Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Game 500: Out Live (1989)

 
If you enjoy that tagline, note that the 1997 remake is subtitled Be Eliminate Yesterday.
       
Out Live
Japan
Sunsoft (developer and publisher)
Released 1989 for the TurboGrafx-16 console
Date Started: 25 January 2024
           
This entry is going to disappoint a lot of commenters who were looking for a more "significant" or "meaningful" game to mark the 500th title covered on my blog. Sorry about that. I wasn't interested in reaching forward in time, and while there are some landmark games remaining for 1993, none is so obviously vital to the history of the genre that artificially elevating it to this position would have done anything but draw attention to the inadequacy of the choice. Instead, I decided that the most on-blog thing to do for my 500th game was just let the next game come up organically, using the same process that I've been using for years. In this case, it was time for a random selection (which includes the possibility of console games), and the random roll produced Out Live. If it makes you feel better, maybe you could read some hidden meaning in the title.
        
Naming your mecha is the only "character creation" the game offers.
      
This is the first time I've played a game released for the TurboGrafx-16 console, known as the PC Engine outside North America (a term that makes no sense to me). It and its cousin, the TurboGrafx CD, hosted over 100 RPGs between 1988 and 1995, including many games previously released for the PC-88, PC-98, or MSX. There are, in contrast, comparably few crossovers with competing consoles of the period, like the NES and the Sega Genesis. The first TurboGrafx RPG was probably Jaseiken Necromancer (1988), for which I have not found a full English translation. Out Live is one of several 1989 releases, still quite early in the console's existence.
     
From the backstory.
    
The game was released only in Japanese; I'm playing an English translation courtesy of Nebulous Translations. But the game's title is rendered in English even in the Japanese release, as is the mysterious statement on the title screen: "It's Far a Future on PLANET." According to a "Readme" file provided by Nebulous, "your goal is basically to become the champion of Duelists on Lafura, and solve the conspiracy involving your lost friend." The opening titles establish the setting as the planet Lafura, whose ancient ruins are being excavated by the Empire for "advanced science and technology." The Empire is opposed by "a local organization that calls itself Mars." An Imperial Scout--presumably the player's friend--has been lost investigating the ruins, and the player is tapped to follow up by his commander, Markus Booker.
   
The player controls a mecha called Braudis by default, but you can rename it after the opening screens. In the game, all Mecha names are preceded by the letters "FW," but I'm not sure why. Booker gives the player two specific goals: "Infiltrate the FW dueling scene in Lafura as one of the duelists" and "find the whereabouts of the legendary FW Braudix," which I gather is different from Braudis.
    
The opening screen.
      
The game begins in a maintenance shop on Lafura. The player has 1,000 credits. It appears each town in the game (at least so far) is a menu town, with options to repair and restock the mecha at the maintenance bay, buy and sell items at the gun, armor, or item shops, or visit the saloon to talk to NPCs. On my first visit to the saloon, someone named Ermak told me to "go and register as a duelist" but provided no information on how to do so.
     
Wonder of wonders . . . a Japanese game in which an NPC looks like a plausible adult.
      
The towns on the planet are all connected by twisty mazes. The first maze connects Lafura with Torinton City. As you maneuver your mecha through the futuristic passages, you're randomly attacked by a variety of enemies. 
    
At least so far, the game is quite simple and boring. The tiled 3D mazes are large and featureless, with no treasures or special encounters, and only the occasional "boss" enemy. Combat itself is boring. It's all turn-based, even though a more action-oriented approach would fit the game better, and there isn't much to do but attack round after round and watch as the enemy attacks you. In the early game, you have only one gun and thus only one action to take, except replenishing your shields with energy packs when they get too low. You can buy a number of usable items, like missiles and bombs, as well as armor upgrades, so it gets a little more interesting later, but not much.
       
You spend a lot of the game just looking at walls like this.
      
Enemies have a chance of appearing every time you make a move, including turning, so if you want to grind, you can just spin around near a city. I'd guess you get an encounter roughly every 8-10 moves. You don't see them until they're upon you. I guess they're all supposed to be mechas, although some of them look like animals or just pieces of random artillery.
      
