I thought I’d be getting a lot more gaming done since I’ve had the whole apartment to myself since the 19th (and will continue to have it to myself until the 30th), but despite that, I just never really got around to even hooking up any of my consoles to the TV until now.
Granted, though, I suppose you could say I spent that long agonizing over what to play next. I looked through my collection of Mega Drive and Master System games and picked out all the ones that I know I haven’t actually beaten yet (not counting games that go on forever), which ended up being the following seven: Thunder Force IV (Mega Drive), Zero Wing (Mega Drive), Shinobi (Master System), Space Harrier (Master System), The Ninja (Master System), Wonder Boy (Master System), and R-Type (Master System). I didn’t feel much like playing a traditional shmup, so three of those were out, and to cut a long story short because you already know the outcome from the title of the blog post, I ended up settling on Space Harrier. After all, why not? I’ve come (relatively) fresh off its sequel, so might as well strike while the iron is still (relatively) hot.
And I damn-near got a heart attack before I could even start playing: I inserted the cartridge, turned on the system… and it acted as if there were no cartridge inserted. After several attempts and an increasingly thorough cleaning of the contacts (for which I use a paper towel; do not fucking blow into your cartridges ever), I eventually got it to read the cartridge and not crash on the title screen, so on I went.
And let me tell you: the game is so much harder. For starters, there are 18 stages (15 regular ones, 2 bonus stages, and a boss rush at the very end), making it a lengthier affair than Space Harrier II‘s 13 stages (15 if we’re counting the bonus stages). The game also starts you with less lives and is a lot stingier with its extra lives, which I believe you get at every 5 million points. I didn’t actually get my first 5 million until after the first bonus stage, and my best attempt ended at 8-million-something, so if there’s a 10 million extend, I haven’t reached it yet. Only five lives total if you’re going for a 1cc — that is bitter.
The manual does specify a continue code, though: at the Game Over screen, hold down and left on the d-pad and press button 1. Not only do you keep going right where you left off, it doesn’t even reset your score. Of course, it can only be used up to three times, though. There’s another, more involved cheat that lets you continue even more often, but my goal is to 1cc the game, anyway, so I’d rather not rely on that — even if I did use the 3-continue cheat; there’s no stage select, so that’s the only way for me to see as much of the game as possible.
Attempt 1 had me use my first continue in stage 3, well before I would’ve had the chance to gain any extra lives, with the other continues used on stages 6 and 9, and my run ending on stage 11. Attempt 2 went even worse, with stage 9 being as far as I got. During those attempts, I got a feel for some of the stages, particularly which ones are especially hard. Coincidentally, all the stages I had to use continues on during my first attempt (stages 3, 6, 9) seemed like considerable enough difficulty spikes to me.
Stage 6 had some pretty nasty enemies in the form of jet planes and (of course) Doms. The former show up high on the screen, have a very narrow window during which they can be hit, and shoot stupidly fast bullets. Doms are Doms. Even though they were mostly on the ground that stage, I found them really hard to hit. The stage’s boss is a group of enemies the manual calls “Rollies”, but to me they just look like giant glowing flying peanuts.
Stage 9 is one of those stages where you go through a narrow tunnel (in the sense that there’s a ceiling, although it’s purely cosmetic), and it was crazy fast. Most enemies in that stage are indestructible, so it’s all about alternating between dodging high and low and hoping you don’t run into any towers. This is definitely something I’ll have to hope to end up memorizing over repeat attempts.
I’ll keep at it, of course, but the 1cc definitely won’t come nearly as easy as it did for the last game. Maybe that’s for the better, though; means I might get more writing material out of this game.
Wait, what do you mean, I’ve already beaten the game?!
I thought today would be the first day of my grind after I used yesterday’s session as an opportunity to get a quick overview of all the stages and bosses. I sat down with a pen and some scrap paper to take notes on how many times I died in any given stage and which sections were particular problem points. I’d even put a header at the top labeled “Attempt 1” because I expected to be getting a Game Over fairly early and having the time for multiple attempts in today’s session.
What I didn’t expect was, uhhhh…
…this. To straight-up beat the entire game on attempt numero uno. I guess what I didn’t account for is that the game is incredibly generous with its extra lives. By my estimates, you get an extra life every 1.5 million points. So basically, I ended up with more lives than what I started with.
Let’s go through each stage one by one and see how I did, though.
Stuna Area and Fors Yard (Stages 1 and 2): No deaths whatsoever, much to my surprise.
Yees Land (Stage 3): Died twice. Probably in stupid ways, from what I remember.
Zero Polis (Stage 4): Only one death. Which is a little surprising, given that this is where the game starts throwing Doms at you. They’re those armored enemies of which you can see one on the title screen of the original Space Harrier, and they tend to have some really wacky movement patterns that can end up with them ramming into you. All the towers didn’t make it any easier to get a clear shot on the enemies, either, who would often take cover behind them.
