Thursday, January 21, 2021

Game 396: Lagoon (1990)

I'm not sure the developers have a strong handle on what a "lagoon" is.
    
Lagoon
United States
Zoom, Inc. (developer); Kotobuki System Co. (Japanese publisher); Kemco (U.S. publisher)
Released 1990 for Sharp X68000; 1991 for SNES
Date Started: 13 January 2021
Date Ended: 18 January 2021
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Hard (4/5) 
Final Rating: 24
Ranking at Time of Posting: 169/404 (42%)
       
I decided it was time to check in with the console world. I have played at least one game on almost all the consoles that offered RPGs during the period I've covered on the PC, with the exception of the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), released in Japan in 1990 and in North America in 1991. That year saw seven RPGs: Drakkhen, Dungeon Master, Final Fantasy IV (II in the western release), Gdleen, Super Ninja Boy, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, and Lagoon. I've already played versions of Drakkhen and Dungeon Master; to play Final Fantasy IV and Ys III would be skipping entries; Gdleen never had an English translation; and Super Ninja Boy didn't sound like it was going to challenge my prejudice that console games of the era are too childish. I thus decided to give the audition to Lagoon even though its SNES version was a port from the Sharp X68000. I think Gdleen was the first RPG designed natively for the SNES.
    
Lagoon ultimately wasn't a good game, but it was the perfect game to play alongside The Secrets of Bharas. As I'll be discussing in my final Bharas entry, the number of combats required in that game require a patience that I can't believe anyone had in 1991. I got through it by letting the computer fight the battles while I did other things, like play a few minutes of Lagoon. I spent several days just switching between the two. The moment a battle began in Bharas, I popped over to Lagoon. When I needed to rest and restore my hit points or magic points in Lagoon, it was back to Bharas
        
I fight an enemy in melee combat. Notice how you can barely see my sword.
        
It thus fit well, but I wouldn't say it was an enjoyable experience. Last year, Final Fantasy showed me that era consoles (and developers for them) were capable of more than I'd always believed. That doesn't mean developers always rose to the occasion. Lagoon is the sort of puerile, linear, simplistic (in all but difficulty) RPG that gives JRPGs and console RPGs a bad name.
   
Let me start with some positives. The console looks nice. The difference between its display and the NES is as stark as the jump from EGA to SVGA on the PC. Animation is smooth, 3D more convincing. You can see expressions on the characters' faces. The level of detail on the monsters is particularly impressive. We no longer have simple textures in dungeons but handcrafted decor. (We're still not at the point that we see, for instance, realistic amounts of furniture, but one step at a time.) Spell animations are cool. Until they become truly immersive, graphics don't do a lot for my enjoyment of a game, but I don't want you to think I didn't notice them. I should also say that it sounds nice, too, except that I couldn't find any way to turn the music off independent of the sound effects, so I just muted the whole thing.
      
Finely-detailed statuary is possible with the SNES graphics.
       
Even my compliments about the graphics come with a few negatives. I'm not a fan of the perspective, which is axonometric but rotated only on the axial and not on the lateral (i.e., you see the fronts and roofs of buildings but not the sides). There's my usual complaint about all the characters, even old men, looking like little children. Overall, though, I was impressed.
    
Second, we should note that the SNES came with a more advanced controller. Instead of two buttons, we now have four (and I didn't realize until now that the SNES introduced the convention of labeling them ABXY). There are also two bumpers on the front of the controller. The more controls, the more stuff you can put in the game without requiring the player to awkwardly go into a menu. The writers of Lagoon rose to the occasion by having SPACE and SELECT do the same things and not using the left bumper at all--but at least they were able to map "Jump," "Attack," "Cast Spell," and "Use Item" to separate controls. On the NES, one or two of these would have had to go.
   
My third compliment is for the variety of special attacks and defenses exhibited by the bosses during their battles. This is par-for-the-course with JRPGs, but it's still nice to see after coming off a couple of games that mostly rejected the concept of "bosses" entirely.
        
Combat with an early boss. I'm nearly dead.
    
The number one negative of Lagoon is something shared by dozens of games like it: it's far, far too linear. You're on a rail through the entire game; you don't even get to create your character. You move from one place to another when the game is ready, not you, and you can't even backtrack. Even your inventory progression is purely on the game's schedule. Everyone playing this game begins with the same character, everyone ends with the same character, everyone does basically the same stuff in between. Yuck. When I see a screenshot from my time with an RPG, I want to be able to tell that it was my game, not something I could have clipped from literally anyone's YouTube video.
       
Combat is also a bit of a nightmare, at least for me. I don't mind some action in my combat, particularly on a console, but this one picks the worst elements of the Ys system (running headlong into enemies) and the Zelda system (having to bob and dodge around a bunch of constantly-moving enemies) and mashes them together. Throughout the game, you have melee weapons of extremely short range. You have to swing your weapon at just the right time; if you swing too soon or too late and collide with enemies, you take damage and go flying backwards as if they were made of rubber. Your character has to be aligned just the right way against the enemy--a pixel to the left or right makes all the difference--or your swing always misses. It's a god-send when you get spells that can be cast at range, although magic replenishes slowly and enemies have a variety of immunities. 
         
Tossing a "Wind-something" spell at a pig with a pick-axe.
      
The backstory and plot are at best adequate. Even the twist has been done a hundred times. The peaceful country of Lakeland is lately menaced by an evil spirit. You are 14-year-old Nasir, given by the gods to the sage Mathias to raise as a Champion of Light. You were supposed to be raised alongside a brother who was the epitome of Darkness, the idea being that under Mathias, the two forces would be brought into balance. But the evil wizard Zerah snatched the other child before Mathias could adopt him.
       
ZERAH. ZERAH! No time is a good time for goodbye!
        
As the game begins, Matthias sends you off on a quest to find out why the water in Lakeland has gone muddy. The quest begins in the town of Atland, a typical JRPG town with little NPCs that offer one line of dialogue and a couple of shops.
      
The "he-he-he" part is a bit creepy.
       
Within a few minutes, I was already a bit annoyed by the game, because it was clear that it wants things to occur in an exact order. These, for instance, are the steps to the quest in Atland:
         
  • Go to the Mayor's house and learn that he recently went to the House of Worship. [Whoa, Nintendo! Getting a little religious there, aren't you?]
  • Go to the House of Worship and talk to the Mayor. A townsman rushes in with the news that someone has been hurt in a cave.
  • You automatically go with the Mayor to the cave. An injured townsman lies outside and insists that "Giles" is still in there with demons.
  • Talk to the Mayor. He tells you to return to town and tell the High Cleric about it.
  • Return to the House of Worship and talk to the High Cleric. For some reason, he wants to go to the Mayor's house to discuss things.
  • Go back to the Mayor's House. He asks you to go save Giles and gives you 300 gold. (He specifically says "put these on immediately" before giving you the gold; presumably in some original draft, he gave the character actual equipment.)
  • Go buy weapons and armor. The 300 gold is just enough to buy the starting set: a short sword, an iron shield, and "bandit armor." Incidentally, you can't do this at the store labeled "Weapon Shop," which mysteriously isn't open, and when it is open, sells potions. You have to go to the "Armor Shop," which sells both weapons and armor.
       
It was a long time before I could afford the "shiny ball." By then, there were no more stores.
        
  • Enter the cave and explore until you find a healing potion. Don't drink it!
  • Explore until you find Giles. He's wounded. Feed him the healing potion, then lead him back to town. He's slow.
  • Go to the Faith Healer in town, who will give you a key to unlock a locked door in the caves. Behind it is the demon Samson, which the Healer and Matthias locked there a couple of decades ago.
  • Return, unlock the door, defeat Samson.
  • Exit the cave on the other side of Samson. It collapses behind you, and you're in Elfland.
    
Samson, the game's first boss.
         
You can't do any of this out-of-order. You can't, for instance, use your starting 100 gold to by the short sword, enter the cave, and kill a few monsters before getting the quest. You can't go directly to the House of Worship to find the Mayor. You have to talk to him after the initial cave expedition (even though it serves no purpose) because until you do, he doesn't return to town. 
    
Throughout the game, the same basic pattern repeated at a town of elves, a town of hobbits, and a town of gnomes:
 
1. Arrive at town and hear about their problem.
2. March off to the neighboring dungeon and solve the problem, but encounter a locked door.
3. Return to town to get rewarded for solving their problem, and then get the key to that door.
4. Return to the dungeon and fight a boss fight.
5. Get automatically kicked to the next region.
             
And if you had a Redundancy Department, you would have a Redundancy Department.
          
The design requires a lot of backtracking, not only in the need to visit each dungeon at least a couple of times, but also in the need to explore each dungeon level multiple times because within the dungeon, you often have to do things in a particular order. I got stuck for almost an hour in Philips Castle because I didn't notice that killing the boss opened a door somewhere else in the castle. You also want to make sure to find every chest because you won't be able to return if you miss something.
   
The only real choice you have during this process is how much to grind. Here, again, the game is a bit infuriating. First, regular enemies mostly care less about you. They wander around their areas and if you get to close to them, sure, they'll attack, but it's very simple to evade them. (The ones that fire projectiles just fire them randomly, not at you in particular.) To grind, you have to go out of your way to chase them down. Second, bosses are so hard that you really need to grind as much as you're willing before you face them--but on the other side of those bosses are new areas with enemies that offer double the experience points of the ones you're facing now. To make the game go faster, you want to speed up to the next area, but that might mean fighting the boss about 20 times before you get it right.
          
