Current Status and Latest Project

…okay, I haven’t posted in a while. I got back into Mabinogi – they updated with all content up to G11 or thereabouts, so we’re pretty close to the American version now, if not right at the same point. I don’t know – I don’t actually keep up to date on a version I won’t be able to play (without messing around with proxies/lag/annoying Nexon).

Since Barioth pretty comprehensively kicked my butt and kept on kicking it, I slowly stopped playing Monster Hunter Tri up north, and then university finished – I graduated, yay – and the Wii got lost in all the stuff carted back here for a while. The Wii is now set up, but I still haven’t been playing due to having my eyes set on Rathalos gear. Most of which requires someone to chop off a tail or three. As I fail immensely every time I try to break tails, my only recourse is learning to use a melee weapon, or getting one or two of my friends to help me/do it for me, and… one of them is also addicted to Mabinogi. Tail isn’t getting chopped off soon, anyway.
That said, at least online works properly down here, and at least the router doesn’t want to die every time someone jogs the wall it’s mounted on.
Also worked out I need to unlock the Rathalos mission online, which means opening the next set of missions by capturing an online Barroth. At least. Yaaay.

So, projects. I put together an entry for the global Mabinogi design competition. I’m hoping my thing at least manages not to be summarily discarded. Technically that took up half of September, but realistically most of the work happened in the last few days, when I gave up trying to design clothing and drew a weapon instead.
Well. ‘Weapon’. Healing wands probably aren’t supposed to be actual weapons.

So, now that that’s done, I’m currently trying to implement Spellcast in mySQL and PHP.
…the lengths I go to for a less-buggy implementation of that game. Thus far I’ve gotten a new notebook since I completely filled out my last project notebook during university, and I’ve started trying to plan out the database side. I need to dig up my old notebook as it contains all the notes from the last time I tried something like this, including all the stuff on the game’s rules.
Part of me wants to go grandiose, ‘lets have player logins and statistics and flashy stuff’, but it’s a small bit and most of me just wants a working game to start with.

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Zynga’s FarmVille and Helping Out on Farms

So I decided to check out FarmVille recently. Makes me wish I were playing Harvest Moon – I should dig up one of those games sometime. Maybe even the GameCube one.

Anyway, one of the game’s mechanics caught my attention. You can help out on the farms of your friends – scare away crows, or do some weeding. You only get suggestions to help on the farms of your friends; you don’t get anything for random strangers, unless you happened to friend someone like that.
So what does helping neighbours with their farm do for those neighbours? For the helping player, it’s a quick visit to another farm, and clicking two buttons, in return for a small amount of currency and experience. It’s also an automated notification sent to the player they ‘helped’.

For the helper:

  • A way of getting money without waiting for plants or animals to reach a harvestable stage. It’s instant and doesn’t require spending anything, but doesn’t get you much – about the profit from a single
  • A way of getting experience, similarly.
  • Tells the person you helped that you’re playing?

For the helped:

  • They now know the helper is playing, if they didn’t already. The helped player can then ‘help’ the player that helped them.
  • More notification spam.

For FarmVille:

  • Reinforces player relationships?

If it doesn’t actually do anything for the helped player aside from informing them someone plays, then the action is a little… selfish. Players aren’t helping people to genuinely aid them; they’re helping people to make a little extra cash on the side, or they’re informing their friend that, yes, they play FarmVille too.

It’d be nice if helping out on the farm lengthened the period of time crops remain harvestable, or maybe even harvested (some) ready crops for the helped player. Maybe weeds or birds trying to eat things could be actual problems for a player.
Come to think of it, are there problems to encounter in the game? I suppose something like that would have players checking too often, worrying too much, though. FarmVille is definitely on the casual, low-interactivity side.

MMOs and Region-locking

A few friends of mine have been very excited about the Dungeon Fighter Online open beta, recently. I personally don’t understand the appeal of the game, but then again, I never tried the Japanese version, so they probably know something I don’t.
They’re both a bit pissed off right now due to the Nexon version being for Americans and Canadians only. Apparently Nexon never saw fit to inform them or the community about that. So neither of them can play, whilst they were as hyped up about the approaching open beta as the American hopefuls were. I suppose. I don’t know about whether it wasn’t announced – I get the feeling Nexon were hoping all the references to ‘North America’ and nowhere else were going to do the job, but a lot of people are posting right now asking why they can’t play, living in… Europe, Hong Kong, or South America, for example.

So one of my friends came up with something; why IP block places that don’t have – and probably won’t have – a version of the game in the foreseeable future? What advantage is there in a licensed version of the game that won’t accept players from regions that don’t have their own version of the game?
Granted, if a version of a game is subsequently developed for one of the areas without, and that area is then blocked from accessing the other versions, you’ll have a lot of people moaning about their characters, accounts and possibly the money that went into the other version. Depending on whether it’s the same company now managing both versions or not, there could possibly be character transferrals from one version to the other – if the company decides that doesn’t give character-transferring players an ‘unfair advantage’ if there’s a significant focus on direct/indirect PvP, if it’s a manageable amount of work and not too complicated…
If it’s another company handling the localisation, foreign players would be a little screwed. They might, might be able to get a refund to money they put into the now-locked version. Maybe. Or they might be told ‘You paid your money, you had your fun. Now go play and pay that other version you wanted.’ They wouldn’t be able to get back the characters they invested time in, though.

But if people were only locked out of other versions once their region got its own version, what incentive is there to companies bringing new versions out at all? The audience you want to approach is possibly already satisfied by another region’s version of the game, and you’re not guaranteed to get that entire audience if you localise the version for them – some might have burnt out already on a existing version. Some might be irritated because they spent money on a version they’re now locked out of, and even if they play this new version, might not be interested in paying anything more, as they paid once and got burnt. Some might be irritated as they have friends in the other version that they can no longer play with.

I like Guild Wars’ approach; all versions are the same, can connect, can play with each other. Lobbies are by default your own region, but you can hop over into, say, the Japanese or Korean lobbies should you so wish.
Then again, Guild Wars has to be nice. People have to pay – once, admittedly, but still have to pay – to play.

