Thursday, July 25, 2019

Game 336: The Dragon & Princess (1982)

Many thanks to Laszlo and NLeseul for making this possible!
            
The Dragon & Princess
Japan
Koei (developer and publisher)
Released in 1982 for PC-88, 1983 for FM-7
Date Started: 10 July 2019
Date Finished: 11 July 2019
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 16
Ranking at time of posting: 53/343 (15%)

The Dragon & Princess is often given as the first JRPG. There are other contenders from the same year, including Spy Daisakusen, Underground Exploration, Seduction of the Condominium Wives, and the recently-rediscovered Dragon Lair from Crystalware, but I haven't personally vetted those, and most of their descriptions suggest to me that they lack at least one of the core RPG elements that I (at least) require. The Dragon & Princess, on the other hand, has them all--if just barely.

I've wanted to play it for years. A long time ago, I downloaded a PC-88 emulator and found a copy of the game, but I couldn't get past the Japanese text.  Earlier this year, reader Laszlo Benyi tried to assist me by creating a chart that I could use to translate the Katakana characters into Latin syllables and then plug them into Google Translate. I did my best, but it was very slow going, particularly in this game, which has a hundred different ways just to tell you that you've wandered off the main path. I was feeding in dozens of phrases only to get back "it's too dark!," "a branch blocks your way," "you are lost," and "too dangerous!" 

Finally, Laszlo and reader NLeseul did what I needed them to do but didn't dare ask: they translated the text and created a patch. It worked beautifully. I should mention that much of the game is in English anyway, including the title screen, the commands, and the character status screens. This means that the game's official name is The Dragon & Princess, not the Japanese equivalent.
           
The game commands. Most of this was in English in the first place.
         
The game begins by having you name the five characters of your party. "You" are considered the first character, and you travel with four companions. (If the lead character dies, the game ends.) Each character has statistics for power, speed, and hit point attributes that are fixed at the start of the game. Characters 1-3 are relatively balanced; Character 4 is very weak but fast; and Character 5 is strong but slow. A "hits" statistic, represented as a percentage, seems to be a type of THAC0--the chance of hitting a certain base enemy.
           
Character creation is just about assigning names to existing character slots. If you just hit ENTER here, the game assigns its own names.
        
If there was any backstory presented in accompanying documentation, it appears to have been lost. The game begins with the party in a king's throne room. "Bandits have appeared recently," the king explains, "and have stolen much of our treasure. Recover treasure worth 3 million gold and exterminate the bandits! Return here when you have done so." Unless you want a hopeless battle against the king's guards, you have no choice but to leave and start finding your way through the world.
        
The initial quest.
        
Said world encompasses about 70 text screens, with enough one-way and twisty passages to confound the most dedicated mapper. Only a few squares--mostly in the city--are kind enough to tell you which directions you can go to leave them, meaning you have to test all directions. About one-third of the time, when you test an invalid direction, you simply get a message indicating (vaguely) that you can't go that way. Sometimes, these messages are a bit opaque; if the game says "dark . . . so dark . . ." it means the way is dark and thus you didn't move.

The other two-thirds of the time, when you move an invalid direction, you get "lost." Being lost means that any move is futile until the game tells you that you've returned to a known square.

Various enemies will come along and attack at random intervals as you explore, including giant bugs, snakes, and bandits. Combat transitions from the text screens to a graphical interface--a tiled map of 10 x 20, with both man-made and natural obstacles depending on the terrain in which you were attacked. The party always goes first, and always in order of the characters' numbers; "Speed" seems to have more to do with natural armor class than any kind of initiative. Each turn, each character can attack once, move up to three spaces, search, check the party's condition, or skip his turn. You can only attack from directly adjacent to an enemy--no diagonals.

Combat with a random bear (from the original, not the translated version).
        
Combat takes a lot longer than it needs to. Both characters and enemies almost always miss their attacks. Despite whatever high percentage is found in the character's "hits" score, you only actually hit about once every 8 or 10 attempts. Enemies are even more unlucky. The result is that a combat that should take 3 minutes takes 15. Since you have no magic, no objects, and no choice of attacks, there aren't many "tactics" except to try to achieve favorable terrain when fighting multiple foes or when ganging up on a single enemy.

