Thursday, July 8, 2010

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Solid Force

In this installment, we're looking at a late release for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM format -- Solid Force, published in 1995 by NEC and Kogado Studio, on the cusp of the 32-bit generation's arrival.  It's a testament to this augmented 8-bit console's lifespan that new titles were still coming out even as the 16-bit generation was drawing to a close.

Solid Force is a sci-fi strategy game with a cyberpunk anime aesthetic.  It's a bit of a throwback, with square-based movement rather than hexes, but makes up for it with a comprehensive weapon range and damage system.  Our team features a cast of colorful characters - a giant cyberelder, a blonde boy, a blonder slightly older woman, and an aging fighter:

The intermissions are well-animated and voice-acted, with a sense of humor as the various personalities spar and clash, but it's hard to grasp the details of the plot without knowledge of Japanese.  Still, the broad outlines are clear -- we are the forces of good, arrayed against the overwhelming armies of evil.  There's a lot of Japanese text, but the mission titles and key words are in English, and I didn't have too much trouble figuring out the gameplay.

Each mission is preceded by a tactical overview of the mission map -- the briefing narration is in Japanese, of course, but the map is color-coded in English and not hard to read:

The first level is introductory, simple in layout but fairly tough to beat.  Our leader and some support units are dropped in via helicopter; we then have to fight our way past the turrets and guards defending the gap in the central wall to reach a helipad and escape.  The enemies are well-armed and frequently respawn, so a battle of attrition is unlikely to succeed -- strategy and tactics are called for.
The menus are mostly in Japanese, but it's not too hard to figure out which options do what -- I was able to suss out how to move, attack, heal, and exchange equipment.  We start this level with a few extra healing meds, spare parts, and weapons stashed in immovable lockers, so it's best to stay close to the drop zone at the beginning, fending off the initial enemy onslaught from a defensible position.  Ammo is limited, so swapping for a full gun is handy on occasion. 

The primary goal here is to wipe out the massive guns guarding the wall -- they do not respawn, thankfully, so if we can keep our units alive long enough to take them out the rest of the level can be dealt with.

Learning how the weapons work is important -- most have specific ranges, so we must position the firing unit at the right distance if we have a particular target in mind.  And some weapons do collateral damage to adjacent units of either side; the enemy AI seems not to be aware of this, and with clever positioning I was often able to get it to take its own troops out with friendly fire.

For the second mission (and beyond, one presumes) we get to deploy our leader, and select one additional character (perhaps two or more characters later on) to back him up.  Each is distinguished by movement speed and special abilities, so there are strategic ramifications to our choices:

Beyond the additional team member, we start the second level with only four robot units and a couple of equipment boxes.

It took me a few hours to get through the first mission, and I didn't venture much farther into Solid Force for this post, but I could definitely keep playing this one.  It has that addictive quality -- it's difficult enough not to be boring, and there are enough strategic options available to inspire another try with a different approach.  The language challenges are significant but not overwhelming, compared to other Japanese strategy games I've attempted to play, and that alone makes this one worthwhile.

Solid Force is not too expensive as a collectible, either, and as a Super CD-ROM title will run on the American TurboDuo console.  It may be available for purchase at this affiliate link.

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