Nota bene:
I’m still a little twitchy about Mabinogi, where more or less the same thing happened. As of today, Mabinogi’s wikipedia article states that it has… lessee… Korean, Chinese, Japanese, North American and Australian versions, but no European version.
I also play Turbine’s DDO, the North American freemium version, rather than go for the subscription-based European one. Really, no general outcome of this problem is going to satisfy me entirely, let alone everyone.

Labyrinth of the Dead (1) – It Went Better Than Expected

In which the Sorceress takes on the Labyrinth of the Dead, condemns a formerly-untouched area to the predations of the living dead, saves a ton of lost souls to make up for the karma loss, and deals with something that has haunted her nightmares for a long time.

So I'm not sure why these screens deliberately avoid the better party members to use in most areas.

So I'm not sure why these screens deliberately avoid the better party members to use in most areas.

So this is a post I’ve been procrastinating about since… last summer or so. Back when I started writing these posts, part-way through the game; I think I’d just started picking up Blaze and the rest of that set of spells. I’d tried taking on the first part of this area just so I could write about it, and ran into a couple of serious problems.
This attempt went better.

– The Labyrinth of the Dead –
The underground crypt where the dead of Foresia are put to rest.
The dead which have been touched by unholy sorcery wander freely in the crypt…

So, undead. Zombies, evil undead (?) monkeys that move really quickly, assorted swordsmen of the undead, demonic and evil human (?) variety, ghosts that act as a cross between the Palace of the Immortals ghosts and any given wisp, and the odd Slime or two. This is the place that Turn Undead was made for… but I’m not playing a Priest.
I’m playing a Sorceress with a Holy-element weapon that hits for around 220~ damage unbuffed. Fun.

Not so much a puzzle as an opportunity to really annoy the other player.

Not so much a puzzle as an opportunity to really annoy the other player.


This isn’t really the multiplayer puzzle/skill-test of the area, unless holding down a button whilst someone else picks up treasure is a skill. There’s no way for the person inside to open the door if it closes, just like one of those really poorly-designed walk-in freezers that Nickelodeon’s live-action shows loved using as a plot device. Oh, and the player holding the lever can’t fight anything whilst they’re doing that… but, honestly, not a problem as having the door close on the person inside doesn’t actually kill them.
Unless the person at the lever dies; that’s essentially a delayed game-over in a situation like this. Good thing this is one of the first rooms in the area, and that most people who turn up here won’t have gotten very far at all.
Incidentally, I’m not sure whether that’s a locked chest or a green chest. This whole area, annoyingly, has very low illumination for anything that isn’t an enemy or a player. Whilst it’s not overly apparent at this point, later on it gets troublesome for me, as the monitors I use won’t display the area brightly enough to compensate, unlike the TV I used to use.

Approximately half the coffins on the first level will throw zombies at you, save that one that throws a skeleton, instead.

Approximately half the coffins on the first level will throw zombies at you, save that one that throws a skeleton, instead.


Atmospherically… I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, or tried to in that long-lost procrastinated-out-of-existence post, but I remember this area as being slightly better than it is here; that music was omitted in a certain area before a certain event happened. Even without that, this area does better than the rest for cultivating a given atmosphere; better than Palace of the Immortals, anyway. It’s by no means great at horror, but it made a spirited attempt.
Though, once again, I’m annoyed by the highlighting of quest objects. It’s visible through a container, which takes the fun out of the first underlevel.

Iunno about paranoia, but she's talking to herself.

Iunno about paranoia, but she's talking to herself.


The second underlevel is another of my favourite areas in the game, though I do swear I remember there being no music until you activated something.

Who put this sign there? Who set up this sadistic puzzle?

Who put this sign there? Who set up this sadistic puzzle?


It is also, on reflection, one of the more… uh… hm. It’s one of the more mean puzzles in the game. I don’t mean to the player; you get an unlimited amount of time wandering around the open areas sans harrassment from the living dead until you solve it, and there are no environmental hazards lurking in the area. You can’t die on this floor if you haven’t started on the puzzle, unless you happen to be poisoned and unable to heal yourself in time. I mean, it’s mean on the part of the players. This is a pristine level of the Labyrinth of the Dead, almost entirely untouched by the horrors and abominations that stalk the rest of the complex, and to move onwards a party of adventurers has to deliberately break what protection the place possesses.
I have my theories about why this puzzle is here, but I’m keeping mum about them until I deal with the second part of this area. For now, it’s worth nothing that the only enemies you encounter on this floor – pre-completion of the puzzle – are four zombies in a fixed spawn, hovering around an object you need to take. Kleptomania FTW?

Nice job breaking it, hero.

Nice job breaking it, hero.


So, with this floor defiled, one of the doors blocking the way onwards will open up. Not the obvious one, though, but one of the side doors. I don’t know whether you can ever open up the first locked door on this floor.

The third underlevel… ugh. Okay, the point of this floor and one attached mini-area is to repair the catastrophic loss of karma from the second underlevel and ensure you don’t get a meteorite dropped on your head as soon as you step outside. On this floor, you get to save a bunch of lost souls by repairing the holy water purification plant. I’m not sure why they can’t pump that water throughout the entire place and purify all of the undead hopping around, but I guess that wasn’t in the original specifications of the place.
Bad design, not accounting for the possibility that an ancient unliving horror might take up residence in your mausoleum.

Probably the darkest room in the region. Not as irritating as the not-quite-as-dark area about to come.

Probably the darkest room in the region. Not as irritating as the not-quite-as-dark area about to come.


Now, I never used to hate this area until I started playing on a computer monitor rather than a TV; it’s the puzzle in this portion of the Labyrinth that requires the most walking about to complete, and hence the most time even if you know what you’re doing, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the Palace of the Immortals. The bulk of the process is finding and fixing the problem in the holy water purification area, which involves boiling out the contamination in the water. Apparently the place was made so that the process of making the water holy and hence forbidding the infestation of the place with the living dead can be… uh… switched off.
Another bad design decision.

Some of the 'ground' here is really a bottomless pit where you will certainly drown. Can you see it? I can't.

