Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Game 192: Dragon Slayer (1984)

Dragon Slayer
Nihon Falcom (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for PC-88 and FM-7; 1985 for MSX and Sharp X1; 1986 for Epoch Super Cassette Vision; 1990 for Game Boy
Date Started: 23 June 2015
Date Ended: 23 June 2015
Total Hours: 5
Reload Count: 8 characters; 7 reloads with final character
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 11
Ranking at Time of Posting: 13/190 (7%)

You'd think it would be hard to play things out of order if they all occurred in the same year, but I seem to have done so. Hydlide, which I covered earlier this month, appears to be the last of the three Japanese, top-down, arcade-like, bash-headlong-into-creatures-to-fight-them games released in 1984. The first, an actual arcade game, was The Tower of Druaga. It doesn't appear on my list because it makes no pretense to RPG elements. The character doesn't get stronger as he collects treasure and fights enemies; he just achieves a higher score. Nonetheless, it was enormously popular, was translated to several Japanese PCs, and influenced both Dragon Slayer and Hydlide.

A screenshot from the FM-7 version of The Tower of Druaga, courtesy of MobyGames.

Dragon Slayer was the second of the two games, and its debt to Druaga is obvious, including the arrangement of the screen and the use of a maze-like dungeon as the game world. The difference is a broader series of statistics on the right-hand side of the screen. Instead of lives, time, and a high score, we get hit points, strength, experience, gold, magic power, and crowns (the last one is important only at the end of the game). The introduction of these elements is the only thing that gives this game some slight RPG credentials that Druaga didn't have. It's still not really an RPG under my rules, given the lack of a traditional RPG inventory.

Hydlide is arguably the best of the three games, offering outdoor areas to explore in addition to indoor mazes, featuring a greater selection of inventory items to acquire, and not being as obnoxious on the mechanisms of carrying things. Did Hydlide take inspiration from Dragon Slayer, or was it independently influenced by Druaga? It's hard to say. The inclusion of your enemy's hit point level in the lower-right corner is something that both later games have and Druaga doesn't, which provides some suggestion that Hydlide owes its lineage to both previous games. On the other hand, the combat mechanism is a bit different.

A comparable shot from Hydlide.

Like Hydlide, Dragon Slayer is mysteriously in English. Unlike Hydlide, it lacks any kind of introductory screen that explains what you're doing in the dungeon. Presumably, you're there to slay a dragon, but there's no back story in the game itself. I don't know if it came with a manual that offered anything more specific.

The player starts outside a house, presumably the character's (living in a dungeon must suck), and he can return to it at any time to get hit points restored to the same number as his current experience (until his experience exceeds 1,000, the restoration is to 1,000). He starts with no weapons, meaning he can only damage enemies to the tune of 10 hit points--and the lowest-leveled enemy starts with 1,500. Finding a sword is top priority. One nearby, but behind a wall, is no help.

The beginning of the game. I could really use that stuff.

You're a bit faster than the monsters, but they can move diagonally and you can't (at least, not at the beginning). They can also gang up on you and trap you. Overall, the game is horribly, frustratingly difficult in the beginning stages. Most of my characters died before they ever even got a sword. It seems to have been designed with an arcade dynamic in mind--kill the player fast so he puts in more quarters.

My player literally one second before death.

As you explore, you watch out for the following items:

  • Gold coins, which, when returned to your house, give you 500 extra hit points above your maximum.
  • Rings, which, when equipped, let you push wall blocks around as long as they have a free space to go.

Pushing a block around after picking up a ring. One of three "warp" locations, which teleport you to other areas of the level, is to my left.

  • Bottles, which store magic power, needed for the various navigation spells.
  • Crosses, which prevent you from taking or dealing damage while equipped (enemies can still trap you and leave you nowhere to go)
  • Keys, which unlock chests.
  • Power stones, which, when returned to your house, increase your strength.
  • Warp portals, which take you to other areas of the dungeon or dungeon levels.

Enemies line up to attack, but they can't hurt me with my cross. Of course, I can't hurt them, either.

The particularly annoying thing is that, with the exception of gold coins and magic power potions, you can only carry one item at a time. If you want to grab that power stone to take back to the house, you have to drop the cross first. And since ghosts fly through the dungeon randomly redistributing things, you might not be able to get it back.

