GBA The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Vast Fame) in 18:29.14
- Emulator used: BizHawk v2.4.2
- Aims for fastest time
- Plays on hardest difficulty
- Heavy luck manipulation
- Takes damage to save time
About the game
Mo Jie Qibing (魔戒奇兵 "Lord of the Rings") is a bootleg action game developed by Taiwanese bootleg game developer Vast Fame and released in 2003. It is a top-down shooting game in the vein of Pocky & Rocky - in fact, it even uses the engine from Kiki KaiKai Advance (known as Pocky & Rocky with Becky in the US), which Vast Fame are rumored to have obtained legitimately from its developers.
For now, instead, you get to enjoy watching Gandalf spam lots of fireballs and lay waste to everything in his way, in the quest to travel through Middle-earth and destroying Sauron...I...think? I have no idea what the storyline of this game is.
The game has 8 worlds, each with 1 or 2 stages. The total number of stages is 14. The last stage of every world has a boss battle.
About the run
This run aims to beat the game as fast as possible, playing in Hard mode. The difficulty setting only changes the amount of HP that regular enemies have; bosses are unaffected. Regular enemies being harder to kill sometimes makes it trickier to get around them while advancing forward, so it makes things more interesting here and there. Gandalf is picked - see below for more information about why.
Tricks and mechanics
The game has five playable characters: Legolas, Gandalf, Gimli, Aragorn, and Frodo Baggins. Gandalf is chosen for this movie.
The differences between the characters are quite minor: almost everything is the same for each character, except for the projectiles that they fire, and associated upgrades. All characters have 4 different upgrade levels for their weapons, with later upgrades generally manifesting in different forms of spread shots.
There are a few universal mechanics for each character's upgrades:
- Each projectile has a firing delay before another projectile can be fired. This is 16 frames for the first upgrade level, 19 frames for the second, 22 frames for the third, and 25 frames for the fourth.
- All projectiles from the first or second upgrade level do 1 damage to enemies. All projectiles from the third or fourth upgrade level do 2 damage.
As a reference, bosses have just 4 frames of invincibility per hit, which means that for optimization purposes, the biggest limiting factor for damaging bosses is not the invincibility time, but rather the firing delay between projectiles. However, those 4 frames of invincibility do mean that it's not possible to do multi-hits with projectiles that reach the enemy at the same time. This renders most attacks like spread shots useless, as it's simply not possible most of the time to hit different spread shots with enough time in-between.
So, enter Gandalf. With upgrades, his projectile fires a secondary fireball. Regardless of initial firing direction, this fireball will be launched in the direction of an enemy upon firing (precisely which enemy is a bit wonky, but can be manipulated reasonably enough). It also moves half as fast as Gandalf's normal projectiles. This means that it can be used to reliably double-hit just about every boss in the game, which gives Gandalf a significant edge over all the other characters in terms of speed.
Since the third and fourth projectile upgrades both do 2 damage per hit, and the fourth upgrade takes a few frames longer to fire, it's actually optimal most of the time to stick to the third projectile upgrade. This is used for the majority of bosses in the game. The fourth upgrade's only advantage with Gandalf is that it will fire two fireballs sideways, which can be useful sometimes.
Besides their projectiles, the characters also have a melee attack. This attack deflects projectiles, and one-hit kills almost any regular unit in the game, but does not affect bosses at all. This is universal for all characters. In stages it is sometimes useful because the character has to stand still for the duration of the animation, but sometimes it is still useful anyway.
All characters also have a special super-move that clears the screen of all regular enemies, but it cannot be used during boss fights, is mostly unnecessary for regular enemies, and wastes a ton of time, so it is never seen in this movie.
The most important aspect of optimization in this game is actually not so much the movement of the player, as it is the movement of the camera. Obviously the two are tied together, but advancing areas or spawning bosses generally depends on the position of the camera, so making sure the camera does not lag behind at any point is of utmost importance.
Conveniently, it's rather easy to get ahead of the camera, especially when taking a turn towards a new area. If the character is ahead of the camera, the camera will keep scrolling at a consistent 2px/f pace as long as the character is facing forward or diagonally forward (with less wiggle room if facing diagonal), even if the character isn't actually moving.
In the first few levels it's most obvious that the pace of the run is more dictated by the camera than by the player character, but later levels with more enemies make it significantly harder to move on unimpeded, so there still remain lots of challenges along the way.
Every world (except world 7) has one boss battle, which appears at the end of the last stage. World 7 also has two boss battles in the middle of its stage.
All bosses have 100 HP, 4 frames of invincibility on hit, and the projectiles we use against them deal 2 damage per hit. It's possible to deal damage before the boss dialogue starts
- Luck manipulation is used to get projectile upgrades and reach the third-grade projectile upgrade as soon as possible. This is the projectile level that we want to maintain throughout most of the run.
- It's pretty simple to just walk by most enemies at this point. To spice things up a bit, I attempted to destroy as many enemies as possible and aim for a high score.
- The scorpion boss is surprisingly tough for where it is in the game (many later bosses are significantly easier). It also has a tendency to jump around, which renders it invulnerable for a moment. Conveniently, it's easy to break its AI just by walking into a wall when the scorpion tries to get level with the player.
- The door enemies are a major pain. They can absorb a lot of damage, and while using melee to get past them is an option, it leaves the character standing still for a moment which can hamper scrolling. Fortunately, I still manage to keep the scrolling smooth throughout this stage.
