Saturday, April 2, 2016

Xanadu: A Closed System

A frustrating jumping puzzle on Level 2. You have to hit just the right combination of keys to bounce up to the platform above. Without save states, I'd never have the patience.
   
Xanadu hasn't beaten me yet, but it already has me annoyed with the idea that it might beat me. I often get this feeling in "closed system" RPGs; Xanadu makes it worse by throwing in some additional logistics.

An RPG is a "closed system" when it has a fixed number of encounters (and treasure) that never respawn. They are relatively rare in the genre. Looking over my list, I can only identify a few for sure--Beyond Zork, the Stuart Smith series, Legends of Murder: Stonedale Castle, Dungeons of Avalon, Captive, Dusk of the Gods. There are many that I don't remember for sure, but almost always they belong to adventure/RPG hybrids in which character development and accumulation of wealth are a minor part of the game.

At best, closed systems ensure that no character, upon reaching any particular milestone (including the endgame) is better than any other character. Consider a game in which a character levels up at a consistent rate and there are no character choices to make when leveling. Such a game is really an illusory RPG, because while the character might technically improve, the fact that he improves at a consistent, predictable rate with no input from the player means that this variable is already "controlled for" by the game developer. It may as well not exist. Success will come down probably to manual reaction.

At worst, closed systems can ensure that a player's choices doom him to having a weak character at particular milestones. This often occurs when there's an inter-relationship between variables. Consider a game in which there are a fixed number of monsters. The character finds gold at the end of every battle and can use this gold to purchase healing potions to restore hit points. In such a case, gold and hit points are really just two sides of one variable. The less gold you have, the fewer hit points you can pay to restore over the course of the game. The fewer hit points that you lose, the more gold you have for other purposes. Grinding to gain more gold is not an option. The unskilled or unlucky player thus ends up with less wealth than the skilled or lucky player and thus has worse equipment throughout the game. Because he has worse equipment, he loses more hit points, must pay for more potions, and is doomed to this continual downward spiral until he gets crushed by the endgame boss. I don't like such games, but I can handle them. After all, I'm not a bad CRPG player.

Xanadu is this sort of game, but worse. First, it has the inter-relationship with gold that I describe above. Because there's a fixed number of enemies in the game, there's a fixed amount of gold. You have to be careful how you spend it. Fight poorly and you have to spend too much restoring hit points. Goof around too much and you have to spend it restoring food. It's almost impossible to know the optimal time to buy a weapon or shield, since you might find an upgrade at any moment in one of the dungeons and thus have wasted the gold you spent on it (although you can sell it back for about half). Unlock a door that you didn't really need to unlock, and you've just wasted a $300 key. The cost of items, healing, everything is dependent on your charisma score, and I suspect that new players who don't jack up the charisma are dooming themselves to chronic under-funding.
    
    
Perhaps worse is the way the game allocates experience based on particular weapons and armor. This would be a fun dynamic if various weapons were almost as good as each other or there were special versions of some of the "lower" weapons. In a typical Dungeons & Dragons game, for instance, a short sword isn't so much worse than a long sword that it wouldn't make sense to specialize in a short sword for role-playing reasons. You might eventually find a short sword of fire +3 or something, so your skill with the weapon remains relevant throughout the game. Here, on the other hand, each weapon upgrade is so manifestly better than the previous that it feels like all the experience you've accumulated on "lower" weapons has been wasted. But of course you can't move to a higher weapon until you've gained enough gold or skill using the lower weapons to find or purchase one. Then you immediately start to feel like you're wasting experience that could be applied to the next upgrade.

It's possible that I'm all angsty about this for no reason, that just playing steadily and sensibly will serve me fine, and that although the resources are fixed, there's still plenty to go around. It's possible, but I suspect not. I suspect that to take a successful character through Xanadu, you need to have enough prior experience to plot an optimal route through combats and equipment upgrades. I don't have enough time for that. So I'm just going to keep playing, doing the best I can, until I can't go any further, and if that means the game beats me, then it beats me.

Since the last post, I restarted with a new character. Professor Gaijin's helpful links to the game's documentation allowed me to see how I could allocate my skill points better. First, I knew I needed to beef up my charisma to conserve on gold. Dexterity only affects how quickly you open chests. Since opening chests too fast is actually a bad thing--chests block enemies from getting to you--I could set that to the minimum level necessary. I also decided to minimize my intelligence and rely on brawn rather than spells for this character.
   
