Friday, January 31, 2014

Now Playing: The Legend of Zelda- Four Swords Anniversary Edition

 It's not much fun when you only play Single Player.
 One of the first games I got on the GameBoy Advance was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and I always felt curious towards Four Swords. Y'see, this mode was multiplayer only, and I didn't know anyone else who had the game. Still, I could watch the starting cutscene and marvel at the new graphics. And now, about 10 years later, I get to experience the game which eluded me for years... somewhat.
 For this freebie, Nintendo added a Single Player mode(You can still play the older game... only in wireless mode, no online, sadness undying) which is what I will be tackling, and after completing the tutorial... this ain't looking good. At the outset, you can choose a partner of any color, which I thought was kinda cool, even though I wanted Red Link as my main Link, I still get to play as Rink. You play as both characters at the same time, however, Green Link is always in the lead(Godammit) while Rink(Or Bink(Blue Link) or Pink(Purple Link)) follows around... except that he only follows, he doesn't attack nearby enemies or step on nearby switches. He does help you when you lift enemies that must be thrown or pulled from both sides to be defeated, or when you push big blocks, he automatically helps you, however, in order to step on switches you have to press L or R in order to control either Link or Rink individually. When you take control of one of the Links, the other Link will remain motionless, he can't be attacked nor can he attack, pretty disappointing.
 I just got through the tutorial, and the game seems a bit boring. Seeing all the items and their possibilities, I'm sure that Multiplayer must be a riot, however, me and I'm sure plenty other people don't have a way to play it. Quite disappointing.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In defense of Lords of Shadow

 Because someone's got to do it.
 Being a fan of something is alright, we are all fans of at least one thing. Fanboys, on the other hand, are disgusting close-minded individuals who believe they speak for the majority and that their word is gospel. Fanboys hate change, fanboys hate it when someone speaks ill of something they like, and they derive pleasure whenever a competing brand messes up.
 Castlevania Lords of Shadows was released a couple of years ago, and it was a damn fine game. It didn't really feel like a Castlevania game, but it wasn't bad by any means. Castlevania fans hated it even before it was released, since it was different. I understand hating reboots, but these people pass judgement before trying the end result first-hand. This is what happened with DmC, it didn't matter if it was a good game, Dante had black hair so it was garbage. Haters will claim that "If you think this is about the hair, you are an idiot", but their problems can be boiled down to: "It changed, therefore it sucks". Dante's hair is black, therefore it sucks. Fanboys need to understand, that just because it's new or different, it doesn't make obsolete previous entries in the franchise, the older games will be there for them, forever. Don't like it, don't buy it, but don't judge it until you get it in your hands. But I digress, this is about Lords of Shadows and why it ain't so bad.

 The character redesigns are fantastic. When I played Lords of Shadows, I instantly fell in love with Gabriel's brotherhood robes, and later, Zobek's. And when Mirror of Fate finally introduced the classic characters into the mix, once again, I fell in love. Many fans cite Simon being a ginger or a barbarian ebing stupid, but Ayami Kojima herself made Simon a redhead in Chronicles(Which is my favorite Simon design, by the way) and the Belmonts were, initially, presented as barbarians. Remember the NES games? Simon and Trevor were fully decked in barbarian armors, Simon's redesign in the SNES game was a barbarian too. It was not until Ayami started doing the art for Castlevania that the characters started wearing more elegant threads.
 And one has to remember that Ayami Kojima wasn't always the norm. She only became the official Castlevania artist after Symphony of the Night, but by Dawn of Sorrow Konami went for a awful generic anime direction. Luckily they went back to a more gothic style for Order of Ecclesia, the art wasn't as good as Ayami's, but it was pretty similar. Lords of Shadows goes for a different direction than any of the previous artists, and the designs mesh pretty nicely with the new darker, grittier direction for the series. Try as you might to deny it, Castlevania was always sorta goofy. Finding perfectly roasted chicken hidden behind walls, for example, or how about the colorful armor suits throwing weapons at you? Later in the series, Skeletons became a bit of a joke and they started introducing multiple variations of them, for comedic effect. Dawn of Sorrow had Maids with Vacuum Cleaners, and if you used their power against them, they'd hold their skirts as not to have them blown by the wind. Castlevania never took itself too seriously until Lords of Shadows, which is also the reason as to why so many of the enemies look so generic. I admit it, most enemies in Lords of Shadows were incredibly generic, but Mirror of Fate finally reintroduced many of the classic enemies, like the Fleamen/Hunchbacks, Meremen, Armors and Skeletons. They still lack the personality of their Classicvania counterparts, but that's alright, Lords of Shadows is a game that takes itself seriously, Castlevania is not.
 The Combat Cross is pure genius. Let's level for a moment, a whip is not a very threatening weapon. I'm not saying it's a bad weapon, I'm saying that a whip is made to inflict pain, but not to kill. Lords of Shadow still had to pay homage to the classic weapon wielded by most Belmonts, so they got a fine compromise: A chain. It makes sense, in most games that allowed the Whip to be enhanced, it would eventually turn into a Chain-whip. The Combat Cross starts off as a chain already, and when the chain is stored, the weapon takes the shape of a cross. A holy item to fight foul beasts. The Combat Cross is a fantastic addition to the Castlevania mythos, it looks fantastic and it makes sense.
 Mirror of Fate also reintroduced many of the classic sub weapons, but used the Nintendo-censored versions. The Holy Water became the Oil Flask and the Cross was changed for the Boomerang, which makes sense since the Whip is now the Cross and in some of the older Nintendo games, the Cross was called the Boomerang. The Axe returned, as well as Alucard getting his Bat subweapon back. It was great seeing the classic weapons back.
 Spoilers: Gabriel becomes Dracula. Story is a pretty subjective thing, unless you are a fanboy, in which case you already think it sucks. Regardless, I actually liked the story, and I loved the sequel hook at the end. I understand why many would call foul, as Gabriel was presented as Dracula, with no explanation as to why or how, but I think that it was a great sequel hook. I liked the story, so I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how. And I felt it was a fantastic twist to make a Belmont become Dracula.
 Mirror of Fate finally reintroduced Simon and Trevor Belmont, and the way they introduced Alucard was really smart. Alucard was Dracula's son, so it only made sense for Gabriel's son to become Alucard, and who is Gabriel's son? Trevor. Why Alucard fights against his father also makes more sense now than before, why he curses his existence too, as we get to see how it all happens, instead of being told(as is the case with Classicvania's Alucard).
 Regardless, this is pretty personal, I could tell you why I liked the story, but other people may dislike it for the very same reasons I do. And they are all valid opinions. Unless you are a blind fanboy. As to how it stands against the rest of Castlevania, it certainly is the Castlevania with the most depth and story thrown into the game, but Castlevania was never really about the story. I think that Rondo of Blood was the very first time we got more than and introduction and an ending, afterwards, Castlevania games began placing stronger narratives on their games. I'm not sayin that Lords of Shadows has the best story in any Castlevania game, but it's definitely the one that placed the most thought into it.
 Arguably the games' worst feature. As much as Mercury Steam hates the comparison, Lords of Shadow was very similar to God of War. They are different games, with different mechanics, but the way Gabriel and Kratos fight is very similar, at least on a visual level. What has no excuse, however, were the Colossus battles, which felt very out of place in the game. I think the only one that made sense within the world of the game and the story, and was fun, was the last one. What makes it even worse is that there are only three of these, so why even bother? Mirror of Fate toyed with the formula a bit more, and tried to mix Castleroid gameplay with Lords of Shadow gameplay to... rather mixed results. Mirror of Fate, by Castleroid standards, was not too good, but otherwise, it was fairly decent, just don't expect it to be a Castleroid.
 How does it fare against older Castlevanias? Well, the first Castlevania games were very original, but then again, the NES era was were most of the classic games were born, at least the ones that we remember fondly. What Castlevania did, few games did like it, there were similar games, sure, but none quite like Castlevania and it's sub weapons. But when people talk about Castlevania, they refer, most of the time, to Castleroids. Know where the name comes from? Castleroid or Metroidvania is the result of mixing Castlevania and Metroid together, this is a genre that was born after Super Metroid(Even if Metroid was technically the pioneer). Castlevania: Symphony of the Night borrowed all the elements of Metroid while adding new ones, like equipping different weapons or using items. What I'm getting into, is that some of the most beloved Castlevania games borrowed heavily from other games, specifically Metroid. Calling Lords of Shadow crap because it's a God of War clone is really stupid when Castlevania stopped being wholly original after Symphony of the Night. If Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a bad game for being a clone, that makes most Castlevania games bad.
 Castlevania Lords of Shadow and CV:LoS:Mirror of Fate are not bad games, they have a lot of room for improvement, but they are not bad. It's OK to like or prefer older Castlevania games, it's perfectly fine to hate them after playing them, but to hate them for being different without even trying it? How stupid is that? And did you notice how the moniker Lords of Shadow is kept in every entry? This are not meant to be full reboots, but rather an alternate timeline of sorts, one that is not heavily burdened with entry after entry of adding or retconning stuff into the timeline. This is a fresh start, a different take on something you like. And if you don't like it, that's alright, your black-vested Alucard will live on forever in Symphony of the Night, and there's nothing Konami can do to undo it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review #90: Kingdoms of Amalur - Reckoning

