Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Star Cruiser: Intro

We've seen quite a few RPGs in the years leading up to Doom. Some proper FPS/RPG hybrids, others just your standard RPG, and a few their RPG status is something of an informed attribute. The best ones so far have been uncomplex dungeon crawlers. Attempts at more complex games have been noble efforts, but ultimately awful. But so far the complex titles have all been from western developers. While there are definite differences in ethos between British and American games, those are hardly distinguishable compared to the differences between western and Japanese ethos.

Enter Star Cruiser, a title much beloved in Japan, alleged first FPS/RPG and even beat Ultima Underworld in a few firsts. I see no reason to challenge any of these claims. Star Cruiser was developed by Arsys Software, who did Wibarm, that bizarre...uh...action game I covered just before this. Why haven't you heard of this? Well, while it got a console port, it didn't get translated until 2016. Not for a lack of trying, it was supposed to get an official translation back in the day, but why that never appeared, is a mystery to me.

Glorious dithering up the wazoo
The game opens with a nice, but not really sci-fi tune. From here its straight to the main menu, which is new game, continue game, and options. The last is your usual console options. After selecting my name, the game begins.
That went well
One hardly gets the chance to get used to anything before coming under attack. And boy, they don't make it easy. The enemy is a brutal one, with powerful rapid fire attacks, meanwhile I'm still trying to figure out how to attack. Its Wolfenstein rules, sidestepping is done by holding down A and its all untextured polygons. Seems like I have no visibility either. I quickly get killed...and its a simulation.
Its a pretty crappy move of a game to throw one into these kinds of situations straight away, without any idea of how it plays
In a cutscene right after the battle, we are introduced to two characters. Gibson, a kind of tech guru, and Freddy, a robot who seems like he's supposed to be a kid sidekick. That won't get annoying if my characterization is correct. Apparently Freddy has been my companion for 5 years, and has mastered human speech fairly well.
VOID must be aliens to name their spaceships so simply
Then a senior officer chews me out for thinking about stealing a VOID Star Cruiser. Or he isn't...? Uhm, I don't know if this is a wonky translation or if its always this bad. Anyway, I should meet Gibson at Big Red Spot restaurant. And with nary a chance to do anything else, I'm sent out on the street.

This is practically all of Ganymede
And, oh, my god, this is crap. There's a noticeable delay in turning frames, you can see around corners in a way you're not supposed to, and it all seems just so wrong.

I can't help but look at this, and think that most artists could do this
The second place I enter turns out to be the Big Red Spot, and so far everyone knows my name, but I don't know theirs. I dislike the game letting me name my character if he has an immovable stone of a personality, even if its nothing. Anyway, this is where the actual story of the game is explained. We're in a low-tech space opera, just around our solar system. Currently, I am on Ganymede. My current objective is to steal the Star Cruiser from a nearby VOID fortress. This would normally be impossible, owing to their shields, but we have a Shield Buster. And of course, I, Immortal Morpheus...really? At which point an attack happens. Everyone at Jupiter Branch, the place I was at a few moments ago, is dead.

Came out of the planet so hard it split in two!
Now I have to navigate...somewhere. Everything is blocked off, either because of the attack or because it needs a key. Eventually I find some ships I can use, and me and Gibson launch our plans immediately.

Wing Commander this isn't

This leads to a space fighter section. Its awful. The game starts you off in a dead stop, which I didn't even notice the first couple of times. And when you do speed up, you are right in front of their fortress, which you can't enter for unexplained reasons, despite using the Shield Buster. And this causes a lot of damage to my ship. Okay, maybe I need to take out the enemies first. So I do so. Finding enemies in the middle of combat is a pain in the ass. They move pretty fast, and your methods of tracking them down are hardly any help. The radar at the bottom works...barely. You get green arrows in the middle of the screen, which tell you where they are, but is of little help in the thick of combat.

The space station
Eventually, I win...somehow. Except that after this I get sent directly to the planet and I don't realize it. Okay, I just head to the repair shop and then return. I get sent back to the planet immediately. Uh...what? Turns out through some broken aspect of the game my speed isn't getting reset after landing and returning to space. BUT YOU COULD SET IT TO ZERO BEFORE COMBAT! Yes, I am frustrated with this, because while its been a long time since I last played a proper space simulation, I just know it was better than this.

