Sunday, September 29, 2013

Game 118: Dragon Stomper (1982)

The closest we get to a "title screen." My policy is to use the title screen for the official name, which is variously given as Dragonstomper, Dragon Stomper, and DragonStomper.
Dragon Stomper
United States
Starpath (developer and publisher)
Released 1982 for Atari 2600
Date Started: 26 September 2013
Date Ended: 28 September 2013
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 17
Ranking at Game #403: 88/403 (22%)
In the little survey I posted recently, I asked readers to prioritize which games I should play from the 1980s that I missed on my first pass, thanks to my ill-advised "DOS/PC only" rule. The "winner," overwhelmingly, was Final Fantasy.

It was probably a mistake for me to include console games at all. Until the late 1990s, they offer such a fundamentally different approach and style as to be essentially a different genre. But in saying that, I speak partly in ignorance, as my own experience with console games is extremely limited. As a youth, I never played a single RPG on a console, nor did I even own a console between the Atari 2600 and the X-Box. I guess I played a few NES games at friends' houses, but none were RPGs. By the time I played my first RPG on a console (I think it was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), console and computer RPGs had essentially merged, with almost every title available for the former also available for the latter, and with most major titles released for both.

It's going to be a little while before we get to Dragon stomper-specific screen shots, so here's a preview of the one enemy in the game that owes no legacy to D&D.

Partly from ignorance, then, and partially from experience, I have a number of opinions and prejudices about console RPGs. Perhaps the most offensive, from the view of the console player, is that they are less sophisticated and less intellectual than computer RPGs, and primarily intended for younger players. The graphics are usually goofier and more cartoonish, the gameplay more action-oriented and less tactical. Unlike many computer RPGs, console RPG players aren't expected to take notes, make maps, or otherwise engage in activities not directly on the screen.

We'll return to these prejudices in a moment, but before I do, let's talk about the things that are more objectively provable. First, most console players play their games on their televisions, usually from couches or otherwise more comfortable settings than you would typically play a game on a computer. I bought Skyrim for the console particularly for this reason; I wanted to play it in total leisure, taking advantage of my large-screen television and surround sound.

Second, because the player is usually some distance from the television, console games require larger graphics and text. A couple of years ago, I took an old computer and connected it to my television through the HDMI port, downloaded the GOG version of Baldur's Gate, and tried to play it. I found it essentially unplayable. The graphics of the Infinity Engine were customized for up-close viewing, and not even the size of the television compensated for a reasonable distance from it. I had the same experience with Hero's Quest.

Third, consoles support a more limited user interface than computers. On the surface, my X-Box 360 controller seems baffling. There are two joysticks, both of which can be depressed for more actions, a directional pad, two forward buttons, two triggers, the four ABXY buttons, a start button, a back button, and probably others that I'm forgetting about without having it in front of me. But despite all this complexity, it has several magnitudes fewer options than a standard computer keyboard. A computer mouse also allows far more precise targeting and item-selection than a standard console controller.

For a long time, I had no opinion when interviewers asked me whether I thought the need to dual-develop for the computer and console was "dumbing down" RPGs. I had no opinion because the only console RPGs I'd played were the best of the best. But now, after some thought, I have to sympathize with the common view. Some of the best computer RPGs--NetHack, all the Infinity Engine games, the "Gold Box" games, the Ultima series--simply wouldn't work on a console because the complexity of controls is too much for even the most complicated controllers. Before you protest that some Ultima and "Gold Box" games did indeed appear on consoles, keep in mind that these were in extremely dumbed-down format--bastardizations, essentially, of their superior computer predecessors--which only goes to prove my point.

There's plenty of stuff to argue with in this posting, but we're not going to argue about this. In the SNES version of Ultima VII, you couldn't even have multiple party members, for Lord British's sake!

If all of these prejudices and opinions are unfounded, that's fine--I look forward to your comments--but they're certainly not unfounded in 1982, when Dragon Stomper was released for the Atari 2600. The Atari 2600, you may recall, featured a joystick with a single button, making the potential inputs horribly limiting--but not as limiting as the inability to save progress. (Discussion question: I think the NES was the first console to allow saving, through external devices, but what was the first console game to allow saving?) I don't want to give the impression that 1982 was absolutely exploding with sophisticated computer RPG titles either, but we already had two scenarios of Wizardry, on which the next seven years would improve significantly in terms of graphics and sound, but hardly at all in terms of interface and combat tactics. We already had Rogue, and Ultima, and other games that put the capabilities of consoles to shame.

Dragon Stomper is often given as the first console RPG. I don't know if this is true, since Crypts of Chaos for the Atari 2600 and Swords & Serpents for the Intellivision came out the same year. Either way, 1982 was clearly the first year of the console RPG, so Dragon Stomper seems as good as the other two games as a starting point for my investigation into the area.

Dragon Stomper is about as fun as any RPG for the Atari 2600 could be. Because there was no "save" ability and players would have to complete it in a single setting, it compensates for length with difficulty, requiring multiple trials to successfully finish. Until the final battle, combat is almost entirely bereft of any tactics, but it has hit points and dragons, so therefore it must be an RPG.

The framing story is fairly basic. There's a dragon. A long time ago, a druid sought to defeat him, but he accidentally made things worse by dropping a powerful amulet in the dragon's cave, making the dragon more powerful and cunning and allowing him to extend his influence out of his lair. The PC has been commissioned by the king to defeat the dragon and destroy the amulet.

