Rather than category review posts, I’m going to make “wrap-up” posts like I’m doing on my other blog where I just write whatever I feel like about the game.
I’m also thinking possibly about a three tiered ranking system that’s just based on my subjective experience playing the game. I have resisted numerical rankings or objective systems, but perhaps this can express my general feelings towards each game. It would go like this:
A – These games were truly enjoyable, I had fun playing them just as games, not for the blog.
B – These games were average. I found them boring at times, and it was mostly the fulfillment of completing the game for the blog that carried me through. My overall experience with the game wasn’t terrible, it’s just not a game I would have finished all the way through for fun.
C – These games were painful to finish, to the point where I wanted to give up despite the blog, and had to force myself to play through (sometimes using cheats) just to move on to the next game.
I think the B rank could also be given plus and minus:
B+ These games are almost in the A rank, but have one or two bad gameplay decisions that knock them down. A good example would be Jungle Wars 2, which would have been A if not for the insane random encounter rate (even by early 1990s standards) in the second part of the game.
B- These games are almost in the C rank, but are saved only by virtue of being easy and short. A good example of this is Villgust.
This is how I would rank the games I have played so far:
[A] Dragon Quest V, Breath of Fire, Sword World SFC
[B+] Glory of Heracles III, Jungle Wars 2
[B] GD Leen, Benkei Gaiden, Elfaria, Xak, Metal Max 2, Danzarb, Odysselya, Silva Saga II, MADARA 2, Ranma 1/2, Super Chinese World 2, Seiken Densetsu 2
[B-] Maka Maka, Villgust, 3×3 Eyes*, SD Gundam Gaiden 2, Albert Odyssey
[C] Light Fantasy, Hokuto no Ken 5, Cyber Knight, Hero Senki, Song Master, Dual Orb, Bazoe!
*3×3 Eyes is a special case because the game has a ridiculous glitch at the end of the game that makes it nearly impossible to finish without exploiting another glitch or cheating. My rank of B- is assuming you use a cheat or glitch to get around the problem. If you’re playing this on real hardware it’s a C.
Romancing SaGa is hard to place. I was not able to finish the game and because of that I’m tempted to give it a C, but I don’t feel like the game is as bad as the other games I have in that rank.
There have been distressingly few games in the A rank so far, but as I keep saying, I have high hopes as we continue forward.
Now, on to Aretha, which I think gets a solid B rank.
The story is OK. It’s nothing amazing, but for 1993 it has more dialogue and a bit more character development than the average game, despite the short ending. Aretha 2 is a direct sequel, so it will be interesting to see whether it does any better.
The gameplay is also OK. As I said in the first post, I am always appreciative of any combat system where the magic users can actually use their magic. A big problem with games of this era is that MP is so limited, and MP recovery items so hard (or impossible) to get, that magic users tend to be reduced to one role — healing and buffing in boss battles. This game has cheap MP restoration items and high MP. The fighters are less useful but later in the game you get swords that hit multiple enemies at once, which helps.
By far the biggest problem is the baffling decision not to display damage numbers. I’m not sure what the designers were trying to do with this, but it’s incredibly frustrating to not know if your attacks are doing 5 or 500 damage. Are Ariel and Doll’s regular attacks effective? Even after beating the game I have no idea. How much better is Force B than Force A? Who knows. Is Force A doing more damage than Ariel’s damage spell? Anyone’s guess. Fortunately I think the designers realized their mistake, because in Aretha 2 the damage number is displayed.
The use of enemies on different sides is not especially meaningful. Enemies don’t do any more damage from the back or sides, so it’s just about group spells only hitting enemies in front of you.
The dungeons are not especially interesting, and there are a lot of one-path dungeons.
Finally, the item crafting system is poorly implemented. The idea of putting different elemental “souls” into the items and mixing them sounds good, but it’s impossible to predict what you’re going to get, and there’s no relation between the number of souls you put in and the item you get. 3 Fire souls may get you a better weapon than 90 fire souls. It’s also possible to get ridiculously powerful equipment early on in the game.
So overall this is yet another game that’s average for 1993, but doesn’t really rise above the pack in any meaningful way.
Now I am excited for the games that are coming up. Soul & Sword and Romancing SaGa 2 have unusual gameplay, Dokapon IV is a completely different type of game (board game RPG), and Illusion of Gaia is fun. So maybe you’ll see more positivity from me in the coming weeks?
