Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nippon: Authorial Presence

Thorsten brags about size.
It's been fun having authors Rüdiger Hoppe and Thorsten Suhr/Sommermnn visit my entries on Nippon, clearly enjoying the fact that someone is playing their 30-year-old game, while carefully--some might even say to a fault--avoiding spoilers.

Having played almost 25 hours of Nippon, it's hard not to feel like I already know them, what with their initials appearing in multiple island chains and town walls ("RTG" for "Rüdiger the Great" and "SFG" for "Suhr Fantasy Games"); these are mentioned on Thorsten's Nippon Museum as being as much copyright protection as self-glorification.

In the game, you meet Rüdiger's sister in one town:
"Bist du Single?"
And then in the city of Funatabi, you run into the developers themselves, standing at the end of a long pier:
I've been playing for over 20 hours! It's a little late to "welcome" me!
I have to admire their restraint in not making themselves mikados, like Richard Garriott would have done. However, I do have to note that the developers have nothing to say if you approach them "friendly" or "normal." They only talk if you choose "submissive."

Having explored most of the game world at this point, I have to offer some praise for the design of the landscape and the towns. The settings that they created are as original, interesting, and evocative as possible with tiles. As you sail along, you encounter archipelagos of complex shapes, broken continents crisscrossed by rivers, valleys fully enclosed by mountains, and snow-capped peaks amidst pools of lava, all surrounded by a black void that sucks your ship over the edge if you sail too close.
I sail into a lake surrounded by lava surrounded by mountains surrounded by lava.
Among the game's 30+ towns are Yogan Haikyo, a city in the midst of being destroyed by a volcano; Mizu-Do, designed like a giant spa; Kokoro-Kazan, a mountain city with tunnels hewed through the rocks; and of course Ulti-Tori, shaped like Ultima III's Sosaria. Every city has a unique and original layout that incorporates elements of the surrounding terrain and creates navigation obstacles for the player. For instance, in Funatabi, there's a hidden armor shop that requires you to buy a ship, sail it to the northwest corner, and walk through a bit of lava. Lots of other towns have areas only accessible via swimming or finding invisible doors.
A dying town riven with rivers of lava.
I've been visiting these towns one-by-one as I continue my north-south exploration. I think I've logged 13 new ones since last time. I have to say, it's a bit exhausting to prepare to play this game, as I have to load my map (waiting for ArcGIS to load can take about half an hour by itself), then open and arrange the game window, my notepads, and my translation web site. This is definitely a game that requires two monitors and an Internet connection--something that's going to become a big problem if I don't finish it this week.

Once I have everything open, however, I fall into a certain rhythm. Visiting each city is roughly the same. To start, I explore more or less randomly, talking to NPCs as I find them, until I find the city map. Every city has one, and the developers did a good job varying how difficult it is to find them.
This one wasn't too hard to find.
The in-game town map makes it easier to plot a path. You have to visit not only all the buildings, but all the open areas as well.
Once I have a screenshot of the map, I use it to plot a more systematic route through the town, trying to ensure that I don't miss any NPCs. A single missed NPC can mean serious trouble, and I'm sure I've missed plenty.
An NPC has nothing more to say to me after I bungle the approach.
Here's where I cheat a bit. Once I encounter an NPC, I take a save state, then quickly run through the various dispositions, reloading the save state after each one. This is necessary because NPCs clam up at about half of your approaches, and the only way to reset them is to leave the town and re-enter. Even if they speak to you, they might not offer all their keywords unless you use the right approach. This isn't quite as bad as it sounds, because you sometimes have information from another NPC that suggests the one you're speaking with has more to say, and you sometimes get hints on the right disposition to use. Even with these considerations, it's pretty bad. I can't imagine completing the game under these circumstances on original hardware.
An NPC offers a vital clue.
Of course, even if I get them to talk, I have to translate the results. Their sentences are short enough that it's faster just to type them one by one than to get a massive text dump from the game file and to find, copy, and paste from there. Moreover, this far into the game, I only have to use the translator for about one-third of the words. No, that doesn't mean I'm "learning German." I wouldn't have a clue how to construct a sentence from scratch; I'm utterly lost on the gender of nouns, conjugations, and tenses; and of course I have no idea what these words sound like. But simple word recognition is becoming simpler.
An NPC named Gandalf tells me about mittelerde.
Except for the most obvious throw-away pleasantries, I copy the NPC dialogue into a notepad. About 1 in 15 dialogues gives me some kind of "to do" item that I copy into a different section of the notepad. Many of these items concern cities I've already visited, but I've decided to save "backtracking" for when I'm done with my first pass through the game world.

