Monthly Archives: February 2023

SRPG Game 82 – Mouri Motonari Part 1 (PS)

Mouri Motonari – Chikai no Sanshi (毛利元就 誓いの三矢), developed by Koei, released 10/12/1997 [Saturn version]

This is the third game in Koei’s Eiketsuden series, after Sangokushi Eiketsuden and Sangokushi Koumeiden, both of which I played earlier. This game moves the action from the Three Kingdoms period of China to the Sengoku period of Japan (15th and 16th centuries). The settings are similar in that you have a lot of local warlords attempting to extend their own territory, and a lot of shifting alliances, betrayals, and such. It also has a strong pop culture presence with the various warlords. Like the first two games, this was originally released for computers and then ported to consoles (in this case Playstation and Saturn — from what I can tell, the Saturn and PS versions are identical).

Mouri Motonari is known for being a calculating, intelligent, and perhaps ruthless warlord who expanded his territory from a tiny province. He’s a bit like Liu Bei in that he had a lot of initial success, but suffered some later setbacks and then died of illness before the end of the war. As with the previous games, the last third of this game is a “what if” scenario where Motonari struggles through and unifies Japan, defeating Tokugawa Ieyasu and Hideyoshi (who were the historical victors of the conflict). Unlike the previous games, there are no alternate scenarios here — there’s no “bad” historical ending, just one path through the the game. The title “Pledge of the three arrows” refers to a possibly apocryphal story in which Motonari shows his three sons that three single arrows are easy to break, but a bundle of three arrows cannot be broken.

Because of the nature of the story I’m not going to do a summary; like the first two games there are just too many names and the constantly shifting alliances and events are complicated. You can read the Mouri Motonari wikipedia article to see a basic summary of the game at least for the first two parts, as well as the Sengoku article for a historical background. The basic idea is that Motonari grows his power from a small local clan to a major player in the Sengoku period (and in the game, at least, eventually unifies Japan). He does this through a combination of alliances, marriages, and warfare.

The gameplay in the battles is a slightly refined version of the system in the first two games. Because of the time period, there are now guns and cannon units. The biggest change is that different weapons have different attack ranges even within a category — for instance, there are at least three ranges that a spear can have. A big part of the strategy in the game is to have a variety of weapon types so that you can attack enemies from places they can’t counter. There are a lot more villages and mines on the map that you can visit for resources and items. Units also get a bonus from standing next to Motonari himself, or a tactician — I don’t remember if that was the case in previous games.

What is quite different is the pre-battle stuff. You can visit various buildings in the castles and towns you have control over, and talk to people, buy things, and such. You can also train your characters who are behind in levels (a nice feature), and craft items. All of this takes a really long time, especially if you aren’t looking at a guide and actually talking to every single person.

The item crafting is the major way you get new items and equipment (you can also buy them at stores). You hire craftsmen from the towns and then level them up by crafting items. Some of the resources you need to make the items you can buy, others you cannot. I’m not completely sure what having multiple craftsmen of the same type does; maybe there’s a maximum you can level up or things you can’t make, or maybe you level faster with more guys? The manual doesn’t make it clear. In any case, you can upgrade your weapons pretty easily early in the game, and also get money by selling the things you make in town for more than the materials are worth.

I’ve played the first 12 battles so far out of 29; this is a rather long game and it may take me another 2 weeks or so to finish. This is “part one” of the game that covers from Motonari’s youth up to to the Battle of Miyajima in 1555. Some notes on a few of the stages:

Battle 7 has you trying to escape. You might be able to kill all the units here if you really work at it but I just followed the story and sacrificed most of my troops to secure Motonari’s exit from the map.

Battle 8 — enemy reinforcements will come in from the top right

Battle 8 is tough because you really have to go fast to save the NPC characters that are guarding a fort, but on the way you also have to make sure to send some people aside to help guard a different fort. Even moving a lot of my horsemen and ninjas at top speed, I was only barely able to save the fort by sacrificing all my ninjas to draw off their attacks until enough decent units could get there to stave off the attacks.

Battle 12 (Miyajima) is interesting; if you go into it straight it’s very hard, but you can do various plots beforehand to get allies or put the enemies in bad positions. The best result is to get a fleet of ships to help you kill the sea units (so they don’t reach the NE castle) and then have the Sue attacks start out on the land near Motonari.

I may not want to do three posts on this game, so next week could be a filler post since I doubt I will finish the remaining stages in a week.

