Monday, November 12, 2018

Game 309: Sandor (1989)

This game alas has nothing to do with Sandor Clegane.
      
Sandor
Germany
Motelsoft (developer and publisher)
Released 1989 for Atari ST
Date Started: 10 November 2018

Sandor is another game from Motelsoft, the developer that previously brought us Seven Horror's (1988), a game I didn't hate but couldn't figure out how to win. On the game's official page, Motelsoft offers only that the game is "self-explanatory," which it isn't, at all. But I'll do my best to muddle through.

The top-down perspective has a party of six adventuring over a landscape dotted with towns, cathedrals, and dungeons. I gather that the land itself is called "Sandor." The dungeons are also in top-down perspective--a shift from the previous game, which offered first-person views.
            
A traveling merchant approaches the party in the land of Sandor.
       
The game draws some of its races from Seven Horror's, although it seems to merge races and classes into a single list. Attributes are agility, strength, intelligence, endurance, and skill, rolled between 1 and 20 during character creation, although certain classes seem to get bonuses or weights to some attributes. It's worth spending some time on the race/classes, partly because I don't have a lot to discuss otherwise, and partly because they're so weird. I'm hoping they make sense to German readers in a way that they do not to me. They are:

  • Megrim. In English, this word means, "depression." It's a variant of migraine. Some dictionaries give an alternate definition as "low spirits," and I wonder if some developer didn't try to translate that exact phrase, thinking of the other kind of "spirit." Or maybe someone bungled an anagram of "Grimm," as in the fairy tales. I'm otherwise out of ideas. If it helps, Megrims get their highest rolls in intelligence and skill. Motelsoft got a lot of use out of the word. It was a race in Seven Horror's; it appears in a title of a 1994 game, Escape from Ragor II: Megrim's Rache; and it is the name of an NPC in Trauma 3D (2002).
  • Hunch. From "hunchback," maybe? They get high roles in strength and skill.
  • Glonen. Maybe a play on klonen, "to clone"? Also appears to be a last name. They get low rolls in all attributes, making me wonder what they're good for.
  • Psychonaut. This term has been around from at least the 1970s to describe people who "explore altered states of consciousness." Google suggests that the term has been used in numerous RPGs as a specialty class. I'm not sure if Sandor did it first. The class gets high rolls in everything but strength.
  • Exane. I don't even have a guess on this one. Attempts at Googling are overwhelmed by an investment bank of that name. The race or class gets high rolls in everything but endurance.
  • Mensch. This is the only obvious one. It literally means "human" in German, and the race gets very balanced rolls with almost everything around 10.
        
Character creation. This guy's a true mensch.
       
After character creation, the party lands on the game map, with options to open, look, take, drop, investigate, use, read, and camp. The game begins near a city called "Kolono," where you can visit a markeplace, pub, or healer.

I took some time to buy starting weapons and shields. It seems that you can wear a piece of armor or hold a shield but not both. Weapons are restricted by strength, but not (as far as I can tell) by class. Fortunately, attributes can increase during leveling up.
          
I was lazy and went with anagrams for party names.
        
I set out exploring the land and spent most of this session mapping it. The explorable part of the world, at least at the outset, is around 50 x 50 squares. Rivers and walls block further progress to the east and south, although I can see some towns and other features there, so I know it will somehow be possible to explore further. Towards the eastern edge of the map, there's a little walled compound with a gate, and stepping up to the gate indicates that I need some kind of gem to pass.
         
The land so far. I screwed up one column or row somewhere, but it basically works.
         
In a potentially ominous note, visiting the pub at a town near that gate brings up a message that "this is where the world ends for the freeware adventurer" and that to explore further, I need to order the full version by sending DM25 to Harald Breitmaier (one of the two listed developers) in Stuttgart. I got the game directly from Motelsoft, who doesn't offer any option to register it on their web site. They didn't respond to inquiries I sent about Seven Horror's, so I don't have a lot of optimism that they'll respond on Sandor. I guess I'll play until I can't.
           
DM25 in 1989 would have been $13.30, or about $27.00 today.
        
Combat is far more advanced than Seven Horror's, showing perhaps some of the influence of some SSI games. It doesn't seem to draw from any previous European inspiration. After you're told the composition of the enemy party (both type and level), you're brought to an 8 x 10 grid, where every character has the ability to move, attack, cast a spell, use an item, get information about the enemies, pray, or pass. The entire party acts first, in some kind of initiative order, followed by the enemies. Each character has a number of points that he can use for both movement and other actions, so if you're right next to an enemy, you can put all the points in attacking. This is quite similar to SSI's Wizard's Crown and Shard of Spring series.
           
