Madou Monogatari Hanamaru Preschoolers (魔導物語 はなまる大幼稚園児), released 1/12/1996, developed by Compile
Madou Monogatari is a series that started in 1989 for computers, and was originally a trilogy of short dungeon crawlers starring Arle Nadja, a little girl who was learning magic. The characters are best known for their later appearance in the Puyo Puyo series, but variations of the original games were released through 1996. This game is based on the first game in the original trilogy, where Arle has to find three orbs in the magic tower to graduate kindergarten. I’ll be playing the PC Engine remake of this game near the end of 1996, but this game is an expansion of that story by including Arle’s quest to find eight items she needs to even begin the magic tower quest. Rather than a 3D dungeon, this is a standard JRPG style, although it borrows elements of the system from the earlier games.
By the time this game came out, Puyo Puyo 2 had been released along with the Nazo Puyo games, so this game was attempting to follow in the major success of those titles.
The game uses the same “fuzzy parameters” system as the original; you don’t get any numbers for HP, MP, XP, or the like. Instead, you have to judge Arle’s HP based on her expression and what she says when she gets hit. The above screenshot shows her max HP expression.
Here she’s nearly at 0 hp. After you use a spell she will tell you what her remaining MP are like. XP are the green gems at the sides; when all of them fill up you move up a level. The level is indicated in the status screen by a general description.
Near the beginning of the game she is “weak”.
Near the end she is “Strongest in the preschool”. The flower circles at the right are her speed, defense, and strength.
In battle you don’t attack, you choose a spell instead. They’re all represented by pictures but you can get help to see what they are — they’re all the familiar ones to Puyo Puyo players, along with the voice clips probably taken from that game. While this interface is OK, I think that when it comes to the item usage it becomes annoying. You have to scroll through a lot of screens to get to the item you want and there’s no item stacking so if you want 10-15 healing items of several types it becomes cumbersome to use.
One nice feature of the game is that if you are high enough level compared to the enemies, you can hold down L+R when the encounter is beginning and you will automatically win the fight. I wish more games with random encounters had some feature like this, or at least a way to avoid fights that you can easily win.
Arle learns new spells by reading silver signs that are around the world.
There are also gold signs that can only be read with the help of a dictionary, which you get partway through the game. The top level of all the spells can only be reached through an optional sidequest. Higher level spells can be cast by powering up one level each turn.
The items there on the right are things you can use on the map to help you access new places by jumping, entering small holes, pushing far away switches, and such. I evidently didn’t get any screenshots, but you can also equip a staff and a ring that provide various benefits. The best ring is the one that lets you immediately power up to the maximum in order to use your best levels of the spells.
There’s no real storyline to speak of — Arle’s main opponents are the gang depicted in the picture above, and some devils that periodically control people. But basically you’re just traveling around the small world map and finding the 8 crystals you need to enter the tower for the final quest. It’s a pretty short game and can be completed in roughly 10 hours.
The game is also not especially difficult since you can always run successfully from fights. If you are having trouble with a boss you can level up until the monsters in the area don’t give you much XP, and try different spells to find the weak points of the boss. Healing items are also relatively affordable.
So this is an OK game — nothing too special but perfectly playable and with some enjoyable elements that aren’t in other RPGs. But how are all the other kids supposed to graduate from preschool if it’s this difficult!?
Something about the regular battles bears mention: Each enemy is strong against one spell and weak against something else. However, you only get textual feedback of how much damage you did (“looks like the enemy is hurt just a bit”). So your job as a player is to memorise which enemy is weak against which spell.
It’s sort of a rock-paper-scissors type of battle since there are only 3 (or was it 4) base spells.
Also, it’s cute when Arle runs against a wall and is thrown back…
It’s 3 base spells, yeah. There are only a few enemies in each dungeon so it’s fairly quick to learn the weaknesses.
The original (PC98) games were kinda disturbing, actually; lots of weirdly violent bits and dark/creepy undertones. Interestingly, each port of the first game has different maps, characters etc. This SFC game honestly seems to be the biggest departure from the initial games. I played the Game Gear/Mega Drive/PC98/PCE-CD port of the first game, pretty much the only thing in common is the premise; I liked the Mega Drive game the most out of those, to be honest. I believe the 2nd game and the 3rd game have way fewer ports, so there’s less variety there.
I didn’t doubt you when looking up videos of these, but at the same time, I was not prepared for the amount of decapitations I’d be seeing.
Your only indication of low health being your tiny anime girl going full Home Alone is brilliant.