RPG 188 BEATEN: Demon’s Souls

Playing on: Playstation 5

Year: 2020

For those of you unfamiliar, Demon’s Souls, as well as the “souls-like” games that preceded it, are legendary in the RPG and gaming community for their maddening difficulty. Demons souls is the original title in the series of third-person action-RPGs that use a similar feel and gameplay known as “soul-like” games. It’s also a sort of updated spiritual successor to the older first-person Kings Field games whose last title was on the PS2.

I first played Demon’s souls in its original form on the Playstation 3. I actually got pretty far in the game at the time and probably made it at least 25% or more through the game. I remember finding the game quite challenging at the time but not as insurmountable as some were making it out to be. for some reason though I put the game down one day and just never picked it up again. It’s possible I had become frustrated with a few bosses that had become roadblocks for me but I can’t recall the exact reason I gave up on my playthrough.

Now, many years later and a remake was released for the PlayStation 5 reigniting my interest in the souls series. I did briefly consider playing the original but after acquiring a PS5 and learning the remake was basically a carbon copy of the original with just updated visuals I made Demon’s Souls remake my first PS5 game pickup.

Demon’s souls takes place in a world where a strange fog has enveloped an entire kingdom where no one can escape. Those inside the fog face various demons all hunting for souls as well as the corrupting influence of the fog. It’s later learned the fog was created by the awakening of some sort of ancient diety-type creature by the king, it’s kind of your typical forbidden magic type scenario. The game revolves around a hub known as the nexus where you eventually have access to various stones that teleport you to various locations of theme. we have the central city, the mines, the swampy underground, and island setting, ect… The various “worlds” are mostly split into three parts each with a boss at the end of each section. There is a best order to tackle them but you can mostly complete them in any order you wish.

There are many medieval-type builds to choose for your character when starting though as you level up you can more or less mold your character however you want with your starting class mostly deciding your starting weapon, armor, and which stats are boosted. As the game progresses you can easily mold your character into a high HP tank or a agile swordsman or even a magic user. I chose a temple knight who starts with decent combat stats and has some healing magic abilities. As I played through the game though I found myself not using magic at all and quickly abandoned putting points into faith and focused on combat stats. My character also started with decent armor and a halberd polearm which was quite powerful but could be awkward to wield in tight spaces.

I actually didn’t realize how good the remake looked until I went back and compared it to the PS3 original and even the Dark Souls remake on PS4. This game looks great and really shows off the PS5’s visual abilities. Overall the game is quite drab and dark taking place in caves, underground swamps, dungeons and various gothic settings so don’t expect any bright colorful areas. There is one “world” which is on an island and features some open outdoor areas that seem a little brighter for a change of pace. I’ve read some people prefer the original as they claim lower-quality visuals gave the game a better atmosphere.

NPCs are pretty minimal with the bulk of them being found in the Nexus area although most areas at least have one NPC you can purchase items off of who reappears in later areas once you can access them. There was one NPC merchant in the second part of the caves area that I accidentally killed and subsequently lost access to so be careful of that.

As I mentioned earlier the game world has a dark oppressive feel to it which does make a lot of sense as your adventuring inside this fallen kingdom completely overrun by demons and “the fog”.

Demon’s souls and the souls series in general has such a reputation for difficulty I found myself being very intimidated and maybe even overwhelmed at first. I quickly learned though that the game was pretty manageable if you simply played defensively. The game is an action game but the strategy that worked best for me was always to keep your shield up and take things slow.

I also quickly learned that although areas at first seemed very large and open they were still fairly linear and after progressing in an area there was almost always some kind of switch or door to open that would create a shortcut for my character from the start of the stage to the boss or later stage area.

Demon’s souls also has a pretty annoying concept of how your HP gauge works and “world affinity”. Basically, once you die you respawn at the last nexus point but as a sort of not quite alive…I forget the term they used but the gist of it is you only have half your hitpoints, it’s quite a handicap. You can use certain items to regain your soul or regain it by doing things like defeating a boss and thus regain all your hitpoints but if you die continuously in any world while in your full hitpoint form the world eventually becomes harder. Basically, the game punishes you for having a difficult time by making the game more difficult, it’s a bit counterintuitive. I found the best strategy is you just kill yourself in the nexus whenever you defeat a boss and just get used to playing the game with reduced HP. Thankfully very early on in the first world there is a ring that severely lessens the HP loss in this form though your stuck all of the game with one ring slot in your inventory always in use by this item.

Despite all this I found myself quickly assimilating to the playstyle and difficulty of the game. The game just didn’t seem as difficult as I remembered way back when I played it on PS3 and as I played through the remake I also realized I actually had made better progress than I remembered on the original. Once you get the hang of the first world and even the start of the second I think most people become a little overconfident until they reach the end of world 1-2 and encounter several harder enemies only to be totally crushed by the tower knight boss of world 1-2 as I was,

It’s at this point I learned you don’t really have to, and indeed shouldn’t do the worlds in order and it’s okay to try different areas, tackling the easier areas to gain experience and increase stats so you can come back and tackle the harder parts.

It’s at this point I also learned armor and weapons work differently than what I was used to in many RPGs. In most RPG games you start with weak weapons and armor and as you progress you find and purchase better equipment as new towns are discovered. In Demons souls it really feels more based on playstyle and you can upgrade and customize different weapons as the game progresses. The weapon selection in Demon’s souls is massive covering spears, pole arms, swords, warhammers, axes etc… as well as ranged weapons such as different crossbows and bows. Unfortunately, most players will pick a weapon or two and mostly stick with it, upgrading along the way. I used my halberd polearm almost halfway through the game before switching to a sword weapon which did less raw damage but was faster and more manageable in tight quarters. What weapons you can use is largely determined by your strength and/or dexterity stat. some weapons favor one or the other stat and some both. Some weapons will also give you damage bonuses depending on the preferred stat. There is also a durability value to each weapon but I found this almost irrelevant since it depletes slowly and is easily repairable at a blacksmith.

Other than the punishing difficulty another selling point of the souls games are the online features. These are optional features so you don’t have to be online to play the game. These features are the ability for other players to leave messages on the ground about potential upcoming hazards as well as blood spots that show the last actions of other players before they perished. Personally, I didn’t find most of this to be very helpful and for the most part, declined to watch most of the blood spots. The messages on the other hand were slightly more helpful at times, indicating a potential hidden passage or hidden enemy.

Another feature is the ability to invade other players’ games or have your own world invaded. Again I like to play a strictly single-player experience and I never bothered to invade other worlds but I did have mine invaded one or two times. The first time I was slaughtered pretty quickly and this was earlier in the game. The second time this happened to me was in the final area of the game and I was invaded by a high-level player. This other player apparently had a level-stealing ability which he used on me quite liberally. At the time, even though I was near the end of the game, I had no idea this was something invaders could do to you. Before I knew what was happening I had already lost 5 or 6 hard-earned levels. in a panic, I shut the game off but unfortunately, I had already lost hours of level grinding to this invader.

Enemies in Demon’s souls are pretty varied and range from all manner of humanoid soldiers and knights to typical fantasy beasts like dragons and skeletons. I did enjoy some of the more exotic monsters like the slugs encountered in the swamp sections. Boss monsters span the gamut as well from giant spiders to battleship-sized flying manta rays. The boss battles themselves can be awe-inspiring and you will die several times before figuring out the right way to take down a boss but I never encountered any bosses that I just found insurmountable. There are some gimmicky fights like the one against the dragon god which amounts to little more than hiding and running between points at the right time. Some bosses can be both very easy and also create mixed feelings. The last area of the swamp world, caverns fills with monsters that give poison status was a difficult slog to get through. This world ends with a fight against a saint who thought she could resist the corruption of the demon souls to bring comfort to the plague-ridden inhabitants of the swamp. after tracking through a blood swamp filled with murderous fetuses (you read that right) I have to fight her loyal lover/protector knight. After a relatively easy battle, I made my way to the maiden only for her to commit suicide on learning her lover was dead…pretty dark stuff.

So I guess I’ll just come out and say it. Demon’s Souls is nowhere near the soul-crushing difficulty that many gamers claim it to be. Maybe it’s just that I come from a generation that cut their teeth on Ninja Gaiden and Ghouls and Ghosts but I was able to complete this game in about three weeks with very little frustration. I was very worried I would become stuck at some point because of my less-than-stellar action game abilities but even with Demon Souls, I found the tried and true RPG method of level grinding until your overpowered worked here as well as any other RPG. Yes, some bosses were still a challenge and you do need some strategy on when to attack and when to put up that shield or dodge I found that pilling the level-up stat boosts into health and endurance generally gave enough of a cushion to make up for not being perfect at action RPGs or memorizing patterns. This is not even to mention that some monsters can effectively be cheesed by using ranged weapons like the bow.

