Monthly Archives: September 2022

SFC Game 93 – Seiken Densetsu 3

Seiken Densetsu 3 (聖剣伝説 3), released 9/30/1995, developed and published by Square

Here we are in the last game of the July-September 1995 block, and it’s a big hitter — the sequel to Secret of Mana and the next entry in the Seiken Densetsu series. I was really looking forward to this game. It’s had a good reputation for a long time. Secret of Mana had a number of flaws that I thought resulted from the weirdness in its development process, and I was hoping that Seiken Densetsu 3 would be the game Secret of Mana should have been. I was disappointed in the game, though, and in the end didn’t think it was all that good.

The game’s graphics are quite good, and the music is maybe not exactly the equal of Secret of Mana but it’s close. The game’s best known feature is that you start off by choosing three characters out of six. Although the overall plot is basically the same with all of them, there are some different bosses and events with each of them. Also the combat experience will be different based on who you pick — as well as which class upgrades you select for each person (there are two second level classes and four third level classes for each). This gives the game a high level of replayability.

I went with Duran, Angela, and Riese. Duran and Riese were quite good. The Star Lancer class has very helpful stat boosts and she has a high attack. Duran was fine as well — I made him a Lord and the healing was helpful. Angela was not as good. Magic is worse in this game than it was in SoM and by the end of the game she was basically dead weight, especially in boss battles.

My biggest gripe with the game is how sluggish and unresponsive the system feels to me. It’s supposed to be an action RPG, but you spend a lot of time watching animations and mashing buttons to bring up menus. It can be hard to tell what’s happening as you’re knocked around the screen.

SoM had a big problem where magic was too powerful, and the upper level techs were tough to use. Magic is weaker in this game — late-game Angela is still decent for attacking grunt enemies although you have to sit through the animations to do so. The 2nd and 3rd level techs do not require as much time to build up; you get one bar filled for each successful attack you do and when it fills up you get to use the tech. It’s nice that if the tech misses you don’t lose the bars and can try again.

However, in the latter half of the game, most bosses and some grunt enemies respond to magic or level 2/3 techs by powerful counter attacks. So not only do level 2/3 techs take longer to build up, but they have a good chance of the enemy walloping you in response. Because of this I just kept everyone on level 1 techs later in the game.

Another issue I had with the game is that when you’re going after the 8 mana beasts in the second half of the game, the difficulty seems to ramp up faster than you can keep up just by fighting the monsters as you go. Because of the way the weapon and armor stats work (they interface with your base stats), I had to do a lot of grinding to keep up with the enemies. There were enemies in the later dungeons that could wipe my entire party with one of their special moves, and if I was 4-5 levels behind it was hard to do much damage to them. This is really the part that made me go from not much liking the game to actively disliking it.

One side note on the graphics is that this game uses the Super Famicom’s “high res” mode to render the text, allowing them to fit more text in a box and use sharper, easier to read kanji. The next game I’m playing (Odysselia II) also uses this method, although I wonder how widespread it becomes after this point. It does cause a bit of a graphical glitch or stutter on bsnes as the game switches from the regular resolution to the high-res box (and it messes up bsnes-MT’s pixel perfect scaling mode), but I wonder what this looked like on an actual CRT.

The story is fine. With Duran, it begins with the “Red Magician” attacking the kingdom Duran serves, and he leaves home to defeat the magician. Duran’s father was a famous knight hero. Along the way he is chosen by the mana fairy and has to work first to stop the enemies from reviving the mana beasts and destroying the mana stones. The Mana Tree is dying, and to save it they need to open the way to the mana holy land and recover the Mana Sword (this area is taken straight from Secret of Mana).

Along the way we learn about the stories of the other five characters — because I chose Angela and Riese their stories are more involved (Riese needs to take back her kingdom and Angela has to save her mother), but we get some insight into the other three characters as well.

Of course getting the Mana Sword is not the end of the story. The mana beasts have been revived anyway, and we have to go track down all 8 of them and beat them — the story grinds to a halt here. Once the eight are defeated, the final confrontation occurs in a different dungeon depending on your main character choice. Once those people are dealt with, the final boss is in the Mana Holy Land.

