Phantasy Star III (Switch): COMPLETED!

Let me three your phantasy.

I wasn’t going to move onto Phantasy Star III so soon after Phantasy Star II, but there it was on the Sega Mega Drive Classics menu, winking at me, so I didn’t really have a choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, Phantasy Star III was my first JRPG. It’s still my favourite, and although Phantasy Star IV is probably technically better, it’s III that I have more fondness for. Back in the day I completed it many times. The first time, it took from Christmas to August, but after a few more I could do it in a single 24 hour sitting. This is the first time I’ve completed it in probably two decades, and it took perhaps 15 hours, but there’s a reason for that: I played most of the walking and some of the fighting on Fast Forward (an option in the Mega Drive Classics). If there’s one thing that hasn’t aged well in RPGs, it’s how slow you move.

Gianticorn and Wolfsnail was a short lived kid’s cartoon in the 1990s.

Surprisingly, I still knew almost all of what I needed to do in the game. Even the routes through some of the dungeons was still etched in my brain. I also found the game much, much easier than I ever remember it being, with much less grinding too. I seem to recall always needing to level most of my party up to around level 55 for the final dungeon and boss, but here I walked it at around level 48. Maybe I’m just better now.

For those interested, the characters I played as (the game spans three generations with a slightly different story depending who you marry at the end of each) were Rhys, who married Maia and had a son, Ayn, who married Thea and had a son Sean.

Now, do I start IV or do something else first?

Phantasy Star II (Switch): COMPLETED!

Phantasy Star II was never my favourite game in the series. It’s the one I’ve played the least, the one I struggled with the most, and the one which has the worst dungeons ever. But I still really like it.

Compared to the original, despite appearing on more powerful hardware, this sequel seems such a step backwards in many ways. The dungeons are no longer rendered in 3D, which is the biggest change, instead being the more usual JRPG “almost overhead” view. This would make them easier to navigate if it wasn’t for the fact many, especially those later on, are a total nightmare. Convoluted mazes with many stairs up and down and pits to fall in which are trial and error.

Dezolians are a bit weird and don’t even understand you unless you’re wearing a Magic Cap or a Mogic Cap. Yes, a Mogic Cap. It’s the same as a Magic one, only you pay twice as much in shops if you’re wearing a Magic one.

The plot is fine but the things you’re asked to do are boring. Oh, a dam to explore. And another one. And another one. And another one. Now search all four of these dungeons for all the “nei” weapons, several of which you’ll never need to use but you can’t progress until you’ve found them. Rubbish.

Then there’s the fact that (spoilers), the entire planet of Palm (neé Palma) is blown up. You’d think there’d be more panic and outcry from the residents of Mota(via) and Dezo(lis), but no – barely a mention from anyone. In some ways it feels like it was cut from the game rather then specifically destroyed. You spend far too long on Mota before you’re able to travel to Dezo and once on Dezo there’s little point returning. In Phantasy Star, you were planet hopping all the time and had jumped from Palma to Motavia very early on.

Unlike the first game, you have a choice of party members here. Several of them seem completely unnecessary, but Shir is fun as she can nick stuff from shops. Randomly, unfortunately, and the things she steals are from a set list of items rather than what the shop may actually sell, but still – it’s a good way to make some money. Hugh and Kain though? Nobody cares.

Oh, it’s Dark Force again. I bumped into it accidentally (it hides in a chest) when I wasn’t on a hight enough level and he killed me. Some grinding later and he was a walkover.

But despite these issues, I must stress that Phantasy Star II is still great. There are improvements, such as each character having their own inventory, far more magic types (now called “techniques”), no annoying going into the inventory to get your ice digger or land rover or whatever all the time, and the dialogue translation is far better. I enjoyed the references to the original too, with shared place names, the main character’s recurring dreams about Alis, and the “is Lutz the same guy as Noah but Noah was a girl and does that mean Lutz is or was it a mistranslation?” thing.

Lutz is definitely a boy. Or a very rude girl.

So, it’s not as good, but it is still definitely worth a play.

ESWAT: City Under Siege (Switch): COMPLETED!

What does ESWAT stand for? Is it like SWAT only with an E like eBook and eLearning and eMail? Or are you supposed to say “es-what”? Who knows. But it’s certainly more interesting than the game.

Yes, friends, ESWAT is a proper stinker. A clunky platform shooter with rubbish weapon selection controls and boring levels. A game that suggests, from screenshots and the first level or so, it’s a bit like Rolling Thunder (which is a great game), but disappointingly, isn’t.

There are some positives, such as the very varied levels and a few impressive bosses, but your character is slow (both to move and respond), badly animated, and these issues make it difficult to avoid enemies. Later levels have you in a sort of power armour suit with more weapon options and a jetpack, but your weapons randomly disappear, and the jetpack is a nightmare to control.

