Friday, December 15, 2017

Game 273: Spirit of Adventure (1991)

     
Spirit of Adventure
Germany
Attic Entertainment Software (developer); Starbyte (publisher)
Released in 1991 for DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST; 1992 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 12 December 2017

Spirit of Adventure is a potentially-enjoyable title from the minds and hands of Hans-Jürgen Brändle and Guido Henkel, two developers at the cusp of fame. They had cut their teeth on Drachen von Laas (1991) and would soon find renown with the Realms of Arkania series, which uses an update of Spirit's interface.

Sprit was originally released in German, and like many German games of the era, it shows a heavy Bard's Tale influence, particularly in the graphics, the layout of the city, and the approach to combat. But it also shows an awareness of Legend of Faerghail (1990) and has similar elements to Antares (1991), published the same year (I'm not sure which came first). In my experience so far, it makes small improvements on its sources.

The backstory is sketched in the manual and fleshed out as you explore and talk with NPCs. The game is set in the world of Lamarge. The planet's first civilization turned its back on their creators and destroyed itself. The survivors are in the process of re-building and re-discovering old magics. Society is governed by the Cult of Knowing, which studies and makes use of the power of magical runes. The Cult's power is being threatened by the Fraternity of Dreamers, dedicated to trafficking a highly-addictive drug called Opitar. An estimated 20% of the population is addicted, crime is rampant, and "the very fabric of society is endangered." A group of adventurers have been commissioned to track down the source of the drug and stop the machinations of the Dreammaster, the elusive leader of the Fraternity.
     
Rowena, head of the Cult in the starting city, lays it all out. I don't think the runes on her robe actually spell anything.
      
The player assembles a party of six characters. Races and classes are mostly original, though drawn from familiar themes. There are basically four classes, though the male and female versions of the classes have different names (something we saw previously, to some degree, in Faerghail). Warriors and Amazons are the fighting classes, magicians and goddesses the spellcasters, and priests and fairies the clerics. Samurais and banshees serve as warrior/priests.

Races are described in terms of attributes but not appearance, and from the portraits everyone seems to be human. Odinaries are a Nordic race, hardy, clumsy, and stupid. Tidicians are forest barbarians, strong and healthy but ugly and clumsy. Dyce come from cities and have high marks in intelligence and magic. Finally, Allays live in smaller towns and are weaker, but with high charisma and intelligence.
     
Creating a "goddess" character.
      
The races mostly affect the attributes, which are randomly rolled by the computer: body, mind, magic, strength, dexterity, IQ, and charisma.
     
The party starts in Moon City. The city's "monastery" serves in the same fashion as the "adventurer's guild" of Bard's Tale. Only here can you save the game and create new characters. New characters start with a paltry selection of equipment.
     
The monastery is kind of like the "town hall" of Lamarge.
    
The "principal" of the monastery has some words before the party departs. In Moon City, the principal's name is Rowena.

I spent most of the first session simply exploring Moon City, which is a large 32 x 32. Like The Bard's Tale, it has a few important locations mixed within dozens of private homes. Spirit has a fun selection of graphics and NPC comments for those private homes, but you have to try all of them because the essential locations aren't obvious from the outside. 
     
He's awfully polite given that I interrupted his dinner.
This guy is more to the point.
      
The game is graphically more sophisticated than The Bard's Tale, showing details like flower boxes, hung laundry, and carts in front of the homes. Each street and square has a unique name, which is also a fun touch.
  
A shirt dries outside a house on Ordain Boulevard.
     
Key locations are scattered throughout the city and I haven't been able to visit them all yet, partly because there's both a day/night cycle and a day of week cycle that keeps some locations closed. So far, I've found several taverns, a weapons shop, an armor shop, a general goods store, a magic shop, a healer, a thieves' guild, a seer, and a mage who recharges crystals. Thus far, I haven't spent much money.
     
It will be a while before I can afford anything at the magic shop.
What kind of a world closes its taverns on hump day?
       
In one fairly significant improvement over its sources, Spirit of Adventure features NPCs who respond to dialogue keywords. Some of them occupy fixed homes but others wander the streets. Through experimentation, I found that most of them responded to OPITAR, LAMARGE, CULT, DREAMERS, and ROWENA.
       
Bartenders and named NPCs respond to keywords.
      
The first NPC I encountered was named Corbryn. His portrait looked like Oliver Hardy. He offered me a book called Monas Hieroglyphica for 500 gold pieces, and because I misinterpreted my total gold piece reserve as just an individual character's, I thought I had plenty, so I bought it. I couldn't find anything to do with it in my inventory. Later, I met him again in a different part of the city, and he protested that it wasn't his fault that I don't know how to read hieroglyphics, so perhaps the book just exists to get me to waste money. During the first conversation, Corbryn also mentioned that he'd seen a Banshee woman selling Opitar in the city.
     
Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into.
       
I found the Banshee, Grishna, elsewhere on the streets. She offered to sell me some Opitar for 1,000 gold pieces, far more than I have.
      
She also had an oddly angry reaction to a question about Elfrad.
      
In a house, I met Yakka Deepshaved, whose portrait is clearly based on Sean Connery in Highlander. He said he was an elf, which I didn't even know was a race in this setting. He said he'd tell me the name of the head of the Cult of Knowing if I could tell him the name of the mayor of the city of Elfrad. I guess I'll have to return after I visit Elfrad. He also mentioned that Rowena likes to roam the city's streets at night.
       
You call that "deep"? You missed at least two spots!
      
In one major departure from The Bard's Tale and most of its clones, combats are somewhat rare in the opening city. There was maybe one every 5-7 minutes. During combat, characters can make a physical attack, a mental attack, or cast a spell (the latter two depending on class). Antares also had the physical/mental distinction, and I wonder if one game influenced the other. I'll naturally have more on combat in a later entry.
     
Trading blows with some witches and goblins.
    
My characters get pretty battered from combat, and most of my gold so far has gone to the healer, since neither physical nor mental hit points seem to restore over time.
     
This guy is eyeing a second home in Santa Barbara because of me.
        
None of the characters start with spells. I have to create them later in a "rune temple." I'm not sure if the magic system has anything to do with the slate of Futhark runes on the left side of the screen, or otherwise what they're telling me.
Also a bit of a mystery is the nature of character development.  You get experience for combat, but to actually level up you have to visit a "mysterious place" somewhere in Lamarge. Supposedly, leveling up improves statistics and allows you to acquire new skills. Every character starts with one magic skill, selected at random I think. I'm not sure if they work automatically or if there's some way to call on them. Some of the skills my characters have aren't described in the manual.

The interface isn't the best. Much of the time, you can select a menu option by pressing the associated number or first letter, but sometimes the developers didn't translate them from German. Any time the game asks "yes/no," for instance, and you want to say yes, you have to press "J" for ja. There's no clear command to "use" inventory items, so I'm not sure how that works. Trading items between characters requires more strokes than it should, and I keep having to look in the manual about how to do it. There appears to be no keyboard shortcut to view a character's inventory (you have to double-click on the portrait), but oddly you have to use the keyboard to get out of the inventory with an undocumented "Q," presumably for "Quit." [Edit: I missed some keyboard shortcuts. They exist, but they require CTRL.] There's no armor class statistic and thus no easy way to see the relative protection offered by armors.
     
My Amazon. This is a useful screen, but there's no obvious way to leave it.
     
There's a navigation issue that I don't know how to describe. When you stand next to a building or door, from the side it looks like you're immediately adjacent to it. But when you turn to face it, it appears that you're one square away. You have to advance to the door and then advance again to enter. If you only advance once, then turn, the game moves you one square away again. It's not crippling, but it takes some getting used to.

Before I wrapped up this session, I took one of the four exits from Moon City and found myself on a top-down overland map. Presumably I'll find other cities and dungeons here. I have no idea how big the game is. It would be nice if not all the maps were so big.
        
The overland world of Lamarge.
       
Before I forget, I need to thank a reader named Jan for providing me with a spoiler-free English version of the manual and for otherwise doing some initial scouting on the game and its versions. Apparently, the C64 version is a travesty that we'll have to later explore.
        
My map of Moon City.
       
"The Bard's Tale but with more plot, Ultima-style dialogue, and fewer combats" sounds like a great game, and I look forward to seeing how this one shapes up. I could see it becoming very hard, with no clear way to level up and nowhere to save except the monastery. By next time, we'll know.

Time so far: 4 hours

****

SSI's Realms of Darkness was supposed to be Game #273, but I can't get any version working. Every C64 version I download insists that there's something wrong with the disk drive when I boot the game. Every Apple II version allows me to create characters but then complains that "characters exist" already on the adventure disks and gives me no ability to delete them. If you've ever gotten the game running and can educate me on how, I'd love your help. Until then, I think I have to list it as "not playable."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Quarterstaff: Knock on Wood

An early encounter.
       
I was keeping a good schedule for a while, but a game like Quarterstaff was destined to break the pace. I've been very busy with work in early December, trying to wrap up some projects so I can take my usual mid-December to mid-January vacation. If I'd been playing something light and uncomplicated during this time--some Ultima or Wizardry clone--I probably could have kept on with regular entries.

