Saturday, February 11, 2023

Shadowcaster (PC-98): Castle Master

Upon entering the temple, I find myself surrounded by these imp things, along with a few bats. The bats aren't that annoying, but interestingly, I get pretty well ganged up on by the imps. That's a surprise. This is some temple or another, you'd have to look up the official guide to figure out who's. Probably Veste or Melkor. Its very blue, but I wouldn't necessarily describe it as bad-looking. Hard to see at times. I think their static sprites and textures have aged pretty well, but the animation depends. Enemies don't seem to bad from what I can see, but that intro cutscene was kind of awkwardly animated.

Honestly, these imps are so slow that outside of situations where they're forced up against you they haven't a chance. Just stand a little outside their reach and use the shuriken against them. It feels like the developers knew how pathetic these guys are, which is why they're standing right behind every door for a while. But because of this section's layout, you might sometimes end up sneaking up on them.

Eventually, this comes to a medallion moving over an acid river. Its this trick. While the common train of thought is that this game is a FPS/RPG hybrid, with less credence given to whichever genre the writer usually prefers, I notice that in many ways, this game's design anticipates action-adventure games of the PS2 generation. Just minus the platforming that was common in those generations. At least I think. Its after this that the game remembers it should be trying to kill me. Meet the Maorin skeleton or Zardaz Guardian. Its the boss. Its tough, hits like a truck and throws fireballs. Somehow I managed to kill it without using any of my items. I wrongly assumed the boss was later. Huh. Guess that's a difference between versions...?
Kirt, the gods have given you the form of the great doctor Caun. On the other side of the north door is a temple. The way leads to a castle.
He's guarding the second obelisk allowing me access to the form of the Caun. The Caun is the seemingly most utilitarian form, yet in practice one of the most useless. Its not a very good fighter, but they have a special healing spell. This is the most useful feature of them. They can cast a light spell, which does work across forms, but doesn't last very long. Then we have a grab move which is useful maybe once or twice. Then defensive and offensive moves, a shield that reduces damage taken by 2 points, a move that reduces enemy visibility, and an attack that shoots out 6 or so bugs at 1-2 damage a pop. These abilities are useless, of course, because fighting with the Caun is suicide, they have 20 base health and 10 points per level increase. None of the combat spells increase in usefulness, ever.
This leads me to what I've always assumed is a castle. This serves as a sort of hub for the rest of the game, you come back here every few levels, and while the area isn't restored of its enemies, you do fight some new ones every time. First up, these serpent things, something I suspect was an inspiration for some Heretic creature, is tougher than the previous monsters but doesn't seem overpowered. I took out two (with the shuriken) so that the Caun's light spell could last for 80 seconds instead of 40. The cluebook says it only lasts as long as the Caun shape is selected, but it does last outside of it. Not 80 seconds though. Duration stacks between spell uses, but having decent length in general helps.
Next, magic drainers. Not on this level, health drainers. They're robes who shoot an attack that drains power or health depending on which one they are. I think in the latter case it restores their own health, making those things some of the more annoying enemies around. These guys are annoying but not that annoying. Power just means you have to wait around more.

The gist of this level the first time through is you have to destroy four coins to open up a path, guarded by another Zardaz Guardian. This time I make short work of him thanks to the wands I've been saving. I haven't done a good job of explaining how these work. Each wand has its own damage type and how much damage it deals, along with an ammo count. Each wand's damage and ammo is unique, so its not the wisest idea to save a wand from the beginning to use at the end game. Once activated, just use it until what you hate is dead or its out of ammo. There is no recharging.
This leads to an area with four obelisks and I think five teleports out. Each teleport out leads to a new area. First stop...castle.

...and werewolves. As far as melee enemies go, these guys are good/annoying. Fast, hit hard and generally ruin your day if you aren't prepared. Like, say, when you teleport somewhere and get one right on top of you. While the animation isn't amazing, they do a pretty good job creating their enemies, they guys look pretty nice. There are quite a few here, in this area, some sort of prison. There are a bunch of locked doors in which one contains a person. None of the others do for some strange reason.

I am your grandfather's friend. I have a message for you. In the tower the lord of the castle hanged himself, cursing the place, take the obelisk there.

Half very confident on the meaning of this, half not great. The first sentence I know, and the last very roughly.

To open these, you have pull another chain, hopefully by this time you have that all figured out, then return. There seems to be nothing in any of the other cells except this dude. After that the door out leads to a barrel blocking your path. I kind of like this, because typically in games of this time, such an obstacle is insurmountable and the path forward lies elsewhere. Because Shadowcaster doesn't do secret doors, that's not the answer. Instead, you turn into the Caun and jump over it. Better be careful or you'll get ambushed by a werewolf. Curiously, despite this area looking like a warehouse and having crates, there's nothing here. Is this supposed to be a subtle joke?

Next up are...these. I wasn't expecting them nor was I expecting them to be so difficult to kill. These guys take a proper amount of damage to kill, it took me multiple walks back and forth to take them out. Doesn't help there's a werewolf here too. There's not a lot here, despite all the skeletons in those hanging cages. The one thing here is hidden via a clever single chain, over a pool of damaging liquid. This is the one point in the game that the Caun's grab move is useful...for a suit of armor for the Caun. For the one time you accidentally get caught in that form.