This is a mecha, right? Not a monster?
    
Defeating enemies gives you both "attack experience" and "defense experience," though the latter only if you took damage during the battle. You also get "target points" for each kill, which are converted to credits if you reach a city. 
     
These are the options each combat round.
     
I leveled up a few times on my way to Torinton City. Leveling up occurs automatically, with no player choices or input, which will hurt it on the GIMLET. Attack levels increase your damage and also increase your maximum shield value. Defense levels just seem to reduce damage taken. Combat really isn't very deadly. You can carry a decent supply of energy packs, which are cheap, and if you die, you just get sent back to your last city, having lost nothing except any money you accumulated since you left. This is good because the game is incapable of saving your progress, instead requiring you to write down a 40-character password.
     
My mecha's stats about mid-session.
       
In Torinton, I found a duelist at the bar named Nachi. He challenged me to a duel. When this happens, when you leave the city you have an option to go to "dueling." You're taken to a small circular arena with the enemy on the other side. You cannot move; you just exchange shots until one of you is dead. In this case, it was Nachi. He bemoaned his fall from the dueling ranks. I earned 1,000 credits.
     
What can I say? You suck.
      
Back in the bar, Nachi said he knew someone who knew one of my friends. This turned out to be a suited guy named Mikuta. He said that the agent who came before me spoke to a female duelist named Chris. He also thought Mars might be behind my friend's disappearance. Chris was also available in the bar, and she said she'd tell me what she knew if I could defeat her.
      
"Otherwise, I'll keep information about the safety of a fellow duelist secret just for the giggles."
      
I defeated her in another easy duel, winning 2,000 credits, at which point she said she'd "lend me her help" but told me absolutely nothing. Nachi suggested my next dueling opponent should be Joe in Green City.
    
I bought a "Titan Shield," a "Hawk Missile," and as many energy packs (which restore 1,000 shield units) as I could carry before heading out.
      
Leaving a city gives you a choice of directions.
     
Instead of mapping, I just followed the right wall until I reached Green City, then followed the right wall back to Torinton, then went back to Green City again, rising a few levels en route. I suppose I should probably map lest I miss something important in an "island." 
     
Chris was at the bar in Green City along with an older man named Lesley. Lesley wanted me to kill a monster in the labyrinth near the city, "near the three doors that led to the next city." This one took me a while. I kept leaving the city, following the right wall, but I'd run out of shield strength as well as energy packs before reaching either the monster or the next city, White Hill City. For a while, it was touch and go. I kept zipping back to Green City with a "Back Walker," which returns you to the last city automatically. I'd replenish my shield and items, including buying a new Back Walker, and end up with 400 credits less than when I left. But as I rose a couple of levels, improving my ability to deal and resist damage, the situation slowly turned around.
       
The "weird monster" is probably native to the planet, and sapient besides.
        
I eventually made it to the beast, a large, tentacled enemy hanging out behind a door deep within the level. I unloaded my remaining missiles at him, then finished him off with my guns (which never run out of ammo).
    
I can't quite tell what "the monster" is.
       
The game took me back to Green City automatically. At the bar, I found a duelist named Joe taking credit for my kill. Lesley didn't know who to believe.
      
I'm not sure how that proves anything, but okay.
    
Joe challenged me to duel, so I entered the arena and defeated him without much trouble. As his mecha collapsed, he apologized and said that he "just wanted some fame" as he hasn't been doing well in the dueling rankings lately. Lesley apologized for not believing me ("I thought that only the legendary Braudix could defeat that monster").
   
Meanwhile, a slick blond guy named Kam recognized me as "the pilot sent by the Reconnaissance Office." He also challenged me to a duel. I fought him, again without too much trouble. Between all the duels and other rewards, I had over 12,000 credits by the end. I bought some titanium armor and upgraded my guns to what I assume are better ones. Guns are one of the many things that I don't quite understand. I started off with "N1 Vulcan" guns, and the shop in Lafura sold "B1 Blaster" and "I1 Cold" guns. I forgot what was for sale in Torinton City, but in Green City, I can buy "N2 Thunder," "B2 Mega Blaster," "I2 Freeze" and "L2 Excimer" guns. I assume the number is the rough "level" of the gun, but I don't otherwise know if different types of guns do more or less damage against different types of enemies. I'd have to have enough money to buy multiple guns and compare them.
      
