SFC Game 90 – Metal Max Returns

Metal Max Returns (メタルマックスリターンズ), released 9/29/1995, developed by Data East

This is a remake of the long-running Metal Max series. Metal Max 2 was an early game I played for this blog, and in that post I mentioned that the newest game would be coming out that year — that was Metal Max Xeno (2018). Since then there has been an enhanced version of Xeno as well as a new game, Metal Dogs, that came out last year.

The remake completely redid the graphics, and they look better than Metal Max 2. The rest of the system and gameplay is essentially the same as Metal Max 2, which I don’t believe was all that different from the original Famicom game. From what I can see, the non-graphical changes to the game are mostly minor balance adjustments and things of that nature — with one exception, which I’ll mention later.

As with Metal Max 2, this is a non-linear, open-world-ish game. We’ve seen a number of these on the blog, and they’ve all used various methods to accomplish the non-linear gameplay. What Metal Max Returns does is essentially to separate the world into four or five regions. You have to accomplish something to get to the next region, and then there is a final boss. But the number of things you actually are required to do to win the game is very small, and most of the content is not required. However, you will not be able to beat the final boss (or the Big Cannons at the end of the second area) if you try to only do strictly what is required. So the rest of the content in the game is just there to give you interesting things to do while you build up your tanks and strength. The main change in Returns is that original had (I think) five bosses that blocked your way to new areas, where as Returns has only two (including the final boss series).

Just as in MM2, MMR has sixteen wanted monsters that you can beat to get XP and money. All of them are optional. There are also eight tanks you can acquire. I managed to get all the tanks and fifteen of the sixteen wanted monsters (two of them are very rare encounters). Some of them randomly appear in certain areas of the world map or in dungeons, others are found as specific encounters. You can run away from them in general so if you encounter them when you don’t want to fight them you can get away.

The game does not really have a story. The main character is the son of a mechanic, who kicks him out of the house when he decides to become a Hunter. Beyond that, there’s no real overall story development until the final boss. You can end the game at any time by returning to your dad and saying you want to quit being a Hunter. You have to confirm it four times and the last time he says “Are you serious? I’m going to save over your file now.” If you do that after you have beaten the final boss, you see the credits and ending sequence.

The tank system is the same as MM2. You have various types of weapons you can put on (if you have the right attachments on your tank), special weapons, and items. Everything has a weight, and the tank can only support a certain amount of weight determined by the chassis. Any leftover weight allowance will be “armor tiles”, which are essentially the tank’s HP. Once a tank’s armor tiles run out, further attacks will start destroying parts of the tank until it can no longer move. Parts can also be destroyed by certain attacks. This game also has the bird shit and mushrooms that take up space and have to get cleaned. You can tow one tank if it’s inoperable.

There is no game over; if you die your dad pulls you back to the first town and Dr. Minch (who was also in MM2) revives you. However, your companions are not there and I never figured out how to get them back, so I always reset when I got a game over.

Getting out of the first area just requires finding the first tank in the nearby cave. You can also clear the first wanted group here, the Salmonella Gang.

Getting out of the second area requires defeating two Mega Cannons. It would be basically impossible to go straight there and do it, but there are quite a few different places you can go in the second area first. My general method on gaining access to a new area was first to explore the whole land area to get it in my map, and to visit all the towns to see what kind of wanted monsters I could learn about and what new equipment I could buy. In the second area the main places are the factories at the shore, and some wanted monsters that can be picked up here.

Eventually after buying armor piercing shells, recruiting the second character (a mechanic) and getting a Buggy for him, and upgrading everyone, I was ready for the big cannons…more or less.

I had to use my full complement of armor piercing shells and most of my other resources. You have to beat two but can do them one at a time, which helps. After this, we open the third area.

Here you can pick up the third character, a soldier. Some players seem to have had a lot of difficulty activating the event that lets you recruit her but for me it just happened without issue. But it was a long time before I could get a third tank to give her one. This is also where you can now upgrade tanks by modifying their chassis to give them more weight allowance, and other such things.

From here to the end, the only required boss is the final sequence of boss battles at the end of the game. So by selective running from fights and such, you could now go all the way to the final area — getting out of the 3rd area is just talking to some people and going through a dungeon, and getting to the final area involves talking to some people in a tower. I did not go this quickly, though. A third tank is available by beating Mad Muscle but I found him very difficult and was not able to do it until I came back much later.

At this point I’m not sure I want to give a detailed recounting of everything I did; there’s no real story and I basically followed the outline I said above. Explore a whole region, buy new things, then start going in the dungeons in the area to see what I can find. Beat any wanted monsters I am able to, and go back to previous areas to sop up the wanted monsters I skipped.

Getting to one of the area involves toppling a tower to cover the water.

Anyway, eventually I had all 8 tanks and had beaten 14 of the 16 wanted monsters. The 15th one I was going to deal with, Bad Valdez, was quite challenging. However, raising your level helps quite a bit. I think I was at level 27 or so when I finally took him down.

The final dungeon is the Global Relief Center. At various points in the game you can hear some rumors about Noah, the computer system here. It turns out that Noah was created by scientists to fix the environmental problems in the world, and decided that the best way to fix them was to wipe out humanity. So Noah was the cause of the world apocalypse, and is also responsible for all the robots and such that are afflicting the world.

Noah has several forms, but I found him much easier than the final bosses of Metal Max 2. He hits just as hard but has fairly low HP.

Afterwards, I returned to my dad and told him I was ready to be a mechanic.

Then the credits roll and we get our stats and the level each wanted monster was beaten at. Afterwards it seems that Kurisu gets bored being a mechanic and goes off to be a Hunter again.

In the end I liked this game a lot more than Metal Max 2. I found the less restrictive nature of MMR was more fun. I still wish there were more complexity to the non-tank battle system since you have to use it so much. Has anyone played any more recent Metal Max series games?

SFC Game 89 – Magic Knight Rayearth

Magic Knight Rayearth (魔法騎士レイアース), released 9/29/1995, developed by Tomy

This is our second consecutive RPG based on a shojo manga. Magic Knight Rayearth was a series by the famous Clamp group that ran from 1993-1996. It had an anime adaptation, and there were a bunch of video games released in 1994 and 1995 for the Game Boy, Game Gear, Saturn, and this one for Super Famicom.

I never saw or read Rayearth so I do not have the nostalgic connection to the series that I do to Sailor Moon. I thought this game was greatly inferior to Sailor Moon, but some of that is probably that I’m not a fan of this series.

The game involves three 8th grade girls who get transported to a fantasy world and have to become the Magic Knights to save Rayearth. The game is an adaptation of the first half of the manga (the first storyline). It ends very abruptly because of this.

The three girls (from left to right above) are Ryuzaki Umi, Shidou Hikaru, and Hououji Fuu.