For this fight, I face a dervish, a hellhound, a fire imp, and a brigand.
         
This early in the game, I don't have any spells or items, so it's just been attacking. There have been some light tactics in anticipating the enemy's movement and trying to get him to come to me rather than wasting all my action points approaching him. I've also learned to target spellcasters quickly because they have a tendency to summon other creatures.
         
My party members taking on four foes.
       
Combat hasn't been overwhelmingly common--maybe once every 30 moves. It has been quite deadly, however, and I've had to reload after about half of them. The difficulty of enemies is tied in part to the area of the map that you're exploring, and I've been attacked by numerous parties that I was nowhere near ready to take on. Fortunately, the rarity of combat means that you can just reload and get out of those dangerous areas. It also means that you rarely face more than one combat per game day, and sleeping at night restores most hit points for a Level 1 party.

There are a variety of schools scattered around the land, where characters can literally spend intelligence points (and money) to learn skills like hunting, lockpicking, healing, and spellcasting. Some of the schools are duplicated, and some of the skills are offered in towns, and I'm not sure if there's any difference among them. I haven't found near enough money yet to get any of these skills.
         
A school. I can learn healing at this one.
        
It's the skill system that convinces me that the direct inspiration for Sandor is SSI's Demon's Winter (1988), which not only had the combat system from Shard of Spring but also had the same schools around the map. There are some analogies among the skills themselves. There are a lot of other little similarities, including the way markets offer one item at a time, the way you can get lore in pubs, the way that different towns offer different services, the various temples that try to convert your members, the spacing between encounters in the wilderness (Demon's Winter had one every 43 moves, precisely), the requirement to find a guild to level up, and in general the top-down interface. Even some of the tiles and icons look similar. Demon's Winter was a decent game, so no complaints there.
         
Unlike Demon's Winter, Sandor is clear about how you advance through the items.
          
Across the map, I found:

  • Three dungeons. None of them have obvious names. I haven't really explored any of them yet, but they use a top-down interface just like the outdoor areas. 
           
What dungeons look like from the entrance.
          
  • Six towns. They all have three syllable names, and five of them (if I'm getting the pronunciation correctly) are dactyls: Kolono, Ulono, Nihili, Nalosa, Okokat, and Pelinos. Services vary by town, but among them you can find marketplaces, pubs, guilds (for leveling), skill schools, inns, and healers.
          
This one town had all the services.
            
  • Nine skill schools: spellcasting, hunting, "opponent estimation" (analogous to Demon's Winter's "Monster Lore", I imagine), healing, resurrection, fighting, and locksmithing. There are some skills offered only in towns, and I'm not sure I'm translating them right: fallen-beseitigens ("fall-eliminating"?), schiffskunde, waffenkunde, and kartenkunde. I get the first words ("ship," "weapon," and "maps," in order), but every dictionary I consult suggests kunde means "customer," not "skill," which you'd really expect there.
  • Four "faith communities" (Glaubensgemeinschaft), three dedicated to the god Sunlot and one dedicated to Cenobit. Each gives me the opportunity to convert to that god; if I try to pray without converting, it says "you do not believe in this god!" I've kept the party neutral for now.
  • Two weird places where a title screens says: "Holy Blood. Say no to evil." Each character has the ability to "renounce"; if he does, a message says, "You are not in league with the devil." Weird. I can't remember if there was anything similar in Demon's Winter, but I remember I never really understood churches and religions in that game.
          
I'll be happy if I end the game knowing what this is about.
       
  • Three gates that I need some kind of "mage-gem" to pass, although one just lets me walk around it.
             
I'll be back, I guess.
         
  • An old man's hut. He wants the Wand of Urakus and threatens dire consequences should I return without it.
           
I think I'll refrain from asking what the hell he's laughing at.
          
  • A bunch of icons that look like collapsing castles or towers, but with nothing obvious to do there. Maybe they're just visual.
           
During my explorations, I rose to Level 2, which comes with a satisfying increase in hit points and attributes. There are two guilds, on opposites ends of the map, for leveling. I almost have enough for Level 3. My finances are very slow to grow, however, and I hope that dungeons offer more in that area.
            
Leveling up.
       
On the plot, I've got nothing. The best I can go on is rumors from the pubs. A guy in Kolono told me about two caves in the west, and that I should not enter the first unless I have the Ring of Arcan, which I can get in the second. (I apparently need it to conquer some creature in the first.) Unfortunately, he didn't tell me how I could distinguish the first and second caves.

