|An English splash screen gets my hopes up that I might be able to play this one through.
|Title screen, undithered
Panorama Toh, the second game published by Nihon Falcom (programmed once again by Yoshio Kiya), is the earliest JRPG I've seen yet, even predating The Black Onyx by a year.
Sadly, I knew quite early on that I wasn't going to be able to finish this thanks to the language barrier. But I gave it a try, just to find out how much of it I could see, in anticipation of the more widely covered Dragon Slayer.
We have a very Ultima-like interface and game world, though the world is hex-based and fits on one screen. I have no idea why I'm here, or what my goal is.
I went exploring, and promptly fell into a pit.
The game prompts you for a command, but unfortunately I have no list of valid ones. Through brute force exhaustion I found these ones got responses:
- U - No obvious effect but the game beeped and produced a non-generic message (and cleared it faster than I could have read it even if I could read Japanese)
- F - Eat food. Prompts you for how many rations to eat, and you regain 10 stamina each, but if you hit 200 stamina then the game beeps and you go down to 30, presumably having barfed.
- J - Jumps. Futilely.
- C - Call, maybe? Produces a message, but repeat actions result in a native coming to your rescue.
To the north, a tree bore bananas which I knocked down in a minigame whose rules I didn't really understand.
Further up north, the hexes surrounding the pyramid turned out to be a river. My attempt to walk on water didn't quite work.
|Thankfully, a boat fished me out.
|Inside the pyramid. The dots in front are loose gold.
I wandered around the pyramid, mapping as I went.
Here and there, I'd find what looked like trapdoors. The 'K' key allowed me to smash and grab something.
|'U', 'H', 'J', 'L', and 'C' also give responses.
|'A' kills them easily, but they will spawn and attack when you're idle, making mapping annoying.
Further in, I ran into Dracula, who ate me.
Restarting, and exploring the overworld some more, some other encounters I found included:
- Getting bit by a snake in the woods. This leaves you immobile, but you can call for help, and a native will eventually come by and cure you in exchange for food. If you don't have enough, you're screwed, as far as I can tell.
- Trees that bear not just bananas, but sometimes cherries, or even roast meat! Sometimes the food falls on your head, causing damage (and you don't get the food).
- Packs of tigers, who can be bypassed by giving them food. Attacking is risky.
- Caves, sometimes guarded by a troll, but always too dark to explore.
|Entering a town in the middle of Panorama Toh. '@' signs are thieves who take your gold.
|Here's a stock JRPG visual grammar - the shopkeeper's face while you buy stuff
I tried to translate what I could here, using Google Translate and my feeble attempts to distinguish the various angled, curved, and squiggly lines in the low-res katakana soup. (updated - corrected my errors from a commenter below)
- Powered suit
- [Leave store]
Incredibly, this guy pays you to take his stuff! Buy the powered suit, though, and it's game over.
|This also happens if you buy too many things.|
I made a few more discoveries, many of them only possible because of the commenter's translation.
|A guard rebukes me at the castle in the southwest.|
|The town in the west can be entered by bribing the guard. I think you need a translator to do this.|
|Entering the porno shop gets you a glimpse at some ASCII muff... and a night in jail with a pickpocket.|
|The northwest town.|
|The bar. This was the last thing I saw before another game over happened.|
|A torch and some batteries let you see inside the caves, and the radar, I'm assuming, gives an automap.|
|Some monsters are easily killed with your gun.|
|Keys open chests. I'm not sure what's going on here - my gold counter did not change.|
|Other monsters shrug off your attacks.|
|The ladder lets you escape pit traps.|
|Drugs cure snake bites.|
|You can lasso food trees with the rope, but this didn't ever seem to get me the food.|
This is as far as I expect to get without a manual or a translation. I didn't find anything in the caves except for monsters, minor treasures, and exits to other caves on the island. I thought that the rosary item might let me get past Dracula in the pyramid, but it did not. Either that or I failed to discover the correct way of using it.
As we can see here, this is more than just an Ultima clone, even if things aren't terribly polished or sophisticated (but then neither was Ultima). Despite the primitiveness, we can already see the JRPG identity starting to take rudimentary form, and that made it worth the effort of playing. No GAB rating today - it wouldn't make much sense to rate a game that I couldn't play properly.
The next game isn't going to be Dragon Slayer as originally planned. We've got one more ancestor to cover first.