From Dungeon Exploring to Dungeon Mastering in just four days! We're making great progress on Octurbo this year. Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest is one of a number of adaptations of FTL Games's seminal CRPG classic, but this particular 1992 release really flies off the rails in comparison with the more faithful SNES adaptation released the year prior. Many aspects of this game confound me, though at the same time it's kind of neat to see a game I'm very familiar with get chopped and screwed like this.
The handful of folk who read these things might recall that I covered Dungeon Master some time ago in a multi-part Brief Jaunt. I stopped short of a full LP only because I was running out of ways to say "and then you press this hidden button for the next key", though mostly it was because I couldn't bear dealing with the terrifying purple worms of the fourth floor. That's when the gloves come off and shit gets real, as it were, and the game demands you put together a stronger team for the travails to come. Which essentially means "keep repeating actions over and over to go up levels for the necessary HP and stat boosts", since Dungeon Master was one of the first games to introduce a system of progression where skills increase the more you do them. Anyway, I'm getting off track. I'd suggest reading that Brief Jaunt LP first, because I'm going to be focusing on the changes made to that original version with this bizarre remix.
I Always Thought Dungeon Master Could've Used More Anime Cutscenes
I do kinda want to keep playing though, just to see what else has been changed. There's no denying that it's going to be easy street if all I'm fighting is low-level goons with a party that could trounce the final boss of the original game though, so there's little point in screen-capping all that. I'd have to assume that later dungeons give you weaker champions and stronger monsters to contend with, especially if it's going to be drawing from the extremely challenging Chaos Strikes Back, so maybe Theron's Quest just has a particularly weird difficulty curve.
All the same, I'm definitely intrigued by what FTL Games did here. I'm not sure the TGCD had a mouse peripheral like the Super Nintendo did (or if it did, they didn't sell too many), so maybe they figured it'd be better to make the game simpler because of how much slower and more detrimental using a controller would be. That they invented this whole story about Theron and finding armor pieces and multiple dungeons is interesting too, as if they wanted Dungeon Master veterans to give this new take a whirl. Curious stuff.
Theron's Quest intro (it really is almost five minutes long. That seems nuts for a cutscene made in 1992)
I actually had no idea this game existed before this week. This was a suggestion from @gunstarred who I figured, given that his recent blogging has been focused on the risible Simple 2000 series, was leading me up the ninja garden path. As it turns out, Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action is a pretty neat game, albeit not a particularly complex one. It reminds me of one of the games I covered last year, Ninja Spirit, and how I ended up enjoying that a lot more than I thought I would. Maybe I just like ninjas a whole lot.
Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action is a 2D side-scrolling Ninja Action game (their words, not mine) that starts fairly basic with its enemies running in and getting slashed by the protagoninja. As you get further into the game, the enemy's behavior starts getting harder to cope with, as they become far better at blocking your projectiles and adopt strategies like hitting you from a range with spears or swarming you from multiple directions. It feels like the game took the template of that old beat 'em up classic Kung-Fu Master (a.k.a. Spartan X) and built on it, taking the linear, flat stages and recurring enemies running in from either direction and adding a whole bunch of options for your protagonist. It'll be easier to describe it in the screenshots, though, so let's have at it.
"I Wanna Make a Game!" "Great, What's It About?" "Ninja Action!" "Great, What's it Called?" "Ninja Action!" "Here Is 60 Million Dollars."
I don't think what Kaze Kiri does is particularly new or impressive, but it's certainly made with a lot of attention to detail. The gameplay is both repetitive and demanding of the player's attention. The way stronger enemies will block many of the more obvious, basic attacks means you have to improvise often to kill them, and the different enemy types all have their own tactics. The bosses, too, can get pretty darn serious. It's one of those cases where you're unable to rely on boring straightforward attacks and end up flipping and jumping all over the place, distracting enemies with kunais while you close the distance or finding a way to get past their guard, all the while looking really cool while doing so. It makes you feel like you're having more fun, even if you're just plowing through the same group of bad guy ninjas over and over.
It might not be a stand-out forgotten gem from the PC Engine CD-ROM library, but if all it is is some great audio and well-animated (well, in short bursts) cutscenes layered over a competent 16-bit brawler, I'm content with that package.
Now, you might be asking yourself, "Why would a self-respecting (ehhh...) videogamesman like Mento LP what appears to be a dating sim written and voiced entirely in Japanese starring what is clearly an underage Japanese idol?" And that would be a good question. A very good question. As it happens, Alfa System's No.Ri.Ko has a rather special historical distinction.