 Unravel their fates, turn them into a hammer, and pummel them with it!
 I'm sure that by now, everyone has heard this game's story. Apparently, 38 Studios went way over budget, acquiring a loan from the State of Rhode Island, and needed to sell over 3 Million units in order to make a profit, which they didn't. Now both 38 Studios and Big Huge Games are gone, and the state of Rhode Island possesses the legal rights to KoA, which no one wants to buy. After all the hassle to get the game done, it'd better be good, right? Or is there a reason as to why no one wants to own the IP?
 Kingdoms of Amalur - Reckoning is a Western RPG in the same vein as The Elder Scrolls or Neverwinter Nights, but whereas most WRPGs have very shallow excuses for combat, KoA boasted of having a much more involved combat system. The game pits you as The Fateless One, a player created character that resurrects very early in the game, he knows nothing of his past, but having already faced death, he is the only person in Amalur that Fate has no control over. He writes his own destiny, and he can alter other people's as well. The story is very engrossing, and the game has a very engaging lore to discover. You have the Fae, elves if you will, that have a very different concept of death than humans, or the Gnomes, think dwarves, who strive for machinations and arcane-technological advancements.
 As with most WRPGs, you are given a huge open world to explore at your leisure, bar you encounter enemies way beyond your level. The game takes a few cues from World of Warcraft and Fable, as even though the world is pretty large, and you can go anywhere, there are set paths from place to place, and you can't jump, so no forcing your way through mountains a la Two Worlds 2. As you go from town to town, you can talk to NPCs in order to discover more about the place you are in or accept new sidequests. There are tons of sidequests, around 200, and early in the game you'll get swamped by them if you accept everything you come across. At times, you'll go from place A to B, in order to fulfill a quest, and when you get to place B, you'll come across even more sidequests! Kingdoms of Amalur is a game that just keeps on giving!
 Enemies are plentiful, your get Wolves, Giant Spiders, Two-headed orcs, Trolls, Skelletons, Mermen and a bunch of others, and The Fateless One can equip many weapons in order to handle them. You can equip two weapons at a time, one on the Triangle Button and another on the Square button. While you can mash your way to victory, you can swap weapons mid combos or perform special moves, both features unique for every weapon type, and perform better combos. Maybe use the Long-Sword launcher, which is pretty fast, and use the Daggers to juggle them while they are helpless in the air, and before they fall, use the Grapple skill to get them closer to you, again. Even mages and their Staves get pretty cool looking attacks! For defense, you can either roll out of harm's way or block attacks, in order to reduce the damage taken. If you are feeling daring, press block just before getting hit in order to parry their attack, and counter with yours! Right between the HP and Mana gauges, you have the Fate gauge, which increases as you defeat enemies or mix your many spells, skills and moves. Unleashing Fate makes everything slow down, and you gain a huge damage boost, defeat every enemy while under Fate and Execute the last one in order to gain a experience boost. It's pretty handy, although if you save it for bosses, you can cruise through the game pretty easily.
 Every time you level up, you can allocate one point into one of many different talents: Blacksmithing, Sagecrafting, Stealth, Mercantile, Persuasion and many others. These offer plenty of bonuses, from being able to easily persuade NPCs, displaying enemies, traps and hidden doors on the radar, crafting better weapons and armor to buying from merchants for less and selling for more! Then you get 3 points to allocate in any of the three branches: Might, Finesse and Sorcery. You can place all your points on one, or put point here and there, you get different Destinies according to how you spend your points, and all offer bonuses, so there's no penalty to building your character the way you want it.
 As fun as sidequesting is, most of them can get pretty repetitive. Go to point A, kill B, profit. Or maybe kill a certain number of enemies, go to point A and kill the boss that spawns. Almost every quests involve killing something, there are exceptions, but there are not many. The NPCs and situations are not very memorable either. Faction Quests, on the other hand, are worth following through to the end, you'll get nice bonuses and they present fairly interesting narratives, usually with different outcomes according to your choices. Oh, and glitches. I came across my fair share, including: Getting stuck in a spot. I could attack all around me, and tried using moves that relocated or made the character dash, but just couldn't get out of. Another one in which I couldn't open the door that led outside the house, leaving me stuck(Luckily, saving and loading cleared the issue) and once the game froze once I initiate a Fate Execution, so tread carefully and save often, luckily, the auto-save feature is pretty smart.
 The game is very colorful, and looks great. There are many different locales to explore which all look very pretty. Character models are not as good, hair looks like plastic!, but they are not awful by any means, and monsters look great. The armors and weapons are very cool looking, even if there could've been a few more of them. The art-direction is a mix of World of Warcraft and Fable, I quite liked it, it's a bit cartoonish but still holds some degree of reality. A bit. Voice Acting is pretty alright, with a game this huge, it's expected to have a wide range of performances, but most are pretty decent. Music is not bad, pretty fitting actually, but nothing you'd go out of your way to listen to.
 Kingdoms of Amalur : Reckoning was the kind of Western RPG I was looking for. A game with a large world to explore, the freedom to do what you want when you want, and a fun combat system to boot! The glitches I came across were very annoying, but I only suffered about 4 of them in over 40 hours of gameplay, I think that's not bad. Not bad at all.
 9.0 out of 10.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Now Playing: Grandia II

