Category Archives: Strategy RPGs

SRPG Game 65 – Harukaze Sentai V-Force (PSX)

Here’s another Playstation game, this one trying to use the power of the console to do something that couldn’t have been done on older systems.

The back of the package for this game and the instruction manual make it clear what the goal of the designers was — to make a game that felt like playing an OVA (original video animation). The game has over an hour of anime sequences stretching over three CDs. However, maybe this goal was prophetic as to the ultimate quality of the game itself. Anyone who has watched anime OVAs from the 80s and 90s knows that they were often rushed and incomplete, being made primarily to support manga that told the full story behind it, or perhaps to springboard to some other project. An hour of anime is impressive for a game, but when it’s the primary vehicle of the storytelling, it’s not enough.

Designer VING does not seem to have done all that many video games; at least I can’t find any information about them beyond this game.

The manual gives the backstory: 2000 years ago there was a thriving culture on Jupiter. The Cor Del group started out as an environmental protection agency, but later developed weapons to protect the planet. The nobility feared its power, and there was a civil war. After a long war, the Empress Freya sent her young child Lavis to Earth, but the capsule malfunctioned and landed on the Moon instead. In the end, the nobility won the war with a powerful weapon, and Cor Del retreated to outer space.

2000 years later (in 2008 — so this huge war on Jupiter was in 8 AD?), the descendants of Cor Del, calling themselves the Baskil Empire, have returned suddenly to attack the solar system. The main characters are part of the force that fights them (despite the title, “Harukaze Sentai V-Force” doesn’t appear in the game at all).

The anime sequences are well done; they clearly put a lot of effort into them and I would say they are as good as the anime that was coming out in the period (granted, the resolution the PSX can produce is lower). The main characters are three sisters of the Aoi family — Kagetsu, Natsuki, and Mizuki, as well as Natsuki’s childhood friend Yukina. Their father runs a weapon development company that helps make the attack planes they use.

The first stage is just Natsuki against 3 enemies by herself, followed by some reinforcements and then other units show up. On every stage you have mostly nameless grunt units, plus the main girls. Only the main named characters can gain XP and levels.

On each turn you can move and attack (in either order). Some units (especially ships) can do 2 or even 3 attacks in a turn, although still just one move. You can’t take back your move, which is quite annoying. There are also “option” parts you can use to do things like repair, or raise evade/hit.

When you attack, there is a little anime sequence showing the attack.

This was an interesting decision and probably limited the number of different units they could have. I turned the anime off. Another weak point of the gameplay is that the attacked unit can’t dodge or counter, just sit there and take the hit.

If any of the main 4 girls dies, you get a game over. This becomes a big problem because the units you have are quite weak, and can be defeated in 2-3 hits for the most part. Hit rates are high for the enemies. So you find yourself needing to inch forward slowly, using the unnamed characters as shields — or you can just use save states. This is what I did; I’m not a big fan of having to restart an entire stage because I made one wrong move, particularly in a game that isn’t all that great to begin with.

On stage 2 we have to help another squad destroy a mothership. This stage allows you to choose your weapons and Option before you start. I always made sure I took a Repair Kit as one of the options. For weapons, you do need to think about the choices; the weapons are good against either ground, sky, or “large ship” and have different hit rates, damages, and bullet amounts. The motherships on your side can resupply and repair you with a command on their turn.

I finished this stage fairly quickly and wondered if I should have spent more time beating all the enemies to level — in the end I don’t think it’s necessary. The game’s only challenge comes from the “main character dead = game over” system, and a few levels isn’t going to help that much.

Now let’s appeal to our young male audience some more:

The first four stages don’t have much in the way of plot progression, it’s just fending off various attacks by the enemies. There are a lot of named characters on the enemy side but most of them get very little development. You can check a database of characters from the main menu to see more information about them.

On stage 5 we head into space, and learn that Natsuki has dreams of a mysterious boy; there seems to be some connection between them due to their shared Jupiter descent. Stage 6 and 7 are fighting off the enemies around the moon, and then we finally head to Jupiter. Even though the Aoi girls are still inexperienced, the losses to the Earth side have been so heavy that they don’t really have anyone else.

On stage 7 you get left without the ships so you have to do the stage with no repair. Also, Yukina feels called to Jupiter

Jupiter has some ruins that they investigate, and one of the enemies (Gaichi) is investigating on the enemy side. Gaichi realizes that all the people who were sent to the Solar System are just disposable pawns.

They find some kind of plate which seems to resonate with Natsuki, but then they have to leave. Stage 9 is very long; you have to move Natsuki and Yukina in their bikes through a stage while defending them with other units. The two main people move really slowly. In Stage 10 you have to lure a mothership onto a base to blow it up and destroy the ship. Then in Stage 11, Natsuki has a vision from the Jupiter plate and a mysterious mech comes out.

It’s piloted by the boy that Natsuki saw in her dreams, and he tells Natsuki that Yukina is actually Empress Freya’s daughter, who was found in cold sleep and raised as Yukina. Gaichi decides that if that’s the case, she needs to protect Yukina, and switches sides.

Stage 12 has you destroying some large supply centers. The centers have 3 attacks each and can gang up on a person and kill them, so it takes some caution. The characters are in upgraded ships by this point so I no longer felt like things were quite as precarious as early in the game.

In Stage 13 we have to move one of the girls in a bike with no weapons to a place on the map where she can drop a bomb, and then escape. It’s a long, slow stage but not especially hard.

In stage 14 the enemy Emperor shows up. Something starts to go wrong with the Jupiter mech and Ikos (the pilot) loses control over it.

In the final stage we end up having to shoot down the mech, killing Ikos. Then the Emperor appears — Gaichi is actually his daughter. We have to destroy the Emperor’s ship, then the Emperor’s mech that appears (I was able to do this in 1 turn so I’m not sure how hard it is).