After every fourth stage you clear is a bonus stage where you hop on a flying saucer and have to shoot down as much stuff as possible while completely invincible. If you do well enough, you can really rack up on the extra lives here.
Copper Hill (Stage 5): One death. Nothing particularly noteworthy, except for the Ghost Armors (of which one can be seen on the box art), which have rather vexing movement patterns, too, albeit not quite as bad as the Doms.
Fallpyram (Stage 6): Two deaths. This is where the difficulty starts picking up a bit more. I may have complained about Doms and Ghost Armors, but Ghiddores (devil-like creatures with bat wings) trump them all. Their movement patterns might not be particularly erratic, but they always seem to be making a beeline towards where you’re trying to be.
Craddha (Stage 7): Another two deaths. How do you make Ghiddores worse? By pairing them with Syuras (floating rock faces). Some are stationary, but others try to ram into you. Either way, they’re hard to hit and a pain in the ass.
Monark (Stage 8): Only one death this time. The stage design was a little annoying here, with Tomoses (black orbs that can only be shot when they briefly open up) flying up in my face all while I had to dodge towers, which of course blocked half my shots, too. It wasn’t too pleasant.
I was also starting to get a little low on lives at that point in the game, so I was relieved to make it past stage 8 and into the second bonus stage. Same as the first, but boy did I need the extra lives.
Felcold (Stage 9): One death. I didn’t remember what it was to, but I remembered as soon as I looked at the screenshot in the manual: I was shooting down a row of enemies and ran right into a tower that I couldn’t see because said enemies and their explosions obscured it from view until it was too late. Good stuff.
Hope City (Stage 10): One death again, and the Doms came back. Not much else I can recall about it.
Hell Peak (Stage 11): Surprisingly, I hadn’t died once to the stage part, only once to the boss. Though much like in stage 8, I had some trouble with swarms of Tomoses hiding behind towers.
Hot Palace (Stage 12): This stage is mostly an obstacle course, throwing rows of towers at you that span the entire playing field, with a single gap for you to squeeze through. My one death this stage was from the gap in one row being too far away from the gap in the next for me to get there in time. There’s also Ghiddores trying to ruin your day, of course, but I found that vertical streaming does the trick for them just fine.
Get through all 12 stages and you reach stage 13, which is a boss rush.
Trimuller: Flying three-headed turtle. Shoot down each of its heads when they pop out and you win.
Paranoia: Weird cloaked monster thing surrounded by orbs. Shoot down all the orbs to make it just sit there and… do nothing. It probably does something if you let it be for long enough, but mash the fire button fast enough and it won’t even get the chance.
Brizard: A dragon that looks like it’s made of blue flames and acts like Squilla from the original Space Harrier on steroids. It goes down much the same way, i.e. shoot its face when it gets close, stream its bullets when it distances itself.
Neo Dom: A cluster of Doms that fire at you ceaselessly. Pretty much the only strategy is to fly in a circle and shooting at them until they all die or disperse.
Mantichora: I kinda like this one. It’s like a huge sabertoothed cat with wings and actually has two different phases. Phase one is pretty basic aside from the fact that its body is invulnerable and you have to shoot its wings instead. Once those blow up, it runs back and forth across the screen a few times before charging at you. Unload as many shots into it as you dare and then get out of the way.
Wizard: Splits into three. The real one is the body that shoots bullets at you. Made more complicated by the fact that aiming is kinda difficult, but I’m pretty sure it goes down in only 1-2 clean shots.
Medusa: Another Squilla-esque enemy, although with a slight twist. She alternates between moving far into the distance and shooting slow bullets that you might run into if you stream too tightly, and not moving as far away but shooting lightning-fast bullets. Same rules apply otherwise, though.
Neo Tomos: Basically like the Neo Dom from earlier. Not much else can be said.
Cragon: Giant jellyfish that shoots not bullets at you, but smaller jellyfish that you can actually destroy. Shoot down enough of those and it becomes a sitting duck, like Paranoia from earlier.
Bins Been: Basically an oversized d20, but also the trickiest boss of them all, if you ask me. It starts by moving right into the front of the screen into one of the corners, then moving to another one. You have to be at the very top or the bottom or you will die. After it did that a few times, it backs up and tries doing something else, but by then you’ll have popped a cap in its fragile ass (it goes down in no more than two shots).
Love Face: Starts by chanting before splitting into four pieces. Move into one of the corners and you’re safe. Once it reforms, it moves into the distance, shoots some bullets at you, comes back and repeats the cycle. Not too difficult.
Cthugha: It’s Brizard but red and even faster. A little underwhelming for a Lovecraftian god, perhaps?
I got through the entire boss rush so far without a single death. In fact, aside from Bins Been, I didn’t even die to any of those bosses when they first showed up in the preceding 12 stages. I wasn’t kidding when I said the bosses are easier.
