Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Out Live: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

 
That passive voice narration seems insulting. I destroyed the Berserker System and ended the crisis on Lafura.
        
Out Live
Japan
Sunsoft (developer and publisher)
Released 1989 for the TurboGrafx-16 console
Date Started: 25 January 2024  
Date Ended: 6 February 2024
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5) if you do a lot of grinding
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)
         
Rarely have I felt that a game fundamentally wasted my time as much as Out Live. Insisting on winning it was not a good decision. I did get a lot of audiobook listening done at the same time, and I binged a decent portion of the TV series Loudermilk (with Ron Livingston of Office Space fame), but it still made me anxious to do work or get started on my taxes or something. I don't think we're going to see many more games like this carried to completion on this blog. I like when a game offers the option for grinding; I don't like when it requires a lot of grinding; I especially don't like it when grinding takes up three-quarters of the overall game time.
    
Except for the grinding and the physical size of the mazes, Out Live would be a one-hour game. It is relentlessly predictable. There are eight cities with large mazes connecting them, plus one more maze between the last city and the final boss. In each city, the player gets some upgrades, refreshes his equipment, meets some NPCs, and fights a few of the NPCs in duels. Each victory gets him a little more information about his quest, although it never really makes any sense. Only three of the mazes have anything to find other than the two cities on either end.
   
The major steps were these:
   
  • In Lafura, I met someone named Ermak, who told me to register as a duelist. As I left the city, I was prompted to name my mecha.
  • In Torinton, I fought my first duel against Nachi, then met and dueled a female duelist named Chris. A suited guy named Mikuta told me that the organization Mars might be behind the disappearance of my fellow scout.
  • In Green, Chris introduced me to Lesley, who had me kill a monster on the way to White Hill. Another duelist named Joe took credit for the kill, but I defeated him in a duel, which somehow proved him a liar. Yet another duelist named Kam challenged me as well.
        
Duelists like to taunt you in the middle of battle.
        
  • In White Hill, I defeated a duelist named Mirau Amandara, who warned me about Kam. Chris went missing. The maze to Skala had a technical ninth city called Naniwa, but it was a dead end. I could resupply there but not pass through it.
  • In Skala, I met Kam again. He said I'd have to defeat him (again) if I wanted to know what happened to Chris. He also suggested he had killed my scout friend. I defeated him, and he told me that Chris was in the northwest part of the maze on the way to Lezul. I had to defeat another monster that looked like a crustacean on the ceiling to rescue her. She was grateful for the rescue and said I should talk to a man named Hiro. Yet another duelist named Sonark appeared and said he'd introduce me to Hiro if I beat him in combat. Hiro said that the legendary FW Braudix requires three stones, found somewhere in the ruins, to operate. He also said that Mars had accidentally unearthed an ancient weapon called Berserker.
        
You said it, not me.
      
  • In Lezul, I defeated a female duelist named Nozomi to get the best shield in the game, the Lafura Shield. Then I had to defeat a duelist named Nick, who told me that I could get the best weapon in the game from Insekt in Olaf. 
      
Narrator: He got the shield.
     
  • In Tex, I defeated a duelist named Tamura to learn that the three stones I needed were in the maze to the next city, each guarded by a Stone Guardian. I ended up mapping this area because it got so complex, and I eventually collected all three stones. When I was done, I returned to the saloon in Tex and encountered Kam yet again. He boasted that he was in possession of the FW Braudix. I dueled him to win the mecha, which was reflected in a change of interface (the cockpit looks different while piloting it), but not much else. At the end of the duel, Kam let on that this Braudix was actually a copy of the original. When he lost, he said, "My organization is over anyway," indicating that he had belonged to Mars.
       
That doesn't sound like a "code." That's just its name.
     
  • In Olaf, I dueled Insekt for the best weapon in the game, the Smart Gun, and Isis for the best armor, simply called "Light Armor." After these battles, Chris reported that the next city, Nest City, had been destroyed by the Berserker. NPCs begged me to go and deal with it. Isis's intelligence said that the Berserker copies weapons in its vicinity, and apparently it copied the Braudix.
   
Now, I narrated these steps rather quickly, but the thing to understand is that there was a lot of walking between each of these cities, which produced a lot of random combats, plus a lot of grinding despite those random combats. I reached the end of the game at Levels 38 (attack) and 37 (defense), which took about 45,000 experience points each. A good battle might deliver 70 or 80 experience points each. Now, I didn't have to fight quite as many combats as the resulting calculations would suggest, because bosses give a few thousand experience each, but I'm sure I fought somewhere between 350 and 400.
     
One of hundreds of random encounters.
      
