Sunday, April 16, 2017

Below the Cut: Technoclash (Genesis)

(Source: Wikipedia)
Technoclash - Rating(7 RPP)
1) 1 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 1 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 2 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 2 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 0 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 1 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

I was eager to see a completely new RPG. On Wikipedia it's listed as an action-RPG, but I failed to find what contributes to that second genre, so it's here on the chopping block. It has less to offer than LandStalker.

There are no character levels, stats, or much of a world to explore. The back of the box purports 7 areas with up to 9 levels each, but it's all progressive levels. I only played through the first two to get a feel for it, but failed to find much in the way of lore, side quests (or a main quest), and no store or currency.

The main character is able to choose a partner for each level, either a warrior type or wizard type. There are a good number of weapons (all requiring ammo) and spells to heal, teleport, levitate, or become invincible for a short time. Ammo is picked up from fallen enemies. Completing some levels requires a tiny bit of puzzle solving.

As for the game overall, it's tough, but taking it slow makes it a bit easier. It's not a good game, at least from what I played, but it isn't the worst either. It compares most easily to Gauntlet, but the level design is a bit more interesting.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Game #68: Inindo: Way of the Ninja (SNES) - Wandering Away (Finished)

These small screens really scream, "I'm in the wrong resolution!"
I've been at a loss for words for some time. Not just this game, but commenting on RPGs in general. It feels like there's less novelty to write about during each game as I progress. Hopefully it's just the slump of mediocre games, and not a growing concern. I've put this post (and the game) off for long enough though. Inindo is not a good game as a whole. The beginning 8 hours were reasonably fun, but then I entered a period necessitating grinding for some time before I could put a dent into the next dungeon. At 15 hours in I was bemoaning how slow everything was: the combat, the menus, the movement speed. Then, I discovered the run button. That's right, holding down the R button quadruples movement speed, everywhere. I suppose I should have read the manual more thoroughly.
I was just wondering what happened to her
Sure, let me just check out your stats
And suddenly I'm kicking someone out of my party
So, Rei joined the group after collecting the cloud stone. She has less strength than the main character, but many more magic points. I ditched Kusou, and somehow managed the rest of the game with Rei and Kojiro as my only source of magical healing. I traveled to Mt. Ken for the next trial, and discovered once again that I needed to grind a few levels. Luckily out of all the encounters, there were a few enemies I could manage, while from the others I had to flee. I made great use of defending while the back row characters attempted to flee. I retrieved the McGuffin, I mean Power Book, and was taught the best ability--Super.
These were the sweetest words I've read all game
I knew I was going to need some additional grinding, so I backtracked to the Tengu Forest, and fought a boss there. Boss experience is some of the best, and I wish there were more to fight. I earned the Tengu Fan as well, which I couldn't figure out at the time. I ended up selling it only to learn it had unlimited uses of the spell Gust that could remove an enemy from combat. Not a bad ability, but I would have preferred unlimited Tengu Wings to warp to towns. On the way to the next dungeon I heard of a great sword for Samurai, the Kusanagi. I ventured into a haunted cave to retrieve it. Of course, I wasn't quite able to handle that cave right away, so I spent a couple hours building up some money and grinding back at Mt. Ken to afford some additional gear.
The Super magic I'd just learned came in really handy for the Hydra guarding the sword
In the final trial I picked up the most helpful item in the game: the Health Rock. It's an unlimited use Heal 3 in combat, much like the Sage's Stone in the Dragon Warrior series. Forget the dragon ability I learned, this one item is what turned the tides of battle against Nobunaga. I was told to seek out a great elder on Mt. Hiei as my next task to reaching Nobunaga. Momochi, the leader of the Iga village I initially fled, showed up to grant his assistance, but I declined the offer. I suppose it would have fit the narrative a bit better, but only a warrior could use the Kusanagi, and it seemed like a waste not to.