Because of the nature of the series, there is no equipment. Instead each girl has a weapon and an armor, that change a couple of times during the game and can be levelled up by fighting battles. Each girl will also gain the ability to use magic during the game; new spells can be gained by levelling up, and there are also a few powerful spells that are granted at certain points in the story. The battle system is normal DQ2 style, and there’s really not much to it — levelling is fairly quick and you can buy MP restoring items so the game goes smoothly. It’s also quite short.

When the story begins, Princess Emeraude has used Cephiro’s Pillar to summon the magic knights from the real world to Rayearth to defeat Zagato, a priest who was supposed to be her second in command but has turned against her and wants to reduce the world to nothing. (NOTE: I am not going to look up the official English romanizations for the names)

This magician Clef tells the three girls why they’ve been summoned, and tells them that the only way they’ll be able to get back to Earth is to defeat Zagato and have Emeraude send them back. First, they need to find the smith Presea so they can get their magic weapons.

At Presea’s, a little magic creature called Mocona joins up. Mocona can become a campsite where you can heal and save on the map, and will also perform various other helpful functions as the story progresses.

The girls need to find some Escudo so that Presea can forge their weapons. Meanwhile they meet a knight named Lafarga who was one of the Princess’ guards and wants to defeat Zagato, but he refuses to join the girls. On the way to find the Escudo, Clef reappears and gives Umi her water magic — unfortunately he doesn’t have time to give the rest of the girls theirs, because Alcione, one of Zagato’s servants, attacks.

Now you do a scenario with each of the three girls where they confront their weaknesses, and after that they gain the Escudo and their new weapons. I’m not entirely sure what the effect of getting these new weapons and levelling them up is, but I assume the attack increases.

The next goal is to revive the three legendary Mashins, which will give them power to defeat Zagato.

You have to go to three areas that represent one of the three Mashins associated with each girl (water, fire, wind). In each one you have to demonstrate your strength to the Mashin; it’s always by dealing with one of Zagato’s underlings and converting them to good by some method. Once all three Mashins give you their power, the girls reach their final upgrade.

Finally, we head to Zagato’s castle. First we have to make it through a mirror maze cave.

We then reach Zagato’s castle. It turns out that Zagato really just wants to break down the world so he can create a new one where Princess Emeraude doesn’t have to be bound to the Cephiro pillar. Once we beat him (and his Mashin form), there’s a final twist — Emeraude is in love with Zagato, and can’t deal with her anger that Zagato has been killed. She actually summoned the Magic Knights to kill her. This is the danger of the Pillar; the person who is chosen to pray for the world may have their thoughts distracted by things like love, causing problems.

Emeraude attacks you with her own Mashin form. Once killed, the girls get transported back to Tokyo Tower. Hikaru says “We have to get back!” and the game ends abruptly.

All in all this game was rather disappointing; it’s very short, with a high random encounter rate, and almost nothing to do other than just go straight through the story. Since it’s only the first part of the story, it has the most abrupt ending I’ve ever seen in an RPG. I suppose at least it plays smoothly (if you have a speedup key for the battles), and if you are a fan of Rayearth it should be worth a play. But it pales in comparison to the care with which Sailor Moon: Another Story was made. If any of the commenters were fans of this series, maybe you can tell me if that makes the game any better.

SRPG Game 74 – Sparkling Feather (PC-FX)

Sparkling Feather (スパークリングフェザー), released 4/25/1997, developed and published by NEC

This is the second game on this blog for the ill-fated PC-FX. I have four games total for the system on my list but three of them are remakes; this is the only original SRPG for the system. Given how poorly the system was received it’s not a surprise that this game was handled by NEC themselves. On the whole it’s similar to the other games in that it plays to the strengths of the system by having a lot of anime sequences and fully voiced story dialogue, but the rest of the graphics are Super Famicom level or below.

As with the other PC-FX games, this one was too expensive for me to buy, and it’s so obscure there’s little information about it beyond a few short reviews and a full playthrough on Nicovideo. There are aspects of the system I don’t fully understand, and so it’s possible that my views towards the game are unfair in that respect. But, with that in mind this is the second SRPG in a row I’m stopping after a few stages.

The basic setting is that the world is being attacked by Steen, some sort of monster. It was hard for me to tell whether this was supposed to be taking place in the real world or not; if it’s not Earth it’s a modern-day setting on an Earth-like place. The main character is Shinguji Aoi, a high school student.

Aoi is visited in a dream by someone calling themselves Diamond Feather, telling Aoi he is one of the Feathers who transform to fight the Steen. Aoi refuses to listen but then is visited by Coral Feather.

Coral Feather is part of a rival group that is using their Feather power for their own greed and ambition rather than to fight the Steen. Eventually Aoi powers up into Ruby Feather and we have the first fight.

You begin with a team of 7 characters (all different Feathers). All combat in this game is done via AI instructions — including even your main character.

Part of my issue with this game is that the meaning of the AI commands was not clear without the instruction manual. The last three options in the menu above are Attack Move, Follow-up Attack, and Ambush. The meaning of the terms is clear enough (I guess) but what they actually do differently was hard to interpret.

More problematic is the “trust” system. Each character has a trust value from 1 to 5 stars. The lower the trust is, the less likely they are to follow your orders. This makes no sense from a story perspective because Ruby Feather isn’t the leader of the group; he just joined. But more than that, it’s annoying to try to be issuing orders and half the characters refuse — sometimes they will just sit there and do nothing for the whole battle while you repeatedly try to get them to do something.

When they do attack, there seems to be no way to control whether they will use a normal attack or a special move (maybe this has to do with the AI command). Even Ruby, who has a 5 star trust and never refuses, can’t be directly controlled like this.

So basically this is a lot like Seikon no Joka in that most of the game is just spent watching the characters fight. I learned from a review that if you leave the game long enough the orders phase will end by itself, so you can literally do the battle part just by setting down the controller and leaving (since characters will act without orders). The only thing you need to press a button for is to clear the message if someone levels up.

The one thing you can control is making the characters use area-effect magic like buffs and heals.

Even when they ostensibly follow your orders they often get stuck behind other characters or buildings, or try to find another way to reach the destination that doesn’t exist. Also if the characters die in battle they lose a trust star, which also doesn’t make sense — if a character refuses your orders, goes off by themselves and dies, why should they be less likely to follow your orders later?

Between stages there is a dating system that lets you increase the trust, but it’s as opaque as the rest of the game. Who you spend time with is determined by a roulette wheel and a strange sliding puzzle system. Then you get 3 choices — in this case “What do you think of me?” “What have you been doing up to now?” “Teach me some sword techniques.” Some of these will raise trust, others lower, but it’s hard to tell which one is going to do which.

After the first stage Ruby joins the team and sees the flying ship the Feathers have.

In the second stage we try to go to a concert but Tourmaline Feather attacks; it turns out the singer for the concert is actually a feather as well (Sapphire Feather).

The third stage is a four-way fight between us, the Coral Feather faction, Steen, and the SCAT Earth defense force tanks. Coral Feather decides to team up at least for now to fight the Steen. Afterwards, the head of the SCAT forces tries to arrest us but Ruby uses his power to bend her gun and we escape.

