ININDO / Koei / SNES
 
 
Inindo is an interesting melange of Koei's games of the late 80s-early 90s. Fundamentally, it's a pretty typical console RPG - you have a party of up to 3, you roam an overworld and go through a bunch of dungeons, you level up and get new equipment to proceed. But there's a little Nobunaga's Ambition in that Japan is divided up into territories controlled by independent daimyos who will periodically attack and conquer each other. After a point, you can actually hire yourself out to these daimyos as a battlefield commander, and take part in their battles ordering troops around in a system that resembles Gemfire.
 


You can also take missions spying on or sabotaging other castles - gain enough trust with them by completing these and you eventually gain their ear and can suggest new territories for them to attack. That's a bit reminiscent of working as a privateer for different nations in Uncharted Waters, as is the collection of other mercenary characters who roam around following their own schedules over the course of the game. Many of them can be recruited to your side by building a relationship through conversation (and sometimes showing your superior strength by kicking their ass.) Some, however, will take Nobunaga up on his bounty on your head and travel the world seeking to kill you! Territories can also hire them independently for their military plans, so a former party member might end up being a battlefield opponent later in the game. The whole system is also kind of reminiscent of the "heroes" system of Balor of the Evil Eye, though I'm not sure if that game came out before or after this one in Japan. There's even a keno-like game you can gamble at, a la Uncharted Waters' blackjack and poker games.
 
 


Like many Koei games, you're kind of dumped in without direction unless you read the manual (or in this case watch a REALLY long intro cinematic.) You're a young member of the Iga ninja clan, just beginning your ninjer training. Unfortunately Oda Nobunaga decides to attack and wipe out the Iga cause he's scurred of ninjers. Fortunately, just as his men are about to kill you, they get called off due to his defeat at Honnōji Temple. IRL Nobunaga seppuku'd himself at this point. In the world of video games, however, this is the point at which he always strikes a deal with some demonic force and gains the power to raise undead and throw Hadokens and whatnot. So that's what happens here, and he goes on back to his castle in central Japan to continue his conquest of the country. The overall goal is to gain access to Nobunaga's castle by convincing a neighboring daimyo to conquer one of his territories, then enter and slay his ass. But at the outset you're a weak untrained ninja with 0 hope of doing that, so you'll first have to go through a series of 10 ninjer training dungeons scattered throughout Japan and learn ninja magics before building a career as a famous mercenary and general.
 
 


I actually owned this game back in the SNES heyday, picked it up blind for $20 on a sale. I never ended up getting very far with it, and the thing that put me off was that the training dungeons are kind of obnoxious to find and there's opaque level barriers to doing certain things like recruiting allies and taking on missions from daimyos. The first training dungeon is right in front of you, but after that the next few require long walks with only vague directions from random town NPCs ("it's to the northeast") and you have to kind of ramble around randomly for awhile to find them since there's no in-game map. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that after a certain amount of walking, your character just kind of randomly passes out until the next day, and at this point you stand a chance of being attacked by wandering ronin. In the early going they can often kick your ass and either take your money or just outright kill you. They cease to be a problem after you've recruited allies and taken on a couple of training dungeons, but can be exceptionally annoying when you don't know where the training dungeons are at near the beginning since overworld encounters are few and far between and dungeons are the only real way to improve your levels and grind money back up.
 
 


The game also really intends for you to do all the training dungeons before doing anything else, though that's only made clear when you deviate from the script and get smacked in the nose for it. It's not mentioned anywhere that I know of, but you can't recruit allies until level 7, you can't take spying and sabotage missions until level 11 or so, and you can't fight in military battles until level 18. Even then, you have to do a lot of wandering and waiting to take on daimyo missions. Spying and sabotage are only offered until the 15th of each month, you can join a planned invasion anytime but it never happens until the last day of the month. Aside from just waiting for the calendar to cycle around, you also have to trudge all over Japan on your feet checking for employment each month (unless you get lucky and get one of the rare allies that has the Flight spell, which allows you to warp to previously visited towns.) You can get random tips on job opportunities in neaby towns by drinking tea at tea stands in towns, but they're vague and don't specify what the job is, and you might get all the way over there only to get rejected because the daimyo "doesn't trust you enough."
 
 


Sweet Mother Interbutts and her highly detailed maps and walkthroughs make this much less of an issue now than it was back in 1993. But one thing that was already off-putting and isn't getting any better with time is the absolute shoestring production values. Inindo originally came out in 1991 for the Japanese PC88 and MSX2 computers, both technologically very inferior to the SNES, and the game looks like pretty much a straight port without much in the way of added polish or enhancement. The graphics and animation could almost have been done entirely on an NES, the sound effects are low-fi and sometimes grating. On the whole the music isn't bad, though if you aren't into traditional Japanese music the low-ish quality of the instrument samples is certainly not going to do anything to change your mind. Battles and menus are a little on the slow side, but fortunately still intuitive, fairly well thought out and not terrible.
 
 


I made it a lot farther into Inindo this time than I did back in the 90s, but I still cut it off early. Despite the melange of other interesting elements, gameplay time is still too heavy with samey dungeons and repetitive, tedious combat. Even at level 25 I had a hell of a time even getting basic spying/sabotage jobs much less joining a battle or convincing a daimyo to attack people. For reference, that's about halfway through the game - most people seem to take on Nobunaga at around level 50-52 somewhere. If you've got the time (and sheer patience) to devote to grinding through the more tedious aspects of it, though, Inindo can reward you with a deeper and more varied system than most JRPGs. You're free to hitch your wagon to any warlord (except Nobunaga), and the 20 year overall time limit is more than generous enough to complete game goals while still potentially conquering at least half of Japan.
 
 
 
Links :
 
* Item/equipment list and walkthrough - More useful than GameFAQs
 
 
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