I could say more but I’ve wasted long enough on this awful game already so I won’t.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Switch): COMPLETED!

The first of what will hopefully be many games completed on the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection on the Switch. I was going to play Fatal Labyrinth, but the lack of a manual and the terrible video options (which don’t affect Alex Kidd so much) put me off for now. Instead, this.

The Mega Drive Alex Kidd game isn’t as good as the Master System “Miracle World” title. There. I said it. It looks prettier (although it’s still almost Master System quality graphics), and it’s one hell of a lot easier, but it’s lacking something. I don’t really know what exactly, since it’s very much closer to a remake than a sequel, but there’s something. Heart? Soul? Blocks with stars on them?

Just the two of us. Building castles in the sky.

What it is, then, is a mostly generic platformer starring half boy, half monkey Alex, who suffers from wonky physics syndrome. Alex must unintentionally slide, over compensationally jump, and input lag his way around a number of platforming levels, mostly avoiding enemies as trying to hit them is much harder than just going around them.

He can collect money from defeated baddies and from treasure chests, and then use this money to enter janken (scissors, paper, stone) matches with people for power-ups. You also use janken to defeat bosses. So yes, it’s random as to whether you’ll win or not.

Alex thinking about punching ratboy over there. Sorry Alex! You can only play janken.

Finally, you reach a castle where there is a bit of puzzling and more interesting platforming, before facing the final boss in more hand games and then an actual normal fight. After which, you “rescue” your Dad who hadn’t been captured after all making the entire game a colossal waste of everyone’s time.

But actually, I really quite enjoyed it despite all the terrible flaws.

Mega-lo-Mania (MD): COMPLETED!

I alone am best.

I must complete this every year, I think. There’s little need to mention much about the game really, except to say that 1) I played as Scarlet, and 2) once again I reached the final level as the only person to actually put any of my men in suspended animation. Meaning another instant win.

One day, someone else will manage it. One day.

Pulseman (MD): COMPLETED!

But he’s a robot so doesn’t have a pulse surely.

What’s this? A Mega Drive game I’ve never heard of? Surely not. Especially since it was written by Game Freak and published by Sega themselves. How come I’d never seen it before? Perhaps it’s because it was Japan-only?

Well, despite being Japan-only, and all the dialogue in the game being in Japanese, all the speech (and there’s a lot) is in English. Which begs more questions – why wasn’t this released outside of Japan? Bizarre.

The game itself plays like a cross between Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. Pulseman himself looks absolutely nothing like Zero from the Mega Man games, and none of the levels look anything like Aquatic Ruin, Green Hill Zone and Casino Night at all. Unlike both those games, though, Pulseman is badly animated and movement is jerky. He’s got a swipe attack and a weird backflip thing (during which he’s invulnerable), but the main gimmick for the game is his ability to charge himself up with electricity and use it mainly to become a ball that bounces round the screen.

To charge, Pulseman can either run a short distance or perform a dash. The ball he turns in to can then be used to reach higher platforms, break through certain walls, or travel along wires. There’s a power up which allows Pulseman to remain charged indefinitely, so long as you don’t die or finish the level.

Speaking of levels, they’re varied and some look incredible. In particular, backgrounds are often made up of the sort of sine-wavey trickery demo scene stuff tends to do. It’s occasionally distracting (on one later level seemingly on purpose) but it looks really clever. On the casino level you wonder how they squeezed so many colours out of a Mega Drive.

Jerkiness aside, it’s a fun game. Not too hard, sometimes frustrating (mainly due to leaps of faith or those baddies that follow you round discharging you all the time), and with lots of “wow” moments with the graphics.

Gynoug (MD): COMPLETED!

Or Wings of Wor, if you’re from “over there”.

Was this always so easy? I mean, it isn’t easy. Not at all. But I found it really hard back in the 90s yet somehow managed to finish it today without much of a struggle. Perhaps it’s because I now understand the concept of “bullet hell shooter” (which this isn’t really, but it helps) so I concentrated on watching bullets rather than enemies.

In fact, I didn’t even die until level 3 or 4, and even that felt unavoidable.

My memory is obviously faulty too, as I was sure that the bosses were much harder to hit when in fact most of them are shot accidentally as you avoid projectiles. Only the final boss caused an issue, and that was because his weak point is well protected and it just took ages more than anything.

I was also pretty sure there was a vertically scrolling level in there. Apparently not. Dunno where I got that from!

Mega-lo-Mania (MD): COMPLETED!

Alright, Why Not.

As I do every so often, I sat and played – and completed – one of the very best Mega Drive games: Mega-lo-Mania.

