Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review #113: Final Fantasy VIII

 Grinding and Farming Fantasy VIII.
 If you didn't like Final Fantasy VII, chances are you never played it at launch or you simply don't like JRPGs, but if both are true and you still didn't like it.... tough luck, you missed out on one of the best RPGs of all time. When Final Fantasy 8 was first released, it received tons of  glowing critiques, some even calling it the best in the series. How did it age? It aged fairly well, problem being, the core mechanics were terrible even when at the time of its release!

  You take the role of Squall, a secluded young man who happens to be a trainee at Balamb Garden. This place trains young men and women into SeeDs, mercenaries of sorts, if they pay is good, they'll kill whatever they have to kill. The game's theme is that of "Love", as the game's logo suggests, it's all about the adorkable Rinoa trying to pry open Squall's secluded self. Also, there's a sort of second protagonist in the form of Laguna, an Esthar Soldier with a very carefree attitude. Every now and again, the game will switch to Laguna's exploits alongside his friends, and in the end, both narratives tie up together. Whether you can accept that Rinoa would keep trying to woo a jerk who evidently wants nothing to do with her(at the beginning, anyways) isn't really the biggest problem with the story, but rather, how dumb it can get. When the script is at its finest, it's fantastic, the story and seeing characters interact with each other was what kept me going, but when the script gets dumb... it gets really, really dumb. I found myself wanting to punch the screen at least twice due to how stupidly some characters were behaving.
 In this installment, Squaresoft decided to completely change how the combat system works. They had always tried to change it up between installments, but this was the first time that they wound up with a total blunder. Final Fantasy 7's most impressive spells were the Summoning Magic, in which you'd summon a giant beast or monster of sorts to wreck havoc upon your enemy, so this time they made Summoning, now named Guardian Forces or GF for short, the foundation of the system. You must "junction" your character to a GF, characters that don't have GFs junctioned to them can only Attack, but with a junction GF you gain access to "Magic", "GF", "Draw" and "Item", plus, certain GFs grant you bonus abilities, to a maximum of four, attack being unswappable. GFs also level up alongside you, and earning AP through battles allow them to learn passive or active skills that you can then equip to your character. So far, so good.

 Now then, first of all, Equipment has been done away with. You don't equip armor or accessories, rather, you junction magic into your stats to enhance them. Actually, you can upgrade weapons, but you need to gather Random Drops from enemies, Steal them from the enemies or play the Card Game(More on this in a bit). This means that the Mug command, that Diablos has, quickly becomes essential to upgrading your weapons, as random drops are a pain to get, and sometimes, when the game is feeling naughty, it makes the items that you can steal, different from the ones they drop, know what that means? Farming enemies until they drop it, and the drop percentage is very low. Although I got through the entire first disc not being able to upgrade anyone's weapon and I did just fine(Turns out the Wendingo held the steel pipes!).
 Doesn't sound like much fun, huh? It gets worse. I mentioned how you had to junction magic to your stats, right? Well, that is what the "Draw" command is there for. You draw magic out of your enemies. This is an incredibly slow process, you draw from 1 to 9 charges of magic per Draw. And you must do this every time you come across an enemy that has new Magic. And the best part about it? You won't even use this magic because the amount of magic that you junction to your stats is related to how much it buffs up your stats! Oh, and each of the 6 characters has their own individual magic pool. The only times I actually used magic, was the magic that the boss was carrying, instead of "stocking" it I'd use it against it, which is kinda amusing. True, there are other ways to earn magic, you can come across a few "Draw Zones", that let you draw once every couple of hours, or you can... play the Card Game to earn cards and then use the Card Mod ability on them  to earn a certain amount of a certain spell, or you can, hopefully, use another ability to turn your items into Magic. Whatever way you choose, it's gonna be a drag. As bothersome as it is, the game loves to split up your party at times, and when that happens there's an option to swiftly exchange all that is junctioned from one character to another, including Magic and the ability setup, which was fairly convenient.

 Then there are Limit Breaks. The good? Now they are more interactive than before, for example, Squall get's a sort of rhythm mini-game, while with Zell you get a list of commands, and you have to pick which ones to execute in a 5 second gap. This was a great change. The bad? Unless you engage in sidequests, you probably won't get to see them. Limit Breaks now trigger when you are low on health and at random. You can press circle, which normally switches you between the characters that you can use a turn with, until it shows up though. The thing is... I never got to be low on health, and I didn't even use healing items or spells. All throughout the game all I did, whenever I wasn't drawing magic, was have Squall junctioned with the strongest magics available on strength and the passive Strength boosts and have him use his normal attack, Squall has a unique trait to him, press R1 right when he attacks an enemy and you basically get a free critical hit, and then have my other two characters using Guardian Forces. Guardian Forces take a little time to cast, but they act as shields, so the GFs lose HP when attack while summoning them(They can "die", but there are special items to heal and revive them). This "strategy" got me throughout the first 3 discs with almost no problems at all. If you mean to get the Ultimate Weapons, which probably means you are gonna make trips to the hard encounters at the Island Closest to Hell and the Underground Sea Facility, you may need to change up your plans though!
 The game offers plenty of side quests, although you might need to consult FAQs to even know that they exist. There are about 6 secret GFs, a secret boss(Ultimate Weapon), a secret dungeon and even an optional town for you explore. There's two islands, The Island closest to Hell and the Island closes to Heaven that house some of the strongest random encounters in the game, and you never get to go to them on the main quest, only by exploring on your own. And then there's the Card Game, Triple Triad. Triple Triad can be fun if you get into it, and it's fairly in depth. Each Town has its own rules, and when the Card Queen visits, the rules can change. It's also a decent alternative to farming, some people can even get Squall's best weapon on the first disc just by playing the card game. And since the game does the stupid "Enemies level up alongside you" mechanic, this is a great way to keep your levels low. But then again, this also means that instead of playing the game, you'll be spending hours playing a card game, so pick your poison. They also changed the way you earn money. Killing monsters was too mainstream, now you must raise your SeeD rank by taking written tests(I'm not joking!) or according to how you play the game, sometimes the game will decide to lower it for no reason. Well, according to your SeeD rank is how much money you will earn whenever the game decides to give you money. Who came up with this?!