In the ending scene, the Earth people destroy a warp gate so that the enemies can’t bring more forces as easily. But it’s revealed that the Emperor was simply a clone of General Zai, who is eager to use the data provided by the Emperor’s attack to come back in greater force and conquer the Solar System. Obviously this is the setup for some kind of sequel which was never done; there were rumors that one was being developed for the Dreamcast but it didn’t happen.

Ultimately I can appreciate what they were trying to do with this product, but it’s just hard to make this kind of thing work. I don’t know of any game for any system that makes extensive use of anime scenes the way this does — probably because it costs a lot of money to do that, and then you have less to spend on the other parts of the game. 15 stages is way too short; the story has potential but no depth, and could have easily been a 30-40 (or even more) stage game. Too many of the characters are undeveloped other than their profile entries. The gameplay lacks depth the same as the story.

I agree with one closing comment I saw on a review of this game — shouldn’t this have just been an anime?

SRPG Game 64 – Riglord Saga 2 wrap-up/review

  1.  Turn type: Player/enemy turn
  2. Maps: Medium, height affects movement, and you can fall off “slopes”?
  3. Character Customization: Mostly none
  4. Character Development: Standard XP/level system, plus a skill leveling system.Using a type of skill gives you XP in that skill area, and when you level it up you can learn new skills of that type.
  5. Party Size: Max 8 on the map, 9(?) possible characters
  6. Equipment: Weapon and 4 armor slots.
  7. Game Flow: Mostly linear, but a few optional side events. There is an optional challenge dungeon.
  8. Saving: Outside of battle.
  9. Death: Defeated characters are removed from the battle but return afterwards.

One thing I have never done on either of my playthroughs is do numerical ratings. CRPG Addict and many others do have a system where they have a number of categories and give each one a numerical rating. I thought I would try that for this point just to see what happens; I don’t know if this will become a new standard. Each criterion will have a max of 10 points, and 5 represents average (so this is not school type grading where a 5 would be a failure).

For graphics I have to rate this quite low. I can appreciate graphics from most eras of games as long as they are done well — for instance, Just Breed would get a pretty high rating despite being on the Famicom. Unfortunately Riglord Saga 2 just doesn’t look very good.

To me these graphics and blocky and ugly. It’s an unfortunate problem with these early Saturn and Playstation games that they were trying to do some kind of 3D or polygon art but the technology just wasn’t there yet. But even beyond the aesthetics, the poor graphics are confusing when it comes to the terrain — there are many cases where it is impossible to tell whether an area will cause you to slip and fall just from the graphics. They provided a terrain sensor on the bottom right that will tell you, but that seems like a patch over the bad graphics. The worst example of this was the desert map, where I had no idea where I could walk and where I couldn’t; the areas that were too steep to walk over seemed random. So let’s give this a 3.

The Music/sound was pretty good. You can hear the OST on youtube although I was not able to find one particular song that I think was played on the field and had some saxophone. The opening and ending scenes are voiced, but the only other voice is in the battle animations (which are too long so I turned them off). 7

The Story is decent. It’s longer than the first game and does have some twists and turns, although it’s nothing special. 5

The System overall is good. It has two things I always like — each character is very different, and the characters change what they can do as the game progresses. Not every element of the system worked out (I think the “pick up” mechanic of the winged units is basically a failure, and not really needed), but for the most part it’s good. Everything plays smoothly and there’s not big slowdowns. 8

The Map Design is average, I would say. The designers do put some special things on each map which would raise the score but at the same time I have to lower it because of frustrating maps like the Desert and the one where you have to fall down the cliff taking damage. 5

The Balance is pretty good for the game as a whole; there were only one or two times when I was doing “grinding”, and even then the grinding consisted of trying to get as far as I could in the map and then retreating when I had lost several characters, which doesn’t feel as grindy. The characters are not as balanced as they could be, though. In particular, characters with single skills (i.e. Asuka and Anju) tend to advance much more quickly and reach their super-powerful techniques much earlier in the game than other characters who have multiple types of moves. The main character Myu is particularly hard to use because of this, and she was often one of my weakest characters. 6

The Interface overall is good, with one notable exception — you cannot see what the moves do in battle. This is unacceptable in a game with as many different kinds of moves as this game has, especially in 1996. 4

Extras — I didn’t do any of the extra stuff, but there are three optional areas and a bonus dungeon. The game isn’t as freestyle as the first game, with all the story battles being completely linear, but you do have a chance to do some of those extra things. 5

That gives a total score of 43 out of 80, which would put this game just above average — I feel like I had more fun with the game than that numeric score would suggest; I’m often surprised that CRPG Addict’s numbers work out so closely to how much he enjoyed the game. One reason for this is that I gave equal weight to every element, even though (for me) the system, balance, and map design are far more important than the story, graphics, or music. CRPG Addict does not include criteria for graphics or sound (for instance).

If I only consider those three most important criteria it’s 19/30 which is 63% instead of 53%; I would say that is closer to a reflection of how much I enjoyed the game, if we consider 50% to be a level of complete neutrality (That is, a 50% game would be one that I played through and it was fine, but it wasn’t especially good or especially bad. Playable but forgettable). If I went back to Arc the Lad II I think it would get a higher overall score (since the only areas that would really suffer for me would be Balance and maybe a bit of a ding on Map Design), even though in terms of pure personal enjoyment AtL2 would be quite low on the list of games I’ve played so far. But maybe that’s OK because it would show that AtL2 is still a good game despite my personal dislike for it? I don’t know.

I don’t know if I’ll keep doing these numerical scores but it was interesting to see how it worked out.

Next up (after 2 SNES action RPGs) will be Harukaze Sentai V-Force, a 3 CD game that put a lot of effort into the visuals.

SRPG Game 64 – Riglord Saga 2 (Final)

From the library we learn that two things are needed — Malachite, and an Arlon Stone. The Malachite is easily found in the underground lava area but the Arlon Stone is on Samosa Isle in Riglord. Diana takes us there, and now with those items, Falco repairs the Wings.

