In the past few months, I've discussed many games by HOT・B and Koei. With the former, I went so far as to post the only piece of North American fan mail HOT・B ever got, but the latter I neglected a little.
The problem with discussing Koei games is that they're both complex and simple, with most of their historical simulations featuring the same formula with slightly different battle/resource systems. What I failed to acknowledge was that Koei dabbled in many other genres, toying with their grand strategy formula and sometimes totally abandoning it for the sake of experimentation.
Of these, I've previously discussed Gemfire, but I've always had my eye on Inindo: Way of the Ninja for SNES. It does many things different from Koei games: the setting is non-historical, it plays more like a traditional JRPG with huge sprawling dungeons and small combat parties, and it features a lot more freedom in terms of where and what you can do.
Your goal is to avenge the death of your family by killing Oda Nobunaga, a historical figure who unified Japan centuries ago. Although Koei usually casts him as a heroic figure, Inindo characterizes him as the biggest jerk in the universe and one who simply must die.
At first, Inindo plays like any JRPG. You buy items, you explore dungeons, you fight random encounters, repeat until it's over. Interestingly enough, very little can be accomplished using this pattern. The first problem is that you need to recruit two companions, but they'll only join you if there's a certain level of trust. It's totally different from Capcom's Destiny of an Emperor, where the characters are recruited on a whim or for cash. If you really want a specific character to join your party, you'll have to follow them around Japan, talking, battling, or simply saying hello to them. While some characters will request to join your entourage, they usually suck, so be prepared to do a lot of running around.
The main quest of the game involves going into several dungeons and fetching an item. When this is completed, an old guy will bestow more magical abilities unto you, ranging from the puny Flame to the mighty Super. As the magical abilities become more powerful, the dungeons' difficulty goes up astronomically.
I loved every second of dungeon exploration. Warps and holes are the only real trick, but they're used throughout the dungeon to great effect. I spent quite a while walking into different warps, mesmerized by all the different ideas. In the end, you rarely see the same room pattern twice.
The earlier dungeons offer up a decent amount of items to find, but as the game progresses, the dungeons get larger and the collectibles become scanter. I ripped through the first five dungeons in several hours and spent nearly three times as much time getting through the remaining seven or eight.
The main reason for this is how difficult the battles become. Depending on what items are at the store, different character classes go from being great to worthless and vice versa. Swordsmen are pretty crappy all throughout the game until you get the Kusanagi sword near the end. At various times, Ninjas are totally worthless because their magic won't work in the next two dungeons, but a couple hours later when your onto the next set, their Blaze and Super spells become absolutely essential. This means that in order to always dominate, you'll need to find new and better recruits as the years go by.
Don't forget the fact the game is on a timer, because if you waste twenty years, it's game over. I freaked out when I first heard this, constantly rushing to the next dungeon and even resetting if I meandered about too much. I managed to beat the game with six years remaining, a much shorter time than I ever expected, especially with how long it took to reach the final dungeon.
Most of the game can be played assuming it's a simple JRPG, but near the end, you're told that you absolutely must conquer some of Nobunaga's territory. At this point, daimyos were vying for control of Japan, attempting to unify it under their banner. There are about ten daimyos you can support, Nobunaga excluded. You need to befriend them in order to give them suggestions, which ultimately leads to a full-scale war.
The war portion is similar to the battle systems in other Koei games with some key differences. When you join in a war, any generals that exist in the friendly state come out with you. If a state only has one general in it or one daimyo, that means you've got fewer units. This doesn't usually matter, as your main unit and one of your party members are the real indicators of success in battle.
Battles must be declared near the beginning of the month and are fought on the month's last day. Convincing the daimyo means offering expensive or rare items as gifts, and when you get their love for you over 80, you can get them to attack virtually anything. This also requires that their armies are high and their adjacent enemies are low. The former takes a lot of effort, but by going to the opposing city and sabotaging it over and over again will cause your enemy's men to dwindle quickly. I sabotaged Mino's castle probably twenty times before I even attempted my attack.
In actual battle, the wars are ridiculous. It's sort of styled after Koei's other grand strategy games with various stats that dictate the pace of battle, but the use of magic makes everything ridiculously easy at the higher levels. Why get anywhere near an attacking unit when you can cast Blaze or Dragon from several spaces away?
After all of the bloodshed, the long boss fights, the trudging through dungeons and so on, you finally get to Nobunaga's dungeon, which contains four boss fights, incredibly strong monsters, and Nobunaga himself is capable of whacking off over 300 hit points if he critically hits you, which he frequently can.
Beating this game is a real testament to either your skill or perseverance. You can beat this game around level 40, stocking up on healing items and using your judgement to determine the best course of action, or you can probably grind up another ten levels and kick some ass. I opted to take the former route, if only to make time for some other games.
Inindo is one of the greatest games I've ever played. By mixing their signature style with both the narrative-driven JRPG and the more open-ended nature of the WRPG, Koei creates a strange beast like no other. Supposedly Uncharted Waters and Taikou Risshiden are also a part of Koei's "Rekoeition" series, named thus because the designers are "recreating" the Koei style by experimenting with genre. I gush over anything that plays with genre, so hell yeah!
I've also recently acquired a variety of other cool games. Hellboy: Asylum Seeker is a very, very late PS1 title, and also one of the most ridiculous survival horror games I've ever played. Rather than having a gun, Hellboy punches everything in the most cumbersome way imaginable. Martian Gothic: Unification takes the three character adventure premise from Day of the Tentacle and injects it with some much needed survival horror action. The Saint, a strange Wii shmup published by UFO, is probably next to be played, mostly because I know I can put it down. In addition, I dusted off my copy of TMNT: Tournament Fighter last night and it was totally awesome. I've also turned in my second Hardcore Gaming 101 article and already got my next proposal accepted, so there's more writing to be done.
I've also recently acquired several games in the Moorhuhn series, a long-running series of casual games starring a crazy chicken. Evidently one of the Wii games was brought stateside as Crazy Chicken Tales, a ridiculous platformer that combines elements of Crash Bandicoot 1 and rail shooters. I need this game! Y'know, after I play through all these other ones. Today I'll be checking out the bookstore for new vintage game books and board games, so wish me luck!