 Back when the game's first screenshots were shown, it was easy to see that graphics were a huge selling point, and... they have aged fine, considering it's a PS1 game. Easily one of the best looking PS1 games, the pre-rendered backgrounds look extremely well even today(And it's easy to notice, coming from Shadow Madness!), and character models feature a lot of detail. Monsters look particularly fierce and menacing, and there's some fairly funny animations(The Wending dribbling you like a basket ball!). Music is also great, albeit I doubt it has the lasting power that FF7's soundtrack had.

 The good news? It's not a terrible game, and when the game is at its greatest, when you don't need to draw magic, when you are actually playing and having fun, when the script is not being dumb? It's really, really fun. But at its worst it becomes a chore to play it, and that's why it will never be as good as 4, 6 or 7.
 7.0 out of 10.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Now Playing: Hexyz Force

 Uh oh
 I wanted to wait a little longer before translating my first impressions into text, but if I waited any longer, it wouldn't be my "first impressions" anymore! Well, I picked Leon over Cecilia for my first playthrough, and while the storyline seems mildly interesting, it also has a... cliche air about it.

 But what matters most, at the moment, the combat system... I don't know if I'm cool with it. Seems there are two types of weapons, some consume RF(Mana?) and others... break. I don't know if I'm gonna like having my weapons break all the time and having to carry multiple, unfixeable, weapons. I'm the kind of guy that easily gets attached to stuff, so I don't want to find a really cool weapon only to have it break on me! I'm not saying that it's a bad design choice, I'm just saying that it's not my kind of game.

Review #112: Dragon Ball Z Shin Budokai - Another Road

 Dragon Dragon, Rock the Drag-on Dragooon Baaaaall Zeeeee
 Another year, another(old) Dragon Ball Z that I get to play. Shin Budokai is the natural evolution of the Budokai games, which would latter transform into Burst Limit(Which sadly didn't get a sequel).

 The biggest change were the basic mechanics of the game. Instead of Punch and Kick, you now get Rush(weak) and Smash(Strong) attacks, the Smash Attack being comboable from Rush attacks, and can be charged. Special moves got reduced to 3 per character, Back+Ki and Forward+Ki are the special attacks, while Up+Ki produces the Ultimate attack, which consume 5 stocks of the Ki bar. Pressing Down+Ki is the Transformation, if your character has one. This also means that the whole Capsule System was scrapped, thankfully, since you now get a full moveset from the outset. Regarding transformations, probably due to the PSP's limitations, you can only have one. Which means that when you pick Goku, you either pick SSJ1, SSJ2, SSJ3 or SSJ4, and you go from Base Goku to the form you picked. You still get a Guard button, and tapping it alongside the directional pad towards your opponent, makes you dodge their attacks and appear behind them. Lastly, there are new Burst Aura mechanics tied to the R Button, you can grant yourself invulnerability, chase attacks, sidestep faster, stunning attacks and enter a Super Armor mode. All these new mechanics... you must learn by yourself. The manual doesn't have any information about them, and there is no tutorial, maybe the game expects you to come from Shin Budokai 1? Regardless, you must learn this by yourself.
 There's a nice variety of modes: Another Road(Story Mode), Arcade Mode(Self explanatory), Z Trial(Which houses Survival, Challenge and various routes of Time Attack), Network Battle(Self explanatory) and Training(Self explanatory). Notice anything? There is no "Versus CPU" mode. While you can emulate matches in Training Mode, it's not the same. Why it wasn't included is beyond me. Story Mode sounded really good on paper, you play as Trunks once he returned to his timeline, and must now face the Buu threat, which makes sense. Trunks then goes back in time to bring the Z-Fighters, post Buu saga, to his time in order to defeat Buu now. And then it all goes down the drain. The script is terrible, in the franchise, post Buu Vegeta is a very different man from, say, Cell Saga Vegeta... but now Vegeta is back to his murderous self(Probably because that's how he got most of his fans, and how he is mostly remembered for). They also rehash plot devices, like Vegeta letting himself get possessed by Babidi. Again. Which is really dumb. Gohan, who is now in Ultimate Gohan form and no longer needs to go Super Saiyan... goes Super Saiyan. And they completely botched the power levels, having Bardock(Who has gained popularity, so now they are putting him in every game) fight Pikkon and Ultimate Gohan to a standstill. And Goku meeting his real father for the first time is never touched upon besides "Now that my father is here bla bla". And the story quickly dumbs down to "Babidi created clones of everyone, you must now fight everyone's clones".

 The story is terrible, yes, but what about the mode itself? Most "stages" on each chapter place you on a field, in which enemy units target you or cities. You fly around and when you make contact with an enemy unit, you engage on a 1 on 1 battle. You can also heal yourself, and the cities, by standing over them This mode is impossibly repetitive, they usually resort to having you fight the same enemies over and over again. Sometimes the enemies have Senzu beans which double as lives... so you must fight them again. Chapter four is the worst by far, each mission in the chapter has you fighting the same Meta-Cooler enemies, and in one mission, you have to survive 300 seconds of endless Meta-Cooler clones. The fights are not terribly hard, they are just terribly boring! Plus, every time you engage an enemy, they have to trade one liners with your character, then fight, and after there is another winner... another one liner. These dialogue bubbles can be skipped by pressing start, but they still take 2-3 seconds to load before you can skip them, coupled with how many times you have to fight the same enemies over and over again.... it's quite vexing.
 The game offers a respectable roster of about 18 characters. Most characters are very different from one another, except maybe Goku and Adult Gohan. While Transformations tend to have at least one different special move, they do share the basic moveset. The game offers a very simple customization system, each character has a nine slot grid where you can attach cards, that you earn after each fight in story mode or that you can buy with money earned by battling, these cards raise the stats of your character. I'd rather have this than having my movesets crippled due to my lack of capsules, like the Budokai series. Lastly, the Challenge Mode offers 50 different challenges, some as dumb as performing a Ultimate attack, to some harder one like dealing a certain amount of damage in one combo.

