Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Game 346: Deadly Towers (1986)


           
Deadly Towers
Also known as Mashou or Mashō (Japanese)
Japan
Lenar and Tamtex (developers); Irem (Japanese publisher); Brøderbund (North American publisher)
Released 1986 for NES
Date Started: 4 November 2019
Date Ended: 10 November 2019
Total Hours: 17
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)

The past week's odyssey, leading to my lack of postings in a week, begins last weekend. I had just finished the introductory entry on Challenge of the Five Realms and was trying to figure out whether to spend some more time with Camelot, take a look at Mirai, or get started on something else. I decided to go with Mirai but (as of this entry) was unable to figure out enough about the control system to significantly progress in the game. After a couple hours of frustration, I thought, "It's been a while since I checked out a console game." After promising to occasionally give one a shot, I played Bokosuka Wars back in July and then never looked at anything again.

Bokosuka Wars (1983, 1985 NES port) seems to be the first Japanese console RPG (if you accept that definition), but it was followed by a slew of RPGs or quasi-RPGs in 1986, including Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord, Dragon Warrior, Deep Dungeon, Nobunaga's Ambition, and Deadly Towers. The latter game particularly sparked my interest because it is often given as the first Japanese RPG released in the west. I went to HowLongToBeat.com, plugged in each of the games, and was happy to see that Deadly Towers also had the shortest completion time, at three hours. I settled in for a quick one.
               
In a typical Deadly Towers screen, I shoot swords at a variety of creatures with different movement paths.
              
Having just finished the game, I'm prepared to say that you can beat Deadly Towers in three hours the same way that you can beat Rogue in one hour: after numerous failed attempts that add up to a lot more than three hours. I would like to extend a special middle finger to the five users who provided such misleading statistics to the site. You can thank them for not having had any entries in a week.

Deadly Towers is a relatively simple action quasi-RPG. The "quasi" comes from a lack of any meaningful character development except occasional increases in maximum hit points. There are no intrinsic attributes or levels to affect your success in combat; instead, you win through a combination of improved inventory and controller dexterity. Under my definitions, it is thus an "action game" rather than an "action RPG," but on the other hand I'm wary about rejecting too many games right and left, particularly when most of the rest of the Internet places historical importance on a particular title, as it does here.
            
And the "hyper" age, as we'll soon see.
        
The protagonist is Prince Myer, on the threshold of succeeding to the throne of his "stone and copper age" kingdom. One day, as he wanders by a lake, he receives a vision from the god Khan. Khan informs him of the coming of a devil named Rubas. Rubas has built his own castle on the northern mountain. The castle has seven bell towers, which he will use to ring magic bells and lure monsters to attack Myer's land. To forestall this villainy, Myer must travel to the evil castle, climb each of the towers, retrieve the bells, and destroy them in a sacred flame.
           
Destroying one of the bells.
           
(This is the kind of game that you must see in action to truly understand it. I recommend this review by YouTuber Cornshaq. He manages to cover it, including the ending, in 15 minutes. Notice the annoying music, which I turned off immediately, which starts over every time you enter a new area, so you're always hearing the beginning of the same tune.)

The game is enormous and the map is essentially indecipherable. In basic structure, it consists of a castle of 10 outdoor levels, each level having access to one or more interior areas. At the top of the castle are seven separate entrances to the seven towers. Each tower has about seven outdoor levels followed by another seven indoor levels. Any given doorway might turn out to offer a one-way trip to a completely different area, plus there are invisible teleporters to a "parallel world" or to various "secret areas." Some of the secret areas have their own secret areas.
            
Climbing to the top of one of the towers. Any random set of pixels on one of these levels could be a teleporter to a secret area.
            
Every one of the screens is full of blobs, worms, bats, spiders, ghosts, imps, demons, fuzzes, whobs, and whazzits trying to kill you. Some bounce up and down. Some fly back and forth. Some circle around. Some seem to attack you directly; others just move around randomly and hit you by chance. Some tear through the screen like a rocket. A few enemies fire projectiles. You must avoid or kill these creatures--which respawn every time you leave an area and return.

Your weapons are a succession of swords, which somehow act as inexhaustible missile weapons rather than melee weapons, in that curious Japanese way that we also see in Ghosts 'n Goblins (1985) and the Dragon Slayer series. Your starting sword, the short sword, requires about a dozen hits to kill even the most pathetic creature. The manual sympathizes, saying of the sword, "It is so weak, you feel lonely (you have no confidence in this sword)."
             
 My confidence fails.
           
If you miss a creature with the sword, you have to wait until it goes sailing off the screen to fire another one. But if you hit, the creature is paralyzed for a couple seconds, which is usually enough to keep pelting it with swords until it dies. At the very beginning of the game, you're extremely weak defensively as well, and just a couple of hits from the basest foes can kill you.

You improve in a couple of ways. First, scattered about the screens are occasional magic "circled" hearts which increase your maximum hit points by 10. Second, enemies drop hearts that restore your current health and money ("ludder"). They never drop the health hearts fast enough when you're low on health and deliberately grinding for them.

The money, you can spend in a variety of shops in the lower parts of the castle. The shops appear as pentagrams on the floors of certain rooms; stepping on them brings you down a ladder to an area where a shopkeeper offers up to three items. These include helmets, shields, gauntlets, better swords, and armor--although the best of each of these items are found in secret rooms in the towers.
              
My equipment about halfway through the game. I've destroyed one bell and have one to destroy.
               
The castle shops also sell a variety of crystals, scrolls, potions, and other magic items that do things like heal you, teleport you to fixed parts of the game, weaken enemies, or improve your defenses for a short period. Items are relatively expensive while cash is slow to accumulate and (annoyingly) caps at 250.
               
Spending ludder in a store.
          
When you reach the base of the seven towers, you find the holy flame. Each of the seven towers has at the top a boss creature who fires copious missiles. You can defeat almost all of them by retreating to a corner, shooting diagonally at the creature, and gulping a potion if you get too low on health. After the boss creature is dead, you collect the bell it was guarding, climb all the way back down the 14 or so levels, and toss the bell in the holy flame. Orange scrolls take you directly to the flame, and I learned to prize these items above all others.
             
The "Death Bear," one of the seven tower bosses, kills me.
I'm doing better against this other boss, "Wheeler."
               
All of this makes Towers sound like a perfectly acceptable action game, but there are a number of factors that unbalance it. First, it has no real save capability. When you die, you get an alphanumeric code that you can enter at the beginning of the next game. The code retains your hit points, most of your equipped items, and the bells you've destroyed, but none of the miscellaneous items in your inventory like potions and scrolls. The only way to save and continue later is to deliberately die and suffer this pseudo-reload.

A long password--which you have a limited time to write down.
 
Second, many of the monster areas are insanely difficult. A lot of the teleporters drop you in the middle of, say, a swarm of bats. Even a quick player would have difficulty killing all of them before dying himself, though of course potions can make things easier.
            
I arrive in this secret area in the middle of a bat swarm.
           
Third, the game is enormous, and if you're playing blind, you don't realize that about half of it is completely unnecessary. You really only want to explore the underside of the castle long enough to find the shops--a handful of rooms out of hundreds.

Fourth, the positioning of teleporters is spectacularly annoying. When you're trying to reach some objective, they're always there, invisible, waiting to derail you for an hour. When you're trying to assemble a full set of equipment, they're nowhere to be found. I finished the game without ever finding the "Dragonslayer" sword or a permanent weapon power-up that lets you shoot two parallel swords.

Emulating the game on a modern keyboard, at least with NESTopia, introduces an additional difficulty in aiming and moving diagonally, which is often necessary. NESTopia maps the directional pad to the numberpad, but it doesn't allow the 7, 9, 1, and 3 keys to move you diagonally. Instead, you have to hold down, say, 4 and 8 at the same time to move northwest. I find this difficult at the best times and nearly impossible in the heat of a pitched battle.

If you can deal with all of this and destroy the seven bells, then you have to return to the beginning of the game to gain access to the final area, where you find the best sword in the game, "Splendor." You then engage in battle with two sub-bosses before meeting Rubas himself. I had saved a magic blue necklace, which renders you temporarily invincible, for this final battle, but it seemed rather quick and easy anyway.
             
Killing Rubas in the final combat.
            
When the battle is over, the game spends a few minutes raining bells on you and then launches into a long bit of endgame text:
                
The hard and bitter battle has finally reached its end. Staring tiredly at Rubas's destroyed castle, Prince Myer felt that his victory had fulfilled the promise of peace over the kingdom. His heart suddenly filled with a wondrous feeling. Looking up toward heaven, he heard a voice from far above, the same one that he had heard earlier by the lake. "My name is Khan. Prince Myer, you have done a great deed in defeating the Devil of Darkness. This brings an end to the Age of Stone and Copper. Peace will prosper in the kingdom."
            
Khaaaaaaaaaaan!
                          
At once, the prince returned to give the message of the victory to the king. The following day, he succeeded to the throne, being praised as the King of Light by the people. The peace and prosperity of the kingdom continued for about 1,000 years until the coming of the Iron Age, and the revival of the Devil of Darkness.
                   
This is accompanied by a cute animation of the prince standing next to his father. Cue end credits.
          
Why is peace not prospering right now?
        
