Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Now Playing: Psychonauts

 It's mental!
There's a lot of green here, but man, is the game weird.
 Upon poppin' the disc and watching the first cinematic, it's pretty easy to easy: Psychonauts' production values are through the roof. And then you take control of Raz and... everything feels like quality. And let me tell you, quality feels awesome.

 I finished the first level, the camp's counselor's war-brain, and it was a blast. I loved the game's sense of humor, the set-up, the characters, everything! And the gameplay is pretty spiffy to boot. All in all, Psychonauts is shaping up to be a real winner.

Review #496: Bujingai - The Forsaken City

 The Gackt game about Gackt in which you play as Gackt.
I'd be looking at the horizon too, searching for greener pastures and better games.
 Everyone likes Chinese Wushu martial arts movies and everyone who hasn't played Crisis Core loves Gackt, so here we have Gackt doing Wushu fighting in an anime world. Twirly jumps and twirly flying? It's here. Fights in which moves get deflected over and over again? It's here. Gackt? He's here too.

 The story is nonsense. Seriously, it makes no sense so don't try to, just know that you play as Gackt-look alike Lau. By the way, if them having the same face and voice(Not that Lau speaks a full sentence EVER, but still) is not enough, you can actually unlock a costume to play as Gackt. A realistic Gackt, as opposed to anime Lau. Anyways, Lau was betrayed when his friend, Rei, got possessed by a demon, or something, a killed their master, so now Lau is out for revenge. I will give them points for making nonsensical cutscenes, the one before and the one after the Rei fight being the best and most ridiculous, and making a decent parody of the jumping and flying featured in Wushu movies, but the story is just bad and not in a 'so bad it's good' way, which is how most Wushu films are.
Wushu means 'Get ready for a lot of spinning'
 The best way to describe this game would be a fusion between Shinobi and Devil May Cry, except that it sucks. It tries to borrow the combat from Devil May Cry, but you've a single combo with square button, a strong attack with triangle and you can sometimes press X mid-combo to use a kick. There're also 9 spells that can be used with circle, albeit I barely used them, except the passive spell that increased your attack power, that one was useful. Now then, the game's main mechanic is deflecting, simply look at an enemy and don't press a button and you'll automatically start deflecting anything that comes your way, provided you've enough charges on the deflecting gauge. Enemies have a deflecting gauge too, and both parties can interrupt a deflection with counter attacks or sidesteps. Honestly, the system is just a gimmick, some enemies you simply have to mash square until their gauge drops to zero and you can actually attack them, some enemies recharge their gauge much faster than you, so mashing will get you killed and instead you must sidestep behind them and pummel them then, etc. It's a very formulaic game, with repetitive combat and little variation. You'll quickly figure out the best ways to take down the very few enemy types. A few bosses are recycled too, but bosses are pretty easy, and most of them simply require you to take a more defensive approach. All in all, combat is alright if... predictable. As with most games of its ilk, defeating enemies rewards you with points which you can then use to strengthen Lau's abilities.

 If there's something to be praised is that the animations are very smooth and look very cool... even though you'll be seeing the same moves over and over and over and over again. And I understand that that may come out as hypocritical coming from someone who loves beat'em ups, but this is a combo-based game, you are supposed to build combos, ergo, try to juggle enemies, but it's kinda boring when you are cycling through the same attack animations over and over again. It doesn't help that by stage 3, out of 7, you'll have seen every enemy type the game can throw at you. Level design is pretty boring too, mostly consisting out of dull looking corridors and square arenas, at least until you get to level 7...
Enemies look inspired by Shinobi's repertoire.
 The game also seems to borrow from Shinobi on the PS2, as enemy design and environments look as if they came straight out of that game. The ruined city landscapes, the ruined floating floor/platform things, the caves... they reminded me of Shinobi a lot. And that comparison is fitting since they tried to add platfoming. Lau can fly/glide through the air, he can wall-run, he can jump from walls and then do the glide.... and you could possibly climb on a straight line through a wall up to the top of the stage if the level design allows it. The thing is... it's very clunky. Lau will stop his wall runs every now and then so you must press X again to continue your acrobatics. The camera is very annoying when the game demands you jumping to the opposite side from a wallrun since it can't keep up with you. And, y'know, most of the time I didn't care about it since platforming was mostly required for collectibles, until you get to level 6 and 7. Level six has an area that has you platforming to escape lava, which isn't too bad, but it's when you'll start getting frustrated with the camera and sloppiness of the platforming... but then comes level seven, which takes place throughout a series of platforms and then you'll hate the game. The platforming doesn't work well, having an entire level based on platforming was a terrible idea that made the game end on a low note.

