Sunday, March 20, 2011

RPG Misery

As progress continues on Chrontendo 37, it's turning out to be one of those episodes which lacks a really standout game, but still features several "interesting" titles.  Déjà Vu is one of those. (Hey! Sit down, everyone!  Don't get all excited....  I'm not saying DV is a bad game, simply that the clunky interface is a pain in the ass and it makes you wish you had a mouse.)

Another example of an "interesting" game is Kaijuu Monogatari. AKA Shell Saurs Story.  Yes, that's what the box cover says: "Shell Saurs Story."  I don't know what it means, either.  But according to King Mike's translation, the game concerns "...animals called Shell Monsters who wore small shells on their backs."  Kaijuu Monogatari is not Namco's first RPG -- they've already published several, Megami Tensei being the most significant.  But this is the first really blatant Dragon Quest clone from Namco.

I don't see any shells.

Like Dragon Quest II and III, Namco's game uses standard turn-based combat, random encounters and a multi-character party.  Kaijuu Monogatari starts you off as a solitary weak and defenseless hero, even more so than DQ.  The most humble monsters lurking around the starting castle stand a pretty good chance of killing you, unlike DQ's famously wimpy slimes.  You will immediately encounter bats and slugs in groups of two, each capable of doing 1 or 2 points of damage, and each with 6-8 HP themselves.  Your own attacks do 1-2 damage, and you start with 14 HP.  I think you can figure out the math yourself.   Assuming you survive your first battle, you'll need to immediately head back and pay for a night at the inn to recover, then repeat.

Just like Dragon Quest, only uglier.

Once you gain a level, you'll should be able to withstand two battles between inn visits.  After that it becomes smoother sailing, but like most RPGs of the era, you'll need to gain several levels before venturing out too far.  Once you've gotten strong enough to actually start exploring, the game "really" begins.   Except....

As I mentioned, Kaijuu Monogatari has four playable characters.  In most RPGs you encounter additional characters as you progress along your journey, adding them to your party. Modern games will give you pre-leveled characters: each new party members is already at about the same level as your other characters when they join.  Older games, such as DQ II will introduce characters at level 1.  You will need to push them to the back of your lineup and desperately hope they don't get killed in every battle; but at least they gain levels quickly.  Kaijuu Monogatari does things differently.  Intially, each character is controlled separatley.  You start out playing the main hero, but through a menu option you can switch to character number two, Kupikupi, at any time.  The thing is: Kupikupi also starts out with basic armor weapons, no experience and little gold.  If even if you've leveled up your main character, you will now need to do the exact same thing with Kupikupi - right down to the "fight one battle, rest at the inn" routine.  And then you repeat all this again with characters three and four!

Back to square one.

Early JRPGs are notorious for their repetitive, grindy, nature.  But Kaijuu Montogatari is the only game I've seen that makes you go through the whole process four times!  Eventually, you will reach a spot where your hero and Kupikupi can cross paths and combine forces.  Until then, however, you are forced to switch back and forth between characters, leveling them up individually.   I don't know if this is a stroke of genius or an example of pure idiocy.  One hand, it's cool to be able to see what each party member was up to before joining the hero.  On the other hand -- having to build up each character from level one is pretty irritating.  It might work better if combat had more of a strategic element, and less of pure luck.  The fact that each character has an absurdly small number of inventory slots, doesn't help much either.  Also: getting constantly poisoned sucks.  As the CRPG Addict has wondered, why does every single 80s RPG love to poison you over and over?

Guess what's also in Chrontendo 37?  The 1988 arcade round-up!   1988 isn't really considered a big year for arcade games; there is nothing quite as genre-defining as Contra or Double Dragon, both of which were featured in the 1987 round-up.  There is plenty of technical innovation in '88, however, as Namco introduces its System 2 board, which was capable of all sorts of SNES-like sprite manipulation effects.  And Atari brought back 3D games in a big way with Hard Drivin', five years after the failure of the first polygon based 3D game, I Robot.  1988 will turn out to be a big year for 3D, with Starglider 2 coming out for the Amiga and ST.

Oh shit!  Flat-shaded polygons!  The future is here.

Speaking of computer games, the 1988 computer game round-up will turn up in episode 38 or 39.  The next few episodes will be pretty packed, since we've got one big game coming out in each episode.  So think of Episode 37 as the calm before storm.

Finally, my apologies to Cornervizion, since I unwittingly let a comment of his get stuck in my spam filter for a while.  In this comment he mentions Retro Core, a very fine videocast that was pretty influential on Chrontendo, in terms of both content and length.  The fact that it was able to uploaded in hour-long videos on was the reason I ended up going with Archive myself.


Chris Osborne said...

You know what would be perfect? A release tomorrow or Wednesday because then I can add it to the list of things that aren't really my wife's birthday presents but I'm saying they are.

el blanco said...

I can't wait! Even Chrontendo episodes of boring games are made out of awesome sauce!

Doctor Sparkle said...

Yeah, no problem, Chris. I'll get crackin.

xaqar said...

Retro Core is full of awesome. Anyone who enjoys Chrontendo would find something to like in it, I would guess! Plus, Yakumo has an awesome accent. :)

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, Kaijuu Monogatari sounds like Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen. Where you play episodes devoted to 1-2 characters until they hit lvl.10 or so, then it switches over to the next episode. After you've gotten acquainted with each group of heroes, the 5th chapter begins and they all meet up and combine forces so the game proper can begin. And you also started at lvl.1 with each new group of characters.

I thought that design was fresh as heck when I played DQIV on DS 2 years ago. I'm kinda shocked to hear that a DQ rip off for the Famicom did that idea first.

Alysandher said...


I don't have much to say at the moment, but I just want to let you know that Chrontendo is still as awesome as it's ever been. I await your newest episode more than I do anything on broadcast tv.

(that's exactly half a compliment to you and half an insult to modern tv)

Doctor Sparkle said...

There is definitely a similarity between DQ IV and Kaiju Monogatari, though in DQ IV you have actual characters, rather than the generic guys of KM. And the fact that KM lets you switch between the characters at any point makes them seem even that more interchangeable.

It seems possible that Enix may have been inspired by KM, but I assume DQ IV must have been pretty far into its development schedule when KM came out. It may just be an interesting coincidence.

Sergeant D said...

"I don't have much to say at the moment, but I just want to let you know that Chrontendo is still as awesome as it's ever been. I await your newest episode more than I do anything on broadcast tv. "


Cornervizion said...

No problem Dr Sparkle. It does happen, to be honest I wouldn't have noticed as my Internet connection has been random (Trying to clear the arrears for some time, hopefully this shouldn't be too long) In the meantime I really enjoyed the last few episodes, and waited with baited breath for episode 37.

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