Now you can go anywhere in the game — I guess I could have gone back to Yamatai to get the optional character. There’s also one or two new places to go (a cave with some treasure, and a town that has the extra dungeon similar to the one in Riglord Saga 1). But I just headed to the Dimensional Road to follow the 7 Council.

The Dimensional Road has three sections. The first one is fine; the second is annoying because you have to get down the cliffs by sliding down them and taking damage (or maybe the pickup by Dragon or Bird-Kamui works). I lost several characters doing this, but fortunately everyone gets restored at the end of this part. At the bottom, the lingering spirits of Galzard and Raglos tell us to beware of the Council and talk about how their inner feelings were exploited or something like that — you all said that literally all living things deserved to die and tried to make that happen, so no redemption arc for you.

One of the Council leaves, but the other 6 Council stay to fight up. They’re fairly strong (and get two actions like a lot of the bosses) but they only come at you two at a time, and if you use Myu’s defense/magic defense fields they can’t really do that much. They also waste some of their turns on Giga Healing (which only restores 400 HP).

Now it seems like we won and saved the world, but Myu sort of saw the 7th Council member leave so they decide to go around the world to see if there are any further problems, starting with the library. Anju’s dad left them a letter which explains the situation — he’s actually the leader of the Council. He and the other six were researching the Chaos power in Cuchuran years ago, but they began to be infected by the Chaos power that awakened their latent ambitions and hatred. Based on this they tried to take over the world and destroy it. Anju’s dad has decided to end his life in the lava below.

Anju tries to stop him, but he throws himself into the lava. But the lingering spirits of the other 6 stop him, and destruction begins to rain over the land as the Chaos power goes haywire. Just then, the crystal that had sealed Chaos before appears and we get drawn into it for the final battle.

Anju’s dad has already become just a disembodied spirit, but he tells Anju to fight against the 7 lingering spirits even if that means his own soul will be destroyed.

This is a harder battle than the last one because there are 7 of them, they’re stronger than the 6 before, and they all come at you at once. Nevertheless I didn’t have too much trouble with it. I started by using Myu’s defense fields. Rusty did Arc Heal every turn and the other people just attacked with their strongest moves, paying attention to what defensive moves the 7 were using (i.e. don’t use physical attacks when they have Counter). Myu died but I was able to revive her. Once you take out one or two of them it becomes considerably easier. Sometimes they get into the defensive fields but Asuka’s Mountain Storm can move them out of it.

The ending scene just has us dropping everyone off at their places. Myu gives the Wings to Diana, who will go with Falco and Hawekeye to start an import business.

Rusty finally confesses his feelings…

And they have a baby.

I didn’t do some of the optional content; my final timer was somewhere around 26 hours which still isn’t that long but it’s much longer than original Riglord. I’ll make a wra-up/review post later this week.

SRPG Game 64 – Riglord Saga 2 (Part 2)

This is a much longer game than the first Riglord; I’m not quite finished with it yet and I think in the end it will be more than double the length of the first game. I also have to correct something I said in the first post — you can rotate the camera in battle with the A button.

We ended with Myu following Galzard to Kadarl, where she is imprisoned and will be put to death the next day. The rest of the group goes to Diana to use her ship to reach Kadarl, which for some reason has some super technology that lets her reach it quickly (instead of in a few months).

In prison she meets Anju, the daughter of the head librarian of the Alectoria Library. Apparently the 7 Council Members are trying to get forbidden knowledge from the Library, which has traditionally been neutral. They’re looking for some kind of old, forgotten magic. Galzard comes by to do a helpful villain plan monologue, but it’s just the same old stuff — the 7 members want to kill everyone in the world so that only chosen people can live there and everything will be peaceful and just.

With Anju’s help we escape the prison and fight our way out. Anju has library magic that is overall pretty good; she’s one of the best characters in the game.

We’re hoping to get a ship from Poporon back to Riglord continent, but the rest of the party has already made it here. We decide that while we’re here we might as well go back to the tower and take out the 7 Council if we can. Diana heads off in her ship and we go back up the mountain. A quick visit to the library and we meet Anju’s father, who tells her to stay at the library and succeed him as head librarian. When she decides to go fight instead, he disowns her and throws us out.

The tower is kind of annoying because it’s easy to fall or be pushed off the path (and of course the enemies just walk off the slopes and kill themselves sometimes). Shiranami’s Steal Tech ability is quite useful to get a few good defensive techniques, particularly Hikikaeshi which reflects damage back on the user (I think this comes later though).

The 7 Council members have already left by the time we reach the top, and Galzard stays behind to fight us.

Galzard isn’t all that difficult, and he blabs on about the 7’s plan before he dies. Now we need to get back to Riglord, but Diana has already left. So where can we pick up knowledge? The library, of course. Diana’s father is gone, and we find a hidden area under his office that has secret knowledge, including information about the “wings of light”, a flying machine that can take us anywhere. Through an underground passage, we come out near a village that contains people who have watched over these Wings for some time. He gives us a key to open the cave where the Wings are, but we need a Garma Stone which is in a “hot place” (the desert).

The underground passage

In the hot desert everyone takes damage every turn. The desert is also quite annoying because the graphics make it hard to tell where you can actually move, and I kept getting trapped in areas or sliding down hills. I also took the wrong exit first which leads to an optional area, the “Dream Maze”. This is apparently where you get an extra character, but you have to solve the dungeon on your first try or you don’t get another chance. I failed and saved before I realized I couldn’t enter a second time — at least I moved up 3 levels from the enemies.

Dream Maze

The other exit leads to the Isis Pyramid, which is the most difficult dungeon in the game. I moved up 8 levels total with all the times I had to retreat and retry it — there are a bunch of enemy spawn points, half the enemies can’t be hurt by physical attacks, and the enemies have some pretty strong moves. There’s also 2 levels and you can’t save between them (although you can use defensive techs to restore HP and MP before you go up the stairs). There’s also a part near the end of the first floor where you have to use Myu’s earth raise/lower techniques to reach the top — it’s just too hard to make sense of the graphics for me to know how to do this well.