I knew this was a plot door when I first passed it
Ashura was a boss guarding the entrance to Mt Hiei, and he had a special ability to dispel my Super magic whenever I cast it. I didn't really mind though as it effectively made him skip his turn. Nobunaga knew of my ascent, and sent a messenger with a challenge to meet him in some other cave. There I fought Nobunaga. With the health rock and delaying his turns with Super (as he also dispelled it immediately), it was an easy fight, but he fled before I could finish him off. The elder back on Mt. Hiei told me Nobunaga was holed up at Omi in his impenetrable fortress. My only hope was to convince the neighboring daimyou to lay siege to it by invading a neighboring province: Echizen, Mino, Yamashiro, or Ise.
An example of the war battles--I just used the tiger ability, and a couple units engage in combat
Unfortunately I seemed to have chosen a longer route to invade. I allied with Tokugawa in Mikawa (for historical reasons), but even though adjacent to Mino he always claimed it was impossible to seize that land. So, I had to go around. While I waited for him to build up his army, I damaged neighboring provinces to make them easier to attack. At worst sabotaging wastes a day, there are no other negative effects. Magic is a mixed bag during war battles. While tiger was fun, the best spell is blaze. It damages a wide area, and only hits enemy units. Geyser is good for stopping fleeing units.
The all powerful dragon spell summoned a dragon to a random location, and he always breathed fire three tiles down as he headed for my troops
Everything else has a chance to damage my own units, so I tried them once to see their effect before avoiding them altogether. I was able to bring one of my party members as a second general, but we weren't allotted many soldiers. It didn't matter though, as two ninjas with blaze can pretty much decimate any army. Never once did the enemy venture out to meet us, so attacking from afar guaranteed us victory. I battled just enough to reach Nobunaga, but this portion was by far the most fun I've had with the game despite it being devoid of challenge.
I considered helping Tokugawa (yellow) unite all of Japan
Castle Azuchi is accessible by heading south of Echizen. Inside were an assortment of enemies that were more difficult than those on Mt. Hiei, but rewarded a successful combat with less gold and experience. Nobunaga awaited my group on the top floor behind three boss battles. I wasn't taking any chances, and escaped the castle to save after each one. I was almost hoping the bosses would reappear for easier grinding. The first was Kasumimaru, the ninja that nearly did me in at the beginning of the game; an easy battle with the Health Rock. The second was Kidomaru and Mugenbo, a ninja and wizard combo that was a bit tougher. Taking out Mugenbo first made the fight much easier. The penultimate battle was against Nobunaga's Top Bodyguard, and yes, that's his name.
He definitely lived up to his name
I did end up grinding a bit after that, but I think my biggest blunder was not stocking up on ninja cures, which heal a character to max. I already had the best gear I could buy, and a number of late game equipment from chests. After level 40, my stat gains for health and energy were greatly reduced, and it didn't feel like other stats at this point made much of a difference. As expected, the battle with Nobunaga was the most difficult. He was accompanied by Mori Ranmaru, capable of healing one or both of them.
As always, Super isn't so super
I picked up a spellblock item along the way (in Yamashiro I believe), which I hoped would help against Nobunaga, but it his psychic ability used to remove Super also removes that debuff. Up against a lightning spell that hit the party for 100+ damage, I used Super to delay Nobunaga as much as I could while I focused damage on Mori. It worked the first time I faced him, but Nobunaga ended up taking me out. Every battle thereafter I couldn't even get close. It wasn't until I took a different approach that I finally managed to beat them. I kept Nobunaga pinned with Super while I wailed on him with Kojiro and Naruse. Once Mori started to cast heal, I spellblocked him, and hoped I had enough damage and healing to take out Oda before he took me out. Once he fell it was a simple matter to mop up Mori.
The biggest risk is that Oda Nobunaga crits like a truck
I considered grinding, and did for a single level, but the difference between one level and the next is far too little. I could hardly believe the change in tactic worked, and was expecting to need to grind for another 10 levels, or even track down an actual healer. I never did try a magician, so maybe there are spells that would have been more helpful. With Nobunaga struck down, revenge was obtained, and the remaining Iga ninja lived in relative peace.