Three hours would be a generous amount of time for a player using an invincibility cheat. It takes quite a bit longer if you don't realize that you don't have to explore every room in the castle. It takes even longer if you play with the intended difficulty and suck up every death. Naturally, save states ameliorate some of this difficulty. I tried to play "honestly" for a while, but some of the rooms were just blatantly unfair.

I haven't been able to find contemporary western reviews of Deadly Towers, but the years have not been kind. There is no shortage of sites that call it the worst Nintendo game of all time. A 2008 review by "RPG fan" Andrew DeMario calls it "one of the highlights in the history of bad game design." His penultimate paragraph echoes many of my own frustrations:
           
There are too many areas where, for no fault of your own, you simply die by entering a new area, and because many areas are invisible, you don't have too much say in the matter. Walking past bottomless pits is stressful due to enemies materializing beneath you without warning, and with the password system not saving most of your items, you are set back farther than seems appropriate with every one of these very-regular deaths.
                  
MobyGames's summary of critic reviews offers ratings of 0, 10, 30, 40, and 50. A representative quote comes from the middle one:
          
Deadly Towers fails on every conceivable level. Even with a full walkthrough and maps it will be one of the most frustrating gaming experiences of your life. There really is no reason anyone should ever bother with this unless they have a hole in their head. This truly is one of the worst games ever made.
               
I can hardly argue. My GIMLET, with mostly 2s across the board, gives it a score of 15--the same rating that I gave Bokosuka Wars, although for very different reasons. I had a lot more fun with Bokosuka Wars even though I didn't think it was much of an RPG.
          
Note that the figure on the cover looks nothing like the GCLM in the game itself.
            
The Japanese title of the game was Mashou, which according to the Internet means "evil bell," although every translator I feed it to gives "let's go" instead. Lenar wanted to release the game as Hell's Bells in the United States, but someone from Brøderbund suggested the final title. The game apparently sold quite well despite negative reviews. Lenar later developed two other RPGs--Knight Quest (1992) for the Game Boy and Magna Braban: Henreki no Yusha (1994) for the SNES. Developer Junichi Mizutari (AKA "J. Winc") appears on the latter.
           
I don't believe Mr. R. Nagasu was ever seen again.
         
I know some people think there's real RPG gold among these 1980s console titles, and I'm willing to keep holding out hope, but so far they've been toys. Toys can be fun, but there comes a time to put them away and do adult things. Like Challenge of the Five Realms.

166 comments:

  1. Yeah, translating Japanese through something like Google is going to bring a lot of insane results, especially since this title is a pun based on the Kanji it uses.

    Glad to see you're not giving up on the console stuff yet. You've unfortunately just started with some very (very) poor titles.

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    1. That's what I figured, but I wanted to get some history under my belt before I jumped right in to the ones everyone always sings about.

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    2. It is always good to start at the beginning. That way, you can see how things developed and why changes were made, and just how good (or bad) those changes were.

      There's just some fans who, all they want is for our host to play the games that they know already. Then they get to jump into the comments and drop spoilers. I do not rightly understand this attitude, but it's apparently widespread among a minority of commenters.

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    3. I'm not sure there's much history to be found before the big names (Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy), at least not on the NES.

      (If you're going to play Deadly Towers you might as well play the much better Legend of Zelda!)

      I think there's going to be a lot of not-RPG console stuff labeled as RPG, and it might be worth getting more community guidance when picking console titles than you normally do. Nobunaga's Ambition, for example, is a strategy game.

      Otherwise I think you'll spend a lot of time reviewing obscure console games without really illuminating the CRPG story much.

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    4. I get the idea that all the console fans want is our host to tread the well-worn territory of their favorite games. That's not what the blog is about. How's it going to illuminate the CRPG story by playing games that have been reviewed a bazillion times already? Reviewing the obscure games does actually add illumination.

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    5. I think you missed my point, and I could have been more clear. I'm definitely not advocating against obscure games. I'm cautioning against spending time on games that aren't RPGs and don't have anything to say about the CRPG story.

      Too many games get labeled online as RPGs for superficial reason, and being a little more selective here would be a good idea, especially for consoles.

      I wish there were some obscure console RPGs to visit before DW and FF, but I'm just not sure they exist.

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    6. I just keep getting the overwhelming idea that console fans want nothing more than our host to play Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, which have been played a million times by a million different reviewers. I'm getting to the point that I'm going to stop disagreeing, just to get the constant whining to cease.

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    7. I agree with your point that there's not a lot of illumination gained by reviews of classic titles, but I also find that the way Chet views and thinks about RPGs is different from how I do so. I wouldn't miss it if he skipped them, but I expect I'll gain something from his reviews - especially since they won't be clouded with nostalgia or give bad design a pass because of their fame.

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    8. I enjoy these posts on obscure games from an era where people were just experimenting and weren't yet sure what the genre was all about (especially in Japan, which didn't have the same pen and paper background as the US and Europe in the 80s). Even failed experiments like this one are interesting to read about, dead ends that didn't evolve into a subgenre of their own (but might still have influenced later games).

      The RPG credentials of this one are meager at best, though. If this qualifies as an RPG, so does Zelda, and I really don't think Zelda is an RPG at all.

      Games getting away with barely any RPG elements at all is okay though for this early era, because it shows what "RPG" meant to the developers before it became a codified genre.

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    9. @harland

      I don't want Chet to review FF or DW because I want to read another FF or DW review.

      I want Chet to review them because he is constructing a chronology of PC RPGs, and there are certain console RPGs that are important to that chronology.

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    10. I also want to throw in that I enjoy posts on games like this and Bokosuka Wars more than I would ones on Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy (even if Chet would probably enjoy those games more).

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    11. I think Deadly Towers evolved into Ys and a couple of other more obscure games. Or was that Hydlide? Either way it's a line that died out by the early 90s.

      I think people just want to see the review so they can see something that they know already. It's why Hollywood keeps coming out with sequels: people demand the familiar.

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    12. If Chet finds these games interesting to play, I'm always happy to see his reviews of just about anything. But, understanding that he is not going to review console RPGs as comprehensively as he is computer RPGs, it's not unreasonable to want to make sure he gets to the highlights and doesn't spend too much time banging his head against the trash. Bokosuka Wars has legitimate claim to being a major early influence on strategy RPGs, and it'll probably be worth it to see the through line from that to, say, Fire Emblem.

      But Deadly Towers wasn't influential. It came out after Legend of Zelda, which was immeasurably better and more influential. It was originally marketed as an "adventure" game, if you look at the cover. And, hell, Chet has already covered Hydlide, which has a much better claim for "highly influential game that also sucks".

      Also, I think "people" should stop directing insults at other commenters veiled as passive-aggressive remarks about unnamed "people".

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    13. The Gimlet alone is reason to play popular games, putting them into a context with others that doesn't exist yet.

      But another overlooked point is that the big titles will bring more people to the site. For every player nostalgic for or curious about Deadly Towers, there are probably ten thousand Dragon Warrior fans who might go looking for it and end up here. Personally, Pool of Radiance brought me in, but the blog brought back King's Bounty (played once in 1990, forgot the title and had been looking for it ever since), Uukrul (loved it, but so obscure I'd lost it), or rediscovering that Mac variant of Nethack that I played fifteen years before knowing that Nethack existed. The big titles cast a much broader net.

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  2. It is unfortunate that you did not enjoy this game, but I, for one, am happy to see that you are reviewing the occasional console title. It provides some context for the computer games by showing what else was out there.

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  3. My friend had this game when we were young and it tortured us to no end. This was before we realized games could be designed badly, so we assumed the problem was with us. Revisiting it years later, I was pleased to discover that, no, it was just terrible. Definitely some better 1980s console experiences out there, so don’t lose hope!

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  4. I know some people thing there's real RPG gold among these 1980 console titles

    I know you know this, but -- to be clear -- if you're panning for gold and coming up with Bokosuka Wars and Deadly Towers, you're clearly in the wrong part of the stream!

    I've beaten both, have some affection for both, but no aficionado of console RPGs would ever put these forward as exemplars, neither of genre nor quality. And Deadly Towers Is infamously offbeat and torturous (the "three hours" time is indeed completely bonkers) and is in no way representative of anything about console gaming.

    At the risk of repeatedly tooting the same horn, as far as RPGs go, Intellivision's Tower of Doom blows these games out of the water. I was already an NES owner when I first saw it, and was deeply envious. Too bad it wasn't released in 1984 as originally planned, and had to wait a few years...

    Anyway, I thought you'd be playing Dragon Warrior when I saw your Patreon email. Now that is a representative console/JRPG -- downright archetypical.

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    1. Problem is, I doubt you can play Intellivision games with the keyboard. For some reason he doesn't have a game controller, even though those are cheap and easily programmable to support about any game. But the Intellivision disc supported 16 directions, while the game controller only supports 8.

      Moreover the Intellivision emulator is tightly controlled and you can't just download one with a pack of ROMs from a torrent site and go to town. (At least this was the case when I last checked.) You have to buy it, and only certain games are available. Moreover they came out with a new hardware console, and jeez the prices are sky-high.

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    2. Not sure what you mean -- there's a great, free, highly-accurate Intellivision emulator, jzintv, and Intellivision ROMs are easily available at any number of locations.

      The 16-direction thing was more of an issue with the first AD&D game, but as far as I recall Tower of Doom is strictly 8-directional and frankly may play better in some ways with keyboard-based controls. I've certainly played Tower of Doom that way, with no problems.