These are the best foes for grinding. Unfortunately, they're immune to the spell I just cast.
       
Twenty might even be an underestimate for players who have grinded. Then again, I'm not great at action combat. This fact was shoved into my face repeatedly by the game's boss combats. Each boss has a new and infuriating set of attacks and defenses to learn through repeated trial and failure. To wit:
   
  • Samson: Frequently jumps at the player. When he lands, he causes a tremor that freezes you long enough for him to clobber you. You have to jump at just the right time to avoid him.
  • Natelu: A two-headed gryphon spews fireballs.  
  • Eardon: A giant rock that spews smaller rocks and is only vulnerable from the front.
  • Duma: A helmet with two hands. Every time the helmet opens, it shoots fireballs, but the boss is only vulnerable when the helmet is open. Meanwhile, his hands periodically clap in the center of the screen, crushing you if you're standing there. 
         
This message came up a lot.
         
  • Thimale: A giant eye in a large opaque globe that rolls back and forth along the floor. Meanwhile, six small domes with one-eyed spiders line the sides of the room and shoot ice crystals. You have to destroy all six of the domes first, which makes Thimale's globe transparent and makes Thimale vulnerable.
       
None of this makes much sense.
        
  • Ella: A woman who shoots fireballs in all directions and randomly teleports around the room. The more health she loses, the faster she teleports. 
  • Battler: A mage who attacks with two very weird creatures who shoot eyeballs and cannot be damaged. Battler, meanwhile, randomly teleports around the room, going faster as he loses more health.
  • Demon: Starts off as a blob that shoots fireballs in all directions. After you damage him, he turns into a flying demon with a whip for a right hand who can leap at you.
         
The demon with his whip-arm.
        
  • Zerah: A warlock that turns into a giant troll that, like most enemies, shoots fireballs in all directions.
  • Thor: Warrior who attacks surrounded by a ring of whirling objects that shove you away every time they hit you. He then turns into a giant bird that dances around the room shooting missiles.
  • Demon again: Attacks in his demon form, red this time.
    
The last four have to be fought in a row, with no opportunity to save. In none of the boss fights can you use magic, and in none of them do your hit points recharge, even slowly, the way they do in most of the world.
        
It wasn't my favorite Stephen King book.
          
One of the more annoying coinages in modern gaming lingo is the ubiquitous "get gud." What makes it particularly infuriating is that its usage is usually 100% accurate. I don't know how many times I've found myself Googling things like "how the $#@#& are you EVER supposed to beat the giant snake in Assassin's Creed Origins?" and finding message boards that basically say, "Shrug--get gud." And then in the process of dying 20 times and nearly throwing my controller through the television screen, I slowly start to figure out the snake's pattern, his weak points, and how to beat him. In other words, I "get gud." That's what happened here. The first time I faced each boss, I balked at the idea that it was even possible to defeat him. The tenth time, I came close. (On a few occasions, I watched a YouTube video at some point just to prove to myself that it was possible.) The fifteenth time, I succeeded. That said, I confess that I didn't always have this patience, and there were times I used save states to scum my way through a few of the fights. While I'm confessing, there were also times I used the emulator's "turbo" key to speed up spell point regeneration so I could grind faster.
         
The plot is not even really worth recounting. I just played it, and I don't remember where half the bosses came from or what their role is. You hear about a missing princess, Felicia, early in the game, but it's not clear what land she's the princess of or why she was kidnapped. At one point, you briefly have an NPC companion named Thor who asks you to do a couple things for him. He's with you for about 15 minutes, and later the game acts like you had this epic experience and truly bonded and became best friends or something. This is supposed to strengthen the impact of the "twist," which is that Thor is really the Child of Darkness, having been raised by Zerah. He doesn't want to fight you because of your friendship, but Zerah forces him to; you kill him and get his amulet, which somehow captures his soul, so he's with you forever. We saw the same trope in Knights of Xentar, and I'm sure it appears elsewhere.
          
You don't "know" him; you hung out with him for half of an afternoon.
     
Suffice to say that Nasir chases leads through a variety of cities and castles, finding weapon, shield, armor, rings, and spell upgrades along the way. Spells are a combination of crystal and staff. Each crystal--fire, ice, air, and earth--does a different thing when combined with one of four staves. There's always a single-enemy spell, a radius blast spell, an area-effect spell, and a massive area-effect spell. Rings, which I didn't explore as much as I should (I never found a "Curing" ring, which I guess is considered pretty important) improve your attack and defense but constantly drain your magic while you wear them.
          
Reforging the Moon Blade.

Freeing the princess.
       
After the Thor twist is revealed, you reach the top of a mountain where Mathias and Zerah have a comical battle and Mathias is killed. With his last breath, he blows you into the clouds so you can find Lagoon Castle. The castle is enormous. During your explorations, you must reforge the Moon Sword (the best weapon in the game) and free Princess Felicia from a mirror by using a statue. The mechanism for this is unclear. Felicia tells you how to get to an underground "secret place," where you re-encounter Zerah and Thor and the final battles happen. Afterwards, Nasir walks away with the Thor-pendant . . .
    
Mathias gives me a final gift.

I can't remember who was saying this.
           
. . . the castle carefully falls back to the ground and Princess Felicia starts snogging Nasir.
      
Where is there to go in life if you've already saved the world at 14?
      
The game is more interesting for its unintentionally funny moments, and I'm indebted to this speed run for highlighting some of them. They include:

  • The inciting event is supposed to be muddy water, but none of the visible water in the game ever appears muddy.
  • In at least two towns, there are shops labeled "Weapons" and "Armor." In both towns, one of the two shops sells both weapons and armor, and the other shop is either closed or sells nothing.
  • The Mayor of Atland says, "Please, put these on and get ready to go!" as he gives you gold pieces.
  • Later, an NPC says, "Take this book!" and gives you a staff.
  • Thor gives you a mirror so powerful it can "smash rocks to pieces." No mechanism for this is ever offered.
  • The backstory of Castle Philips makes no sense--something to do with the castle (not the people in it, but explicitly the castle) going to sleep every thousand years when the sun hits it. I don't know if the sun only hits it every thousand years or what. It doesn't sound like much of a curse.
        
And how is that different from when the castle is "awake"?
         
  • The bad guys' evil plan is somehow to steal an entire castle (Lagoon Castle) by lifting it into the clouds on a plume of water.
         
That's something you don't see every day.
       
  • There's a map where you have to jump from cloud to cloud, being extra careful not to fall of the edges, or you'll die. But to get to the final area, you have to unintuitively jump from one of the clouds to the land, which seems like it would be the same thing as falling off.
        
This feels like a trick.
      
Beyond that, there are a few things that are just annoying:
      
  • There are quite a few jumping puzzles. Falling during these puzzles is usually instant death. It's easy to forget a gap in a bridge is there.
     
Jumping a fiery crevasse in a hall full of them. You have to pass through here like three times.
        
  • In towns, some buildings have open doors, some have closed doors. Neither tells you anything about whether you can access the building. You have to try them all.
  • Early in the game, there are a couple of escort missions, and the NPCs in this game are slow.
     
Mostly, this type of game makes me feel like I've just watched an incomprehensible 9-hour cartoon in which I occasionally had to move a stick.
     
In a GIMLET, I give it:
   
  • 1 point for the game world. It just assembles tropes, and with no depth.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. At least development is relatively rapid (about 1 level every 15 minutes) and makes you feel more powerful.
        
No matter what they do during the game, everyone ends at the same cap.
       
  • 3 points for NPC interaction. NPCs flesh out the world a little and at least their dialogue changes as the plot points continue.
      
That doesn't mean they always had a lot to say.
      
  • 3 points for encounters and foes, getting most of these points for the variety of the boss combats.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. Swinging my tiny sword while I try to find the perfect pixel doesn't feel tactical or epic.
  • 2 points for equipment. You have a basic set with about 4 upgrades of each item at fixed intervals. There are some items like potions that are so rare that I was always loathe to use them.
      
My final equipment selection. I missed some along the way.
      
  • 2 points for the economy. The game completely drops the idea of buying things about halfway through. You continue to collect gold, but for no reason, as there are no more stores.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no choices, no side quests.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I gave praise to the graphics and interface, but I can't countenance a game where you can't turn off the music.
  • 3 points for gameplay. I offer it for a good challenge at a reasonable length, but there's nothing nonlinear or replayable about this one.
      
That gives us a final score of 24, far below what I know even consoles of the era are capable of. It feels like these dime-a-dozen linear games with trite plots are the JRPG console equivalent of Ultima clones. A trend is starting to emerge: if a JRPG is a single-character game with roots in Dragon Quest, I find it boring, simplistic, and grindy; if it's a multi-character game that takes inspiration from Wizardry, I find it at least interesting. We'll see how long that division lasts.
    
As I was preparing this entry, commenter Nleseul, who has done a fair amount of translating from Japanese, told me about some significant differences between the western release of Lagoon and the original Sharp X68000 version. A playthrough with his English patch is available on YouTube as well. It does seem to fix some of the problems. The mislabeled "Weapon" store is actually a "General Store": the Mayor's dialogue indicates he's giving the hero ("Nassel" in the translation) money for equipment rather than equipment. I assume most of the rest of the howlers were fixed as well. The main plot still seems to be roughly the same, however. The plot is slightly more complex, gives a little more pathos to Thor, offers more substantive clues about the Moon Sword, and explains how Felicia's kidnapping is able to move the castle. I still wouldn't call it very good.
   