Elapsed Time: 17h38m (Final Time: 32h50m)
And for us all
Combatant - Combat was well balanced, except when it wasn't. Most of the time it felt good getting through a dungeon, but the required grinding threw a wrench into steady progress. I felt like fights didn't provide enough experience to prevent that. Enemies towards the end of the game relied less on tricks, and more on pure combat plus healing, much like I inevitably did. It's a good thing though, as magic was in short supply for my party while the rare enemy mage unleashed full party assault spells like they'd just reached the final boss, a luxury I couldn't spare.
Rating: 5
I think it might be interesting to do a compilation of combat transition screens, this game had a distinct "bee-do" sound
Admirer - The game offers a wide cast of characters, although jumping between them seems like a bad idea because it requires re-arming them. I didn't do it enough to know if my party composition was best. There are a number of sub-classes listed under each of the four main classes, and combat ability, spells, and special skills differ between each. There's even a character that's supposed to have the wing skill. Each character lacks customization, and appearance never changes. Menus are slow and tedious, but at least movement became much more satisfying when I found the run button.
Rating: 4
Having to gain favor with each character would be a long and tedious prospect
Puzzler - The main quest is well structured and clearly defined. There are a number of side dungeons that have good rewards for their difficulty. The mazes, while generally not my thing, weren't frustratingly difficult. Nothing felt out of place. The lack of different ways to complete tasks hurts the game a bit. Why couldn't I unite all of Japan against Nobunaga? Imagine controlling multiple parties, or overthrowing a daimyou and controlling my own land to invade with. They also missed an opportunity to make the spying and sabotage sections into mini-games.
Rating: 5
Watching castles burn seems to be a past-time of Kojiro
Instigator - I think this might be the first revenge story in an RPG that isn't also a save the world one. Although, I think I would prefer playing a nameless ninja sabotaging and fighting alongside leaders in a normal Koei strategy game. NPCs have some relevant information about the world, but unless they're near a training dungeon they seem mostly uninterested in my current quest or overthrowing Nobunaga. There are standing stone pillars that describe various regions of the land, which are interesting for the lore, but don't provide any other purpose.
Rating: 4
It's not like he was the only one that could do so, but he's the only one that became an evil warlord
Collector - There are a good number of special items to collect, but no real way of knowing if they've all been found. The relative strength of equipment is evident when equipping or purchasing, but class restrictions require an attempt at buying it. The economy was useful up until I was assaulting Nobunaga's fortress, which was rather surprising it lasted that long. I would have preferred some way of donating my gold to the war efforts, but my only option was to purchase gifts for each daimyou. The party's inventory is very limited, and I often found myself tossing out various items.
Rating: 4
Explorer - The graphics are dated, and the sound effects are odd, but the music isn't too bad. Everything has a bland sort of feeling, and all the dungeons are a palette swap of the same texture. Same with the towns. The only unique area is Nobunaga's castle. The world is mostly open, although Nobunaga's territory can't be crossed in some ways. The atmosphere, and general feel of the world, works for the story. There are a good number of dungeons to discover off the main path, which are easily missed.
Rating: 5
Aside from the beginning, this is the only other cutscene

Final Rating: 27 [45%]

Overall, I'm glad to be done with this. It probably would have taken 5 - 10 less hours had I been running the entire time. It's my own fault, and I don't blame the game for it, but maybe it wouldn't have felt like such a drag to make it to the end. Unless you're really into Japanese history around this time period, I wouldn't recommend the game. The named characters, places, and battles are really only interesting with that perspective.

Moving on, we have Super Ninja Boy coming up. Before that post though I have to cut Technoclash, which is another eyebrow raising title someone proclaimed was an RPG. I knew the first few games of 1993 were going to try my patience, but I didn't think it'd take me this long to get through one. Probably the next game I'm looking forward to is Might and Magic 3, which isn't too far away. Let's see if we can get through the next couple within the month. My hope of finishing 1993 this year is probably shot.