 The overall presentation is excellent, character models are bright, colorful and detailed, and they move just as they did in the Budokai series. Movement and action is very smooth, with rare instances of slowdown when using the Aura to parry certain beam attacks. The game offers dual voice acting, English and Japanese, I can't speak for the English dub, but the Japanese dub is spot-on. Music is all taken from the Budokai series, I never cared too much for the Budokai music, but it's alright.

 Without having to endure such a tedious Story Mode to unlock everything, the game might've beeen more enjoyable as a whole, as the fast, smooth revamped gameplay is very entertaining. Not having a conventional VS CPU mode sucks, but there are plenty of Single Player modes to occupy your time.
 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Now Playing: Dragon Ball Z Shin Budokai - Another Road

 Pretty dang good.
 I like Dragon Ball Z, even though I don't love it as many other anime fans, but I like it. I actually started with the original Dragon Ball anime, back when I was a kid, and I remember adoring it(Surprisingly, I now dislike it, the manga is alright though). When it came to the "Z"(Or post-time skip) saga, I actually came across it through videogames and not anime, which probably explains why I'm always so drawn towards the games and not the show.

 Among the games, my top two are definitely Legends(PS1) and Super Dragon Ball Z, with the Budokai series close behind. Shin Budokai is the evolution of the Budokai series, and it feels, much, much better. I'll leave the specifics for the Review, but I love the new engine and mechanics. The game is also incredibly smooth and fast-paced, and it plays like a dream. The game also looks fantastic, and the animation is top-notch.

 Buuuuuuut, Story Mode is a drag. It involves cities that restore your HP, and Senzu Beans that enemies carry as well, which means you have to fight them multiple times, and obscure ways to unlock alternate paths(Usually having to fail the objectives).... I don't like it. Also, you are forced to play as Mirai Trunks. I love Trunks, but I'd much rather play as Adult Gohan. Speaking of characters, I love how Vegeto and Gogeta have their own slots. I always loved Vegeto's design(And back when I knew DBZ through the games, I didn't know that he was a fusion), so having to perform a fusion, in the Budokai series, to play as him was always annoying.

Archile's Grab Bag: Late Tuesday Edition

 Crimson Gem Saga: It looked pretty friggin' decent, and it was going up in price, so might as well get it!
  Pursuit Force: The Sequel was in my hands already, both look very arcade-like, non-stop action, totally up my alley.
  Hexyz Force: Same deal as with Crimson Gem Saga, but doubled. It looked twice as good, and was twice as expensive!
  Power Stone Collection: Everyone seems to have good memories of this game, so I need to play it! Even if multiplayer seems to be the focus.
  Dragon Ball Z Shin Budokai - Another Road: Was it too hard to name it "Shin Budokai 2", like the Japanese version? It seems li... Actually, I already tried it, I'll go more in-depth in a couple of hours.
  Dragon Ball Evolution: I didn't see the movie, and from what I've been told, I never will. The game seems like a poor version of Shin Budokai. But it was 4 bucks new. 4 bucks.
 Legacy of Kain - Blood Omen 2: My disc was a bit scratched, so I needed a replacement disc.

Review #111: Castlevania - The Dracula X Chronicles

 What a horrible night to have a curse.
 There's no way around it, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a fantastic Castlevania package that manages to please both Retrovania and Metroidvania fans. You get an excellent remake of Rondo of Blood, the original Rondo of Blood and, arguably, the best Metroidvania, Symphony of the Night.

 The main entrĂ©e is quite clearly the Rondo of Blood remake(As a matter of fact, you unlock the other games in this one), which pits you as either Richter Belmont or Maria Bernard, as they infiltrate Dracula's castle to rescue the captured maidens, by the cultists who brought Dracula back into the realm of the living, and defeat Dracula himself. It's the same basic story that most Retrovanias use, but it does have a more involved narrative, as rescuing the maidens triggers cut-scenes that flesh Richter and Maria personalites, both characters get different cut-scenes, with different dialogues!
 When you first start the game, you can only play as Richter, but if you manage to rescue Maria, you'll be able to switch characters before starting any stage. What's really cool about it, is that Maria and Richter play completely different from each other. Richter is slower, can tank more hits, and while his whip attacks come out slower, he deals more damage. Something new to the Belmonts, that took a little bit getting used(Since all my gaming instincts made me think I'd double jump!) to, is the back flip. By pressing jump twice, Richter performs a backflip, which proves to be really useful. Maria on the other hand, is much smaller, but much faster, even though she can't take as many hits as Richter. While she deals less damage per attack, she attacks much faster, so in the end, she is kinda stronger than Richter, furthermore, instead of a backflip, she gets an incredibly useful double jump, and can slide or roll on the ground. Basically, Maria is the easy mode of the game, but Richter provides the classic Castlevania feel. I found myself playing every new stage as Richter, but when replaying stages to get collectibles or exploring alternate routes, I'd take Maria to make it faster. Lastly, both characters will run across hearts that double as ammo for the multiple sub-weapons you can find. Richter gets the classic Knife, Axe, Holy Water and the Cross, while Maria has four unique sub-weapons, Dragon, Tiger(Cat), Phoenix and Turtle, while the Book is shared by both(even though it behaves differently for each), and by spending extra hearts, you both heroes can perform item crashes, most of the time they are full-screen attacks.

