Thursday, 14 December 2017

Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou - NEC PC Engine Super CD-ROM - 1992


Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou is a conversion of the second title in the Gradius series of arcade games.  It was released on the CD-ROM format some four years after the arcade game.  I have already featured the NES version of Gradius II on my blog.  Where the NES conversion thematically follows the arcade original in terms of graphics, the level layout is completely different.  The PC Engine is a much more faithful conversion with the exception that it contains an exclusive bonus level.

From the options screen you can choose the Game Level from Easy, Normal, Hard and Professional.  Normal is fine for me.  Easy is possibly too easy, but is okay for training (it is the level I did my gameplay video on).  Professional has bullets flying everywhere.  There is a different ending for each difficulty level.

As before, it's just you and your Vic Viper starfighter pitted against the evil Bacterion Empire and it's leader, Gofer.  When you start a game you can choose what weapons your ship is capable of carrying.

Each selection contains Speedup and Option.  Personally I prefer the fourth choice with 2-way missiles and a Ripple laser, which gives a better spread of firepower than the normal laser.  You also have a choice of defensive upgrades.  The Shield from the original Gradius can absorb the most damage but only protects the front of the Vic Viper.  The Force Field takes less hits before it disappears but covers the whole ship.

Gameplay is the same as the first game in the series.  The screen mostly scrolls right to left although there are some areas where it wraps around in the vertical plane.  Certain enemy formations and individual enemies drop capsules (for want of a better word) when they are destroyed.  Blue capsules act a smart bomb when touched and clear any enemies and bullets on the screen.  Orange capsules add to your power meter.  When the the power meter highlights an item you wish to equip, you can select it and the meter resets.
The green bacterion is a new enemy.  It has just stolen three of my options.  Bastard.

Music and sound are excellent with the soundtrack streaming direct from the CD.  Where the CD format can't help is with the graphics.  There are flickering sprites in places and massive slowdown when the screen gets busy.  Ironically, the slowdown actually makes avoiding damage that much easier.  
This stage really slowed down with the Moai head spewing out hundreds of colour changing bullets.
The games stages are also varied with some of the enemies and certain areas looking familiar.  
It's obvious which film this part is based on.  I have just lost all my power ups so will soon die.
My only real criticism is one of the stages features a high speed run which I couldn't get past.  It will take a lot of time and and a lot of practice (or a quick look on YouTube) to work out the optimal route and even then it is all too easy to lose a life.  Which brings up another issue - Gradius II (like Gradius) is a one life game - lose a life and you lose all your power-ups after which it is very difficult to get going again.  Nevertheless, it is a great game and a welcome addition to the ever growing list of Gradius games on my blog.



Example gameplay....

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon - NEC TurboGrafx-16 - 1992

Nice box art.  Shame about the hairstyles.


Order of the Griffon is the second RPG I have played on the TurboGrafx-16 after the highly enjoyable Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes.  This game was published by SSI and developed by Westwood Associates who were also responsible for the Eye of the Beholder series.  It eschews AD&D in favour of the Dungeon & Dragons Basic Edition ruleset.  It was not translated for a PC Engine release in Japan.

The first task is to assemble a party of four characters from a choice of seven classes - Fighter, Mage, Cleric, Thief, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling.  Within each class you have a choice of three pre-generated characters.  Out of the twenty-one portraits only one was obviously female with a couple androgynous characters thrown in.

Playing the game blind I would usually choose a fighter, cleric, mage and thief.  As the manual only mentions fighting and spell casting in the class description I decided to substitute the thief in favour of another fighter type.  My starting party is Keir the fighter, Tor the dwarf, Marius the cleric and Falcone the mage.  All characters start at level 1.

Each character view shows three slots for armour, two for rings, two for ready equipment and one each for boots and gloves.  Shields take one of the armour slots so a fighter, for example, can have a sword and a sling equipped whilst carrying a shield - I'm not sure yet how bows will work (it turned out bows, shields and swords could be readied simultaneously).  Spell casting characters must have either an ankh or a spellbook ready in order to use magic.  There is also a shared inventory.

