Sunday, 3 September 2017

Dragon Warrior III - Nintendo NES - 1992

Dragon Warrior is a long running series of RPGs dating back to the mid-eighties and still going strong today.  The first game in the series, Dragon Quest, was released in Japan in May 1986. It predated both Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star making it one of the first (and arguably one of the most influential) Japanese console RPGs.  Dragon Quest was translated and released in North America in August 1989.  Outside Japan the series was renamed as Dragon Warrior to avoid copyright issues with the DragonQuest tabletop RPG.  I was turned off of the original Dragon Warrior game due to the amount of grinding required and the second in the series was arguably worse.  Number three came out in March 1992*, over three years after the Japanese release of Dragon Quest III. We shall see if it is any better than it's predecessors.

After loading the game an intro shows a fight between a warrior and a dragon on the rim of a volcano.  The warrior manages to sever one of the dragon's wings.  The dragon then grabs hold of the warrior and they both fall into the crater....

You start by choosing your name and sex; your character class is 'Hero'.  The game begins on the morning of your sixteenth birthday in the town of Aliahan.  Your mother turfs you out of bed and takes you to see the King.  He says you are the son of the mighty warrior Ortega (the dude in the intro) and, now he is dead, you must take on his mantle.  You are to defeat the Archfiend Baramon who is threatening the world.  Nice birthday present.

Your first task is to gather a party to aid you on your quest.  There is an eatery where the adventurers hang out and you can choose three companions or create your own.  An NPC said the best companions are a Soldier, Pilgrim and Wizard.  As I've never played this game before, and as these characters were already created, who am I to argue?  So we have Ragnar the Soldier who can be equipped with most weapons and armour.  Petrus the Pilgrim can cast mainly healing and status effect spells (such as sleep).  Petrus is also quite handy in combat.  Harley the Wizard is adept at offensive spells, but is weak in combat and cannot equip strong weapons or armour.  I also chose to create a Merchant who the manual says is good at finding extra gold and has the ability to appraise items.  Other available classes are Fighter (good at martial arts), Sage (can cast both Pilgrim and Wizard spells), and Goof-Off which the manual describes as "without exaggeration, a useless living being to take along on your quest".

I first decided to explore the town and talk to the inhabitants.  As usual the populace give stock answers with a few telling you explicitly where to go on your quest - there is no chance not knowing what to do next in Dragon Warrior III.  There is a day and night cycle and some inhabitants change their responses depending on the time of day.  Most towns include the usual inn (recharges HP and MP), a tool shop (sells cures for status effects and other sundries), a weapon shop and a healer.

After leaving town it is not long before coming across your first random encounter.  Combat is almost identical to the other early RPGs on the NES.  The combat is turn-based with each character being given a command which is then played out.  Enemies are usually made up of different types of creatures.  You can only select one type of enemy to attack - for example if you face two slimes and two caterpillars you can attack either one group or the other but not individuals.  This even applies to area effect spells such as fireball - you can only target the caterpillars or the slimes, not both.  If a character targets an opponent that has already been killed then the attack is wasted.  The only real tactic is deciding which type of enemy to target first.
A selection of the weird and wonderful monsters found in Dragon Quest III.
 One wonders how  this motley crew got together.
Once combat is over each character receives a number of experience points and some gold coins.  Levelling up takes place at different rates for the various members of the party with Ragnar the Soldier gaining levels the fastest and Wingnut the Hero lagging behind.  When levelling, all base stats increase by one or more points and spellcasters may gain extra spells.  The Hero can cast both Pilgrim and Wizard spells.

As Ragnar was levelling faster then everyone else, I retired him to test out the Merchant for a while.  The Merchant was reasonable at melee combat and occasionally picked up extra gold after combat.  However, I was unimpressed by his appraising ability and swapped Ragnar back after a few levels.

After I was satisfied with my grinding I returned to Aliahan to pick up my first quest.  There were a few locked doors in the town and my first task was to retrieve a key that was ironically stolen from a thief.  The key was taken to a tower on island that could that could be reached through a cave.  Instead of the boss fight I was expecting, the old man in the tower said he had a vision of giving me the key so simply handed it over. 