With the Garma Stone from the pyramid, we head back to the Underwater Temple to activate the bird. This map makes you search various areas to raise and lower platforms until you can get to the final switch.

Back to Riglord! Unfortunately when we reach there the Wings break and crash. However, we’re close to Dragoon Castle so no problem. The people in the nearby town are pissed off at Myu for leaving without telling them what happened and think she’s a traitor; lets ignore them and head for the castle. There, we find out that the king was (probably) killed, but we do manage to clear out the enemies and free the soldiers that had been captured.

At this point there was quite a bit of imbalance in my characters. Anju, Asuka, and Kamui had already maxed their defense and attack moves because they each only have one type of attack. But the others with more than one type of move were behind and didn’t have as powerful stuff (except for Rusty, whose spells are really good no matter what). For a while I was avoiding using the three that had maxed moves already, but I decided that at this point I was close enough to the end of the game that I could just use whoever I wanted. Kamui is disappointing, and I also feel that Myu is difficult to use because she has the most types of abilities (defend, sword, special magic, and dragon).

Now it’s time to set out for Queensland to try to chase the 7 Council if we can. But there’s a mist blocking our way across the bridge. Fortunately Hawkeye, a bird fighter, saves us and tells us that back in his shop he has a ring that can dispel the mist. His brother has been captured by the Kadarl forces which is why he’s out there.

The town with his shop has been taken over by Kadarl but the enemies are easily dealt with. Back to the bridge, and the mist goes away. Myu’s float technique helps us cross the ravines, and we move on.

Passing a locked cave and an optional forest area with chests, we finally reach Queensland Castle and Raglos’ tower. This area is not very hard.

The second part is a long spiral area where archers shoot at you, but using that stolen tech that reflects damage back on the attacker makes it easier. Raglos himself was pretty weak. But the 7 Council have already left just as we arrived — they are going to the Dimensional Gate to reach the land of Cuculchlan. It turns out that Anju’s dad gave them the knowledge of controlling the chaos power of Cuculchlan in exchange for the library’s safety — it’s another Galman Orb.

A fairy named Luna shows up, telling us that she’s the guardian of the Mystery Forest; the 7 are trying to enter the Chaos Gate from there. Unfortunately we need to repair the Wings first to be able to reach them — fortunately Hawkeye’s brother knows how to repair it, and we now have the key to the cave where he’s kept.

The cave enemies are easy. Falco (Hawkeye’s brother) can indeed repair the wings, but he’ll need some specific items that the library will help us find. So it’s back to Kadarl to visit the library.

I think this is a good point to break off the post — I’m close to the end so I will not wait until next Saturday to post the final update; probably I’ll do it on Monday.

SRPG Game 64 – Riglord Saga 2 (Saturn)

Riglord Saga 2 (リグロードサーガ2), developed by Micro Cabin, released 11/18/1996

This is the followup to 1995’s Riglord Saga (also called “Mystaria: Realms of Lore” or “Blazing Heroes”). It was released only about a year after the first game, so unsurprisingly it’s very similar to that one. Which is not a bad thing; I enjoyed the first game and this is more of the same. Unfortunately this game never came out in English.

The game shares the same strengths of the first game — a good XP system that distributes it evenly among everyone, and interesting skills that give a feeling of character growth and individuality. It also carries over some of the weaknesses — ugly graphics, and some interface issues. For instance, you can’t see what abilities do when you’re selecting them, which is a significant problem given the large number of abilities in the game and the complexity of their use. The ugly graphics are mostly ignorable, but the lack of a camera rotation at times makes it hard to see where things are or where you can move. You can press buttons to adjust the camera angle but this is only of limited help.

The story takes place 100 years after the first game, and most of the characters are descendants of the characters from the original.

The “council of 7” of Kadarl Kingdom is mwaha-ing about the usual evil plan to take over the world. They send two of their top followers, Raglos and Galzard, to carry out the plan (although they don’t get along very well.)

On the Riglord Continent, we’re introduced to our starting main characters. Myu, the daughter of the King of Dragoon (the descendant of Evan/Ashe from the first game), and Rasty, the Prince of Queensland (the descendant of Arthur from the first game). The King sends them on a training battle first to practice. This part of the game is voiced, but there is very little story voicing in the game.

Battle 1 is a training map where you practice Myu’s dragon transformation. I died the first time because I moved in the wrong place, but all you have to do is sit where she is in that picture and use Wind, which knocks the enemies off the cliff and kills them. I believe the way that people can fall off things and die or take damage is a new element in this game, but I might just not be remembering.

After the battle, Galzard shows up with his troops and sacks the castle, forcing Myu and Rasty to flee, telling us to go to Yamatai Continent for reinforcements. The equipment in the nearby town is very expensive (clearly this is where the game will end, or close to it), so I headed south. One other change in this game is that you can now explore the towns; this makes no palpable difference because you’re basically doing the same thing you did when you selected the houses from a menu in the last game.

Battle 2 is with troops at the border, but this is another training. Rasty tells me to use Earth Moll to raise up the ground, which flings everyone off, killing all the enemies.

Now we get a ship with captain Diana and head to Yamatai, to the Iga village. There, it turns out that Kadarl is already attacking. Asuka (the descendant of Raiko) is being attacked, and we come in to save him. The enemies can use control magic which is annoying, especially with so few guys. Generally my tactic is to always use the move that gives the most XP unless I have a reason not to, and to always defend with the most XP defense move — developing your defense moves early is a big help, as some of them are quite good. Power Absorb gives you a 75% chance of an attack restoring your HP rather than damaging (although once it succeeds it doesn’t work until you use it again next turn). There are other defense moves that restore HP, restore MP, counter, etc.

