Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Game 414: Tritorn (1985)

 
The game's title is the only thing not in English.
      
Tritorn
Japan
Sein-Soft (developer and publisher)
Released in 1985 for PC-88, Sharp X1, and PC-6001; 1986 for FM-7, MSX, and PC-98
Date Started: 18 May 2021
Date Ended: 20 May 2021
Total Hours: 11
Difficulty: Hard (4.0/5)
Final Rating: 9
Ranking at Time of Posting: 9/417 (2%)
     
The other day, we coined "hydlike" for Hydlide-like games. We need another term for the type of side-scrolling action RPGs that debuted in Xanadu: Dragon Slayer II. "Xanaderived?" In any event, these games share a lot of similarities with hydlikes, but they add chutes and ladders and platforms. As with hydlikes, they walk a fine line between RPG and non-RPG. I just rejected King Kong 2 because it had no character development (except maximum health, which I don't count) and combat was based entirely on action and weapon. Tritorn does a bit better: In addition to health, it has a strength attribute that improves with experience, and that strength statistic determines attack power. The game does not have a classic RPG inventory, but I didn't really become cognizant of that until I'd already spent a few hours on it, and by then I figured I'd just finish it.
   
Tritorn is one of those games that despite being released only in Japan is entirely in English. It was released on multiple platforms, and sometimes in multiple formats for the same platform. The MSX version, for instance, had both a cassette release and a cartridge release. I played the latter, and from what I gather, it's considered the hardest version, with several features not present in its cassette counterpart or on other platforms. I am indebted to this Japanese site for solving many of the mysteries of the game, including a game-breaking bug right at the end. I never would have been able to win without it.
     
The game's opening screen.
      
The framing story is that a demonic knight named Pay-Valusa is threatening the Island of Luwanda. It is up to the hero, Tritorn, to stop his evil machinations. Some sites offer alternate spellings of those names (e.g., "Pei-Barusa" and, amusingly, "Rwanda"), but I'm using the ones that appear in the endgame text. I have no theories on any of the origins, except that "Tritorn" sounds like "Triton."
    
With no character creation, the player is dropped into a maze of 100 screens, each with constantly-respawning enemies to slay. At the outset, he has 200 hit points, 200 strength, 10 magic balls, and a sword. Screens transition to each other on the right, left, top, and bottom, and through various doorways. There are only six game commands to start: left, right, jump, go through a door, attack, and throw a magic ball. Your current enemy's stats are listed in the lower-right block. When you're not fighting anything, this block just says "Sein." This makes sense because aside from whatever foes he faces in-game, a CRPG player's real enemy is the game's developer.
   
You're essentially in combat from the moment the game begins to the moment it ends. I found it very hard. I probably reloaded once per minute throughout the entire 11 hours. Just like King Kong 2, the main problem is that you can't really attack enemies out of range. If you can hit them, they can hit you. There are a few more tricks to exploit here; for instance, they only damage you if they're facing you, and you do more damage with jump-attacks than by standing still swinging. Still, this sort of action-oriented combat doesn't come easily to me. The only reason I stuck with the game was that I had to watch about 8 hours of training videos this week, and I was looking for something mindless to do at the same time.
        
Dragons are tough enemies, but this was a good grinding spot because their breath passes over me until they get to my square, at which point I can hit them.
      
The one good thing is that standing still causes your hit points to regenerate 10 every two seconds. Later, you find a potion that makes this even faster. 
    
A rare screen with no enemies. I just have to avoid the lava and hole in the floor while testing the portals.
     
Every 1,000 experience points, you get another 100 maximum health and strength. The "experience" meter then rolls over to 0 after 1,000, so I don't know why it has four digits in the first place. I had to grind a lot, particularly at the beginning, a process the game discourages by scaling the amount of experience you earn with your level. Eventually, you earn nothing for low-level foes and you have to move on to more difficult ones.
   
In addition to experience, the character develops by finding "inventory" items. I put that word in quotes because they cannot be dropped, used, or equipped. They're basically permanent "power-ups" that provide some new ability or status. You get some of them by killing large numbers of certain creatures, and you find others. The ones you find always tell you what they do. The ones that enemies drop are mysterious, although that Japanese fan site had a rundown. The first item you find is a potion that speeds up your walking speed for the rest of the game. Other items include shields that protect against physical and fire damage, a holy book that protects against spells, and a potion that increases the speed at which you swing your sword.
      