The key allowed me to open some locked doors so I could talk to people I wasn't able to before.  I was told of a travel door leading from the land of Aliahan that had been sealed off in a time of war and a magic ball was required to open it.  Again, the magic ball was just handed over.  Breaking the seal on the travel door transported me to a new continent, just south of the city of Romaly, and to my quest proper.  As usual I will note my thoughts below...

  • I found I did have to grind in Dragon Warrior III, but not a much as the first two games and mainly for gold.  This was not as bad as grinding for experience as you set yourself a goal of, say 1500gp for a broadsword, and you can see yourself getting nearer your target after every combat.
  • Most towns you visit have an Inn where you can stay for the night to recover HP and MP.  In Aliahan you can sleep in the comfort of your own bed for free.

"Mother, I am a level 35 hero, you know!"

  • Combat early on can provide an interesting combination of enemies.  In the example below, Infernus Crabs tend to cast the Increase spell.  This increases their defence value making them harder to hit with normal weapons which means resorting to spells.  The Vampire Cats (yes, really) tend to cast StopSpell which causes said spells to fail.

  • Even early dungeons in Dragon Warrior III are non-linear and can be quite complicated to map.  A typical level can contain several sets of stairs requiring all routes to be mapped out.  This makes a change from the typical Final Fantasy linear dungeon.  Annoyingly, the designers decided to 'black out' sections of a dungeon until you walk into them.  This turned from a minor irritation to a major frustration when I had to infiltrate a thieves hideout.   I mapped out the whole floor but could not progress.  I had to relent and consult the walkthrough in the back of the manual which said that some of the blacked out areas need to be 'unlocked' with a key.

I can go North, East and West with no problems but need to unlock the black area to go South.
How is anyone supposed to guess that?

  • The game contains an interesting day/night cycle.  NPCs appear in different places and some only come out at night and vice versa.  The random encounter rate in the wilderness also increases at night.  The town of Tendanki, for example, is deserted in the day having been destroyed by the Archfiend Baramon.  The inhabitants only appear at night, oblivious to the fact they are dead.  Little additions like this add nothing to the plot, but I like them.
  • A fair bit into the game there is the Shrine of Dhama where your party can change character classes, starting the new profession at level 1.  I discovered this can be a double edged sword.  I settled on changing Ragnar from a Soldier to a Wizard and Harley from a Wizard to a Soldier.  Harley can now wear armour and wield better weapons, and also has the ability to cast the same spells he had learned as a level 21 Wizard.  Ragnar, on the other hand, can no longer wear armour or use the best weapons and also had a reduction in hit points; he is now just a regular level 1 Wizard.  His lack of combat abilities started to annoy me so I changed him to a Sage as soon he reached level 20 again.  Only the Hero could not change class.

"But I wanted to become a Goof-Off!"

  • While mapping I began to notice the overworld area of Dragon Warrior III began to resemble a  map of Earth.  Some of the place names were similar too; Romaly is the equivalent of Rome, Portogo is where Portugal would be.  That said, it is massively deformed. Australia, for instance, has moved several thousand miles west to be directly south of India and has shrunk so much it would fit in the Mediterranean Sea.

My map when I zoomed out and realised it looked familiar.  I hadn't started on the Americas yet.

  • Inventory space is limited to just eight slots.  Giving a character a weapon, a shield, a helmet and some armour halves that.  Essential quest items reduce this even further.  Items can be stored, for a price, at a vault in Aliahan.  Gold pieces can also be stored in the vault, but as they do not take inventory space and encumbrance is not an issue, I was a happy to lug these around.
  • Apart from the usual fetch quests the game provides some simple puzzles to break things up a little....

Ooh, a game of Sokoban.

  • A few games ago* in Ultima VI I started the game with the Orb of the Moons which allowed you visit any town from the off.  Dragon Warrior III does this better with the Return spell.  This only allows you to teleport to towns you have previously visited on foot.  This is essential as you can only save in towns where an NPC (usually a king) can scribe your progress in the Imperial Scolls of Honour.  He also informs you how many XP each party member requires to progress to the next level.
  • I was annoyed by some of the non-choices in the game.  Twice I defeated an NPC called Kandar.  Both times the game gave me the choice of whether to let him go or not.  Select the NO option and he asks you to reconsider.  The game won't continue until you say YES.  What's the point of that?  Another time I was crowned King of Romaly.  I couldn't leave town, buy or sell items or otherwise continue upon the quest until I gave up the crown.  Another pointless exercise.