Basically, what would happen is that I'd be chugging along, thinking I was doing well, and then I'd suddenly run into a new class of enemies, or a boss, or a duelist, who I simply could not hit with any weapons. I guess if the variance between your attack level and their defense level is high enough, you always miss. So I'd have to stop and grind for a few levels, try again, fail again, and grind some more before I could progress. As I noted last time, the fortunate thing about this process is the game is extremely forgiving about losses. If you lose a duel, nothing bad happens except you have to replenish any equipment you used, and you can fight it again. If you lose a regular combat, you just get sent back to the last town. You lose any money you accumulated since you left, but you get to keep your experience.
       
That's my cue to hit the hallways.
     
Combat is never anything but boring. There are a couple of reliable formulas: basically, exhaust your missiles (which do the most damage, but you only have 8 at a time), then fire your guns. Use energy packs to restore your shields when necessary. Return to town when you're out of energy packs.
   
One wrinkle in the game is the "Vacuum Breath" weapon, which I had been flirting with last time. I did buy it. It has roughly a 20-25% chance of killing any enemy instantly, but like missiles you can only use it 8 times before recharging it in towns. It has the effect of trivializing a lot of boss combats, but you still have to be able to survive the regular battles long enough to reach the bosses. (I fled from most of the regular battles when I was actually trying to find a boss, so as not to waste my stuff.) Unfortunately, you can't use the Vacuum Breath in duels, so you have to grind for those if nothing else.
      
When "Vacuum Breath" works, it's an instant kill.
      
There are four levels of weapon and armor upgrades in the game. I didn't try to match my weapons to the right "terrain" and just stuck with one primary weapon throughout. The economy is generous enough, particularly with duel winnings, that you typically have enough money to buy each upgrade as you encounter it.
    
I have to confess that I was thoroughly sick of the game after I left Olaf looking for the Berserker. The size of the maze was absurd, and despite all my grinding, the enemies kept blasting my shields apart in a single hit. I eventually abused save states to make it to the boss unscathed. (Combats are random, so if you just save now and then and reload when one comes along, you can avoid them.) 
        
Encountering the real Braudix. Notice the changes in my mecha interface.
    
When I finally found the Berserker copy of Braudix, the endgame came in two phases. The first required me to kill what looked like a mecha. Then the mecha disappeared and I had to kill some weird creature with a skull-like face and mandibles. I relied on missiles for the first and Vacuum Breath for the second. The enemy was capable of destroying almost half my energy in one hit, so I had to use "Mega Packs" to restore energy frequently.
    
The second phase of the final foe.
      
When I destroyed the Berserker, I got a brief message: "The Berserker System was destroyed and the crisis on Lafura ended. The Braudix was sealed away by the Imperial Scouts. Once again, it would sleep for a long, long time . . . You left Lafura in secret. But your legend remained there."
   
After the game credits the game showed a brief shot of each NPC in the game offering plaudits to the player.
    
That would mean more if there were any real "piloting" to be done.
      
Overall, the experience felt very linear, and I suspect that most players do almost exactly what I did and hit the endgame around the same level. On a GIMLET, I give the game:
     
  • 2 points for a modest attempt at a game world.
  • 1 point for character creation and development. There's no real creation, and leveling feels more like a hard gate to progress than incrementally developing skills.
  • 2 points for the NPC interactions, necessary to teach you more about the world.
     
The maintenance shop owner likes to give hints.
    
  • 1 point for encounters and foes. They're differentiated only by name and how hard they hit. There are no non-combat encounters.
  • 2 points for combat. Boring and rote, most of the "tactics" come from using items.
  • 3 points for equipment. Perhaps the strongest category in the game, some of the items are imaginative, and I had fun testing them out in combat. I could have made things marginally easier for myself by using more of the "Anti-Fire," "Anti-Cold," and similar items.
I think this was my last armor upgrade before winning the Light Armor.
     
  • 2 points for the economy. It has one, but it's a bit too generous.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
      
Missiles have a lot to do with winning duels.
     
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. Sound is nothing to go on about--a few explosions and whatnot. The graphics are functional enough for the most part, but also a little boring. The controller works well enough for the limited number of things you can do. If any game needed an automap, it's this one.
  • 1 point for gameplay. I couldn't find much to credit here. The game is absolutely linear, far too long and grindy for its content, and totally non-replayable unless you came down with amnesia. The best I can say is that it isn't too hard as long as you're willing to grind.
   
That's a final score of 19, a relatively miserable score for the late 1980s. Out Live has a generic, factory feel to it. A few decades later, I would believe that it was written by A.I. The best we can say is that it may have kept a few teenagers out of trouble for a few hours.
        