There is no character creation. Every player starts the game as a nameless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally-ambiguous adventure person with 400 gold pieces, 23 strength (which also serves as hit points), and 23 dexterity. Though the graphics for locations and enemies are discernible, the PC remains a small square throughout.

The game takes place on four successive screens, from which no return to previous screens is possible: a wilderness area, a town, a cave, and the dragon's lair. To successfully navigate the cave and dragon's lair, the player needs to buy the right equipment in the town, which in turn involves collecting enough valuables in the wilderness area.

Chests can hold gold or special items. They can only be opened with keys, another special item to find.

The wilderness area takes more than half the game, and it's here that success or failure is determined. The overland rectangular raster map takes about 36 seconds to traverse north to south and about 48 seconds east to west. The eastern edge culminates in a bridge that takes you to the town, for which you need identification papers (or a very tough fight with the guard) to cross. The rest of the map contains churches, castles, towers, huts, temples, trees, swamps, and other areas where you encounter various creatures and items. The specific goal for this area is to find the papers, but the general goal is to collect enough gold and items to buy the needed equipment in town.

Monsters encountered in the wilderness area include golems, knights, monkeys, slimes, bugs, spiders, ghouls, snakes, beetles, scorpions, and demons. Some of them are located in contextually-sensible areas. For instance, if you wander into a tree, you might encounter a succession of monkeys. Swamps usually contain slimes.

This would be a good name for a rock band.

Any creature can also approach you randomly, and they almost always do when you stand still for more than a few seconds.

Despite their names and relative difficulties in D&D-derived games, all of the monsters encountered here are pitched at about the same difficulty. When you engage with them, the game tells you how much damage you do and how much damage they do, and eventually one of you is dead. I imagine that dexterity and equipment have some influencing factor over the combat roles, but I can't honestly say that I noticed any differences in the damage rolls even as my characters increased in both attributes and gear.

Fighting a giant beetle.. I can't honestly say what goes into the hit rolls.

When you slay an enemy, there's a random chance of finding gold or a special item. Special items include hand axes (I don't know what you're supposed to be fighting with before you find one), shields, gold, potions, crosses, keys, charms, rings, staves, chests, and identification papers. The last object is the only one strictly necessary to progress, but in reality you need all of them. Crosses, charms, rings, and staves alternately increase or decrease strength and dexterity. The specific role assigned to each varies from game to game, but within a specific game, they all do the same thing. There's a maximum to both strength and dexterity of around 50.

No  matter what they do, all special objects "feel weird." In this case, the ring helped me see traps around the castle.

Castles, keeps, huts, and churches either hold special items or encounters with creatures. At churches, you have the ability to pray (I don't know what it does) or donate money for healing.

As you might have seen from the screen shots, the game's interface does the best that it can given that its only inputs are four directions and a button. When you hit the button, you get a "menu" consisting of at least three options activated with the directional stick plus a "more" option that might bring you to three more. So "using" a potion involves hitting the button, pushing the stick to the left, scrolling to the potion, and pushing the stick to the right. This is not, to be fair, terribly dissimilar to what Champions of Krynn did in supporting a joystick control. You push the button to bring up the menu at the bottom, then scroll to your selection, then press the button again. It just takes a lot longer than when everything is activated from a single key.

I survived the wilderness mostly by hanging around a church and fighting random encounters. Whenever my hit points fell to less than 10, I spent $200 to get healed, and usually this was less than what I'd collected in the meantime.

Moving to the next section.

Once you've collected enough stuff--and the identification papers specifically--you can progress across the bridge to the town. The town features three shops, selling equipment, healing potions, and spell scrolls, and you need around $1,500 to buy the minimum necessary to survive in the caves. There are also three patrolling warriors that you can hire for between 200 and 250 gold pieces each to bring with you to the dragon's lair.

The hired warriors appear in your inventory as equipment, so we're still not considering them "NPCs."

Shops in the town will buy whatever you've hauled from the wilderness, including whatever rings, potions, staves, and crosses decrease your abilities (if you were paying attention, you didn't use more than one). The process of selling and buying items, given the limited interface, is both long and annoying. To buy items, you have to walk into them, then go walk into the shopkeeper and choose "Trade," then "Buy," then offer gold for the item.

I never found any use for the gems, or for more than one of any of the other items.

Once you're equipped, you enter the caves at the south end of the town. The caves are a linear level featuring numerous traps that shoot arrows. Fortunately, you can reveal them with the "Vision" spells that you can purchase in the magic shop.
Noting--and avoiding--the locations of traps.
You still have to bypass poison arrows shooting across the screen. They were too fast for me, and I took a bunch of hits, but "medicine" (also purchasable in town) counters their effects.
This section reminds me of Frogger, which Starpath enhanced for the Starpath Supercharger.
At last, you come to a pit, and if you bought a chain or rope in town, you can descend safely. Below, you face the dragon. If you've over-prepared by hiring all three warriors, buying several "Blast" and "Stun" scrolls, and purchasing a bow, he's a little easy. Still, the dragon is the only combat in the game in which tactics really matter. I won by "using" my three hired warriors one by one (though sometimes they refuse to engage him), which sends little icons out to pummel the dragon while you stay behind the front lines. I then used my "Stun" scrolls to put him out of commission for a few turns while I alternately "Blasted" him and shot at him with my bow.