At this point I was rather annoyed by not really being able to do anything in the stages, so I looked for Japanese reviews. It didn’t look like there was anything major I was missing; the reviews I saw were largely negative. The story was also criticized as not really going anywhere, having a bad ending, and not developing any of the characters.

So this is where I stopped. As I said, this is another game where it is possible that my opinion is lower than it would be if I had the instruction manual. It may be that certain characters are more likely to follow certain orders, or that if I had a better understanding of what each order did I would have more control. However, based on what I have seen from the Japanese sites, it’s unlikely that even with this information this would become a really good game. I did find one short review from someone who liked it a lot, but it wasn’t specific enough to tell why; it seemed like it was more from the cute girls than from the game itself.

So that’s it for the PC-FX — this is the fourth system I’ve “completed” after PC Engine, Game Gear, and Famicom (I have one more Mega Drive game that I missed on the initial list and need to get to at some point, and of course one more Super Famicom game which is still on the far horizon).

SRPG Game 73 – Seikon no Joka (PSX)

Seikon no Joka (聖痕のジョカ), released 4/25/1997, developed by Takara

The next two SRPGs I only played the first few stages of, so there will be another post on Wednesday this week with Sparkling Feather.

This game’s title means “Joka of the Sacred Scar”, although elsewhere in the game and instructions, 聖痕 is read as “rune” instead. The game is based off a light novel series, although one site I saw said it takes place 100 years after the novels, although that’s not clear from the backstory in the instructions.

The background story is that thousands of years before, the 24 Runes were sealed away in the Earth’s Navel by a girl named Joka, thus removing them from influencing the world. But now, an unknown person has unsealed the runes from the Navel. In an effort to stop this, the Angel Topuka tried to reincarnate Joka, who had the Blank Rune that could unify all the runes. But Topuka messed up and split Joka into two parts, one of whom is born as a princess, the other as an orphan in the wilds.

One immediate issue with this game is the offputting character designs.

Now you name the main character, including his title (I used Scarlet Lightning Kurisu). He’s trying to get a treasure from ruins, but thieves attack on his way out.

The system is pretty typical although rather than a grid, it’s a sphere of movement. You can move, and then attack or use a special attack. Some of the attacks have “reverse” versions that apparently can be used once you get to the point in the game where your characters get the Runes.

However, I encountered the first huge problem with the game during and after this stage. Whenever you are in any kind of status menu or shop menu, the background spins around quickly behind the windows (which are semi-transparent). I get motion sick pretty easily and while I can’t recall ever getting it from a video game, the spinning background made me queasy — even if it didn’t it’s really distracting to try to be reading text in the foreground while the background is spinning around at a pretty high speed. This is the primary reason I gave up on the game after a few missions.

There’s not much about this game on the Internet, but I did find a few criticisms of the camera spinning including one Japanese player who also got sick from it.

Kurisu reaches town to try to sell what he got, but it turns out that “cute Topuka” (the angel from the opening) is in it, although with no memory. All he knows is that he needs to get to the town of Silver. Kurisu and he join up with a merchant who wants some bodyguards to help them go through a forest.

In the second stage ghosts attack in the forest, and here we find the second big problem with this game — you can only control Kurisu. Everyone else moves on AI. This is an odd decision for an SRPG; it’s true that there are games like Ogre Battle that don’t allow direct control of the characters but the system is set up for that. Here it’s basically a normal SRPG but you can only control one character. Also while the other characters (and enemies) are moving, the camera is spinning around 360 degrees just like it does when you have the menu open.

After the fight we meet up with the wild orphan Joka.

In the next town we meet the princess Joka who is supposed to marry a prince from another land to unify the alliance between their countries, but she has no desire to do that. She feels a connection with the wild Joka and with Kurisu’s help they escape the palace.

This is where I stopped; I just couldn’t play any more with the spinning camera, and even without that why play an SRPG where you can’t control most of your party? There are apparently two endings based on various choices you make throughout the game; it seems to have to do with which Joka the main character gets closer to. But I won’t be seeing either of them.

SFC Game 88 – Sailor Moon Another Story

Sailor Moon Another Story (美少女戦士セーラームーン ANOTHER STORY), released 9/22/1995, developed and published by Angel

I was (am?) a big fan of Sailor Moon. It was the first anime I really got into, back in the mid-90s when the dub was airing on American TV. I’m not sure why I liked it so much; part of it was the online community (in newsgroups and mailing lists) and part of it me wanting to see a cartoon with a developing storyline. I eventually acquired the whole series on VHS tapes (fansubs) and have watched all 200 episodes several times. I no longer own the VHS tapes though.

This means that while I’ve played many games so far based on existing anime, manga, etc, this is the first one that is based on a show I was really into. Probably the one before this that I knew the most about was Ranma 1/2, and that was a pretty crappy game overall. This game, on the other hand, is pretty well done in terms of adapting the original property and making something that will interest fans of the game. It would have been easy to just cram a retelling of the show or lazy product, but the story goes above and beyond that. It involves entirely new villains that do not seem out of place, and examines areas of the original story that were hardly touched on (particularly the future Silver Millennium and the past Moon Kingdom).

The game was developed while the manga was still running. When the development started, the third storyline (S) hadn’t started; when the game was released, the fourth storyline (SuperS) was currently running in both anime and manga form. Because of this, the developers were working off information from Naoko Takeuchi about how the story would develop. The story takes place after the third storyline (S), and mostly seems to follow the manga, although some anime-only things are included (most of the random encounter monsters are from the anime), and there are even references to the R and S movies. I think if you are a fan of Sailor Moon there is a lot to like about the story. If you are not, I think the story may be less interesting/effective.

There is a translation patch which was released a long time ago, but someone updated it with some various fixes and a “no-grind” patch that reduces the random encounter rate and doubles the xp/gold from each encounter.

All ten of the Sailor Senshi introduced so far are in the game, along with all the powers from both the anime and manga. They also have voice clips for all the attacks as well as their transformation lines.

The graphics on the whole are pretty good. I appreciate the face images in the dialogue (why don’t more games do this!) Since they had a large collection of enemies to draw on from the anime, there aren’t a bunch of palette swap monsters and the in-battle graphics are decent as well.

One of the challenges often faced by developers of games like this is being faithful to the original ideas while still creating RPG-like gameplay. In the manga and anime, they typically only fight one monster at a time, and a single attack by Sailor Moon is the only thing that can kill it (usually one other senshi will use an attack to weaken or stun it). This is a similar problem that was faced by the Fist of the North Star RPG creators — in that anime, the whole point is that people like Kenshiro can only be fairly matched against a small number of others who are trained like them. Kenshiro can take out a normal thug without even breaking a sweat.