The game starts in the City of Radlebb Keep where Lord Korrigan hires the party to investigate rumours about the vampire Koriszegy.  There are also monsters appearing in the forest and an increase in crime.  He pays you 200 gold pieces upfront with the balance due on completion of the mission.

Navigation in town is done via a first person view where you move one square at a time (the view switches to top down in the wilderness).  Like the Gold Box games rooms appear empty but sometimes have a description of what they contain.  At least you don't have to look it up in a booklet.  In the town of Radlebb there are the usual establishments.  There is an Armoury that sells weapons and armour including a few magic items and potions that are out of my price range.  At the Magic Shop you can buy scrolls and have magic items identified.  There is a Temple that can cure wounds and raise the dead - this is necessary at the start of the game as a level 1 cleric can't any cast spells.  There is also a Tavern where you can rest to restore Magic Points.
Only one of these options is of any use.

In the first area you are advised to visit the Hall of the Griffon where you will receive your first quest.  The Order of the Griffon are a noble group of knights, paladins and fighters who are unable to spell Griffin.  Unless they do actually mean Griffon....
Grrrr!!
Here you are given your first quest which is to recover a magic staff from a den of Dire Wolves.  I will note my thoughts below....

  • The graphics and music throughout are very good.  Sound effects are pretty simple, limited to combat and spells.  Music composer, Frank Klepacki, also wrote the scores for a host of other Westwood games including the Command & Conquer series.
The overworld.  This town was optional but contained some good items.

  • Combat takes place on four pre-defined battlefields - one each for the overworld, towns, dungeons and inside buildings.  The party is placed in a random starting point with the enemies close by.  The combat is turn-based and is viewed top-down.  Each character has the option to move within a highlighted area and can then use weapons or cast spells.
  • If spells are cast against one of your characters it is mostly impossible to tell what there are unless they have an obvious effect.
  • It turns out I was correct in not choosing a thief as they are superfluous in this game.  There were no traps to disarm nor locked chests to pick.  Locked doors could be bashed in.
  • I don't know if Basic Dungeons & Dragons has THAC0, but you can't see your chance to hit in this game.  Additionally, equipping items such as Girdle of Giant Strength or Gauntlets of Ogre do not change your stats.  You can tell the are working only because you do more damage.
  • Missile weapons, such as darts and arrows, are limitless.  If you have, say, Dart +2 equipped, you have an unending supply.
  • In theory the combat should be just as good as the Gold Box games but this is not the case. Characters with full plate mail can only move two squares per turn so moving into position takes time.  As each character takes up two squares they have to be moved carefully to prevent them blocking one another.  Spells are limited in variety and by the number that can be memorised; at level 6 my cleric could only memorise two level 1, two level 2 and one level 3 spells.  Weapons are also limited in variety.  The best melee weapon is the long sword.  For missile weapons you have a choice of slings (not much damage) for the Cleric or darts (very limited range) for the Mage.  The best missile weapons for the fighters are bows which can be readied alongside a sword and shield.
  • As I've just mentioned the full set of D&D spells have not been included.  For example, there are only two level 2 mage spells and just one level 3 cleric spell to choose from.
Some of the spells that are included have nice graphical effects and fireball is ever useful.

  • Most magic items can be found after combat, but shops also sell a good selection. 
  • The Magic Shop has a couple of useless options.  "Look around" does nothing.  There is an Identify option but all magic items are already identified.

  • As far as I can tell there are only random encounters on the overworld.  Towns and dungeons only seem to have fixed combats.  The exception to this is when you are sometimes interrupted while resting in dungeons or in the wilderness.
  • As always the economy becomes a problem towards the end of the game.  Once you have all the best spells and gear, there is nothing to spend your gold pieces on.  Thankfully it doesn't cause encumbrance as you have no choice whether to pick up gold and there is no way to drop it.
  • All the characters are capped at level 8.  Without grinding, Marius peaked relatively early and Falcone maxed out in the final dungeon.
  • As the game progresses it is revealed a vampire called Koriszegy is planning to take over the realm.  A group called the Iron Ring are kidnapping folk so Koriszegy can create an undead army under his control.  Your party is tasked to stop him, first by obtaining the gems he is using to create the undead army, and secondly by defeating Koriszegy himself.  On the way you have to defeat Nosferatu (who the Order of the Griffon originally thought was Koriszegy) and rescue a Princess from the clutches of the Iron Ring.  Finally, you need to retrieve three items with which to defeat the vampire.