One of my three contracted warriors goes off to attack the dragon while my PC remains in the background at the bottom of the screen.
Once the dragon is dead, you proceed past his carcass, touch the gem, and get the winning screen. I didn't try to hit the gem without killing the dragon first, but apparently it's possible, and an alternate way to "win."
The winning screen flashes different colors a bunch of times. So that' know..."rewarding."
Like a lot of early CRPGs, both console and computer, Dragon Stomper suffers from too little strategy and too much dependence on luck, especially in the "wilderness" section. In a GIMLET, I would give it:
  • 1 point for the game world. You've given a basic framing story, but it serves little role in the game itself.
  • 1 point for character creation and development. There's no creation, and development is limited to increasing attributes through equipment that you find.
  • 0 points for NPC interaction. There are none. [Later edit: Oh, I suppose the guards you can hire are worth at least 1.]
  • 1 points for encounters and foes. There are no "encounters" that require any puzzle-solving or role-playing choices. There are numerous enemies, but barely distinguished from each other except by name and icon.

The warrior almost looks like an NPC icon in a real RPG.

  • 2 points for magic and combat, with all points coming from the final battle--the only place where there are any tactics and the player can use magic.
  • 2 points for equipment. You get scattered items, and it's up to you when to use them. It isn't very sophisticated, but better than most console offerings of the era.
  • 2 points for economy. You do need gold for the town, but the economy in general doesn't play a continual role in the game.
  • 2 points for quests. There's a main quest, with two potential outcomes.
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and inputs. The graphics aren't horrible, with the exception of the little square representing the PC. Sound is acceptable for the era but not exciting. The joystick controls are very limiting and take too long. Yes, this will be a complaint of every console RPG for a while. If you don't want to hear it, don't ask me to play console RPGs.
  • 3 points for gameplay. Though somewhat linear, the game is short, brisk, and challenging without being frustrating.

The final score is 16 [Edit: 17 with my addition of 1 for NPCs]. The lowest rating I gave to a computer RPG in 1982 was 21 for Ultima II, and I really didn't like Ultima II.

Dragon Stomper was the only RPG from the Starpath Corporation (also briefly called the Arcadia Corporation), which specialized in games for the Atari 2600, including Communist Mutants from Space (1982), Survival Island (1983), and Sword of Saros (1983), all notable for their multi-sectioned approach. At least one site claims that the original name was Excalibur, but changed to Dragon Stomper shortly before release. The site suggests it "may have had something to do with copyright issues" (the film Excalibur was released one year prior), but I rather think it may have had something to do with the fact that the game has nothing to do with Excalibur or the Arthurian legends.
The programmer is listed as Stephen Landrum, who went on to work for Epyx and Electronic Arts, but who also never produced another RPG. Its contemporary reviews are quite good, but of course written from the perspective of console game reviewers who must have been enchanted by this exotic idea of "hit points" as opposed to "lives."

Thus, console RPGs aren't off to a terrific start compared to computer RPGs. We'll see how I feel about the first Japanese RPG (published in English) and the first NES RPG before finding out how I feel about Final Fantasy. I hope those of you who voted for FF didn't think I was going to jump right to it. Here on the CRPG Addict, we do things right.


  1. I think the first console game featuring savegames (battery-powered) was Legend of Zelda.

    1. In America, it was Zelda, yes. It was even one of the game's selling points back in the day. However, the Famicom (Japanese NES) had a disk drive peripheral that some early games like Metroid and Kid Icarus used to save game data. The peripheral was unpopular, so in the states that functionality was replaced by the obnoxious-as-hell 24-character password system we all hated.

      Zelda was the one to really popularize the feature, though.

    2. "In America, it was Zelda, yes."

      And in Japan it was Dragonslayer, for the little-known Epoch Super Cassette Vision console, that was the first cartridge game to use battery-backed memory.

    3. Zelda was originally released on the Famicom Disk System, wasn't it?

    4. In Russia, Zelda plays YOU!

      Sorry... I had to get it out of my system.

    5. To be honest if feels more like something like DarkSpyre is playing us here (if not Chaos Strikes Back) rather than Zelda...

    6. Just to clarify, the games themselves were on disks; there aren't any Famicom games I know of that used the FDS exclusively for saving.

    7. Jonothan: Yes, they saved onto the same disk the game was written to, right?

  2. I know exactly one western-style console CRPG - Shadowrun for Sega Genesis (not to be confused with SNES version, which, while good, is more conforming to the console idiom), but it's easily on par with some of the best PC games out there. It features a very faithful implementation of the PnP ruleset, sandboxy gameplay with lots of things to do, sufficiently nonlinear main plot and randomly-generated sidequests (almost 20 years before Skyrim ;)). Its only downside is that it's somewhat grindy due to the relatively small gameworld. So it's totally doable, and the lack of such games on consoles is probably more due to a different mindset than to technical limitations.

    1. There are probably some other games, it's just that the language barrier has it's influence. "Lunatic Dawn" for example is a Japanese series that was originally appearing on computers and later had ports/installments on consoles.
      Concerning known ports of western games, control issues aside, I suppose one of the prime limitations that prevented exact ports to console was storage space. Ultima VI on the SNES for example just comes on a 1 MB cartridge. That being said, there are probably enough examples of converted games on consoles that didn't suffer from too much downgrading.
      I played the TurboGrafx CD version of Might & Magic 3 some time ago, didn't seem too much different from what I remember from the PC version.

      Also, there are many installments of Wizardry for consoles, unfortuantely, most of them in Japanese, and I don't how they compare to the original series. I actually wanted to play through the very first game first before I tackle my copy of the English PS2 game (Forsaken Land).

      September 29, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    2. There are a few Might & Magic series released on consoles as well.