 The game has 9 basic stages, with alternate stages 2', 3', 4' and 5'. Furthermore, most stages happen to have alternate routes(With different bosses! Although stage sets, like 2 and 2', 3 and 3', etc do share bosses), which translates into a ton of replayability. Each stage also houses plenty of unlockables, the two biggies being the Original Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night, but you can also find Music CDs. Music CDs can later be used at the setup screen to customize which song plays in each stage! Rounding it all up, there's 3 unlockable Boss Rush modes and the Dracula Peke minigame. The game has a lot of stuff to do, routes to take and bosses to defeat, and it's pretty challenging to boot. While it's definitely not as hard as the Original Castlevania, but it's way harder than Bloodlines and Castlevania IV. You do get unlimited continues, but lives are not and dying mid-way through a level means going back to a checkpoint(They are usually pretty generous, usually), losing whatever sub-weapon you held and defaulting your heart count to 10. The game, while hard, is also very fair and requires patience. If you take it slow, wait for opportunities and learn patterns, you should have no troubles with the game.
 Everything I've stated previously is true for the original Rondo of Blood as well, however, there are a few key differences. For instance, it feels much faster, and it's slightly harder than the remake. Since you'l probably tackle this one after finishing the remake, everything you've learned will aid you, so it's not as hard as a blind playthrough. Stages are almost entirely identical, with a very sparse changes here and there. Speed is not what makes it harder, but rather, you'll notice that there is a lot more stuff to avoid. Surprisingly, two sections are actually harder in the remake: Dracula, who got a new third form, and Stage 5', which is downright brutal in the Remake, even while using Maria. As for Symphony of the Night... I'll be reviewing it later, the PS1 version, so I won't say much, but the game has aged gloriously, it's arguably, the best Metroidvania out there. It also received a couple of changes, at least when it comes to the American version. While it's disappointing that they didn't port the Saturn version(Richter got a new Spriteset to match Ayami Kojima's art, instead of reusing Rondo of Blood's, and there were about 4 new areas), we do get the little changes that the Japanese reprints added. These include two new Familiars(Which are alternate versions of the Fairy and Demon, they are neither worse nor better, they are just slightly different(Both demons re identical, actually, but they look different)). The game also received a re-dub and the script was revised, no more miserable piles of secrets!

 Visually, the game is quite a looker. The game is very colorful, with fantastic looking stages, and there's a nice variety of them, each one with a different theme, and alternate routes within the stage themselves usually vary wildly on imagery. Enemies look really good, making the jump to 3D quite nicely, even if they posses rather simplistic animations. As for the playable characters, Konami translated Kojima's art quite well into the 3D models, they posses a fair bit of detail, and look really good. Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night look fantastic and vibrant on the PSP, even if you do have to play with frames on the sides(Since the games had different screen ratios back then). The music is downright phenomenal, it IS Castlevania after all, and there's quite a selection of tunes present in the game. Voice acting is... serviceable, it's not terrible, but it's not necessarily good either.

 By itself, Rondo of Blood's remake would've been an easy 9.0, a timeless Castlevania adventure, that plays extremely well, is incredibly fun, has tons to unlock and find, looks amazing and has a fantastic soundtrack. The inclusion of the original Rondo of Blood is genius(How many remakes include the original?), but Symphony of the Night is icing on the cake. Any Castlevania fan should look into it.
 10 out of 10.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review #110: Flower, Sun and Rain

 Delightfully bizarre.
 I am a lover of all things Suda 51, what can I say, the wonderfully bizarre worlds and characters he creates, alongside the deeper meanings and themes he explores in his games never fails to hook me all the way to the end. While most of his games, from a gameplay stand point, are nothing stellar, as a whole they are phenomenal, at least in my eyes. Flower Sun and Rain is, as a game, probably the worst I've played, coming from Suda 51, but to say that I didn't enjoy it would be a lie...

 The game puts you in the shoes of Sumio Mondo, a Searcher. His job? Searching for stuff, it's also what defines him, he will search for everything and anything until he finds it. In this adventure, he is hired by Edo, the manager at the Flower, Sun and Rain hotel, in order to stop a plane from blowing up from a terrorist attack. Delving much deeper would mean to spoil the fantastically bizarre setting of the game, but needless to say, as every Suda 51 game, it can get quite confusing, specially taking into account that this is a pseudo-sequel to The Silver Case, a game that was never published over here. NPCs come in the form of guests at the hotel, each one has their own weird traits, there's a kid who keeps breaking the fourth wall,  Edo himself, who grows continually frustrated as the days goes by, Stephan, a writer obsessed with Soccer, etc. The game is divided in 18 requests, each one taking place in a different day(Or is it?) that begins with Mondo being woken up by the manager, and then as he tries to make his way to the airport but gets stopped by other people who require Sumio's services, finishing with the plane exploding in the sky. The setting and the characters were so engaging, that I kept pushing through even though the gameplay was so dull.
 Most of the Suda 51 games that we got were action games, this is not. Since Sumio is a Searcher, the whole game has you searching for stuff, usually culminating in a puzzle of sorts. Puzzles come in three varieties: Reading, Arithmetical and Mixed. At the start of the game you are given a 47 page brochure of the Hotel, and most of the Puzzles have you finding, through hints, the page in which the numbers you require are. Sometimes it's as easy as finding the number, sometimes you have to decipher it, or figure out how to use the numbers mentioned in the article. There is a lot of reading involved. Arithmetical puzzles are, as the name suggest, easy math problems, and you just have to input the resulting number. Lastly, the Mixed variety has you finding the numbers and then doing simple math with it. Each day also features 3 extra puzzles, rule of the thumb is: If these three are easy, then the storyline puzzles will be hard, but if these three are hard, then the story-related puzzles will be easy. Doing these is entirely optional, and these are invisible to the naked eye, but a radar that you unlock early on will help you finding them. Clearing them will unlock alternate costumes to use in subsequent playthroughs.