This shop lies right at the entrance to the first level. The problem? If you have any money to spend at this point, you haven't spent it on attributes, which seems like a bad idea.
   
As I replayed the first level, I tried to leave at least some enemies on the map so I could later grind against them with new weapons and armor. I also declined to pick up the magic gloves (which increase your skill with the current weapon) and magic rods (which increase your skill with the current spell) until later, when I had better weapons and spells.

Miscellaneous notes:
  • Apropos of nothing, I just happened to notice that my name is only one letter away from "Cheater." Screw you, dad.
  • At Level 2, it costs $304 to do a full HP restoration of 4,000. That's $1 for 13 hit points. Simply waiting around for 10 seconds consumes 4 food units and restores 4 hit points. Since food costs $1 for 10 units, that's $1 for 10 hit points. Staying at the inn costs exactly $1 for 10 hit points. Thus, all healing options are about equal.
  • I assume most people know this, or have looked it up on Wikipedia, but "Xanadu" was the name of Kublai Khan's summer capital in Yuan Dynasty China from 1271-1294 (the site is now in Mongolia). It is mentioned in the famous Coleridge poem "Kubla Khan" (1816), was the name of Charles Foster Kane's estate in Citizen Kane, and was the name of an awful Olivia Newton John film of 1980. I can't see what any of these things have to do with the game.
  • Technically, you have three "lives" in the game, tied to three elixirs that the king gives you at the beginning. I don't know if you can find any more. I don't think you lose anything from dying and getting resurrected by an elixir, but I've just been reloading when I die.
   
I was no match for these ravens in the first room of a castle on Level 2.
    
  • The translation of the manual, which is full of fun tortured English ("Make your agent who adventure for you...Go to the castle first and see the king for greetings") still says absolutely nothing about the game world or backstory. 
  • In the last post, I showed a screen shot of a "boss-level" encounter with a kraken. I frankly don't know how I got there. When I restarted, the castle leading to that encounter was blocked by a fire elemental that I couldn't beat until I had the "Douse" spell. I never got it in the previous game, so I don't know how I bypassed him to get to the kraken.

Since the last post, I haven't accomplished much more than in the first one. I've explored a bit more of Level 2, which has an abundance of locked doors, causing me to invest much of my money in keys. Navigating it is much harder than Level 1, as it has a bunch of pillars that you can climb down but not up, plus some weird teleportation puzzle that I'll try to describe next time when I understand it better.
  
Trying to decide whether to waste a key opening this locked door.
   
If there is a next time. Honestly, I find this kind of RPG pretty boring and frustrating. I suppose to some players, watching their GCLM climb up ladders, fall down pits, and bump and grind against little monsters is the height of entertainment, but I can't play more than 15 minutes at a time without starting to crave a deeper story or more combat tactics. I can't help but contrast its basic approach with Gateway to the Savage Frontier, which not only offers an actual story, but also ensures that there's virtually no way to permanently screw up. If I decide my party composition is bad, or someone dies permanently, I can swap in a new character at any time and then engage in as many wilderness combats as I want to buff him up. I don't have to worry that I spent too much on healing to afford the Gauntlets of Dexterity, since respawning encounters mean I can make as much gold as I have the time and patience to make.

Xanadu, in contrast, makes me feel like I've done something wrong even when I win a combat. I routinely kill my sessions without saving just because I'm not sure what I've accomplished in the last 15 minutes except depleting food, depleting hit points, and killing enemies that I should have saved for the next weapon. This is more like a job than a game.

63 comments:

  1. Might & Magic III/IV/V are actually "closed" in that sense. It doesn't really catch the eye because in the normal course of the game, there are more than enough monsters and treasures, but they are indeed finite. MM V uses to create a bottleneck at some time in the game where grinding indeed is not an option because you will have cleared every other accessible place by then. As you are usually swimming in money during the Xeen games, this is quite the trap to the uninitiated.

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    1. Having just finished MM3, I can say that this is partially true for that game. But to avoid spoilers, I can say that I had so much unnecessary experience and gold that it honestly didn't matter in the slightest. (And there is a way to keep enemies respawning in MM3, at least up to a point, and there is one dungeon where I believe they always respawn.)