Despite the game being nowhere near the difficult, I imagined when I first started I was terrified of facing the final boss, king Allant. I leveled up so much in preparation for the battle I defeated him on my first try. The presentation and lead-up to the fight was great but again, he was not the challenge I was expecting. Like the invader I dealt with earlier he too had the ability to level drain and took at least four or five levels from me but I was so over-leveled already It was barely felt.

And with that, besides another almost unloseable battle at the game’s conclusion, I had defeated one of the most difficult games of modern times, apparently. Does Demon’s souls deserve its reputation for brutal difficulty? In my opinion, no but it was most certainly still a challenging and fun game. The PS5 remake is stunningly beautiful. So much so that when I did play the Dark Souls remake on the PS4 the visual downgrade hurts my eyes. I really enjoyed my experience with this game and look forward to playing the rest of the “souls-type” games.

Grade: B

RPG 187 Beaten: Pool of Radiance

Playing on: DOS PC (Tandy 1000 RL, CGA, 10MHz 8086)

Year: 1988

As I’ve been on this RPG journey over the years, hell, over the decades I have had this idea in my head that I should play a lot of the more mediocre or even poor RPGs so I can get a lot of them out of the way. By doing this I’ve held off playing a lot of the more well-received games that I’ve personally longed to try for a very long time. As I’ve entered my early 40’s I’ve realized this manner of thinking is well, dumb. I could die tomorrow, with the state of things recently it feels like all of civilization could end tomorrow. So why am I denying myself these excellent RPGs that I may never get to play because I keep holding them off for my “golden years”.

That said I’ve decided to start playing a lot of what would be considered A-list games that I’ve held off playing for a time. One such series of games is the “Gold Box” games, a series of D&D games created by SSI in the late 1980s and early 90s. As a huge fan of tabletop Dungeons and Dragons I’ve always wanted to play this series of games and I found it especially cool that you can import your party to the various sequels. With the decision made I began my quest with the 1988 PC CRPG classic Pool of Radiance.

I want to state I am playing an earlier version of the game on my Tandy 1000 which supports sound. It’s not much but it does play a little jingle using Tandy sound at the title screen as well as at the start of all battles. This music was removed from later versions for unknown reasons. Later versions of the game do have some minor bug fixes and adds a “tavern tale” that fails to trigger in the original version but it’s no big deal, I prefer my short jingle welcoming me to every game.

Readers familiar with this blog may find this entry far wordier and longer than many previous posts but you can pin that down to simply my great enthusiasm for this game and joy in relaying this journey with you where I may not necessarily share that same enthusiasm with a console RPG.

The game starts off as most D&D adventures do with creating your party of six adventurers by randomly rolling and rerolling for basic stats. Pool of Radiance sticks pretty strictly to 1st edition Dungeon and Dragons rules which means if you want to transfer your party to the later games you’re pretty limited on what characters you can create since 1st edition has pretty strict level caps on nonhuman characters. I do intend on transferring my party so I stuck with mostly humans since they have no level caps. My party consisted of two human fighters, one human wizard, one human cleric one dwarf fighter/thief, and one half-elf fighter/mage/thief. I felt I had to add at least a few demi-humans to mix things up and at least there is no limit on leveling the thief class. One thing the game does have no limits on is the ability to swap body sections when creating portraits for your characters. This allows for pretty funny combos since you can mix and match male and female body types.

Sean Connery in a metal bikini
One of my rolled-up party

Party stats are done in the traditional D&D way of random dice rolls. being the purist that I am I don’t cheese the stat rolls and will sometimes spend several minutes rolling and rerolling until I get acceptable numbers for whatever specific class I’m going for.

After making my party I was dropped into what remained of the great city of Phlan. Phlan was once a large and prosperous trading city though in the current time of the game the city has mostly been abandoned with the exception of a small starting area known as the civilized area. The rest of the city, along with the castle has been overrun by monsters and bandits and it’s up to my band of adventurers to clear out the city and eventually find and defeat the “big bad” behind the increasing attacks on the civilized section.

The main screen while exploring the town and dungeons is split into three sections. The top left section is a first-person 3D view common in first-person dungeon crawlers. This is how your party will travel when in any dungeon or in Phlan. On the right are the party members and states such as armor class and HP and at the bottom is an empty block for any text that should appear, usually, for descriptions or the environment, the party is facing.

You’ll be visiting the “civilized” area a lot to heal up, buy weapons and armor, level up characters, and get quests at the city hall.

Rolf is the town tour guide though he looks like he just got off his shift at the local hardware store

There’s also a variety of other shops and temples as well as the local tavern. The tavern is a great place to find rumors which are basically just numbers referring the player to an entry in the manual. Much of the heavier narrative of the game such as rumors and journal entries are offloaded this way with players given a number that corresponds to an entry in the manual. Finding things like maps or notes in dungeons are also handled this way by having the player refer to the manual journal entries.

One note of caution when in the tavern though is there seems to be a chance of getting involved in a random bar fight, which is more like a major battle. This happened to me on my first visit before I even equipped my characters and my whole party was wiped out.

When battles take place in Pool the view changes to a more tactical layout. The viewpoint is from the side with a slight isometric effect and you and the computer take turns moving characters, attacking, casting spells, running away, etc. There is an auto-battle feature where the PC can control your party but I don’t recommend it. Certain battles, especially if there are many enemies on screen can take a long time, especially on a slow PC. I have enormous patience with these kinds of older games but even I found myself feeling a little bored during the larger battles that involved, for instance, hordes of kobolds and goblins. One aspect of the game that does mitigate these huge battles against waves of weaker foes is that after a certain number of their ranks is killed they do tend to surrender. This has actually saved my group from total party destruction on more than one occasion where I was close to having party members killed and then I would kill one goblin and suddenly the remaining ten would surrender. Another saving grace of POR is it uses the -10 HP rule which means a character is only “unconscious” and not dead at 0 HP and is only dead after reaching -10 HP. Once brought to 0 HP a character will bleed -1 HP per round unless bandaged by another character. The character doing the bandaging does not have to be next to the knocked-out character.

On the DOS version, these battles are completely keyboard-controlled so if you insist on mouse support you’ll have to go for something like the Amiga version.

As I mentioned earlier be sure to stop by the equipment shop and buy weapons for all characters. The weapons show more or less has the entire roster of weapons from the 1st edition manual so be ready to pursue a vast assortment of polearms. The game really starts after you’ve visited the town hall and are given all the currently available “quests”. Keep in mind most of these quests given at the town hall can be completed without actually hearing and accepting them but it does act as a good way to guide you on where to head next. The general idea is to slowly clear the city of monsters one district at a time as well as the surrounding areas like the graveyard or nearby island. Eventually, the group will leave the city and explore the surrounding countryside clearing it from threats to the city as well.

One note I must give before leaving the city is do not hire any extra help from the local training school if you can help it. You can hire one mercenary to go with your group but they take a cut of the treasure and XP. I found myself not needing to take anyone with me until the very end of the game which let me keep all of that sweet, sweet XP and treasure.

Once I was equipped I ventured into the slums and started exploring and clearing things out. You probably want to start mapping as this game in its original form does not feature an automap but I’m fairly good with memorizing maze layouts in game so I didn’t find a need to.

The first few areas of the city are mostly populated by lower-level monsters such as goblins and kobolds with a hobgoblin group thrown in here and there although there are a few rooms that have more powerful enemies like trolls that you will need to come back and deal with after gaining a few levels. There are a few cool aspects of this game I noticed in my first few hours of playing. One is the day and night cycle as time does pass as you adventure. This can be annoying though if you head back into the inhabited areas of the city and all the shops are closed because it’s night. Another thing I discovered is monsters do not respawn once cleared from a room and in most cases, after a certain number of random encounter battles in any given area the encounters will cease and an area will be considered cleared. If you head back to the city hall after clearing an area you will usually be rewarded with treasure and XP. Right from the start, I was rather impressed with POR and how it was very loyal to D&D and really made the world feel alive.

I spend the first several hours methodically clearing out several areas of the city, returning to the civilized area to level up and restock on arrows when needed. I was able to handle most encounters though I had to leave a few for later such as the trolls in one abandoned building. The different areas vary on what monsters inhabit them and even how to tackle the various areas. for instance, the second area of the slums is inhabited by giant lizards and some undead ghouls who can paralyze and wipe out your entire party if you’re not careful. A clerics’ “turn undead” ability is very useful here. There is also a hidden thieves’ lair that needs to be cleared out.