I guess he doesn't like the Reconnaissance Office?
      
Out in the corridors, I haven't noticed that whatever guns I have do different damage to different types of enemies, but they do seem to do different damage based on the color of the walls in the area that I'm in at the time. I don't know how many colored areas there are. I've been through areas that I'd describe as yellow, blue, and red, but I suspect that there are more and I'm just not seeing the differences, since there are more than three different types of guns.
   
Armor items sold in Green City were Ceramic Armor, Titanium Armor, Titan Shield, Graph Shield, and Replica Shield. There's no indication of their protective values until after you buy and equip them. I gather you can have one item of armor and one shield at any given time. I assume the more expensive ones are better, but that doesn't always hold true in other games.
      
Every city has shops.
      
I got to White Hill City without much trouble. In the bar, a duelist named Mirau Amandara challenged me. Like all individual combats in the game so far, he was relatively easy. "Be careful of Kam," he warned me after I defeated him, which earned me another 6,000 credits. Back in the bar, he offered, "I heard that woman you were hanging out with has been kidnapped." Another duelist named Nachi Murakami remarked that he hadn't seen Chris in a while.
      
Enemy duelists like to smack talk you in the middle of combat.
      
I used my extra funds to explore some of the other items sold in shops. In addition to your guns, you can carry 8 missiles at a time. The item shop:

  • Anti-Fire. No idea what it does. Every time I use it, it just says "Option had no effect."
  • Vacuum Breath. No idea what it does because it costs too much (8,000 credits).
  • Acid Bombs and Net Bombs. Damage enemy armor, softening them up for other attacks. Like missiles, you can only carry 8 at a time. Unlike missiles, you can't use them in arena battles. 
        
Hitting an enemy with an acid bomb.
      
  • Magnetic Wire. From the message that comes up ("reduced enemy evasion"), I guess it makes your attacks more likely to hit.
  • EN Packs. Restore 1,000 energy. You can only carry 8.
  • Back Walker. Automatically return to the last town you visited.
  • Repair Unit. Remove the effects of acid, a weapon some enemies use, which causes you to take damage every step.
  • Nitro Charge. Not sure. You use it in combat. I think it gives you extra attacks.
  • Esquit. Lets you automatically escape any combat.
      
I was feeling good as I left White Hill City for Skala City, but of course the enemies also leveled up a notch. Particularly difficult were "Deeply Burners," capable of destroying my entire shield in one hit. I learned to blast these guys with missiles the moment I saw them. Like the trip to White Hill, the journey required a few false starts and retreats. By the time I made it to Skala City, I had gained two levels each in attack and defense and earned another 4,000 credits.
       
I'll wrap up here. Out Live seems to be a rather boring, linear game with minimal player input. It's a testament to the fact that kids will buy any damned thing as long as it has robots on the cover. I'll probably finish it, though. It seems wrong to abandon the 500th game.
     
Time so far: 3 hours
   

60 comments:

  1. I like your choice for game 500, hope its not too long.

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    1. Same, kudos for catching us all flat-footed ;)

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  2. The mech interior UI is cool looking though. As a 10 year old I probably would have thought that looked interesting from box shots.

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    1. I bought a game called Xenobots (Ultrabots in the U.S.) as a kid for that very reason. It didn't live up to my expectations.

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  3. The subtitles are true 'all your base are belong to us' material, just hilarious!

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  4. You have a lot of questions about the game that look like "surely this would have been addressed in the game's manual" calibre stumpers, but of course who knows if you have access to a manual, or even if you do it's probably in Japanese, or even if it is translated the quality of the translation may well raise more questions than it answers. I just assume console games of the era would save that stuff for the printed booklet (as SSI did for journal entries in Gold Box games, for instance) because space constraints on the actual game media were so strict.