Aside from that, I check out any new weapons and armor (I recently bought an expensive suit of "master samurai" armor, which creates a constantly-pulsing magic aura around regular samurai armor), re-stock keys, incense, and food, and buy the occasional night in an inn or massage at a spa. Incidentally, getting a massage, like sleeping with a prostitute, sometimes confers experience points.
I like to think there's some amusing German reason behind this.
If the town has a treasure room, I typically re-visit it as many times as necessary to get my gold up to around 15,000 before moving on. The most lucrative so far has been in Kokoro-Hi, where you can get 2,500 gold per trip for the price of one key.
Looting the treasury of an evil god.
The main quest has become marginally clearer. It doesn't appear that the Wheel of Time is going to take me home, but rather to dates in which certain things happen at the game's various mountains. An NPC told me I should "consecrate the sacred great mountains of the world by meditating there," which will "call upon the gods who receive you, and prepare the way back." In Chuibukai, an NPC told me the specific date that I need to visit the mountain near its city. 
The first piece of hard intel that I have.
Operating the Wheel of Time just advances or rewinds the world, however. It doesn't magically transport you. So if you're going to go back 60 years, you'd better be at least 70 years old, or you won't be much use when you arrive. Ditto for going forward in time. I wondered why some of the magic shops offered the ability to age you as well as rejuvenate you, and now I know.

The problem is, I didn't come all the way here just to find the way back, did I? The manual made it sound like I was supposed to stop the emperor's marriage and keep both him and his bride from spending the rest of their lives in misery. I haven't heard anything else about them since the last entry.
Is this the NPC who was supposed to have more to say?
Beyond that, the game has introduced more mysteries than answers. Here are the five major enigmas occupying my mind right now:

1. How spells work. I learned "magic" (generically) in the last session, but every time I follow NPC clues to find a spell, the game tells me that I'm missing some prerequisite to use it. The "cast" icon on my icon bar doesn't do anything.

2. This pair of items. I've found several artifacts during my travels. Most of them don't appear under the generic "use" button but instead add additional buttons of their own to an already-annoying icon set. This session, I followed several NPC clues to find a "magic ball" and a "mirror of the earth." To get the magic ball, I had to find a secret mountain pass into the "inaccessible island," which has an invisible wall around most of its perimeter, preventing landing. 
As promised, I find a crystal ball under a palm tree at the end of a mountain pass.
Anyway, the two artifacts seem to work together in some way. The ball cycles among 10 syllables--yonno, san, ni, chi, rei, kyu, hach, shich, roku, and go--and you select them to string them together into two lines of eight total syllables, like "Reigorokuchi Sannikyuchi" or "Hachreinisan Nichisango." The mirror, meanwhile, gives you one of these combinations when you look at it. But if you repeat what the mirror says on the ball, the disk just runs for a bit and nothing happens and I'm an idiot. I just figured it out while I was typing this. It's a teleportation device, isn't it? The mirror tells you where you are, and the globe lets you program a destination. The syllables represent coordinates. I'll have to experiment, but if I'm right, I don't see how the globe isn't horribly over-powered, obviating both flight and the "gate" system, which I also can't figure out.
I think I just understood what this means.
3. Unsolvable side quests. The towns offer dozens of encounters that seem like side-quests but don't seem to give any option to solve them. For instance, in Chuibukai, there's a guy on an island who says he has malaria. In another area of town, there's a guy who says he has a cure for malaria. There's even a scroll on the floor of his office that suggests something that you might be able to pick up. But I can't find any way to unite the cure and the sufferer. In Yoga-Haikyo, a woman surrounded by lava screams at me to help her escape, but I can't think of any game mechanics that would allow me to do so.