Although I've picked a lot of holes in Order of the Griffon, these are mainly due to the implementation of the D&D rules.  I'm also probably unfairly judging it against the Gold Box games.  As it stands it is an enjoyable adventure.  The game world is not stupidly big and doesn't throw hundreds of random encounters at you like a lot of console RPGs.  The graphics are pretty good and the music that plays thoughout the game did not have me reaching for the mute button.  It's by no means the greatest RPG in the world, but it kept me interested until completion.




The End

After gathering all the items required to defeat Koriszegy I was sent off to find him in his keep.  During mapping and pulling a couple of levers I found the vampire but couldn't reach him due to an impenetrable field.  I soon encountered another vampire who said I needed to find three levers to switch off the field.  He also explained specifically how to defeat Koriszegy before disappearing in a puff of smoke.
Ah, okay...

After finding the third lever I returned to Koriszegy.

It took two goes to defeat him.  On the first attempt his 'army' was spread out and behind walls so area effect spells were not effective.  His allies were able to pick off my characters one by one.  The second attempt took place in another portion of the battlefield where they were more conveniently arranged.


After the battle you win a good haul of useless treasure.











Thursday, 16 November 2017

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride - Nintendo SNES - 1992


While gamers in North America were still playing Dragon Warrior III, and a month before Dragon Warrior IV was released there, those lucky Japanese gamers were already getting their teeth into Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride.  Poor sales of the previous games and the cost of localisation meant this game was not released in the US.  I am playing an English version from DeJap Translations.  I started this game soon after finishing Dragon Warrior IV and, whilst the game engine is basically the same, the difference between the graphics and sound quality is staggering.  The archaic graphics have received a 16-bit makeover and the soundtrack has been dramatically improved on the new hardware.

The game begins with an effective in-engine cut scene that sets up the story nicely....



Dragon Quest V starts on a ship with you playing as a six year old boy.  You are heading back to your home town of Santa Rosa with your father Papas, who has been away for five years searching for 'something'Your father is distracted with his research allowing the young Wingnut to get into mischief (and level himself up).  You are soon off to nearby Alcapa to see your father's friend Duncan who has fallen ill.  You are befriended by Bianca, Duncan's daughter, and set off on an adventure together while Papas recovers from the illness he caught from Duncan.  I grew quite fond of Bianca but had to leave Alcapa when Papas recovered. 


Back in Santa Rosa, Papas is summoned by the King of Reinhart and tasked with guarding Henry, heir apparent to the throne.  Henry is subsequently kidnapped but Papas manages to chase down the culprits.  Papas defeats his guards but their leader, Gema, holds a knife to Wingnut's throat and says that if Papas continues to fight, you will be killed.  Papas is attacked again but does not fight back.  Before he dies he tells you your mother is still alive and to find her.



The story continues 10 years later with you and Henry as slaves building the Great Temple.  You manage to escape and return to Reinhart where Henry stays on.  Santa Rosa has been destroyed but you find a scroll from Papas along with the Zenithian sword.  The scroll explains that Papas had been searching for a 'legendary hero' who can wear the Zenithian armour and is capable of wielding the Zenithian sword.  It also says you mother is still alive but has been kidnapped by an evil power.  I also visited Alcapa in search of Bianca, but Duncan had long since sold up and moved on.

I will note my thoughts below... 

  • Maximum party size in Dragon Quest V has been reduced to three characters.  Wingnut is the only permanent member with other NPCs coming and going as the plot progresses.
  • In common with the series, Dragon Quest V contains a wide variety of weird, wonderful and strange monsters.

  • After obtaining a wagon, defeated monsters occasionally offer to join your party.  They can be used to top up the party when there are no NPCs and can be put in a wagon when not needed.  They can also be equipped with weapons and armour and some can use magic.