An item awaits my arrival at the bottom of the screen.
     
A few items are absolutely necessary for navigation. There's a key that opens certain walls, a candle that lets you see previously-hidden doors, and a potion that greatly increases your jumping distance.
     
Acquiring the ability to jump higher.
   
The only option you have other than physical attacks is to throw "magic balls," which stun enemies for a few seconds. These go quickly. Eventually, you find some object that allows you to collect magic balls from slain "worms and crows," although the names of the enemies in-game are actually "woams" and "crus." At first, this is capped at 9, but later it increases to 24. These enemies are found in such limited places that you can't become too careless with your use of the balls. Still later, you find a scroll that lets you use the "M" key to cast one of two spells: "Hold," which freezes everything on-screen, and "Flash," which kills everything on screen. These consume magic balls. I only ever cast two or three of them.
    
Navigation is as much a challenge as the enemies. There are ceilings, floors, and walls that you can pass through, so you spend a lot of time looking for secret passages. Even worse, there are a couple of places in which you have to use magic balls or spells to progress, with no hint or warning from the game. For instance, there's one place where you have to shoot three magic balls at a particular rock to open a shaft downward. There's another where you have to cast a "Flash" spell while standing on a rock to open a hole in the floor. It never would have occurred to me to do those things without the aforementioned guide.
     
To get into the doorway beneath me, I have to know to stand on this particular square and cast "Flash."
    
Oh, and there are also lots of dead-end screens from which there's no way to return. Pity the player who saves there.
       
I slowly die in lava.
     
The moments I hated most were the platforming ones. Tritorn isn't a real platformer, in that it doesn't have platforms that move or grow or shrink or whatnot. But an awful lot of gameplay does involve leaping from nub to nub, often having to move or twist in mid-air. Some of the jumps require you to freeze an enemy and use him as a springboard. The constantly-respawning enemies often show up at the worst time to block you from where you're trying to go. There were times I had to save with every inch of progress I made and reload when I fell.
     
The endgame has two parts. The first requires you to slay a fire-breathing dragon. Even though I somehow got there, I wouldn't know how to direct you to his chambers. You have to go right off a particular screen, but that screen normally dumps you in a different place when you go right. The Japanese fan site just indicated there was some kind of "trick" to switching the screens. I'm not sure what I did, but after about 100 tries, using different key combinations, timing, and anything I could think of, I finally happened to wander into the correct screen.
  
The dragon isn't very hard. He breathes a line of fire at regular intervals, and it knocks you off his platform, but you can just wait, heal up, and return to continue the attack.
       
Lurking in the dragon's chamber.
     
Once you kill the dragon, a platform appears under a door that was previously just hanging in the air. That takes you to the chambers of Pay-Valusa, a giant man with a giant sword. He also kicks. To kill him, you have to keep jumping over his head as he changes his facing direction. It took me a few tries, as health does not regenerate in his chamber.

I should mention that in the native MSX cartridge version, you can't enter the final area without the game crashing. Fortunately, that fan site had instructions for hex-editing the active memory so that the crash didn't happen.
       
The screen flashes different colors as Pay-Valusa dies.
        
Once Pay-Valusa dies, the screen flashes and the endgame message appears:
           
The battle of Luwanda Island is over. A courageous man, Tritorn, you win a victory. On the Earth and under ground, you fight. The instant you knocked Pay-Valusa down, various monsters died out. After this, it will preserve peace in Luwanda Island. I have a desire to last it for ever.
            