There is a significant difference in mechanics, however: instead of swinging away with his sword with the "B" button, the player simply runs into enemies as in Ys. Adding a "swinging" mechanics for the NES version was done a bit clumsily; as Nleseul points out, "they didn't change any of the sprite graphics, so the sword feels tiny and useless."
   
This appears to be Zoom's only attempt at an RPG. I can't find any evidence that North America took notice of it in 1991. Modern reviews are mostly negative (I'm particularly fond of this Honest Gamers one), but there are a few mysteriously glowing ones out there.
         
I know a lot of you are already at the keyboard, prepared to tell me what SNES game I should have played. Rest assured this won't be the only one I ever try. For now, though, let's get back to finishing PC games for 1992.

168 comments:

  1. I'm always slightly horrified by what you choose to play for these console entries, but your reasoning provided (and the spoilsport final paragraph) made things clear. If nothing else, playing localized console ports of not-localized CRPGs is one convenient way to get around the language barrier.

    As you probably already suspected, Final Fantasy IV and Ys III are the only ones on that list worth playing (though as you say it would be out of sequence). The only console version of Dungeon Master that's any different is the TurboGrafx-CD one, and even then only barely. Drakkhen's mostly the same, but it has a SNES-only sequel, which... I mean, why you'd make a sequel to Drakkhen in the first place is a mystery, but why also make it considerably less weird? Seems like missing the point.

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    1. The "out-of-sequence" part doesn't bother me THAT much because I can't play them all anyway. A better way to characterize my choice was that I'd already played games in the FF and Ys franchises, so I thought I'd try something new.

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  2. It's worth noting that Dragon Quest itself abandons what you think of as "roots in Dragon Quest" immediately after the first game. The rest are multi-character games, with DQ3 basically cribbing its class system directly from Wizardry. DQ1 was more like a tech demo to prove that consoles could handle RPGs at all, while the later games are "proper" RPG experiences closer to Final Fantasy and CRPGs of the era.

    I think this game's heritage calls back much more to Zelda and Ys, as you noted elsewhere in the review; I'm not sure I'd even call Lagoon an RPG. Certainly people thought it was an action-RPG at the time, because it had stats, but in the broader modern perspective where practically every genre features stats of one kind or another...? I don't see it.

    For what it's worth, you would certainly get the authentic American experience if you picked up Final Fantasy 4 next on your console list - we did not receive FF2 or FF3 here until their modern remakes were released. Final Fantasy is episodic with no plot continuity between games in the main series, so you won't be missing anything on that front.

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    1. At most, he'd be missing out on the job system by going for the American experience, considering neither 3 or 5 came out over here. Hell, from what I remember the job system was a major reason 5 wasn't localized, because the people at Squaresoft thought it was too complicated for Americans

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    2. 3 and 5 both came out in the US, just not on their original systems. We got 5 on PS1 followed by GBA and PC, and 3 was the DS remake, which also got ported to PC.

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    3. And I think the "tech demo" nature of DQ1 is especially apparent because DQ2 came out only six months after DQ1 in Japan.

      In some sense I feel like even DQ2 was still the developers trying to find their way, and that it wasn't until DQ3 that the series really hit its stride.

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    4. Agreeed re: DQ3; with DQ2 they hadn't really figured out how to balance a party or monsters, and the final section of the game is a massive luck-based slog. Then with 3 they give you the tools you need to make it through, and although you still need to grind a bit here and there the grinding always pays off.

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    5. I don't agree at all, DQ2 is an extremely fine-tuned experience (aside from the final overworld section, which is indeed luck-based in the worst way) - it's just hard, hard in a way that CRPGs were but JRPGs generally aren't - through dungeons that chip you down through attrition to the point that you're almost, but not entirely, dead by the time you reach the end.

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    6. As I understand it, in DQ2 the dropped a dungeon that was supposed to be right before the Cave to Rhone. Thus, you were a few levels behind what the Cave was expecting.

      Do note that the random aspects from the final section were dropped in later games. They actually learned not to do that anymore. Too bad other games would repeatedly forget that party-wipe spells aren't fun.

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    7. At least the later games never give enemies guarenteed party wipe spells like DQ2 did. I don't particulatly like instant death spells on enemies in general, but an instant "You lose" spell on an enemy is just unforgivably bad design, especially when it's very possible for them to use it before you have a chance to do anything

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    8. "I finally got out of that Cave, and the monsters here are even worse. I see a shrine, maybe there's a save spot or healing there." (Yes, both are there)

      *fight starts a few squares from the shrine*

      "Two gold batboons. Nasty, but I should be able to beat this last fight. Almost dead though."

      *a couple rounds into the fight*

      "Ok, next round. One batboon down, one to go. PLEASE no Firebane." (Commence wishing for Firebane)

      "My main character attacks."

      *Gold Batboon casts sacrifice*

      "??? Why is the text red?"

      *Edward was utterly defeated*
      *Orfeo was utterly defeated*
      *Gwen was utterly defeated*
      *Having run out of power, Gold Batboon-A died*

      "....


      ....


      ....



      YARGLBLEGHNIMDSFDSFDSFGDSFGDSFXCVB!!!!!!!!"

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    9. I got very lucky when I played and never ran into that, although that might have had something to do with playing the GBC port. Either way, DQ2 is the only one I've played that I have absolutely no desire to replay on account of it feeling like a bigger DQ1, and I'd much rather just play that instead.

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    10. I can't remember if that specific event has happened, since I originally played DQ2 back when it first came out in the U.S., but I know I have died right before reaching the shrine after getting past the Cave to Rhone. And I have died repeatedly to Sacrifice.

      I do remember maxing out everyone's level one playthrough. The Princess's "exp to next level" counter ROLLS OVER on her last few levels.

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    11. Also, Unknown up there is me.

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    12. I can't say I've ever tried to max out everyone's levels, but I do remember taking advantage of the shrine to just keep rushing the final boss because I just wanted the game to end at that point.

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  3. I've been playing Secret of Mana lately, and this makes me realize how much that game got right that this one didn't. Namely, not having contact damage, not requiring grinding, and not having to do a boss 20 times to get it right, among other things

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    1. The bosses became a bit too easy after you have magic thou

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    2. Personally, I've felt like the bosses have been pretty difficult, and I usually end up dying at least once before getting it down. At the same time though, I've purposely not done any grinding with anything because I got the impression that's what ends up making things too easy, both in this and in other games

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    3. I suspect Marc is referring to the trick of stacking magic; if you cast magic with a character you are not controlling you can open their menu again after they finish casting (the spirit disappears) and queue up another spell; this lets you stack them with the game counting up the damage (and the boss being stunlocked) until you hit the damage cap. Rinse and repeat.

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    4. The lack of grinding means I don't have the MP or magic damage for that to make bosses trivial. It definately makes them more managable though.

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    5. Important tip:

      Secret of Mana is essentially unbeatable without max level Green magic on both casters (or a particular glitch). Naturally, this one is the hardest one to grind for Reasons.

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    6. I'd say I'll keep that in mind, but due to playing fairly slowly I'll have long forgotten by the time I get there

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    7. I've beaten Secret of Mana multiple times with Nature magic on lvl. 4-6. It's certainly doable, though I always go for maximum level nowadays to see the special spell animations you can get when crossing 8:00.

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  4. From what I remember playing this game for a few minutes is that combat was godawful. Seems I remembered right.

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  5. Is it not possible though that as console games aren´t really your thing, and that your built your gimlet for crpg´s, that the ratings will tend to be on the low side? Though I hope I¨m wrong. Anyway thanks for showing this game to us. It´s interesting.

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    1. I think all of that is basically accurate. As a general rule the console RPGs that score well will be the ones most like the CRPGs that Chet likes.

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    2. I feel like he's also been playing a lot of console RPGs that just aren't good RPGs, or good games in general. After all, Final Fantasy ended up being the highest rated game for it's year, and that and Dragon Quest are pretty much the only high profile console RPGs he's played so far

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    3. Yes, I'm sure I've acknowledged that before. Even when a console game is "my thing," I look for different criteria than I look for when I play a PC RPG. Console games will almost always be at least slightly penalized for that reason.

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  6. I only remember that game from that same speedrun you linked. Sometimes I leave GDQ on when I want something to fall asleep too, and Lagoon was one of my favorites for this purpose because the game was so dull.

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  7. As noted above, this game is usually considered to be one of the Zelda-like games. And not a good one. On SNES the much better ones are Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, as well as Quintet trio of Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma.

    And as a bit of trivia, Samson appears to be on of the many shout-outs to Zaku from Gundam series.
    https://gundam.fandom.com/wiki/MS-06_Zaku_II

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  8. I hold a special hatred of Lagoon. I was so excited to go to the videogame rental store after getting a Super Nintendo console in early 1992. The first SNES game I rented was Lagoon. I never got past Samson because I didn't understand the game at all. The disappointment and confusion was crushing, but my second rental was SimCity, redeeming the console in my young eyes.

    I wonder if naming the character 'Nasir' is a shout-out to the SquareSoft employee? It's an unusual name to choose otherwise.