So you basically have three choices, I think, in adapting something like this:

  • Try to create a completely new battle system that allows for more faithfulness to the source. I think Dragon Ball is the main example I can think of of a game that did this; it’s not a common technique probably because it’s not easy to do and takes more time.
  • Put some explanation in the story for why the characters cannot fight as well as they can in the original source. Slayers did this by having the “memory loss Lina” that couldn’t use most of her spells. This is not an attractive option because it may annoy players who want to play the original characters as they were in the source.
  • Just use a normal RPG system, and hope that the players will be happy enough to play their favorite characters that they’ll overlook how nonsensical it is (or they will understand that there was no way to adapt the original ideas into a satisfying RPG).

The third option is what most of the series take, and it’s what Sailor Moon Another Story does as well. Here, any move can beat the enemies, and Sailor Moon’s own moves are just damage-dealing moves like any other that she might have to use 2 or 3 times and not even kill the enemy. I think it works, though. An interesting choice they made was to completely restore EP after every battle so that you can make heavy use of the special moves rather than just basic attacks.

The other aspects to the battle system are Link Techs, where two (or three) senshi combine their powers, and Formation Techs (which I never used). There are four formations that increase or decrease the attack/defense of senshi in particular spots — for instance, the “Cluster” formation quadruples the attack of the center senshi but lowers the defense/attack quite a bit of everyone else.

Because of the setting, there are no weapons and armor to equip, just accessories (which are mostly rings, earrings, bracelets, etc).

The game is divided into four chapters. The story beings in the Silver Millennium in the future, where a comet is coming and there is a strange epidemic. Back in the present, old enemies are appearing again in Tokyo.

Fan favorite Hotaru changes from a baby back into Sailor Saturn again. She really shouldn’t have a move that just damages random enemies since she’s supposed to destroy planets, but we’ll allow it.

The first chapter just hints at what’s going on, with a new enemy revealing herself as “Sin”, and various dreams and prophecies. The inner senshi are all captured by Sin, and during the rescue you get various glimpses of their dream “perfect lives” that they’ve abandoned to be warriors (this was in the R Movie also I think). Sin also has 5 underlings headed by Apsu. Their goal is to get the Ginzuishou (silver crystal) from Sailor Moon. The senshi succeed in fighting them off but Mamoru (Tuxedo Kamen) is injured, a common situation for him.

In Chapter 2, the Inner senshi have to go around to different places by themselves to recover four gems based on the four generals of the first series. The game draws from the manga in making the four generals servants of Endymion (Mamoru’s past life); this was never stated in the anime. Each of the four stories involves one of the enemy underlings, and develops their backstories and why they joined Sin. They were all dissatisfied with life in the Silver Millennium in some way.

One big complaint about the game that I think is accurate is that there’s too much grinding; whenever you reach a new area the enemies outclass you by quite a bit and you have to do some levelling. It doesn’t take that long but it’s a bit annoying. The boss of Mercury’s segment here is particularly difficult (the no-grind patch hacked something here to make it a bit easier).

Now that we have the four gems, we still need the Rose Crystal, which is chapter 3 — the Outer senshi and Moon are going after the Rose Crystal while the Inners are gone. Saturn’s Death Reborn Revolution is really good so I usually put her in the middle of the Cluster formation.

This chapter also starts the relationship between Chibi-Usa and an enemy Anshar, a kid with a pet. This seems at least a bit similar to the Chibi-Usa/Helios story from the 4th season, making me wonder if they based this on future ideas for the story.

This chapter has you fighting all the Death Busters, Mistress 9, and Professor Tomoe again from S, followed by Queen Beryl from the original season. I have mixed feelings about the reappearance of all the old enemies from the previous seasons — I feel like they did it just to appeal to fans rather than because it fit organically into the story. They never really fully explain why some of the people came back. I suppose it’s a small complaint but it may lessen the appeal of the game to people who are not fans of Sailor Moon. In any case we fail to gain the Rose Crystal from Anshar, ending chapter 3.

In chapter 4 we find out the enemies are messing around in the past, threatening to change the timeline. So we use the Time Corridor (getting Sailor Pluto on the team) to go back. This is a nice chance to see Beryl and the Generals before they turned to the evil side, and also see original Queen Serenity. We also have to fight the villains from the second season (R) again.

We finally see here more motivation of the enemies — Sin, the leader, is going to die soon. Apsu, the sister of Anshar, was pissed off when the Dark Moon killed her parents, and wondered why the sailor senshi were just protecting Neo Queen Serenity rather than helping her parents.

However, we do manage to recover the Rose Crystal and heal Mamoru. Now it’s time for the final chapter.

At this point you have enough money to have 99 colognes (full MP restore for everyone). With this, you can have Pluto use Time Stop every round, which even freezes bosses (including the final boss). So all you have to do is have three characters use strong attacks (I did a triple tech with Mars-Jupiter-Uranus), then a 4th character use a cologne, and Pluto Time stop every round. If you do this, as long as you are at a high enough level to do reasonable damage and you can make it through the first round of combat without anyone getting confused/entranced/etc, you win every boss fight.

Here we do the final battles against the various underlings who then see the error of their ways. But Sin and Apsu still remain — first we have to defeat Apsu, and then a combination of Apsu and Sin. I thought the final section was a bit less satisfying than the others in terms of the motivation and background of the enemies, but it’s still a decent conclusion to the storyline.

Overall I did enjoy this game quite a bit despite the flaws in the system. Certainly a good part of this was my like for Sailor Moon in general, but I think it shows that this was a good adaptation of the source material, and it gives you a nice chance to see things that were never really touched on much in the original series. It also creates some interesting villains that would fit in the source manga/anime as well as fleshing out the main characters a bit.

I do wonder how people unfamiliar with Sailor Moon would like this game — I have a feeling not all that much since the game system is not necessarily the best in the world, and there is quite a bit of grinding involved. It does make me wonder if I would have had a better opinion of some of the other IP-based games I’ve played in the past if I had played those series.

Actually the next game is also a shojo manga (Magic Knight Rayearth). But first there will be two posts about SRPGs I only played the first few stages of.

SFC Game 87 – Super Magic Continent WOZZ (Part 2)

I left off last time with three more continents to explore. A few things happen at this point:

  • Money becomes nearly a non-issue, especially when it comes to items. You can easily have 300-500 (or even 999) of healing and MP restoring items. Leona will also learn how to make good MP/HP restoring items as well. This doesn’t make the game a complete cakewalk but it certainly lowers the difficulty.
  • You can start making vehicles to drive on the overworld. These have their own HP and attacks. They can only be made at factories in towns (which is also where you can repair them; you can also buy repairing items).
  • Leona can also make robots for Chun to summon in battle; I basically didn’t use these at all. Apparently there is one good robot near the end of the game but you can permanently miss it by not talking to someone in a town so I did not have it.

The next continent is Undetta, which has zombie, ghost, and skeleton villages.

The basic idea here is that each of the three villages has one guardian that the enemies are trying to destroy; if they succeed it will ruin the continent. A new party member ghost joins here, and we manage to save all three spirits. Next up is Anthill Tower where the boss of this region (Queen Artemis) is found.

