Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Destiny of an Emperor (NES)


Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros:Good plot, lots of characters
Cons:An annoying bug, historically inaccurate
 
Introduction

Destiny of an Emperor is a role-playing strategy game published by Capcom and produced by Tokuro Fujiwara, who is notable for also producing the Mega Man series. Loosely based on the Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. Most of the characters and locations are from 2nd and 3rd century China, though many of the translations (especially character names) leave something to be desired.

You take control of Liu Bei and his blood brothers Zhang Fei and Guan Yu as they set forth on an adventure to defend their village that ultimately leads to uniting China under Shu Han. This is historically inaccurate, as Shu Han was actually the first of the Three Kingdoms to fall.

Gameplay

Destiny of an Emperor, for the most part, plays out like your typical NES-era role playing game. You run around the world map killing random enemies to gain experience and gold, and then use that gold to buy new weapons and armor for your characters. You can have up to 5 characters at a time participating in battle, and up to 7 total in your party. The additional characters can take the place of one who was killed in combat, and one can also act as a tactician.

Unlike fantasy role playing games, there are no magic spells in Destiny of an Emperor. Instead, players can assign a tactician to fill that role, lending his military tactics to the active battle participants. These tactics serve the same purpose as magic spells, by attacking enemies, healing yourself, preventing enemy attacks or other effects. They take a little getting used to; with names like Bei Ji and Shui Long, it takes some time to learn which tactics perform which effects. There are 6 total tactics that can be learned at one time, and you have no control over them; though you always learn one fire tactic, one water tactic, one healing tactic, etc.

Thankfully, many of the tactics have upgraded forms, and they stay in their same position in the list, making it easier to figure out what does what later in the game. For example, Lian Huo is the first fire tactic you learn, and it appears in the first place of your tactic list. As you level and get upgraded versions, they will remain in first place where fire tactics always go, so even though Da Re looks nothing like Lian Huo, you know it's a tactic designed to damage the enemy with fire just because of it's in the first spot on your list.

Most random battles are with pirates, brigands, bandits or rebels; but a great many of these random battles will also contain one or more generals. One of the best features of the game, is the ability to recruit enemy generals. After defeating a general in a random battle you will sometimes be able to capture them, and be given the option to convert them or let them go. If you try to convert them, sometimes they will join for free if you are much stronger, but usually they will only join in exchange for some amount of gold or a horse (which can be purchased in item shops for 200 gold). They won't always join however, and most who appear in story battles will only be able to be recruited after you have bested them there first.

It's a pretty linear game, with most areas inaccessible until you complete the story line in the previous area. Only one place in the game does the storyline "branch" and let you go to two different areas simultaneously. You must complete both areas anyway, and both of those areas are equally as linear, but at least it's something.

Characters also require provisions/food in the game, and if you run out you'll steadily take damage while walking around the world map. This usually is never an issue, because you gain quantities of food from most story battles, but you can always buy more in towns. The more soldiers your generals have in their armies, the more food they require, so towards the end of the game if you're not strong enough and stop to level up for a time you may run out. It's easy to notice, because your screen flashes red every step you take and makes a little thwack sound.

Generals in Destiny of an Emperor don't have hit points either, instead they have soldiers, though for all intents and purposes they are the same thing. Most generals in the game do not increase the amount of soldiers they command when they level up, so recruiting better generals is vital to success, especially in the early to middle portion of the game. The few generals that do increase their soldier count every level are usually very strong, and they usually become a permanent fixture of your army. By the end of the game, you have enough of these special generals that you usually won't be concerned with random enemy generals any longer as they won't be of any benefit to you.

With so many different generals available, you would think this game would have amazing replayability, but since you're usually using the same handful of generals at the end of the game that's not really the case. Once or twice is nice, maybe using mostly physical attacking generals once and mostly using intelligent generals and tactics the next time through, but anything past that is redundant. Unless you play through some type of challenge game, like not using generals who gain soldiers at level up, or trying to beat the game at as low of a level as possible.

Bugs

There is one glaring bug that affects things a number of ways. If you have two generals in your party that are capable of learning tactics when they level up, one of the games subroutines can mess up and overwrite certain memory addresses that deal with treasure chests and search-able items. Sometimes this can result in duplicate items, or missing items, but is generally not a huge deal - except that one treasure chest contains an item that is required to advance the story line.