You are given a choice of YES or NO, but Kandar repeats himself until you let him go.
Who thought this would be good game design? Especially in an RPG.

  • Once Archfiend Baramos has been defeated, it comes as no surprise to discover he was not the main antagonist after all.  On returning to Aliahan, a voice rings out saying Master Archfiend Zoma will now cover the world in darkness.  You have to travel to a whole new continent called Alefgard, World of Darkness which is based on the map from the original Dragon Warrior game.

At the beginning of the game you set out to follow in your father's footsteps.  I thought this meant figuratively but along the way you get clues that he may not have died in the volcano after all.  I finally caught up with him in Zoma's castle.  He perished fighting a King Hydra and did not recognise me as his son.
He died before I could ask him how in hell he got this far without any of the quest items I had been collecting.

Before facing Zoma we had to fight the King Hydra that defeated Ortega, followed by Baramos Bomus and Baramos Gonus.  The fights were a lot easier than expected.  Earlier in the castle I found the Sage's Stone.  This item can be used in combat to cast a HealUs spell.  I got Petrus to use this every round apart from one where I had to cast a HealAll on Harley who was getting low on hit points.

On defeating Zoma the castle collapses and the party fall down a pit to the bottom of a cave.

The Return spell only gives us the option to travel to towns in Alefgard.  Returning to see the King in Tantagel triggers the end sequence.....

It could never be said Dragon Warrior III is an attractive game.  The graphics haven't really moved on from the 1986 original. Although the rival Final Fantasy series had migrated to the SNES in 1991,  Dragon Warriors III and IV remained on the aging NES hardware.  The sprites are small and ugly and lack the personality of other NES JRPGs such as Earthbound Zero and the aforementioned Final Fantasy games. The sprites also flicker when there are a few on screen at once.  The music on the other hand is varied and of good quality.  Even after such a long game it didn't get annoying and my wife was even whistling along to some of the the tunes.  The plot is also typical JRPG - a party of four are kept on a linear path (by impossible encounters) to defeat the big bad only to find out there is a bigger bad behind him.  I mention above that you can't really go wrong in Dragon Warrior III, but later in the game I did lose the plot thread on a couple of occasions and had to consult the walkthrough.  This is contained in the back of the manual along with maps (that I didn't use) so I didn't feel too bad about it. Even with this help Dragon Warrior III must be the longest game I have played so far.  On the whole I enjoyed the experience and look forward to future instalments in the series.  I just hope they are a bit shorter than this epic quest.

* I originally played this game with the 1991 games.  The main Dragon Quest III article in Wikipedia gives the US release date as 12th June 1991.  I subsequently found the Wikipedia article on the Dragon Quest Series gives the year as 1992, as does Mobygames and Gamefaqs.  I went with the majority.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes - NEC TurboGrafx-CD - 1992

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is the sixth installment in the Dragon Slayer series of RPGs.  Its initial release was in 1989 for the NEC PC-8801 before being converted to other computers and consoles.  The English translation was released on the NEC TurboGrafx-CD in 1992.

The game takes the usual JRPG format of top-down scrolling dungeons and overworld, with turn-based battles.  The overworld is not obviously grid-based like the NES Final Fantasy games I have played and allows eight way scrolling.  I also think the overworld is at least semi turn-based in that if you stand still long enough you will get a random encounter.  

Combat is turn based with the usual options of attack, magic, item, defence, run etc.  When a character and monster will take their action is mostly dependent on their Speed attribute.  With combat over you are awarded an amount of XP and gold.  If you run, the enemy remains viewable on the overworld map and can re-engage in combat. Levelling is automatic and you gain increases in Hit Points and Magic Points which are also fully replenished.  Each time you level up, your attributes also increase by 1 or 2 points.  

If in combat a member of your party should reach 0 Hit Points they fall unconscious.  If the enemies are defeated that character wakes up after the battle with 1 HP.  If the whole party is unconscious you are given the choice of restarting the battle or returning to the last town visited.  You cannot die in Dragon Slayer.