???: One last boss, who I’m not gonna spoil because it’s not mentioned anywhere in the manual and meant to be a surprise. This was my first time encountering it, but even so, my usual strategy of “fly in circles/figure-eights while spamming fire” held true and I was able to defeat it with zero deaths.
Much to my surprise, the game’s ending felt very fleshed-out and rewarding, too. I remember how disappointed I was with the barely-even-an-ending of the Game Gear Space Harrier, so having an actual epilogue was rather unexpected. I know this sounds like I’m damning the game with faint praise, but the ending is genuinely really good, and it helped that I was able to go this long without spoiling myself on it.
At any rate, if you’ve been keeping score, that’s 13 deaths total. Pretty damning number, but you also start with 5 lives and I got 14 extra lives from scoring. So as surprising as it is that I got my 1cc as quickly as I did, I’m glad I was able to revisit the game and finally finish my business with it.
Just left with one problem now…
I have no idea which game to play and journal next!
Apologies for the dusty-looking console. I didn’t realize how badly it needed a wipedown until after I took that photo.
Anyway, say hello to my Sega Mega Drive. This console had been in my family’s possession since before I was even born, and I’d gone over a decade worrying that I’d broken it by pulling cartridges out of it while it was still on… at least that’s what my dad told me. It wasn’t until after I’d turned 14 that I did some testing and found out that — after removing the dust from the contacts of the cartridges — it was still perfectly fine and it was just the RF cable that wasn’t working quite right anymore. It’s been in my ownership ever since.
Not that we had a whole lot of games for it, either: literally just Sonic The Hedgehog, The Revenge of Shinobi (which I used to be scared shitless of for most of my childhood), and Mega Games I, which is itself a compilation of Super Hang-On, World Cup Italia ’90, and Columns. So I’d ended up buying quite a few additional games for the system over the past almost-12 years, including Space Harrier II, which is the one I decided to revisit for today.
Probably the most interesting fact about it is that it was one of the two launch titles for the Mega Drive in Japan, but it actually looks and sounds really good for how early it came out. What little there is in the way of digitized samples is clear and crisp, although the music itself pales in comparison to the original Space Harrier‘s iconic and nostalgic soundtrack. Still, I’d never gotten anywhere close to beating it before, so I thought I’d take the occasion to grind it out a little, see if I can manage it.
The game has 12 stages. You can start from any stage you want, but you still have to do all of them in one go, so even if you start from stage 12 and clear it, you’ll just go straight to stage 1 and then continue from there until stage 11.
There’s also no continues. I didn’t think I’d be able to get through the whole game on my first attempt, anyway, but the lack of continues still stung a little. For this session, I decided to just try to get through each stage at least once, restarting from the last stage I reached whenever I got a Game Over.
If you have never played or even seen a single Space Harrier game before, here’s a quick crash course on what it’s all about:
It’s a rail shooter where you can move up and down and side to side while shooting into the background. Enemies and obstacles appear in the distance and come towards you, may shoot bullets, and if they hit you or ram into you, you go like “Aaaaaaaugh!” and lose a life.
Personally, I find the bosses overall easier than the stages, mostly due to the lack of indestructible obstacles you have to weave through, but also because the strategy for them usually just boils down to “fly in a circle along the screen edges to stream the bullets and never stop mashing the shot button”, though admittedly some bosses do need a little more finesse than that, and some bosses shoot insanely fast bullets, making streaming a “do it perfectly or you’ll die” kinda affair.
The stages themselves can get really nasty, though. Most of the aforementioned indestructible obstacles are towers, and the game loves lining them up in walls with only a single tight gap to fit through, made even more difficult by the fact that you’ve got enemies and bullets to worry about running into. The perspective doesn’t make aiming and dodging any easier, either, and it seems like often it’s safer to just stick to one plane, namely the floor. Trying to hit any airborne targets is usually a crapshoot.
That said, for my first attempt and the fact that I hadn’t touched the game in I-don’t-even-know-how-long, I’d say I did surprisingly well. There are 12 stages, and it only took me seven attempts to clear each one once. There wasn’t a single stage I had to restart from twice, either. We’ll see how I progress going forward.
The finale, in which I do some mapping on graph paper and my party is (predictably) horrendously overleveled.
Look, look, I can do this whole “photograph of drawing next to tools used to make it” thing, too! That’s well fancy, innit?
Areos has two deserts: Kithairon in the north and Kerberos in the south. There’s a hamlet in the middle of the former where White Spheres can be bought for 1000 fangs. They do insane damage, but you can only carry one at a time. I bought several in order to waste my fangs so that, when it comes to trading them in, I’d be somewhere between 600,000 and 655,360 guilders after rollovers.
Turns out, though, that, unless you get enough money to trigger a rollover, the game does cap your money at 600,000. It also turns out that each character’s weapon can only be upgraded once. It adds an extra 10 durability and a pretty spiffy +4 attack, though. So with everyone as maxed-out as it gets, it was time to get on with the game.