This time it was prompted by a conversation on Twitter, but I don’t really ever need an excuse to play it. It’s so good.

Once again, the CPU didn’t put anybody in suspended animation (see my previous post on this) and, since I’d expected it, I only put the bare minimum in myself. And then won.

Again.

Virtua Fighter 2 (PSP): COMPLETED!

Polygone.

Sort of prompted by the Virtua Fighter article in the current issue of Retro Gamer, when I opened up Mega Drive Collection for the PSP – on my Vita – I decided to play this.

It’s crap.

No, it’s really pretty awful. The animation is terrible, the controls are unresponsive, and the implementation of the game on the Vita/PSP is woeful, with horrendous slowdown and sound syncing issues.

It looks nice. But then everything moves and you wonder what the hell Sega were thinking when they thought the Mega Drive was a good fit for a Virtua Fighter 2 port. It didn’t have the oomph to push enough polygons, so they rendered the animation frames with sprites instead. Leaving a poorly animated version of the game and awful sprites that are laughable beside Street Fighter II or even Eternal Champions.

I completed it as Jacky, by the way.

Marvel Land (MD): COMPLETED!

Marvel Land is a game I had as a kid, but never completed. A while after the original release, it appeared outside of Japan as “Talmit’s Adventure” or something, but I always preferred the Japanese original. So the Japanese one is what I played through here.

It’s a happy fun blue skies platformer with slightly slippy physics. You know the sort – where floors don’t have quite enough friction when you land. It certainly took some time to get used to. Marvel Land’s “thing” is the bizarre attack you can perform by flinging copies of yourself around yourself. You need a power-up to give you a “chain” of clones, and then by pressing up or down you spin them around you, collecting items and attacking baddies. It’s very odd.

marvel land

Sometimes, you can use these clones to grab a node, which lets you swing around and cross gaps or jump high. The more clones you have (attacking with them depletes them) the higher or further you go.

The other “thing” with Marvel Land is all the warp doors. As is common in many platformers, there are hidden (literally) or hard to reach doors that warp you to other parts of the level or even other levels. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Only in this game, some of the warps take you back to the start of the level. Or back a whole level, or several levels. There’s one particularly evil one in the penultimate level. It takes you right back to the very start of the game. I’ll not deny I reverted to a save state for that one.

marvel land

Boss battles are a bit strange and thoroughly Japanese. One involves playing Janken, another is a bit Whack-a-Mole. Only the final boss actually involves a fight of any sort!

Marvel Land is a fun, happy, difficult, nonsensical platformer. It reminds me a lot of Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure, and that’s a good thing.

marvel land

Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (MD): COMPLETED!

I have never played a Ys game before. I don’t even know how to pronounce it. “Wise”? “Ees”? “Why Ess”? Who knows. Something else I also didn’t know: Ys III is a Castlevania game.

Not an actual Castlevania game from that series of course. No, Ys III just plays a lot like one. There’s a castle, a clocktower, and even a boss that is very much like Dracula. It has the same mechanic for walking up and down stairs. Grinding to level up, just like the Metroidvania CV games, is also a thing here. Even the music sounds like it has comes from a Castlevania game, with a couple of the tracks sounding almost identical to music from that series. It’s also hard as nails. Castlevania, see?

ys iii
Another Castlevania, another Clock Tower.

Before I started playing it, I was expecting a party based RPG. Imagine my surprise then, when it was a side scrolling hack and slash game. And that was before I realised the Castlevania parallels. There’s some Zelda II in there too. Unlike those games, however, Ys III is pretty short. There are only four levels, one of which you do twice, and each is impossible until you’ve levelled up enough. The bosses ranged from laughably simple to nigh-on impossible (I really struggled with the fire lion thing), and in Castlevania II tradition poor translation meant I was clueless how to progress at least twice while playing.

ys iii
Dancing on the sand.

Graphically, the sprites are not exactly the Mega Drive’s best, but the parallax backgrounds – especially the sunset – are incredible. Sound effects are nothing special, in contrast to the epic soundtrack. I found the controls a little unresponsive when it came to jumping. This made climbing up out of a cave more difficult that it really should have been.

ys iii
Gotta gets me some harb.

On the whole though, Ys III is really rather good. If nothing like what I was expecting. There’s a remake available on the PSP and on Steam, the latter of which it seems I own somehow, so I might give that a go.

Super Fantasy Zone (MD): COMPLETED!

Run out of straplines for Fantasy Zone games, sorry.

More Fantasy Zone! Only this time, Super Fantasy Zone! Yes, it’s more of the same, but that is no bad thing at all. It is most similar to the arcade version of Fantasy Zone II, sharing a handful of baddies and of course a similar level of graphical fanciness.

super fantasy zone
Paint the whole world with a Rainbow!