After this Madisto leaves the party; too bad because his healing spells are very good. He does teach Chun some of the healing spells but they’re not powerful enough at the moment to be as good. I think this is one of the more difficult parts of the game because you have to work to make the healing sufficient to deal with the damage done by the bosses.

Now we have only the left continent left. The bottom desert part is Illuse, but to get there we need a ship. Leona creates one but first we have to deal with pirates — once the pirates are taken care of, the leader joins and we make it to Illuse. We can also travel around to the smaller islands here and there but there’s nothing game-breaking in any of them.

The goal in this section is to reach the temple at the top. Unfortunately villagers here have been tricked by Balam and we get shut in a prison where we fight all the previous bosses again.

There are also oases. At one of them Leona learns to make a 999 MP restore item which is quite useful. Unfortunately when we reach the temple, Balam’s shadow sends us down into the Dark World.

In the Dark World we get another companion — Ramune, the daughter of the ruler of the world of the dead “Pades” (later we get the lord of heaven “seus”). There’s some optional tournament and cave but I just went for the escape.

The boss here is somewhat challenging because of the 8-hit attack and the still somewhat ineffective healing.

Now it’s on to the last continent, the Demon area. Leona learns to build an airplane here so now we can fly anywhere.

The Demons are actually pretty friendly and don’t seem to like Balam very much. After some adventuring, we eventually reach the Pureland in the sky, where Balam is attacking Seus the king of heaven.

Balam decides to send us back to Earth in an attempt to get us out of his way, but Leona just grabs some inventing stuff and then heads back to Wozz through a portal (before it closes). Now for the final dungeon. I used Vargas (the pirate) as my 4th character since you can get his strongest sword for doing a sidequest of returning kittens to the wind fairy.

Balam has two forms. The first is pretty easy, the second is not.

The main problem is his “arm attack” which does 8 attacks at once and can easily wipe your party or put you in a position where you can’t keep up with the healing. However, his HP are relatively low and by just trying a few times I was able to get lucky enough with the Arm Attack that I won.

However, we don’t get back to Earth as promised. Well, that’s OK, maybe Madisto can help us. At this point the world is empty of monsters. Madisto beckons us to his basement, where there are monsters!

This is the big twist of the game. Madisto had very little magic power, which is bad when you are in the Magic Land of Wozz. He was tired of being looked down on, so he made a portal to Earth. He was the one who sent Balam to Earth to test it out, and now he’s ready to take over the world.

He has one devastating attack that hits everyone. After several losses I did a bit of grinding to move from 57 to 60 (with the help of a code); if you do that you can make the strongest weapons for Leona and Shott. More helpfully, Chun was then faster than Madisto and could always start the round with a full heal. Madisto’s HP are fairly low so it’s not very hard to win from here.

At this point we’re able to use some of Madisto’s remaining stuff to get back to Earth, where Leona is on her way to an invention conference.

I looked at English reviews of this game, and they were quite harsh. People fault the poor graphics (for late 1995), the lack of story development, the lack of character development, and the repetitive battles and dungeons. While I can’t disagree with these criticisms, I invite these people to play the previous 86 games I played and then see how good this is compared to those games!

SFC Game 87 – Super Magic Continent WOZZ (Part 1)

Chou Mahou Tairiku WOZZ (超魔法大陸WOZZ), released 8/4/1995 by Bulletproof Software

(First off, I want to thank commenter Endy who has been commenting on a lot of older posts, linking to archived images of Famitsu previews of the games — the screenshots often show interesting pre-development images.)

BPS, the developer, was the Japanese arm of Blue Planet Software, the company responsible for releasing most of the early console versions of Tetris, and developing Bombliss. This seems to be their first console JRPG; they’ll be on here one more time with “Beast and Blade”. They closed shop in 2001.

The basic premise is that the land of Wozz is being afflicted by the evil king Baram, who has been using technology from the human world to take over Wozz. He also has made the rain turn people into monsters. So the great magician Sullivan decides to bring over a hero from the human world to deal with the problem. He ends up transporting over three “heroes”.

From left to right on the platform (opposite from the title screen), there is Leona, a Japanese inventor girl. Shot, a brash American (who shoots a bow). Chun, a Chinese telepath. You can choose which one of these you want to be your main character. All three accompany you no matter what so the choice of main character only makes a slight difference here and there. I chose Leona. Her special power is that she can invent things.

She can learn new inventions by levelling up, getting recipes from chests/bookcases/etc, or having people teach her. From the menu you can make the weapons, armor, or items as long as you have the resources necessary. She can also make vehicles and robots, but this can only be done at invention stations in towns.

Shot is just an attacker; he gets special moves but for some reason only two of them during the game. Chun begins with Telepathy that can do a bunch of random effects, but will learn magic later. The magic system upgrades his magic after a certain number of battles. However, the number of battles is pretty high (I’m in the last fifth of the game as I type this and most of my spells are only at level 3-4 out of 7). Other companions will join as a 4th member throughout the game. Sometimes you can freely choose, other times a member will be forced for some part of the game.

Finally we have a relatively clean interface and no annoying inventory limits (you can even hold 999 of each item!) It’s not perfect; I would have liked a “best equip” choice, but given the crappy interfaces that most of these games seem to have I can’t complain much. The walking speed is also too slow and there’s no dash button, which is unusual at this stage. Two steps forward, one step back, I guess.

Our first mission is to stop the FearRain that is causing the people to turn to monsters. The battle system is basic RPG style. Leona can scan enemies for weakness, and the other two have their powers. One nice thing about the game is that money is plentiful (after the first couple of dungeons) and MP restoring items cheap, so you don’t really have to worry about using too much MP. The only time it does become an issue is in some boss fights, where the MP restoring items you have access to don’t heal as much MP as you would like. But this game doesn’t have much challenge so I suppose that’s a good thing.

We go to a nearby cave where Balam supposedly is, but it turns out to just be Balamo, one of his underlings. The early boss fights are a little bit challenging; what you have to do is just have Chun use Telekenesis and hope you get a lot of “rock drop” which does a ton of damage.

The great wizard Sullivan taught Chun how to use magic, so we can collect the various types of magic from fairies throughout the world. The first comes soon in the “fire forest”, although you have to walk behind a mountain to get there which is kind of cheap since it’s not clear you can do that.

Heading north, we come across a native inventor Madisto, who agrees to join our party if we can bring him some dinosaur DNA from a nearby lab (is he planning a park?) Once we do he joins. He’s quite helpful because he has powerful healing magics right from the start; I used him as often as I could until later in the game when he leaves the party.

Eventually we do come across the source of the FearRain, which is a whale that has been corrupted to shoot out the rain from its blowhole. So Leona has to invent a cleaner to attach to its hole, after we deal with a rather challenging boss. The Zanzori boss here was the only time I had to do any grinding in the game.