 As a whole, the game is a bit dull. Expect to do a lot, and I do mean A LOT of running around. Plenty of times it's done on purpose, and Mondo being quite self-conscious, will complain about it, just like the player. As a matter of fact, there's a lot of parallelisms between gamers and Mondo, as a Destructoid Article very well described. Gameplay is very dull, the final day in particular has you solving 23 different math problems, they are not even hard, but they are dull, repetitive and feel like filler, but in the end, I felt satisfied. I felt that treading through each puzzle was worth it.
 Graphics are a very mixed bag, usually indoors look alright, but outdoors are very plain and simple. Textures are very pixelated, which is impossible to ignore when the game zooms in. Character models are very stylized, and personally, I thought the style was great. Music is... very odd, there are some very suiting tones, but there are some that are quite grating to the ears(Take the music used in the Hotel's nearby outdoors for example), but it does fit the whole weirdness of the setting. There is no voice acting, but whenever characters speak, a garbled, distorted musing plays, not unlike Killer 7's, although these make even less sense. While Gameplay, Graphics and Sound are passable on their own, alongside the script they all add up to the atmosphere, and it works.

 Flower, Sun and Rain is a very difficult game to recommend, definitely not for everyone. If you love weird games that have quirky characters, mysterious settings and odd situations, like Deadly Premonition or any Suda 51 game, then it's worth a look, otherwise you might not "get" the game.
 6.0 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Archile's Grab Bag: About to hit the sack Edition

 A new package! Yay! Except that I kinda wanna sleep.
 Let's open this bad boy up.
 Dark Cloud 2: I loved this game when I was younger, but I never got around finishing it. It's also gotten sorta expensive.
 Pursuit Force - Extreme Justice: The Sequel to Pursuit Force, I actually have Pursuit Force... but it's on Miami, since the package would've been to big had I shipped that one in!
 Guilty Gear Judgment: I love Guilty Gear, and this includes an exclusive Beat'em up mode, so why not? I will have to get Accent Core Plus down the line though.
 Lord of Arcana: The screenshots make it seem mundane, but I tried the demo and I sorta kinda liked it.
 RetroGame Challenge: This one had been on my radar for quite a while, and since it's going up in price, why no?
 Gladiator Begins: I loved the demo, I can see the game growing repetitive, eventually, but the demo was so much fun!
 Lunar - Silver Star Harmony: While I loved Lunar 2, and finished it when I was younger, Lunar 1 didn't hook me so strongly. I did like it, just not as much as Lunar 2, and I never finished it! Since the PS1 version is kinda expensive, this version will have to do.
Rengoku - The Tower of Purgatory: I debated a long while over weather to get this game and its sequel or not, but the badass designs won me over, seems to be done by Guyver's author? I dunno, but they seem mighty interesting.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review #109: Orphen - Scion of Sorcery

 I call upon Sword of the Fallen Devil!
 Orphen - Scion of Sorcery was one of the early PS2 games, and the only Orphen game ever released. It tried to mix the action-adventure and RPG genres to mixed results, which probably explains why it never got a sequel.

 The game boasts an all new story, featuring the main characters from the Sorcerous Stabber Orphen anime, Orphen, Magnus(Magik), Clio(Cleao), Vulcan and Dortin are all here, and are joined by three new characters, Mar, Zeus and Sephy, all three who have lost someone important to them. The game offers three different routes, one for each newcomer, and in order to get the true ending, you'll have to go through all three. Each story is fairly alright, each one deals with slightly different subjects, all releated to the theme of loss. As for the main characters, they are a little bit different from their anime incarnations, they took the characters main traits and defined their personality around it, Orphen instead of being a jerk with a heart of gold is just a jerk, Cleao instead of being a tsundere, spends all her time whining(it quickly grows annoying)  and Magik instead of being a insecure trainee is just insecure.
 The game's adventure mechanics consist of playing as Orphen or one of the 5 allies(Zeus, Sephy, Mar, Magik and Cleao), jumping around, attacking bugs or evading traps. It sounds alright, but it's all very flawed. For instance, the camera is very unwieldy, it turns too fast, and the distance to the character is not ideal, getting a good angle through objects on a small room is a chore sometimes. As for the jumping, characters perform huge, gravity defying jumps, so sometimes seeing where you'll land is a bit tough. Then comes attacking, for some reason, only Orphen, Zeus, Zephy and Mar get attacks on Adventure portions, not that you'll use it much, there are very few enemies on this mode, and they are usually just bugs. Something that I found hilarious, is that you'll amass a ton of items(healing, bug stoppers and bug attractors, the latter two which you'll have to use, at most, only on one part in Mar's route), and the descriptions for the healing items are "Heals 10 hitpoints", "Heals 30 hitpoints", etc. Why so funny? The HP in the action-adventure portion is portrayed by a colored orb. How numbered hitpoints translate to colored orb is beyond me.

 Eventually, your walking and jumping will take you into scripted RPG-like battles. These are not random encounters, the amount of these battles is limited and they cannot be replayed. Most of the time you'll play as Orphen, sometimes you'll have your allies(CPU controlled) and other times you'll battle as Zeus, Mar or Sephy on their own. Mar, Sephy and Zeus can find equipment on the adventure portions, while Orphen gets spells that he learns every now and then after certain boss fights. All four of them can have up to three weapons/spells, which you'll use with X, Circle and Triangle, and you also get a block button in the form of Square. Battles are not turn based, however, after using an spell, Orphen loves to strike a pose, so you just can't use another spell right away. Your playable character remains stationed on his place, and you select your targets with the analog stick. The combat system is not terrible, but it feels a bit clunky and not much fun, and it's poorly thought out as well, the best way to dodge an attack, for instance, is to wait for the attacker to get close to your character, and engage a melee attack on a far away target, your character will rush towards his target, avoiding the attack of the nearby enemy!
 The game also has some rather "interesting" design choices. Saving can only be done after certain scenes, at which the game will promt a save screen, if you don't save then, you are out of luck until the next checkpoint, keep this in mind as I'll go back to this in a second. The game is filled with conversations at every turn. While it's entertaining at the start, the huge amount of these quickly turn tiresome as they are very, very dull. And they are unskippable. Remember how you can only save at certain moments? Well, if you die, it means back to that checkpoint, which means having to go through all of these unskippable, dull conversations. And Cleao's constant whining, obnoxious shouting is very grating to the ears, shame she gets so many scenes. There's a little trick to aid you, on the combat scenes, if you press start and go to change "equipment", you can restart a battle, if it is not going your way, it might be cheating for some, but it beats having to go through these annoying cutscenes again.