Out in the wilderness, a "lone wanderer" named William Bacon said that his castle, "across the river," was attacked by a "Jonge priest and his hordes." His children were murdered and his wife imprisoned. He asked for my help and I said yes, but nothing else happened after that. This might go with another pub rumor about "hordes" to the east surrounding a city called Habata.
         
Can you imagine attacking him? "Sorry, buddy; this just isn't your week."
         
I started this game hoping that it would be a quick one-off like Seven Horror's, but it has a lot going for it. I just wish we could dig up the manual.

Time so far: 5 hours
*****
If you've been looking at my "Recent and Upcoming" list and wondered how we got all the way down to Sandor, here's the rundown:
        
  • Legends of the Lost Realm: Still can't get anywhere with it. I'm basically waiting until I've scheduled several postings so I can spend time on it without worrying that I won't have anything to blog about for more than a week.
  • Le Maître Absolu: Weird French game based on the engine to Le Maître des Âmes (1987). It loads up the first time, but then every time I load it after that, it sits on a black screen. I might have something misconfigured in my Amstrad CPC emulator, which I don't use all that often. Still comparing versions, testing, etc.
  • Paladin's Legacy. Ultima clone for the TSR-80 Color Computer. Gets stuck on the loading screen after character creation. There's a web site where the creator says he had trouble with MAME (which is what I'm using) and recommends a different emulator. Have to download, test, etc.
  • Sea Rogue. It's an interesting simulation game about searching the seas for valuable shipwrecks. A commenter wrote 4 years ago and made an impassioned argument for the game as an RPG, and I admit it has some RPG elements. "Characters" (basically, people assigned to ship's stations) get better through training and experience, and you get a kind-of inventory to make your explorations easier and more valuable. Combat, on the other hand, is all ship-to-ship (and not even a necessary part of the game), and overall it's not really and RPG. I'd play it if I liked it, but I'm not much of a simulator fan. I gave it an hour and decided, with apologies to P.H., to scrap it.
             
Numbers and gauges typify the simulator approach to Sea Rogue. This is one of about nine stations on the ship.
        
Lower on the master game list, I rejected Sleeping Gods Lie (1989; only GameFAQs though it it was an RPG) and, predictably, 1989's Soccer Star. The others remain on my list but will requires some extra work. Advice welcome if you already know what the problems are.



Friday, November 9, 2018

Crusaders of the Dark Savant: Fun and Games

"Hey, ya'll, prepare yourself . . ."
         
Wow, the Rattkin area still had a lot of territory left. I appreciate the help from those of you who told me that the secret to entering the Thieves' Guild was to try to pickpocket Blienmeis. I never would have hit on that. I would have spent hours building up my "Legerdemain" skill only to face the same issue.

The pocket-picking doesn't really work. He sort-of catches you and doesn't acknowledge it, and yet you somehow snatch a signet ring anyway. Upstairs at the Guild, if the hand at the window feels the signet ring on your hand during the "interview," he lets you in. Once inside, the head of the guild turns out to be . . . Blienmeis. He jumps up from a hole in an alcove near where you usually find him. So the whole thing was rather silly, particularly since the only thing you get from the whole episode (as far as I can tell) is a clown nose.
             
         
Nonetheless, the clown nose opened the way to the ruins of "Rubi's Funhouse," a relatively interesting area full of inventory puzzles. It got a little long, but I otherwise enjoyed it about as much as anything else in the game so far.
             
This was one of the game's goofier moments.
           
A primary reason to visit the Funhouse is that it's the home of the . . . sigh . . . "Rakuza," headed by "Barlone'" (for some reason, he has an apostrophe after his name) of the "Order of Taw." You can reach him without having to solve all the puzzles. He offers a "proposition":
             
We've seen the machines that breathe fire and move through the sky. Long ago, there were others that had these machines. The Higardi. But they are gone now. We know that you come from a world beyond the sky. And we wish to expand our operations . . . . What we ask is something simple. There is a flying machine which descends into the old ruins of Nyctalnith. Our scouts have seen it come and go many times. Find out when the flying machine will be at Nyctalinth again.
            
Good news: I already had all the information I needed to answer his question in my possession. While previously at Nyctalinth, I had stolen a logbook and a decoder for the logbook, and it told me that the next ship was due to arrive at "Galactic Stardate 088:53." Whatever that means. The game doesn't have any kind of clock, so this date is always in the "future" for plot reasons, although perhaps now that I've given it to Barlone', something will happen that puts it in the present or past.
            
