Wednesday, November 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 comments:

  1. Mad Paradox, right in the 1992, is an another fantasy JRPG with the adult scenes, like Xentar. After that, I not sure if there will be more, at least until Brave Soul in 2003.

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    Replies
    1. Missed one from this very year! Thanks.

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    2. There's a complete fan translation patch for the 1994 computer game Toushin Toshi II. It's from the same developer as Rance, and while the sexual content is far from appealing, its main dungeon is one of the more interesting ones I've seen in an RPG.

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    3. I have a vague remembered fondness for Brave Soul. Possibly because there was a real lack of anime games with gameplay at that particular time.

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  2. This is, I'm pretty sure, the last eroge RPG released in English, and I think it was one of the last commercial examples.

    Eroge in general was as much a solution to the "You need a licence to develop for a console, so developing for the PC is much cheaper. Unfortunately very few games on a PC (only about 10% of PCs in Japan were bought for gaming purposes - meaning that the possible PC game market was under 10 million at the peak) in Japan, so there's almost nobody to sell games to." problem. Adult games were an obvious "can't get this on the consoles" hook, and were fairly cheap to make.

    Most early eroge games were made by developers trying to build up enough cash to transition to the far more lucrative console market, and thus served as test-beds for the games that the developers actually wanted to make. Now dominant companies such as Koei, Square, Enix (now merged into Square-Enix), and Falcom all got started this way. This is a reason why, as you noted, the quality of the plots are so high - it is a typical jRPG design with sex bolted on.

    By 1992, the remaining eroge makers had started transitioning to the "visual novel" format, which was being invented that year. At this point, those companies that wanted to transfer to the more lucrative console market had done so, and the remaining eroge makers shifted entirely to the new format - which sacrificed most gameplay (VMs play much like a choose-your-own-adventure book - the main player interaction is selecting options from a list) for a (potentially) much deeper storyline.



    You scored the game higher than I expected you to, particularly given the changes to combat in translation. That's where you seem to have found the game's weakest points to be, and I didn't expect the rest of the game to hold up as well as it seems to have.

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    Replies
    1. EDIT: I was not quite correct - somebody found one while I was typing this up.

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    2. I think I have seen other eroges with RPG or at least adventure game elements rather than pure VNs, but I'm not too sure about that because they were never ported to western systems, or translated to English. X-Girl is one of those games and the visuals are incredibly atmospheric.

      There's a whole wealth of interesting-looking games, including RPGs, on the Japanese computers PC88 and PC98, but those were never sold outside Japan and the games made for these systems were usually not translated as a consequence.

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    3. Dragon Knight 4 (the next game in the series with Knights of Xentar) came out in 1994, but it was sort of the last gasp of a dying genre. What seems to have replaced these games were console RPGs with a lot of T&A but no actual eroge content.

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  3. Hee, hee! I got a character named after me! Awesome! And it's the chief villain, too! Tripindicular! I love ya too buddy, right back atcha!

    In my more pensive moments sometimes I think the point of my existence is to be the antagonist in other people's stories. What the hell, I'm good at it.

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  4. >I can't find other English reviews, but a lot of German magazines covered it

    Well..uhhh...that's just because it features a Kaiser!

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  5. Oh boy. At least this one wasn't too gross and gave you a nice reprieve from the more demanding games on your slate. Still, kind of a bummer that games like this are the only JRPG representation on the PC during the year that brought us Dragon Quest V, Final Fantasy V, Shining Force, Shin Megami Tensei, and Soul Blazer.

    Well, there's always Legends of Heroes II. Be curious to see how well that fares, considering the eleventh game of the series (or the fourth part of the eighth game... they have some weird numbering) was just released in Japan in September.

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  6. There are some modern porny games on the PC. Mostly they seem to be in the Match-3 genre (Hunie Pop is a good example), but recently there are a few adventure/RPGs now that Steam has decided to stop censoring them.

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    Replies
    1. Assuming Mr. Addict will eventually get to playing all of the CRPGs from the 2010s, there'll be a lot of opportunity to use Rule #4. Because vast majority of all those adult RPGs on Steam are "independent and shareware RPGs ... clearly amateur efforts with no innovations or accolades attached to them".

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    2. I guess whatever you can say about sex, it's hardly an innovation.

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    3. I mean, if I were to get to 2010 in 15 years, chances are by then it wouldn't even be possible to find most of the games you're talking about.

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    4. Once we get to the 2010s rule 4 there is going to have to be very liberally applied to prevent a whole slew of eroges getting onto the list. There are an awful lot of (awful) games, many of which have received full translations, from Japanese circles. Might want to reword the rule to keep some more of them out, too; technically some of them probably have innovative systems (first fully animated battle sex!) or even accolades (top seller on dlsite!).

      Then you have odd cases like the 1994 game Lightning Warrior Raidy having a 2008 English release and its 1995 sequel having a 2010 English release. Should that be played as a 1994 game? A 2008 game? Or skipped over for whatever reason? If you glance down the list of JAST USA RPGs and English dlsite or Steam releases you'll probably see more and more of these games as we get to the modern era.

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    5. I was just about to bring up Raidy, although I'm pretty sure it's newer than 1994. Wikipedia mentions a 2005 remake, so I expect that's the version we got in the west. (which gives Chet an excuse to put it off until then. ;) ).

      I played Raidy when it was new to the states; I give it some credit for being a tile-based dungeon crawler in an era before Grimrock made that genre cool again. But it's mediocre at best, with a number of incredibly lazy design choices.

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    6. Raidy was originally made for the PC-98, and the English version is essentially a Windows port of the original PC-98 version.

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  7. Lol played this as a kid, the candle was like the boss button on old games

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  8. Visit Cobra City!

    Founded in 1899, Cobra City has grown from a small community centered around St. Cobra's mission to the largest metropolis on Cobra Island. Popular sightseeing destinations include Cobra Point, Cobra Castle, Cemetery of the Cobras, and the Cobra Kai dojo.

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    Replies
    1. Does COBRA have a recruiting office there too?

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  9. Ha. I thought the Nazi/Harland Army soldier wears lipstick, but on closer inspection it seems to be to be his mouth.

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  10. I'll admit that carrot cake is a little lacklustre, but it still beats anything Lord British ever gave you.

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