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    2. Having just finished MM3, I can say that this is partially true for that game. But to avoid spoilers, I can say that I had so much unnecessary experience and gold that it honestly didn't matter in the slightest. (And there is a way to keep enemies respawning in MM3, at least up to a point, and there is one dungeon where I believe they always respawn.)

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    3. That is true regarding MM3, at least for the outdoor encounters. Speaking of MM3, I anxiously await the day when it comes up next on Chet's list! It is a 1991 game as well.

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    4. I am playing MM3 right now, and I tried World of Xeen a couple months ago but I had to quit. Knowing resources were finite was just too stressful. I'm always afriad I'm going to use it all up. Now with MM3 I'm just trying to ignore it and play the game.

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    5. I played MM3 back when the developers (or maybe an intern on their staff?) would write back with an answer when you mailed your final game score in. The letter openly admitted that MM3 is "gold poor". This effectively caps the maximum level of one's characters, since it costs gold to train them.

      However, MM3, MM4, and MM5 all have more than enough experience/gold to do everything you could possibly want to do, including finish off all optional bosses, assuming you're sensible (i.e., don't try to level up 20 different characters).

      Don't let paranoia get the best of you when playing MM3-MM5. Resource starvation is really not a problem.

      If you really want to be crazy overpowered, though, you can hold off on anything that gives "+1 level" to your party members until you've leveled them as far as you can with exp and gold.

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    6. I always put a lot of money in the bank n all M&M games and levelled as late as I could, so I could get some interest. That means additional money ;)

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    7. The bank interest is the best way to ensure that you'll have more money than you'll ever need. Bakuiel: that's really no reason not to play the Xeen games. They're great fun, and especially with the bank trick you won't experience any cash problems.

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    8. I didn't realize all this about the MM3-5 games, but I'm sure it wouldn't have bothered me for the reasons you state. It's the experience thing that really bothers me about Xanadu. Imagine that there was a plot point in MM3 at which point you had to replace the entire party and start over with Level 1 neophytes. If you've already played the game and know where it is, you can go directly there and thus ensure that your second party benefits from all the game's experience. If you're playing blind on the other hand, you can easily miss the visit until 3/4 through the game, at which point your new party only has 1/4 of the game to build up its experience for the final battle. That's what Xanadu feels a bit like.

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    9. The first time you play KotOR, you level your PC to 8, and then become a Jedi.

      The second time you play KotOR, you try to finish Tarsus as a level 2 character so you can get 18 juicy levels of Jedi.

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    10. The Xeen games aren't hard, particularly; I didn't have nearly enough money to level my guys all the way, but it didn't matter. I was STILL able to do all the optional stuff including beating the Mega Dragon (which has absolutely no purpose other than bragging rights). The closedness of the game really isn't an issue.

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    11. Tristan: My experience was: want to play as Han Solo, not Luke. Get sick of worrying that all my Blaster skills will become useless, stop playing the game.

      I got sick of Star Wars games when they stopped exploring the universe in favor of Jedi power fantasies. (Dark Forces, Tie Fighter, X-Wing, Rogue Squadron, there were lots of good Start Wars games without lightsabers!)

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  2. I didn't find Xanadu being a "closed system" to be nearly as frustrating as you seem to be- and only found myself restarting it once before beating it (even then it probably wasn't necessary; and in fact found it incredibly satisfying to clear the early levels more efficiently with more resources (and doing things like buying 40 keys before ever gaining a level.) In practice, while Xanadu has the structure of a dungeon crawler, it really feels like a huge, strategic puzzle. (And like with many puzzles, you may have to restart it.) Unless you're sure you've made a bad move somewhere, you probably shouldn't worry about whether you've made progress after each session; the game certainly doesn't demand that level of optimization.

    As for locked doors, Pendants allow you to unlock doors for free for as long as they stay in effect, so they can supplement keys. (WIS affects how long items you use are in affect.) The documents I linked to before should outline what every item does.

    The amount of gold you get from encounters is technically variable (XanaLabo outlines minimum, average, and maximum gold amounts by area and for the entire game) but in practice it evens out well enough that it won't make much of a difference without savescumming.