Characters get experience for both hitting and getting hit in combat, one for one with damage inflicted or taken. As your experience goes up, so does your speed, hit percentage, and maximum hit points. (Strength increases only from the type of weapon you wield.) Developing the characters against random battles is important for success in the fixed battles, particularly the last one. There are only three fixed battles in the game, unless you're dumb enough to hit A)ttack while in the presence of the king or the monk. I'm not sure either combat is winnable, but I'd be interesting in hearing from anyone who could prove me wrong, and what the consequences were.
          
Character stats after a few battles.
               
I've seen the game described as having "adventure game elements," which must refer to the text part of the game, but the nature of exploration is the only thing that feels vaguely like an adventure game. You don't find any puzzles or objects in any of the areas, and commands are very limited. Only a few squares offer anything useful in response to L)ook, S)earch, G)et, or R)ead, and I never found any use at all for the enigmatic H)urry. The only reason to explore and map the various game locations is to find your way to a couple of key places. Once you know how to get there, a winning game takes less than an hour, and most of that is spent in combat.
            
Arriving at the Tea House--one of two places in the game where you can R)ead something to get directions.
      
The northwest part of the game map has a town called "Ross-Blue" in both the English and Japanese versions. Among its streets, you can find a weapon store to upgrade your initial short swords to long swords. With one exception, such swords are the only equipment in the game. You also have to visit this location to purchase swords if a pickpocket relieves you of one; they appear on the streets of Ross-Blue about once every 20 moves.
              
The twisty streets of Ross-Blue.
          
The city also has a food store. The party starts with 20 food units and eats one every few moves. Purchasing another 10 is enough to get you through a full game. The game's economy seems rather inflated, as two long swords and 10 food units burns through your starting 300,000 gold pieces.
            
The only "equipment" in the game.
Essentially the same screen as above, in the original Katakana.
             
In the southeast, a relatively linear map has you pass something called the Lake of Joker (this location is rendered in English in the original) to enter a variety of forest squares (Oak Forest, Beech Forest, Apple Forest, etc.) Characters can get mysteriously "trapped" in these areas to the loss of dozens of hit points. Occasionally, a girl with medicine comes along and the party can G)et half a dozen doses from her. Eventually, the forest leads west to the desert and a plateau, where moving north wraps the party back around to the Castle and Ross-Blue.
              
The overall game world.
           
Continuing to move west from the plateau puts the party at a mountain, and in particular a hut occupied by a monk who gives some small advice as to the next step of the quest. Near the monk's hut, the party finds its way to the bandits' hideout, where the first fixed combat takes place against a party of 10 bandits.
            
The attack fails . . . like it almost always does.
       
One wrinkle in this combat is that riches are to be found in the houses and wells, and from the moment combat begins, the bandits start burning them. Thus, you generally want to fan your characters around the map, searching the various locations for treasure, before you start fighting in earnest.
       
Grabbing treasure before the bandits can burn it.
       
After you defeat the bandit lair, the king still tells you to get lost, and the monk says there are more bandits hidden in the city. Finding them means tripping a series of unintuitive encounters. First, you have to make your way to the pub. Entering the pub causes you to fall into a trap, where someone extorts $300,000 in treasure for you to get out. (If you don't have enough, the game is over.) You can avoid this by hitting S)earch before you enter the pub.
          
Inflation in this country has run rampant.
          
Once there, you have to take note of a shady character leaving and then lurking behind a door outside. Hitting A)ttack causes the man to surrender and mumble "Eastside-Shape," the street corner on which the bandit hideout sits.
         
Shaking down essentially the only NPC. (No you cannot get drunk in the game. I tried.)
       
In that square, another A)ttack causes you to batter down the hideout door, at which point you can E)nter and mop the floor with the bandits, including their leader. This time, there's no treasure to find during combat. Instead, you have to search all four cardinal directions of the hideout (the only time in the game that this is necessary) after combat; the treasure hoard is to the south. The game lets you keep all this treasure even though there's nothing to do with it.
           