I wonder if I would have liked this game more if I weren’t expecting so much from it. I think I first heard about this game in the late 1990s and tried playing it a bit around then. Sometimes a game can be a victim of high expectations.

So don’t necessarily take my bad experience as how you would feel about the game — it’s highly regarded and has a strong fan base.

That being said, this game was remade in 2020 for next-gen systems, and this version looks more fun to me from what I saw on youtube videos. The battle system is much smoother and faster paced, with far fewer moves that pause the gameplay while you watch an animation. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has played this version.

SRPG Game 77 – Final Fantasy Tactics (PSX)

What can I say about this game that hasn’t been said already? It’s by far the most well known and popular SRPG; the Japanese wikipedia page says that it sold 1.35 million copies, the most of any SRPG in history. Many people discovered the genre through the game, some never really playing many others (“Where can I find another SRPG like FFT” is still a very common question on Internet forums). Although I had played a few stages of Shining Force 1 in high school, this was the first SRPG I completed. I stayed with a friend in college while I was doing a summer research project, and he had this game. I played it through, and the night I beat it I immediately started a new game, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done with any RPG.

The game was made by people from the Final Fantasy development as well as Yasumi Matsuno, the developer of the Ogre series. It is clearly based on Tactics Ogre, combined with a version of the job system found in FF5 and FF3.

The story is often cited as one of the best in an RPG; I personally think it’s a bit overrated — the first chapter is a masterpiece of RPG storytelling, but I feel that it loses some focus in the rest of the game. It is by no means a bad story, but I preferred Tactics Ogre in that respect.

The graphics are well known for the lack of noses.

The music is another high point; it’s one of the best soundtracks in a video game and it was the first video game soundtrack I ever bought on CD.

The job system allows you to select a job for a character, and then level up the job level (which unlocks new jobs) and also earn JP to spend on abilities. You can switch to a new job and then set some abilities from other jobs that you have earned.

This gives you a lot of flexibility, but it does create one of the flaws of the game, that the system is not very well balanced. Some of the jobs are nearly worthless (Archer, Knight) while others are grossly overpowered (Calculator). The system is opaque and can lead to misconceptions about how well your characters are performing — for instance, the prominently displayed “Brave” value actually affects very little in the game (mostly reaction abilities, barehand attacks, and a few special “knight” swords). However, I believe this is the first SRPG to show a detailed prediction of what will happen with a move (with attack percentage and damage).

It is a bit more generous in death compared to Tactics Ogre. When someone reaches 0 hp, you have 3 turns to revive them or they will permanently die (or game over if it’s the main character).

The flexibility of the job system does allow for a lot of self-designed challenges, though. After playing it a few times, I played several “Double Dares” (where you can only use two characters, and each can only use abilities from two jobs). After that, I was on GameFAQs around the time people started getting interested in the Solo Straight Character Class challenges — where you can only use Ramza, and Ramza must stay in one class for the whole game (and not use any abilities outside of it). I was the third one to complete one of these; I beat Monk (the first two were Ramza Squire and Time Mage). My contribution is immortalized in the long GameFAQs walkthrough. At this point all of the classes have been done except for Mime and True Calculator, which are thought to be impossible. (The less difficult “Straight Character Challenge” where you can use 5 people of one class, has been completed for all characters.)

These SSCC’s weren’t the most fun, but the community around them on IRC and GameFAQs was great, and it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had around a video game. 20 years later I’m still in touch with some of the friends I made doing those.

This game is still remembered as a classic but it is somewhat a victim of its own success; there are some people who strongly dislike it. Harvester of Eyes, who has now deleted his youtube channel and site, hated it so much that he refused to cover it on his site and considered it one of the worst SRPGs he had played (or so he claimed). I think he did have some valid points about the game — the opaque system requires a lot of grinding if you don’t understand it, there are a few cheap battles (particularly the solo vs. Wiegraf), and it’s not quite as tactical as other games. But for me it’s still a one of my favorites.

