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Atelier A1 – Atelier Marie

When I made my full SRPG game list I included Atelier games, which caused some comment — they are not Strategy RPGs, certainly, but I would consider at least the earlier ones to be Simulation RPGs. Plus I like the series so I put it on there so I could play more of the games.

The long running series began in 1997 and currently has 23 main titles and around 15 side games, plus a number of remakes. The first five games are primarily simulation games where you control a young alchemist trying to achieve some mild goal (like pass an exam or bring prosperity to your village). There is usually a basic “good” ending that’s quite easy to get, and then a number of other endings that are more difficult. As the series progressed, they put more and more RPG elements in — by A5 (Viorate) you had explorable dungeons, a complicated weapon and armor crafting system, and five different bosses. However, the game could still be completed without doing much of this, and the focus was on running a store and crafting items.

A6 (Iris) was a straight RPG (with a crafting system), and the next 4 games after that continued that trend. I first played the series when Iris had just come out, and there was a lot of uncertainty whether the series would ever return to the simulation roots.

But A11 (Rorona) did go back to the earlier style, although the RPG elements seemed more prominent. I haven’t played anything past A13 (Meruru) but from what I hear the RPG elements have become more and more dominant as the series has progressed.

The side games include some games that aren’t RPGs or simulation games, but also a few games for Nintendo portable systems that look like they may be the more traditional games.

I am at least going to post about A1-A5 when I get to them, but after that it will depend on how I feel and what kind of game they are. I’ve already played Marie and gotten all the endings, so I won’t be replaying it here, but I’ll write a bit about it.

Atelier Marie (マリーのアトリエ~ザールブルグの錬金術士~), released 1997/5/23, developed by Gust

The first game in many ways is a tentative beginning for the series — if you’ve played any of the later games almost everything is in a very simple form, which perhaps makes it a good starting game? Apparently the game was originally planned as an SRPG but the director thought that there were too many big name RPGs already out there, and so decided on a new type of game. The game was regarded as a side project for the company but it was so popular that it quickly became Gust’s main product.

The main character is Marlone (nickname Marie), a not-so-great student of the alchemy school in Zalberg. Apparently a normal girl was chosen as the main character because the developers felt that women were starting to play games more — the female main character became a mainstay of the series. Marie’s on her last chance at the school, and she has five years to make a good item so that she can pass the exam and graduate.

This imposes a 5 year time limit on the game. One of the core elements of the early games is the time limit; everything you do takes time, and part of the game is learning to use your time wisely. (I’ve heard that recent games have gotten rid of the time limit; I’m sure this is more popular among casual players but it’s a bit disappointing.)

The dialogue is fully voiced, and the graphics are quite nice. The music is also exceptional; I place Gust second only to Falcom for consistent high quality music in almost every game they release.

The game has no real story. There are some characters like Schia (above), Kreis (a good student at the academy), Ruven (an adventurer), and others. Many of them can join your party for a price to help you out when you adventure outside of the town. They also have some events and small story events, but nothing much.

Basically everything in the game is optional. There are several endings — the basic ending is to craft a level 4 item to pass the exam. This is quite easy and can be done even if you barely know what you are doing. But the fun of the game is that you can replay to try to get some of the other endings — there’s one for levelling Marie to 50, one for beating an optional boss, one for crafting all items, etc.

The core of the game is the item crafting. Marie can learn recipes for items, and then if she has the right ingredients, she can craft them. The difficulty and time it takes depends on Marie’s level — unlike later games there is no separate alchemy and adventurer level; you gain XP for crafting items and for killing monsters. Marie can also buy tools that will either be necessary for the crafting, or make it less likely she will fail.

Later games introduce more complexity to the crafting system, but in Marie you just combine the ingredients into the final item.

How does Marie get the items? Two ways — she can either buy them, or she can go out to the field and collect the items. Buying items of course requires money; the main way to get money is to take jobs at the pub. By turning in certain items Marie will receive money. However, it’s also necessary to get some items by leaving town.

At the start of the game Marie can only access a few locations close to the town, but as the game progresses you gain access to more areas with rarer items. When you reach a location, you simply press the circle button to search for items, which costs a day.

You may also encounter monsters.

The battle system is very basic; characters can attack, use a special move, and Schia and Marie can use attack or healing items. Marie by herself will die (at least at the beginning) so you need to hire some adventurers (which costs money).

So the game is essentially a loop of taking jobs for money, getting the items to craft, buying new books to learn how to make items, and activating events — some events open up when you pass a certain time, and others are only available for a certain time each year.

As I said above, even if you have no real idea what you’re doing, you can easily get the basic ending — as long as you can read the game’s text you would have to try to fail, I think. The extra endings are more difficult but not to a great degree. I was able to get all the endings in one playthrough with just a list of the endings and some information on a few events that activated at certain times. But there was something fun about the simplicity of the game.

