Category Archives: Strategy RPGs

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.

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.

SRPG Game 76 – Riot Stars (PSX)

Riot Stars (ライアット・スターズ), released 5/2/1997, released by Hector (or Hect?)

This game seems to have been inspired by Ogre Battle, although it’s not just an imitation (it’s interesting that there haven’t been any other OB-like games since OB). The title is a mystery; I don’t know what kind of game to expect seeing it, but it takes place in a typical medieval fantasy world (with an ancient culture that produced robots).

As in Ogre Battle, you create squads. Each squad can have up to 5 members and 3 types of units. There are various types of human classes, and a number of monster classes. They can be class changed if they fulfill the right conditions.

What is different about the growth system is that it’s all done through “jewels”, which are the currency you use to buy thing but also level up. This means that you have a lot of control over your party’s development. But since you just play the 35 or so battles in order with no opportunity to free battle or repeat, the amount of money and XP you can get in the game is limited. There is a huge difference in effectiveness of classes — if you know the system well you could create 4 or 5 squads in the first few battles that could stomp all over the rest of the game. Or, you can waste a lot of jewels on squads that are always going to be a struggle to use and will ultimately not be able to handle some of the later game enemies. If you used no help at all, it would be possible to end up in the latter third of the game with a team of totally unusable characters, no jewels, and no choice but to restart from the beginning. The nature of the game makes it hard to experiment.

Making the squad formation even more of a challenge is that the game has permadeath. As long as one unit from the squad remains alive at the end of the battle you can pay 50 jewels per unit to heal after the battle. But if the squad is wiped out, they are gone forever. You can visit a building in the capital (when you have access to the capital) that will give you some jewels as a consolation prize. But I don’t think the jewels you get from there are enough to rebuild a whole squad; you can do some cheap tricks with that spirit shop to farm jewels (I don’t know the details but I think you can just buy the cheapest units and intentionally get them killed?)

As usual, I’m not a fan of permadeath. This game is not as unforgiving as Fire Emblem, but you will still encounter enemies that can wipe out weak squads from full HP in a single battle, and you still have to deal with the situation of accidentally moving a unit one space too far and then having them wiped out. So I did use save states, as I usually do with permadeath games.

The turn system is based on the squad’s “wait” value. A counter counts down everyone’s wait from the full value to 0, then that squad gets to act, and their counter gets put back up to the maximum. I’m not entirely sure how the wait value is calculated; having 1 unit in the squad vs. 5 units doesn’t make much of a difference so I think it’s calculated from the average of everyone’s wait — wait is affected by Agility but I don’t know if there are other factors involved. 40 is the lowest wait; I don’t know if there’s a theoretical maximum but the highest you will generally see is upper 70s or lower 80s. So there is no concept of a player or enemy turn; each unit just acts when their wait hits 0.

Each unit’s movement type is also controlled by who is in the squad (whether they fly, etc). Finally, the range of attack is also different — if you have people who have range 2 or 3 attacks they can attack from afar. Attacking from behind produces a situation like the picture above where you get first strike and can attack their back ranks.

The battles happen in real time. Characters move forward and attack for a while, then the battle will end after a time. “Losing” the battle doesn’t have any effect other than just the HP/guys that were lost during it. During the battle you cannot directly control the characters, but you can use special attacks from the leader and activate a party attack.

As you attack you build up gems (the green things in the picture above). When you fill up the bar and it starts flashing, you can use a party attack, or you can choose not to and then you will get a jewel at the end of the battle. These jewels can be used to activate the special attacks (you also get a jewel for doing a 15 hit combo).

Clearing a battle gives you jewels, and sometimes there is a bonus goal — usually beating the map in a certain amount of time, but it could also be saving NPCs or not allowing towns to be captured (the towns are like FE where you get items). In the first few chapters almost every battle has a bonus goal, but starting with chapter 3 almost none of them do; I wonder whether that’s just a rushed release issue, although it seems like at least they could put in time limits.

Between battles you can sometimes move around to different towns to buy equipment, recruit new people, or talk to the villagers for hints. As I mentioned before, for the most part this is simply fighting each battle in sequence, but there are a few places where there are optional battles or the battles will go differently depending on what you did previously.

The game is divided into 5 chapters. At the beginning, the main character is assigned to the 9th unit of the Carlain Kingdom army. Carlain is being invaded by the Empire. The 9th unit is a place where they stick people for their careers to die; nobody trusts them to do anything right and they constantly get stuck with drudge jobs and blamed for things that go wrong.

The first chapter is basically them just getting sent on random tasks; they make friends with some fairies and hobbits (once again the Tolkien estate can’t read Japanese), rescue the Princess of Carlain but get blamed for kidnapping her, and other things like that. In the second chapter we start to encounter the robots — there are 4 ancient robots that are being unearthed from the ancient civilization, and both the Empire and Carlain are building their own robots in imitation. (These robots are very powerful in general but take huge damage from spells)

In the third chapter the 9th squad starts getting blamed for more and more stuff and eventually has to flee the continent as we’re facing the death penalty for supposed treason. This was the last difficult chapter for me; the image above was an especially annoying battle because there’s a hidden cannon that comes out. The cannon can destroy most units in one attack phase. I had to load state a huge number of times to pass this without anyone getting destroyed; in retrospect I should have just let one of my more useless units die.

