Monthly Archives: September 2023

SFC Game 117 – Gulliver Boy

Gulliver Boy (空想科学世界ガリバーボーイ), released 6/28/1996, by Bandai

I covered a previous game based off the anime for PC Engine. That game pushed the PC Engine to its limits to include lots of full motion video, and in general seemed to be a decent game. This one, on the other hand, is a lazy shovelware IP project that can be finished in a few hours, including grinding levels.

Unlike the PC Engine version, the story in this one is introduced in fairly brief story segments that don’t introduce the characters or story particularly well — you can follow the basic plot thread but you constantly get the feeling that there’s more fleshing out of everything in the source material.

The system also shows signs of being rushed — you can only see your current XP level by resetting the game and looking at the load game screen. There’s a robot combat mode that is only used once. The “dungeons” are often only a few screens long. There’s no real exploration; when you finish one area you just get taken to the next area automatically. While it’s not necessarily a bad game, it’s definitely one that you would feel cheated spending full price for in 1996.

The battle system is action RPG style. You can switch between the three characters you have during the game. Gulliver attacks with his Maken Glove, which takes a bit to regenerate. He also has “discs” that use his disc power but have stronger effects. Misty in the early game uses spell like abilities, and then later gets a boomerang-like circle she can attack with. Edison throws bombs; he’s not a great character but is necessary to destroy the enemy lairs that otherwise will spawn endless enemies.

When you are controlling one character, the others will recover HP and also their special ability meters will recover more quickly.

There is one place where you will fight in a robot for just two battles.

There is no money or equipment; you find a few items throughout the game that can heal you or restore gauge.

The game is not terribly difficult for the most part, although you can die pretty quickly if you’re not careful or are behind in levels. The way you gain levels is that when you beat enemies, they will sometimes drop these colored bars that give 10 XP to the character who the color matches. Although if you level too high, the area’s monsters will start giving 1 XP instead. Some bosses give 100 xp bars that can go to anyone. My characters were only at level 10 at the end of the game.

The story is difficult to follow but it seems to be essentially a greatly stripped down version of the first half of the anime, ending with the fight against Hallelujah. But a lot of side characters are missing and there is almost no establishing dialogue to help people who haven’t seen the series.

Unless you are a huge fan of Gulliver Boy I don’t recommend this game — if you can read Japanese I would recommend the PC Engine (or Saturn remake) over this.

SFC Game 116 – Arabian Nights

Arabian Night: King of the Desert Spirits (アラビアンナイト 砂漠の精霊王), released 6/14/1996, developed by Pandora Box, published by Takara

This is a game that was on my radar before I even started the blog just because of how good it looked — it’s a nice example of late SFC era graphics. I knew that some people had reviewed it negatively because of the short length and high random encounter rate, but I wasn’t sure how accurate the criticisms would be. Having played games like Last Battle that have absurd encounter rates, I’m used to having to speed up through battles, run a lot, or even use no-encounter codes (this is something I would have never done in the early days of the blog but I have softened considerably to doing this. I still haven’t done it on that many games though).

In the end I think both criticisms are fair. I finished the game in less than 10 hours, and that was including a number of optional events you have to do to get the true ending. I did use a no encounter code for some of it, although you get an ability at level 19 that can 100% escape from battles. The encounter rate is high, but that’s paired with dungeons that are needlessly large, and the fights themselves often take a fair amount of time.

The game begins with the djinn Ifrit being defeated and enslaved by a wizard of some kind named Suleiman (the person next to Ifrit there is one of his underlings, Majnun). He becomes Suleiman’s servant for a while, but when Suleiman’s house is attacked by some mysterious power, Suleiman splits Ifrit’s power into 8 spheres that fly off to different areas, and Ifrit himself is trapped in a ring. When Ifrit grants 1000 wishes, he will be freed.

Time passes and Ifrit grants 999 wishes, so he only needs one more. A young girl named Shukuran finds the ring, and her wish is to bring peace to the land. Ifrit is kind of annoyed because granting money or power is easy, but this is going to take a while. So he’s going to have to actually go out and solve the world’s problems, although Shukuran has to come along too because he can’t move very far away from the ring.

The basic game involves finding the 8 spheres to restore Ifrit’s power, and then defeating the enemies behind the problems. To get the true ending, you have to also gain the power of the nine djinn who served under Ifrit when he was his original self. This is a typical situation where the true ending is difficult or impossible to get without a guide; some of the djinn join automatically in the story, and others just require you to go to an optional area. But a few require you to make specific dialogue choices that are not clear (in some cases it’s not even clear that the choice you are making has anything to do with recruiting a djinn). There’s one dungeon where you can take two different paths — the left path is what moves the story ahead, but if you do that it blocks off the right path which has one of the djinn recruits. Another one makes you find an item that is completely hidden without any clues. I personally don’t get as annoyed by this as some people do because I don’t mind using a guide for the true ending, but I can see why people find this frustrating.