A text adventure like Quarterstaff is another matter. It doesn't lend itself to playing on-the-go. I find myself needing two monitors to accommodate all the tools I use to play it: the emulator, a draft blog entry going in Firefox, the game documentation, a mapping program, and a notepad. Perhaps more important, it requires the concentration inherent in adventure games. You can't just blast down a corridor killing orcs and then solve an occasional button puzzle; you have to carefully map, annotate items and encounters, and think through puzzles. There are times that I'm just not in the mood for that.
      
Part of the game map so far.
      
So far, I've mapped all or most of what I think is the first level. (I'm using Trizbort, which works great. Thanks, Iffy and Teknefer!) The only way I can find to move on from here is a "Spiral Death," and I haven't yet found a way to navigate it without getting hurt. This is what I can report from multiple forays through the first level:

There are one billion items. I have no idea what to do with all this inventory. Some of the rooms just have piles and piles of stuff. By the end of the level, I was juggling this list: berserker sword, black potion, blanket, broadsword, bronze key, coin, copper bracers, curvy dagger, deerskin boots, elven gourd, food ration, gnarly club, gold brooch, hot poker, identify wand, inlaid book, iron key, leather gloves, leather braces, leather headband, match, old ring, old scroll, ornate ring, parchment, potion of sleep, pretzel, quiver, ransom note, red garnets, redwood staff, resin torch, ruby ring, rye bread, scarab of insanity, silk pouch, sleep potion, small lantern, small leather pouch, small potion, small torch, soft leather bag, steel rapier, tarnished key, teleport potion, thick potion, tinderbox, wax blob, wax candle, wooden ring.
  
Some of the many items in a single room.
     
Perversely, a lot of the corridors are narrow and won't let you through if you have a heavy inventory. My assumption is that many of these items are just for flavor, like all the junk lying around a typical Elder Scrolls room, or at least optional, such as some of the weapons. (There's no way that I can tell to determine relative damage and accuracy levels among weapons.) 

It was late in my exploration that I found an "identify wand" and even later that I learned how to use the tools that came with the game to figure out the magic code words required to activate the wand and identify potions, rings, keys, and other wands. It involves putting a coin in the middle of a paper diagram, rotating it according to instructions on the paper, and following a path of letters. It's not all that different from the "codewheel" that came with the first two Gold Box games. Now that I know how to use it, it might help me identify some other items.
      
Rotating the "coin" image on top of a "parchment" to find keywords. I'm doing this in PowerPoint.
      
There's not much in the way of plot exposition. I suppose that may come on other levels, but so far I haven't learned a damned thing about the Tree Druids and why they disappeared. Part of the problem is a lack of meaningful ways to interact with NPCs. You can SMILE at them and GREET them but not interrogate or ask complex questions. Thus, when I run into a "chief torturer" and a "druid guard" hanging out together in an early room, I'd like to know what's going on, but there doesn't seem to be anything to do except fight them. Same goes for an "insane druid" and a "wild wizard" encountered later.

Even the PCs don't interact with each other. The first character, Titus, encounters the second, Bruno, in an early room. The third, Eolene, is rescued from a cell. None of them has any dialogue when they meet. They just smile and nod at each other repeatedly until they finally join Titus's party.

There are a few plaques, inscriptions, tapestries, and books that offer poems alluding to the deeds of various druids. If they have any significance for the main plot, the meaning is cloaked in thick language and obscure references. In their use of proper names, the developers drew from several Welsh texts, including the Triads and the Mabinogion. There are references to two Briton bards: Taliesin and Llywarch Hen. One bit of verse mentions Llwch Llenlleawg, a Welsh hero who has been suggested as a early incarnation of Lancelot. They're all cute, but so far they don't add up to much.
         
This passage about Dremhidydd is drawn directly from the Welsh Triads.
         
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be killing things. Role-playing citizens in a land of druids has made me cautiously pacifistic. There are four potential combats on the first level: a chief torturer and a druid guard, a huge spider, an insane druid, and a wild wizard. But I don't think I really have to kill any of them. The wild wizard doesn't pre-emptively attack you. He just picks up items that you probably want and runs off. The insane druid is only insane because he's holding a berserker sword. You get nothing from killing the huge spider, and the path he's blocking can be circumvented.

As for the chief torturer and his druid guard, that's an interesting encounter. It's one of the earliest in the game. At first, I tried just killing them in regular combat, but after a few rounds, the chief torturer would always manage to close his manacles around Titus's arms and immobilize him. After a few attempts, I realized that I could pre-emptively close the same manacles around the torturer's arms, and moreover close a pair of thumb screws around the druid guard's thumbs, incapacitating them both. This allows me to mercilessly kill them, but also to loot their items without killing them--at least, some items. I'm not sure if the others are necessary. One of the items I can't loot while the guard is alive, for instance, is a Scarab of Insanity. But maybe I don't need it, as all it seems to do is change the sex of the wearer. My characters, incidentally, make absolutely no comment when this happens to them. They really are pretty mellow druids.
      
