc’s ship from the first game) attacked his village, although his memory is a bit dim. If you’ve played the first game, you know that Alc and his friends were framed as villains.

Elc is a “hunter”, someone who does odd jobs for money at the guild — throughout the game there are a number of sidequests you can do from the guild to get additional money (forerunner to the Trails in the Sky Bracer’s Guild?) You also can get info about wanted monsters that can be found in various places for money. This includes Arc, who is worth a huge amount.

Each character has a set of weapon skills they can build, and the weapons and items themselves have experience levels that can increase their statistics. As in the previous game, there are throw/catch values that affect range, counterattack, and jump.

I have to say that I am still not a fan of the Jump idea. You cannot pass through your own party members or enemies unless you have a high enough Jump value. The battlefields are often very narrow and it’s easy for your characters to get stuck in places where they can’t move, whereas if you have jump it’s easy to just jump over the enemy and attack them from behind. I suppose this adds some strategic value to the maps, but I would have preferred if the system were a bit weaker — I think part of the problem is too many characters/enemies have the Jump necessary to jump over people to attack from behind, and getting blocked by your allies because the field is so small is annoying.

The battle interface is still the streamlined one from the first game where you just use circle to attack rather than picking from a menu. While this is not a bad system, I don’t like the fact that X is both “close menu” and “end turn”. Having played so many SRPGs up to now, I have the deeply ingrained habit that X means to back-up choices, and in particular, to start your move over. Although I feel like I should have gotten used to it by now, I still find this happening too often: Move character, see that spell range is wrong, press X to exit the menu and then X again to start my move over again….but that skips turn instead. When the spell I was hoping to cast is a heal spell, this can have disastrous consequences. I guess this is mostly my fault.

Those are my two main complaints about the game, which overall is pretty good, so I’m just getting them out of the way. Elc soon meets up with Liza, who has a wolf with her. She can use the Ravish ability to capture monsters, which is a major way to get additional people on your team. Unfortunately she’s also being pursued.

As I said before, this time you can freely explore the towns, and even do a bit of travel on the world map (more later when you have an airship).

The next character to be introduced is the ninja Shu, a friend of Elc’s. Another upcoming member, Shante, is a dancer who offers information for money — to earn the money it’s time to do guild quests, which are now available. But even when we have the money, she’s gone.

You can rename the items

From here the game proceeds smoothly as Elc and friends investigate the mystery of why his village was attacked, and try to destroy the research labs that the Empire has set up. The first game had a problem with level differences making a huge effect on combat effectiveness — this problem is one that is shared by a lot of games (such as Tactics Ogre, Sword Master, and Summon Night). I found that it was hard to catch the lower leveled people up, and I relied mostly on Arc and Gogen to power through the first game. Here it seemed like it wasn’t as hard to keep everyone even on levels — this may be because you level more quickly, or because you seem to get XP for more things (like having spells cast on you).

However, this changes once we get through the first part of the game and deal with the “White House” where Elc and friends were kept. For the next third or so of the game, you switch around from character to character and are often dealing with ad-hoc parties of only 2 or even 1 person. You also team up frequently with the Arc the Lad 1 characters. My understanding is that if you do not carry over data, they all start very powerful, but instead I got the low levelled scrubs that I had in AtL1. I think this made many of the battles in this section much more difficult than they were supposed to be — fortunately if you get a game over you just repeat the battle you lost.

But this is definitely a weak point in the game for me, and where it feels the most RPG-ish. 2 vs 3 or 1 vs 2 battles are not my idea of an SRPG, particularly when they are forced deploy low level units.

Anyway, I’ll end there for this week. There are more aspects to the game, particularly some of the optional content, that I’ll get into more next time when it becomes more of a presence in the game. My overall opinion at this point is that the story is entertaining but the gameplay is still somewhat disappointing, although better than the first game.

Hopefully I can finish the game by next weekend’s post.