It was re-released for the PSP in an updated version, which I don’t know much about, but I’ll cover it when I reach there.

I’m close to finished with Seiken Densetsu 3 so things should return to normal next week.

Atelier A1 – Atelier Marie

When I made my full SRPG game list I included Atelier games, which caused some comment — they are not Strategy RPGs, certainly, but I would consider at least the earlier ones to be Simulation RPGs. Plus I like the series so I put it on there so I could play more of the games.

The long running series began in 1997 and currently has 23 main titles and around 15 side games, plus a number of remakes. The first five games are primarily simulation games where you control a young alchemist trying to achieve some mild goal (like pass an exam or bring prosperity to your village). There is usually a basic “good” ending that’s quite easy to get, and then a number of other endings that are more difficult. As the series progressed, they put more and more RPG elements in — by A5 (Viorate) you had explorable dungeons, a complicated weapon and armor crafting system, and five different bosses. However, the game could still be completed without doing much of this, and the focus was on running a store and crafting items.

A6 (Iris) was a straight RPG (with a crafting system), and the next 4 games after that continued that trend. I first played the series when Iris had just come out, and there was a lot of uncertainty whether the series would ever return to the simulation roots.

But A11 (Rorona) did go back to the earlier style, although the RPG elements seemed more prominent. I haven’t played anything past A13 (Meruru) but from what I hear the RPG elements have become more and more dominant as the series has progressed.

The side games include some games that aren’t RPGs or simulation games, but also a few games for Nintendo portable systems that look like they may be the more traditional games.

I am at least going to post about A1-A5 when I get to them, but after that it will depend on how I feel and what kind of game they are. I’ve already played Marie and gotten all the endings, so I won’t be replaying it here, but I’ll write a bit about it.

Atelier Marie (マリーのアトリエ~ザールブルグの錬金術士~), released 1997/5/23, developed by Gust

The first game in many ways is a tentative beginning for the series — if you’ve played any of the later games almost everything is in a very simple form, which perhaps makes it a good starting game? Apparently the game was originally planned as an SRPG but the director thought that there were too many big name RPGs already out there, and so decided on a new type of game. The game was regarded as a side project for the company but it was so popular that it quickly became Gust’s main product.

The main character is Marlone (nickname Marie), a not-so-great student of the alchemy school in Zalberg. Apparently a normal girl was chosen as the main character because the developers felt that women were starting to play games more — the female main character became a mainstay of the series. Marie’s on her last chance at the school, and she has five years to make a good item so that she can pass the exam and graduate.

This imposes a 5 year time limit on the game. One of the core elements of the early games is the time limit; everything you do takes time, and part of the game is learning to use your time wisely. (I’ve heard that recent games have gotten rid of the time limit; I’m sure this is more popular among casual players but it’s a bit disappointing.)

The dialogue is fully voiced, and the graphics are quite nice. The music is also exceptional; I place Gust second only to Falcom for consistent high quality music in almost every game they release.

The game has no real story. There are some characters like Schia (above), Kreis (a good student at the academy), Ruven (an adventurer), and others. Many of them can join your party for a price to help you out when you adventure outside of the town. They also have some events and small story events, but nothing much.

Basically everything in the game is optional. There are several endings — the basic ending is to craft a level 4 item to pass the exam. This is quite easy and can be done even if you barely know what you are doing. But the fun of the game is that you can replay to try to get some of the other endings — there’s one for levelling Marie to 50, one for beating an optional boss, one for crafting all items, etc.

The core of the game is the item crafting. Marie can learn recipes for items, and then if she has the right ingredients, she can craft them. The difficulty and time it takes depends on Marie’s level — unlike later games there is no separate alchemy and adventurer level; you gain XP for crafting items and for killing monsters. Marie can also buy tools that will either be necessary for the crafting, or make it less likely she will fail.

Later games introduce more complexity to the crafting system, but in Marie you just combine the ingredients into the final item.

How does Marie get the items? Two ways — she can either buy them, or she can go out to the field and collect the items. Buying items of course requires money; the main way to get money is to take jobs at the pub. By turning in certain items Marie will receive money. However, it’s also necessary to get some items by leaving town.

