Monthly Archives: May 2022

SFC Game 84 – Laplace no Ma

Laplace no Ma (ラプラスの魔), released 7/14/1995, published by Vic Tokai

The title of this game means “Laplace’s Demon,” and is a reference to a thought argument against free will in a deterministic universe. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the game, though. The game was initially released for several Japanese computers in 1987. The original game was a first-person blobber dungeon explorer game. The Japanese sites I can find about it say that it was extremely difficult and some people even consider it a kusoge, although when you think about the kind of RPGs that were coming out in 1987, this may not be a surprise.

Image courtesy of Mobygames

In 1993 it was ported to PC Engine; it seems to be mostly a direct port although I did see a Japanese site saying that it was easier and that it lost some of the original atmosphere of the game. Finally in 1995, eight years after its initial release, it was ported to the Super Famicom. This version changed from the first-person style to a top-down JRPG style. Since this is a port I only played the first of the three dungeons in the game. There is a translation patch for it if you want to try it out.

The game takes place in 1920s America, in an eastern rural town called Newkam (apparently named after Lovecraft’s Arkham). There’s an old mansion called the Weathertop Mansion that has all kinds of ghost stories associated with it, and the player characters have gathered in town to investigate. You start off by creating your main character.

You choose a sex, name, and job. The jobs are basically the classes:

  • Investigator (best at fighting)
  • Journalist (can take pictures of enemies to sell for money, this is the main way to get money in the game)
  • Scientist (can make various machines to attack with)
  • Spiritualist (casts spells)
  • Dilettante (kind of a mix of journalist and spiritualist, but learns magic from books)

The abilities are on the left, which include some standard ones, but others I wasn’t sure of the use for. The right is Skills which can be improved at the library by spending experience. The skills are:

  • Hand-to-hand combat
  • First Aid (helps with using heal items)
  • Search (I was never sure what this did; a page says that if your search is low you can’t always get items or might break them, but I never saw this happen)
  • Magic (for the dilettante)
  • Machine (for the Scientist)
  • Gun
  • Mental healing (helps with using MP restore items)
  • Negotiation (helps with gaining information, but I wasn’t sure exactly how this worked)
  • Spiritualism (for the spiritualist)
  • Photography for the journalist)

Once you create your person, you go to the bar and find the NPCs you want to join your party. I took a journalist, a dilettante, and a scientist.

They start with equipment so it’s not necessary to buy that; I was never quite sure what the weapons did in the shop since there’s no real explanation (probably that’s in the instruction manual). I stocked up on bullets, and film for the photographer and batteries for the scientist’s machines. I also got some requests to find out what happened to other people who went to the mansion.

Finally I headed into the mansion. From what I can see on web pages, the dungeons in this game are based on those of the original game but are generally larger.

There are random encounters. The battle system is standard although the machines and spells do give you some variety. The arrow under each character advances during the battle and unlocks a special attack once it fills up.

The biggest problem with the battles, and probably the largest flaw in the game, is that they give so little XP that they’re barely worth fighting, especially given how nasty some of the monsters can be. You get so much XP from fulfilling the town requests and other story things that you really can run from every fight and still advance quite a bit, and since there really aren’t important equipment upgrades in town, you can refill your stocks of healing and other items just by taking a bunch of pictures.

The mansion, on the other hand, is well designed. Almost every room has some kind of description and character to it, and you can find a lot of hidden items as well as monsters and story lore in the rooms. There are a lot of puzzles you have to solve to move forward in the game.

The story of this first part of the game is basically that Benedict, the owner of the mansion, became erratic and strange after his mother’s death, and began to dabble in magic. He was hoping to revive his mother but instead got involved in stuff he wasn’t expecting, and the house became overrun with monsters. Eventually we are able to ring a bell in the mansion and stop the monsters in there, but we then have to go through a portal to Laplace Castle to stop the true evil.

This game does not have a good reputation among Japanese players, but it was hard for me to determine why. I thought that maybe players were comparing it unfavorably to the original PC game, but that doesn’t seem to have a great reputation either.

It definitely has a good setting and story, and some of the system innovations are interesting. For me the biggest problem, as I said above, is that there’s almost no purpose in fighting the monsters. Given this, I think I would have enjoyed the game a lot more if there were no random encounters, only fixed ones (perhaps with some places where you could fight a fixed encounter multiple times). Having the exploration constantly interrupted by pointless encounters really hurt the immersion for me.

Problem with images

Some people from outside the US reported they could not see the images on some of the posts — I believe this was caused by Jetpack (a wordpress plugin) putting images on i0.wp.com. I turned off the option that did this.