This is the bandit leader “Norris the gray”. It’s never implied he’s anything but a human though I have no idea what’s going on with his face.

One city section is basically a large market square where the party is given a few options on how to infiltrate the area and check out a black market auction for a magical item. options include disguising your party as monsters, sneaking around all thief like or my choice, walking in like you own the place. Battles can sometimes be avoided completely with the tone you take up with monster groups should you choose to parley rather than simply jump into battle. I was able to successfully make it to the market and observe the auction for the city council.

After clearing a few city sections I noticed the riverboat man had begun offering rides to the nearby island keep which also happens to be something the town council has tasked my party with clearing.

The island is mostly overrun with weaker undead such as skeletons and zombies though there is also one particular room filled with poisonous insects. status effects such as poison can be devastating in POR and you can easily lose even higher-level characters to an unlucky save vs poison roll. Usually, the best course of action if you lose a party member is to just quit and reload an earlier save, of which you are allowed to save anywhere. The keep ended with a rather large battle against many groups of humanoids. thankfully I was able to win the battle thanks to the rather liberal use of the sleep spell which is a lifesaver in this game again humanoid enemies and could even be considered a little overpowered. The island keep was also one of the first areas I discovered the code wheel that came with the original game was meant for copy protection and is also used in the game to decode secret messages which is a cool touch. If you do not have the physical wheel there is a digital version online.

Be very careful around poisonous enemies like scorpions and frogs.

After clearing the island keep it was back to the city where I still had a few more sections to clear that was not the castle proper which seemed to be guarded by more powerful monsters and which I assumed (rightfully) should be saved for last. The final sections of the city were a large library, an area overrun with a troop of hobgoblins, a mansion taken over by bandits, a nondescript “wealthy area” and a temple of Bane. The temple of Bane is another area where you can fairly easily talk yourself out of more random encounters if you desire. I was a bit excited to search the library since I was hoping to find some magic scrolls for my wizard. I had to end up using a knock spell to get entry but I suppose if you had a skilled enough thief you could pick the lock, I didn’t apparently. Unfortunately, the library did house a basilisk which can turn you to stone and a specter who level drained, we will come back to the level draining in a moment. If either of these things happens to a party member I still found it easier to quit and reload a save.

Most of these areas were filled with the usual suspects of hobgoblins, ogres, and orcs. The mansion though was inhabited by a large number of bandits and several traps. The temple of Bane also had a rather large battle against a group of humanoids. Apparently from what I learned after already beating the game I was supposed to of picked up a cleric NPC to help cleanse the temple of Bane but somehow I missed them in my playthrough so I just handled the whole thing myself.

Now at this point, all that was left in the city area was the graveyard though I was also getting several quests for tasks outside of the city area such as finding the source of what was poisoning the main river and preventing a nomad tribe, as well as a large kobold tribe from joining forces with whomever, was trying to take over the city. being the methodical player I am I decided to take on the graveyard before venturing into the countryside around the city not knowing that the graveyard was actually meant to be tackled a little later in the game.

The graveyard kind of sucks. At first, it’s not so bad and your only facing your typical skeletons and zombies who at this point in the game do not pose much of a challenge. Once venturing deeper into the graveyard the challenge level takes a steep climb. This is primarily due to ghouls and wights. These are not powerful creatures due to high HP or damage dealing but they do have pretty devastating abilities in that both can level drain. Thankfully the game does give the party a copious amount of restoration scrolls but I still often found it better to just load a prior save since even using a restoration scroll you lose precious experience points. Besides wondering monsters that paralyze and level drain there are also several high-level undead such as mummies as well as a vampire which can be quite a challenge to unprepared, or in my case under-leveled characters.

Besides taking magical weapons to hurt him the vampire can cast charm person, has decent HP and worst of all…..level drains.

After several tries, a +3 vs undead sword, a lot of luck, and as many buff spells as I could cast prior to the battle I was able to defeat the vampire and clear out the cemetery.

After clearing out the evil of the cemetery I was finally ready to explore the work outside of Phlan. I had a rough idea where several of the locations that I had to go were from rumors and crude maps found in the city section but nothing concrete. I first decided to head east and try to tackle the kobold tribe since in my mind that would be an easy place to start.

Here is my party returning to Phlan after a fierce battle

Once you leave the city proper the view shifts to a sort of overworld map with the party being represented by a character on a horse. I’d also like to point out that at this point, and probably even prior money becomes completely pointless. At first, my party was scrounging and selling excess magical items to pay the high price to train to level up but very quickly my party amassed a large number of gems and jewelry. The great thing about gems is that one gem seems to weigh about the same as a gold piece but can be worth anywhere from 10 gold to 1000 gold when sold at the weapons shop which is important because encumbrance in this game, like in the pen and paper D&D game is a thing you have to be careful of. Too many coins or too heavy weapons and equipment will slow your character down and severely limit movement in battle.

Unfortunately in my first few ventures into the surrounding wilderness, I had very little to go on except loose directions. The overworld is plotted with X, and Y coordinates which are displayed under the party names HP (hit points) and AC (armor class) but at the time I was ignoring it for a more free-form overworld exploration.

Random monster encounters in the overworld range from fairly easy encounters with kobolds and giant lizards to minotaurs and driders, half spider half drow monstrosities, that hurl fireballs with reckless abandon. Why deep underdark creatures are freely wandering the surface is anyone’s guess.

Eventually, I decided to give up on the kobold lair and instead return to Phlan, restock and follow the river north in order to find the origin of the waters poisoning. This is when I discovered the pyramid.

Following the river upstream from the city of Phlan I eventually discovered a small island with what looked to be a pyramid on it. searching around the shore I found a boat that can be taken to the pyramid. The beginning of the pyramid has several teleporters. one seemed to take my party into a maze just filled with random groups of fighters and dwarves and clerics and such that attacked me. The other teleporter took my group to a separate section of the dungeon that seemed filled with various experiments and a toxic ooze being piped around which seemed to be the source of the polluted water. I also came across various lizardmen who were being experimented on and after talking to some I was given a password in case I ever encountered the lizardman village. After turning off the toxic sludge I eventually stumbled on and slew the wizard responsible for these experiments. I guess the wizard was kind of like a mix between a captain planet villain and dr. Moreau. as he was trying to build super lizard men with the toxic sludge. From the notes, I found he also wasn’t working with the main villains and they had actually threatened him if he did not join them. After gathering all the treasure and items and leaving the pyramid I was greeted with a short scene of the river and surrounding lands returning to normal after the sludge had been cut off a nice detail.

After returning to Phlan and collecting my reward I decided to search for the lizard men camp I was told about to the east. I soon found a spot of forest in an otherwise wasteland or rocky-type area and decided to investigate. Pro-tip, always check out clumps of forest sitting alone surrounded by different terrain in RPGs, always.

Using the password given to me by the lizardmen in the pyramid I was able to get an audience with the shaman who informed my group of a power struggle within the tribe. I was able to solve this issue by having a one-on-one fight with the challenger for the lizardman chief. The battle was actually pretty easy and assured that the lizard men would not become an issue for Phlan. At this point, the shaman warned my group to not venture into the lizard man dungeon or I would be attacked. Being the murderous group of adventurers we were though I decided to venture into the caves in search of treasure. I encounter many pools in the lizard man caves that allowed for constant harassing attacks by the enemy who would pop out of the pools, throw spears, and then dive back into the water. I really appreciate the small details like this that Pool Of Radiance is full of.

It was at this point that instead of randomly wandering the overworld in search of my quest goals I decided to simply start at one end of the map and sweep from top to bottom in order to cover everything, keeping track of course of my map X and Y coordinates. Doing this I came across several monster lairs which are basically monster encounters but instead of a group of monsters, it’s a small dungeon inhabited by a certain group of monsters and possibly treasure, again, a nice detail. I soon came across a friendly silver dragon that told me about a magic lamp that I should bring to him should I find it.

Using my methodical overworld search method I was able to eventually find all my quest goals given to me by the council. I quickly found the nomads I was tasked with stopping from joining the enemy. It turned out they were actually good people and after helping them repel a kobold attack which came in several waves they pledged not to attack Phlan.

I also eventually came across the large kobold tribe I was looking for initially. The tribe was actually a lot tougher than I anticipated with the final battle with the kobold king fought in several back-to-back battles involving trolls, dire wolves, and high-level fighters sent as emissaries from Tyranthraxus, the name of the final boss.