When the PC Engine CD-ROM² debuted in Japan in late 1988, two games were produced as launch titles for the peripheral. The first was Fighting Street; what is actually a port of the first Street Fighter, the mediocre fighting game from Capcom which would become vastly overshadowed by its far superior sequel, and the second was No.Ri.Ko. No.Ri.Ko is therefore the first video game made specifically for the CD-ROM format. Like, ever. The first PC CD-ROM games wouldn't appear until the following year, and other CD-ROM consoles would follow a few years after that. Given the proliferation of CD games in the fourth and fifth generation of consoles, it's quite a feat. And NEC pulled this off two months after the Japanese release of the Sega Mega Drive, and two years before the Super Famicom (SNES).
As for the game itself, it's largely an experimental "see what works with this new format" collection of mini-games and redbook audio sound clips (including three whole single tracks) linked together by a story. That story is that the player is a teenage fan of the titular celebrity heroine Noriko Ogawa and they find her train pass lying on the ground while on the way to a concert she's hosting. In gratitude, her manager sets up a date between the two of you. You spend the day walking around Tokyo doing date stuff. I think. I got the gist, but obviously I had to piece together most of what was going on by the screenshots, as my fluency in Japanese lies somewhere between non-existent and "'arigatou' either means 'thank you' or 'where are the bathrooms?'". If you've seen the type of early CD-ROM games covered by Giant Bomb on their CD-i or 3DO streams, you know they tend to be big on multimedia and small on anything approaching actual interactivity.
For Some Fun Added Context, Noriko was Fifteen in 1988. I Am Now a Criminal, and Will Be Going to Jail Presently
I don't know what else to tell you. I mean, this is essentially a proof-of-concept "Interactivity Center" more than anything else, giving players (and other developers) a sense of what's possible with the CD medium with all its high quality sound clips and digitized photos. We've seen (and will see) many better examples of early CD-ROM gaming, but it's worth taking a look back at what those first few awkward steps with the format were like. It's telling that the CD-ROM consoles that would hit the States in the following years were producing very similar experiments (even with the same crappy 80s clip-art!), such as those Make My Video games and whatever the hell Plumbers Don't Wear Ties was about.
But man, I gotta wonder how many people were buying a ¥60,000 peripheral at launch to go on a virtual date with a teenage pop star (or play a so-so Arcade fighter game port). A distressingly large amount, probably.
Couldn't find the music, but here's a NicoNico LP of No.Ri.Ko. With Japanese subtitles, for those of you unable to understand the Japanese audio.
Well, it's come to this. I figured I ought to cover Cho Aniki eventually, what with the TurboGrafx-CD being the very system where this whole sorry affair of beefcake shoot 'em ups originated. For the uninitiated, Cho Aniki ("Super Big Brother") is a side-scrolling shoot 'em up that borrows a page from Parodius' book in bewildering the player with its visuals as a means to trip them up and cause them to prematurely game over. Prematurely do something, anyway. I talked about how random stuff appearing out of nowhere would occasionally be your downfall in Lords of Thunder, and Cho Aniki is that concept multipled by infinity. It's the game Shadow Kanji Tatsumi would make, if he had his druthers.
Then again, I hear it's the PS1/Saturn game where this series really starts to go off the rails. In comparison, the first Cho Aniki is practically a somber documentary on the perils of obsessive bodybuilding and steampunk gone awry. At any rate, I wasn't about to pass up something as historically significant as the first Cho Aniki game. For a system that didn't seem to get too far in the US, it sure was the origin point for a lot of interesting franchises.
This Octurbo is Rated PG-13 for Posing Pouches
That's Cho Aniki. I think. I'm still confused, but I suppose the vaguely "H.G. Wells by way of John-Paul Gaultier" visual stylings of this game start to seem normal after a while. Like I said earlier, the weirdness of the PS1 sequel easily supersedes this one. As a pure shoot 'em up it's not too bad, though very limited at the same time. Especially in comparison with its peers, given that the TurboGrafx was rife with superlative examples of the genre (like Blazing Lazers). The player can only upgrade their one weapon (I assume the other playable character, Idaten, has his own upgrade path) and Samson and Adon only seem to help out every now and again. They're mostly just there as bullet buffers.
For a game made famous by its idiosyncrasies, it's still a fairly solid if unremarkable shoot 'em up underneath. There's certainly nothing wrong with grounding the gameplay with some rudimentary fundamentals and then layering on the insanity with the visuals and presentation. I think making both sides of the equation as equally chaotic (say, with a byzantine power-up system) would just lead to a lot of confusion and annoyance. I may just be talking out of the hole on the top of my head, but I think Cho Aniki's appeal is that the game is easy enough to pick up and play, and you can enjoy the campy weirdness without worrying too much about what you're meant to be doing. Protip: Shoot everything.