 I'm feelin' it.
 Just spent little over an hour on this game, and so far so good. The downer first: You start at level 10. I absolutely hate it when RPGs start you at a different level than 1, I mean, why start at something different? I WANT TO EARN MY LEVELS, DAMMIT. The good news? That lone nitpick is my only complaint so far.
 Combat is fun, the cancelling may become more interesting later when you get more party members, looking forwards to it! Graphics are on the simple side, but are very charming anyways, characters look fairly interesting too, without resorting to abusing belt placement!  Oh, and the "Action" music is great.
 Grandia II is looking like a winner, no doubt about it.

Now Playing: Code of Princess

 So underwhelming.
 Code of Princess was a game I was looking forwards to. Not only was it my first 3DS game, it was also one of the games that made me want to buy a 3DS. Expectations were high. So far, I'm incredibly underwhelmed.
 First things first, Solange, the main character, has one of the dumbest and most stupid designs I've ever seen. She follows the Japanese ideal of "It's sexy for a girl to be forced into useless drags because she has nothing else to wear and occasionally is shy about it". She looks incredibly stupid, and so do most females, at least Ali Baba is kinda cool. The real shame is the fact that the artist is really, really good, but his talent is wasted in this game.
 In the main story, you get to play as Solange, Ali Baba, Zozo the Zombie girl in white panties and the frail looking boy elf. The only character I liked was Ali, so I'm stuck with her, which kinda sucks since her play style is not my kind of style. Suffice to say, I'm not having much fun, which is a shame as the combat seems as if it could be good, I'm gonna wait until I unlock the option to play as the other characters before judging it, but so far, not good. Also, I'm still not totally sold on the graphic style they chose, it seems to be fully 3D, but characters look... 2Dfied so to speak? It's hard to put into words, but they look like high quality pre-rendered sprites.
 Bottom line is: I'm not feeling it.