The game was later released for Saturn as “Atelier Marie 1.3” with one additional ending and some new events, and some minor things based on the Saturn’s internal clock (like if you play the game on Christmas she’ll wish you Merry Christmas). This version was then ported to the PSX as Atelier Marie Plus, which is the version I played. There’s a later release for Game boy, and then a combination release for PS2 of Marie and Elie. You would think that’s the definitive version of the game, but the designers made the bizarre decision to get rid of the 図鑑, a place in the main menu that shows you all of the items you’ve crafted, monsters you’ve found, and endings you’ve gotten.

The next game for the series is Atelier Elie which came out in 1998, which I have not played.

As I mentioned last week I’m in a busy part of the fall. Next week will most likely be a quick post on Final Fantasy Tactics, and then hopefully I will have finished Seiken Densetsu 3 by the following weekend.

A few notes on comments

Hello, happy weekend. First, I appreciate everyone who comments. I love reading the comments, and even if you comment on something from 4 years ago I will see it.

There are two issues I’ve had with comments, though. First, I have the setting on where I need to manually approve your comment if it’s your first time posting. For some reason, this doesn’t always work and I sometimes have to manually approve comments even if they’re not first-time posters.

Second, I have Akismet’s free spam filter on. Sometimes legitimate comments end up there, and it’s happening consistently with two commenters who have been around since the very early days of my blog (cccmar and Kicksville). I don’t know why this is happening and since this is just the free version of Akismet I can’t tweak the settings. However, I do manually check the spam filter every couple of days and so if your comment ends up in there I will manually approve it.

I just wanted to post this in case people are seeing their comments disappear or getting notifications that they need approval.

Problem with images

Some people from outside the US reported they could not see the images on some of the posts — I believe this was caused by Jetpack (a wordpress plugin) putting images on i0.wp.com. I turned off the option that did this.

Can everyone see that image?

It looks like the previous posts should be working now as well — let me know if you can see the images on Shiki Eiyuden and such.

Five years!

It’s been five years since I made my introduction post on the Super Famicom blog. I’m about 60% finished with the Super Famicom library, but it will be another few years until I play the last game on that list. Thanks to everyone who has read and commented over the years.

Tomorrow or Sunday I will post Harukaze Sentai V-Force, a (barely) strategy RPG that tries to use lots of anime sequences to tell the story, but leaves them with no much room to make a game.

Then will come Rejoice: The Reaches of Aretha Kingdom, an action RPG, and then La Wares, a regular RPG that is known as a kusoge.

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.

If you want an RSS feed, this link should work: https://www.rpgblog.net/?feed=rss

Deep Dungeon

 I’m on the last chapter of Vandal Hearts so I should be back here next week. Until then, a short post continuing my “old RPGs” sequence — this time the Famicom Disk System game Deep Dungeon.

This is the first of four first-person dungeon crawler games for the Famicom (the first two for the disk system). It’s the first attempt to transfer the Wizardry-style gameplay to a console. It is considerably simpler than its inspiration; you control only one character who is just a fighter — you can buy items and use them to cast spells by spending HP, but other than that it’s just attack.

The story is pretty simple — a princess has been captured and you have to go into the underground dungeon (just like Wizardry) to find her. There are 8 floors about the same size as Wizardry ones. The game is also quite similar to the first Wizardry in that the main activity of the game is making maps of the dungeon. There is very little to find in the dungeon — for instance, the first floor has a couple of places where you can find gold, and one message. There are some places with guaranteed encounters and adventurers, but other than that the maze is empty. This is something that I found fun when I was a kid and hadn’t played many of these games, but now I feel like there has to be stuff to find in the dungeons or it’s not fun just to wander around.

One other clear indication of Wizardry’s influence is that you have to press a button to kick a door down rather than just walking through it.

Saving requires you to switch sides of the disk, which takes a long time (of course in a modern emulator you can just use a save state).

I wandered around the first floor for a while. The encounter rate is very low, but the main character has a hard time surviving. There’s also a certain sluggishness to the whole game, which is not that surprising from this era.

There is a translation patch (and a full set of maps on GameFAQs) so this can be played, but it’s hard to imagine many people finding it fun. I think I would have enjoyed it in 1986 when it came out, because these kinds of RPGs were still fairly new. But I can’t see playing it now except for some kind of masochist completion.

The series takes steps forward in successive entries, by adding multiple dungeons, more characters. The second game came out about 6 months after this one, suggesting that like Dragon Quest I this was more of a trial run and the next game is a more polished entry. If I keep doing these early games now and then we’ll see Deep Dungeon 2 before too long.

