Ise and Kii are the locations for the second Orchid, and they’re covered with profuse plants that have blocked access to a lot of areas and absorbed people into them. There’s one village that has a sad scene with a mother and son who are crying for each other but forgetting who they are as the plants take them over.
The main goal of this area is to find four bronze bells in order to awaken an iron giant who can carry us over the plants to get to the final area where the next sword is stored. Kikugoro will be opposing us at every stage. The first step is to fish for a flute. This flute allows us to travel around on a ship of some sort that we can call up at the tombs seen below.
All of the bells are in Kii, but to get them we need a mirror that will activate some ancient statues. This is in the valley of lament, which we need the Iga Ninja’s necklace to enter. After some fetch quests I got the mirror (which can be used in battle to reflect half of the enemy attack damage back at them). Then it was off to Kii and the valley of lament. In Kii I first met three female warriors that are on our side.
They don’t join the team but show up periodically to help out.
The difficulty of the game increases quite a bit starting here. The enemies do a lot more damage, and coupled with the “main character 0 hp = game over” I found it rather frustrating. It’s strange because the reviews I see praise the game balance, even though they mention that any random encounter can give you a game over. That doesn’t sound like good game balance to me — maybe these reviewers just like “hard” games.
With the mirror, now in various places around Kii I can use the mirror to activate statues, letting me in to places where the bells are. The first two are fairly easy to get; they don’t have any dungeons or bosses, just visits to towns. But after that it starts getting harder. The next step is to get a boat (a real boat this time).
The problem, as I said in my last post, is that you can’t get a game over or warp towns or the boat goes back to the beginning. This is rough here because you have to be able to sail over to a town, blow open the door, and complete the dungeon without game overs. After getting about 5 of them I got frustrated and did grinding to give Manjimaru a good sword that casts a spell on everyone. The main problem is that you have to fight these iron robot things, who take almost no damage from physical attacks. That just leaves spells, which seem to fail about 75% of the time. You can leave and rest after each enemy, but I was still getting game overs. With a few more levels and the sword I was able to defeat them and get to the roof, where Kabuki and Kikugoro have a transformation contest.
Once Kabuki wins, Kikugoro gives up a key, allowing us to go to the next castle to find the third bell…after a boss fight.
|Not very hard|
The same key opens the fourth dungeon, with another boss.
This guy is bullshit; he can kill Manjimaru or Kabuki in one turn if you get unlucky. So this is another instant game over chance. But once I beat him I finally had all 4 bells.
The four bells awaken this Buddha-like being, so that we can finally make our way to the huge tree where the final showdown with Kikugoro is. There are multiple boss fights, ending with Kikugoro fused with the tree.
I had a really hard time with this fight; it was the same as the robots where I could barely hurt him, spells mostly failed, and I would run out of healing well before I did any damage. So I followed a strategy from a walkthrough — have Kabuki use a technique that draws all attacks to him, and use the mirror to reflect Kikugoro’s attacks. So most of the damage will be done by that. He’s still hard but I managed to beat him and get the sword, to kill the second Orchid.
2 down, 5 to go. Next up is the capital city area, but this is where I think I’m going to stop. I’ve gotten somewhat beyond this but I find the game’s difficulty too frustrating, and since PCE is supposed to be a side project I don’t want to spend too much time on this game. I can see how this would have been a great game in 1992, but I wonder how much nostalgia and the amazing visuals and sounds make people forget the weaknesses of the system. Soon after this point, Kabuki leaves and you’re alone, but the enemies still seem balanced for a party. I got about 15 game overs just trying to travel from one town to another.
|The next party member, Gokuraku|
Now, I’m going to make what might be an unpopular decision. One of the reasons I’m doing PCE games is that the PCE was the primary competitor to the Super Famicom in this period, and so it’s interesting to compare what was being done on both systems. But that’s hard to do when I’m a year behind on the PCE. So until I catch up, I’m going favor the PCE a bit — maybe 3 games for each SFC game. I know this goes against the name of the blog but it’s still retro chronogaming so it’s still on topic, I guess.
I think you've made a good choice, since SNES RPGs, even the ones which weren't localized, are more well-known in the west than their PCE-CD counterparts. It would be good to put a spotlight on the latter for a change – maybe there are some hidden gems in the PCE-CD library as well, though thus far this doesn't seem to be the case. Personally I never owned SNES back in the day and only played Sega RPGs, and comparatively there are much fewer of them (not too many original IPs at least, mostly ports etc.), until the Saturn era that is.
I would say that both Tengai Makyous, Cosmic Fantasy, Sol Bianca, Tenshi no Uta, and Monbit are at least decent games when taken in the context of late-NES era RPGs.
I for one don't mind more PCE games, as I'm much less familiar with that system than SFC.
It's a shame this game still suffers from some of those old design tropes that make it frustrating to play – especially when you're trying to complete a large number of games and don't want to spend dozens of hours grinding just to get through some of them. The graphics and (at least part of the) music are pretty nice, but I can't blame you for moving on.
Incidentally, I'm currently playing Wizardry on the PS2 for my Youtube channel, and while it adds a number of new elements to the mix, it also retains much of the series' traditional mercilessness. Such as enemy ninjas and samurai being able to instantly kill (or completely *delete* a character!) with a critical hit, resurrection sometimes failing and deleting characters, and the game being over with the main character's death. Thankfully there's a regular save function, but while playing it "straight" when recording an episode, I've certainly made use of quick saves during off-camera grinding to alleviate frustration from the game randomly deciding to instakill my avatar…
I was hoping by starting in the SFC era I would avoid the creaky old NES-era games but I guess they still hung around for a while.
I've got one of those Wizardry Japanese games on my SFC list. I briefly played one of the DS games and it seemed like it was trying to stick to the old Wizardry formula in a lot of ways, so that doesn't surprise me.
Wizardry Gaiden 4 is supposedly one of the easiest games in the series. It's notable for letting you skip most of the story by bashing down event-unlocked doors–a nod by the developers to old-school Wizardry freaks who just want to class-change-grind into super characters and collect rare items and don't need no stinking plot, I suppose.
I'm only familiar with Wizardry 1-6 (skipping 4, of course), only the last of which had much of a story at all, so I was pretty surprised by how involved the story was for the PS2 game. There's tons of cutscenes and (seemingly) random NPC encounters throughout the dungeon, which is also very diverse. Of course the game is – relatively – recent*. I have been wondering how much of that may already be present in some of the earlier japanese Wizardry spinoffs.
* you know you're getting old when you start thinking of the PS2 era as recent 😀