      Part 1 on NES.
      Part 2 on SNES.
      Part 3 on Sega Genesis

      The rest were aborted for console release after NWC was bought over by 3DO who, just failing in the Console Wars and probably feeling pretty bitter about it, cancelled all ongoing plans for the game to be delivered on other platforms.

  3. I suspect that If I had given you Final Fantasy I, and told you it was a rare 1987 PC game called 'Warriors of Light', you'd not have smelled a rat.

    In my opinion the series diverged from traditional CRPGs, rather than starting at a different place.

    1. Seconding.

      "It was probably a mistake for me to include console games at all. Until the late 1990s, they offer such a fundamentally different approach and style as to be essentially a different genre."

      I would make the opposite claim, with the caveat that we discard all pre-Ultima games as historical curios: Early console RPGs (Final Fantasy 1, Phantasy Star 1, Dragon Quest 1) are almost direct clones of early Ultima and Wizardry games, but they walk down divergent paths of development through the years, and more modern they get, more different computer RPGs are from console RPGs. Somewhere around mid-90's they have become so different genres with such different tropes and assumptions that using the same word "RPG" for them becomes increasingly far-fetched.

  4. They're divergent paths, going down different roads. Mechanics-wise, you can make a compelling argument that Computer RPGs are descended primarily from Ultima and Wizardry. Console RPGs, however, are descended primarily from Dragon Warrior/Quest. Earthbound, Phantasy Star, Lunar, Final Fantasy, what have you; it stays that way until the Xbox/PS2 era when consoles are powerful enough to start playing games intended originally for PC. You're going to be feeling a whole lot of Dragon Quest deja vu.

    1. What you're missing is that early console JRPG series like Dragon Warrior/Quest, Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, etc. are all direct descendants of Ultima. The early Phantasy Star games even have both the tile-based overworld and first-person dungeon gameplay modes from Ultima!

      There are also a number of Wizardry descendants on consoles, but most are PC ports (including Wizardry itself). The first-person dungeon crawl sub-genre didn't take off on 8- or 16-bit consoles in the same way as the tile-based sub-genre did, probably due to a combination of being a worse fit for the hardware capabilities and requiring things like mapping the dungeons out on a piece of paper.

    2. You're right, except Wizardry was also a huge influence on Dragon Quest. The creators basically said that DQ was an attempt to merge and simplify Wizardry and Ultima. In fact, the "classic" stereotype of JRPG combat is still based heavily on Wizardry. The presence of multi-character parties in Wizardry was also really important for post-DQ JRPGs, though the Ultima games had this as well starting with 3.

  5. I voted for Final Fantasy. But more from the point that I want to know what the heck it is about without having to play myself.

    1. Teh Internet is a vast, dark and strange place that could easily satisfy your curiosity on that topic... while abiding Rule 34 with an over-abundance of cosplayers and furries thrown in...

  6. 0 points for NPCs seems a little harsh, considering we've got mercenaries you can choose to hire, shopkeepers to trade with and a bridge guard to either show papers to or fight, but I guess the interactions are fairly limited in each case. Still, at least there are some other people in the world.

    1. I can't really count shopkeepers. They're just part of the interface for buying things. NPCs have to tell you things or do things for you. But you have a decent point about the mercenaries. I gave it 1 more.

  7. I wonder if The Adventure of Link counts as a crpg, I always thought of it as more of an action adventure, you don't have any shops and the inventory items don't increase your attributes, but are instead needed to solve puzzles. But you do level up and learn new spells and attacks. There is a quest, and several minor side quests. The outcome of combat depends mainly on player skill, but attributes factor in to determine how much damage enemies do to you and how much damage you do to them. You can also use magic.

    Of course Final Fantasy is more interesting since I havn't played it myself. I'm just noting that it apparently doesn't take much to be considered an rpg, if even Dragon Stomper can claim to be one.

    About the flashing ending screen, I remember the coolest thing about AlttP was that the final dungeon was flashing. I was like "wow!". My friend had told me that there was something very special about the final dungeon, but he didn't want to spoil it. Maybe it took less to impress gamers back in the day.

    1. Zelda is pretty much its own genre, just like Metroid is. It's mainly an action game, with adventure-like puzzles and exploration and RPG-like character advancement.

      The early Zelda games have very little story, and even the later ones have very little in the way of true role-playing choices.

    2. I counted The Adventure of Link as one, but have excluded all the Legend of Zelda games.

    3. Yeah, like Zenic said, 2 is the only one with RPG elements really. I consider most Zelda games to be in some sort of "sister" genre to RPGs, but Adventure of Link is the only one with true blue RPG elements taken directly from other RPGs.

    4. The Zelda games, like the Ys games, belong to that nebulous and poorly-defined 'Action-Adventure' genre. I've never thought of games from either series as RPGs. There has to be more to it than numbers that go up gradually as you fight.

    5. Well actually there is more to it than just the experience points, you also have to learn spells and attacks and find items that raise your stats.

    6. What do you mean by "no shops"? What are Rupees for, my good man? For shoving up Ganondorf's @$$?

    7. That's because it recognizes the fact that Link was the savior and hero of the land from the 1st game. Link just needs to find the right person who has the right item for him to get for free or borrow to save the land AGAIN. The rest in the Zelda series are reboots or alternate storylines of the same universe.

  8. Is there still a list of the console games that you put in the poll? I remember that I voted for Final Fantasy and I think an unconventional game as well, but I forgot what it was. Anyway, I think FF is a great game after playing so many PC RPGs. I mean you can see a clear lineage of RPG influence. Wizardry + Ultima 3 bore Dragon Quest which bore Final Fantasy. As the bastard child of a bastard child of 2 RPG classics that you have played and enjoyed I think you would have an interesting take on the game. It's not too difficult or grindy either.