Asuka is the leader of the Tsukigumi ninja band, although his ninjas have been captured by Kadarl. Since he alone came back to town, the town thinks that he is a traitor.

The next stage introduces another new gameplay element. Myu, in her dragon form, can pick people up and carry them across crevasses. But it’s not worth doing unless you have to, because it takes one turn to change into dragon, one turn to “rise”, and then one turn to pick up the person. Now you can start moving, but if Myu gets killed, both she and the person she’s holding will die if they’re over the canyon. I can see what they were trying to do here but having to take 3 full turns to pick someone up with the great danger it brings is not worth it. You also have to be careful where you move, because if you end your turn on a slope you will sometimes fall into the pit or slide down and take damage.

Next up is the ninja base, which Kadarl has taken over. This is a two part map with no saving in between (I never like this). There are a number of traps in the stage as well. The first time I had to retreat because I got charmed and Asuka killed both Myu and Rasty.

After beating the boss here we get a mirror. This is one of three items we need to open a sealed cave that leads to Geden Castle. This is where Genyusai (the main villain of the first game) was, and it’s where Galzard is now. Myu decides that if we can kill Galzard here that will significantly reduce Kadarl’s ability to fight. So we go to find the other items to open the cave.

First I went west, across a barrier with a short easy battle (easy because you can use all of Rasty’s most powerful spells without having to care about MP).

On the other side is the town of Gojo. The owner of the tea shop gives us tea spiked with sleep drug because there’s a bounty on our heads, and we get thrown into prison. But the archer/thief Shiranami helps us. She has all the archer abilities of the archer from the first game, as well as steal abilities. One of them is “steal move”, which can get some techs that can only be gained by stealing them from enemies.

The prison escape stage is long.

You need to hide behind trees so that the many archers cannot pick you off. Moving slowly through the stage is good. There is a boss, but he’s not too bad — he uses a defense move that makes you get hurt instead of him (and lasts the whole enemy phase), but if he uses that you can just defend yourself and wait until he does something else instead. Fortunately this boss also has the next item we need for the sealed cave.

Now as we escape, we have to cross a bridge that gets burned by the next boss, the brother of the boss of the previous stage. This is the very familiar stage design that’s been used in a bunch of games up to now, where you have to move forward while the bridge burns behind you. In the end I didn’t defeat most of the monsters, and Myu in dragon form escaped herself while everyone else died. The tea merchant who poisoned us is very apologetic.

A good example of the poor graphics

Now there are two optional areas to go. One is Nazuna Cave, which I tried but has these annoying crevasses you have to pass over with Myu. The other is Oboro Valley, which has archers on a high point that slaughter you if you’re not prepared. I decided to wait until I was stronger to try them, but I think I waited too long and I lost access to them.

Instead, I headed through the east barrier to find the last item. In the town there, a huge dude named Kamui was sending off another girl to be a hostage; the Seiryobu group of Kadarl was taking a bunch of children and women hostage to force the village to comply.

Of course we can’t let this happen, although the enemies don’t seem to kill the hostages when they have the chance. Anyway, there’s a small battle in town, and they do manage to kill Yukari (the last woman). But Rasty saves her with his great healing power.

Now we have to go up Horai Mountain. This stage has a lot of chokepoints and places you can fall off the cliff; I had to retreat and try again 3 or 4 times before I finally got through (you always get XP when you retreat so it’s a good way to build your party up).

At the base, we have to split into two teams — this doesn’t fight separate battles, but just has one team at the top of the map freeing the hostages. If you search the door of the cell three times the stage is over and there are a lot of chests; I didn’t realize this so missed most of them.

Now we take on the main base and beat another boss — a strange enemy who has somehow been brainwashed into thinking all the children are their own, but we still have to kill them. At the same time we get the final item to open the gate, so it’s time to head to Geden Castle (this is apparently the last chance to do the optional areas).

First off is climbing a big mountain with extra spawning enemies, but it’s not especially hard. Kamui is able to change to a bear or a bird, in addition to using some regular skills. The bear form is nice because it regenerates HP at the beginning of each turn.

At the top is Geden Castle. The first floor is long and has a bunch of traps. I ended up losing Rasty and Myu and was afraid I would have to retreat and do it again, but fortunately after the first part you get healed (although you can’t save).

Now time for the boss, Galzard. He’s not that bad although the freeze attack is annoying. I used Myu’s defense area to raise everyone’s defense.

Once Galzard is defeated, he’s called back to the Kadarl home country by the Council of 7. Myu tries to stop him from going in the teleporter but gets teleported herself. The rest of the party decides to go to Higata town where Diana (the ship captain) is waiting, so we can follow her. My guys are all level 14.

So far I’m enjoying it as much as I did the first game; hopefully that will hold out until the end.

SRPG Game 63 – Arc the Lad II (Final)

In the last post I had cleared the “god tower”, now it’s time to go to Palencia Tower where we’re hoping to deal with Andel. Unfortunately he’s basically using this tower as a trap and he’s already moved on. Instead we fight Tosh’s dad, who has been resurrected as a zombie.

You have to fight him with Tosh alone — I had been using Tosh frequently so this wasn’t too bad, but I wonder how this would be if Tosh was severely underleveled. Probably not too bad because Tosh can just use his range move to avoid counterattacks (and dodging) and heal as necessary.

Now there is a long sequence where someone (I chose Arc) has to go back in time to charge up Kukuru’s spirit mirror with the spirit energy — we can’t do it in the present because they’re already weakened too much. In the past Arc teams up with past Kukuru to do this.

Fortunately the fights are easy (especially with Arc’s Total Healing and Weak Enemy). Kukuru goes down easily for the most part, but Arc can beat all the fights by himself.

Back in the present, we know that the main brainwashing towers are the south and north pole, so we have to create two separate parties to take on the towers at the same time. They switch back and forth when each team hits an orb. I made sure to have Fujin and Raijin split between the teams, and to have Poco (healer) on the opposite team from Arc — other than that I believe I used Shu, Tosh, the loincloth fighter guy, and then a few other characters who weren’t as useful.