Will a rat know how to interpret galactic stardates?
          
In return, he told me that I could find a map piece in New City in the "passage that leads to the old Archives." If the term "archives" has come up before, I've missed it, and I suspect that's the keyword I need to ask Professor Wunderland to get the key.

The Funhouse had its own map piece, but it was at the end of a long bout of exploration and puzzle-solving. The location's theme is that it used to be an actual funhouse, like the ones you find at carnivals, although obviously created in a world in which tort wouldn't translate. It was full of rides, slides, conveyor belts, monkey bars, teedle boards, and other such mechanisms, mostly broken, and requiring us to find and use various parts to activate.

The fun part was the trial-and-error by which the process worked. Consider an early puzzle in which the goal is to stand on one end of a teedle board and get a weight to drop on the other end, propelling the party through a hole in the ceiling to arrive on an upper level (this is the only way to get there). When you first encounter the puzzle, standing on one end of the board causes a chain to come plummeting from the ceiling, but with nothing attached to weigh the other end of the board. You have to affix a 200-pound weight found elsewhere in the dungeon, and boy are you glad to get that out of your inventory.

Next, you have to find a handle with which to winch the chain back to its starting position. Then you can stand on the board and enjoy all the benefits of elementary physics.
          
Unfortunately, physics are not taught on Lost Guardia.
          
Well, not so fast. The weight is only 200 pounds, and the collective party probably weighs over 1000 pounds. Activating the board just sends the party sprawling, and taking a little damage. The solution is to pour a "Feather Weight" potion, bought earlier in the ruins, over the party. Then you can stand on the board and get propelled upward to the third floor.
        
Briefly, at least.
          
Unfortunately, when the journey ends, you're still over a hole. With no way for the vertically-propelled party to edge sideways, they just end up falling back down again, taking considerable damage. The game missed an opportunity here for some true slapstick in which the party would land on the board again and launch the weight into the air, which would then come back down on the board, which would violently smack someone in the groin just as he was getting to his feet. But it was still funny for what it offered.
           
Audible laughter was produced.
          
The ultimate solution is to first use an elastic band to repair a fan that blows air through a grate so that when the feather-weight party arrives on the third floor, they get blown down a corridor instead of falling right back down the hole.

This puzzle didn't take very long to solve because it was in a somewhat limited area, but the rest of the map took me several hours. There were multiple interconnected levels, some reachable only by a one-way conveyor ride. The ultimate goal was to place a variety of objects in just the right places so that the party would take a flume ride through an underground river, grab a rope at the end of the ride to jump over a hole, stand on a plate, get propelled upward, grab a wooden dowel, and shimmy across a gap to the final area. This involved placing the dowel, placing the rope, placing a heavy ball to activate the plate, and so forth. It was a lot of trial and error, but I got there in the end. My only complaint about the process was that most of the actions really only made sense for a single character. I mean, how does a party of six all manage to jump from a boat onto a single rope and swing across a pit? Or all grab on to a wooden pole at the top of a shaft? But aside from that suspension of disbelief, it was an entertaining experience.
           
This screenshot is Exhibit A in the RPG Community vs. Blobbers.
Exhibit B.
            
Of course, the hours in the Funhouse were punctuated by combat. I got attacked a lot by Rattkin--mysteriously, since I had parlayed and made deals with every Rattkin I met since entering the ruins. The ones that attacked me must be a "rogue faction" or something. The Rattkin Ronin continue to be some of the toughest enemies in the game. They often get the initiative even over characters with 18 dexterity, and if one of them gets lucky with a "Sleep" spell early in the round, it's all over. I know, I know--I should have "Magic Screen" going constantly. It wears off fast.

The other major enemy type was undead, including monstrous skeletons and ghosts. "Fetid corpses" are capable of both disease and poison and thus a major priority. Various types of oozes, capable of the same things, were also common. Lately I've been keeping a log of different creatures and estimated hit points because I'm sick of over- and under-estimating the spell power I need to kill them.

The Funhouse came to an end in a room with a locked door and a rack of spears. I had to push the spears in a particular order to open the door; fortunately, the T'Rang with the weird name had given me the order back in Nyctalinth. A few minutes later, a new map--the "BOAT" map--was in my possession.
           
The new map.
           
An exit brought the party to a previously-unexplored area of the outdoors, and I spent the rest of this session mapping it, but I still haven't figured out how it connects to the rest of the world. The area is full of dead ends where you're told that the party has to climb up or down to continue. I guess success in climbing relies on the party's "Climbing" skills, and most of the time I've been successful. In the times that I haven't, the damage is so devastating that it's basically a reload.
             