Some of the 'ground' here is really a bottomless pit from which you will never escape, as you will drown there. Can you see it? I can't.


The reason I hate this area is… I can never see the safe areas in the water, here, until the area’s puzzle is completed. On the TV I could crank the brightness up far enough to be able to distinguish ‘safe’ from ‘unsafe’, but the brightness is already at maximum here, and I still keep needing to check the map every few steps to avoid surprise drowning. It doesn’t help that the holes all have steep slippery edges, either. It’s only the usual amount of falling/hazardous-ground damage, but getting around is time-consuming whether you attempt to avoid it or not.

Easily-spottable if you use the map frequently, but it'll catch you by surprise a few times before you start doing that.

Easily-spottable if you use the map frequently, but it'll catch you by surprise a few times before you start doing that.


The water in each of the purification rooms brightens considerably once you start boiling the impurities away, but the main area’s water doesn’t actually clear until you’ve visited and activated all of the purification columns. Until then, it’s either exploiting the lamps in the ceiling, which show you the floor or lack-thereof beneath the water when you look through their small aura of light, or constant checking of the map.

I still spent far too long doing this, though.

I still spent far too long doing this, though.


Clearing this floor makes most of the ghosts on the third underlevel disappear, having being freed of their mortal bounds or something like that. Going back to the priest-ghost will open up the way onwards.

There isn’t much of anything on the fourth underlevel for a single player; there’s an unlocked treasure chest, and Dulahan/Durahan/Dullahan, the boss with more alternate spellings over multiple games than Griffin/Gryphon, and that managed to kick my butt ages back when I was armed with Blaze and a blessed robe rather than… well… a blunt stick and a hand-me-down from an ordinary sage.
Neckless Dulahan isn’t much of a challenge… unless you’re wearing anything with Holy element on it. Then he becomes a living nightmare capable of killing you in short order. That’s what happened last time.
This time he was wimpier due to the aforementioned all-powerful holy blunt stick I’ve been using recently.

Seriously, though, Durahan is a dull boss; he’s essentially a larger version of the evil skeletons that throw directional shockwaves at you. He has greater range than them, has more HP, will dodge and attack faster than they do, and has the standard boss AOE debuffs to attack and defence.
That’s all. He doesn’t do absurd damage unless you wear armour with Holy element on it, or get caught out by one of his flurries of quick attacks that he does occasionally. The fight is more of a headache due to him turning up accompanied by four of the aforementioned skeletal mini-hims, which make dodging things slightly more difficult due to their directional-shockwave attacks being thrown into the mix.

Him beaten, the last things on the floor are an entire area accessible only to two people working in concert, and the ways back to the surface and further down if you have the Sagestone and enough jewels. The whole area took much less time than I expected, and it shouldn’t be troublesome at all for me to reach the entrance to the second part if I leave here, so…

Loot

[Weapon] Flame Rod
Flame Rod [Weapon]
[At.34, Fire.12]
[Fai]
1 of the 4 given to the elven king by a dead king.

[Weapon] Poison Rapier
Poison Rapier [Weapon]
[At.26, Poison?]
[Elf]
A rapier which poisons anyone it wounds.

[Object] Holy Orb
Holy Orb [Object]
[All]
Orb of holy power.
(Activates Barrier)

[Accessory] Cross
Cross [Accessory]
[Holy.10]
[All]
A holy cross which protects against all spells.

Flame Rod is, like the Earth Tiara and the seasonal cloaks, an item that tells the player about the existence of a set of items with similar traits; in this case, a bunch of weapons with elemental properties. For a Fairy, I suppose this particular one means they’d no longer need to cast their fire-element buff on themselves if they need this kind of damage, but it’s not something to take to the volcano.
The Poison Rapier… well, I’m guessing it’ll cause poison status on your enemies. That’s a good thing, if you want to use hit-and-run tactics, but I’m not sure whether bosses would be immune or not. Either way, I can’t use it.
It’d be nice if the Holy Orb had a Holy-element attack spell in it, but you can’t have everything, I suppose. Barrier is a Priest spell that I don’t yet have with the Priest I’m using for multiplayer with Llama; it apparently creates a barrier to ‘protect against spirits’, but I don’t know whether that stops them from approaching or attacking you, or reduces damage from them, or… what. I’ll test it out when I go back to the Labyrinth, though, as that’s there it’s most likely to be useful.
Finally, the Cross. I know what the description says, but it doesn’t actually improve your Magic Defence. As it’s available for 12 Fate Coins from the Knight, it probably has some non-obvious reduction to spell damage, like the Tiaras do for their respective set of elements. Note the Holy element – whilst I picked this up in the Labyrinth of the Dead, it’d be a very bad thing to equip there, as most of the enemies have Evil-element attacks, and I’ll take more damage for the holiness on this thing. According to the Item FAQ – awesome thing, pity it’s no longer updated – the Cross just protects from Curse. That’s nasty on a magic-user, as your MP constantly reduces under its effect… but I didn’t cast any spells save Teleport during this trip, so it’s a little pointless.

Item of the Day

[Object] Cure Potion
Cure Potion [Object]
[All]
Restores the body.
(Slowly restores status)

Okay. This is important.
This is a Cure Potion. It drops off most poisonous enemies, and very frequently from the evil undead pink monkey things in the Labyrinth.
This is how you cure poison status, and other bad statuses by extension, but this is really the worst unless you’re a Sorcerer, Priest or Fairy and get hit with Mute in a boss fight. When facing a boss that can cause the Poison status – both the Labyrinth of the Dead and the Palace of the Immortals have bosses like that – this is a life-saver. Granted, carting these around mean one less slot for loot, but you don’t get to take anything back if you die.
Anyway, I didn’t need these today, but it was about time I posted another item like this. I’ll probably be needing them whenever I go back.

Spell of the Day

[Spell] Earth Javelin
Earth Javelin
[Sor, Elf]
MP: 45
Command: X ∆ □ O X O
Power stone pellets rain down on the enemy.