At the start of the game Marie can only access a few locations close to the town, but as the game progresses you gain access to more areas with rarer items. When you reach a location, you simply press the circle button to search for items, which costs a day.

You may also encounter monsters.

The battle system is very basic; characters can attack, use a special move, and Schia and Marie can use attack or healing items. Marie by herself will die (at least at the beginning) so you need to hire some adventurers (which costs money).

So the game is essentially a loop of taking jobs for money, getting the items to craft, buying new books to learn how to make items, and activating events — some events open up when you pass a certain time, and others are only available for a certain time each year.

As I said above, even if you have no real idea what you’re doing, you can easily get the basic ending — as long as you can read the game’s text you would have to try to fail, I think. The extra endings are more difficult but not to a great degree. I was able to get all the endings in one playthrough with just a list of the endings and some information on a few events that activated at certain times. But there was something fun about the simplicity of the game.

The game was later released for Saturn as “Atelier Marie 1.3” with one additional ending and some new events, and some minor things based on the Saturn’s internal clock (like if you play the game on Christmas she’ll wish you Merry Christmas). This version was then ported to the PSX as Atelier Marie Plus, which is the version I played. There’s a later release for Game boy, and then a combination release for PS2 of Marie and Elie. You would think that’s the definitive version of the game, but the designers made the bizarre decision to get rid of the 図鑑, a place in the main menu that shows you all of the items you’ve crafted, monsters you’ve found, and endings you’ve gotten.

The next game for the series is Atelier Elie which came out in 1998, which I have not played.

As I mentioned last week I’m in a busy part of the fall. Next week will most likely be a quick post on Final Fantasy Tactics, and then hopefully I will have finished Seiken Densetsu 3 by the following weekend.

Super Robot Taisen odds and ends

One of my goals is to have every entry in my SRPG game table lead to a post, even if it’s a remake or port. Sometimes I will just link to the main post if all I need to say is “The Saturn version has slightly different graphics and one bonus map”, but if it’s a more extensive remake I will make a separate post or mini-post for it.

This post will cover four Super Robot Taisen games that I passed over or that will occur later this year. As usual I’m mostly copying things that I wrote many years ago when I played the games, but I didn’t write much for any of these games so I added some additional notes.

Super Robot Taisen 2G (Gather), Game Boy 6/30/1995

Here’s what I wrote about this game many years ago:

After 4, the SRW franchise entered a period of uncertainty and confusion, primarily caused by the console wars at the time. The situation was very comparable to what SRW is going through now [That is, in the transition from PS2 to the next gen consoles]. There were a lot of remakes, original character games, games for established portable systems, and false starts as the series felt around for a new direction.

The next game after 4 was a remake of 2 for Game Boy, which came only three months after 4’s release. Despite being a remake, it contains a lot of new things. V Gundam and G Gundam both premiere in this game — G Gundam ended three months before the release of 2G, so these series really were on the cutting edge of mecha anime at the time. In terms of gameplay, the system is basically the 4 system, minus the equippable items. This game also has the first instance of the Full Upgrade Bonus system (where upgrading all of a units stats to full will let you add an additional upgrade bonus)

The story presents itself as the “true chronicle” of the 2nd SRW (the NES game being the official federation version). However, it doesn’t fit in with the established continuity because Tetsuya and Ryuune both appear in this game. The story writing is much more advanced than the NES version; more like 4.

The game is not especially good, though, and it looks like I didn’t take any real notes when I played it 15 years ago.

Super Robot Taisen 4S (Scramble), Playstation, 1/16/1996

Five months after 2G, the next remake came out. This is notable as the first game for a disc system, and the first game for what would eventually become Banpresto’s dominant console for SRW. 4S is essentially a straight remake of 4; there are a couple of new stages and some bug fixes, but overall it’s the same game.

Probably the most notable thing about it is the introduction of voices. This is the first SRW game to have any kind of voice acting — however, it’s only for the heroes. Supposedly some of the voice clips recorded for 4S are still used in games today [That is, in 2008]. (Shiozawa Kaneto died after F/FF came out so it’s good he was able to contribute his voice to these older games).