Review #89: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

 What a horrible night to have a curse.
 Castlevania Lords of Shadows was a fairly divisive reboot, some loathed it but some liked it. One of it's biggest detriments was how different the gameplay was from any other Castlevania. Mirror of Fate aims to return to the Castleroid/Metroidvania formula while retaining the new mythos and adding some classic characters to the mix.
 The game takes place upon 4 different time periods, each one with a different protagonist from the Belmont clan. The first chapter is a very short prologue/tutorial with Gabriel Belmont, the hero from the first game, as the protagonist. The next chapters have you playing as Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont and Alucard as they try to stop Dracula, Gabriel Belmont. The story is nothing special, but the way they integrated the classic characters into the new mythos was fantastic and pretty smart. If you hated the LoS reboot due to it not being Castlevania enough, then don't even bother, you probably are not open to change and should probably stay away from this game.
 As for the gameplay, the game takes place in a 2-D plane with 3D graphics. While it does borrow plenty of elements from Castleroids, it doesn't exactly play like one. Castleroids are known for giving the player a huge map to explore with tons of areas inaccessible at first until you find a new skill or power up that let's you go forwards, usually requiring some degree of backtracking. In Mirror of Fate, each character has his own part of the Castle to explore, which means each map is a bit smaller than expected. And while there are areas you can't access at first, each chapter should take you 2-3 hours to clear, so you'll be getting what you need in order to find all the secrets pretty soon. The game is also pretty linear, for a Castleroid, exploration is rewarded with Hit point and Magic upgrades, but it's entirely optional, you always know where to go and, as far as story-related objectives are concerned, will never hit a road block.
 All four characters play almost exactly the same. The only real difference being the items and sub-weapons that each character, except Gabriel, come across. All whip combos and basic moves carry over from hero to hero, which makes sense as leveling up unlocks new moves. This also means that HP and Magic upgrades carry over from hero to hero. All in all, it doesn't really feel as if you are playing as a different character. Something I found pretty neat, is that every combo comes from the original Lords of Shadow game, and while some may consider it lazy, it does add a bit of continuity.
 When it comes to combat, it feels just like Lords of Shadows but in a 2D plane. You get two basic attacks: Direct Attacks and Area Attacks. Direct attacks are the strong attacks, and surprisingly, the fast ones, Area Attacks are slower and deal less damage, but cover a larger range. You can also block and even parry enemy attacks, or you can hold the block button and move to the sides in order to perform dodges. Even though it's played in 2D, the analog move is relegated to movement, the directional pad allows you to switch between sub weapons, which consume hearts(1 per use of any item) or toggle magic skills. Frankly, combat felt a bit slow at times, being a Castlevania in 2D I expected the more swift and fast combat from older games, but being a Lords of Shadow game, with combos, it does make sense that enemies can take more punishment.
 A very neat, even if slightly useless as chapters are not too long and areas not too large, is that you can place notes on the map, so if you come across a door you can't open yet or a gap too long to jump, you can pop a note(up to 50) to remind you of what type of obstacle you were facing. The game is not too hard, but you can change the difficulty at any time. Something that make take a bit of time getting used to is that there is no way to manually save your game. The game autosaves pretty frequently, and checkpoints are incredibly generous, but coming from previous Castleroids and Save Rooms, it took a while to get comfortable with. Speaking of getting used to, there is falling damage. Deadly falling damage. What kind of exploration-based Castleroid kind of game has you taking falling damage!? Regardless, that's one thing to keep in mind, so you can't just rush through rooms by falling through large gaps. Not that you can rush through, as loading times between each area of the castle are pretty long, specially for a portable game. Not cool. Lastly, the game has a lot of QTEs during bosses, heck, two of the most impressive looking bosses are QTE only. These are pretty annoying, and the button prompts are kinda small for a small screen, some of the longer QTE sequences can get pretty annoying due to it, at least button prompts do not change every time you retry.
 The game is beautiful. The new character redesigns are fantastic, pretty in line with Gabriel design's from the first game. Even better, while Lords of Shadow only had a handful of classic enemies, this game bring a lot of Classic enemies into the LoS continuity. Fleamen/hunchbacks are back, Possessed Armors, Skeletons that throw arc-projected projectiles, Mermen and a few more. And between all characters, you also get to use classic sub-weapons, redesigned for the LoS world. The Castle looks gorgeous, even if at times it may be a bit too dark. Character Models are pretty good looking, but the real icing on the cake are the cell-shaded cut-scenes, which look gorgeous, even if characters don't move their lips when talking. Oh, and I usually don't use 3D on games since it makes the FPS drops... not in this game, or at least not noticeably so, pretty nice. Voice acting is plentiful, and the whole cast does a pretty good job. Sadly, the music is nothing special, which is really disappointing considering that this is a Castlevania game, known for their phenomenal tunes.
 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate is an alright game, it's competent and fun, but it does carry it's fair share of annoyances. QTEs shouldn't have been included, while it tries, admirably,  to be a Castleroid it doesn't just quite get it, and I'm not sure if the order in which you play the three chapters after Gabriel is the most... suitable one.
 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Second View: Saint Seiya - Brave Soldiers

 I was wrong.
 After reviewing the game, I kept on playing, as I was having fun... or rather, thought I was. As I said, the fighting was very shallow, and I didn't delve too deeper into it, however as shallow as it was, I was having fun. Where lies the problem then? Well, the fighting is broken. Combos are basically useless, as pressing R1 while being hit, or a little before, teleports you behind your opponent no matter what. Having fun styling on your opponent with a long combo? Too bad, as they get hit, they build cosmo, get hit enough, and get a free teleport.
 And Special attacks are borderline useless, as most characters can't even combo into them since the start up is too long. Ikki's Flight of the Phoenix is one of the better special attacks in the game since it can easily hit airborne enemies, something that most characters can't even do. So, when is the best time to use an Special attack? To punish an enemy who is dumb enough to use an special attack. And Big Bang Attacks are almost useless. Every character's Big Bang attack deals the same damage, as far as I know, but the start up is different, either is very long or too long. Just like Special Attacks, you can't combo into them. so you must use it to punish stationery enemies. But then again, characters like Sagittarius Seiya has too much start up, making it almost impossible not to avoid it.
 What am I getting into? The gameplay is pretty bad. Highly surprising considering that the developer was DIMPS. All in all, I'm changing the 8.0 into a...
 5.5 out of 10.

Archile's Grab bag, Tuesday Edition

 New games !
  Shiny new package, full of loot, there's only one thing left to do....
  Get the right tool for the job.
  Cut cut cut cut.
  Street Fighter Alpha Antholgy: Street Fighter Alpha 3 is one of my favorite Street Fighter games EVER, and I've played the Arcade Version, PS1 version and GBA version. Regardless, I needed this game, and it comes with the Arcade version of the initial Alpha 3 release, all the Alpha games and Pocket Fighters. Too good of a deal, before Capcom got greedy.
  The Walking Dead: This is actually gonna be a gift, since he doesn't read this, I can post it no worries.
  Asterix & Obelix Kick Buttix: I never cared too much about Asterix and Obelix. I did like the show, and I might've read one or two comic books, but that was as a kid. But this game? I adored this game, even if it doesn't, but it should, have a multiplayer mode.
  Grandia II: Grandia II was a game I often saw in ads for the original, Dreamcast version. The closest thing I played was Grandia Extreme, which I liked but most critics didn't. Eventually I did play Grandia II, and I liked it, but my dying PS2 wasn't able to read the disc anymore....
   Street Fighter - Anniversary Collection: Street Fighter III: Third Strike is not only my favorite Street Fighter game, but one of my favorite 2D Fighting games ever(Just below Garou: Mark of the Wolves). And it includes one of the best versions of Street Fighter II, since you can mix and match versions of each character. Plus, I totally needed a legit Street Fighter II port.
   Flower, Sun and Rain: It's a Suda 51 game, do I really need to say more? Actually, this is an adventure-puzzle game, and every Suda 51 game I've played was an action game, so this is gonna be different. Hopefully the Suda 51 brand of different.
 Castlevania - Symphony of the Night: This was one of the reasons I opted for the PS2 instead of a Gamecube(Since I was kind of a Nintendo loyalist). I actually made a poster, filled with cut-outs from the game's original artwork, I was one excited kid! The game didn't disappoint, and so I really needed to get it back again.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Worst: Lunar - Dragon Song