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    3. Eh, keyboard emulation of the Intellivision controller is...fine. Its not like its very easy to emulate that thing and I'm pretty sure there aren't any clones of the controller. I think a bigger problem with the Intellivision is the number of buttons it had, in such a tight cluster.

      For the later, I think you just haven't looked hard enough. There's also several emulators available for the system.

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    4. I think a bigger problem with the Intellivision is the number of buttons it had, in such a tight cluster.

      Good news on that front is that Tower of Doom doesn't use any of them (IIRC). It's strictly a directional-disc + 3 action buttons game.

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  5. Oh, this game. Back in the early NES days we rented this a few times, normally when there was nothing else on the shelves. I don't think we ever figured out how to play the damn thing.

    You deserve some kind of award for suffering through this one.

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  6. This game actually made some top 10 worst NES lists. While I don't think it's "that" bad, it's definitely a pretty poorly made game regardless. As someone who only owned consoles until the 2000s, this was surely in the top 50 worst games I had owned before that time. Good news is that you'll be spared from playing the absolute worst JRPGs on the system, since most of them are exclusive to Japan (same goes to other consoles from that time I believe).

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  7. I literally never thought I'd live to see THE CRPGAddict play "Deadly Towers." It's like watching a massivley intelligent philosopher voluntarily choose to watch Jerry Springer.

    That you finished this game is a testament to your dedication. Or maybe something else. I really hope you get to some good console RPGs soon, if you're going to play any. You might actually like Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy or maybe even Phantasy Star.

    But let it be known that THIS reader would sleep well if you eventually decide to eschew console RPGs altogether. They're fun, but in my opinion are a different beast than CRPGs. Especially this early in the life of home video gaming.

    -Alex from The Adventure Gamer

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    1. I dunno. Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star are all pretty recognizably in the same genre as Wizardry, Ultima, etc., just adapted to the hardware. And there are plenty of computer games Chet has played that have simpler (or more abstracted, at least) mechanics than Final Fantasy. Viewed without taking into account their overall franchises and countries of origin, Final Fantasy is a crunchier and more 'traditional' RPG than Ultima VII.

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  8. Wow, I never thought I'd see the day the CRPG Addict covers the same game the Angry Video Game Nerd did. I'm surprised the Mobygames entry didn't mention that, a lot of games have a link to his videos in the trivia section for some reason. Usually the guy exaggerates, but I can see in this case its not completely without merit.

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    1. I actually watched the AVGN review and thought about linking to it, but I was put off by the profanity. I'll sling an f-bomb now and then when I think it will make a point, but some people just go too far.

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    2. The humor of AVGN comes from the language related jokes, as he tended to go above and beyond in creating new usages of offensive words. The entire point is that he goes too far. I can see how some people might not go for that kind of humor.

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    3. It's crude humor. IIRC Deadly Towers is a special episode where fans submitted the jokes and insults, so I didn't think it was very good. I love AVGN though, even if a particular episode isn't good I can tell that he loves doing it.

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    4. It was. Although I think the part where he spoke German was funny. I think these days now that someone else took over the writing he doesn't enjoy doing it as much.
      Its also worth pointing out that the AVGN is a character, unlike some other video reviewers. Sometimes he veers into more serious reviews, where he gives his own opinions without cursing as much. Swordquest and the ones he did on individual consoles usually fell into this.
      Now that I think of it, if Chet does Castlevania 2, he'll definitely have to mention AVGN, since that game's modern opinion is definitely influenced by AVGN's original review of it. Of course, so could the opinion on this game. If one video reviewer craps on a game it tends to radiate outward.

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    5. In one of his behind thescenes videos James Rolfe openly admits the ACGN does not reflect himself but a is instead a character. He didn't even intend for the AVGN to appear in more than one video but the fans loved it so he stuck with it.
      The problem with appeasing fans is the need to top the last performance creates a very negative feedback loop. Even worse it creates a whole wave of copycats doing their best to imitate a one-off joke.

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    6. James Rolfe is at heart a movie guy. He made the video game reviews, and dang if they didn't take off. But then he got stuck with the AVGN character, long past the point which he wanted it. Then made his political video in which he famously refused to review the Ghostbusters reboot. The New York Times noticed and brought the hammer down on him, and that was the end of his respectability. He's worm food now. Nobody will ever make his movies. AVGN is as good as he'll ever do in his life.

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    7. This has been interesting context. Until I saw his video on this particular game, I wasn't really aware of him.

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    8. The thing is, back in the golden age of Youtube almost everyone was ripping off the AVGN. I wasn't there, but I understand the only other option was boring people talking into a camera. So, for better or worse, people like AVGN and The Spoony One had a lot of influence. Its worth pointing out that just because someone curses like a sailor doesn't mean their opinion or fictional opinion isn't going to be widely considered on a game.
      I also don't think anyone's really going to blame you for mentioning some profanity-laden review of a game, but I could just be full of it.

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    9. You know, now that I think about it the idea of a deliberately angry review of anything was a pretty novel one. Sure there's been the catty food or theater critic taking delight in taking down some terrible restaurant or show. But James wasn't just catty or snarky. He was PISSED. But it wasn't simply because he was mean, it was because the games he ranted about were totally inept in design and game play, like Deadly Towers. Or they were cryptic, like Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Or they were repetitive, like Back to the Future. He raged a a few simply for being hard as balls, like Ninja Gaiden or Top Gun. But his intent was to channel and express the rage many of us felt as kids playing these games. I remember spending over 3 hours grinding my way through 1942 and swearing the entire time. When I finally made it to the end and got, "Game Over. You Win! Thank You!" as a reward I was dumbstruck with furious anger.
      "WHAT?! OH F--K YOU!" was my response.
      James was capturing that shared anger and did it well. But many of his copycats didn't really seem to get that nuance. They got the swearing right but they missed the disbelief, frustration, rage and resentful determination to not be beaten by a game.
      So get this. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the designer's intent but what if his goal was to make Deadly Towers really hard? He leaned into the vicious knock back mechanics of Castlevania.
      "Not only will you be knocked back depending on the direction you were moving but it will also not give you temporary invincibility and it will push you to a nearby insta-kill if there is one."
      "Dungeons will be huge and nearly identical. There will be NO clues regarding their entrances or exits."
      "Same goes for shops. You'll have no clue where they are. You know what? Screw it. EVERYTHING is invisible and only by meticulous exploration will you make any progress."
      "There may be come bad games out there and people will hate Deadly Towers. But they'll hate it for being so hard and they'll fight tooth and nail to finish it and they will wear that victory as a badge of honor and their fellow gamers will respect them for their tenacity."
      So Deadly Towers is a cruel game but it's hard in a sorta Xiao Lin way. You will receive no encouragement to stay, but you will be hard as nails if you see it to the end.
      The Addict has won my respect many times over for finishing games I never would have touched. But in finishing THIS game on the NES, well Sir, I salute you.

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  9. I played this game back in the day. I thought it was fine. I appreciated it didn't take so long like all the other mega-long games that apparently everyone else liked.

    Everyone craps on this game today, and it's weird. I think it's one of those things where nobody ever heard of it, they heard it got negative reviews, and came into it with cognitive bias blinders on. They expected to get a bad game, and interpreted everything in the worst possible light. Thus you go along with the crowd and bask in praise and agreement from everyone else.

    Not to say that this is the best game ever. It's just a middling game.

    But all of this gathers more evidence for my theory that most gamers, above all else, want to win the game rather than play the game. Satisfaction is gained not from fighting and overcoming obstacles, but from crusing past them and getting a "you win" screen. Obstacles are classified as "frustration" and cause rage. Ultimately it all comes down to the gamer feeling "in control" of what's going on in the game. If the gamer is not winning, he feels frustrated, out of control, and has bad feelings. This is no joke, we can all have a good laugh that "it's just a game", but the brain chemicals that cause these bad feelings are quite real.

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    1. I played it back in the day too, and didn't loathe it then or now, but having beaten Deadly Towers as an adult, it's definitely got some serious, serious flaws. The biggest one is that huge swathes of the game are just a complete waste of time and better avoided. Even an avid explorer will find themselves mired in things like invisible teleporters and obscure gameplay dynamics that aren't well documented, all to map out a dungeon that serves no purpose in the game (not even as a fun extra).

      I'm generally sympathetic to your point about gamers wanting to feel like they're in control, and resenting challenge for that reason -- because it takes away that feeling of Being the Boss of Everything. But Deadly Towers has a habit of putting the player in a helpless position where skill can't help, i.e. when you're blindsided by an enemy as soon as you enter a room, and that starts a chain of forced hits that sends you off a ledge.

      In other words, Deadly Towers commits the cardinal sin: it wastes the player's time, with nothing really learned or gained as a result. It's easily possible to put in long hours on this game and neither acquire skill as a player nor improve your character's lot in life.

      And that's a shame, because the game has kind of an intriguing world-design and feels more exploratory and mysterious than a lot of other console RPGs (or RPG-adjacent games).

      But far too often, it's just actively unpleasant to play, with no compensating rewards to justify the chore. Life's too short for games that waste the player's time in lieu of offering a rewarding experience.

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    2. If you want to see this confirmation bias in action, just look at all the reviews of Zelda 2 that crap all over it. It's not a terrible game, but they've been told that it was at the outset, and so they go into it expecting a terrible game. "It's a sidescroller! It's got XP! How stupid!" Yeah and there were only two games in Zelda at the time, so it's not like a precedent had been set. But you can't tell them that, they have to agree with the others in order to receive agreements and again, release those positive brain chemicals.