To save you some trouble, here are the ending screens. Aside from Rei and the hero, I'm not sure who any of these people are.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Game #68: Inindo: Way of the Ninja (SNES) - Gearing Up

This was often a good indication that I was in over my head
As I mentioned in the last post, I had a bit of grinding before progressing further in the story, so I'm a bit light on material for this post. So I'll dig into a bit more detail, starting with combat. On each character's turn they have the option to attack using melee or ranged weapons, use magic or items, flee, defend (damage is greatly reduced), or move. Each character sits on an invisible hex grid, and is able to move one space per turn with the option to attack using a melee weapon (at half damage) that same turn if an enemy is in an adjacent hex. There are only three rows, so tactically it's very limited. Attacks can also only be directed to a forward hex.
As my fame grew random characters greeted me on the road
Ranged damage always seems weaker than melee attacks, even when attack power was equivalent. If that weren't the case, then maybe having a tank type character out front always defending would be a viable option. Magic is comparatively weaker than melee attacks, but have a base damage that is more powerful than ranged (magic points are still better spent on healing). If lucky enough, characters will land critical hits that do massive damage, although enemies are capable of the same. I would guess critical hits completely ignore armor. Next to healing, debuff then buff spells are the most useful in combat as sleep can knock out even bosses for a few rounds if it lands. Items are limited to consumables; even though equipment is selectable, all that I've tried responded with a message indicating I couldn't use them at that time.
I wonder if this name is relevant to the game, or just a notable real world geographical landmark
In the field I have the option to search, which appears most useful for reading signs. As the game day cycles it curiously says it's too dark to read them at night. (Does that mean my characters are stumbling through the night without a light source?) I also have the option to use magic, items, and check my characters' info. The spy option is used in town only, although available in the field, and I described its use last post. Lastly, there's the lineup, where I can choose the order of my characters and their formation in combat among the six hexes on the right side.
I courted this samurai for over a month to make him friendly enough to join
I really wasn't looking forward to the grind, so I spent some time finding someone better than my second ninja. After a few false starts (talking to someone for a while before they just disappear to the next town), I managed to find a samurai that was sticking around waiting for war to break out. Naruse is his name and he joined with some of the worst equipment for that point in the game. No wonder he wasn't conscripted yet. I geared him up, and tried to do a side quest at the Sado gold mine. The enemies were even worse than I had been facing.
The same amount of experience is given to each character, so there's no advantage to having less than a full party
Two levels and 5,000 gold later I was in a much better position. Like many games of the era, I couldn't tell which piece of equipment my characters could use without the risk of purchasing it. So I was left with experimenting. I saved, sold off everything I had, and attempted to buy the very best equipment. This gave me a solid purchasing plan. To make combat a bit easier, I invested in some long bows (the best ranged weapon I could buy), and it was then that I really determined ranged damage was terrible. I was still not quite ready to go back to the main story dungeon (Mt. Ontake). I tried to continue my grind at Mt. Osore, but the encounter rate seemed to take a steep drop. I don't know if it was the time of year, or if the game reacts to my grinding or level. Whatever it was, it was time to move on.
I followed a previous lead on a treasure filled dungeon near Hiraizumi... I was the one that did the demolishing
I upgraded my armor, and bought a Masamune sword for my main character. Having this greatly improved my ability to tangle with the enemies in the next dungeon and the Sado gold mine. I felt like doing a bit more off course though, so I focused on finding the man lost in the mine. I made progress. Slowly at first, but things improved greatly as I leveled up and finally purchased a Muramasa for Naruse. The boss at the bottom of the gold mine was the man I sought, possessed by an evil spirit guarding the gold within. The man fell, and the town celebrated while his widow mourned. I was paid off for my services, and moved on... back to the main quest.
There's been a sharp increase in the number of boss battles
It's difficult to know where to strike a good balance between grinding to meet the challenge and over leveling. For the Sado gold mine, it was a good challenge. For Oda's diary at Mt. Ontake afterwards, it was a cakewalk. Having nearly everyone equipped with the best gear I could buy, I breezed through this dungeon, and the next doesn't pose too much of a threat. I would have had it beat if not for the maze-like design of multiple floors, passages that look identical, and ladders that are difficult to differentiate between up and down. At least I have enough to purchase a fire blade, and become even more unstoppable. Even before I do though, I want to note that I gained a new spell, Burn, which does about as much damage as the Masamune to all enemies. If it weren't for the MP cost, I might consider trading in my healer for a magician that could cast similar spells.
Totally unrelated to the sky gem I retrieved earlier
I seem to be just about 2/3rds done with my training. I'm not sure what the next step is after that's complete: if there are additional quests to complete, or if we'll be thrust to confront Nobunaga immediately. I really hope that I get to participate in at least one war battle before the game is over, but each of the states seem content to not attack anyone during these winter months.

