Mento Gear Solid 2: React-sons of Incredulity (Part 1: Tanker)

When I'm not committing atrocities with the English language with titles like the above, I like to play video games. Until recently, I used to mentally put an asterisk at the end of that statement with the footnote "*except Metal Gear Solid". Whether it's the relentless weirdness, the complex continuity or the unintuitive stealth/shooting mechanics, I couldn't say, but it was over a decade ago when I tried Metal Gear Solid 2 for a few hours and decided the series just wasn't for me.

Flash forward until a few months ago. Dan and Drew had decided to partake on a quasi-Endurance Run series in which Drew tackles the missions of one Solid Snake under the keen tutelage (and gentle mocking) of Dan, a series expert. My pattern with every Endurance Run on the site is to play the games first, so I can experience them on my own terms before watching the crew struggle endlessly with them. Something to do with my gamer psychology, I suppose: I get agitated if I *think* the guy I'm watching is doing something wrong, or if I *think* a particular strategy is a far better plan of action than whatever they might be doing. When I actually *know* these things, gleaned after a playthrough of the game myself, the videos become far more tolerable and actually a lot more fun. It's getting all that backseat driving out of the way with, perhaps. (Of course, that didn't stop every Souls expert in the known universe from weighing in on Vinny's and Brad's playthroughs, but then those games are a special case.)

Anyway, I rushed to beat Metal Gear Solid 1 once they began their series, and I'm doing the same thing with MGS2 now they've resumed this quixotic campaign of cardboard boxes and Kojima craziness. With it comes a whole new reactions blog from yours truly, jotting down my thoughts and exasperations as they happen for later publishing. As before, this is really meant for those already familiar with Metal Gear Solid 2, largely because I skip over a lot of the necessary exposition. There are spoilers (for a 13 year old game), so be warned. I dunno why, but these games are starting to grow on me now.

Instead of one big text dump of bulletpoints like last time, I'm going to split these up a bit. For now, this is just the opening prologue chapter with Solid Snake on the USS Discovery tanker. I'll throw in additional "chapters" whenever I complete them.

Tankers For Nothing

  • Shoot, choke, you all remember. Stealth box back again, yes, forever.
  • So Snake joined some anti-Metal Gear PMC/charity thing? Presumably Meryl went on to produce some exercise videos instead: "Rookie Eyes, Great Butt: Squat Thrust Your Way to a New You".
  • Also, the menu on the HD collection straight up says what happens at the end of the prologue. I guess I could just skip it, then?
  • Starting the game up proper, got all psyched up by the fancy chemical formulae-slash-action filled intro movie. Immediately hit the main menu, saw "Transfarring" and now I'm back to anticipating stupid shit. Those tonal shifts are still here, then.
  • Also, there's some information about the previous game. Apparently Nastasha wrote a tell-all expos√© that has been roundly dismissed as wild conspiracy theories. I can only guess how she knew most of this info, given that I rarely called her about anything.
  • And after that, a super flowery 128 page account from some journalist named Gary McGolden who went to Shadow Moses (possibly) and discovered everything. Given that he actually starts the piece by discussing his alien abduction as a child and then just becomes weirder from there, I'm starting to wonder if there's anyone in Kojima's world that isn't crazy.
  • Oh god, he infiltrated Shadow Moses in a hollowed out tuna filled with balloons. Who wrote this? Why? This is amazing.
  • "Solid Snake vs. The Army of Darkness". This document is the game now. Screw all that tanker nonsense I'm supposed to be doing.
  • "Peanut butter is my Waterloo. When I was a kid, I was a wuss who couldn't eat peanut butter like other red-blooded children. One day, I decided to confront this weakness of mine, and put myself on a peanut butter overload: anything I put in my mouth had to have peanut butter on it. I piled the stuff on everything from chilidogs without onions -- my favorite dish -- to spearmint gum to my first girlfriend's lips."
  • Gary's last published piece of nonfiction? "The Telekinetic Powers of the Loch Ness Monster - The True Energy Source of UFOs".
  • After that, a 324 page book from Nastasha shows up. Naw, I'm done. I gotta start playing this thing while it's still light outside.
  • New game menu gives you the choice of "tanker", "plant" or "tanker-plant". I'm starting to wonder how much of this HD edition was geared towards people who had already played the original years ago. Presumably, as a first-time player, I want both?
"Remember Snake, we sent you back in time to find Sarah Connor."
  • Nice "Ghost in the Shell" infiltration cutscene. I guess Otacon finally found a spare stealth camouflage dealie to give to Snake. It immediately breaks of course, because the game's not that generous.
  • Ocelot's here too. I guess we aren't done with our Western-loving chum. I am dimly aware of the stupidity concerning his new hand, but not the finer details as of yet.
  • First new Codec! "You know how [story exposition Snake must already know]?" "Yes, but let's explain it all for the audience." One day, video games are going to find a better way to get around that. Maybe a cassette tape player someone left on the ground?
  • I missed all the tutorial button descriptions because I was too busy focusing on what they were talking about. Whatever, I'm sure I'll figure it out.
  • You need eighteen people to take over a ship run by a computer, apparently. Sure. I'd love to know where Otacon pulled that number from. Are there many Japanese animes about terrorists taking over a military ship? Did they adapt Under Siege as magical girl shoujo? And, most importantly, if Casey Ryback is now an anime lady, would that make her a terrible cook?
  • Otacon created a different Codec frequency for saving the game. It's still him, but he'll only save the game on that frequency instead of talking about the mission. And, of course, Snake is the one who asks how he might be able to save his game. Otacon even bothered to memorize a bunch of proverbs and idioms in case we were missing Mei Ling (we were not, for the record).
  • Found some hidden Pentazemin. "An anti-depressant". What? Are these for when I start to feel sad? Or is this to do with the heart rate bar, like last time?
  • Sneaking around this tanker hasn't been too tough so far, though I am getting hopelessly lost. I managed to do a full circuit of the upper decks.
  • I, uh, might've tripped some Semtex. Obviously these ship invaders don't actually care that much about the cargo, if they're willing to blow it up just to get rid of little old me.
  • I found a "The Orange" box to hide in, but this joyous citrusy discovery soon turned sour in my mouth when I realized how ineffective it is. I'm getting spotted left and right up here, and these guards are way more persistent than last time. Attentive too, but for checking underneath things.
  • This guy figured out where I was and chucked a grenade under. Wonderful. What was I supposed to be doing about a fire extinguisher, again?
  • All right, so I shot the fire extinguisher, passed through the now-visible infra-red lasers that would've tripped the explosives and then hid around the corner from the nearby patrolling terrorist. And then Snake sneezed. Goddammit Snake, are you allergic to silence now?
  • Well, we made it to the control room. I'm meant to go down to the lower decks to find the Metal Gear, but Snake got distracted by another woman. Classic Snake.
  • So this is Olga. The game sure is emphasizing her underarm hair. That's... an interesting fetish you have there, Kojima.
  • I liked some of the neat tricks she pulled. Putting up that tarp, using the spotlights, flushing me out of hiding spots with grenades. If I knew how to shoot from waist-high cover or make some kind of reticle appear in first-person mode, I don't think I would've needed a single ration.
"Grabbed by the Spetsnaz, eh James?"
  • Anyway, I got her gun now, a USP. It needs ammo, which are presumably called USP Sticks, but I've already encountered so many ammo boxes for the thing that I wasn't allowed to pick up that I was getting paranoid that I'd missed it.
  • Just picked up a... wet box? Oh good lord. I already have a dry one, why do I need this?
  • They've definitely beefed up security. Getting back down to the lower levels is considerably harder, with more guards and cameras to deal with. Fortunately, I remembered where the tripwire explosives were, and acrobatically tumbled directly through them because apparently the crouch button becomes the roll button when you're moving.
  • Snake is momentarily surprised by what appears to be Vulcan Raven's shadow being cast on a wall. Turns it out it's one of those comical mistaken identity shadows: it's actually a small figurine of Raven highlighted by a flashlight that somebod- why is there a figurine of Raven here? Who made it and why?
  • Why is there a poster of a girl with "Mooch!" on her blouse? And why is it when I open the locker door it's on, there's another poster of the back of the girl? Actually, strike that, I feel like I'm falling right into Kojima's hands by remarking on this.
  • So, okay, there's more to these explosives than shooting the green glowy sensor thing. Either that or there's a second sensor I'm missing.
  • Ah, spotted it. It's on the top of the instruments. There's also a bomb in the way, and apparently I'm not quite as accurate with the first-person view as I thought I was (though I did figure out how to line-up shots down a gun barrel, finally. I ought to pay more attention to the tutorials: what am I, a YouTube LPer?).
  • One of the guards was listening to music on his headphones. So these guys are as highly trained as the Genome soldiers, then?
  • Well, I guess I was forced to kill a bunch of soldiers in a shooting gallery section. I tried stunning them, but the bodies all vanished regardless. The game just became Lethal Enforcers for a hot minute there.
  • Talking of killing Russians unexpectedly, it appears Ocelot's planning something malevolent. What are you up to, you ornery old rascal?
  • So I have to sneak past a whole room full of marines? (Scratch that, three whole rooms.) This'll be fun. Glad I had the foresight to sneak under the projector.
  • Also, I have to get past the marines, find the new Metal Gear and then take four pictures from various sexy angles and get back to a specific console to upload them all within seven minutes as the Commandant gives his speech. Because this is a video game.
  • Man, if you get spotted by one of the marines, they all spot you and play the alert sound several dozen times at once. Nice. Of course, it means doing all this shit again.
  • Oh god, this whole dual-screen switching and the speech's sudden swerve into aerobics. So stupid. Also dumb is that all the off-topic stuff (including the Commandant just straight up repeating himself) was accounted for in Otacon's time limit.
  • "Metal Gear?!" Welcome back, everyone.
  • The game is nice enough to save any photos you make even if you mess up and have to restart. Sure made getting the four shots of RAY I needed easier.
  • This little 8-bit Otacon sprite reviewing all my photos is... goofy. Well, everything's goofy. I feel like he should be saying "wonderful!" after each good shot.
  • Ocelot's made his grand entrance. And there's far fewer marines around now for some reason.
  • The enigmatic Patriots from the epilogue of MGS are still around. La-le-lu-le-lo? Are they Teletubbies?
  • Liquid Snake is Ocelot's arm. I mean, I knew this, but still... it's super dumb. Couldn't he have a found a better prosthetic with a more agreeable soul within? Like maybe the wife arm from Bionic Commando?
  • Oh c'mon, why wouldn't they securely bolt down their billion dollar walking tank-sub? This is Bush League, US Marines.
  • That's the end of the tanker, and presumably the Tanker chapter. Ol' Shalashiskabob seems a little too badass compared to that first boss fight in MGS. A Liquid Snake arm must do wonders for your accuracy.
Metal Gear RAY is loose and Solid Snake is MIA. Surely he can't be dead? Well, I mean, obviously he's not.

Conclusion: This game is already stupid. Thanks for stopping by and I'll see you next time for Raiden's infiltration of the Big Shell.

Actual Conclusion: Why, that's directly over here. Let's see what ol' Raiden's up to, why don't we?

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Wizardry 8: An Around the World Tour of Dominus

For the past six weeks, among other pursuits, I've been playing Sir-Tech's Wizardry 8: The very last game in a venerable series of dungeon crawlers that more or less begat the entire Japanese RPG industry, as well as much of western RPG development. Wiz 8 is fairly unrecognizable compared to its ancient forebear, however; though many of the series' trademark mechanics survived, the game had evolved quite a bit both mechanically and conceptually in its many years of existence. That's partly due to the imagination of the series' director for the past few iterations, David W. Bradley, who reinvented the franchise to pertain to a planet-hopping sci-fi quest for galactic domination, rather than chasing some evil wizard who lived in a hole somewhere. Bradley had actually departed Sir-Tech prior to this game to pursue other projects, and Sir-Tech had gone under in the interim between the previous game and this one (a massive nine year gap, which saw a couple of unsuccessful Wizardry spin-offs); Wizardry 8, which no-one thought would see the light of day, was completed by Sir-Tech's Canadian subsidiary and only saw a limited release initially. Though I realize I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, I'd implore anyone to read more about the series and Wizardry 8 in particular by checking out the very detailed articles over on Hardcore Gaming 101. It's been a long road (sup Rorie) from that 1981 pioneer to this 2001 swansong.

I'm going to make it a habit to screencap any time a game says "giant bomb".

Personally, Wizardry 8 was a game I wanted to try because it came very highly recommended by fellow CRPG nut @arbitrarywater who, in his peregrinations into the backwoods of CRPGs from the misty past of DOS and CD-ROMs, had emerged with a handful of unequivocal classics. Many of these classics I had already played (and even recommended to him, like Descent to Undermountain (that's a joke (the game and the recommendation))), but Wizardry 8 was one I had not, partially due to it flying in under everyone's collective radars. Though the game is slow as molasses and not particularly transparent about a lot of its deeper mechanics (I think Sir-Tech Canada assumed that only fans of the series would be interested in the game, given how long it had been after its previous entry), I enjoyed my time with it immensely. The combat's thoughtful, in that the game prioritizes taking one's time to strategize, taking into account one's location, the party's skills and stock of consumable items. The story's sufficiently out there to not seem like another generic fantasy slog: the planet merges medieval with spacefaring technology, with the advanced human-like Higardi living alongside primitive races like the Trynnies and Rapax, and the goal of the game is to work alongside other spacefaring races to be the first to procure a trio of McGuffins that would allow the party to become the new omnipotent Cosmic Lords, and in the process stopping the evil Dark Savant and his legion of android servants from achieving the same goal.

Anyway, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. In order to explain what this game is, some of its cleverer mechanics and features and my time with it in particular, I'm framing the game as a guided tour of the world of Dominus (the setting of the game). This will be somewhat akin to my similarly geographically-minded blog on Tales of the Abyss, and probably just as long, so consider thyselves warned, dear readers.

Monastery of the Brotherhood

Something remarkable about Wizardry 8 is that it still supports importing characters from previous games, a Wizardry staple. The previous game, 1992's Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, is a comparatively ancient dungeon crawler that sat among contemporaries such as Eye of the Beholder II and Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen. Though hardly a technical marvel to read the code of a 250kb save file to generate the player's party just as they remembered them, it's such a minor but appreciated attention to detail for long time series fans. The player's status in the last game determines their starting position in this one, putting the player in the headquarters of either of the two alien factions they might have aligned with, or setting them in a remote abandoned monastery that acts as the game's tutorial dungeon. New players, like myself, are brought to the planet via an NPC who immediately dies once the player's ship is shot down by the game's villain, the Dark Savant. It's an inauspicious start, but does a fine job of presenting a mystery and an antagonist in one fell swoop (as it were).

As for the Monastery of the Brotherhood itself, it's a tutorial dungeon in the same sense as those found in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall or Baldur's Gate II, in that its purpose is twofold: it's an expansive introduction that acclimatizes the player to the game's many quirks and features, and it also acts as a trial by fire to ensure that the party the player has constructed is a sound one that is likely to survive the first few rough hours. The ground floor has lots of little rooms to check out, squads of weak enemies roaming around and enough items, ammunition and consumables to prevent any catastrophe. There's a large bug named Gregor that sits between the exit to the upper levels and the rest of the dungeon, and the player is expected (and required) to level up several times while exploring the rest of the dungeon before they can hope to beat him.

