Friday, May 19, 2017

Game 250: Cosmic Soldier: Psychic War (1987)

The title screen doesn't waste any time getting into the story.
    
Judging by western PC releases, 1987 was the year that JRPGs started to rival their western counterparts. Dragon Slayer (1984), Hydlide (1984), and Xanadu: Dragon Slayer 2 (1985) were all goofy affairs best described as "proto-RPGs," but 1987 brought us The Ancient Land of Ys, Sorcerian, and Zeliard. None were contenders for "Game of the Year" or anything, but I found them all fun in their own ways, and they each introduced interesting elements not seen in western RPGs. Ys is the first RPG I know, for instance, to introduce occasional boss battles in which all the rules change and you have to figure out new patterns to defeat them, a dynamic that lives today in games like Dark Souls and Lords of the Fallen. Zeliard is the only RPG/platformer hybrid that I know of. Sorcerian is a rare side-scrolling RPG.

Cosmic Soldier: Psychic War is not up to the level of its 1987 colleagues, though it does have a number of original ideas. The game is the sequel to a 1985 title (Cosmic Soldier) released only in Japan; my understanding is that they feature similar gameplay, though the sequel improves the graphics and interface. They concern the titular soldier, who takes missions from "the Alliance" to stop the evil machinations of the "Quila Empire," somewhere in a star system called "KGD" in the 36th and 37th Centuries.

In addition to the party members he can recruit along the way, the main character is accompanied by a scantily-clad android who offers various types of advice and assistance. In the first game, this included the ability to have sex with her (with accompanying on-screen nudity) in exchange for increases in power. We saw the same dynamic, though with an actual human slave, in the reprehensible Rance (1989), and I wonder if the later game copied from Cosmic Soldier or if there's another origin to this trope.
       
A screenshot from the first game.
    
Either way, I don't see any sex options in Psychic War, although it's possible they were simply removed for the western release. I can tell that the developers changed at least one related element: the android (Kayla), who inexplicably always remains on-screen, is wearing a tank top in the western release instead of a string bikini in the Japanese original.

After a brief character creation process in which the player has no choices but the name, the main character and Kayla dock their ship, Century Parody, at a space station called Samar. I haven't been able to find a manual for the game, but my understanding from various web sites is that the Quila Empire has developed some kind of machine that can read (or perhaps influence) brainwaves. It's on one of at least 5 stations in the same region, and the player can jump among them, hunting for the device and killing enemies along the way.
     
The "full party death" screen. I guess the Alliance only has one Cosmic Soldier.
    
In the hallways of the stations (or, at least, the first one), you run into both NPCs and enemies. The line between them is blurred, as you can attack NPCs and convert enemies to NPCs if they surrender. When you encounter them, the game gives you a nonsense word that I at first took as their names, but I guess it's their races or classes or something, because if they join you, you specify a name. If you're not looking for party members, you can just talk to NPCs (including surrendered enemies), and they might give you a quick line of dialogue.
     
Meeting a "Jiftok" NPC. I can either convince him to join me or ask for a hint.
   
For those who join the party (up to 3), each class of NPC has different psychic abilities, which are basically spells. These come into play during combat and exploration. For instance, the protagonist comes with "Beam," which is a basic psychic attack, and "Teleport," which allows you to escape from battle. Other NPCs might come with "Shield" or  non-combat powers like "Marker" and "Mind Jump," which together serve as a mark/recall spell. I assume some of the game's powers are developed by leveling up. There apparently are guns in the game, but I gather they either serve as amplifiers of psychic energy or alternatives against a few monsters who cannot be psychically damaged.

Mostly, NPCs serve as living shields for the PC. When combat begins, the player holds down the SPACE bar to simultaneously execute the "Beam" attack or ENTER to execute a "Shield" defense. The cowardly PC hides behind everyone else, so all the NPCs take any enemy damage first. Since there seem to be no other combat tactics, I guess you just have to hope that your NPCs and hit points hold out against the enemy's. The dynamic feels more like some kind of tug-of-war than traditional RPG combat. Speed is vital in the combats, particularly as the enemies get more difficult. If you don't realize you've entered combat and hit the SPACE bar immediately, the enemy gets a few free seconds of unfettered blasting.
    
