['@ Play' is a bi-weekly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]


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Here is Taloon, making his way through the first level of the Mystery Dungeon. His objective is the Happiness Box around level 27. Let's follow him along for a while, shall we?

[Note: As far as @Play columns go, this one, which deals with a playthrough of the SNES prototype Roguelike dungeon crawler Taloon's Mystery Dungeon, is unusually long and graphics intensive, but I think it gives a good sense of the kind of strategy needed in a game like this.]

First off, take notice of the blue silhouette overlayed on the screen. This is the automap. It can be turned on and off from the menus.

Since only a very small portion of the dungeon will fit on one screen, this provides an alternative to being able to see the whole layout in Rogue. Monsters that are in Taloon's range of sight, even if they don't appear on the main screen, show up as red dots. Items are blue dots, and the stairs to the next level appear as a tiny blue box.

Next, see the light-colored circle around our hero? That is the range of his vision. As you can see, walls and corridors are visible beyond that range, but monsters are only visible if they're within that circle. Here Taloon is in a dark corridor and you can only see a single space around, but in a room the circle expands to the edges of its walls.

At the top of the screen is the status line. "1 Fl" is the dungeon level he's on, "Lv 1" is his experience level, then there's his hit points displayed both as a number and a life bar, and finally the gold he's carrying. In this game, as in Rogue, money is just a score. Nothing can be purchased with it.

There's some other status info as well, including "Belly," which is how full Taloon's stomach is, and "Strength," which is actually physical strength. Those show up on another status window that appears when Taloon stands still, or when the player opens up the action menu. We'll see those soon enough.


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Here you can see a room. A slime, eternal mascot of the Dragon Quest games, is over to the left. Notice how you can also see it on the map as a red dot?


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Killing it was enough to get Taloon to level 2. His maximum hit points went up to 22. Like in other roguelikes, and like D&D, the number of maximum hit points gained is random. He got seven this time, which isn't bad.


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Here's what he's carrying. There can be up to two pages of stuff. The Big Bread is starting rations, enough to fill his stomach to capacity once. The Identify scroll and Bronze Shield +2 were found laying around. Equipping the shield was a risk, since it could have had a minus instead of a plus, and be cursed. I could have read the scroll to find out if was cursed before wearing it, but that would have used up the scroll. Generally, it is better to use Identify scrolls on magic items than equipment unless the player has a surplus of them. And among items, it's usually better to identify rings first, followed by wands. So far, herbs (the game's analogue for potions) and scrolls are not randomly scrambled in the game. Once the player escapes with the Happiness Box, further forays into the dungeon will have more items scrambled.


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This is actually from a different game, since I died soon after that last pic. Notice that Taloon's maximum hit points are different. Here, we're on dungeon level 2. Entering a new level is always a bit of a risk because there could be a difficult monster right by the stairs, so it's usually good to be free of any easily-solvable conditions before going down. Notice also that Taloon is carrying a sword here. He found a Gold Sword +1 elsewhere on level 1. While it isn't a terribly good weapon, it is worth some extra score if brought back to the surface, and it is rustproof.


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By later on the same level, I've found these things. Having a shield and sword at this point is pretty nice. Unlike Rogue, Taloon begins the game with no equipment. Until he finds something on the floor, he must rely on his fists for weapons, and his comical pinstriped shirt for protection.

The other stuff he's carrying is mostly useful. The best is the Bang scroll, which does moderate damage to all enemies in the room. If it's used in a corridor, it'll only harm enemies in the eight spaces around him. The Muddle herb is better thrown than consumed; that way, it'll confuse the enemy instead of Taloon. (Confusion here, as in other roguelikes, translates to moving randomly most of the time and not being able to control what you attack.) The Eyedrop herb cures bad eyesight, but that's a fairly rare condition. Finally the Eavesdrop scroll shows the locations of all monsters on the automap until the player leaves the level. It doesn't reveal which monsters they are; the player will have to figure that out for himself, or go to them and see.


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A bit later still. Now I'm on level 3, and luckily the stairs to 4 are in the same room.

Here is the dilemma. I could dive, going to the next level right away. I'd save lots of food this way, and have no risk of dying here, but I'd miss out on the treasure and experience. Some of the treasure on this floor could be food.