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    1. Nasir makes me think of ancient Mesopotamia, where there was a king named Ea-Nasir. Ancient Mesopotamian names appear occasionally in JRPGs so it wouldn't surprise me if that was the source

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    2. Gotta be a shout-out right? He was a big deal in a young industry.

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    3. I assume so. Nasir Gebelli was a big deal in early programming circles long before he worked for Square.

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  9. I'm Always wondering about the choice of console Games.

    I Had this game as kid, remember liking the visual Style but didn't really liked the gameplay. Movement was too floaty i think and as you said the tiny excuse of a sword. Reading know the game should have Ys Style of Combat makes more Sense.

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    1. I honestly go into them utterly blind, except in the cases where commenters have mentioned a game so often that I can't possibly forget it. I figure by playing a somewhat random sampling (since I can't play them all), I'm getting the mean experience.

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    2. Yeah, that would recreate somehow the experience of back than, choosing Games because of cool names and covers

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  10. While I find this perspective absolutely ugly (and sadly a majority of JRPGs adopted it, and it's the standard perspective for RPG Maker too, so there's thousands of games that look like it), one thing in your first screenshot that I noticed positively is that the pillar in the middle has diagonal wall pieces!

    It's uncommon even in modern tile-based isometric RPGs to have walls with anything other than 90 degree angles. I'm always pleasantly surprised when a game has diagonal walls.

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    1. What's a better perspective than this?

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    2. Isometric in the style of Fallout is better than this. Even Ultima VII's weird angle is better than this.

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    3. Yeah, the visuals have always been a turn-off with console Snes Jrpgs. RPG Maker just contributed to how bad they look. That and general quality make the Ps1 incline in comparison.

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  11. I know that character development is one of your core requirements for considering a game an RPG and I don't want to convince you otherwise, Chet, but your complaint that this game is so painfully linear that every player ends up with the exact same character at every point of the game warrants another discussion on what makes an RPG an RPG.

    I mentioned in other comments that a game where you create your own character but never level up afterwards is an RPG to me. But a game like this, where you do level up but you have no character creation and you can't choose where your levelup points go, does not feel like an RPG to me at all.

    The point of an RPG is to "play a role", as in, you choose the role your character or characters will play during the course of the game. In D&D, picking a fighter means you play the role of close combat dude, playing a thief means you play the role of support and utility guy (trap disarming etc), and playing a wizard means playing the role of a versatile caster who mixes damage and utility. The point is that you choose your character or party's abilities. The game doesn't do it for you. Even in RPGs with fixed characters like The Witcher and Mass Effect, you get to pick which of your skills increase upon levelup, meaning that you decide what you want your Geralt or Shepard to be.

    A game that has NO character creation and gives you NO say over how to develop your character is not an RPG in my book.

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    1. I get that argument, but I guess my question would be, what do you call the huge number of JRPGs where you don't have any control over leveling and the story is pretty linear? What if the game allows you to modify how you play it via the tactics you choose or your party composition (e.g. all white mages in FF1 or choosing to use Cloud as a magic user rather than a fighter in FF7) - is that enough choice or does that still not qualify?

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    2. Several of them (including this one) I'd call action adventures.

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    3. This one, sure, but I believe most are turn-based combat, which I wouldn't really call action-adventure.

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    4. Those I would call "boring" :P

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    5. I was thinking of posting something similar. If you compare this game to something like Pirates!, it seems wrong to me that this is considered to be more solidly an RPG because it has this linear character development compared to Pirates!'s extensive freedom of choice and role playing with very little character development.

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    6. This is coming from someone who likes both CRPGs and JRPGs, and has been playing them both for over 30 years. I guess to me this distinction between creating characters and not creating hasn't been that important to me.

      Let's take Wizardry 1. By Jarlfrank's criteria this is an RPG because you can create your party, and control their development in limited ways. But that's where the "role playing" ends. All you do is explore a single 10 floor dungeon with one goal the game recognizes. You can't choose to join Werdna. You can't choose to forget about Trebor and go off on your own adventure. You can't even go talk to Trebor.

      Now there are other RPGs that do allow you do things like this, but even there you run against limitations of the system.

      As a kid I would play Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on my NES, and then Wizardry and Might and Magic on my PC. I never felt like I was "role playing" when I played the computer games, but not when I played the NES games. Given that I did play tabletop D&D as well, I felt that both Final Fantasy and Wizardry were divorced from that tabletop experience.

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    7. Personally, I find it more of a continuum:

      - Games where you create your own characters and customize them fully;
      - Games like e.g. Uukrul where you create your own characters, but the composition of classes in the party is preset;
      - Games where you have pregenerated characters but get to customize them during level-ups;
      - Games where you have no control over character creation or levelling, but select which characters participate in the active party;
      - Games where you have no control over characters.

      The 4th category, which most JRPGs belong to, still gives you the ability to build your party if not individual characters, so I wouldn't mind including it into the RPG genre, even if it's not my favorite system.

      Lagoon, however, seems to be in the last category, so it might as well have dropped all leveling and just balance difficulty for a preset character. The only reason it doesn't is likely to force the player to grind for levels, artificially extending playtime.

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    8. I have said it before and I'll keep saying it: 95% of what the world considers CRPGs have never offered any "role-playing" in any meaningful sense. That's not why they're called computer "role-playing" games. They're called that because they adopted the MECHANICS of tabletop role-playing games. Whether the experience feels anything like "playing a role" has never been and never will be a consideration in defining whether a game is a "CRPG."

      On JarlFrank's argument, I agree on an intellectual level that allowing thorough character customization at the beginning of a game could satisfy the criteria of an RPG even if there's no development during the game. The reason I'm not going to budge on my definitions is that I simply don't enjoy games without character development. Even here, which has the worst sort of development, something compelled me to keep playing where a purely-action game like Zelda would not.

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    9. I propose that moving forward we adopt a prototype theory perspective on what is or is not a CRPG and ditch the criterial categories.

      The prototypical CRPG is something like Baldur's Gate. It has certain features that occur often in other CRPGs (e.g., a party, characters with stats, equipment upgrades, leveling, stats-based combat with random elements, branching dialog, dungeons, character creation, an economy, side quests, and so on) and few features that are typical of other genres (e.g., twitch-based combat, er... race tracks?, I don't know I only really play CRPGs).

      Then, when we encounter a new game, we holistically judge how like the prototype it is. If it's like the prototype, we call it a CRPG, if it isn't, it's not. If it's an edge case, we call it an edge case, Chet decides if he wants to play it. We all move on.

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    10. I feel like that would both exclude a lot of games that are definately CRPGs just because they aren't particularly complex ones, along with adding significantly more ambiguity than the current system. There's also the issue that picking any game as the standard to compare others to would just result in things getting chucked out for being different as opposed to not being RPGs

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    11. Well if you take a "prototypical CRPG" and start comparing other CRPGs to that one, you'll end up with... criterial categories!

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    12. I would say the prototypical CRPG is pen and paper OD&D. It's not really a system for roleplaying, it's a system for killing bad guys, acquiring their treasure, and levelling up. Non-combat resolution of problems was not encouraged - combat was the whole point.

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    13. I wouldn't say that's an entirely fair summation of OD&D. I wasn't around for it but from talking to people who were and reading about it online, by tying XP to gold you could, and the DM often would, award progress for non-combat abilities. Snuck past the guard to get his gold? Same amount of gold obtained so same amount of XP as having killed him. Ditto having charmed or intimidated the guard away.
      On the other hand active role-playing that we think of today wasn't really a focus. It was all dungeons, taverns, and eventually your castle full of hirelings, all the time.

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    14. An interesting point about VK's five categories is that all versions of Ultima IV except, ironically, the NES version technically fall into the 5th category if played roughly as intended, since your party will ultimately include all eight character classes in the game, and the only control you have over development is which of those 8 classes becomes the Avatar. (The NES version limits you to an active party of 4 characters, so it becomes category 4.)

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    15. Twibat - if something is definitely a CRPG, it won't be excluded because your holistic judgement is that it is definitely a CRPG. A game doesn't have to include every feature of the prototype, it just has to include versions of enough of them (and few non-CRPG features) that it trips your subjective CRPG sensor. Basically, if you think something is definitely a CRPG, then it is one for you.

      Anonymous - perhaps I should have written "criterial definitions" instead of "criterial categories" I was thinking of the classic "bachelor" example (yes, it's very dated). A bachelor meets the following criteria (among possible others):

      + human
      + male
      - child
      - married
      - divorced
      - widowed

      But these criteria create strange edge cases. Is the pope a bachelor? Do we need to add a "- pope" criterion? Would a "+ eligible for marriage" criterion work? If so, why is it necessary to specify that some bachelors are "confirmed" or "sworn" while others are "eligible?"

      Criterial definitions like these are so difficult to enforce because the human mind just doesn't seem to make categorial decisions on the basis of criteria. This is true even for categories with clear inclusion criteria. People judge 7 to be a better prime number than 2 or 4447 (presumably because 2 and three of the four digits in 4447 have a characteristic that is
      typical of non-primes - they're divisible by 2).

      The point is that around the edges of categories like CPRG there are always going to be games that people judge to be imperfect members of the category. I see a lot of discussion here over whether game X is actually a CRPG. If there's enough ambiguity among people who are familiar with the game that we're having the discussion, game X is an edge case and I say we leave it at Chet's discretion.