Magic spells can be collected from certain NPCs and are added to your spellbook.  Any character can use any spell and each takes a certain amount of Magic Points to cast.  There are lots of spells available with different powers but slots in the spellbook are limited.

A narrated intro sets the scene for the game.  The land of Farlayne was invaded by monsters and an epic battle ensued.  The monsters were defeated but King Corwin was killed.  Five year old Prince Logan was considered too young to rule the kingdom so Baron Drax declared he would rule as regent until Logan came of age.  Fearing for his safety, Logan was taken to the town of Exile.  That was 10 years ago....

Baron Drax announces that he is to become regent.

The game begins in Exile with the player taking the role of crown Prince Logan.  You are being prepared to take over as ruler on your upcoming sixteenth birthday.  Suddenly the town comes under attack by a horde of monsters.  You are ushered through a secret passage by your adviser and a told to make your way to the castle to request reinforcements from Baron Drax.  It turns out Baron Drax (with a name like that he was never going to be a goody was he?) sent the monsters to destroy Exile.  He intends to keep the crown for himself and to marry your mother.  He didn't expect you to escape alive so throws you in the dungeons and will use your life as a bargaining chip to force your mother to marry him.

It doesn't take long for the resistance to show up and spring you from jail.  You flee to their secret headquarters in the town of Revere.  The leader tasks you with heading to The Pits where you can free the slaves to help fight Drax and his guards.  He also makes no secret of the need to grind.... 

While grinding I discover this first section of the game is set on an island.  All the ships are conveniently guarded to stop you getting ahead of the plot.  I did find the town of Nigel where I could buy better weapons and armour.  I also discovered why I got my Level 8 arse kicked at The Pits....

After more grinding I freed the slaves and we headed to the castle to take on Drax.  We caught up with him but he escaped by ship saying he had plans to take over the whole world.  And so ends Chapter 1.  I will note my thoughts below...
  • After Chapter 1 it is not necessary to do a lot of grinding - it helps if you want the best weapons and items but is not really a requirement due to the amount of random encounters. Combat can be tough and the differing strengths of your party members can make it quite tactical in how to deal with the different enemies.
  • I like the way the scripted events use the game engine so as not to spoil immersion.  Most of these events use voice acting, the majority of which is truly awful.
  • The game is divided into several chapters, each set on a particular area and usually ending in a boss fight.  Once the chapter is completed, the next area is opened up.  Completing a chapter clears all the monsters from the land so you need to go onto the next section if you want to grind.  Previously completed areas are still accessible.
  • Coming on a CD I expected the game to have better music than it does.  It's not very varied and none of it is particularly memorable.  The tune that plays when you are in the presence of royalty is also quite short and is a little irritating when it ends then restarts.  In quality it doesn't sound much better than a chip tune to my ears.
  • Unusually for the time you can save the game absolutely anywhere.  No more traipsing to the nearest inn/palace/temple or whatever.
  • One thing I like is that you can immediately compare attack and defence values of weapons and armour just by equipping them.  It makes choosing the best items a lot easier.
  • Most towns have a Temple but they don't offer any services and seem to exist just for comedic purposes....

  • Igniting a torch to traverse dungeons sends out a circle of light that gradually reduces in size as the torch burns down.  It's a nice touch and makes a change from other games where you can freely travel underground with no light source.
The circle of torch light gradually gets smaller over time making it harder to navigate and avoid monsters.

  • Finally, an RPG without a broken economy.  As you progress through the game new weapons and armour become available.  Including selling the old gear, I can usually only afford to outfit two characters with all new equipment.  Yes, you can grind for money if you have the patience.  Even at the end game I had a couple of characters using outdated pieces of kit.
And there was me thinking I was rich.