      
As I mentioned in the first entry, Out Live was only ever released in Japan, so I have no western reviews to consult except one fairly recent one at the Video Game Den. The author agrees with me. Giving it one out of five stars, he calls it "incredibly repetitive," "too frustrating," and very grindy.
    
If it didn't sell very well (and I have no reason to think that it didn't except the overall quality), SunSoft probably didn't even notice. Out Live was one of a dozen games that the company released in 1989 alone. They're still going strong, with about 200 games in their ludography through 2023,  although a lot of them are ports for games designed by other developers. The principal designers of Out Live have only a few other games to their credit, including Journey to Silius (1990), an action game for the NES. We might see the company again if Benkei Gaiden (1989, TurboGrafx-16) or Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean (1996, SEGA Saturn) comes up on a random roll. We may even see the 1997 Playstation remake, subtitled Be Eliminate Yesterday, which apparently plays more like a roguelike. 
    
****
   
Notes on upcoming games:
 
Arena (1988), next on the list, turned out not to be an RPG. I wrote a quick BRIEF, but it's short enough that I'll wait until I can pair it with a different game to publish it.

Shadow of Yserbius was originally a 1991-1996 online game. My understanding is that Sierra published a explicitly offline, single-player version in 1993, which is the one on my list. So far, I have been unable to find a source for the offline version. If you know of one, I'd appreciate an email.

25 comments:

  1. It’s been a long time (like, since 1993) but I am pretty sure the boxed copy of Yserbius you’re referring to isn’t like a distinct, stand-alone version of the game without the online features. I recall buying the boxed version, and it cleanly interfaced with Sierra’s proprietary service (INN), including coming with a free month’s subscription; it’s just that if you didn’t use INN you could still play it as a single-character RPG (I’m guessing the box largely served to save folks with slow dial-up the long download of the game/INN client, as well as just giving INN shelf space in stores, which was important in the pre-ubiquitous-Internet era). The version up at My Abandonware lines up with my memory of how it played.

    (The box also came with the sequel, Fates of Twinion, though for whatever reason I don’t remember that quite as well; I think it’s quite samey).

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    1. I believe I still have the box somewhere, and I agree that there was no "second version" -- you could play the same version offline or online.

      Also (I mentioned this once but like six years ago so I dunno if you have notes) the game can crash so be sure to make backups. I haven't beat it because I lost all my progress about 2/3 through twice.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Deleted my previous comment, I've sent you an email instead.

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  3. Three wins in a row! Congratulations!

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  4. An 80s JRPG turning out to be mostly grinding, color me surprised.

    Sunsoft's a bit of an interesting company, because it's a division of an electronics company rather than being their own thing. Saying they've been going strong also has it's catches, because for a while they mostly just existed to manage their existing library, and it's only recently that they've started being active beyond rereleases

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  5. Oh, and I emailed you about the Shadow of Yserbius.

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    1. If Vlad sent you a link to the site I think he did, you should probably keep that one bookmarked for future use. You never know when other such problems might crop up and you might want to rush there.

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  6. I see Shadowcaster in there, a game that at the time I played as a slightly more elaborate Wolfenstein 3D but with more puzzles - very curious on your take on it. Congrats on your winning strike.

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  7. That sounds like one of the more miserable JRPGs around. My apologizes if anything I said contributed to you feeling the need to force yourself through this one.

    Journey to Silus has an interesting backstory to it, originally they planned to make it a Terminator licensed game, but for whatever reason, decided against it. They also did something similar with what was going to be a Superman game.

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    1. If I remember correctly, the "whatever reason" was licensing issues. Now, whether it's "Had the license and lost it" or "Wanted the license but couldn't get it" I'm not sure on

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  8. When I played through Out Live last year, I got the impression that the game wasn’t totally finished. Naniwa seems like it should have had a side quest attached, buying items is buggy, and I think only a single early game enemy even afflicts Acid. I also noticed that the game tended to spawn the same enemies over and over again as if there are bugs with the RNG.

    Just a few words on the RPGs you have on the master list up to 1990:

    You’re not really missing anything by skipping Necromancer. It was the first RPG on the system, but it’s just a Dragon Quest clone with very minor Lovecraftian elements. (1/22/88)

    Dungeon Explorer is basically Gauntlet+. This one is a little iffy requirement-wise, but characters do have levels and permanent stat growth. (3/4/89, 8/29/89 US)

    Then it’s Out Live. (3/17/89)

    War of the Dead is a somewhat okay horror/occult action-RPG set in the modern day, but it has buggy progression and is fairly tedious. It’s better on other platforms, but the PCE version is the only one with a translation. (3/24/89)

    Maki Hakkenden Shada is a bad Ys clone barely based on a classic Japanese novel. (4/1/89)

