Retro Let's Play: Fantasy Zone (1986)

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade' started by Grant, Oct 31, 2020.

  1. Grant

    Grant Member

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    Community Retro Let's Play for November 2020.

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    Fantasy Zone was one of Sega's hits of the 80s, with its little sentient spaceship protagonist their mascot before Alex Kidd and Sonic. I don't think it was too popular in English speaking countries with its psychedelic pastel styling, but it was a pack-in with my Sega Master System console, and I've only recently given it a good play.

    The Master System version was an excellent port of the System 16 arcade version to 8-bit hardware. The game has no autofire, and the SMS pads were terrible for shmup-style button pressing, so a rapid fire controller (emulated or real), Rapid Fire Unit, or arcade controller that can take a beating are needed. I had none of these when I first had the game, which is why I've parked it for so long.

    The game is a shooter on horizontal free-scrolling looping levels (Defender was an inspiration), and it was ported to a few systems (SMS, 2 NES ports, TG16, MSX, MZ-700), and the arcade version has been improved and rereleased under the Sega AGES label on modern systems starting with the Saturn/PS2/Wii.

    For screenshots, comparisons, and a great writeup on the series, see the HG101 article: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/fantasy-zone

    Recommended ways to play

    If you've never played the game before and don't have an easy way to get one of the M2/Sega AGES versions, then the MAME version is probably the best place to start. It's playable on archive.org's Internet Arcade here: https://archive.org/details/arcade_fantzone

    I don't know if it's possible to configure autofire in the JSMAME setup that Internet Arcade has, so if you have a controller with rapid fire or experience with controller emulation software, that's recommended.

    Otherwise, to make progress in the game you'll probably want to run MAME on your computer with the autofire plugin:
    • Grab fantzone.zip and put it in your MAME roms folder, if you don't already have a full set of ROMs installed.
    • Start MAME, go to "plugins" in the machine selection screen (tab key moves between sections, esc goes "back"), and enable the autofire plugin.
    • Load Fantasy Zone, then press tab to bring up the machine menu
    • Select "Configure Plugins" to configure the autofire plugin for this machine.
    • What you're configuring here is a new key that acts as an alternative to an existing button, but with autofire. Select P1 Button 1 as the "Input" button, any unused keyboard key (I use Z) as the "Hotkey", then select "Create". This adds the Z key as an alternative fire button but with autofire. You can play with the speed by choosing how many frames the button is "on" vs. "off", if you want to make it more realistic of how fast a person could spam an arcade button.
    • If you've never used MAME before (it's not really intuitive), you can post questions here or in the dedicated MAME Retro FAQ. 5 adds a coin/credit, 1 starts the game, ctrl and alt are regular fire and secondary fire, arrow keys move, p pauses.

    I've been focusing on the SMS and 3DS versions recently. The 3DS version is an M2 port of the arcade/AGES version, and uses the 3D display to put the sprites and background planes at different depths. It has some excellent mod cons to alleviate the hardcore-ness of the arcade version:
    • Rapid fire
    • Stage select for any stage you've reached
    • Tunable difficulty and extra lives (ie. machine DIP switches)
    • An ongoing "bank" based on the amount of money you earn in a playthrough, that can be used to unlock secrets or pre-load a playthrough with cash

    The 3DS version also has a hidden menu option to

    The SMS version is more for nostalgia/redemption, but I do have a taste for the PSG square-wave renditions of the music (FM tracks are often too "soft" for my liking, but the arcade music is excellent). After a few hours of solid play over a few weeks, a cheat/secret to increase firepower availability, and a Youtube video to discover a technique for taking down the final boss, I finally made it through the "redemption" part.

    The SMS version (with rapid fire) is a fair bit easier than arcade, with fewer enemy bullets on screen and fewer bases to take down on every level. I also used the Australia cheat of playing with my unmodified SMS running at 50hz, but I plan to have another go at 60hz this month.

    In the last week or so I managed to beat the final boss in 3DS arcade version (using the level select to start from the last level) too. This unlocks a slightly different play mode, where the main character is Upa-Upa, the brother of Opa-Opa. Normally I give up on a game after I've seen the ending, but it might be possible to string together a 1CC here.