Once you have a sword, you can deal normal damage to enemies and start killing them for experience. Whether the enemy is attacking you or you're attacking the enemy, the damage dealt is the difference between the attacker's strength and the defender's experience. (This is tempered for the PC, however, who never loses more than half his hit points in a single attack.) If the attacker's strength is lower than the defender's experience, the attacker does only 10 damage, which essentially makes it impossible to win a combat because it takes too long.

Fighting a foot while some bucktoothed head with sunglasses waits to attack next. Since I have 84,000 strength to his 11,000 experience, I'll kill him in a single blow. His 13,000 strength against my 19,400 experience means he's not really capable of hurting me.

This system horribly unbalances the game. At the beginning, with your starting 200 experience and 1,000 hit points, you're vulnerable to every enemy in the dungeon, since they start with between 300 and a couple thousand experience. But once you kill just a few of them and tip the scales the other way, they only do 10 damage per attack. Once you start finding power stones, each one gives you a 2,500 strength boost (from a starting strength of 1,500), more than enough to kill the first few levels of enemies nearly instantly. Basically, every time you meet an enemy in the game, you either don't stand a chance against him or you slaughter him instantly.

Returning to my abode with a power stone, some fuzzy monster hot on my tail.

The other weird quirk of the game is that killing an enemy causes another enemy of the next level to respawn at one of the game's many tombstones. The enemies don't have names, but the first three levels of foes seemed to be skeletons, some kind of bird, and dinosaurs. All were present in the dungeon at the beginning. As I killed the skeletons and birds, dinosaurs replaced them. As I killed the dinosaurs, they were replaced by some insectoid-looking creature. I lost count, but there ended up being several dozen "levels" of creature in the game.

As I said, most of my characters were lucky if they managed to get a sword. Eventually, I found that a teleporter near the entrance took me to a sword (and two rings). If I loaded up on coins near the entrance, jacked up my hit points, and dragged a cross along with me, I could usually make it to the teleporter. I then picked up the sword, grabbed the cross again, and made it back to the house. But by then, the dungeon was swarming with enemies, and any time I dropped the cross to grab a ring or a power stone, I usually died.

Just as I was about to give up in disgust, the game got strangely easy. It turns out that once your strength exceeds theirs, enemies start to run from you. (At least, they did for a while. I'm frankly not sure how this works, because they stopped running at some point during the game even when I was well above their levels.) At that point, I was able to explore without getting swarmed. A bizarre strategy emerged: study the patterns of enemies as they appear, so you know their relative levels. Then study who's currently fleeing from you, and only attack enemies of a level below the highest enemy who's running away from you. That way, no enemy who's willing to attack you will ever spawn.

Late in the game. Monsters include a fuzzy guy with a spear, a foot, a deer, and some kind of ninja dude.

As I said, eventually everyone started attacking again, so I'm not sure what the actual rules were, but even the brief respite was enough. I found enough power stones to jack my character's strength way up, then killed enough enemies that my experience kept me from taking too much damage. As I amassed potions, safety was as easy as a "Return" spell, but I hardly ever even needed one of those.

The dungeon is about 80 squares east-west and 108 squares north-south. It wraps on itself on the east-west axis but not the north-south one. Early in the game, navigation is hard because you can't move diagonally and you have no way to get past walls. Eventually, when you hit 30,000 experience points, you can use diagonal movement. Spells become available at various experience levels (I generally missed exactly when), plus one ability that lets you smash a wall to pieces. Eventually, navigation is trivial because you can just blast your way wherever you want to go.

The "Map" spell helps a little with navigation.

The hardest part of the game is keeping hold of one of the very small number of keys. I think there might only be 3 or 4 in the entire game. When you have one, you can open chests, but if you stop to pick up some of the treasure, or leave the key behind while you run back to the house with a power stone, there's a decent chance that a ghost will come along, steal the key, and drag it somewhere else in the dungeon.

Note the house at the bottom of the screen. I moved it to take advantage of these chests.

The middle section of the game was extremely boring. I found the enemies unchallenging, and the biggest difficulty was opening all the chests and dragging all the power stones back to the house, one by one. Eventually, I realized that the ring would allow me to push my house as well as a wall, so I started dragging the house with me to major treasure chest areas, making it much easier to return "home" with my loot.