    1. Everyone mentions Wizardry as a Dragon Quest/Warrior influence, but I'm failing to see it myself. In the early Dragon Quest/Warrior games, you play a set character/party, and there is no first-person aspect to the games.

    2. I agree. Seems there's more influence from Ultima. Wizardry is pretty popular in the Japan though, so there's probably something of it in there.

    3. It was the tactical combat of Wizardry combined with the overhead view of Ultima 3 that were fused into Dragon Quest. DQ1 was dumbed down with only one on one battles, but starting with 2 the creator of DQ finally got what he wanted with Wizardry-style party battles. They even removed the background in DQ2, 3 and 4, so that the battles look remarkably like Wizardry's. See here: vs Wizardry:

  9. If you do plan to play Final Fantasy, I second that you should play Dragon Warrior first. You won't like it as much, but it is short and together they make up many of the foundations of console RPGs. And I don't think you can see the progression of Japanese RPGs without it as it was so influential.

    And I think you will like FF a little more than you think, even though I have very rose-colored glasses for the game. It is more like a computer RPG than its successors, though I don't want to say more than that so you come to it yourself. The last single-player FF game was just a long movie that required you to press the B-button on occasion and hold up on the control stick.

    Incidentally, I played Ultima 4 on the NES about a decade before I played it for the first time on a computer. It might just be the graphics, the music, and the interface, but I think the NES port is the superior game. If I recall, it does lose out on the way NPC conversations work and maybe the dungeons are handled differently (although I could be remembering Ultima 3 NES), but I was very disappointed when I played it on the computer for the first time. You can find a gameplay video here:

    1. I agree that Dragon Warrior should be played before Final Fantasy, because it really was the first popular JRPG (and the Dragon Warrior/Quest series was more popular than the Final Fantasy series in Japan for a very long time).

      A warning though: Dragon Warrior 1 has an extremely high grinding-to-exploration ratio. You really just run around fighting to build up your character and get enough gold to buy gear at the next town, then eventually kill the bad guy and save the girl.

      What Final Fantasy did better was to actually break the game up into acts, having you go to different places, meet different people, fight minibosses and complete small subplots on your way to saving the whole world. It was still pretty minimal, mind you, but it makes Dragon Warrior feel like a proof-of-concept by comparison.

    2. Based on what I've seen, Dragon Quest (Warrior) II was more influential than the first game. There's nearly a year between its release and both Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy, so it's not too far a leap to suggest they integrated some of the tropes.

      It's interesting to see the party differences as well in these three games. Dragon Warrior has a single character fighting all odds. Phantasy Star starts with a small party that grows in number as the story progresses (something introduced in Dragon Quest II). Final Fantasy has a full party created at the outset. In the end, I think it's a good mix, even if there are better games.

    3. I'm very glad I played DW/DQ via the Game Boy Colour version. Even then, I remember spending a lot of time wandering up and down one area of coast on the west side of the final continent fighting flying dragon-things for XP.

    4. I, too, played Ultima IV on console first, but for me it was the SMS (Sega Master System) version rather than the NES. It may just be because I played so much of it and that's what I'm used to, but I way prefer the SMS version to the time I've spent with the PC version. Regarding the console vs. PC argument (or even J versus W RPG), I really don't have a preference. I've played most of the milestone titles for both and love them equally. And, while I'm posting inane personal opinions on someone else's blog, I'm in two minds about you picking up console games. I agree it'll give you a bit more context and it'll be good to try and up-end some of those preconceptions you have about the genre, but I don't want it to detract from your main PC quest, which has a long and varied future ahead of it as it is.

  10. I played this game when it was out and being that there were no other options, it was fun to goof around in. I think I used to try to earn enough to buy everything in every store before heading out to the dragon. It was an oddity in that it used a tape player and, I believe, it loaded at each of the three sections. I could be wrong; it's been a flipping long time.

    But for the Atari 2600 which had to pull tricks with it's memory's visuals that caused that incessant blinking in so many games, it was a pretty substantial piece of work.

    1. I played it new also. It was a cassette-loaded game into an oversize cartridge thatplugged into the atari. For others reading, nothing like it existed to my knowledge, so to an 11-year old it was quite exciting. I play escape from the mastermind also by this same company and enjoyed it.

  11. I seem to recall Rings of Power (Sega Megadrive/Genesis) required note-taking. Not sure about maps though. I never managed to get very far, although a friend of mine did try and finish it (don't think he managed though).

    1. I've heard the same. There's an in-game map, and a glossy map was shipped with the game in the US. I don't have the map. Hopefully it's not a big hindrance when I try to tackle this one.

    2. I'm sure the actual game world and locations aren't anywhere as large as they felt back when I was playing it, so I think you shouldn't have too much problem.

      I look forward to you covering it, I may even play along if I have time.

    3. Rings of Power absolutely requires note taking as it's very much a globe-trotting hint-gathering game like Ultima or Magic Candle. You speak to so many NPCS and they send you far and wide on the game world.

      No mapping is required.

      Rings of Power is a PC RPG at heart that somehow made it to the Genesis, due to an arrangement between Electronic Arts and Naughty Dog.

  12. I didn't see a voting thing, but I hope Dungeons of Daggorath gets a look eventually:

    1. Look at the right side bar below "Recent and upcoming". Or for your convenience:

    2. Found the voting thing and put in a vote. I really think that Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star are must-looks as early (but long-lived) major console series that derived from Ultima.

