Monthly Archives: June 2023

SFC Game 108 – Super Mario RPG

Super Mario RPG (スーパーマリオアールピージー), released 3/9/1996, developed by Square and Nintendo

This is the best known of the RPGs on my remaining list, partly because it came out in English — if you look at the list of Super Famicom RPGs, by the end of 1994 they had basically stopped localizing RPGs for the system. From 1995 to the end of the system there were only four RPGs localized: Lufia 2, Chrono Trigger, Terranigma (only in Europe), and Super Mario RPG. This is out of nearly 100 RPGs released for the system in Japan.

Also by sheer coincidence, Nintendo just announced a remake this week for the Switch.

The idea behind this game was apparently to create an RPG that would be popular in the US as well, since JRPGs were generally regarded as a dead genre in the US that nobody cared about. This changed (or at least began to change) with Pokemon and Final Fantasy VII, but the idea that a Japanese publisher would care about Western reception of their JRPG was unusual at the time. Of course the game was popular and did well enough that it spawned a whole series of Mario based RPGs (Paper Mario and Mario&Luigi RPG), with the newest Paper Mario game released in 2020.

My younger brother actually owned this game when it came out, but for some reason I had basically abandoned console RPGs and was focused entirely on computer RPGs like Might and Magic, the AD&D Gold Box series, and such. It wasn’t until around 2003 that I got a PS2 and got back into JRPGs. So I didn’t play this game at all until now.

The graphics are a 3/4 isometric view. The game begins with Mario rescuing the princess from Bowser (“Koopa” in Japanese). The princess has always been called Peach in Japanese but her name was still Princess Toadstool in English at this point — SM64, released later in 1996, was when her name officially became Peach in the English version as well.

After this initial homage to the series, the actual storyline starts when a huge sword comes down into Bowser’s castle.

Mario is ejected from the castle and can’t find Peach. He lands near Toad, who goes off to inform the Mushroom Palace of what happened to Peach, and Mario follows.

The battles in this game are all symbol encounters, not random. They are essentially standard RPG fare except that you can try to just frame button pushes on attacks and defense for more damage, and the special moves often have things you have to do (like rapidly press the button, or hold it down, etc.) Mario’s Jump move has a special thing where each 2 uses of it increases its power by one, so if you keep using the Jump throughout the game it can be quite powerful even at the end.

Special moves consume FP (Flower Points), which are shared among everyone. You can find items and blocks that will increase your max FP, and FP restore items are pretty cheap.

The maps have a lot of platforms, moving things, and such in them — for me this was the weakest part of the game. The isometric view often makes it hard to do the jumps, and I just didn’t think it was well suited to the game. But I suppose it did distinguish it from a normal RPG and fit in better with the Mario theme. There are also a number of hidden blocks (as in classic mario games) but I didn’t find most of them.

Mario soon learns that the sword in the castle is from Kajio, the bad guy who is mass producing a bunch of robots and other machines. Kajio has broken the Star Road into seven stars, and without the Star Road, people’s wishes cannot be fulfilled. So the goal of the whole game is to recover all seven stars and rebuild the star road. There are a number of people that join you as companions:

  • Mallow, a marshmallow-like thing that was raised by frogs
  • Geno, one of the star road beings (fairies?) who inhabits a children’s doll
  • Princess Peach
  • Bowser (who wants his castle back!)

You can only use 3 at a time. My usual team was Mario, Peach, and then one of the other three depending on what I felt like at the time. Peach has strong healing moves that are very helpful. Each person has three equip slots — weapon, armor, and accessory. Money are the classic Mario coins, of course.

When you level up, you gain stats and then can pick to gain additional stats in either physical, magic, or HP. Each level gives better bonuses for one of them, so check all the options before choosing.

The plot is pretty weird and has a lot of gags more than anything serious. But some of the parts are pretty funny.

There are a large number of minigames; some of them are entirely optional, and others are required although typically you don’t have to do especially well at them to move on in the game.