Some of the chests held skeletons that would immediately start following me around. They would ditch me when I got back to my house, but if I walked into an adjacent square, they started following me again. I never figured out what they were supposed to do. They didn't seem to protect me or do any extra damage. Because they prevented "Return" from working, they were mostly an annoyance. But I'd love to hear from anyone who knows what they were supposed to accomplish.

An area full of loot. Fortunately, I have a key. An unwelcome skeleton follows me.

Enemies cycled through fuzzy things, disembodied feet, records, disembodied heads wearing sunglasses, penguins, aliens, floppy disks, deer, reapers, vampires, and maybe a few others before reaching some kind of cross between an alligator and a boot. This guy was so much more difficult than the previous enemies that I assumed it must be a dragon, and killing him would end the game. I spent a lot of time building up my strength and experience before I could defeat him. When I did, it turned out he was just another generic enemy and there were still many levels above him.

The creature that I amusingly thought was the dragon.

Some of the enemies are capable of special attacks, such as stealing gold, stealing magic, or (worst of all) stealing strength. Fortunately, only the vampire-looking creatures do that, and I learned to attack first and finish them in one blow before they had a chance to hit me.

Enemies finally culminated in some kind of armored character who, I'm convinced, is impossible to beat. There simply aren't enough power stones in the game to get your strength high enough. The highest strength I achieved, after opening every chest in the game and finding every stone (albeit with a few drains from vampires) was 445,000. The warriors have an experience level of 520,000. Unless I missed 32 power stones, the only way to defeat them would be to whittle them down 10 hit points at a time. Since they start with 650,000 hit points, I estimate that would take over 9 hours at 2 hits a second. And for all I know, there's an even tougher creature above that.

Gingerly approaching the dragon. Note all the potions. You don't need THAT much magic in the game.

The real dragon turned out to be nestled within a maze in the southern part of the dungeon. He had three heads. If I approached from the tail, his tail flicked and knocked me back to the starting area. Each of the heads could breathe fire. Oddly, they only had 10 hit points, but with a strength of 600,000, I'd need at least that many experience points to avoid taking catastrophic damage.

After a long period of grinding, I finally achieved that level, returned to the dragon, and killed its three heads. At that point, three treasure chests that surrounded him burst open, revealing four crowns, which immediately scattered to points unknown throughout the dungeon.

Slicing off the dragon's three heads.

My house was returned to its starting location and was surrounded by spawning gravestones. The character icon never lost his "charred" look after having suffered dragon fire. The "Return" spell stopped working.

About this time, I noticed that I started taking heavy damage from every foe again. I realized that after 650,000 experience points, my total had rolled over to 0 again! Not willing to just suck that up, I reloaded an earlier save and made sure not to kill any more creatures.

"Fly" temporarily transforms you to a bird. There's the crown!
Finding the crowns wasn't hard. I used the "Fly" spell to quickly traverse the dungeon, find the crowns, and manually schlep them back. After I had returned all four, the game noted "Phase 1 Clear!!"

Until I got this, I had forgotten that the game started by saying something about "Phase 1."
At that point, I was taken to a new dungeon, with all my hit points, strength, experience, and other stats returned to their starting points, and given a screen that said "Phase 2 start!"

As it had taken almost 5 hours to get through Phase 1, I wasn't particularly eager to start all over with a new "phase." I don't know how many phases are in the game, but I'm going to count this a "win" for getting through the first one.

I won't tell you what I screamed here, but it ended in "....THAT!"
The game does poorly in a GIMLET, mostly because it's not a good example of an RPG. It scores an 11, nothing scoring higher than a 2, and with 0s in "game world" and "NPCs." (If anyone can demonstrate that the game came with a true back story, I'll bump it up a point or two in the former.) But of course a game doesn't have to be good to be influential. Nihon Falcom eventually published a couple dozen titles in the Dragon Slayer line, starting with Xanadu: Dragon Slayer II (1985), which judging by screenshots appears to be an entirely different type of game. MobyGames claims that the series goes all the way through 2007, with The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean, but I'm a bit confused as to how all the games it lists as part of the "Dragon Slayer series" are actually related to Dragon Slayer at all.

I have to thank Marc "Lord Karnov" Campbell for providing me the PC-88 version of the game. He actually provided several versions, and I'm not entirely sure about the history of their release. I played the original, 1.1. Version 2.0 looks exactly the same to me, including the layout of the dungeon. Another pair of disks marked "re-release" offer a different dungeon and character icon; it actually looks more primitive than the original.