    Susano-o Densetsu is genuinely fantastic and loosely in the style of middle Ultima which makes it a bit unique for a console RPG of the period e.g. there’s tactical combat. It’s technically based on a manga, but it’s more like a sequel to it as the manga makes a gigantic pivot to fantasy tinged post-apocalyptic sci-fi and then just ends abruptly (and on purpose according to the author). There’s no translation, but it’s worth futzing through with a walkthrough and Google Translate. (4/27/89)

    Far East of Eden / Tengai Makyō: Ziria is pretty much just a straight DQ clone. It’s notable for being the first CD RPG on any platform, but the sequel is better regarded. I got a fair amount into it, but it got too tedious to keep going.(6/30/89)

    Double Dungeons is awful. It’s everything you hated about Out Live but to the nth power. I could only get a few "dungeons" into the game. (9/29/89, June/July 1990 US)

    Ys I & II was the best version of the games up to that point. You covered Ys I way back in 2011, so maybe it’s worth revisiting the complete game. (12/12/89, May 1990 US)

    Benkei Gaiden is a lot better than Out Live. It’s just a DQ clone, but it does have a certain je ne sais quoi. That being said, I was and still am too burned out on DQ to have finished it.(12/22/89)

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  9. This was my first attempt at a SunSoft game, so I appreciate the supplemental info about their history. I'm not sure how my coverage of the game was "unfair," though, given that reputation.

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  10. Nah, it's not unfair at all! I don't think Out Live is that terrible of a game, but it is very simple and got by largely on conveying the feeling of piloting a first-person mech in first person *at all* on consoles in 1989. It's an RPG because it had an RPG bolted on. If the PC-Engine had a light gun, it could have just as easily had light gun shooting bolted on (and it'd have been much more memorable that way- the two games I know of with first-person mazes and encounters using a light gun are The Lone Ranger and Laser Invasion, and they're both legitimately decent games but not at all RPGs.)

    tl;dr Out Live is a game that barely stands out from the heap of medirocity only by its unusual combination of elements that incidentally make it an RPG by most definitions. Of course it's going to do terrible on an RPG rating scale. I'd have been shocked if it didn't score badly.

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  11. Can't edit my comment, so going to add to the whole "feeling of piloting a mech on a console" thing that the illusion worked very well on a CRT in a dimly lit room in 1989. Today if you play games for that feeling, you're more likely to use VR or a much more modern setup.

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  12. "Insekt in Olaf"? I wonder if one of the creators picked up some random German somewhere and just decided to use it here (or Northern / Scandinavian language given the origins of "Olaf", no idea if "Insekt" corresponds to one, too).

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  13. My recollections of Shadows of Yserbius (which I played online when it as new as well as offline a decade or so later) is that, while playable standalone, there are puzzles deep down in the maze that require multiple players to resolve (e.g., buttons in different locations on the level that need to be pushed at the same time), making it not completable by a solo player. I hope I'm wrong, at which point it'll go back on my list as a game to revisit from that era!

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    1. My recollection is what the game allows you to play only with one character out of 4, so eventually enemies get too tough to handle.

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    2. Hmm, I don’t remember puzzles like that - admittedly, I didn’t win it and my memories are also several decades old. A quick gander at some walkthroughs doesn’t indicate any places where a single player can’t get through, though.

      I definitely do recall the combat being quite hard when you’re on your own, though.

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    3. I found a reference to what I was thinking of. Avoiding spoilers, there is a point in the game where items needs to be placed somewhere while you continue to do other things. If you happen to leave the dungeon (or game), any placed items will be lost and need to be regained. This was a bigger issue for online players who could lose their connection, but still a risk.

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    4. I gave this a try out of curiosity. You can just play the game solo in the versions found online. It is very hard (lots of one-shot deaths on the first level) but you gain levels and strength very quickly. I can imagine it becoming very difficult at the lower levels. The existence of a walkthrough suggests it is doable - I only read the parts that I had already covered but it seem to be written for solo mode.

      There's a remake of the game which mentions that two areas can now be completed in solo mode - but maybe they are optional.

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    5. I've started playing. It's definitely grindy at the beginning for a single character.

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    6. You should recruit a posse of commenters to play it multi with you (if it can be done online)? That's what I sometimes do for my wargames :).

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    7. There's a fan remake that can be played online (https://www.medievalands.com) and there seem to be a few players around. It seems to follow the original closely but it's not identical (there are bug fixes, minor changes, health bars, showing more information about items).

      And it seems you can even play the original version with the InnBarn project, but I doubt it's worth the hassle.

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  14. Congratulations, you seem to be on a winning spree. On to the next 500 games (and I see you already began...)!

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