LADY SWORD / Games Express / Turbografx 16
Bless Games Express/Hacker International's little heart, they tried to make actual games to go with their porn. They weren't great at it, but they at least tried to put forward a respectable effort with each outing. Strip Fighter II was their kinda clunky but still mildly playable and appealing knockoff of Street Fighter II; Lady Sword is their kinda clunky but still mildly playable and appealing knockoff of dungeon crawl games like Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder and the Turbo's own Double Dungeons.
The game is set up by a surprisingly appealing animated intro in which our unnamed swordsman hero is commissioned by a king-turned-hobo to enter this tower overrun with monsters and find the Lady Sword, the legendary blade with the power to defeat the CEO Demon. So where's the porn, I'm sure you are impatiently asking. Well, said tower is composed of ten floors, and there's a captive maiden held by the boss of each floor who is only too happy to show her goodies in the same scrolling pinup style employed in Strip Fighter II once rescued.
Each floor consists of at least a couple of sub-bosses who have to be tracked down and killed prior to tackling the floor boss, who always seems to be right in front of the stairs to the next level. Once you get to the fifth floor or so, you'll also be tasked with finding a piece of the legendary Isis Armor on each floor. There are also some tablets with partial text on them scattered about on the uppermost floors, but I never got far enough to find out what the point of them was.
Leveling is so barebones you won't even be sure how it works at first. There's no visible "exp" system whatsoever. You'll slowly and gradually gain max HP as you fight battles, which is done without any fanfare. Once in a blue moon, killing a random monster will up your attack power by a single point. The big hauls of attack/defense/agility upgrades come from killing the midbosses, and from finding the Isis Armor pieces on the higher levels.
So as it turns out, the optimal strategy is to simply find the midbosses as fast as possible, because they're middling in power compared to some of the random enemies wandering each floor. The trouble is, the designers seemingly didn't create much in the way of distinct zones for different monster types, so monsters capable of killing you in two quick blows can appear in the very first corridor along with the weaker ones that are more suited to your level. Once in a while, you'll need to find an item first; the first example of this is when they make you walk a short jaunt to the mapping tool, which is absolutely vital for progression in the game since the same featureless stone wall texture is used throughout every single level with no other real landmarks. On the fourth level, there's one particular midboss who you can't damage without first finding an item called the Water PoPo, but otherwise you want to find the midbosses as fast as possible to get their level upgrades and be able to hang in with the tougher randomly-generated monsters.
I'm going to start calling treants "Trent" from now on
With the seeming lack of any attempt at balance, you quickly learn the name of the game here is save-scumming. There are no healing items, but you can fully recover health by resting at any time ... only trouble is, the designers pulled the nasty trick of there being about a 1-in-10 chance that a monster called the Dream Flayer will attack while you're in your weary state. This guy hits pretty hard, so an appearance while you're low on HP is usually a death sentence unless you can luck into landing your "Chance" attack, which gives you about a 50/50 shot of landing a five-hit combo (with the penalty of allowing the monster two hits that turn if it misses). You can save-scum around him too, though; just save prior to each rest attempt, then save again after. In the later floors he shows up in more powerful palette-swapped versions, but you never stop being able to just save-scum around him. You can also restore health when fighting the weaker enemies by simply defending, which gives you a 50/50 shot to restore about 50-60 HP each time you do it.
That's pretty much all there is to this one, save for unhelpful NPCs that pop up on random tiles with mostly useless advice. The worst of which is a series of increasingly decrepit severed heads of women that I guess are supposed to be your guide to each floor, but really never say anything helpful and just pop up out of nowhere and creep you right the fuck out all the time.
With save-scumming the initially ridiculous-seeming difficulty is made manageable, the bigger problem once you get to the sixth floor or so is annoying mazes full of teleport traps and pits (which are never marked on your map), which eventually start teleporting you into areas that you can't get out of unless you remembered to set your little warp pendant device to an early point on the floor. Eventually what ran me off from this one was having to walk through the same areas over and over and over trying to negotiate these. The game does have OK graphics and music for the period, and the auto-map actually makes it more manageable than a bunch of "classic" PC dungeon crawlers ... so if you're looking for some sort of super-hardcore RPG challenge this might be up your alley.
* Bizarre, depressing ending
set to wierdly relaxing music