      Not saying Deadly Towers is a great game. It's just so-so. But it's gotten so much bad press that at this point going against the crowd is going to get you a lot of grief, and once again those bad feelings are right there.

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    3. Oh, if we're talking about groupthink, that's a different issue. But it's also the human condition in every sphere, not just gaming.

      I've definitely taken a lot of crap over the years for defending allegedly "bad" games -- and movies, records, etc. -- mostly from people who bristle at having their received wisdom contradicted. Fortunately the tide seems to have turned somewhat on that sort of thing, since on the Internet there's a niche for every interest.

      But there are still people out there who, if a media object made them feel stupid, helpless, or confused -- all of which make them feel humiliated, like a joke was being had at their expense -- then they absolutely lose their minds if someone has the temerit to say they enjoyed or appreciated it. If you start from the premise "I am never wrong or blameworthy", then anything that makes you feel imperfect is an existential threat and has to be destroyed.

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    4. Well, I played it and wrote most of the review before I looked up any external information, so I can promise you my reactions are authentic, not anything to do with confirmation bias. I outlined exactly why I didn't like it. I mean, to have a game that requires that much time and not allow a full save ability should be enough itself to justify any hate.

      When you walk into a room and you have to scan it for all the different enemies and their movement patterns and then prioritize how you move and attack, that's a "challenge." When a teleporter (you can't see) dumps you into a room in the middle of a bunch of enemies and whether you survive is just a matter of luck, that's just sadistic.

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    5. In case it's not something you're aware of, console games of this era rarely offered an ability to save any data, because the cartridge technology offered no solid-state or magnetic saving and therefore any retained memory would need power. The big RPGs shelled out for the cost of cartridges with a battery backup, and everyone else made do with password-saves.

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    6. No, I am aware of that. My argument is that developers should have either a) used codes with enough characters to save ALL the data; b) affixed the battery backup; or c) not designed the game to last so long.

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    7. The first password save for the NES was Castlevania (May 1987). Metroid and Kid Icarus came next (June 1987). They used 24-character hexadecimal saves to track not-very-much-data-at-all - but certainly longer codes could have been a thing.

      But given development cycles - which were short in 1987, but not THAT short - it's unlikely the devs of this had seen Metroid or Kid Icarus' systems in action.

      The fact it has a password save at all may be due to Nintendo pushing a "Password Pak" save functionality alongside Castlevania/Metroid/Kid Icarus...

      ... but by the time the SNES came along, the price of adding batteries to cartridges had come down enough that fewer and fewer titles opted for password systems for complex data.

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    8. Password systems were a massive pain back in the day but they're a lot easier to deal with now thanks to phone cameras. In fact, when I'm playing on retro cartridges I actually kind of prefer them to the now-unreliable battery saves...

      (Obviously it sucks when they only preserve part of your progress though.)

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    9. About the point of challenge, I'm a player who enjoys all kinds of challenge, in action games and strategy games alike. But I hate it when a game plays unfair and drops some nasty tricks on me. If a strategy game gives the enemy additional resource income out of nowhere, so that my strategy of raiding their economy doesn't work I'm gonna be pissed. Sure, it makes the game more challenging and serves to compensate for a lackluster AI, but it also makes some valid strategies useless (if enemies spawn free units to defend their cities even when you destroyed all their production facilities, your strategy of denying them reinforcements was just invalidated; if you choose to go for a war of attrition but the enemy gets an unconditional free bonus resource income, you will lose by default). It's cheap and frustrating and just makes you yell "This is bullshit! I should have won!" at the screen.

      A good example in action RPGs is Dark Souls vs Dark Souls 2. The first game became notorious for its challenge and people enjoyed it. The challenge even became a meme. But the designers of DS2 took the meme a bit too far and added plenty of cheap shots against the player in order to make it more challenging. It wasn't as well received as the first game or the third game as a consequence.

      Challenge is good. But cheap shots that kill the player without him being able to react accordingly (unless he has pre-knowledge) are not fun or even challenging, just frustrating. It's pure trial and error.

      Let's say your character stands in a room with 3 doors. They all look exactly the same. One of them leads you to the next level, the other two kill you. There is no hint towards which door is correct. Is this challenging? No, because it's based entirely on random chance, and not player skill or character skill.

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    10. Castlevania has no passwords. The Japanese version had save games, which could not be used overseas because of the disk format. Castlevania II did have passwords.

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    11. Thanks Zina - yes, I had the right date (May 1987) but the wrong entry in the franchise. You're correct it's Castlevania II, not the original.

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  10. A great review of a terrible game! I had this one as a kid and never beat it, although I did get pretty far if I recall correctly. It's fun seeing some of these games because they had a larger impact on a young me than the cRPGs did, at least until I was old enough to get a computer.

    1986 was a banner year in the history of console RPGs (and action-RPGs) in some respects and Deadly Towers (released December 1986, as far as I know) came at the end of it. When I played this game as a kid, I recall thinking that it had aspects of "The Legend of Zelda" which came out in Japan in February 1986. It might be fun for you to play through Zelda at some point, especially if you intend to play the more-RPGish Zelda II (January 1987).

    More importantly, Dragon Quest ("Dragon Warrior" initially in the US) came out in May 1986, so you should not feel too reluctant to play some of these "good" ones before you move into 1987 console games. (I'm using the Japanese release dates because that better reflects the influences these games had on fellow Japanese developers; you would probably play the US versions which came out a year or two later.) I think there are only a few more RPGs which came out for consoles in English in 1986.

    I know it's not on your list, but you may want to play a few hours of the original Zelda. It will be fairly influential on the way that some Japanese RPGs come together and it's a fun/short game with good character development and an emphasis on fun exploration.

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  11. Congratulations on surviving this game. It's a regular 'favorite' on AGDQ/SGDQ's awful games block.

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  12. The Japanese for Mashou is 魔鐘. Google translate won't reach that word from just the romanized version, but if you put in the kanji, it comes back with "demon bell." That's more accurate than "evil bell." The first character is the "ma" from "akuma" (demon), which is more like malign spirit. (The "aku" part actually has the meaning of evil.) The second character is read "shou" in combination but "kane" by itself, or bell. This is the right term for a tower-mounted bell, as a handheld bell is "suzu" (or "rin" in combination).

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    1. I knew someone would come along and explain it in detail, and I thank you for that, but I still don't understand why a translator can't handle that complexity. Is there a circumstance in which a syllable pronounced "ma" can mean "demon"? Is there a circumstance in which a syllable pronounced "shou" can mean "bell"? Then "demon bell" should show up as a possibility for "mashou." Otherwise, there's no point to romanization at all.

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    2. According to a quick check on a dictionary called Tangorin (not one I normally use, but the fastest one I could figure out how to do this query on), there are 23 kanji with マ /ma/ as an on-reading and 516 with ショウ /shou/ as an on-reading. Even if an automatic translator tried to show you all 11,868 possible combinations, the correct interpretation of "魔鐘" or "demon bell" would be pretty buried in that list.

      I'm perfectly comfortable with the conclusion that "there's no point to romanization at all," myself.

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    3. Meant to add: A lot of those kanji the dictionary search gave me are probably inherited from Chinese and never ever used in modern Japanese, so the actual number a well-informed automatic translator would give you is probably somewhat lower. Still, the title of a work of fantasy art is probably exactly where some of those more obscure and seldom-used kanji are most likely to show up, so an effective automatic translator would still need to consider them given that context.

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    4. Most console games didn't prioritize good translations until the late 90s. With games not having much text (think platformers, racing, etc) this didn't matter but RPGs being text-heavy suffered a lot from it. You see things like the attack name "Fire Breath" being translated to "Fire Bracelet", even in big budget games. And god help you if you wanted variable width fonts.

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    5. From my experience, which company put out the game matters more than when it came out when it comes to translation quality. You can find pretty decent translations in the late 80s, and absolutely abysmal ones in the late 90s.

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    6. Japanese is an immensely complex language when it comes to writing, which is precisely why Google Translate goes nuts whenever you try to translate most things. Chinese is a bit better, because there's just hanzhi to worry about. Goroawase is an especially common example of wordplay related to homophony. Almost all fan-translations involve Japanese, which is why it's such an important language for gamers. That's gonna change though, Chinese will take over within our lifetime, and it's easier to brute-force your way through games with machine translation in this language.

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    7. "I still don't understand why a translator can't handle that complexity." With no context, just a single romanized word, an automatic translator can only pick the most common possibility for that reading and give you that translation. It's as if you asked it to translate "bat" into another language with no context. Do you mean the flying animal, or a baseball bat? It can't tell.

      In English, we have a fairly modest list of homonyms which might have two or maybe three meanings, hardly ever more. But in Japanese, because of the way so many words are combinations of two characters, many of which have the same pronunciations, the homophone problem is vastly more difficult. Romanization has its uses, but for written translation in particular it's pretty worthless. You really need the kanji to be able to get the right meaning.

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    8. "Mo" means demon or magic, while the second character can mean goblet, O'clock, handleless cup, the kind of bell that hangs in temples, or to concentrate. In these situations I find the best thing to do is go to http://image.baidu.com and search for the characters individually. You'll get a selection of what native speakers think it means. Here's the search for the second character.

      Yes I am aware it is Japanese and not Chinese. But best to consult the source, so to speak.