Cho Aniki full soundtrack (listening to each track one after the other with all the weird tonal shifts gives you a pretty decent sense of what it's like when actually playing the game)
This first week of Octurbo-CD has involved a lot of revisiting the TG-16 franchises of last year's Octurbo and getting some obvious choices out of the way. While that'll persist into week two somewhat, it has less to do with a lack of imagination but rather ensuring that we start with a sure and steady first footstep before wildly sprinting off into the terrifying unknown. In that vein, Dungeon Explorer II is one of those games I left as a "stay tuned" while penning the original Octurbo, and was one of the few items I had on a list of potential TurboGrafx-CD games to cover a year in advance. (Yeah, I actually plan out this stuff ahead of time. I feel like I might be killing the magic, here.)
Dungeon Explorer II is the sequel to Dungeon Explorer (well, doy), which was a game I found more enjoyable the more of it I played and the better acquainted I got with its systems. A then-modern take on a multiplayer console version of Gauntlet (the timing of this blog with the recent release of an even more modern take on Gauntlet is entirely coincidental), Dungeon Explorer merged that top-down frenetic Arcade action with standard RPG trappings such as leveling up and talkative NPCs and an overworld and an overarching narrative. Those trappings were largely superficial in some respects -- leveling up simply entailed finding gems after each boss fight, or collecting the occasional permanent stat boost through exploration -- but it enhanced the standard "shoot at monster spawners and move on" gameplay beyond a repetitive slog. I don't mind spelunking a few floors of beasties to shoot at, but knowing it would eventually culminate in a cool boss fight, a boost in stats and some additional story made it all the more enticing.
Dungeon Explorer II appears to be more of the same from what little I played, even graphically, though the addition of redbook audio music and overdramatic voiceovers has certainly improved my affection for the format. I'll save the rest for the screenshots themselves.
Dungeon Explorer 2: The Explorening
Well, that's Dungeon Explorer II. If you've gone back to check the first game's LP, you might've noticed how closely the two games resemble each other. I guess Atlus didn't feel like fixing what wasn't broke, but at least this one seems a lot more forgiving. Not that you could expect the first dungeon to be brutally unfair. I've also spent less time wandering around lost, so that's a plus too.
And, again, there's the music. It's a lot of fun, switching from schmaltzy town muzak to rockin' dungeon/boss themes, and it all sounds pretty good for 1993 (I say that, but 1993's Mega Man X and Secret of Mana have awesome soundtracks too). Have a listen, and I'll see you all next time:
Beyond Shadowgate is one of a few TurboGrafx-CD games I selected for this year's Octurbo because it builds on an old game I have a lot of fondness for. In this case, that would be the 1987 ICOM MacVenture game Shadowgate. Shadowgate has a reputation for killing its players over and over with something close to a sadistic reverie; a design decision I don't think was entirely a simple hold-over from the far less forgiving text adventures that ICOM's employees cut their teeth with. It may sound cynical, but if you're building an adventure game that dials up the unnecessary and random deaths some several magnitudes more than ought to be acceptable, it's more likely to create a lasting impression on the player. It also starts to come back around to funny again, like Sideshow Bob and his thousand rakes to the face, though maybe that's just the Battered Person Syndrome talking. Sierra would become the masters of the cheap and funny death in due time, but there's something about how easily the Grim Reaper finds you in Shadowgate that almost seems farcical.
Beyond Shadowgate may change a few things -- the game is now a third-person affair, letting you move around the screen and fight -- it still feels like the same old brutally unfair Shadowgate. The presentation's a little spotty in places (if you saw Ghost Manor from last year's Octurbo, Beyond Shadowgate feels graphically similar, which is to say fairly ugly with melon-domed characters) but it definitely gets the feel and personality right. Hoo boy, does it ever.
Shadowgate Doesn't Have Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis System. The Game Itself is Your Nemesis
Beyond Shadowgate doesn't give you a whole lot of information about its surroundings, and I think adding combat to the game is ultimately detrimental because it's never quite clear if you're meant to avoid fights, meant to puzzle your way around them or meant to take out certain creatures because they need to go away before you can do something else in the area (that item on the ground near the caterpillar thing, for instance, won't allow itself to be picked up while the creature still lives). I'm also not clear what repercussions I'll be suffering by letting that she-beast wild, or letting that guy in the torture chair die. If it turns out to be one of those cases where I've made the game permanently unwinnable, that's not going to be fun for me. Especially if all the save slots get recorded over after such a stalemate event has already occurred.