Now that we’ve stopped the FearRain, it’s time to head to the next continent. The game basically plays out over several continents, which have their own features:

  • Magic Land (where you start, with wizards/alchemists)
  • Elemen (spirits)
  • Undeata (skeletons, zombies, ghosts)
  • Iryuzu (witches)
  • Delmon (demons)

There are other areas than this, but this is the main flow of the game. As far as the story goes, there aren’t a lot of developments or twists; there’s a lot of comical dialogue but not a whole lot of character development either. It’s mostly just going through these continents solving the problems and driving away Balam’s underlings.

Elemen is a cold area, where you have to drive off an underling named Maif and her two servants.

Two new companions come on board here — Eliza and Ceramic. Ceramic has all status heal moves, which makes her rather useless, but Eliza is a decent fighter.

Maif is tough, mostly because you can’t use Madisto so you don’t have a good healer. She uses some nasty all-effect magic, and I think some of this battle is based on luck — if she decides to use her all attack too many times in a row it’s tough to deal with. But my basic strategy was just to have Shott doing most of the damage with Power Shot. Kurisu heals and the rest of the team either does minor damage or heals if they have a chance.

That’s where I will end this post; I’m on the last area of the game as I type this but I’m going to be away this weekend for the 4th of July so I won’t be able to finish the game in time. Overall this is a decent game; it’s not a masterpiece but it’s playable and relatively fun.

SRPG Game 72 – FEDA 2: White Surge the Platoon (PSX)

フェーダ2 ホワイト=サージ・ザ・プラトゥーン, released 4/18/1997, developed by Max Entertainment, published by Yanoman

This is of course the sequel to 1995’s FEDA: Emblem of Justice. It continues the story from where the first game left off and features similar gameplay. There was supposed to be a third entry to complete the series but it never came out.

The designers made the strange decision to have a nearly 10 minute live action opening sequence filmed with Western actors. The actors include David Hayter (Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid dub), Kim Mai Guest (Mei Ling in MGS), and Deron McBee (Malibu in American Gladiators). The voices are dubbed over by the Japanese VAs for the characters. It’s a surprising use of the budget; it looks pretty cheesy and dumb now but I wonder what people would have thought in 1997.

Other than this, each section closes with a narration by one of the characters, and when you get later in the plot there are PC Engine-style voiced scenes (with just slightly animated still pictures).

Anyway, the game takes place 8 years after the original FEDA. In that game, a thousand year war had closed with the Empire taking control of the entire continent of Balfomoria, but the peninsula of Arcadia rebelled and in the end freed themselves from Imperial rule with the help of deserters Brian Stelbat and Ain McDougal (at least if you get one of the better endings).

Now 8 years later, the Empire has reversed their decision of letting the provinces govern themselves, and the Senate has now introduced a military rule that favors the Grunreim, the most populous race in the Empire. The Dragonnewt race has opposed this, essentially restarting the 1000 year war. At the same time, Arcadia has split into two, with part of it accepting the Senate’s decision and part rejecting it. The main 5 characters are “White Surge”, a group of skilled fighters who have some kind of criminal or questionable past. They’re working in East Arcadia, who wants a closer relationship with the Empire. But they’re not respected by anyone in the military and tend to be used for dangerous or morally questionable missions. The five members are:

  • Harvey Winston, a human (humans are looked down on in this world)
  • Tom Woodland, an Alshidean who joined the army despite his sister’s objections. Harvey and Tom are the characters in this game who give you a game over if they die.
  • Marsha Barnwood, a Shade Elf who specializes in assassinations, but was involved in a number of sex scandals.
  • Device, another human who is a gun/explosive specialist. But he has a problem with alcohol.
  • Minerva Lilac, a Forest Elf. She comes from an illustrious family that served as elite royal guards, but she refused an arranged marriage and was expelled from the country.

I found the plot rather hard to follow. I think this is because the game is trying to tell two stories at once — what White Surge is doing in their own missions, and how the war in the entire Empire is going. But White Surge’s missions aren’t necessarily following a clear story path and sometimes what’s happening in the Empire have nothing to do with White Surge. Also most of the Empire parts are done through voiceover dialogue on a map that you can’t pause; I think maybe my Japanese just isn’t quite good enough to keep track of everything that’s happening in this style of storytelling.

The first scenario has you against the Dragonnewt trying to release some ancient seal (although that’s been done by others). Once this is done, White Surge is simply abandoned to their own devices. They get captured by the Dragonnewts but then are able to convince them to let White Surge work for the Dragonnewts, which is what they do for the rest of the game.

Minerva, Marsha, and Device

The game takes place over 8 “scenarios”, which are sort of like the 12 chapters of the previous game. Unlike the first game they did away with the overworld map and just give you fixed battles in sequence. In a few cases there are alternate battles depending on what happened in the previous one.

The alignment system has returned from the previous game but in a much different form. You now have a certain amount of OPM to spend on bringing characters into battle, changing them in to more powerful forms, or assigning them items. You can spend as much OPM as you want, but if you go into negative you will lose alignment and you’ll be in negative until you can pay back the OPM with future rewards. I believe that your alignment can also be affected by whether you fulfill the mission goals (in some cases you can move on even if you fail to do the mission; you won’t get any OPM though). As in the first game, after each chapter your alignment will change on a law/chaos scale.

However, unlike the previous game, in this game your alignment has no effect. There are no alternate characters, story differences, or any ending difference. It’s purely decorative. I have a feeling this is the result of development time/budget restraints, but it’s a rather strange system in that respect.

Instead of an experience level, each character has a rank starting with E and going up through A to S. When you get 100 exp you go to the next rank. The EXP gains are slow, and by the end of the game I only had two of my characters at S rank and some weren’t even at A. When they rank up they get new abilities and also sometimes can change to different forms (which is a big improvement over the original game, where you never changed at all).

If Tom or Harvey dies in a mission it’s game over. Otherwise the character will suffer a wound; if it’s a light wound they can be in the next battle with a stat penalty, if it’s a heavy wound you’ll have to sit them out until they recover.

The battles themselves are the same as FEDA. They are normal SRPG with the odd turn mechanic where you move one of your characters, then the enemy moves one, etc. But rather than taking turns, it’s proportional to how many are on each side. So if you have 5 guys vs. 10 enemies, you will take one turn, followed by 2 enemies. This is an interesting system but makes it hard to know who is going to move when.

Unskippable battle animations. In 1997.

The game is pretty difficult. The grunt enemies are about equal in strength to your guys. You can’t save in battle and there are several sequence battles with no saves (an unforgivable sin for me that I will always use save states to deal with). Although there is no permadeath, you cannot afford to lose anyone at the beginning (later you can probably afford to lose one person in a battle).

However, there are a few things about the system that can mitigate the difficulty.

First, regular attacks are worthless. They do little damage, and the enemies block them frequently. Play the game with the understanding that you will be doing almost all of your damage through your special attacks. The game becomes significantly easier when your characters gain a few ranks and you have better special attacks.