      What I like doing best is asking it weird, culturally specific questions. Like what is the color "Qing" - that weird color that isn't blue and isn't green.

      So much Chinese/Japanese is highly context-dependent and is tied up in the culture. You can't really get it until you bury yourself in their milieu, and that's a huge barrier to entry. It's no wonder automatic translators do a poor job. The whole topic is super-complex so don't feel bad, even native speakers don't understand it all.

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    10. In the case of Reiko's example with "bat," I'd expect the translator to give both possibilities, of course. For single words, Google Translate often does that. For long paragraphs, it still often annotates bits of text as having multiple potential translations.

      But NLeseul's contribution answers the question to my satisfaction. I certainly wouldn't expect any translator to offer more than 18,000 possibilities.

      I would ask whether the Japanese ever bothered to add a word meaning "homonym" to their language, but I suspect "ho-mo-nim" can literally mean one of 72,000 different things depending on context.

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    11. Japanese has lots of homonyms because of heavy usage of loanwords from Chinese. Unlike Chinese, Japanese is not a tonal language so many characters whose pronounciations differ in Chinese have the same pronounciations. This is normally not a problem because Chinese characters carry meaning, not sounds, but it makes speech heavy with Chinese-derived words hard to understand. Consequentially, Japanese tv uses subtitles a lot. Japanese is also a high-context language in other regards as well.

      Japanese fiction likes to use made-up words that are not in general usage. The meaning of these words is usually clear enough because of the kanji. However, it's usually hard to infer their meaning only phonetically, because the constituent parts are not usable as independent words, and also because the words only appear in one work or so, a dictionary will not know them. That's why you need the kanji.

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    12. Japanese/English fanNovember 13, 2019 at 3:41 PM

      Hi, I lived in Japan for over a decade and I work in the localization industry (Japanese to English translations) so I always take an interest in these things. Big fan of the blog BTW!

      There are a few problems with a word like the title of this game. Even in the original Japanese, it is kind of a made-up word. 魔鐘 has the kanji for "demon"/"evil" and "bell" mashed together. Japanese readers will see those two characters and "get it" from their two individual meanings. On the other hand, the romanization "mashou" drops all of the visual meaning of the characters. Even ましょう (just writing mashou phonetically in Japanese) would be completely lost on Japanese readers because the kanji characters are essential to parse the actual intended meaning. Furthermore, characters in these compounds are typically not used on their own *with the same pronunciation* as separate words. For example "shou" (鐘) in this made-up title word is pronounced "kane" when standing on its own, which is the common word for "bell". I would expect you would get "bell" at least as an option if you used the romanization "kane" in a tranlation service. "shou" and "ma" are abstractions that really mean nothing on their own without sufficient context (which you get from seeing the kanji characters themselves).

      Oh and "mashou" is a common verb ending that means "Let's do this verb (together)". That is probably what your original search was finding.

      Basically I just wanted to say that for Japanese to English, seeing the original Japanese script (not a romanization) is ESSENTIAL to an accurate translation.

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    13. Japanese is HARD. Even something trivial like looking up a new word becomes complicated.

      In most languages, with minimal knowledge of it, if you come up to a new word, you might not know its meaning, but you KNOW its sound and it can be looked up easily.

      But if you come up to a new Kanji, you won't know neither meaning or sound.

      And since input methods are based on the phonetic alphabets, even TYPING a new Kanji just to look it up becomes hard.

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    14. I'm sure there are apps that recognize kanji. Online you can just copy&paste it. There are also kanji searches based on radicals, strokes, etc. for people familiar with them. Kanji with their dual usage by sound and meaning are one of the more confusing aspects of the language, but I wouldn't call it hard.

      On the other hand, there are things about the Japanese language that are very easy. Pronounciation, the lack of grammatical gender, declention isn't too hard especially if you play it safe and stick to the polite form.

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    15. The kids' Japanese dictionary I've been pleasure-reading recently uses the phrase 同音異義語 /douonigigo/; basically "same sound, different meaning word." There's apparently a similar phrase 同訓異義語 /doukunigigo/ for the less common case where two words have the same kun-reading.

      Someone apparently taught Google how to interpret the phonetic どうおんいぎご in kanji properly, but if I force it to look only at the kana, it comes up with "How are you". I have no idea why.

      If you want a more thorough look at how badly Google can mangle Japanese, especially when it doesn't have kanji to assist it, look up "Funky Fantasy IV." A translator hacked the Final Fantasy IV ROM to display Google's translations for the whole game. It features plenty of misinterpretations of phonetic words—"Kyushu [the island]" instead of "absorption"; "Germany" instead of "poison"; "physical condition" instead of "captain"; and so on. It also includes complete nonsense phrases ("The enema is saying you should not wear a basketball!") and made-up words ("It is sombatservation.").

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  13. From looking at it and hearing your description, Deadly Towers appears to owe more to The Legend of Zelda (released about nine months previously) than any traditional RPG.

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    1. And, obviously, people have told you what the RPGs are from this era, but you're insisting on playing weird titles that some internet list marginally classifies as a quasi-RPG.

      Which is fine, because it's entertaining, but Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy are *right there*.

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    2. If you'll re-read my entry, I played this game because I was deliberately looking for something quick, and I trusted an external data source.

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    3. I was responding to the last paragraph, which was clearly a joke as to the "toys / adult" portion, but I had read the part where you were frustrated with the console JRPGs as not being "real RPGs" as either serious or joking-but-based-on-real-frustration.

      Apologies if I misread that.

      But in any case I'll read your thoughts about any game you want to write about. :-)

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  14. ""I know some people thing there's real RPG gold among these 1980s console titles, and I'm willing to keep holding out hope, but so far they've been toys. Toys can be fun, but there comes a time to put them away and do adult things. Like Challenge of the Five Realms.""

    There is nothing "adult" about video games. You can try and convince yourself otherwise, since you are on a computer, and playing slower paced, more time consuming CRPGS, but there is nothing infinitely more kiddie about playing Challenge of the Five Realms as there is Deadly Towers. Both are predominately childhood hobbies that most adults grow up from when they start maturing in life.

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    1. Please someone tell me that they saw that closing for the obvious joke that it was. Please tell me that anonymous's reaction isn't the average.

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    2. What... are you doing on an old computer game review blog?

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    3. I've never written anything regularly for public consumption, but I think it must be a struggle sometimes to keep positive about the whole thing. Imagine the Addict, adding that wry little coda as a treat for his audience to round out the post. Then imagine coming across a comment from a reader who misses the point so thoroughly that it actually makes them angry. Why are they here? Why have they read this far? What demons are they hoping to slay?

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    4. There's an old Dave Barry column where he tries to introduce "closed captioning for the humor-impaired." That practice never really caught on, though.

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    5. I wonder how difficult it would be to make a bait post that wouldn't get any replies. This guy's thrown the fishing pole in the water and is now pretending to be a fireman in terms of baiting. C'mon, you really think some anti-video game advocate is going to go on an obscure gaming blog about an obscure genre of gaming?

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    6. C'mon, it's an obvious troll, everyone. Trolls live for attention. It would have been so epic had the comment simply languished without any replies.

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    7. It's a running joke in the Hearthstone community that it's a children's card game.

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    8. Anonymous: saying there is no inherent difference between two computer games because "both are predominately childhood hobbies..." is like saying that there is no difference between reading War and Peace and Green Eggs and Ham. The medium is irrelevant, it's the content that determines the value, if that's the way you want to measure it.

      Personally I don't see the distinction as meaningful, and I feel sorry for you if you do.

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  15. This brings up a favorite theory: Sometimes nostalgia is simply imperfect recollection.

    My first thought when seeing the game name and screenshot was 'oh, I played that, it was great!' then as I read on, I remembered how mean and pointless that game was. I did finish it a couple of times, but I have no idea why. I'd like to think I wouldn't recommend it, but apparently I might. :-)

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    1. There are plenty of games I played as a kid and loved for one reason or another, which are quite objectively shit and not even half as decent as I remember. But ah, nostalgia!

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  16. There's an interesting trend in the cover art for console RPGs imported from Japan in the 80s where the original Japanese art was blatantly anime/manga-inspired, but the Western release redoes the cover in a Western fantasy art style, without making any similar change to the in-game graphics. Compare the Japanese cover of this game. (As someone mentioned earlier, the Japanese title was 魔鐘; that brings up search results a lot more clearly.) That version of the protagonist at least looks a little more like the in-game art.

    The NES/Famicom releases of Ultima III are the most amusing example to me. The Japanese Famicom cover of course looks nothing like the Western original. But for the Western NES release, they took the Japanese cover, but redrew it pose for pose in a vaguely-realistic Western style that still looks lazy and dated.

    I know there are other console emulators that do allow mapping the diagonal directions to distinct buttons. I'd recommend looking at BizHawk; it's probably the most modern multi-system emulator out there. I can't confirm from my current PC that it has diagonal mapping, but I'd be surprised it doesn't. It would also allow you to move on to consoles other than the NES without having to set up a new emulator. (RetroArch is a similar emulator that I think shares the same backend, but I can never get it to do anything useful for me.)

    That said, I do think if you want to experience console titles the way contemporary players would have, just setting up a proper controller of some kind would be the best choice.

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  17. Chet, consider this: Have you ever rejected a game because it had TOO much RPG? Your criteria seems severely biased.

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    1. From memory of his reactions: Fate (and various others) had too much exploring, quite a few have involved too many hours devoted to generic combats (eg KoL), and several have had an overabundance of skills/pieces of equipment.