      It was a close call between Zelda 2 and Castlevania 2, but I didn't want to subject Chet to the latter.

  13. At first I was skeptical of you having to check out console games, but this was actually a really interesting look into the state of early console RPGs. And I agree console RPGs are simpler. Sometimes, this is actually a good thing -- when well done, a simple game can have as much or more depth than a very complicated one.

    That said, very few console RPGs qualify -- and especially not early ones. Please don't waste your time trying to beat Final Fantasy 100%. It's grindy, buggy, and a pale shadow of what the series improves to. (Although it's probably still better than the newest FFs...)

    By the way, regardless of your survey, games like Zelda II, Faxanadu, and Castlevania 2 are not really RPGs. They are action games with minor RPG elements.

    Also Castlevania 2 is abysmal. (Zelda II is quite good but crazy hard.)

    1. Final Fantasy isn't too bad with the grind. I played recently and only grinded for maybe an hour to afford the Silver Sword. Phantasy Star is a longer game, and in Dragon Warrior about half the time is mindlessly walking back and forth gaining levels.

  14. If anything, I'd like to see what you would think of the NES version of Ultima 4, which is basically a weird comrpomise between a Dragon Quest style interface and the plot, structure, and combat of the original game.

  15. >> I hope those of you who voted for FF didn't think
    >> I was going to jump right to it. Here on the
    >> CRPG Addict, we do things right.

    I was waiting for such comment on your part;) Quite a bit chunk of enjoyment from reading your blog is finding out how some obscure games feel like without having to torture oneself with them personally. I have never been console enthusiast myself but I must admit that early FF and DQ games are surprisingly playable even today (I only tried them a few years back).

    Even if you don't go to the point of reviewing *every* console RPG ever made I'd love to read some posts on the most seminal titles from a non-console western perspective. Btw, in case you missed this article, some insight on asian rpgs:,25/

  16. One reason why I really like reading your blog is that you regularly identify and openly indicate your bias - some social science guys could learn a thing or two here! ;)

    That said, I'd like do delve into the console argument a bit, since I've wondered about it for some time as well. (Is there really such a big difference in standards, and if yes, what are the reasons?)
    Highly subjective ramblings ahead! :)

    I don't think that the input is the biggest issue here - you can achieve a lot by good UI design despite the lower flexibility of console controls.
    From the ports you have brought up, the NES port of Pools of Radiance for example is really good and faithful (if you disregard the horrible color scheme - did the janitor do the graphics there?!), and the UI, both ingame and in combat works well. I haven't played console Wizardries, but from what I've read, this goes for them as well. (I even played a decent homebrew NetHack port on my PSP for a while! :))
    At least turn based stuff should be fine IMO, you seldom reach a complexity in RPGs where mouse input is really a neccessity.

    But: Those games work because they don't have what is, or at least was in the past, IMO the only really big - technical - problem: A lot of text.
    I completely agree that games like the Infinity stuff won't work on a TV, especially before the advent of HD. The gap between TV and monitor fidelity was simply too huge back then.
    (PS:T on an old 26" CRT TV, interlaced?! Ugh...:) )

    Other than that, I guess it still mostly boils down to a) culture (Japan vs. "West") and b) intended audience - consoles/games were far earlier designed for mainstream appeal, since it was far more a livingroom appliance than PCs from the beginning.

    1. Actually, a lot later JRPGs are -very- text and story heavy. I think the biggest difference is definitely in terms of appeal. JRPGs were generally designed for a wider audience than WRPGs.

    2. Yes, but those show the limits of what was endurable.
      From a cursory search e.g. Chrono Trigger seems to have ~50k words, and Xenogears about 120-130k.
      And - IMO, of course - the latter, while certainly a great game, was already reaching aforementioned limits. Those endless textboxes with 10-15 words max. were simply a chore to read.

      Compare that to games like BG2 (1.2m words) or PS:T (800k), and still, reading in them was far more fluent.
      No wonder:
      A single of those dialog choices would take up a whole Textbox in your typical JRPG.

    3. Personally, I think Xenogears' main problem was the abridged second half. You can tell they basically ran out of time and had to deliver half the story via cutscene. That was a big problem. I really don't think its issue was with text.

      However, I agree with you that games with scripts the size of BG and BG2 are maybe not fit for a console, but those are extreme examples even on the PC.

      Regardless, where are you getting this information? I'm not questioning you. I'm just curious, as I can't seem to find anything on this.

    4. It may of course be subjective, but those endless 4-line boxes of text crawling on the screen (and the accompanying tap, hold, tap, hold, keep reading speed at least somewhat sane) always make me feel like reading a preschoolers edition of Lord of the Rings...

      I still remember the day I quit playing JRPGs: The first hour of Persona 3 on the PSP. After virtually nothing had happened which I could influence (just a lot of cutscenes and text) and my thumb already got sore a bit, I thought "Ahh, f*** it. This is stupid." Never looked back. :)

      Regarding the numbers: For the Infinity Engine games they are out there (both directly from the devs and from people who have analyzed the dialog files).
      For the console games I made a quick word count myself from the game scripts that are available online. IIRC the CT script was complete with all item descriptions etc., while the Xenogears one wasn't - I added roughly 20-25k to that one, I think thats a viable guesstimate.

  17. "We'll see how I feel about the first Japanese RPG (published in English) and the first NES RPG before finding out how I feel about Final Fantasy."