This was also the point where I looked up some info on stronger units; the dragons and upgraded fairies above are quite powerful and once you have a couple of squads of them plus a hidden character robot and some magic using squads, the game is not very challenging. The dragons’ “windstorm” attack (pictured above) drives back the attackers so that sometimes they will all die without even getting an attack.

Another way to beat strong units is to mash the circle button as soon as the battle starts to use Super attacks over and over again.

In Chapter 4 we end up exiled on an island with the prince and princess of Carlain; it turns out that one of the higher up ministers has usurped the government and is hoping to use the ancient robots to take over the world. First we have to beat the Dark Elves on this land (the main 2 are difficult but with the new magic user that joins, her Holy Blast will take them out in one hit — as far as I saw this holy blast attack will destroy any enemy in the game in one use).

Finally we head back to Carlain, and take back the country. The minister heads to a floating island of ancient technology but we stop him (the final boss is just a robot that dies to one use of holy blast or any magic, really). He tries to crash the island into Carlain but we redirect it into the ocean instead.

Overall this is an OK game. The story is a bit weak and the game balance could have been a lot better — it’s too bad there’s no Riot Stars 2 where they could have fixed some of the issues.

In the next couple of weeks I’m going to have limited time to play games, so I may need to make some “cheat” posts on Final Fantasy Tactics and Atelier Marie before I get back to making the next SFC game post of Seiken Densetsu 3.

SRPG Game 75 – TILK: The Girl from the Blue Sea Part 2 (PSX)

(This is the second post on this game.)

Chapter 3 – The Oannes, the People at the Bottom of the Sea

Billy tries to go out by himself to rescue Silky, but everyone obviously knows he’s going to do it and they all show up to help (even Jake). Meanwhile Gratz, the head pirate, is showing Silky the dresses he bought for his estranged daughter — he hopes that one day when he meets his wife and daughter again he can give the dresses as a present (Silky points out that she’ll be too big for them…I guess it’s the thought that counts).

Billy and the gang show up on the ship, and fight the pirates. After they win, Gratz threatens them with a gun, but a mysterious figure with a skull mask (Captain Skull) shows up and knocks the gun away, then they have to fight the pirates again.

After this fight, the pirates are about to retreat again, but Kars has had enough — he pulls out his own gun and shoots Billy, knocking him off the ship. Silky dives in after her. The skull mask guy seems to recognize Kars, and tries to intercept him, but Kars retreats. Robots come on to the ship, and the pirates and kids team up to fight them.

A few days pass, and everyone assumes Billy is dead. They’re all moping around in the treehouse, but Jake comes and insults them for being so weak — they realize he’s right and go to the beach to search for Billy. On the beach they fight some random monsters again, and then Silky shows up, giving them Billy back, who is alive.

Meanwhile we see a flashback. It turns out that Silky is one of the Oannes, the descendants of Bell (who appeared as a ghost in chapter 2). Her mother is the great priest of the tribe. By bringing Billy to the underwater area she has broken the rules of the tribe, which says that they cannot show themselves openly until the time is right. She must be banished, and her voice taken away.

Later Billy thanks Silky, but she can’t speak.

Then Silky is captured.

It’s Elrich, the little kid from the empire, who wants Silky as the key to open Eden. He leaves, leaving behind robots that Jake and Billy have to fight, along with the pirates who now want to help.

Elrich’s underlings, meanwhile, have analyzed the Emerald Tablets (I think Kars got them in the previous chapter; he turns out to have been one of Elrich’s underlings). They’re in a submarine, heading for Eden. Kars it trying to get Silky to talk so they can learn the secret of Tupshimaty, but of course she can’t talk. It also looks like Elrich’s main motivation is to get back at adults who treat him like a child — he’s the son of one of the higher-ups in the Empire.

Fortunately the pirates’ ship happens to have a submarine function as well — they haven’t used it before….fortunately it works. The pirates fire torpedoes at the Empire ship but the ship manages to get away, and reaches the island where Tupshimaty is being held. The kids and pirates catch up, and fight their way through Imperial forces and robots down into a building.

Eventually they meet up with Elrich, Kars, and Silky at a door. After beating up the Imperial troops, Kars shoots Captain Skull’s mask off and it turns out its Billy’s dad. He was once an Imperial soldier but deserted. In any case the victory of the kids is short lived because Elrich reveals his trump card — a huge robot called King Poseidon.

Elrich threatens to kill everyone if Silky doesn’t use the tablets to release Tupshimaty. She finally relents.