Giving the torturers a taste of their own medicine.
      
Combat is otherwise pretty boring. I type KILL HUGE SPIDER for Titus and MIMIC (which is like "ditto") for the other two and watch the results. Most of my attacks miss. I type REPEAT for all three the next round. And the next. Eventually the spider is dead. Maybe there are more options later with magic and the use of items and such. 
      
Trading blows in combat.
      
Puzzles are light. I talked above about the complexity of adventure games and how you have to pay attention. In the case of Quarterstaff, this is more hypothetical than actual. So far, the puzzles have been easy. You need a couple of obvious keys to open doors. A hidden door is found behind a tapestry. A lever opens another hidden door (though a second lever opens a trap). I've only flagged two squares with "things I can't figure out," including a shrine with a sarcophagus I can't open (though maybe I'm not supposed to) and a conspicuous "protruding brick" I don't know how to manipulate.
  
Maybe I should let this druid rest in peace.
    
I hate the windows. Last time, I noted how Mac games often use the conventions of the Mac interface including multiple windows that the user can size and position. I stopped short of praising this element, and I'm glad I did. I've come to hate the damned windows. I can't get any configuration to work well. Finally, when I started mapping in my own application, I just hid the automap, expanded the text window, and played it like a straight text adventure. That, however, doesn't stop unwanted and unnecessary graphic windows from coming to the forefront every time a particular room triggers them.
    
This frigging' window pops up every time I enter a passage. I can guess by now what a passage looks like, thanks.
    
RPG elements are almost non-existent. My weapon proficiencies have increased slightly from use, but I suspect that these improvements will end up playing a small part in the game.

Logistics have not yet played a role. The manual promises that half the battle is keeping your party fed, watered, rested, and in possession of light sources. The latter has come up once or twice when someone falls in a hole and leaves the others in the dark, but so far no one has complained of hunger, thirst, and fatigue. I've found several items of food and a couple places to drink, too. Maybe it's just a really long game and I've barely started.

Aside from all of this, the game keeps annoying me by splitting my party without asking. Every time I do something that causes one character to get left behind (e.g., two characters can fit down a hallway but the third can't), the game automatically creates two parties with two leaders, switching back and forth between them. You have to specify some action for each leader each round, but usually I just have one party trying to get back to the other, and I just want the other to stand still. It's hard to explain without playing, but trust me: it gets confusing and irksome fast.

All I can tell you about the plot is that the Tree Druids' colony seems to be largely deserted. I had to step over a previous adventurer's body as I entered. The chief torturer and druid guard seemed to be getting ready to ply their trade on Eolene before I killed them and freed her from her cell. No telling where they came from; it's hard to believe that the peaceful Tree Druids employed a "chief torturer" before all the trouble started. No one is in the main chambers, banquet hall, or shrine hall except an insane druid with a berserker sword and a "wild wizard" who seems to be searching for something.
    
The wizard has a "ransom note," but I don't know if he's the writer or recipient.

In some ways, it's probably good that I haven't made much progress in the game. By next week, I'll be home for the holidays and in a much better place to enjoy it, if it is indeed enjoyable. I'll probably start completely over then and may have a better experience.

*****

List note: I've decided that the upcoming Quick Majik Adventure isn't enough of a game to bother playing on this blog. It's a demo version of a longer game called Majik Adventure which no longer seems to exist. I'd be happy to play the full thing if someone can find it, but the "Quick" version starts you at a high character level and just lets you explore one dungeon level. It's not enough to get a sense of the full game or to constitute a game on its own.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Knights of Xentar: Won! (with Final Rating)

There's no single "won" screen, so we'll go with this.
      
Knights of Xentar
Japan, with United States update
Elf (developer); MegaTech (U.S. publisher)
Released in 1991 for PC-98, 1992 for FM Towns, Sharp X68000 as Dragon Knight III; released in 1994 for DOS under this title
Date Started: 22 November 2017
Date Ended: 3 December 2017
Total Hours: 27
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

I ended up disliking Knights of Xentar before the end, but not because of the sex. Rather, it was because of the extremely long periods of time, particularly towards the end, when I wasn't so much "playing" the game as "watching" it. I gather this is a frequent criticism of JRPGs, but I confess that Xentar is the first game in which I personally experienced it.