SFC Game 101 – Seiju Maden Beasts and Blades

Seiju Maden Beasts and Blades (聖獣魔伝ビースト&ブレイド), released 12/15/1995, developed by BPS

This game began as a reader participation game in a magazine. These were very popular in the 80s and 90s although I don’t fully understand how they worked even after reading up on them. You sent in a postcard each “turn” to participate and then somehow things were handled through magazine articles. I know that Play by Mail games were popular here too in the pre-Internet era (I remember them being advertised in Dragon Magazine); maybe they worked in a similar way. I vaguely recall that a previous game I played also began as one of these reader participation games but I can’t find the details.

In any case, the Super Famicom game was based on the franchise; some places say the game came out December 1996 but I think the 1995 date given by other sources is probably correct.

The basic underlying story is that the world is repeatedly fighting battles between the Light and Dark Goddesses. Each time a war starts, one of the races will be chosen to split into two sides and fight for control of the world. The purpose of these wars is unknown; there is a legend that the Goddesses are fighting to become the wife of the supreme God, but why the war would have to be repeated if that is the case is unclear. The reader participation game was planned to have 5 total segments, but it ended after the first 4, so if there was going to be an answer to why the wars were actually being fought, it was never revealed. Both the magazine game and the SFC game start at the beginning of the Fifth War, when humans are the chosen race.

The game is a curious mix of strategy and RPG elements that I think some people would classify as an SRPG — it’s right on the dividing line of my criteria; I think that it may technically qualify as an SRPG under my rules but since I’m playing it either way, it’s not that important. More importantly, I feel like the game is not fully implemented, which I’ll say more about as we go along.

The game begins actually before the war has started. The main character wants to be a “beast master”; the beasts in the title refer to monsters that can be controlled by the characters. You can get beasts from a shop in town, some characters come with beasts, and the Beast Kings get their own special beasts. Over time beasts will become upset and you either have to take them to the shop to fix them (which never worked for me), or use an item that increases their friendliness. (The Beast King special beasts always stay at max friendliness).

This is an area of the game I found confusing. Every character I recruited either came with a beast that could not be changed, or couldn’t control beasts. I never bought a beast from the store or used the services because it never seemed to be allowed — I read the instruction manual but don’t see anything I was doing wrong.

The way you get companions is by using the “friend” command in town until you find someone who can join. You can’t see what type of character they are before you get them on your team which is frustrating. Each character only differs in the type of weapon they use, and whether they can have a beast or not. Weapons can be bought at the shop and also refined into better versions. I believe that each weapon has a fixed maximum it can be levelled when you buy it (maybe randomly chosen?) and if you exceed that it breaks. If you can get a level 4 weapon you can sell it for an enormous sum that will fund all your purchases for the rest of the game. I got one by luck very early in the game so after that I had no money issues.

The game doesn’t really have a strongly developing story. There are a lot of events you can activate — some of them are optional, and some you have multiple choices for which event to do in order to get the next one to open. There’s no real feeling of story progression. Some reviews I saw in Japanese complained that it was difficult to figure out what to do next (I used a walkthrough for this), and I can see that being an issue.

Kurisu accepts a request to go to the west cave to save a little girl. You move on an Ogre Battle like map where you send your guy in real time across the map. The “food” goes down as you move but is very easy to replenish in town. There are random encounters as you go, but most can be easily escaped from.

Battles are done on an SRPG-style grid. Each character starts their turn with a number of points, and each action takes a certain number. You can do as much as you want until you lack the points to do anything else, then that’s the end of your turn.

Inside caves and dungeons, you explore on an isometric style map. The battles in here are fixed (which is why I said that it may technically qualify as an SRPG by my rules).

As Kurisu does the first few events, he meets some of the Dark Kings who recognize that Kurisu is one of the light kings (even though he doesn’t yet) — because the war hasn’t officially started they can’t oppose Kurisu directly, though.

After doing a few of these events, Kurisu eventually learns that he is the First King of Light and heads out to Meishilva Castle to join the other Kings as the war officially starts.

The game now changes once the war starts. You can send out multiple parties at once, each headed by one of the 11 Kings (you don’t have them all at the beginning). In addition, Dark parties will appear on the world map as well and head towards towns or towards the hero parties. The game’s text indicates you should be sending out the parties to protect the towns around the world, and by selecting a town you can see how closely associated the town is with the Dark or the Light. Each town also has a defense rating.

So this seems like it should add some strategy aspects to it, but from what I can tell the system was not actually implemented. From what I saw, any time a dark unit reaches a town the town’s defense always repels it. If heroes are defeated they return to Melshiva castle and the dark unit disappears — this even happens if the hero is already on Melshiva castle. There seems to be no difference between entering a town that is aligned with the Dark or the Light. The only thing that changes is that sometimes when you go to a town you’ll have to join the defense force to fight an attacking unit before you can enter.

So for the most part there is no real purpose in using any unit but the main character, except for one story required event where you have to be using a female unit for it to activate. There are some optional events involving the individual heroes, though.