The power of Tupshimaty goes into King Poseidon, and Elrich is overjoyed — now he can use the robot to make sure no one ever looks down on him or insults him for being a kid again. However, his joy is short lived. King Poseidon starts to go haywire, and begins to destroy the temple. Kars is killed by falling rocks, and Elrich has to face death for the first time. This shocks him to the point where he realizes this isn’t a game, and he escapes with the pirates and kids back to the ships. Meanwhile King Poseidon continues to rampage, pulling down the temple.

Final Chapter – Goodbye to Our Island

Everyone makes it back to Tilk safely (except for Kars of course), but it turns out that King Poseidon was not destroyed. It reappears from the water and heads for Tilk. Elrich tries to run away, but Captain Gratz stops him and forces him to take responsibility for what he’s done and help us deal with King Poseidon. Unfortunately it has no weaknesses, but the group comes up with a plan — set off the volcano and cause a tsunami that will destroy the robot. Unfortunately this will destroy the island as well, so they have to evacuate everyone.

Billy and the other kids head back to their secret base to recover their box of treasures — the final battle is a bit of an anticlimax but I guess dealing with robots at the base has some meaning.

After that, it turns out that the Empire submarine they sent to cause the volcanic eruption was destroyed by King Poseidon. Billy heads down to the cape and finds Silky where he first met her.

Silky decides since Tupshimaty is the fault of the Oannes people, she’ll have to solve the issue as well. She breaks her tribe’s rules once again by talking.

Using the power called the Magnus Stone, she’s able to cause the eruption, but this means she will have to go back to her people to deal with the punishment for breaking the rules again.

Everyone escapes Tilk before the tsunami arrives. But since everything is destroyed, they are going to have to go their separate ways for a while will things are rebuilt. The pirates decide to go find Captain Gratz’s wife and daughter, and Elrich heads back to the Empire to face a court-martial for his deeds.

The kids meet one last time and divide their treasures on the shore. Now the game asks you to pick your favorite treasure (these are bonus “memory” items you get after certain battles).

I chose a picture that Fon took of the group.

The scene switches then to Billy showing the object to someone who seems to be his son. We’re many years later when Billy has moved back to Tilk, married, and had a kid.

Billy’s wife yells at them to come for dinner and stop wasting time. But as they go, Billy’s son hears a song from the sea (whether it’s Silky or another member of the tribe isn’t clear).

So that’s Tilk. Great story, characters, and setting, lousy gameplay.

SRPG Game 75 – TILK: The Girl from the Blue Sea (PSX)

Tilk: The Girl From the Blue Sea (TILK 青い海から来た少女), released 4/25/1997, developed by TGL

This is another obscure game, one that I did not notice in my original list but I picked it up later. It was released for both the PSX and Saturn — the Saturn version has full voice acting (I think). I didn’t find this out until after I had played about half of the Playstation version. However, the voice work sounded a bit amateurish and I had never heard of any of the seiyuu, and the ability to speed up the battles was pretty important so I’m fine with the Playstation version.

It’s also an unusual experience for me. Usually I value gameplay above everything else, and I always say that a good story can’t save bad gameplay. I was proven wrong here though — based on my criteria this gets an A rating because I was playing it for fun right up to the ending scene. But objectively speaking the battle system is not good, and the interface has a lot of problems too. Thus the A- rating. So what I am going to do with this post is first describe the system, and then spend the rest of this post (and maybe another one) telling the story.

First off, I really like the graphics.

The sprites and the backgrounds have a great feel to them that accentuate the story. But let’s get to the battles.

The game proceeds in sequence from one battle to the next. You can only save in battles, and the only time you can do status screens is before a battle, where you can equip up to 3 accessories, and if you have more than 8 people, choose which 8 you want to send out. Once in battle, it’s typical player turn-enemy turn, you can choose the order.

Everyone has pretty low movement rates. You can attack (everyone has a range-1 attack and a range-2 attack), but the hit rates tend to be lower than I would like. There is a weapon-triangle like system with each character having a certain affinity. Special moves are 100%, but neither the instruction booklet nor the game itself tell you what most of them do. You can use items freely without taking turns, but the only way to get items is the treasure boxes in the stage, so you have to be careful. There is also a “wait” that changes your stance to raise or lower stats, and a “field action”. This is supposed to let you do things like roll barrels but it’s rarely useful, and often involves some obscure item that they don’t tell you what it does.

Movement is annoying because you can’t move through your own guys, so it’s easy to get stuck.

Unskippable battle animations.

Since the treasure boxes are the only way to get items you want to get as many of them as possible, but it’s not practical to get every single one on every map — it is a big waste of time in the game though to keep one enemy alive and take 15 turns tracking down all the boxes. Healing items are particularly valuable because you don’t get many good techniques that heal.

The goal is usually beat all enemies, but some maps are “beat boss” or “reach a certain point on the map”.

So unfortunately the battle system pretty much stinks. Once you get used to its quirks it becomes a bit less annoying, but it’s never a whole lot of fun, and you definitely want an emulator with speedup.

So let’s get to the story and setting with the Prologue chapter “Boys of Tilk Island”. The text and pictures won’t capture the detail and charm of the game, but at least it’s something.