    That's strange, I figured you'd play Phantasy Star and Dragon Warrior instead of Miracle Warriors and Ultima: Exodus. ;)

    Adventure of Link is earlier than Ultima, but some may disagree it's an RPG; even Willow is before Dragon Warrior.

    If you'll allow for some predicting, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by all three games if you can look past the grinding of the first two, and for Final Fantasy make sure you build a good party.

  18. For all it's faults, I just got to love the name "DragonStomper". Maybe the armored guy at cover art is currently gazing at the poor dragon writhing under mighty steel boot.

  19. The SNES port of Ultima VII is considered one of the worst computer-to-console versions of all time, if I recall correctly.

  20. I hope you'll consider giving Might and Magic on the NES a try. Some people consider it the better, or at least more advanced version compared tot he PC. I played it on the PC, but I do get the appeal.

    1. I hate to disappoint anyone, but there really is no chance that I'll re-play a game I've already played just to try a different port.

    2. I'll stop by to comment when I play the NES version; hopefully that's enough to spot differences.

  21. Yeah, I suspect that early console RPGs were a lot more primitive, but in a lot of ways it is the opposite now. You want a complex tactical RPG? Fire Emblem, pretty much any of them (I've only played Path of Radiance, and I didn't finish it as it got too hard). Dear Gygax, that is not a game for the casual player. If a character dies, too bad, they don't come back. Expect a lot of reloading missions. Also there are a ton of odd manuvers, and exact layouts and movement ranges you have to consider, item creation, unit relationships, etc.

    Final Fantasy Tactics, and Tactics Advance are also quite complex though rather more forgiving. I should dust off my copy and finish it one of these days.

    In fact, most X-Com style tactical RPGs come out on consoles, very few are on PC for some reason.

  22. Ultima IV for Sega Master System is a complete port (not a dumbed down console version), and in my opinion it is the best version. I have tried U4 on C64, Amiga and PC, and NES. SMS version wins hands down.

    Also, as a Sega fan I have to say this: if you are going to play Final Fantasy, you should also play Phantasy star. It has nice dungeons for you to map, working economy etc.

    1. Strange, I missed this port. I think I'll give it a go as I play through the NES version.

  23. I'm really glad you're doing consoles, for this simple reason: I'm looking forward to watching you play Chrono Trigger, a SNES game from 1995.

    You won't be there for awhile, but that game was pure, liquid fun. It was a towering achievement, especially when you realize the sheer scope of the game, and understand that the complex plot and multiple endings were all jammed into just four megabytes of code.

    I am morally certain that they were counting every single byte, and I imagine office cheers when they figured out how to save fifty or a hundred all at once.

    The music was awesome, too. It's not quite right on SNES9X, but it gets really close.

    Most console RPGs aren't that great, but Chrono Trigger.... god, it was just so good. That one game is worth breaking the DOS/PC rule for. Hopefully, you'll find others you like as well, but I bet CT alone will make the format excursion worthwhile.

  24. Here is just a brief IMHO of some of the PC to console ports that I’ve played. Being a kid of the 80’s I loved these games on the PC but with the disk swapping and loading times of my Tandy 1000 it was SOOOO much more convenient to play these on consoles; with mixed results of course.

    Ultima 3 NES – very dumbed down version but at the time I spent months grinding and playing this. I’m positive this wouldn’t hold up now. This was one of the first conversions to console.

    Ultima 4 NES – much better than Ultima 3. They fixed a lot of the bugs and this version is actually quite playable. Not bad to soothe an Avatar fix.

    Ultima 4 SMS – same as the NES version but with much more vivid and bright colors. The lack of “select/start” buttons on the Sega Master System controller made the command menu a bit more of a pain, but I enjoy the hell out of the graphics much more than the NES port.

    Ultima 5 NES – own it, hate it. They changed the “view” from standard top down to a slanted top down that honestly gives me motion sickness. Had they stuck with the same tile set as Ultima 4, this COULD have been good.

    Ultima 6 SNES – saw no need to play it after playing Ultima 5 and knowing it simply expanded on an “engine” I didn’t like.
    Might and Magic 1 NES – faithful port, even has the same extreme difficulty level. Top notch conversion.

    Might and Magic 2 Genesis – same as above – very faithfully ported and the graphics are gorgeous on the Genesis. Top notch conversion.

    Might and Magic 3 SNES – Graphics on par with the PC, but movement and game play is very slow. Unplayable in my opinion.

    Pool of Radiance NES – very good conversion of a classic. Only problem with this game is the color scheme they chose, it’s a bit weird. Top notch conversion other than that and I break it out every few years and play through it.

    Wizardry 1 NES – how can you mess up a wire frame dungeon crawl? You can’t. NEXOFT did a great job porting this classic over. You can even change it from wire frame mazes to solid walls. Much easier to play than the old PC version.

    Wizardry 2 NES – same, except ASCII took over the rights here. They used the same engine and it’s spot on to the PC version

    Wizardry 3: Famicom – Yes, it was only released for the Famicom (Japanese NES) but in the options menu if you “feel around” you can switch the game over the English. Another spot on conversion and the reason I sprung $60 on a very nice Famicom at the Milwaukee video game convention last year.

    Wizardry 5: SNES – More of the same. Perfect conversion here, still using the same game engine just like Sir-Tech did for 10 years in the PC realm.

    Bard’s Tale 1 NES – Horribly boring and a TON of random encounters… almost like the PC game! The PC game has a lot of charm though. The NES version falls horribly flat, which sucks because I was super amped when this came out. Also I think guys level cap at level 36 which upset me… not sure if that was so on the PC.