Still, the game doesn't look too bad and it definitely keeps within the spirit of the original. It's interesting to note that the most recent Shadowgate remake, the ones the GB guys just checked out, already has a sequel in the works which it teased after the end credits: a sequel named "Beyond Shadowgate". It seems like an entirely original game, but you never know...
It's been a Metal Gear sort of day around here, what with the new bonus edition of Metal Gear Scanlon and my impulse purchase of the MGS HD Collection (I gotta stay one step ahead of those guys, it's important for some reason). As such, for today's Octurbo I'm playing what I can only describe as elaborate Metal Gear fan-fiction. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest there was some back and forth going on here with this game and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, which was released the following year.
Last Alert (Red Alert in Japan) is a military-themed multi-directional top-down shooter from Japan Telenet (specifically Shin-Nihon Laser Soft, a subsidiary of theirs that focused on anime games for the TG-CD), like Commando or Ikari Warriors. It's actually not too bad in that capacity, either; the stages are fair, have plenty of power-ups and health refills, the bosses are diverse and it's even an RPG of sorts, letting your protagonist go up in rank after performing so many kills and mission objectives. The music's good too. From a purely mechanical perspective alone, I could easily recommend this game to fans of this genre.
Of course, Last Alert's claim to fame, or infamy at least, is its story and presentation. A commando unit gets wiped out by the mysterious Force Project: a group of mercenaries and terrorists bent on world domination. A shadowy government organization employs Guy Kazama, the bereaved brother of the leader of the commando unit, to go after them. What follows are a bunch of Rambo-esque missions into enemy territory that get wilder and more nonsensical as the game progresses. These cutscenes are all presented in the customary TG-CD anime style and the voiceovers are... well. Beyond mere words to describe. Suffice it to say, there's a reason Last Alert appears on a lot of "worst dubs" lists.
Nobody Can Screencap My Feelings!
That's Last Alert for you. You really do need the voiceovers to get the most out of it, which is why I'll include a link to a commentary on the full game by those Retsupurae rascals Diabeetus and Slowbeef. It's a fun watch, and the game's a bit longer than you might expect. Also, if Hideo Kojima didn't borrow a few elements from this game's story for his famous series, I'll eat my green beret. Or maybe a raspberry beret. Or maybe just some raspberries (they're in season now!).
Last Alert, remember when I said I'd LP you last? I... may have been a little economical with the truth. A thousand pardons for the falsehood.
Before we get too much further with Octurbo-CD, we ought to revisit a little bald friend of ours. I covered the firsttwo Bonk games last year, so it feels only fitting that we tackle his third and final (well, as far as the TurboGrafx is concerned) adventure for the system, Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure. Fortunately for our purposes, it was published as both a HuCard game and as an enhanced TurboGrafx-CD game, so we'll be checking out the latter version. Oddly enough, the CD version has no Japanese equivalent. My guess is that the TurboDuo crowd were reaching for new releases at that point: 45 licensed games total isn't a particularly impressive library.
Bonk became the de facto mascot for the PC Engine having been a character designed specifically for that purpose by developers Hudson Soft -- in Japan, he is known as "PC Genjin", where "genjin" means "primitive man". It may be a dumb pun, but it's easy to remember a character so nominally tied to their console of origin. To Hudson's credit, they attempted to create a platformer hero as distinct as possible, distancing itself from the obvious benchmark Mario in much the same way as Sega's Sonic did. Bonk has minimal jumping ability, but he has an array of offensive abilities like his trademark head bonk and various powered-up forms as well as a means to climb up walls and waterfalls. Stages in Bonk tend to be a little more open-ended for the sake of collectibles and secrets too.
I feel the new additions to Bonk III specifically are so minor that I might as well describe them in the screenshots themselves. And, of course, there's the new addition of redbook audio too.
The Little Round-Headed Buffoon That is Bonk
So that's Bonk 3. It's really more of the same, but it still holds up as well as its predecessors. I think the reason for why that is is because no game really tried to do what Bonk did before or after its heyday. 2D platformers underwent this odd evolution where the big games industry came to this spurious conclusion that they were no longer relevant: they had been usurped by 3D platformers, evidenced by how games of that format outside of the big mascot franchises continued to do less and less well. In actuality, and this is what all these Indie 2D platformer developers later discovered, the real reason 2D platformers went temporarily extinct is because no-one was making NEW ones. They were simply regurgitating the same tired elements of all the Mario also-rans that had come before and, with the occasional exception like Klonoa, the 2D format just wasn't seeing any innovative ideas.
So now we have a whole bunch of super successful Indie 2D platformers (which are getting a little a stale again, admittedly) and the reason is because they're all trying new things. Bonk persists because what it did still feels fresh and original.