      Tristan - I don't know if you're taking prototype to mean something like "progenitor", but that's not what I'm trying to get at. Rather, imagine that you drew a Venn diagram with a circle for every CRPG you've ever played where overlap among circles was determined by characteristics of the game. At the center, would be a circle containing characteristics like "has a leveling system", "has character classes", "has character creation" and so on because these features are common in CRPGs. Near the periphery of the diagram would be characteristics like "has a sci-fi setting" and "allows multiplayer" because these are less common. The prototype is a hypothetical game that is located perfectly in the center of the Venn diagram. It's not a real game, but rather the amalgamation of all the CRPGs you've ever played with peripheral features stripped away. In my case, Baldur's Gate is probably the real game that's closest to the actual center, but it has some not-very-prototypical features - it has multiplayer, for example, and the party is largely recruitable, rather than creatable.

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    16. @Reiska - bet you didn't know that the gypsy's questions at the beginning of Ultima IV influence your character stats. That puts it squarely in category one.

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    17. Honestly, I don't get why people try to offer changes to the CRPG criteria. It's based on Chet's ideas for what an RPG has to have, and hasn't resulted in any major issues so far. It ends up feeling like people want an excuse to exclude the simpler or lesser known games so the blog gets to the heavy hitters quicker.

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    18. People focus too much on the term 'role-playing' in RPG. It's a form of jargon, it doesn't actually mean anything.

      It's like the term SHMUP. By itself it's nonsense, but its actually short for "Shoot Em Up." That's yet another piece of jargon, since Shoot Em Up could mean any game with shooting in it. But it doesn't, does it? It means a specific style of fast-paced arcade-style auto-scrolling shooting game, with all sorts of genre-specific features that everyone who knows SHMUPS knows the difference between.

      NONE of that information is contained in the definition of the words 'shoot em up.' So focusing on what 'role playing' means in a psychiatrist's' office or prostitute's bedroom and trying to apply that to a videogame makes no sense.

      Role Playing Game was just a term that stuck, out of many competing terms when wargames began to evolve. The earliest was known as a 'Braunstein Game,' after the name of the town where it was set. When Dave Arneson created the Blackmoor game, predecessor to D&D, he called it a 'Medieval Braunstein.' The term RPG didn't come around until D&D's competitors started to come out, aka Trolls and Treasures, to attempt to describe the new genre of wargaming. Many different genre titles were proposed, RPG was just the one that gained popularity.

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    19. Don't misunderstand me, I don't base my definition on the term "role playing", I base it on what I consider to be the core aspects of D&D and its derivatives. And character choice to at least some degree has always been a core feature, even more so than character development. You can play an adventure where the XP is balanced so low that nobody levels up. But even then, everyone gets to create their character. While playing with pre-made characters is an option (I remember the default chars in 3rd edition, like Mialee the elven mage), I'm not aware of any adventures where a pre-made character is enforced.

      Therefore, character customization to at least some degree is more important to me than character growth.

      I don't wanna change Chet's definition. If he doesn't enjoy games without character growth, that's totally fine. But for me personally, a game like Defender of Boston where you get a detailed character creation at the start but never improve your stats feels more like an RPG to me than a game like this, where you level up but it's 100% linear and every player ends up with the exact same character with zero differences.

      I also enjoy games with detailed creation and customization more than those with purely linear growth, so I guess it's also about preference; but a lot of JRPGs don't feel very RPG-y to me because of this.

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    20. I can think of numerous tabletop RPG adventures where a pre-made character is enforced, yes. AND they are short enough that you won't level up in them, either.

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    21. @Alex G

      But no (or little) XP for evading/tricking/subduing the guard - XP was tied to lethality.

      The OD&D rules state that 'monsters will always attack the party unless they are intelligent and clearly outnumbered', and I think the notion that monsters are nothing more than statblocks to fight is generally represented in the adventures Gygax wrote.

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    22. @Daniel

      I would agree that BG is a pretty good archetypal example of top-down CRPGs. The RTwP combat system might be the only mark against it.

      But I think Chet's work has demonstrated that even in the early days there were two primary CRPG archetypes, and a game like Morrowind would be at the centre of the other.

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    23. @Anon - I did know it influenced the Avatar's *class* but did not realize it influenced their base stats, no, so if it does that's a very fair point!

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    24. @Tristan Gall

      I believe that much of the "get exp mainly for killing" was due to D&D's origins in wargaming. It was originally designed as a combat simulator, and other things were added as the game went along.

      The "role playing" aspects were part of that added later part, and became more common as the game got older (up until 4th ed. or so).

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    25. "XP only for killing" has not been a part of ANY edition of D&D. In the earliest editions, you got far more for finding treasure than you did for fighting monsters. This is why the rule cited above existed - to make it harder (and thus require more ingenuity and thought from the players) to avoid combat.

      Later editions removed this rule as the game evolved, but always included some form of non-combat experience. In 3.5e, for example, not only is there advice given to give awards for non-combat situations, but you are supposed to gain XP by defeating the encounter, not killing the monster. Defeating it by sneaking past, tricking it into fighting something else, or any other thing that allows you to get through explicitly counts.

      "XP from killing only" is more of a CRPG-derived concept. It is easy to program into the system, and combat is one of the easiest RPG elements to put into a computer with some degree of depth.

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    26. In early D&D you usually got treasure BY killing monsters. Since you had to get away with it for it to count, and the easiest way to do that was by getting rid of the monsters. Plus, as I said, it started as a wargame, where ALL you did was fight. So many people expected to do a lot of fighting. Said view persisting even to this day.

      Sorry I said that wrong.

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    27. In early D&D, that is decidedly not true. The concept of a "level-appropriate encounter" didn't appear until several editions later. In early D&D, it's entirely possible that any monster is WAY out of your league, or has an attack with permanent nasty effects, or both. This is precisely why there are lots of spells devoted to evading or misleading monsters instead of killing them.

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  12. If you're treating 16-bit consoles as different from their 8-bit predecessors, you should give Sega Genesis/Mega Drive a similar treatment. That one had some pretty decent RPGs and near-RPGs. If you're sticking to the period you've already covered, there's Shining in the Darkness (1991, Wizardry-like dungeon crawler), Shining Force (1992, RPG-tactics in the same franchise) and Rings of Power (1991, open-world RPG by Keef the Thief's dev - but this time it's not comedic).
    And later, there's 1994 Shadowrun, probably the best console RPG for people who don't like console RPGs. It plays like a cyberpunk TES more or less.

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  13. The best RPGs on consoles are the Shin Megami Tensei games. If the CRPG addict wants to experience something really good from a console game, he should check those out.

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    1. But you play a teenager in that one so no doubt it’ll annoy Chet :p But seriously, it’s a good pick though very grind heavy

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    2. It'd definitely be interesting in a "This is what you could get without NoA's restrictions" way

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    3. At least in SMT2 you don't play a teenager IIRC. But the grind was unbearable to me. And it's way too long even without the grind.

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    4. Pretty sure this is a troll considering that other guy with his obsession of Shin Megami Tensei, but a decent console RPG isn't hard to find.

      Secret of Mana for a bit more on the "action" side, Chrono Trigger for a "classic" experience, or Ogre Battle for tactical, thoughtful gameplay. And that's just the SNES.

      The more you look, the more you find.

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    5. I don't really see why it would be a troll, SMT is genuinely great and probably the most successful series that follows the Wizardry/Might & Magic/Bard's Tale template other than Wizardry itself.

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    6. But really I think SMT would be an interesting series for the blog:

      * it has its origins from a novel and so has a relatively developed story for its time
      * it’s very much more inspired by wizardry than other console rpgs (you could argue wizardry iv due to the summoning stuff)
      * its pretty much the precursor to Pokémon
      * the themes are mature for an early console rpg
      * multiple endings

      As a console rpg it’s an anomaly in so many ways; though it does have several major flaws, the grinding being the main one. But definitely will be interesting to get Chet’s take on it.

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    7. I feel like it's a tad misleading to say SMT originated from a novel. The original Megami Tensei was based off a novel, but none of the sequels were. At most there's gameplay elements inhereted from the first one, but none of the actual plot was.

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    8. I was just coming here to mention Shin Megami Tensei, too. After reading the line about multi-character, Wizardry style games, that's the first thought that popped into my head, at least for a Super Famicom game.

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    9. Shin Megami Tensei for the SNES is the most mechanically deep JRPG of the era. I can't think of anything released circa 1992-93 that comes even close. The setting is genuinely original, not derivative of Western fantasy or Anime. And compared to classic CRPGs, the grinding isn't even that bad.

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    10. I feel sorry for Chester when we get to the period when Earthbound is on the table...

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    11. Twibat - by SMT I mean the series. Knowing this blog he’ll play the first entry before the others. However the story of the first definitely influenced the SNES entries; taking the concept and doing a few different thing with it.

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    12. Shin Megami Tensei! So good we don’t have to translate the title!

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  14. I didn't think I'd care for your JRPG console reviews, but they've turned out to be most fascinating! I hope you continue to add an occasional one.

    The last console RPG I played was Adventure on the Atari 2600... which of course has only whiff of actual RPG mechanics. And a whiff may be overstating the actual case...

    In retrospect it may be a bit odd... but after the 2600 I never had another console and have probably spent perhaps 25 hours playing on other people's consoles since 1985. Guess I'm just weird!

    Thanks as always for the neat stuff!