 Oh, presentation. Keeping in mind that this was an early PS2 release, it's not too bad. Environments are pretty big, when compared to PS1 games, and colorful, even if they feel a bit lifeless. Character models look alright when standing still, but when they move, you'll notice just how stiff the are. And sometimes they don't move their lips when they talk, but sometimes they do, it's very odd, and the way they move their mouths is so freaky that it's better when they don't! Still, there are a couple of anime cutscenes, they use a very different style from the Sorcerous Stabber Orphen anime, but they are still very good and pretty high quality. There's not a whole lot of music in the game, most of the time you'll be adventuring in silence, but the few tunes that the game employs are actually kinda good, if a bit generic-sounding for the genre. Voice acting is actually pretty good, sometimes the models and their stiffness don't convey well how the character sounds at the time, but it's alright.

 Orphen - Scion of Sorcery, is not a terrible game, it's actually pretty playable, but it simply has nothing going for it, nothing to stand out. For fans of the anime, it's probably alright, but otherwise it's best to skip it.
 5.0 out of 10.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Now Playing: Final Fantasy VIII

 I shouldn't be having this much fun with it.
 Let's go back in time, back to when I was younger and Final Fantasy VIII was announced. Final Fantasy VII was my favorite game, and back then, when graphic leaps still meant something, I would salivate over screenshots from the game. And when it came out? I loved every second of it. I actually finished it, unlike VII. While my first experiences with both VII and VIII were on the PC, I did play the PS1 version of VII, but not VIII's, so this is kinda new for me.

 The core combat gimmick is terrible. While I can see how drawing magic and using it against the enemy that possesses it is amusing, having to stock on magic is a terribly dull time consuming experience, and each character has its own magic pool! Back when I was a kid, I didn't mind this system, but now that I'm older, I can see just how terrible it is, specially considering that this game came after the fantastic Materia system. There's no mana, now only your current HP is displayed, instead of getting both the max and the current HP, which is odd, and Limit Breaks can only be used when your HP drops to a certain point, instead of filling a gauge. Weapons are now made instead of bought(Though you can only "make" them at certain stores), money is earned through an allowance and not battling, and enemies level alongside you. Basically, every change was for the worst.

 And despite it all... I'm having fun. A lot has to do with me smiling at all the little things that I remember or am reminded of, but I'm still having fun.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Now Playing: Castlevania - The Dracula X Chronicles

 Classicvania, yeah!
 My first Castlevania game was Castlevania 64. While everyone hates it, or finds it acceptable at most, I liked it a lot(I was young). I think the second one I played was Symphony of the Night, I was very hyped for that one, as on the months leading up to the PS2 release, I was already thinking of all the awesome PS1 games I'd get to play, and Castlevania: SotN was one my most wanted ones. The game didn't disappoint, I fell in love with the metroidvania/castleroid genre. I did discover classicvania via Castlevania Chronicles, pink-haired Simon rules, and I loved that one as well. Throughout the years I've done my best to play every Castlevania I could, but one had always escaped me: Rondo of Blood. This changes now. Or whenever I unlock it.

 I'm up to Stage 3', and I know I will just have to use some kind of FAQ to keep up with all the secret routes and alternate stages and what not, but for now, I'm just limiting myself to the two unlockables, Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night. But as for the remake itself... It's a blast. It's quite challenging(I might've gotten a game over on Stage 2, really), but the controls are very responsive. The game also looks fantastic, Ayami Kojima's style was translated pretty faithfully into 3D, and after going through Killzone, the brownest game on earth, this is pretty awesome.

 The best thing about this game? Not only is the main game pretty solid(So far), but you can unlock the classic Rondo of Blood version AND Symphony of the Night, how awesome is that?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review #108: Killzone - Liberation

 The other "We got hacked" freebie.
 Making a FPS for the PSP should be nigh impossible, unless they go with the classic Doom route, but I digress. Guerilla brought Killzone to the PSP, but it is no longer an FPS, rather, an isometric shooter. I had never played a Killzone game before, nor am I interested in the franchise, but it was a freebie so I can't complain!

 The game puts you in the shoes of Templar, a guy fighting for the... good guys against the Helghast, a group of guys with luminous red eyes. And it's your mission to... bring them down? Yes, there is a story to the game, and it is told via text before each mission, and on cut-scenes every now and then. What's the problem? The text summaries take to long to pan out, I was willing to give the story a chance, but these "scenes" took too long to go from page to page, so I just gave up on it. It's not an interesting story, to a newcomer, anyways.
 The game consists of four chapters with four missions each. The first thing you need to learn, is that this is a very slow-paced game, while the isometric look could lead you to believe that this is an arcadey, fast run-and-gun game, you'd be wrong. Templar's running speed is pretty slow, and enemies can be deadly even when few in numbers, so you need to learn to take cover. You take cover by holding the R button, which makes Templar crouch, and you need to make use of your surroundings as cover, enemies will do so as well. And this is when you realize that this is a very slow paced game, as you'll be popping in and out of cover to shoot your enemies. Melee is somewhat of a gamble, as you have to press X when the prompt appears, but enemies sometimes get to hit you before your attack goes off, or sometimes Templar just won't react in time. Melee is unreliable, so you'd better just stick to your guns. Not that it's much fun either, the PSP only has one analog stick, so Aiming is relative to where you are looking at. While you do get a form of "soft-lock" on enemies close to where Templar is looking at, it's kinda unreliable, and guns don't have much accuracy... it's not much fun. You can hold L to "Strafe", but sometimes Templar will just break out of the strafe for no reason, or if you press L twice fast enough you perform a roll, sometimes, when trying to get the strafe right, you might accidentally roll into an enemy! The awkward controls coupled with the poor accuracy of the weapons make for a less than fun experience, as shootouts against one or two enemies can over extend their welcome, and many times deaths feel as if they were caused due to the controls and not your mistakes.

