Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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.

Rarity of games

I’ve been trying to purchase most of the games that I play, partially to support the used game community, but also to get the instruction booklet. I like to at least start the game with only the information in the instructions, and some games I’ve played are obscure enough that even Japanese sites don’t have good information on them. I wasn’t able to get any during Covid because shipping costs would have been through the roof, but cheap(er) shipping has started again. I also typically skip buying the game if the price is over $30 before shipping. I just went through ebay to see the prices of all the games I haven’t bought yet that I have passed in my list. These were the games that were not available for less than $100, which I suppose means they’re the rarest:

  • Nage Libre (SFC) (this was not originally on my list but it’s been added to 1995)
  • Shining Force Gaiden Final Conflict (GG)
  • Heian Fuunden (SFC)
  • Der Langrisser FX (PC-FX)

I think the most expensive was Der Langrisser, which is not surprising given how poorly the PC-FX sold. However, they are all cheaper than Fire Emblem Thracia 776.

Part of me wants to spend whatever I have to in order to get a complete set of CIB strategy RPGs, but I don’t really know what the purpose of that would be.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with Energy Breaker.

Dragon Quest / Adventures of Valkyrie

I’m on the last stage of FE4 so I should be back next week with Aretha II.

I think I said last time I was going to try to do Dragon Slayer for the Epoch Super Cassette Vision. I had trouble finding an emulator and in the end I didn’t think it was worth spending any more time to play a game that probably wasn’t going to be very good anyway — CRPG Addict did a very full report on Dragon Slayer anyway.

Dragon Quest

 

This is another game I don’t think needs a detailed introduction and coverage; even CRPG Addict did an entry on the game. It’s the first game that really matches the true “JRPG style” that we think of. Is this the first game to combine the Ultima style top-down world map/towns, with the command-based Wizardry combat? I don’t know of any game that does it prior to this but there may be a computer game that does so.

I remember when this game came out in the US. They gave away free copies if you subscribed to Nintendo Power, and there were hint guides since they were so scared Americans wouldn’t know what to do (although Japan had lots of hint guides as well). The US version was actually an upgrade from the Japanese version that improved the graphics and replaced the password system of the original with a battery-backed save. The translation used a pseudo-archaic English that isn’t in the original Japanese.

Also they changed the cover — this is something that US publishers do with Japanese games for a long time after this. It’s not hard to understand why; when DQ came out in Japan, Akira Toriyama was already very popular for both Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball (which had been running for 2 years at that point). So the cover naturally uses Toriyama’s art, which was surely a selling point for the game.

Since this art would not have meant anything in particular to American audiences, the localizers were probably concerned that it would look too childish or cartoony for the target audience of young boys. So they changed the cover to this:

I have to say that I always found this rather patronizing and wondered if it were really necessary. But CRPG Addict has been harshly critical of the cartoony graphics of Zelda and other games, to the degree where he almost does not want to play them because of the art style. He mentions it every time he plays a Japanese game on his blog. I have a feeling that his opinion would have been the dominant one in the 1980s before anime had really become mainstream in the US, and so I suppose the localizers knew what they were doing.

I don’t think this game really holds up other than for nostalgia purposes; the vast majority of the game is grinding levels and money. The many remakes seem to have modified the numbers so that you don’t have to grind as much.

 

A couple of other notes:

  • This may be the first RPG for any system where the villagers actually sound like real people and flesh out the world a bit. Most prior RPGs either had no NPCs to talk to at all, or they just give brief hints like “EXODUS LIES BEYOND THE SILVER SNAKE”.
  • Toriyama’s monsters are the best looking monsters of any RPG so far, not only because of his art but the graphic designers’ ability to translate them into the screen. It’s no accident the slime has become so iconic.
  • At the end of the game you can choose whether to marry Princess Laura or not, although if you refuse she just asks the question again. This “Laura choice” (as it’s sometimes called) was repeated in future Dragon Quests to a point where it became self-parody, and other games sometimes do this as well. 

 

Dragon Quest II came out only six months after this game, which is extraordinarily fast development. According to the English wikipedia it even had delays, although the Japanese wikipedia does not confirm this.