I was enjoying the game reasonably well until the last two dungeons. I felt that here the isometric jumping stuff got way too annoying (I used save states for the part above, which only gives you 10 falls to clear a whole bunch of rooms in a row) and I was glad to finally finish the game.

While this game was overall enjoying I think it does show its age, and I definitely did not like the last two dungeons (which is a shame because it finishes the game with a bad impression). I’m hoping that the Switch remake will touch this up a bit. But it is nice to see developers at least trying something new. Too often these mixes of IPs generate weird or bad games, but Nintendo was able to pair with Square rather than some random people making it, and I think that ensured some level of quality.

Finally, the music is quite good as well. I was already familiar with “beware the forest mushrooms” and the boss theme but overall the music is a strong part of the game.

I imagine many retro players who do SNES games have already played this, but if you haven’t (or if you have), give the remake a try when it comes out!

SFC Game 107 – Front Mission Gun Hazard

Front Mission Series Gun Hazard (フロントミッションシリーズ ガンハザード), released 2/23/1996, developed by Omiya Soft and published by Square

This was the second game released under the Front Mission title. It’s not really an RPG, it’s more of a side-scrolling action shooter with some RPG-derived elements. But it’s a fun game so I played it to the end.

The game takes place in an alternate timeline from the rest of the games. In this world, the entire world had come together to build a space elevator to make it easier to launch ships, but it was never finished because the countries of the world started fighting each other.

The main character, Albert, is part of the military of the republic of Belgen. At the beginning of the game, the republic’s military is taken over by Ark, who leads a coup d’etat against the prime minister. The first episode of the game involves Albert trying to protect the prime minister from the coup.

In most stages you just move from left to right and shoot everything. There are also base stages where you have to explore around in a base, and sometimes the side scrolling stages will have underwater sections or the like. New enemies will appear as you kill the existing ones, although there is (I think on every stage) a limit to how many new enemies can come out. If you look at the top right of the screen, when that part with ENE turns beige, that means no more enemies will appear.

After each stage, Albert will get money and XP. As he levels up, the HP of his Wanzer increases, and he is able to use new weapons (although you also have to find a shop that sells them). You can upgrade the wanzer with body, vernier (to fly), shield, and dash units. In addition to that, you can equip one of four main weapons, and a certain number of subweapons depending on the Wanzer body.

There is an overworld map of the entire world, and then in each place there are a number of areas. Some areas just have enemies to fight, others advance the story. You can often repeat areas as many times as you want, so it’s pretty easy to level up and buy everything. I mostly used the Shotgun weapon and the Knuckle as the subweapon, although the healing field and the armor plate are useful as well. (The Spark Gun is pretty good also, especially for certain fights — it locks on to an enemy and does damage as long as you hold it down).

Fortunately there is a map you can check, that shows where the enemies (and loot boxes) are.

Because you can level up easily and buy a lot of repair items to use, the game as a whole is pretty easy. There are a few bosses where you need to learn the attack pattern to survive enough to kill it, but for probably 80% of the game you can just hold down the attack button and jump around, and use your shield to block the projectiles if needed. I’m not great at action games but even I didn’t have much trouble.

You can also get out of your Wanzer and fight on foot (with hand grenades and a gun); the advantage of that is that you can duck and avoid all damage, but generally it’s not something you want to do unless you have to.

Finally you can have companions for the battle but I didn’t find this very useful. The ones that actually appear in mechs get killed too easily and then you have to pay money to get them new stuff, and the game just isn’t hard enough to where I thought it was worth bothering.

At the end of the first episode, Albert is branded a traitor and has to flee Belgen; he goes with a woman named Brenda Lockhart to the US where he becomes a mercenary. The next few episodes are seemingly unconnected stories where he goes to various areas to deal with unstable situations. Slowly though, Albert hears about an organization called The Society that seems to be behind what is going on, and eventually he decides (for various reasons) to try to find out who they are and stop them.