Just like King Kong 2, Tritorn is not my kind of game. It would be incorrect to say that I dislike action RPGs, but I do dislike them when they offer so few options, and when success is so clearly about the player's fingers rather than the character's attributes. Tritorn doesn't even have any NPCs, clues, or plot interludes to break up the monotony of killing and dying. On the GIMLET, I give it:
      
  • 1 point for the game world. It has a basic framing story.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. I'm counting the inventory bonuses as "character development" here rather than "inventory."
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. The enemies are nothing special, but I'll allow a point for the navigation puzzles as a kind of puzzle.
  • 1 point for magic and combat. You aim and swing, and the couple of spells aren't worth anything extra.
  • 0 points for inventory, since I regarded the items you find more as character development. My feeling is that if you can't equip, unequip, use, or drop it, it's not an inventory item.
  • 0 points for no economy.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. It gets all of that for the interface, which, being simple, works well. I found the graphics ugly and the shapes indiscernible. (Other platforms offer manifestly better graphics.) Sound cannot be turned off independently of the relentlessly-repeating music track.
  • 0 points for gameplay I don't like awarding 0 in this category, but the category looks for nonlinearity, replayability, an appropriate challenge level, and appropriate length. None of those factors apply.
        
In fact, I have to subtract a point in the "bonus" category, not just for the bug, but for those couple of puzzles that would have been completely unsolvable without some kind of hint. Again, my understanding is that these are unique to the MSX version, so mentally bump up the final score for other platforms. That final score is 9. Nonetheless, the game occupied me for about a dozen hours of boring videos, and it contributed to our picture of the Japanese RPG scene of the 1980s, a subject for a later special topic.  
     
Sein-Soft (later stylized as Xain or Zainsoft) followed this game with Super Tritorn in 1986 and Tritorn II: Road of Darkness in 1988. Super Tritorn just seems to be a remake with better graphics, but Tritorn II reportedly adds more RPG trappings, like an economy, towns and shops, NPCs, and weapons and armor. (Alas, I don't believe an English patch exists, so I probably won't get to try that one.) Sein must have had a bad experience with that one, because they went back to pure action for their final game, 1990's Valusa no Fukush├╣.
      
Back we go to another round of regular entries. Let's see if we can wrap up both Mission: Thunderbolt and Darkside of Xeen in this batch.

43 comments:

  1. It looks like Maze of Galious (an MSX classic), and by extension La Mulana (a famous indie game), are also Xanaderived games.

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    1. Yeah this made me immediately think of La Mulana. More so than Dragon Slayer.

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    2. Pay-Valusa (written as Peibalusa) is, in fact, one of the NPC shopkeepers in La-Mulana 2. (All of the shopkeepers in that game are references to other games.)

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  2. Replies
    1. Oooh, that is good!

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    2. The reliance on hard-to-find items that function inexplicably make me think of Tower of Druaga. Maybe...Druaglite?

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    3. Come to think of it, I like "Xanadesque" :)

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    4. Kubla-clones

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    5. It's too bad a term already exists, because I think this is a winner.

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    6. Definitely made me giggle.

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    7. I think the later game Faxanadu's name could sub in as a genre name - it sounds like it should be a scanned copy of xanadu that fell on the floor and is waiting for you to pick up.

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    8. I'm pretty sure that the name is supposed to be pronounced "Fazanadu" (as in "Famicom Xanadu"), but you've now ensured that I won't ever say it the correct way.

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    9. I was going to suggest "Xanatype", but I think this comfortably trumps it!

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  3. In literal interpretation, anything can be a role playing game. You just play a role and you´ve made the grade. Back in the day, maybe we should have coined the phrase "character developing game" though all terms are really going to fail. Nobody owns the copyright so anyone can make a game and call it an RPG by their self-definition. We have to live with this.
    Anyway good review here Chet.

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    1. In literal Interpretation, every game that isn't an abstract puzzle game is an adventure game, too. RPGs? You definitely go on adventures there! FPS? Those are pretty adventurous! Strategy games? Well, the soldiers you command are certainly going through some adventurous situations!

      It's unfortunate that many genres have such broadly interpretable names. There would be way fewer discussions about genre definitions if we just referred to them by lineage. So RPGs would be D&D-likes, adventure games would be... well, Adventure-likes, and so on.

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    2. Nah. Then you'd just get people arguing that Space Quest IV is not an adventure-like because it's really nothing like ADVENT, or that Cave Story is an adventure-like because it takes place in a colossal cave.

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  4. 1. Pay-Valusa sounds like some kind of exotic credit card system or subway pass.