Can everyone see that image?

It looks like the previous posts should be working now as well — let me know if you can see the images on Shiki Eiyuden and such.

SFC Game 83 – Shiki Eiyuden

Shiki Eiyuden (史記英雄伝)

The “shiki” of the title is the Japanese pronunciation of Shǐjì, the first of the Imperial histories of China. The most common English translation is Records of the Grand Historian. It set the tone for the remaining 23 histories that came after it, particularly in its use of 列伝, usually translated “biographies” or “memoirs”. These sections focus on short anecdotes and illustrative scenes that show moral character.

The period that this game is concerned with is the Warring States period (4th-3rd century BCE), which is covered not only by the Shiji but also the Strategies of the Warring States. It is known not only for the stories from these works, but also for being the time when many of the famous philosophers lived, such as Meng Zi. Chinese and Japanese students still have to read parts of the Shiji, and learn the “4 character compounds” that are derived from stories in these works.

The page for the translation patch of this game claims the story is “100% historical” but that’s not really the case. It’s a pastiche of characters (some of whom were dead by the time the story supposedly takes place) with a few famous anecdotes from the period, but the main character is a fictional person and the story is basically fiction.

The main character has a pretty bad life; his parents are dead, his older brother has been conscripted, and his younger sister was sold. He lives in a tiny village with some old women and has no purpose in life. Suddenly a soldier appears in his house with a scroll, and gives it to Kurisu and tells him to run away. Kurisu runs out of the back of his house and gets in a fight with a soldier.

Before I started this blog, I would probably have been surprised to hear that in 1995 games were still using the Dragon Quest II battle system, but now I’ve come to expect it. The only two differences are that you can freely switch in and out party members before each turn, and running still gives you XP (half, I think).

Anyway, that soldier above did 22 damage with his first attack; I thought it might be a plot battle but no, I got sent back to the title screen with a game over. That’s not a promising start for a game. I don’t know if the designers thought you might level up outside of town first, but you can get past this part just by running from the three fixed soldier combats.

Kurisu heads to a nearby hut where the sage Chen lives; I don’t know if this is supposed to be a historical person — the other sages in the game are famous people but this guy may just be a creation of the game. He teaches Kurisu magic and tells him that the scroll he possesses can either end the world or save it, and sends him on an adventure…after playing some puzzle games.

The first puzzle you have to pull or push the lines to match up the colors with the initial state. The second is the game of Nim, and the third is a sliding square puzzle. I’m not a fan of things like this being required to win the game; fortunately the first one you can hold down B on the second controller to automatically win it. These puzzles recur several times throughout the game. The old man also gives Kurisu a stamp book where he can ask people for stamps throughout the game. You can press Y to ask people whether they will stamp your card; I think there are 60 people throughout the game that do it. The only purpose seems to be that you can unlock quizzes, and somehow that lets you go beyond the Great Wall to fight some optional hard bosses — I just ignored this.

Kurisu then heads to Luoyang, where he can meet up with Lu Buwei and Fan Li, both historical figures, although Fan Li should be dead by this point. There is a lot of mixing up of different historical eras here and it’s not entirely consistent with a single time period. Anyway, a nearby cave has 鬼先生, which I guess is “teacher demon” — he gives us more spells and a Demon Crest that you can use later to recruit mercenaries from Luoyang. The demon also tells us to visit all the sages in the various lands, and we get our first companion Lin Xiangru, who is another historical figure.

One of the peculiarities of this game is that what weapons and armor you can equip is determined not just by character but also their strength. The main character is really weak and often can’t equip new things. Overall the game balance in this game is poor; it’s one of those old style games where some encounters are easy, and others can kill you from full HP in a few moves (and game over sends you back to your last save). At least levelling up restores your HP and MP. Also, enemies do not drop gold, so the only money you get is from selling things.

At this point your goal becomes to stop the war between the 7 kingdoms. First we travel around the world, visiting the sages such as Confucius, Mengzi, and Zhuang zi (even though some of them should be dead at this point). Along the way we gain some more historical figure followers (including Jing Ke). Soon you can use the Demon Crest from earlier to recruit mercenaries. The best one to recruit is the level 99 old man; he has no fighting ability but if you put him up front he can run from every battle. Since you get XP from running this is a good way to level and you almost never have to fight a random battle again.

We also find Kurisu’s younger sister, who managed to become the Empress of Qin, giving birth to Sei, who will be the next Emperor. Kurisu’s older brother has become a mountain bandit, and Kurisu has to kill him at some point. There are other small events that are re-enactments of famous stories from this period

After meeting all the sages, we have to find three mirrors to open the way to a powerful sword, the Damascus Sword. By giving this to Sei he is able to unify the country and become Emperor of China. Kurisu decides to become a Sage himself, which requires a long dungeon by himself with no help — after several game overs I put in a no encounter code.

