Saturday 13 April 2024

MSX Round-Up #3

I guess this makes me a bit of a weirdo, but one of the most memorable things about Golvellius for me was Randar, the awesome shopkeeper. This might seem to suggest that Golvellius sucks ass but it is a mighty splendid game, particularly the versions for the MSX2 and the mighty Master System. But in spite of its splendour, I still carry with me joyful memories of the cheerful blue fellow in addition to fond memories of the game itself. I guess I just like cute/amusing/weird characters in games!

As you've probably already seen for yourself, Randar is basically a blue sphere with rudimentary feet and a perpetually happy face. Well, I assume he's a sphere - I guess he could be a two-dimensional blue circle, but he is awesome nonetheless. He is friendly and helpful and his warm personality could brighten up the gloomiest day. He even speaks in a semi-medieval stylee! Such is my affection for this odd character, imagine my happiness, not to mention surprise, when I found out he had his own entire games! Three of them! Which he alone was the star of! Unfortunately, I also soon found that they're all RPGs of all things - a genre I admire but seldom play.

I can see him in maze and/or puzzle games like Adventures of Lolo (although I guess the characters are too similar for that) or platformers, but RPGs? They were released only on the MSX2 and only in Japan, too, so initially the language barrier was a problem, though soon after starting this post I was ecstatic to find fan translations of all three games. Onward, then. Let us see if Randar's own games can match or exceed the splendour of his Golvellius cameo...

Special Note: Unlike most 'Round-Ups' here at Red Parsley, this one doesn't feature ratings for the games. That's basically because I didn't play them thoroughly enough to fairly evaluate them, so it's pretty much just a 'First Look' post, but featuring three games instead of the usual one :)

Randar no Bouken (1988)

My first look at Randar as the star of a game found him in a town with few signs of what to do. I mean, I assume there's a backstory which might give some ideas, but it must have been detailed in the game's documentation which wasn't also translated. You can buy equipment from a shop (which costs gold which Randar has little of), talk to a few people, sleep at an inn, or leave the town. Chatting to an old codger reveals the unwelcome presence of a 'demon king' called Nesty while leaving the town sees the game switch to an overhead-viewed overworld from where you can access other towns, caves (a.k.a. dungeons), or a castle. The main problem here is that the game employs a random battle system which pits you against a terrifying creature every few steps, at which point turn-based combat ensues. There are swords and shields and magic and experience points and everything - it's all standard RPG stuff I guess, but the battles occur so often that poor old Randar usually dies before he can reach anywhere of note. He will respawn in the original town but the whole process then starts again - leave town, step, battle, step, battle, step, battle, die, respawn. Progress may eventually come with (a lot of) perserverance, or maybe I'm doing something wrong, but this one isn't especially enjoyable, even with Randar in the lead role. The music is quite nice though.

Randar II: Revenge of Death (1989)

The sequel arrived only a year later but much has changed in the world of Randar, for there has apparently been a space race and his people now travel between stars! Happily, the story was translated this time so I now know Randar is a space detective! His case for this game is to find out what happened to all the females from the planet Alkali who suddenly vanished. To do this he can travel to other planets in his spaceship, but aside from this it's basically the same game as before. The overworlds are very similar in style and they still feature frequent random battles. You even get these during space flight between planets! You can still talk to people to get clues, there are still hotels to save your game, and you can buy weapons and equipment with gold earned from battles or found in chests. Aside from the spacey setting, I think the biggest difference here, that I noticed at least, is with the graphics which are considerably better. The first game looks pleasant enough but seems more like an MSX1 game compared to this one, although it was certainly brighter before. Even Randar is now grey rather than bright blue. Maybe he's now a robot. Perhaps his consciousness was transferred to a mechanical body due to the stresses and trials of his previous adventure? I don't know, but this adventure is a lot like it. Whether that's good or bad depends on you though.

Randar no Bouken III: Yami ni Miserareta Majutsushi (1990)

Oof, it seems even greater changes have befallen Randar for this final instalment in his series, for he isn't even the player character this time! He does feature on the cover so I hope he still features somewhere. Perhaps he's a wise old master who gives advice or something? This game is different in other ways too. Besides featuring, as far as I can tell so far, a largely human cast of characters, it's also much faster-paced too. There are still lots of turn-based battles but the 'random, unavoidable encounter' aspect has been removed - the enemies now take the form of wibbly ghost-like figures. You won't know what the enemy is or how many there are until you walk into the 'ghost' in question but they can now mostly be avoided if you so desire, too. Of course, avoiding all of them means you won't get much in the way of gold or experience points. It's still a pretty tough game, especially for ultra-novices like me, but it's probably the easiest one to get into out of the three. The backstory has again been translated and talks of various evil monsters, and I assume if must be a significantly larger game as it comes on three disks (as opposed to one each for the first two games). The graphics are pretty nice too, with fast movement and scrolling, though the music isn't as pleasant as the previous games. Overall, though, I would say, on first impressions, this is the best game of the three, even if the mighty Randar has a lesser (or perhaps non-existent) role.

Final Thoughts:

As anyone who has played Golvellius will undoubtedly tell you, Randar is an appealing and helpful character. Perhaps I found him more intriguing than many would - for that I offer no apologies - and I was consequently looking forward to trying these games a lot, especially since they are on the MSX which is a system I have quickly developed enthusiasm for, so I must confess I've been left somewhat disappointed.

Despite not actually getting around to playing many of them properly, I do rather like action RPGs, but these 'proper' RPGs with random encounters and turn-based battles and all that stuff... they aren't really a type of game I enjoy all that much if I'm being honest, and I'm not sure how much they suit the Randar character either. Perhaps the accompanying documentation and backstories contained therein might've helped there, but I still think platform and/or puzzle games would've suited him more. Like it or not though, it was a trilogy of slightly odd RPGs that Randar got (or at least two of them), and I guess they might be brilliant for all I know, I haven't played many games of this type in general, never mind from the 8-bit era.

I can't actually find much info on any of the three games online. I couldn't find any playthroughs on YouTube, nor much in the way of general info or reviews, so I gather they are somewhat obscure, even in MSX circles. Were they well regarded by owners of that system? I've no idea, but they aren't really my cup of tea, I'm sorry to say, awesome main character or not. I'm glad to have had the chance to play them though, and I'd love to hear from anyone who's had more success than me playing them. I realise the number of people who like this type of RPG and have an affection for this strange blue sphere is probably quite low but you never know...

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