 The game is 5 hours long, made up of 7 levels. You don't get new weapons or new combos, and there's a single alternate costume to unlock as well as 9 different spells. And yet... the game occupies 1 megabyte on a memory card. This simple, barebones excuse of a game requires more data on a memory card than 60 hour RPGs like Final Fantasy. How the hell did that happen? And I realize it's just a nitpick, but when I have to endure a game this boring it'd better not take up 1/8th of my memory card.
Like any other PS2 hack-and-slash, there're gates locked by red barriers that demand blood. Or fallen enemies.
 I'll be honest, the PS2 is home to hack-and-slash classics like Devil May Cry and God of War, you also have other gems like Onimusha and Genji, and if what you want is platforming with your slashing, there's also Shinobi and Nightshade. There's no shortage of fantastic action games on the PS2, so why settle with Gackt's lackluster venture into the genre?
 4.5 out of 10

Monday, November 20, 2017

Now Playing: Bujingai - The Forsaken City

 Gackt - The Forsaken Gackt. Gackt's in it. Did I mention that Gackt's in it?
That guy on the cover? That's Gackt. The Japanese cover is even more egregious.
 Remember that one time Gackt almost single-handedly ruined Final Fantasy VII? I do. Sure, I could blame the writers for creating such a ****** character. I could, but I won't. I could also blame the game's director for creating such a horrible luck-based system. I could, but I won't. I'd rather blame Gackt. Sure, he's made some pretty neat songs(Kamen Rider Decade's song was pretty badass), but I will never forget the day he dared sully the brand of Final Fantasy VII.

 ANYWAYS, here comes Bujingai the most boring game you'll ever play. I was surprised to find this game often listen among 'hidden gems' and what now, but after playing 2 levels... I wanted to go back to Seven Samurai 20XX. The game... seems like a fusion between Shinobi and Devil May Cry but with clunky movement and boring combat. Even the art-direction is a blend of both. Also the story makes no sense. 3000 years ago GacktLau was alive? And he is still alive? And he is seeking revenge for what? Nothing makes sense, and honestly, I don't care to make sense of it.

 In case you haven't noticed... I'm not impressed. I should've started Psychonauts instead....

Review #495: XIII

 A living comic book.
Unlike journalists we do know how to pronounce the game's title, thank you very much.
 What is XIII? It's the codename of the hero from the comicbook of the same name, XIII. It's also the name of a videogame based on said comicbook. Incredibly unique, XIII is a first-person shooter with a fantastic comic-book inspired look, a design that makes it so that comic book bubbles pop when characters talk, comic-book styled panels appear onscreen to highlight certain actions and onomatopoeias appear on screen, like 'Tap tap' for steps. It's truly a sight to behold, and its beauty isn't just skin deep.