Way back, at the very start of the game, the king of Arukas said that the seal is in Gorkis Shrine. The instructions for finding it are written on the scroll that each of my companions had a piece of. It reads as follows…
Hearken, Come, Iason! For eights days from Saria calls spring’s sweetness. Eight days, face not dawn. Journey north five days, west three days to Dokia. View the sacred shrine; yea, the gates below are, for fools, Hell’s gates.
“Come, Iason!” is a spell which will be necessary to cast at some point. Talking to friendly random encounters will reveal that Saria used to be Medi’s hometown, and that it was the old name of Tegea, the sole town in Areos. They will also tell you that it’s the south wind that carries the fragrances of spring. “Face not dawn” should be fairly obvious. What’s not as obvious is that a day’s travel amounts to moving a single square on the world map.
By that logic, several decades if not centuries must have passed in-game by now, especially after all the grinding I did…
At any rate, starting from Tegea, I moved eight spaces to the south and found a monument with a fairly ominous message. Eight spaces to the west, same thing. Again when I moved five spaces to the north. The final monument three spaces to the west had a monster in it — a Basailz. Not only did the regular battle music play, it was also a massive pushover. It guarded a box, which had nothing in it, but it dealt damage to my entire party and killed my blacksmith. I knew from a previous playthrough years ago that something like this was going to happen, but I wanted to see it for myself. Anyway, reset.
So where did I go wrong, then? Well, as it turns out, the instructions were written by Iason himself, and as the NPCs are happy to point out, Iason was twice as tall as any other man, which means he could cover twice as much distance in a day’s travel. In other news, follow the instructions, but move 16 south, 16 west, 10 north, and 6 west.
Along the way are hidden monuments that you can only enter by casting “Come, Iason!”. Each one contains a chest guarded by a boss monster, and each one was single-handedly taken out by Medi. Killing them hurts your reputation, too, but they guard the Keys of Earth, Heaven and Hell, all three of which are needed to reach Terrarin.
Restocking on stones one last time, I followed the path to the end and entered Gorkis Shrine (which I guess the scroll calls Dokia)… and it’s the only dungeon in the game with multiple floors. I went down one flight of stairs, then another… and suddenly I was in a different dungeon altogether.
That was when I found some spare graph paper and started mapping.
Mapping all of this out took forever, but it was admittedly quite fun. I even ended up getting to hear the entirety of the dungeon theme for once.
The first floor has a Stone of Protection in a chest. If you’re already carrying six (I wasn’t), this will let you break the limit and have up to seven. The second floor has multiple stairs leading down, but all except for one will teleport you somewhere completely different, far away from the dungeon you’d just entered. The third floor has a chest with 30 herbs, allowing you to carry more than 24, but no more than 50, as I found out.
And going down the stairs leads us to, of course…
…the big bad demon lady herself, Terrarin. I don’t think she can actually do anything other than attack, but I threw stones at her, anyway, just to be safe, followed by all the offensive items I had: the one sphere, four staffs, eleven nuts. All that put a pretty decent dent in her, but her life bar was still only a smidge shorter than any given party member’s.
My strategy was to have Medi go at her, hope for as many crits as possible, use my potions on her if she was one hit away from death, and then have everyone else chip in once I was out of potions. Turns out I needed none of that: Medi straight-up solo’d the entire fight, only needing two out of my three potions to sustain herself.
And thus ends my journey through Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord. I’m pretty glad I got to play through the game again on the actual hardware… and of course I consider myself fortunate that the backup battery didn’t die on me before I could finish it.
Would I recommend the game? Maybe. It’s definitely very heavy on the grinding and has some clunky mechanics, but it’s a heck of a lot more playable than any of its other versions (which, by the way, all use passwords). If you have a high tolerance for the kind of bullshit that retro games are known for, then feel free to give it a shot. Otherwise, I hope my journaling will have been sufficient for you.
As I started writing this up, I thought I’d compile my days of grinding into a single post. What I didn’t take into account is just how long it’d take me to get to this point, so uhh… enjoy a very lengthy read in which I talk about levels, enemies, strategies for efficient grinding, hardware and cable issues, and a little bit of technical stuff.
I barely managed to get Egis up two more levels in the hour I’ve been playing, and I’m definitely starting to see diminishing returns. He should be level 13 now, judging by the length of his health bar — two levels away from max. He’s also three levels ahead of everyone else now. I suspect I can get him to level 14 tomorrow, but maxing him out is likely gonna take at least another day on top of that.
The forests of Eratos were also starting to get a bit annoying to grind in, especially due to Bokrags causing me to dive for the reset button many times because they simply wouldn’t let me run away. So I went into the mountains instead, which turned out to have some nice encounters, too: Hiriases have lots of HP and don’t hit hard at all, and Vomes still give me a source of guilders (even if I only get 5000 per kill compared to Kokins’ 8000).