The music is quite good, as you might expect from that composer list. The graphics are pretty good as well.

Overall, although it’s not an RPG, I did enjoy it — there is a fan translation so I would definitely recommend giving it a shot.

SRPG Game 85 – Shining Force III Scenario 1 Chapters 5-6

Early in chapter 5 we do this “tower” map; it reminds me of the tower map in SF2 although it wasn’t quite as hard because there weren’t as many spellcasters. This map also has a thief map with a hidden character in it; if you escape you can’t get him (he’s mostly helpful because of a sleep spell).

The next battle vs. Golem is interesting; once you get in the main corridor you have to take repeated multi-hit attacks from the Golem, although the enemies will get hurt as well. But once I got my guys up there with the help of some healing, he went down pretty easily. The last battle vs. the Queen Worm isn’t so bad since she can also be rushed fairly easily — the little worms’ poison attacks can be somewhat rough.

Chapter 6 is the final assault on Aspia. The first couple of battles aren’t too bad.

This was a tricky battle. Spiriel will join in scenario 3 if you don’t kill her here, but she hits hard so I used Hagane to put her to sleep. The final enemy group is rough because you only have this short plank bridge to cross and it’s easy for the enemies to block your access where you can get killed by Basanda’s spells. I just had to be cautious and not move everyone too far forward at once, although Hagane was running out of MP for the sleep spells as well… (This map also has a thief’s map if that weren’t bad enough, but I forgot to bring the map item and didn’t think the reward was worth it)

After this, you can do the “Hero’s Test” optional series of maps. I didn’t complete them, but the endless enemies are really good for levelling up the force before the final battle. I’m not sure if they give more XP than normal enemies or if it just seemed like that, but just an hour or so in the maps gained 5-7 levels for each guy.

The final battle is in two parts. The first part you have to split your force into two. Synbios’ half of the force takes on these enemies in the bridge. It begins difficult but if you can move everyone to the left and take out the mages it becomes easier, even when the Colossus comes out.

In the other map you have to beat a Giga Knight guarding the dam wheel. I will admit I used a rather cheap strategy here; you just fly the winged guy up to the boss with a Rapier equipped and reset until you get a critical hit on Danse Macabre which kills him instantly. If you don’t do this you’ll need a decently powerful second group that can get up there as quickly as possible and take him out.

The final part of the battle is significantly easier; the enemies do not regenerate so you can take them out and then focus on the boss himself. Even though he gets two turns and only one person at a time can attack directly from the front, as long as you didn’t lose too many people in the first part it’s not that difficult.

Then Part 1 ends with a big cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until part 3 (since part 2 takes place at the same time). The English version is different, evidently because they already knew they wouldn’t be releasing parts 2 and 3. It doesn’t fundamentally change what happens but it softens the cliffhanger and provides a bit more resolution; it makes it seem more like setting up for a potential sequel that isn’t necessary, rather than a direct lead-in to part 3.

I would say that I enjoyed this more than SF2 or 1. We’ll see if I keep the positive impression over the next two parts (which are both 1998 games).

SRPG Game 85 – Shining Force III Scenario 1 Chapters 1-4 (Sat)

Shining Force III Scenario 1 (シャイニング・フォースIII), released 12/11/1997, developed by Camelot, published by Sega

As the copyright logo above indicates, the first two Shining Force games came out in 1992 and 1993, then the next one did not come out until 1997. In this period there were four games in the Shining series released — the CD compilation of the game gear games, and Final Conflict for the Game Gear. There were also two games released for the Saturn (an action RPG and a dungeon crawling RPG).

Finally, the third main Force game came out. It was planned in three scenarios which were fortunately all released, although only the first one came out with an official English release. The first two scenarios take place at the same time with different parties, and the third one forms a conclusion to the story. There are certain parts in the game where you can do things that will affect the other scenarios if you carry over save data (called the “Synchronicity System”), although it mostly seems to be a few optional characters and small changes to battles rather than any sort of major story difference.