The monastery's actually one of the more interesting regions of the game, an example of a game starting on the right foot. As well as the usual key/lock puzzles and a few powerful items stashed away for smarter players to find, there's one instance where the player will keep passing items locked behind various glass barriers: a strong (for a low-level party) set of Samurai armor in a display case, for instance, or a glass wall separating the player's party from an enclosed panic room. Towards the end, the player finds a key to the monastery's belfry and can set the power of the belfry's bells, increasing it to the point that it shatters every piece of glass in the entire building. Those various items are now rife for the taking, if the player remembers where they all were. There's also an anti-magic library (it's cleverly demonstrating how the silence status effect works, magically rendering the studious environment sound-free), a vendor NPC that is secretly there to rob the place but will happily give you directions to nearby locations and trade with you if you're running out of inventory space, and there's plenty of books left behind by the monks that provide as much exposition as you're willing to read. It's a well thought out introduction to the rest of the game, and it's a minor shame that the rest of the game's dungeons aren't quite as clever.

Arnika Road

Though I stated that the monastery is sort of the testing grounds for new players, it's Arnika Road -- the path through the wilderness that links the monastery to the Higardi town of Arnika -- that really throws them for a loop. You see, the game has an interesting mechanic when it comes to scaling monster encounters. Monsters level up as the party does, and whenever the party enters a new area the game generates a number of enemy encounters relative to the level of the party. It does this even with areas the party has already passed through (though if the player took the time to empty out a region, it'll be a while before it's completely filled with enemies again). These monsters roam the countryside, so a particularly stealthy player might be able to hide or outrun any encounter they don't want to meet, but generally speaking it's necessary to fight monsters when they're on narrow paths like Arnika Road.

The problem here is that Arnika Road is a commonly revisited location, as it links several areas together: Mt. Gigas to the north, the monastery to the east and Arnika to the south. It's likely the player will pass through a number of times, and at different experience point levels. As such, Arnika Road has a variety of encounters likely to contain some very strong enemies for a group just emerging from the monastery, and as such it is highly recommended to put off leveling up the party until they have safely made it to Arnika. It's very counter-intuitive -- the whole point of levelling up is to make enemies less challenging and the game easier -- but due to a quirk of how the game generates encounters, it's imperative to stay around level 5 until safely at the next location. Any higher, and the enemy encounter levels all jump up a notch and become quite insurmountable.

As for the region itself, Arnika is sadly one of many cases in Wizardry 8 of an oversized outdoors region with very little going on. There's a few items hidden here and there, but for the most part you're simply marching to the next location of interest fighting monsters. The Elder Scrolls games (including Morrowind, which was released the following year) is a similar case; usually players are just hunting for the nearest dungeon/landmark on the radar. Still, many of the "wilderness" regions that separate the various towns and dungeons of Dominus usually have something noteworthy. Arnika Road only presents one mystery: a building locked with a metal door that sits on the crossroads between the three exits.

Aravella Ynni the Elven Bishop

I'll break up the tour with some profiles on the six characters I used to beat the game. They perhaps aren't ideal race/class combinations, but it took a restart of the game to come to grips with how characters in this game work and how certain classes start strong and end up relatively weak and vice versa. Obviously, you want a somewhat even mix of those so your party can stay a formidable team throughout the early, mid and late game. Aravella was my physically weak magical powerhouse.

Aravella's class is Bishop, which isn't so much a healer type as a versatile mage. Think Final Fantasy's Red Mage. The Bishop can specialize in all four schools of magic casting: Wizardry, which focuses on destructive magic; Psionics, which focuses on debuffs and divination; Alchemy, which also focuses on debuffs, potion creation and some destructive magic; and Divinity, which is mostly healing, buffs and anti-undead spells. In addition, there are six realms that govern spells in the four schools: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Mental and Divine. The player has to raise their aptitude (either by spending building points when leveling or through practicing the spell over and over) in both a school of magic and one or more of the six realms in order to learn stronger spells. For instance, a Wizardry-focused character will learn Energy Blast in the Fire realm initially, and can eventually learn the AoE Fireball spell, the damage-over-time Firestorm and the group spell Lightning. A Psionic-inclined character will learn useful buff spells like Haste from the Fire realm instead.

However, as the player only has so many magic points to allot to each character per level, it's possible to end up with a Bishop that's stretched quite thin over her many magic proficiencies. The player's options are to focus on two schools and neglect the rest, or expand to three and four by spending most of the player's treasury on acquiring new spellbooks for the Bishop: each spellbook not only teaches a new spell, but increases total mana and expertise for that element, which ensures that a late-game Bishop isn't too underlevelled in too many disciplines. Aravella became very powerful in Wizardry and Psionics spells, and I made sure to practice casting spells in all six realms to ensure I had a wide suite of options to choose from, depending on the elemental resistances of the foes I was facing. It never got to the point where I was casting utility spells in a safe area over and over to boost them up, fortunately.

As an aside, it's remarkable how many great fantasy names you can get from the Bomb Squad just by removing the first letter of their surnames. Aravella's a perfect elf name. Erstmann recalls a sturdy dwarven fighter. Lepek sounds like a lizardman name if I ever heard one. Yckert could be a bard (alas, poor Yckert?). Canlon would be good for a wizard or cleric. Hoemaker... well, maybe that one has some problems. Whatever occupation "Hoemaker" follows probably wouldn't fit a wholesome RPG too well.

Arnika

Arnika itself isn't quite the safe haven you might have been expecting after the rigors of the monastery and Arnika Road. For one, it's crawling with the footsoldiers of the Dark Savant, who has set up shop with a particularly ominous tower just adjacent to the city walls. There's also roving bands of rogues as well, as much of the population has fled with the arrival of the Dark Savant, leaving most of the empty houses targets for looting. Unfortunately, despite the occasional useful item, most of these buildings have been ransacked well before you arrived. There's plenty to do here in Arnika though, and the usual CRPG trick of getting some easy early XP by completing non-combat errands in town still applies here too. Importantly, there are four vendors here from which to buy useful gear: He'Li is the local bar owner and the place to go for general goods (she also ties in with a lot of early sidequests); Lord Braffit is the leader of the remaining Brotherhood, whose monastery you just trashed, and is also a locus for sidequests and the guy to go to for healing items and spellbooks; Anna is the salty harbormaster who has an absurd amount of ammunition and ranged weaponry for sale; and Antone the Rapax blacksmith is an imposing figure who sells the best armor and weapons for the early- to mid-game.

What's more is that the player is free to go into the backrooms of these establishments to steal various goods belonging to the vendors, including safety deposit slips which then allows them to ransack the local bank. If the player's survived this far, they can give themselves a major boost by exploring the town thoroughly, selling everything they find and equipping themselves with some powerful gear from the offset. It's at this point that the game's difficulty relaxes a bit, at least until you accidentally wander into an area that's far too high level for you: despite the scaling, there's plenty of monsters that are too powerful for an entry level party even at their weakest incarnation. For instance, even the weakest of the enormous quadruped Hogar enemies still hit very hard and will likely wipe out a low-level party, which is why many of them are not hostile unless the party gets too close.

Arnika also gives you your first look at what the Dark Savant is capable of, beyond the dick move of shooting down your spacecraft at the start of the game. The tower's creepy enough, but the soulless automatons prowling the streets for people to beat up are downright menacing. This is also where you find the plot-significant Vi Domina, however; one of the game's many "RPCs", or Recruitable PCs, that can join the party in one of two slots left specially vacant for guest characters. Unlike how many guest characters work in other games, the player can change an RPC's equipment and direct them in battle as if they were one of their own. Each RPC will also talk about a region once you've entered it for the first time, giving you their impressions and tips and helping to keep the player on track. The other RPC in this area, Myles, is a worthy rogue if you neglected to bring someone who can open locks and deactivate chest traps. He also talks like Terry-Thomas, which can be amusing.

Arnika-Trynton Road

At this point the player can either head back north to Mt. Gigas or continue down Arnika road to Trynton, the home of the rodent Trynnie folk. However, the game hints several times that the Trynnies need your help and that there's a lot of useful magical back-up they can provide us. They can also enlighten us with the location of Marten: an apostate from the Brotherhood who once, a hundred years prior to the game, stole one of the three major artifacts the player needs to complete the game. Chasing down Marten becomes one of the longest running quest chains in the game, and takes the player through half of the world's locations in that pursuit. Given that the player has no reason to visit Mt. Gigas yet, unless they want to meet the rhinoceros-like Umpani Federation, it's off to Trynton they go.

The Arnika-Trynton Road is essentially the same as the Arnika Road, just longer. It's a little more open too, which means the player can more easily avoid trickier encounters if need be. It's never a good plan to wander around under-leveled, so fighting everything is generally recommended, but it's still possible to bump into an enemy encounter you aren't prepared for, especially if you have the misfortune of bumping into one or more roaming monster groups simultaneously and have to fight them all together. Also in this area is another mysterious metal door building, and the Trynton graveyard. Unless the player can remove the malevolent force that is raising ghosts from their graves, the player may meet roving bands of phantoms in addition to everything else. Having a Bishop in the party makes it a little easier to take on spectral foes, but their immunity to many status effects makes ghost-fighting something of a challenge.

Pookie the Mook Fighter

My tank. Fighters are one of those classes that starts strong and remains strong throughout, though eventually gets outclassed by other warrior classes. That's because the Fighter is an uncomplicated class that does the job of standing at the front and hitting things hard very adroitly. They have the most HP, can wear the best armor and wield many of the strongest and heaviest weapons. They also have a berserk command, which makes them hit even harder with the downside of not being able to direct their ire if there are multiple targets within reach. It also uses up more stamina, which slowly drains whenever a character uses their skills or takes damage, and running out of stamina puts the character in the rather strategically disadvantageous state of being unconscious until they catch their breath a bit.

Pookie has gone all in with the mace and double wielding skills, as I read somewhere that an off-hand mace is far easier to come across than an off-hand sword. Most off-hand weapons are daggers, which require an entirely separate skill, so with the mace/dual-wield build you have one less skill to focus on building up. Her lack of a shield doesn't hinder her too much, as Mooks tend to be particularly sturdy.

Mooks are Wizardry's Wookiee equivalent: a spacefaring race of explorers and scholars who all the same resemble giant furry beasts. They make good fighters due to their burly constitutions, but are also very intelligent and can make equally excellent mages. The downside to the race is their lack of speed and piety, the latter of which governs the strength of Divine magic and the total number of spell points they receive. A slow Fighter isn't exactly the end of the world though, especially as it gives enemies enough time to wander into melee range before Pookie strikes them down.

Trynton

Trynton's one of the more interesting locations in the game: it begins as a relatively small area of wilderness around the base of a giant tree. Once the player finds the entrance to the tree, they can climb up its insides to the various Ewok treehouse village boughs above. It's a surprisingly large area all told, and filled with rooms to ransack and wandering wasps and other buglike enemies. The player is ostensibly here to help the Trynnies with their rat infestation: though the Trynnies themselves resemble rodents, the Rattkin are a different manner of being all together.

The Rattkin are actually from the previous game, which was set on the planet of Guardia. They're stereotypical Mafiosi, who use violence, extortion and underhanded means to get what they want. Fortunately for the player, their leader has a bone to pick with the Dark Savant, and actually offers to steal back the second of the three magical McGuffins the player needs, which the Dark Savant took from the party at the end of Wizardry VII. It'll cost the player a pretty penny, but the nature of the three McGuffin quests means the player can return far later in the game when they have the resources to throw around and buy it off the Rattkin. This arrangement also doesn't interfere with the player's current quest to eradicate the Rattkin "breeders", which turn out to be much larger Rattkin women who are built like ogres and swing around gigantic axes. While here, the player can also meet with the enigmatic shaman of the Trynnie people and learn more about Marten and where he might've gone. There's a questline here that takes the player through the next couple regions and back to collect the Helm of Serenity, which was bequeathed to the Trynnie by Marten with instructions to pass it down through the generations of Trynnie shamans so they can one day give it to the player's party. (The game explains Marten's accurate prognostications eventually, don't worry.)

After clearing out the Rattkin, the Trynnie are in your debt and send you on your way to the Swamp, which lies between Trynton and Marten's Bluff; thought to be the final resting place of Marten.

Swamp

The swamp is a huge open area which leads off to five discrete locations and is a pretty inhospitable place to hang out. Also, like Arnika Road, its status as a hub of sorts that links low- and high-level areas means that it can be filled with a lot of dangerous creatures, ranging from weak swamp frogs to powerful alligators and enormous amorphous blobs. There's a few interesting locations to check out in the swamp, but generally speaking you only ever want to be quickly passing through this region to one of its many exits. The player also meets Crock here, an ornery merchant who talks in a thick Louisianan accent and has a lot of powerful gear and spellbooks to sell to the party. His advanced age makes him a good source of regional information too, though he really doesn't care for the nearby T'Rang who have set up shop in Marten's Bluff. The T'Rang, like the Umpani and Mook, are one of the aliens races who have come to Dominus for the same reason the player and the Dark Savant have: to collect the three treasures that would allow them to ascend to the Cosmic Circle. Of the three races, the T'Rang are perhaps the most intimidating: an expansionist empire of insectoid psionic-users. Kind of a mix between the Klendathu bugs of Starship Troopers and Cthulhu-esque Elder Beings from the deepest regions of the cosmos.

The Swamp also leads off to Bayjin, an aquatic region filled with powerful though primitive sentient fish people named the Rynjin. Bayjin has such a fearful reputation on Dominus that most of the game's RPCs, Vi Domina and Myles included, refuse to step foot in there. It's certainly far too high level for a party this early on in the game, and the game makes sure to let you know by putting a powerful group of Rynjin at the entrance to Bayjin to guard it. They're around 5-10 levels higher than anything else in the swamp right now, so it's best to leave them be. The other options are the Old Mines, which is a small sub-area that leads to Marten's Bluff in a circuitous manner, and the Southeast Wilderness, which leads nowhere the player needs to go just yet. Another quirk of how this game's randomization algorithms operate is that it fills every random chest in a new area using a similar process for populating areas with monsters: any given chest's contents are always of moderate value to whatever level the party happens to be at. It's generally recommended therefore (though the game never states this anywhere) to avoid entering new areas for a quick look around, as it means that when a much higher level party eventually comes back that way for the next story mission, the chests remain filled with low-level junk generated after the first visit.

Ladywolfe the Rawulf Bard

Ladywolfe is a rawulf, which are the game's canine-like race. Both rawulf and their feline equivalent the felpurr exhibit a certain boost in some stats over humans, though usually taking a hit to intelligence in the process. Rawulf aren't actually all that quick, strangely enough, and boast high vitality and some resistances instead. They also have high piety (presumably because dogs are faithful?) and can make for good priests.

Instead, Ladyhawke is the party's bard, and her high vitality makes it easier for her to use her musical instruments every turn. Instruments operate like free spells: they don't use up mana, and instead take a chunk of stamina instead, which is far easier and faster to replenish and is boosted by the character's vitality stat. Because the Bard needs to find instruments before she can use them, Bards start off somewhat underpowered. Fortunately, her high vitality also means a large HP pool, so she makes do as a secondary fighter before finding enough instruments to be relocated to the rearguard of the group.