Four of my characters surrounded and killed the bandit leader.
           
Searching the hideout post-combat.
       
Returning to the king has him say: "Well done! I want you to marry my daughter." Here, you have to unintuitively hit G)et to take him up on his offer and become a prince. "You were happy," the game says, "but then . . . a dragon kidnapped the princess! Please kill the dragon and save the princess."
            
Until I figured out that the game wanted me to use "G)et," I thought it was over and there was no dragon.
         
At this point, the game drops characters 2-4 and leaves you just with the character occupying the #1 spot. The dragon is found on Mount Lu-Fey in the map's southwestern terminus, and if you stop by the monk along the way, he'll give you a magic sword that increases power to 60 (from the short sword's 15 and the long sword's 30). From there, S)earching for the dragon on the mountain square causes it to appear and combat to commence.
            
I tried killing the monk with his magic sword to get more experience, but he slaughtered me in two rounds.
          
(There's an amusing encounter along the way in which a young woman tries to entice you into her house. If you accept, the game chides you for dallying with another woman while your wife is in danger, and you lose two hit points.)
 
The first time I faced the dragon, I couldn't even hit him let alone kill him. I reloaded a dozen times, and not one of over 50 strikes, with my hit percentage at 65%, landed on the target. The dragon, meanwhile, hit me about half the time and soon killed me.
          
Ouch.
       
The issue was that my lead character hadn't fought enough battles or done enough damage, in comparison to the other characters. I had to fight random combats to build him to a level where he could take on the dragon effectively. In my case, that meant reloading a save from before the end of the bandit quest because a single character doesn't survive well in the wild; I needed the other four as meat shields while trying to get the main character to strike most of the killing blows.

Grinding is hard in this game because there's no reliable way to heal. You mostly have to hope that the girl with the medicine bottle wanders along as a random encounter, then give as many doses as she'll allow to the weakest party members. She wanders away after half a dozen.

Anyway, through grinding I eventually got my lead character's attack percentage into the 90s, wihch was enough to hit the dragon. I still had to reload a couple of times, but I ultimately defeated him.
            
Nah, I'm good.
          
The winning screen came up at this point and enticed me to try again for a higher score.
          
In a GIMLET, the game earns:
         
  • 1 point for the game world, not described in any backstory, but evoked slightly through exploration.
  • 2 points for fairly limited character creation and development.
  • 1 point for minimal NPC interaction
  • 2 points for encounters and foes, the foes nothing special, the encounters a bit unintuitive and weird.
  • 2 points for a limited (if original) combat system with no magic.
  • 1 point for an equally limited equipment system.
           
Checking inventory mid-game. A couple of my characters have broken their weapons or had them stolen.
      
  • 1 point for having an economy that doesn't matter beyond your initial purchases.
  • 2 points for a main quest line.
            
The "game over" screen. I don't know what "entranced by a witch" means. I was killed by the dragon!
         
  • 1 point for minimal graphics and sound and an interface that uses commands in an unintuitive way.
  • 3 points for gameplay that offers a reasonable challenge and at least doesn't linger.
         
With no category getting 0, and the sum of the bunch receiving 16 points, I am at least satisfied that The Dragon & Princess is an RPG. If it isn't literally the first (which it very well might be), it is perhaps the first that owes no allegiance to anything coming out of the west. It seems highly unlikely that the developers could have been exposed to Tunnels of Doom for the TI-99, released the same year, which means that they independently developed the type of turn-based graphical combat that Ultima and SSI would soon make famous. While several western RPG and adventure games had a similar approach to text exploration, none of them are quite like this one.
         
Attacking the bandit safehouse.
       
The title was one of the first issued by Koei, then calling itself "KOEI MICOM." The company would soon be famed for its strategy games, many of which have some RPG qualities, including Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1985), Nobunaga's Ambition (1986), and Bandit Kings of Ancient China (1989). Role-playing became a bigger part of the developer's portfolio in the 1990s, and it seems impossible that I won't encounter them again, although most of their games are either Japanese-only or for consoles.