The opening stage of the "re-release" doesn't look appreciably different except for the character icon, which looks worse.

Kurt Kalata has a good article on the game at Hardcore Gaming 101, from almost 10 years ago. It's worth checking out for the variety of screen shots across different platforms.

I'm sure I'll hear from plenty of people who loved Dragon Slayer in its day, or who want to defend it as a game, if not necessarily an RPG. For me, neither side of the Pacific is impressing me much in 1984. A Spectrum game called Out of the Shadows is unlikely to turn that around, but maybe Questron will after that. For now, let's get back to 1991 and see if we can finish Elvira II.


  1. He plays the games so we don't have to. *hooray*

  2. "starting with Xanadu: Dragon Slayer II (1985), which judging by screenshots appears to be an entirely different type of game. "

    Based on Youtube videos, it's just a more advanced version of the same general idea. It is in English, though.

    1. Xanadu still features a running-into-enemies combat system, but you have EXP levels more or less as you'd think of them (with one odd mechanic that can catch you off guard) and an inventory about on the level of Ultima III's

  3. The fourth game in the series, "Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family", came to the US in the form of the NES game "Legacy of the Wizard". There's nothing about it that suggests its related to Dragon Slayer other than the penultimate goal of slaying a dragon and it's more Metroid than RPG. Still a fun game though, but suffers from having a huge game world and no mapping function.

  4. There's a lot here that reminds me in a way of Legend of Zelda, mostly in smaller flavor items. An item that lets you push stones around, teleportals, gravestones that spawn creatures, even a bit of the perspective and iconography. I wonder if this had any influence on that game?

    1. And don't forget the bottles.

    2. Other people on the internet writing about this game series claim it did. There's no further dirt on how that would have happened, though.

  5. 5 hours... staring at those garish neon colors... I guess being colorblind helps you in this a little bit?

    I think some of my eye pigments just died.

    1. The backgrounds and bricks are all a dark blue and the objects and characters are mostly bright-ish green with a little dark blue. I'm curious as to how it all appeared to you with your colroblindness?

    2. Yeah, I found the dark-blue-on-black screenshots very difficult to parse.

  6. "You'd think it would be hard to play things out of order if they all occurred in the same year, but I seem to have done so."

    Around this time, Japan starts to obsessively record the release dates for games right down to the day (at least for console games.) It's interesting that starting with the Famicom in 1983, we have exact release dates for virtually all games. It's hard to find anything similar in the West with any kind of consistency until at least the mid-90's.

    "Enemies finally culminated in some kind of armored character who, I'm convinced, is impossible to beat."

    It's possible but takes an even longer time to power up. Between screens full of chests, the fact that the bottom row of the dungeon is lined with power stones as far as the screen loops, etc. it's possible to max out your strength at 655350. After you beat the last enemy (I think there's 32 levels) the graves start spawning Level 1 skeletons again. (At least that's what I think of them as. The monster graphics are different in different versions.)

    "Some of the chests held skeletons that would immediately start following me around."

    I think they're supposed to be grim reapers and they stop you from casting any spells. Walk over a cross to destroy the reapers. This is one reason it's good to have a cross nearby when opening masses of treasure chests.

    "(If anyone can demonstrate that the game came with a true back story..."
    Don't know about the original versions, but if my memory is right, the version on Falcom Classics Collection (Saturn, JP only) did have some introductory scenes and Japanese text.

    "As it had taken almost 5 hours to get through Phase 1, I wasn't particularly eager to start all over with a new "phase." I don't know how many phases are in the game, but I'm going to count this a "win" for getting through the first one."
    At least eight; have researched it in the past and had a hard time pouring through Japanese websites to find it. Also, I don't think you've truly "won" the game unless you beat them all- but I also don't blame you one bit for stopping now, as you've gotten most of the "Dragon Slayer experience", such as it is.

    "but I'm a bit confused as to all the games it lists as part of the "Dragon Slayer series" are actually related to Dragon Slayer at all."
    They're related more thematically than anything else (not necessarily in gameplay, other than being RPGs or RPG-like to varying degrees.) For instance, most of them feature four crowns as macguffins.

