January 19, 2017

[Game 062] Out Live (TG16 - 1989)

Translation by Nebulous Translations

Out Live is one of the rare breed of TurboGrafx-16 RPGs that makes it into Inconsolable.  The TG-16 is one console I never got to experience at all growing up as a young gee in da hood (well, middle-class hood), so I'm grateful to be able to experience anything it has to offer.  As one can tell from the sweet title screen, which is so far a future on planet it's astounding, the game has mecha in it, so even before I started playing, my interest was piqued.  Jumping into the mech for the first time, I was treated to a cockpit view of my mech warming up and coming online, until the entire interior was illuminated in all its glory.  The cockpit takes up about 60% of the screen, which normally would be kinda lame, but since these days I play on a much bigger screen than I did in the '90s, it's actually kinda immersive.

Wow, it's so close to my real mech!

In true mecha fashion, there are various large guns available, powered by the nuclear reactor and effectively having infinite ammunition.  There's also an optional weapon component, with depletable ammo like missiles, which can be restocked in any city (for a price).  An energy shield acts as the mech's hit points, and can be replenished either in a city or by a healing potion, er, I mean energy pack.  There are some other consumables but I haven't been able to experiment with them due to low funds.  You see, being the supra-genius that I am, I spent the entire 1,000 space creds that I started with on another main weapon before even leaving the city.  Turns out my purchase does slightly less damage than the weapon I started with and isn't even super-effective against a certain enemy type (at least in the first area).  The inn, er, I mean maintenance bay isn't free and just getting enough victories to finance the stay can be hard on a young mech just comin' up from da hood (well, future hood).  My poor mech took such heavy beatings for the first bunch of combats, since I'd have to survive for as long as possible just to scrape enough creds together for a recharge.

I'd walk it off but my hip actuator
is critically damaged.

As Out Live is dungeon crawler, it was time to break out the graph paper and mechanical pencil, as the lack of distinguishing features in the tunnels can make it easy to become disoriented.  The scrolling is silky smooth, which normally would be a good thing except I'm in a giant robot and the movement should be jerky and abrupt, with a resounding *KERTHUMP* as 50 tonnes of steel comes crashing down onto the ground — probably not the best idea for a dungeon crawler, though.  My initial mapping efforts were hampered by not realizing that enemies can come from the back or the side, changing the facing.  I was too busy looking at my map when combats would start and got turned around a few times, completely screwing up my maps.  Thankfully, things got better after I started paying attention, plus the mech comes equipped with a handy-dandy compass just in case I get distracted by squirrels.  So, after much grinding and selling of that useless weapon, I finally had enough funds to buy the Hawk Missile option, which gives me eight rockets that do over twice the damage of my normal weapon.  I also wanted to stock up on portable energy packs for extended mapping sessions but got roadblocked by the future's worst saleswoman.

Oh, sweetheart, let me mansplain
some basic economics for you.

I felt I was ready to tackle the first boss in the next city's arena, as per my mission to infiltrate the "dueling scene" and also track down a legendary pilot named Braudix.  The battle was notable only because the background was not a tunnel!

Not that I got to enjoy it — couple 'Awks
took care of this dude toot sweet.

This will likely be the formula for the rest of the game, but I hope it doesn't overstay its welcome with too many cities.  The map between the second and third city so far is huge, spilling over the edges of my graph paper and making me seriously consider going digital for map making, though I'll probably keep it real and break out the duct tape.  There's nothing in the "dungeon" either, just dead ends and city entrances, making mapping less fun than if there was stuff to annotate.  Oh well, I guess the recoil on this frickin' sweet new N2 Thunder Gun I just bought will dry my tears.

January 05, 2017

Rings of Power - Ranking

Story & World

I've never been more pumped to continue exploring a game world than with Rings of Power.  Not only was giving the entire world map at the beginning a bright idea, but making it tile precise is a masterstroke.  I spent a lot of time just exploring the map rather than the actual world, scouring its considerable breadth looking for single huts in the middle of nowhere or figuring out if a transoceanic journey to that new city was feasible or not.  Each city felt very distinct and the more minor locations were likewise full of flavour.  Even after the initial world tour, there was plenty of backtracking, following new leads, picking up spells that had been too expensive, or just doing some good ol' fashioned trading to generate some income.  I knew going into RoP that it had a non-linear quest structure, but I didn't realize just how open it was until I started leapfrogging sections of some quests.  For example, late in the game, I had picked up the trail off a stale quest involving meeting Fen Ho of Fenopolis.  In order to meet with him, I had to slay the witch Hideous, which I did do but it took awhile.  I didn't head straight back to Fenopolis and, as the fates would have it, I didn't end up back in that region until much, much later.  Fen Ho wanted a protection deal from the guild of Protectors (which I already had), and then gave me information on the Ring of Will (which I already had).  I'm pretty sure I killed him outright, which brings me to another part I really enjoyed, as you can kill anybody outright.  Not only that, sometimes the normally docile citizens of the cities will initiate combat as soon as one attempts to talk with them, including shopkeeps, who have an approximately 0.0% chance of besting a group of professional spellcasters.  Great stuff all around.