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    1. A quick online search only turned-up a cover shot of the (rather thick) manual. Sadly, it appears to be in Japanese:
      https://www.genkivideogames.com/imagesnew/SS89001actual.jpg

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    2. I've found a manual but it's in Japanese, so good luck with that.

      https://gamemanual.midnightmeattrain.com/entry/%E3%82%A2%E3%82%A6%E3%83%88%E3%83%A9%E3%82%A4%E3%83%96

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    3. If you have any questions that might be answered in the Japanese instruction manual, Chet, I might be able to help (although the next few days are going to be a bit busy for me). I also realize you might have figured out some things since this posting; were there any specific mechanics-related questions that you still don't have answers to?

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    4. Yandex has an option to translate image files, but the only time I've tried it it spewed out something that was worse than what I gave it. (though it was an image someone else had made of a game rather than a hi-res shot of a manual...)

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  5. "It's a testament to the fact that kids will buy any damned thing as long as it has robots on the cover."

    Yes, and I still will, even now, almost forty years later.

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  6. I think introducing a new platform to the rotation is "milestone-y" enough for your 500th if anyone complains.

    The TG16/PCE has some interesting stuff, but nothing RPG-wise I'd say that really stands out (at least of those that were localized). It does, however, have a very curious port of Dungeon Master that might be worth a BRIEF.

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    1. The PC Engine did have a D&D game. I have no clue if it's any good or not though

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    2. That’s Order of the Griffon from Westwood. It isn’t awful, but it also has serious problems. I’ve been writing about all the PCE games mostly in order on the HG101 forum for the last two years so I’ll point over there for anyone interested in an 800 word overview.

      Just to keep this brief, it is slightly interesting in being a Gold Box style game on a console, but it’s also missing many significant elements like thief skills and even character generation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Westwood had a specific deadline for the game and just turned in what they had. It's development would have overlapped with Warriors of the Eternal Sun and that game clearly got priority.

      The Gold Box angle isn't even a real distinction since the NES already had a port of Pools of Radiance from a little earlier that year. It's obviously a downgrade from the PC version, but it's nothing but upside compared to OotG aside from the graphics.

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    3. Ack, Pool of Radiance. That typo is going to haunt me, and it's what I get for not having a Google account.

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    4. for shame, mento - there's literally 10s of them

      https://www.rpgblog.net/category/pc-engine-rpgs/

      some of them have even been translated

      https://www.romhacking.net/?page=translations&status=1&platform=4&languageid=12&perpage=20&startpage=1

      now apologize nicely to the TG16!

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    5. Based on the manual, FW is Fighting Worker. Basically every Japanese mecha franchise has a specific, usually strange-sounding English name for its mechas. (Like Armored Core or Evangelion or Mobile Suit.)

      The backstory is literally three sentences in the manual, the only thing missing from what you wrote is that you are part of the Imperial Army, working on unearthing an evil conspiracy.

      There are four main gun types: bullet (N), ice (I), fire beam (F) and laser (L). The number is indeed the power of the weapon.

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    6. This was supposed to be a reply to Twin Valley who found the Japanese manual.

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    7. Thank you for clarifying these points. They helped a lot.

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  7. this review give some more info about the game
    http://www.videogameden.com/hucard.htm?oul

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  8. I hate it when I have to fetch my croissant and I have to duel the baker, then once I am back home I need to duel my wife for coffee, then I duel all my way through commute until I arrive at my office where I have to duel the IT specifialist to be allowed to start my computer.

    Then I have to parse through all the duel requests I received during the nights to check which ones I need to do today, and then I have to jump in some meeting on how to get better at duels.

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    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousJanuary 30, 2024 at 9:41 PM

      I presume that your office computer is duel-boot.

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    2. This was the hardest I have laughed in a long time

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  9. It may be an essentially arbitrary quirk of our number base, but congratulations are still in order. Well done hitting another centenary post, CB, you keep on getting better!

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  10. Some miscellaneous info on the PC Engine: while it failed pretty badly in the US and was barely released in Europe, it was pretty much the only major competition Nintendo had in Japan for a while. It was also the first system to use CDs for games if you got an addon, also making the launch titles for that the first games to be released on CD.