4. The Gates. There are portals all over the game world. They apparently chew up one of your gate icons and age you a bit, but otherwise allow quick transport between towns or between select locations on the surface and towns. The problem is, I can't get any of them to work. Often, I can enter the initial portal and find myself in kind of a portal nexus, but after that, nothing I do--standing, pressing the mouse button, moving up, moving down, searching, using any of the icons--will let me through the other portals. I suppose this is moot if the globe works as I suspect it does or if I find the flying horse. And sailing doesn't take that long.
Okay, but how do I use them?
5. My new status bar. Speaking to one of the Buddhas resulted in not an enhancement to an existing status bar but a brand new one, to the right of the existing ones. Moreover, there's a gap indicating a possible place for yet another one. The new bar is unlabeled, and I don't know what it's for. Nothing seems to budge it. I thought it might be for magic, but the "cast" icon still doesn't do anything.

Incidentally, I'm still confused about the difference between the shaded and unshaded portions of those status bars and will happily take explicit spoilers on the subject.

Late in this session, I finally found Mizu-Do and paid a sensei to teach me how to swim, adding another icon to the unwieldy icon bar. (Although as many as it has, I feel compelled to point out that it still doesn't have 26, meaning there's still no excuse for not mapping each action to a key.) About half my "to do" items involve returning to cities where you need to swim, including an entire city (Hinode-Tori) inaccessible without the skill. Swimming takes a rapid toll on health, so you can't do it for an extended period.
What an inhospitable place.
Most of the rest of my "to dos" involve bringing various items to statues who demanded them. Most of these are weapons, so I've had to purchase half a dozen slaves to carry my excess. Statues also often demand food, so I've tried to keep a variety of food items. A few other tasks are dependent on finding the Amulet of Hi, which should allow me to walk through fire; that's in a city (Fujokawa) I haven't discovered.
Another statue wants a yari!
I didn't mention combat much in this entry because it's become almost trivial. I blast a few enemies with my cannons or my bow when they won't leave me alone. Supposedly, the experience adds to my standing, which the game currently has me at gakusho, which my translator tells me means "forehead," so I'm not sure how good or bad that is.

I've visited several Buddhas during these voyages, and I've been good about leaving (rather than save-scumming) if I don't know the answers to their riddles. One question, for instance, told me that "a silver flute attracts wild animals" and wanted to know "what do these animals tell the user of the flute." This reminded me that I heard of a magic flute in Namazaki but never found it. I need to give it another try if I want to answer that riddle.

But I got most of them. One Buddha wanted to know why the connection between Watashibune and Funatabi no longer exists; having visited Funatabi, I knew it was because "the ferryman died." (Answering this correctly caused a bump to my mystery meter.) Another Buddha wanted to know how long the nights are in Nippon, as measured by hours. I solved this one in a silly way because I forgot that I had a clock. So I put the emulator in "warp" mode, waited for night to begin, timed its length, and timed when it began again. It lasted 15 seconds out of 60 total seconds for the day, or 25%, so I answered 6 hours and got it right.
It's a stupid answer, but I know the answer!
As I wrap up, I'm in the city of Atatakami, home of the evil god Hachiman, who is "not home" right now. Hachiman supposedly stole the sun horse of the goddess Amatseru, and the horse can fly, making it possible to visit numerous places on the map ringed by mountains. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the horse anywhere in the city. I'm getting ready to make another pass.
A snake attacks me as I enter Atatakami.
Nippon has its moments. In basic structure, you could say that it's a lot like Ultima IV: visit towns, get clues from NPCs, fight monsters in between. But the game world is simply too big, and what happens in between the towns too uninteresting, and the character development too limited, to sustain interest for what probably will be at least 40 hours. I'm not eager to make a second pass through all of these cities if it turns out I missed some key clues, so if I don't know what I'm doing by the end of the next session, I'm going to start asking for explicit hints just so I can bring it to a close.