    A few other pieces of very general advice:

    -Before going shopping, consider using a Bottle to raise your Charisma and lower prices. In particular, there are several areas with shops clustered together- the best way to go shopping, period, is to plan out what you want to buy, use a Bottle, and quickly go through the shops and grab up everything. (Possibly before leveling at a Temple.)

    -While there are tricky jumps (what you described is one of the worst ones in the game) with Mantles and Winged Boots nearly all of them can be bypassed.

    -At least on the MSX and SS, that very first shop has items for insanely low prices- though you forego stat increases by shopping there, I think that was the intent of it.

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    1. And I knew I'd forgotten a couple of points

      -Technically, you can get more elixirs- but they're incredibly rare. I remember finding two more in the entire game, in the deeper levels. They're really most helpful for boss battles (like the Kraken you found in your last post), but it's generally not practical to save elixirs for them without savescumming. (The fact that using one isn't an option, and they're so incredibly rare, is a significant flaw.)

      -As for spells, when you can, try out a Dag spell- they're identical to the regular versions of said spells but hit all enemies at once. (You can hold down the spell button and just cast them repeatedly in many battles.)

      -For that matter, with regular spells, if you keep holding the spell button, you can use the arrows to control the projectile. This is extremely helpful when you're hiding behind treasure chests.

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    2. Falcom games definitely are more like action adventure titles with rpg trimmings, so I can understand a more Western rpg fans frustration. I feel like it's had a lot of influence on the early Nintendo action adventures in particular, Zelda 1 and 2, Metroid. Supposedly it sold hundreds of thousands of copies, so I'm sure it's influence is much more profound.

      Speaking of its popularity, there's a full soundtrack on LP and a 7 inch with a metal song about the game. I'm always prowling for those online. Ultima and wizardry didn't get that, although i know the famicom port of Exodus had an arranged soundtrack you could get on cassette.
      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gGYNHn-i_fw

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    4. "I didn't find Xanadu being a "closed system" to be nearly as frustrating as you seem to be." It may be that it will turn out to be trivial by the end of the game, but right now I have no way of knowing what the rest of the game is going to look like.

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    5. I honestly wouldn't worry at all. I played like an idiot, wasted all kinds of items, etc. Saving items is really more critical than your character build in terms of getting through, and I beat the game with plenty of enemies left to plough through minus the first two floors. If you killed every enemy in the game, you'd be a God that could kill the last boss in one hit as long as you slightly level up the final equipment.

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  3. While I agree that the 'closed' nature of this game sounds unappealing, there are some really well-designed games using 'closed' systems. MM3-5 is an example of one way to go with this design, giving plentiful experience and encounters with lots of optional areas. The benefit there is a feeling of completion as you clear areas (this is coupled with an excellent navigation system that prevents you from needing to backtrack or wander cleared areas). It can be a very rewarding feeling to clear areas, and there is something to be said from not allowing 'grinding', since it means the game does not reward/require repetitive play. I'm thinking here of games where you have to spend lots of time swatting enemies you can mindlessly steamroll for no reward, or games where you must spend hours 'leveling' without any exploration or story exposition.

    Another model is to make a 'closed world' where the possible encounter/skill tree is so big and thoroughly implemented that the game cannot be fully explored in one play. If the designers were careful to make reasonable party compositions and skill sets get unique solutions, you get this great feeling of 'what if' as you progress. I believe 'Enhanced Newcomer' for c64 to be a relatively unknown gem in this style, and I'm excited to see you get to it!

    Another game that is closed (especially in terms of money and experience), and explicitly anti-grinding/repetitive play is crawl stone soup, a roguelike I am excited to see you try, someday.

    I'm just trying to say that I don't think the implementation of a game (open vs. closed) has much to do with whether it is good or not... but I will be curious to see how you rate some closed games that I personally consider great.

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    1. I generally agree. Again, my issue with the game being "closed" isn't so much the fact that it's closed but the way in which it's closed. I feel like there's too much room to make errors that will screw up the rest of your game, like buying a long sword seconds before finding one, or killing all the Level 1 enemies when you really needed to save some for grinding.

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    2. I've been playing a little bit of Gothic, which is closed, as far as I can tell, until the next chapter when stuff re-spawns. It creates the dynamic you're describing, in the early parts, of desperately hoping you didn't waste any gold on one of the very expensive skill upgrades. In terms of "clearing areas," wiping out every native species in the region feels more disturbing than gratifying!