Good thing I've been putting points into that skill
           
The problem is that I don't know how to map these locations. The automap offers no help--it just starts over from the top or bottom of one of these climbs. I started mapping as if the "arrival" square was immediately adjacent to the "departure" square, and this seemed to work for a while, but I came to an area in which the map doubled back and rammed into itself, so clearly the climbs are either supposed to take more space or the various areas are just separate maps and not part of the same world map that I've been maintaining so far. A coordinate system would really help this game.
             
The new wilderness area. The circle is where the first mountain pass appears. I mapped the next square immediately adjacent, which seemed to work for a while, but then I got to the area with the square. There's a huge (unmapped) area here that would never fit into the available space.
             
Anyway, this mountainous area brought me to a cave where I was asked a riddle about a witch that I didn't understand. I have found two of the flowers that Master Xheng is waiting for, though. There was an area too steep to climb where I had to string together various 250-foot vines I'd been finding in order to climb down.
         
There are some freaky wall textures in this area, too.
        
Enemies in this area have been tough. They include various types of giants and two-headed lions called "Q'ua-Tari." Both the giants and the lions have so many hit points that my characters usually kill them with critical hits before we can reduce their health to 0.
             
How do they coordinate attacks?
         
Some miscellaneous notes:
             
  • A combination of the "Detect Secret" spell and the "Scouting" skill has really been saving my butt. I try to look at every wall and search obvious squares, but during this session, these abilities called a few things to my attention that I otherwise would never have found.
  • Near where I found the 200-pound weight, I also found a 45-pound "lodestone." I carried it around this entire session, expecting it to be the solution to a puzzle. I think I fell for one of the classic blunders.
               
This doesn't do anything, does it?
             
  • There's an "Axe" skill, but I don't think I've seen a single axe in the game so far. For that matter, maces, flails, and shields have also been pretty rare.
  • I've adopted the habit of beginning each session with a careful review of my inventory. This means that I when I encounter a puzzle that requires a particular object, the items I have are fresh in my mind. If I hadn't done this, I would have entirely forgotten about the "Feather Weight" potion.
  • Everyone gained a level or two in this session. My characters are either Level 16 or 17. My lord has been extremely lucky in his attribute rolls, and he now has 18 in everything. (That's the highest you can get.) My mage continues to be unlucky, with a pitiful 11 piety and 12 speed.
        
Civilization at last!
          
As this session came to a close, I finally blundered into a road, so hopefully I'll be able to find my way back to civilization. The game map suggests that I'm somewhere near the "Ukpyr Mountains," and that to get back to the world, I'll need to follow the road through the city of Ukpyr before it winds back to Munkharama. I really hope there's a way to just breeze through the city, because I'd like to get to a fountain, sell some excess goods, and take a look at the New City archives before taking on a brand new area.

Time so far: 69 hours

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Game 308: Cobra Mission: Panic in Cobra City (1992)

         
Cobra Mission: Panic in Cobra City
Japan/United States
INOS (original Japanese developer); MegaTech Software (American developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for the PC-98; 1992 for DOS. (The DOS version is changed enough from the PC-98 version that it's a fundamentally different game mechanically, although they use most of the same graphics.)
Date Started: 23 October 2018
Date Ended: 2 November 2018
Total Hours:18
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)

Cobra Mission is a silly eroge RPG that I won mostly over six days while on a business trip to Ukraine. That's going to go down as one of the weirder weeks of my life. The game isn't good, but it was a welcome contrast to the interminable length of Crusaders of the Dark Savant, the impossible opening of Legends of the Lost Realm, and the morbid severity of the Ukrainians I was meeting. The moment I started it and was greeted with an aggressive techno pulse, I thought--for the first and probably last time in my life--"yes, this is just what I need."

Cobra Mission is somewhat famous as the first eroge released in English, though as you'll see from the screenshots, "English" should perhaps be in quotes. In adapting it from the Japanese PC-98 original (1991), MegaTech apparently changed a lot of the dialogue, some of the images, and the entire nature of combat, so the English version straddles the line between remake and port.
         
The game is up-front about its content.
         
Readers who never understood my points about Rance or, for that matter, Wizardry VI, are undoubtedly looking for another mockable review in which the Addict complains about boobies, but you won't find that here. The game makes no secret what it's about, and its sex, like Knights of Xentar's, is consensual. I liked it marginally better than Xentar, mostly because it was shorter and lacked Xentar's hours of inane dialogue (except during the sex scenes, which are largely optional), although the RPG elements were scant and the combat became overwhelmingly tiresome by the end.