After a while, I tried grinding in Areos instead. It’s the last continent, so it’d have the strongest monsters with the most exp yield, right? Except it kinda sucked. The go-to grinding spots (mountains, desert, raging seas) are all too far away from town, so I constantly ended up getting worn down by random encounters just trying to get there, and could only fight one or two battles before having to go back and heal again. I was hoping to encounter white monks for their free heals, but I’m starting to suspect they might only be encountered in Apheidas. I’ll probably just go back to Eratos next time, then.
Grinding on the raging seas is something I’ll have to do eventually, though: that’s where you find Sea Dragons, which may drop Potions of Resurrection. They don’t actually revive dead party members, but they’re still the only way to heal in battle, so I’ll need them.
Today’s grinding session was double the usual length — I went at it for a full two hours.
I was about halfway to my walk from Tegea to Torif when I realized that Kadia is right next to the raging seas, too. And it’s a really good grinding spot. Kinsai and Giant Lobsters are the simplest battles because all they can do is attack. Sea Serpents can put you to sleep, so I always ran from them. And Sea Dragons, as stated above, drop Potions of Resurrection and are a great source of exp beyond that. Killing one reduces your reputation by 100, but overall, I’d been making a net gain.
The only downside is that not a single one of the above enemies drops guilders. Instead, they drop a lot of fangs (45-58 per encounter), so I quickly ended up with over 10,000 fangs. If I sold that amount, I’d get 500,000 guilders, and if I’m not mistaken, the money cap is at 600,000. I may sell my fangs eventually, after all.
Egis has reached max level now, too. I wanted to prioritize Medi next, but she and everyone who isn’t Egis were still level 10, and I had to heal her after every fight. That didn’t feel very efficient, so I went back to my previous grinding spot in the mountains of Eratos, where I got her and Guy up a level each.
So Egis is level 15, Guy and Medi are level 11, and Treo is level 10. I seem to average two levels gained per hour, so with 13 more levels to go, that’s going to be 6-7 hours of grinding left, not counting the nuts and potions I’ll have to restock. If I keep doing two-hour grinding sessions, I could have everyone at max level in 3-4 days.
Got Treo and Guy up a level each. Just one more level for Medi and Treo and I can go back to Kadia for grinding.
To spice up the monotony a little, though, I did some testing by selling my fangs (then reloading my save, of course). I had 208,240 guilders and 12,131 fangs at first. After the transaction, I was suddenly… down to 159,430 guilders?
So I did some math. 12,131 fangs equals 606,550 guilders, therefore I should have had 814,790 guilders. The difference between that and what I actually ended up with is… 655,360. And that proved a theory I had: The money value is a 16-bit unsigned integer with a zero tacked on at the end to make it look bigger than it really is, and it just rolled over.
The game actually has a really primitive way of enforcing value caps that doesn’t really work as intended, particular when a value is incremented by more than just one: All it does is check if the current value is greater than or equal to its cap, but nothing is done to actually cap the value off if it goes over. Usually that’s beneficial to the player, like with the nuts and herbs, but when it comes to money… well, I’m going to have to do some fangs management if I want to trade them in without triggering a rollover.
Also, Roksaigs can be found in the mountains and they drop an insane 80 fangs when killed.
Medi and Treo each gained a level. The encounters were oddly benevolent today, too, actually letting me run when I needed to most of the time (I was only blocked once, but then ran successfully on the second attempt). Made my way to Kadia afterwards in order to finish up my level grinding in the raging seas. Hopefully I’ve got enough guilders for healing.
Guy gained two levels and is now only one level away from max. Also figured that, since potions drop fairly readily, I might as well use them instead of going back to the healer every time he runs low on HP. Helps save about 2000-ish guilders per potion used.
Aside from that, I’m also continuing to earn fangs like crazy. By my estimates, I’ll probably have well over 20,000 by the time I’m done grinding, so even if I trigger an overflow while selling them, I could still end up getting close to maxing out my money. 600,000 guilders is enough for 10 weapon upgrades: two for each party member and then another two to allocate as I see fit. If I have any left over, I’ll probably put ’em on Medi; her ability to crit more or less makes her my vanguard for boss fights.
Guy gained his final level. Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t able to fulfill my “two levels per hour” quota this time, so Medi still has a little bit more to go until she hits level 13.
The game was also really stingy with potions today. For a while, it had me worried that maybe you could only get a finite amount of potion drops throughout the entire game, but they eventually came rolling in, mercifully enough. By the time I’m grinding out Treo’s final level, I’ll probably stop using them so I don’t have to kill any more sea dragons than necessary.
But yeah, at this rate, both Medi and Treo only have three more levels each to go, so with any luck, Day 21 is when I’ll be done with this insane (and probably unnecessary) grind.