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  15. This was one game I owned when I got the SNES; I basically agree with your review but as a kid I probably played this game through 4 times. Not because it was especially good but because I could only get a few games a year at birthdays and Christmas. So I played what I had, even if it was bad.

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  16. By the way, if anyone would like to read about GDLeen it was the first game I played for my Super Famicom RPGs blog: https://superfamicomrpgs.blogspot.com/2017/02/game-1-gdleen.html

    (Sorry for the self-promo)

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    1. Not at all. Your blog is the only way that most of us (who don't speak Japanese) will experience some of these titles.

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    2. Adding my thanks to Kurisu - it is really great to see you powering through these JRPGs - some kind of crappy - and how consistent you are with updates.

      Chet's CRPG Addict blog and your Super Famicom RPGs blog are a consistent part of my saturday morning after i've fed the kids and sat down with my cup of coffee and I am grateful to both of you for it.

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    3. That’s a good saturday morning.

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  17. Immediately coming to the comments to tell Chet that he needs to play Earthbound :P
    Definitely _super_ childish, but at least intentionally so, and I think it actually works really well with the story and characters.

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    1. Super childish until you get to the end, at which point it's super not. Always a pity we never got Mother 3 on the 64DD. Pity we never got the 64DD to begin with, I guess.

      If we're queuing up another console and/or SNES game Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, or Secret of Mana would be fun, if somewhat predictable, reads.

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    2. Honestly, I feel like Earthbound 64 not happening was a bit of a blessing in disguise. While it didn't help the near complete lack of RPGs for the N64, this was still an era where devs were figuring out how to do 3D well, and from what I've heard the Mother 3 devs were very much struggling with that. Moving to the GBA was probably the best thing that could have happened in the long run considering they had far more 2D dev experience, along with more subjective things like more visual consistancy with the other games and sprite art aging considerably better than early 3D

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    3. Just replayed Earthbound a few weeks ago, first time since the 90s. It really does hold up.

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    4. I've been meaning to replay it since I got a book on the localization and a booklet to make it easier to play the original version

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  18. I just played Dragon Quest XI on my Switch, which I thought was pretty good overall. It borrows the structure from a lot of JRPGs, but which I associate with FFVI, of a very linear first half which turns into a more open world later on (actually, it does this twice ). The reason I'm commenting is that the more linear parts of the game have some of the same baffling design decisions you describe here. There are rooms you're not allowed to leave until you talk to the right person, people who stand in front of the door arbitrarily until you perform a certain action, times when the game won't move forward until you give a particular answer to a question. I wonder if the developers think about this kind of section as more of an interactive cutscene than a limited portion of regular gameplay.

    My other theory, and I wouldn't be surprised if this applied to Lagoon, is that these devices are a band-aid response to confusion on the part of playtesters. In a game which I so severely gated, missing a gate can be really frustrating! This especially applies to players new to games who don't understand the principle that you usually should do anything a game will allow you to do in order to move forward,a rule which I think a lot of computer rpgs of this era abandon without considering the costs.

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  19. Replies
    1. You mean ke ke ke? I'm playing Alliance Alive on 3DS now and all the villains intersperse their villainy with ke ke ke. I assume it's a japanese evil laughter translation thing?

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    2. Kekeke is the Korean way to depict laughter in text

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  20. This reminds me very much of Sword of Vermillion by the looks of it.

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  21. So a lot of us who grew up on console rpgs seem to get unduly frustrated by Chet playing AWFUL console rpgs in a way the crpg side of this doesn't. Chet plays a lot of AWFUL games. Lagoon sucking is no real mark about our console RPG heritage anymore than an awful Ultima clone discredits traditional CRPGs. And when Chet has played true classics of console RPGs like Final Fantasy 1 he's at least appreciated em.

    Maybe we should chill and let Chet experience console RPGs. I trust him to not disregard the entire platform because of a substandard game here and there. God knows MSDOS CRPGs has plenty of stinkers.

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  22. My most significant memory of Lagoon was that it was the first game I beat on my first rental period.

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  23. Your complaint about the linearity made me think about all of the 16 bit rpgs I've played. I'm not sure very many, if any of them could be considered nonlinear in any meaningful way. FFVI and Chrono Tigger have a small amount of nonlinearity at the end of their games, but the rest of the games are completely linear. I never played the SNES dragon age games, so I'm not sure about those, but I think most of the rpgs on that console probably were completely linear. Can anyone think of a properly nonlinear one, not just at the very end of the game?

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    1. Genuine nonlinearity was pretty uncommon in CRPGs of that time period as well. To the extent it existed, it often was due to the game having next to no plot to require linearity (Wizardry, etc.). In that regard I think FF5 and FF6 were competitive with games of their era in terms of nonlinearity while actually having a plotline.

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    2. There's also a difference between planned nonlinearity and accidental nonlinearity. I'd argue that Wizardry's ability for you to skip large parts if you know what you're doing (which is especially apparent in the NES port which redid half the maps) is not by design, but by accident. The intent was for you to meticulously map every floor one by one. Compare with any of the TES games, where you can faff about and eventually decide whether or not you even want to do the main plot.

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    3. I wouldn't call nonlinearity "rare" in CRPGs. I would call about 50% from the 1980s and early 1990s at least modestly nonlinear, although some of them enforce a certain linearity by difficulty. The Ultima and Might and Magic series have been standouts. A lot of the Gold Box games allow for at least moderate exploration. Others that come to mind: Disciples of Steel, Realms of Arkania, Darklands, the two Starflights, the Magic Candle series, Crusaders of the Dark Savant, Challenge of the Five Realms, Amberstar. Even some dungeon crawlers can be fairly nonlinear if the levels are big and they allow for backtracking. The industry had plenty of examples to draw from. I figure developers who made their games this linear either had different design philosophies or they just figured that's what the players wanted. They may have been right--look at the love Half Life gets despite barely offering a stray corridor to check out.

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    4. With console RPGs there's a much simpler explanation: limited saving capacity.

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    5. "I figure developers who made their games this linear either had different design philosophies or they just figured that's what the players wanted. They may have been right--look at the love Half Life gets despite barely offering a stray corridor to check out."

      I hate Half-Life for this. Exploration in FPS games improved from Doom to Unreal (which has some magnificent nonlinear levels with wonderful secrets), and then Half-Life changed FPS level design into linear roller coaster rides.

      (Some people argue that HL is not completely linear because there are situations where the player needs to do something at location X first before backtracking to location Y. But these situations in HL never leave any choice to the player; there is always only one path to continue. So it's completely linear in my view.)

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    6. That's a pretty hilarious argument: "See? It's not linear! It forces you to backtrack!" as if that somehow makes it better.

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    7. I don't understand why linearity is automatically a bad thing. Plenty of fun games are a straight line from the first level to the final boss, from the beginning of computer games to the modern day.

      People who say "but the technology's better, they should do more with it!" don't make sense to me either. By that logic, there's no reason to ever exclude a feature; every game should have every gimmick they can fit on the disk, design and consistency be damned.

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    8. Linearity is automatically a bad thing because I don't like it. As I explained in this entry, I want some freedom during the game. I want my particular experience with it to be unique. That's impossible if everyone plays the same character and has to accomplish the same things in the same order.

      I recognize that there are many games that are completely linear through the present day. My argument is that such games are not very much fun.

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    9. As an oldschool FPS fan, I think Half Life is really overrated and its restrictively linear level design is pretty terrible. I recently replayed Half Life 2, and while it's decent fun in its mechanics, there really isn't any exploration at all. And while the physics engine is fun to play around with, it's only ever used for linear puzzles that have only one specific solution. There is always just one way forward, and it often feels completely artificial in its structure.

      Meanwhile Doom, Quake and Unreal often had open levels that could be approached in several ways, keycards could be hunted down in any order, etc. Yet for some reason Half Life managed to convince people that it's the "thinking man's shooter" due to having a bunch of puzzles and a greater focus on story than was usual for the genre back then. But its level design is way, way, way below average for the shooters of its day. Especially if you also consider other first person games like Thief (not a shooter but close enough) and System Shock 2 (FPS-RPG hybrid) which have absolutely excellent open level design.

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    10. Half Life is actually very close in intent and scope to Lagoon. Both are interactive stories or movies where the player acts as the protagonist, enacting a single plot. Freeman literally doesn’t talk, which conceals the simplicity of the path he takes through the game. No chance to refuse, crack a grim joke, or ask for more money, because the entire point of any interaction is to be an exposition point as inexorable and unchanging as watching a movie or reading a book.

      Unlike most things classified as RPG’s, the emphasis is on the plot rather than the mechanics, thus no need to explore side tracks or alternate career paths.

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    11. I mean... if all you want to do is tell a linear story with barely any interactivity, why not just film a movie or write a book instead? Those are much more suited for linear storytelling. Games, on the other hand, are about YOU, the player, doing his thing and occasionally going against the script or taking a detour. It shouldn't be up to the designer to tell me exactly which path to take. It should be up to me whether I check out the left or the right corridor, and the designer's job is to place risks and rewards in various places to make exploration worthwhile.

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    12. I enjoyed half-life 2. I would not have been interested in half-life 2: the novel, or half life 2: the movie, or half life 2 on ice.

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    13. I kind of find that hard to believe. You wouldn't be interested in a novel about a group of scientists who accidentally breach into another universe, releasing unspeakable horrors that they're forced to fight while simultaneously fighting their own government? That's a high-concept novel.