Time so far: 23 hours


  1. The syllables of the crystal ball map almost perfectly to the japanese numerals, as you've probably figured out. But just in case it helps, here's what they should be (assuming the devs didn't shuffle them just for fun):
    rei = 0
    [i]chi = 1
    ni = 2
    san = 3
    yon(no) = 4
    go = 5
    roku = 6
    shich[i] = 7
    hach[i] = 8
    kyu[u] = 9

    Gakusho is probably upposed to be 学匠 (gakushou), meaning scholar.

    1. Ha. No, I hadn't figured that out. I had that hypothesis, but then I typed "one," "two," "three," etc. into the English-Japanese translator and got nothing like chi, ni, and san. Meanwhile, typing THOSE into the Japanese-English translator gives nothing like numbers in return. But now I see if you search "count to 10 in Japanese," the right results show up.

      Google Translate pisses me off with Asian languages. 75% of people translating from English to Japanese are going to be translating to or from Romanji, but if you type in something like "daimyo," it's all like "did you mean 第みょ" as if Hepburn romanization hasn't been a thing for 150 years.

    2. And yes, yes, I know there are alternatives to Google Translate. I'll explore them. I find the interface easy to use, particularly with this game where I have to shuffle between English, German, and Japanese.

    3. Well, I don't really have an alternative for translating whole sentences and rely on Google for that myself--thankfully it works well enough for German, Spanish, French and the like. Unfortunately, it really is nothing but a huge mess when it comes to Asian languages, especially just individual words. For what it's worth, my go-to dictionaries are:

      https://www.dict.cc/ for German-English
      http://jisho.org/ for Japanese-English
      http://www.wadoku.de/ for Japanese-German, if that might be helpful sometime.

    4. I'll second jisho.org as a good source. Google Translate butchers Japanese pretty badly, especially going from romaji. I'd avoid it except to go from Japanese to English for a general sense of what's being said.

    5. Funny thing about about Japanese is that Kanji usually has more than one pronunciation, which includes numbers.

      For instance,
      2 can be ni, futa or ji
      3 can be san or mitsu
      4 can be yon or shi
      7 can be shichi or nana
      8 can hachi or yo

      It usually depends on whether there is any prefix or suffix to that number.

      On top of that, with the use of Katakana, a Kanji can even sound totally different from its original pronunciation, subjected to the whims of the author.

      It's pretty hard to grasp by self-learning without any external tutelage of some kind, that's for sure.

  2. I commend the developers for putting some thought into the Japanese names and places.

  3. You came into this world half accidentally and half intentionally and your only goal is that you want to explore this strange new world. Under this premise, the game does a really good job. You can just wander around on a boring afternoon and still find a new city or a new place. You've spent 25 hours in the game so far. That's 60-100 hours on a real C64, and you still haven't discovered the magic. So exploring is definitely the strongest point of the game and you can see that the makers had a passion for RPGs.

    Thanks for mentioning the design. I didn't see it as special when I played it 30 years ago. But this was only my second RPG at that time. Later I realized how boring most world maps and cities look in other games. For example, the world map of Fate. With your comment, I can see that this is really something special in this game.

    1. I feel like the backstories offer suggestions of a deeper plot than just "find your way back," though.

    2. When I played up to that point, I was as confused about the story as you are now.

  4. - In the city where you learned the magic skill, there's a hint from a person (Daitokai) what you're missing:

    Nyfb ybbx sbe gur obbx!

    Surely you noticed there's more on the island than the city of Teijnashi?

