This is the second in a series of three games by ASCII; they’re not really direct sequels but more spiritual sequels (along the lines of the Soul Blazer “series”). The first one was Dark Lord for the original Famicom, and the third game (Dark Law) will be the second to last game I play for this blog.
My self-imposed rule is that if a game has no translation (not even a patch), I have to finish it. I have considered changing this for crappy games but I haven’t done it yet. I’m going to bend the rules a bit here — technically I “finished” this game, but I got a bad ending. The main problem is that I just can’t really figure out how to play this game. I wasn’t able to get a physical copy due to the covid shipping restrictions, and without an instruction manual there are things about the basic gameplay I can’t figure out.
The idea behind the game is to be a free-form system. You have 20 days; after that, the dark lord descends to the earth and you get a bad ending. In order to see the real ending you have to do a number of specific events on certain days and do the quests. The game is not very long, and I think the intent of the designers is that you would play it through several times before you finally figured everything out.
So let me preface the rest of the post with a warning: This is based on what I could figure out through brute force and a bit of help from some Internet resources (not a full walkthrough). There may be aspects of the game that I’m wrong about and would be clarified by the instruction manual.
There’s a short opening scene where some kind of dark warrior is going to bring back a being from space to the “paradise” of the world. The game begins by having you put in your name, select a space on a grid to determine your starting stats, and picking a birthday. Then you suddenly start out in a forest with no explanation. Walking north I came to a cliff where I could see a city. It took me a while to figure out just how to get beyond these starting screens; you have to keep walking back and forth on the edge of the cliff until it crumbles and you fall down.
The character wakes up and gets mysteriously healed with no explanation. I then explored this area a bit and came across a town. But I had wanted to see if there was anything else outside….and I realized I couldn’t leave the town. The town becomes the base of the game and you can’t leave unless you get an “episode” started.
I have zero money; there wasn’t anything to do but visit the king, who tells you he’ll raise your level with enough XP, and then take a job. There are a number of different jobs (fisherman, woodcutter, etc.). I then was able to do the job, making time pass and changing my stats, and getting a pittance of gold (not enough to actually buy much).
From a walkthrough I knew that on Day 3 if I talked to the jobs person it would open up the first episode. He sends me to find out what happened to three people who got stuck in a mine nearby. This takes me out of the town, and into an area with the first fight against two wolves.
The battle system is in real time, so you mash the attack button (a white box shows you when you’re in range) and try to dodge out of the way before they attack. I got slaughtered on my first try. If you die, several days pass and then you wake up back in town. I think this means you can get the real ending but I’m not sure about that.
The second try I did a little better but I still was left with 1 HP at the end. Fortunately I started with a healing spell. Making my way to the cave, I fell down a hole into a black area where one of the captured miners was. Looking at the youtube playthrough it seems like you can find other people in the cave and a blue stone to give you light before doing this, but I was in total darkness (actually looking at the screenshot it’s not total darkness; I guess I could have turned off the NTSC filter and brightened it up a bit. Eventually I blundered around and mashed circle enough times that the miner broke his way out and I followed him to the boss fight.
Somehow I was just able to attack the boss from behind and defeated him, but he killed the other miner. From here we returned to town and I got a reward from the jobs person.
I still had no money though, so I couldn’t upgrade my equipment. I did jobs for another day and then got the second scenario, which is talking to a guy and doing his “bug killing” job for him. We go out to the forest and I was faced with several battles that I found very difficult. I could barely do any damage to the bugs whereas they took off a third of my HP. I had to use a bunch of save states and about 5 minutes just to kill 2 bugs, and then more arrived. At this point I lost the fight and the bug man said I wasn’t cut out for the job and we went back to town. The king raised me one level.
This is where I really had the feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing. The youtube video indicates I could have gotten a second party member by examining a rock four times at the very beginning of the game before going to town (I only checked it once). I feel like there has to be some way to get some more money or stats so that I’m not getting obliterated by bugs (the youtube playthrough cuts out all the fights so I don’t know what she did).
So at this point my character decided he wasn’t cut out for the adventuring life and worked as a fisherman for 18 more days until the dark warrior brought back the evil guy into the world and the game was over. Better luck next time.
My impression from this playthrough is that this game is garbage. But as I said, I’m not willing to completely write it off without seeing the instruction manual…although for now I’m moving on to the next game. Sometimes people complain that modern games have too many tutorials and hold your hand too much, but this is the polar opposite. They even tease you at the beginning by telling you that holding down L will let you search, but that’s the only hint you get!
Next week will be Xak III, the third game in the Ys ripoff series.
I can't fathom playing a game like this. In my opinion, I think it's poor game design to have secrets in the game with absolutely no in game hints to point them out. I'm curious to know if there are any more hints in the manual if you ever do get a physical copy.
The gameplay design really is too restrictive. It's as if you're supposed to powerlevel with max efficiency every step along the way just to keep up with the difficulty of the combat. I never found a good way to make gold either. Perhaps if there were more days and time to gain levels/money it would be a much better experience.
There were around 3-4 hidden items (healing herbs iirc) in the intro cliffs area that you'll probably miss and can never get later. They help a bit in the start with money being so scarce.
If I remember it right, taking different jobs lowers/raises different stats. You learn new skills and magic when your stats hit certain stat thresholds, perhaps? Or when you spend enough days as a certain class? What an unintuitive mess of a game (with some good music, at least).
Looks like a game with good ideas destroyed by obtuse design choices.