      I agree with JarlFrank's opinion. Games should involve some amount of player agency, or what's the point? However, I recognize--as is made evident by thousands of games that still find an eager audience--that not everyone agrees.

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    14. Limited saving capacity is almost certainly the explanation for the linearity of most of the earlier console RPG efforts; console RPGs in the NES era generally had a maximum of 8 kilobytes of storage for save data, and usually that was partitioned across multiple discrete save files, so many of them used much less space than that. The original Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest, for instance, minimizes the length of its save data by not retaining any world state information and only saving the character data (and, in the Japanese version of the game, this was done by entering a 24-character password instead of an actual save file). Given the complexity and length of the password it can be reasoned that the actual length of DQ1's save data is only about 18 bytes. (And yet DQ1 was one of the more relatively nonlinear games of the era.)

      It was most likely Final Fantasy, I suspect, that really popularized console RPG linearity.

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    15. So 18 bytes....means the entire game is being reconstructed by at most 144 yes/no statements?

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    16. You can fit a LOT of non-linearity in 8 kilobytes of save game data. What you're missing is that non-linearity is very, very easy on the programmer; but is a ton of extra work for the writer and testers.

      And, as the Addicts notes, not all audiences WANT non-linearity in the first place.

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    17. The programmer has to fix the bugs the tester finds. And they might be much harder to reproduce. If it's more work for the tester it's usually more work for the programmer, too - unless you just ship those bugs, then it's the users problem.

      But savegame space is related to the size of the game state - which might get much larger for a non-linear game, but doesn't have to. That depends on the design.

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    18. To make an abstract example, imagine an RPG which has 8 quests (just klicking a button - the quest state is binary). In the linear version you have to klick the buttons in order 0-7, in the open world version you can click them in any order. You can save at any time.

      The open world version would need 8 bits to save the game state.

      The linear version would just need to store one of 8 numbers - that can be done in 4 bits.

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    19. ...and so? The point is that it's very much possible to write a non-linear game with 8kb of save game space, and neither of your posts goes against that.

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    20. Well, I wouldn't have bothered replying if you hadn't said that non-linearity is easy on the programmer. ;)

      But what is possible isn't always relevant. If it is much easier to write a linear game on a platform, that's what most games are going to be.

      And it certainly helps that these kind of games are popular.

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    21. But bugs AREN'T harder to fix in a non-linear game. They may be harder to FIND, but that's the tester's job.

      From a programmer's point of view, a non-linear game can be (and often is) as easy as a few if-statements (if storyflag=5 then dialogue 18 else dialogue 25; if relation_level>9 then go to room 30 else room 19)

      That and, you know, NOT put obstacles in an open world (which is much easier than attempting to put in obstacles and potentially having them fail).

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  24. "Go to the Faith Healer in town, who will give you a key to unlock a locked door in the caves. Behind it is the demon Samson, which the Healer and Matthias locked there a couple of decades ago.
    Return, unlock the door, defeat Samson."

    So, the guy was already imprisoned alone in some sort of jail in a cave for decades, you just opened the door, beat him up, and left

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    1. "Open up the prison of this ancient evil and beat it up" is an incredibly common trope in RPGs in general but especially in JRPGs. Sometimes it's justified pretty well (the ancient evil is going to emerge in the near future and is more vulnerable now) but often it's an excuse to play the ol' "whoops, the party just made things worse" trick.

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    2. The better question in my mind is why anyone imprisoned a powerful demon right in the middle of the only route that leads from Atland to the outside world.

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    3. Which immediately collapses after I kill the demon. Atland is screwed no matter what.

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    4. On the other hand, that would also mean that the only way into Atland would be through a passage guarded by a powerful demon. Think of how much money they've saved in security budget.

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    5. If you have a door that makes the whole world collapse when someone walks through, it makes sense to imprison a powerful demon right in front of that door.

      What kind of plot is this anyway? You follow someone to avenge the destruction of your guild, and in doing so you destroy the whole world... And then you do that 6 more times? Some kind of hero...

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    6. "A large part of the world is destroyed and it's basically your fault" seems to ALSO be a common trope in JRPGs. Fbzr snzbhf rknzcyrf orvat puebab gevttre, greenavtzn, naq fuvavat sbepr vv. V'z fher gurer ner bguref.

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    7. Oh, you could actually go back to Atland in the X68000 version. There's basically no reason to do it, but the tunnel doesn't close.

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  25. I feel like it took well into the SNES era for console RPGs to hit much of a stride in terms of storytelling, and unfortunately 1991 was decidedly not it (even though FF4 and Ys 3 are relatively standout). It was more like 94 onward that the genre started getting more independently standout titles (or, perhaps, that the quality of the English translations were sufficient to not come off as childishly written).

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    1. In the case of Final Fantasy IV (II on SNES), it was translated by Japanese staffers who had limited knowledge of English, though it would look better than something I translated from English into Japanese.. FFI at least had the benefit of Nintendo of America's localization team. After that, Square's US office got their own localizers, who worked under their own set of constraints imposed from on high.

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    2. Said constraints usually ended up being extremely strict deadlines, along the lines of having a month or two max to get everything translated. Unsurprisingly, this caused issues.

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    3. I've also heard that they receive the scripts as just a straight text dump from the game's rom, so the lines aren't in order and there's often no context.

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    4. I've heard for Final Fantasy 6, all the context the translator got was from playing the game once before starting, and there wasn't enough time to make sure that things actually made sense in context.

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  26. I hold a special dislike for Lagoon, as I saved up my allowance to buy it thinking it was going to be as cool as Crystalis (a NES rpg).

    It was not.

    I think I eventually gave up on it, just so incredibly frustrated by the tiny sword and assorted other bugs.

    I'll just echo some of the other commenters that if you're going to play any other JRPGs from the SNES era, Final Fantasy VI and Earthbound should probably be at the top of that list. There is also Tactics Ogre, which is one of the earlier SRPGs.

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    1. I've played a bit of Crystalis, and this definately seems considerably worse. I need to go back and finish that sometime.

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  27. Deadly Tower and now Lagoon. Talk about picking stinkers. I feel like we are being trolled.

    I think you should stick to your guns and not play console RPGs. Or pick something at least CRPG-adjacent like Shadowrun.

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    1. I took a look at Shadowrun not long ago and while it does look good is seems more like a real time point-and-click game than I'd be willing to put up with.
      This reminds me of Ys and Willow from the NES. At least it's not Hydlide.

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    2. I strongly disagree with that notion. I think Chet can check out and play what he wants, I'm grateful for every new blog entry.

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    3. @Mr. Pavone, you're talking SNES Shadowrun. That one is indeed more of an action-adventure with weird (for a console) PnC controls. It's fondly remembered mostly for its noire story. And, well, being one of the only two CRPG adaptations of Shadowrun up until Shadowrun Returns came out in 2014.
      But there's also Shadowrun for Sega Genesis, and it's a completely different game. It adapts the tabletop ruleset very faithfully (even though class selection is limited to only three choices) and, as I've said above, is closest to a TES game in its structure. You get an open city with lots of well simulated services, cyberspace, a non-linear story and lots of "radiant quest"-like side runs. The game is still real time, but controls are more intuitive for a console, and you can hire up to two mercenaries for your party.

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    4. There's also a Mega-CD Shadowrun but it's more of a visual novel type game and wasn't released outside Japan.

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    5. Oh, and the X-Box one, but that's not an RPG.

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  28. There was at least a little bit more backstory in the Japanese manual for the X68000 version. I'm not sure how much of it survived after the rewrite they did for the SFC, and then the translation to English. But basically, in the original plot:

    * Mathias and Zerah were part of a group of mages who accidentally summoned a demon 400 years ago. Zerah hated the fact that he wasn't powerful enough to control the demon, and he now wants to re-summon it and use Thor's evil powers to control it.
    * There's some explanation that Lagoon Castle being raised into the air like that is a method of keeping the castle safe from attack. Zerah hijacks the castle so he and Thor can do their demon summoning undisturbed. The castle has some kind of sanctuary ("Secret Place") in it that magnifies the power of magic. He needs to kidnap Princess Felicia/Ferisia because her royal heritage allows her to activate that defense.
    * A couple of the bosses (Duma and Battler) are noted in the manual as being the other surviving mages from the demon incident. I'm not really sure why they show up as bosses---whether they agreed with Zerah and were consciously helping him, or if Zerah is controlling them somehow.

    I don't know what's going on with that thing about Philips Castle falling asleep; I don't think that was in the original game. It was probably added in the SFC script and got mangled somehow in translation, but I don't know for sure.

    I really haven't looked at the SFC/SNES version a whole lot, other than to confirm that the script differences there were present in the SFC release. My overall impression is that they rewrote the story quite a bit while using a lot of the original set pieces from it out of context, so it probably comes across as quite jumbled.

    I will say that the whole thing about making friends with Thor before learning that he's the incarnation of evil in the SFC version is an interesting change, and one could argue it's slightly better storytelling. At least your impression of the characters and your relationship with them changes a bit over the course of the plot. In the X68000 version, the manual tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the plot, and nothing that happens in gameplay really affects your overall understanding of the world.

    I think a lot of people hate the sequence where you have to lead Giles back to town in the SNES/SFC version. That wasn't there in the X68000 version; you just give him the potion and leave him there.

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    1. I started playing the x68000 version with your translation. It's neat, thanks for your work.