 A collection of bad ideas.
 Lunar is a series I'm quite fond of. I first learned of it during the N64 era, were I would see ads for Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete and would drool as I read through the add, cursing that it was Playstation only. Next gen game and I opted for a PS2, which gave me the means to get into the series. Lunar: SSC I quite liked, but Lunar 2: EBC is one of my favorite PS1 RPGs ever for multiple reasons, the fantastic characters with a main cast that gets a lot of development and their own character arcs, to neat story and gameplay segregation, initially Lucia's AI is very selfish, usually running and leaving you undermanned, slowly she begins to heal other characters than herself and by the end of the game, she prioritizes Hiro even over herself(which is tied to the story since they are the main couple) and, well, the story itself. And I know that I would like Lunar 3 if I ever played it.
 I rarely play bad games because I know what I like so I'm rarely stuck with blunders. Lunar Dragon Song was a game I had read a lot about it and knew about it's many flaws, but I liked the Lunar series, so I maybe I could ignore some of them. I couldn't. This game is like a collection of bad ideas, didn't they have any playtesters to tell them that it wasn't any fun? Even worse, did no one in the design team noticed just how bad these ideas were? It's truly baffling how they could come up with this concept and think it would be fun.
 I'll get the best thing out of this game out now, the main villain is named Ignatius, which is the most badass name one could honor their son with. But then again, rhe main villain isn't even the final boss and you don't even get to fight him. Ever. You just kill his pet, opens up a whole on the floor, Ignatius falls and refuses Jian's help. Oh yeah, spoilers, but it doesn't matter since the game is a torture to get through.
 The big one first: You have to choose if you want to get money or experience points before each battle, and no, you can't get both. What? What where they thinking? So now grinding becomes a two-fold task, since enemies level up with you, which I hate when games do it, since one of the most fun things you can do in RPGs is to go to older areas and see how strong you got(Which is, actually, a bit of a false sense of accomplishment  since mashing the "Attack" button rarely means you got better, heh.). Still, you are gonna want more experience to extend your MP gauges. Speaking of MP, Magic skills are fairly limited, with almost no offense-oriented magic available. Later in the game you get items that change one of Jian's special attacks Elemental affinity, but that means taking away an item slot, and most often than not, they are not even worth it.

 Combat is just the worst. You can't target enemies, that's right, there's a really dangerous monster among the group? Pray that your characters choose to gang up on him, otherwise they'll just go after whoever strikes their fancy. But there's a further annoyance, enemies can and will break your equipment. Bosses too. And this isn't just "Go to town and repair it" or what have you, once it's broken, it's gone for good. You have to go back and buy it again. Fun. Paired up with the fact that if a equipment-breaking enemy comes up with a group you can't even aim at him, makes combat potentially vexing. Scratch that, it's vexing all the time. There is a way to avoid equipment breaking... using the right enemy card. Enemy Cards are dropped at random while in "Get items but not XP" mode. Cards have limited uses and can't be hoarded. Remember how annoying the Draw system from Final Fantasy 8 was? This is worse. You can't possibly get 99 uses of an Enemy Card since you can't accumulate them, and they are dropped at random. Who came up with this? WHO THOUGHT THAT HIS WOULD BE FUN!?
 It can't get any worse, right? I mean, all of this is just incredibly rage-inducingly stupid, how can you get any worse? Easy, running takes away your HP. It doesn't matter where you are, if you want to move around faster than at a snail's pace, you are going to have to hold that B button in order to run. And do you know what else happens? The HP of the entire party drops steadily. After they get to 20% of their HP, it stops dropping.... and you stop being able to run. So now you are weakened and you can't run to avoid enemy encounters. Who the ****ing **** came up with this **!*?! The combat system is a mess and it's infuriating, but this? Who could EVER even ENTERTAIN the IDEA that this could be fun? It's not even challenging, it's just infuriating.
 The story can't even save this game, nothing could have saved this game, not even the Lunar licence. Lunar Dragon Song is a game I wanted to like, I wanted the Lunar franchise to come back, I just... Sigh. Lunar DS is a terrible game, it doesn't have a single redeeming quality, absolutely nothing. It definitely is one of the worst games I've ever played, right alongside Xenosaga II, but that's a story for another day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Review #88: Two Worlds 2