  • For a JRPG (or any contemporary RPG for that matter) the game is very flexible in the way it can be played.....
* When a character levels up the game automatically distributes points among the attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Speed, Luck).  This can be set to manual so you can allot the points yourself.
* There are no character classes and any character is able to wield any weapon, wear any armour and learn any spell.  With the above you can mould your party members as you wish (eg. put points into strength for a combat oriented character).
* If you get fed up with the combat you can set  one or more of the characters in your party to fight automatically.
* The Warp Wing item or Warp spell allows you to instantly travel to any town, dungeon, or tower you have already visited.  This takes the pain out of backtracking between locations.
* Don't like the random encounters?  The TELE-LENS shows the groups of wandering monsters on the overworld map for a certain amount of time.  The SPY SCOPE is a one-shot item that permanently displays them.  The party moves faster than monsters so they can be avoided or confronted as you wish.
Activating the TELE-LENS or SPY SCOPE shows blue blobs representing groups of wandering monsters.

It came as no surprise that Baron Drax was not the ultimate protagonist (this being a JRPG after all).  After defeating Drax you soon discover the big bad is a dragon called Naja.  Naja can only be defeated using Sword Blaze of which there are two.  Naja can be found after a long trek through a dungeon and labyrinth filled with tough monsters.  I used up most of my potions defeating the dragon only to find it was Naja's twin.  Naja was found in the next room and kicked my arse when my potions ran out.  This was useful as when the party died I could choose to restart the battle or return to town.  Back in the town I stocked up with potions, warped back to Naja's hideout and tried again.  The fight took a long time as only Logan and Giles could do any damage with the Sword Blaze weapons.  Even with spells negated and Ethan and Sonia doling out potions every round, Naja did more damage than I could heal, but I eventually defeated him with one party member down.  The end.....

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes is one of the most enjoyable JRPGs I have played so far for my blog.  It has great graphics, varied enemies, a good story and is a decent challenge.  It also has a fair amount of humour and some memorable NPCs.  Okay, the sound is not great, but the music is bearable and the voice acting only appears at key plot points.  It also makes a change to find a PC Engine / TurboGrafx title that's not an arcade game.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Dizzy: Prince of the YolkFolk - Commodore Amiga - 1992

With a main entry in the  Dizzy series you know exactly what you are going to get - a fairly easy adventure game combining platforming, inventory based puzzles and slightly awkward controls.  Dizzy: Prince of the YolkFolk is no exception.

The game was first released in 1991 for the Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC and was highly regarded at the time.  In 1992 it was converted to the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and DOS.  A Nintendo NES version followed in 1993.  Finally an HD remake appeared in 2011 for the iOS and Android platforms.  I'm not interested in smartphone gaming on my blog so the winner of this lot is the Commodore Amiga.  Normally a game such as this would look the same on the Atari ST but Codemasters went to the extra effort of adding more colours to the Amiga version, notably the graduated sky.  It also has the nicest music playing throughout - much better than the grating Atari ST chiptune.  The graphics on the DOS version are on a par with the ST, both looking better than the NES.  The release on the three 8-bit home computers hadn't really progressed in terms of looks since the original Dizzy from 1988 so come bottom of the pile.

The manual says that Grand Dizzy was feeling down so Dizzy and Daisy decided to bake him a cherry pie.  However, Pogie the fluffle (whatever that may be) had stolen the cherries and ran off into the enchanted forest.  Dizzy and Daisy chased after Pogie and decided to gather more cherries at the same time.  They were soon lost but came across a seemingly deserted castle.  Daisy pricked herself on a mystic spinning wheel and felt sleepy.  She found a bed where she fell asleep.  Before Dizzy could wake her he was captured by Rockwart the troll and placed in an underground prison where the game begins.  Your goal is to escape from your cell and awaken Daisy.
Ah, so that's what a fluffle is.

Dizzy starts the game with three lives and a full energy bar.  Energy is lost by touching an enemy and a life is lost once it is depleted.  A life is also lost if Dizzy ends up falling into water.  No damage is taken when falling from any height (even from heaven).
A convenient path through the clouds leads you to the pearly gates.  You can fall from here without damage.

Most of the puzzles contained in Dizzy: Prince of the Yolkfolk are fairly logical and are mainly solved by using the right item in the right place.  The items are scattered around the flick screen map along with a few red herrings.  Your starting prison cell is blocked by a locked door, but when it contains a pile of leaves, a match and a bucket of water it is pretty obvious how to escape.  Most puzzles follow this pattern so it is a comparatively easy game to complete.  The game also seems a bit shorter than previous Dizzy outings mostly down to the smaller map.