The game is set in Cobra City, which happens to be on Cobra Island, an isolated U.S. territory south of Florida. (The game never really resolved whether it's technically part of Florida or its own thing.) Lately, a bunch of women have gone missing and gangs are roaming the streets unchecked. "The best private eye in Florida" has arrived in town to investigate, summoned by a longtime (female) acquaintance, whose friend Donna, a scientific researcher, is one of the missing women.
            
A James Bond-ish montage begins the game.
          
I originally started playing about three weeks ago, just for an hour or so, before putting it aside in favor of Legends of the Lost Realm. When I fired it up again, I was tickled to find that the hero's name was "Max Stostero" (a play on "testosterone"), his childhood friend was named "Sugar Saddler," and--best of all--the bad guy was named "Harland" (which happens to be the name of one of my frequent commenter-antagonists). It wasn't until after I finished the game and consulted some external materials that I realized--and remembered--that I had designated those names myself, which you can do during character creation. (It's really the only thing you can do during character creation.) The defaults are "JR Knight" for the detective, "Faythe Watson" for his friend, and "Kaiser" for the villain, but I'll use my characters' names throughout.
           
What passes for "character creation."
           
The game takes place over several moderately-sized areas approached in a linear order, starting with Central Cobra City, then moving to West, South, and East sections before taking a weird turn through a cemetery and finishing up in a castle. All exploration is from a top-down view, with the usual Japanese "Goofy Cartoonish Little Men" (GCLMs) for Max and Sugar (or JR and Faythe, whatever). In one rarely-seen innovation, the character icons change to reflect their current clothing.
           
You ultimately find maps of most of the areas.
          
The game begins with Max arriving in Central Cobra City and immediately peering through a telescope at a collection of women on a nude beach. Enraptured, he fails to notice a gang of thugs approaching and must quickly defeat them in combat. Soon, he finds his way to Sugar's apartment and adds her to the "party," which contains only Max and Sugar throughout the game. We've had lots of single-character games and lots of party games, but I don't remember a prior "duo" game.
          
Max meets with his compatriot.
          
Each of the city's sections has its own quest to solve and its own shops, buildings, and items hidden beneath bushes and in fountains and such. Some of the buildings are enterable and explorable (and have their own hidden items to find; you basically have to rub up against every piece of furniture); others offer menu shops. Most of the ares have a delivery service that Max can join, both for some extra cash and as a plausible excuse to enter various homes. Slowly, Max and Sugar build their inventories and finances and uncover the main plot.
             
Sure, that makes sense.
             
Looting houses, just like in Zelda.
            
There is sex and nudity, but most is surprisingly optional. For instance, Max can trade ladies' undergarments, which are found copiously throughout the city's houses, to a collector who offers dirty pictures in exchange. But you don't have to do this, or look at the pictures. There are a couple of prostitutes in the bars, but hiring them is not mandatory and ultimately doesn't do anything for the character or plot.
           
One of the optional encounters.
         
Perhaps most notably, Max meets maybe half a dozen women throughout the game that he can later call from Sugar's apartment phone, invite on dates, and ultimately have sex with. For players looking primarily for an eroge, this I suppose is the highlight of the game. Each encounter offers a menu on which Max can select lips, hands, or sex toys and then apply them to various parts of the females' bodies. If he gets the right sequence of foreplay options (which as far as I can tell is completely arbitrary), he is able to consummate the encounter. If not, the woman goes home in a huff and he has to call her and try again.
       
Some of the options during amorous encounters.

Hint: using the "candle" never seems to produce a positive result.
           
The images follow usual Japanese rules (no actual genitalia), but scenes are, shall we say, quite verbosely narrated in text, plus accompanied by the types of "sound effects" you don't want blasting out of your speakers at midnight in a Ukrainian hotel. That's about all I'll describe. I don't imagine many circumstances in which I would find video games a titillating experience, and much less so with this graphical style accompanied by poorly-written erotica in which half the words are misspelled. I quickly fast-forwarded through the scenes and opted out of most of the possible experiences. There are a couple of unavoidable ones, however.

What I will say about the game's approach to sex is that it's less exploitative than any of the eroge we've seen so far. Not only is everything consensual, but the women are not depicted erotically while being attacked, as in Xentar. For the most part, they look plausibly adult. Sugar is an equal protagonist. Max does not gain any powers from abusing her, and she isn't depicted unclothed until the end. Max, while something of a ladies' man, is neither a sexual titan nor an inept fool. There are no small penis or body odor jokes.