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    2. I was trying to make some kind of joke...

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  18. The ironic thing about covering these early Japanese RPGs is that this style (cute small character, real-time, very lite RPG, punishing difficulty) is entirely dead, as far as I know. Almost every major RPG lineage still has its circle of varying degrees and sizes. Even Dungeon Master gets the occasional indie clone or remix, but AFAIK games like Hydlide (Hydlikes, if you will) died out some time in the early 90s.

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    1. Well, they still make Ys games, but you're mostly right.

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    2. The Metroidvania genre in general seems very close to this, and is gigantic: Celeste, Hollow Knight, Shovel Knight, Salt and Sanctuary, Hyper Light Drifter, to name a few.

      If you drop the cute part, there's Blasphemous, Dead Cells, Sever, a ton more.

      If you drop the difficulty, there's Stardew Valley.

      Man, I don't even really like console games that much.

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    3. Well, all of the ones you mentioned are from the 2010s, so that's far out of reach for Chet right now :D

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  19. I'm not sure you absolutely needed to hit Deadly Towers on your curated tour of console RPG highlights, but I'm glad you did. You'll be happy to learn that there's nowhere to go but up.

    And hey, you may have hit on something here. Next time you're stonewalled by an ancient CRPG with impenetrable controls or an inscrutable one from my fair continent, there's always the option for a relatively accessible console RPG detour.

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  20. I would love to see the Addict's reaction to Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy as much as the other console people here, but I'm glad that he examined a title like Deadly Towers as well. There won't be a full sense of the history of JRPGs if one plays only the standout highlights, and this game - bad as it is - is definitely a part of that heritage.

    It's no different for the PC games that are the Addict's wheelhouse - for every Might and Magic or Pool of Radiance, there's a large handful of crap out there, and he's played an awful lot of it. :)

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    1. Absolutely! In fact, he's going to avoid most of the FC crap, since some of the worst games only came out in Japan (Hoshi wo Miru Hito for instance, I recommend you look it up). There's still a strong modding community out there translating all the better games, which I find commendable seeing how difficult Japanese is. However, there's also a lot of shovelware out there. For a console with about 1500 games IIRC that's not really surprising. To be fair, SNES had tons of shovelware too, especially sports games. Even my favourite console from that period, Genesis, didn't fully escape it.

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  21. Oh hey, it's the most hated game of my childhood, Deadly Towers. I can't believe you had the fortitude to make it through this thing. I remember renting it, several times (for some reason), and never making any progress.

    I guess I was just desperate for a game of this type, with an epic story, but the good ones hadn't arrived yet. I hope you continue to try out some of the other console games regardless. The original Final Fantasy was quite good, and had open-ended party creation that I think you'll enjoy.

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  22. Thanks for sharing your pain. It was entertaining.

    Perfect example of why PC games are the only games worth playing.

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  23. Nice work with the blog, and with this entry. I do have a suggestion, though: if Deadly Towers counts as an RPG, then so should Rygar (NES). It has an experience/level-up system along with numerical stats.

    Furthermore, it was released in the US in July 1987: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/nes/587594-rygar

    Meaning its US release preceded Deadly Towers, making the "first JRPG released in America" claim for the latter dubious.

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    1. Playing ANY console RPG is an EXCEPTION to my list. I make those at my discretion. "If this counts than that should count" doesn't enter the equation on exceptions.

      Deadly Towers is still the earliest JRPG (subsequently) released in America.

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    2. Okay, it's your call of course.

      Just a correction, though: Dragon Quest 1 and Hydlide were both released before Deadly Towers in Japan, and both were subsequntly released in America in 1989. So Deadly Towers wasn't the first JRPG released in America by either criterion.

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    3. I omitted the word “console“ at a key moment in this discussion thread. I did not omit it in the actual entry, however.

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    4. Dragon Quest 1 is a console RPG though, and came out before Deadly Towers in Japan, and was subsequently released in America. If you go by American release dates only, then Rygar was the first (July '87 as opposed to September '87 for DT.) So Deadly Towers is definitely not the first console JRPG released in America, by any criterion.

      Anyway, nice work, just want to set the record straight on this particular thing.

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  24. The nice thing about these old games, console or computer, is seeing how they influenced other games. For both good and bad.

    Games like this aren't all bad, but they at least showed some of the things NOT to do. Too bad too many game makers didn't look at older games for that.

    These games are why so many recent games are thought of as "too easy". People finally figured out that the "hard" games were hard for all the wrong reasons. And players who learned from those games don't always realize that.

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    1. They're too easy because they lack challenge. They lack challenge because video games went from nerdy hobby to mass market blockbuster. Video games today are bigger than Hollywood.

      It turns out, once you abandon brainy people who like solving problems, that the mass market just wants to win. They want a straight line to victory, with a big sign that says, "Hooray for YOU!" and lots of praise from the NPCs. They interpret challenge as frustration and dislike it immensely. When they win, pleasing brain chemicals are released which make people feel good.

      When Deadly Towers was released, video game companies didn't have psychologists working for them who advised on the best way to addict people to good feelings. Today? They do.

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    2. The other thing is that modern games are expensive to make, and players have become accustomed to being alert to see the entire story of a game if they play long enough. So games have become easier to ensure everyone is able to see all the expensive cinematics and so on. Also if people complete a game then they’re much more likely to buy the sequel

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    3. Personally, I wish game devs would focus more on actual gameplay and player choices, because I skip those annoying cinematics anyway.

      Cutscenes are probably my least favorite part of games. If they're short and tell something important, sure, fine. But if they're lengthy I can't wait for them to be over to finally get back to playing.

      Some people describe cutscenes as a reward for beating the challenge of the gameplay that came before. I see the gameplay as a reward for sitting through a cutscene :p

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    4. Yeah, that's another one. I remember hearing a developer saying, "If you paid for the game, you deserve to see the whole thing" which horrified me. That's a guarantee that there won't be any challenge. More like Dragon's Lair, a movie with action sequences.

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    5. I get what you're saying, Harland, but I feel like the issue can be easily solved with customizable difficulty levels. I'm greatly encouraged by the "survival" and "hardcore" modes I see on recent releases and I really hope the trend continues.

      Delete
  25. Seeing that RoA: Blade of Destiny is coming up, I just want to give a piece of advice/warning: The manual that comes with many versions (also on GoG, last time I checked) is the manual of a later re-release that is missing important information.
    The full manual can be found at https://www.mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=arkania
    even if it is still missing some information from the German manual.

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    1. Thanks. I've had several experiences like that with GOG.

      Delete
  26. Timely enough, another series I follow also covered Deadly Tower too

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJwboHcsTR0

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    1. Ha! I just saw this as well!

      Delete
    2. Ooooohhhhh....so THAT'S where the "Deadly Towers is the worst NES game ever made" trope came from. The video explains it. Seanbaby.com posted a funny negative review of it, and from there it got cemented into the collective consciousness. He was exaggerating for comic effect, but people took him at his word, having never played the game. Then AVGN did the same and reinforced the idea. Ah, nice to find the source of this.

      Delete
  27. Here's a comprehensive list of all Japanese (quasi-)RPGs from 1984 - 1987 that shouldn't take you very long to beat and don't require knowledge of Japanese:

    Alcazar: The Forgotten Fortress (MSX)
    A.R.A.M.O (MSX)
    Bouken Roman (PC88/MSX)
    Courageous Perseus (PC88/MSX)
    Cross Blaim (MSX)
    King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu (MSX2)
    King's Knight (Famicom)
    Maou Golvellius (MSX)
    Outroyd (MSX)
    Rambo (MSX)
    Romancia (PC88/MSX/Famicom)
    Super Rambo Special (MSX2)
    Super Tritorn (MSX2)
    Stone of Wisdom (MSX)
    Tritorn (PC88/MSX)
    Valkyrie no Bouken (Famicom)
    Vampire Killer (MSX2)
    Zeta 2000 (MSX)
    Zombie Hunter (Famicom)

    Especially those games released for the MSX shouldn't take very long.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Forgot these two:

    Mashou no Yakata Goblin (MSX)
    Thunderbolt (MSX)

    ReplyDelete
  29. Deadly Towers isn't really the first action RPG on NES. The port of Rygar is just as much an RPG. The original arcade game is a fairly standard action platformer, but the NES/Famicom version is a massive reworking. You have strength and HP stats that go up based on defeated enemies along with collection MP and a small selection of spells and special items. Gameplay is side scrolling platforming with a top down overworld so it can feel a little less like an RPG outwardly. It also is something that can be completed in just a few hours depending on platformer experience. It's actually a good game unlike Deadly Towers which truly is one of the worst NES games although certainly not the absolute worst. Wikipedia actually does call Rygar the first NES action RPG on the page for Deadly Towers though not on its own page oddly enough.

    Coming out the same month as Rygar (July '87) is Kid Icarus which is basically never thought of as an RPG, but is certainly inspired by them. Your score also acts as a crude experience system for determining health and there's a hidden score for increasing your strength. Plus, the fourth stage of the three main sections is a dungeon. There's also shops periodically in stages. I only mention Kid Icarus as it's the first NES game (as opposed to a Japanese Famicom game) that has any RPG elements at all. Everything before it has more or less zero influence from the genre.