The game takes place on the island of Tilk. This is an island to the far south with rich farmland and blue seas. The main character Billy Drake is the son of a fisherman. At the beginning of the game he has overslept again, and races to the treehouse to meet his four friends. They are Fon Tokun (a nerdy scientist type), Meril Fount (the lone girl), Pack Myson (the son of a shipbuidler) and Grus Ganto (a big strongman).

At first the kids waste time by going down to the ocean to beat up Sand Jellyfish and visit the local farm to see baby animals, but eventually they decide to visit a nearby mountain. Unfortunately this is the domain of another kid named Jake and his band of unruly ruffians (Sharks).

From left to right it’s Rui, Jake, Phillip, and Eric (the big one). Grus actually used to be a part of this band until Billy beat him in a fight and then Grus joined Billy. In any case, Jake doesn’t like the Billy group invading his territory. They knock the Sharks around a bit but then go home because it’s late.

The next day Billy and his friends are wasting time on the beach, looking for a rumored pirate ship that has supposedly been visiting the area. The adults tell them to go deal with some crabs that have been bothering the fishermen. After that, Billy hears some mysterious singing that nobody else does. Going to a certain place on the beach he meets a girl named Silky.

They talk for a bit but then when Billy’s friends show up Silky disappears.

Meanwhile Jake wants to get Grus to rejoin his group, and when Grus refuses again, the Sharks attack him. (This is the hardest battle in the game; if you did not save a healing item you can go left from the start and there is a Bread in a box. That should be enough to win the battle.)

After this, the whole group decides to take on Jake’s band, and when Billy’s group defeats the Sharks, Jake gets depressed and decides that he is once again alone as he always is. Later, it turns out that Rui never came home, so Billy and his friends go look for her. They find her in the Sharks’ base (an abandoned mine), but she’s being attacked by some kind of robot.

With the help of Eric they take down the robot and rescue Rui. Later when the adults show up, Billy’s father seems to recognize the robot but says nothing.

Chapter 1 – The Legend of the Hidden Treasure

The group decides that for today’s adventure, they will visit a nearby island to explore an abandoned house. But how will they get to the island? They meet Silky on the beach who reminds them that when the tide is down (like today) they can simply walk over there. Silky trails along as they explore the house — and happen upon the pirates!

They spy on Captain Gratz and his underlings Henry and Oyster. They’re looking at a map showing the location of six emerald tablets. This makes Silky alarmed, and she insists that they have to steal the map. The other kids are hesitant, but Silky charges in and manages to rip half of the map away. The kids fight grunt pirates on their way out of the house.

The kids escape through the forest and back to the mainland. Silky explains a legend: in olden times the gods and humans lived together, but the gods became birds and fish, and now some of them live in an underwater palace Dilm, where something called Tupshimaty exists, that can grant wishes. They need to keep enough of the emerald tablets from the pirates that they won’t get access.

Chapter 2 – To the Island of Adventure

The next day, Billy and his group set out to visit the islands marked on the map (I don’t remember how they get a boat; I forgot to write that down). Jake and Rui come along, but Jake decides this is none of his business and leaves. Meanwhile, the pirates are pissed off. They want the half of the map back. A fourth member named Kars offers to kill the kids, but Gratz turns him down — that goes against his pirate code.

The island segments can be done in any order. In the first one I did, we cut the tablet out of a tree — after everyone else leaves, Silky appears to talk to the tree, and apologizes before healing it. The second one involves beating up armor sharks — the kids feel bad afterwards because the sharks were just protecting their area.

At the next islands, the robots from first chapter are back. A young girl named Bell initially attacks the kids thinking they’re with them.

But once the kids drive off the robots, she relents. She was just protecting her “god”, and gives up the emerald tablet. She then disappears, leaving only a skeleton behind…

Meanwhile, a little kid named Elrich, who a commander from an Empire, is heading to the island for an as-of-yet unknown reason.

The final emerald tablet on the kids’ map is at the top of a mountain, but the pirates manage to find them and chase them up the mountain. Of course the kids manage to beat the pirates up as usual and get the tablet.

Now the pirates have kidnapped Phillip, a weak, traitorous member of the Sharks (Jack’s gang). With very little prompting he gives up the location of Billy’s secret base, and the pirates go there to get the tablets…of course they lose to the kids, yet again.

Now there is an interlude — Pack’s grandfather, who was once a famous adventurer, is sick. Pack wants to go to the mountain to find a Veronica Flowers — many years ago his grandfather brought some seeds back and planted them, and he thinks that if he can show one of the flowers to his grandfather he’ll feel better. Unfortunately they don’t grow well in this warm climate.

At first they only find one, and Pack can’t bring himself to uproot the only flower remaining from his grandfather’s seeds. But then they find that a whole bunch of them grew elsewhere, and he brings one back.

However, on the way back they meed Fredrick (the grandfather) who seems to have totally recovered. The other kids head back to town, and Pack talks to his grandfather. Fredrick says he’s about to go on a long journey with his friends — Pack wants to go too, and Fredrick says that he’ll come back for Pack eventually, when Pack is ready to go. He also tells Pack not to come to the harbor tomorrow, because it’s bad luck to see off a sailor while crying. Pack heads back home. The next day, the grandfather is found dead in his bed, and the funeral occurs, although Pack does not attend.