Anyway, enough ranting about platformers. I don't have much to offer musically this time, since YouTube isn't being co-operative with finding soundtrack vids, so instead here's a Long Play of the CD version. You can enjoy the CD-quality music of the game with the added benefit of watching all the above screenshots in motion, kinda.
I'll admit it, when you don't know nothin' 'bout nothin' when it comes to the TurboGrafx-CD, it's hard to select a list of games you really need to check out. I'm thankful for the few suggestions offered so far; though it's easy enough to pick what look like winners from the 45 CD games released in the US (Protip: probably best to avoid the ports and licensed games), the 417 PCE-CDROM² games are a bit more of a jungle. My point being, is that I'll be checking out a lot of games I'm only tangentially aware of, if at all.
Lords of Thunder ("Winds of Thunder" in Japan) is not one of those games. I mentioned the CD format's capacity for improved music via redbook audio, and Lords of Thunder has one of the greatest VGM soundtracks I've ever heard. I hear it's sort of legendary how metal this game is. I'll be sure to link to a few tracks at the end, like before.
As for the game itself, it's one of those horizontal shoot 'em ups that came at a time when developers were introducing to the genre what I call "cinematic uncertainty", a phrase I used to describe Donkey Kong Country Returns' difficulty. What this means is that weird, unexpected and enormous shit will just appear for dramatic reasons and completely wreck you if you aren't able to anticipate it. While stages become a lot more exciting, they also depend far more heavily on memorization before you're able to conquer them reliably. If a random gigantic dragon appears out of nowhere, you need to know that the guy is coming and prepare accordingly, perhaps by hovering around the small part of the screen that its colossal body doesn't take up and jamming on that fire button, dropping a few bombs too for good measure. The visuals and music together make Lords of Thunder something of an intense experience, but it's clear I'll need to replay stages several times before I fully get into the swing of things. There's more, of course, but I'll save that for the screenshots themselves.
Instead, let me just ask you this: Are you ready to rock?
Lords of Guitar Solos
Lords of Thunder is amazing, but at the same time requires a level of dedication I'm not quite prepared to lend to a single item in a daily series. I did get to the boss of that first stage though, so I bet I could beat him with enough perseverance and caution. Caution isn't really the sort of adjective that suits Lords of Thunder, though, as you'll come to understand once you listen to its music below.
While I do have a few more shoot 'em ups on the docket (there's so dang many, you can't swing an Option around without hitting one), they're all a little less serious than Lords of Thunder. And considerably less metal.
So begins a new series of Octurbo. Figured I might as well start with one of the best acclaimed PCE-CD originals, from one of the most prolific video games series that still sorta exists. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released in 1993, but while it looked like a SNES game (like 1995's Dracula X, coincidentally enough. That one was based on this game) it certainly didn't sound like one. The game had Redbook audio, which essentially means the music was encoded like it would be on a regular audio CD that you could, once upon a time, buy from a store without feeling like a 50 year old. Now, I'm plenty fond of the chiptune stuff, but full CD quality Castlevania music is something to behold even now, and it must've seemed insane to hear it in a video game for the first time those twenty plus years ago.
Rondo follows the adventures of a new Belmont, Richter, as he chases after a freshly resurrected Lord Dracula in order to rescue his kidnapped fiancée Annette. Along the way, he can rescue a few other damsels in distress, but the game keeps them well-hidden for the sake of adding a bit of longevity; you have to seek them out through alternate paths and the like, and the game's not fully complete unless he saves all four, including Annette. There's a few other novel features too, but I'll get into them in the screenshots below. Importantly, this game is the direct predecessor of Symphony of the Night, perhaps the best Castlevania game ever made -- it can be a toss-up between that one and this one, depending on who you ask.
I'm half wondering if I should've left Rondo of Blood for last, partly so I could cover a horror game closer to Halloween and partly because I have to assume that it's all downhill from here. Still, you really ought to start with a showstopper. I'm sure that's how that phrase goes.
Rondo. It's Got What Vampires Crave.
Before we wrap up, however, here's a few bonuses:
And that's Rondo of Blood, or at least the first half of it. Well, the first quarter if you don't count all those alternate paths. There's a lot more to the game than meets the floating eye, it seems.
One of the new things I'm doing with this season of Octurbo is adding a few links to the game's music, if it stands out. In most cases it will. The redbook audio element of CD-based gaming is what a lot of developers jumped on when considering ways to take advantage of the new format, and so a lot more thought and money went into producing soundtracks.
Here's a smattering of tracks from the few stages I played of Rondo of Blood. It's mostly classic Castlevania music that has been dolled up to the nines: