Thursday, April 8, 2021

BRIEF: Courageous Perseus (1984)

I have no idea why the title screen asks for your birthday.
           
Courageous Perseus
Japan
Cosmos Computer (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for PC-88 and FM-7; 1985 for MSX and Sharp X1
    
After 11 years and over 400 game, it's hard to use superlatives with any degree of confidence, but I'm pretty sure that Courageous Perseus is the worst game I have played or attempted to play since starting this blog. It is a pointless anti-game, requiring no skill, featuring no story, giving the player the relief of neither luck nor brevity, offering no rewards even for the player who wins, which I would maintain is impossible on the MSX version.
   
Released in the same year as Hydlide--possibly even before it--Perseus offers superficially the same type of early-Japanese-action-RPG gameplay. You run up to monsters and wave your sword until they die. As you kill monsters, your attack and defense values go up and your energy goes down. The trappings are superficially Greek, with the monsters meant to represent centaurs, griffins, satyrs, pegasuses, and other creatures from mythology. It's hard to imagine that Clash of the Titans (1981) didn't have some influence on the content.
     
The game begins on the ocean in a raft. The game world wraps, so all directions lead to land.
      
If that was all there was to the game, it would just be incredibly boring. What makes it uniquely hateful is that of the 15 or so regular enemy types in the game, you can only kill one or two at a time, usually one. When the game begins, you're only strong enough to kill these grey fighters. You have to wipe them out to amass enough strength to kill the next tier of enemies, which is either unicorns or satyrs (they became available to me about the same time). Then you have to kill all of them before you're strong enough to defeat centaurs, and so on.
   
There are several problems with this approach. First, each type of enemy is not conveniently grouped in one area. The game world consists of 120 screens, arranged 8 x 15, and while enemy types tend to be concentrated by screen, their screens could be scattered anywhere in that grid. The screens make up a long maze that winds its way throughout the island and takes about 15 minutes to run from beginning to end if you don't stop to fight. You have to make multiple loops through this map looking for your current enemy to kill, ensuring that you get every one of them or else you can't move on to the next enemy.
        
Despite the title, I did not spend a "brief" amount of time with this game. I took the time to stitch together all these screen shots.
        
Second, there's no way to tell which enemy is next in the order. (I suppose it's possible that the manual told players; I haven't been able to find a copy.) You just have to periodically test yourself against them, letting them whack away your energy, until it's clear that you can't defeat them yet. 
   
Third and worst of all, there simply aren't enough foes in some tiers to move on to the next tier. Repeatedly, I was unable to move on to any enemy. Fortunately, there is some limited respawning in the game--too rare and unpredictable to actually "grind," but if you run around long enough some low-tier enemies inevitably reappear. Only through a couple hours of finding them one at a time was I finally able to advance a couple of times.
      
These grey fighters are the only enemies you can kill when the game begins.
     
But you can't spend forever dithering about the game world, looking for enemies to kill, because even outside of combat, your energy depletes at a rate of roughly 1 per second. You can find five magic items (they look like signs) that boost your energy by 1,000, but even with all of them, the game will be over in less than two hours even if you take no damage from any enemy. Even with liberal save-scumming (reloading if I took too much damage or spent a while in fruitless exploration), I couldn't find enough enemies to advance fast enough.
    
"Enemies" ought to be in quotes, incidentally. I don't know what the back story is supposed to be, but none of the creatures in the game actually attack Perseus. Indeed, they seem to actively avoid him. You only take damage if you bump into each other. Trying to fight them is actually quite frustrating, as they move randomly around the screen, can walk on terrain that Perseus can't walk on, and don't do you the courtesy of staying in combat range when you're trying to attack. As the game progresses, Perseus slowly depopulates the island of non-hostile fantastic creatures.
       
Perseus prepares to massacre two satyrs and two unicorns.
       
The goal of the game has something to do with collecting signs of the Zodiac. These appear occasionally as you slay monsters, and in the MSX version, they're recorded on the game options screen. In the PC-88 version, which has much nicer graphics, they're on the title screen. To get them all, I believe you have to kill essentially all the monsters in the game, including Medusa and a dragon.
      
The menu screen shows me what Zodiac items I've collected.
   
The PC-88 version may not have the same problems as the MSX version. There's a YouTube video of someone winning it, at least. I couldn't find that version of the game for download. I wouldn't be above a little hex editing just to see it through, but I can't figure out how to hex edit blueMSX save state files (even if I decompress them, I can't find any of the hex values). I refuse to carry this as a loss, and since my rules say that I can BRIEF a game if it doesn't meet my definition of an RPG, that's what I'm doing here. The game has no inventory.
         
The winning screen of the PC-88 version.
         
Despite how much I hated it, Courageous Perseus had some interesting analogues to a game I've been playing this month on the console: Assassin's Creed: Odyssey (2018). Aside from the Greek theme, both feature enemies that are hard-gated by character level, something that the Assassin's Creed series seems to have adapted from The Witcher 3. This level-gating is my least favorite part of these otherwise-good games. If you're not familiar with how it works, basically you functionally cannot prevail against an enemy more than 5 levels higher than you no matter how much you're willing to work at it. To put it mathematically, say you have a Level 20 character who can normally kill a Level 20 enemy in 10 hits. A Level 22 enemy, being harder, takes you 12 hits. A Level 25 enemy takes 15. So far, so good. You thus might expect a Level 30 enemy might take as many as 30 hits to kill. Except it takes more like 300, or even 3,000. Once the enemy is more than 5 levels above you, the normal math goes out the window and the game drastically escalates both his offense and defense far out of proportion to the actual level variance. 
      
There are a couple of islands and secluded beaches you need a raft to reach.
       
Odyssey also features what may be the most morally reprehensible character in the entire series. The game takes place during the Peloponnesian War, and the main character by default happily takes contracts from both Athens and Sparta, gleefully slaughtering officers in both armies, destroying their resources, and pillaging their ships. You could role-play it so that you only accept one or the other, but unlike every previous Assassin's Creed title, there's no "evil" side here. The character comes across fort after fort, camp after camp, house after house, and mercilessly slaughters soldiers and steals valuables for no other reason than the game offers such acts as "area objectives." Here again, we have an analogue to the clearly monstrous protagonist of Perseus.
   
Odyssey, incidentally, has taught me that the pronunciations we generally use for Greek figures are all wrong. It's The-SAY-us, not THEE-see-us. Pi-tha-GOR-as, not Py-THA-gor-as. I assume that Perseus is similarly Per-SAY-us. Come to think of it, that would make Courageous Perseus almost a rhyme. 
    
Compared to "real" and "adventure," "courageous" is quite difficult to spell. I'm impressed they got it.
      
Getting back to this game, I'll allow that it's possible I missed something. The game tracks an "S" value and a "P" value. I don't know what either is, but "P" never got higher than 0, so maybe there was something else I was supposed to do to get stronger. I tried all the keys to no avail, but maybe there's some other combat action or command that I missed. I'm open to taking another look if the manual turns up. Otherwise, this one is best left forgotten.
  

45 comments:

  1. You know what is fun in RPG ? Grinding ! Let's make a game 100% about grinding !

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    1. Grinding implies that it's mindless to a degree. Having to hunt all over the game map sounds awful and tedious in a different way from enforced grinding.

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    2. If you love grinding, you should play Ginormo-Sword, which distills the essence of grinding into a purely addictive experience.

      Though now that I think of it, I suppose since the death of Flash, it may no longer be playable.

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    3. Exactly, Alex--that was what I was trying to convey. "Grinding" would have made it no better or worse than the typical early action RPG. This game doesn't even have the decency to let you grind.

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    4. Wow, the gameplay loop in this is so bad there's not even a word for it.

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    5. I'm doing my first playthrough of Might and Magic X right now and it has a bit of the same issue. I'm playing blind on hard mode (so I'm sure my party comp is not ideal) and there have been a few spots so far where there is literally only a single enemy, hidden SOMEWHERE on the game's giant map, that I'm able to beat, and if I don't find that one encounter I'm locked out of all the other dungeons because I'm simply not strong enough to progress. I'm about 30 hours in now, and it's getting better, but there was a point there where I played for ~3-4 hours over two days without killing a single enemy or gaining a single piece of loot. I was just exploring old dungeons to try to find the one weak encounter I had missed.

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  2. I once played a mobile game based on the Robocop reboot, which is unfortunately shut down now. If you follow the level suggestions for each level, it's a boring easy game. If you ignored them however, you got a decently fun and challenging shooter experience, as well as feeling less pressure from the stamina system that most mobile games have nowadays.

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  3. Reading this review is now making me want a CRPG Addict review of Progress Quest (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progress_Quest). Maybe a good April 1 entry for next year?

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    1. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

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    2. The more refined Godville is where it's at for those type of games.

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  4. Nice, but I already booked Smart Kobold as a 1st of April entry :)

    http://www.zincland.com/7drl/kobold/

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    1. This looks like a real roguelike, maybe with a meta-twist on the idea of killing cave-creatures by invading their homes. What makes an April Fools' Day style game?

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  5. Your description made me think of Mamono Sweeper: http://www.hojamaka.com/game/mamono_sweeper/html5/en.html

    It's Minesweeper but the mines are monsters, and you take damage fighting monsters above your level. So you have to find them all by clicking on squares with no monster, or a monster you can beat, then up your level by killing all those you can, until you beat the final, strongest monster. (You do have enough HP to survive a few fights with monsters slightly higher level than you, but you can't do it often.)