Desmond had a lot more sex and attempted sex throughout the game. I didn't keep count, but a walkthrough I consulted lists 33 different NPCs depicted nude in a total of over 50 separate nude (or at least suggestive) images. Desmond has or attempts sex with about 25 of them. (Towards the end of the game, there's a recurring joke where he gets interrupted repeatedly by his fellow party members.) I should mention for those not familiar with Japanese erotica that in keeping with custom, the women's genitals are always hidden or covered and there is no depiction of male nudity, not even in sex "scenes." Then again, I'm still not 100% sure whether I have the "censored" or "patched" version of the game.
       
Desmond never loses his charm.
     
Although the game started with a pattern in which Desmond saved his partners from sexual assault, this did not continue after the last entry, meaning that the particular trope was only used three times, all towards the beginning of the game. On the whole, then, I'd have to say that the depiction of sex and nudity in the title is mostly harmless. What bothered me more was that the dialogue in some of the scenes just wouldn't end. I'd keep hitting ENTER over and over and over, knowing that the laws of physics prevented insipid new dialogue lines from being generated eternally, but still starting to question it. There were times that I thought maybe the dialogue had looped back on itself, and I was stuck in an endless cycle of banal dirty talk. I cannot imagine making it through this game with the CD-ROM version with voiced dialogue.

There were bawdy episodes aplenty. In one town, a brothel offered a choice of women. No matter which one Desmond chose, he didn't get any satisfaction, either because the prostitute was so terrifying that she scared him away or because she delayed long enough that his time ran out.
    
I don't like the look of those tools.
       
In a forest episode, Desmond stumbled upon a woman having sex with a tree. Mortified at being caught, she forced Desmond to also have sex with the tree so that they would have equal blackmail material on each other. His companions showed up while this was happening and hilarity ensued.

Aside from the sexual hijinks, the master plot wasn't bad. There were some interesting twists, including even some explanations for Desmond's "luck" with ladies, and the ending was damned near wholesome.
     
Desmond's companions never let up.
      
The overall game world ended up consisting of two separate "lands." The first had 9 towns, 4 dungeons, and 5 other small interior locations. The second land had 4 towns and 2 dungeons. Many plot points required returning to places or NPCs already visited, and since the clues to do this were interspersed with a lot of nonsense dialogue, it was tough to figure them out. Each town has a lot of items and treasures--some plot-significant--hidden in jars, barrels, bushes, wells, and similar locations, and it was tough to search them all since you might have to approach them from multiple sides. Because of both of these issues, I ended up relying on Shay Addams's QuestBusters: Keys to the Kingdoms 2 (1995) for assistance. The book easily shaved a dozen hours off the game.

The game manual explains a lot more about the characters' backstories, though I don't know how much is taken from the Japanese editions and how much was made up by the American publisher. It relates that Desmond was abandoned as a baby and raised in an impoverished village where he was passed from house to house. Eventually, Rolf took him under his wing, taught him to fight, and started to notice Desmond's effect on women. (Which is repeatedly given as mysterious, as Desmond is poorly endowed and has incurable body odor.) Their adventures in the first two Dragon Knight games are recounted. "Xentar" is, I guess, the name of the game world. The Dragon Knights were creation of the "light"--good gods--who went native, turned venal, and sacked Strawberry Fields. After Desmond saved the city, the women re-named it Arcadia, and the sorceress Luna erected an energy field to keep men out. Desmond's Genji Armor and Falcon Sword were crafted by Rolf and Pietro in Phoenix based on some ancient diagrams.

You'll recall that Knights of Xentar started with Desmond being robbed of both sword and armor. His quest to recover them is basically the entire driving force of the game. During the quest, he starts to get hints that the theft may not have been entirely random, but otherwise most of his wandering is aimless and I suppose many of the city encounters and quests are optional.
      
Desmond starts to question the official narrative.
      
Rolf had re-joined my party as I wrapped up last time and together we visited the nudist resort called Nero's Retreat, oddly one of the few places where Desmond didn't find anyone to have sex with. From there, we moved on to a city called Carnage Corners, which was having some kind of tournament that involved going into the dungeon in the cemetery and clearing out the undead.
       
Navigating one of the game's dungeons.
      
The undead foes were tougher than anything I'd experienced in the game so far, and Rolf started fairly weak. Some of them were capable of swatting away half his hit points in one blow, and I soon exhausted my healing potions. I had to settle in for a long period of grinding to both level-up the characters and purchase them the best equipment available. Generally, I found that equipment upgrades did more than simple leveling.
       
Grinding against "Fire Birds."
      
There were several other periods in the game where I had to stop for grinding. I noticed that as the character levels increased, the experience won from enemies decreased--to the point where some early-game enemies only provided 1 experience point. However, there were still some benefits to returning to the early game areas and grinding against slimes, as these areas were highly likely to produce items like healing potions and smoke bombs at the end of combat.