 The story follows XIII after he wakes up on the beach, heavily wounded. It's not too long before thugs attempt on his life, and following the only leads he has goes on a quest for his identity. Initially, because he discovers who he is pretty early in the game and is soon tasked with stopping the conspiracy of the XX members. The story is relatively interesting, and there're a ton of black and white, playable flashbacks that not only look stylish but add a lot of personality to the game. Sadly, being based on a on-going comic book(to this day!) means that it ends on a cliffhanger... and one that happens after a brilliantly set-up plot twist. I finished the game feeling both praise, for how well they pulled it off, and frustration, because it will, probably, never be resolved! Not in videogame format anyways.
The art-direction is truly a sight to behold.
 The game is divided into 30-something missions. It sounds like a lot, but most of them are relatively short. That said, some missions are connected, so your inventory, life and armor carry over to the next. While I was a bit turned off at first, the set-up works relatively well, and some missions are a bt longer than others. Missions themselves offered a nice variety of objectives, there was stealth, shootouts, boss fights and other one-off objectives like turning off a missile launch while under a time limit, and you even get nifty spy tools, like a grappling hook and a long-range microphone. The checkpoint system was a bit lackluster, since a few missions would have you replay somewhat tedious segments if you died or screwed up. You see, the game is a bit slow-paced, so having to sit still while conversations take place or what not isn't very fun, so it was a bit annoying having to sit through those unskippable 'playable' cutscenes until I got it right.

 The game is unlike most modern shooters, because stealth plays a big part in it. Some missions require you to go through unnoticed, others will result in failure if you fail to stop an enemy before he turns on an alarm, etc. Sometimes you'll even have to hide bodies and what not. Stealth is very important, and while I don't think they got it quite right, it was overall relatively fun. On the other hand, full-on firefights where a blast, circle-strafing around baddies while unloading bullets felt really satisfying. It's probably thanks to the shooting feeling very tight, while the art-style makes everything pop and as fun to look at as to play it.
The online servers are dead, but you can play split-screen multiplayer!
 The game is old, so there's not regenerating health here, either you find healthpacks and armor or go bust. It also came before 'Iron sights' aiming was a thing, which will probably take a bit of time getting used to, as well as a suboptimal control scheme, another victim of its age. I found it a bit hard to grab ammo and items, it seems like the collision detection is a bit off, so if at first you don't grab it, try moving the camera around until XIII picks up whatever's lying on the table. Another quirk was with fallen enemies, who don't drop their weapons immediately so you have to wait a few seconds before you go fetch your newly found source of ammo.

 I don't know how faithful the game is to the comicbook, but what I do know is that it's a fantastic game on its own right. The gameplay is tight, even if there's a few issues here and there, and while I wasn't a fan of the stealth sections I can appreciate the variety. Its artstyle is something completely unique, I don't think any other game took the comic book aesthetics this close to heart. XIII is worth every second, even if the game ends on a cliffhanger.
 8.0 out of 10

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Now Playing: XIII

 A good XIII?
The Japanese cover is pretty cool, they used '13' in place of a 'B' for 'Your num13er is up'. Cool stuff.
 See? Even if Final Fantasy XIII sucks, there can be a decent game with a XIII on it. I've played a tiny teensy bit, only got past the bank stage, but it's a good one. I love how the game starts with a bang, almost literally, the jumbled memories scenes are great, I loved how frantic it got after XIII wakes up while the lifeguard is calling a doctor and then, after your great escape, you have to escape a bank. And it feels as good as it looks, very exciting stuff.

 It's still taking me a while to get used to the controls, I switch weapons when I want to reload, or confusing the items to take the medikits and switching weapons. It also feels weird not having iron sights. I mean, all these complaints stem from the fact that this is an old First-person shooter, before we had the more uniform control scheme most FPS games use today, so it's weird having to jump with L1 instead of X. I'm sure I will get the hang of it, eventually.

Review #494: Oni

Ohno.
Rockstar's logo is on it, but it's nowhere near as good as most of their games.
 Oni was originally a PC game of which I had very fond memories. It was a fun third-person shooter with surprisingly solid melee combat and cool aesthetics. As of today, now I consider it a subpar third person shooter with clunky controls and a steep difficulty curve.