 But... there's like only one world involved!
 Two Worlds was a terrible game, I didn't actually play since I don't have a 360, but it's reputation precedes it. For some reason, someone thought it was a good idea to make a sequel, this time a multiplatform release, and here is the end result.
 The game takes places... after the first game? It doesn't really follow any of the endings from Two Worlds 1, but it features the same three core characters. Regardless, Gandohar, the evil ruler from the first game, has captured the main character and his sister for over three years. Unexpectedly, a party of Orcs, who seem to have been enemies on the first game(The game doesn't really explain much from the first game), rescue the main character but are unable to save his sister. Free from Gandohar, the player must now traverse the land, it's only one world though, in order to obtain the strength needed to defeat Gandohar and rescue his sister. The story is pretty lame, there's a bit of a twist near the end, but you probably suspected a bit by then, and plenty of plot points, from Story-related quests, lead to nowhere.
 Two Worlds 2 follows the blue prints of every other Western RPG ever, you are placed in a very large area that you can travel at your leisure, barring a couple of story-related barriers, taking Quests from villagers, if you want to, or following the story-related quests when you see fit. Sadly, the game is deceptively short, when you are first thrust into the starting area, you'll have a fair share of quests, and a huge island to explore, what's more, there's plenty of areas that the Quests won't take you to, so they are entirely optional and may, or may not, conceal mini-dungeons. When Chapter 2 starts, you are thrown into a new Island(You can travel back to the first one whenever you want, but there's nothing new in there). It's a bit smaller, but there's even more quests than the first Island. Chapter 3 and 4 take you to the third and last Island, which has only a handful of subquests. You can explore it, if you want, but there's nothing to do there, nothing of consequence anyways. I was done with the game, 80% done(About everything but the horse races, more on that later) in less than 30 hours. The game is not as big as it looks.
 As with most games of this ilk, there's three major specialties, Rogue, Warrior or Mage. Combat, for both Rogues and Warriors, is pretty simple and dumb, like with most games of this kind, you get a couple of skills, Rogues can actually set up traps, and you can fight with bows, daggers, Swords, maces, Axes, y'know, the usual suspects. Mages, however, get a massive amount of options, by mixing different magic cards, you can create different spells, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of combinations with different, and sometimes hilarious, effects. Your character is not set on stone, with each level you can spend points wherever you like, you get 4 Points to distribute between Strenght, Endurance, Agility and Intelligence, plus 3 Skill Points to place in skills from any branch you want. As a whole, it's a good system and grants you plenty of freedom to develop your character however you like.
 It's not all good, controls are actually pretty clunky and often unresponsive. It may be due to how bad the framerate can drop at times, it's playable, but it can get annoying. The worst offender is Horse Riding, if you go too fast, the framerate will drop below double digits, making it nigh unplayable. There was this one mission that was a Horse Race on which I gave up since when the framerate dropped, it was impossible to steer the horse, which is a fight in it by itself as horse riding controls are awful, and later I discovered that there's a whole slew of horse-riding sub-missions. Yeah, I'm gonna pass. The Inventory is pretty lame too, you get a couple of tabs: Equipment, Ingredients and Misc(Magic Cards, Traps, Teleporters, etc), placed on a grid. It can get confusing, and while you can have three Item-Sets assigned to the digital pad, the game doesn't tell you which equipment pieces are being used by one of said sets, so you could potentially sell your equipment by mistake, heck, the game doesn't even ask you if you are sure that you want to sell your equipped items.
 Graphics are a mixed bag. Environments look downright beautiful, there's plenty of vistas to enjoy, character models on the other hand are fairly ugly and recycled throughout. It feels as if their proportions are off, the arms might be too short? Probably. At least the armors look pretty nice. Animation too is a bit wonky, some of the attack strings are pretty awkward to say the least. Also, all big enemy types, like Cyclops, share the same animations and it's pretty noticeable that they are just reskinnings of the same model. Even worse, the big enemies can fling you around, and if you fall over uneven terrain, your character will glitch( by stuttering) over the floor instead of getting up immediately, leaving you open for more attacks, not fun at all.  Music is forgettable, I don't remember a single tune from the game, and voice acting is passable, even if the protagonist tries too hard to sound gruff.
   So what do you make of Two Worlds 2? All the foundations of a good Western RPG are set and they are fairly functional, but it's still very rough around the edges. It's not a bad game by any means, but it needed more time in the oven, refining the controls, tidying up the inventory screens, creating more NPCs, toning down the motion blur when rotating the camera and the such.
 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is ruined. RUINED.

 Why would you do this!?
 I'm not the biggest Dragon Ball fan, but I've always had a soft spot for the games. One of the in particular, I loved, Dragon Ball Z: Legends, released for the PS1 and the Saturn, only in Japan. Dragon Ball Z: Legends had you play in a team of 3 against other 3 characters, or you could handicap yourself if you so wished it. The game had a fairly short, but fun, story mode, but after you were done with it, you had Multiplayer which was unbelievably fun. Even though dozens of Dragon Ball Z games have been released since, none has played even remotely similar to it.
 It's 2014, the latest DBZ games have been awful to say the least. Ultimate Tenkaichi, while it looks very nice, it basically plays itself and Dragon Ball Z Kinect is... it's a Kinect game, need I say more? Ever since Battle of Z had been announced, I've been hyped for it, it sounded very similar to Legends, and after playing the demo, I was looking forwards to it. It was different, but it shared some elements, and the gameplay was actually fun. Dragon Ball Z fans cried foul, though, they just couldn't stand no in-game transformations, but I couldn't care less, due to limitations(probably), Legends didn't have in-game transformations and it was awesome. Regardless, I was gonna buy this game at release. Was.
 So what has killed this game for me? For starters, Pre-Order DLC. And the worst kind, every retailer gets a different DLC, so you are gonna have to choose between the awful Naruto costume(A fairly inoffensive piece of DLC, which is the right kind of Pre-Order DLC, if you really must absolutely have it because your Publisher is a F***ing D****e.), Super Saiyan Bardock and Super Vegeto. Super Saiyan Bardock doesn't bother me nearly as much as Super Vegeto, 'cause y'see, Super Vegeto is a fairly vital part of the story. In the anime, Vegeto goes Super Saiyan to continue his battle with Buu, but in the manga, Vegeto is in his base state for a mere ONE panel, that is to say that Super Vegeto is a much bigger part of the story than Vegeto. And he is pre-order DLC. REALLY?.
 But DLC bullsh!t is not a deal breaker(Unless you pull a Capcom). Y'know what is? No offline multiplayer. In the words of the angriest nerd that you'll ever meet, what where they thinking?! Even worse, it seems that the only offline mode will be Story Mode. Who was in charge of this game? You do know that gaming evolves and changes formats, right? Alongside this transformations, SERVERS DIE, which means that at some point in time, a huge part of this game will be dead and unplayable. The game has no shelf life what so ever.
 Taking all of this into account, Battle of Z is no longer a day-1 buy for me, but a it's a day-it-costs-20-or-less buy. This game looked promising, heck, it's probably a good game at it's best, but it's a game with a death sentence.