Each roguelike has a different level of food rarity. The Mysterious Dungeon games tend to lean towards Rogue's "hard" scarcity, meaning, it's important to conserve food because the only reliable way to get more is to explore more rooms. The player must explore to find more food, but he'll be doing some exploration regardless. Does one dive when he can, or go out of his way to check every room? What I do is explore complete levels unless approaching starvation, in which case I dive. If you are carrying a goal item like the Happiness Box, all normal food consumption stops!


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I've gotten to experience level 4 by now, and I encounter my first Magician.

Magicians are a troublesome enemy in this game. If they're in melee range, they could either attack for a bit of damage, but not really much, or they could put Taloon to sleep. That would be very bad.

If Taloon is put to sleep he'll be stuck until he wakes up naturally. Most of the time, the Magician will have killed him by then. Magicians are like the Ice Monsters, or Floating Eyes, of this game: they seem harmless at first, but they can prove fatal.

On the other hand, Magicians are the first type of monster in the game that could drop random items when killed, and are worth 12 experience points each. They're often generated asleep, and compared to other monsters are fairly difficult to wake up. If you can kill one from a distance they are worth it in the early game, but it is a very bad idea to fight one in melee, even if you're of a high level.


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On level 5 I finally eat that bread I've been saving. Big Bread completely fills Taloon's stomach, so there is an advantage to waiting as long as possible before eating it. However, if the player waits until he's starving (losing hit points each turn from lack of food) he might end up encountering a monster that must be taken care of on a turn he'd like to eat. It's best to put off eating when you can, but not to the point where it could become an eat-or-fight situation.


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Later on the level I find a Magician and a Drakee, and I tackle the Magician by blinding it, with a thrown Blinding herb. For the monsters, being blind is about the same as being confused. There's still a chance the Magician could attack me each turn instead of one of the seven other spaces around him, and if he did that he could choose to cast sleep instead of hit, but the odds are against it. I'm not too concerned about the Drakee because they are like Rogue's bats: they often move randomly instead of chasing the player, and they're pretty weak anyway.


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Oops! I decided to take care of the Drakee first, and in the process of moving stumbled on a gas trap! If I hadn't blinded the Magician I'd be in trouble here. Fortunately, the chances that he could find me before I woke up were slim.

Unfortunately, soon after that I died to a Mummy whose strength I woefully underestimated. Moving on to the next game....


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Another good haul for level 2. Of special interest is the Chestnut staff, which is unidentified, the Clairvoyant scroll, which shows item locations on the level, the Antidote herb, which restores lost strength back up to maximum, and the Strength seed, which increases strength by one point.

Strength seeds and Antidote herbs are analogous to potions of gain strength and restore strength in Rogue. It is best to eat a Strength seed when the player is at maximum strength, because then it'll also raise the player's max strength by one. Then, if a later monster strikes and drains strength, the next antidote will restore to the new maximum. But sometimes Antidotes aren't easy to find, and if the player's strength gets really low, he might have to consume strength seeds just to remain viable.

Also in the inventory here is some normal Bread. Although the message reported upon eating it is that it fills Taloon's belly, in fact, it only fills it by 50% of capacity.

Here's a question: which is better to eat first, Big Bread or normal Bread? The answer is normal Bread, because the player's inventory capacity in this game is limited. The types of bread fill Taloon's stomach by different amounts, but they both take up the same amount of inventory space. Thus, it is best to use up the least valuable item first. That'll free up a spot for other treasure sooner, while keeping the extra 50% of food for later.


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This, if you can arrange it, is the best way to handle Magicians: kill them with arrows. (You don't need to find a bow. Apparently, Taloon carries one at all times.) You can either select them and choose Fire, or you can equip the arrows and fire them off with the L button. The later is recommended in cases where no enemies are around, but if near an awake foe and with no arrows equipped, it's better to Fire them, as equipping an object uses a turn.


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Ah, the Magician dropped an Onyx ring! Things are looking up. It's best to identify these babies before putting them on.


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Level 5, not bad at all.


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Notice that Taloon is carrying Big Bread, normal Bread, and Moldy Bread. He's also carrying an Antidote.

Eating Moldy Bread fills up the stomach all the way, but does a little damage and drains a point of strength in the process. One can undo the drain with an Antidote, but Mushroom enemies might drain it again. Eating an Antidote cures all strength loss, so the player is usually better off using it as late as possible.