Simultaneously blasting, and taking damage from, a "Paluka."
    
Slain enemies don't seem to drop items, but perhaps I just never found the "search" option. As far as I can tell, there isn't any economy in the game, except perhaps the "yontry" that also serves as a healing potion. Judging by a few sites I translated, inventory also seems limited in the game. Most of it consists of puzzle items like ID badges and VIP cards that you need to progress through the levels.

Kayla seems to be useless at the outset of the game. There's a menu command for "Ask Kayla," but it provides no options. My understanding is that later in the game, you can find special items like mappers, sensors, and decoders that Kayla can operate, but overall a lot of screen real estate is wasted on someone with such limited functionality.
     
The repair shop owner hints that Kayla will become useful later.
    
I didn't hear any sound effects during my session. It does have music, changing from exploration to combat tunes. Both wear out their welcome quite fast, as does the game's fondness for 1980s California slang: "Bogus!" it cries, when describing an attack by an enemy or "Bodacious!" when you find a useful item.
      
"Most outrageous!" upon finding a card.
     
The graphics don't break any ground. The corridors all adopt the same futuristic pseudo-Death Star look, the protagonist and his allies are goofy and cartoonish, and if Kayla is supposed to be attractive, then I congratulate the 1980s teenagers who found her so.
     
A map of the first station level.
     
I started my session by exhaustively mapping Samar. The base level was 16 x 16, but with a lot of unused space. Most of the rooms are generically titled "press rooms" or "radar rooms" and such, with nothing in them, but you run into the occasional "bio room," where you can get healed, and other special places like the space dock.
     
I'm not sure why I have to "think fast" to use the elevator.
     
Elevators went both up and down, but to a variety of much smaller levels (or sections of levels), some only a couple of squares. There was an equipment repair shop on a lower level section and a "relic shop" on an upper-level section where a guy wanted 3 "yontry," basically a healing potion, but I hadn't found any so far. He also suggested that I bring him the "PY map."
     
The weird relic store dealer.
     
During this period, NPC hints told me that the relic shop owner "keeps a secret"; that I can find yontry in "Zellwal's NRS Room"; that I should learn how to use the "bio-sleep" rooms; that I should free someone named Houzz from jail on Sivad; that Sivad also has a "VIP Room" and the station's defenses are weak; and that our mission (or at least that NPCs) is to "destroy Melser."
      
An NPC offers a hint.
      
I burned through a lot of party members during this period and noticed that every new one started at 0 experience points, so I suppose it's probably better to heal the ones you have rather than letting them die as meat shields. As for my own character, I seemed to get exactly 1 experience point for every enemy we killed, but none for those who surrendered and we let live.

When I ran out of places to explore on Samar, I entered the launch pad and blasted off for Sivad, station of the supposed "weak defenses," where I was killed immediately by a much tougher enemy than I'd faced anywhere on Samar--some kind of robot, I guess. Either the intention was that I grind for a while on Samar or I'm missing some other dynamic in the game.
      
Chet levels up.
     
Playing around Samar some more, I finally leveled up when my experience hit 20, doubling my maximum power and ESP. Around this time, I realized that killing relatively helpless NPCs offered the same experience rewards as dangerous enemies, so I just circled the outer rim of the station, blasting everyone I came across. It took me 80 more kills to get to the next level.
    
Sorry--I don't get stronger by you surrendering.
     
At this point, I was able to navigate Sivad without dying. The enemies there continue to deliver just one experience point per kill. In a room past a maze of elevators, I found a safe with a "Map PO." Later, in an "enemy office," there was a "VIP card." About this time, I hit my six-hour minimum and had to decide whether to continue with the game.
      
I guess heroes don't just turn around and leave.
      
Oh, there's a place for games like this, I guess. They offer a break from the standard high-fantasy dungeon crawler, with their swords and armor and magic missiles. The problem is, I like that kind of game, not weird sci-fi titles with bare-bones plots and goofy cartoonish little protagonists. Still, lacking the manual, I might be missing out on some cool features, so I'll at least give my commenters a chance to offer what they know about the game before cutting it off.
      
Blasting off to other ports.
     
