I was hoping to finish the game by today but the final dungeon is frustrating and I don’t think I’ll be able to quite manage it.
As I said last time, this game does have a linear progression that you have to do in order to win the game — there aren’t any alternate routes or endings. However, the number of things you actually have to do to win is fairly small, and the game doesn’t always make it clear where you’re supposed to go next. So the “non-linear” part comes from wandering around seeing what you can find. I find this frustrating because sometimes when you get to a place and can’t progress, you’re not sure whether it’s because you’re not supposed to be here yet, you just aren’t figuring out the puzzle to move on, or whether there really is nothing there because it’s just an optional area.
So while I am enjoying this game, it’s not one of my favorites — but I can definitely imagine other people enjoying this a lot more.
I left off last time after I had gotten another tank. The tank upgrade system is something else that I found a little more frustrating the more I played — you have a lot of control over your tanks but it also means that you have to spend a lot of time fiddling with various items and settings, and since no town offers everything, you often have to warp around to multiple places to get everything filled up, bought, or upgraded. I also think they put it some unnecessary complications, like random “bird crap” showing up in your tank’s inventory which then needs to be washed off at the first town. The interface is not as clean as I would like.
After getting the tank I went through the Dark Canal southeast of the big lake, which opens a new area. There’s also the second of the Four Kings of the Grapplers, but I bypassed him for now.
|The Dark Canal
There’s a town past the canal that has a lot of good new armor, weapons, and tank things, and you can find some other really good equipment with a metal detector in the desert nearby. Armed with all of this I went back to the “protein palace.” This is where Madam Muscle and her army of brainwashed women hope to enslave all men. All of the enemies in this dungeon are palette swaps:
|The gymnasts are taking over the world
In order to clear this area you have to beat a bunch of clones, which then kills the originals somehow, opening up the doors. Finally Madam Muscle herself appears, and isn’t all that hard.
She’s another one of the wanted monsters, so I got my reward and then headed back to the Dark Canal to defeat Cagliostro. We heard about him in Delta Rio from an older woman called Eva. Cagliostro now shows up to kidnap her. Chasing him into Dark Canal, we have to face him in battle.
One other flaw in the combat system is that critical hits are too important. In a lot of fights you do very little damage with attacks, unless you critical, in which case you’re suddenly doing anywhere from 10-20 times the damage. This means that a lot of fights, particularly the tank ones, are just a matter of using Hollow Shells (to damage the parts) and then regular attacks until you happen to get enough critical hits to win. The enemies get criticals also, so even if your defense is high enough that you’re taking single digit damage, one critical will still do several hundred. So I guess this both helps and hurts you, but it seems like not the best way to scale damage.
After beating the tank, Cagliostro himself appears.
|The man himself
But what’s he going to do against your tanks? Not much. Now we’ve taken down the second of the four Kings…but a dying Eva tells us that the true leader of the Grapplers is not any of them, but a man named “Bias Brad”, presumably the same one who owned the Brad Company that made the museum we visited earlier. This game doesn’t have much of a story, but it does let you fill in a lot of pieces of backstory in optional areas — for instance, there’s a monkey research plant that gives you the backstory of Skunks, the first King, and there are other places that give some more insight into the background of the Grapplers and of Brad. Brad was a great scientist who created the wind plants and other good things, but when he got a disease he was so scared that he locked himself away in research, right around the time of the Great Disaster.
A brief trip to the wind farm up north brings the next wanted monster, the Dust Caveman:
I also found a strange eye that asks you philosophy questions about existence, but nothing you choose does anything.
|What is truth?
I’ll skip over the next few things — I found another tank, and beat a few more of the wanted monsters. There’s a research lab where a professor will create you a new tank, but it seemed like it would require too much grinding to get the iron pieces necessary, so I skipped it.
Next up is Devil Island, where (I think) the next of the Four Kings, Bull Frog, is. The dungeon has no enemies until you meet him at the top of the tower. He turns on defense systems and then runs away, but once I caught up with him he fell pretty easily.
One odd thing in this game is the “love machine”. You find various chips around the world that spell out LOVE with numbers from 1-3. By delivering these to some scientists they will configure the “love machine” for you. Depending on the configuration it has various effects, like damaging the enemies, healing you, playing music, or defending against various types of attacks.
This is rather poorly presented in the game because there’s no indication that the configurations have any effect, and the only way to figure out what you did is to go in battle and use the machine to see what happens. I saw a number of Japanese players say they could never figure out that it did anything and put it in the storage, but it makes the final bosses considerably easier (supposedly).
The next area I visited was Death Cross town, where they trick us into putting on mind control helmets. We get the important work of pushing oil drums across the ground.
|We can’t run this place without you!
After impressing the boss, I moved up to kitchen staff, stole a spoon, and dug my way to freedom! Killing the uber-boss, a copy of Skunks, liberated the town and they immediately started selling great stuff to me.
I killed a few more wanted monsters and visited some other optional places to upgrade my stuff, but at this point I’m ready to go to the final dungeon. Ted Broiler and Bias Brad await. I’ve gone in a few times but the enemies are very hard, especially on foot. The random encounters do a ton of damage and it’s hard to flee. If you get a game over you don’t lose anything, but you have to make your way back to where your tanks were to get them back. It’s possible to rent tanks, but then you have to report back to the rental agency once you’ve recovered your original tanks or most of the money you get from each battle will be taken by them. It’s easier to reset, but the encounters are so deadly that it seems like I might have to do some grinding just to survive.
Incidentally, the DS remake of this game seems (from what I’ve seen) to have fixed some of the interface and balance issues this game has so that might be the better choice?