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    1. Mamono Sweeper immediately came to mind for me as well!

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    2. Thank you for the reference that indroduced me to the little gem of Mamono Sweeper.

      Same principle but absolutely different experience. Logic and clear rules vs total RNG and confusion.

      Chet should really check it out - 15 minutes at lunch is all it takes to master. There are both Windows and Android versions. Windows plays faster, closer to original Minesweeper.

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  6. I took a course on classic Greek mythology in college. The professor emphasized that we don't really know how the names were actually pronounced - we have an idea of how Shakespearean English sounded, but no idea about how the actual ancient Greeks pronounced their names. So if you pronounce it Thee-see-us and someone else says The-say-us, either of you could be right - but likely both are "wrong".

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    1. There are some attempts at reconstruction, which are more or less close to how it might have sounded. In general though, English native speakers are utterly terrible at pronouncing ancient Greek and Roman names. The first time I heard "Carthage" pronounced was in the Rome Total War 2 trailer, and it made me shudder. At least I now know why it's written with a e in English... ugh.

      There are several ways of pronouncing ancient Greek and Latin. There are a few reconstructions of the classical pronunciation, with some minor differences between them, and a few reconstructions of the medieval pronunciation, and models of how the pronunciation changed through the ages. It's all very detailed and sophisticated.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. @Tristan Also that's where our German "Kaiser" is coming from so it kinda lived on being one of the oldest adopted Latin words in our language.

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    4. Is it not pronounced "carth-edge"? How do they say it in the game, and what's right?

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    5. It's written and pronounced Karthago. So like car-tha-go. Three syllables.

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    6. In the game they pronounce it "carth-edge" and since it was the first time I ever heard it pronounced like that, it made me wince. Really sounded terrible to my ears and made me think "holy crap, anglophones are TERRIBLE with ancient words" :p

      I'm from Germany and learned Latin at school, we have a pretty solid pronunciation of it here. Then I went on to study ancient and medieval history, so I'm somewhat firm in Latin and know how it developed from classical to medieval.

      I have seen it spelled "Carthage" in English texts before, of course. But before I heard it spoken in the Rome 2 trailer, I always assumed it was pronounced "car-tha-ge". Sounds a bit weird, but still less terrible than carth-edge.

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    7. "Carthage" came via French. But it's not like the Latin name for it is any more correct -- they spoke Punic, not Latin. As far as I can tell, the Punic word ("qrt-ḥdšt") is two syllables and doesn't end with a vowel.

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    8. I would expect the Punic name to be at least three syllables – something like Qart-Hadašt.

      (In principle it could be as many as five, depending on the intricacies of Semitic inflection schemes.)

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    9. Seleucia-on-TigrisApril 12, 2021 at 7:37 PM

      Oh, Franky. Rendering one word of Punic in a more historically informed manner than a mainstream videogame voice actor is not something to brag about. Phoenicians would disagree that your alien mispronunciation is "less terrible" than someone else's mispronunciation, and the form that makes you wince is derived from Francophone /kar.taʒ/, making it about six hundred of years older than you. But don't let that stop you from boasting in the CRPG Addict's comment section lol

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  7. On a brief skim of this post from a Japanese player, it sounds like the manual tells you to find the Zodiac symbols as well as rescue three princesses; that may be what the mystery "P" stat is referring to. I haven't read that post in detail, but from the bit I read, it sounds like they're as confused as you are as to what the game is supposed to be about.

    I'm not able to find a scan of the manual. The PC88 version is available on Project EGG (a Japanese retro game distributor similar to GoG), with a manual included. The game is free, but I believe there's a subscription fee to register on the site. I doubt it's worth it just for this game.

    I did find this Japanese video of the MSX version that appears to reach a "YOU WON!" screen a couple of times.

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    1. I like his first sentence in the conclusion: 親指が痛いです (my thumb hurts).

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    2. The S and P are indeed related to the zodiac signs and princesses (or goddesses according to whatever documentation I found when I was writing the MobyGames entry). You don't find any princesses until close to the end of the game.

      I managed to beat the MSX version some time ago, with liberal use of save scumming. Beating a monster gives you energy, so you just need to be sure you don't go backwards after a battle. There was one point at which I was stuck until I realized that the giant crabs in the water weren't just hazards and could actually be fought if you were high enough level.

      I still have some save states from just before winning the game if anyone is interested for some masochistic reason.

      Courageous Perseus was released before both Hydlide and Dragon Slayer. I remember reading an interview with a programmer of one of those two other games who had been worried that their game would be eclipsed when they saw it advertised before their game was out. The earliest releases (PC88 and FM-7) all had scrolling maps compared with the flip screen MSX version (due to hardware limitations). I've played all four ports (not all the way through), and despite the horrid controls I actually preferred the MSX version.

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  8. I know you can't tell, and it's really not important, but FYI the "grey" fighters are bright cyan.