The Japanese were apparently quite fond of skyboxes like this, as I've seen a few future titles do the same thing

Then, trying to enter the space station now still causes me damage and oh, I get it, I crash land inside. You mean I didn't need to fight off those ships? This game is getting on my nerves and I've just started playing it. I get a key for a door right in front of me, no doubt a check that I understand how the game works. Press start and open a gate while you have a key.

I feel like this would be pretty scummy if I were playing this way in Doom
Now, ground combat, properly, still awful. The laser weapon is trash in a fair fight, you just can't move around well enough for it to be viable. Which means you have to use the missiles. Of which there are a limited number. So how do you use the laser weapon properly? Why, you run into weapons range, shoot a bunch of times, then run back. You can't move in more than one direction at a time, even for turning so...holy crap, I'm not making it through this game, am I?
One of the bigger enemies, perhaps even a boss
As I make my way through the complex, my techy friend Gibson tells me that the Star Cruiser isn't so far away and I should grab it while he covers me, and even the enemies get in on saying that their defenses are breaking down. I even fight what seems to be a boss, and things go well. I can fix minor damage, so long as there are no enemies around, with the fix option in the menu.

Now its a definite article...or inconsistent translation?
A little while longer and I have the Star Cruiser, Gibson says he'll meet me back at the Big Red Spot, and this all just feels so convenient. The VOID fortress blows up as I escape and I can safely fly back to Ganymede. The supply shop doesn't refill my missiles, which is bad, but does refill my energy. I can't help but wonder what anything that has just happened is supposed to be. I wrote it, sure, but I don't understand the plot yet, just the rough gameplay loop.
Once back at the restaurant, I'm told my ship is broken and I should go to the VOID base at Callisto to repair it. (Gibson also left to Earth) Why must I do this game? What is my motivation? You're just telling me to go and shoot these people, and this isn't the kind of game where you can get away with this. I even have to kidnap someone called Daigo Sakai to fix my new ship.
What, I'm in the military, I can just ask for it?

I can't use my ship to do this...guess that makes sense. But how am I going to get to Callisto? Why, by taking a shuttle. I couldn't do that before because VOID attacked and prevented off-world transport, they still are, but now I just really need to go there. For some reason the game is implying that Ganymede and Callisto have a path between them...?

Are we traveling across the ring...?
They give me a key to a disused path, which was what I needed the key for. How kind of them to just give it to me, the Immortal Morpheus. The path has two things inside, a Secret Shield and then a path to a place where my air starts running out.

The portraits look nice at least
After successfully navigating through the area I'm at the second VOID base. This time its a cakewalk through the level. I'm grateful for that, since if it wasn't this game would be a nightmare. Enemies continue to talk to me as I slaughter my way through their base. Its more annoying than anything else.
Now its a plural?
Oh, good, they were kidnapped and I'm just rescuing them. Whew. Interestingly, there seems to be some strategy to the game. Switching to the missiles requires some use of side-stepping to not get slaughtered in the time it takes them to lock-on to a target. Though fighting the boss with this method requires a bit of luck.
Am I Gibson's friend?
Daigo was apparently known by Gibson as a star ship repairer before. I feel like that was some important information to tell me, but we're not going down that route, are we game? One bit of praise, Daigo's line advance noise is lower than the other ones I've seen. I like hearing that, people don't do that enough. Now all I have to do is take him back to my ship.
No, its not, I just wanted you to look at my sweet new ride
He's shocked that I have the Star Cruiser, and reluctantly repairs it. Because he's always helping people for free. GEE, IF ONLY SOMEONE HAD SAVED YOU FROM CERTAIN DOOM. Gibson then calls us up to tell us he's on Earth and will tell me if there's something important. Thanks...Anyway, Daigo wants me to take out a VOID base on Mercury so we can take some raw materials. The game offers me a choice, like I have one.

I'm going to stop here for now. This game gives me the distinct feeling that I'm not going to finish it, and every moment I do play it is going to be a pain and a half. A lot of games have the "go here and kill some dudes" plot, but this game is making the pretense of having an actual plot in it and not going beyond Doom-level motivations. There's a reason why a lot of indie devs writer their games where you're secretly the bad guy all along when your motivation is little more than KILL THE ENEMY.

This Session: 30 minutes

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