On your way to waking Daisy you must collect 20 cherries to complete the game.  Cherries also restore your energy bar if it gets sapped in any way.  Additionally there are stars and coins to collect for extra points.

To be honest Dizzy is not that much different from previous games in the series (including the awkward somersault action that can make judging some jumps a pain).  Saying that, I can't in all good conscience leave Dizzy: Prince of the Yolkfolk out of my blog when I have included some of his earlier adventures.

After waking daisy you visit Grand Dizzy and bake him the pie

Example gameplay....

Monday, 5 June 2017

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf - Sega Mega Drive (1992) & Commodore Amiga (1993)

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf was released in the first half of 1992, a year after Operation Desert Storm had ended and with the Middle East still fresh in mind. The plot involves a Middle Eastern despot invading a small Emirate and trying to gain weapons of mass destruction.  Some could accuse EA of shamelessly cashing in on these appalling events.  Whatever, it turned out to be the most successful game they had yet produced.

On my shortlist I had the Sega Mega Drive original and conversions for the Sega Master System, Super Nintendo and Commodore Amiga.

The Sega Mega Drive was the first version of the game and was released early in 1992 with the first conversions arriving later in the year.  It could be described as the definitive version of the game with great graphics and sound, and slick controls.  Although I had never played it before if felt familiar.  It then dawned on me it played pretty much like cross between Cyclone and Raid on Bungeling Bay.

I played the Master System version next which, it has to be said, was not very good.  It could not compete with any of the 16-bit versions here and was quite basic in all areas.
The Master System is a poor mans Desert Strike.  The helicopter doesn't even have a shadow.
I really liked the look of the SNES version at first, with its nice big helicopter sprite.  I quickly realised it was only big due to the lower resolution graphics.  The display has a zoomed-in look and therefore doesn't show as much of the play area as the Mega Drive version.  Little touches are also missing such as the wake from the ship you start the game from.  Gameplay is more or less the same as the original.
Desert Strike on the SNES.  Plays pretty much the same as the Mega Drive game but at a lower resolution.
The Commodore Amiga version appeared in 1993.  To quote the manual - 'when it came to designing the Amiga version of Desert Strike there was one question on everybody's lips - what can be done to improve the game?'.  For starters they used the Extra Half-Brite Graphics mode to display 64 simultaneous colours.  Some graphics assets such buildings, targets and especially explosions have been greatly improved.  Music is better and it features sampled sound effects and speech.  The presentation is also much slicker.  The Amiga conversion does have its drawbacks though.  Firstly, the game plays a lot slower which can be a blessing or a curse depending on the situation.  There is also disk loading which is absent on the consoles.  Lastly, the controls are compromised - where the Sega controller has a multitude of buttons, an Amiga joystick has only one (or rarely two) fire buttons.  This means cycling through weapons and accessing the map are via the keyboard.
Mega Drive [left] vs Amiga.  The jets on the Sega look a bit odd to me. 
Of the above I felt the Amiga and Genesis titles came on top.  Each had its own advantages and disadvantages so I was unable to split them.

Rather than forming a coalition to send Kilbaba packing, the powers that be decided that all is needed is one man and his chopper.  Desert Strike plays over four 'campaigns' divided into several missions.  The first is called 'Air Superiority'.  Your missions here involve destroying radar sites, power station, airports, command centres, and finally picking up a secret agent.  Although the missions can be played in any order it is recommended playing in the order given as destroying the radars and power station reduces the range and accuracy of enemy anti-aircraft weapons.  The Secret Agent has copies of the Generals plans and his whereabouts is only shown after destroying the command centres and capturing the commander within.

Before you begin the game you must choose your co-pilot.  There are several to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  One is marked MIA and can be rescued during the game - he's located next to a downed aircraft on the first level.
Choosing you co-pilot on the Mega Drive [left] and Amiga [right]
I must take issue here with the sprite of your gunship.  Although the game box, manual and in-game stills reference an AH-64 Apache, the main sprite only half resembles one -  the front half.  It looks like they have grafted on the back end of an RAH-66 Comanche with the ducted fan tail rotor and high tailplane.  The Apache has a conventional tail rotor and low tailplane.  I'm guessing this was to simplify drawing the many frames of animation.