The story is a tad generic with the typical Good (Nexus) vs. Evil (Void).  The end villain, who assassinated Thalmus and "tricked" Buc into gathering the rings for him, does this big reveal about how he has "a secret up his sleeve" and then says he serves Void.  Yeah, no shit buddy, I came here thinking I'd be fighting Void himself, not his bottom bitch.  17/20

Character Development

Base two stat system which not only is bugged, but uses bars to represent HP/MP instead of cold, hard numbers.  Bars are fine for beat 'em ups, but in RPGs, I prefer to have my data as precise as possible.  The only time numbers are shown is when a character levels up, displaying the new maximums, but that doesn't matter if one doesn't know how much a spell costs.  The lion's share of spells are pretty useless, and I think a party could get by with purchasing only two or three spells for each character.  2/20

Combat & Monsters

Did you read the previous post?  It's pretty much my review of the combat portion, so what about the monsters themselves?  There's not much variety, mostly humans who are one of the six classes, but there's also bears, wyverns, dragons, and that's it.  Wyverns and dragons share the same graphical representation, so they really went all out here with the monster design.  I'll give you a one for having shopkeeps sometimes be monsters.  1/20

Graphics & Sound

Though the monsters are lacking in the graphics department, the rest of the game is not.  Locations are nicely detailed and distinct.  Cities are a little repetitive, as cities are wont to be, but even then, each one had at least one unique place which stood out.  Character sprites are nothing special, at least until combat starts and everyone gets down with their funky selves.

The score to this grand adventure is pretty epic and the majority of music fits the atmosphere of the game.  I really dug the sailing tune and, even after getting the dragon, would often hop into one of my many boats littering the continents and just tool around.  One quest even forced me to take to the seas since the dragon couldn't find a place to land on the island I needed to go.  For that, I was most thankful.  14/20

Gameplay

An extremely robust economy keeps gold in high demand throughout the game.  Random encounters give paltry sums of coin and cash needs to be generated through trading.  Each city has a resource that it specializes in and is cheap to purchase, and also is in need of another one, giving a nice sale price.  Spell costs scale nicely with their level; I had many occasions where I had to mark down a city to return to later when funds were available (this was before I discovered most of the spells were ass).  I only did the trading thing for the first half of the game and then kinda, sorta, unintentionally broke the economy when I discovered a way to get chests to regenerate.  Every time the world map is brought up, all the chests in the world refill.  Well, at the palace in the city of Sparta, there are seven such chests near the entrance.  At first, I was just going to exploit this a little bit, but then the chests started giving me items I had never seen before, starting with a stone which allowed me to summon my first dragon.  I had to stop myself after reaching 99 Wepons (arrgh!) but it turned out to be a good thing as I had plenty of funds to nourish my dragon for the rest of the game.

Controlling Buc in any situation was a complete nightmare; movement is so clunky I'd often overshoot places I wanted to go, which was really bad when I was attempting to navigate my boat along the shoreline (food/water costs are cheap for shallow waters, expensive for deep).  After townfolks starting attacking me, I would try to examine a person before talking to them to see their current mood.  Examine doesn't work like conversation, where you can be some distance away.  No, not only do you have to be right next to the person, you have to be facing them as well.  Clunky controls means I'd often walk into a person, swapping places with them, or, even worse, they'd move around as well.

Pacing is a hard one to judge in such an open world game, as it's really dependent on the player's skill.  A second playthrough would undoubtedly go much smoother, but without the magic and mystery of exploration, there would be little appeal left.  And there's already not a whole lot of appeal to Rings of Power (oh snap!).  Just jokes, RoP, you're still kinda fun.  12/20

Final Ranking: 46/100

January 02, 2017

Rings of Power - End Game

Wow, what an adventure.  And I mean that in an almost completely literal way.  RoP plays more like an adventure game with RPG elements.  Hrmm, elements might be too gracious a word — let's go with leavings.  The adventure portion, however, is chock full of all the trappings one would expect: fantastic nonlinear questing, tons of NPCs that repeat the same information over and over, and careful trip planning when trying to reach some remote key location.  I'm not sure what it says about a game when logistics is one of the most enjoyable parts of it, but there it is.  As Buc and crew gained wealth, they were slowly able to start affording more boat trips to journey to the far reaches of the world,  Eventually, they'd have enough coin to purchase food and water for the voracious dragon, whose power of flight made navigation so much easier, albeit much more expensive.