    If you want to play vicarously, you didn't have to wait until 2005 when YouTube was launched. There was an official "superplay" of the arcade game released on home video (VHS and laserdisc) by Sony:



    This isn't a 1CC, there's some delightful sequences showing multiple deaths (the machine DIP switches did have an "infinite lives" mode that you can select in MAME), but the player shows some movement skills that I'd swear were tool-assisted if it was a modern video, and a different secret technique for beating the final boss.

    Sequels

    Beyond nostalgia and redemption, one of the reasons I was interested in FZ1 was to lead up to its direct sequel, Fantasy Zone II. This was developed for the SMS directly rather than the arcade, so it was tuned for 8-bit graphics. When M2 came along to bring this to modern systems, they famously felt like the game hadn't reached its potential, so they remade the game for the Sega System 16 as Fantasy Zone II DX.

    From there, there's Super Fantasy Zone on the Mega Drive, as well as some spin-offs, including a Pac-Man mashup "Fantasy Zone: The Maze".

    As part of Sega's 60th anniversary celebrations, they also made a mashup of the "Endless..." series and Fantasy Zone, called "Endless Zone".
     
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  2. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Had a crack at this, and absolutely they go out of their way to reduce the rather high difficulty of this game, which is pretty good.

    I suffered a few early game overs, and was surprised by the running bank. Finally made it past first boss and into the level 2 shop, and blammo straight into some killer upgrades!

    Need to figure out the rapid fire mode in Japanese before I kill my buttons.

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  3. FIREWIRE1394

    FIREWIRE1394 Member

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    I’ll have to grab the master system rom and give this a go.

    Might just go for a keyboard. Because then rapid fire won’t be an issue, I’ll use my mad skills.
     
  4. Boneman

    Boneman Member

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    This is my jam!

    Probably the game I played most on the Master System, even had to use the Sega Control Stick cross-handed due to being a lefty, good times and heavy bombs galore.

    3DS version of I and II are amazing, but form factor of the 3DS is a little awkward, gotta watch out for pushing too hard and cramping on the D-pad.

    I remember that childlike sense of innocence whenever I see the final text after end game, so touching.
     
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  5. power

    power Member

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    Nice choice

    3DS version here i come!

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  6. OP
    OP
    Grant

    Grant Member

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    For 3DS, it's always enabled on the R/L shoulder buttons. The "Rapid shot speed" settings are the bottom settings on the input settings screen.

    For these situations it's handy if you have an Android phone with the Google camera app, or some other way of getting to Google Lens - you can enter Lens Translate mode, and it will OCR the Japanese text and translate it in place.
     
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  7. OP
    OP
    Grant

    Grant Member

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    Mad skills or no, I hope you have good quality mechanical keyswitches, or you might need a new keyboard :Paranoid:
     
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  8. okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    Love the 3Ds, will give it a go on the platform.
     
  9. okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    This game is hard.
     
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  10. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    80s hard! And kids these days think everything difficult is "Souls-like" :lol:

    I'll be firing this up on the candy cabinet later in the week, seeing how it compares to M2's 3DS version. But I suspect I'll be firing up the old MAME cheats at some point! :)
    http://cheat.retrogames.com/mame_downloads.htm
     
  11. OP
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    Grant

    Grant Member

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    fz-sms-60-win.jpg

    60Hz SMS win (the game loops back after the end but the Round counter keeps going up and the difficulty increases).

    The 60Hz speed on SMS is definitely faster than the arcade, but I think the 50Hz speed is a touch slower... weird. The music speed at 50Hz is definitely closer to the arcade music speed as well.
     
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  12. adicakes

    adicakes Member

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    As a kid, I figured out a whole schedule and ordering of weapon purchases to burn through this game super quick on SMS. The plan depended on timing things so that I would get the "Shop" signs before destroying the last base and facing the boss. I'd have to play the game again to remember the details of the scheme, but it was based on things like "have 7-sway shot active for the snowman boss" and "have n heavy bombs ready for the lizard-tongue boss and get underneath it ASAP, then bomb away when the tongue is out".

    The moon volcano level was especially fun to rip through with the laser shot, moving right up to the volcano bases and holding down the fire button. :) The trickiest part was having the inventory of weapons in order for the final boss, which presented each of the previous bosses in sequence, and then the "final final" boss. I always lusted after the top-level rocket-power speedup, but once I actually tried it discovered that it's no good for me -- too fast and I kept dying from running into things. Accumulating heaps of heavy bombs was the key to making this game easier.