So I was looking through my spell-list when I went to the Labyrinth and was wondering what spells I hadn’t touched since getting them. Most of the second- and fourth-level spells, for example. It’s understandable that I never used this one much before, though, as it’s the upgraded form of Poison Cloud, one of the least-damaging spells available. Okay, so it and the other maintainable spells are probably more efficient on MP than the spells that simply cause all their damage instantly, but the longer an enemy is alive, the longer it can hurt you, and if you stand around waiting for a cloud of poisonous gas to take them out, they’re going to have a lot of chances to hit you. However, this spell is awesome for one- no, two reasons.
First, it’s the only fifth-level elemental attack spell that doesn’t require hitting two keys simultaneously. Even with a gamepad, getting that to register as ‘simultaneous’ is a little hit-and-miss, and half the time the spell never takes effect. The game is picky, and the casters are punished.
Second, this spell has one of the most inaccurate description of all spells in the game. It doesn’t fire anything at the enemy, and nothing gets dropped on anything. Rather, this is that spell that caused all the spikes to pop up from the ground around Behemoth; it’s a caster-centered AOE that persists for long enough to hit things multiple times, and it hits a reasonable area around the Sorcerer, not the tiny little area that Smash hits.
So it’s easier to cast than the other spells of its level, costs about the same as all but Freeze Beast, and aimed properly will hit everything on the screen. Except maybe flying enemies. I don’t know whether it respects that. The key thing is that I won’t have to attempt casting it three times in a row before I finally get the game to recognise the command.

Old Palace (2.5) – Looting and Pillaging

It’s interesting how a Sorcerer can very happily function as a melee unit in the Old Palace. I just completed a run through with no spells save Striking, and there were only two places I had problems with.
There was the red crystal room with the darker skeletal centaurs; those are reasonably-tough, defensively, and come close to matching the resistance of the green slimes but with more HP. I think you only need to fight this variety in this set of rooms, though, and if they spawn anywhere else you can just exit the room to avoid them.
Then there was that icy room, with the two transparent blue-green enemies that are effectively the Dark Elf with less HP and a few more annoying spells. Unlike that entire level in the Abandoned Mines, the ice here does result in less friction underfoot, and you go sliding around whenever anything hits you. Like, say… ranged spells, such as Lightningbolt or Magic Missile. If you don’t kill the two enemies in here from afar, you’re liable to take a few hits of falling damage as they keep knocking you off the platform.

Other than that, though? Depressingly easy.

Loot

[Accessory] Symbol of Darkness
Symbol of Darkness [Accessory]
[Dark.8, Pow.32]
[All]
Talisman that amplifies dark powers.

[Accessory] Dominion Feather
Dominion Feather [Accessory]
[Holy.30]
[All]
Beautiful feather with hidden holy power.

[Accessory] Rune Amulet
Rune Amulet [Accessory]
[Pow.6, MAt.12]
[All]
Engraved with runes that enhance magic.

[Accessory] Renugeton
Renugeton [Accessories]
[Int.20, MAt.16]
[Sor]
Magical book containing knowledge about demons.

The Symbol of Darkness provides a fair boost to Power, in addition to the small boost to Darkness, and it looks like someone picked out Sauron’s eye to make it.

The Dominion Feather’s ‘hidden holy power’ isn’t quite so hidden, as it gives a respectable boost of 30 points to Holy. This fell from the Dark Wizard, and might explain why she’s a bit pathetic. According to the Item List, it’ll fully resurrect you on death with 50% breakage, similar to the Fool’s Puppet, which must be how the Dark Wizard survives her spontaneous post-battle combustion every single time.

Finally, a rune-engraved item that I can equip. I was beginning to wonder whether there was anything other than the wand. The obvious bonuses it provides are a little lackluster, but according to holypriest’s list, it adds +50% to Magical Attack? That’s on-cast, rather than actually shown, but it improves 50~ damage to 80~ damage. A very nice accessory.

Renugeton… there aren’t all that many accessories linked to one class and one alone; most accessories are equippable by everyone, and some are equippable by three or so classes, like the Element Cloak. Renugeton is good for Sorcerers only, so… I’m glad I got this one and not an accessory for a different class, huh. Renugeton is one of the items you can get from the Roadside Inn’s locked room, so… once again, I get an accessory well ahead of the conventional ‘easy’ route.
Unfortunately, Merlin’s Ring provides a better boost to my stats, and Rune Amulet provides a much better bonus to damage above that. I don’t know if Renugeton does something special like increase my damage against demons, but for the moment I don’t feel like testing anything more.

Item of the Day

[Weapon] Wand of Apollo
Wand of Apollo
[At.121, Df.-20, MAt.82, MDf.-10, Holy.25]
[Sor]
A wand that can destroy 100,000 things at once.

My base defence is 67. Wand of Apollo has NEGATIVE 20 DEFENCE?!

My base defence is 67. Wand of Apollo has NEGATIVE 20 DEFENCE?!

Ahem. Yep, negative defence. Equipping this wand penalises your defence, both of them. Holypriest’s Item List never mentioned that, and neither is it mentioned by the weapon; you’ll only see it if comparing your stats unequipped to equipped, so you’ll only ever find out if you’re a Sorcerer. No wonder the lists don’t mention it.
Penalty aside, the Wand of Apollo is worlds better than my Wand of Runes, even with it now at 75 attack. 20 defence isn’t a big difference even for a Sorcerer; my Robe of Spirits is now at 118 defence, so even with the Wand of Apollo equipped I’m ahead of the basic defence the Robe gives me. The Holy element isn’t a problem, either, as Holy element demons turn up once in a blue moon.
I finally have a new weapon. At least this doesn’t look identical to my last one, as happened in WoW.

Ancient Ruins (3) – abusing Teleport for fun and profit

I always thought the female Fairy hair looked stupid, but I still can't tell if that Elf is male or female.

I always thought the female Fairy hair looked stupid, but I still can't tell if that Elf is male or female.

I need a break. Old Palace lasted longer than expected and I wrote more than I thought I would.

Not that easy to spot unless you like having the camera almost horizontal.

Not that easy to spot unless you like having the camera almost horizontal.