    As for later Falcom games... you might like Brandish, if you ever get to play it. It basically takes Dungeon Master, adapts it into an overhead-view, single-player action-RPG (no running into things to attack!) featuring mostly DM-like character advancement, a real economy with real shops, and bosses almost as good as Ys. Come to think of it, coming out in 1991 originally, it may be the very first game to do something really creative and original with the <Dungeon Master formula. (Too bad the only English versions are for SNES and PSP.)

    1. I remember Brandish on the SNES. But I also recall that it was an 'okay' RPG. Not great nor was it bad enough to brand itself into my memory. Anyway, I think this series only exists on consoles so Chet is very unlikely to have touched it.

    2. In the US, it's only been on consoles (and only had two releases, on SNES and the PSP remake.) But in Japan it started on PC-98 in 1991, and while some Korean company ported it to Windows, there doesn't seem to be any English version on computers.

    3. The first three Brandish games on PC-98 are fantastic little dungeon crawls. There should be videos of each of them in action on my old YouTube channel (LordKarnov42).

    4. Watched some footage of Brandish PC-98, and well... Brandish is actiony enough (I swear I did more strafing in that game than any FPS) that I couldn't imagine playing it with a keyboard and mouse instead of a gamepad- the awkward item management was a small price to pay, IMO, to use a gamepad for the action parts. Other than the higher resolution (and maybe music- I prefer the SNES music, but that's personal preference) I don't see how the SNES didn't improve on Brandish 1.

      Also, I remember in the late 90's and early 2000's, the internet liked to call Brandish "worst game ever!!" for its (admittedly confusing at first) rotation. It's disorienting for about twenty minutes until you get used to it (although I still find it disorienting to watch someone else play it instead of playing it myself) but not as bad as first-person views in general- just more unusual, and I wish there were more overhead-view dungeon crawlers like it (especially the ones that feel like they have a dash of Zelda in the action.)

    5. I assure you it works better than you'd think with a Keyboard/Mouse, I played the first one a lot after I recorded those videos. The omnipresent automap / inventory and higher resolution are a great help. The music in the SNES port is, though, arguably better and, well, it's available in English.

    6. Brandish is excellent, both on the SNES and the PSP. I adore a lot of Falcom series but the Brandish one is my favourite. The orientation takes a bit of getting used to (easier on the PSP, naturally) but once that's taken care of, it's pure dungeon dwelling action. Very tight designs, almost no fluff systems, fair (for the most part) and fun.

  7. Pushing around your house sounds like an unintended exploit...
    I think there are a couple of huge design flaws in this game.
    I remember that finishing a game only to start over in a slightly more difficult setting at the beginning reminds me of a couple of older games, for example, Paradroid.

    1. They let you keep pushing your house in all of the ports and rereleases, which leads me to think the developers at least decided they liked it enough to keep letting you do it.

    2. That's one of the funniest and most innovative (even if unintentional) feature of this RPG (console, tabletop, PC, Live-Action or ANY).

      I've yet to see any other RPGs that lets you push your house around like a <-----fill in the blank-----> yet.

    3. You get a tent in the GB port. When you pause, your character pitches a little tent like he's camping out in the dungeon. It's actually kind of cute and funny, and probably the only decent thing the GB port added (and the best part about the game.)

    4. I'd like to think that houses would have their own anthropomorphized story about this. Maybe a movie. I guess the trailer would have some voice-over like this...

      "Terence House is a terrace house in the quiet part of a terrible dungeon. Life for him was stable, peaceful... until his owner, DS, found a finger ornament which bestowed extraordinary strength.

      With the corrupting influence of that one Ring, DS began to push Terence around. What began as a simple and fruitful symbiotic friendship took a terrifying and abusive turn as DS fell further into the depths of greed and power.

      Now, Terence will make a stand! He will form an army! He will align (in line) with more terrace houses of his kind! Against all odds! Against all house-pushers! Against any future references of rings and their stupid powers!"

    5. Is that why later phases feature multiple houses?

    6. I recently bought this game from Project Egg, a storefront I discovered for old Japanese computer games. It comes with a PDF of the original manual.

      I can verify, with my limited Japanese ability, that they explicitly recommend moving your house around as you explore.

    7. Thank you for solving that mystery!

  8. "I realized that after 650,000 experience points, my total had rolled over to 0 again!"