Adventures of Valkyrie


 
I have been familiar with Valkyrie the character for a while because she’s appeared as a cameo in so many Namco games (particularly the Tales series), and several characters from the games are in Namco x Capcom and Project X Zone. She was the heroine of four games — this one, a 1989 arcade game, and two mobile phone sidescrolling action games with RPG elements.

The original Famicom game is a spiritual successor to Hydlide, with Zelda influences. There are many similarities; the main difference is that you actually press a button to swing a sword. This is probably influenced by Zelda, as is the assignment of items/spells/weapons to the A and B buttons. Also, unlike Zelda and Hydlide, this game has a scrolling world map rather than different screens — this was easier to pull off on the Famicom than on computers, although computer RPGs did eventually introduce scrolling. The dungeons are also more Zelda-like than Hydlide-like.

As with Hydlide, a good portion of the game is just grinding levels, and wandering around the world with no hints trying to figure out what you can do. You can apparently finish the game in less than an hour if you know where to go.

Initially you pick a blood type and a zodiac sign which affects your starting stats and the pace of levelling. I did B, which is faster levelling at the beginning, and Taurus which gives you a balanced magic/fight.

The first destination is an inn on the right where you can get a password, recover HP and MP for money, and raise levels. From here I grinded up to level 5 and then headed around west to where I saw a treasure chest. There was a big thing blocking the area but if you just keep attacking it freezes him. He dropped a key, but I was unable to open the chest.

If you want to see more about the game, here’s a good video:

EDIT: I realized something else after I posted this — this is the earliest JRPG with a woman main character, and it may even be the first Famicom (console?) RPG, beating Metroid by 5 days.

I hope you enjoyed this little dip back into the early days of RPGs — back to 1994 next week.

Tower of Druaga / Hydlide Special / Legend of Zelda

As I thought, Fire Emblem 4 is very long, so I’ll need at least this week and possibly next week with side posts.

For this post I want to look at a few games from very early in the JRPG tradition — on the sites I’ve been using to compile my game lists, they are the first three listed. Obviously these sites have a very broad (and inconsistent) definition of an RPG, and I often have to cut games that are on their lists. But I think especially in the very early days of the genre, the core RPG ideas had yet to be established. In particular, there were a lot of different ways that designers tried to mix action and RPG elements.

I don’t think you can really do a true history of JRPGs without covering early computer games, and also looking at the early Japanese reception of Western RPGs (particularly the Wizardry series). I had always thought that Dragon Quest was likely inspired by Ultima III, but Ultima III came out in Japan only 6 months before DQ, so it seems more likely that it was a combination of Hydlide and Wizardry. Although the Japanese Wikipedia article does seem to indicate inspiration from Ultima, so perhaps I was right all along.

So this is not really going back to the roots of JRPGs, just the roots of what a console-only player would have had access to. (Panorama Toh, Black Onyx, and Mugen no Shinzo are games I have seen as particularly influential early RPGs or proto-RPGs, but none of those were released for consoles at the time.)

Tower of Druaga

I don’t think anyone considers this game an RPG, but it unquestionably helped lay the groundwork for the JRPG genre. The arcade version came out in 1984; it was made on leftover Mappy circuit boards that Namco wanted to use up, and it became unexpectedly popular.

The gameplay is relatively simple. You are Gil, trying to rescue Kai from the evil Druaga. There are 60 levels. On each level you have to grab the key and then go to the exit door. You press and hold the attack button to draw your sword, and then you can attack enemies by running into them. You have to be careful; the slimes can only be killed if they are stationary when you move into them; if they’re moving into your square Gil will die. If you unsheath the sword, Gil can block projectiles and other things with his shield. There’s also a time limit, and if it runs out additional enemies come out.

But the real meat of the game is that every stage has a secret treasure box that appears when certain conditions are fulfilled. Some of these are easy to find — the first stage’s box appears when you defeat two slimes, which most players will do. Others are essentially impossible to get on your own. You have to get a fair number of these items to win the game. When this came out on Wii Virtual Console in 2009, US reviewers lambasted the game for this, correctly noting that the game is impossible to finish without help — there are no clues in the game that would show you how to get these items. Some of them are difficult to get even if you know what to do.