Now Playing: Kingdoms of Amalur - Reckoning

 So far, pretty nice.
 Since I finished Two Worlds 2 a couple of days ago, it was time to start a new game. I didn't have much to choose from, but I figured KoA was long overdue. I've played little past getting out of the Mines, meaning I would still be playing the demo if this was the demo(Which it's not), but I figured it's time for my initial impressions. The game is pretty sweet. Combat is smooth and fast-paced, feels really good and the art-style is fantastic, reminiscent of the Warcraft Series. As for cons, not a single one but a few nitpickety things, like the avaiable faces for character creation being a bit ugly or not being able to sell stolen goods to common NPCs.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review #87: Saint Seiya - Brave Soldiers

 I hate myself for liking it. I do.
 First things first: This game is a rip off. Most of the content on the disc comes from the previous game on the PS3(And according to some people, a lot of assets were from the PS2 version, but I can't really attest to that). Animations, camera angles and stages? Loads from the previous game. I dare say that it's the same models but with a shiny new coat of cell-shading. Special attacks, down to the same camera angles come from the previous game. Even better, the game boasts 50 characters, but most of them are clones with one or two different attacks(Two Sagas, Two Kanons, FIVE Seiyas, Four Shiryus, Four Hyogas, Three Shuns, Three Ikkis, Two Shuras, Two Camus(Camuae?)). To add insult to the injury, ALL of the DLC is already on the disc, and what's the DLC? Another Shion, Odin Seiya(Who was DLC on the previous game and, by all means, should've been on this game for free), Leo Ikki and Virgo Shun, kinda odd how all the other bronze Saints get their armors but them, huh?. Even better, only Seiya gets his God cloth(That's why there's Five Seiyas). Then there's costumes that range from alternate colorations to un-clothed versions which, by the way, WERE ALREADY ON THE PREVIOUS GAME. What's more, the gameplay is more-or-less taken straight from the older game, but adapted to make it more "fighty". This game was made on the cheap, but with the object of reaping as much money as possible.
 Luckily, that's the worst part of the game, and with it out of the way, let's go on. Saint Seiya - Brave Soldiers is a fighting game based on the popular franchise by the same name. The game's main attraction is the Story Mode which follows the story from the Sanctuary Arc to the Hades Arc, skipping the anime-only(filler) Asgard saga(Still, they will charge you for Odin Seiya). The story mode is told entirely through dialogue between character cut-outs, with the occasional frame from the anime every now and then, it's kind of lame but to be fair, it's fully voiced. Also, a little neat thingie, that only people who are familiar with the manga will notice, when characters deliver some of their important lines, a black bubbly text bubble with white text will appear, like on Kurumada's manga. The problem with this mode, is that it feels artificially lengthened by forcing you to fight an opponent twice or thrice. Many a times, it would go as follows: Dialogue, then fight two rounds against your opponent, more dialogue, two more rounds. Sometimes your opponent will gain some boost(Like 10% boost to their attack power), but it does little to make it feel different. Story Mode quickly becomes a drag because of this, it could've and should've  been streamlined a bit more, maybe making each fight last only one round?
 After you are done with the Story Mode, you have Battle Mode. Battle Mode has your usual Versus and Training modes, plus Galaxian Wars(Tournament) and Survival. Versus has a couple of "sub-modes", like "first strike wins" or whoever throws down the opponent three times first wins, they are not very fun, but they are there. Galaxian Wars gets a special mention due to their fidelity to the source material, you have an announcer(with individual quotes for each Saint, but shared between versions of each Saint) and after each combo, a "Power gauger" gauges the damage inflicted, just like on the show, nice little detail. Lastly, there's a Feature called Orb. By clearing challenges in the Story Mode, you unlock Orbs(That must be bought with points earned on every mode) that you can equip to customize your character, but they can only be used in one of the sub-modes in battle mode, so it feels very under-used, optional and like a bit of an after thought, or the developers trying to add some kind of depth?
 As for the fighting itself, there's not a whole lot to it. You get a weak and strong attack that can be linked together for 5-6 hit combos, a jump that doubles as dash if you press it twice and two special attacks. The game takes place on 3D arenas in which you can freely move about, this also means that blocking is done by pressing a button. There's three gauges involved, the life bars at the top, and the Cosmo and 7th Sense gauges. 7th Sense is charged by receiving and dealing damage, and activating it granst you a power boost for a short while. Cosmo is charged by damaging your opponent or charging it with a button, Cosmo is used to use your special attacks, home in towards your opponent, unleash one of two burst attacks(weak/strong attack+Cosmo button), teleport behind your opponent if you press R1 as soon as you are hit or unleash you Ultimate Big Bang Attack. It may sound a bit overwhelming, and there are more buttons involved than expected, it's easy to get the hang of it.
 Gameplay is pretty shallow, but it's not too bad. Personally, I found that basic attacks deal to little damage while special attacks deal too much damage. Fighting games based on anime rarely have balance as one of their priorities and it shows, some characters, like Shaka, have special attacks that are way too situational as to rely on them consistently, then you have someone like Ikki who's Phoenix Flight is good in every kind of situation and can hit airborne enemies with ease.
 The game's strongest suit are the graphics by far. The are shiny and look fantastic, armors are colorful and bright, they are a joy to look at, and the characters themselves are fairly faithful to their anime counterparts. The Cosmo beams and special FX for attacks look amazing as well, there's color EVERYWHERE. Stages are a bit blander, specially the ones that return from the older game, seems they didn't get the same updated treatment the models got. Music, on the other hand, is generic and bland, guess music from the show was too expensive to get, and we know just how little money Namco spent on this game. Voice acting is Japanese only and it's pretty decent, even if they use the new voice-cast, and while most of the cast is pretty alright, Seiya's voice doesn't really fit him).
 I've criticized this game plenty. I reckon it's a rip-off of epic proportions. But despite everything, it is a fun game. I had fun with it, heck, I am having fun with it still. So what's my veredict? If you are a Saint Seiya fan, get it but don't pay a dime to unlock stuff on your disc. For people that don't like the show, don't bother, it's a shallow game whose biggest strength is just how beautiful it looks.
 8.0 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Now Playing: Two Worlds 2