Now that Kurisu is a sage he starts to write down philosophical books, but it turns out that Sei has become evil and is oppressing the populace. So as the final act of the game he has to join with the old companions and defeat Sei.

Sei is pretty tough; some people on gamefaqs said he could be put to sleep but this never worked for me. Maybe I needed to be higher level. Instead of grinding more I just put on an invincibility code and beat him.

Overall this game is not especially good. The gameplay as usual is a boring mess, and the story is all over the place — there are some interesting parts, but it’s hard to know exactly what the designers were going for. There is a translation patch if you want to try it out.


I really need to think about what to do going forward with these Super Famicom games, because I’m getting burned out on games like this one to the point where I’m not sure I’m giving them a fair try. When I find a game bad, I do try to check around on Japanese sites to see what the opinion of Japanese players is; often they also think these games are not very good (this game, for instance).

I’m certainly not going to stop playing the SFC games; I’m too far along and there are still quite a few games I want to play on the list. But perhaps it is finally time to relax my rules more and allow myself to stop playing games like this — they’re not only boring to play, but they’re boring to write about also. I’m just tired of having fun with a strategy RPG, then sighing as I force my way through two more bad/boring SFC games, then back to having fun with a strategy RPG. We’ll see; I’m only going to play the first section of the next game because it’s a port of a computer game, and then Mystic Ark sounds good.

SRPG Game 70 – Sangokushi Koumeiden

Sangokushi Koumeiden (三國志孔明伝), released 2/14/1997, developed by Koei

This is the second in Koei’s SRPG series, informally called the “Eiketsuden series” after the name of the first game. Like the first game, it initially came out for computers, and was then ported to Playstation and Saturn, and many years later the Game Boy Advance. It once again takes place in the Three Kingdoms period of China, following the story of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel. (The Saturn version seems to be identical to the Playstation version.)

As far as the gameplay goes, it’s nearly identical to Eiketsuden, so I’m not going to describe in again — please read my post on that game for details. The one change I did notice is that they rebalanced the statistics so that equipment is generally more useful than it was in the first game.

As the title suggests, the game this time focuses on Zhuge Liang, or Kongming (Koumei in Japanese). At first the story might seem to be treading exactly the same ground as Eiketsuden, but most of Zhuge Liang’s famous exploits happened after Liu Bei’s death, so it’s not exactly the same. But there is the same issue as in Eiketsuden — in that game, they had to rewrite the story so that Liu Bei could become the hero unifying China and restoring the Han monarchy, even though in history he died of illness in the middle of the conflict. The same issue happens here; in history Zhuge Liang died of illness in the middle of one of the campaigns and his goal of restoring the Han dynasty ultimately fails.

The game is divided into five chapters. The first chapter is the weakest part of the game. A very long prologue summarizes the whole story up to the point where Zhuge Liang joins Liu Bei. As I said above, most of Zhuge Liang’s most famous deeds happen after Liu Bei’s death, when Zhuge Liang served Liu Bei’s son. So chapter 1 covers everything that happens up to Liu Bei’s death. It’s done through very long cutscenes in which a lot of key action is happening off-screen; it feels like Xenogears disc 2 and it’s very hard to get invested in this part of the game when you’re playing a 10 minute battle and then sitting through 45-60 minutes of text and summaries.

The in-battle graphics are not as good as Eiketsuden; I don’t like the blocky nature of the terrain graphics. This was clearly done to support zooming out the map, but it’s pretty bad and takes some time to get used to. For comparison:

The “one-on-one” fights from the first game are back, but they use anime scenes for the graphics.

The problem with this is that with a very small number of exceptions (like the scene above), no matter who is attacking who it just shows an anime of generic people saying generic lines (the attackers are more varied than the defenders). It’s odd to see that even people like Cao Cao and Sima Yi don’t have unique sequences. What they should have done instead is have personalized non-anime sequences for the majority of the people and then use anime only for some of the most important characters.

Once the game reaches Chapter 2, it improves considerably. Your team is much more stable than in chapter 1 (and in Eiketsuden) so you feel more like you’re building up a force of people. The story also moves more slowly and feels more in-depth, and the story sequences are nowhere near as long.

Since the focus is on strategy-minded Zhuge Liang, most battles have you pick one of two strategy options before the fight, which can change the goal and the layout of the units. There are also often several ways you can win the map, some of which will give you bonus experience. I always appreciate it when a game offers more variety than just a series of “defeat all enemies” maps.