Oddly, there are no permanent “gun” power-ups, unlike all the other games, and since the temporary ones run out so quickly they’re mostly useless: You’d benefit most from being able to use them on bosses, but of course they expire well before you make it that far.

super fantasy zone
Shop ’til you drop.

One of the permanent “bomb” upgrades effectively makes the entire game a walkover too – the four-shot homing missiles. Constantly firing it invariably wipes out all the stray enemies, leaving you just the bases to destroy. These missiles also work on most of the bosses, allowing you to concentrate on avoiding their attacks while it automatically kills them for you.

In the dark, dark night
In the dark, dark night…

So yes, it’s probably the easiest of all the Fantasy Zone games (I didn’t mention, but money is no object in this one either), but it is still a lot of fun. I particularly liked both the nods to Space Harrier in the final boss rush, and lots of bosses from previous games in the background. Easter eggs!

James Pond II: Codename Robocod (MD): COMPLETED!

Part Fish, Part Machine, All Cod.

Robocod was one of my favourite Mega Drive games in the 90s. I loved the silliness and the stupid things you could collect, the themed levels, and the penguins. Sadly, over the years when Playstation, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS remakes were released, they ruined the memory of a once great game.

Robocod

Going back to the original (well, the Mega Drive version of the original anyway) I was hoping to show how awful the more recent versions have been, but unfortunately it hasn’t held up too well itself. Of course, it’s still far better than the others, but it isn’t quite as good as I recall. Too many instant unforeseen deaths (things dropping out of nowhere on your head, for example), dodgy collision detection, and even falling through floors – all things I’d either not cared about back then or have forgotten in the meantime.

Robocod is still wonderfully nonsensical though, with creative baddies (busses that spit out grannies being my favourite) and some decent bosses, but it perhaps isn’t the best Mega Drive platformer that isn’t Sonic any more.

Robocod

It didn’t take very long to complete either, so even though I died a lot clearly there was an abundance of extra lives (not to mention the ten minutes semi-invincibility you get at the start for collecting items in the right order). I got stuck on a level in the “transport” world trying to find a missing penguin, but eventually located it. Most of the rest of the levels were pretty straightforward. Fun but dated.

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Gauntlet 4 (MD): COMPLETED!

Try this level now

Gauntlet 4That was excellent! I’m really, really pleased that I’d not been misremembering how great Gauntlet 4’s Quest Mode was. I had been misremembering how easy it was, however. Or was I just being extra cautious, escaping from the towers every time my health was low and I didn’t have a healing potion? Either way, I didn’t die at all. Not even on the end boss. Or the end, end boss after him.

Gauntlet 4Oh yes, I had forgotten that too. You see, once you’ve beaten all the dragons in the towers and opened up the Castle, then made your way through that, there’s a final dragon boss. He’s much the same as the other four, only he also has four crystals in front of him. You have to shoot all of these crystals in order to be able to damage the dragon as he’s invincible otherwise, and after a few seconds the crystals reactivate. Once I’d got into a steady rhythm though, he was quite simple. After that you’re given the option of escaping from the castle, or learning the secret of eternal youth. Take the first option and you have to defeat the dragon again – the end, end boss (albeit without the crystals this time) – before you can run away. Take the second option and you’re turned into the dragon and have to kill adventurers.

Gauntlet 4

I consider this second option the “bad” ending, so went with the first. And that was it.

For those interested, I was Questor the Elf (I’m always the elf in Gauntlet – he’s the best character) and here are my end of game stats:

Gauntlet 4

Gauntlet 4 (MD)

Elf has eaten all the food lately.

It’s a bit good this, isn’t it? Why i’m asking you, I don’t know. You probably don’t know anyway, and I already know. In fact, it’s my third favourite Mega Drive game. At least, it was a very long time ago and when I started playing it again today for the first time in at least 15 years, I was a little apprehensive that it may have aged badly. Thankfully, I need not have worried: It’s excellent.

Gauntlet IV

Oh but wait – I’m not talking about the main game here. Arcade mode is essentially just the original Gauntlet arcade game, and although that is still an absolutely fantastic thing, the main game mode for me is Quest. Quest is almost an RPG, as your hero navigates four towers with ten levels in each, finding traps to open walls and allow progress to the final floor where a dragon resides. Yes, it has boss battles. As you beat foes, you gain experience which you can spend on improving your stats (shot speed, defence, magic power, etc.), and as you collect treasure you can spend that in shops to gain better equipment (which essentially also just boosts your stats).

Gauntlet IV

So far, I’ve completed the Fire and Water towers, and am about a third of the way through the Earth tower.