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Quality rm2k entertainment

  • NTC3
  • 01/31/2017 06:34 PM
  • 1010 views
Guild Raider! is a game I’ve finished sometime back in 2015, and even wrote much of this review at the time. Then, however, life happened, and it ended up buried among my other drafts in a mostly finished state. Looking through my older reviews recently, I noted they often reference this game, and for good reason, and figured now would be a good time to dig this out.

So, this is a game made in the original rm2k, yet it nevertheless manages to put many newer games to shame, and at first glance it’s hard to pinpoint why. None of its aspects stand out on their own, and I can hardly say they fit each other perfectly, since more then a few elements end up feeling redundant or under-tested. What is truly notable about Guild Raider!, however, is its commitment to variety, to offer a consistently changing and evolving experience while keeping the familiar dungeon crawling mechanics at its core. That is one half of its success; the other, of course, is the good-natured humour that permeates it and gives plenty of charm to the whole affair.

Storyline

Since it is a light-hearted game, it has a simple, yet functional premise about several groups of explorers being contracted by Grand Mage Aven to explore the ruins of the ancient Magischolars, and obtain 77 Magi, which are needed to activate the artefact below. They’re paid for every Magi they find, and are free to go once Aven gets all 77. For most of the game, this is it. There's some nice flavour text, sure, which is encountered everywhere you would expect, and written with real warmth. It does wonders for the atmosphere when the party members joke about cracks on the walls never leading to cave-ins in the dungeons, when simple-minded Gordon goes “Wow, a real wooden table!” when examining one, or indeed, the more digitized references in the last area.

Still, the true highlight are the character interactions. Your party consists of four people: the reasonable leader Malu and honest, simple-minded Gordon are soon joined by the devious mage Diaghilev, and a practically mute rogue Rathmyer. This gender-balanced party (since Malu and Rathmyer are female, even if their sprites don't immediately suggest that) are competing against the group of traditional JRPG explorers with names like Guy and Glorfindel, the team of good-hearted, but incompetent, Miles, which is consistently left behind by others, and their polar opposite - the underhanded team of Homasa, Tobit, Azalea and Argus, who consistently try many tricks to get ahead, with variable results.



A particularly satisfying moment after the many times they beat you to punch.

As you can tell, none of them are complex personalities here. However, their character traits are allowed to drive the events, instead of being mere background filler, and this makes all the difference. Things that are merely hinted at the start, like bickering between Gordon and Azalea or Manfred’s growing frustration with Miles' leadership, are all developed throughout and lead to some fun plot turns later on. There's also an unexpected, and very silly, plot twist near the end which I would rather not spoil, since it is quite fun, along with the accompanying character turn. It soon leads into the final boss battle, after which is everything is wrapped up with a long ending showing everyone emerge from the dungeon one by one, alongside a text screen detailing their invariably amusing fate afterwards.

Aesthetics (Art, design and sound)

Guild Raider! also uses the same sprites on the map as ones that are employed as battlers, which is always a good idea, even if they don’t necessarily look very well. Unfortunately, it utterly lacks dedicated battle backgrounds, instead using what appears to be screenshots of the area map. Now, that worked in the Withered Reason demo with its side-view system, but here it feels disappointingly grainy, and doesn’t really help immersion as much as was intended.



The map design, however, is great. Tying in with variety I was getting at, each floor feels really distinct from each other. Besides the mere visuals (earthen cave feel of Level 1, jungle design in 2, Egyptian-like sandy theme for 3, lava fortress in 4 and fully technological place of the Magischolars), there are also very substantial design differences. Level 1 has a few secret passageways marked as cracks and darker spot on the walls. Level 3 forces you to work with another party in order to move through the rooms that are cut in half by barriers that need to be rotated with switches in the adjacent rooms. Level 4 is an infinite lava dungeon where a lot of the rooms get repeated in certain directions, though there is still enough of the unique stuff (and Magi) to find. The maps over there often manage to impress through seeing their size in perspective:



The soundtrack consists of many nice midi compositions that all evoke that whole 16-bit feeling. You wouldn’t really listen to any of them outside of the game, but they all work well where they are used. Some story scenes in particular owe most of their atmosphere to the successful sound choices. Sounds seem to be predominantly RTP, but they all fit the situation well enough. The game also uses rooster’s crow as a retreat sound to mock you for doing so, but other than that, not much stands out.