Thankfully I had some help from a warrior princess who was being held prisoner but had escaped. I also decided to go back to town and recruit a mercenary to lend even more help, maxing my party out to eight members. Even with the help this was a very challenging battle and took a few attempts to gain victory. I also learned in this battle that your hirelings can actually surrender if the battle isn’t going so well which can really, really suck.

This is the character portrait they chose for a female barbarian fighter.

I also found the lamp the dragon was referring to which supposedly has a djinn inside it which will help me fight the vampire. It seems I tackled the graveyard earlier than the game intended but that’s fine with me. I returned to Phlan and was given a quest to deliver a special message to a rival citys outpost to the west. I was familiar with this place since I had come across it earlier. On arriving at the outpost my party was asked to have dinner with the fort’s captain. At dinner, you are given the opportunity to ask several questions about events going on and the pool of radiance. after dinner, the party is ambushed by guardsmen and you have to escape the stronghold.

On the way back I decided to stop off and search a pirate stronghold I had seen earlier. On investigating the fort I came across a small boy being held in a slave pen.

I decided to buy the boy after gaining an audience with the pirate fort’s captain. I assume they are several ways to free the boy though as earlier I had released some wild animals by accident and it took several turns for the pirates to round them up. I’m guessing one option is to release the animals and sneak over and free the boy in the chaos.

On returning to Phlan yet again I learned that the boy was part of a quest I hadn’t received yet and got my reward. All that was left now was to storm the castle. At this point most of if not all of my single-classed characters had hit the level cap of 6th or 7th level while my dual multi-classed dwarf and half-elf were also decently leveled. my fighter/mage/thief character had mostly settled into a ranged fighter at this and had at least reached a high enough mage level to get a fireball spell.

When I initially entered the castle gate area when scouting in the early part of my playthrough I was approached by a man selling a wagon. I bought the wagon but then decided to leave the area so I think I lost the opportunity to sneak into the castle. This was fine for me since I kind of prefer just busting heads sometimes. I was greeted at the gates by bugbears and ettins (two-headed giants) as well as evil fighters and mages but it wasn’t too much of a challenge at this point and was more of an opportunity to collect more magical weapons and items from defeated foes.

Once in the castle area, there’s basically a large loop around the castle which has many doors and sections to explore. I ignored the large set of doors to the inner castle for not as I explored the various sections in the outer castle. One very annoying part of this area is the alarms that go off when passing certain doorways. I couldn’t seem to find a way to turn these alarms off and even after triggering them, they can be triggered. triggering an alarm means a minimum of at least two battles against a group of boulder throwing hill giants and even though the battles aren’t particularly tough it can really slow you down when you’re just trying to explore or get somewhere.

When entering the inner castle I was always damaged by some giants throwing boulders at me. I guess this is because I defaced the temple of Bane earlier.

Once inside I had to deal with Tyranthraxus most powerful defense, the dreaded hedge maze. I’m not really joking though as It took me several sessions to navigate through this maze which involves teleporters, poison hedges if you decide to cut through them, and referencing some map pieces in the manual that you should have come across during gameplay. There is a room with a fake Tyranthraxus who is just a high-level fighter. The battle seemed too easy and very uneventful so I had strong suspicions it was a fake. After going back to town and having the councilwoman give me the same lines it more or less confirmed things so I made the trip all the way back to the hedge maze to find the real Tyranthraxus. Eventually, I found the way forward through a secret wall and into the last sections of the final dungeon.

In the areas before the final battles, my party did come across a random medusa in a trap room all by herself. As long as she doesn’t stone any party members the battle is quite manageable as she’s alone and can be ganged up on pretty easily. There is also an evil wizard that if you talk to him will betray Tyranthraxus pretty quickly and join your cause. Pool of Radiance has no problem allowing evil characters to join a group full of good characters.

At this point, I was pretty prepared for the final battle and most of my characters had pretty decent magical armor, powerful spells, and at least +2 magical swords for my front line fighters. My main fighter was even wielding a magic flame tongue sword.

The fight with Tyranthraxus is in two parts and is back to back with no time to heal. The first battle is against a group of high-level fighters. My first attempt against this group went decidedly not good. I lost several party members and when the fight ended and I was thrown against Tyranthraxus I was handily defeated. I quickly remembered my hold person spell which thankfully worked like a charm against the humanoid fighters even though I first feared that their high level would grant them near immunity. casting prey and haste as much as I could beforehand also helped a great deal in the battle.

Next, my party faced Tyranthraxus who apparently was a bronze dragon who was corrupted and granted power by the pool of radiance which he also seemed to be guarding. the pool of radiance itself which really had very little to do with the game overall up to this point except it was “out there somewhere”.

After the dragon offers for your group to join him (you have to choose no else you die automatically) the real battle commences.

Thankfully the dragon has no minions at this point to deal with, unfortunately, it’s, well, a dragon. By circling the dragon and hitting it with my fighters as well as I could I was able to take down the dragon, though even after several attempts I was never able to claim victory without losing at least two party members. I had more than enough gold to have those members resurrected back in town but I had to take the -1 Constitution hit from a resurrection. Tyranthraxus’s most fearsome weapon was his lightning bolt breath weapon which is generally what caused fatalities during the fight.

I guess the dragon was possessed by a demon that lived in the pool the whole time and with his defeat, he is dragged into the depths before he can possess a still-living party member.

Heading back into town to see the town clerk officially ends the game. How bureaucratic.

You can tell how excited she is that evil is defeated by the expression on her face as well as all the exclamation marks!

Pool of Radiance is a great game and a good start for the gold box series. I was very impressed by the atmosphere and world that a game of this age provided. As a 1st and 2nd edition D&D player, I was also impressed by how loyal the game was to its pen-and-paper inspiration and really enjoyed fighting classic beasts from the papers of the monster manual. One thing I do dislike and a rule my D&D groups always ignored was level restrictions for demi-humans. I can’t really blame the game for this as it was a rule of the game but it really encourages players to pick nothing but single-classed humans, especially if you want to carry the same team across the entire series.

I thought the whole clearing Phlan of monsters was a well enough hook but the “Pool of Radiance” itself seemed to barely play any part in the game and was just a portal of some sort that allowed a demon to possess a dragon. I was half hoping it was more of a reward for completing the game that perhaps allowed a stat boost for a character or two.

Visuals were good in my opinion for 1988, especially some of the monster portraits that would come up prior to an actual encounter and were taken straight from the monster manual. Sound, at least on the Tandy was mostly non-existent except for beeps here and there. my version played a little jingle tune at the title screen and before every battle but this was removed from later revisions, even on the Tandy 1000. Players aren’t missing anything without the jingle, however, I liked it.

The world of course is taken straight from tabletop D&D so if you wanted you could delve very deep into the lore of the land, far more than with a straight video game. The entire game also had an adventure module created so if you wanted to play Pool in a tabletop setting you could. I really enjoyed touches like signs changing after completing certain quests and things like the area around the river clearing up after the source of the toxic waste was shut off.

The gameplay and battles are a bit clunky but once you get in the groove of it things work fine. It can be a drag to have to camp and then constantly rememorize spells followed by rest and repeat after a battle. There were some other odd things for instance after all enemies are defeated you have to toggle through several characters’ actions before the game realizes there are no more enemies and the option to end combat is given.

I’m really not sure they could have made a game on the PC much more faithful to D&D in 1988 than was done here. all the core weapons, armor, and spells are here as well as a nice assortment of monsters. you could argue that there were way too many pole arms for sale and that some of the monster placement was a bit off but overall it was a great effort at putting the tabletop experience onto a PC. I’m really excited to finally play the rest of the series.

Grade: A

RPG 186 BEATEN: South Park and the Stick of Truth

Playing on: Playstation 4

Year: 2018

I wouldn’t call myself a South Park fan, I’ve seen the show and I’d even say I’ve seen most of the “have to watch” episodes. I have a slightly more than passing familiarity with the characters but I don’t really ever seek the show out, own it in any physical format or have anything really related to the show, with the exception of the RPG games. When I started this game I had heard good things about it but I honestly had no idea of what to expect.

Stick of Truth is basically an RPG where you play as the “new kid” and adventure through the town of South Park, interacting with the show’s various characters as they play out a kid’s game based loosely on the Lord of the Rings. I’m playing the stand alone version on PS4 though the game was originally released on PS3 and also as a bonus on the disk for the PS4 sequel The Fractured But Whole.

As I mentioned earlier the story of the game is that you are the town’s “new kid” and after being forced by your parents to go out and find some friends you end up joining up with the cast of South Park to play out a fantasy battle between the humans led by Cartman and the Elves lead by…Stan? see I’m not super familiar with the show.