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    1. Heck... I kept wondering why the colours didn't match and I couldn't see "grey" fighters...

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  9. The advertisement photo made me laugh. It looks as if "courageous" Perseus is seeking to protect himself against the dragon by hiding behind an unconscious woman. Some hero!

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  10. This one looks more like an Atari 2600 title!

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  11. Interesting observation about AC Odyssey. I felt the same, and in fact, it was one of the first games that made me feel like an actual, psychopathic killer to the point where I'd feel bad about it.

    There were many times where I would find myself starting a moralistic, 'good guy' type of questline just moments after wiping out 50 people in the fort next door for no reason at all.

    Allowing you to pick a side would have been so much cleaner.

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  12. The pronunciation is Persefs/ Perseas, Thisefs / Thiseas. All e as in |e|rror and all i as in |I|nn.

    Source: I am Greek.

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    1. It doesn’t really help with the emphasis, though. What would be the stressed syllables in modern Greek?

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    2. Modern Greek pronunciation is very different from ancient though. There's a shift in the middle ages, and modern Greek is pretty similar in pronunciation to high medieval Greek.

      One major difference is how the letter beta became softer, and turned from a hard B pronunciation to a soft V sound.

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  13. "Groovy" is a strange choice of words for the victory screen, given that this game came out three years before Evil Dead II and about ten years since anyone had used it previously. Also I don't think they called things groovy in ancient Greece, though I can't say for sure they didn't.

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  14. Seems like these games assume you're a hero in the Greek classical sense, where you were the more hero the higher your killcount was.

    Also lol, we had a girl in class once who pronounced Pythagoras the way the Addict thought was right and we were all laughing at her since even though we knew nothing about good old Pyth yet, it just sounded so unnatural in German. Poor girl.

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  15. Enjoyed your comments about Odyssey. It has a lot of good points - some gorgeous scenery, for example, and the usual run of exquisite detail over a wide historical landscape - but it is the least Assassin's Creed-y game in the core franchise, and the story has multiple aspects that made me want to chuck my controller at the screen, most prominently the game's queasy "both sides are bad, maybe respect their culture" attitude towards the fascist, slave-keeping Spartans (including a quest where you have to bring back escaped slaves), and its treatment of (particularly) Kassandra in the DLC.

    Plus the way it just threw in wildly ahistorical mega-statues and landmarks drawn from (among other things) Clash of the Titans went a long way to ruining the "historical tourism" aspect that I'd love in other AC games.

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    1. The cyclopes and minotaur kind of damage any pretenses towards realism, too.

      I'm having fun with it, but there's nothing more immersion-breaking than seeing the enemies' relative level as an actual number.

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    2. The cyclops (that is to say, the monstrous one, not the two non-monstrous ones that also appear) and the minotaur at least have a clear reason for their existence in the game's story and lore, and don't require any additional suspension of disbelief beyond the amount required to accept the game's "ancient aliens / magical technology / secret societies warring" conceit.

      The big-ass statues bugged me because they're presented as if they literally existed in real-world ancient Greece.

      I enjoy the most recent AC trilogy for what they are, but I do mourn the loss of the "real" AC franchise, with its emphasis on "do things your way", "the hidden blade is a universal leveller", and "hidden in plain sight" social stealth.

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  16. Hello, Mr.Addict. This is my first time commenting on this blog, and I'm also not a native speaker, so please excuse any errors I may make in language and etiquette (though I'd be glad to have them pointed out - kindly, if possible).

    If, in the future, you somehow find yourself in the need of a disk image of a game released on Japanese PCs, I'd suggest checking out the Neo Kobe archives, now (ironically/poetically?) archived here:
    https://archive.org/details/softwarecapsules?query=kobe&sin=

    The PC-88 version of Courageous Perseus can be found in the corresponding archive: https://archive.org/details/Neo_Kobe_NEC_PC-8801_2016-02-25

    At risk of severely underestimating your ability to navigate webpages, but to save you from wasting a few minutes fumbling around: On the page above, scroll down and look to the right side, there should be a Download Options tab, click the "Show All" button at the bottom left. Then, look for the zip file and click the "View Contents" button at the end of its name. Now, you should see a list of zip files of every software in the archive, you can download each individually. This is the same for all other Neo Kobe archives on the site.

    Neo Kobe archives are very comprehensive, though I have heard that some games are corrupted and could not be completed. I have not run into any problem personally. I've test the 'Courageous Perseus' image and it is playable, I do not know whether it's completable, however.

    Good luck and godspeed, Mr.Addict.

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    1. Such a courteous message! Brought a genuine smile to my face. :)

      The information is also good.

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    2. Thank you, Seraph. Japanese games aren't as well represented on English abandonware sites, so I usually have to just Google for them. That always leads me to sketchy sites. It's nice to know there's a comprehensive source.

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