Late-game bards, conversely, are some of the most insanely powerful party members you can find. Each new instrument brings with it a useful spell that can be cast an infinite number of times with little cost. Initially, the bard just has instruments that can sometimes send groups of enemies to sleep or hit them with a moderately strong wave of sonic energy. Eventually, she can make groups of enemies insane (stops them attacking, makes them occasionally attack each other), paralyse them (freezes them in place, preventing them from attacking and amplifying any damage done to them), hex them (reduces all their stats, making them sitting ducks), haste the whole party, heal the whole party, greatly increase the whole party's resistance to magic or set off local nuclear blasts which hit every enemy in sight. Towards the end-game, Lady was throwing around high level buffs and devastation spells with abandon, and it didn't cost a thing. Of course, I had to painstakingly find every single one of those instruments by exploring each new dungeon, so it's more that you're getting rewarded for all your thorough exploration with an OP harbinger of doom, singing the song that will end the world. Seems fair to me.

Marten's Bluff

Marten's Bluff has two sides. The facade, which looks like a moderately sturdy fort surrounded by a moat, takes a little effort to break into. Once inside, there's a lot of traps lying around, and an elevator that very clearly looks like it shouldn't belong to a medieval keep. Underneath Marten's Bluff is an entirely different story: it more closely resembles a subterranean laboratory or the USCSS Nostromo at this point, with eerie metallic corridors filled with cobwebs, moisture and weird bug aliens. The T'Rang are here too, of course, and many of them stalk the corridors. It is here that you can converse with their leader, Z'Ant, and receive quests that are tied to currying favor with the T'Rang faction. Many of these quests involve the T'Rang's rivals the Umpani in some way, such as the party's first mission to bring back proof that the Umpani have set up shop on Mt. Gigas (thus finally giving you a reason to head there). Of course, if the party were to visit Mt. Gigas first and ally with the Umpani, they'd eventually get a quest to find proof of the T'Rang's settlement here.

The T'Rang are actually quite friendly, despite appearances. They have a vendor here too, and a little out of the way is a T'Rang RPC you can recruit. The vendor sells "stun rods", which many of the T'Rang appear to be wielding, and these are spears that have a huge chance to stun or paralyse an opponent, making them very useful weapons. Status effects are greatly overpowered in this game, far outclassing spells that deal direct damage, and paralysis is one of the more devastating status effects due to how any attack made against a paralysed opponent is automatically maximized. It's very possible to bring down a far more powerful enemy if you manage to paralyse them first.

Marten's Bluff also contains a secret area filled with powerful ghosts and Marten's bunker. As well as supplies to help him live out his days in seclusion, there's also a journal that gives you the hint that Marten moved onto the Sea Caves as soon as the Brotherhood stopped looking for him. The player's best guess at this point is that the Sea Caves is where Marten eventually ended up. Unfortunately this leads to a minor issue: the Sea Caves are on the other side of Bayjin, and the player must pass through that deadly region to get to Marten. Fortunately, the game has already thought of this, and most of the mid-game is spent walking to and from the T'Rang and Umpani camps achieving faction quests and earning huge amounts of easy XP. The player can also take this time moving back and forth to recover the artifact that they need to trade to collect the Helm of Serenity from the Trynnie shaman, which is apparently essential if they intend to pick up the Destiny Dominae: the McGuffin that Marten holds. However, grabbing the artifact leads to a booby trap during which a player's party member goes missing. The culprit is revealed to be Crock, who originally set the trap to catch T'Rang, and demands you kill a giant frog in the swamp before handing your party member back. That jerk.

Northern Wilderness

The Northern Wilderness separates Arnika Road from Mt. Gigas, and is another unremarkable expanse of wilderness. Instead, I'll take this opportunity to talk more about how monster encounters and combat works.

Monsters are divided into species and ranks. The species corresponds to the type of creature it is: a crocodile, a slime, a Higardi rogue, a ghost, etc. etc. As the player gets stronger, they fight higher ranked versions of those same monsters; these higher ranks usually don't look too different, but maybe they'll get a palette swamp or some more elaborate frills or armor. Instead, they are simply more powerful versions with more HP and sometimes additional attacks and status effects. They might also be immune to more status effects than their weaker brethren, possibly forcing the player to change tactics. Each species has a number of different ranks and, as I explained earlier, even the weakest rank of one species can still be a powerful foe. Even bats, the weakest enemies from the monastery, have enough ranks to remain threats right up until the late-game, moving from regular bats to dusk bats, twilight bats, shrieker bats, giant bats, vampire bats and bat vampires (who, unlike vampire bats, are regular bats turned vampiric).

Combat is your standard turn-based affair, which should come as no surprise given that Wizardry is the precursor to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy and every JRPG that followed those trailblazers, though the player can switch to a continuous mode which simply keeps the player characters in a holding pattern without asking the player to input new commands (unless they switch back to the standard phased combat setting) until combat ends, similar to how Baldur's Gate handles its combat. The phased setting sticks to the usual Wizardry format of setting everyone on the default attack setting unless the player gives them something else to do, like use a spell or an item. They also default to the nearest target within range, or in the case of multiple melee targets, whichever one moved into melee range first. As such, it's a combat system that is as slow and cautious as the player wishes it to be, with the option to simply automate a full round of regular attacks if the player bumped into a weak group of creatures that require no elaborate strategy to defeat. As characters grow stronger, they acquire both additional attack rounds and additional swings. Additional swings occur more rapidly with faster warriors, such as the unarmed monks or the lightning fast ninjas and samurais. Additional attacks, however, tend to only appear once the character has levelled up a lot. In the case of my RPC monk, he was able to attack eight or nine times per combat round. This is the often the key to having stronger end-game characters, as they start to really pile the damage on with their multiple attacks.

"The Bride" the Human Samurai

My samurai perhaps best exemplifies what a fast if under-powered melee character can become in the end game. Samurais are crippled several times over initially: their armor choices are limited, they have very low HP totals for a fighter class and while they can eventually learn Wizardry spells, it requires them to reach level 5 first and having to hybridize between spell casting and melee combat means they'll never truly be the master of either. Additionally, my Samurai started as a dual-wielder, wearing both a katana and a smaller wakizashi, which meant even less defense with which to keep her alive. However, as well as combat magic, the samurai has two other talents going for them in comparison to the standard fighter: the first is the Lightning Speed skill, which occasionally boosts the Samurai's attack to four, five or even six or seven swings per round. The other is the Critical Strike skill, shared by monks and ninjas, which very occasionally produces an instant kill affect.

I'll let all that sink in for a moment. Imagine what a samurai can do with two weapons, each of which can occasionally be swung five or six times, and each of which has a small chance of causing an instant kill. I know, right? It takes a little while for a samurai to proc any of those abilities at a reliable rate however, so it's a case of a fixer-upper. It's also unusual to come across samurai-specific weapons and armor (all of which has Japanese-sounding names), though samurais tend to be fine with most (but not all) the weapons and armor that a Fighter, Lord or Valkyrie can use.

Given that the portrait I used for my female human samurai was a blonde, I figured this name was more fitting than any other. I also gave my samurai a Southern Belle accent for reasons I'm not entirely sure about. She was a constant delight throughout, whether she was calling some NPC "Darlin'" or making late-game enemies explode with alarming regularity. Needless to say that, once the game was over, she had the highest body count of any PC.

Mt. Gigas

Mt. Gigas is the temporary home of the militaristic Umpani, a bunch of rhinoceros aliens that all talk like drill sergeants. Their quest chain is remarkably similar to the T'Rang's, in that they first put you through the ropes with a few softballs and then start finding ways to undermine their rivals using the player's party for their dirty work. What's perhaps more telling, and this ties into some late-game missions, is that neither the T'Rang or the Umpani actually hate each other all that much. The quests they give you regarding the other faction largely involve reconnaissance and shoring up defenses from a theoretical attack. While the player can choose to ally with one and oppose the other, there's actually nothing stopping the players from joining both sides and getting double the XP. In fact, I dare say it's required to reach a necessary experience level to make that first trip to Bayjin. Additionally, if one were to follow the Umpani and T'Rang quest chains far enough, they each have a quest that forces you to head to Bayjin regardless. It's an ideal opportunity to go there, since you need to anyway.

As for Mt. Gigas itself, it begins with the Umpani Camp just outside the mountain before the player goes into the labyrinthine tunnels of the mountain itself. At all points inside Mt. Gigas, with the exception of a network of abandoned tunnels, there are Umpani patrols wandering back and forth. The player can actually draw enemies within range of the Umpani patrols to give themselves a helping hand, which is something that can be done with some areas of Marten's Bluff and the T'Rang as well: there's no harm in doing this, as getting allies into combat doesn't diminish your reputation with them (unless you accidentally kill one), and sometimes the monsters will kill them which leaves their spoils for you to collect after the battle is over.

Mt. Gigas and Marten's Bluff also have another thing in common: a teleporter. The Umpani teleporter actually takes you to that mysterious house with the metal door I mentioned earlier when describing Arnika Road, which cuts out a few areas between Mt. Gigas and Arnika if the player needs to head back in that direction. The T'Rang teleporter in Marten's Bluff is harder to reach, but also provides more options: It can take the player's party to the exterior of Marten's Bluff; to the metal gate house on the Arnika-Trynton road; to the entrance to Mt. Gigas; and to the entrance to the Rapax Rift. The Rift is a little too extreme for the party at this juncture and, like Bayjin, many RPCs simply refuse to follow you in there and risk tangling with the Rapax. I'll be describing those bad boys in due time.

Bayjin

Eventually, inevitably, the player must make their way to Bayjin. The best course is to take the underwater Mt. Gigas route, unlocked after agreeing to the Umpani's rescue mission, which actually takes you to Bayjin Shallows (below) first. Bayjin is the island itself, a tropical paradise were it not for all the extremely dangerous psychic Rynjin and enormous crabs prowling the beach. The player needs to come here for two reasons (or just one, if they have decided to only ally with either the T'Rang or Umpani): the black box from another crashed ship, shot down the same manner that you were, which the T'Rang needs to track the Dark Savant's starship; and the Umpani prisoners of war taken by the Rynjin after the Umpani tried investigating the area. It's possible to avoid a lot of the enemies in this area and try to get in and out after accomplishing the quest objectives (the quest givers recommend as much, knowing full well how problematic the Rynjin can be). Of course, a slightly tougher party can find some very nice gear in Bayjin and the surrounding locations. It all depends on how foolhardy you intend to be (or how overpowered you became by playing both sides against the middle).

Gerty "Talli" Talliweather the Hobbit Gadgeteer

My gadgeteer, Talli (I know, shut up), takes a similar role as the bard and is equally disadvantaged early on. A new class invented for this game, the gadgeteer is a modern weapons expert (it has its own skill to upgrade, alongside other ranged weapons like "bow" and "thrown/sling") that comes with her own "Omnigun". The gadgeteer makes incremental upgrades to the Omnigun as they level up, ensuring that it remains the only weapon they ever need. Unfortunately, early on, all it can fire is musket balls (which are understandably rare early on) and pebbles usually reserved for the sling. Pebbles can be damaging, but they're also heavy and lack any sort of accuracy that arrows and quarrels enjoy. In addition, the gadgeteer must assemble the gadgets she can use, which work similarly to the bard's instruments in that they're essentially infinite-use magical spells that only require a small stamina drain, and assembling gadgets means finding two components that may well be on the opposite sides of Dominus. In addition to all that, the gadgeteer lacks the HP and melee prowess that a bard can always fall back on.

The gadgeteer is a hard sell for the early game, then, but she's not entirely useless: her weapon becomes fairly effective in short order, eventually allowing the player to use throwing knives and darts as ammunition as well, and providing status effects like a chance to blind and poison. It'll only become more devastating too, as it becomes tweaked further to provide an instant kill proc and will can be fired several times per round at higher levels. The gadgets, too, are as overpowered as the bard's instruments, including: an early one that can instill fear into a group of enemies causing them to run away; give the entire party Armorplate, which greatly boosts physical defense; one that reveals the location of every monster on the map/radar making avoidance that much easier; the ignoble Port-a-Potty, which replicates the Noxious Fumes spell that remains a very serviceable AoE spell that can sometimes nauseate an opponent, which makes them lose turns as they start gagging uncontrollably. Late game gadgets include a heal-all, a powerful water cannon (very useful against the fire-based creatures in the Rapax Rift and nearby locations) and an earth-shattering jackhammer that devastates every enemy on screen. The gadgeteer is not lacking for firepower come the late game, though once again you need a lot of prep work to get there.

As for Talli herself, she's a hobbit. Hobbits are suitable for almost any role besides Priests/Valkyries, as they take a hit to piety. Their good dexterity and senses make them excellent with ranged classes, like the gadgeteer with their Omnigun, and they don't suffer from a lack of vitality, which means their stamina is easy to keep up. The game lets you input a character's full name and their shorthand nickname for some reason, possibly immersion; the nickname is how the game refers to them at all times anyway, so the full name might as well be dressing. Talli has a typical Hobbity name which just so happens to abbreviate to resemble that of a certain masked alien engineer from an entirely different sci-fi RPG franchise...

Bayjin Shallows

The Bayjin Shallows are remarkable due to the fact that they're entirely underwater. An unprepared party will quickly drown, but the game provides a boon in the case of scuba gear. Unlike the scuba gear in Might and Magic VII, which requires that each character remove all armor and weapons, the scuba gear of Wizardry 8 only demands a single accessory slot. It does put you at a small disadvantage, but fortunately the Shallows is a very small area relatively speaking (though if you're heading there through Mt. Gigas, that's another bunch of underwater caves to get through first). The Shallows is what links Bayjin to the Sea Caves (and Mt. Gigas), so it's necessary to take a dip if you want to head to Marten's resting place.

There is one small snafu when passing through this location. The crossroads that connects between the three locations is a large pool occupied by one Nessie. Nessie is a level 26 plesiosaur with around 800 HP and enough group spells to make attacking at a distance very unpleasant. Even less pleasant is trying to face her in melee range, as she has a not-inconsiderable chance to swallow a character whole, removing them from the fight. It's generally an encounter you want to avoid this early on, though given Nessie's size it's not always easy to do so. There's quite a bit a bit of sunken pirate treasure in the area too, so the designers definitely went all-in with the Caribbean theme.

Sea Caves

The Sea Caves are a welcome return to the type of puzzle dungeon that began the whole game back with the monastery. Though a relatively compact series of tunnels and beaches, the Sea Caves requires a lot of investigation and backtracking as players keep finding items that unlock new areas of the cave elsewhere. It's a bit confusing, and the crab/ghost enemies are relentless, but there's some nuance to this dungeon that I appreciated. Given it was conceived by an omniscient madman with a lot of time on his hands, it seems fairly explicable that it's a bit of a brainteaser.