At the end we finally take on Andel, after two games of chasing him around. He’s really not very difficult — Weak Enemy doesn’t work on him, but Raijin’s spells do enough damage that just a few hits from that takes him down, and the enemies that he comes with can be neutralized with Weak Enemy.

Now it’s time to take on Romalia. First we have to go through the city proper and lower a number of defensive barriers. This is where I really thought the difficulty level jumped — the enemies are now level 98-103 and my guys were in the upper 60s or low 70s (the best characters at least). Physical attacks could not be relied on at all.

Once we reach Romalia Castle, it’s the last chance to do any optional stuff, and then we take on the final dungeon — Romalia Castle takes off into the sky and we have to ram into it with the Silver Noah to gain access.

There’s yet another big jump in enemy levels here, with the enemies being as high as level 120 here. There are healing spots you can access but it takes some backtracking. There is an interest area where you have to take 6 characters into doors and fight some enemy from their past; this is a nice set of scenes near the end to develop the characters once more.

The last of the four generals, Zalbard, has 2496 HP; quite a jump from all the previous enemies. Buffs are important here, as are debuffing the non-boss units. Magic Shield helps block against all the magic, but this is a tough fight.

Now it’s onto the final boss — this fight is a frequent target of criticism in the game. It starts with a pretty easy fight where Kukuru takes on the boss by herself, but they balanced it so that even a totally unused Kukuru will win. The same cannot be said about the 2nd and 3rd fights. The next form of the boss has 4152 HP, and the last form 9999 HP. This is a pretty absurd difficulty jump, and in addition to that he has a very narrow attack window so only two people (one with range 2) can hit him at a time. I will admit that after losing once, I used a cheat code to level my guys to level 1000 — he’s quite easy if you do that! (I’ve seen people say the fight lasts 2-3 hours if you do it legitimately)

So I did not beat the game legitimately, although I’m not particularly bothered by that — I would not have had the interest to develop my characters enough to win (I found someone on GameFAQs who filled their inventory with Evil Axes and threw them at the boss to win, but I’m not sure what their levels were).

The final scene is pretty surprising, and I suppose matches with the generally grim and dark tone of the game.

As you can tell from my posts, I did not enjoy this game very much — to me it was long, tedious, and unbalanced. I’m not alone in this opinion (any time I have a negative opinion about a well known game, I always check around to see if I’m an outlier).

However, I think that your enjoyment of this game will come down to how much you like the system. If the battle system really clicks with you, this will be a great game. There’s a huge amount of content — the main story itself is in the 40-50 hour range, and between the jobs, the sealed ruins, the ancient ruins, the arenas, and other things, a complete playthrough could probably reach the 100 hour mark.

The presentation of the game is also good overall. The story is entertaining, and despite the large cast they manage to have opportunities for most of them to get some screen time (a few of the ATL1 returnees are a bit marginalized). The graphics are good; I always prefer sprites to polygons in the PSX/Saturn era. The music is excellent.

I wonder what the difficulty progression/balance is like if you do no grinding per se, but do every optional job/dungeon/event whenever it opens. Perhaps the designers were expecting you to play the game this way?

Next up will be Riglord Saga 2, a sequel to my game of the year for 1995. If you only followed my SRPG blog before, I play two SFC/PCE games for every one SRPG game, so it will be a few weeks before RS2. If you only want to follow my SRPG posts, this link will allow you to do just that. Otherwise, next week will be an action RPG for the Super Famicom called Esparks.

SRPG Game 63 – Arc the Lad II (Part 2)

I closed the first post by saying that the story was good but the gameplay was disappointing — the more I play the more it solidifies my opinion there. I would even go further than “disappointing” and say the system/battles are bad.

One big mistake I made was carrying over the data from Arc the Lad 1. From what I can tell, it only does two things. First, if you did the lengthy optional quest to get Choko in part 1, you’ll be able to do another lengthy optional quest in 2. Second, it carries over the levels of your party members. This is a bad thing unless you did a lot of the extra stuff in the first game and levelled up your members a lot.

By far the worst part of the game’s mechanics are the block/dodge effects. The chance for an enemy to block or dodge your attack is based directly on the difference in levels between the attacker and the defender. It is not affected by any stats, or whether the attack was from behind or the side. This aspect of the system has a huge effect on the game and is one of the worst single decisions I’ve seen in an SRPG. It means that it’s quite difficult to use a lower leveled character, because the chance of their attack not working is high and the counterattack will do a lot of damage. (This also means that characters who can attack from a space away are much more useful, if underlevelled.)

Even if you do have a good party that is levelling up, there are many parts of the game where the enemies suddenly take a 20 or so level jump, meaning that even your good characters will have problems with missing and blocking. Now, it’s not that this makes the game exceptionally difficult (at least up to the point I’ve reached), it’s more that it makes it annoying and tedious, and encourages the use of a few powerful characters rather than making full use of your team.

The first place this really affected me was the White House area that I was in the middle of when I made the last post. I think the intention is for this place to be cool because all the characters return from AtL1 and team up with various people from the new party. But if all your AtL1 characters are low leveled, it makes the battles quite frustrating. From what I understand, if you do not carry over data the AtL1 characters start at pretty high levels.

Another problem is the limit on inventory space. It may seem like the 96 spaces are a lot, but there are a ton of different types of items in the game, and many different kinds of weapons and armor. Some you want to save because they can be used in the Combine Shop to make new ones. But I was constantly running into the item limit.

Anyway, let’s get back to the game flow. After a long series of events that I mentioned above, where you use all the different characters in groups of 2-3, everyone meets up at the Chimera Research Lab to take down the first of the four enemy generals, Gallarno.