Elapsed Time: 7h00m (Total Time: 15h12m)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Game #68: Inindo: Way of the Ninja (SNES) - The Wrong Way

Game 68

Title: Inindo: Way of the Ninja
Released: March 1993 (1991 JPN)
Platform: SNES
Developer: Koei
Publisher: Koei
Genre: RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone

A combination of life, mood, and the game at hand has caused me to delay this post for far too long. Life is good, but busy. Due to that I really haven't been in the mood to play games, especially this one. It's one of those bland trials, not good, not bad. If I had to sum up this game in a single word: uninspired. Running around as a ninja seeking revenge on an evil warlord sounds like a promising concept on paper, but the implementation is lackluster. Combat is slow, navigating menus is like wading through molasses, and other little things irk me like healing magic randomly failing.
The Iga ninjas were renown among ninjas, and a feared rival to Nobunaga's power
The hero, who I named Kojiro, was the youngest member of the Iga ninja clan, and as such was sent away for his protection as Nobunaga's forces invaded. Secreted away to a small village, he trained under the tutelage of the elder and his granddaughter Rei. A year later, his training was cut short as Nobunaga's forces appeared at the gate. Outclassed, the hero was struck down. Before the finishing blow could be delivered reports of an attack on Nobunaga forced them to withdraw. The village elder healed Kojiro, and sent him off to the nearby dungeon to retrieve the super secret password to unlock further training dungeons.
All the villagers, including Rei, dispersed in the attack. After the dungeon, where I picked up the password, I was treated to a scene where I saw Nobunaga, injured yet alive, walking by with his army. This is where the game departs from history, as Nobunaga was actually assassinated at Honnou-ji temple. The events that unfold take place in a fantastical account with sorcerers, ninja spells, and a 20 year time limit to complete the game (hooray for arbitrary time limits). Days pass while walking around the overworld map, and a single day is spent when lodging at an inn or entering a dungeon. Every month an entire map of Japan is shown, and territory updates are given to show who's invading which region.
Entering the first castle town
Towns offer any number of weapon shops to purchase gear, guilds for selling equipment, medicinal shops to heal and buy recovery items, tea shops to hear about local gossip, fortune tellers to learn about potential party members, and inns to save and recruit. Castles also have some some options that I'll cover later when they become relevant. Until level 7, the game doesn't allow the player to recruit additional party members. Castle jobs are likewise locked until level 15. With little idea of how the game worked, I took a leap and sold off my early gear to purchase a then powerful ninjato leaving me with 0 gold.
Checking out the map from Kii Castle
My next dungeon was said to be at Mt. Fuji, but not having a good grasp of geography I headed west. I was turned away at a border checkpoint at Nobunaga's territory. East it is! Having spent all my gold I found I couldn't rest at inns. The game requires consistent rest, or it forces the party to make camp in the wilderness, wasting a day. Doing so increases the possibility of bandits waylaying the party. These bandits are rarely worth the trouble. Overworld encounters are luckily rare since they offer meager amounts of gold and experience compared to dungeon battles. At least the better gear helped me survive the two battles I came across before reaching Mt. Fuji.
Now it tells me
At Mt. Fuji I delved into the dungeon alone to retrieve the fire gem. It was difficult due to one enemy that could use magic, and he'd use it every turn. Damaging spells appear to do a set amount of damage, and equipment with magical resistance is limited. There is an injury system where a character doesn't necessarily die after taking lethal damage unless they're injured. Think of it as 1 extra hit after max HP. With the help of a few elixirs I emerged with the gem to learn the flame ninjutsu.