Talking of whom, the party finally meets Marten here (or rather, his spirit) and acquires the Destiny Dominae, the first (or possibly third) relic they sought to acquire. However, the player needs to have found the Helm of Serenity and equipped it, or else all the universe's knowledge contained within the Dominae will drive the entire party mad for as long as they carry it. A permanently insane party will not get far, especially as the insanity effect frequently turns allies against each other. I've already explained the case with the Astral Dominae, which is the relic that you can pay the Rattkin to steal from the Dark Savant, and if you haven't done so yet, you're probably rocking enough small change that such a purchase is now feasible. The Chaos Moliri, which is the third and final relic, is carried by the Mook. The player can visit the Mook as soon as they have progressed the T'Rang or Umpani quest chains far enough that they've been given the task of delivering a message of truce to the Mook compound in Arnika, which had until this point been inaccessible. The player can then either kill the Mook and steal the Chaos Moliri or swap it, Indiana Jones style, with the fake Astral Dominae that the Dark Savant angrily throws at you once the Rattkin have stolen the real one from him. Given the amount of trouble it takes to recover the Destiny Dominae, the ease with which you take the other two almost feels like cheating.

Hrist the Human Valkyrie

Valkyries were introduced as far back as Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge, and are a female-exclusive fighter/priest hybrid class. They also begin with a heavy skill bonus in polearms, making that their preferred weapon. If the player doesn't have a Valkyrie, they can easily hire one by finding Vi Domina in Arnika. In addition to the polearm proficiency and Divinity spells, the Valkyries have a surprisingly common chance at surviving death, coming back from the brink with a random number of hit points. This power can even activate several times in a row, making Valkyries almost unkillable. The long reach on polearms make them ideal for protecting flanks too, as larger groups of enemies love to surround the player's party. While their damage output eventually gets outclassed by Fighters and the other hybrids, they're a very dependable class and a good choice if you want a healer for your group.

Hrist is probably the one valkyrie in Tri-Ace's Valkyrie Profile series who won't be seeing her own game any time soon (she's usually a minor antagonist in any VP she appears in), so I gave her a chance to stretch her wings in this one instead. The voice actor I selected for her speaks in very portentous intonations about destiny and the fate of the world, which seems fitting enough for a Wagnerian refugee. Throughout the whole game, while other characters slowly came into their own and started being the big power players in the group, she was near the back, quietly kicking ass and keeping everyone alive as needed.

Southeast Wilderness

Another wilderness area, though with an ominous cathedral right in the center. This cathedral contains one of the toughest fights in the game for a mid-level party (and is downright impossible if you wandered here from the Swamp without completing all the T'Rang/Umpani/Bayjin missions first). The fight is against six cultists, a Sorceress Queen and two Dread Lords. Dread Lords are eight feet tall skeleton knights who hit the party constantly with status effects, while the other seven are all powerful magic-users. The trick is to find a way to get them in melee range, and can be done by hiding around corners. Even so, it's one hell of a tussle, and something of a shock to any under-leveled party passing through the region. It's also entirely optional, which makes it a fair enough party-killer if they're foolish enough to go where they don't need to. Of course, the many rewards from beating this battle makes the painful affair worth it.

The Southeast Wilderness doesn't have much else going on. It links three locations: the swamp, the Mountain Wilderness and a small wilderness clearing to the east. After a certain point in the game's story, this wilderness clearing becomes something completely different...

Rapax Away Camp

I stumbled into the Rapax Away Camp quite by mistake, though I discovered later on that this is where I wanted to be to complete a very important objective pertaining to the T'Rang and Umpani faction quests. After finding two of the three relics, the Dark Savant suddenly decides to get his ass in gear and allies with the Rapax: the Rapax are the fourth indigenous sentient species on Dominus, after the Higardi, Trynnie and Rynjin. They're both fiercely intelligent and fiercely, well, fierce. A warlike race of reptilians with demonic horns, they were exiled to a volcanic region of Dominus after a war with the advanced Higardi went poorly for them, and have found themselves a sponsor of sorts with the demoness Al-Sedexus, who has granted many of them demonic powers in addition to their extant martial prowess. Understandably, the Rapax are the last creatures you want to fight. As such, the Rift and Castle regions they reside in comprise the final areas of the game the player must visit before heading up Ascension Peak to complete the game.

The Rapax Away Camp is situated some distance away from the Rapax homeland, and is the staging ground for a full invasion (and genocide) of every other species on Dominus. The nature of their alliance with the Dark Savant is that they prohibit anyone else from reaching Ascension Peak, giving the Dark Savant exclusive access, and after he ascends the fate of the planet is left in the Rapax's malevolent claws. It's a match made in Hell, which is why its important for the player party to throw a spanner into the works. It's also important to note that the Rapax have fully invested in the "stop anyone ascending" idea by closing off Ascension Peak with a landslide, which forces the players to find the only other entrance to the peak in the Rapax Castle.

Anyway, the camp is where a lot of high level Rapax are milling around, and it was here that I fought over 20 very powerful Rapax Templars and Archers to a standstill, using a tent to keep my sides from being flanked as I funneled each Rapax through the entrance. Even though I was greatly outmanned and overpowered, using the Rapax's AI against them I was able to empty the camp entirely and free the two prisoners that the Rapax had abducted: A T'Rang and an Umpani, both scouts for their respective factions. The two had become friends despite their races' history, and thus begins an entirely optional quest chain to unite the Umpani and T'Rang against their common enemy: The Dark Savant. The chain actually ends with blowing up the Dark Savant's spaceship in an act of payback, so it's a very rewarding (in more ways than one) arc to follow.

RPCs: Vi Domina, Myles, RFS-81, Rodan, Drazic, Glumph

I've run out of player generated characters, so here's a few of the RPCs I found in the game. RPCs, as stated, are recruitable story PCs that join the party and can be controlled in battle like any of the regular player characters. The few detriments to taking RPCs with you is that they generally refuse to go anywhere near Bayjin or Rapax territory, as the entire planet is terrified of the Rynjin and Rapax (with good reason). Myles is the first you meet, as he stands outside of Arnika as a welcoming party. His real goal is to get the player's party invested in a few lucrative missions he's heard about that he can't handle alone, one of which is to rescue Vi Domina from her predicament.

Vi is actually close to another crashed starship in the center of town. She's currently trapped in a wrecked building by some of the Dark Savant's androids, and the player can rescue her for a few rewards from He'Li and Braffit. (Of course, if you bump into He'Li with Myles in tow, you're forced to pay for his meager bar tab too.) Vi's a very dependable RPC for a lot of the game, due to being of the tough Valkyrie class, and is a font of wisdom about Dominus as well. She also has plot significance, being a character introduced in Wizardry VII who has ties with the Dark Savant, so its worth keeping her around for narrative reasons too.

RFS-81 is my favorite RPC, however. A savant drone that was in disrepair and abandoned near Marten's Bluff, he requires a certain chemical found near the Dark Savant's tower in Arnika to become functional again. Once repaired, he confuses the player's party with the Dark Savant and joins them. He's a capable monk, though he's prohibited from using the Psionic spells of the monk class due to his soulless nature, but best of all he is completely willing to go anywhere with you, lacking the fear that prohibits other RPCs from entering extremely dangerous areas. The only place he won't go is the Rapax Away Camp, and that's for mechanical reasons: the player ideally emerges from the Rapax Away Camp with both the Umpani and T'Rang scouts, and they won't go anywhere without the other, so for that reason you cannot take any RPCs with you into the camp.

As for those two scouts, who are actually Rodan the Umpani Lord and Drazic the T'Rang Ninja, they're also very capable RPCs who, for whatever reason, don't suffer any ill effects if you take them to regions they don't want to go. I actually went and did the Rapax Away Camp before going into Bayjin for the second time, because they're the only two RPCs besides RFS-81 and Glumph willing to go in there. Lords are essentially like Valkyries in that they're a fighter/healer hybrid (not unlike Paladins, really) while ninjas are a physically weaker version of samurai that excel at range and can cast Alchemy spells. The ninja's Critical Strike skill, the one that occasionally instantly kills an opponent, will activate even with ranged weapons, making them deadly at any distance. Unfortunately, once the player has completed the T'Rang-Umpani alliance quest chain and destroyed the Dark Savant's ship, they both permanently leave the party and cannot be recruited again. Glumph, who I just mentioned, is the impetuous Umpani warrior who you are required to rescue from the Rynjin to complete that particular quest. He's a solid enough fighter that can help make the Bayjin sections easier but, like Rodan and Drazic, permanently leaves the party for good once his quest is over.

Mountain Wilderness

The third and final of the "wilderness areas", the large expanses of land with very little in them that sit between locations of more importance (and fun), the Mountain Wilderness links the Northern Wilderness, the Southeast Wilderness, the Rapax Rift and Ascension Peak together. The area is somewhat volcanic in nature, so most of the enemies are lava-, fire- or rock-based, like the nightmarish scorchers that breathe fire on the party or the enormous golems that clomp around the region in an intimidating manner. The party can also find the lost group of Brotherhood monks who set out to stop the Dark Savant from the beginning monastery. They give you information about the Rapax after you save them from a Rapax patrol, but don't really lend much help otherwise. You also meet Bela here, a bipedal dragon from the prior Wizardry game who has been pursuing the Dark Savant for decades. Though he looks like a winged demon, he's actually quite friendly and asks that you assist him to stop the Dark Savant once you reach Ascension Peak.

I'll use this space to talk about the game's status effects instead, since they're far more dependable for spellcasters than direct damage spells like the fireball. There's Irritation, which drops a character's attack and defense skills, and Hex, which is a much more powerful version of the same effect that also lowers every other stat. Nausea will occasionally prohibit a character from moving, while stuff like Blind, Fear, Paralyse, Stun, Poison and Sleep are fairly self-explanatory. What's interesting is how enemies will react to these status effects: Fear and Blind will always make an enemy run away, while Stun, Paralyse and Sleep will completely halt their idle animations which is a handy visual cue (along with the various symbols above their heads which denote which status effects they have) for running up and beating the crap out of their prone forms. Given how easy it is to inflict fear and blindness (there are consumable items that hit enemies with those effects), it's worth keeping them in mind when you're surrounded and need to make several enemies back off for a while.

Rapax Rift

The Rapax Rift is a foreboding place, filled with lava, evil sculptures and Rapax banners everywhere. One of the first things you witness when entering the area is a giant Lava Lord elemental march across the screen to kill a Rapax prisoner. The pact that the Rapax have signed with Al-Sedexus, the local demoness, isn't quite so beneficial to everyone. Anyone who disagrees with Al-Sedexus or the ruling class of Templars that serve her are summarily dispatched with. You can save one prisoner by recovering a Staff of Ash elsewhere in the level, but it's kind of a nuisance to reach (and requires you killing that aforementioned Lava Lord).

The Rapax Rift requires a bit of guesswork too, with a few interesting puzzles to solve before you can make further progress and reach the path to the Rapax Castle beyond. What complicates things are all the Rapax patrols, and they don't make it easy for you even with a high level party. Oddly, however, none of the Rapax here are anything like as strong as those found in the Rapax Away Camp. If you went there first, as I did, you might be a little underwhelmed by the Rapax who resist you here.

The Rapax Rift is also home to Al-Sedexus, though you can't fight her yet for story reasons. She points you in the direction of the Rapax Castle and a certain quest chain you can complete there.

Rapax Castle

The Rapax Castle is a very large multi-layered structure that comprises the technical final dungeon of the game. There's many more Rapax prowling the corridors here, though there's also a friendly one in the form of Ferro. Ferro, like his brother Antone in Arnika, is a blacksmith who is willing to sell you some of the most powerful gear in the game. Like Antone, he will also create custom pieces for you if you fetch him certain items, which are usually (but not always) found after defeating enemies. These ingredient side-quests can be worth your time if you want some specialized equipment, though fetching the giant amount of silver ore he requests can be hell on your encumbrance limits.

The Rapax Castle contains a zoo filled with tough creatures, many secret areas, the Rapax Prince (who you also meet at the Away Camp and, like he does there, will run away and abandon his concubines to fight you alone) and two portals: one that takes you back to Arnika, one-way, and one that will take you to Ascension Peak and is necessary to continue the game. Unfortunately, that particular teleporter is behind the altar of Al-Sedexus, and you're required to complete the Templar quest chain in order to have access to it.

The Templar quest chain is a suitably disquieting ritual where you fight elementals and pledge your heart, mind and body to Al-Sedexus. After this process, one of your party is "Chosen" by her (it involves a lot of Succubus antics, if you catch my drift) and then whenever you leave the Rapax Rift, that party member becomes permanently hexed. The only way to remove it is to kill Al-Sedexus, which isn't too easy a battle and involves making all the Rapax your enemy again. Still, you could always ascend Ascension Peak while hexed but, uh... I wouldn't recommend it.

Ascension Peak

The end game is somewhat anti-climactic, though maybe that's just due to where I was at mentally some hundred hours into this game and eager for it to conclude already. The player must place the three relics they have recovered into the three temples, solving riddles from the Cosmic Lords' pet android Aletheides to prove your worth. Each of these temples requires walking down a long road filled with tough enemies, and then fighting a particularly high level encounter just outside the temple's doors. These fights are, explicably, the toughest in the entire game, and involve demons (the "Chaos" that the Chaos Moliri represents), dryads (the "Life" that the Astral Dominae represents) and some transparent crystalline unicorns (I have no idea what part of the knowledge-based Destiny Dominae they represent, besides maybe the home decor of a spinster librarian). There's also the small matter of a Rapax army, led by the cowardly Rapax Prince and, horrifically, the demonic child of Al-Sedexus and the player character who slept with her to seal the Templar pact. It's a tough fight, but at this point in the game the player characters are such a high level that you mostly cleave through the Rapax horde. The Rapax Prince in particular took two arrows before getting gibbed by the gadgeteer's Omnigun's instant kill chance.

After that, the path to the Cosmic Circle opens up, though not before you witness the Dark Savant jumping in ahead of you. If you haven't disarmed the bomb in his tower in Arnika (the way to get in there is through another teleporter in the Rapax Castle), he'll set it off, destroying the entire planet and you along with it. It's worth noting that the only RPCs willing to follow you to Ascension Peak are Vi Domina (who requires some clever portal placement magic to get her past all the Rapax she refuses to mess with), RFS-81 and those quest RPCs you should've dropped off back home by this point.

Cosmic Circle

And this metaphysical realm is where the game concludes. The Dark Savant and the player's party meet face to face at the home of the Cosmic Lords and at the altar of the Cosmic Forge: a book and pen that comprise the most powerful tool of creation and are able to bring into being anything that is written within, and a major plot obstacle in the prior two games (Wizardry VI is even named after it). There's multiple choices available to the player, each leading to a decidedly different conclusion. But any more than that would be saying too much.

What it does do is entirely conclude the Wizardry saga that began in Wizardry VI, and perhaps that's the game's crowning achievement in the end: that it bothered to tie up a three part story arc that had been left dangling for almost a decade, for the benefit of the many fans who never thought they would see a denouement to the Dark Savant/Cosmic Force trilogy.

That concludes our tour of Dominus, and this blog. Thanks for putting up with yet another incredibly verbose trip through a particularly dense RPG. I hope I've given you enough of an impression of my admiration and appreciation for this game, but if you haven't you can always pick it up on Steam or GOG and try it for yourselves. It's a very long game, and by no means should you head into it without that in mind, but quite worth the time all the same. Roll up a party, find out that party sucks a few hours in, roll up another one and have your own adventures through Dominus. Just don't be stingy with those paralyse spells and make sure to turn up the speed settings for combat; both those things will make the whole affair far less painful.