    In all your screenshots, the "ones" field of experience was always 0: 200, 360, 19400, 7160, 240280, 208120, 50200, 75880, 255400, 629880, 631160

    The range of an unsigned 16-bit integer (UInt16) is 0 to 65535. I bet they used a UInt16 for your experience and just drew an extra 0 after the number to make it look "big". That explains why it rolled over just above 650,000. It really rolled over at 65,535.

    1. Strength does something similar too, maxing at 655,350. These early RPGs seem to be all over the place in what kinds of numbers they want to give you for stuff (notice how Ultima went from giving you no HP max in Akalabeth, to 9999 in U1, down to 240 by Ultima 5 and I think even less in Ultima 7?)

    2. The search for good character growth balance is not simple. The artificially high numbers in early Japanese titles is to make them more impressive. The games didn't have a lot to show you becoming stronger, but gaining thousands of points in various stats shows off as impressive. Maxing out early or with a low number isn't as exciting. The reason for painting a fake 0 on to the end of the number? They were saving on memory.

    3. Maxing out early (or at all aside from insane powerleveling) is less-than-great game design, IMO. There should always be potential rewards to character leveling, even if they're not really necessary.

      When I was younger, I was amazed by console RPGs that let you have 4 digits in your HP (In Final Fantasy 2(u), you started out with two HUNDRED hit points!!) but now I find it easier to manage and tighter design in general to work with the lowest numbers that can meaningfully increment in a game design.

      This could mean, at a roughly upper extreme, giving strong starting characters something like 100 HP to allow for a variety of strengths of enemy attacks to gradually wear down a character.

    4. I personally prefer starting characters with mid level double digit HPs if enemies all have attacks with high hit rates (maybe do 1HP damage) and scale down from there if the encounter rate and enemy HP are also lowered.

      With more HP, it is a horrible (but sure) indication that the game expects you to grind the sh!t out of it.

  9. I am amazed that you beat this game in only 5 hours! I think I would be completely baffled and simply give up. Dragon Slayer IV is the point where it becomes pleasurable for me to wander around and absorb the layout with no map. With a map, some of these games could be finished in 30 minutes.

    1. In a speedrun, maybe... but I couldn't imagine spending less than 30 minutes the first time on each section of the dungeon in Legacy of the Wizard.

  10. I don't think I'd be able to play this game at all with that color palette, resembles a CRT with a broken red projector.

    1. Looks like the game is supposed to use some reds, but they aren't in Chet's screenshots:

    2. Yes, the colors are bizarre. The screenshots collected by all use different color palettes (all of which include at lease some red).

    3. That is because the wrong "mode" was set - the game needs V1 mode not V2. V2 mode was introduced with the SR model, at the time of the release of this game it wasn't yet relevant.

    4. Indeed. Unfortunately, the save states are particular to the mode already chosen, so I would have had to figure that out at the beginning or start all over.

      I know what to do if the colors look wonky in future games, at least.

    5. Next time read the Instructions.txt :-p

    6. Sure Chet, it's all part of a learning process. It's not like it's confined to an (to westerners) obscure platform like the PC-88, e.g. you may already know you can get wrong CGA colors under Dosbox when it's still set to VGA in the config etc. I was briefly considering to sent you an emulation package with some notes when you announced you would cover non-DOS games, but the impression I had based on what I read from you was that you like to figure things out mostly by yourself. So now, you have to embrace all the trouble and pain ;).

    7. Yeah, it kind of makes me think why he does not re-review Ultimas I to V and Wizardys I to V in their original platform, the Apple II.

    8. You wonder why he doesn't re-review 10 games he already reviewed extensively because the game experience may be fractionally different on their original system?

  11. I think the Phases are all the same deal, just with the dungeon layout changing. Kind of like in early Arcade games that rolled over to the start after finishing it, but got progressivly harder.

    The Dragon Slayer games really have barely anything to do with each other. Falcom stopped using that monicor long ago, mostly branching the individual entries out into their own series (Xanadu, Lord Monarch, Legend of Heroes) - LoH: Song of the Ocean is just a remake of a 1992 game.

    1. Marc Campbell made this family tree of the Dragon Slayer games and linked to them in a comment on another posting:

      As for the phases... it's hard for not to see them as completely separate levels ("levels" an arcade game sense rather than an RPG sense")- the changes to dungeon layout are drastic enough to change your strategy and navigation.

