Posted on July 7th, 2009 12 comments
Maker: NCS (Masaya)
Release Date: 9/23/88
Price: 5500 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 19.90 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A fantasy simulation with a heavy story element that was ported from PCs. Players choose between the dark or light sides as they invade enemy territory. A total of 30 scenarios comprise the game.”
Gaia no Monshō is notable for a couple reasons — it’s the first console title from Nippon Computer Systems (better known under the brand name Masaya), and it’s also the direct predecessor to the Langrisser series, which had as extensive a hand in defining the console SRPG genre as Nectaris and Fire Emblem.
NCS is a small computer firm that dealt with (and still deals in) networks and proprietary financial software. They started making games for the NEC PC-8801 in 1986, with the Masaya brand debuting in 1989 with Guyflame. Langrisser, Kaizō Chōjin Shubibinman and Chō Aniki were their greatest contributions to Japan game-dom, and while they didn’t produce nearly as much PCE quantity as Naxat Soft, those three series cemented the PCE as the firm’s preferred platform in gamers’ eyes. NCS was never particularly bigtime, with their heaviest output during the 16-bit years, and by the time the PS/SS were released they were mostly relying on Langrisser and Chō Aniki sequels, which (even at the time) was not the way to get really big in the Japan game biz. Their final releases were Wonder Swan Langrisser and Chō Aniki in 2000; after that NCS returned to being a regular ol’ business software firm.
Gaia no Monshō, a port of a 1987 PC-8801 release (you can tell this from the ostentatious title music, done by NCS resident composer Kouji Hayama), has a pretty simple plot. Böser and his army of darkness are invading the Land of Light, and you have to beat him off. I mean, drive him back to his lair. You know what I meant. This PCE port is a simplified version of the PC-8801 original, with battles taking place on a single-screen map instead of a scrolling landscape.
Even in the Land of Light, soldiers will not fight for you for great justice alone, so before battle you have to assign your paltry collection of points (cash) out to employ units for your side. If you want more points, you have to destroy enemy units before they can escape from you; naturally, the stronger the enemy, the more points you’ll get. In a downright cruel move on the part of NCS, the game also docks points if you lose an allied unit. Thus comes the tactical dilemma in this game. Just like with Fire Emblem, your goal is to win every battle while losing as few units as possible. Pyrrhic victories are as good as being routed here, because without a good-sized army, you’ll lack the points to reinforce your ranks for the next skirmish, a game-ending Catch-22. (Winning tough battles with crappy infantry is part of the fun of J-SRPGS, I suppose, but we’re still in the 1980s here, so the challenge level is set ridiculously high.)
Another controller-throwing feature is the way Gaia no Monshō determines turn order. Instead of alternating between sides, the game automatically rolls a die to figure out who goes next. You can take several turns in a row if you’re lucky, but that applies to the enemy as well. Need to gather up your units after a brutal attack? Well, tough shite, because it’s the enemy’s turn again! If you don’t like it, reset!
That’s how the campaign mode unfolds in this title, over 30 patience-testing chapters. Construction mode is a fair bit more interesting, though, allowing two players to wage holy war against each other. Secret codes allow you to unlock all kinds of silly units for this bit, including samurai warriors, members of NCS’s staff, and modern armored weaponry (Japan Self-Defense Force units on the player’s side, the Red Army on the enemy side). Feel like recreating Reign of Fire in the form of an early J-SRPG for some unfathomable reason? Dragons versus the JSDF, there you go!
Posted on July 7th, 2009 No comments
I love that ex-EGM-boss Shoe’s number-one choice is “people.” I can’t stand ’em either!