You more or less have the run of the town and you can follow the main quest which mostly revolves around getting back the “Strick of Truth” from the elves or just run around and do all the side quests of which there are many.

The game is divided into chapters or episodes that more or less shake up the town and change the overall mood. As I mentioned the first half of the game is focused on the Lord of the Rings inspired war between two groups of kids representing the humans and the elves. This first half really gives a feel of children just using their imagination to create this grand fantasy battle across town. As the game progresses you get an alien spaceship crashing into the town and forcing a government coverup and finally in the later chapters of the game the town becomes overrun with nazi zombies, all within the constant backdrop of this fantasy world play battle.

Character creation is fairly typical and allows you to create your avatar as you please in the style of a South Park character. You do get to pick from several typical fantasy classes though with the exception of the “jew” class which I believe is sort of a jack of all trades type character. I ended up choosing the thief class.

Visuals and sound all seem from the show itself and the characters seemed to all be voiced by their actual TV show voice actors. Thankfully the game kept the 2d paper cut out trademark style of the show which really helps give the game feel like an interactive version of the show.

As I said at the beginning of the article I’m not a die hard fan of the show but I’ve watched enough episodes to know most of the characters and locations and I feel like the game nails things down really well, right down to the controversial and sometimes shock factor of the TV show.

I wouldn’t consider myself a prude or any such thing and shocked may be too strong of a word but I was certainly surprised at some of the racier things in this game, things that as far as I know of would not be allowed to air on prime time T.V., at least not in the U.S. The area with the anal probing I was aware of before playing due to censorship things I remember hearing about with this game in the EU but I’d be lying if I didn’t say my jaw dropped a little when traversing through eh abortion clinic and fighting various nazi zombie fetuses and eventually a giant nazi zombie fetus. This is not to mention the journey through, let’s just say someone’s “hind quarters” to deactivate a nuclear bomb. For me, the most “shocking” part was probably when your character is shrunk by gnomes and ends up sneaking through your parent’s room when they decide to have sex and let me say the game creators do not hold back on this. It all uncomfortably ends when you finally confront and battle the gnome on the bed directly under your parents while they are still performing the deed. This is probably not a game you want to play at work or in the same room as your parents.

Near the end of the game you have to travel Canada and the game suddenly turns into an 8-bit style world. This section was actually a little longer than I thought and has your group traveling across Canada fighting dire wolves and killing various members of the Canadian government.

Combat is a pretty standard turn based battle system though you are limited to a party of two total. You can attack, use an item or a special ability. Most of the abilities require timed button presses to be able to pull off to their maximum protection. Since I picked a thief class I had a few special attacks that would bleed and or stun opponents which I found pretty overpowered at the start of the game.

When the game starts there’s a very lighthearted feel as most enemies are just kids dressed up like elves who charge and attack you as you move around the city of South Park. As the game progresses enemies change to classic grey aliens and eventually the dreaded nazi zombies. There are of course super bosses, the most memorable being Al Gore who starts by giving out side quests and ends up becoming extremely annoying by spamming your in gate “facebook” app continouisly with posts about “Man Bear Pig”. Eventually the option is given to battle Mr. Gore along with several of his secret service guards. I found this battle pretty difficult and I had to do quite a bit of leveling to be able to properly defeat him.

Weapons items and armor work like they do in most any RPG and can be bought at various locations or received from completing quests. There is a large variety of weapons armor and accessories and character personalization and weapons can even be lightly enhanced with traits.

“Magic” comes in the form of fart powers. I found myself only using these powers in the rare circumstances that demanded their use. gaining new fart magic requires performing a certain motion on the controller. These generally were not too hard though I found one instance to be borderline infuriating on my PS4 when trying to learn a certain technique from Randy. The button presses requested were directed in such a strange way that it was very confusing and took me at least 45 minutes to figure out. Thankfully after a quick search on google, I learned I wasn’t the only one stumped.

I was surprised at both the quality and loyalty to the show this game provided. I really felt I was playing an interactive episode of the show itself and to be honest I had a lot more fun with this title than I thought I would, especially seeing as I’m not what would be considered a hard core fan of the series. If you are prudish or easily offended you’re not going to like this game just as you probably don’t enjoy the show. I do think someone whose never seen the show before could still really enjoy the game as it’s a solid RPG but a lot of the references and atmosphere will be lost on you.

Grade: C

RPG 185 BEATEN: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose

Playing on: Playstation 2

Year: 2005

If I’m to be honest I put off playing this game for some time. I completed the first Xenosaga way back in 2017 but kind of dreaded moving on to the sequel game. Over the years I had heard a lot of not very flattering things about Xenosaga II mostly pertaining to the battle system and seeing as the original game only scored a C with me I wasn’t looking forward to this one at all.

You get a brief recap when loading up your save file.

The story picks up exactly where the first game left off. Unfortunately, so much time has passed since I completed the first game that I forgot most of the details of what was going on. It probably didn’t help that the story was kind of strange and convoluted in the first place. Thankfully it wasn’t too hard to read my entry on the first game as well as find some sources detailing the events of the first game to catch me up. I’d definitely say playing the first game is necessary to understanding at least some of the second.

I’m not going to try to go into the story in any depth but basically, in this space-faring sci-fi universe there is some kind of artifact called a Zohar and various groups are trying to obtain it. It’s much more than that but that’s probably the simplest way I can put it. There’s also a villain who is some kind of experiment that has a problem with dying and lots of religious overtones.

The graphics are one point that most people seem to have a problem with Xenosaga II as it’s a stylistic shift from the more anime style of the first game to a more realistic look in the second.

The change in visual style didn’t really bother me much though that can probably be attributed to having such a long gap between playing the first and second game. Voice actors changed as well for the second game but as before, so much time between games for me made me not notice.

Compared to the first game the second feels a little more focused with much of the story revolving around retrieving some kind of data locked in your android companion’s mind as well as traveling to Miltia which was a planet that years past was engulfed by some sort of field that no one could seem to penetrate. There seemed to be much less emphasis on the threat of the Gnosis which were these almost indestructible ghosts that started appearing in the galaxy. I know I’m butchering the story in general here but like the first one it’s fairly convoluted, especially if your not into digging into the lore.

All the characters from the first game make a reappearance here though as I said earlier in a new more realistic visual style. There isn’t a whole lot of planet hopping in this one despite it being a futuristic space setting and other than a space station more of the story takes place on the planets of first and second Miltia.

Combat is where the game really stumbles. I generally do not like overcomplicated or convoluted (there’s that word again) battle systems. I didn’t particularly understand exactly how combat in Xenosaga II worked until about 1/3rd of the way into the game and even then I never really understood all of it. In most battles, I just kind of brute forced my way through though once getting to the part of the game that involved diving into a virtual world enemies suddenly became a bit harder and I was required to at least get a rudimentary understanding of the battle system which involved setting up combos and boosting and all sorts of things. One of the worst aspects of the combat though is how slow it can be. This seems to be players’ main complaint about Xenogears II. The battle system is turn-based but to do any real damage to enemies you need to spend turns sort of charging up characters to unleash combos as well as “breaking” enemy defenses by attacking with certain button combos until the correct combo is found.. In short, its time consuming and it makes almost every small random encounter longer than it needs to be. There is also a few sections of the game where you fight in mechs but I always found these sections a bit easier as the mechs can take a lot of damage. The game also became a bit easier when I finally figured out I can equip magic…er, ether skills as well as equip my characters with certain bonuses.

After saying all that though the game wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I really was worried that I would hit a brick wall so to speak with some boss or difficult area since I hadn’t fully grasped the battle or learned how to fully exploit it. luckily this wasn’t the case and my basic competency with it was enough to see me through to the end.

There are a number of puzzles you come across and some need to be solved to progress but none of them are very hard though some can be tedious. Most of these puzzles can be solved through trial and error.

Enemies are broken up into types such as gnosis, humans, and mechs. These mostly consist of pretty standard mech suit-type robots and generic soldiers with guns. The gnosis are more or less the monsters and they tend to come in pretty strange forms. The last boss was not as challenging as I suspected, especially with my lack of mastery of the combat system. There is a sort of final battle after the final battle that can be kind of confusing if you fail to understand it as you can’t actually die in it.

Theres really no armor or weapons to buy and equip though you can unlock skills through leveling which you can pair with your characters for bonuses. even though there isn’t traditional armor that progressively gets stronger as you go through the game watch character does have a swim suit….for some reason, that can be found and equipped that gives a nice bonus. It also changes your characters look during battle to reflect the new swimwear look.