 Because I've been wanting to play a Western RPG for a change.
 So... I character creation is awful. It actually has a fair amount of options, but they are all so ugly. And the torso-to-arms proportions seem a bit off. Matters not, create a character I did, and then.... awful framerate, even if lips were correctly synced, the drops make them out of sync. Then came the introductory sequence in which you break out of the prison, it was a tad too long, too long without action, too long without earning experience even when you finally got to kill enemies... it lasted for a bit too long. Still, after the introduction was out of the way... the game was so clunky. Menus are bad. Animations are awful(The attacks look so hilariously bad). Voice acting, specially for the main character, is bad. Armors, on the other hand, look pretty neat. And despite it all, it's a bit fun.
 I just spent two hours questing and exploring(Until I defeated every enemy I could beat and only the so-strong-that-they-can-off-me-in-two-blows remained and finally started the first chapter. I'm not impressed, but I'm having a bit of fun.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Review #86: Castlevania - Lament of Innocence

 This is Castlevania in 3D done right.
 Castlevania doesn't have the best track record when it comes to going 3D. "3Dvanias" are often divisive, some people like them, some people hate them. Castlevania 64 is either a pretty decent attempt at bringing the series to the third dimension or a really bad game. Castlevania Lords of Shadows is either a great game or a God of Warrior clone that is Castlevania in name only. Good news, Castlevania Lament of Innocence(LoI) is not only a great game, but a great transition to 3D for the series.
 The game would take place at the start of the Castlevania timeline. Leon Belmont's beloved is taken away by Walter, an evil vampire count. Leon rushes to her aide and comes across Rinaldo, a man that lives on the outskirts of the castle and lends him the Alchemy Whip, a weapon capable of damaging vampires and related demons. The story is nothing special, but it gets the job done... the writing is really bad though. Dialogue falls under the "so bad it's good" category, so at least it's not a total train wreck.
 Lament of Innocence is an adventure game that borrows most of it's elements from the "Metroidvania" branch of Castlevania games. Your goal is clear from the very beginning, defeat the five monsters that guard the five orbs that are needed to open the path to Walter's throne. The Castle is divided in six major areas, and you can tackle the initial five in any order. As with any Metroidvania worth it's salt, there's a huge map to explore, and some areas are not readily open for Leon, so he might need to find items in other zones in order to open them up. Luckily, most backtracking is completely optional if you wanto 100% the map and get every item, still, the game could've used some sort of warp system to make it more palatable.
 Combat is very straight forward: Square performs a weak, but fast, swing of the whip, while triangle performs a stronger and slower attack. There's a fair amount of combos that you can perform, and as you defeat enemies you'll earn new ones, don't be mistaken though as there is no leveling up system, you just earn new moves every now and then. Leon also has access to all the classic sub-weapons, the Axe, the Knife, the Holy Water, the Cross and the Crystal, which consume hearts that are obtained from breakables. Each of the five orbs, plus two hidden ones, alter how sub weapons behave, so there's a huge amount of different sub-weapon attacks. Rounding up his arsenal, Leon's enchanted gauntlet can absorb MP by blocking enemies magic attacks, and can then use MP to activate Relics that bestow many different abilities. So far so good, but for some reason they decided to make menus work in real time. You can't pause and use items or equip items, instead, you have to use the right analog stick to navigate menus, using healing items during boss battles can be very annoying.
 Graphics are top notch, the game runs at a silky smooth 60 fps and looks beautiful. There's plenty of different enemies and they all look very nice, the castle itself is very dark, as it should be, but each area has it's own distinct theme. There are a couple of corridors that look very samey and seem to hold no purpose, but I guess that this being Metroidvania 'n all, it's expected for them to be in the game. Music is downright phenomenal, Castlevania is a series that never disappoints when it comes to music. Lastly, voice acting is... it's actually pretty decent considering the awful lines that they must deliver.
 Lament of Innocence lasts a solid 6 hours, and that's what it took me to 100% it, every item and hidden boss found and defeated, but, finishing the game unlocks plenty of extras: Crazy Mode(A harder game), All Skills(Get all skills from the start), Joachim(An alternate character that plays NOTHING like Leon), Pumpkin(A character that shares only the basic moveset with Leon, he gets his own exclusive sub weapons and playing as him actually feels different) and a couple of others. Suffice to say, what it lacks in length it makes up in extras.
 I never had a problem with Lords of Shadows, what's more, I actually loved it. But after playing Lament of Innocence I can understand why fans disliked Lords of Shadows, while in LoI you get to explore a giant castle, like most Metroidvanias, you get to fight classic enemies(Mermen, the floating Eyes, the Doppleganger, Golem, Succubus, Skeletons, Blood Skeletons, the zombies... I can go on),  LoS has NOTHING tying it to Castlevania besides the Belmonts and the name. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a game that I can recommend both to fans of Castlevania and people looking for a decent action-adventure game.
 8.0 out of 10.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Now Playing: Bravely Default Demo

 Oldschool goodness.
 The demo just came out in North America, which meant that I could finally take a stab at this highly hyped game. So far? I like it. the beginning of the game was a tad annoying as I had to go back to the Inn after every fight, but eventually it got better. I got money, bought spells and items and it was swift sailing. Graphics are infinitely cute, even if some of the super-deformed characters are a bit oversexualized.
 Gameplay is very oldschool, in a good way, and you can speed up the combat which is arguably really useful. I just fought the first boss and it was a bit hard, I liked it.
 This game is very promising. Very.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Now Playing: Castlevania - Lament of Innocence

 This game is really good.
 I remember this game having received mediocre reviews, I also remember liking it quite a bit. I spent a little bit over an hour on it, got my first orb!, and so far I'm impressed. It's really good, people say that Castlevania can't go 3D, and they often cite 64vania and LoS(Which I actually liked). Castlevania: LoS is how you do Castlevania in 3D. All the classic enemies are here, all the classic weapons are here and it's moderately challenging. So not only is it a good Castlevania game, it's also a friggin' good game by itself.
 I heart this game so much, can't wait to play more of it.