The main distinctive feature of the battle system are the Cards. You get cards from beating enemies, and they can be used in battle before a turn starts. Their effects last for 3 turns, and include damage, stat increases, nullifying special defenses, etc. A card can be cancelled by playing a higher level card, and enemies use them as well. Even if the enemies don’t do much damage, if they play a big damage card you have to get rid of it or take a lot of pain.

You have only three characters during the game. Shukuran will gain spells once you start forging alliances with the nine djinn. Ifrit gets spells when you recover the jewels containing his power. Harty, the third person, gets abilities from levelling up (including the all-important Escape at level 19). Frustratingly there are no healing spells in the game except for one of Shukuran’s djinns, so most of the healing is done through items. This increases the annoyance of the random encounters since the monsters are often tough and can do a decent amount of damage (especially with the cards).

There’s not a great deal of story to go through; a lot of it is just finding the spheres and getting the djinn in events that don’t really advance the overall story.

Eventually it turns out that Majnun is the one who caused all the chaos, because of how much he resented humans for trapping Ifrit and taking away his power. I believe that if you don’t fulfill the secret ending conditions, the game ends here. If you did, you learn that the Earth Mother Goddess tricked Majnun into acting this way. Suleiman knew that she was going to arrive and trapped Ifrit somehow to let the djinn build power over time to deal with her (or perhaps the journey Ifrit had to take strengthened him).

Once you beat the Earth Mother Goddess, you have the choice to release all the djinn or keep them trapped with their items; releasing them is the “best” ending but there’s actually not that much difference between them.

This game is OK, and worth a play if you can deal with the high encounter rate. The graphics are really nice and the music is decent as well. There is an auto battle which helps with the tedium as well.

Next up is Gulliver Boy which I have already beaten (it took 2 days) so that post will be up next week and I have a nice cushion as I start Traverse: Starlight and Prairie.

SFC Game 115 – Dark Half

Dark Half (ダークハーフ), released 5/31/1996, developed by Weston, released by Enix

This game tried a lot of interesting new system ideas, but ultimately I didn’t like it.

The idea of the game is that you switch off between two protagonists — one is Falco, a hero, and then Rukyu, the Dark King. 1000 years ago, six heroes defeated Rukyu. He is now out for revenge against them, whereas Falco hears of the Dark King’s revival and gets caught up in the attempts to stop his evil plans.

The game takes place over 7 days. For the first 6, you switch off between Ryuku and Falco, and the 7th day is the final chapter. The two protagonists work differently, but have some similarities.

Both characters have “soul power” (at the top left) which goes down with every step you take, and for Rukyu it powers his spells. If it hits 0, you get a game over. The dungeons have a lot of traps that are designed to steal your soul power or make you walk a bunch of extra steps. The save points give you 500 soul power back but you can only use each save point once, and there aren’t very many of them. This makes the game quite frustrating to play if you want to play it straight — I used save states.

Rukyu has demon/monster allies — starting in the second day he can use the Dark Gate to capture monsters. This powers up his spell levels but also allows the monster to join the team. The battles are on a grid, but you can’t control the monsters at all, even general AI settings. Also Rukyu cannot move or attack, only cast spells. So even if a monster comes right up to him (like in the image above) all he can do is sit there and take the hits. Healing also doesn’t work on him; all you have is a small amount of HP you recover at the end of each fight.

For Falco, you have human companions. You get scrolls from defeating enemies that can be used as spells, and also “Chaos Orbs” that increase stats. There is no normal levelling system. You can control your allies and Falco but you can’t move freely, you can only choose who you want to attack — this is annoying because the spells have areas of effect but you can’t actually move your characters into specific positions to take advantage of them.

Because of all of this, the difficulty level is quite high if you want to play without any assistance. If you know some tricks you can make it somewhat easier, but there are still some frustrating boss battles where the enemies seem to get 5 or 6 turns for every one turn of yours. The most powerful equipment is also hidden in random areas on the map.

When you walk around as Ryuku, you gain soul power by killing the humans in the towns and absorbing their spirits. The dialogue is always interesting when you do this as the humans beg for their lives or else are resigned to their fate. When you are Falco you can come across these dead bodies and take their “light of hope”; if you can collect 90 of them throughout the game you can get the best ending.

Now for the plot spoilers. As you continue in the game with Ryuku, there are hints that he’s not really a “dark king” — ultimately it turns out he is the creator of the world, who was ready to destroy humans because of their sins, but decided to wait 1000 years to give the humans a chance to do better. Now the 1000 years are up and they haven’t done any better so he decides to wipe them out.