Surging Aura

 For this week’s off-week post I’m looking at Surging Aura for the Mega Drive, which came out the same day as the next two SFC games on my list. I was already planning in my mind a post that would contrast the Mega CD with the Playstation that just came out as well as the PC Engine CD — but then I realized that Surging Aura is not a Mega CD game, it’s just a regular Mega Drive cartridge game. It looks like of the 4 Mega Drive RPGs that came out in 1995, only one of them was a CD game. This is in sharp contrast to the PC Engine, where the final non-CD RPG came out in 1992. The Mega Drive was a more technologically advanced system than the PCE, but it’s still surprising to see that many games released this late in the system.

As you can see from the title screen, the character designs are by Inomata Mutsumi. She is best known for her work on the Tales series over 20 years; this is an early video game she worked on (I believe she had done some anime work before this as well). This game has a feature I wish SFC RPGs had — inset graphics and face graphics.

Maybe there was a feeling that it’s better for all the action to take place in one style of view, but I like these graphical insets, especially for games when you can barely tell even what the characters look like without the instructions.

The story starts out pretty cliche — the main character, Muu, is waking up to go through a ceremony to confirm him as crown prince. But as the ceremony starts, monsters attack and seemingly kill everyone, including Muu himself. But a “time rabbit” comes out and restores Muu’s life, leaving him in an unknown place. But since he’s a silent protagonist we don’t know who he is or where.

Immediately in the town he wakes up in, bandits attack the magic shop and steal away a girl, and Muu finds himself assisting a local guardsman who is in love with her to free her.

The combat system is interesting; it’s a realtime system where you choose an action while a glass sphere fills up. When it fills, the action happens (but magic takes additional time beyond that). Then they will just keep doing that action until you change it. Muu starts off weak; he seems to be the only magic user (at least judging from the status screen, which has no space for any other characters to have MP).

The interface is rather frustrating to use, particularly the spellcasting. There are 6 types of spells you can get and there is some complexity in that, but to choose a spell in battle you have to use this confusing wheel and a number counter; I never found it convenient to use (I notice that richie, in his walkthrough, says that the system is bad — I’ve never seen him criticize a game in the ~40 or 50 walkthroughs of his I’ve looked at up to now).

So this is a pretty short post as these off-week ones usually are. This isn’t a terrible game and it seems generally competitive with the quality of games that were coming out for the SFC. I’m surprised that it wasn’t released on CD.

Wikipedia’s list of SRPGs – games I didn’t play

 

Wikipedia has a list of tactical RPGs that seems fairly comprehensive although it doesn’t have all of the games on my list. It does have some games I didn’t catch that I later added, but I keep forgetting which years I’ve checked so I want to start making a list of what I’m rejecting and why.

This list is through 1996. At least for now I’m only playing games that were originally released in Japan for a console, so that excludes some of the games already. As a quick review of my criteria: the game has to (1) be based around a series of fixed maps rather than random battles, (2) have unique characters that you can develop rather than just generic troops, and (3) have a developing storyline rather than just a frame narrative. 

Please let me know if I’ve mistakenly excluded a game by my own criteria (not whether you personally think it’s an SRPG).

Bokosuka Wars (1983, FC port 1985) – Nobody considers this an SRPG; some say it lay the foundation for the SRPG genre but I’m a bit skeptical of this. I feel like Fire Emblem drew its main inspiration from games like Daisenryaku and Famicom Wars, and I’m not sure that either of these games are all that indebted to Bokosuka Wars. I think maybe we can say that it had certain elements that would later be in the SRPG genre, but I’m not sure if it deserves credit for starting the genre.

Moryo Senki MADARA (1990, FC) – One debate that often occurs among SRPG fans is about games like this. The game is basically a standard RPG except that when you get in a random battle, the battles take place on a grid with some strategy elements. For me, these are not SRPGs (thus criteria 1 above).

Bahamut Senki (1991, MD) — MADARA is an example of a game that’s too far to the RPG side, and this is an example of a game that’s too far to the strategy side. There are a number of games that are sometimes considered SRPGs that (to me) are basically strategy games instead. This has only a frame narrative rather than a developing story (criteria 3) and is almost entirely generic characters (criteria 2).

Chaos World (1991, FC) — I don’t understand why this is on the list. It’s just a normal RPG with an auto-battle system.

Crystal Warriors (1991, GG) – I may have wrongly skipped this game. It’s the forerunner to Royal Stone, which I did play. I believe I cut it because it didn’t look like it had a developing story. But there might actually be one, just a very thin one. 

Master of Monsters (1991, MD) – Same deal as Bahamut Senki.

MT: Last Bible (1992, GB) – This seems to be another mistake on wikipedia. Another Bible is an SRPG but this is just a standard RPG.

Dark Wizard (1993, MD-CD) – I actually started this game, and it’s possible that it technically qualifies. It did not feel like SRPG to me, though (it felt more like a Bahamut Senki type game). In the end I skipped it because it seemed very long and slow moving, and it’s available in English.