Despite my initial reservation I ended up liking Xenosaga II more than I expected. I didn’t like it more than the first game, which still only scored a C for me but it was hardly the terrible slog that I was initially expecting. The battles were longer than they needed to be and I never could fully figure out the battle system but I never hit that frustrating brick wall that I had been anticipating. The story overall is still a bit hard to follow but at least it didn’t throw to much new stuff in to be confusing.

Grade: C

RPG 184 BEATEN: Knights of Pen and Paper +1

Playing on: Windows 10 PC (Steam, i7-3960x, 24GB RAM )

Year: 2012

A metaphysical RPG based on a group playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons at a table with a healthy dose of pop culture thrown in. Sounds like a no-brainer for an A grade RPG for me? well, maybe not…..

Knights of Pen and Paper, let’s just call it KOPAP from here on out was originally a game designed for IOS and Android mobile devices. Later on, it received several digital releases such as the one I played on Steam as well as a physical release on the Nintendo Switch. The +1 deluxe edition is an extended version with added content.

The story is pretty straightforward. and revolves around a “big bad” invading the world and attempting to seize the power of the elemental temples scattered across the game world. The elemental temple bit is pretty old by this point, it was interesting back in the 8-bit and even 16-bit era but it’s grown quite stale. I suppose it’s excusable here though since the whole bit of this game is about nostalgia. The game does get pretty metta later on with characters entering the “real world” and trying to stop the evil fantasy forces from invading.

graphics and sound are nothing to write home about even for a retro-inspired game though considering the game was originally meant for the mobile market it’s understandable. The visuals of KOPAP aren’t bad but they just feel very generic, like they lack heart, it’s hard for me to put a finger on it.

The world of KOPAP is full of older pop culture references, I mean nauseatingly full, as in it seems to be the core focus of the game to cram as many pop culture nerd references as possible into this game making old Working Design titles seem full of restraint by comparison. This is kinda fun at first, “oh look, it’s the mystery machine in the swamp, etc…” but several hours in it’s just enough already. All the references in my opinion keep the game from finding its own identity and in some ways hold it back.

“Oh look, we’re fighting the female Gremlin from Gremlins 2.” “oh look it’s Mr. Crabs, he’s holding a dollar.” “har har har.”

Traveling in the game world is done by going from key point to key point and as you travel a dice is rolled for the chance of encountering a “wandering monster” it is a nice touch and feels very D&D like. A few of the dungeons also get their own navigation map which is nice and helps add some variety.

Character creation is fairly simple where you first pick the player that will be playing the character like the athlete or the nerd or even the pizza delivery guy all of which have certain bonuses. this kind of fills the role that race would in most RPGs. second, you pick your class of which most are your standard thief, mage, and cleric though you can unlock more classes as the game goes on and replace your players at any time.

Battle are turn-based and character abilities are limited to a few different spells or special abilities depending on your class. What’s supposed to make the battles more interesting is that they are portrayed as if your characters playing a D&D style game but in reality, it doesn’t add much to the fights except some banter.

Enemies are all over the place. There are a lot of your stock skeletons and spiders etc… but there’s also an equally large assortment of other creatures like pixel blobs and other players. Later when you travel to the real world you end up fighting things like football players and space invaders at the arcade.

All the classes have set weapons, armor, and abilities. The abilities and magic are upgraded by points you receive when you level up. weapons and armor are upgraded at the blacksmith and cost money as well as grindstones. for instance, the blacksmith can’t make you level 2 weapon and armor upgrades until you bring him X amount of grindstones. You get grindstones by randomly searching rock formations in caves. It’s a tedious process.

In theory, I should have loved this game. I love D&D and I thought the concept of playing a board game that plays out as an actual fantasy adventure was intriguing but after just a few hours of playing, I was really bored. The game itself was an absolute cakewalk without any real challenge, it got repetitive really fast and to make it worse it was just overly long, at least with the added deluxe plus content. I found myself just pushing through the game wanting it to be over already.

Grade: F

RPG 183 BEATEN: YS ORIGIN

Playing on: Windows 10 PC (Steam, i7-3960x, 24GB RAM )

Year: 2006

Ys Origin is a prequel game to the Ys series which was released for Japanese Windows computers in 2006. I do own the original JP release though for convenience sake I am playing the English translation released in more recent times via Stream.

Ys Origin is an action RPG that, as mentioned before, takes place many years before the original Ys game. The land of Ys has recently risen into the sky and the world below is currently overrun by demons. Upon the disappearance of the two goddesses and the black pearl which is the source of the world’s magic a group of knights and sorcerers are dispatched to the surface in order to find the missing goddesses.

The entirety of the game takes place in the massive Darm Tower which is the same tower featured in the original Ys game. The tower features many familiar bosses and items from the original Ys I & II.

Visually and audibly Ys Origin looks and sounds like Ys The Oath in Felghana, This makes sense as the two games came out around the same time. Just like Oath, Origins looks and feels like a triple-A Dreamcast title with very nice 3D visuals.

As mentioned earlier the entirety of Origins takes place inside a single large tower, more specifically Darm tower in which a large portion of the first game took place. Fortunately despite taking place in a single location the tower is divided into various sections with themes so you find yourself going through the predictable water and fire areas as you ascend the tower to the top.

At the beginning of the game you get to choose between a fighter type character and a mage type as well as a third character which you play from the bad guy’s side and uses a claw weapon. This character also has the “true” ending where you fight a powerful secret end boss. The playstyle is pretty different depending on which character you choose. The story also plays out differently as you play the game from three different perspectives.

There are no towns inside the tower but at least when playing the two good characters there’s a sort of base camp you cab warp back to. The NPCs are limited to the dozen or so others you teleported down to the surface with as well as some interactions with the main bad guys. Overall though I really enjoyed seeing the story unfold from the different perspectives and felt the interactions between the player characters and NPCs were well written.

Gameplay is your action style hack and slash although when playing the mage character you can more or less play it as a sort of run and gun. As you get more powerful there’s a real satisfaction of slashing through large numbers of enemies while their dropped gold and health cover the floor. I really enjoyed the fast paced action this game provided and if you choose you can run in axe swinging mowing down one enemy after another.

Enemies are your typical Ys enemies, not really your standard goblins and such but similar fare. None really stand out in my mind except for on the sand level there are these skeleton chicken things that will endlessly reform themselves unless you have a certain item equipped. The bosses though are for the most part all pretty interesting and fun to battle. If you’ve played the early Ys games some of these bosses will be familiar to you. Most of the bosses require figuring out a bit of a pattern and hitting certain weak spots.

There are no shops in Ys Origin but you do upgrade your basic weapon as the game progresses by finding ore that can be used to make your weapon stronger. magic is acquired in almost the same way as there are three basic magics and you can upgrade them via gems found as you ascend the tower. There are statues scattered about the tower that act as save points but can also be used to gain and upgrade abilities by spending currency at them.

I really liked Ys origins, so much so that I actually played through the entirety of the game three times with all three characters, this is something I don’t always do. The game is short and straightforward enough where replaying doesn’t take that long but more so it doesn’t feel like a slog as each character plays a little differently and it has a good story so it’s interesting to see the story play out from all three different viewpoints.

Originally the third character, his name escapes me so I’ll just call him claw man, was only unlockable after completing the game with the two other characters. In the new Steam version, he is unlocked from the beginning. Getting to the end of the game with these characters reveals a secret extra end boss and this is considered the true ending for Ys Origins.

There is a little level grinding but the combat is very fun and faced paced so when I did need to grind a little it was really fun. I also enjoyed seeing a modern take on the Darm tower and revisiting some of those classic bosses and items.

Grade: B

RPG 182 BEATEN: Shenmue III

Playing on: Playstation 4

Year: 2019

First off, yes, Shenmue is one of those games that fall into the “is it an RPG?” category. I won’t deny that its categorization is debatable but I feel it has enough elements that it can be debated as an experimental action adventurer RPG…..is that a stretch? meh, maybe.

Shenmue III is the LONG awaited sequel to the original Shenmue and Shenmue II which came out all the way in the early 2000s on Dreamcast and OG Xbox. I completed these games way back when they were considered fairly recent games so unfortunately their writeup has not appeared on this blog.

The story of Shenmue goes all the way back to the first two games in which we play Ryo, a teenager in 1980s Japan looking for sailors as well as attempting to track down the martial arts master crime lord who killed his father while searching for mystical mirrors. The second game takes place in Hong Kong as Ryo continues his search for his father’s killer while fighting off gangs and assorted other criminals. This brings us to Shenmue III where Ryo finally makes it to inland China and hopefully finally gets to confront his father’s killer and we get to learn what all this mirror nonsense is about.