Eventually, we cleared what we could of the cemetery but there was an area that we couldn't complete. We returned to Carnage Corners with a "sexy drawing" that an old man had lost there, and in return for it he gave us some "transsexual nuts" that temporarily turned us into females. These allowed us to walk through Luna's magic barrier to the city of Arcadia, where Luna joined us.
       
The game otherwise didn't have as much fun with this scenario as you might expect.
      
Getting Luna, the third and final member, into the party had several repercussions. First, it marked the beginning of continuous inane dialogue. I really enjoyed the party "banter" of the Infinity Engine games, but the writing has to be good. Here, it just wasn't. And yet every time we entered a building, walked up a staircase, encountered an NPC--and especially when Desmond was about to get jiggy with some townswoman--Rolf and Luna had to commence and endless series of jokes, puns, and insults about Desmond, his body odor, and his small penis.

On the positive side, Luna came with spells, including an extremely useful "Warp" spell that took us to any city we'd previously visited, and an equally useful healing spell that kept us from wasting potions until her spell points were used up. Since it took a while to exhaust her spell points, and they recharge with every stay at an inn, it allowed us to grind for far longer periods before having to stop and rest, and we stopped wasting healing potions during this process.
        
Having Luna in the party made large battles go much faster.
      
Luna also came with a fire magic spell. Eventually--and with the help of Mr. Addams--we started finding gems that gave Luna "Blizzard" and "Thunder" powers and then enhanced all three. The first gem let her acquire the power in the first place, the second gem extended the power from one enemy at a time to all enemies, and the third increased the damage (I never found more than three). These spells were extremely effective in most combats, to the point that towards the end of the game a single casting of "Thunder" might eliminate all six enemies at once.
      
Luna's "Blizzard" spell is going to hit all of these killer dogs.
      
With Luna in the party, combat became less a series of watching and using the occasional healing potion and more a process of casting the right spells at the right times. (Note: if any character dies, the game immediately ends. There is no resurrection mechanic.) It still wasn't very tactical, but it was a little more interesting.

While I'm on combat, I should mention that the game also offers a variety of interesting magical items that you can purchase or find on enemies' bodies post-combat. In addition to healing items, some of which affect the entire group, they include "skunk oil," which keeps enemies from attacking for a while in the wilderness, "smoke grenades" which enable instant escape from combat, and magic nuts and magic potions to restore spell points. The smoke grenades were particularly useful in dungeons when I wanted to conserve my healing potions for the final combat.
      
A store with some of the optional equipment items.
       
There are also a lot of items like "speed drinks" and "vitamin mixes" that provide permanent boosts to attributes. Finally, something called an "eraser pen" allows you to change the characters' names. I only found one, though, and I didn't use it.

Luna's magic allowed us to finish clearing Carnage Corners' cemetery and get the reward. Then we took on the Castle of Kalist, which we had to enter using an iron medal that turned to gold when a virgin held it. Luna completed this transformation, revealing her secret, which of course Desmond handled maturely. Dialogue during this point conveyed that Luna and Desmond were secretly in love, with Luna a bit pained every time Desmond wandered off to a bedroom with some floozy, which of course was near-constantly.

Desmond found his sword and armor in the castle, but they turned out to be fake versions. There was a bit where Luna disappeared from the party and was later found, nude of course, in the custody of a demonness named, in either the best or worst naming in history, Haggis. She hinted something about Desmond's parentage, calling him "lightspawn."
     
Luna, being a PC, gets a measure of modesty that NPCs do not.
     
Desmond and Rolf defeated her in a long combat. This was one of two major "boss" combats in the game. Luna is absent for both of them, meaning that all you can do is watch Desmond and Rolf hack away and heal them when necessary with potions. Success or failure comes down entirely to how many potions you brought.
     
      
Luna rejoined the party after Haggis's defeat, the castle collapsed, and the trio found themselves transported to a new land, although Luna's "Warp" spell could take them back to the first land quite easily. The new land had a town of cat women who had the trio retrieve their cat food from a dungeon of dog monsters. I'm serious.
     
Oh, yes, this is exactly what the game needed.
       
There were several towns, lots of grinding, numerous equipment upgrades, and so forth, but I'm getting bored with this narrative, so let's skip to the end. Everything culminated at the Temple of Xentar, to which some NPCs had seen Desmond's sword and armor taken.
      
We approach the final area.
      
As they arrived, they encountered the Black Knight, named Arstein, which sounds like a Jewish pirate. Desmond had been incidentally encountering Arstein the entire game. He brushed past Desmond in one of the early cities, and in a lot of other places we visited, he had just been there or something. He wandered out of the Temple of Xentar, battered and bloody, having been trounced by the monsters there. He expressed admiration for Desmond and the two became friends.