Medi gained two levels and has made pretty good progress towards her last one. I’ve also dropped below 200,000 guilders at this point, so that’s about 100k spent over the course of three hours of grinding. Given that I’ve got approximately two hours of grinding left, the money should last me for at the very least healing (and maybe restocking on Staffs of Earthquakes after).
In other news, the cable for my console’s power supply is getting more and more tangled with each passing day, so I should probably stop storing it for a while and try to straighten it out instead.
Medi is max level now, and Treo gained a level, too. For a while, I was considering making today a two-hour session to get Treo to max level, too, but with how I was barely able to meet the quota for even just the first hour, I knew that I’d end up falling just short and would have to grind for another day, anyway. So I’m likely gonna make my next session the two-hour one: get Treo maxed out, grind for nuts, restock on staffs and stones, and hopefully have a full stock of potions by the end.
I started getting pretty efficient with grinding, too, saving after every battle, just in case the next one would be a sea serpent refusing to let me run away. It got to the point where, as soon as one showed up, I would get up and sit in front of the console, ready to hit reset as soon as the “Thou art surrounded!” text box showed up. I did try fighting one yesterday, but they’re really not worth the hassle, especially if they go first and put you to sleep before you can even act. And of course, if I have to have a max-level character attack, that experience goes to waste.
As for the power cable, leaving it straightened out overnight helped a good deal. It’s not perfect, but at least it doesn’t tangle itself up if you look at it funny. I’m gonna try coiling it in a wider diameter and see if that helps.
After about an hour and a quarter, I’d finally maxed out Treo. Another quarter hour on top of that was spent restocking on supplies, and now I’m effectively flat broke (see image at the top of this post). I do still have tens of thousands of fangs I can trade in for money, of course, but that’s gonna take a fair bit of math to do, and I think I’ll be saving it for another day.
An hour’s worth of play for two levels of grinding (also controller issues ahoy).
Now obviously we’re not starting from Day 1 because I’ve been slaving away at this game since August 9, playing most days for about an hour each. Because most sessions from here on out until just before the end are going to be grinding, though, I’ll probably end up compiling several days into a single blog post as otherwise each post would just be too short.
But without further ado, here’s what went down:
Right off the bat, I ended up with controller issues. So I have two Master System control pads: one with kind of a mushy d-pad that I might have to clean the circuit board of and reapply some carbon to the rubber contacts at some point because pressing down requires significantly more force for the input to register than for all the other directions. It also has an inexplicably short lead, which requires me to sit right at the edge of the sofa. Not ideal.
The other controller feels much nicer to use and has a considerably longer lead. It’s also an older model where the lead comes out the side of the controller, rather than the top, but contrary to what you might believe, it isn’t actually uncomfortable at all: the way I hold it, it passes smoothly through the gap between my fingers. It, however, seemed to have some responsiveness issues, too, as all of a sudden pressing left on the d-pad wouldn’t register at all. It seems to happen sometimes, but not all the time, and I have no idea how to even begin troubleshooting it, since I know I’ve taken that controller apart for cleaning countless times.
So I switched to the one with the shorter lead for a while — at least until it became too aggravating to use, leading me to plug the other one back in, make sure the connection was tight… and it suddenly worked fine. Like I said, no clue, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth.
Controller issues aside, not much got done in the game itself. I leveled up Treo to have him catch up with the rest of the party, then figured I might as well focus on getting one character to max level (or close to it) at a time, starting with Egis (when I probably should have started with Medi, but the decision was made while I was still using the short-lead controller, so you can imagine that I wanted to minimize the number of down presses).
Egis did indeed gain a level and was about halfway to the next by the time I turned off the system. Along the way, I decided to try fighting encounters in the forest instead of the plains, and found that it was very much worth it: enemies there have much more health, meaning they take more hits to kill, meaning you get more experience per battle. While most of them drop only fangs, Kokins drop a whopping 8000 guilders when killed (for comparison: Egaras drop 3000 and Gurols 6000), and of course evil merchants can still be encountered anywhere until the end of the game as easy money piñatas. There’s even black monks in the forest, which don’t drop anything, but have by far the highest HP out of every non-boss enemy you can encounter. Egis was even able to solo one at one point, even if it was mainly because he managed to dodge quite a few attacks.
The only enemies I found myself actively avoiding were Bokrags due to their sleeping spells. They’re not particularly threatening, but they make battles drag on forever, making them automatically not worth any amount of hassle.
Tomorrow or whenever, I should probably consider recording how much time it takes to grind out a level. Then I might be able to extrapolate how many more grinding sessions I’m going to need.
A brief (maybe) look at the game and everything I’ve done in it up to this point.
If I’m gonna be journaling what’s left of the game for me to play, then a little (read: a lot) of required reading is in order, so let’s get this over with.
Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord is an RPG for the Sega Master System, released in 1988. Or 1987, if you live in Japan, where it is known as 覇邪の封印 (Haja no Fuuin) and is actually a port of a PC-88 title of the same name. I don’t know much about the original or its other ports, though, so the Master System version is what I’ll continue to stick with for this exposé.
The story takes place in a world known as the “Five Lands” (Arukas, Marula, Apheidas, Eratos, and Areos), where the legend goes that a shepherd named Iason accidentally opened the Pandora Passage and let loose a horde of monsters under the control of the Dark Lord Terrarin (who, despite being called “lord”, is actually quite the voluptuous demon lady). Iason grows into an adult, trains with white monks (who also give him magic weapons and armor), and then proceeds to lay the smackdown on Terrarin and seal her and her monsters away again.
As with any RPG that has a legend as part of its lore, history repeats itself, and Terrarin and her underlings are let loose once more, though it’s not explained how this time. You play as the protagonist with no official name given (though you can name him whatever you want, as long as it’s four characters or less), arriving at Arasia Castle in Arukas, where the king is like: “Hey, Iason’s blood flows in your veins, so saving the world is totally your responsibility and yours alone. Go find a sage named Kosama for further instructions.”
However, this is an RPG from the 80s, which means you start out about as strong and durable as a wooden plank, so your first course of action is to go south and across a bridge to reach the town of Garia — preferably alive, though dying on the way there because you ran into a Gelfis or a Zirod that didn’t let you run away is a very real possibility, too. And even if you do get that far, getting healed up costs money proportional to how much HP you’ve lost, and money is a rare commodity that not every enemy drops.
You could get lucky and run into a lot of evil merchants, who are easy pickings and worth 2000 guilders each, or you could get… well, not that. Thieves drop 300 guilders, Unmutaks drop 100, and regular merchants drop 1500, but if you kill innocent civilians or sacred beasts (more on them later), you lose reputation, which supposedly can have villages refuse you if it drops low enough, but I’ve never had that happen. Granted, I never went out of my way to kill innocent merchants, either. Sometimes I think I should have, though.
Most monsters drop fangs (a few drop fangs and guilders), and each town has someone who’ll buy all your fangs for 50 guilders each. Early on it’s probably fine to do if you don’t have enough money to get healed, but the amount of fangs dropped per enemy kill is so low that it’s usually not worth selling them, and later on you’ll need fangs to trade for weapons and items, anyway.
So you spend a good few hours walking circles around Garia (steer clear of the forests and mountains because the monsters there will wreck your shit), slowly gaining levels and bolstering your funds, until you can finally afford some basic gear and a few herbs to heal between battles on longer treks. Kosama lives in a village in the Austel region, at the very western tip of Arukas, and they tell you to find other companions who also happen to be descendants of Iason. You’re taught a spell and given a hint as to where your first companion is.
This is also where another gameplay mechanic rears its head: equipment durability. Fortunately, the very next town you arrive at has a blacksmith you can hire to travel with you. A single payment of 12,000 guilders makes durability a complete non-issue for potentially the entire rest of the game. Another investment to be made is 15,000 guilders for a mask that allows you to see in dark caverns and monuments.
To the southeast is the Julus region, where such a monument can be explored for a chest full of fangs and a helmet that allows you to read writings on walls. West from there is a castle in the Ortygian forest, where the king will give you your strongest weapon, Iris’ Axe, in exchange for 300 fangs. In the far southwest of Marula is a town that’s not on the map: Kadia. If you got the weapon beforehand, you can cast the spell you learned at the healer in order to awaken Guy, your first companion.
Now that the party is more than just you, battles become slightly (and I really do mean “slightly”) more strategic: each turn, you have to choose which party member attacks while the others sit back and twiddle their thumbs. Since experience is received for every successful attack, rather than at the end of a battle, that also means that only party members who actually participate in battle get any experience. On the other hand, enemies will only attack whichever party member you’ve selected for a given turn, unless they use “a flame spell” (which hits all party members and doesn’t miss) or “magic to steal consciousness” (which damages whichever party member(s) it puts to sleep). An unsuccessful running attempt or talking to an enemy that can’t be reasoned with will also result in all party members taking damage.
If a party member dies, they can only be resurrected in one particular village that isn’t even on the map (it’s in the big mountain range in the north of Marula), and it costs a whopping 30,000 guilders to revive them. You’re better off just resetting when it happens. Given that you can save at any time when you’re on the overworld and not in battle, you really have no excuse not to save often.
