Category Archives: Uncategorized

Deep Dungeon 2 (FDS)

Deep Dungeon 2 (勇士の紋章 ディープダンジョンII), released 5/29/1987, developed by Hummingbird Soft

This is the second of the four Deep Dungeon first-person RPGs. Since this one came out only five months after the first one, it’s not a big surprise that it is nearly identical to the first game, just with new maps. You still control just one hero; there are eight dungeon levels but divided between a tower and a dungeon.

After spending your initial gold, it’s time to enter the first floor. (You can transfer your character from the first game and start at level 2)

One difference this time is that time passes even if you do anything, so you can get attacked if you are trying to map. The random encounter rate is high, but if your own level is high enough, enemies will no longer appear on certain maps. Compared to the first game, you can find a lot more gold in your travels (which restores when you leave the dungeon).

The random encounters are fairly easy. This game has a much easier starting curve than the first one, and you don’t miss as much. However, you need to be careful of the fixed encounters which are quite strong.

As with DD1, there is very little that you actually need to do to win the game; most of your time is just mapping the mostly empty floors, finding gold and raising your level.

I don’t have much more to say about this game — it’s essentially the same game as Deep Dungeon 1, but it runs a little smoother and has a few changes. There will be more significant upgrades in the next Deep Dungeon game which took a year to develop.

Seiken Psycho Calibur (FDS)

Seiken Psycho Calibur (聖剣サイコカリバー 魔獣の森伝説), released 5/19/1987, developed and published by Imagineer

This is the third game in Imagineer’s “Wave Jack” series. The first game (Ginga Densetsu) was a hybrid shooter/adventure game (like The Guardian Legend), and the second game (Kieta Princess) was an action game/mystery game hybrid. The unifying element of the games is that they came with booklets and audio cassettes that expanded on the background of the game and gave some clues to puzzles in the game. They also featured theme songs by a popular idol group at the time. The third (and last) Wave Jack game was Seiken Psycho Calibur, and it’s not hard to see what game they were influenced by:

I think people are sometimes too quick to use the term “ripoff” — Zelda itself borrowed elements from Hydlide and Tower of Druaga, although of course it develops its own feel and system well beyond what those games had. SPC is more obviously based on Zelda, although it’s nowhere near as good of a game. I think it does enough things differently from Zelda that it’s not just a pure ripoff, but the accusation is probably justified.

The story is pretty basic, although perhaps the material included with the game expanded on it more — the story in game is just the usual “main character is the descendant of a legendary hero who beat the demon 300 years ago” setup.

Rather than the large map of Zelda, this game is separated into 9 areas, each with a boss. You start in an area where there are a number of houses with clues, some shops, and two training areas. You get 100 coins to start, and 200 total food (the red oval), which decreases as time passes. If it hits 0 you start losing HP. You also have two meters, P (which is hit points) and F (which is strength).

The starting area is interesting because you can never come back to it, so you are basically choosing a starting set of things with your 100 money. Some of the items will be available from other shops later, but the Clothes (which raise defense) are only available here. I went with the clothes, which are 80 coins — this means you can’t pay 50 coins to train your power or force, but it seemed reasonable. Once you’ve visited all these areas and chosen your starting stuff, it’s off to the first level.

You wander around the levels, which are relatively small. Unlike Zelda there’s not much to find in each one — the first level has only three things of importance. There’s a shop that sells the Boomerang (essentially the same as Zelda except it actually does damage), 100 food, and Trent Fruit (bombs). There’s also a boss that drops a key, and then you can use the key to free the first of two fairies (which will go in one of the four boxes there below the Force and Power meters.

Beating the regular enemies will give you food and money, and occasionally things that will increase your hit points although I’m not 100% sure how that works. The Boomerang is a good weapon but 100 coins is a lot (nobody dropped more than 1 for me); you can return to old areas other than the starting area, so you wouldn’t have to buy it now.

The first boss shoots out fireballs but is not too difficult. Beating him gives you the key.

The fairy can be brought out to block 3 projectiles, and then it will disappear for a while to cool down. The other blocks are a second fairy, sword techniques (which you learn as your Force meter goes up), and the secondary items. The fairies and sword techniques are at least something different from Zelda.