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Except in the case where he's already low on strength. If Taloon is already going to use the Antidote, he might as well wait until he's starving, then eat the Moldy Bread and taking the strength drain. Then he can eat the Antidote and undo both the original loss and the point from the mold.


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A Bikill scroll increases the strength of the player's weapon by one plus. It also uncurses it in the process. Unfortunately, in this game I've yet to find a weapon!


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Taloon may have reached level 6, but take a look around him.... Yikes! How did this happen?

The monsters here are Liclicks. When one takes damage, there's a chance that it could split, resulting in a second monster with as many hit points as the original had. Further, the new monster is also capable of diving! I got careless and hit one a few times, and I was soon mobbed.

But with a little thought, I was able to salvage the situation. You see, monsters cannot attack diagonally in corridors like this. I can't attack diagonally here either, but that's okay. The idea is to reduce the number of monsters pounding away at those goofy pinstripes at once.

Also, notice how the Liclick south of Talon isn't facing him? That's because I had thrown a Confuse herb at him. Not only are there only two monsters that can hurt me, but that one can only attack one turn in eight. And Liclicks can only multiply if there are empty spaces nearby into which to divide. In a corridor, those fill up quickly.


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Even so, discretion is the better part of valor. Especially when they got me down to 9 hit points so quickly. Time for the next level I think....


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Sometimes it's best to let sleeping monsters lie. There are two reasons not to disturb this Magician. First, he's a Magician, and we already know to be careful with them. Second, he's taking his nap in front of the room's entrance, blocking that Liclick! This is a case where the small chance of treasure in that last room up there is probably not worth the danger of waking up the Magician and having to deal with two dangerous opponents.


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Alas, shortly after that I stumbled upon a gas trap, and that allowed another Mummy to end that trip in to the Mystery Dungeon. I never even got to find out what that Onyx ring was. Ah, but the next game... the next game went very well indeed.


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For starters, I found a Mirror shield on level 2. They're rustproof, quite strong, and this one turned out to be +2.


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And using an Upper scroll got it to +3!


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A short while I found a Leather shield. They're weaker than Mirror shields, but they're also rustproof. They can be quite useful because one quirk of the Mysterious Dungeon games is that, for some reason unknown to me, as long as you have a Leather shield equipped, your food consumption is lowered. Very interesting indeed.


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This game I had very bad luck with rings. I found three, and they were all Adornment, which in roguelike-ese means "worthless."


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On level 7 I start meeting Derangers. They get that name because the first Dragon Warrior game they appeared in, they had a confusion spell that could cause your party members attack each other, so the English localization team gave these lumpy wizards that name. But it's misleading here; the special power Derangers have in this game is to teleport you randomly. (Still, one might think it makes more sense than calling them Quantum Mechanics.)

But still, things are going pretty well, and it looks like I'll be able to win bef—


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Sweet merciful heavens, a monster lair!

Take a look at that room on the map. Look at all of those red dots! This doesn't look good.

There's also plenty of treasure in monster lairs (they're this game's version of Rogue's zoos), but surviving the opposition to use them is not a trivial problem.

Times like this, the best thing to do is STOP AND THINK. There is a very good reason roguelikes are not real-time games.

Let's look at the monsters. Hm, there's a Mummy among them, on the far right edge of the screen. With my Mirror Shield +3 they're a lot less dangerous than the last two games, but he's not the only monster to worry about. There's an archer in there too, and a Mushroom, and several monsters off-screen. Haven't found any solutions yet....

Well, none of the monsters are adjacent yet. May there's something in inventory that'll help out....


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Ah! I have two Bang scrolls! Oh boy, this is going to be awesome....


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Remember, Bang scrolls damage all monsters in the room. It's not huge damage, but at this level it's significant. It's like they were made to take care of mid-level lairs like this one. I've clipped about 20 pages of damage messages here.


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After reading both scrolls, it's just me and the loot. Woo-hoo!

Notice what I was able to do because I didn't panic? (Well, not paniced much, I've been killed many times by zoos and lairs before.) Standard procedure in lair situations is to retreat into the hallway and take the monsters on one at a time, but then the Bang scrolls would have been far less effective, and they probably would have worn me down.