- I get an extra projectile upgrade at the end of this stage. Normally I wouldn't want this, but I'll take damage early in the next stage and lose the upgrade there.
- This is where the stages start getting particularly painful, and it no longer becomes a matter of just keeping the scrolling up uninhibited throughout the entire stage.
- I take damage from one of the door enemies at the start - it's almost impossible to dodge all the shots here while also beating the door, so taking damage is the fastest option. It costs 12 frames.
- Unlike the first world's boss, this one is content with staying in place, making it significantly easier to just unload shots while it uses a very slow attack.
- Hey, there's a connection to another Vast Fame game here - the stage theme here also appears in Digimon Ruby, although the instrumentation is different and this version is faster paced.
- Uniquely, this stage is entirely straight. Enemies also become substantially harder to destroy at this point without stopping. There are no door enemies this time around, but still some enemies that block narrow passages that make it tricky to get past.
- In the middle of the stage, there are some hedge-maze parts where it's not possible to proceed just by facing forward the whole time, so there is some camera stoppage here. This just could not be avoided. There are also some very tight bridges, but at least it's easy enough to just blast my way past here and not lose too much position.
- Now, this world is an absolute pain, but for entirely different reasons. It's an autoscroller. A very slow one. It takes four minutes in total, and enemies rarely come with more than one or two at a time. I do my best with Gandalf showcasing the power of Top Spin or whatever else he can do to run around, but four minutes just is an absolute drag.
- The boss battle here is a pain as well. It appears at a fixed location, so that's not too bad, and its attacks are generally easy enough to dodge, so that's also not too bad, but some of its tentacle sprites like to take up the attention of Gandalf's homing fireballs. I do some tricky movement here and there, and that's not just for fun, but it's necessary to make sure that the fireballs keep pointing the right way.
- This world introduces some kind of shinobi enemies that spawn several clones as soon as they appear into view. These are annoying to get past, as they tend to fill the entire path. Sometimes it's possible to destroy one of the clones quick enough to get past, but other times they just waste time.
- Most of this stage is the usual fare, but the end is rather tricky. There are boulders falling from the sky, which cannot be destroyed by projectiles, and cannot be deflected if Gandalf is too high up at the screen. They can be dodged sideways, but not if Gandalf happens to be on a narrow bridge at the time. I tried a lot of different routes and options to get past them, but a combination of taking damage and later deflecting a few turned out most efficient.
- This stage starts going left-ward instead of up like most other stages. Annoyingly, Gandalf starts just far enough to the right that the camera won't immediately be scrolling when Gandalf is moving diagonally, and without diagonal movements it's not possible to cleanly get past all the enemies, so some frames have to be lost here.
- On the flipside, a stage that starts going to the right does not have that issue.
- Also, this stage literally has the entire previous stage copy-pasted in at the end. That's rather lazy.
- This is another special world. Instead of being split in two stages like most of the others, this is one stage split into 3 segments.
- Between each segment is a sort of mini-boss battle, with a giant centipede-like boss circling around the stage. Its only vulnerable point is its head.
- This is one of the only times where the 4th-grade projectile upgrade is better than the 3rd-grade one. This is because the homing fireball actually tracks the tail end of the centipede, which makes it impossible to hit with, and the centipede's fast movement makes it viable to do double hits with spread shots from the 4th-grade projectiles. However, it requires a ton of precision.
- It's not always cleanly possible to be in the correct position at the right time when the next projectile has to be fired, so some frames are lost here and there, but this is the best I could make of it.
- After some time, the centipede starts firing lots of projectiles, turning the battle into borderline bullet hell. This is actually advantageous in a silly way, as the bullets now get targeted by the homing fireball, and it's now possible to direct those to fly towards the head of the centipede. Thus, now triple hits become possible.
- This miniboss appears twice in the level, and both instances function identical. The same input is used to defeat both.
- The stage end boss also has this issue where Gandalf's homing fireballs start going after the projectiles. At least it's still easy enough to get them to move in the correct directions.
- Near the start, there are some quite tricky movement parts. The enemies here take a lot of hits to defeat, and the skeletons try to move directly towards the character, so they are hard to avoid.
- This level and the next are actually pseudo-mazes. When the level changes orientation, it's possible to go in different ways, but one of them always leads to a dead end.
- Final boss time! As with the previous stage boss, the biggest issue here is the fact that boss projectiles set off the homing fireballs, and most annoyingly, the boss remains in place at a high position where it's hard to hit with fireballs aiming down. Due to the boss' hurtbox slightly weaving with the animation, sometimes a fireball won't hit even if hit from the best possible spot. Because of this, there's a slight delay between one of the hits. I tried various other strategies to see if the projectile could be removed, but attempting to touch it would just waste significantly more time.
- I believe this final boss is supposed to represent Sauron? Not sure. Either way, boss gets toasted, time for credits!
Thanks for reading and/or watching!
ThunderAxe31: Setting to Delayed per author request, in view of the possibility of resycing on an English version that may come out soon.
ThunderAxe31: We waited enough, I'm now resuming the judging process.
ThunderAxe31: Optimization seems good. The hard question is about entertainment. I personally enjoyed this movie, and the audience opinion wasn't bad. Which it isn't so strange, since this game was made by a notoriously good bootleg company, and the engine on which is based comes directly from a licensed game, Kiki Kai Kai Advance. Accepting for Moons.