Won't be needin' this hunk o' junk anymore.

The nonlinear questing, while great, runs into a few problems maintaining its own narrative, usually due to key NPCs also saying the stock phrases from the common pool of whatever city they're from.  For example, the queen of Richii promises to help Buc find one of the rings, but first he must do a quest for her and find a lens for the city's observatory.  Since Richii is a scientifically based city, most people scoff at the notion of the rings of power even existing — including the queen if you continue to talk to her.

Pssst, hey queen, don't disparage
your one and only bargaining chip.

While the majority of the quests are fine in their execution, there are a few that can only be described as obnoxious.  One involves navigating a forest maze, looking to step on triggers which open up new pathways by removing a tree stump.  Okay, first off, having a maze when the game utilizes an isometric view is just a dick move, but wait, it gets worse.  About half the triggers are visible on screen but the rest aren't, which means bumbling around in hopes of hitting one.  Other than the first trigger, switching one removes or adds a stump out of view off-screen.  Yes, adds.  Hitting a trigger a second time will replace the stump.  And it will happen since the controls are so incredibly clunky.  The trigger sound effect is the same whether removing or adding, so if you're a clumsy oaf like I am and lose track of how many times a switch has been hit, you're fucked.  Exiting the maze and entering again does not reset the triggers either (I actually had to load a previous savestate).  I realize that the extra difficulty I had was because I didn't pay enough attention on my first attempt, but I'm talking about the how obnoxious each component is, not how difficult it is (really though, I just want to blame the game in order to cover my own inadequacies).  Another quest had me searching the bookcases of the Great Cathedral for scraps of parchment.  I had been told that one such scrap was near a corner, but I also knew that there was more than one piece to be gathered, so I ended up searching every single bookcase.  It wasn't that bad, there probably wasn't more than a hundred shelves to look through, but I was happy when I completed entire circuit.  No, my complaint is when a different quest had me searching the library at Oxbridge, which has considerable more knowledge than the Great Cathedral.

Woo hoo!  Time to get our research on, bitches!

Note how the library is also arranged like a maze, which no real library would ever do.  Nope, just done to be obnoxious.  Now, you can see from the pic that there's a guy in overalls, one of a couple of overall guys expanding their horizons.  One single figure looks different from the rest, wearing the white robes of the conjurer class, and who is addressed by name by the attendant at the entrance kiosk.  Obviously, this guy knows where to find what I'm looking for, right?  Nope, he sounds just like everyone else.  Well, I tried searching all the dead-end spots and the areas farthest from the entrance but came up with zilch.  I wasn't about to search every last bookcase (my nerdity only goes so far), so I abandoned this quest for a long time, but eventually came back to it and discovered that
one of the overall guys was my contact and the parchment I needed was near him.  Obnoxious, yes, but this example shows what I liked most about the whole questing structure — coming back to deal with almost forgotten quest lines or, even better, stumbling upon a lead which cracks an old quest wide open.  There's eleven rings of power to be had and each one has a multi-layered quest structure.  In addition, each character (other than Buc) has their own set of requirements.  It took me 12 hours to get the full party together and another 10 to find my first ring.  I had so many pages of notes that I thought for sure I'd be able to get all the rings no prob, Bob, but I only managed to get six before I starting running out of leads.  I bumbled around and managed to get two more due to luck more than anything else.  The last three I had to look up; I was very close for two of them and almost nowhere for the last one.  I don't feel bad for breaking a rule (*update: rules are for suckers anyway) since I never would have found one of the rings due to a bug.  During one of the quest paths, I freed some crazy guy from his insanity and he gave me info about meeting another dude.  Now, what was suppose to happen was a black priest showing up and attacking me before leaving the area, leaving behind a whip which is used later as the "symbol of despair" required by one of the guardians for the ring of thought.  For whatever reason, it didn't happen the first time, so I had to redo the quest, but I certainly would not have done that of my own accord.

Fine, I'll move on, but it only gets worse from here on in.