If that one happens to be bugged you either better have a Game Genie, or you have to restart your game from the beginning. You can minimize the chances of this by only leaving one strategist in your party at a time, but that limits the already somewhat limited replayability factor. If you come to a new area and see open treasure chests instead of closed ones, or search where you know there's an item and find nothing... you've been bitten. You still may be able to proceed though, only one chest is vital to progression to my knowledge, if all the other chests are bugged you would still be able to finish.

Controls & Battle System

When I first started playing this game, I was pleasantly surprised by the speed at which your characters walk. You walk around with the directional pad on the overhead map, but the characters seem move around twice as fast as most similar games. This improves the pace of the game somewhat, and makes traveling around areas much quicker and less annoying.

Nearly everything in Destiny of an Emperor is accessed via a menu interface. Talking to people, searching the ground, using or equipping items, looking at your current party members or rearranging them. This can be really bothersome at times; say you wanted to switch one of your characters out with another. When you give all of one character's items to another character, the multiple nested menu choices take a significant amount of time.

Bring up the menu, choose item command, choose which character, choose which item, choose pass, choose who to pass it to. Bring up the menu again, choose item command, choose new character, choose the new item, choose equip. Do that with your armor, your helmet, and your weapon; as well as transferring any non-equippable items he may be carrying. After about the 20th time you swap out a character, it gets a little more than tedious.

Battles occur randomly on the world map, as well as in fixed locations relating to the story line. Nearly every fixed story battle takes place at a town or fort, or at a gate in front of a palace or fort. There are a limited number of story battles that take place after talking to NPCs in town, and a couple that take place in random over-world fights. The battles take place on a plain black screen with a side view of the player's generals on the left and the enemy on the right facing each other.

During battles, every character can choose to battle, use a tactic, defend, or use an item. Characters with higher strength will hit harder with physical attacks, and characters with high intelligence will have a better chance of connecting with tactics (and avoiding enemy tactics). The first character (party leader) can also choose All-Out, Retreat or Report. All-Out is like an auto battle that makes the your army attack the enemy until one side wins. It makes everyone on your side attack with physical attacks only, and don't allow much room for strategy, but it speeds up random battles and easy battles considerably. The enemy can still use tactics, but you can hold the B button to stop the All-Out attack and return to the battle menu if necessary.

Retreat obviously tries to run away from the battle, but if it's unsuccessful the enemy armys will each get a free turn to attack you. Report spys on an enemy general and gives you vital information about it, such as it's strength and intelligence and what tactics it may be able to use. If an enemy general has high strength, he's going to hit harder with physical attacks; if his intelligence is high he's going to hit harder with tactics as well as be missed by most tactics used against him by your less intelligent officers. It becomes a vital strategy to take out the enemy general that is the biggest threat, and Report helps you figure out which general that may be in any given battle.

Graphics & Sound

Destiny of an Emperor features a top-down view on the world map and in towns, similar to Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior or The Legend of Zelda, and the aforementioned side view in battles.

Having been released in 1989 (1990 in the US) in the middle of the NES's life cycle, the tile based graphics are simple and colorful, but show no improvement over earlier tile-based titles. The grass, forest, hill, mountain and ocean map tiles of the world map are all pretty standard fare; as are the two small tile-sets for palaces and forts. There are no rounded edges here, and the water is the only thing other than characters that has any type of animation.

Where the game sets itself apart, however, is in the variety of characters. It looks like most of the 150 or so characters in the game have their own unique graphic, and I'm not just talking about a couple of palette swaps either. Many of them even have matching character portraits as well.

The world map music is fun and plucky, and contrasted nicely by the slightly more up-tempo and synthetic battle music. The palace music is different from the music in the fort, which is the other type of town tile set. The music inside buildings differs depending on the type of building, inns and save points have one type of music, castles have another...

The sound effects are average and familiar; the little dot-dot-dot sound when NPCs talk, the blip of the menu selection cursor, and the thwack-thwack sound when you hit an enemy... you've heard them all before.

Final Thoughts

Despite the one glaring bug that occasionally requires a complete restart, overall this is a really good game, and one of my all time favorites on the NES. I've played through this game a couple of times many years ago, and recently finished playing through it again.

Destiny of an Emperor should be a part of every collection - especially for RPG fans.

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