Meanwhile on the Falco side, the king who was once one of the 6 heroes has decided to use Ryuku’s ring to control the world himself. Once you complete the first 6 days for both characters, Falco and Ryuku do a final showdown. You can pick which character you want to control for the fight.

I picked Falco because if you have the Dark Gate for him you can kill Ryuku in one use of the spell. I did not have 90 lights of hope so I got a medium ending where Ryuku entrusts his ring to Falco, who becomes the new ruler of humanity but it leaves the question open of how Falco does that. I looked at some of the other endings but they looked equally vague.

As I said in the opening, I didn’t like the game. I found the system annoying and poorly implemented, and the plot was only so-so. It has a translation patch so you can try it out for yourself, if you want.

SFC Game 114 – Treasure Hunter G

Treasure Hunter G (トレジャーハンターG), released 5/24/1996, developed by Sting, released by Square

This is Square’s final game for the Super Famicom. It’s classified by some people as a strategy RPG, for me it’s perhaps SRPG adjacent but isn’t quite there. The game follows Red G and Blue G, the sons of the treasure hunter Brown G who has disappeared seeking something. The brothers go north of their town to look for an “iron bird” that appeared there, which begins an adventure that leads to the usual world-saving quest.

The battles take place on grids like the above. Each character has a certain number of ACT points, which decrease when you take actions. The enemies have colored areas around them, and moving within them takes more ACT points the stronger the color is. Also there is a “grid level” to the whole map which also affects how many points all the actions take.

Overall this is an interesting system. The biggest problem with it is that you cannot take back any move, meaning that if you hit the wrong direction you can end up wasting a large amount of points. The attacks can also go wrong — if you try to attack empty air it won’t use any points, but you can attack your own allies and that will take up points. So you need to pay careful attention to which way you’re facing (you can change with the L and R button).

Each character also has abilities that use up SP. SP go up by levelling and then paying 50 gold to a priest (who also saves your game). After a battle, each character will recover some HP, and you also recover HP when you gain a level (even in battle).

There are two types of defense — F Guard (front) and B Guard (back); often it’s better to attack enemies from behind, although it may take more movement points to get there. Some weapons have 2 range and will hit any enemies/allies in that range. Axes knock enemies into another square and also usually turn them around.

Inventory management is a huge headache. Each character can only carry 20 items, and you get a lot of items so that quickly fills up. You’re constantly having to discard items or sell them — I’ve said this before but I’ve never played a game where I thought it was fun to frequently manage inventory. Inventory space doesn’t necessarily have to be unlimited, but when you are having to do inventory management multiple times in each town or dungeon and after every couple of battles, that’s tedious.

The game also has unnecessarily “cute” ways of doing town services — you pay for the inn and then have to walk to the bed yourself. You buy things by picking up items, then going to the clerk and paying for them, and then deciding whose inventory each will go in (at which point you can’t see the stats or who can equip). There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel like this for something that makes the experience worse.

The graphics are fine — they are a good example of late SFC style. I feel that the sprites are kind of fuzzy and they remind me of Donkey Kong Country; I think I prefer the more typical sharper style of RPG sprite but it’s not a big issue.

There are four characters in your party:

  • Red is the typical sword fighter. He gets a lot of action points and can equip powerful weapons. He also had sword techniques — the “double attack” is particularly useful in boss battles.
  • Blue uses spears or axes. Spears have a 2 range; sometimes it’s one front and one back, sometimes it hits both enemies in range, other times just the one 2 away (depends on the spear). His moves are all trap-laying moves that require enemies to walk over them. I never bothered using them, or any of the items that have the trap effects.
  • Rain is the healer, she uses Chakrams which have a 2 range and can also cast fire spells. But the healing is her main virtue.
  • Pongo is a monkey, who has a wide variety of elemental spells and also uses 2 range boomerangs. His AoE spells are very useful in a lot of battles.

The battle strategies tend to revolve around minimizing your AP expenditure moving, but you also need to get in position to do good damage (especially if you have to attack from behind). Spells can help a lot. Sometimes there are enemies that hide at the back and attack all of your guys or summon people, and so there you have to be able to either beat the front enemies quickly or manage to get around them to the back.

For the most part I did not find the game particularly challenging although there are a few tough battles. There are often heal points in dungeons, and the enemy encounters do not regenerate until you leave the dungeon so it’s not uncommon that you can heal completely after each fight if you need to.

The plot is a pretty basic “collect 7 items to stop the Dark King from destroying the world” plot with only one or two twists. There is some evidence of haste; several characters are introduced that seem like they should be involved in the storyline but barely make an appearance at all.

This game is OK but could have been a lot better if they had a better inventory system. Nevertheless, it’s probably still worth playing for SFC RPG fans, and I believe there is a patch.