Second, the enemy AI is predictable. They will always start off by using their special attacks. It doesn’t matter if it’s an area effect and only one person is in the area. Also they typically only have enough MP to use their special once. They also attack the closest person rather than going after Tom/Harvey the way they did in the first game.

Third, you can do “hit and away” and the enemies cannot. The “hit and away’ system just means you can use your full movement every round and make an attack at any point during that movement.

Even with these tips you will still get the usual “killed from full HP game over” situations that you see in permadeath games, but it helps. The hardest parts are in the beginning.

One other harsh aspect of the game is that Poison and Paralysis do not heal naturally. So a paralyzed enemy is out of the battle (which is great when you get paralyze moves yourself), but when the enemies have area effect paralyze moves you need to make sure you can either kill them first or get them to use it on just one character.

Ain eventually reappears from the first game, and I think there are a number of other connections to the first game that I didn’t quite pick up because I had forgotten the specifics of the FEDA 1 plot.

My difficulty following the plot resulted in the game ending very suddenly (for me) at the end of scenario 8; I didn’t even realize I was fighting the final battle until it was done. There is a built-in suddenness in the plot too because once the heroes destroy this ancient weapon that someone was trying to use, the Senate suddenly signs a peace treaty with the Dragonnewt and White Surge is disbanded. I have a feeling some of the loose ends would have been tied up in the third game if it had ever been made — for instance, they never said what was going on with the seal at the beginning of the game, and Brian didn’t appear although he was talked about quite a bit.

I don’t think I’m going to do a stage-by-stage or scenario-by-scenario description. Most of the stages, as in FEDA 1, have goals that aren’t just “kill all enemies”, which is always appreciated. But the general tactics that I outlined above work for most or all of the stages, except for one annoying one where you can’t use MP.

On the whole I’m not sure this game is quite as polished as Feda 1, but I probably found both games about the same in quality — Feda 2 fixes some of the issues in the first game but introduces new problems.

SFC Game 86 – Dunquest Legend of the Demon God’s Seal

Dunquest (ダンクエスト 魔神封印の伝説), released 7/21/1995, developed and published by Technos Japan

This game is classified as an Action RPG in many places, but to me it feels more like it’s somewhere between a Mysterious Dungeon game and a true RPG. The developer Technos Japan is best known for the Kunio-kun series (i.e. River City Ransom, Crash ‘n’ the Boys) and Double Dragon. They also produced the RPG-adjacent Sugoroku Quest (one of those board games that has RPG elements), but I don’t think they ever produced a full RPG.

The story takes place on Laster Island, part of the Malkes kingdom. There’s a legend that a demon god is sealed there but will return some day, and the current king is gathering heroes in preparation — including Kurisu, our hero. But Kurisu is just sent on various missions in four surrounding dungeons, and there’s uncertainty about whether the demon god will actually revive or whether it’s just a legend. I only played about half the game, but according to the Wikipedia article there are actually some interesting story twists near the end and it doesn’t end with just a simple “of course the demon lord revives” at the end.

The game does not have a traditional levelling system. Instead, each major quest you complete gives you the next rank, up to 17 (“Duke”) at the end of the game. When you gain a rank, you get some stat bonuses too. With the exception of the HP, these can be freely switched between Attack, Magic, and Defend.

In addition to this, the weapons and armor get better as you use them (like Xanadu) up to a defined limit. Finally, you have individual XP with each monster in the game, and the more XP you get vs a monster, the more damage you do and the less damage you will take.

Finding the next major quest is not always an easy task, or sometimes you get a vague instruction like “find out why these earthquakes are happening” but no indication of even which of the four dungeons this is in. I don’t know whether this is because I didn’t find the right people to talk to in town for information, or whether it was the designers’ intent that you would simply go through the dungeons seeing what you could find.

There are four dungeons, each with 35 floors. It feels a bit like a Mysterious Dungeon game except that the layouts are not random. One of my biggest issues with the game is that you always have to start from floor 1 of the dungeon, and you don’t do the dungeons in sequence. One quest will be on floor 7 of the Ice Temple and the next will be on floor 11 of the mines, then back to floor 15 of the Ice Temple. It would be helpful to make maps of the dungeons so that you can quickly get through the lower levels.

Each floor has a red chest which can only be opened with keys you buy in town. There are also brown chests which regenerate and give gold, and random items on the floor (like potions or scrolls that cast spells). Monsters appear out of summoning circles on the floor. The combat system is action RPG style where you hit the button to swing the sword. Some enemies have distance attacks, and you can also use spells yourself from scrolls. The number 28 at the top left in that picture shows how many of the current item you have (which can be used with X).

The system is real time rather than the Mysterious Dungeon turn based style. Often you can attack and then move back a space to dodge the enemy’s attack, and repeat. But you can get trapped in narrow corridors and killed easily, and some teleporting enemies are annoying.

One problem I kept running into was not being able to hurt the monsters at all, despite having the best weapon at 100%. The weapon and armor upgrades are pretty limited and don’t increase your attack/defense all that much. You can of course put more points into attack but sometimes even that wasn’t enough. I still managed to progress by simply avoiding the enemies, but this seems like either a design flaw or something I just didn’t understand about the game. You can use magic to defeat some of these enemies but that supply is limited. If you die, you are returned to the town with half your gold.

The dungeons also have a lot of traps, and every floor has warps that send you to different places in the floor.

One thing that is often praised is the number of things you can check in the town for unique messages, but this is just for flavor.

I played up to rank 10, so a little over half the game. The major quests of course involve doing things in the dungeons — some of them are beating a boss, some are finding an item, and others are talking to people on some floor of the dungeon. There are also additional bosses and other things that aren’t part of the main quests. I think some of these are for subquests, some may just be for completion purposes. There is also some kind of post-game scenario.

Looking around at various blogs and reviews of this game, it seems like opinions are fairly divided. Some consider it a bad game, but some really liked it a lot — I guess it probably just depends on whether this style of game appeals to you. I found the need to repeatedly go through the early parts of every dungeon over and over again annoying, but the game wasn’t terrible. It’s just (to me) not quite an RPG.

SFC Game 85 – Mystic Ark

Mystic Ark (ミスティックアーク), released 7/14/1995, developed by Produce!, published by ENIX

Produce!, the developer of this game, also worked on Elnard (7th Saga), Brain Lord, and Nekketsu Tairiku Burning Heroes. Although this is not a real sequel to any of those games, there are some reused assets and similarities. Apparently there was a plan to release the game in the US as “7th Saga II” but it never happened. There is a translation patch, though.

The opening shows six characters being attacked by a spinning square and teleported away somewhere. These are the six party members you can have (in addition to the main character). None of them have any backstory or dialogue in the game; perhaps there was some in the instruction manual? This I think is one of the weaknesses of the game; the party members are just statistics and powers, with no role in the story at all. None of them have any lines of dialogue (the main character is also silent).