At this point your goal is simply to go around to places in the world activating various events. As I said earlier there is no feeling of any kind of forward story progression, and the dungeon that basically acts as the “final dungeon” has no feel of finality at all, it just seems like another dungeon. Once you finish that everyone goes back to Melshiva castle, and the castle itself becomes a floating palace to take on the stronghold of the Dark Kings.

This part is annoying because they take away your companions and stick you with two specific Light Kings and give you no opportunity to equip them. Even so this succession of battles was not very hard. If you have the beast masters use the “beast” command they strengthen the beasts who can then use moves that hit all enemies on screen. If you lose these fights for the first time in the game you actually get a game over (in this case I guess an ending where the Dark Goddess wins the war).

At this point the heroes go to a gate where the Light Goddess says it’s time to send the Light Dragon into the world to cleanse it of all the dark people and win the war for Light. If you accept this it apparently leads to another bad ending, so you should refuse. The main God himself then thinks this is interesting and you fight a three headed dragon.

You use all the Kings here but without their beasts. This was kind of a long fight and I lost about half the (unlevelled) Kings but in the end I won. The God decides that the people of the world can now decide their fate for themselves, and that (perhaps) the wars won’t happen again.

As far as I know there isn’t a B&B II

I don’t know about this game. It has a lot of interesting components but the actual implementation of them is kind of a mess. If you were playing this just to mess around and send out your people to various towns without worrying about making a lot of progress you might enjoy it, but it’s hard to feel that there’s any kind of story development or whether you’re doing anything productive or not. And as I said earlier, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the designers had bigger plans for the game that they were not able to implement for whatever reason.

SFC Game 100 – Tales of Phantasia

Game 100! Although if you include the SRPGs I played it’s actually game 128. Also, last week was 6 years since I started the blog. I have approximately 30 games left so probably it will take another 2 years or so to finish the Super Famicom games.

Today’s game is one that I played some years back. Since I did everything in the game I won’t play it again, but I wanted to mention it because it’s such an important game. It was developed by Wolf Team, which made Hiouden, a game I played before. I noted at the time that many of the spells in that game reappear in Tales of Phantasia.

This is, of course, the first game in the long running and popular “Tales of” series. I’ve played all of the games through Vesperia. I tend to like the 2D ones better — my favorite entries in what I have played are Destiny 2 (the Japanese one) and the DS version of Hearts.

The game pushed the limits of what the Super Famicom was capable of, with a 48 megabit cart. This is one of the largest carts of any SFC game, beaten or tied by only a few other games (Tengai Makyo Zero and Star Ocean are two of them, which I will be playing). This space was used for things like the vocal opening song and voice clips for the characters using their various moves and a few lines of dialogue. The music was done by Motoi Sakuraba, who had done Hiouden’s music.

The character designs were done by Fujishima Kosuke, a popular manga artist who also did designs for the Sakura Taisen series and would go on to design characters for some of the other Tales Of games.

The battle system is action-ish, but in a way it’s more of a real-time command entering system than a true action game. When you make an attack, Cless (the only character you can control) runs forward to attack an enemy. As you level you will learn new moves that can be used either close to the enemy or far away (you equip different types for each). When you use a move enough you master it, and by mastering multiple abilities you learn combination “ougi” moves as well. All of these abilities take TP.

You will get other characters who essentially stand behind Cless and either cast spells or shoot a bow. You can order them to cast spells through a command menu. I found that a lot of the game was spent in the menus queuing up the spells; you have to be fast and aggressive because if you let the enemies get too far on your side, they will start attacking the defenseless magic users and you’re in trouble.

One common complaint is the very high random encounter rate. You can buy holy bottles to cut the rate which helps a lot (even if you use a holy bottle all the time, you will still fight more than enough enemies).

The story involves a group of heroes who sealed away a powerful sorceror called Dhaos, who can time travel. The descendants of those heroes have to team up to once again defeat Dhaos and restore peace to the world.

Here’s a video I made when I played it (14 years ago!) of the final battle, with my Moria-beefed party. I was playing on an actual Super Famicom thus the video quality. The SFC later got donated to byuu/near.

The game has been remade many times — the Playstation and GBA versions were basically enhanced ports but the two PSP versions were full remakes. I played the first PSP version and didn’t like it as much because it seemed like there were way too many pincer and back attacks, which doesn’t work well with this system where Cless is the only one who can really fight.

All in all this game is fine, but the later Tales games are much better; playing this one (especially in the SFC version) is probably mostly interesting to people who are big fans of the series or who just like the Super Famicom.