The second area has no shops or items, just this spider boss which drops a key; you need the key to go into an underground part of the level where you will find another boss. None of this is necessary to go to the next stage, but you need to raise your Force to learn the sword techniques, some of which are necessary to pass areas or fight bosses — you wouldn’t necessarily have to do it in the order given, but you would have to do them all eventually.

This is where I stopped. It’s a pretty bad game, especially under the shadow of Zelda. The control feels stiff, and there are annoyances like not being able to use your sword when you first enter a level.

Apparently the purpose of the included cassette tape is to give you clues to getting through the Lost Woods (another Zelda influence) on the final map; you have to go in a way that forms the theme song which you can hear on the tape.

I’m not sure why Imagineer didn’t make any more Wave Jack games, but I have a feeling it just wasn’t worth it to include all these extras in the game — from what I can see the price (4900 yen) was on the expensive side but not an unusual price for a Famicom game. So they were probably not making as much money as they could have and I doubt the extras were a big draw for the game (especially since all three games got lukewarm or negative reviews even at the time).

I also played Deep Dungeon 2, so I will do a post about that midweek and then next Saturday I will post about Tokyo Majin Gakuen.

Tech issue fixed

For some reason the last three posts did not show up unless I was logged into the admin account — I only noticed this today. It seems to have been caused by an issue with a cache plugin for wordpress. So you should be able to see the last few weeks of posts now.

Too bad it’s just my slow crawl through Shining Force III but I’m on the last stage so we’ll be moving on soon!

Grandia (end)

I played a bit more Grandia but I think I am going to abandon it; if I were more than 1/3 through it I might tough it out to the end, but I just don’t like dealing with the 3D maps. In addition to that I find the battle system often feels sluggish, having to wait for all these spell and move animations to finish before you can keep playing.

So it’s back to Shining Force, then I rolled more random games. The first one I had already played so that will be the next old game (Seiken Psycho Calibur), the second one was a game called Jade Cocoon for the PS1, which I guess did come out in English.

Grandia (PS1) – Part 1

Grandia (グランディア), developed by Entertainment Software Publishing, released 12/18/1997 for Saturn and 10/26/1999 for Playstation

This is a Playstation-era RPG that I’ve always heard good things about. It started out on the Saturn, and from what I understand the development team had also mostly worked on the Lunar series prior to this. From what I can tell, the Playstation port is essentially the same thing as the Saturn version; there were a few graphical changes and some bugs were fixed but there was no extra content or major upgrades.

The initial backstory involves godlike spirits called the Light Winged Ones using the power of the Spirit Stone to give blessings to people, but when the humans decided they wanted to become Winged Ones themselves, that darkened the spirit stone and broke it into seven pieces. Adventurers have sought out the ancient technology of the “Angelou” civilization that the Winged Ones used, but thwarted by a giant wall called the “End of the World” they’ve basically failed.

Our main character is Justin, a 15 year old who has a mom who was a former pirate but now runs a restaurant, and a deceased father who was an adventurer. His dad gave him a stone that he believed to be one of the seven Spirit Stones although most people now think that the spirit stones and Angelou are just legends. The beginning of the game involves Justin and his 8-year old friend Sue doing kid stuff with town bullies and such.

My biggest problem with this game by far is the 3D maps. I find them extremely difficult to navigate, and I am constantly getting lost, wandering in circles, and being unable to see where I can go. This game really needed an inset minimap — you can press select in town to zoom out like this:

But personally I do not find that sufficient to navigate the areas, and the dungeons don’t have that (they have designated spots where you can zoom the camera out). I’ve always had issues with 3D games; I was never able to get into Super Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time because I could not deal with the 3D environment.

Because of this it took me a long time just to clear this initial section where you are running around town trying to find things. In any case, once this is all done Justin wants to go to the nearby Sult Ruins to find out things about Angelou, and the museum curator gives him an intro letter to let him do so.

First we have to go through the Marna Road, and this introduces the battle system. Enemies are encountered on the map (symbol encounter) and you can get a surprise attack or be surprised. I believe that once you beat an enemy symbol it only reappears if you leave the map entirely, but I could be wrong about this.

The battles themselves are done in a kind of combination real-time and turn-based system. The bar at the bottom right shows the enemies and your characters, and they move right on the bar at a speed determined by their Action stat. When they reach COM you can give them a command, and then once they reach the end of the bar they will take the action. Being attacked can stop your bar movement temporarily or even return you more to the left (known as IP Damage). You can run into problems of stunlocking and being stunlocked, but I have only had this happen a few times so far.