The game is credited to "Y. Hayase" and "Locke," owners (respectively) of the in-game weapon shop and food shop. I haven't been able to turn up any information as to the full identities of these developers. MobyGames doesn't have them credited on any other titles, but then the database is missing credits for a lot of Japanese titles of this period. Several other releases from Koei in the coming years, including Dungeon (1983), Ken to Mahō (1983), and Khufu-Ō no Himitsu (1983), have similar enough elements that these two developers could easily have been involved. I'm particularly curious about "Locke," particularly whether it's a pseudonym or whether it's evidence of another westerner responsible for an early JRPG, as with Henk Rogers and Black Onyx and John and Patty Bell and Dragon Lair.

The edition of The Dragon & Princess that I played was packed on a disk with several other games. In a 2013 article on Hardcore Gaming 101, the author turned up some screen shots of a more primitive version of the game, which suggests that the graphics may have been upgraded at some point. Later that year, Sam Derboo wrote a longer article on the game on the site, managing to finish it in the original Japanese, although he had no more luck than I did on the identities of Hayase or Locke.

Given Sam's existing coverage, it wasn't imperative that I write about this one, and yet some part of me didn't feel comfortable continuing our exploration of JRPGs without playing the first one. That's one dragon I'm glad to have slain.

****

On the upcoming list, I rejected Paladin 2 as a non-RPG. The first one really wasn't, either. The only character development that comes in either game is in the form of a single statistic being possibly increased a minor amount upon completion of a mission. And while there's an "inventory" of sorts, it's not really a classic RPG inventory.

I'm toying with rejecting Spellcraft: Aspects of Valor. It's a tough call. I can't quite tell from the documentation whether I should expect any character development, and aside from what you need for spells, there doesn't seem to be much of an inventory. On the other hand, it does have a certain RPG-like je ne sais quoi that goes beyond my definitions. I guess I'll see how I feel after a couple of hours. But I really need to start being more relentless in applying my definitions if I'm ever going to make serious progress.

53 comments:

  1. The first character in the part can marry the princess, huh? I suppose all possible party members are male?

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    1. That or not all princesses are female.

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    2. The game doesn't make sex explicit, but I guess it's assumed.

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  2. A Locke/Lock turns up as one of the main characters in 1994's Final Fantasy VI -- who then inspires Locke Lamora in Scott Lynch's fantasy novels -- but it is probably no more than a coincidence.

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  3. >> "You also have to visit this location to purchase swords if a pickpocket relieves you of one"

    Wow, the pickpockets in this game must be hardcore if they can routinely lift an entire, strapped-on long sword.


    >> "The game's economy seems rather inflated, as two long swords and 10 food units burns through your starting 300,000 gold pieces."

    So... The king only needs you to recover treasure worth 20 swords and 100 food? This sounds less like a noble quest to save the kingdom and more like a hazing ritual for new adventurers.


    >> "I tried killing the monk with his magic sword to get more experience, but he slaughtered me in two rounds."

    Why isn't THIS guy out saving the kingdom instead of us? Is he in on the hazing?

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    1. In fairness, you can pickpocket weapons and even entire suits of armour off people in Skyrim, so this game was ahead of the curve!

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    2. I think the best is Ultima VI, where the "Pickpocket" spell lets you steal meat directly from animals.

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    3. There was a famous highwayman or footpad in Jolly Olde England who would steal noblemen's swords off them while they walked down the street. He had 20 or so in his hideout when they caught him and subsequently hanged him.

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    4. In an early version of Pillars of Eternity, you could pickpocket the heads of bounty targets.

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  4. It's likely that the gold prices were based on Yen. Although there's a lot of fluctuation and it was a long time ago, at this time it's roughly 100 Yen to the dollar. So that 300,000 was most likely considered 3,000.

    Yes I know it's gold and not dollars, but it's a good comparison.

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    1. Man, the first Zimbabwean RPG is going to be confusing as hell.