    - Surprised that you haven't come across Fujokawa yet. The background story should give you a hint:

    "After a long stay Yodako sailed into a side arm of the Kawa river, which originated from castle Takedo. The voyage passed a side valley of the Labyrinth of Ra, at the end of which lay Fujokawa, the castle of the god of earth. Furthermore the entry to the labyrinth, at the end of which lay a secret, was supposed to be here."

    1. I did have a "to do" item to return to Maho-tori and see about the Book of Ki, so maybe that will be the answer.

      Now please, for god's sake, tell me what I'm missing on this damned horse.

    2. Well, never mind. I found it in the middle of some mountains while screwing around with the orb. Now what I don't understand is why I need the flying horse if the orb will just teleport me places.

    3. I think you have found the bug ogre. I just wanted to wait until have explored the whole world.
      In case you are stuck follow the link for the vital clue.

      I still hope for another entry before you win the game :)

    4. I used the horse to travel to places, make a note of the location with the mirror, and later use the orb to get back there. Of course, if you have it all mapped out you might be able to skip the horse and guess the coordinates.

      I think the horse is more relevant if you don't have an emulator to warp to the next day, as the orb has only three charges per day.

  5. ArcGIS for mapping this game?!?!?! A bit of an overkill, isn't it? :D

    1. You'd think so, but it has all the tools I need to get the job done. I can create vector layers on top of the raster, plot and label points, symbolize them by their type, and easily zoom and pan. Now the revelations about the mirror and globe suggest I'm going to have to put a grid over the whole thing, which is also easy in ArcGIS. I mean, I'm using a mapping program to work with a map. What else am I going to use? Paint?

    2. Clearly ridiculous. You think anyone would go to the extreme of mapping all of, say, Ultima 1-6 in MS Paint? Even if they did, they'd never mention it, because what a weirdly specific thing that would be to deny!

    3. Well, in the early days you used a math exercise book with checkered paper.

    4. "in the early days" - but we're in the nowadays, and you use ArcGIS for mapping. But in all honesty I salute Addict for such solution.

    5. How many pages of checkered paper could you buy for the price of an ArcGIS licence, though? Probably in the range of 50.000-100.000 pages. Might not be enough to map Daggerfall, but should cover the rest of RPG history. ;)

    6. Hey, it's a hobby, no price is too high if it is for a hobby :)

    7. I used paint once to map a game. It's works well for top-down 8-bit world maps. First-person games I favor grid paper. ArcGIS seems like overkill on features, but having an annotation layer seems helpful.

      Now I feel like playing guess the game based on the map:



  6. Okay, Rüdiger, Thorsten, Sebastian, Buck, anyone: It's time to help me wrap this up, if you don't mind. I've gotten all the way to what I think is the end, but after I leave what I think is the final city (Mokuteki), the statue on the island tells me, "You have the will but not the experience." What does it want from me? Does it have to do with my level? No matter how much grinding I do, I can't get any higher than "shogun."

    1. I have given Buck the same clue. You missed at least one Buddah to pray to. Take a look at your stats. I guess one is not at max. You can find the list of all 16 Buddahs with the info which stat is increased here:


      Not sure if the stat is important. I guess not.

      Otherwise I know the memory location where the Buddah info is stored. But this is cheating.

    2. Sorry, I meant. "Not sure if the LEVEL is important. I guess not."

    3. You have the same problem I did :) I tried learning all skills (hiding, ...) because IIRC the statue says "...but not the skills", but that wasn't it. Luckily Sebastian helped me out, as I made an error in my notes.

      Slight spoiler: meditating at the mountains got you this far, meditation is what you are still missing.

      Explicit spoiler: Purpx gung lbh zrqvgngrq ng nyy fvkgrra Ouhqqn fgnghrf. Lbh pna gryy lbh zvffrq bar vs nal bar bs lbhe fgnghf onef vfa'g znkrq bhg jura shyyl urnygul.