Next the pirates fake a circus to try to trap the kids…it doesn’t really work, though, because Billy and his gang have no idea what a circus is. Eventually they just have to strongarm the kids into the tent and attack them. As usual the kids beat them up, but in the resulting chaos, Silky is captured. Later a letter comes for the kids saying that if they want Silky back, they have to give up the Emerald Tablets they have.

I’m going to stop there so this post doesn’t get too long — I’ll post the other two chapters soon, maybe tomorrow, or Monday at the latest. It’s really a shame that the gameplay was so bad or this would be an all-time classic, I think.

SRPG Game 74 – Sparkling Feather (PC-FX)

Sparkling Feather (スパークリングフェザー), released 4/25/1997, developed and published by NEC

This is the second game on this blog for the ill-fated PC-FX. I have four games total for the system on my list but three of them are remakes; this is the only original SRPG for the system. Given how poorly the system was received it’s not a surprise that this game was handled by NEC themselves. On the whole it’s similar to the other games in that it plays to the strengths of the system by having a lot of anime sequences and fully voiced story dialogue, but the rest of the graphics are Super Famicom level or below.

As with the other PC-FX games, this one was too expensive for me to buy, and it’s so obscure there’s little information about it beyond a few short reviews and a full playthrough on Nicovideo. There are aspects of the system I don’t fully understand, and so it’s possible that my views towards the game are unfair in that respect. But, with that in mind this is the second SRPG in a row I’m stopping after a few stages.

The basic setting is that the world is being attacked by Steen, some sort of monster. It was hard for me to tell whether this was supposed to be taking place in the real world or not; if it’s not Earth it’s a modern-day setting on an Earth-like place. The main character is Shinguji Aoi, a high school student.

Aoi is visited in a dream by someone calling themselves Diamond Feather, telling Aoi he is one of the Feathers who transform to fight the Steen. Aoi refuses to listen but then is visited by Coral Feather.

Coral Feather is part of a rival group that is using their Feather power for their own greed and ambition rather than to fight the Steen. Eventually Aoi powers up into Ruby Feather and we have the first fight.

You begin with a team of 7 characters (all different Feathers). All combat in this game is done via AI instructions — including even your main character.

Part of my issue with this game is that the meaning of the AI commands was not clear without the instruction manual. The last three options in the menu above are Attack Move, Follow-up Attack, and Ambush. The meaning of the terms is clear enough (I guess) but what they actually do differently was hard to interpret.

More problematic is the “trust” system. Each character has a trust value from 1 to 5 stars. The lower the trust is, the less likely they are to follow your orders. This makes no sense from a story perspective because Ruby Feather isn’t the leader of the group; he just joined. But more than that, it’s annoying to try to be issuing orders and half the characters refuse — sometimes they will just sit there and do nothing for the whole battle while you repeatedly try to get them to do something.

When they do attack, there seems to be no way to control whether they will use a normal attack or a special move (maybe this has to do with the AI command). Even Ruby, who has a 5 star trust and never refuses, can’t be directly controlled like this.

So basically this is a lot like Seikon no Joka in that most of the game is just spent watching the characters fight. I learned from a review that if you leave the game long enough the orders phase will end by itself, so you can literally do the battle part just by setting down the controller and leaving (since characters will act without orders). The only thing you need to press a button for is to clear the message if someone levels up.

The one thing you can control is making the characters use area-effect magic like buffs and heals.

Even when they ostensibly follow your orders they often get stuck behind other characters or buildings, or try to find another way to reach the destination that doesn’t exist. Also if the characters die in battle they lose a trust star, which also doesn’t make sense — if a character refuses your orders, goes off by themselves and dies, why should they be less likely to follow your orders later?

Between stages there is a dating system that lets you increase the trust, but it’s as opaque as the rest of the game. Who you spend time with is determined by a roulette wheel and a strange sliding puzzle system. Then you get 3 choices — in this case “What do you think of me?” “What have you been doing up to now?” “Teach me some sword techniques.” Some of these will raise trust, others lower, but it’s hard to tell which one is going to do which.

After the first stage Ruby joins the team and sees the flying ship the Feathers have.

In the second stage we try to go to a concert but Tourmaline Feather attacks; it turns out the singer for the concert is actually a feather as well (Sapphire Feather).

The third stage is a four-way fight between us, the Coral Feather faction, Steen, and the SCAT Earth defense force tanks. Coral Feather decides to team up at least for now to fight the Steen. Afterwards, the head of the SCAT forces tries to arrest us but Ruby uses his power to bend her gun and we escape.

At this point I was rather annoyed by not really being able to do anything in the stages, so I looked for Japanese reviews. It didn’t look like there was anything major I was missing; the reviews I saw were largely negative. The story was also criticized as not really going anywhere, having a bad ending, and not developing any of the characters.