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    1. First of all, I don't have time to independently research every game. I'm at the mercy of the online databases. MobyGames says Deadly Towers is an RPG and Rygar isn't. I don't know what to tell you.

      Anyway, what I said is still true. MobyGames also has Deadly Towers released in December 1986 and Rygar in April 1987. If these dates are correct, than DT is the first NES action RPG and the first NES RPG that had a western release.

      Delete
    2. If you go by Japanese release dates, the first is Hydlide Special (March '86) or even Tower of Druaga (August '85) although ToD is tenuous as an action RPG despite frequently getting called one.

      Moby Games still mentions the RPG elements in Rygar despite not putting it as a gameplay element at the top. It certainly does have greater RPG aspects than Deadly Towers.

      Delete
    3. One other wrinkle re: researching every game -- that can actually be a detriment to the blind experience. I think it's clear Chet went into the game without any knowledge of the game's reputation, where a slight bit of Googling would have ruined that.

      Delete
    4. NES Rygar is a great game, but it is definitely not an RPG. There are no stats except your strength and hits, no spells, no inventory except the gatekeeper items you need to progress through the levels. You can upgrade your weapon range once, and you can invoke a brief superzap powerup. Amazing side-scroller (with that top-down area as well), but no RPG. Mobygames has it right this time.

      Delete
    5. Agreed about Rygar. It's an action platformer with RPG elements, but unequivocally not an RPG.

      It's odd that Deadly Towers "feels" like more of an RPG, but I guess that's partly the dungeon thing, partly the inventory thing, and partly the fact that combat is so odd that it's more an exercise in tactical positioning than a test of reflexes.

      Delete
    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    8. I want to clear a couple things up here. The post above claims that Rygar has no inventory or magic system, which is false. Rygar does have a rudimentary inventory system with the magic spells (three of them) that you can use to raise your attack or health, or to damage enemies, which are accessed by going into the inventory screen and selecting a spell from a menu. Not to mention the potions that you have to go into the inventory screen to use. It's simple, but it *is* an inventory.

      I would agree that it's not a full-on RPG, but it's at least as much of one as Deadly Towers, and even more so in some ways--for one thing you can actually view your stats, including your current level and experience points, strength, defense, HP, and MP, which are displayed in very RPG-ish numerical quantities. The post above claims that strength and hits are the only stats, which is false; not only does it have the usual RPG stats, but they're always visible. Even games like Zelda and Druaga don't do that, yet they're often categorized as action RPGs, rightly or wrongly.

      Delete
    9. If you want to claim Rygar as an RPG, you might as well include Metroid or Castlevania.

      There are serious problems: no economy, no roleplay, no high-level strategy or tactics...

      I would rather we give Chet good recommendations about games that are more up his alley (roleplay, economy, world-building, immersion, stories and not just macguffin hunting to unlock new areas). If someone told me they loved Diablo I would not recommend a Goldbox game because they both have stat sheets and have characters represented in 2.5 dimension space. The essential natures of the two games are completely different.

      Delete
    10. I'm not claiming Rygar as an RPG, only that it's at least as much of an RPG as Deadly Towers, which is not a high bar. Nor am I "recommending" Rygar in any context other than to correct the dubious claim of Deadly Towers being the first JRPG released in America.

      Delete
    11. And for what it's worth, I would count Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest as an action RPG if Deadly Towers counts. In addition to an EXP/level-up system, it has shops, towns, weapon selection, inventory etc.

      Again it's not a full RPG--it's a bit too basic for that--but it does pass the "Deadly Towers test" easily.

      I would not count Metroid as an RPG via the "Deadly Towers test" as it has no experience system and no inventory, though it does have basic character progression with the energy tanks and missile packs.

      Delete
    12. Metroidvania is not Chet's jam. He didn't care for Xanadu 2.

      While some games of the genre pass the RPG test, they are still side-scrolling action/adventure games.

      Delete
    13. The key here is action-RPG. As a hybrid genre, which side the gameplay leans towards is going to vary. NES action-RPGs are all going to lean on the action side and only have light RPG elements.

      Deadly Towers is also arguable not even an RPG in the first place. Granted this entry is outside this blog's normal scope, but it only passes rule #3 ("Characters in the game must have flexible inventories that are not based around solving puzzles.") Your attack and defense are purely based on equipment and health is determined entirely by pickups. It isn't any different than LoZ or even Metroid in that regard. Those don't have much attribute improving equipment, but they do have a small amount. DT just has more. Metroid is very clearly not an RPG, but it isn’t that different

      Rygar has 2 stats, Tone and Last. Tone affects your strength and is very granular. After about 2 “screens”, your Tone will be high enough to defeat the earliest enemies in one hit. So after 5 minutes, you already have a noticeable improvement in a character attribute. Once you hit certain Last values, your HP goes up. Tone and Last are independent of each other and some enemies may raise one but not the other. You don’t have much equipment outside of movement enhancing items, but there is an armor upgrade.

      Kid Icarus even passes all 3 rules! You have 2 stats not based on equipment in any way. Combat effectiveness is augmented by a character attribute. There's a small inventory and you do have items not based around puzzles. Again, I’m being slightly facetious in calling Kid Icarus an action-RPG, but it’s illustrative of the deficiencies in DT.

      My point is that calling Deadly Towers the first console action-RPG available outside Japan is simply wrong in many ways. If not being side scrolling is what pushes DT over the top, The Legend of Zelda is certainly an RPG by all the same metrics and is slightly earlier too. Any definition that includes DT but not LoZ would have to be highly contorted. However, being a side scroller does not prevent a game from also being an action-RPG so Rygar is definitely the first available.

      Moby Games is also very inconsistent with genres. For example, it doesn’t list the Castlevania games Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance or Portrait of Ruin as RPGs even though it does list Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia as them. They all have levels, stats and equipment. CotM and HoD only have the whip as a weapon but do have armor, accessories and magic like the rest. PoR on the other hand has a wide variety of weapons like the ones that are listed as RPGs and even has side quests! Not have a changeable weapon is not the greatest requirement, but that doesn’t explain the inexplicable exclusion of PoR. It also lists LoZ as having “Action RPG” gameplay :)

      Delete
  30. Weirdly, NES Works has just today put up a video going over Deadly Towers which gives some more background, as well as where it fits in terms of Japanese Console RPGS:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJwboHcsTR0

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    1. A very fair video, I thought. Sometimes Parish's low tolerance for frustration undermines his ability to appraise a game objectively -- he's deemed some games "unplayably difficult" that I was able to beat in an hour or two -- but his coverage here is surprisingly sympathetic.

      Delete
  31. Can you share your howlongtobeat.com account name here?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It's crpgaddict, but I haven't recorded anything for a while.

      Delete
  32. Don't give up on the NES titles. People have mentioned Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy because they're standouts but there's also Crystalis and Faxanadu as actually-good action-RPGs, or Legend of the Ghost Lion and Destiny of an Emperor for more traditional JRPGs. There are legit gems here, Bokusuka Wars and Deadly Towers are just the Gateway To Apshai's of this platform.

    I'm going to echo what another poster said already though: Nobunaga's Ambition is not an RPG. It's Romance of the 3 Kingdoms but 16th Century Japan instead of 2nd & 3rd Century China. So you can safely set that one aside.

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    1. Pretty much any game made by Koei that is counted as "RPG" on Mobygames is actually a strategy game. Especially those with historical titles (are there even any others?). And it's not even an arguable hybrid case like Heroes of Might and Magic, they're strategy games through and through, not RPGs by any reasonable definition.

      Delete
    2. The only exception I can think of would be the Uncharted Waters games by Koei. Experience points, levels, equipment upgrades, recruiting NPCs; all the RPG boxes are ticked on those. Uncharted Waters 2: New Horizons was one of my favorite RPGs of the 16 bit era.

      Koei was an interesting company back in the 8 & 16 bit eras, taking some pretty wild chances on titles like Uncharted Waters and Aerobiz (also decidedly not an RPG) in addition to their strategy game mainstays like the Romance of the 3 Kingdoms, Nobunaga's Ambition and Genghis Khan games.

      Delete
  33. Did anybody write that the Legend of Zelda (an "Action/Role-Playing Series without Experience Points", as far as I am concerned) has more role-playing elements than Deadly Towers? Since not even 10 people wrote it already, I will state it! I know this is a sure way to keep Chet from playing any Legend of Zelda, though. :)

    ReplyDelete
  34. Here is my theory of Chet and console games.

    Chet is well-versed in modern CRPGs, from third-person semi-shooter Fallout to third-person slasher TES and isometric Baldur's Gate and MMO-alike KOTOR, etc.

    When he plays older games like, Camelot or Ultima or Wizardry, there is nostalgia, but also the "detective work" recognizing the latent characteristics and experimentation with game mechanics that mutate and evolve over time. So the first "fetch quest" he runs into is not a nuisance, but a discovery, and connects the dots across decades, which I am sure is exciting. He can think about the long history of mechanics and design choices.

    On the other hand, consoles are a different beast. I would guess Chet has not played, say, FF15. So because he is not steeped in the lore and mechanics of JRPGs and console-type ARPGs the same way as "western CRPGs", there is no affection for their shortcomings and what they foreshadow. The silly music and happy dance that ends battles in FF1 will not amuse him.

    For example, if he played Fire Emblem: 3 Houses, and compared it with the original Fire Emblem, he'd have a lot to say and think about, tracing that arc out. But if he just plays Fire Emblem, it will be a crappy strategy game with goofy little cartoon characters. Or if he plays Dragon Warrior, his response might be, "what is with the endless grinding and lack of direction"? He might like DW or FF or FE, but I have the feeling those games will leave him cold because he has no affection for that genre.