    2. I meant that more in the sense that I see the different phases more as a bonus for the player that wants to play more Dragon Slayer - but mixed up instead of the exact same run over and over. But I would consider the game won after the dragon falls the first time.

      Oh shit, I totally mixed Song of the Ocean up with Legend of Heroes II. The second LoH is from 1992 and the last to use Dragon Slayer, Song of the Ocean from 1999 already doesn't. Woops. It doesn't help that they switched up the numbering when bringing the PSP remakes over.

    3. I didn't even know Sorcerian was in anyway related to Dragon Slayer until I saw that stuff posted by Lord Karnov. They play so differently. The 1st one was all about melee attacks while Sorcerian was like a bullet-hell shooter/platformer.

    4. The only thing they really have in common is the designer, Yoshio Kiya.

  12. I think Falcom got complaints regarding Dragon Slayer's difficulty, and decided to make their later games easier.

    "Hashimoto: Recent RPGs have been very difficult, and it takes a lot of willpower to finish them. So eventually we came to have our doubts: was this really “fun”? With Ys, therefore, we set out to create the opposite kind of game, something that would be accessible, easy to play, and not geared toward hardcore RPG maniacs.

    That’s true–the uncomplicated Ys is definitely different from most RPGs, where you start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you for obsessively spending so much time on it. Hashimoto then continued to the next point:"


    I imagine that segment might be sort of offensive to those who enjoy grinding obsessively in RPGs, but I generally welcome easiness (in moderation; you could probably say modern games take that concept too far where playing is no longer enjoyable due to the lack of challenge).

  13. Fascinating read. I like seeing the different sorts of things people did with the RPG palette, particularly in the early 80s - the series' by Stuart Smith and Robert Clardy, Galactic Adventures, Autoduel and these proto-ARPGs from Japan.

    I played Faxanadu of Dragon Slayer lineage on the NES. I think it's a game you'd be glad you don't have to play. Definitely high quality for its era, but more a Metroidvania with some RPG elements. I seem to recall one of the spells was called 'tilt'. Perhaps an homage to Wizardy?

    1. Tilte, which was a spell taken from Xanadu. Most of the items, spells, and equipment in Faxanadu were lifted right from Xanadu, and there's graphics for more Xanadu stuff laying around the ROM than shows up in the game. Faxanadu (FAmicom XANADU- see what they did there?) is basically Xanadu torn down and rebuilt from the ground up to make it more action-adventurery, since these types of games were still more popular on consoles in Japan than RPGs at least until Dragon Quest III.

  14. Tower of Druaga has an Anime adaptation from a few years ago. It's not a bad show and has an amusing segment in one episode where the main character is controlled by other characters to help him get through a maze. The side characters get to see something that looks like an 80s game.

    It is actually part of a whole sub-genre of Anime that tries to dramatize the RPG experience. There are shows where the characters are trapped in a game (Log Horizon, Sword Art Online), and shows with a stand alone fantasy world that acts very much like a game (Tower of Druaga, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?). I'm not making that last title up, really.

    1. It's a rhetorical question, anyway.

      There's a lot of JRPGs that was adapted into an Anime (and vice versa). Star Ocean, .hack//sign, Fate/Stay Night, Ys & etc.

    2. There was also a Wizardry Anime "Movie", its pretty shortish but quite fun to watch.

    3. Fighting the urge to scruff the neck of your avatar, I've never seen that anime before. How do you define the "fun" factor of it? Funny? Ridiculous? Full of 4th-Wall-Breaking pop culture references?

    4. Even one of the creators of Wizardy, Robert Woodhead, who is also the owner of AnimEigo, tried to licence the OVA for US distribution, but ran into problems with royalties with Sir-Tech.

  15. The MSX version had completely different monsters and looked even worse. But it had a certain charm. I actually enjoyed the first phase, working out the system, the variety of enemies, the sense of progression, even if it was all based on a long grind-- seeing a particular monster that had given you hell for so long reduced to a wimp that ran away from you was endlessly satisfying. Worst part: opening/picking up looong rows of chests/items one by one. For all its faults, it's still a better game than Hydlide, IMO.