The game proper starts with your chopper sat on the back of a frigate and you must head east towards the desert.  You navigate the area by using the map / status screen.  The map shows your objectives as well as the position of ammo crates, fuel, MIAs, missile and gun emplacements.  You can also get a reminder of completed and remaining objectives.  The screen additionally displays remaining fuel, weapons and armour, lives left and the number of MIAs you are carrying.
Status screen on Mega Drive [left] and Amiga [right].
Your gunship is armed with, from least to most powerful, a chain gun with 1,178 rounds of ammunition, 38 Hydra rockets and 8 Hellfire missiles.  The weapons can be fired in the general direction of the target with the accuracy determined by your selected co-pilot.

Ammunition supplies can be replenished by collecting ammo crates that are scattered around the play area.  The finite amount of fuel you carry can be topped up in the same manner.  Fuel and ammo pickups are displayed on the map screen, even those hidden in buildings.

The enemy territory is heavily defended with Rapier surface to air missiles and anti-aircraft guns.  Tiny enemy soldiers carry rifles (they also shoot at MIAs) and portable SAMS. There are also mobile VDAs (armoured vehicles carrying AA guns) roaming the map.  Every hit reduces the armour on your helicopter - you get a buzzer (Mega Drive) or warning speech (Amiga) when it gets too low.  Armour is also depleted if you fly into rock outcrops, high buildings, power lines and other tall structures - the chopper flies at fixed altitude so you can't fly over them.

Armour can be increased by picking up MIAs that are dispersed around the map and taking them to a dropzone. Six MIAs can be wedged into the Apache at one time.  Very rarely armour pickups can be found (usually hidden in buildings).  These pickups do not show up on the map.
Rescuing some MIAs and dropping them off at the LZ for more amour (Amiga)

Once a set of missions has been completed it is back to the frigate for the next level.  Your Apache is limited to three 'lives' which are replenished after each campaign.  You also get a password so there is no need to start from scratch.
Stormin' Norman sets out your objectives for the second campaign (Mega Drive)
And the further you get the tougher the enemies (Mega Drive)

There's a lot to like about Desert Strike whichever version you choose to play.  The handling and momentum feel just right as does the camera which always has the helicopter facing into the screenIt would be fun as just a straight shooter but the limited fuel, weapons and armour adds some strategy.  An excellent game all round.

Gameplay from the Mega Drive


I had a hard time getting Amiga gameplay to look okay on YouTube but here's my best effort (it looks better in reality)

Monday, 1 May 2017

Defenders of Oasis - Sega Game Gear - 1992

It can safely be said that I'm not a fan of mobile gaming.  I have never been tempted to download a game to my phone and the only portable system I have is a barely used Nintendo DS Lite I won many years ago in a competition.  Until I started Defenders of Oasis I didn't think a mobile system would appear on my blog and I certainly didn't think a Game Gear was capable of running a surprisingly good JRPGAs soon as the game comes on it starts telling the back story.

Long ago the world was terrorisd by Ahriman, the Wizard of Darkness. Ahriman was finally defeated by a hero called Jamseed and sealed away using three rings given to him by the Wizard of Light. Although stripped of his power, Ahriman sent his servant, Snake King Zahhark to attack the kingdom of Shanadar which was founded by Jamseed.  Jamseed was defeated and the world was once again plunged into an age of darkness. After 1,000 years a new hero called Fallidoon appeared and defeated Zahhark bringing about a new age of peace. When these events were all but forgotten, the evil Empire of Eflaat rose up and once again Shanadar is threatened....

The game begins with you controlling the unnamed prince of Shanadar, a descendant of Jamseed. On this day Shanadar is due to be visited by the princess from the kingdom of Mahamood. A cut scene has the king telling you to escort the princess from the dock back to the castle.

The first thing that struck me was the quality of the graphics. Bearing in mind the original hardware, I was expecting big blocky graphics, but they were well detailed and colourful, even on a large screen. Gameplay is cut from the same cloth as Dragon Quest and practically every other JRPG in between - a top down tiled view with random encounters and turn-based combat.