The speed of Command->Action depends on the move, and the more you use moves the faster they will go off. A character who gets attacked when they are between COM and ACT will have their action cancelled and they’ll suffer IP damage. If they get hit when they are at the right of the bar but haven’t done their action yet they will be Countered for additional damage, but they will still get to do their action.

The basic actions you can take are Combo (two attacks; if you kill an enemy you will do an attack on another one), Critical (slower attack but can cancel enemy moves), Magic/Skill, Run, Item, Defend (either defense+ or evade+), and Look (see enemy stats and what they are doing).

Each character has weapon levels, and they gain XP from the levels by doing attacks or moves in battle. Levelling up the weapon levels gives you stat bonuses (i.e. a sword level gives +1 str and +2 speed), and if you reach certain levels you will unlock new moves.

For magic, you have to find a Mana Egg which you then take to a shop and use to give one type of elemental magic to a character (Fire, Wind, Earth, Water). There are three levels of magic spells each with their own spell point pool, and there are combinations of elementals as well.

So there is a lot going on in the fights. Overall I think it works fairly well; it feels fast paced and gives you more to do than just mash one button.

This is from a later scene

In the ruins we are introduced to three army women adversaries (Mio, Nana, and Saki); they’re also at the ruins searching for something on the orders of Mullen. They are part of the Garlyle Army, and they’re searching for some final piece to advance their nefarious plans.

When we reach the bottom, Justin’s spirit stone activates — it turns out that his dad did indeed give him a real spirit stone, and a mysterious woman named Liete appears, telling Justin to find Alent which is on the New Continent. So after escaping from the Garlyle women and Mullen, Justin decides to go to the New Continent. There’s a fetch event here where we have to clear out a mine of monsters to get a passport from an old adventurer, and then Justin tries to leave in the morning on his own, without telling anyone. But his mom realized what he was going to do and left a letter, and Sue sneaks on to the ship.

Also on the ship is Feena, an adventurer who is considered the best adventurer in new Parm. When the ship they are on encounters a “ghost ship”, Feena allows Justin and Sue to tag along to solve the mystery of that, which turns out to be just a big kraken:

Feena’s fire spells are deadly against the monster, and it goes down pretty quickly despite the tentacles. Now Feena sees that Justin and Sue have some real adventurer qualities, and tells them to visit her at her house.

In New Parm, Justin tries to join the adventurer’s guild with an introduction letter from his mom, but it turns out the head of the guild is the son of the old leader, and this guy is a complete tool who refuses to pay any attention to Justin. They go visit Feena, but then the new leader guy kidnaps Feena and tries to marry her by force. Of course we go save her.

We manage to save Feena, although she’s pretty worried about pissing off the adventurer guild because you can’t do adventures without their permission. But Justin helps her see the silliness of that idea and she tells the leader to screw off. She joins up with Justin to search for more information about the Angelou and try to bypass the World’s End, even though she’s skeptical that any of this is real.

First goal is the Dom Ruins, where Justin hopes he can learn more about the Angelou the same way he did at Sult Ruins.

Dom Ruins is a big place where you have to keep going back and forth between sides of it…I still find the maps hard to navigate.

The ruins boss was another enemy I didn’t find too hard, powerful spells and moves took it down pretty quickly.

After this, we do indeed get more information from Liete — it seems that Arent is on the other side of the huge wall so Justin is going to have to try to get past there. On the way out we find a child who is hurt on the ground; we try to help but it, but it needs some special herb to heal so this is another side fetch-quest. Once the herb is recovered, the child recovers but can’t speak to us because we don’t understand the language. Just then, then the Garlyle military shows up again. Apparently they’re the ones who hurt the child; they are chasing the “demi-human”(? I guess? I don’t know how the english translation deals with 亜人) for some reason. We’re all captured and set to be executed.

However, Mullen’s underling Leen appears to free us, or at least set things up so we can escape. On the way out, we have to fight each of the three military women.

They are all really fast and can often act multiple times for each action of yours. Saki was the easiest, I think. Nana is a little harder because she uses these yoyo attacks that hit a large area and are able to do IP damage so that it’s hard to get turns, but even so I was able to beat her fine. I think Mio is the hardest because you can get stunlocked if she decides to keep spamming her balloon move (that puts people to sleep) and the stungun move. But if you can start cancelling her attacks and get a bit lucky it’s not so bad.