Let's move on to the RPG elements. Wandering through the streets and dungeons, combat occurs about once every 12 seconds. The frequency would make the game unplayable if the episodes weren't so short. You face generally one enemy at a time, drawn from a gallery of grotesques who all seem to be satirizing something. With your chosen weapon in hand, you click on various parts of the enemies' bodies. Each enemy has a different "weakest" area, though it's usually easy to figure it out; heads and exposed skin almost always work. The trick is that every round, the cursor starts in a different screen location, so you have to be quick on the draw to move it to your chosen enemy location and click. If you're fast, you can hit him more times than he hits you. When you win, most enemies are simply "dispersed" rather than killed, although winning boss combats usually rewards you with a picture of the enemy corpse.
            
 
 

A gallery of some of the game's weird foes.
           
You can find a variety of inventory items to improve your chances in combat, including special throwable items that do direct damage (e.g., poison darts, firecrackers, throwing stars, grenades) and those that diminish or scare away the enemy (e.g., tear gas, perfume, "magic spray"). The characters can find or buy healing pills of different levels.

The problem is that the combat is both too frequent and too easy. You're never remotely in danger from random combats, and even the "boss" combats can usually be won without resorting to any special items. Health regenerates so quickly outside of combat that you almost never have to take your healing pills.
           
Items for sale in one of the clothing stores.
           
You get frequent equipment upgrades. Max starts with a Magnum and can buy a Model 10 revolver, but ammunition is rare and expensive, so you generally save the guns for the boss combats. For other times, you find an escalating series of melee weapons such as a pocket knife, a baseball bat, and an axe. "Armor" consists of increasingly heavy versions of regular clothing; for instance, denim is better than regular cloth and leather is better than denim.

Leveling occurs at a rate of about 1 level per 20 minutes, and it's accompanied by increases in accuracy, damage, speed, and hit point maximums.
             
Mid-game statistics.
           
That leaves the plot, which starts somewhat sensibly but then takes some weird turns. The inciting mystery--the missing women--is solved mostly on the first map. By wandering around and talking with NPCs (particularly denizens of the bar), Max slowly learns that women are being lured into a placed called "Club 10" with promises of modeling jobs. The club only allows females to enter; Sugar goes in looking for Donna and is abducted. Max must figure out how to enter and rescue her. He ultimately does so posing as a courier. He fights a few battles before fighting and killing Tacker, the owner of the club, who has been trafficking the women to Hong Kong.
            
Max gets some key intelligence from a bar.
           
Sugar's friend Donna is not among the women rescued, however. Neither is Yvonne, the daughter of the local train engineer. When the game begins, only Central Cobra City is accessible. East Cobra City can't be reached because the bridge is washed out. The workmen needed to fix the bridge are all in South Cobra City, normally accessible by train, but the train's driver is in West Cobra City, which is behind a locked gate, looking for his daughter. The keys to the gate are found on Tacker's body, opening up the new area.

In West Cobra City, Max must solve a series of interrelated quests to get into a new establishment called the House of Leather and Chain. To do this, Sugar has to learn a psychic skill called "Dowzing" to find hidden items and places. In the House, the pair fight a couple of perverts and rescue Yvonne.
             
And when I say "perverts"...
           
With Yvonne freed, the engineer goes back to work, and the party visits South Cobra City, where the police station is located. Max soon finds out that the police have been taken over and turned into a military force by a General Fist, with all of the officers under some kind of weird spell. The pair finds Donna's research assitant, Melissa, who relates that a man named Harland arrived recently and wanted to use the lab facilities to manufacture a drug called Accocin, which is supposed to cure drug addiction. Instead, it turned out to be a powerful hypnotic drug that Harland used to enslave the populace.
               
"We march now for the Texas border."
           
Max has to find an army uniform and colonel's insignia to get access to key locations, then confront General Fist in his estate. The estate is a pain to navigate, requiring numerous battles against tough enemies called "Dark Knights" plus solving a navigation puzzle.
            
These guys were only vulnerable on their lightly-armored necks.
           
Once Fist is dead, the city manages to rebuild the bridge to East Cobra City. The key goal there is to enter Donna's research lab, but when the pair first visits, it's too cold to enter. They have to run around solving quests to ultimately borrow a pair of winter coats from one of the residents. This allows them to assault the lab, kill Mechacrone (one of Harland's lieutenants), and rescue Donna. They also rescue the mayor's daughter at some point during this process, but I took poor notes on that.
             