You're supposed to fear this guy, but he doesn't half come off like Cobra Commander sometimes. Dark Savant more like Idiot Savant, am I right? G'night folks.

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Octurbo: Dead of the Brain 1 & 2

It's a spooky Octurbo bonus! And what better way to celebrate both Halloween and the end of this year's Octurbo than with Dead of the Brain 1 & 2. Not only is this a particularly gruesome adventure game (a pair of them, even), but it was also the very last official release for the NEC PC Engine CD-ROM, appearing as late as June 1999.

Dead of the Brain 1 & 2 originally began their respective unlives on the MSX computer platform, and despite the gory violence and horror beats they are both as traditional a Japanese adventure game as you're likely to find. I wrote a little about what I understood of the Japanese take on the point and click genre, and how it evolved to to be more focused on its storytelling and visual novel aspects while adventure games in the West chose to double down on the inventory puzzles and interaction instead. Similarly, Dead of the Brain sticks to the Japanese adventure game blueprint (present in early NES games, such as Portopia Serial Murder Case/Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken by Dragon Quest's Yuji Horii) in that the player must continue to investigate hotspots until the story suddenly decides to move ahead on its own: the "puzzle" isn't so much what inventory item fits where (though there's some of that too) but rather it's ascertaining where to investigate so that the player can glean all the necessary information for the story to continue. Often, you'll examine the same bit of background for the seventh time when you'll discover some new piece of information (usually a clue, since most Japanese adventure games are crime whodunits) and a cutscene suddenly kicks in and moves you to a new area. It can be a bit arbitrary, but you get used to it after seeing enough of these games. It feels as if that, above all, these games want you to have a keen sense of what's going on, letting you investigate on your own until its satisfied that you know enough for it to move the plot along.

Anyway, the two Dead of the Brain games were packaged together with a visual upgrade and the addition of voicework and presented extremely late in the PC Engine's lifespan. The previous PCE game actually came out two years prior: Motteke Tamago in April '97, which we already checked out here. Dead of the Brain 1 & 2 is therefore a pretty weird release for a great many reasons. (I'll add it to the list of bonus stuff at the end, but the Tumblr obscurevideogames has put out a lot of screenshots of the creepier scenes from this pair, if you want to keep digging deeper into this zombie-a-thon.)

After a Whole Month of These Blogs, I'm Getting Dead of the Tired

Welcome to Dead of the Brain 1 & 2! Full disclosure: I can't read Japanese, and these games haven't been fan-translated, so I have absolutely no idea what's going on. I'm just going to click on shit until spooky stuff happens.
We apparently start in the hero's swinging bachelor pad. Beer cans and girly posters. Tasteful.
A scientist, possibly mad, calls us on our phone. The game does a neat thing here where it strips away all the room to focus on the telephone in the corner.
Anyway, we meet at the Cooger mansion. Here's hoping we don't get hit on by illiterate 50 year old women.
Before the good professor can explain his new discovery, Purple Garfield suddenly shows up to cause a ruckus. We hear gun shots and the kitty goes down.
Man, that is just... I don't need to see this. It's not animated for you guys, but that little guy is twitching throughout the next forty pages of exposition text. Apparently it got into the Doc's new serum.
Officer Steve heard the gunshots and came to investigate. Hi Officer Steve!
Bye Officer Steve! I guess we didn't kill that cat good enough, because it just slashed this cop's throat out.
Fortunately we have some serum left, and with nothing to lose we try to bring Steve back to life by injecting it into his neck. It works!
Well, depending on what you would determine as a successful result. Officer Steve suddenly appears to be pre-occupied with our juicy brains, somehow losing his moustache in the process, and we decide to cheese it.
"Quick, to the cemetery! There's no corpses there!"
We finally get a shot of our hero as he and the portly professor make their way to the safe and totally not creepy confines of the local graveyard.
But oh no! The professor trips!
Why did the serum have to hit Stephen King's grave? Hasn't the poor soul contributed enough to the horror genre?
Anyway, a gooey Stephen King, who did not die in 1984 to the best of my recollection, emerges to become the second of what appears to be a growing army of ambulatory cadavers. Dammit, this zombie serum was invented to help mankind!
The zombie's hand falls off and then slowly crawls towards us, Thing style. Creepy stuff, but then I can't imagine it can do much on its own.
Late title card! The Nightmare Collection was a trio of games from visual novel developers Fairy Tale, that included the two Dead of the Brain games and a sci-fi horror game nonsensically called "Marine Philt". It has a Xenomorph in it.
Anyway, I dragged the good professor (getting less good by the minute) to my bachelor pad to hide from the monsters for a while. We have a whole crate of booze on top of the fridge that we can live off while we wait for this whole "zombie apocalypse" thing to blow over.
Doc's assistant Sheila is here too, presumably because we needed a love interest. I don't even know what she's wearing. A pink bib over a white shirt?
Unfortunately, we neglected to do anything about the giant window in this apartment, and a rather hungry zombie has found his way in. Hopefully, he gets tangled up in the blinds long enough for us to make our escape.
Of course, we could just shoot the guy with the gun that the professor still has. Where did he even find that thing?
The zombies have been busy, it seems. I guess a Sunday shop at Sundys is out of the question?
Instead, we follow the standard zombie city infestation protocol of heading to the nearest police station.
I've yet to talk about the commands on the left here. You use them to interact with the world, obviously enough, but in most cases many of them are inert and unusable. I guess it's to cut down on wasting time trying every command on every hotspot. For instance, the Get command only lights up if there's actually something to get in the vicinity. The sequel streamlines this aspect even further.
These are your standard Romero zombies, so their only real goal is sweet, delicious brains. These folk have been left relatively intact, but for their cerebellums.
"All right you wiseguys, who shook up this can of Diet Fanta? Was it you, Kowalski? Buncha animals."
Dispatch appears to have been dispatched with. You can try using the radio, but only a zombie picks up. He doesn't have much to say.
And here's the office of the President of the Police. As befitting such a lofty title, his office is luxurious and free of viscera. If only we could all work in such swanky conditions.
This guy had a gun, but couldn't stop the zombies from enjoying a smorgasbrain feast on his behalf. Unfortunately, the game won't let me take it. He's hanging onto it pretty hard, I guess.
The last but one room in that earlier corridor is an empty meeting room, though I do notice something of particular interest in the foreground. Might as well take it with us. You never know when you'll walk into a room without light.
The next room is a room without light. If only we could solve this problem somehow.
Unfortunately, I kinda got stuck here. The hero absolutely flat out refuses to follow the blood trail around the corner, and there's nowhere else to go. I checked the only online walkthrough there is for this game (which was in Spanish, conveniently enough) and apparently I'm meant to find a code in one of the other offices that I'll need later. Once I have that, the story will eventually kick in with another zombie attack. But I couldn't find it! Oh well, let's try Dead of the Brain 2!
Welcome to that game I just said!
Well, I apparently missed a lot, because the game opens with this T-800 looking robot fellow. Did I accidentally load up Snatcher?
Sheila and the prior game's hero Cole apparently survived the last game's ordeal (spoilers?) and are chilling in this darkened room for some reason.
The game's interface is now completely different. Gone are the individual commands, replaced instead with a omni-contextual cursor that also helpfully highlights hotspots with these blue borders.
After enough clicking on different parts of the furnishings, Sheila hands me two plane tickets. I guess we're off somewhere to help us forget about all the zombies.
Probably good timing too, since they appear to be back in season. Maybe the perspective's off, but that dead dude's head is gigantic.
Sheila is still wisely carrying a piece around. We haven't met any zombies yet, but it certainly doesn't hurt to be prepared.
Fortunately, there's no zombies out here either, just a bunch of marts. Or "Merts".
Without warning, some poor woman is grabbed by motorbike gangsters and dragged off. I don't quite see how it's any of our business, but we might as well go after them.
I'm guessing they're holed up in here? Jeez, I hope nothing scary happens. Wouldn't want anything like that in my horror game screenshot LP.
Whoa, hey, okay, wrong kind of adult content. What did we just walk in on? I do the "get your damn hands off her" routine and we're suddenly face to face with the game's first timed puzzle.
Apparently these were in the prior game, but I didn't get far enough to activate one. I have a finite amount of time to click on the right series of hotspots, or else the game will end.
The correct combo in this case is to block the bike tough's first punch by pressing his fist hotspot, and then countering it with my own by clicking his face.
Of course, I still get worked over by the two other goons with bats, but at least I got a matchbook out of it.
Wait, did I just come full circle? Is this Groundhog Day? Do I have to keep breaking up that attempted sexual assault until I get it right? This is getting too spooky for me already.

Well, I didn't get to show off much of the big gory moments, but perhaps that's for the best. Probably plenty of that floating around tonight anyway. The Dead of the Brain duo seem like fairly standard adventure games and I don't doubt they'd be more fun if I could understand anything. Still, there's a lot to be said about unsettling the audience with confusion, though I hardly think that was the intent.

Feel free to look up more images from this game on the internet. It gets pretty darn graphic in spots, and is way more violent than most games we ever saw over here in the early 90s (or late 90s, in the case of this very late PC Engine release). Anyway, that is truly the end of Octurbo this year, and my thanks once again for anyone who read all twenty-five of these truncated screenshot LPs. You must be very dedicated followers of 90s anime.

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Octurbo: Godzilla

The King of All Monsters (well, besides Ghidorah) will be the one to see us off this Octurbo. Similar to, I suspect, a great number of people who grew up in the past four decades, I maintain a healthy respect for Toho's legendary lizard kaiju. He's one of those ubiquitous cultural icons like the Marvel/DC superheroes or James Bond where everyone has an idea of what a Godzilla movie is, even if they aren't invested enough to watch them all and know the mythos back to front. Beyond Godzilla, Mothra, Mecha-Godzilla and maybe Gamera, people tend to get stuck with the rest of the menagerie that challenges Godzilla on a frequent basis. Myself? I seem to have absorbed a lot of the lore and details about the various kaiju of Godzilla despite the fact that I've barely seen more than a handful of the movies, and most of those had Joel and the robots talking over them.

Godzilla (or Godzilla: Battle Legends as sites seem to call it, despite the fact that the Japanese subtitle Bakutou Retsuden means something else entirely) for the TurboGrafx-CD did the sensible thing and just made their Godzilla game a standard one-vs-one fighter. As you might expect from monsters weighing several thousand tons apiece, it can be a fairly sluggish and unresponsive affair. I'll go into the mechanics a little more later. It does have a fairly sizeable cast of kaiju, however, and it looks and sounds pretty decent for a 16-bit game. It also has some amazing attention to detail for movie fans that I didn't even notice until putting up these images. Given the general caliber of Godzilla games up to this point, it might well be the best of a mediocre bunch. I know, I'm damning it with faint praise, but if you were a fan of Godzilla back in the early 90s this was probably the game to go for.

GRAAAAAAHHHH And Such

Oh no! Godzilla's going to crush that car like a Beetle!
Welcome to the Brawl! Smash Bros? Get that weak mess out of here. How much does Pit weigh? 80lbs soaking wet?
'Cause they're big in Japan, tonight. Very big. Colossal, even.
I still don't know how I feel about dog snout Godzilla.
Welcome to Godzilla! Put your feet up on the smashed Tokyo Tower and we'll begin.
See, I figured the two player versus mode would be more the "normal game" for a fighter, but let's go single-player for now.
Godzilla does the unusual thing of presenting two possible fights each round, letting the player choose their preferred opponent. The first two opponents are Anguirus (who is sort of an Ankylosaur) and Rodan. I guess they wanted to throw us a softball for the first round.
I'm going with Rodan, because pterodactyls are cool.
Rodan's an annoyingly dexterous opponent, and can pick you up and slam you if you let him. Godzilla's repertoire is less effective against flying opponents, but he can jump, so if needs must you can try and swat him down.
Once on the ground, Rodan ain't so hot. Godzilla's Atomic Breath is your standard down-forwards+attack motion. The green energy bars underneath the health bars let you sustain certain special attacks like Godzilla's Atomic Breath for continuous damage, but that bar drains quick and refills slowly.
That was not the easy fight I anticipated for a first round brawl. Then again, I suck at fighters. Them and shoot 'em ups: totally useless.
This is one of a handful of fighter games where the score actually matters. All will become clear later. What's amusing is that it makes the Godzilla roar every time a point bonus pops up, and because these games always draw it out when adding to your overall total it plays the same noise continually as it does so. Hard to take it seriously after that.
The second stage immediately gives you the Morton's fork of Gigan or Ghidorah.
I mean, I guess Gigan. I don't think I'm quite ready for a three-headed space dragon.
I really like these interstitial screens. Just a neat, movie-reminiscent way of presenting each battle.
So, two things: Ghidorah's found someone else to fight in the background (it's Gamera, I think) and Godzilla looks different. The game is such a stickler for detail that it changes Godzilla's sprite to however he looked when he first fought this stage's kaiju. This is his 1968 incarnation (the Rodan fight featured his 1964 incarnation).
As for Gigan, he has a particularly powerful grapple. That's the benefit of having a buzzsaw in your abdomen. Besides that, he's fairly limited. He has a beam weapon, but it drains his energy bar super fast.
The grapple works both ways, Gigan. If you get grabbed, you can occasionally take control if the opponent hesitates too long. This bite is Godzilla's standard grapple attack, and it's strong to boot.
Oh yeah, I neglected to mention Gigan's fire breath. I guess he has everything.
Besides a prayer of beating me. Booya!
I'm... hesitant to fight Hedorah. I don't want to end up with a thousand status effects.
Megalon ain't much better, but I might as follow up buzzsaw-guts with drill-arms.
These also feel like boxing promos too, now I think about it.
The Stag Beetle From Hell is a fairly durable opponent, but all that armor makes him the slowest opponent yet. Besides his drill arms, he doesn't have a whole lot in his repertoire.
I mean, he's still kicking my ass, but what opponent hasn't so far.
Yowch! Maybe "frying my ass" would be more accurate.
I don't recognize the fighters in the background, but one of them appears to be Ultraman? That can't be right. By the way, this cutesier version of Godzilla is from 1973.
I mean, I could fight Mecha-Godzilla, but the other opponent is more interesting than a metal version of myself.
So instead, we're going to fight Biollante, the giant plant.
Biollante's an unusual fight, in that the giant rose creature is firmly rooted to the ground. Instead, he attacks via his more mobile tendrils.
There doesn't seem to be an easy way to avoid getting grappled constantly. (Before I forget, this is 1989 Godzilla.)
However, Biollante can't move, so he's pretty much a sitting duck. He can block you like this, but it requires all four of his tendrils and is something of a stalemate.
Once defeated, he just disintegrates like a Final Fantasy boss.
Another opportunity to fight Ghidorah. Like Godzilla, Ghidorah has two versions: His Showa period incarnation and his Heisei period incarnation. I'd advise you look up what "Showa" and "Heisei" are, but they're essentially how Japan handles their calendars and has something to do with their Imperial lineage. The switch over was in 1989, after Hirohito died.
Sorry, I'm still too intimidated to fight a giant space dragon. I also have no idea who this is.
Battra? Sure, all right.
Oh weird, it's like a little caterpillar guy. I wonder if he's related to Mothra? (Who seems to be conspicuously absent.) (Additionally, this is the most recent Godzilla on the roster, his 1992 incarnation.)
Battra's more maneuverable than he looks, and has a Psycho Crusher type screen-sweeper attack that I kept not screencapping in time.
Plus he fires lightning from his antenna, because what bug monster doesn't?
So here's the deal with the score. The more you earn, the better the final battle. Because I suck and barely survived each fight, I can only take on the consolation prize.
What did I tell you about boxing promos? This game knows what it's doing.
Ah, Super XII. I'll tell you now that the other four end bosses are: Mecha-Godzilla II (same as the first, but can fly for some reason), Mecha-King Ghidorah (so that actually makes three Ghidorah incarnations), Battra Imago (the adult version of Battra) and Super Mecha-Godzilla (the most overpowered character in the game).
Super XII is this little guy. A tiny UFO.
I mean, look at this. They send a frisbee to fight the mighty Godzilla?
Of course, it's packed with so many missiles and rockets that it's a damn terror. The fact that its so small makes it hard to hit too. I imagine this being a cheap opponent in multiplayer.
Oh, whoops. I seem to have finished Godzilla. Well, I did get the crappiest ending.
I don't know what adjective I'd use to describe the minimal story, but it certainly wasn't "broad".
Before we call this, here's the Versus mode. As you can see, you have to beat each opponent in the single player before they become unlocked. You'll also note that Biollante isn't here. Given his four independent tendrils, I guess it'd be hard to program that for a player.

That's Godzilla, and that's Octurbo for another year. Thank you so much everyone who has been reading and commenting on these. We're now deep into Giant Bomb's absurd Extra Life charity stream schedule, so I'm going to have to cut it off at an even twenty four days (and these chumps are only doing twenty four hours? Pfft). There might be a bonus or two later in the month, though, so watch this space.

Until then, thanks for checking out Octurbo this year and... keep it Turbo? I might have to workshop a proper sign-off quote for Year 3...

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Octurbo: Riot Zone

Are you prepared to enter... the Riot Zone? That's what this game probably didn't ask players rhetorically in its advertising, but I'm doing so on their behalf. Riot Zone (JP: Crest of Wolf) is one of a small handful of brawlers on the TGCD, a genre that seems oddly under-represented given how ubiquitous they were everywhere else in the early 90s. It's also based on an Arcade game, but isn't quite a complete conversion: Y'see, the developers Westone teamed up with Hudson to produce their Sega-published Arcade game Riot City on the TurboGrafx-CD. Because Sega owned the rights to all the character and location names, all those aspects had to be changed. The rest of the game is identical, save for the new redbook CD audio score.

This practice wasn't new for Westone and Hudson. Best known for the Wonder Boy series, Westone originally produced Arcade and console versions of the Wonder Boy games for Sega and found ways to sidestep any litigation issues with their subsequent publishing deals with Hudson, eventually leading to Adventure Island (Hudson's take on the first Wonder Boy) and The Dynastic Hero (Hudson's take on the fifth Wonder Boy, Wonder Boy in Monster World. It's also another TG-CD game, so I might have to cover that next time).

I mean, I say this game is based on Riot City, but perhaps I should cut out the middleman and just say that this game is based on Capcom's Final Fight. It's kind of shameless, even. That said, at least they didn't steal the plot from Final Fight (they stole it from Streets of Rage instead). But hey, we came here to Riot, not to get all angry about things.

Highway to the DragonZone

Probably Vancouver, but I'll take your word for it.
These are our heroes, Hawk and Tony. They're loose cannon cops who play by their own rules. I mean, I'd imagine.
Is... is that code? "Red Owl has left the Nest"?
"Yeah, whear is it?!" "Hush, Tony. We'll find out the whears and wais soon enough."
All right, fine, it is New York. You can't fake that level of linguistic authenticity.
The DragonZone, right? I mean that sounds like a dangerous zone, as zones go. I'd prefer him in jail. Or the morgue!
Guys, maybe we shouldn't have elected Dr Wily's chubby older brother as Police Chief. I mean clearly he's on the take.
Is that a cigar or a particularly thick fountain pen? I can't unsee the pen now.
"You aren't my real dad!" "Actually, Hawk, your mom and I..."
Words to live by.
Tony's all for it. He's got a whole season of Sherlock waiting on his DVR.
Hawk won't take "Stay outta the DragonZone" for the sensible answer it is. He won't need his gun where he's going: deep into enemy gang territory. Fortunately, they don't have guns either. It's New York, after all.
I'm still not sure if DragonZone refers to a place or to the criminal organization. Maybe it's both. Maybe it's just a mini-mall in Chinatown.
"This close to Halloween? The monsters!"
DragonZone. I have to go to there.
"C'mon. Let's just watch wacky old BeneDragon CumberZone solve some crimes instead. I got hours of this stuff."
Nah, Tony can't leave a bro hanging in the wind.
Besides, it's a two-player game. He's contractually obliged.
If you can't trust a man with stars tattooed on his mohawk'd head, then who can ya trust?
Game - no matter what happens next, you and me? We're cool.
Beat that, Predator.
Welcome to Riot Zone! Sorry, I had to grab as much of that intro as possible. The rest of the game ain't as fun, trust me.
I probably should pick Tony. Instead, I went with Not Cody. I prefer faster characters.
Sure, let's borrow from Sunset Riders too. Why not. 8000 Points can pay for a lot of Chinese take-out, and all I gotta do is take out some Chinese punks. (Apologies to the Chinese. On behalf of the game, I mean.)
Wow. That's overt. I guess this New York floats on an island just like Metro City.
Standard "bad guys have names and health bars" set up. Can we assume you've played either a Final Fight and/or a Streets of Rage game? It'll expedite this whole thing.
Rather than destructible objects in the environment, food drops randomly from fallen foes. This wet chicken on the ground restores a not-insignificant amount of health. Hey, 5 second rule, man.
Sorry Thin Liz, but the Boys Are Back in Town. Drown your troubles in a Whiskey in the Jar if you must.
From Thin to Fats, these bare-chested brawlers from the 1930s are your standard Abobo/Andore "big guys". They're not actually that much tougher than these regular goons, though.
I took down Pretty Boy with Hawk's special twister move. These specials drain health every time you use them, but they're good crowd control. I read that Tony's special involves breakdancing. Probably should've picked that guy, huh.
Right away, we're on a moving elevator with enemies dropping in. I tell ya, these games are obsessed with elevator fights. At least they aren't all wearing stealth camouflage.
King Kool might be the death of me. The enemies are relentless during this elevator sequence, and none of them appear to want to drop their lunch after dying.
As was the case in Double Dragon, your best move is often the flying kick, performed by jumping forward and hitting the attack button in mid-air (pressing both at the same time activates the special attack). However, if you jump straight up and hit attack, you do an elbow drop instead. Now you're talking!
The elevator eventually makes its way to the roof. I have no idea what I'm doing up here.
Oh shit! But Not Cody, you've still got so much to live for! Like that probably dead girlfriend of yours.
Nah, turns out I just had to leap down a few floors to find where Mr. Lee is hiding. With his two healthbars, he's quite firmly in boss territory. However, he bugs out as soon as his first bar is gone.
Which leads to you leaping down several floors after him. Man, those are some giant clown pants.
Miss Chan is waiting down here, and then the two double-team you for the rest of the fight.
Focusing on one to remove them is paramount, because they have co-operation attacks. Little too claws for comfort, am I right? But seriously I just died.
Putting on his best strut, Not Cody celebrates the successful capture (or death, whatever) of some vicious criminals that just so happened to not be white. Way to go, Not Cody.
"Put a knife in them, they're done." Wait, when did I get a knife? That could've been useful. Or is it just for symbolic use only?
Anyway, Round 2 beckons and we're somehow in an even scummier looking area of the slums. DragonZone could use sprucing up.
Not Cody wants us to continue, but I think that first stage was enough for me.

Riot Zone isn't terrible, honestly, and you could probably ascertain as much from watching Jeff play it during Vinny's moment of triumph. I mean, sure, it's a brazen Final Fight knock-off, but given the slim pickings for Turbo-CD brawlers, it's not too bad as far as Hobson's (Hudson's?) choices go. It moves at a leisurely pace and enemies drop a lot of food items (well, when they feel like it) so it doesn't quite make the mistake of bringing an Arcade brawler to consoles and forgetting to ease off the quarter-munching difficulty. That might just be the limitations of the hardware though, reducing the number of simultaneous enemies on the screen and making sure everything isn't flitting by at 60fps. Ah, early 90s console ports.

Anyway, we never did see the DragonZone, but perhaps we'll see something equally dangerous in the next (and final!) episode of Octurbo-CD. Until then, I'm going to finish my laundry and then jab a knife through a picture of that laundry. "To Do" lists are for chumps.

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Octurbo: Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra

We're rapidly approaching Halloween, and what better way to celebrate this spooky time with a visit to the Isles of TERRO-, oh wait, Terra. I guess that just means "Earth", doesn't it? Well, never mind that, because while Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra might not have any big scares it's certainly disquieting in that psychological way all modern horror stuff seems to be inching towards, possibly menacingly.

Might and Magic is, of course, the venerable CRPG series from New World Computing, which closely followed its main rival Wizardry with its traditional four-directional dungeon crawling, a vast number of sequels and spin-offs and a certain weird sci-fi edge to it that set both series apart from more traditional fantasy fare and perhaps led to its mega-popularity overseas. III actually goes back to an era when CRPGs were still largely inscrutable to those not prepared to read a 10,000 word novella of a manual, and coupled with its bizarre imagery and even more bizarre soundtrack, it's something of a discombobulating experience. It's not even some strange Japanese-developed console conversion either: New World Computing put this version together themselves (and got Hudson to publish it). It's functionally identical to the 1991 PC original, excepting the redbook audio which... I dunno, maybe you want to skip to the end and hit the Soundcloud link now, so you can enjoy the whole soundtrack while you read this.

The history of Might and Magic III requires a little too much text to fit into this brief pre-amble, so I'd recommend finding a spare hour to consume HardcoreGaming101's (yep, them again) retrospective on the series. Essentially, though, you're an adventuring party on the Isles of Terra (a group of islands floating in space) looking for artifacts to help a good diety, Corak, defeat his rival evil deity, Sheltem. Same ol', same ol'.

A Room... With A Moose Rat!

I know Corak the Mysterious! He had a great stint on Mad Men, and appeared in one of the Marvel movies. I forget which one. Maybe one of the Thors?
Unlike Corak, I hadn't heard of this guy before this game. I checked IMDB, and he had a guest role in Law & Order and an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Gotta say, name doesn't ring a bell.
That would be us. So glad we have such a central and well-defined role as "a bunch of randos looking around the place".
This is Sheltem, he's kind of a skeleton-man God dude who was the vague antagonist of the first two games, and is for this one too. He's also the Guardian of the Isles of Terra, a group of islands apparently hanging over the Void. I don't really fancy my chances if some evil God who is on our case is also the one in charge of everything around here.
Welcome to Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra! Prepare to be horribly confused!
The game actually comes with a fairly tough default party. They have higher than usual stats (most generated stats don't go past 18), so the best thing to do is simply rename everyone and give them new portraits if you want a new group.
This is Fountainhead! It's the starting town, though not exactly a safe haven. The game is cool enough to give you a permanently visible mini-map, which is more than most games do.
These bizarre face fountains look like something right out of Dark Seed. Unsettling. I'm definitely not drinking any green ooze that's pouring out of their mouths.
You start right next to the exit, but... well, going that way is not a great idea just yet. Let's explore first.
The town is not a peaceful one. I suspect these bubblemen crawled out of the fountains, as if they didn't already produce enough nightmare fuel already.
The game has a rather strict day/night schedule, and many places won't be available to you unless you feel like waiting it out. The game does provide a "stand around like an idiot for x hours" button if you don't feel like waiting in real-time. This guild, incidentally, is the Thieve's Guild. Hence the after dark opening hours.
Many of the enemies in Fountainhead are mercifully behind trapped doors. You can bash these doors down if you want, though it tends to hurt the guys in front.
Entering any of the stores takes you to a separate screen with these little animations. The trainer is a particularly idiosyncratic feature unique to Might and Magic (as far as I know).
Not only do you have to pay to level up, you can only do so here. Going to the trainer is also the only way you can find out how much XP you need for the next level. Might and Magic III does NOT like surfacing useful information to the player if it can help it. I suppose it's going for an immersion thing, but I'd sorta like to know this stuff.
The in-game menu is largely icon-driven, which can be something of a mixed blessing. It's easy enough to ascertain what the "break down door" or "camp for the night" buttons are, but what would a new player make of that top middle symbol? Or the bottom right?
That's inconvenient. What if I wanted to get my drink on in the afternoon?
There is of course the Inn, which appears to be open at all hours. I haven't fought anything besides that Bubble Man yet, so I think I can hold out a little longer.
You're given a not-inconsiderable budget for the travails to come, but because I have no idea what any of my classes use nor how much more effective the items he's selling are compared to what I'm already wearing, it's something of a wash. Also, that seems like way too many menu options for a store. My team seems to have plenty of armor and weapons already, so I'm just going to slowly back out of here.
Oh, he just... wrote that on a wall. I guess that's one way to get a message out. I do wonder what someone might do with something called an Ultimate Power Orb. That's gotta corrupt anyone, even King Righteous.
I'm... just going to leave you guys to your soup. Bon appetit?
I forget what banks even do in games where you have to reload anyway if you get wiped out. Does money have weight? I don't trust this guy, that's for sure. (For fun, try giving some money to the bank in South Park: The Stick of Truth. Not a lot of money, mind you.)
Would I?!
This is a moose rat. Unlike the bubble man, these things hit hard and take a lot of whacks to bring down. I think they were added to the starting town to teach new players the value of humility.
Finally, a goal to pursue. I have no idea where to look for silver skulls, and this guy won't tell me. I guess I'll start by killing anyone silver. Watch out, Silver Surfer!
Deciding to leave the town to see what I can find. The map is conveniently filled in already, showing us where all the impassable walls and forests are.
There's also thousands of goblins out here. These aren't so much an issue as the Orc Warriors though, who seem a little too tough for me right now.
As evinced by this troubling scenario.
Well, we all got eaten by a dragon. That'll teach us to take three steps outside of the starting town.
I had the mental wherewithal to save it first, at least, but I'm still not quite sure where I can go quite yet without meeting an unfortunate demise. Maybe I really do need better gear. Or there's a dungeon in Fountainhead somewhere that's a little more survivable. Either way, I think I'll call it a day.

That's Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra, or at least the first half hour of it. I actually consider myself fortunate to have gotten that far, given how infamously tough those moose rats are on new parties. I, and a few others around here (including CRPG nut @arbitrarywater, to whom I owe a credit for recommending this one), are big fans of the later Might and Magic games (with the possible exception of IX). Even though III has dated terribly with its obtuseness, it was worth looking at Isles of Terra to see what kind of early advances it made to Might and Magic, and to CRPGs in general.

Here's a fun story tidbit about this game to see you off: At the end, the heroes were meant to follow an escaping Sheltem to the world of Xeen (the setting for games IV and V) via a "seedship", or an inter-dimensional spaceship. They got lost on the way there, however, and would eventually end up in Might and Magic VII, sparking off the events of that game. In other words, the player's adventuring party in this game would eventually become the powerful star-faring NPCs of M&M VII (a game I would very much recommend, even today, and previously Brief Jaunted a little while ago). Like I said from the offset, this is a weeeird series.