    1. Lots of games are better than Hydlide. Hydlide is moreso obsolete than terrible, Dragon Slayer less so. And some posts ago in the comments, we GIMLET'd SMB1 somewhere in the low teens i- SMB1 out-RPG'd Hydlide (mostly for a 5 in G/S/I, but still.)

  16. "I'm not entirely sure about the history of their release. I played the original, 1.1. Version 2.0 looks exactly the same to me"

    From the game's MobyGames page:

    "The original PC88 version underwent several revisions, both to the game system and audiovisuals. The original version, called "Level 1.0", had a sparse title screen and trickier enemies, which were revised first in Level 1.1 and finally in Level 2.0, which also added more elaborate sound and a striking title screen for the floppy disk version."

  17. I played through the Game Boy version of Dragon Slayer one time. Battery life on the original system was 8 hours and the game takes about ten hours to finish, so I had to leave the system on overnight unplugged to get anywhere near completing it.

    Xanadu is a lot better, with an inventory system, more character/weapon development, and just a lot more to the game. The overhead dungeons greatly influenced the Legend of Zelda, while the side-scrolling parts recall Metroid and Falcom's later Legacy of the Wizard.

    When you get to Xanadu, I recommend playing Falcom's MSX cartridge version. It's just a more playable game.

  18. I think the "bucktooth head with sunglasses" might be this man:

  19. Dragon Slayer version 1.1 has 10 phases before it loops back from Phase 1, version 2.0 has 20.

    Its an interesting concept and a very metholodical game, but I'm hard-pressed to consider it fun. It feels more like a puzzle-game than an action-RPG, frankly.

    Also, the great trinity of Japanese action-RPG (because they all were released in the same year) is considered Dragon Slayer, Hydlide and Courageous Perseus (all on PC-88 as well as other homecomputer systems of the time). Tritorn would be a close fourth released a couple months after, being essentially side-scrolling Hydlide. All these games should be playable without knowing Japanese too since they are pretty much devoid of any kind of storytelling in-game.

  20. I fairly recently managed to play through all 20 phases of level 2.0 of the pc-88 version of this game. It was actually a lot of fun, too. Morricane's post above mine is correct, regarding the number of phases in the different versions. 1.0 (and 1.1) both have 10 phases, and once you clear phase 10, the game looks back to phase 1. I've read reference online that the monster stats gets increased on this second "loop", but can't verify personally.

    The 10 phases are also present in "level 2.0", and once you clear phase 10, you begin phase 11 (actually called "phase B" in game :P ) and go through to phase 20 (phase K). Once clearing the final phase, the game loops again to phase 1. When I accomplished this, I quickly tested the monsters and didn't notice an increase in stats, so maybe that is exclusive to the earlier releases.

    There also seems to be a 3rd version (the re-release you refer to in the article) that includes another 10 unique phases (and only those 10 phases), which I have yet to play but may someday do so. I don't know much about this version, other than a reference to it at The Cutting Room Floor, calling it the "Login" version.

    There are a number of changes made for the "level 2.0" version, so after reading this article I'm glad I chose that version to play instead of the initial release :P
    A few brief notes:
    - The dragon's heads have different HP values, ranging from 300000 to 400000 in level 2.0.
    - The house does NOT get surrounded by tombstones in level 2.0, instead the monsters begin to respawn out of your house! This makes the endgame a little tricky, but with proper use of your spells it's very doable still.
    - Saving the game requires 50000 experience, which I find absolutely hilarious. It's also coded as a "spell", so you need at least 1 magic point to cast the "save game" spell. Restoring your game is also a spell, so it costs 1 mp to cast as well, but fortunately there's no minimum exp requirement to cast it.
    - The latter phases DO introduce different mechanics/variations that keep them interesting (in my opinion, of course). For example, later phases will have multiple houses, multiple warp zones, areas encased in warpzones, areas encased in houses, areas encased in skeletons (curses, I called them), maps that have gigantic open spaces, maps that are almost entirely 1-tile wide corridors, etc.

    I could go on, but I'll stop rambling here :) I enjoyed reading your take on this game, and am glad I've discovered this blog.

  21. I wanted to point out that in Tower of Druaga you do actually get stronger as you gain items. The statistics are not displayed anywhere in the original game, but you do have HP, strength, and defense that are affected by the items you get. Only the items affect the stats, though, there is no XP or anything like that for defeating enemies.


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