SFC Game 113 – Gokinjo Boukentai

Gokinjo Boukentai (ごきんじょ冒険隊), released 5/24/1996, developed by ITL, released by Pioneer

The title of this game might be translated as “Neighborhood Adventure Group” — I think the title is supposed to evoke the idea of a bunch of children pretending to be adventurers. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the main character Mana is a preschooler and the various party members you get throughout the game are other people in her preschool class.

The game occurs over 6 months. In each period, you first do the preschool section during the week, and then have the exploration/event on Sunday.

You choose two subjects that Mana will work on during the week — speaking, playing, napping, building, or exercise. You can also pick a friend to work with, and sometimes a third friend will join as well (I’m not completely sure what determines this). Each activity will be done 3 times and has three different results — failure, OK, or success. The better you do the more your stats increase. When one of those dark green bars fills up completely, you get a blue gem that indicates that stat has increased.

There are no experience levels in the game so this is the only way (other than equipment) to change your stats.

Mana’s mom then wakes her up on Sunday and the adventure part of the game starts. Each Sunday has an event, although some of the events require Mana to have certain stats for them to activate. Sometimes there are alternate events provided — for instance, on 4/28 there is one even if Mana’s strength is above 16, and an alternate event if it is below 16. Other times if you don’t fulfill the requirements there simply will not be an event that day. You can tell this is what happened if there is no cutscene between the training and mom waking you up, and if mom doesn’t say anything beyond her usual wakeup speech. In that case you can just do whatever shopping or talking you want to in the town and then tell mom you’re ready to go to bed. You can also sometimes skip events entirely by going to bed, or later in the game by visiting the “clear man”. You can only skip through some of the days like this, though.

On the first day Mana meets God(!) who then sets up shop in the pipe in that picture; this is where you can save your game and add companions to your party for the day. There are a total of 5 party members aside from Mana, although I believe that 2 of them are optional. Mana’s cat also hangs around randomly and can sometimes do helpful things in battle.

Mana can then wander the town. Apparently 1/3 of the size of the cart is text, and there are a lot of people in the town who frequently change what they say. This is mostly window dressing, though. The town is pretty complicated to navigate, and I would recommend using a map or making your own, noting what the various stores sell and where key people are. The shops that sell the weapons and armor for characters aren’t always immediately evident. They change inventory each month.

Money is relatively limited in the game. Mana will get an allowance from her mom each day, but it’s not that much money. The cat will sometimes return with money, but this is unreliable. You can sell items for money; enemies drop things like Crowns and Iron Scrap that you can trade with some people in town for items that can be used in battle or sold.

The events frequently deal with Nanako (the pink haired girl) who is the daughter of a rich CEO and bullies everyone else. Other antagonists (or semi-antagonists) are Gojirin, whose underlings remind me of Earthbound.

There are also some fantastical elements, such as meeting kappa in a river, and helping ghosts.

The events always end with Mana’s mom coming to get her, scolding her for being late for dinner — she’s able to find you anywhere.

The battle system has some peculiarities. You recover all your HP at the end of each battle. Techniques cost HP to use, so there is some limit on what you can do in that respect.

By rotating your formation at the bottom you can change the stats a bit. I found that in general the difficulty level was relatively high, especially at the beginning. If Mana’s HP reaches 0, you get a game over, but God will then take you to train and you will upgrade one of the three main stats (atk, def, spd) and try again. These upgrades go away when you beat the enemy — I believe that if you keep getting game overs the upgrades stack, but I’m not 100% certain about that.

Although most of the game is just foiling Gojirin or Nanako’s mischief, a pattern emerges of people being possessed by some kind of evil spirit that we keep driving out. Eventually that leads to the final boss, who is some sort of embodiment of those negative feelings.

In the end Mana moves away because her father gets a job transfer, but all her friends say goodbye to her as she goes.

You can then replay the game in V-MAX mode, which doubles the gains you get from the training/school parts and thus makes it much easier to qualify for the events that require certain levels of stat (you can easily qualify for them without V-MAX, though, if you know what they are in advance — the one you have to work the hardest for is Level 4 Conversation by 8/25, but even this can be done without too much trouble.)

On the negative side, the balance can be a bit weird sometimes. I had several instances where enemies surprised me and got the first turn, and killed Mana before I could act. However, given the way the game over works that’s not a huge deal because you’ll come back with better stats and they may not get the surprise attack. Sometimes the hints for where to go next are hard to find or even nonexistent, although being able to skip days means that it’s hard to get completely stuck. There are some interface issues — you can’t see what items do when you’re buying them, which is annoying given the limited money. You can only see what the abilities do from the status menu, not when you’re in battle. It’s a little surprising that in 1996 companies are still not providing basic information like this to the player in a helpful way.

But overall I had fun with the game and it’s definitely worth a play. The cuteness and quirkiness sets it apart from the other RPGs of the era, and there’s a lot you can do and explore in the little town.