We escape on a train, and the child (Rem) gives us some tree nuts that let us communicate with him. Unfortunately, the military is on the move.

But Justin manages to uncouple the train and disable the brakes so that the military people are sent forward while they can escape. Justin and the rest head for Rem’s village, hoping for some information.

This is as far as I got; it seems like this is only about a quarter of the way into the game. I think overall it’s fun but the 3D maps are really annoying. I believe that I will play Shining Force III this coming week and then return to Grandia the week after that.

Märchen Veil (FDS)

Märchen Veil (メルヘンヴェール), released 3/3/1987, developed by System SACOM

For various reasons I was not able to play that much in the past couple of weeks so I’m still not quite done with Sakura Taisen 2; I don’t think that game needs two posts so I will do another early RPG this weekend.

Märchen is a German word meaning “folktale” and was borrowed into Japanese; the “veil” in the title refers to a fictional race or monster type in the game. This game was originally released in 1985 for the PC88, and then ported to a bunch of other systems, including the Famicom Disk System in 1987. Unfortunately this is only half of the game, Märchen Veil II came out for computers but was not ported, so console players can only see half of the story.

You start out by creating a save file just like in Zelda.

You then are presented with the “Visual Stage”, which gives you the story, although it continues off what must have been the introductory story in the instruction manual. It’s fairy tale like, fitting the title — the main character is a prince of the lake kingdom, and after going through many trials he earned the love of a princess. But a wizard didn’t like this and teleported the prince away, changing him into a monster called a Veil. The prince finds that he has his sword as well as a bracelet that the princess had given him, and he sets out to find his way back to the princess.

Each of the eight stages has one of these “visual stage” at the beginning. In 1985 this was quite unusual; most RPGs and adventure-style games had no developing plot at all, and only a handful of games even had any dialogue in the game. For consoles, the two Dragon Quest games did have a lot of town dialogue, but even DQ2 doesn’t have all that much of a developing plot. So I suppose this was a selling point of the game at the time (of course by modern standards the cutscenes are pretty thin).

Then the action part begins. The original computer version operated on multiple screens like Hydlide and Zelda, but the FDS version has a scrolling map. It doesn’t scroll very smoothly, and the whole game is a bit choppy and sluggish.

It also follows the general pattern of the action-RPG-adventure hybrids from this area in that the difficulty level is pretty high and a lot of the content is hidden in secret areas with no hints. It’s not as bad as some games, but if you don’t use a walkthrough you will be wandering around a dying a lot before you figure out what is going on.

Your weapon is a sword that shoots things out of it. If you find additional hidden swords in the levels you can increase the number of projectiles (and maybe the power?) You get more hearts by killing certain monsters that drop fairies, and if you collect 4 fairies you get a heart upgrade. Refilling your health can only be done by finding full heals hidden in the stages, or sometimes beating enemies or destroying things on the map will give you a small refill.

There are a fair number of items in the game, like boots that make you walk over rough areas without slowing down, or a cape that lets you finish the first stage by flying over one area. But there are a lot of places on the map where you fall into a pit if you walk into it and you can only escape by mashing the attack button. There are other times where I suddenly died without really understanding why.

In the first stage you have to walk off the right side of the map, taking you to this weird area with random things shooting everywhere. If you get the cape above you can then finish the stage.

Once you reach that castle, it’s time for the second Visual Stage.

The prince meets Phoebus, who can’t help him but tells him to seek Neptune — this will require beating a monster, though.

Fortunately the monster has a safe place you can stand in (near the top) where you can just shoot it without dying.

That’s as far as I played — this is a pretty bad game; even in 1987 it was not reviewed very well. It’s nice to see that contemporary reviewers also complained about things like inscrutable secrets and high difficulty because it feels then like I’m not judging the game unfairly from a modern perspective. Even if you did want to play it for the “visual stage” aspect you only get half the game unless you hunt down Märchen Veil II for a computer system.

Next week will be the Sakura Taisen 2 post, then I am playing Grandia. I may have mentioned this before, but I basically missed the entire PS1 era of RPGs with the exception of the Final Fantasies, Xenogears, and Chrono Cross. So I do want to try some of these well known titles as well.