Everyone seems to have turned into these wooden figurines in a strange temple of some kind. The main character Kurisu is transformed back into a human. At the beginning you can’t pick up any of the figures, and wandering around the church there are various rooms, some of which are open, that have objects in them. You can interact with a lot of objects in this game in this way:

You will have various options — touch, look, shake, and use items, etc. This adds an adventure-game like element to the game. A lot of things right now can’t be affected, but a fireplace will talk, and Kurisu learns that she’s supposed to get 7 Arks in 7 different worlds. She also gets the Crystal, which acts as the enemy radar (like in 7th saga) and also can warp to different places, but not in dungeons. It also turns out that by going to the ship above we can reach the first world — a world of pirate cats.

The basic flow of the whole game is that you enter a world, solve some problem there, and then find one of the seven Arks. Then you’ll be able to use that Ark in some way back in the main church to open the way to another world. Once you get all seven arks you can go to the final dungeon and win the game.

The battle system is more or less standard. Each character has powers they gain with level ups that do various things (special attacks, defense, etc.) and some of them get spells. One nice feature is that you can see the enemy HP. The main character will soon get a power called Figurine that can transform monsters into Figurines. I never found a purpose for these figurines but I think I didn’t explore optional things enough; there is some monster arena and maybe a place you can trade them in but if you just stick to the main quest there’s no point.

There are two sets of feuding pirate cats but they’ve forgotten why they’re fighting. Kurisu sort of plays both sides and eventually with the help of a witch stops them from fighting…although the world does flood, so that’s not great. Eventually Kurisu comes across a temple that holds the Power Ark.

Now Kurisu can pick up the six figurines in the main room of the church. By using the Ark of Power on one of them they will come to life. Simply carrying the other figurines in your inventory will earn them XP; the person you actually have out seems to earn more, but the figurines won’t fall too far behind. The six characters are Miriene (an offensive magic specialist), Lux (a robot with high defense), Resheene (A martial arts fighter, who I’m using in the above screenshot), Tokio (Ninja), Kamiwoo (beast fighter), and Meshia (healer).

The way the party members work is somewhat frustrating, though. Any time you go back to the church, they return to figurines so you’ll have to bring them out again when you go into a world. If they hit 0 hp in battle, they are returned to the church in figurine form, so you have to go all the way back to the church to get them. If the main character hits 0 hp, it’s game over (back to the last inn with 1/2 gold). This is really unacceptable in a game that has instant death spells from the enemies. I had a number of times where I got a game over or a party member death from full HP having taken only one action in combat (or even zero actions in one case). I used save states to a limited extent because of this.

The second world is a strange “fruit world” where people are building their homes in giant fruits. You have to help them find seeds, get water, and defeat the evil foxes and beetles that are trying to attack them. Most bosses at this stage go down to a pretty easy combination of attack and heal — some of them have annoying heal spells themselves, but they’ll run out of MP eventually. One the final fox is defeated, Kurisu recovers the Ark of Light. This Ark can be put into a weapon to give that weapon a thunder element and increase the damage.

Next up is a children’s world, inhabited only by children and one older woman looking after them. Sometimes you will find hearts in the world which you can take back to the church and put into figurines there to restore the people to the world. In addition, the Arks can often be used on objects — for instance, the Ark of Power may let you lift something you wouldn’t be able to, and the Ark of Light might illuminate something. This is more of the adventure-game like gameplay.

The main problem in the children’s world is that the older woman seems to have made some pact with a Chimera to create this world for the children, but the Chimera wants to use her magic power for his own end. Eventually she rejects him but we have to beat him up to free her from its power.

Once this is done, we find the Ark of Wisdom, which can get a third party member. At this point the boss battles become a bit easier because the Power and Speed buff spells stack, so with a party like Kurisu-Meshia-Resheen/Kamiwoo you can have Kurisu heal while Meshia buffs the third person’s power up to max (and speed if necessary). Meshia can also “compassion” to restore her own MP. I used this strategy on most of the remaining bosses.

Next up is the Machine World, which is all black and white.

There are machines all over the place. Going further through the world we see that another area of the world has no sound, and a third area turned everyone old. All of it seems to be the fault of malfunctioning machines, maybe. Eventually with the help of the scientists Edison and Einstein, we make it into the depths of a large industrial complex where slaves are working to make robots. Here Kurisu recovers the Ark of Fire, restoring the world to normal. The Fire Ark is another one that can be put into a weapon.

Next up is the Wind World, although the wind has stopped and there’s a big giant threatening the land. Here the Ark of Wood is in the first room you appear in but the villagers won’t let you take it until you solve their problem. It’s another world that involves machines; eventually you encounter clones, headed up by the Ancient One. He’s strong but goes down to the buff strategy — he says that some “darkness” awoke him earlier than he should have. We’ve heard hints of this darkness elsewhere.

The next world, the Dark World, is a nice change of pace — you only have Kurisu and the focus is mainly on the puzzle solving, although you do have to fight some encounters. Once again this “darkness” seems to be meddling with things.

Finally there is the fairy tale world, with a bunch of characters from well known fairy tales — the ant and the grasshopper, Cinderella, Pinocchio, the Emperor’s New Clothes, the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding hood, and others. Here the “darkness” comes out explicitly, wanting to turn everything into figurines. We have to beat the big bad wolf, help Cinderella get to the ball, and other things of that nature.

Finally we fight the Darkness, and then get the final Ark, as the Darkness retreats to the final area. There are a few subbosses in the final short dungeon, and then the final boss — the Evil Heart. His goal is to return everything to a state of stillness, with no will or thought.

He’s pretty tough but if you use Mirrors to block his spells and then max Resheene’s power and speed, she can Kick with a decent enough success rate to make it worthwhile.

After defeating him, the voice behind the fireplace and the statue that has been giving us hints all game tells us what happened. The church and all seven worlds were created by this being to test Kurisu, as preparation for her entering the world she is supposed to be in. The “darkness” was supposed to be the final encounter, created from the evil in Kurisu’s heart. But it was too strong and it broke the being into seven parts (the Arks). Now that the darkness has been defeated, Kurisu can head to the new world.

During the credits sequence, all the party members are shown returning to their home worlds. Then Kurisu goes through a door of light. The screen goes dark; at this point there are sound effects that I think are supposed to represent a street with honking horns indicating that Kurisu is in our world, but it was hard to tell if that was the intent.

This game was a little disappointing, although not bad. Before I started the blog I would have expected something like this to be a below average game; in fact I would put it in the top third or maybe even 25% of games I’ve played. But the story is rather thin. The individual worlds are interesting and have some fun characters, but I wish the party members had more presence in the game. Also the final reveal is sort of dumb. The gameplay is overall decent, but the way the game deals with hitting 0 hp is annoying, despite the thematic reason for it. The graphics and music are good though, with some memorable BGM.

Next up will be Dunquest, a sort of action RPG game that’s a bit like the Torneko’s Dungeon series but without the random floors.