So, those siderooms in the Ancient Ruins. There’s some nice loot in there, but at the point you technically have access to it, the large number of enemies in a confined space that guard each treasure will probably either make you run, crying, or kill you because you stepped too far away from the door and got stuck in there.
Now that I’m several tens of levels more powerful, I figure I can deal much more easily with the metal wisps performing guard duty. Specifically, ‘Extend Magic and Explosion’ ease, which kills them in a single cast if you catch them with both hits, or sometimes just a single hit if they don’t resist. You can get to them without needing to go through the boss first, if you know where to drop down, and MP expenditure doesn’t matter so long as I can clear two rooms of that in short order, then hit Teleport afterwards. If I keep Teleport on the autospell, I can even practice casting Explosion by command.
The metallic slimes are a bit tougher, but still go down to one or two Explosion casts, usually, and if not can be taken out by a few physical attacks afterwards. That’s MP-intensive, and I fail the command for Explosion half the time; a much more effective way is for me to just to put Striking on and throw Water Bullets at them if they try to jump on me.

Loot

[Accessory] Dropneal
Dropneal [Accessory] x3
[All]
Treasure said to bring the bearer great wealth.

Whoo! Dropneal the first time around! This handy little trinket increases the amount of experience you get, and apparently the chance of looting Fate Coins, to boot. It also increases the money you pick up, but that’s kind of worthless. I’ll probably take this along the next time I go to the Old Palace.
The metallic slime-things will also drop these.

[Armour] Mirror Armor
Mirror Armor [Armour]
[Df.52]
[War, Dwf]
Silver armor with a fine reflective exterior.

Can’t remember if I covered this previously, before I started putting in the images. Well, here it is again, complete with icon. This dropped from one of the metallic wisp types.

[Shield] Guardian Shield
Guardian Shield [Shield]
[Df.31]
[War, Dwf]
Made by warriors, increases magical power.

So, once again we have a non-Sorcerer, non-Priest, non-Fairy item that works on magic. It’s probably more related to magic defence, but that kind of description looks silly on any class that deals in melee and melee alone, unless they make heavy use of magical objects.

[Armour] Guardian Robe
Guardian Robe [Armour] x2
[Df.92, MDf.90, Str.24, Con.24, ]
[Pri, Sor, Fai]
Powerfully protective. Made by hell’s guardians.

Yaay, Guardian Robe. But this is a little bit of a disappointment. Whilst it’s better than the Robe of Spirits by Strength, Constitution and Magic Defence bonuses, it’s worse in terms of Intelligence, Will and Power. And, well, basic Defence, but that’s because my Robe of Spirits has at least twenty Material Magics on it.
Worth keeping around for hitting the Fire Dragon, I suppose, as I’ll need a lot of Magic Defence in addition to regular defence. Based on its bonuses, it’s built for someone who’ll melee more often than use magic for attacking – at this point, a Priest, or a Fairy without or unable to use its Forbidden Spells. Or, admittedly, a Sorcerer in the Old Palace.
Oh, yeah. Note the red jewel that appears on both the Guardian Robe and Guardian Shield. Seems to be a common trait of Guardian gear thus far.

[Weapon] Guardian Sword
Guardian Sword [Weapon]
[At.75, Df.20]
[War]
Sword of the arcanes, strengthens magical power.

Another melee piece that ‘strengthens magical power’? I’ve ranted enough about those. Like the Guardian Armour that I apparently found some time back, the Guardian Sword helps both Attack and Defence – put together, the pair give a very nice 91 Attack and 115 Defence, and probably a host of stat bonuses on top of that.
It’s also the first Guardian piece I’ve seen not to have a red jewel on it somewhere.

[Armour] Silver Shield
Silver Shield [Armour]
[Df.48]
[Rog, Hun, Elf]
It has fine protective sigils to turn back demons.

This is another random drop from the metallic-wisp-things. For something with little but a metallic body and eyes, they carry a lot of armour with them. Including things they shouldn’t be able to touch, if the ‘fine protective sigils’ here really worked.

Also:
[Object] Material Magic
Material Magic x4
One of these from a chest – disappointing – and one from a Gargoyle. The third from a metallic slime, and the fourth from a Chimera. This place isn’t quite as good as the Crystal Maze, but it’s a nice bonus if you’re hunting other things. Fifth from another metallic slime.
Incidentally, watch out for the Chimera. They know Thunderbolt, in addition to the much less dangerous third-level spells.

[Object] Ice Jewel
Ice Jewel x1
Dropped by one of the metal wisps.

[Object] Blood Extract
Blood Extract x1
Brown wolves drop these. Actually, a lot of beastly enemies drop this – the undead bears in the Abandoned Mines, for example. More HP is always a good thing for survival.
Have I mentioned these before? I swear I have…

Of course, watch out for poison. Apparently if you finish casting Teleport whilst poisoned, and drop to 0 HP as you fade out to go to the map, you still get game over. Happily, I didn’t actually lose anything.
Aside from four Material Magics and three levels. Blast. Well, I’m done here, anyway; I’m going to run through Old Palace again and hope I don’t get Bolt of Larie this time.

Volcanos and Tiaras

Notice anything odd here?

Notice anything odd here?

That’s right. The Volcano of the Fire Dragon finally unlocked itself.
I’m never sure of exactly when it’ll unlock. It always seems to happen after you’ve got the first half of the Sagestone jewels, but not immediately; this certainly wasn’t unlocked before I went into the Labyrinth of the Dead or the Old Palace, whichever I was doing last, as I make a habit of checking between each visit anywhere. It might be level-based, I suppose. Yesterday’s jaunt into the mines brought the Sorceress up to 145. That’s still probably too low for the Volcano, but there are a few reasons to head there early.

Volcano Loading Screen

Of all the mini-areas in the game, this one has to be one of my favourites. The music is very nice to listen to, there’s little in the way of suggestion that this place was left unfinished by the developers, and it doesn’t take long at all to get to the boss. Getting out afterwards takes longer, but…

Interestingly enough, this volcano ISN'T active until you unlock it...

Interestingly enough, this volcano ISN'T active until you unlock it...

Well, today we’re not going to the boss. We’re going to take a quick jaunt almost all of the way there, peer at a couple of chests, and then retreat.

Here's the 'shortcut'

Here's the short route


See, this area offers an almost-free equipment upgrade if you manage to get to this area whilst under-equipped; right before the boss, there are two chests guaranteed to hold a weapon and a piece of armour for the class of the character who first opens them.

The southern chest always contains armour, and the northwest chest a weapon

The southern chest always contains armour, and the northwest chest a weapon


It doesn’t take much work to reach them, either; as I said, the bulk of the work is in getting out of the place after you’ve beaten the boss. Well, it’s actually in beating the boss, but you don’t need to beat it to get out that way. There’s little point to going past the point of no return in this place unless you do want to fight the boss, honestly. You can easily get out via the floating platform shortcuts as long as you don’t drop down.
I don’t plan on fighting the boss today; I don’t have that item I wanted from the Mines, and I had trouble enough with an Elf ages back. Unfortunately, both chests here contained things I had or have surpassed already; a Robe of Spirits, and a Skystone Wand. No improvement there.

So, out again, sans any loot whatsoever. On the positive side, I did get to test the Dark Orb from yesterday – as long as you have X held down, the effect is maintained at the cost of MP – and I did get to test a method of taking screenshots easily.
I’ll return later when I’m not liable to be burnt to a crisp.

Item of the Day

Robe of Spirits
Robe of Spirits [Armour]
[Def.72, Wil.22, Int.5, Pow.4, MAt.40, MDf.22]
[Pri, Sor, Fai]
Amplifies its wearer’s magical power.

I may have been here before, as according to the Item FAQ, this is only obtainable from the armour chest in the Volcano. That’d explain why I also had the Skystone Wand, but… well, I don’t remember visiting here any time in the past year.
As with any item that boosts both basic stats and the attack/defence stats, it’s difficult to tell what’s a direct boost by the item, and what results from the basic stats it improved; the boost in MDf likely results from the boost to Wil, but the MAt.40 is probably mostly the Robe. Either way, this is very nice gear for a caster. Better than the Skystone Wand, anyway.

Of Trolls and Dragons, again…

So, to test out my new gamepad, I decided to run through an easier area. How about the Abandoned Mines? See, I know there is more loot to pick up than I found the last time, including a certain Accessory…
I didn’t find it this trip, but I still got practice in with the controller, and, most importantly, got used to casting spells again.
The Troll fell just as easily as it did the first time I beat him; three Thunderbolts with Extend Spell active did for him, and… naturally, he failed to give out any loot.

Loot

Lucky Earrings
Lucky Earrings [Accessory]
[Lck.24]
[All]
Beautiful earrings which bring luck.

Ambrosia
Ambrosia [Object]
Nectar of the “Changing Flower”.
(Resurrection)

Dark Orb
Dark Orb [Object]
Enchanted with dark magic.
(Activates Dark Breath)

Mysterious Clock
Mysterious Clock [Object]
Glowing Sandglass.
(Heavy slow! 33% dest.)

The Lucky Earrings here give 24 Luck when equipped, but if you’ll cast your mind back, remember the Luck Talisman that tends to turn up in Underlevels 1 to 5? That gives you 32 Luck. To make matters worse for the Earrings, it turned up twice before I reached them. The Earrings have the advantage of not looking like they were pulled from Dragonball, but there’s still no real reason to use them over the Talisman; I’m bemused as to why they turn up in the lower areas, really, given a better Luck item is available earlier on. The only reason to use the Earrings is if you don’t have a second Talisman and want yet more luck.

Of the consumables, Ambrosia is a good way of reviving your friends. Unlike the Miracle Powder, it’s a one-shot item, but also unlike the Miracle Powder, it’ll fully heal your friend on resurrection, as opposed to only slightly healing them and doing nothing as they get one-shot by the boss that killed them initially. Kind of pointless if you’re adventuring alone, like I do.
Dark Orb is another spell-replication item, this time copying Dark Breath from the Sorcerer list, so it’s not really useful for me. It’s one-shot, unlike some of the other spell-copy items out there, but Dark Breath is a maintainable spell. This kind of item is probably why Warriors and other pure-melee characters get any MP in the first place, as there don’t seem to be any enemies that drain MP to knock people out temporarily, but I’ve never really tested them.
Finally, Mysterious Clock. Self-destructing on a third of all uses is a fairly high rate of breakage, but in this case the effect is pretty useful, as it will greatly slow an enemy down. Which gives you more time to dodge and fire spells, or hit it with clubs, or whatever you want to do whilst it walks as if wallowing in mud. I probably only find the Fairy spell items more useful as I habitually play Sorcerers or Elves, but… elemental damage can be replicated pretty easily and more conveniently for melee classes through weapons and Materials; you don’t have to watch your already-low MP, or stay prone whilst using an item, if it’s just on the weapon you use normally anyway. Methods of replicating Fairy spells – which mostly cause status effects – are much more rare, limited to a few odd weapons and these kind of items. There’s no item to add ‘Sleep’ status to your weapon.

In addition to this lot, I also saw some Material Evil, but as I wasn’t too interested in corrupting either my weapon or my armour right now, and had much more interesting things already in my inventory, I went on without it.
Another Princess Locket, too. That’s a shame; I swear that area is where I managed to get the Earth Tiara in my original game, but it’s just the locket – which you’ve seen before – and the Mysterious Clock that turned up this time. I was probably insanely-lucky to pick it up the first and only time I went down there, but I was still rather lost as to what to do with it… until I realised it lowered most of a certain boss’ damage to pitiful levels.

Item of the Day

“Holy… that’s a high quality prize. That Healing Amulet, that’s a really useful object, and it’s valuable too. Don’t you feel a little unworthy to carry that?”
“I worked for this. I got bitten by snakes and giant millipedes and undead bears and why are there undead bears in the mines? I’m worthy.

Healing Amulet
Healing Amulet [Accessory]
[All]
An ancient amulet that heals the body.