Esper Dream (FDS)

Esper Dream (エスパードリーム), released 2/20/1987, developed and published by Konami

This is the next early JRPG, another Famicom Disk System game. It’s an action RPG, but I think it’s the best of these early action-RPG-adventure hybrid games I’ve played next to the original Zelda. It also fully qualifies as an action RPG under my original criteria, having both experience levels, equipment, and exploration.

There are two big things that make it a better playing experience than other games of this early era. First, the game ramps the difficulty up slowly, it doesn’t immediately drop you in a place where you are going to die in 5 seconds if you don’t immediately figure out the system (which is true of Hydlide, Valkyrie, and Deadly Towers). Second, the game doesn’t rely on hiding everything in random places with no hints as to where anything is. It would be perfectly doable to finish this game without a walkthrough.

The story is fairly simple and mostly just in the instruction manual. The main character is brought into this dream world (perhaps from the real world?) to use his psychic powers to save the mayor’s daughter Alice, defeat the demon Geerasauzan, and return to the real world. You begin in Brick Village, which has the mayor (who saves your game), a few shops, and entrances to each of the five worlds. Once you walk around and gather some information, you can go to the first world. One of the few issues with the game that still reflects the early era of video games is that the five worlds have a definite order of difficulty that you should do them in, but there’s no indication of that in the game, you just have to try them out to see which ones you can actually do.

The first world is a computer-themed one. Once you enter the worlds, you see paw prints on the ground. Some of them are fixed in one place, others will appear and move towards you. When you hit one, you get taken to a separate screen for combat.

In the separate battle screen, you move around and shoot at the enemies. At first that’s all you can do. You can also escape from battle by shooting one of the wall segments (randomly chosen, but it will turn red) and then escaping through there.

Beating the enemies leaves behind gold purses, or more rarely, capsules that restore your HP and EP. Unfortunately you destroy these if you hit them with your attacks.

Once you level up, you gain more max HP and EP, and at certain levels you will learn new Esper powers. You can also buy some of these powers in town, but that’s a waste of money. The first power is a “psi beam” that creates a wave across the screen, damaging enemies. Other powers include a town warp, a brief invincibility barrier, and healing. The powers take EP to use.

You can spend your money on equipment. Unfortunately there are only a few weapon and armor upgrades, and they are pretty expensive, but they help a lot. There are also some items you can buy like keys and items that restore you when you hit 0 hp. You can also find a fair number of items in the dungeon areas, including items that increase the power of your psi beam.

Each world has a boss that leaves behind a capsule you need to win the game.

I went through the first three worlds, but once you get to the fourth world the difficulty of the enemies raises sharply and there are no more buyable equipment upgrades (only one more armor upgrade in the last world). So you pretty much have to rely on the invincibility psi move, which requires a fair amount of EP. This is where you have to do some grinding, and where I decided to stop playing.

But as I said, this is a strong game for 1987 when it was released. If you can look past the disk swapping and the sometimes clunky mechanics, it’s a very playable retro game for someone who likes games from this period. There is an English patch.

There is a 1992 sequel to the game, released at the end of the Famicom’s life. According to Hardcore Gaming, it preserves the basic gameplay of the original but is a huge improvement and refinement. Maybe I will give it a try later, since I’m not locking myself into a chronological playthrough of these early games.

Next week, the Flower Division is back to save the capital again in Sakura Taisen 2.

Sekaiju no Meikyuu / Etrian Odyssey (DS)

Sekaiju no Meikyuu (世界樹の迷宮), released 1/18/2007, developed by Atlus

My next randomly chosen game came up as Elminage, which is a first-person dungeon crawler. It seems to be a nearly exact copy of Wizardry, and since I had already played a Wizardry game recently I decided instead to play Sekaiju no Meikyuu. The title means “Labyrinth of the World Tree,” but it was localized as Etrian Odyssey. I had heard about this game for a long time but never played it before.

Since it uses the stylus, I pulled out my actual DS to play it — this is the first time I’ve played a game on the actual console in years. Of course this meant I could not take screenshots so all the pictures will be borrowed from Atlus’ official site, Wikipedia, and other review sites (I took them from IGN and Ars Technica).