    2. Honestly, based on the description and screenshots, what this really reminds me of is a melee version of an early Metroid, complete with platforming and navigation challenges (and even an end fight with an evil dragon!).

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    1. Hm, and the items as well, that function as a permanent powerup instead of something you can drop and equip.

      Good point: these Xanadu games appear to fit in the genre we call Metroidvania today (and yes, they predate Metroid, but that's the Trope Codifier rather than the Trope Maker; and the first Castlevania game is not a Metroidvania either).

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    2. To me, the key feature of the metroidvania genre is level designs where exploration is a type of puzzle. You have a large, open world initially full of dead ends, but as you explore, the dead ends open up and new shortcuts and modes of transport are unlocked.

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    3. Just played Ultima 8 recently and your description of metroidvana sounds very close to the type of game I just played. Is that what Ultima 8 actually is? A metroidvana?

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    4. Because perspective is a big part of gameplay, I'd say Ultima 8 fits more in the line of Solstice, Landstalker, and Cadaver. Basically, isometric platform games; another subgenre of action adventure. Granted, such games have way less dialogue and equippable items than U8, but metroidvanias usually don't have much of those, either.

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    5. Thanks for cluing me in to that term. I have no experience with those games and wasn't aware of it.

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    6. Let me expand on the term a little, as I think there's a bit more to it than people are saying.

      There are two "pieces" of being a Metroidvania. First, a game needs to be a side-scrolling action-adventure game. Action Adventure games are games that mix action, exploration, puzzle solving, and (typically) character progression, like Zelda-likes and Hydlikes/etc. Not all side-scrolling action adventure games are Metroidvanias! A good example would be Milon's Secret Castle. (Action Adventure games can also be RPGs, but not all are. Zelda 2 and Symphony of the Night are RPGs, but Metroid and Zelda 1 are not.)

      Second, a game needs to have metroidvania-style skill/ability/item unlocks. Basically, at a bare minimum, you want at least 1-2 skills/abilities/items in your side-scrolling action adventure that both: 1. make it possible to explore new areas and reach previously unreachable secrets and 2. impact your ability to deal with the action challenges, such as platforming and combat. The double jump is a good example of a classic Metroidvania unlockable (along with a number of other expanded jumping mechanics: gravity boots, triple jump, dashes, floating, flying, jumping off of enemies, etc.)

      The "Metroidvania experience" is exploring a character, getting skill unlocks, finding new areas and secrets, getting new action challenges that will test your new skills, and then getting new skill unlocks/etc.

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  5. The red part of these screenshots seems to have a remarkable 3d-ish effect.

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  6. "Puzzles" that have no clues and require you to take actions with no relation to the consequences are endemic to Japanese games in this period. I saw someone point the finger at Tower of Druaga as the primary inspiration for this thing, although there's probably a less influential game in the Japanese PC game that did it first. It was probably more interesting back in the day when nobody expected to beat games, they just explored them for months and chatted with friends.

    Not defending it though, it's pretty lame design.

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    1. There was plenty of that in Western games too, especially adventure games. Hint books and call-in hint lines were a big money maker back in the day. I wouldn't be surprised if Japan had similar hint books or such.

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    2. Sierra adventure games were notorious for that. Difficult puzzles with no hints, and you could easily get yourself stuck without knowing it just by failing to pick up a one pixel tall pebble that appears on a screen you only visit once and can't return to...

      I find it ironic when Roberta Williams claimed that FPS games like Doom and Quake killed adventure games because gamers became less interested in "intelligent" games and more into action. There's a lot more logical thinking involved in maneuvering around a Quake map and choosing which weapon to use against which enemy, than there is in your average King's Quest game with its nonsensical puzzles and punishing pixel hunts.

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  7. I bet this game had a big influence on the developers of Zelda 2 for the NES. It seems like everything described here about this game, evolved a bit. Instead of always going from side scrolling screen to side scrolling screen, there is an overworld map, and you "zoom in" from there to encounters, towns, dungeons, etc. Which then are side scrolling. There are three attributes you spend xp to improve: Attack strength, life, and magic. The bosses and their abilities seem like an evolution from this game to me.