  • Might and Magic III soundtrack (I actually had to upload it to Soundcloud in the end, since YouTube and the internet failed me. The tracks are unlabeled, but I'd recommend 06. It's the theme to Fountainhead, the starting town, and is completely nuts. 07's something else, too, and 09's actually pretty good.)

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Octurbo: Kaizou Choujin Schbibinman 3

While on this whirlwind tour of ours, I figured it was prudent to check in with our favorite Mega Man clones on the TurboGrafx, the Schbibinmen. Well, Schbibinman and Schbibinwoman. During last year's Octurbo, I looked at the one Kaizou Choujin Schbibinman game that ever got an English localization -- that would be the second one, renamed Shockman in the US -- and it just so happens that the third game, Kaizou Choujin Schbibinman 3: Ikai no Princess, came out on the PC Engine CD-ROM2 and falls within the purview of this feature. This series shares a lot in common with other transforming superhero games (like Valis), though also does not take itself particularly seriously. It's more marching along a linear path hitting things, essentially, but with a few twists and turns along the way.

I'll just quickly lay out the premise: Tasuke and Kyapiko (the dark-haired hero and blonde heroine, respectively, who are named Arnold and Sonya in the Shockman localization) are high school kids who also happen to be androids designed by a professor named Doc. When the situation calls for it, they are able to transform into Schbibinman: Armored heroes capable of taking down entire armies of other robots. The situation seems to call for it a lot.

I Think I Know Precisely What I Mean, When I Say it's a Schbibinman Day!

All right, this is not what I remember this series being like. This is some Dark Crystal shit.
Ah, this would be the eponymous (almost said titular) "Ikai no Princess", or princess from another world. And this would be the another world she's in. Where's Mike Aruba?
This very JRPG-y corridor scrolls down to reveal...
A giant black crystal. Y'all thought I was just whistlin' dixie with that Dark Crystal reference, didn't ya?
Welcome to Kaizou Choujin Schbibinman 3! I guess we'll check in on purple crystal lady later.
The goofy intro explains that Doc here ain't exactly Dr. Light, accidentally shocking his two (hopefully not anatomically correct) androids while in their... I dunno, rest tubes.
And then they chase him through the streets, what fun. Gonna get a cool can of Oni after this.
After the events of the second game Tasuke and Kyapiko are maxing and relaxing on the beach.
Helps that they tied up Doc, so he can't summon them for anything.
But then we're suddenly watching this crazy alien ship travelling through hyperspace.
It's the lady from the intro again. She and her companions are travelling to Earth, but apparently didn't account for our gravity. Or atmosphere. I dunno, we're a weird planet.
I just thought this screencap was cool. The ship is oddly biological, like the one from Farscape.
The sudden appearance of the spaceship in the sky is somewhat conspicuous, and so our heroes decide to curtail their vacation to go see what its deal is. Man, if it's not one thing it's something else.
As with the previous game, the player can choose between the two heroes. I'm not sure there's any meaningful difference.
Throwing ourselves into the fray, what's immediately apparent is that this game ain't fucking around. Enemies fly in from every direction fairly frequently. I have a lot of health, fortunately, and it doesn't seem like health refill items are all that rare either.
In fact, here's one of them now. The enemies drop two types of items in this game: the reddish health refill items that look like cans of Pepsi, and the greyish canisters that you can see in the corner of most of these screenshots. The purpose of those is to give the player extra continues if they collect 100 of them. So for as relentless as the game's enemies can get, there's plenty of safety nets.
The first mid-boss, this knight guy seems peeved that no-one thought to build him any legs.
His tactics basically rely on poking you in the head with his sword. It's not the toughest boss, though a frontal assault is out of the question with that shield.
Eventually, you see the spaceship you're after flying overhead. I think the scale might be a little off, though.
Next mid-boss is this sprinting robot with a giant missile launcher on its back. It's pathetically slow though.
After taking enough damage, its head falls off. Hmm...
Haaaa heck yeah! Eat it!
Eventually, the spaceship scoops us up and we're in what greatly resembles the Wing Fortress Zone from Sonic 2.
Elevators and everything. This ship seems a hell of a lot bigger on the inside. Hey, what are the bets that there'll be an elevator sequence where I have to fight a bunch of dudes as it moves?
You'd think they'd make windows on a spaceship sturdier than this.
This is a mean trick. The blocks on the bottom are entirely harmless, and take several swings to destroy. However, by doing so, you're bringing down the flamethrower guns on top of them down to your level. You can't get past them until they're all gone, either.
Called it. Man, does my sword have to sparkle every time?
These are weird. They're just floating blue lights that swarm you in patterns, but you can also blow them up.
They even attack you on the elevators.
Well, this seems like a boss door if ever there was one.
Yep, this is another mid-boss. This is starting to feel like a Treasure game for the Genesis. Anyway, he does the whole death blossom thing with his missiles, but they're easy enough to avoid if you stay out of that targeting reticle.
My sword was somewhat less easy to avoid, from his perspective.
Ah, robotic lava fish. And what purpose do these serve on a spaceship, exactly?
Talking of mysterious spaceship functionality, what does this big crystal do? Maybe it's powering the whole ship? It seems super valuable.
Well then, might as well smash it up.
I'm dropped out of a hatch after everything starts smoking. Hey, that's a nice sunset!
One of the purple dudes from the intro doesn't seem too happy that I broke everything. In my defense, a lot of it was in my way and I can't jump too high.
This guy's a martial artist, but not a particularly good one. He'll jump over you, land, and throw a punch. You have ample opportunities to hit him before he can retaliate.
He's also secretly an android, which would be a big deal were I not one also.
A better one, turns out.
Making our escape on this hoverboard thing. It's not one of those cases where you move with the platform, though.
Rather, you have to keep switching them as these flying turrets surround you. It's not as bad as it looks, and you don't die if you fall off.
You eventually make your way to this tiny tiny spaceship.
But it's immediately eaten by flying gremlins (what?) and you're turfed off unceremoniously.
And dropped onto this snowy plain. I guess we made it all the way to the mountains?
What?
Oh what even is this? This really is a Treasure game.
The giant snowman doesn't make much of an effort to swat you, though the hitboxes are a little off. It also explodes, which makes me wonder what's in this snow.
And then suddenly there's another sub-boss. This one just flies around and is a bugger to hit.
I really can't take much more of this snow business.
As evinced by my rapidly diminishing health bar. Well, I think we've shown off enough. I believe I managed to pass 50 screenshots today.

There's something simple and fun to Schbibinman 3, back when you could simply refer to a game's genre as "Action" and have it apply better than any other label. I mean, it's not a brawler or a platformer, but kind of all of the above. The Treasure comparison seems particularly apt as well, as this game more closely resembles a non-shooter version of Gunstar Heroes or Alien Soldier than anything else. It's also wildly disjointed, moving from one unusual scenario to the next without so much as a transitional cutscene.

I've heard tell that this sequel isn't as good as its immediate predecessor (Shockman, as discussed) nor its eventual Satellaview follow-up Kaizou Choujin Schbibinman Zero. Even as the unpopular middle child of the franchise, though, it's certainly not terrible, and it has some impressive production values (music and cutscenes, as well as its graphics in general) for a game made in 1992.

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Octurbo: Dragon Half

This was something of a curiosity pick. Back when I was a wee littl'un in the mid-to-late 90s (well, all right, a teenager), I had a pal who would introduce me to new animes every now and again (he also introduced me to South Park; his folks had cable and he had recorded it on VHS and brought it over). Back then the pickings were slim, usually the result of whatever Manga Entertainment (which is somewhat misleading title for a company that only put out anime OVAs and movies) and a few smaller localization companies with publishers could license to VHS tape. Evangelion, Akira, City Hunter, Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, the 1983 Golgo 13 movie and Ninja Scroll were particularly memorable, and I still have some affection for all of them today. A slightly odder tape was for a little series called Dragon Half, which were two half-hour OVAs based on a much longer manga serial.

Dragon Half tells the tale of Mink, a girl from a small village who has a major crush on singer, actor and royal knight Dick Saucer (yep). Unfortunately, because dragons killed Dick Saucer's parents, he is also a vengeful dragon hunter and Mink just so happens to be the titular dragon half: the result of a dragon mother and a human father. Mink learns of a legendary potion that can turn her into a full human being, giving her a chance with Saucer. She and her two friends Rufa the elf and Pia the dwarf (and Pia's pet fairy mouse, Mappy) leave the village to search for the potion.

The anime just so happens to be a parody too, and a particularly insane one. Like someone crossed Final Fantasy with Looney Tunes. It probably hasn't aged too well, and boy howdy does it have some adolescent Team Ninja-esque depictions of its female characters, but it really opened my eyes to the sort of wacky anime parody humor that would eventually become more widespread with stuff like Excel Saga, Cromartie High, Magical Witch Punie-Chan or Bobobo. I usually put links at the end, but here are the OVAs in question: Episode 1 and Episode 2. It'll be easier to follow what's going in these screenshots if you get a sense of what the show is like.

Though I wanted to see what a video game adaptation of Dragon Half would be like (among other things, the anime and manga makes a lot of video game references and jokes), I also wanted to give something back to all the anime fans on the site. For all my mocking of the ubiquitous anime cutscenes in these TurboGrafx-CD games, I am a fan of the format, though not a particularly obsessive one. I suppose I'm the Daywalker equivalent of an Otaku, in that I go outside occasionally (sorry! I'll be good).

Dragon Pink is Something Completely Different. This is Not a H-Game, I Swear

Cute MGM logo joke. Unlike most parody animes, Dragon Half very much errs on the side of western humor. I wasn't kidding about the Looney Tunes comparison.
The intro gravely intones the events up to this point in the manga (I believe in 1993 it was about two-thirds the way through the story, and considerably further ahead than the OVAs got). This tall fellow is Azetodeth, the legendary demon king and the antagonist of the manga. In the anime, there's a joke that his scenes were cut for time.
Azetodeth's lieutenant Titan (who also happens to be a dragon, and Mink's materal grandfather) destroyed the only item able to seal away Azetodeth: A magical gourd prison.
But because this is a fantasy story, the shards of the gourd split into three mystical treasures. It becomes Mink's task mid-way through the manga to track them down and reform the gourd.
Once the intro's done being serious, we get these little interviews with the various cast members of the manga to bring new people up to speed.
This is Princess Vina, Mink's main rival for Dick Saucer's affections and a secret slime half (like a dragon half, but far less imposing). She's pretty much the B-Ko of this franchise. Wait, does it help if I use an obscure anime to refer to another obscure anime? (The guys behind her are Rosario, a failed wizard who uses dirty tricks; King Siva, the bald monarch and Vina's father; and Migu, Azetodeth's middle child who was summoned by Vina and is under her control>)
She reveals the reason why Migu's under her command: She took a polaroid of him in his teddy bear jammies.
This is Pia and Mappy. She's also conducting interviews.
Though, uh, Mink's parents aren't around to comment. A running gag is that Mink's dad Rouce is a lazy lecherous asshole and is frequently beaten up by Mana, Mink's Imperial Red Dragon mother.
Pia's father Mario (yes, that Mario) just faints constantly instead.
Oh lordy, what are you wearing Mink? Mink can't seem to get an interview with Dick Saucer's cousin Sonic (yes, that Sonic).
Bufu's around, but...
Well, Bufu doesn't really say anything. She's one of a group of four elemental minor antagonists, and Bufu represents "Air".
After some brief technical difficulties, the party is ready to resume their quest for the Pido Potion and the three treasures needed to reform the gourd.
Man, those are some determined-looking heroines.
Oh, and before I forget, this is "The Mighty" Damaramu. He wasn't always a head on a tiny mechanical body.
Welcome to Dragon Half! Man, that was a lot more exposition than usual. I haven't even said what kind of game this is.
If you guessed "Dokapon knock-off", congratulations. You must've Googled it while I was spending all that time setting this game up.
Dokapon, for the uninitiated, is a cross between a board game and an RPG. Characters fight monsters, earn XP and gold, and can go to shops to buy better equipment and healing items. The player determines how far they can move at the start of each round (it's a regular dice roll, but they present it with these cards).
This is the store screen. I have no idea what any of this means. Obviously, I don't imagine I'll do so well at this game.
As well as Mink's group, there's Mana's group (which contains Rouce, Mario and Rufa's father Link) (Yes, that Link). She was fortunate enough to win a free item from this square. The yellow squares have random effects, either causing something good or bad to happen to those who end their turn on them.
The red squares are combat. I bumped into Navel-09, a gynoid who was programmed very badly.
Rufa's ostensibly a magic-user, but she's effectively useless at it. Her only means of attack is being overly sexually aggressive. (I swear this isn't a H-Game.)
The player has some choice over who in the player's party gets to attack next, but it doesn't seem to affect a whole lot because the HP total is shared. This time, Mappy is the one sent out.
Being a fairy mouse, Mappy is a lot stronger than he looks.
I believe this was Vina's party. Those yellow spaces, man. Risky business.
Mana's party lucks out on a free Inn visit. I'd assume that restores their HP, since those two letters are the only thing I can make out.
Well, that doesn't seem fair. No "GFB Industries" logo on this one.
Mink's party had the misfortune of bumping into Damaramu. I have no idea what he does, but he follows the party around from now on.
The last of the four parties is the one comprised of those elemental antagonists I mentioned earlier, who I believe is lead by Melami Flare, the fire-based one. Anyway, they all just got eaten by that thing.
Fire, earth, water and air, in that order.
And here they are again fighting a mimic.
To expand on the combat some more: It's largely random. The opponent and party takes turns attacking, and the long bar underneath the portrait decides how much damage they do; you have to try to stop it at peak power as it whizzes up and down. If you've ever played that Megaton Punch mini-game from Kirby Super Star, you know the deal.
Anyway, this lot knock the poor thing out. Each battle grants XP, though I didn't see anyone level up. Or maybe I did. I can't read this stuff.
Meanwhile, Vina's party comes across Broud, a villain from the manga. Broud is a plant creature that is limited in what it can do, being rooted to the ground and all. It got sat on by Vina in their first encounter.
This is the result of a particularly low offensive power bar meeting a high defensive power bar. Though you usually get off a weaker attack, if the disparity is too great the attacking character just falls flat on their face and does no damage.
As you can see, Mink's party is forever followed by Damaramu. Can't seem to shake the guy.
Here's Vina's party in full again. It's the same group that was with her during her interview, so I won't reiterate.
They have the misfortune of bumping into this minor villain from the manga. Her name is Petit Cathy.
All right, before I leave (because I have no idea what I'm doing), here's Mana's party just so we're all covered. Rouce is the greatest swordsman in the kingdom but refuses to lift a finger to help; Link is a lot like his daughter, in that his magical skills are somewhat to be desired; and Mario can barely stay conscious. I guess dwarves don't have good circulation in this world.

I guess this one was a bit of a whiff, though if I knew what the hell the game was saying I think I'd be way into it. I'm not kidding about being a fan of this manga/anime, as goofy as it all is, and I find the Dokapon series to be fairly interesting from the outside looking in, though I imagine it's one of those board games that can last a while. I dig all of its presentation too, for sure. Especially the jokey RPG battles.

