Sunday, July 17, 2011

For the Frog the Bell Tolls

Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru or "For the Frog the Bell Tolls" is an Action RPG made by Nintendo in 1992. It's engine was the base for The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening and because of that some characters and other things from the game made a cameo appearance on Koholinth. Well, the game was never released outside of Japan, but recently I stumbled over an English translation patch via Metroid Database, so I decided to check it out. I'm a big fan of Link's Awakening, so I wanted to see which stones were already set by For the Frog the Bell Tolls. And there were some surprises.

The game's story revolves around two princes, Prince Sable and Prince Richard, who are eternal rivals. You'll play Prince Sable, who is the weaker of the two and who doesn't hold much respect among the people. But of course this will change during the game's quest, where both princes seek out to rescue a princess from a distant country, who was captured by some evil lord. An important theme of the game are frogs and snakes, both princes and all troops get transformed into frogs at one point and the evil lord is a giant snake.

It's said to be an Action RPG, but I would place it into the Action Adventure genre, the same as the Zelda series. There are no experience points and like in Zelda you'll only get stronger by collecting new items. However, the game features an interesting battle system, which is similar to the one found in Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland. You do not actively battle the foes, but fight them in a dust cloud. In most cases the result of the fight is completely predetermined, based on how strong you are and how much health you have left. It feels weird first, but you'll get used to it easily. Progressing in the game is mostly based on this system. You will encounter enemies, who are just too powerful for you, and then you'll have to look for upgrades or other ways around the enemies in order to proceed. This makes collecting upgrades like the Heart Stones, which are your Heart Containers, feel very rewarding. But it also makes the game too easy. If you just cannot beat an enemy, you're usually not supposed to beat him yet. The game doesn't offer any real challenges except for some platforming and puzzles.

Another important gameplay element are transformations. You will turn into a frog if you touch water, but you will also be able to turn back into human form and to transform into a snake whenever you want. Each form has advantages and disadvantages. Frogs can jump very high and eat insect like enemies on the overworld, but they are easy prey for most other enemies. As a snake you can crawl through small tunnels and turn certain enemies into stone blocks, but you cannot jump. But of course you'll spend most of your time in human form.

The scrolling on the overworld works differently from Link's Awakening, it basically always shows one line from the next screen, that way it automatically prevents that a tree or a rock could get in your way when switching screens (otherwise you really would have to pay a lot of attention to this while designing the overworld). Villages are also shown as smaller regions and get "enlarged" when you enter a town. However, dungeons are shown in a side scrolling manner similar to Zelda II and there the scrolling works like in the Zelda series.

There's basically only one big dungeon in this game, the castle at the center. It's a master dungeon like in the Nintendo DS Zeldas and you will return multiple times there to explore new areas of the dungeon. There are also some smaller dungeon-like areas elsewhere in the game, but usually the different quests are quite rich in variety, they range from exploring some Lost Woods, over getting some Wasabi for a scienties to digging through a gold mine. It's a short, but rich experience.

The visuals of the overworld sometimes reminded me of Final Fantasy Adventure, better known as the first Mana game or Mystic Quest here in Europe and on my blog. The visuals are not as rich as Link's Awakening, they can be quite empty sometimes. And you're scaled up in the same way as in Mystic Quest, for example trees have the same size as you. What these games also have in common are one-way-pick-axes for destroying rocks, which I still think is a silly idea to replace Zelda's bombs, though running short on them is not such a big problem in For the Frog the Bell Tolls as it was in Mystic Quest. But there are also one-way-saws for cutting certain trees.

What I liked is that you'll get a map of the entire overworld early in the game, showing what's ahead of you. You could say that this spoils the big surprises while exploring the world and because of this in later Zelda games unvisited parts of the overworld are usually hidden under clouds. They want you to be surprised, when you enter yet another generic desert area or whatever. But I prefer having an entire overworld map right from the start. Link's Awakening also did this with the map in the library and I loved this. You would get a simple picture of the entire world and the map would tell you how all the areas are named. And there was interesting stuff there like "Signpost Maze" or "Face Shrine". It basically was a teaser, an appetizer. The map is only a raw sketch and you would fill it with your imagination. As a kid I instantly wanted to explore all of Koholinth, I was fascinated by this island right from the start. This can be a huge motivation for progressing in the game. Today the games only tell you what you need to know, but back then the games teased you. And these teasers were usually very exciting. I miss the teasers, I miss getting full maps from the start, I miss being excited about exploring the overworld.

The main reason for me to play this game was exploring some origins of Link's Awakening. The engine was used to built Link's Awakening and stuff like fonts, sounds and animations were reused. For example the animation where Link spins around when he dies is pretty common in For the Frog the Bell Tolls. But in the end the most important thing is the cameo in form of Richard's Villa. Both Richard and the frogs were taken from the game and until today I never knew what the frogs were all about. And the music in Richard's Villa is a remix of the overworld theme from For the Frog the Bell Tolls. Because of this playing the game really had a familiar feel to it. It's not a superb game, but if you're a fan of Link's Awakening you will easily feel at home and like it nonetheless.

1 comment:

Frédéric said...

I have played this game for a few hours, it's actually quite enjoyable :)