So why was this game so popular in 1984 when it came out? Here’s my guess. In 1984, the idea of “finishing” a video game (especially an arcade game) was still a pretty new concept, and most games could not be beaten. You just played for a high score. So players would not necessarily have been immediately bothered by the difficulty of completing the game. Furthermore, there was a community aspect to the game, where people might find some of the secrets on their own, or read them in a magazine, or see someone else at an arcade do them. People traded the secrets, and once you knew how to do them, it might be fun to go to an arcade and show everyone else that you’re able to finish it. There wasn’t anything else like it in the arcades at the time. But I would be curious to know more about what the designers were thinking when they created it — did they already have a plan to publish the secrets in magazines or the like?

The 1985 Famicom port is pretty much a faithful one (with worse graphics, of course). They added a second set of levels called “Another Druaga” that has different conditions for all of the items. I played through the first quest using an unlimited lives code and a walkthrough. I actually had fun with it. Even with the walkthrough it takes some skill to do everything you need to do to win. It only took me a couple of hours to win.

This youtube video is a good walkthrough of the arcade version that’s fun to watch.

Hydlide Special 

This technically came out a month after Zelda, but since the computer version predated (and likely inspired) Zelda, I’m flipping the order. This is probably the most criticized and misunderstood Famicom RPG, because it came out in 1989 in the US, well after Zelda and other games that did things better. But in Japan, the original computer version was a huge influence on JRPGs. It was the first game to have an open world system (as small as the world is). There’s no story development and no towns, but you can level up and get a few equipment upgrades.

The Famicom version is actually a remake with some elements of Hydlide 2 built in. It apparently was not well received even in Japan; the Famicom had a much younger player base than computers, and like Druaga there are no hints to help you figure out what to do.

You can put the main character Jim in attack or defense mode, which is reminiscent of the Druaga system and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was directly based off Druaga. But now you can explore the area, and level up by defeating monsters. The game as a whole is short and if you know what to do can be finished in less than 2 hours. But if you play blind it can be quite difficult because as I said above there aren’t many hints to help you figure out what to do. The goal is to save three fairies and take on the final boss, but even just getting started is rough. You will die a lot, although thankfully there is a quicksave/load you can use (this is one thing AVGN got wrong in his great video on the game — the passwords are only necessary if you are turning off the game and coming back later.)

Hydlide to me is not as fun as Druaga, and I’m probably not the only one who feels this way because Druaga had several remakes and has been re-released many times on numerous consoles, whereas the whole Hydlide series has essentially vanished into the history books. It can be hard for an innovator in a genre to hold up against later imitators who improve on the basic concept.

Legend of Zelda

 

This game is very well known and I don’t think I have to say much about it. It was one of my favorite NES games as a kid and I can’t count the number of times I played through it. I think that most people do not consider this game an RPG, but when it came out I feel like Japanese players would have seen it as being basically the same kind of game as Dragon Slayer and Hydlide. There seems to be clear inspiration from Hydlide but I wonder if the item system was not inspired by Druaga. The sword and shield upgrades could be from that game, the bomb is sort of an implementation of the mattock, and both games have candles. It’s certainly a more flexible and robust system, but the origins may be the same.

In Japan, this game came out for the Famicom Disk System, an early peripheral for the Famicom that sought to overcome the limitations of the cartridge storage, and also provide a way to save games. This never came out in the US so when they released Zelda it was with a battery backup cart. The Disk System was a fairly short lived peripheral; there were piracy problems and issues with reliability of the disks, and eventually cartridges became much cheaper and could hold more space, and also had battery backups. 

Of course unlike Druaga or Hydlide, Zelda went on to an entire franchise that is still releasing blockbuster hits today. I could never adapt to the 3D games and so my Zelda experience stopped with Link’s Awakening. 

I had played all these games before this week so I’m just writing them up. In next week’s post I might go on and play a little bit of the next two games on these sitesDragon Slayer for the Epoch Super Cassette Vision, and the original Dragon Quest. But we’ll see.