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  4. Crawl isn't technically *quite* closed (there are certain places that respawn indefinitely). And the same applies to Dungeon Master. But both indeed are designed so that once through is plenty.

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  5. >> "I suspect that new players who don't jack up the charisma are dooming themselves to chronic under-funding."

    On the plus side, it's a CRPG where Charisma is actually a stat worth pumping. How often does THAT happen?

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  6. I have no idea why, but I'm really interested in that Kraken incident. Is the layout of the game world randomized? Maybe that fire elemental only spawns sometimes?

    I guess it is possible that you wrong-warped somehow, which isn't a completely uncommon bug with games like this (as its really easy for a single overflow to mess a lot of things up, since memory is so limited in games this old). Maybe the game got some variables mixed up and sent you to the wrong room when you entered a door. You did mention that you weren't able to find it again after reloading, so it'd make sense.

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    1. If he used a Mantle, it'd have been possible to do something like that by a fluke (or deliberately.) See my note on the dungeon layouts in the last posting- that should give enough information to explain how.

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    2. When an enemy is defeated on the main world map, it respawns only two or three times. However, each time it respawns it becomes stronger (or at least more numerous). The early version of the fire elemental in front of the castle is easily beaten. You can then enter the castle before it respawns.

      This same respawning mechanic was used in the pseudo-RPG WiBarm, which I quite liked (to start with... it was getting very samey towards the end).

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    3. That must be what happened. I thought that fire elemental was always nigh-impossible, but I guess I must have been able to kill it the first time.

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  7. >> "I have no idea why, but I'm really interested in that Kraken incident."

    Now that I think about it, I wonder if the guys who made Tower of the Sorcerer took some inspiration from this game? While TotS was very different in a lot of ways it was also a "closed system" CRPG that featured a giant octopus boss.

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  8. I just want to point out that "closed system" RPGs are more common in the Strategy-RPG subgenre. Some SRPGs allow the player to grind random battles; some do not.

    One of the most notorious set of SRPGs with this problem (or feature?) is the Fire Emblem series of Japanese SRPGs. In early Fire Emblem games, it was infamously easy to let too few characters take all the battle exp, and leave the rest of your army too exp-starved to progress.

    I believe the latest Fire Emblem games allow the player to purchase a map where they can grind on enemies as DLC. Let's hear it for monetizing questionable game design choices! :P

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    1. Didn't most Fire Emblem games have arenas, allowing essentially infinite grinding? I remember spending 8 hours grinding in arenas in some maps to max out a few characters, only to have a character die in one unlucky hit... now THAT was frustrating if you refuse to have anyone die in a Fire Emblem game.

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    2. I bought the DLC for Awakening just for the additional character banter, though the maps do double as grind-fests. I just bought Conquest and apparently the game does not let you grind freely, or it does only with DLC and Birthright allows it without, I forget which.

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    3. Path of Radiance did not. It was very hard to not use the same characters over and over, or miss important characters if you didn't know to send your healer to talk to them.

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  9. I'm surprised Xanadu is as long and involved as it is. I was expecting something akin to a few hours, like the first Dragon Slayer or Tower of Druaga, especially with the trial-and-error nature of some of its mechanics and its action-oriented bent. Then again, Japanese computer games of the mid-80s are sort of unknown quantity to most, including me.

    I can only guess at why they chose that name but maybe it's because Xanadu took on almost mythic properties over the years? I mean, that's probably why Falcom later named a game after Ys. There's something romantic about chasing after a legendary land of plenty. Shocked they never went for an "El Dorado" cowboy RPG.

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    1. "Shocked they never went for an "El Dorado" cowboy RPG."
      Because Enix had already beaten them to it, though it was a graphical text adventure:
      http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/eldoradodenki/eldoradodenki.htm

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    2. Echoing Mento, Xanadu is now synonymous with paradise. Could equally have called the game Eden or Shangri-La.

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    3. That's correct. Xanadu (or Shangdu in Chinese) was a symbol of the epitome of Mongolian civilization built with riches accumulated over 3 generations of continuous raiding & tributes from their expansive territories.