Due to the difficulty I anticipated needing a full party, so I spent some time grinding up to level 7. To recruit characters they first have to be located as they travel from town to town. Some months they remain stationary, but most appear and disappear from day to day. Each one has a friendliness value that fills up after talking to them, which costs a day of in-game time. It took a good month to get a healer to join, and I lucked into a ninja that showed up already interested in joining me.
Oh, ONLY ten... does that count the first with the password?
Combat was moderately easier with three party members. I made my way through the earth and sky dungeons collecting the spells repair, purge, fog, and wind (heal, antidote, blind, and damage). Magic is best saved for healing, which as I mentioned can fail and still consume magic. In fact all spells seem to have a chance to fail. Even though I wasn't avoiding any battles, I soon found dungeons unbearably difficult. Mt. Osore was the last one where I could truly contend with the enemies; I picked up the Torch spell there, which would be great if the enemies ever lined up neatly. In the very next dungeon I found my characters dealing single digit damage. Somehow through running, two castings of flame per round, and a mix of enemies from earlier dungeons interspersed with the new impervious plant enemies, I managed to get through Oshima Island. The next dungeon, Mt. Ontake, completely walled me though.
Kusou's spells are scant on pure damage since he's a healer class
After Mt. Osore I was level 15, and tried out the castle jobs. Castles only hire near the beginning of the month, and can offer spy or war battle work. Spying consists of traveling to the target, and selecting the spy command from the menu. It takes some energy to attempt. Resting is the only economical way to recover energy (there are expensive items that cost as much as the spy job pays). These jobs must be completed within a certain number of days. It pays well, but the inconsistent nature made grinding gold this way inefficient. Even though Oshima provided Blaze and Geyser, a couple of field war battle spells, no daimyo would take my party on as generals.
Snoop gathers information, and damage sabotages resource, which might prove dangerous to myself
Strapped for cash and no way to grind in the dungeon I was told to go to next, I decided to return to Mt. Osore to get a few more levels and some gold for the best equipment. Also, Takeoka just wasn't cutting it. Even though he automatically gained ninjutsu (better ones than I had trained in), his power level was consistently below the main character's. I decided I would court a warrior class the next chance I got, and bid farewell to Takeoka. I considered a wizard class, but damaging spells are far too weak.
There's a gambling slots game that would take a while to grind out, but offers some different equipment

Elapsed Time: 8h12m (Total Time: 8h12m)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Below the Cut: LandStalker (Genesis)

(Source: Wikipedia)
LandStalker - Rating(9 RPP)
1) 0 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 0 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 0 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 0 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 0 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 0 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

Ever since I played Solstice I've had a soft side for the isometric perspective. It took years of playing to get comfortable enough with the controls to make it through the game. Luckily I had Nintendo Power to guide me through those early NES games. I'm not sure I would have beaten as many as I did without it. My exposure to Genesis games was slight, but I'm sure I would have been enamored with this title just the same. I might give it a proper playthrough one day, but it won't be detailed here.

As a 9, it's borderline, but in the end it's an action-adventure with some of the worst isometric controls I've experienced (I haven't played them all, granted). Nigel, the protagonist, can only move in four directions, a normal mechanic in these games. Instead of angling the d-pad to map up to up-right or up-left, it's mapped to both depending on which diagonal direction was last pressed. This makes handling imprecise. Due to that, the action sequences are tedious as I often accidentally flew in the wrong direction or swung my sword to the side of an enemy.

Nigel finds health upgrades, but that's the only stat improvement. (I'm unsure if I should even give a point for that.) Combat strength is determined by equipment alone. There's a good amount of that, and even some situational gear that makes swapping effective for different environmental hazards. Items are varied as well. As for story, setting, and puzzles: that's where the game really shines, but those same aspects are what make it an adventure game, not quite an RPG.