 Every now and then the game will give you a CPU ally, they are pretty self sufficient, and you can order them around with the directional D-Pad. Besides shooting bad guys, placing C4 or disabling mines, you'll also come across cases. These cases are worth "money", which further unlock weapons for you to start each level with or unlock upgraded versions. Speaking of weapons, Templar can only carry one weapon at a time, if you run out of ammo, you are outta luck. Levels have plenty of "stashes" placed throughout, where you can get more ammo, different weapons, health packs or grenades, so it's hard to run out of weapons. Lastly, clearing each chapter unlocks a small collection of Challenge levels, they come in a small variety of placing C4 in certain places, shooting targets or even surviving an endless slew of enemies for as long as you can, the latter being easily the most fun of the lot, while the others are passable. Scoring on these challenges unlocks "perks" for you to equip before each mission, these are small buff like carrying 3 or 5 grenades instead of two, or placing C4 faster, earning Gold on all challenges gives you infinite ammo! Each of the 16 missions lasts 10-30 minutes, but the challenges and finding all collectibles do offer a decent replay value.
 Graphics are... serviceable. They are nothing special, and the game is filled with greys and browns, definitely not a looker. Even worse, slowdown is a bit of a common occurrence, and can ruin your shooting, even if the slowdown, usually, doesn't last too long. Music is almost non-existent, and what little music there is, is very forgettable. Voice acting is alright, not that the dialogue  is anything special.

 Finally, the game does offer local Co-Op and Multiplayer... which I couldn't try since I don't know anyone else that has this game. It does seem like it could be interesting, though. Then there's also a downloadable fifth chapter, but since it's not on PSN and went down, you have to download it elsewhere and get it to you PSP via USB cable, which I don't own yet, so I couldn't try it either.

 Killzone: Liberation is a game I didn't enjoy. According to the Internet, it's a good game, so I might be on the minority here, but I just couldn't get over how slow-paced it is, and how awkward the controls were.
 4.5 out of 10.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Now Playing: Orphen - Scion of Sorcery

 Another one from my younger years!
 And it blooooows! Animation? Laughable. Music? Small in quantity and uninspired in quality. Gameplay? Awful.
 So, there's like two modes: Adventure Mode, that sucks and has a terrible camera, and Combat Mode, that features one of the dumbest battle systems in RPG hist...? This ain't even an RPG, I don't know what this is, but it ain't an RPG.
 The "best" thing about it, is that you have to play the game three times to get the true ending, although to be fair, as far as I remember, all three paths are different. I hope. I chose to start with Zeus this time, then Sephy and I'll leave the kid for last. Oh well....

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review #107: Shadow Madness

 One of your party members is a disembodied head. Let that sink in for a minute.
 Ah, Shadow Madness, Craveyard's first and only game, it bombed so badly that they had to shut their doors. It was a bold move, make a JRPG in America with a team that was fairly inexperienced with the PS1, and it shows, featuring Ted Woolsey, of SNES Final Fantasy games fame. The end result is a game that had a lot of love put in, but a ton of odd choices in gameplay and how it plays out set it back, sinking it to the ground.

 The story tricks you into thinking that Stinger is the protagonist, as the game starts out with Stinger, generic rogue that dresses in red, narrating how his hometown is now a crater, his family dead, and grouping up with Windleaf, generic native-american girl that doesn't like to wear clothes, and Harvester-5, a robot with a barrel for a torso, a Scythe for harvesting enemy heads and a very dark sense of humor, there will be death indeed. Stinger and his friends eventually get involved with the Magi, sorcerers of great power, as they set out to save the world from an otherwordly invasion. Remember how I said that the game tricks you? As soon as you get your fourth party member, the party will start splitting up and taking different routes, with different objectives, Stinger is not the protagonist, this is an ensemble cast, and they get more or less the same development(Which means to say not a whole lot). This also means that, unlike most other RPGs, the rest of the cast is not on stand-by twiddling their thumbs, they are actually fighting alongside the rest of the characters, albeit on a different mission! The rest of the party is made up of a disembodied head that can talk and spit fireballs, he is Xero, the last of the Mage Warriors who lost his body years ago, Clemett, a gadgeteer, robot-like beings who you will soon become familiar with, and Jirina, an Org from the lands below that likes to dress up just like Windleaf, except that her thong is made out of iron instead of cloth.
 While Stinger and Windleaf look very generic and dull, (And Jirina too, to an extent, having blue skin and a metal visor save her from averagedom), the rest of the party members are pretty original. Speaking of original, the whole party loves to rag on each other endlessly, few times they see eye to eye, even when they are on the same quest, and they bicker and argue constantly. This is not your average party of heroes. Having the party split up on pre-set groups also helps, as the game likes to mix characters in every split, so you get to watch them interact with each other. Enemy design isn't so lucky, sadly. In spite of that, the world of the game is very interesting, featuring a fair amount of races that share the world of Arkose, and you'll get to meet them and see how they behave, heck, almost every time you first talk to an NPC, triggers a mini scene where the whole party interacts with him/her!. Furthermore, if you are so inclined, there are loads upon loads of books that give you insight into the world of Arkose, its god, and just funny stories from the world. A lot of care and love was put into the game's lore, and it's easy to tell.