Gameplay

The game begins with the party creation screen, where you’re able to select the characters’ race and subclass, and both offer three possibilities. Races mainly affect whether your character is better at learning skills or abilities when levelling up, and usually, you’ll get a choice between the two. The difference here is that the skills apply exclusively to the currently equipped weapon type, like the Piercing Blade of Rathmyer or the Critical Shot of (bow-equipped) Malu, and are pretty much all about attack, while abilities don’t depend on a weapon and are more varied. Consequently, that makes choosing abilities until you run out of them a better option, since that way, you don’t run the risk of finding a an obviously better weapon that’s of a different type, and will disable those skills if equipped.

Unfortunately, that difference is not explained at the start, and since the choice of races changes nothing else, with no differences on the visual appearance or the characters dialogue, it’s a little hollow when doing it at the start. The choice of sub-classes is plagued by a similar problem, as while you’re told what they’re like in general terms, their actual skills, and the differences between them (and these can be quite large), remain a mystery until you actually play the game. The munchkin I am, I restarted the game after not liking the first run too much, and then played with Cleric, Soldier, Evoker and Thief, a pretty good combination that gave me cost-efficient healing from Malu, high health and lots of valuable spear skills from Gordon, and two sources of elemental damage from Diaghilev and Rathmyer. In addition, Thief Rathmyer doesn’t waste any MP on picking chests, which I previously found was an issue with an Assassin build.

Now, unless you got really unlucky with party creation, the characters will begin the game with 1-5 skills, and even the basic enemies like Mires and Dryads have 1-2 skills with them, thus making the battles immediately interesting. In addition, different weapon types both provide their own skills and can inflict certain status ailments (i.e. stun for staffs and bleeding for lances) on their own. Guild Raider! also employs touch encounters and it allows you to flee from them should you decide to, when too many games think it has to be one or the other. The elemental system operates upon principle whereas frost defeats thunder while being vulnerable to earth, and vice versa, but it’s something you’ve got to figure out for yourself. There are also the non-combat design elements, like puzzles on the second and third levels, or traps: do watch out for darker sections on stairways, as these are usually the unsafe steps that crumble to inflict hefty damage on everyone in the party. There are the so-called teleport traps too; they’re usually meant to be beneficial by sending you to area with more Magi, but one in Level 3 does in fact live up to its name, since it’s impossible to get out of the area where it sends you if a certain barrier is not rotated: a design flaw which I hope gets fixed through making the trap dependent on the barrier being in the right position, or the like. Then, you’ve got the ability to bypass the touch encounters entirely for a while by using the smoke bombs, and some other nice things.

One inventory flaw is that one-use items aren’t clearly marked as such, and while it might be obvious for something like a Smoke Bomb, I did accidentally waste a Secret Lens before realising that circle-marked items are single-use. That Secret Lens is also bugged, as using it in a room where are there are no secret passageways to be found results in a fatal error. And speaking of bugs, the Quit option in the “Sell Magi” menu is broken (at least, that’s true on level 3, i.e. the sandy, Egyptian-style one). Speaking of level 3, Miles’ party over there seems to lack any dialogue, and you can also find two Avens, as the first one doesn’t disappear once he moves to his new position in the level. In the last level, you’re somehow unable to unlock other doors in your prison, in spite of having the key, and there’s a Schrodinger’s chest, so to speak, that is locked when you try to open it, and open when you try to unlock it.

There are also some notable issues with the balance side of things. Firstly, most of the initial challenge basically stems from your party basically lacking all funds, and since the game is realistic in that potions and such are not lying around mysteriously preserved over the centuries and ready for you to pick, and nor are they dropped by the enemies. Essentially, the challenge at the start is in working out how to fight in the manner that conserves the most spellcaster MP, so that you wouldn’t have to buy too many potions, or pay Aven for heals too many times (Aven’s a lot more cost-efficient, but trekking back to him also causes all the touch encounters to reset, and so has its own risks). Sure, if you pay just for the healing and the status-negating items (since you’ll need them too), it’s probably not a problem, but Guild Raider! also does a good job of tempting you with the good range of all the weapons and armour that’s on offer. A lot of games tend to skimp on this and leave player lacking in choices when buying things, but here the balance is just right. The only issue I would like to see addressed is the lack of Accessories: you only get some at the very end, about 10-15 minutes away from the final boss. Seeing a whole equipment category empty throughout most of the game does tend to take away from the experience a little.