According to the JP Wikipedia article, the designers were also heavily inspired by Wizardry, which is not surprising — they were trying to make a new kind of “hardcore” game that would be more appealing in 2007 while also capturing the nostalgia for old dungeon crawler games.

The most striking aspect of the system is that you have to make your own map, which surely was done to recapture the nostalgia of the graph paper pads in the 1980s. The map is always on the bottom screen of the DS, even when you are in town. You can set it to automatically mark the squares you have traveled over, but you have to use the stylus to draw the walls yourself. The screenshot above has the map zoomed out to show the whole floor, but if you zoom in you can then draw the walls and drag symbols to the map.

I found this pretty well implemented and entertaining; it did capture that mapping nostalgia without being too annoying or tedious.

You begin the game by creating characters. You assign a class and distribute skill points. I went with a Swordman (“Landsknecht” in the localization), Dark Hunter, Paladin (“Protector”), Medic, and Alchemist. I’m not sure why they changed the names of some of the classes. You also assign points to skills — you begin with 3 and get 1 more every time you level up. You can take a 10 level penalty to reassign your skill points, and it’s also possible to change class.

The skills work on a kind of tree system — for instance, if the Medic gets Healer level 1 skill, that unlocks Cure (the weakest heal spell). The skills all take MP, which are pretty limited in the game.

The battles are exactly what you would expect from a game trying to emulate Wizardry — you fight a group of monsters and have the usual choices. “Boost” is the only new thing, it’s basically an overlimit/super power mode that you can use when your boost gauge hits 100 (it increases when you get hit).

In town, you have the normal services you would expect. You can also take Missions from the guild (which are major quests), and Quests from the pub (which are more minor quests). The first thing you have to do is map a large portion of the first floor for your first Mission. This unlocks some of the basic town services and also lets you proceed to the next floors.

The 1st floor has relatively easy monsters and a few small events, treasures, and item farming points (where you can use skills like Mine and Gather to get items).

When you get items, you go back and sell them to the item store. This is the main way to get money, and also if you sell certain items or combination of items it will unlock new equipment and items in the shop.

After mapping that first part, there were no more missions available, so I went down to the second floor. There was a huge difficulty jump in the monsters and I found my characters getting killed from full HP in one hit by the elk enemies. There are also “F.O.E.” monsters that are much harder enemies that wander around on the map (you can see them).

I made several forays into the 2nd floor because it was going to take way too long to grind levels on the 1st floor without emulator speedup. But I kept getting killed and having to go back. Ultimately I hit a point where 3 of my 5 guys were dead and I had no more money left to revive them or use the inn, and this is where I quit playing.

The Japanese wikipedia article notes the high difficulty of the early game, and apparently this was intentional (again, to capture the classic Wizardry feel). The article also says the developers didn’t think the game would sell very well but they misjudged and it very quickly sold out.

But for me it’s too tedious, slow, and difficult to keep playing. However, I think the series has a lot of promise and I would like to try one of the later entries — I have a DS and 3DS (but not a switch). If you are familiar with the series, please tell me if there’s a later entry that is particularly good and I will try it.

Dragon Quest II (FC)

Dragon Quest II (ドラゴンクエストII 悪霊の神々), released on Famicom 1/26/1987, developed by Chunsoft, published by ENIX

This is the first “random selection” game. The random draw gave me a strategy RPG, so I played the oldest game instead. Dragon Quest II is the second in the long-running Dragon Quest series, coming out only 6 months after the first one. As with the first one, it was released in the US several years later with a few changes (an added opening sequence and changing the passwords to battery save are the main ones).

There’s one thing I didn’t mention in my Dragon Quest review that I later noticed on the Japanese Wikipedia page, and that’s how friendly the game is in comparison to other RPGs and RPG-adjacent games at the time. If you look at every other game I’ve done for this early JRPGs segment of the blog, nearly all of them just start off by plopping you down in a starting screen with no indication of what you should do. The games are often full of incomprehensible secrets with no hints, and start you off with enemies that can kill you in a few hits if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Apparently this is how a pre-released version of DQ1 started, but when they tested the game out on some kids they didn’t figure out that they could enter the towns and had no idea what to do. So they modified the game to start you in the king’s chamber and force you to use some of the basic game mechanics just to leave the castle. On the whole, the game is much easier to finish without consulting outside hint guides/etc than any of the other games released at the time.