You may have noted that this is my 250th game. That's something of a landmark. I probably should have arranged for a more meaningful title to take the spot, but there was nothing obvious in my upcoming list, and I was having a hard enough time finding time to play and blog in May without adding the pressures of some kind of commemoration, too.

Still, it's a big number. When I started this project, I'm not sure I was even aware that this many RPGs existed. I'd probably only ever played 30 by that point--some addict!--which means in the last 7 years, I've increased my RPG experience by more than 700%. At least the blog gives me something to show for it.


47 comments:

  1. Really awesome you're getting into the JRPG. Was wondering if you were planning to check out the Deep Dungeon series?

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    1. My list is only PC RPGs. No console-only RPGs.

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  2. Well done, that's an awesome achievement.

    250 games thoroughly documented for people interested in the history of the medium, and 250 LPs for people who enjoy being part of an adventure when they don't have the time or energy to go on their own.

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  3. A well deserved congratulations for making through 250 games.

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  4. Congratulations on 250 games, that's in many ways a remarkable achievement. There can't be many, if any, people in the world who've played more rpgs than you now.

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  5. Dust: An Elysian Tail was a pretty good side-scrolling RPG-platformer, though I doubt you'll ever play it (but you'd hate the anthropomorphic animals anyway).

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  6. I came late to the blog but I've since read through all 250 reviews. It's become a calming ritual in my week, and much appreciated.

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  7. "In the first game, this included the ability to have sex with her (with accompanying on-screen nudity) in exchange for increases in power. We saw the same dynamic, though with an actual human slave, in the reprehensible Rance (1989), and I wonder if the later game copied from Cosmic Soldier or if there's another origin to this trope."

    The most likely reason is that PCs of any sort were an extremely niche market in Japan, and the advent of the Famicom really cut into it. One of the few successful markets was for content that would not be allowed on the consoles (which generally meant outright pornography, as the content restrictions that led consoles to be locked into an age ghetto for so long were a creation of Nintendo's American branch), and making a PC game all but required developers to tap into that underbelly. This was not, of course, a universal rule, but it was a very common thing.

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    1. I wasn't talking about sexual content in general, though. I was talking about the specific theme that having sex with your servant = greater powers.

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    2. This dates back way earlier than 1980s... all the way into the 1500s. Witches and warlocks were known to bind incubi and succubi, feeding them with sexual energy in exchange for stronger magicks.

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    3. Again, I'm talking about something more speific:

      1. A male "hero"
      2. Who travels with a female servant
      3. Who has sex with that servant
      4. Who gains powers from said intercourse

      Those specific elements are found in two Japanese RPGs and nowhere else that I know of. Succubi and whatnot only cover one element of the trope.

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  8. I think I have the manual for this at home. I'll scan it in if I can track it down. Is there somewhere I can send a PDF?

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    1. Depending on the size, you might be able to attach it to mail and send directly to Chet I guess, but it would be great if you could upload it to a place like archive.org or use one of the various free one click hosters (Zippyshare etc.) for at least temporary access. That way, it will be preserved.

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    2. My e-mail is crpgaddict@gmail.com. I really would love to see it.

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    3. Yeah, I've got a boxed copy of the game with the manual and the copy protection sheet (which may not scan well since it's that funky black on maroon color). I'll scan it all in tonight and send it your way. I'll see if I can upload it to archive.org, as well. The manual seems to come with a full set of maps in it, too. I guess they figured nobody would want to take the time.

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  9. Congrats on 250 games! It's been a wild ride so far.

    Plus, these blogs and the community here finally convinced me to give Ultima Underworld a whirl, so thanks for that too.

    Speaking of which, I've played a lot of them and I can't say there are many JRPGs like Cosmic Soldier. I suppose it's because those games existed in a time before Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy had completely codified that specific genre of RPG.

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  10. Congratulations on getting through 250 games. It's too bad Blogger doesn't have an Xbox-like achievement to commemorate the occasion!

    I'm guessing the real estate wasted on Kayla was a compromise between having no hentai elements at all and the sex scenes of the first game.

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    1. Forgot to add that I find the characters at the bottom are actually kind of cute in a Japanese kawaii way.

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  11. Replies
    1. Miles Davis has a song called "Sivad" on one of his albums (Live-Evil, as I recall, which is a palindrome of its own).