 Set in a somewhat futuristic world, you play as Major Kusanagi expy Konoko who works for the TCTF, a futuristic police-like entity under the command of Daisuke Aramaki-wannabee Griffin. There's a terrorist named Muro who the TCTF is particularly keen on catching, who has a peculiar interest in Konoko. The story is anime sci-fi dribble that's not very interesting but does have some neat twists and turns, even if the story doesn't flow very well since it seems to lack a few scenes connecting every chapter. No, a hand-drawn image doesn't work well as an epilogue for each.
The platforming, oh god the platforming. At least most of it is optional, only needed if you want some goodies.
 What made Oni stand out back in the day was its mix of third-person shooting with some very crunshy melee combat. Konoko has a vast array of moves, she can run, dash, slide, roll, block, jump, side-jump, back-jump, and flips to her jumps, perform various throws on her enemies as well as mix punches and kicks together to create different combos, and you'll earn new moves as you go through the game. The combat feels great, landing blows feels crunchy and the animation is fantastic. As for weapons, Konoko can carry a single weapon with her, and there're a lot of different kinds to experiment with. There're two ammo types so you can probably stick with your favorite for a while.

 It sounds great, and it is... on a PC. The controls on the PS2 are horrible, there're four different presets and none feel particularly comfortable, although config 2 worked for me. But that doesn't fix how finicky movement is, the game requires a few jumps as well as careful avoidance of lasers, but it's hard to do thanks to how clunky movement is. And the right analog stick, used to aim your guns, is too stiff to work well, so guns, which should be a major help, get relegated to close-range alternatives, most of the time. Sliding, a key-move to disarm enemies, is tough to perform since in order to slide you need to dash, which requires tapping twice on the analog stick, but it can be tough for the game to register your input correctly.
The animations are top-notch.
 Oni is by default a hard game, but the framerate issues and control issues make it a chore on the PS2. I played on the Normal setting and regret it immensely, play on easy, trust me, don't put yourself through needless torture. As a matter of fact, I used cheats. I don't regret it, I'm not even ashamed of it, the game demands too much but the controls are a huge handicap. Near the end of the game there're a couple of laser sections that are just a pain in the ass to nail correctly with Konoko's clunky movement, so I just popped the invincibility cheat and dashed through them and then turned it off. Sue me. Checkpoint placement can be rather mean too, and sometimes enemies will just catch you off guard with overpowered weapons and one-shot you. I swear, it's not even fair how tough the game gets. Play on easy, cheat, do what you will, the game isn't worth the time required to learn where enemies are hiding and in which order to tackle them.

 Oni has some fantastic ideas, and some great mechanics, like the melee systems. But the difficulty is too unfair to be any fun when you're fighting the controls as much as you are fighting your foes. It doesn't help that the PS2 is too busy dropping frames! If you want the proper Oni experience, one not hampered by horrible controls, go with the PC version and play Oni the way it was meant to be played.
 4.0 out of 10

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Now Playing: Oni

O-Yes-i.
And they thought Scarlet Johanson's movie was the first attempt at Ghost in the Shell 'Murica Edition.
 Why stop the trend now? Oni is yet another game I used to play when I was young, but one I used to adore, almost as much as Final Fantasy VII. Except that I played it on PC... which was the way I played Final Fantasy VII. Anyways, just playing that first level was kind of a nostalgia overload, I wasn't expecting all those memories to come flooding in I just...

 ...wanted to cry.

 Well, maybe not that far, but it felt good. I don't think I ever got very far in the game, although I do remember I got to see Konoko in another outfit. I either got stuck at the Airport level(I think it was an airport?) or the level that came after it in which you met your... nemesis, I think? A guy with an egghead and red pants or something like that? I dunno, I've a lot of jumbled memories, pleasant but jumbled memories about it.

 ...what I didn't have memories of, but I will now, were the terrible controls. Thing is, I remember that the game felt so natural on the keyboard and mouse, but on a joystick it's... it's too finicky, too imprecise. Moving around doesn't feel right, and it's hard to aim at enemies with melee attacks. If it gets too hard I might consider dialing down to 'Easy', since the controls are clearly sub-optimal. Pro-Tip: Go to the controller scheme in the options menu, before starting or loading a game, and change the configuration to B. You're welcome.