At the time when I was writing these old posts, I did not have a computer that was capable of running a PSX emulator and I didn’t want to import this game so I didn’t play it — a few days ago I did play a bit of the first stage; the graphics are identical to the Super Famicom.

I wonder if this is the version of the game you would want to play if language weren’t an issue — the load times are obviously worse than SFC but it does have the voicing.

Shin was after this, which I posted about earlier.

Super Robot Taisen F and F Final, Saturn 12/25/1997(F), 4/13/1998(FF) PSX 12/10/1998(F), 4/15/1999(FF)

The next step after Shin was to switch platforms over to the Sega Saturn; apparently Banpresto was trying to strike some sort of merger or deal with Sega. The resulting game had a rather tumultuous history. According to Wikipedia, it was originally intended to be a sequel to Shin. But Sega wanted them to use their established chronology, so they decided to remake 4 instead. The letter F could be interpreted to stand for “Fifth” or “Final”. However, the production took so long that the game had to be split into two. Finally, whatever negotiations were going on between Sega and Bandai broke down, and thus the game was later ported to the Playstation. (This was a relatively inactive time for SRW — in two and a half years, F/FF was the only game that came out.)

It really wasn’t so much a “remake” of 4 as a completely new game that used the 4 originals and very broad plot outlines. 4 series were removed, all old Super Robot shows (Grendizer, Raideen, Daimos, Zambot 3). The new additions were Evangelion, Ideon, Gunbuster, Gundam Wing, and G Gundam. (Wing and G had of course appeared before, although Wing just in cameo. Endless Waltz is in FF, but only in the Wing Zero Custom and Tallgeese III.) For Evangelion, there was even some scripting done by Hideaki Anno (the scene where Bright slaps Shinji).

Systemwise, the game is similar to Shin, although the “healing = xp” thing is brought in from Masou Kishin. In addition, the map items are gone and you now get items from defeating enemies. One major development is the splitting of “luck” into one seishin that doubles XP and one that doubles money. Finally, the “love” system was added in this game where you can have two units near each other (e.g. Sayaka and Kouji) for their stats to increase. This was not in the manual or strategy guides, though, and there’s no display of the change on the screen, so the effect can only be seen by testing and comparison.

The graphics are back the old-style SD graphics. Compared to Shin, they are kind of a step backwards to the old “sliding sprites” model, and they’re way behind the times, as may be expected from a port that comes out a year later than the original game. The portraits are worse than Shin in that they often only show the face, not the head, and it can be hard to tell even what a person is supposed to look like (Gato’s portrait, for instance, doesn’t show his hair at all). However, they do incorporate the multiple portraits showing emotions that was introduced in Masou Kishin. (Speaking of MK, the MK characters get their own themes in this game, carried over from MK:LoE.)

[I did not write stage-by-stage updates for this game because I did a walkthrough for GameFAQs, for each game.]

Overall, it’s a decent game. The story is a step up from what’s been in previous SRW in the development of the characters and the amount of dialogue — however, the dialogue is still mostly oriented towards explaining the next battle; there’s little of the character interaction (particularly of minor characters) that develops in later SRWs. The difficulty level is fairly high, although I don’t think it’s as hard as 4. The main problem with the game is its length. The split into two parts resulted in a lot of unecessary padding; I think the game could have been reduced by 25-30 stages and still kept essentially the same story. Also given that you can’t skip battle animations, playing the game becomes very tedious. The final stage is also kind of dumb; ending it with Zezenan might have felt more fulfilling.

Super Robot Taisen Complete Box, released 6/10/1999

This game is much later than where I am now, but it makes sense to put it here so that I can refer to the post later. This was a remake of Super Robot Taisen 2, 3, and EX. It was done by reusing the assets from 4S and F/FF, and standardizing the gameplay of all three titles to that of F and FF. The biggest changes were made to 2 because of how different 2 was from the later games; the plot is the same but the maps are somewhat different.

The next SRW game was in 1999 so it will be a while before we see it again.