    The other problem is tone. The cartoony nature of most NES games is going to put him off, I imagine. When I was a kid, I imagined things very differently in my mind than how they were rendered on the screen, like reading a novel. I don't like many modern console titles because the cartoony-ness is now a conscious design choice instead of a constraint.

    For example, I think Chet will hate Final Fantasy style battles. There is very little strategy. You just have to balance healing and damage dealing, and at higher levels, mitigating negative status effects. There are no real tactics, because it's like Darkest Dungeon: you are just killing off threats as fast as you can, there's no space dimension to tactics. Similarly, when I tried Ultima 1 recently, I hated it. It connected in no way to my ideas about what games should be like. I realized what Wizardry "was" and bounced right off it. I just have no nostalgia nor affection for those titles or sets of mechanics.

    I would almost suggest he should play a few later titles in these genres, just to play something that gives him a point of positive comparison for the older stuff he'll be playing. Even Adventure of Link or Simon's Quest might be more up his alley than whatever this was, or Hydlide.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe the right frame of reference is to compare hardware? Why do consoles whose advantage is controls generally drift in the platformer/ARPG direction while computers with clunky but expressive controls drift in the CRPG direction? How do the developers/audiences constrain the tone of the games? A frame like that might reduce the torture.

      The first time Chet brought out the GLCM acronym and compared Zelda to Hydlide I knew the console forays would be... perilous.

      Delete
    2. Ok, it's driving me crazy and I can't find it anywhere.

      Please remind me what GLCM means?

      Something Little Cartoon Man?

      Delete
    3. "I realized what Wizardry "was" and bounced right off it. I just have no nostalgia nor affection for those titles or sets of mechanics."

      Chet loved Wizardry though. He'll probably at least "get" Final Fantasy, even if he doesn't like it quite as much.

      FF2, on the other hand...

      Delete
    4. I have no jrpg nostalgia. Didn't play an FF til I was 18. FF1 is better than most of the games Chet has played so far, though I didn't stick with it for long.

      Delete
    5. But if you were invested/fluent in the genre, don't you think you would have enjoyed it more and stuck with it? There would have been a bigger scope for you to do archaeology of the ludonarrative.

      Like I dislike romance novels, and didn't care for Jane Eyre. I know it's a classic but I am not a conoisseur of that stuff, so I don't see it as a classic. I thought Beowulf was fascinating because it felt like it establishes the whole sword and sorcery genre and sets up a lot of the tropes.

      Rogue clearly sets up this cool set of mechanics and risks that other games later pick and choose from. It's interesting to think about how permadeath and risk-v-reward dungeon crawling propogate or rise and fall in the genre. The design of the save system and scarcity of safety is a big part of Dark Souls, for example. At the end of the day, how different really are Dark Souls and Rogue? Isn't the fun part of the gameplay quite similar? Or does Rogue's reliance on randomization and Souls's devotion to mastery of its mechanics make them fundamentally different in some way? Chet has developed an expert opinion on this stuff.

      But does Chet have the experience to discuss Fire Emblem's contributions? Or can he trace Dragon Quest's current gen features back to DW 1 and 2?

      How much is his experience and satisfaction as a critic shaped by this archaeological function?

      Go read Jason Schreier's Final Fantasy retrospective to see an example of what I mean. He can discuss the history of the job system clearly. Chet would probably not.

      This retrospective analysis is a big part of the draw of the blog for me, and I imagine a big part of the fun for Chet. When he plays console games it feels to me like an Egyptologist dabbling in Roman history.

      Delete
    6. Elements of Egyptology will be interesting to someone who studies Greece, because they'll be able to spot things which came from Egypt to Greece or vice versa, and that's interesting even if you don't care about Egypt really.

      Same thing with Chet and JRPGs. He'll be coming to them from a CRPG angle, and that's what interests me, and that's what this blog is about. I won't be reading his posts on FF1 to get a view of FF1s importance to JRPGs!

      Delete
    7. I like Tristan's answer. Moreover, my chronological approach means that my expertise will develop along with the games themselves. I might not be able to comment on a game's impact on the future NOW, but I'll be able to comment on it when I reach the future games that it impacted.

      Delete
  35. Interesting that you have blogged about an ARPG.

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    1. This is like the 5th-15th depending on how one defines it.

      Delete
    2. Interesting that you have commented on my blogging about an ARPG.

      Delete
  36. Damn it. I hate everyone and everything today.

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    1. Look at the bright side, 135 comments in a thread about a JRPGs and no mention of Shin Megami Tensei!

      Just kidding, and great post as always.

      Delete
  37. Not sure if someone mentioned this or not. (There are a LOT of comments already!)
    Not sure if NESTopia supports CPU speed changes? I use Mesen, and it does, and sometimes going down to 75% speed really helps when things get too hectic, and sometimes going up to 250% speed can save you a lot of boredom.

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    Replies
    1. It does, but this isn't the sort of game for which I would adjust the speed. Faster would make an already-hard game even harder and slower would feel like cheating.

      Delete
    2. I do support adjusting speeds when it just hastens things along without dramatically affecting the difficulty.

      Delete
  38. A friend of mine had this as a kid and boy did we ever spend an absurd amount of time trying to get through it. It's funny to me now because we basically had no standards, we'd never shelve a game because it was "unfair," it was just keep trying and hopefully win. We had no concept of a game being bad.

    ReplyDelete
  39. "Emulating the game on a modern keyboard, at least with NESTopia, introduces an additional difficulty in aiming and moving diagonally, which is often necessary. NESTopia maps the directional pad to the numberpad, but it doesn't allow the 7, 9, 1, and 3 keys to move you diagonally. Instead, you have to hold down, say, 4 and 8 at the same time to move northwest. I find this difficult at the best times and nearly impossible in the heat of a pitched battle."
    Isn't it the same on real NES?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On a real NES, the cross pad is about the size of an adult's thumb and is a single block of plastic (which pushes down on four contact pads based on how you press it). This means that it is extremely easy to push two directions at a time and thus get a diagonal.

      On a keyboard, all the inputs are completely separate, and pushing two keys together (especially on the numpad, which is not the ideal control - using WASD or the arrow keys is usually better because it's a more compact cluster) isn't nearly as smooth, depending on what keyboard you're using. Many emulators simply allow you to map a diagonal key, but NEStopia doesn't.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Gnoman. That's the point I would have made precisely.

      Delete
    3. It really may be worth picking up a USB game pad. They're not expensive, pretty easy to program on most emulators, and provide a good approximation of the NES/console experience. Especially if there's some action involved, it's just a lot easier to play than with a keyboard.

      Delete
  40. I wish I had something more insightful to add, but all I can really comment is that I thoroughly enjoyed this entry and all the discussion in the comments on it. I lived and played this time period of gaming history and the peculiar crossover/development/divergence/evolution of western CRPG, JRPG, computers, and consoles, and I just revel in the retrospective analysis and discussion of it all.

    I do though echo some comments above that Deadly Towers is not a JRPG, and not really an RPG at all. It's just a Bad Game. I played it when it was new(ish) and tried desperately to like it or even get a bit into it, but it has almost no redeeming qualities. However that was a different era in so many ways. I had an NES, I did not have a computer, game selection and availability on either was paltry and intermittent, the very definitions of CRPG and JRPG and what defined either from any other type of game were all still in their infancy, and I loved Tolkien and D&D and had the box art and Nintendo Power article on this game to make me think Deadly Towers was where it was at. So all the sentiment in this article and the comments ring quite reminiscent for me.

    Great article as always and the blog continues to be fantastic. I really dig these occasional console diversions you explore, and I'm not even a JRPG fan (and completely relate to the points Chet has made in the past about why he doesn't really -get- them either). However they inform the big picture and I appreciate Chet's take on the consoles diversions specifically and on the big picture writ large. So bring 'em on as much as you want.

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    1. Thanks! I appreciate the feedback. I agree that DT isn't really an RPG, but by the time I got far enough to come to that conclusion, I felt I might as well write about it.

      Delete
  41. howlongtobeat is notoriously bad with estimates for games you have to figure out how to beat, or those with limited lives/continues.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Are you going to change your blog name? CRPG implies PC games, not consoles. I know you decided to broaden out but this seems a bad track, below the quality of your normal output.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Addicts forays into console games are rare and usually only to see what was happening historically in the time frame he's exploring. It's not a regular thing.

      Delete
    2. I've played maybe 5 console games out of 346 games. I hope you'll agree that it might be too soon to change the blog's name.

      Delete
  43. Chet could eventually try the absolutely crazy and unknown (out of Japan) 46 Okunen Monogatari: The Shinka Ron (or in English: EVO The Theory of Evolution) for the Japanese computer PC-98. It has a translation patch at a site called 46 Okumen.

    It's a very simple JRPG, but it has some good ideas like the evolution system (you start as a fish and evolve to lizards, and other species, until human near the end), and the story is completely bonkers. But bonkers in a good way, of course. It has evolution, fight of the strongest, natural disasters...oh, and aliens, mother Gaia and Lucifer as well. Who looks like Marylin Monroe. Because of course.

    ReplyDelete
  44. If your looking for early nes RPGs I suggest destiny of a emperor

    ReplyDelete

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