I took the opportunity to wander around town which was a bit depressing as the townsfolk do not hold a very high opinion of the prince. I visited the weapon and armour stores but couldn't afford anything with my 200 dinar, but bought some herbs, holy herb and snake act from the goods shop. I then headed off to the docks only to find the princess missing. She turned up in the tavern being accosted by some ruffians. 

This introduced combat, which is the usual JRPG turn based fight. Winning the combat gave me some more dinar and enough experience to go up a level, which increased some of my stats. It's than back to the castle for a rest.

During the night Shanadar is attacked by the Empire of Eflaat and the castle put under siege. The King says you should take the Princess and escape to Mahamood. He also gives you a ring.

You are met at the port by the traitorous General Kohle who was offered the kingship for betraying Shanadar. The ensuing battle is unwinnable as Kohle was given a magic sword by the emperor which causes you to faint with one blow.

It's down to the resistance to save your arse and you come to in the their hideout. The leader says you need to get the lamp from the treasury in order to defeat Kohle. It turns out the lamp contains a genie who once served Jamseed – my first party member. 

The Genie is the only member of the party who can use magic. He is also the only member of the party who can't level up. His attributes can be raised by equipping with various items bought or found throughout the game. Hemp, for example, increases his magic points, gilding increases hit points and crystal increases defence. These items are rarely found and are expensive in the shops.

We seek out Kohle and use the spell Varyu to stop him using the magical powers of the sword. He is still a strong enemy but was easily beaten. With Imperial reinforcements on their way we hop on a ship and set sail for Mahamood.

The general plot involves finding all the Rings of Light before the bad guys destroy them and allow Ahriman to regain his full power.  I will note my thoughts below....

  • I pick up my second party member, Saleem, when we stop off at an island to collect some fresh water. Saleem is the captains son. The captain gives us some money to buy water, but when we return to the ship it has been boarded by Ahriman's elite troops. They kill the captain and take the ship and the princess leaving us stranded on the island. It is here the Genie gains the Raag spell which can teleport us between known locations.  This avoids cramming in an overworld map onto the Game Gear cartridge.  It also shows your progress as the destinations grow.

  • The Genie starts with three spells but more are collected by reading inscriptions on walls.  One gripe is the nonsensical names given to the spells which means you have to refer to the manual.  Not ideal when gaming on the go.
Why can't you just call it "Lightning"

  • Our fourth party member is Agmar the thief.  We find him in a prison cell after falling through a trap door in a dungeonFortunately the Genie has the Kshasla spell at this point which can get us through the locked door. 
  • Apart from the normal combat moves each character has a their own special ability.  The Prince can use 'Run' to escape fights and the Genie can cast magic.  Saleem can use 'Dance' in which he attacks all enemies but causes less damage than targeting a single one.  Agmar can use his turn to 'Hide'.  On his next turn he can use 'Assault' to cause more damage to an enemy.
  • There are many useful items that can be found during the course of the adventure.  Most are described in the manual and throughout the game, but there are few that have to experimented with to find their use.  You inventory seems unlimited with the amount of different items you can carry, but you are only able to hold up to 9 items of each type.
  • There is decent music playing constantly during the game. Sound effects are limited to a few bleeps and a couple of undecipherable speech samples.
  • One plot point I didn't like (and I seem to remember something similar happening in Final Fantasy II) is that once you gather all the quest items - rings in this case - one of Ahriman's generals simply takes them off you without you putting up a fight.  He proceeds to burn them, releasing Ahriman.
Little does he know the ashes still have some power...

...and neither does Ahriman.

Despite being a relatively simple JRPG, I really enjoyed Defenders of Oasis.  It's not a game that requires lots of grinding - I did a bit to get better weapons but character stats are limited to 99 points so you can't go on levelling forever.  The economy is also good - once you have the best weapons and armour there are still silks and gilding to buy for the genie at several thousand dinars a pop.  The graphics are well drawn and colourful. I played the game in bite-size chunks (as a mobile game would normally be).  It doesn't have a huge overworld so travelling between towns is accomplished using the Raag spellThis is good as a lot of JRPGs over stay their welcome by being unnecessarily long with random combats becoming a chore.  The Arabian theme also made a nice change from the usual fantasy settings.

The End....
And finally a JRPG where the ultimate boss has only one form