    Edit: added a photo from the collection. :p
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    Last edited: Nov 1, 2020
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  13. OP
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    Grant

    Grant Member

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    Yeah watching some pro playthroughs, I'm amazed how they use even the double bombs (which don't time out) to beat some of the bosses whether they're playing with autofire or not.
     
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  14. FIREWIRE1394

    FIREWIRE1394 Member

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    On the master system one I’m having more trouble moving
    around than I am shooting.
    I was under the impression that I’d be fine bullet storming it to oblivion and maybe moving up or down a little bit every so often...
    Think I might have to fish out a controller, because I don’t want RSI on my middle finger going up and down so much.

    Also, the soundtrack is pretty banging.
    And having the ability to land with little legs that come out makes the game.

    Top score is a smidge over 8000, so I’ve got a long way to go.:lol:

    Even the emulator I’m using is retro (DEGA 1.9 Lol) so I might need to upgrade to a newer one with more controller support.
    I’m also considering getting a smaller monitor from storage that has gone a bit blurry with age to make it look a little nicer.

    Edit:
    I did get a smaller monitor, and it's MUCH better than my daily.
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    Even after this in a smaller window it just didn't feel right.

    Sometimes better is worse.
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    I really need a control with a decent Dpad too. Dodging that first boss (is it a brick or log?) and his tiny green spewballs is hard needing 4 fingers and micro instead of a thumb
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2020
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  15. power

    power Member

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    had a crack yesterday, beat the first boss and then promptly died.
     
  16. FIREWIRE1394

    FIREWIRE1394 Member

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    Had another go at this. I used a controller (Dual shock 4 because it has a slightly better DPAD than XBO pads) and finally got past that fucking log and it's green spewballs, only took 5 minutes of constant dodging.

    I used all my money and went blitzkrieg through the second level. I mean absolutely hammered the level in like 10 seconds after the shop. and then spent another 5 minutes of hammering a bullet and bomb storm into the second boss which appears to be a round bottom flask with a face surrounded by balls that ejaculates fireballs into the air? and then I fell victim to getting too close to the top of the screen to shoot him.
    Don't feel like starting over again right now, so will take a few days break before I try again.

    I've now made 2 levels with no rapid fire, just dodging and being patient. But I'm guessing it amps up at some point? or by playing the master system one, is it not so important to need rapidfire?
     
  17. OP
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    Grant

    Grant Member

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    You need to fire a lot of bullets to win the game. I assume you've got the controller on a solid surface, and you're tapping the button from above with your finger using your whole hand? That's why I recommended an arcade controller, if you're pressing a button for each bullet you need a button that can be pressed rapidly (ie. thumbs are useless).

    The laser beam weapon is an exception, it can be fired continuously. Also see my note about bombs, you can "throw" them forward using the ship's momentum.
     
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  18. nimmers

    nimmers Member

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    Recently got the Sega 16 arcade multi that has this - will have a go once I've knocked over Shinobi.
     
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  19. FIREWIRE1394

    FIREWIRE1394 Member

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    I am just holding the controller like I normally would, and hitting with my thumb (actually hitting X and O at the same time and spamming bombs and bullets). It’s not such a problem when you’re used to it.

    I found out about the bombs during the green blob spewing log fight when I had to form a tactical retreat and the bombs just dropped out of the sky.

    I’ll give the game another go on the weekend, but I’m not expecting to get much further...
    Since the internet didn’t exist, and I don’t have a period correct magazine with a play guide, and because the master system didn’t have savestates. I don’t know if I’ll have the patience and skill to get good at the game within a month.
    All my knowledge of the game is from posts in this thread and what I’ve played, and it will stay that way, I’m here to play a game, not cheat my way through with savestates and YouTube!
     
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  20. okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    Playing on 2-star (out of 5) difficulty on 3DS. Level 3 boss is as far as I can get for now. The most difficult part - if you die in level 3 while there are bases left its pretty hard to recover, I start losing lives one after another and rarely make it to the boss fight. Love the creative graphics. Remind me of Yellow Submarine :).
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2020
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