At any rate, aside from grinding, the next courses of action are to get Guy a better sword (Turos’ Sword, which he gets from a king in a castle in Apheidas) and yourself better armor. But before you can get the latter, you’ll need to venture into the forests of Arukas or Marula and kill Liphants. Those have a chance of dropping Sacred Nuts, which can be thrown at an enemy to damage them. Using magical items prevents the enemy from acting that turn, and if you use something that deals damage, everyone gains experience from it. Liphants drop three nuts at a time, and you can technically only carry 9, but you can cheat that limit by using a nut before another three get dropped so you end up with 11. These nuts are very important to have as you venture into the mountains in the far northeast of Apheidas and enter the cave therein…
Here is where the game pulls kind of a dick move on you: This is the first of many mandatory boss fights where the game punishes you by reducing your character points (=reputation) for winning it. There’s no way around it, either. You just have to kill the boss and take the hit to your reputation. Granted, it’s only -500, but later bosses have even steeper reputation penalties.
On the other hand, with all the grinding you have to do before and after, it’s really just a drop in the bucket at the end of the day. Anyway, enter the fight with a full 11 nuts, throw them all at it, then throw your party members at it and hope no one dies. If someone dies, grind everyone up by another level each, then try again.
Once you have Kronos’ Armor (and restocked on the nuts you used), head to the forest east of Kadia and attempt to cross the land bridge to the Kadmos peninsula. A skeleton will get in the way, and only Turos’ Sword can deal any decent damage to it. Better hope Guy is at a high enough level to win the damage race. A village on the peninsula sells you a ship for 30,000 guilders, allowing you to reach Eratos; Areos is still off-limits due to raging seas you can’t do anything about yet.
There’s a lot of stuff to do in Eratos: a village in Karme to the south sells Staffs of Earthquakes for 10,000 guilders each (you can carry up to four), the monument at the north edge of the Silvius desert has two items worth getting (a crystal that lets you see even farther, and a mantle that stops random encounters with weaker enemies), a village in Iphis to the far east sells Stones of Protection for 50 fangs (you can carry up to six, and using them has a chance of preventing the enemy from using any spells), and the town of Doris houses your next companion.
Medi (or Media, as she is known in Japan) is probably the best character in the game. She’s the only one who gets random crits (even if they only do slightly more damage than the usual), and she also has the ability to open locked caves. Hell, Elatoria Castle, which she gets her ultimate weapon (Eros’ Sword) from, is right there on the map for once.
At this point the game turns into more of a scavenger hunt as you scour the four lands you have access to for more caves with legendary arms for all your party members. The island of Ikaros to the southeast of Eratos has a cave containing Ulysses’ Shield (your strongest shield and required to awaken your last companion), but it’s guarded by a Hanj, which is even tougher than the Senpi from before and will require all the magic items you can possibly carry. Once you have everyone decked out in all the fanciest gear, though, head for that conspicuous-looking little island in the lake surrounded by mountains in the northeast of Eratos.
Your final party member, Treo (or Tremos in Japan), was turned into a monster. Patronizingly enough, even though the manual hints at you to be careful which enemies you slay, it isn’t actually possible to accidentally kill him. When you get into an encounter with him, the only option available is casting the only spell you know. If you have your shield, that’ll be enough to cure him and have him join your party and give you the final piece of a scroll (oh yeah, each of your party members gave you a piece of a scroll when they joined you). A monument not too far to the north contains all his equipment, but is full of pretty nasty encounters.
Treo’s thing is that he also has pirate blood flowing in his veins (the game’s words, not mine). A better ship can be obtained in the village beyond the desert of Apheidas, which they’ll only give to you if you have Treo in your party. That ship lets you sail even the stormiest waters and finally reach Areos.
And that is where I’m at right now. I’ve just reached Areos, though I’m currently grinding in Eratos. Egaras and Gurols are by far the best source of guilders so far, and I’ve got a lot of money to save up. Apheidas also has another village at the edge of the desert where blacksmiths can upgrade a given character’s weapon for an insane 60,000 guilders. It increases that character’s attack strength and, as far as I can tell, can be done indefinitely.
As for levels, each level-up increases your HP and experience bars by 8 pixels, so the maximum level for each character is 15. When a new party member joins, they’ll be one level lower than your lowest-leveled party member, so the more you grind while you’re still solo, the less you’ll have to grind later. I wish that had occurred to me sooner, though…
I said I’d do it, and so I did. This is the start of a blog in which I’ll be talking about games I’m currently playing, mostly to chronicle my progress through them. It’ll probably be mostly text-only, though — taking screenshots from a TV isn’t all that practical to do, after all, and I don’t particularly feel like marring my gaming experience by constantly having to be ready for any photo ops, either.
So what do I usually play, anyway? All sorts of things, normally, but at the moment my focus is mostly on retro games. Currently I’m playing Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord for the Master System, but given that I’m already in the final stretch of the game, whether or not I’ll blog about it remains to be seen. If I did, I’d have to do a recap of everything that’s happened so far, which would kind of go counter to the purpose of each blog post being my unfiltered experiences with a game in the given moment, but it’d just be that one time, anyway, so we’ll have to see.
Overall this is probably going to be very experimental starting out, so I do hope you’ll bear with me as I figure out which direction to take this in and how to manage it.