In the Temple, we recovered the real Genji Armor and Falcon Sword, the best items in the game.
       
       
At the apex of the Temple, we came face-to-face with the goddess Althea (note that Might and Magic III had used that name for an NPC the same year), who began a series of screens and dialogue lines that took me about half an hour to get through, even speed-reading. She started by revealing herself as Desmond's mother. She had given Desmond a blessing that he would "never have to seek a bed to lie in," which "had some unexpected side effects." Desmond's lack of endowment and body odor are explained as a disguise; if he had been too perfect, everyone would have known his heritage.
      
       
As an aside, she mentioned that Rolf is a descendant of the Dragon Knights. She also complimented Luna and acknowledged her inexplicable love for Desmond.

Althea said that the Temple of Xentar was a nexus between the mortal world, the realm of light, and the dark realm of demons, ruled by the demon lord Deimos. She related how the forces of light and darkness had been vying for control of the mortal world, and the hearts of humans, for eons. Eventually, they reached a pact: Althea and Deimos would both sire children, and after 20 years, the children would fight a duel to determine control of the world.
     
The otherwise-serious narrative is occasionally interrupted by a joke.
    
When the damned speech was finally done, Althea transported Desmond to the cave that would serve as the arena. There was another interminable conversation between the three characters. Then, Desmond entered the arena to find that his foe--Deimos's son--was none other than Arstein.
     
     
Arstein expressed consternation that Desmond was his opponent and said that he didn't want to kill him. The two engaged in a seemingly hours-long discussion of the relative philosophies of good and evil punctuated by idiotic jokes. Finally, Arstein attacked and Desmond counter-attacked, but Arstein turned out to be bluffing. He didn't defend himself and he let Desmond kill him, explaining "I couldn't drive the friendship out of myself no matter how hard I tried." Aww. That's an NPC who deserves to be in a better game.
       
Of course, the game manages to ruin the solemnity of the moment.
     
Deimos showed up and has is own protracted, long-winded speech that boiled down to reneging on the agreement. He wounded Althea and then attacked Desmond himself.
     
      
What followed was the most absurd, pointless combat in the history of RPG combats. It took about 25 minutes, and it consisted of nothing but Desmond hacking away at Deimos and Deimos healing himself every time his hit points got low. (With Luna and Rolf not participating, there were absolutely no tactics.) Meanwhile, I had to stop and give Desmond a healing potion every 20 seconds or so. At the advice of the walkthrough, I had brought hundreds of them with me. By the time that Deimos finally ran out of spell points and died, I was down to only a couple dozen potions.
      
This screen didn't change for an entire episode of Cheers.
      
Deimos died. Some god named Altair appeared (or his voice did) and lifted the wounded Althea back into the heavens. Altair--yes, this was yet another long dialogue--revealed that he was Desmond's father, and he explained his plan for Desmond to come up and take his place in the court of gods. But Desmond doesn't want to leave Rolf and Luna so he elects to stay behind.
     
Desmond reveals his true motivations.
     
Demond, Rolf, and Luna had yet another endless conversation about the implications of the plot. Desmond and Luna confessed their love.
    
I'm not sure Desmond has exactly "earned" this.
      
At this point, the game let me keep playing from outside the Temple of Xentar. I wasn't sure what to do. As I visited the various towns, I noted that nearly all the NPCs had some line of dialogue acknowledging Desmond's victory, which may be an RPG "first."
      
      
I had to look at the walkthrough to realize that to really "end" the game, I needed to return to Arcadia and visit the queen, Diana. Previously in the game, Desmond had sex with her, but I forgot to relate that. Anyway, Diana had another interminable speech praising the three heroes, and then she married Desmond and Luna.
     
Rolf gets no respect.
      
Some fourth-wall breaking words from the developers culminated in a series of screens telling how various NPCs fared post-game. Rolf married Alice, the granddaughter of the mayor of "Moronvia," and became a senator.
       
      
The game ends with a scene of domestic tranquility in a little house where Luna is making breakfast for Desmond.
      
It's hard to judge just from the kitchen, but I'm not sure this is the "palace" that Diana promised.
     
Desmond announces his plans to go adventuring again, and Luna chases him outside and around the house while the credits roll.
       
Ultimate irony: Desmond and Luna sleep in separate beds.
       
Between all the dialogues and cut scenes and that long battle with Deimos, the only "playing" I did for the last 90 minutes of the game was to feed Desmond healing potions. 

I guess I was supposed to find a magic mirror at some point that would let me revisit all of the nude scenes in the game. I'll just have to live without that.