Well, if I can't take the occasional Octurbo entry to indulge my curiosity every once in a while, then I'm just going to end up going nuts. Thanks for bearing through this with me. And check out those OVAs if you have a spare minute, I still like 'em (the jokes pick up in episode 2).

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Octurbo: Cosmic Fantasy 2

Cosmic Fantasy is yet another Telenet Japan (one of the bigger companies pushing out games for the TurboGrafx-CD, and developers of the Valis games) franchise that the West only saw bits and pieces of. Specifically, this one game. Cosmic Fantasy 2 is also a Working Designs joint, who were US publishers/translators who were very selective with the games they chose to localize. They're best known for some early Sega CD games as well as Lunar, Alundra, Vanguard Bandits and a bunch of other fifth-generation JRPGs after FFVII sent demand through the roof. Telenet Japan and Working Designs also collaborated on Exile, a game we've previously covered. There are at least four other Cosmic Fantasy games for the PC Engine CD-ROM2 that never saw a localization, including a weird non-interactive spin-off that splices together all the cutscenes from the first two games and plays them without any gameplay parts in-between getting in the way (does Kojima know about this format?). Though I believe each entry is detached in the way most JRPG franchises are, they all seem to focus on that Star Ocean/Wizardry concept of a "primitive" fantasy setting that is juxtaposed with more overt science fiction elements. For instance, the spear-wielding rural hero of this game, Van, is depicted in something like a Starfleet uniform (or maybe something from Outlaw Star) on the US box art. (That's not the US boxart up there, by the way, I just think the Japan one is better. It has a sentient cat!)

Besides the curious theme combo, Cosmic Fantasy 2 seems like your run of the mill JRPG. Battles are turn-based and happen randomly whenever you're in a dangerous area, and the player is limited in what they can do until they level up a bit and learn new skills and magic. What's strange, and the Wikipedia entry for this game corroborates this, is that every enemy in the game just hits you with regular attacks. They have no spells, no status effects, no criticals and no area of effect attacks that hit the whole group. Each enemy just targets one member of the party and hits them, for an amount of damage generally defined by the strength of the monster and the defense of the party member. So it's perhaps not the most tactically challenging RPG out there. Still, though, you didn't see too many RPGs from 1992 with fully voiced anime cutscenes, so perhaps the care and craft that went into this game was put towards its presentation rather than its gameplay. But hey, let's not throw shade before we've had a chance to see the thing.

Please, If It's Sci-Fi Fantasy, It Should Be Spelled With a "Ph". That's More Science-y.

"Yep, that's a great idea for a planet. We'll go with that."
Yowza. Not what I would name an island.
This is Van, our hero. Currently he's running around and jumping while holding a spear like an idiot. He's got kind of a Reid Herschel from Tales of Eternia vibe, always going out hunting so he can eat steaks every night.
The womenfolk are out picking "berries". Look like coconuts to me, but then this is some fantasy world so fuck it, they're berries.
This exasperated young lady is Laura, Van's best friend and obvious love interest.
Laura chastizes Van for running around being an idiot when there's harvesting work to be done.
But guess what? Van's a loud, brash anime protagonist. He doesn't have time to picking Not-Coconuts.
Welcome to Cosmic Fantasy 2!
Yep, standard JRPG starting town. Rural setting, check. Chickens, check.
What the f-
Alright, so maybe it's not that standard a starting town. I think there might be gas fumes seeping up through the ground.
There's your usual stores too. The game doesn't surface any information about how much better or worse the equipment is compared to what you have currently. All "description" does is tell you what it is.
Stranger? Don't I live here? I think from the passive aggression that there's some history here. (No, it's just the game being dumb, but I like to inject a little drama where apropos.)
After Van leaves town, he automatically marches to this giant tree for reasons that'll become clear. It weirds me out when you can walk over forest spaces on the world map. Feels like I should be blocked by all these trees.
Wait, is this Yggdrasil?
Nah, just some tree Van carved his and Laura's names into as a kid. How sweet. I'm sure this isn't leading up to anything tragic.
Van's shaken from his sepia-toned flashback by a loud noise. Gadzooks and such.
Noooo! Laura! Creepy uncle! Passive-aggressive Innkeeper girl! The weapon shop guy with the tiny head! All those well-established and beloved characters, up in smoke!
I'll save yo- Ah, my mistake. I guess it was another village. It's not like I could easily tell which direction the smoke was coming from with that cutscene, you know.
The torched town is actually this one. This also explains why I wasn't allowed to move around the world map until after that tree cutscene: it's because this town never had a "not burned" state.
That's a great name for a wizard. A+ for effort.
This is horrible. All these burned-out husks of buildings. (Is there anything here I can steal?)
The Mayor, who is miraculously still alive, tells Van that the army led by Galam and Wizda that destroyed this town were after a princess that has been hiding out on Clan Island incognito.
To Van's credit, he figures out that they mean Laura, even before the mayor adds the fact that the princess is supposed to be wearing a gigantic priceless locket that might as well be a big sign saying "yo, this girl's probably royalty with bling like this".
And as soon a we get to our home village, we're accosted by the game's first random encounter.
The hobgoblin in particular is a tough bastard. As stated during the pre-amble, all monsters will do in this game is hit you. All you can do is hit them, for right now. All these early battles are breathlessly exciting, in other words.
I did go up a level. After my very first battle, even. I have no problems with expediting this early grinding process.
Wow, there's even random encounters in town now. The Plasma Slime is the weakest enemy, as per Wizardry/Dragon Quest tradition, though it's made out of plasma because that's science-fiction-y. The goblins aren't particularly science-fiction-y, unless you count their remarkable similarity to Saibamen. Good thing I'm not Yamcha! [/anime].
I don't even know what these things are. Jello shots?
Why, thank you, obvious boss. Your little goons didn't really leave me any recourse.
Oh hell. So because this guy and your guy can only ever exchange hits (though I can use healing herbs too), getting massacred like this isn't the way to win this fight.
Instead, I'm going to have to grind some more. Fortunately, you level up pretty quickly. I'm talking like every three or four battles. Plus, I can spend the money I make on more herbs.
Ah, that's way more manageable. The guy eventually goes down after a thrilling fight of "Captain took 8 points of damage, Van received 7 points of damage, Captain took 8 points of damage, Van received 7 points of damage, Capt-"
"Laura's gone. I guess we forgot to tell her not to always wear that big locket that basically tells the world who she is."
Fortunately, we get to Galam's Galleon in time to see Laura off. Send me a postcard!
Oh no, it's Wizda! Wizda looks very cold. I don't necessarily mean, like, dispassionate and cruel, just how Wizda's huddled up for warmth and is bright blue. Maybe could've worn something warmer than a big cloak?
I... I can't tell if Wizda's a man or a lady. Even the voiceovers don't make it clear. I guess he/she's like Flea, then?
Aw heck, did I need to grind more?
Nope, I was just supposed to get my ass kicked.
Look, excuse me Princess, but that blue wizard person knocked me on my ass in one hit. Give me a few hours to grind some levels and I'll get back to you.
I liked this shot of an unconscious Van being left by the harbor as lightning strikes. Reminds me of the cinematic for Link's Awakening.
Oh what is this Bush League "lying over the covers and there's a shadow even" malarkey? This Octurbo is ov-errr.

You know, it probably doesn't do a JRPG any favors to only play through the first half hour like this. I mean, most of them start pretty much the same way anyway. All the same, I think there are flashes here of the sort of game Cosmic Fantasy 2 might blossom into (though absolutely nothing regarding the game's sci-fi elements). It's fair to say that I have a soft spot for JRPGs like this, even when they get grindy and repetitive. Working Designs is a fantastic translation team too when they aren't making dumb pop culture jokes that become instantly dated, so I'm always curious to try out more games they worked on.

So as I end another edition of Octurbo, I'll leave you all with this to ponder: What's your Cosmic Fantasy? Wait, no, don't answer that. Abort, abort! We're done!

  • Cosmic Fantasy 2 full soundtrack (it seems the guy who uploaded this just burned the whole CD. That's totally something you can do, since most CD players recognize TGCD games as audio CDs with the exception of the first track, which is where the game's data is stored and should always be skipped over. Playing the first track leads to an error message that essentially says "yo, don't play this part, it'll probably ruin the disc and/or player". Sounds like they got a few audio-only cutscenes in there too.).
  • Cosmic Fantasy 2 ending song (in English)

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Octurbo: Motteke Tamago

It's probably redundant by now to say that this is another weird game. If you took all of the text from Octurbo-CD so far and put it into one of those fancy infographic word clouds, the biggest words would be "weird", "strange" and "what am I even doing" by a considerable margin. Motteke Tamago is weird inside and outside, though, as its gameplay and its release history are equally unusual. Released as late as 1997, way into the 32-bit fifth generation, it is actually the penultimate game for the PC Engine (officially, at least), and was originally given away for free on the cover CD for the Tokuma Shoten magazine "Super PC Engine Fan Deluxe". Apparently, it was meant to be released a lot sooner during the PC Engine's heyday, but was never published for whatever reason.

Motteke Tamago (which means something like "Take It Egg", which makes sense given you're grabbing eggs) is a multiplayer grid maze game superficially similar to Hudson's Bomberman. The player is a duck who has to run around a grid maze picking up eggs which then follow the duck. As long as the player keeps moving, the eggs will eventually hatch into ducklings who then make their own way to the player's coop at the corner of the screen. The opposing ducks (which can be human or CPU controlled, and there can be up to three of them) are also trying to do the same thing. The player can also create these little fried egg blocks to trap other ducks, and perform a dash (which requires a charge up) to blast through blocks (and other ducks) in their way. In practice it sounds straightforward enough, kinda, but there's many complications that can have beneficial or adverse effects on the player's chances of winning. Let's see how many I can show off...

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, Abstruse

Welcome to Motteke Tamago! We're spared from any duck anime intros, thankfully. I don't even know what that would be like. "A Quack on Titan"?
As Nerduck explains, you select the number of human players first and then CPU. Each duck here is represented by which quadrant they start in (4P is bottom right, for instance), so you can choose wherever you want to start.
This screen is a little more unusual. We'll revisit it later, but it's essentially recording your single player progress.
And this is what the game looks like. The game tosses a few eggs around, each within reach of the four corners to start you off gently. I'm the white duck with the blue apron, and I want to return ducklings to that top left white coop. It is highly possible that I've misconstrued things and that the ducklings can be deposited in any of these other coops.
These bushes, when flashing (they look pink in these screenshots for some reason), hide power-ups, and you have to take a moment to shake them out of the bush before you can collect them. This is essentially the equivalent of blowing up blocks in Bomberman to look for power-ups. You can see one of the power-ups to the right, and that one in particular makes the eggs following you hatch sooner. I think. Honestly, the speed at which these games move makes it hard to figure out anything.
The end of my first game, there's a protracted score tallying progress. If you've ever played Mario Party (or heard Jeff grouse (heh, bird puns) about how arbitrary the scoring can be), it's a little like that. You're given points for how many chicks you return to the roost, how many you get of your color, how many pink ones you get, how often you get smoked by opponents, etc. etc. It's not something you can easily keep track of in-game.
Each player has a stock of lives, though there's very few scenarios in which you can lose one. The most common means of transitory demise is the "flaming duck" power-up, which makes you temporarily deadly to other ducks if you touch them. Losing lives doesn't really do much besides lose you points at the end.
Yeah, I didn't do so hot the first time around. I mean, I also had no idea what I was doing. I know, I know, that's a wuss defense.
Turns out if you pause the game, you can actually see how well everyone's doing. There are the four basic chick colors (which correspond to the players' ducks and will earn more if they match). There's also pink chicks, which are worth more, and black chicks, which are worth a lot more or a lot less depending on circumstances. It sounds like a lot to keep track of, but it's fairly explicable after a while.
I got trounced again. The two ducks in the middle charged at each other, which means being dropped into an Andy Capp-style "fighting cloud" (if you've seen too many cartoons like I have, you'll know what I mean). I'm not sure how a winner is decided, but the loser stays stunned for several crucial seconds. You generally want to be stunned as infrequently as possible.
I'm determined to win this first board. It's a matter of pride. Plus, I sorta know what I'm doing now. Sorta.
We run into a major complication when this asshole shows up. I'll explain him later. Importantly...
...I manage to procure the most ducklings! While there's plenty of weird bonuses that can mess with the total scores and bring about upsets, generally speaking getting the most ducklings is a fairly good indicator that you've won.
Finally! Human wins! Take that, robot ducks.
If you spend too long on the winning score screen, this fellow pops up to remind you to stop gloating and get on with it.
Some more weirdness now. This little guy with the shades is the occasional result of a chick hatching. It'll go nuts, run around the screen depositing bonus eggs while some crazy music plays. Eventually it shakes itself out of its Cool Guy reverie, look a bit confused and then continue back to the coop as per normal.
You'll notice the yellow duck has a golden egg. Swan chicks hatch from those, and while they look like black chicks (which give you a penalty, for some oddly duck-racist reason), they provide huge bonuses. It's worth fighting over a golden egg if you find one.
I'll return to this progress screen to show you how it's updating itself. A circle means that a human player has beaten the map. A cross means that the player has played the map, but lost. Each of the ten stages in each world are simply re-configurations using the same background and obstacles.
This is World 2. There's a bit more of an urban setting here, and there's a complication in those little gray blocks on the sides of the screen. They pop up and down at intervals, blocking your way. We also see that giant manic rooster make a return.
What that guy does is march across the map for a minute, dropping those little fried egg blocks everywhere he goes. You can't get past them unless you charge, and the charge can only remove a handful at a time. Eventually the big rooster decides to take a nap in front of one of the coops at random, blocking it completely and pretty much dooming that player. He's a butt.
I'll show off World 3 as well, while I'm here. The little pressure plate traps at the top and bottom create a small chain of fried egg blocks somewhere at random.
I am rocking this match. I was fortunate enough to grab a few speed power-ups early on, and those things are worth their weight in golden eggs. Being the fastest means getting to all the eggs first.
Booya! Well, I don't think I'll be topping that decisive victory, so let's call it here. I think I've pretty much shown everything off, besides a few of the power-ups (and I'm still not entirely copacetic on what they all do anyway).

That's Motteke Tamago, and it seems pretty darn cool. There's been a resurgence of late of great local multplayer games, and Motteke Tamago seems like ideal reboot material to join in on that bandwagon. The game's an odd combination of Bomberman and ChuChu Rocket, where it's all about resource procurement and management and keeping a fairly critical eye on proceedings to ensure no-one's getting a leg up over you. You can also decide to mess with other ducks, stealing their eggs and knocking them down or screwing them over in other ways. Actually, I guess it reminded me of that battle game in Diddy Kong Racing where you're collecting/stealing pteranodon eggs in those planes. Man, was Diddy Kong Racing a great kart racer.

Anyway, since I'm already reminiscing about other games, that's probably a good time to bring today's Octurbo to a close. This doesn't seem like the most attainable game, seeing as it was a bonus disc on a fairly obscure magazine that was already late to the party as far as where PC Engine's lifespan was at in 1997. Here's hoping Naxat Soft (or Kaga Create, as they're now known) see the sound financial sense in re-releasing an incredibly obscure game that was given away in Japan for free. Aww, I just made myself sad. At least there's always Motteke Tamago Ganbare Kamonohashi.

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