Visually Shenmue feels like it lacks a lot of polish. While the first outing on Dreamcast and even the Xbox sequel felt like AAA titles Shenmue’s visuals placed it closer to the budget title look. Considering this was largely a Kickstarter funded affair this isn’t too surprising and the game doesn’t necessarily look bad, it just doesn’t look like a top tire Playstation 4 game. I also encounter a few graphical glitches here and there in my playthrough.

I’m not saying there aren’t sections of the game that look really nice, most of these sections being the countryside but overall it feels more like a late PS3 title in most places then a PS4 game.

Some faces just look…..off.

Music isn’t bad and captures the atmosphere though it does seem to play in short loops. At the beginning of the game when you’re in the starter village there is one tune that plays over and over and sounds at parts like the tune from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s World of Pure Imagination.

I did enjoy creepily watching Ling sleep.

The world of Shenmue III, like the earlier Shenmue’s is pretty limited. Technically speaking the world does seem larger or as large as Shenmue I and II since those games more or less took place in a single area whereas Shenmue III takes place in the first half of the game in a small Chinese village and in the second half in a small Chinese city. Shenmue unlike the vast majority of RPG’s out there take place in a smaller geographical setting but takes those small areas and expands them in great detail. there is no massive overworld map here though the areas that the game does take place in are well detailed and fleshed out.

I do feel like the game drags a little bit although it was nice to spend some time in a more rural setting as all Shenmue games exclusively take place in a city.

Ryo sleeps in his jeans…

There is no character creation in Shenmue or really even any states besides health/stamina which you build up during the course of the game via training. You do learn different martial arts moves to use in battle through the use of books and learning from certain NPC’s though they didn’t really feel like they gave me any real advantages and just leveling up health/stamina felt far more effective.

The world is full of NPC’s and they do all seem to have unique personalities though I can’t say any were particularly memorable. Some old characters do show up from previous games and you can also call some characters from Shenmue I and II once you reach the city but it’s been so long since I played the earlier games I barely remembered most of them. Most of your interaction is with Ling who you stay within the village and travels with you to the city. Overall she’s a pretty likable character and it was always nice to come home and have a chat with her before going to bed in your jeans after a long day of chopping wood.

Shenmue was pretty revolutionary when it came out in the early 2000’s. Its real gimmick was its interactivity. You could freely roam around town as the story unfolded and were free to perform a large number of trivial and kinda pointless tasks such as playing Lucky Hit or collecting capsule toys from vending machines which is kind of a thing in these games.

Shenmue III_20210916114737

In the early 2000’s this freedom was pretty impressive, in 2019 though, not so much. Shenmue III does a very good job in feeling like the old games but at the same time it also feels like it hasn’t evolved at all in the fifteen plus years between part II and III.

Another aspect of the game is raising money to feed yourself and buy items to progress. Gambling is one way to earn money but if you don’t feel like leaving things up to lady luck you can always just get a job. In the previous games it was forklift work but in Shenmue III it’s cutting wood. Let me just say I did a lot of cutting wood and yes, it’s as boring as it sounds.

This is how I spend most of my time with Shenmue III

QTE or Quick Time events also make a return with Shenmue III. Usually these events happen when chasing an enemy through the streets but it’s also used for a few battles as well.

Speaking of battles, I didn’t find much skill or challenge with fights. It just kind of felt like mashing a lot of buttons and if I could not proceed it was usually just a matter of training a bit and gaining some more health/stamina.

Shenmue takes place more or less in the “real world” and as such there aren’t any monsters though there are some exaggerated martial arts abilities. That said all the villains are basically just normal people ranging from street thugs to fellow martial arts masters. There is one enemy that can almost fall into the realm of the supernatural which is the henchman Chai. He’s a human being but he has an odd feeling about him. Calling him a monster is quite a stretch but he’s about as close as things come to one.

There isn’t much in the way of character customization or items in Shenmue III. There are a large variety of foods and herbs which restore health/stamina as well as a huge amount of random mundane items to collect, trade and use for quests but it’s really not like a traditional RPG where you buy and equip stronger weapons and armor as the game progresses. Speaking of weapons and armor, there are none. The closest we get is martial arts texts which teach Ryo a new button combo to perform a new martial arts move.

Was it worth the long wait for Shenmue III? well, I don’t know. in one way I do kind of appreciate that the game pretty much follows the same formula of the first two and it makes it feel like fifteen plus years haven’t passed between part I and II. A the same time well, the game feels like no time has passed between parts I and II. The game feels very outdated and I know that’s odd coming from someone that loves classic games and retro inspired titles but to be honest I never loved the formula of the original Shenmue anyways. It’s great that we got to see a new chapter in the Shenmue saga but yet again the story did not conclude at the end. In the end I can totally understand why people love Shenmue but part II just felt tired and it kind of bored me a bit.

Grade: D

RPG 181 BEATEN: CASTLE OF THE WINDS II: LIFTHRANSIR’S BANE

Playing on: Windows 3.1 PC (90MHz Pentium, Sound Blaster 16, PCI Ark Logic 2000, 64MB RAM)

Year: developed 1989, distributed 1993

Castle of the Winds II is not so much a sequel to the first game as it is just the second half of the same game. There are no new mechanics or elements, it’s really just as if the first and second games were one big game that got chopped in half, well not quite in half, as the second game does seem a little longer than the first. That’s pretty much the best way to sum it up, it’s Castle of the Winds I with a bigger town and a bigger dungeon. This doesn’t mean it’s bad though, if you enjoyed the first game you should enjoy the second one even more since it’s more of the same. I’d very much recommend reading the article on Part I as most everything said there applies here as well.

Lifthransir’s Bane’s story picks up right where the first game left off with our hero learning of his heritage and receiving the Amulet of Kings. Part II starts out in the large town of Crossroads which is filled with many shops, temples and a bank as well as a local ruler also known as a Jarl whom you can visit after reaching certain points (usually after defeating a certain creature or room in the dungeon) to get advice and items.

The graphics are exactly as the first game and quite simple. Like the first game, Part II is a Windows 3.0 game and uses various windows when opening up statuses and item screens. Sound is nonexistent except for a few beeps from the PC speaker.

A nice thing about Part II is that you can easily import your character and all stats and items directly into Part I which is what I did.

The world of Part II is both smaller and larger than Part I. What I mean is where Part I consisted of two smaller towns and two smaller dungeons, Part II is one large city and one large dungeon. They roughly felt about the same length with the second game being perhaps a tiny bit longer. Compared to part I there does feel like there is a little more meat on the bones with set encounters every few levels involving a lair with a number of more powerful creatures. Defeating these creatures usually involves some text being shown and upon returning to the Jarl can involve gaining an item. Take note that these encounters do not seem mandatory to completing the game and it is quite possible to miss them if you don’t thoroughly explore every dungeon floor.

The gameplay is exactly the same as part one. descend deeper and deeper into the dungeon acquiring stronger items and experience levels which in turn grant more health and new spells. It’s hinted at early in the game that there is some kind of time limit to descending the dungeon and defeating the “big bad” but as far as I could tell no real time limit actually exists.

Combat is exactly like the first game, pressing in the direction of your nearest enemy to take a swing with your chosen weapon. The box at the bottom depicts the action and if you missed or scored a hit as well as the enemy’s actions. 

Greatest water elemental ever, ask anyone, everyone agrees. No other water elemental even comes close.

Enemies are your typical monster fair though in more powerful varieties than the first game. Dragons also begin to appear as you delve deeper into the 25 level dungeon and they become more powerful as one progresses. Starting as young dragons all the way up to ancient. They also come in various elemental types and have devastating breath attacks. Make sure you start taking elemental resist magic as it’s a life saver against these various dragons.

One annoying thing I ran into quite often is just getting trapped between two enemies out of nowhere. It’s also very common to have powerful monsters just kind of appear behind you when you go into a dead end hallway and have no other way out. Be prepared to do a lot of save scumming.

Make sure you keep an eye out for any armor and weapons that are “very strong” as that will give the biggest boost. You can continuously visit the shops in town until what you’re looking for pops up. I found myself not really having to use any of the healing scrolls and potions until the last fight which can be a slog to get through.

The last battle against Surtur takes place on floor 25 against Surtur and a room full of high level demons. The best strategy is to whittle down the minions and then hopefully draw Surtur out and face him alone which requires some degree of luck. He also has a habit of teleporting around after taking a deal of damage which requires finding him again and hoping he’s not healed or backed up by more minions. After the battle things aren’t over as you must now make it back to the throne room on floor 1 which requires making your way all the way back up the 25 levels, yes, it’s one of those games.