      Had the rebellion led by Zhu Yuanzhang against the Yuan dynasty not burnt down the Summer Palace, it would have been a sight to behold.

      Come to think of it, Shi-Huang-Ti's E-Pang Palace was also burned down during the rebellion led by Xiang Yu. Not to mention the numerous buildings burnt down during the Cultural Revolution.


      I dunno why Chinese like to torch cultural artifacts.

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    4. What they burned at that time weren't cultural artifacts, those were most probably monuments built by their oppressors. I think I know what they felt, since in my hometown (Warsaw, Poland) there is a big, concrete rocket ready for launch - or "Pałac Kultury i Nauki" (Palace of Culture and Science) which is seens as many as a reminder from Soviet Union saying "This is where we were and we can return anytime". Many people feel that it should be torn down and they use "argumentum ad opressionem".

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  10. Another "closed system" CRPG is Nahlakh, which has a finite amount of encounters. Like Xanadu you can also spend gold on increasing stats (the game should score high in Economy since you can never have too much gold), and Strength is the prime stat for mages which is almost as unusual as Charisma being the most useful stat.

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  11. First comment from a shy reader: please don't feel like you HAVE to make a lot of posts about games you're not enjoying. It's a lot more interesting to read about the games that you do like to play.

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    1. I'm honestly more concerned with having to put an "N" in the "Won?" column than what anyone thinks of me.

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  12. I really enjoy reading about this game. It feels very much like a 'puzzle-RPG' as Gaijin intimates above.

    Neverwinter Nights (experience is closed - and also level dependent) would let you start in any chapter you wanted as a level 1 character. It was interesting trying to kill all the monsters on the map in the right order to try to maximise your total XP gain - especially when the encounters were balanced for level 17 characters and you were level 1!

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  13. Hey, does anyone know where a working copy of the Xanadu revival pc98 games can be found online? It's just a remake of the original and the scenario 2 expansion. I found some disk images, but I couldn't figure out which emulator or what settings I needed to get it running properly.

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  14. Xanadu is also a musical sort of based on the 1980 film. It's rather strange, really, but the songs are catchy.

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    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xGnmLF42f0

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  15. The recent rogue-sorta-like Sunless Sea isn't closed, but it feels strongly as if it were (at least to me).

    If I don't manage fuel and food carefully, I might end not be able to voyage far enough to collect resources, which means I can't buy fuel and food, leading to a downward spiral ending in death ...

    - slowpoke

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    1. Yeah, which I'm sure is by design. Very different than Fallen London, their previous game, where it is impossible to die.

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  16. Hi Chet,

    I have been enjoying your blog for the last few years, and it is really amazing. In 100 years, it will be as important as the Rosetta Stone. These games will be lost to human memory, but your detailed and interesting adventures will live forever. Furthermore, you should be the leading world expert on the topic.

    When I discovered your blog, BTW, I was so excited that I purchased Ultima III and V. I played III for a few hours and found it painfully boring. I never even bothered to install V. It is much more interesting to read your accounts and story then to actually play the game. I would be happy to send them to you, as a thank you for the wonderful gift you have given us.

    It was wonderful to read your update on Autoduel. It seemed very strange how you dismissed it, while I remember finding it deep and fascinating as a kid. As you mentioned, I also found it engaging but suddenly dying between cities wasn't so much fun.

    Also, Xanadu was a Rush song from 1977.

    Thank you and keep up the great work!!!

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  17. Is there a connection between this game and the popular Zelda franchise? They look so similar from the screen shots and the gameplay doesn't seem to be that much different.

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    1. My understanding is that by Xanadu, the series had already branched off the trunk that would lead to Zelda. They both trace their lineage back to Tower of Druaga, which may be the first JRPG to feature what I call a GCLM (Goofy Cartoonish Little Man) running around bumping into enemies and collecting treasure.Druaga influenced both Hydlide and the first Dragon Slayer. What I don't know is if Zelda took its cues from either of those or from the original Druaga.

      Gameplay is a bit different in that the character in the Dragonslayer series actually improves in terms of attributes and levels. My understanding is that doesn't happen in the original Zelda.

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    2. I was going to ask if this game has any relation to the NES action RPG named Faxanadu.
      It seems like they are similar only in name.