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    2. You know, it didn't occur to me until right this moment, but I wonder if the "K" in the treasure values isn't actually meant to be an abbreviation for "thousand" at all. Gold is 金, pronounced "kin," and the K might just be an awkward abbreviation for that.

      Japanese numbers normally actually count in ten-thousands rather than thousands normally, so writing treasure in units of thousands would be a bit odd, now that I think about it.

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    3. If it's not an abbreviation for some fictional currency that the manual might have specified, I agree it's probably 金.

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  5. I'm not sure if you welcome this offer Chester, but I'd be happy to translate more of these old Japanese RPGs. I'm very interested in the early history of JRPGs and I've completed quite a lot of them. I would be interested to at least see you cover Fantasian and Mugen no Shinzou II.

    Unfortunately , I don't know anything about patching or how to extract text from these games. However, if anyone could help out with that, I wouldn't mind providing translations.

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    1. There's a big community over at ROMHacking.net that specializes in this sort of thing. They can be off-putting at times but if you have real Japanese translation skills, there's almost always someone willing to pitch in -- and computer games are typically much easier to hack than console games. Every patched game opens up a new experience for, potentially, thousands of people (and not just in English: it's much easier to translate a game to any Latin- or Cyrillic-based language once the first translation is done).

      By the way, NLeseul's patch for Dragon & Princess can be found here:

      https://github.com/nleseul/dragon_and_princess_pc88_trans

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    2. NLeseul or Laszlo might be able to give you some tips if either of them happens along. I don't want to exactly ENCOURAGE it, as I have lots of games on my backlog as it is, but I'll add the results to my list if it happens. As PK points out, I'm not the only potentially-interested player out there, either.

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    3. Nooo not more projects...

      Yeah, the PC games are a lot more pleasant to hack than console games. The text is often in separate files that you can expand as much as you need to, without having to worry about moving around bits of the cartridge ROM. On the other hand, there's a lot more documentation and a lot better tools for popular platforms like NES and SNES. Emulators for these Japanese PCs aren't nearly as full-featured, as far as I've seen.

      Dragon & Princess was particularly easy because the bulk of the game is written in NEC-BASIC, which isn't too hard to modify once you figure out how the system compresses it, and you can even view the source in M88. Any other early Japanese games written in NEC-BASIC for the PC-88 would be similarly low-hanging fruit.

      The Romhacking.net forums are indeed probably the best place to start if you want to try to network with hackers who might be interested in a project.

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  6. It's funny how already this ancient relic presents all the hallmarks of a typical JRPG by being completely linear, featuring fixed, uncustomizable protagonists, and requiring lots of grinding.

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    1. While linear and fixed protagonists are fair, I'd argue that most well-designed JRPGs don't have a lot of grinding. Final Fantasy, etc. have buffs and status ailments and pre-combat prep just like western RPGs; the fact that you can make yourself untouchable via infinite grinding is honestly more of an exploit or "easy mode" than intended design, IMO.

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    2. It took a while before Japanese game designers realized that grinding wasn't that interesting and deprioritized it, though. The first couple of FF and DQ games were still painfully grindy no matter how much you strategize. It was only by the early 90s/SNES era that JRPG combat systems got complex enough to be more strategy-driven than grind-driven.

      Of course, Japanese designers can't really be blamed; the Western source material they were inspired by was often even more grindy. (I'm glaring at Ultima here.)

      That said, hardcore grind-heavy games are still a subgenre of JRPGs for people who want them, I suppose. The Disgaea series is one notorious example. And of course MMOs are pretty much nothing but grinding.

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    3. Our host likes grinding so much, JRPGs should be perfect for him. Wonder why he's so keen to avoid them...

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    4. @Alex and NLeseul, I wasn't only referring to grinding for combat but also for the kind of quests where you have to gather 5 pig snouts but pigs are a random encounter and only 1 in 20 leaves a snout behind.

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    5. Speaking of JRPG roots, the "Command ?" prompt was used in Dragon Quest games.

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    6. The JRPG lobby is so strong that even when I post an entry about a JRPG, I get complains in the comments for not covering JRPGs.