The system as a whole is almost entirely the same as the previous games. The graphics were redone in 3D; while apparently some people were put off by the quality, they are definitely not the worst I’ve seen from this era. The interface is pretty much the same, and I still think the item management is annoying. Especially when you kill a monster and can’t carry the item without dropping something because you are already carrying 4; that seems like something that shouldn’t be in a 1997 game.

Almost everything else is the same as SF1 and 2 — the classes, promotion (at level 10 in this case), Return spell for the main character, cheap revive in the churches, status effects, spells, etc. They added a few new things, though. The first are special attacks that you can learn by using a type of weapon repeatedly. I don’t find these change the strategy very much because they activate randomly. There’s a FE-like weapon triangle system. There is also a friendship/support system which grants bonuses to people adjacent, shown by the shields and swords here:

But despite those changes it feels more or less exactly like SF1 and 2. Because it’s 3D there are some height differences but from what I can tell they don’t affect damage/hit at all.

As I did with the last SF post I’m only going to mention battles that have something beyond just moving forward and using basic tactics. Wikipedia has a good overview of the plot which I will copy:

Scenario 1 features Synbios, a young lord from the Republic of Aspinia. Aspinia was once a part of the Empire of Destonia, but seceded after a war of independence spearheaded by some of the more democratic-minded nobles. They opposed Emperor Domaric’s totalitarian policies, which disenfranchised a large number of people, creating a huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Tensions remained between Aspinia and Destonia after the secession, marked by occasional border disputes.

As the game begins, Synbios is part of a military force representing Aspinia at a peace conference in the neutral city of Saraband. Due to manipulation by outside forces – later discovered to be connected with a religious cult known as the “Bulzome Sect” – full-scale war breaks out again between Aspinia and Destonia. The majority of the game’s storyline covers this conflict as well as Synbios and his team’s fight against the Bulzome sect.

The beginning of the game seemed more difficult than the previous SFs, although as with those games you can always escape from the fight and try again. In Stage 2 you need to rush forward if you want to get some optional characters, but this leaves your force exposed to attacks from the front and back.

Stage 5 has the first “thief map” which I don’t seem to have gotten a screenshot of. In towns you can find some maps that will allow you to enter ruins on the next stage. When you do so, a thief (or thieves) will go in and try to get the treasures ahead of you. Sometimes there are additional monsters in the ruins as well. Only the enemy thieves can open the main chests in the ruins, and so you have to let them take the items and then hit them which will force them to drop them. But the thieves, after getting the chests, will try to leave the map and if they do the ruins are destroyed and you can’t try again. You have to enter the ruins with as many non-Synbios characters as you want, but they’ll be off the main map for the time being. The one on stage 5 has the very useful Life Ring, which regenerates HP every turn. I gave this to Synbios.

There’s a slight steampunk vibe to the game with steam trains, but so far that seems to be about the only visible tech other than one optional character who is in a little steam robot-type thing.

Stage 7 is not so hard to clear, but you need to try to save a bunch of refugees with trains coming in to block your progress.

You can hit a lever to make the train go somewhere better, but even then this is tough — I’m not entirely sure how I got the refugees away; there was one turn where the enemies could have reached them and attacked but for some reason they didn’t.

Stage 12 in chapter 3 pits you against a strong sorcerer in a haunted mansion with a lot of hidden enemies — I had to escape this battle twice to win.

There is, as usual, a suspension bridge fight — I think they are being a bit cheeky by making one of the enemies want to drop the bridge but then another enemy kills him to prevent it.

The joke (Jogurt) character for this game is pen, a little chicken:

Apparently if you train him up he can be decent, but it’s a lot of work to do so.

Overall this is a decent game and I think it’s probably my favorite of the SFs so far although they’re all pretty similar. I should be done with the game next week (I’m already on the final chapter).

Now bear my arctic blast!