    4. The page http://nippon-museum.de/raetsel has a slight error. There are five Bhuddas listed for strength, but in fact there are only four. One of them actually increases health (I forgot to note which one).

    5. Looks like I have provided the explicit spoiler from buck not in ROT 13 :( .

    6. Ah, very good. I didn't realize that the Buddhas were all mandatory, not optional. I think I missed a couple, including the one in Mokuteki, which I couldn't figure out how to get to.

    7. Then you are definitely not experienced enough and the game is right to deny access.
      There's a way to the statue in Mokuteki, but you need something special. What did I say in one of my previous messages? You've played 25 hours and haven't even discovered ..... yet ;-)

    8. Your sentence "I didn't realize, that the Buddhas were all mandatory" pretty much sums up the problem with the game. One of the several hundred NPCs might say: "You have to pray to all Buddhas to leave this land". But it is easy to miss this one NPC. Or maybe there is no clue at all.

    9. One clue, which NPC might be important: Gnyx gb Uvzvgfh va Xbxbeb-Xnmna.

    10. Yeah, I actually had the spell. I just forgot about it. I'm all set now. I suspect you're supposed to go through the pillars again, but my character is stopping at "bar."

    11. I am a little bit confused what "bar." means. Did the program ask you to turn to the main disk? Did you get a message "The circle closes ....."

    12. He's headed for the pub ;)

    13. And I thought, that this is maybe ROT13 ;-).

  7. I´m enjoying the color palette of this game. I also enjoy that it is in German, as I am living in the country and still learning the language. A challenge I wanna face in the near future is to play Darklands in German. I would like to ask if anyone here would recommend me some classic german crpg to play.

    1. Is the Nordland Trilogy (the Dark Eye Series, Die Schicksalsklinge, Sternenschweif and Schatten über Riva) classic enough for you?
      If so, that'd be my recommendation.

      Even then, I feel these games aren't so great for learning the language, as there's not too much text in them. I'd help if you cared for Point and Click adventures... ;)

    2. There was enough text in their English versions to help me learn English quite a bit ;)

    3. Thanks, rezaf, I will also try these (and I also like Point and Click as well)!

    4. most old crpgs have a german translation so this is also a good introduction to fantasy in that language, when I lived there I found some old games in german at a fleaamarket that I played in english when they where new. It is a good way to be familiar with german expressions from fantasy, when you try to learn the language

  8. This is without a doubt the most complete CRPG reference on the Web -- keep up the good work!!

    I wanted to inform you that a fan-translation group called "OASIS" has translated the MSX2 versions of both Ys II (first released 1988, April 22) and Ys III (first released 1989, July 21) into English. I've seen video evidence of both, however I could not find a video of either that did not spoil every boss fight in either game. I could not confirm the existence of an Ys I translation on a computer... there is an English version on the Master System if anyone is curious.

    1. I appreciate the feedback and information. I'm going to let myself some leeway on fan translations. I'd probably try them if they were for the PC88 or PC98, but I've had nothing but headaches every time I've tried to emulate the MSX.

      I was under the impression that Ys I is the same one that got a western release as The Ancient Land of Ys. I played it here:


    2. Pretty sure it's one and same. I've played the Master System version of Ys I (titled The Vanished Omens there) and it played out exactly like your post described. There is an enhanced remake, but that's on TurboGrafx-CD. I don't know if that changes anything except make it prettier.

    3. Oh wow. I had no idea Ys 1 had an IBM-PC version, let alone one in English. Sometimes a popular PC-9801 game had an IBM version in Chinese or Korean, but never English (unless it was by Koei). And I didn't think they were doing it in '87... I don't think anyone in Japan had even heard of the IBM-PC until at least '88, when Nobunaga's Ambition was ported to IBM (in English only)... don't worry, it's not an RPG, just a simulation game where the computer cheats like crazy!

  9. The status bar shading is just green/red - red being at the bottom, and likely just to signify "uh oh, better take care of (whatever)".


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