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    4. But even Wiki says that they really ARE related. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faxanadu

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    5. Faxanadu is basically a console-fied incredibly loose adaptation/reimagining of Xanadu for consoles which was made by Hudson, not Falcom.

      One irony of this is that around the same time, Dragon Slayer IV was ported to the Famicom... which is actually closer to Xanadu than Faxanadu is, since it's basically Xanadu as a nonlinear, multicharacter Metroidvania rather than an RPG. (And it's actually pretty amazing for what it is.)

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  18. While I've seen Hydlide called an inspiration for the first Zelda game, the official story is that there wasn't a direct video game inspiration, and that Zelda was developed at the same time as the original Super Mario Brothers and by the same dev team, with a deliberate attempt to differentiate the two - Mario is very linear, Zelda is very non-linear, Mario is side view, Zelda is top-down, etc. Considering how much Hydlide was viewed as a mediocre Zelda rip-off when the NES release belatedly made it over here, I do find it very hard to believe there was no influence.

    As for the nature of the Zelda games, you are correct. In every Zelda game except Zelda II - The Adventure Of Link, advancement is entirely by finding items (or finding upgrades to your items, or increasing your capacity to carry certain items). It's a proper inventory, mind, not an adventure game where every item exists solely to solve one puzzle, but there's no experience points or levels. Including any game in the series (except II) as an RPG by your definition would be extremely borderline even if you did drop or make exception to the anti-console rule,

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    1. With the exception of hearts right? Weren't they random drops in the original?

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    2. If you mean the little hearts that heal you, then yes, they were random drops.

      If you mean the heart containers that increase your health capacity, then no. Each one was found in a fixed location, generally either after defeating a boss or in a secret cave.

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    3. Ahh. In any case, those things were the closest equivalent of a combat-stat increase.

      I feel that LoZ is a game that influenced many RPGs without being an RPG. It wouldn't have taken much to make it an RPG, but as it doesn't really possess those things, it's just an action/adventure game.

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    4. Strangely, I find that LoZ is much more of an RPG than many early CRPGs.

      See, although killing lesser monsters don't net you XP for Link, the player (that's you) get more experienced... this being an Action-RPG and all. These monsters also drop, not just hearts to replenish your health, but money as well.

      Money can be used to buy consumable equipment like arrows, bombs and healing potions. So, it's not like there's no economy in the game.

      Actual character progression comes in the form of increasing the total HP of Link that is accomplished by taking out boss monsters or rewarded by NPCs for completing a key quest; just like hitting a level after getting Quest XP.

      I guess this helps to make Link not overpowered and that all enemies remain relevant throughout the game unlike Final Fantasy games where a high level party will accidentally squash enemies in the game's starting area just by walking through.

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    5. You are never "rewarded" heart capacity by completing a "key quest" - aside from the ones you get from killing bosses, you get them by bombing a wall (which is not marked in any way, although you do get extremely cryptic hints as to where they might be) or burn down the right bush (again, not marked in any way, generally you just spew fire everywhere and hope for the best), go into the hidden cave, and pick it up off the floor.

      Yes, there is an economy, and not a bad one for a very early NES game (the hard 255 rupee limit helps a lot), but that's still just a way to get more equipment (there are no arrows in the original Legend Of Zelda - each shot just deducts one rupee), and the only consumables are bombs and the health potion. Later games, there's a little more to it, but we're talking mostly about the first one. Grand Theft Auto is just as much (or rather, as little) an RPG as the original Zelda.

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  19. Pretty ballsy to take this one on. I love the Dragon Slayer series, but those earliest entries are tough. Romancia and Legacy of the Wizard are even more brutal. The series really opens with Part V (Sorcerian). Part VII (Lord Monarch) is offered as a free download from Falcom - but it's an RTS not an RPG.

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    1. Legacy of the Wizard probably is more brutally difficult than Xanadu... but it's so amazingly fun and much more inviting (there's basically no threat of making irreversible mistakes.)

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    2. I really don't like this one. I'm trying to find a way out of it gracefully.

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  20. So I assume that the shrine with the blond haired woman and the 魅 is for increasing your charisma or something? In Japanese that character also has a lot of the English connotations of "charm" potentially meaning both being personable but also magic. In Chinese it has a literal meaning of "demon" which explains why googling it brings you all these pics of succubi.

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