In any case, Just Breed for the Famicom is next on my other blog, an Enix strategy RPG that’s actually quite good.
Looking forward to Illusion of Gaia, really enjoyed it back in the day. It has its quirks and issues, but I still go back to it every few years or so.
Also, it would seem that not too many real 'hidden gems' were left in Japan, judging by your experiences so far. Hopefully the quality gets better as you go; I think that, starting from 1994, games should be better on average.
So far. I think that things will change as I move on — it depends a bit on what you mean by "hidden gems" because I think a lot of those have already been uncovered by fan translators. I'm not expecting to find more than a handful of games that are great RPGs and have no English translation at all.
Just a theory… I'm imagining a trajectory with the overall average quality of SFC RPGs lagging about 2 years behind the last Final Fantasy game released by Square.
FF4: released in 1991. Other SFC RPGs in 1992 honestly felt just a step above NES games and were only starting to find their footing, and were nothing compared to FF4. In 1993, games start to approach and surpass FF4 in overall production values.
FF5: released in 1992. Other games in 1993 rarely if ever could compare to FF5. In 1994, many games start to exhibit higher production values and compare against FF5. 1994 is when the first real "hidden gems" of the system start to emerge.
FF6: The giant of 1994. Would forever remain a landmark for future SFC RPGs and inspire other studios to aim higher. Few other games in 1995 could compare, and only in 1996 games with similar production values and quality by other studios would emerge.
About IOG — it's been said that the official translation wasn't all that good, common in localizations of the time, omitting a TON of nuance and details. My memories of the game are hazy since playing and finishing it some over 10 years ago, but I'd be inclined to agree. Looking forward to your playthrough and comments on the japanese script.
There's an interesting forum thread on the subject (https://www.terraearth.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1926). Heavy spoilers for the game's story, so you might want to leave reading the thread until after finishing the game.
I'm really looking forward to read your impressions about the two Daikaijuu Monogatari on the snes, when you reach them. To me, they're two of the best rpgs on the system. I played the first one when its stalled fantranslation was finally completed around 2015, and the second one because I managed to be accepted in the betatesting group for the unfinished, but in a very advanced state, fantranslation.
One thing I like a lot about the first snes Daikaijuu, is the possibility of exploring an undersea counterpart of the overworld, something not many rpgs have done (only FFV, Herakles IV, Breath of Fire I, Lufia II, DQVI and the Japanese only Idea no Hi come to mind). They look like a lot, but compared to the amount of rpgs released on the snes, they're actually just a few.
Rudra no Hihou is also noteworthy for its world map exploration. Day, night, sky islands, undersea, underworld… and story events would change the map's look and layout all the time.
I agree, both Daikaijuu games are really, really solid!
I'll get to both of those eventually! It's nice to know that good games are coming eventually.
I tested this game a bit then the fan-translation patch came out. The one problem I had was the incredibly shrill and annoying sound the cursor makes then you move it in the menus. At least to my ear. Other than that, I got a feeling what the game is average and shelfed it for some other time.
I wrote a piece on the entire Aretha series for HG101 (also write for RPGamer), and at the time, my article was one of the few pieces on the series in English. That said, you really covered this game well.
I stumbled upon your blog by accident, and it's one of my favourite ones. I collect physical copies of older RPGs and even own most of the RPGs for Super Famicom, so if you need to consult a manual, let me know. Chances are, I have it.
Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading your future reviews.
Oh, regarding the above comment, I didn't mean to have 'Unknown' listed. Also, I was surprised to learn that Burai was considered a kuso-game in Japan.
I think that it was only the Super Famicom version that was considered kusoge.
Thank you! I actually could often use manuals for these old games; I was buying them but I didn't want to spend that much money so now I'm only buying the strategy RPG games for my other blog. I have 20-30 of the earlier games CIB; if you need any of them let me know.
Sounds great! Is my contact information showing up? You can shoot me an e-mail (or I can e-mail you), and I'd be happy to share what you need. I have most of the early console RPGs CIB, especially the SFC. Exceptions would be games like the Gundam RPGs and such. And I'd be interested to know which of the 20 to 30 games you already own.
What would be the best AMID or DQ2 clone in your opinion?
From what I understand I think Sol Trigger might be AMID but I am not sure if that game qualifies as such