Cutting through all these guys is a long process. Slowly advance, take out one or two, retreat, hoping you don't get followed, then use magic if you can, wait if you can't, and repeat. At the end, I get a silver sword, which, naturally, does more damage against werewolves. I also find stairs down and stairs up. Huh, I forgot about that, guess I don't quite remember everything. Well, down first.

This I do remember, but until I see these guys I wasn't quite sure what. These are, of course, the health draining versions of those blue cloak enemies from earlier. Fighting them is quite cleverly set up, you approach in complete darkness, at least if you haven't cast light, before seeing an alternating series of niches, designed to protect you from these guys, two of them. They're guarding a chest containing a book. Sigh...
Diary, several weeks have passed. Werewolves have come, Opsis (?) escaped from the castle. I shut myself in the wine cellar, as long as my sanity can be protected, I'm not confident. Ah, I hear distant howling. The diary crumbles to dust.
You must forgive me, but I've actually been translating these after the fact rather than in the middle of the game. And this particular screenshot only shows the middle lines of text, not the first and last. Not confident of the first line, but I'm mostly sure on the second two. Except "opushisu". So Japanese fact for those of you who don't know the language. Japanese is a bit like English in that just because you know what all the syllables mean doesn't mean you can say a random word. There's another system that screws with this, but practical here is the process of dropping some letters, usually vowels in spoken words/names. For example, semi-famous musician Stomu Yamash'ta for shi, and basically any borrowed English word that ends in a "s" is going to use the su character, they just drop the u. Its a bit more complex than that, but I've made a long enough tangent.

All this explanation for some neat mood building.

The upstairs path leads to a twisty castle interior. In theory, I suspect the Caun's stealth was to help you get past here without much incident. But one of the big problems with that creatures abilities is that it works against a game where killing every creature counts. I'm running out of places to carry regular items. Its very rare for me to be in a situation where I need to use a health potion and obviously attack items are for bosses. No way in heck am I using any of those on regular enemies.

Then there's this crap. More of these flying dudes, but you know something? Doors are like every other object in the game, something that can be flown over, which is what these guys are supposed to be able to do. In practice they're more annoying since I have to hit them dozens of times with the shuriken. Heretic wasn't the beginning of Raven's problem with having too many hit points. It also exposes how annoying it can be to hit something above you when you can't look up and down. The closest this game gets is later when you can fly.

Despite this issue, this section encapsulates why Shadowcaster works despites its flaws. Its easy to criticize the game for not having great controls or for having a short view distance, but here, in this hall, in an area full of monsters that are as fast as you. Its pretty tense even a few playthroughs in. To say nothing of wondering when a boss is going to appear.

Great hall number two, and now crap's getting real. Yeah, flying enemy plus annoying enemy. What's worse is that with this guy I'm actually dealing just under his damage threshold, nice. What prevents this fight from feeling damage spongey is that it requires acting as quickly as possible to survive/kill this thing. This turns into one of the most intense fights this game has, with multiple trips back and forth restoring health, throwing the shuriken from safety...and finally winning. Right, let's take out that flying enemy...and there's more of all of them. Ah...

Right, well, there's a different path, one I'm sure is full of the easier werewolves. And its one werewolf before I have to fight red and blue cloaks again. Honestly, this seems to be the only area giving me trouble by not taking advantage of the Maorin's higher health and damage. Still, these aren't as difficult as the batch that gave me trouble. Its all smooth sailing for the rest of the floor. All I'm left with is one path down and a portal. Ah...crap, the portal.

There's a portal in that first big area, where I dealt with the flying dudes. This leads to a library full of the cloak enemies. Seven red cloaks, one blue cloak. I use the dragon horn on some, exploit the terrain on others, and I've killed them all after a few short trips. For what? Another book. Funny thing is, they created this nice and fancy set for one room. I don't think any of these tiles appear again.
Did not read until later. Not that its very important since all it says is that there are magic power restoring pools around in the castle. Which I reached beforehand, and besides you're probably going to want to walk over any strange blue tile anyway.
Enemies get stuck on the scenery a lot, I believe this behavior is intended so the player isn't constantly in danger when fighting superior numbers
Finally, the stairs down. To another blue temple. With the usual werewolf surprise. I know I usually criticize games for this, but for Shadowcaster, the game started of doing this and by this point its less a surprise and more expected. It can stil be surprising, you never know what's behind a door, or if there are six (or so) werewolves. Considering how modern internet communities can be sometimes, it might not be a bad thing for Shadowcaster to be a hidden gem.. Fighting directly is too time consuming in terms of health, so I just mix picking them off with shurikens to fighting melee whenever they stop blocking each other from entering the hallway.
The werewolf lord isn't in this room, he's in the next room, with another number of werewolves. He's like the Zardaz Guardian, except he shoots lightning balls. He's not so tough, I still had the frost wand and while that didn't kill him, the strength potion along with the silver sword took out him and his remaining buddies. Off his corpse and loot in various nearby rooms, I get a staff of power (damage item), an obelisk tip, a Caun sword, a crystal of light, and a chalice of mana/power.
The obelisk tip allows me to use a nearby obelisk, granting me another form. Not translating the thing accurately, but basically: "Your duty is going well. Opsis is the next form, it has many abilities and magic. The cave is next." I'm just assuming something I don't quite understand clarifies that the next area is a mine. And I guess Opsis is correct.

This Session: 2 hours 50 minutes

Total Time: 4 hour 10 minutes

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