So this is where I stopped. As I said, this is another game where it is possible that my opinion is lower than it would be if I had the instruction manual. It may be that certain characters are more likely to follow certain orders, or that if I had a better understanding of what each order did I would have more control. However, based on what I have seen from the Japanese sites, it’s unlikely that even with this information this would become a really good game. I did find one short review from someone who liked it a lot, but it wasn’t specific enough to tell why; it seemed like it was more from the cute girls than from the game itself.

So that’s it for the PC-FX — this is the fourth system I’ve “completed” after PC Engine, Game Gear, and Famicom (I have one more Mega Drive game that I missed on the initial list and need to get to at some point, and of course one more Super Famicom game which is still on the far horizon).

SRPG Game 73 – Seikon no Joka (PSX)

Seikon no Joka (聖痕のジョカ), released 4/25/1997, developed by Takara

The next two SRPGs I only played the first few stages of, so there will be another post on Wednesday this week with Sparkling Feather.

This game’s title means “Joka of the Sacred Scar”, although elsewhere in the game and instructions, 聖痕 is read as “rune” instead. The game is based off a light novel series, although one site I saw said it takes place 100 years after the novels, although that’s not clear from the backstory in the instructions.

The background story is that thousands of years before, the 24 Runes were sealed away in the Earth’s Navel by a girl named Joka, thus removing them from influencing the world. But now, an unknown person has unsealed the runes from the Navel. In an effort to stop this, the Angel Topuka tried to reincarnate Joka, who had the Blank Rune that could unify all the runes. But Topuka messed up and split Joka into two parts, one of whom is born as a princess, the other as an orphan in the wilds.

One immediate issue with this game is the offputting character designs.

Now you name the main character, including his title (I used Scarlet Lightning Kurisu). He’s trying to get a treasure from ruins, but thieves attack on his way out.

The system is pretty typical although rather than a grid, it’s a sphere of movement. You can move, and then attack or use a special attack. Some of the attacks have “reverse” versions that apparently can be used once you get to the point in the game where your characters get the Runes.

However, I encountered the first huge problem with the game during and after this stage. Whenever you are in any kind of status menu or shop menu, the background spins around quickly behind the windows (which are semi-transparent). I get motion sick pretty easily and while I can’t recall ever getting it from a video game, the spinning background made me queasy — even if it didn’t it’s really distracting to try to be reading text in the foreground while the background is spinning around at a pretty high speed. This is the primary reason I gave up on the game after a few missions.

There’s not much about this game on the Internet, but I did find a few criticisms of the camera spinning including one Japanese player who also got sick from it.

Kurisu reaches town to try to sell what he got, but it turns out that “cute Topuka” (the angel from the opening) is in it, although with no memory. All he knows is that he needs to get to the town of Silver. Kurisu and he join up with a merchant who wants some bodyguards to help them go through a forest.

In the second stage ghosts attack in the forest, and here we find the second big problem with this game — you can only control Kurisu. Everyone else moves on AI. This is an odd decision for an SRPG; it’s true that there are games like Ogre Battle that don’t allow direct control of the characters but the system is set up for that. Here it’s basically a normal SRPG but you can only control one character. Also while the other characters (and enemies) are moving, the camera is spinning around 360 degrees just like it does when you have the menu open.

After the fight we meet up with the wild orphan Joka.

In the next town we meet the princess Joka who is supposed to marry a prince from another land to unify the alliance between their countries, but she has no desire to do that. She feels a connection with the wild Joka and with Kurisu’s help they escape the palace.

This is where I stopped; I just couldn’t play any more with the spinning camera, and even without that why play an SRPG where you can’t control most of your party? There are apparently two endings based on various choices you make throughout the game; it seems to have to do with which Joka the main character gets closer to. But I won’t be seeing either of them.

SRPG Game 72 – FEDA 2: White Surge the Platoon (PSX)

フェーダ2 ホワイト=サージ・ザ・プラトゥーン, released 4/18/1997, developed by Max Entertainment, published by Yanoman

This is of course the sequel to 1995’s FEDA: Emblem of Justice. It continues the story from where the first game left off and features similar gameplay. There was supposed to be a third entry to complete the series but it never came out.

The designers made the strange decision to have a nearly 10 minute live action opening sequence filmed with Western actors. The actors include David Hayter (Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid dub), Kim Mai Guest (Mei Ling in MGS), and Deron McBee (Malibu in American Gladiators). The voices are dubbed over by the Japanese VAs for the characters. It’s a surprising use of the budget; it looks pretty cheesy and dumb now but I wonder what people would have thought in 1997.

Other than this, each section closes with a narration by one of the characters, and when you get later in the plot there are PC Engine-style voiced scenes (with just slightly animated still pictures).

Anyway, the game takes place 8 years after the original FEDA. In that game, a thousand year war had closed with the Empire taking control of the entire continent of Balfomoria, but the peninsula of Arcadia rebelled and in the end freed themselves from Imperial rule with the help of deserters Brian Stelbat and Ain McDougal (at least if you get one of the better endings).