Sugar ruins all my fun.
           
There are a fair number of optional encounters and side quests on each map, including Max participating in a hangover remedy experiment and getting poisoned, visiting a fortuneteller who accurately describes the endgame, and pillaging a house occupied by occultists.

Towards the end, the game takes a weird turn towards fantasy. It turns out that Harland is holed up in a three-floor castle in the middle of a cemetery. The heroes have to take a train to the cemetery and find their way to the castle via a maze of up and down ladders connecting various points on the surface to various catacombs. During this adventure, Max and Sugar meet a resistance movement hiding in the catacombs, and one of them gives Max the Sword of Gaia, the best weapon in the game. Somewhere around this time, Sugar gets a stun gun that paralyzes opponents for a short time.
          
How about a shotgun instead?
          
Eventually, they find their way to the castle, which though only three small floors took almost as long as the rest of the game up to this point. It was a nightmare of doors, keys, stairs, and backtracking as I had to find four crystals and affix them to four pyramids to shut off a force field or something. Keep in mind that combats are still happening every 12 seconds or so. It took a tedious 5 or 6 hours, though by this point I was on the flight home and thus grateful for a lack of breasts on my screen.
               
Don't ask me what this was about. I was running on fumes at this point.
               
At last, you encounter Harland in his throne room. He gives a speech indicating that he had hoped to use Cobra City and his growing army for some kind of world conquest. After about eight battles with minions, you face Harland himself, who like most combats in the game isn't that hard, especially with the inventory of special items and pills you have by now. 

            
Taking on the final challenger.
           
As he dies, he sets the castle to self-destruct. The endgame takes over at this point, with Max and Sugar running automatically through the crumbling castle and ultimately emerging safe outside.  
              
The heroes flee the crumbling castle.

NPCs line up to congratulate the team.
             
This is perhaps the best reward I've ever received in an RPG.
         
Returning to Central Cobra City, they pass a parade of NPCs on the way to the mayor's office. The grateful mayor wants to set up Max with his daughter, but by now Max and Sugar have decided that they're in love and announce plans to get married. The player enjoys or suffers (depending on his perspective) one more sex scene before the game ends on a shot of Max and Sugar in wedding clothes. Why do all these eroge offer such wholesome ends?
           
Max immediately spoils the mood.
           
Way to cut down on the sequel possibilities.
         
The game scores a 30 on my GIMLET, running between 2 and 4 on everything. Its best points are a passable story, a few memorable NPCs, and a tight economy (though it would have been more meaningful if the game had been harder). Its worst are its limited approach to character development and combat. It's also too easy and too long; it shouldn't have tried to become a "real" RPG in its last chapter.

It should be noted that although sometimes vile and juvenile, the three eroge we've experienced have offered some of the most detailed plots so far in my chronology. This changes eventually, but it's too bad that this breadth and depth of storytelling couldn't be applied to a more serious game. I certainly wouldn't mind taking on human traffickers in a more traditional RPG.
              
            
1992 was before the Entertainment Software Rating Board, but Cobra Mission hit American shelves with a voluntary "NR-18" sticker on it. As such, most mainstream magazines, like Computer Gaming World, didn't even acknowledge it. I thus find it nothing short of hilarious that Dragon magazine decided they'd better have a look at it. In the April 1993 issue, just before their review of Quest for Glory III, they offer a single paragraph in which they find it "unsuitable" for their readers because of the sex and nudity and yet also say they felt "cheated" by its animations. They declined to give it any rating, designating it "without redeeming value." I can't find other English reviews, but a lot of German magazines covered it and rated it anywhere between 33% and 95%. In more modern times, someone took the time to construct a ridiculously detailed TV Tropes page for it.

MegaTech went out of business in 1995 after porting about half a dozen Japanese titles to the western PC market. (We've played the only two RPGs.) But it came back to life briefly in the 2000s to issue a sequel to Cobra Mission. Called Undercover: Girls of Cobra Mission (2010), it was released only for the iPhone. It is a simple action game--more of an adaptation, I gather, than a true sequel--and thus we won't be seeing it on the blog.

I'm not sure, but this might be the last eroge we see. I took a scan of my master list and I couldn't find anything that was clearly an adult game after this one, although I'm sure my readers will tell me if I'm wrong. [Edit: They did! I overlooked Mad Paradox, also from 1992.] Just in case, better get your digs in now.