      For the record, I don't "like grinding." I like having the OPTION to grind if I feel like I need it to make my characters stronger. I've made that distinction repeatedly.

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    7. @VK - that's not really a JRPG thing, that's more of an MMORPG thing.

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    8. Or a Diablo thing, and even then only by the time Diablo 2 came out. In most Diablo clones you're basically wasting your time if you aren't grinding for a particular build.

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  7. I spent some time staring at "WESTSECOND-CAT" trying to see if there was some kind of pun or translation error. I guess it's just the intersection between W 2nd St and Cat Ave. Is there something cat-related about Cat Ave or is it just a random name?

    Re "entranced by a witch": Perhaps it's a joke about failure? Like if you missed a catch, you might say "The sun was in my eyes!" If you get killed by a dragon, obviously "I was cursed by a witch!"

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    1. Yeah, as far as I know, that's all there is to the street names; they're just random landmarks. They were actually written exactly like that in the original text; no translation needed.

      "Entranced by a witch" didn't make much sense to me either. My best guess was that it had something to do with dying due to doing something stupid like attacking the king, but I guess not, if it still happens after being defeated by the dragon.

      The original text for that line was 「マジョニ ミイラレタ..」, which I interpreted as 「魔女に魅入られた...」. It's very possible I'm missing something in translation, but I can't imagine what.

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    2. Nothing cat-related that I can see. The street names are given in English. The four north-south lanes are, in order from west to east: Westside, Westsecond, Eastsecond, and Eastside. The four east-west streets, starting at the north, are Lucky, Salt, Shape, and Cat.

      There are a lot of proper names in the game that leave me scratching my head, include the "Lake of Joker, "Ross-Blue Town," and "Mount Lu-Fey." If they have anything to do with bits of Japanese history or literature, I wasn't able to find them.

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  8. Hooray, it's up! As someone linked above, there's an early release of the patch up on GitHub. I'll be putting it on Romhacking.net soon as well, after I try to fix a couple things that bug me.

    Just a couple of extra notes:
    - Some of the error messages, especially in the forest, were clearer in the Japanese, but I had to shorten them quite a bit to work with how the game formatted them. I'll probably fix that before I make a broader release of the patch.

    - The game doesn't really communicate it, but the characters do have default (canonical?) names if you hit ENTER without typing anything. From top to bottom, they're ゴンベ, ジロサク, タロサク, ヨサク, and ゴエモン; I translated them as Gombe, Jirosaku, Tarosaku, Yosaku, and Goemon. No idea if they're a reference to anything specific.

    - Had you tried to G)et in the throne room before getting the king's permission, he would have assumed you were kidnapping his daughter and ordered his knights to slaughter you.

    - Ugh, those line breaks in the "along with the princess" line in the throne room. I didn't think it formatted it like that in my testing, but I don't know. Maybe a difference between emulators? What emulator did you play this on, out of curiosity? I was using M88.

    - Oh, *that's* what the "he's a thief" line refers to---random pickpocket encounters! I thought it was something to do with the shady guy in the tavern, since that's the only location I ever happened to see it. I'll have to tweak that translation.

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    1. Also, I liked how the characters' combat sprites have the numbers "1"-"5" conveniently written on their shirts. It took me a while to notice that.

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    2. Oh, wow. You'd really have to be playing at full screen to see that. Yes, I used M88 as well.

      For some reason, I missed that it was assigning the same names every time and thought that it was coming up with random names. I guess that would have been a lot to ask for. I need to edit the text above.

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  9. The Locke name probably came from Locke the Superman,whose OVA came out in 1983.

    https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=5049

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    1. And Locke the Superman name probably came from Locke the Philosopher, whose books came out in the 17th Century.

      ...or possibly not.

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    2. Fang of the Sun Dougram was a mecha anime that aired from 1981-1983. It had a character named J. Locke that some of the articles I've read have claimed was named after John Locke. The character was not a philosopher though- more of a Che Guevara guerilla leader, complete with green fatigues and a beret.