Now 8 years later, the Empire has reversed their decision of letting the provinces govern themselves, and the Senate has now introduced a military rule that favors the Grunreim, the most populous race in the Empire. The Dragonnewt race has opposed this, essentially restarting the 1000 year war. At the same time, Arcadia has split into two, with part of it accepting the Senate’s decision and part rejecting it. The main 5 characters are “White Surge”, a group of skilled fighters who have some kind of criminal or questionable past. They’re working in East Arcadia, who wants a closer relationship with the Empire. But they’re not respected by anyone in the military and tend to be used for dangerous or morally questionable missions. The five members are:

  • Harvey Winston, a human (humans are looked down on in this world)
  • Tom Woodland, an Alshidean who joined the army despite his sister’s objections. Harvey and Tom are the characters in this game who give you a game over if they die.
  • Marsha Barnwood, a Shade Elf who specializes in assassinations, but was involved in a number of sex scandals.
  • Device, another human who is a gun/explosive specialist. But he has a problem with alcohol.
  • Minerva Lilac, a Forest Elf. She comes from an illustrious family that served as elite royal guards, but she refused an arranged marriage and was expelled from the country.

I found the plot rather hard to follow. I think this is because the game is trying to tell two stories at once — what White Surge is doing in their own missions, and how the war in the entire Empire is going. But White Surge’s missions aren’t necessarily following a clear story path and sometimes what’s happening in the Empire have nothing to do with White Surge. Also most of the Empire parts are done through voiceover dialogue on a map that you can’t pause; I think maybe my Japanese just isn’t quite good enough to keep track of everything that’s happening in this style of storytelling.

The first scenario has you against the Dragonnewt trying to release some ancient seal (although that’s been done by others). Once this is done, White Surge is simply abandoned to their own devices. They get captured by the Dragonnewts but then are able to convince them to let White Surge work for the Dragonnewts, which is what they do for the rest of the game.

Minerva, Marsha, and Device

The game takes place over 8 “scenarios”, which are sort of like the 12 chapters of the previous game. Unlike the first game they did away with the overworld map and just give you fixed battles in sequence. In a few cases there are alternate battles depending on what happened in the previous one.

The alignment system has returned from the previous game but in a much different form. You now have a certain amount of OPM to spend on bringing characters into battle, changing them in to more powerful forms, or assigning them items. You can spend as much OPM as you want, but if you go into negative you will lose alignment and you’ll be in negative until you can pay back the OPM with future rewards. I believe that your alignment can also be affected by whether you fulfill the mission goals (in some cases you can move on even if you fail to do the mission; you won’t get any OPM though). As in the first game, after each chapter your alignment will change on a law/chaos scale.

However, unlike the previous game, in this game your alignment has no effect. There are no alternate characters, story differences, or any ending difference. It’s purely decorative. I have a feeling this is the result of development time/budget restraints, but it’s a rather strange system in that respect.

Instead of an experience level, each character has a rank starting with E and going up through A to S. When you get 100 exp you go to the next rank. The EXP gains are slow, and by the end of the game I only had two of my characters at S rank and some weren’t even at A. When they rank up they get new abilities and also sometimes can change to different forms (which is a big improvement over the original game, where you never changed at all).

If Tom or Harvey dies in a mission it’s game over. Otherwise the character will suffer a wound; if it’s a light wound they can be in the next battle with a stat penalty, if it’s a heavy wound you’ll have to sit them out until they recover.

The battles themselves are the same as FEDA. They are normal SRPG with the odd turn mechanic where you move one of your characters, then the enemy moves one, etc. But rather than taking turns, it’s proportional to how many are on each side. So if you have 5 guys vs. 10 enemies, you will take one turn, followed by 2 enemies. This is an interesting system but makes it hard to know who is going to move when.

Unskippable battle animations. In 1997.

The game is pretty difficult. The grunt enemies are about equal in strength to your guys. You can’t save in battle and there are several sequence battles with no saves (an unforgivable sin for me that I will always use save states to deal with). Although there is no permadeath, you cannot afford to lose anyone at the beginning (later you can probably afford to lose one person in a battle).

However, there are a few things about the system that can mitigate the difficulty.

First, regular attacks are worthless. They do little damage, and the enemies block them frequently. Play the game with the understanding that you will be doing almost all of your damage through your special attacks. The game becomes significantly easier when your characters gain a few ranks and you have better special attacks.

Second, the enemy AI is predictable. They will always start off by using their special attacks. It doesn’t matter if it’s an area effect and only one person is in the area. Also they typically only have enough MP to use their special once. They also attack the closest person rather than going after Tom/Harvey the way they did in the first game.

Third, you can do “hit and away” and the enemies cannot. The “hit and away’ system just means you can use your full movement every round and make an attack at any point during that movement.

Even with these tips you will still get the usual “killed from full HP game over” situations that you see in permadeath games, but it helps. The hardest parts are in the beginning.