The Healing Amulet is something else. Unlike the other Accessory I picked up today, this thing’s actually very useful. The Amulet is available from the Knight who loves his Fate Coins, for the cost of 20, which is fairly steep if you’re aiming for anything else, but it’s for good reason. I’m pretty lucky to find it, then; much like the Healing Robe, this nice little Accessory bestows a permanent healing effect for as long as it’s equipped, and without being locked into using the same piece of armour. So I can wear a better robe without innate Holy element that causes me to be torn to shreds by Dullahan or anything else using Evil, and still have the healing effect.

Spell of the Day

Extend Spell
Extend Spell
[Sor, Elf]
MP: 32
Command: ∆ O X O
Increases the strength of a magical attack.

When you want to kill things quicker but don’t have any more powerful spells? This is the spell to go for. Extend Spell doubles your Magic Attack, hence doubling the output damage, for a short length of time; enough to cast at least three or four third-level spells through X, anyway. Not just one spell as the description suggests, unless you try one of the fifth-level spells through X. I’m not even sure it’ll last through the entire casting time in that case, though.
Works best with the elemental third- and fifth-level spells, in my opinion; the third-level spells are quick enough to work through X or the code, if you’re good, whilst the fifth-level spells really need to be cast via code to make the best use of Extend Spell. It does boost your output greatly, especially if you’re targetting a weakness.

…so, yeah, I’m playing Spectrobes (2)

…which is, as I mentioned previously, what I suspect to be Disney’s answer to Pokemon.

Then I went off in a long tangent. I initially wanted to discuss Spectrobes specifically. There are a couple of things that bug me about it.

First, the game starts as if you already know the characters; it’s like tuning into the third season of Sabrina – with few exceptions, such as season-end episodes, and season-long arcs, it’s all episodic and features the same set of main characters. The events of one episode don’t affect the next until the season-end, at which point they’re all pulled together and are supposed to mean something. Otherwise the season went absolutely nowhere.
So Kallen and Jeena know each other, and say they ‘need to do well on our next mission’, which suggests they haven’t done too well in the past, which further suggests we ought to know these things, as they don’t say what they did, and generally references to some shady incident in the past are tackled more subtly in other games, or at least not brought up in the first few moments of the game. ARE we supposed to know them from somewhere?
Who knows.

Second… augh, battles are as awkward as I remember. For those who don’t know, Spectrobes is ostensibly a monster-training game; you raise a few monsters, called ‘Spectrobes’, through battle or walking around, they become more powerful, and predictably evolve at some point. There’s a wide-variety of Spectrobes out there in a number of different evolutionary paths, though I think it’s all ‘immature -> mature -> special’ with no branches for any of them?
In battle, you’re on the map accompanied by one or two Spectrobes, as are your enemies. This is probably sounding like Lost Kingdoms or Trapt right now; it is like them, in that you’ll be relying mostly on your Spectrobes to do the damage for you. See, though the main character can attack on command, this starts out doing 1 damage at pitiful range whilst the Spectrobes do 40~. In my previous experience, this didn’t really improve, even when I bought weapons. If an enemy can get at your character, you’re doing something badly as they can deal nasty damage, and you lose if you die.
So, awkwardness. Each Spectrobe has a specific attack with a certain range. However, they’re always located somewhere to the left or right of the main character, one on either side. Essentially, your attacks are launching from a non-centred position, which throws off aiming. Some Spectrobes – the starting one that can charge – does a bit of auto-aiming, but since it’s located somewhere to the right of you, aiming at anything to the left of the screen with that Spectrobe is next to impossible as it never wants to do that. Other Spectrobes might only ever attack towards the upper edge of the screen, or roughly where you’re facing, or have pitiful range in addition to not being the main character, making aiming a bit more difficult, and…
You probably get the idea. Trapt keeps things simple with non-centred attacks by making them stationary. Your traps don’t move from where they are unless you, yourself, move them. Lost Kingdoms, on the other hand, centres every direct-attack card on your own position – the Dark Raven swoops down from above and always passes above or through you on the way to the area it can hit, whilst the lizardmen are all temporarily summoned right on top of your own position and strike in front of you. You still need to aim, in both cases, but you either placed where the thing attacks from yourself, and know where it can hit, or the attack is always relative to the direction you’re facing.
Meanwhile, Spectrobes take some time to turn when you turn, and don’t always go where you want. Battles even a short way into the game get a little… tedious, to say the least.

Speaking of which, high enemy HPs. From the controls and the troubles in attacking, Spectrobes isn’t as much focused on dodging as a game like Monster Hunter is. It certainly shouldn’t have been, if it is. Monster Hunter gets away with high health on some of its monsters because they’re a test of how long you can keep yourself alive, dodging, versus how much damage you can deal in a given length of time. They’re endurance; even if you can dodge perfectly in the beginning, you’re going to get tired eventually. Deal enough damage before you take too many attacks and collapse, and you win. Fail to deal enough damage before Yian Garuga steps on you for the last sliver of health and you lose.
With the low variety in attacks on both your part and the enemy’s part – each Spectrobe can do all of ONE thing in a fight, and you can do two things, charge and attack – battles get just a bit tedious.

Oh, and… ‘3D on the DS, bleh’. The DS should stick to sprites and pixels; the contrast between how good character portraits in dialogue look, and how outdated the 3D environments and models look, is immense.  Dragon Warrior Monsters: Joker was the same; it looks ugly in battle by itself, and hideous compared with the pixel renditions of monsters in the DS Dragon Quest remakes.
There’s something odd here, though; Spectrobes tends to use both the top screen and bottom screen to display the environment, somewhat like what Animal Crossing does but without any view of the sky – it’s just the normal environment to the north of you. The DS Dragon Quest remakes do this too, but it’s slightly more useful there as you can rotate the viewpoint, and hence change what you see on the top screen.
Instead of considering the top of the lower screen to be the bottom of the upper screen, they put a blindspot there that’s approximately the same size as the DS hinge. Weird.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things I like about Spectrobes; the whole excavation thing, for example, and some of the designs of the Spectrobes. It’s just they’re not what the game actually focuses on.

So I’m playing Spectrobes… (1)

…which seems to be Disney’s attempt at answering and/or leeching from the success of Pokemon.

Not that Pokemon was the first or the only successful monster-training game out there; the Shin Megami Tensei series has apparently always been popular in Japan, but most of it didn’t arrive over here due to censorship-type concerns – apparently people get offended if the Judeo-Christian God is obviously the true final boss of a game. Come to think of it, what changed that they brought SMT3 over here? The success of spinoffs like Persona?
Persona’s another game that fits under a broad definition of ‘monster-training’, but that series is odd in that a character’s Persona determines a portion of a human character’s statistics, so the monster is really just a piece of equipment that can level up. Then there’s Digital Devil Saga, which completely dodged the whole issue of monster-training by making them plain ordinary characters; part of the whole ‘monster-training’ mechanic is that you potentially have a very large pool of monsters unlocked – by capturing them, or by befriending them, or… whatever system the game uses to justify more becoming available – and tailor your selection in order to deal with the enemies you encounter. For instance, putting a lot of fire-element creatures in a hypothetical party if you’re about to go somewhere flammable that you don’t really care about.

But then there are games like Lost Kingdoms 1 and 2 on the Gamecube – your main character could temporarily summon all kinds of monsters to fight for her… which was kind of necessary due to the utter lack of a direct attack on her… but could only summon the ones in her hand, drawn randomly from a constructed deck.
But is this a monster-training game? The cards the monsters are contained in expire as they’re used – use some once, or a certain number of times, and they’ll run out. Likewise, monsters that are summoned and walk around for a time expire when their health – the ‘health’ of the card, displayed in the same way uses-left are, as the card gradually burning to ashes – falls to zero, and it drops every single moment they’re on the map. If you pick up any cards in an area, you can replace cards in your own
deck with them, even cards that are already expired due to use, but if
you run out of cards in an area, you’re still screwed, so there’s that
element of tactics; it results from a limited number of cards in the deck, a limited number of uses or length of use for each card, and only limited opportunities to refresh existing cards by either replacing them, or restoring them with another card – heavily limited in the second game since most players worked out how to have a five-card ‘infinite’ deck in the first game. Running out of cards tends to be an automatic fail on any area with a boss at the end, as you can’t do anything to enemies or bosses when that happens, and you tend to need certain cards to navigate certain areas, so… strategy, yeah. And that’s without factoring in how certain cards are better at beating certain enemies due to elemental weaknesses/strengths, the area the card effects, odd things like how fast the attack happens or whether it ignores defenses… or whether it’s one of the rare and expensive card that lets you capture enemies defeated with it…
Additionally, cards you use in battle gain experience, and with enough experience you can duplicate the cards, or turn them into more (or… less) powerful cards – essentially, breeding and evolving from the Pokemon games. But a single card does not gain strength with experience – a card cannot become more powerful as itself.
So, is this a form of ‘monster-training’ game?

Whatever you think, then what about Tecmo’s Deception/Kagero series of games? This has somewhat-similar mechanics; you have a hero or heroine who can’t physically attack by themselves, who needs to rely on something external to defend themselves from attackers. In this case, rather than monsters (…mostly), they rely on traps; things like boulders rolling down stairs, or trapdoors in the floor, or wall-fixtures that breathe fire. In most games, the player needs to trigger these themselves through a buttonpress, rather than have them automatically trigger on enemies; one or two of the four games in the series had the option to add something to the traps to add that functionality, but it was apparently rather limited through either availability, or other things you could add to the trap instead.
In these games, killing enemies through traps nets you currency; between levels, this can be used to buy new types of traps, like invisible boulders or wall-mounted lasers. Depending on the game, buying certain combinations of traps or combining certain items would produce new, otherwise-unobtainable traps.
Is this some kind of ‘monster-training’ type of game? There’s definitely strategy in there – you can only ever have three different traps active in a room, one on the floor, one on a wall, and one on the ceiling. Certain enemies are immune to certain traps or entire kinds of traps, and have different patterns of attacks, so some types of traps are going to be more or less effective at hitting them in the first place, or at dealing damage even when they connect. It doesn’t just rely on luck, as generally the same types of enemies have the same attack patterns, and the games tend to warn you ahead of time of immunities. That didn’t always make sense, but served to keep you from using the exact same combination of three traps through the entire game.
However, I don’t think individual traps ever gain in strength – once they’re made, they’re fixed at the same level of power and always will be that strong. You can make a more powerful otherwise-identical trap, and you can make a new kind of trap that, say, electrocutes the enemies in addition to picking them up, but the original cage isn’t going to do more damage, ever. You’re not ‘raising’ your traps, you’re always replacing them. They still exist when you switch to something similar but more powerful, unlike Lost Kingdoms and its cards – if you ‘evolve’ a card, the card you evolved changes into the new card, and isn’t available for use any more unless you buy another version of it. This series’ ‘pool of experience’ is essentially the currency you get from enemies ,and rather than being specific to anything, it’s used by everything. You can still focus on developing a certain type of trap over all others, if you want, but you’re a bit more screwed in this game if you spend everything on something that just won’t work on an enemy; in Lost Kingdoms, each specific card-type – like the Dark Raven, or the Hellhound – has a pool shared only with other instances of the card, and in most games, experience is specific to one instance only.
So despite having similar mechanics, I think the Lost Kingdoms games are monster-training games, and the Deception/Kagero/Trapt/whatever series isn’t; being able to improve a specific monster or creature after using it for a length of time is just as important as the collection aspect, or the strategic aspect.

I don’t think I’m playing Spectrobes any more. I’m just musing about
the nature of monster-training games. I’ve probably missed out key mechanics somewhere, and I’ve deliberately kept away from most of the traditional monster-training/raising/taming/whatever games, like Monster Rancher, the main Pokemon games,  Jade Cocoon 1 and 2, and the majority of the Digimon-themed games (Digimon World Championship (DS) is a nice… Tamagotchi), in the name of keeping this from growing to proper essay-size. It’s fairly large as-is, really, so I’m glad I didn’t go into more detail.
I’ll… write about Spectrobes in
a different post, I suppose, for neatness, since this turned into a talk about something else. I still have things to say about it.

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