As good as the adventure portion is, RoP fails terribly at all other aspects one comes to expect from a RPG.  The combat — oh my lord — the combat.  Quite possibly the worst, the absolute worst, combat I've ever experienced since starting Inconsolable.  As I predicted, the AI didn't improve with more party members and continued to keep stinking up the combat arena/dance floor.  Moonwalking is prevalent amongst all combatants, sometimes "retreating" backwards right into a bundle of enemies.  Tactical decisions are likewise bereft of any logical consideration, doing things like beating down an enemy until he's almost dead, then focusing on someone else, even if it means pushing the near-dead enemy out of the way and walking halfway across the arena.

Here, the geniuses are ganging up on a confused 
bear, who is absolutely no threat, while leaving
the archer completely undefended.  Bravo, guys.

Input from the player is limited to individual spell selection and the general mood (level of aggressiveness) of the party.  Each class boasts a large choice of spells, which seems impressive at first until one realizes that most of the spells just do damage.  There are spells that do direct damage, "bullet" spells that attack from all directions, and spells that violently alter the terrain to injure the enemy.  While they look different, they all just do damage, and, worst of all, spell level has little do with damage amount.  A lot of the higher end spells end up doing as much damage as the first level spells.  However, there are a few overpowered spells which so completely outshine the rest of the character's repertoire that one would never bother to cast anything else.  The two most egregious examples are the enchanter's Frenzy spell and the conjurer's Blaze spell.  Both these spells affect all enemies and can do hundreds of points of damage while most spells struggle to crack twenty.  This huge gap was no doubt due to my propensity to set the mood to Berzrk, which increases damage while sacrificing defense.  The manual states that whilst berzrking, the characters will "stay on top of the enemy", which they interpret as forming a conga line with the enemy at the head.

Buc begins to doubt his choice in companions.

Hrmm, I just noticed that Buc's Confse spell (the rare non-damage spell that's actually useful) has no reason to be shortened since Predict managed to have its full seven characters.  So Berzrk could have had its missing vowel included as well?  And it's not like those are the only examples; the game is full of apparently unnecessarily hacked up words.  Even if Predict is special for whatever reason and gets a bonus letter, there's other examples of raping the English language within a six character limit.

Just drop the S and call it Weapon!
Arrghh! Why does this bother me so much!?!

Since there is no equipment and all combat revolves around spells, it's a shame that it wasn't done better.  The non-damaging spells fare no better, with spells that can shove enemies around the field, after which they'll just walk and engage a party member or just use a ranged spell (which the majority of spells are).  The necromancer's healing spells are also baffling in their level arrangement.  The level 4 Solace spell heals 12 damage per successful casting and he would often get multiple successes.  After level 4, the spells turn into "bullet" spells, with the level 5 Cure spell doing 1 point per bullet, which amounts to maybe 5 or 6 points total.  At the level 6 Health spell, it's still only 2 points per bullet but affects everyone in the party, therefore making it at least somewhat useful.  I wish I would have realized how damn useless most of the spells are before wasting a fuckton of coinage purchasing them.

Mr. Bear and I share the same mood regarding spells.

Leveling up raises HP and MP as well as enabling a character to cast higher level spells.  Very basic, but even a system this simple managed to crash and burn due to bugs.  At some point around midgame, I noticed that Buc's red HP bar had gone from being the largest to just a tiny sliver when combat started.  A single hit from almost any source would kill him and I stared at the screen in baffled bemusement.  It's not like there are items or anything that augment HP, it only increases from leveling — how do you fuck this up?  I ended up putting in a code to max Buc's HP, resisting the temptation to give him infinite.  A little while later, the same thing happened to the knight, the second character of the party.  I can only assume that if I continued to gain levels, the rest of party would also suffer the same fate.  One of the knight's spells (Dice) also seemed bugged, as it drained MP multiple times during a casting instead of just once.

At least the developers realized
they were crapping out a huge turd.

Needless to say, by the time I got all eleven rings together, I was quite ready to put RoP behind me, so I started making preparations for the final journey to the grand temple of Nexus, where I'd relinquish all the rings to him.  That left just enough time for the game to do one last obnoxious dick move.

Shit, even old school D&D
gives a saving throw vs. poison.

The final confrontation is against a group of dudes who look exactly like Buc's party, except they can cast higher level spells.  Still, I had Buc cast Mesmer (the group version of Confse), which took out half of them, and then Blazed and Frenzied the rest into death.  With Void's champions defeated, Buc then flies up into space, has a chat with Nexus, who decides to follow his brother Void and leave behind the earthly realm.  In his infinite wisdom, Nexus leaves the Rod of Creation with Buc, because it totally hasn't caused any problems in the past.  The first thing Buc does is destroy the temple of Nexus and replace it with a castle for himself to rule the world from.  Good choice, Nexus.

"Hmm, I think slavery and harems are
about to make a comeback — big time."