One other harsh aspect of the game is that Poison and Paralysis do not heal naturally. So a paralyzed enemy is out of the battle (which is great when you get paralyze moves yourself), but when the enemies have area effect paralyze moves you need to make sure you can either kill them first or get them to use it on just one character.

Ain eventually reappears from the first game, and I think there are a number of other connections to the first game that I didn’t quite pick up because I had forgotten the specifics of the FEDA 1 plot.

My difficulty following the plot resulted in the game ending very suddenly (for me) at the end of scenario 8; I didn’t even realize I was fighting the final battle until it was done. There is a built-in suddenness in the plot too because once the heroes destroy this ancient weapon that someone was trying to use, the Senate suddenly signs a peace treaty with the Dragonnewt and White Surge is disbanded. I have a feeling some of the loose ends would have been tied up in the third game if it had ever been made — for instance, they never said what was going on with the seal at the beginning of the game, and Brian didn’t appear although he was talked about quite a bit.

I don’t think I’m going to do a stage-by-stage or scenario-by-scenario description. Most of the stages, as in FEDA 1, have goals that aren’t just “kill all enemies”, which is always appreciated. But the general tactics that I outlined above work for most or all of the stages, except for one annoying one where you can’t use MP.

On the whole I’m not sure this game is quite as polished as Feda 1, but I probably found both games about the same in quality — Feda 2 fixes some of the issues in the first game but introduces new problems.

SRPG Game 71 – Nage Libre: Rasen no Soukoku (PSX)

Nage Libre: Rasen no Soukoku (NAGE LIBRE 螺旋の相剋), released 2/28/1997, developed by Varie

This is a sequel to the original Nage Libre for Super Famicom. Like its predecessor, it’s quite an obscure game that obviously never sold well. Right now on ebay you can get the original super famicom game for $450 and this game for $250, which is by far the highest price I’ve ever seen for an SRPG on either system. So obviously I did not get the game, so without the instruction booklet my understanding of the system is limited — unlike the SFC game there is almost nothing about the game on the Internet.

The story is not a direct sequel to the first game, but has a similar idea. The Nage statue is stolen from a temple near the town’s high school, causing monsters to come into the world. Five high school girls go through a portal to track it down.

The graphics are strangely worse than the SFC game. As with the SFC game this is supposed to be a fanservice game, but compare the in-battle graphics:

The gameplay is based on the first game but they made a number of changes. The movement is no longer on a grid but an open system; this makes it a little difficult to know when you are in a valid space to move or within range of a character to fight them.

As with the first game you use cards in battle, but some changes were made here as well.

Rather than having several rounds in each combat, there is only one. They also retained only attack cards — escaping and defending are now free actions you can take instead of using a card, and all non-attack cards were removed. Instead, there are three basic kinds of attack cards: physical, magical, and special. Certain characters (and certain club choices) are better at magic than physical attacks. On the whole I found the SFC system a little more robust and strategic; it is true that the PSX version avoids the issue where you get into a combat with crappy cards. But that put some strategic value in the original system because you had to do some planning and could not just use the strongest cards you had available. Here I found myself more often just always picking the strongest attack or magic cards, and there didn’t seem to be much of a reason not to do that. The stock cards are also gone (as is money completely).

The game has a lot of magic spells. Some of them can target the units surrounding the target (who are providing support). Others are debuffs/buffs. But the magic system is a bit opaque without the instructions because sometimes I couldn’t cast certain spells and I didn’t know why. The debuff spells never seemed all that useful.

Unlike the first game this does have a clear EXP gauge although characters only level up after a battle.

The club and costume system are back, but they work a bit differently. There are fewer school clubs to choose from, but they have clearer effects — for instance, the cooking club can heal, and the archery club attacks from a distance. I don’t know if the compatibility chart from the first game came back, but on the whole the club system seems better here.

The costume system lets you pick a complete outfit from four options (you get a huge variety of clothing from chests and enemies). However, I have no idea what the purpose of the costumes is. There is no listed in-game effect for them, and you only see the character models on this screen between battles. If you hit the circle button you’ll get a judgment of the outfit, but I have no idea if this judgment represents an actual in-game effect; I made sure everyone was on what sounded like the best judgment.

The story is pretty basic although maybe slightly better than the first. It turns out that students from the Bairin School, led by Kamizaki Kaoru, want to get the Nage statue — her goal was to drive the main characters out of their area so her dad could build a shopping center there. But it eventually turns out she was being used by a guy named Kurosawa, who steals the statue.

His goal is just the usual “take over the world and cleanse it” idea. The ending is confusing — Nage herself appears and uses the emotions of the main characters to restore all the worlds, but then blows up because one of the characters’ purity is too strong. Then the main characters return to their world and get tickets for a Hawaii vacation.

This game is really not worth playing. The first game was OK and the card system at least provided some interest, but almost everything about this game is worse than the first one, and it just felt tedious and boring to play through. Even if you like fanservice bishoujo games the content this game delivers is pretty poor.

Varie soon got absorbed by another company called Layup and so there are no more Nage Libre games, which is probably a good thing.

SRPG Game 70 – Sangokushi Koumeiden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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