Later on, however, the financial shortage ceases to be a problem, although that point might come sooner for some party builds than for others: for me, it came as soon as I realised that Goblins, encountered on the second floor of the dungeon, (who look more like young girls in sailors’ uniforms, but whatever) can have absolutely disproportionate amount of money stolen from them, especially relative to their actual strength: it soon became possible to wipe them out in a single turn with well-timed use of skills, while also stealing from them. That aside, the other enemies of the second floor are just challenging enough for fighting to be fun once monetary concerns are not an issue. Third floor, though, is where difficulty drops too far down. Notably, it’s not the fault of the enemies themselves (which are a step-up from the previous ones and can inflict a fair amount of damage) but of the encounter design, which still allows single-enemy patrols to come across your party and get predictably torn apart in about 2 turns, the damage they deal easily healed afterwards. It would’ve been a different story if you had to face groups of 3-4 enemies of similar power that were designed to work together, like in Illusions of Loyalty: a healer/buffer skeleton next to two regular Red Bones for instance, and same for the Werewolf/ghost lady encounters. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen, and while group enemy encounters do happen at the last floors, by that point it’s basically a nuisance.

There are still some points where the game does let you fight a group of enemies that are varied and support each other throughout, and these are the party duels. They’re obviously not to the death, and defeat will simply mean giving up the Magi that are being fought over, and vice versa. Two or three are scripted, while another can be called by yourself, and they’re all pretty good. They’re considerably better than the actual boss fights, in fact, since the first couple are pretty conventional and don’t really stand out. The Magischolar one is fine, and I even lost the first time, though it’s understandably overshadowed by story reveal immediately after. The final boss fight is an interesting case. On one hand, it is really epic, in that while your party fights it conventionally, everyone else is there and tries to help out as well. This is represented through the scripted instances where you get the pre-combat cries of whichever characters are currently attacking, and then the actual attacks, and the damage they inflict (and later on, the boss replying in kind), and it works really, really well. Unfortunately, the actual boss is more of a puzzle, in that it needs to be defeated in a rather specific way, as I discovered when I defeated it normally on my second try, and still got the Game Over. I do understand why it’s like this, but I think that a bad ending would suit better in this instance, one where Malu and co. win, and save the world, but everyone else has fallen to achieve it.

Lastly, here are some typos, in case the creator will decide to find and correct them:

Aven has a tendency to misspell “labyrinth” as labryinth three-four times in the opening speech and again in the next cutscene, Diaghilev misspelling actually as Acutally when he joins the party, Gordon misspelling the word souvenir on level 3, description for Emperor axe saying “large and inaccurate aze.” One of the more technological artefacts goes all “Error – Acess denied!”, while an enemy skill during the final boss fight misspells recovered. Epilogue text misspells “amends” for Aven.

Near the end of the game, one of Diaghilev lines towards Rathmyer, “One of these I expect to get the full story out of you.” seems to have a word or two missing, and this repeated with “Hey not to be rude anything...” sentence afterwards. There’s also professer, “theives” and embarrassed being misspelt, and a line “What could they possibly keep in these big tank” (no “s” and question mark) and “All those rumors you here”. There were also several instances on level 3 and 4 where the lines don’t match with the character’s sprite. Below are two examples I found.







Conclusion

On the whole, Guild Raider! is very much a fun game, and an example of how a light-hearted comedy game can, and should, be done. Sure, it has some bugs and still suffers somewhat from the overly-easy late-game balancing that is common in many RPGs here. Even so, the way this game consistently varies the dungeon exploration is still something not done very often, and an example to emulate.

Posts

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Thanks for taking the time with a review. I think this might finally motivate me to give this game the rework/polish it needs. bob_esc and I basically started this as "let's make a dungeon crawl where everyone has stupid names, and also, cats" and combat came as an afterthought. It sounds like what needs most significant attention is:
- Bugs, obviously
- Midgame money management (it sounds like STEAL is broken)
- Ability/skill overhaul and clarification

More than a few years after this project, the final fight and end cutscenes are my favorite things about this game so I'm glad you also found them entertaining. Although for the last boss fight, how did you get a gameover? Sounds like (yet another) bug.

Machine alternates between regular attacks and the magicannon. Machine-R restores HP and Machine-L recharges the cannon, so killing them is usually a good idea, but killing the main body of the machine should be enough to win the fight.



Unrelated: I also always laugh when people say the SFX are RTP because they're 100% rips from Final Fantasy Legend, Sonic CD, and Touhou for some reason. And we also knew no one would ever get the Gauntlet stuff so I'll finally post this https://youtu.be/ePSXZ-zKmlA
author=psy_wombats

Machine alternates between regular attacks and the magicannon. Machine-R restores HP and Machine-L recharges the cannon, so killing them is usually a good idea, but killing the main body of the machine should be enough to win the fight.



I did defeat it - but only a few turns after it killed the last of the support characters, so I got "Game Over" immediately after seeing "Machine defeated" message. This is why I said a bad ending would be more appropriate here.
Definitely a bug then haha - there's not supposed to be a time limit at all. Thanks for the info
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