I was reminded of Keef the Thief (1990) in that the plot and its resolution were pretty good, which made them all the more unwelcome. No game this goofy deserves to have NPCs who die tragic deaths or a plot that engages you with its twists. Oh, there are good writers who could have balanced them both. Shakespeare could have done it. Whoever wrote Galaxy Quest could have done it. But Xentar was far too overwhelming in its self-parody to pull off any real drama. It makes me wonder if the Japanese version did it better.

This is already one of my longest postings in history--I'm guilty of the very vice I levy against the game--but I'm still going to wrap it up with a GIMLET:

  • 5 points for the game world. It had an interesting plot, told a consistent set of lore, and actually responded to the player's actions and plot developments.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. There's no creation process, but development is relatively fast and rewarding and makes a notable difference in combat. I just wish it offered some choices.
      
Character stats at game's end.
      
  • 6 points for NPC interaction, perhaps the strongest element in the game. There are dozens of NPCs and boy does Desmond "interact" with them. He finds out key elements of lore and plot from the NPCs, develops friendships, and even gets married in the end. But the game offers no choices or role-playing; all the interactions are scripted.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. Xentar offers an original set of monsters, I'll give it that, but although some of them have special attacks, there's no real way to defend against them. Aside from the copious NPC dialogues (already rewarded), there are no encounters that offer any role-playing opportunities. There aren't even any decent puzzles.
       
The "Mad Hand" is unique in that it jumps over the warriors to choke the mage.
     
  • 3 points for magic and combat. The "knowledge" system is interesting, and the various presets are worth exploring, but ultimately the combat process is too devoid of any real tactics, strategy, or even action on the part of the player.
  • 4 points for equipment. There are several equipment slots, regular upgrades, and a nice selection of magic items to use.
      
Statistics make it easy to see which items are best.
      
  • 6 points for the economy. Another strength. You always need money for equipment upgrades and healing potions. There were some high-value items that I never got a chance to buy because I didn't want to grind that long.
  • 3 points for quests. There is a main quest with no options. I think there may have been one or two side quests, but because progression in the game depends on hitting the right set of plot points and finding certain items, I'm not 100% sure.
  • 5 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I don't care for the Japanese cartoon style, but I can't say the graphics were bad. Some of the backgrounds were particularly well done. Sound effects were minimal but realistic. The redundant mouse/keyboard controls were welcome, but lacking in a few areas where I never found an easy keyboard approach, like administering healing potions in combat. There were a lot of times in combat, particularly when casting spells, that the game simply didn't acknowledge the input.
      
Luna casting a fire spell on some skeletons is accompanied by appropriate graphics and sound. I just wish I could hit the "F" key instead of clicking on "Fire."
     
  • 3 points for gameplay. It's almost nonlinear, almost the right length, and almost the right difficulty, but it falls a little short on all of these areas. The pacing completely goes off the rails at the end, but this category alone isn't big enough to account for that.

This gives us a subtotal of 42, a reasonably high score, from which I am going to subtract another 2 points for the horrendous pacing at the end. Forcing the player to sit through that much dialogue, one line at a time, plus such a meaningless final combat, is essentially unforgivable. But even the final score of 40 puts it in the top 25% of ranked games so far. If it had offered any serious role-playing, it could have cracked the top 10%.
      
I didn't think the game's humor was great, but this one made me laugh.
      
Add or subtract whatever points to that total you want depending on how you feel about the erotic content. It occurred to me while playing that while most RPGs reward the character for development, few of them have any mechanism for rewarding the player. Those of us who love RPGs play them for the characters' rewards and that's enough because we identify with the character, but it's inescapable that having your character's strength increase to 18 is a far cry from getting stronger yourself. Games that offer nude content, on the other hand--as long as the player likes that content--have a mechanism for directly rewarding the player. Solve a puzzle, see a pair of breasts (if unrealistic ones). In the pre-Internet era, I guess I can understand some of the appeal.

Because of the content, most mainstream reviewers didn't touch it. I haven't been able to find any contemporary reviews (although I know from experience that having said that, commenters will somehow produce ten). It's surprising to find it in QuestBusters, even, where it's discussed in a completely straightforward manner.
      
Indeed.
     
Elf would go on to make Dragon Knight 4 in 1994, which involves Desmond and Luna's son, Kakeru, and then to remake the original Dragon Knight in 1995. They offered a number of other adult titles throughout the 1990s, none of them enjoying an English release.

As for MegaTech, their brief experiment bringing eroge to the west was over quickly; they went out of business a year after Xentar was published. But we'll have one more of their titles--Cobra Mission (1992), another Japanese adaptation--next year. Finishing Xentar in a single entry brings us incrementally closer to reaching that year; only two more titles are waiting to appear on my "upcoming" list. Let's start the countdown with Quick Majik Adventure.