He is a rather strange enemy because you have to cut away these skin areas before you can actually get to him. I used Gogen to blast everyone with large scale spells. Arc is very useful because he has a statue that restores some of his MP each turn — if this did come from the carryover then that’s one good reason to do it. Arc has Total Healing (which heals status effects and HP), and Weak Enemy, two very useful spells that the MP regen makes it much easier to use. I included him in my party from here on out whenever I was allowed to. Poco’s purpose is to heal and increase attack. Tosh attacks. I think Lieze is required.

After Gallarno is defeated, we have a brief set of scenes involving Iga (the martial arts guy from the first game), and then you can use the Silver Noah to go anywhere in the world. This opens up a lot of new content — you can do a ton of the guild jobs and wanted monsters. You can start exploring the Sealed Ruins which have power units for a robot character (another inventory issue, though). You can even do the Ancient Ruins, as well as go to Mother Claire’s place to work with your monsters.

I did a lot of the guild jobs before moving on, and got Raijin and Fujin. These characters are extremely useful; their spells do huge damage and they have a combo attack. For the rest of the game, I always included one of the two (whichever one was lower level) in any party I was allowed to.

Now it’s off to Brakia, where there’s a long mining dungeon with various trolleys you take through the place. At least here you can use a 5 person party and choose freely.

After that, Gia Temple. The main goal now seems to be to destroy the various brainwashing devices that Anderl is using around the world. This one is guarded by just a random mook who isn’t very strong. Then it’s off to Millmana island, where the Oil Rig we have to go to is guarded by a train with an antiaircraft gun. So take that down first.

The train requires you to split into two groups; putting Fujin in one and Raijin in the other helps a lot. After that it’s the Deep Sea Oli Rig. I found this dungeon annoying; the maps are very small, so you get stuck a lot. The enemies are way above me in levels so they’re always faster and can move first, which means they get a lot of free attacks.

At the end of this section we finally take out Yagun (who was in the first game) — it turns out he was actually the monkey, not the guy sitting there. Next up is a pyramid, where another brainwashing machine awaits. First we have to get a tribesman to open up the pyramid; he wants to ally with the enemies to save his mom, but of course they already killed his mom a long time ago (there’s quite a bit of grisly stuff in this game).

The pyramid itself is short and easy because you can avoid most battles by answering Sphinx questions correctly.

Then it’s off to the “God Tower”, where ancient machines await to attack us. These bumbling comic relief characters follow us and mess things up, but then help us at the end against the boss.

So that’s where I am at this point; it seems like I’m at about the 80% point so I should have the game beaten in the next few days.

SRPG Game 63 – Arc the Lad II

Arc the Lad II (アーク・ザ・ラッドII), released 11/1/1996, developed by Arc Entertainment

Information

  1. Turn type: Player/enemy phase
  2. Maps: The maps don’t have much in the way of features, and they’re fairly small.
  3. Character Customization: None
  4. Character Development: Standard XP/level system, plus levelling of weapons and other equipment, as well as levels for each type of weapon.
  5. Party Size: Max 5
  6. Equipment: One weapon and two other slots.
  7. Game Flow: The game is much more like a normal RPG, just without truly random encounters (some battles can be repeated).
  8. Saving: At specific save points, although if you lose a battle you just try the battle again
  9. Death: After the battle, the character returns with 1 HP.

Arc the Lad was one of the earliest RPGs for the Playstation, and it was released in a fairly incomplete state — apparently Sony pressured the developers to get something out because they wanted some RPG titles to promote on the platform. The original game could be beaten in less than 5 hours and the game stopped in the middle of the story (although with extra content the length could be extended to 15-20 hours).

By contrast, the second game is much more polished and finished, and both the main story and the extra content are significantly expanded. The RPG elements are also greatly increased; you can explore the towns and dungeons, and freely travel to various places. In fact, I would say this game is one that technically satisfies my definition of SRPG but feels much more like regular RPG with grid battles.

The first game ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, but rather than picking up immediately from where they left off, this game begins with an entirely different protagonist, Elc. This is an interesting decision by the writers, since the first game made such a big deal about how Arc was the destined hero who would save the world and such. Also, this game begins by letting you transfer data from the first game.

In any case, the game begins with Elc having a bad dream, it seems that the Silver Noah (Arc’s ship from the first game) attacked his village, although his memory is a bit dim. If you’ve played the first game, you know that Alc and his friends were framed as villains.

Elc is a “hunter”, someone who does odd jobs for money at the guild — throughout the game there are a number of sidequests you can do from the guild to get additional money (forerunner to the Trails in the Sky Bracer’s Guild?) You also can get info about wanted monsters that can be found in various places for money. This includes Arc, who is worth a huge amount.

Each character has a set of weapon skills they can build, and the weapons and items themselves have experience levels that can increase their statistics. As in the previous game, there are throw/catch values that affect range, counterattack, and jump.

I have to say that I am still not a fan of the Jump idea. You cannot pass through your own party members or enemies unless you have a high enough Jump value. The battlefields are often very narrow and it’s easy for your characters to get stuck in places where they can’t move, whereas if you have jump it’s easy to just jump over the enemy and attack them from behind. I suppose this adds some strategic value to the maps, but I would have preferred if the system were a bit weaker — I think part of the problem is too many characters/enemies have the Jump necessary to jump over people to attack from behind, and getting blocked by your allies because the field is so small is annoying.

The battle interface is still the streamlined one from the first game where you just use circle to attack rather than picking from a menu. While this is not a bad system, I don’t like the fact that X is both “close menu” and “end turn”. Having played so many SRPGs up to now, I have the deeply ingrained habit that X means to back-up choices, and in particular, to start your move over. Although I feel like I should have gotten used to it by now, I still find this happening too often: Move character, see that spell range is wrong, press X to exit the menu and then X again to start my move over again….but that skips turn instead. When the spell I was hoping to cast is a heal spell, this can have disastrous consequences. I guess this is mostly my fault.

Those are my two main complaints about the game, which overall is pretty good, so I’m just getting them out of the way. Elc soon meets up with Liza, who has a wolf with her. She can use the Ravish ability to capture monsters, which is a major way to get additional people on your team. Unfortunately she’s also being pursued.