      The show was about a guerilla war/independence movement on an Earth colony in the future. It did have some complex political intrigue and philosophical issues for a children's cartoon. It has nothing whatsoever to do with RPGs, but it's available subtitled on YouTube and I highly recommend it for anyone interested.

      Perhaps there's a link to all these contemporary uses of the name Locke in Japanese entertainment?

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  10. The look of that text is a dead ringer for the VIC-20's 40x25 text mode.

    The interface also looks just like a Scott Adams adventure game. Even the grammar and sentence structure reminds me of his prose.

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    1. The VIC-20 didn't have a 40x25 text mode :P The standard text mode display size on the VIC-20 was 22 columns x 22 rows, using 8x8 pixel characters.

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    2. Whatever...it looks just like it. Nobody else sees it?

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    3. It looks like CGA to me, in both high and low resolution modes, though with many more colors. The VIC-20 had much wider characters - there's some photographs here, for example.

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  11. You mean there was a role playing choice to follow a random woman inside her house or not, and you actually chose to follow her? I hope Irene wasn't around.

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    1. Hey, computer games are for doing those exciting things you wouldn't do in real life! :p

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  12. stepped pyramidsJuly 25, 2019 at 5:28 PM

    "One wrinkle in this combat is that riches are to be found in the houses and wells, and from the moment combat begins, the bandits start burning them."

    Interesting! That's a gameplay element in the later Fire Emblem series as well. I wonder if this is where they got the idea, or if they came up with it independently.

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  13. Y. Hayase is later credited as Rocky Hayase, so that's clearly a pseudonym. Considering that this is one of the very first KOEI games, I'd imagine that it'd have to be Kou Shibusawa himself. Before he got popular enough to use his real name.

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  14. Spellcraft is rather hard to pigeonhole genre-wise, but I do believe it qualifies as a CRPG under your definitions.

    It's been many years since I played it, but I remember your character certainly does develop, stat-wise. Both HP and damage potential improve as you go, not to mention your ability to create and use ever more powerful spells.

    Regarding your concerns regarding the inventory, items are used in spell creation, to satisfy side-quests, and as the basis of the game's economy. IIRC, most of your money comes from trading stuff you find to contacts on Earth. One could even make an argument as to the spells themselves being the equivalent of single use items in most RPGs - as you create them individually between sorties, with most of your money being spent on their ingredients.

    Chet, I strongly urge you to review this game. I always considered Spellcraft to be an overlooked (semi)classic. I can't really think of any game that's quite like it, and it deserves to be better known.

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  15. I think I get the naming theme here, but where does "Caribou" fit in?

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    1. I was so mad at myself. Later, it occurred to me that I should have found five names that could be dragons AND princesses instead of just alternating the two. I actually managed to make a list--yes, there are at least 5--but I would have had to star the game over.

      "Caribou" should be "Caraboo." I forgot it was spelled differently. Cute Phoebe Cates film.

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  16. It's a bit odd to see JRPG being used to solely refer to the country of origin, as opposed to being used to describe a specific type of game. Anyway, it's interesting to see these older JRPGs, as I kind of feel like they're similar to those various pre-Wizardry RPGs you played. While plenty of them are RPGs, they didn't take, and for the most part just ended up as interesting curiosities rather than genre defining games... although in the case of JRPGs, it's more pre-Dragon Quest than pre-Wizardry.

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  17. A little french pedantry here: it's je ne saiS quoi ;).

    When already mapped, the game can be completed in an hour. But you didn't say how long you played it?

    Thanks for the rundown !

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    1. It was complicated. I elided a number of issues in the entry. I originally downloaded an unfinished version of the patch which accidentally turned off the random encounters. This made the main portion of the game much faster, but it left my hero without enough experience to win the final battle. Not realizing there were supposed to be random encounters, I reloaded an earlier save of that party and wasted hours fighting the first two combats in a way that my lead character struck most of the blows and got most of the experience. I was able to win with this method, but it took a lot longer than it should have. Later, when I found about the random encounters, I reloaded AGAIN to play it properly. I spent 8 hours total on it, but in my estimation a single winning campaign, including all the necessary mapping, with the associated random combats, would take about 3-4 hours.

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