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Ah, a Dragon Sword! The hardest monsters in the game are green dragons, and Dragon Swords to extra damage against them. Lots of good luck, I hope it holds.


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An unknown wand and an Identify scroll. Let's have a look.


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A Seal Wand. This disables the special ability of any monster you wave it at. Magicians lose their sleep spell, thieves can't steal or teleport, and dragons can't breathe fire. Very useful when used at the right moment.


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Here, we see the importance of keeping "escapes," ways out of arbitrary danger. Taking on this Wyvern in hand-to-hand has proven a bad idea, and with only 6 hit points left I probably won't survive another round. Let's have a look at my stuff.


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A Blaze herb will do nicely.


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Blaze herbs do tremendous damage! Almost every enemy in the game will die to one, but they only work at melee range, if you're facing your opponent, and they only affect one monster. Thus, they are best saved for emergency use.


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On level 10 I found the safe that is the subgoal for the dungeon. If you die when carrying a safe, instead of losing half your gold you get to keep all of it. Gold taken out of the dungeon improves the state of the town (the "outer game"), so it helps to build up its amenities faster.


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This enemy is called a Lethal Armor. It's hard not to get spooked by that name. But I'm doing pretty well, and I've got enough general escapes handy, so I'm going to take a risk and use-test a wand.


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The wand made the Lethal Armor not attack me next turn, but face a random direction. Ah, a wand that causes confusion, those are called "Chaos wands," aren't they?


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We should make a note of that. Using the "Name" command, we can label all items of a specific type with a reminder of its use.


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That Mirror Shield I've been building up pays off. Horks (similar to Rust Monsters/Aquators in Rogue) do no hit point damage, but lower the enchantment on your shield by one point... if it's not immune. Other shields can be protected by reading a Plating scroll.


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Oh no, another monster lair! The quality of monster in this one is much greater than the last. Wyverns are still giving me trouble, and there are also Stone Hulks in here. There's even a Metal Babble in the lot. This is a serious test.


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But I have a plan. Take a look at the map and notice how the monsters are arranged. I ran back into the long hallway I had emerged from, and all the monsters followed me in.


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After consuming an Elixir herb to get my health back up, I notice that I have a supply of Silver arrows! They aren't equipped, but as stated before, I can save a turn in an emergency by firing them from their item menu.

Silver arrows are unique in that they don't stop with the first monster hit. They continue in a line, damaging all monsters in their path. They even go through walls!

This means that, if a Silver arrow misses, it can't be retrieved and reused, since they always leave the map. But clearing monster lairs is no time to skimp on the resources. Fire away!


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It worked! There's so much loot in here that I have to make some hard choices about what I can take out of this place. Still, that's the kind of decision I like to make!


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Argh... this lair also has a good number of traps in it. Mine traps remove half your hit points and destroy any adjacent items!

Monster lairs are good places to check for traps. In these games, the way to do this is to swing your weapon into a space where a trap might be. Note that items cannot be on the same space as a trap, so as long as I only step on spaces that held loot, I'll be okay.


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A new enemy type, Ice Sloths. Hm, I don't remember how to handle these. They're asleep at least. I've got a lot of resources at hand though, let's see if I can kill them.


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This is bad... they all work up at once, and despite being sloths they're actually double-speed! I probably won't be able to make it back to the corridor at this rate. This is no time to skimp on the resources, let's get out of here!


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Ah, an Outside scroll. That should do the trick. Here goes...


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...whua?


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WHAT?! I escaped the dungeon?!


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WHAT THE HELL?!?!


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Ah, I remember now.

There exist, in the game, two items with confusing names. There is the Outside Scroll, which I used and which teleported me out of the dungeon, and the Return Herb, which teleports me elsewhere on the current level. Notice the names! Both are legacies, like the lump wizards being named Deranger, of the American holdover names from the localization of the Dragon Quest spells. I assumed that the Return herb was the exit item (as in "return to the surface") and that Outside scrolls would teleport (as in "outside the room"). Alas, I was mistaken.

Ah well, I didn't really want to spoil the ending for all you folks anyway.


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Yeah honey, go to hell.


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EDIT:
I was originally mistaken as to the level of the Happiness Box.
Thanks to dessgeega for the reminder that the translation I played was made by Magic Destiny, with an unofficial release by necrosaro. Here's the romhacking.net entry on the translation.