  • A nice touch are the shops where it shows you who can equip particular weapons and armour and how much difference it will make to their stats.  It saves making pointless purchases.



  • During the game I discovered Baron Ludman possessed the Zenithian shield.  The town had several suitors wanting to marry, Flora, his daughter.  The one who could bring Ludman the Fire and Water rings could win her hand and get the shield.  During the quest for the Water ring we met up with Bianca.  Even though she obviously had feelings for Wingnut she joined the party and helped recover the ring.  In the end I was given the choice of marrying Flora or Bianca and I chose Bianca.  The good baron still funded the wedding and on hearing about the search for the legendary hero from Henry, gave us the Zenithian shield as a wedding present.


  • On our travels I discover Papas was King of Granavia and I am heir to the throne.  On the way there Bianca faints a couple of times, obviously telegraphing the fact she is pregnant.  Sure enough when we reach Granvania she gives birth to a twin boy and girl.  After your coronation the whole castle celebrates but during the festivities Bianca gets kidnapped like your mother.  You eventually find her but after his defeat the boss turns you both to stone.


  • Fast forward another few years during which you are sold as a statue, you are eventually found by your childrenThey have grown up and your son reveals he can use the Zenithian sword and armour.  You now have to find both Bianca and your mother.
  • Up to this point the plot was pretty easy to follow.  I soon became stuck and did not know where to go next and had to consult a walkthrough.  It turns out I had to revisit Ludman.  One of his ancestors had trapped a demon in a jar and now the seals were weak and it was about to escape.  I hadn't needed to do any grinding until this bastard appeared over the horizon...

 
Defeating Buorn took several attempts and a lot of grinding. Once defeated he dropped the Final Key which meant I was able to access areas I couldn't reach before.



  • There was a brief time travel element in the game where you had to retrieve a quest item from your younger self before it was destroyed by Gema.  I remember the scene from earlier in the game but I didn't think any more of it.  You can also warn Papas not to travel to Reinhart but he says he doesn't believe in fortune tellers.


  • Your quest eventually leads you to the Demon World and the Evil Mountain.  In the evil mountain you arrive to find you mother being killed by Mildrath, the Demon Lord.  Her spirit joins Papas and they tell you you must destroy Mildrath.

 
And so we finally meet Mildrath...
Whatever.


As usual the final boss comes in two forms.  The first form was simple enough to defeat but I could not beat the second form.  


He didn't take much damage from physical attacks and he reflected magical attacks back at the caster.  Conversely, Mildrath can do a lot a damage with physical attacks and can cast the most powerful party damaging spells.  Additionally, he clears any buffing effects and heals himself every few rounds.  After several attempts and a lot of grinding I had to admit defeat and resigned myself to leaving this game unfinished.  I didn't feel to bad as I greatly enjoyed the journey up until this point.


After playing the previous two games in the series I was expecting another long slog.  Although it was very long, I found Dragon Quest V much more bearable.  This was helped in part by the more detailed graphics.  The sound was much improved too but I had to mute it long before I finished the game.  What really made the game enjoyable was the fantastic storyline and the fact that Wingnut was kept on as the lead character even after finding the legendary hero.  It made a change from Dragon Warrior IV with the main player character changing after every chapter.  Following Wingnut from childhood through marriage and parenthood made me feel more attached than I normally would to a game character.  I was genuinely interested to see what would happen next as the game progressed.  Overall Dragon Quest V is a brilliant game and I would rate it as my favourite JRPG to date.






Later...


The thought of not completing this game kept niggling away in the back of my mind.  After a few weeks I went back the game a did some grinding in the Evil Mountain every couple of days.  After a few failed attempts and with a lot of grinding in between I eventually defeated Mildrath.  This was done using the Increase and Bikill spells on the party and using the Sage's Seed every round (restores a few hit points to each character including those in the wagon).  I also swapped out party members that were low on hp until they were healed enough to re-enter the fray.  Eventually I managed to defeat Mildrath.
 



The ending was a bit anti-climactic.  You get whisked around the world to visit the main cast of characters which seemed to last an age.  The last place you visit is Granavia....