Chapter two is Zhuge Liang’s Southern campaign, particularly the (probably legendary) seven battles against Meng Huo, where he captured and released him after each battle. It is possible to let him get away as well without capturing him, which changes things later.

Meanwhile Zhuge Liang’s son Zhuge Zhan is growing up, and you can choose how he will be educated. Choosing “freedom” every time is the best because then you can choose what class to make him at the end, including the Tactician class.

Chapter three is the beginning of the Northern Expeditions. This is only the first one, ending with Zhuge Liang’s execution of Ma Su. You can actually choose not to execute him. If you do the execution everyone gains 5 levels, if you don’t it opens up an alternate ending in the next chapter.

Sima Yi is the primary antagonist of the rest of the game.

Chapter four is the rest of the Northern Expeditions. Here they have to change the story; in the novel, Zhuge Liang dies of illness during these campaigns. His son Zhan dies soon after in a doomed defensive battle. Sima Yi himself dies of illness several decades later, before the ending of the Three Kingdoms period, but his grandson becomes the first Emperor Jin of the next Chinese dynasty.

There are a few possible story branches in this chapter leading to “bad” endings. The first is when Sima Yi starts the rumor that Zhuge Liang is going to declare himself Emperor, causing Liu Shan to recall him to the capital — I don’t know if this is historical or in the Three Kingdoms novel; none of the wikipedia pages mention it. In any case, if you did not execute Ma Su in the previous chapter, you can choose to actually start the rebellion following the rumor. This leads to a bad ending but I don’t know the details.

The other thing that can happen is that Zhuge Liang can die of illness. The Japanese site I was looking at does not say how this happens, but an English page I found said that it could happen if you take too many turns and retreat (restart battle) too many times. I don’t know what happens if he dies; presumably the game ends there because the rest of the story depends on him too much for this to be an actual alternate route.

The fifth and final chapter is entirely original. Zhuge Liang makes peace with the kingdom of Wu, which agrees to fight for the restoration of the Han monarchy. Sima Yi usurps power from the Cao family that is ruling Wei, and the final chapter is Zhuge Liang fighting his way to the capital of Wei and defeating Sima Yi.

The final fight is rather long but not especially difficult, it’s just slow because you have to move through the palace. IMO any time a player is spending more than one or two turns just moving characters without any action, that’s a failure of the game design. In any case, Sima Yi is the final boss.

They also find the former Emperor Xian (the last of the Han dynasty) shut up in the castle, so they’re able to restore him to the throne. The ending scene covers the remaining years of Zhuge Liang’s life; he retires after five years and becomes an ascetic.

This is a solid B game, I think — the first chapter is a mess but the rest of it is pretty enjoyable. I think that if you are a fan of the Three Kingdoms you would get a lot more out of it than I did.

This series will be back near the end of 1997 as it switches to Japanese history with Mori Motonari and at least a somewhat new system.

SFC Game list July-September 1995

I’m making good progress with Sangokushi Koumeiden so I should have that post up next Saturday. Meanwhile, here’s the list of games I’ll be playing in the next three-month block, the first one that has no PC Engine games. This list was compiled from a variety of sources, some of which are rather generous in labelling something as an RPG. The bold ones are the ones I will actually play.

  • Shiki Eiyuden – Another game based on Chinese history, but this one is earlier than Three Kingdoms.
  • Demon of Laplace – This is a port of a computer game; it was also ported to PC Engine but this port is a total remake that changes the game from maze exploration to regular console JRPG style.
  • Mystic Ark
  • Danquest: Legend of the Seal of Demon God – I am not 100% sure that this counts as an RPG; it looks to me like it does but it could be in the Ruin Arm sphere; we’ll see.
  • Emerald Dragon – I already played this on PC Engine.
  • Ultima Savage Empire – This is a port of a western computer game.
  • Super Magic Land WOZZ
  • Brandish 2 – Out in English, plus I’m not sure it’s quite an RPG.
  • Battle Robot Retsuden – SRPG
  • Bounty Sword – SRPG
  • Sailor Moon Another Story – Looking forward to this; I used to be a big fan of the series.
  • Heian Fuunden – SRPG
  • Magic Knight Rayearth – Two shojo manga games in a row.
  • Metal Max Returns – A remake of the Famicom game.
  • Verne World
  • Wizardry VI – Western computer game port.
  • Yamato Takeru
  • Holy Umbrella: Dondera no Mubo – This is another one I am not 100% sure about, it does not look like it is quite an ARPG.
  • Seiken Densetsu 3 – Yay!

Back next week.