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  8. In this one case, I don't think you need to invent a term as other commenters observed this would be a "Metroidvania" game. That said, that term doesn't necessarily imply RPG elements (though they are usually present), but rather a action series where you explore an open-ish world, get stronger through located upgrades and/or experience, and yet still have an action core.


    The key games to establish that genre-term were "Metroid" (1986), "Castlevania II: Simon's Quest" (1987), and "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" (1997).

    Of those, Metroid is pretty much only an action game, but the Castlevania side found a fun balance of action and RPG. Castlevania II, which you might be tempted to play, is far from the best in that series and loses out due to having a particularly bad English localization where many of the clues are garbled or missing. They seem to have a translator that didn't quite know they were translating a RPG and figured the details wouldn't matter... "Symphony of the Night" (which you would not get to for a long time) is perhaps one of the greatest examples of this genre and pretty much codified the terms that others would try to imitate.

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    1. That's not bad translation. Most of the "garbled clues" were people lying to you because they want your quest to fail - the whole plot of Castlevania II is that you are trying to resurrect Dracula so you can kill him again.

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    2. It is a mix of bad translation and lying characters, apparently. Source: https://bisqwit.iki.fi/cv2fin/diff#t37

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    3. I doubt the clues that are simply ungrammatical are intended to be lies.

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  9. Very cool to see these classic Japanese games get featured here! It's interesting to read about and see the different origins of RPGs around the world, with different cultures having entirely different ideas as to what constitutes a "Role-Playing Game" and how to express those ideas in a computer program.

    Sein/Zain/Xainsoft is a notoriously shady company with quite the laundry list of, for lack of a better term, bad stuff going on at their office. I'm not an expert, so I highly recommend John Szczepaniak's book "The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 2" where he manages to transcribe a rare interview with a former employee of Xain. In short: abysmal wages, extraordinarily long hours (20 hour work-days, sleeping at the office, not going home for weeks), physical abuse (punching, kicking, things being thrown, etc) from the company's President, Yakuza ties, and more.

    On a lighter note, there is a 3rd Tritorn game as well, Tritorn Final, released for the Sharp X68000 in 1989. There's precious little information about the game online, but it is real!

    https://refuge.tokyo/x68k/x68000/00288.html has some screenshots and release information on Tritorn Final

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    1. That's an interesting bit of intel on the company. The idea that anyone didn't go home for weeks and got kicked over Tritorn is pretty heartbreaking.

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  10. When you talk about "saving", does the game inherently and natively allow you to save anywhere? Or do you mean that you're using save states via the emulator?

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    1. It natively allows you to save anywhere, but I used emulator save states except when I had to shut down for the night.

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  11. Is Tritorn a bad game, or does it just have insufficient RPG characteristics to score much?

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    1. A bit of both. I don't like the genre much in the first place, so naturally it's not going to perform well on a scale tailored to what I like most about RPGs. But I also think it's just a bad game. At best, it's indistinguishable from a dozen other titles doing the same thing.

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  12. In case it hasn't yet been mentioned, one interesting game to keep in mind might be Curse of Babylon on C64, which is actually a localized conversion of Babylon for FM-7 and PC-88. Thanks to the C64 release, there already exists official English documentation for the game.

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  13. Japanese fantasy names that accidentally overlap with real-world country names are one of those things that I see crop up occasionally. The third Zelda game has a "Cane of Somalia." (Called "Somaria" in the English translations, understandably.) The SNES evolution RPG E.V.O. has magic crystals that were called "Costa Ricas" in the Japanese text (a name that didn't make the cut in the English release; I went with "Costallica" in my re-translation).

    I really wonder if this is a common issue for Japanese writers, having to try really hard to avoid naming collisions. Seems like it could be a challenge, given the relatively limited set of sounds Japanese has to represent foreign or made-up words.

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    1. Didn't we have a game where the hero was from "Arkansas"? I'm trying to find it.

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    2. Google gives me your post on Minelvaton Saga, which had a town called "Arkasas"? You pointed out the similarity to "Arkansas" there.

      I've also seen the name "Arkasas" as the setting of a 90s non-RPG called Arcus, incidentally.

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