SRPG Game 81 – Front Mission 2 (PS)

Front Mission 2 (フロントミッション セカンド), released 9/25/1997, developed and published by Square

This is the second main game in the Front Mission series (Front Mission Gun Hazard, a non-SRPG, was released before it). As I said in my original post, I was disappointed in the first game for a number of reasons, and was hoping the second game would improve on various issues.

I feel like it did, while at the same time having its own flaws and drawbacks. One that is criticized by almost everyone is how slow the game plays. Load times are long (even playing off an ISO), everything is sluggish, and there are unskippable long battle animations. Setting up your Wanzer units is frustrating because of how long it takes the images to render. When FM2 was re-packaged in the “Front Mission History” set, they hacked in a battle animation skip feature (thanks to Harvey for letting me know about this). However, this is only a hacky patch; you get little to no information about what happened in the battle and have to check the status afterwards — all you see from the overhead map is the total HP of a unit, which is a virtually irrelevant statistic (the HP of each part is much more important).

The game is the same basic system as FM1, with each “wanzer” (mech) having HP divided into body, two arms, and legs. If you lose parts you also lose the ability to move or use that weapon, and if the body goes you’re dead. This game no longer has the ability to aim at specific parts, but that introduces more luck into the game because an attack might miss, or spread damage around to parts, or it might take out your arms or body. Current total HP is no guarantee of anything.

The skills are implemented better in this game. One of the complaints I had about FM1 was that the skill learning seemed random, whereas this time you get specific skills at specific levels (which are still divided into Fight, Short, and Long).

One big change is the AP system. Each character has a certain number of AP (starting at 7 but going up as you level). You use the AP to move (1 point per space, up to your move limit) and to make attacks (from 3-6 AP). You also then need AP in the enemy phase to be able to counterattack.

In principle you recover all AP at the beginning of each round. But each enemy that is adjacent to you reduces the AP recovery, and each Ally increases it again. So this incentivizes you to move as a group — the same rules apply to the enemy as well, so if you surround an enemy they will likely be unable to act on their turn.

There are also “honor levels” that get you skills which help out your surrounding allies; I know you get them from beating enemies or attacking but neither the instruction manual nor the in-game help really explain how the system works.

There is a lot of English in the game

One of the main complaints was the slow speed, but another one is the balance issues. This is one of those games where differences in levels between attacker and defender make a huge difference, particularly in hit rates. So if you have a guy who falls behind a bit they are ineffective in combat, and there is no real way to catch them up. More problematic, a common issue I saw is that if you try to use your whole team (you can dispatch up to 11 people later), you will get to a point where none of your characters can match the enemies in levels and you’re stuck. What you should do instead is focus on 5-7 characters and have the rest just use items for healing, without “stealing” any of the XP.

On the good side, Amano’s designs are good as usual and overall the graphics are strong. This game benefits from the increased internal resolution options of emulators which sharpens the mech polygons as well as the buildings and other objects on the map.

And also on the good side, there are a number of people who consider this the best game in the series because of the difficulty level and strategic challenge — it seems like if you start out knowing what you are doing (or are willing to restart from the beginning once you figure things out) you can enjoy the game. Although it is telling that all of the positive reviews I saw spent the first paragraph reassuring people that the game was not as bad as everyone says it is.

The story takes place 12 years after the first game, in Alordesh. The military overthrows the pro-OCU (Union) government and declares independence, led by Ven Mackarge. The main character Ash Faruk escapes Alordesh with his companions from the Muddy Otters, but then decides to return to Alordesh to save his friend Griff who was left behind.

Ash comes across Thomas Norland, a survivor of the OCU, as well as Lisa Stanley, an intelligence officer. At first the story switches between Ash and Lisa. Lisa is trying to figure out what is going on with the coup — who might be behind it from the outside. Here’s some nice fanart of her companion Sayuri, and the battler champion Cordy who joins their team: (courtesy of Autumn Sacura on deviantart)

I played the first 11 of 31 stages — some of the stages are quite challenging, others are relatively easy if you move slowly forward and surround the enemies. The hardest one was stage 5 where you have to protect a weak helicopter as it escapes the stage. I had to restart this stage four times to finally be able to beat it.

But, I’m really not having that much fun with the game. I’m having to force myself to play it, and even when I sit down to play it I often watch youtube videos to procrastinate starting the emulator, which is not a good sign. So I think I’m tentatively deciding to move on to the next game. It does bother me a bit to skip a game because it’s hard, although I feel like in this case it’s a combination of the difficulty, the slow pace of the game, and the worrying possibility that I would reach a point where I could not progress further. However, a remake is currently in progress for the Switch, which hopefully will fix some of the issues without completely changing the game to something unrecognizable.

Let me know if you played this game and enjoyed it!