    As for naming, while I don't know the actual reason it was called the PC Engine, I would assume the PC part was to capitalize on NEC also putting out the PC-88 and PC-98, while the Engine part was probably just finding a cool sounding English word that'd also have positive connotations. Considering cool sounding foreign words lose a lot of appeal if it's not foreign anymore, along with NEC's computers not being the biggest success out of Japan, it's not surprising the name was changed.

    The Turbografx-16 name is also somewhat interesting, because it's trying to make the system out to be a 16 bit one back when that sort of thing mattered, when it's not. It does have 16 bit components, but major chunks of it were still 8 bit. It ended up getting another minor rebrand in Europe as just the Turbografx, but the launch ended up getting canceled at the 11th hour, after they already made a bunch of systems. They still ended up getting sold though, just not at retail

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    1. Use of "PC" wasn't to capitalize on the existing line. Rather, NEC considered it to be another entry IN that product line in the same way that the 64GS was an entry in the Commodore 64 product line and the Amiga CD32 was an entry in the Amiga product line.

      "Engine" is the part that is hard to find a specific official reasoning for, but there's various ways it can make legitimate sense.

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    2. The way I understand the history of the console is that PC-88 and PC-98 aspired to be de-facto regional standards for graphics developed to deal with kanji effectively, since CGA standard was awful in that regards, and that PC Engine used the "PC" part to advertise higher screen resolution more than raw performance. Kanji at lower res make your eyes bleed.

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    3. Good to know I was on the right track with the name being related to NEC's computers, even if the reason was wrong

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    4. Even at the resolution that PC-88 and PC-98 games were at it was hard to see some kanji, even some of the simpler ones. They weren't truly legible until the '90s and a line of text had a higher height than 16 pixels.

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    5. The UK launch was somewhat bodged and they were for the most part Japanese consoles with some hasty -- and unofficial -- modding to work on PAL systems. As such, it was known as the PC Engine here.

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    6. Yeah, but that's because the initial plans to sell a Turbografx branded PAL model fell through, and from my understanding there were never any official attempts to sell the system after that, just unofficial imports

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    7. Thank you all for clearing up that mystery. I couldn't figure out why that name would be attached to a console.

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  11. Congratulations on 500 games. This one actually seems to be interesting, too, albeit possibly more from the readers' perspective than yours. I for one appreciate your sacrifice, sir.

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  12. It's probably a matter of translation, but it amuses me to see scale armor for a mech. No doubt you upgraded after chain and boiled leather. On the matter of `anti-fire,' it sounds like some defense mechanism if your ammo blows up. Anything like that happening in the battles?

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    1. Well, wouldn't a game about medieval mechs be nice? Great wooden machines that you could upgrade with plate armor, helmet and hussar wings, running on horse power, squashing infrantry while burning like a giant wickerman. Something akin to stuff you can build in Besiege.

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  13. Congratulations on your big anniversary, Chet!

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  14. Congratulations on your milestone, truly impressive!

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  15. A few miscellaneous bits from the manual linked above:

    - FW stands for "Fighting Walker". They use ワーカー "wākā" which usually represents the English word "worker", but is probably meant to stand for "walker" in this case, as the "backwalker" item name is rendered in the same way.

    - The enemies you encounter in the mazes are "EFWs" (no translation given, I think), "unmanned weapons deployed on this planet by aliens in a past war."

    - Weapons come in four different types, whose effectiveness is, as you suspected, based on the type of area you're in.
    The manual gives them as "Live ammunition type (N numbers)", "Ice type (I numbers)", "Fire type (F numbers)" and "Laser type (L numbers)". There's a diagram on page 7 of the manual that presumably explains which type is most effective in which area, and my best interpretation is that N, I, F and L types are best in "normal", "fire", "ice" and "magnet" areas, respectively.

    - There's a "map" of the game world that shows a linear sequence of eight areas with a city in between each one and the next, but also a "?" area that connects to areas 3, 5 and 7.

    - "Magnet wire" supposedly makes the enemy unable to act, "net bomb" slows them down and "vacuum press" has a 50% chance to kill most enemies. "Anti-" items temporarily set the area's type to normal.

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    1. I think I may have misinterpreted the map and it's rather that areas 3, 5 and 7 all contain a "?" location in addition to the cities on either end.

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    2. I have no basis in this other than my usual initalism guessing, but I suspect the E in EFW probably stands for Electric or Electro. Because it sounds cooler than unmanned or auto.

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    3. Considering the game's subtitles, literally anything is possible. I was thinking "extraterrestrial", but that doesn't really seem like the kind of word they probably had in mind. It would make too much sense.

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    4. You know, that... might just be it, actually. Guess I was thinking way too complicated, as usual.

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  16. Congratulations on your 500th game! I was unaware this console existed when it was first sold. Apparently there’s a re-released version with some built-in games, but not this one.

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  17. Congrats on 500 games! A very fitting title, if not a fitting game. At least it's entertaining to read about thanks to its flawless anime logic. I'm looking forward to the final plot twist, when you've defeated the last boss, but your evil twin (who you didn't kill after all) takes credit for it, and you have to duel one last time...

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  18. While this game is of far lower quality than most mech-related games I've seen, it does seem like it fits the usual problems that such games have. You start off thinking you're going to be able to do such cool stuff and customize the heck out of your mech, and then you realize than your feasible options are less than you'd think and then it kind of just gets boring.

    Does the accompanying readme explain any of the things you have questions about? I would have thought they would try to explain something. I know a translation of a similar game from around this time, Star Cruiser, explains a little of the weirdness in the game.

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  19. The TG-16 itself did not have a great selection of RPGs. X-SERD is a pretty good tactical game, like a stripped down Final Fantasy Tactics with mecha, or like a worse Front Mission. The sequel, Vixen 359 for the Sega Mega Drive, is tons better.

    Order of the Griffon is a Gold Box D&D game, essentially, which would fit your blog much better than Out Live, which I never expected to see here.

    The CD add-on is well known for being something of a RPG haven, although most of the RPGs are still untranslated.

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  20. "It's not the destination, it's the journey" Congratulations on hitting #500, and far more counting Briefs. Wishing you an enjoyable ride for the next 500.

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  21. Congratulations on getting here and thanks for the many entertaining and interesting reads!

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  22. I'm on love with the TG16/PCE and I own a TurboDuo myself but I have to admit mainly because I'm a weeb. There is an abundance of typically Japanese games for it and only the language barrier is keeping one from really enjoying everything that's offered but fan translators did a good job for some, and RPGs are among these, too.

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    1. I'm so jealous! I've wanted a TurboDuo since I was a kid. I've been following a lot of the TG-CD translation projects lately. Have you played the newly translated Tengai Makyou Ziria?

      There are so many untranslated RPGs on the console. Translators have a ways to go.

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    2. Not yet and yeah, absolutely.

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  23. Attractive graphics, at least.

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  24. Congratulations on this monumental milestone. Can't wait for Betrayal at Krondor and Wizardry 8!

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  25. Blogger won't let me log in to my account to comment properly. Bleh. (I was formerly known as "Gaijin-hakase" written in katakana.)

    I think most of the appeal of this game was a game that looked nice (for 1989), sounded nice (for 1989), had an uncommon theme for an RPG (for today even), and simply threw you into a brutal maze of a dungeon. Part of the problem is that a game like that doesn't even have to be an RPG to accomplish its goals (see Silent Debuggers for the PC-Engine.) The best-known of this style of game is probably Etrian Odyssey.

    While they were never as popular as Dragon Quest, there was a strain of Japanese-made RPGs (and even a few non-RPGs- I hesitate to call them JRPGs as their roots didn't go back to Dragon Quest, but to Wizardry with less RPG and more maze) designed like this from the mid-80's on. They had their niche at the time, and I could see the type of kid who drew meticulous maps having a lot of fun with this.

    That being said, 1989 wasn't a good year for JRPGs in general, as Dragon Quest III and Final Fantasy II were the year before, and Final Fantasy III, Dragon Quest IV, and Megami Tensei II came next year.

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    1. That year did get Phantasy Star II and Ys I & II, but one of those is a pair of ports and the other's on a system not really known for RPGs

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  26. Congratulations on 500 games; I honestly enjoy the weird and obscure games as much or more as anything else, so this is fine by me. Also comments seem to be broken on the latest post, no idea why.

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I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.