I think this represents the RPG genre’s slow emergence from the way that other games worked at the time. When you played a typical game in an arcade (or the first few years of Famicom releases), it was not that unusual to die quickly and get a game over in a few minutes. The idea that you might need to play the first screen a few times before you can even get much of a start was not that unusual. And few games could be “finished”, so the designers didn’t necessarily feel the need to provide fair hints and an easy way to complete the game.

Also if they looked to computer game models, they would see punishingly difficult games like Wizardry and Ultima that also had few hints, and not much of a sense of fair play.

All that is to say that I think Dragon Quest’s popularity may be at least in part because it was one of the first (if not the first) RPGs that was kinder to the player and didn’t seem to take it as a goal to annihilate the player’s party or character whenever possible.

Because of the quick development time, it’s not surprising that the game is essentially a refinement of DQ1. It is a much larger game than the first one, but the biggest change is that you now have 3 party members vs. groups of enemies, rather than just the 1 vs 1 fights of the original game.

The story is a sequel to DQ1, with the main character and his two companions being descendants of Loto (Erdrick) from the first game. You begin as the Prince of Lorasia (Midenhall). The King hears that Moonbroke has been destroyed by Hargon, and sends you out to defeat Hargon after collecting your two cousins, the Prince of Samartria (Cannock) and the Princess of Moonbroke. I believe this is basically all the story of the game.

At the beginning you have only Lorasia, who is essentially a fighter class that can’t use any magic. This means the early part of the game is very much dependent on levelling and having the right equipment, although as usual the “die and lose half your gold” system means that you do not have to be extremely cautious in your explorations.

In my Super Famicom reviews I often referred to games as having a “Dragon Quest II system” (which I sometimes called AMID for Attack, Magic, Item, Defend). I wanted to play this for at least the first few dungeons to see if that judgment was accurate, and I think it is.

The first task is to find the Prince of Samartria, and you start out on a fairly small island that you can’t leave until you find him, which is a kind way to start the game out. You basically have to follow him around to various places and hear that he’s already left, while at the same time trying to get more levels and money to make your character better. The fact that Lorasia has no spells means your healing is entirely dependent on herbs (and antidotes), and the game has no bag like the one added in later. So there is some inventory juggling needed.

Eventually after going around to various places (including the cave above), I finally found Samartria in an inn and he joined the team. He is basically a combination healer and attacker.

He begins at level 1, which means it’s good to do a bit of levelling before we leave this continent for the next one, hoping to find the Moonbroke Princess. Before leaving you can also get the Silver Key, which is technically optional. In DQ1 you had to buy keys that were used up after one use, but this game introduced the system that would be used at least through Dragon Quest VI, where you find increasingly powerful keys that open certain kinds of doors. I’ve always liked this system, where you have a locked door in an early town or dungeon that you know you will need to come back to later when you have the right key.

This is one of the passwords

The next continent has the destroyed castle of Moonbroke. There you can learn that the princess has been turned into a dog, and that the Mirror of Ra can cure her. Someone tells you about a marsh that’s near bridges — I didn’t find any clue that specifically said this is where the mirror is but I guess you assume that if someone tells you about a location it’s important.

Once you get the mirror, you can restore the Princess and she joins the team. She is a magician character — these kinds of characters are often underpowered and difficult to use. As I mentioned in many of my “DQ2 clone” reviews, it took a long time for JRPG designers to break out of the Dungeons and Dragons/Wizardry system which dictates that there is basically no way to restore magic points except to rest. This means that magician characters often cannot freely cast spells because their MP are so limited, and they’re usually worthless as attackers as well. Eventually designers figured out that it’s OK to let people restore their MP and cast more spells.

This is where I decided to stop. This game is well known for being quite difficult and having a lot of balance issues, and one of the main things the various remakes of the game do is smooth this out a bit. They allow better equipment for the companions, easier level ups, and just generally a better balance and less frustrating game. Many years ago I played DQ2 on Game Boy, but I found even that version fairly frustrating to play, so maybe this game’s day has simply passed. But at the time it came out I can see why it was popular; compared to everything else it shows a level of development and amount of content that no other console game could match.