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    2. Thanks for these clarifications and for your work on all those translations, NLeseul.

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  29. Chet, did you ever consider going back and putting a “won” under Faery Tale Adventures? If you suffer the likes of Lagoon this easily these days it should be a welcome change, and I’m sure since it’s considered a real classic by many there are a lot of people (including me, obviously) interested in your matured opinion on it.

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    1. I wouldn't rule out anything, but I think if I was going to try again with a game I abandoned, I'd have to prioritize Wizardry IV and The Bard's Tale II.

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    2. Oh, I'd love to see you tackle these two with your present-day stamina as well! I had thought that Wizardry IV was out of the question for you because your write-up ended with a rather harsh goodbye (and understandably so, I must add).

      Thank you for taking the time to reply; I'll just hold my breath and hope for a trifecta of revisits then.

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  30. "There is a significant difference in mechanics, however: instead of swinging away with his sword with the "B" button, the player simply runs into enemies as in Ys. Adding a "swinging" mechanics for the NES version was done a bit clumsily; as Nleseul points out, "they didn't change any of the sprite graphics, so the sword feels tiny and useless.""

    They did this rubbish in some later Ys ports, too! People have reported it making the vampire boss and Dark Fact all the more difficult. Though luckily at least the NES/Master System ports were wise enough to not change it, making it all the odder that the later ports tried to make the lousy Zelda combat when they no longer needed to compete against Zelda 1. As you know, Ys 1 is more linear and has less tool usage compared to Zelda 1, so it would never come off as a substitute anyways!

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  31. What does "heavy hitters" imply or mean? Or does it have various meanings?

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    1. In the sense it was used: Most influential/popular.

      In other contexts it literally means the units or whatever that deal the most damage.

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  32. Hi Chet!

    You would do just fine by skipping out on Super Ninja Brothers. I actually played that game extensively in my youth, as I was the perfect young age to play it when it arrived on American shores, but it absolutely does not hold up. It's a mishmash of RPG elements, beat-em-up style button mashing combat, and incredibly poorly designed platforming segments that are bound to have you start throwing computer parts in random directions from frustration.

    Another reason the game hasn't aged well, or rather, a reason the series hasn't aged well... Only a few of the titles from the series actually made it to America. In Japan, the series is known as Chinese World. The games borrow significantly from a very Japan-centric view of Chinese culture, in what could almost be called a parody of Chinese culture. Super Ninja Boy, or "Super Chinese World," is full of racist depictions of effectively Chinese characters, buck teeth and all, Japan occasionally known for its racism vs. the Chinese going back decades.

    The game controls like you're trying to do aerobics underwater, so you really aren't missing much. I have some nostalgia for it, but it's real mess of a game, to be honest.

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    1. It is especially sad that caricatures similar to those that Western artists used to depict Eastern peoples were used by some of those Eastern people to put down other Eastern peoples.

      It is also a bit funny that racists in Japan may have been horrified to know that racists in the West make no differentiation between Chinese and Japanese people - to them they were just a bunch of "Orientals"...

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    2. Until you wrote, Teegan, I didn't realize that Super Ninja Boy was part of a series. According to MobyGames, the series encompasses Chinese Hero (1984), Little Ninja Brothers (1989), Ninja Boy (1990), Super Chinese 3 (1991), Super Ninja Boy (1991), Super Chinese World 2 (1993), and Super Chinese World 3 (1995). The site tags about half of these as RPGs.

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  33. I love Phantasy Star and I think it's a genuinely good game, particularly for the era and hardware, but I'm reluctant to recommend it as it requires Adair bit of grinding, early on in particular, and it is quite linear in places. Not as bad as Lagoon in either respect, but your tolerance for such things may have been exhausted by now!

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    1. Phantasy Star would be a must-play for even a cursory attempt to document console RPGs - and it's a game I love, and one of the first RPGs I beat - but for someone delving into console RPGs only lightly, it's hard to say that (the first) Phantasy Star offers any meaningful innovations or influences.

      There's a stronger argument for Phantasy Star II and III though.

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  34. There probably comes a point where you have to accept that certain things are elements of JRPGs as a genre, and that in criticising them, you're criticising the genre of games rather than the individual games.

    Namely:
    * A relatively linear plot with few player choices. (Although many JRPGs offer a lot of choices in how you develop your character's abilities, particularly more modern ones.)
    * Relatively young main characters, either children or teenagers.
    * Predetermined characters, with no character creation process.

    These aren't failings of the game, any more than a western RPG fails by being derived in some way from D&D; they're deliberate choices to place the game within a genre that (presumably) its creators love, and which they know fans of that genre enjoy.

    That makes it hard for a reviewer who fundamentally doesn't like those elements. If you were a reviewer for a gaming website, the responsible thing to do would be pass on JRPGs to a different reviewer, on the basis that you'd never have much useful to say other than "I'm not the audience for this game". As a historian-enthusiast, it's trickier, I suppose.

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    1. (None of that means that Lagoon is a great game, of course. It's not. But it becomes hard to tell from reading whether it's actually a bad game, or whether it's just from a genre that doesn't work for you.)

      Also I have zero memory of the giant snake in Origins being difficult in any way (or really anything else in Origins, in which a complete lack of meaningful challenge was an ongoing issue) and I'm not a particularly talented action gamer, but I assume I was just overlevelled for it or something.

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    2. I appreciate the argument, but I'm probably not going to do that. I'm probably going to continue to complain about the same things, or lack of things, repeatedly every time I encounter them. I will still, of course, try to find positive things to say about the things that are positive, as I did here with the graphics and boss encounters.

      Fans of JRPGs and those particular elements of JRPGs, knowing how my entries will likely will go, may want to skip them in the future.

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    3. Appreciated. :-)

      I am tempted - and I say this by way of comedy, not dig at you, because this isn't your situation - to start a website that reviews movies, except after a while it's pretty transparent that the only movies I like are The Lord of the Rings, and my complaints are all about how few hobbits they have, and that Orlando Bloom isn't in them, and how they don't manage to run for a full three hours and weren't filmed in New Zealand.

      "Taxi Driver. Zero stars. Features not a single orc or elf. Not even an attempted swordfight. Movie appears to be complete when credits roll with little room to be expanded into a trilogy. Would not recommend."

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    4. You wouldn't be different from a lot of reviewers if you did that. I mean, very few mainstream reviewers have a set of criteria as specific as wanting the films to be exactly like Lord of the Rings, but almost all of them have some things they look for and some things that turn them off.

      There's a whole set of movie reviews on ChristianAnswers.net where the reviewer talks about how well they hold up against Christian theology. The reviewers are all unintentionally howlers because the people who write them honestly love movies and know what they're talking about, but then are obligated to note that you shouldn't see Star Wars because it suggests that some "force" controls the universe instead of God.

      But we don't have to go to that extreme. Pauline Kael hated musicals. Watch out if she felt that a film was "manipulative," like anything by Alfred Hitchcock or formulaic, like anything by Clint Eastwood. Leonard Maltin has never understood anything edgy. Gene Siskel thought that a movie's quality was inversely related to its box office performance; if everyone else liked it, he didn't.

      Roger Ebert, who was generally happy to rate movies based on what they were trying to accomplish, still thought the "Dogme 95" movement was stupid, and said such in every review of a "Dogme 95" film. (My favorite quote: "With just a few more advances--like props, sets, lighting, music and style--the Dogma crowd will be making real movies.") What you're suggesting that I do is equivalent to suggesting that Roger Ebert "get over" Dogme-95, accept its tenets, and move on. But I, sir, believe in the old saying, "When GregT wants you to do one thing, but Roger Ebert would have done a different thing, be like Roger Ebert."

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  35. A jab at Dragon Quest? I can't resist more proselytizing.

    The Dragon Quest games themselves moved away from their simple origin, sometimes to the point of being overcomplicated. They also continued to be homages to the Ultima series. Dragon Warrior IV on the NES echoes Ultima IV, in that you gather a team of eight archetypes, though the list (soldier, monk, cleric, wizard, merchant, dancer, mystic, hero) doesn't mirror Ultima IV's, and at the end you descend into a Stygian Abyss equivalent. After IV the comparisons become forced, although Dragon Quest VI's cosmology (two coexisting planes, one deteriorating) resembles Ultima VI's.

    Some more praise. Dragon Warrior IV taught me about tragedy. Dragon Quest V has one of the most heart-wrenching stories of its (16-bit) era. Dragon Quest VII has a vast and rewarding character development system separating levels and classes, although it becomes overcomplicated. Dragon Quest Builders made Minecraft fun again.

    As before, I won't mind if you never play another Dragon Quest game. I find it helpful to articulate my thoughts, and I'll save a copy of this text elsewhere for later use. Although if you do play one, remember that death has no severe consequences, so there's no point in grinding; just throw yourself at a dungeon until you've naturally leveled enough to beat it.

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  36. Aw, man, I actually had this cartridge for my SNES. This may have been the first time I realized a game could be difficult because of design flaws rather than just my own lack of practice/ability.

    I remember really wanting to like this game because it seemed more somber and challenging than my usual choices. Each time I got new spells the animations were exciting but then I saw to my dismay how even a massive bolt of lightning that fills the screen couldn't finish off even the most basic of monsters.

    Made it to the final boss and never beat it. Tried so many times and eventually found it wasn't worth the effort. Sunken cost fallacy only got me that far. No further.

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