    Order of the Griffon TURBO GRAFX 16 – This is an official AD&D original “gold box” game written exclusively for the Turbo Grafx 16. It is pretty good, but extremely linear and at times a bit on the tough and unfair side. A cool relic for a much forgotten system.

    There of course are many, many quality RPG’s not based on PC games. I’ve played a lot of them and I’d have to say that Dragon Warrior III for NES might be the best console RPG I’ve ever played. Of course these are all simply my opinion.

    Nowadays PC vs. console isn’t really an issue. I have all the games and all the consoles and a 386 (with a 286/386 turbo switch) set up to my 46” Sony in my living room with a 25’ keyboard extension cord that runs to my recliner. I play all the games the way they should be played, on the PC and I have all the original media.

    I’m shocked the CRPG is considering playing console RPG’s like Final Fantasy… there are already 1,000,000 sites dedicated to FF.

    1. Thanks for the summary, definitely good to know. If you ever get to it, please comment on M&M3 for TurboGrafx-CD. I considered playing that one over the SNES version, but I ended up with the cart because it was cheaper.

    2. I don't have M&M3 on the Turbo CD, but I heard it's PC quality... I don't have a TurboGrafx CD yet..

    3. I played the Genesis M&M 2 port some time ago, but put it aside because there were some substanstial differences compared to the computer ports:
      - no attack rows (any character can attack and be attacked). This isn't that bad, but..
      - monsters always attacked the party in the same order (1st character, 2nd character etc.). This seems very much like a bug.

    4. Wiz 1 - 3 on NES / SNES are not quite 100% faithful conversions. They exchanged quite a lot of the original dungeon layouts which seems like a minor issue given the randomness of wireframed dungeons, but ... I think the original ones are bit less random in their layout... if that makes any sense. For example in Wiz 1 there are two levels which represent the developer's initials. On consoles they just left in one of those and replaced the other.

      They also swapped scenario 2 with 3 which is really weird IMHO. Some things like character transfer also work different, but I can't remember exactly what and how.

    5. Oh, they did change the dungeon layouts, but they were mostly on optional floors (B6-B8 Wiz1). I think the NES Wizardry games are perfectly faithful in spirit and mechanics (except for that damn AC bug- they're actually harder for it!)

      Character transfer used a Famicom accessory called the "Turbo File" to backup and restore your character data, except you could do it cross-game instead of being stuck in one game. It was dropped in the US release, and in any event your characters were reset to Level 1 through all games and Wiz2 rebalanced around this.

    6. Huh, I wonder why they didn't just use the FDS.

    7. Huh. Now that you mention it, the FDS probably would have made more sense for the Famicom Wizardry ports than cartridges (the FDS was only barely past its prime in retrospect at the end of '87; Final Fantasy and Mega Man were both originally FDS games changed to carts at the last minute.) Games for it were less than half the price, and while single-disk FDS capacity was limited to 128KB, that's exactly how big Famicom Wizardry games are.

  25. Considering that the Atari 2600 is essentially a glorified pong system (just read up on the programming limitations) with 128 bytes of RAM (not a typo, that's 128 bytes or 1 kilobit, though the Supercharger gives it a few kilobytes), this game is extremely impressive.

    1. I agree, this is a rare case of Chet somewhat dropping the ball, basically ignoring the difference between a 48k computer of the era vs the consoles of the time. Atari 2600: 128 bytes of RAM, 4K ROM carts. Intellivision: 1.5K ram, 4-8K carts.

      Home computers of the era had 48K RAM and 130K+ floppies.

    2. People always want me to be more charitable to games given the conditions under which they were developed. That isn't what my reviews are about. I'm not going to give a positive review to a game that sucks just because the platform wasn't capable of producing a better one.

  26. Hope you don't mind that I'm commenting such old post, but I found your blog about 2 months ago and I'm reading everything from beggining.

    Regarding console vs pc games I had a feeling that difference in gameplay comes from difference in narration. When replaying Final Fantasy II it struck me that basically all jRPG I played offered no character creation besides choosing name. I go with predefined character, with predefinied background, dreams and goals. This way each roleplaying choice is opportunity for player to step out of character (instead of defining character as in typical computer cRPG), so it may be considered a threat by game designer. It's basically like watching interactive story with crpg mechanics.

    I feel like jRPG (console rpg?) is more about reading/watching predefined story traditional crpg mechanics (or it's variations), wile typical computer rpg is more about defining player story.

    I look forward to catching up with your blog.

  27. The mercenaries charge more gold depending on how much money you have. But you can always hire them by offering a gem, so it saves money on a good run. There are a lot of little non-obvoius tricks in the game. It's a very old game from when many players wouldn't have had access to a computer, so to me it was amazing to have it on a 2600 at all. Then random item traits gave it some replay value, and some runs will be much harder than others. Rings to heal is a bad one as they are rarer. Crosses to heal is good. You're not supposed to waste money to heal except in emergencies. The shield raises your dex by 5, which makes you harder to hit. Handaxe changes your damage from 1-7 instead of 1-4 with fists. It can also chop into locked "soft" buildings like huts to save a key, but not on castles.

  28. As someone who absolutely adored the Final Fantasy-series in my teens, I would love to declare them as at least equal to the greatest CRPGs I have played in my life.

    But I have replayed quite a few of the FF games in the past ~5 years and FF7 is the only one I would still consider good. In fact, I consider it great. But that is the only one in my opinion.

    There is a large group of people claiming FF6 is the best the series has to offer and I can kind of see where they're coming from but that one never clicked with me.


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