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    2. "Was it a rat I saw? Rats live on no evil star."

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  12. 'grats Addict. You're a special piece of PC gaming culture, and the blog is fantastic. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Here's to the next 250.

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  13. Only 750 more to go until you hit 1000 Addict!

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  14. Congrats on reaching 250 RPGs :)

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  15. Congrats on 250!

    As a side-note, it's weird how stylistically this overlaps with Phantom Star (especially the Numan girls in their leotards). I wonder if this had any influence, or if it is just Japan looking more itself.

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    1. I swear I fixed that.... It should say Phantasy Star.

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    2. Yeah, I was also getting Phantasy Star vibes from the screenshots. I also wonder how much influence was there.

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  16. Well done on the 250 ;-) It's been a great read so far, hope you have also enjoyed the ride.

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  17. Congratulations on 250, the blog has given us voyeurs the opportunity to experience the great (and not so great) RPGs of the past without the level of commitment you have invested. Thank you for the time you've put into this project over the years.

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  18. Congratulations on the milestone. Your blog is one of my favorite reads. Thanks for taking us all along on your journey.

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  19. Has it really been 250 already? Incredible! Congratulations on your achievement and thank you for the countless hours of highly entertaining reading. Much appreciated.

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  20. I quite like the design of the characters and the screen, although I'm not fond of the viewpoint being stuck in the bottom corner; I feel that should be more prominent.

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  21. Much congrats! Should almost be 260 what with Fate and all...

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  22. I don't have anything of substance to add to this game, but I also wanted to join the chorus and express my congratulations to you on 250 RPGs! You've put in the time and effort, and as someone who has read every one of your blog posts, the increase in quality of each successive post with regards to its information, cohesiveness and professionalism (typos be damned!) resonates among your readers, I think. Or, well, it does for me. If nothing else, I hope you take some measure of pride in the progression from where you started versus where you are now. You've gained experience, patiently grinding against some tough[1] RPGs, gotten stronger, acquired new skills and talents, interacted with this motley rabble, made discoveries, triumphed over adversity and savored success. I wonder where you'll be when you reach 500.

    *raises gimlet* Here's to the next 250!

    [1] and by "tough" I mean both the fun-but-difficult ones like Nethack and the infuriating ones like Darkspyre.

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  23. I probably should have arranged for a more meaningful title to take the spot, but there was nothing obvious in my upcoming list
    I wanted to suggest Deathlord, colloquially know as (one of) the hardest RPG ever, but you closed the comments for the announcement post :-P

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  24. 250 congratulations!!! :)

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  25. > who inexplicably always remains on-screen

    I would assume the primary reason (perhaps in addition to titillating the player) is to reduce the CPU load since you don't have to update graphics on most of the screen. You see this in other Japanese PC RPGs like Digan no Maseki and Legend of Heroes 1&2 -- the majority of the screen is taken up by status boxes and static images, leaving only about 1/3-1/4 of the screen that actually needs to be actively modified.

    Congrats on 250 games; I just started game 7 on my own blog and I see how much work this takes!

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    1. I just checked out your blog. That fills in a nice hole. Now, if someone was doing PC RPGs released only in Japan, we'd have all the bases covered.

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    2. Thanks; that might be a project for the future -- I think the Japanese PC RPGs are far less known here than the unreleased console games. Although a good number of them were ported to consoles, so maybe that's not true.

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  26. Congrats on your 250th game. May the addiction go on forever!

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  27. I appreciate the congratulations from everyone. I'll do my best to keep going for another 250.

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  28. Congratulations on your milestone from me as well. I don't know what I would do without you... wait- that's a little too much ;). But your blog has been a part of my online habits that I wouldn't want to miss.

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    1. The world would certainly be a poorer place without the CRPG Addict. I can think of few things I look forward to more than a new post on this blog. Congratulations on the milestone and thank you very much from me, too!

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  29. Congrats on 250, and while this isn't the best game I still love that you cover these wierd little titles I've never heard of. But either way I just love your blog and it's introduced me to so many games ai want to play hope you do keep going till you hit another 250 and more.

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  30. Well done on reaching 250! I'm a big fan of the blog and am looking forward to many more :-)

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