As I said before, this time you can freely explore the towns, and even do a bit of travel on the world map (more later when you have an airship).

The next character to be introduced is the ninja Shu, a friend of Elc’s. Another upcoming member, Shante, is a dancer who offers information for money — to earn the money it’s time to do guild quests, which are now available. But even when we have the money, she’s gone.

You can rename the items

From here the game proceeds smoothly as Elc and friends investigate the mystery of why his village was attacked, and try to destroy the research labs that the Empire has set up. The first game had a problem with level differences making a huge effect on combat effectiveness — this problem is one that is shared by a lot of games (such as Tactics Ogre, Sword Master, and Summon Night). I found that it was hard to catch the lower leveled people up, and I relied mostly on Arc and Gogen to power through the first game. Here it seemed like it wasn’t as hard to keep everyone even on levels — this may be because you level more quickly, or because you seem to get XP for more things (like having spells cast on you).

However, this changes once we get through the first part of the game and deal with the “White House” where Elc and friends were kept. For the next third or so of the game, you switch around from character to character and are often dealing with ad-hoc parties of only 2 or even 1 person. You also team up frequently with the Arc the Lad 1 characters. My understanding is that if you do not carry over data, they all start very powerful, but instead I got the low levelled scrubs that I had in AtL1. I think this made many of the battles in this section much more difficult than they were supposed to be — fortunately if you get a game over you just repeat the battle you lost.

But this is definitely a weak point in the game for me, and where it feels the most RPG-ish. 2 vs 3 or 1 vs 2 battles are not my idea of an SRPG, particularly when they are forced deploy low level units.

Anyway, I’ll end there for this week. There are more aspects to the game, particularly some of the optional content, that I’ll get into more next time when it becomes more of a presence in the game. My overall opinion at this point is that the story is entertaining but the gameplay is still somewhat disappointing, although better than the first game.

Hopefully I can finish the game by next weekend’s post.

Welcome! (Sticky post)

Thank you for visiting; this is a blog that chronicles my playthroughs of various Super Famicom, PC Engine, and general strategy RPGs. Feel free to respond here to introduce yourself, let me know what your favorite SRPG is, whatever.

I generally update on Saturday or Sunday. I play one strategy RPG, then two Super Famicom (or PC Engine) RPGs.

I’ve now finished the links to all the previous posts, so you can use the links at the top to see the full list of played games so far. Also, if you are only interested in certain types of posts, you can filter by categories (see the bottom of the sidebar). The three categories are Strategy RPGs, Super Famicom RPGs, and PC Engine RPGs.

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SRPG Game 62 – Vandal Hearts (chs 4-6)

Chapter 4

We’re fighting the Empire now! The first battle here has a ton of strong enemies, but the goal is just to escape the town. Apparently you can kill all the enemies, but I just grabbed some treasure with a few guys who then died, and everyone else escaped.

 The second battle seems easy at first, but there are so many long-range archer units that they can easily gang up on someone, and it’s difficult to judge where they can move and who they can hit. Once you’ve cleared out some of the archers it gets much easier (and the mages can be killed by your own archers).

 

Third battle is tricky because you start surrounded, but when I moved everyone towards one side I was able to escape with only one loss.

Fourth battle you just need to move forward while the train cars crumble behind you, but it’s not bad.

The last battle you have to destroy all the death devices in 8 turns. I managed to do it on the last turn, but I was not able to get all the hidden treasures. 

There’s also a trial map to be done in this stage; these are getting longer and more annoying. Here you have to do a lot of crate pushing to be able to reach the chest with the prism, and make sure you don’t block yourself off by moving them wrong.

Chapter 5

This chapter on the whole seemed a lot easier than the previous ones; maybe my characters were just a lot better.

The trial map, though, is a nightmare. It took me over 90 minutes to do; you just have to walk up this long spiral mountain and avoid archers by hugging the wall. It’s not challenging, it just takes a really long time. Thank god for emulator speedup.

The fifth battle has some reinforcements. At this point my mage had Salamander which hits a huge range and makes things generally easier.

Finally you have to protect Leena (who has a strange time travel backstory); once again not too difficult.

Chapter 6 

First task in chapter 6 is to do the last trial, which I thought was pretty easy.

Upon completing the last trial, you can change Ash into the Vandalier class; he gets super powerful equipment and can cast all the spells in the game, including Plasma Wave which hits every enemy on the board. This basically breaks the rest of the game but I’m not sure the final stages would have been that challenging even without plasma wave.

The chapter only has 4 stages. The first one is probably the hardest one, since Kain gains the ability to use Plasma Wave himself. If you let him stay near the cure circle he’ll keep regaining MP, but as long as you move towards him he’ll move away from that and then quickly run out of MP — with one or two Soul Water (heal all HP of all allies) it’s not tough to deal with.

I tore through the next two stages with no problem, leaving the final fight.

The final boss is not very hard (he’s easier than Kain), even though he has two forms. For some reason the second form only has 165 HP — was this a programming mistake?

I made sure to beat him with my Sky God — everyone always bashes that class but I really didn’t think they were that bad.

Afterwards the ending scene shows what happens to all the characters, and if you got Vandalier you get a special ending screen.

Overall this was a pretty good game. The story was above average – some cliches and I wish they had developed the villains a bit more. The ending was also a bit of a cheat (how did Ash get back?); I don’t know if VH2 or the third game are plot related at all.

I had some interface problems with the game — for instance, you can’t see a list of all your units and their HP, which is a pretty basic thing that is often useful and every SRPG should have. 

The map design is good, with different goals, gimmicks on the maps, some maps that aren’t just “defeat all enemies”, and other variety.

Vandal Hearts 2 came out in 1999 so it will be a while until I get there. Next up it’s back to Arc the Lad II, and I was able to dig out my save files from the first game so hopefully the carryover will work.