Castle of the Winds Part II: Lifthransir’s Bane is as it says it is, Part II of a single game. If you enjoyed the first game you’ll enjoy the second game. Even though it is more of the same I do think Part II is slightly better as the large dungeon felt a little more alive with more key encounters as well as a castle in town you could periodically return to for items and advice which adds a bit of flavor over Part I.

Grade:

C

Ys the Oath in Felghana

Playing on: Windows 10 PC (Steam, i7-3960x, 24GB RAM )

Year: 2005

It took me a long time to decide how or if to do this write up. Ys: the oath of Falghana is a remake of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys. Usually when I play a remake as well as the original as I did in this case I just add an extra section to the review outlining the article. Oath though despite being a remake is for all practical purposes its own game. Sure it has the same storyline as Ys III but it’s been vastly expanded and added on. The leap in gameplay is also fairly significant. whereas Ys III is a side scrolling action RPG Oath is an overhead isometric fully 3D action RPG.

After much internal debate I decided to talk about the Oath in Felghana as its own separate article yet I’ve decided to not count it as a separate RPG victory even though it really could be.

Oath of Felghana follows the same story as Ys III except now it is vastly expanded on making it a noticeably longer adventure. Just like Wanderers the local lord is terrorizing the township in search for the magical statues he intends to use to awaken an ancient demon in order to rule the world though everything is much more fleshed out and developed.

The graphics and sound are much different from all the original 16-bit versions and is now played from a 3D isometric view as opposed to a side scroller. Compared to the remakes of YI & II Oath in Felghana is leaps and bounds ahead quality wise. Where the earlier Ys remakes felt like well made RPG maker games Oath feels and looks like a high profile Dreamcast title.

As I mentioned earlier the story progression and locations visited are more or less the same as the original though every area is greatly expanded. There is also a small amount of travel that takes place between key locations now as opposed to just choosing a location on an overworld map and then appearing there. Dungeons are much longer though they still retain most of the feel and theme of the originals. The main town area is also expanded and filled with a number of NPCs making it a much more engaging place than in the original versions. All these expanded areas also make Oath a much longer game than the originals

Some characters are more expanded on this time around as well such as Chester. In the originals he just kind of popped in from time to time in cutscreens but in Oath you actually fight him several times. The other villains are also somewhat expanded on as well as the evil lord now has a family and has somewhat of redemption at the end. There is also a twist near the end involving the game’s villains which I admit was taken slightly by surprise.

Instead of magic rings there are now bracelets that grant various magical abilities such as a whirlwind type move or fire blasts. Where in the original versions where you mostly save up your magic ring for bosses, here using and swapping magic bracelets is a part of overall combat. Your weapons and armor can be upgraded through a shop but now you can also find ore that can be used at the shop to upgrade weapons even more.

As much as I liked the original Ys III: Wanderers from Ys I felt the remake surpassed it in every way, it’s just a better game.

Grading Oath I’d easily give it a B as opposed to the C I gave the original Genesis version as I definitely had a measurably better time with this title.

Grade: B

RPG 180 Beaten: YS III Wanderers from YS

Playing on: Genesis

Year: 1991

My journey through the Ys series has now led me to Ys III, the black sheep of the Ys games. Before even playing this game I had known from various sources I read in the past that YIII was fairly disliked by fans of the Ys series. Mostly this is attributed to the style changing from an overhead perspective and a “bump into the enemy attack” battle system to a sidescrolling view where you press a button to attack style system. Despite these reservations I admit I was looking forward to Ys III though I did have one big decision to make before starting which is, what version do I choose.

Ys III was released for multiple consoles at the time and all had various strengths and weaknesses. There is also a PC remake which I will address later as I wanted to do my first playthrough with one of the earlier releases as the remake follows the same story but is very different.

The main choices for my playthrough were the SNES, Turbografx CD and Genesis versions. I was a close call between the TGCD and Genesis versions as visually they are fairly close but in the end I went with the Genesis version as the TGCD had better sound though I preferred the smoother scrolling of the Genesis version. The SNES version wasn’t even considered as it is universally seen as the worst of the three releases.

The story of Ys III is that following the events of Ys I & II Adol left the land of Ys to travel the world in search of adventure along with his friend Dogi. Eventually their journeys lead them back to Dogi’s homeland where things aren’t going well. Monsters have overrun the land and the local lord has become a tyrant and has been terrorizing the townsfolk while he searches for mysterious artifacts. Helping the local lord is Chester the swordsman who also happens to be Dogie’s childhood pal.

I played the Genesis version and I found the graphics and sound to be just fine. The quality of the sound on the Genesis version was very good and the graphics were also good looking. I’ve been told the Turbo version of this game has pretty bad scrolling issues though I experienced nothing like that on the Genesis version and scrolling looks good throughout. I really liked some of the details in the background such as the erupting volcano.

There are a few areas that were also visually interesting such as in the last area of the game when you’re in a completely dark section and you have to use a narrow beam of light to find your way through a monster filled maze or when ascending a spiral staircase to face the demon lord.

Like Ys I & II before it Ys III’s world is fairly constrained and small. Travel is restricted to certain points on a map screen that opens up as the story moves forward though you are free to travel back and forth to any area you have already visited. The areas do vary from your starting town to a mine, a fiery volcano and snow peaked mountain.

As with the earlier games there is no party and your group consists of a sole character, Adol. With only one main town there isn’t a terrible number of NPC’s to interact with though the ones that are featured are more fleshed out than NPC’s in the first two games, if only by a little. We get to see a little of Dogi’s backstory though the best NPC is Chester who technically is an enemy though I don’t believe you actually ever fight him directly in this version. Chester is the brother of Dogi’s childhood friend who months prior to the game ran off to be a knight for the local lord who is now terrorizing the land. Part of the story is figuring out why Chester who by all indications was a good guy is now working for the forces of evil.

Y III is kind of the black sheep of the Ys series and as the black sheep it’s not very well liked by fans in comparison with the other games. YS III plays much more like a typical side scrolling action RPG with some platforming elements. Gone is the “bump into the enemy to do damage” of the first two games which is now replaced by an actual attack button that swings your sword to inflict damage. I really liked the fairly unique mechanics of the first two games and I was worried that the third entry would be a bit of a slog for me. Thankfully the mechanics were implemented competently and I really didn’t find it too much of an issue and still quite enjoyed the combat.

Enemies In Ys III come in a similar variety as they did in the last game. not necessarily your traditional high fantasy orcs and goblins but you do get giant bugs and rock monsters and some cyclops. It’s been a few months since I’ve completed the game but I don’t specifically recall any especially annoying monster with maybe the exception of the cyclopean rock monsters on the mountain peak cave though once you are powerful enough to take them on they make for excellent leveling. Chester the swordsman makes a great bad guy but you never actually fight him in this version (if I recall correctly). After being obliterated by the first boss I did have to go back and level for a while as well as get used to the new combat system but after this I didn’t have much trouble defeating any particular boss with the exception of the last two which is really more a matter of learning patterns and getting timings down.

The castle section at the end features a few traps like spears that thrust out of the ground that I thought were a little odd since there are no other traps throughout the game that I can recall.

Equipment and weapons work much like the first two and it is a relatively simple affair. you have one weapon, a sword as well as a suit of armor and a shield which make up your two defensive items. as the story progresses you can upgrade these three items to up your attack and defensive stats. items limited to a handful of things such as healing herbs. This time around you do get magic rings which have various effects such as increasing attack power of shielding your character from damage. as soon as you put on a ring through your RP begins to decrease fairly rapidly and once depleted the ring ceases to function until its power is restored. This makes the use of the magic rings usually relegated to use in boss fights.

Y’s III is not a sprawling 45 hour epic RPG and really doesn’t feature anything like side quests or exploration. It’s definitely longer than the first game and much more comparable to the second. I went into Ys III: Wanders from Ys thinking that I would not enjoy this game at all after really liking the first two titles but I was pleasantly surprised. Ys III IS very different from the two titles that preceded it but it’s still an enjoyable game in its own right. I didn’t find the game overly hard at any point either and when you get to the snow peak area you could fairly easily grind until you max your states out. It did take me a few tries to defeat the final boss but once you get the pattern down it’s not too bad, especially if you saved up all your healing items and magic ring power. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous games but I’d say give Y III a chance if you’re playing through the series or if you’re a fan of side scrolling RPG gameplay.

Grade: C