Zelda II – Adventures of Link (Famicom Disk System)

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA 2 リンクの冒険 – released 1/14/1987, developed and released by Nintendo

On my master list of console JRPGs this the 9th game. Out of those nine, only one of them (Dragon Quest) is the prototypical turn-based RPG that most people associate with the genre (particularly in the NES/SNES era). The other ones are adventure-style games (Zelda, Hydlide, Adventures of Valkyrie, Deadly Towers), action games that aren’t really RPGs (Druaga and Dragon Slayer), and one Wizardry-style maze game (Deep Dungeon).

The first Zelda game was one of those adventure-style games that I think many people do not consider an RPG, although I said in my previous post on the game that I’m not sure Japanese players at the time would have thought of it as fundamentally different from Hydlide or Adventures of Valkyrie.

Zelda II was intended by Miyamoto to be a totally different game, and it is — most of the game occurs on 2D side-scrolling maps, with a top-down overworld map. RPG elements are more strongly tied into the game.

The game, like Zelda 1, was originally released for the Famicom Disk System. This was a short-lived Famicom add-on that allowed for larger games, cheaper production, and the ability to save your progress, and also allowed you to use “disk writer” consoles to get new games. Although the FDS sold very well, there were a number of technical problems with the system and piracy was rampant. Within a few years, the technology for producing the cartridges had improved and become cheaper, rendering the FDS obsolete.

As with the first Zelda, this game was released in the US on a cartridge with a battery backed save. There were a number of changes, but most of them were small graphical or audio changes. The only substantial change is to the XP and levelling method.

In both versions, you gain XP from beating certain monsters and finding “P bags”. When you hit a certain amount of XP you can level up one of three areas – Life, Magic, or Attack. Life acts essentially as a defense stat, and Magic lowers the amount of magic points a spell costs.

In the US version that most people are familiar with, the levels cost different amounts of XP — for instance, level 1 attack is 200 XP but level 1 life is only 50. When you gain the necessary XP to level up a stat, you can choose to skip that one and continue saving for a different stat. If you die, you lose a life and go back to the beginning of the screen. If you get a game over, you go back to the beginning area of the game and lose any XP you have, but keep your levels.

In the Japanese version, when you get enough XP to level, you can choose any of the three stats to level up. The levels are also much cheaper than they are in the US version. However, when you game over in the original JP version, all of your levels reset to the lowest level you have — that is, if you had Attack 4, Magic 3, and Life 2 and got a game over, all three levels would be set to 2. This creates a lot more tension around a game over, and also means you want to keep your levels as equal as you can.

I did play (and beat) this game as a kid although I never liked it as much as the first Zelda game. This play was probably the first time I have touched the game since around 1990. I only played through the first palace.

The story involves Link trying to awaken Zelda (a different Zelda from the first game) by returning six crystals to temples and getting the Triforce of Courage. If he loses, Ganon will be reborn.

The overworld map is top down. When you step off the road, enemy icons start roaming around, and if you contact them, you get into a side-scrolling fight.

As in the first game, if you have max health you can shoot out a projectile from your sword.

The first task is to get the Shield spell from a nearby village and then head to the first palace in the desert. I had a strange problem where certain items were not appearing where they were supposed to be (a p bag, a heart container, and a magic container). Someone told me that I should use the third save slot, and when I did that the items were there. I’m not sure if this is an emulation bug or an issue with the dump of the ROM (the latter seems more likely).

I was able to get level 2 in all the abilities (which only takes 200 total XP as opposed to 350 in the US version). The palace is challenging to me, especially the yellow armor knights. Each palace has an item (as in the original Zelda); this one has the candle that lets you see in the dark caves. You have to find keys and explore the area until you get to the boss, who is not that difficult. He’s a horseman and you just repeatedly jump and hit his head until he dies. Restoring the crystal gives you a level up.

From there, it’s a while before the next palace — link needs to find a statue to learn the Jump spell, then go through to a new area of the land and find more items. This is where I stopped.

I don’t think this is a bad game, and I have a feeling that it holds up better than a lot of the action-RPG hybrids from this era, but we’ll see. There are a lot of them in the early slate of games. One thing I’ve really gained an appreciation for in doing this blog is how much certain games really did stand out among imitators and other things released at the time — it’s kind of amazing just how much better the original Zelda is than Hydlide, Valkyrie, and Deadly Towers.

No post next week, back on the 13th (I’m not sure if anyone actually checks on Saturday to see if I posted so this may not be a necessarily announcement…)