Without a way for the character to improve, the player has to improve to make progress in the game. Combat misses the mark. It's rote with only a sword to manage enemies (and some limited use items). The store is only acts as a money sink with no way to sell anything. I'm actually not sure if there are side quests, but I'll give the game the benefit of the doubt as I haven't played through far enough to find one.

In the end, I enjoyed what little I tried, and if I can manage to look past the control difficulties (and rewire my brain to accommodate), I'll probably enjoy the rest of the game. Until that time let's move on to Inindo.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Game #67: Gauntlet IV (Genesis) - Dragons All The Way Up (Finished)

Game 67

Title: Gauntlet 4
Released: 1993
Developer: Atari Games Corporation
Publisher: Tengen
Genre: Action-RPG
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Active
Series - Gauntlet

This title surprised me. First, I had written it off the list for no other reason than it was Gauntlet. How could that series have enough RPG elements to include? Especially as we move right into cutting a game like Landstalker. While having a deeper story, and a richer world, it just doesn't offer the same kind of character customization.
In Gauntlet 4's quest mode, the story begins with the appearance of adventures seeking a mysterious treasure within an ancient castle guarded by four towers. Each tower holds the key to opening a seal on the castle doors. Take on the role of warrior, valkyrie, wizard, or elf, solo or with up to three friends, and discover the treasure within.
The key here is the quest mode, which adds experience points and stat increases. A quick check of the scale gives the game a 12 due to meeting all (6) character advancement points, stats have a meaningful impact on combat, item management, a story at the forefront, an open world that remains open, and some small puzzles to solve (mostly mazes). I'll compare that to Landstalker next post, but as a spoiler, the lack of experience and multiple characters drops it below the threshold immediately. So we see essentially a basic dungeon crawler come up over a wonderfully designed world filled with NPCs and lore. Maybe my scale is broken. In any case, I've gone over the numbers enough for now.
This is the fire tower, which has damage tiles
Each character has a ranged attack, melee attack, and magic attack (requires potions). The power of each attack is determined by a particular power stat. Shot speed, movement rate, and defense make up the rest of character stats. These stats, and HP, are raised by spending experience points. The amount required increases with each stat raised. Stats are also augmented by equipment purchased from vendors throughout the towers or in the central hub at the beginning of the game.
It's also possible to lower stats, shown above I drop my shot speed to the minimum
The goal of each tower is to either reach the top of fire and air, and the bottom of earth and water. A dragon awaits in each guarding the power to break the seal. To navigate there requires finding the proper path of up and down stairs as well as trap tiles that change the layout of the floor. Finding all four trap tiles clears the floor (removing enemies and treasure). There are keys to open doors, and treasure to collect for added gold. Gold is needed to purchase equipment and items from the vendors.
Buying each level of equipment is inefficient as there's no way to sell old equipment
As with other Gauntlet games, health starts at 2000 and is constantly drained. This is also the max HP, and can be raised by 100 point increments for an experience point cost. Luckily I chose the fire tower first, and found a heal ring early on. Only one item can be readied at any time, and the heal ring prevents this drain. The float ring allows the player to walk over stairs and teleporters, handy to reach some otherwise inaccessible treasure. There's a mirror ring that gives reflective shot, and a fight ring that allows a character to melee with death and mimics.
Each tower has special tiles, fire=damage, water=slip, earth=slow, and air=stream which move the character randomly; the castle has confuse tiles that shift the direction of the d-pad
In addition to the special tiles of each tower, there are tiles in every location that prevent shots or magic. These add an additional layer to puzzles. In one instance I needed to slow my shot speed to destroy a destructible wall located across a couple screen lengths worth of no shot tiles. Death is only vulnerable to magic, but how do you handle him surrounded by anti-magic tiles.
In the earth tower, some of the downstairs worked as pits with no corresponding up stairs
The enemies are well varied with ghosts immune to melee, dragons weaker at melee range, and wizards that phase in and out. Normal enemies don't really pose much of a challenge. A couple of potions can kill nearly all enemies on a single screen, and those along with food respawn when transitioning to floors. Add in the heal drink to restore health to max, and the warp wing that takes the character back to the central hub, you can imagine the majority of deaths I had were from the dragon bosses where these options are disabled.
There was that one time I ran through an army of ghosts surrounded by deaths--dying to regular enemies removes the bonus stat potions found behind each dragon, but they're easy enough to collect again
The castle is like the towers, except it begins on the 5th floor, and must be navigated to the basement before heading to the top. Atop is another dragon, but this one draws power from four elemental orbs that must be sealed before it takes damage. This has to be done while dodging all the normal shots the dragon has, and only lowers his defense for a short period of time before the orbs regain their light. It took a couple attempts to get it right.
Here's the password for right before the final dragon, note the name of the character must match as well
Beyond the dragon was a treasure beyond imagination. I arrived on the roof where a disembodied voice asked if I was ready to enter the land of eternal youth. I then had a choice to enter or not. I chose to enter. I wanted my treasure. You decide if I made the right choice. That same voice proclaimed that finally an heir was found, and the spell was broken.
Suddenly I was in control of a dragon breathing hot death on a character that looked like the wizard
I had turned into a dragon. The other option would be to return to town without the treasure, and always wondering what could have been up there. I definitely wasn't expecting an ending like this, but even in the best of RPGs so far, which I have to say this didn't quite scratch that itch, we haven't seen an evil ending like this. I'm glad I chose it first. The other sounded rather disappointing.