Super Barcode Wars (1993, SFC) – I think this is another Bahamut Senki situation. However, even if it does qualify, it can’t really be played the way it was intended to play because no emulator supports the barcode scanner peripheral that was made to go with the game.

BB Gun (1995, SFC) – No developing story.

Kou Ryuu Ki (1995, SFC) – Rise of the Phoenix in English. This is another type of difficult game for me to assess because it has a storyline in a sense. But I don’t think it fits criteria 1.

Monstania (1996, SFC) – This one is so close that it might be an SRPG, my question is whether it qualifies for criteria 1. In the end I decided to skip it because I will end up playing it anyway on my other blog.

Treasure Hunter G (1996, SFC) – Same comment as for Monstania.

In the future I’ll include Wikipedia entries in the previews of each year.

In addition to the above, I have two games that I missed on my first go through — The Hybrid Front, and Nage Libre. I’m going to do Nage Libre when I reach that point in my SFC blog. I will get to the Hybrid Front eventually; right now I’m not in the mood to go back to a Mega Drive game.

The Magic Bells (Deadly Towers)

(This is a scheduled post while I’m away on vacation. I’ve beaten BoF2 so that final post will be up next week.)

This is another action game, and an infamous kusoge both here and in Japan. I think there’s a perception that Japanese players liked these games better than we did, but this one got bad reviews in Japan as well. It’s clearly in the lineage of Druaga, Hydlide, Zelda, and such. You have a (small) open world, most of the game content hidden with no hints, and a protagonist who starts very weak compared to the monsters. But it’s closer to Hydlide and Adventures of Valkyrie in that the initial difficulty is quite high, and you’re going to die a lot before you even come across the basics of what to do. One thing that Zelda got right is that you can make a fair amount of progress at the beginning of the game before you run into the really difficult hidden stuff or nasty monsters.

I vaguely remember playing this game as a kid — I may have rented it or just played it at a friend’s house, but I didn’t play it much.

Although the reviews are mostly negative, I have seen some that defend some parts of the game, at least. It really seems like the main problem with the game is how weak you start, and how difficult it is to make any early progress. Unlike Valkyrie and Hydlide, there’s no XP, so fighting the initial enemies gets you nothing but a few Ludder (the money). And in order to spend that Ludder, you have to find the hidden dungeons and then the shops within those dungeons.

Here’s what the dungeons look like (credit to GameFAQs):

S is where you start, X is the exit, and the other letters are the shops (the green blocks are just what the walkthrough writer used to show where you should go). These dungeons seem unnecessarily large given that most of those rooms have no purpose. So you have to deal with a lot of game content to just get even basic upgrades for your character. There are heart containers you can find early in the game (and easily) that raise your max HP by 10, but these provide little help at the beginning because whenever you die you start with 100 HP regardless of what your max is.

So I think this is where a lot of players get frustrated and give up early; it’s hard to keep playing a game when you don’t feel like you’re making any progress. I think it would have helped this game’s perception quite a bit if there were a basic shop near the starting location and if the starting enemies were a bit less hardy.

I’m going to try using a walkthrough to see what the game is like if you know where the secrets are.

The problems with the system are well known — you shoot out a sword, but only one can be on the screen at a time. The enemies take tons of hits to kill, and any time you get hit you get moved down the screen, and if you fall off the bottom you die. Sometimes you get hit back into a previous screen and then immediately hit more enemies.

The first goal is to get stronger equipment, so I headed to dungeon 4.

Using the map it’s not too tough to find the shop, and there’s a certain enemy that is very useful for earning Ludder — it’s a large enemy but if you stunlock it as soon as you enter the room you can kill it easily. It still takes a lot of enemies to get enough money to buy stuff. I got the Hyper Boots, Chain Helmet, and Shield.

I then headed to a second dungeon to get some Armor and a glove to increase attack speed, but I was dying a lot. And I figured that I should be playing BoF2 instead of this so I quit.

The goal of the rest of the game would be to find the hidden areas that have seven bosses, each of which has a bell when you defeat it. You then have to destroy the bells by using a magic fire in the main castle, and then you can progress to the final boss. The areas with the bosses also have additional secret rooms with the most powerful equipment in them. All of these hidden areas (including the dungeons and towers) require you to step on specific places on the maps, that aren’t marked in any way.

So is it more tolerable with the walkthrough? Marginally, but it’s still not a good game. With the walkthrough you can at least avoid the problem at the beginning where you’re making no progress, but even with the additional equipment, Prince Myer is weak. You get knocked back by enemies, often into other enemies that then knock you further. You can enter a dungeon room and die before you even see what was there. 

Just as playing early SRPGs revealed to me how well designed Fire Emblem 1 was (for its time), playing these early action games has shown me how well designed Zelda was. Zelda certainly isn’t perfect and I think the obscurity of its secrets would be unacceptable now, but it stands out from the crowd.