Elapsed Time: 8h22m (Final Time: 8h22m)
All adventures who succeed become another dragon, killing the last successful adventurer
Combatant - Combat definitely has some challenging aspects, but on a fight to fight basis it's pretty weak. There aren't many options, especially ones that differ between the characters. If for some reason the player dedicated his time to melee combat, it does give more experience after all, then that character would be woefully unprepared for the dragons. There are a good variety of enemies, but not enough to keep things interesting past the first tower.
Rating: 4
Only dragons, but where do they all come from?
Admirer - There are a lot of ways to customize the characters, and each seems to be viable, although some are definitely better than others. Appearance is fixed, even the color of each character (in this mode). Controls are responsive, although max speed can get a bit unwieldy.
Rating: 3
The same credits are given during the demo mode
Puzzler - With only a main quest to speak of, the game does well to mix in puzzle elements beyond just mazes. There aren't any side quests, and really there's only a single solution to the game, even if the towers are open to any order.
Rating: 3
Each tower gives a symbol on the character, showing which ones are completed
Instigator - The story really doesn't matter. It's Gauntlet, go through the dungeon and hack everything to death. The only decision in the game comes at the end, but it carries a lot of weight. The traders in the hub congratulate and give advice throughout, while a voice welcomes the adventurer to continue on through to the end. It's unclear whose voice that was in the end, but I would guess the final dragon.
Rating: 3
There are more people in the special thanks section than all others put together
Collector - There's not a lot to collect, but if you're looking to buy all items, then that won't happen without a lot of grinding. With no lack of space, there's no reason to worry about where to put the next item. It's easy to tell the strength of each piece of equipment
Rating: 4
Seriously, it goes on for a while
Explorer - I was a little disappointed that a lot of standard Gauntlet sound effects were missing. Green elf never needed food badly. The music is top notch though, with a lot of unique tracks. With a limited area, it still kept my interest in exploring every corner to clear out each floor.
Rating: 4
A great example of wonderful Genesis music
Final Rating: 21 [35%]

Overall a nice distraction after Ultima V before we get into another lengthy RPG. Gauntlet IV isn't a typical RPG, but it's an early example of just enough trappings in an attempt to woo RPG fans to check out the game. I've found that I'm definitely more of a fan of turn-based combat. A sprinkling of action-RPGs do well to stave off burning out from this project.
What other game could I be a dragon?
Next up, Inindo: Way of the Ninja. A game that I missed on the SNES, and probably for good reason. It's a port from an early Japanese computer game, which gives it a very dated look on the SNES. It seems interesting, but I can see it dragging on for far too long. First though, I'll be cutting Landstalker from the pack of RPGs. Go ahead, question my reasoning. It could very well be wrong.