 And now the game falls apart. This is an RPG, so you will be travelling from town to town, but instead of going through an overworld, you go through a map. A map, as in a real map, a flat, hand-drawn map. It's better than a list, as most RPGs now a days use, but at the time it was fairly underwhelming. It does have a very neat twist in the form of landmarks, you may see drawn symbols, like a sun with a face, an upside-down crow or what have you, you can examine each of them for little pieces of lore surrounding the area, which is very cool. Towns are made out of pre-rendered backgrounds, the norm for the time, but they are very low-quality, and while most towns get it easy by showing places you can enter with yellow lights, some dungeons make it hard to see just where you can enter. Movement is also pretty dorky, characters love to bump into things, and walking through narrow places can be a bit of a pain sometimes. There's also a lockpicking minigame, there are like 5 places where you need it, luckily, and most of the time, there are Skeleton Keys that let you bypass it nearby. Why luckily? It's a Simon-says type minigame, the right pick is controlled with the four face buttons, and the left pick is controlled with the keypad, there are four levels to the minigame, and according to the level, is how many moves there are. Level 1 has you memorizing one move at a time, for a total of four, while level 4 has... four moves at a time, for a total of 16. WHAT?! If that wasn't obnoxious enough, some of the moves the pick does look very similar, particularly down and left on the DPad, it's very easy to make mistakes when trying to do a 16-move chain. Don't ever bother with anything above level 2, luckily, there are not many of these, I think there's not a single Level 3 lock for Stinger to pick, god bless.
 Then comes the Random Encounters, which you can avoid by holding R2+L2 when you hear the roar. Combat is needlessly confusing, as it's in real time, but what makes it confusing? There are four menus that you must toggle with the shoulder buttons, a Engage, Attack, Spell and Item menu. Melee characters, like Stinger and Harv-5 have it easy, as you should never need to touch the Item menu(Bar the last boss) and they don't have spells, so only two menus, yay. Engage Menu lets you either Engage the enemy, Evade enemy, Flee from battle or Pass the turn. How does it work? In order to attack the enemy, you must get close to them, hence the Engage the enemy, but why a Get Away from enemy? Once you engage an enemy, or get engaged by one, you are locked into fighting it unless there's another one in attack range, in which case you can attack both of them, but if you wish to attack another enemy, you must "Evade" the enemy, and then Engage it. Needlessly complicated. Attacking needs its own menus since you have Guarded, Normal and Aggressive. Just stick to normal attacks, as Aggressive moves love to miss. Actually, this game has the highest Miss chance I've ever experienced in an RPG, I was missing attacks left and right all the time. Lastly, there's Special, for melee characters, it means that they get projectile attacks that consume ammo, while ranged characters get a melee attack(Since they can't use their normal, ranged attacks when engaged, unless there are enemies far from them). Lastly, the game implements a "Twitch attack" system, pressing X before a melee attack hits deals double damage, and later on you gain elemental twitch attacks that has you pressing two buttons before a melee move connects, not a bad idea, but in a game this easy, it serves no purpose.

 Spells and Items is where it gets annoying. You can't get any spell or item description in-battle. So just hope that "Swarm" is an attack spell and not a Poison spell. Even worse, you have to go through a list in order to pick your spell of item, and you must go one by one, on 20-item plus lists. Clemett gets it worse, as he attacks with a cannon that has 20 different types of shots.... except that there are no description for them anywhere on the game. All his shots look the same, even if they behave differently, He-At was probably a fire attack, but what does the player make of "BNG-50"? With Clemett, just stick to the 25 mana shots. Oh, and remember how combat is in real time? Enemies will get free shots at you while you go through the lists! Except that it doesn't really matter. The level cap in the game is 15, and the game provides the best leveling spot... on the second town of the game. These four guys can be fought at any time, give money after each fight, and give out from 500 to 800 experience points(Depending on how many last hits the character got) per fight. I had maxed Stinger at 5 measly hours into the game. How does this tie into the game? The difficulty is a straight line, enemies take more or less the same amounts of damage, and deal the same amounts of damage, the whole time. New area? Enemies are just as weak as the ones in the area before. Sometimes even weaker. The game doesn't get any harder, but it might as well get easier as you go along. And the bosses are just pathetic, the last boss has two forms(One for each party), one that is fought thrice and the other one twice, but it's really, really easy. I just had to use a mana potion(First time I used an item in the game) on the mages, but that's about it.
 To top it all off, you get a limited inventory, and 80% of the stuff you get are useless items that heal 1-3 Hit points or "Nothing special". You can either have them hog inventory spots until you find that one shopkeeper that will take them for 30 gold instead of 1, or just drop them on the spot, I always chose the latter. The game does keep its sense of humor even with the items, there are items that "Taste great, but does nothing", and you can find "Pandora's Cauldron" that says "Don't use. EVER.". Save before using it, as it destroys the world in the game's longest FMV, and you have to reset the console.  Then there are two FPS minigames, and both of them are.... pretty decent actually, while they suffer slowdown when lot of stuff is going on at the same time, they are way more fun than they should. Oh, and the game is 2 Discs, but each disc contains a different overworld map... when the party splits and one goes to said other world, expect a lot of disc-switching, so you might as well stick with one party until you finish their quest, even though you can swap quests at Inns.

 Most bad games tend to have really good graphics, this is not the case. The game has aged very, very poorly, characters look as pixel vomits, so to speak. Some NPCs look like Final Fantasy VII potions, I kid you not. The animation is very choppy as well, and the FMVs don't fare any better. Hilariously enough, spells have very... picturesque descriptions, say "a spiritual snake appears and bites the enemy", but it's just a small yellow "hit" sfx over the enemy, every spell is like this, more or less. To be fair, the 6 Summon spells do have FMV sequences, but they are the exception. While the music won't be considered a classic any time soon, it's very, very good. There's also a lot of different songs used throughout the game.

 What does one make out of Shadow Madness? It is not a good game, that much is clear, but so much work was put into the setting of the game, I'd say it's worth a look if, and only if, you happen to enjoy JRPGs, especially the old ones.
 4.0 out of 10.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Now Playing: Killzone - Liberation

 Liberate me from this game. Maybe.
 Started it last night before hitting the sack. Again. Long story, anyways I digress, the game: I don't like it. It's very, very slow, movement and shooting. And I know that putting a shooter on this kind of console is a bit hard, but I'm not completely cool with the controls. Even as I hold L, it feels as it sometimes I'd shoot at thin air? I think?  I dunno. Speaking of slow, I was willing to read the whole backstory, but the story panels took so long to go by, I just skipped them after the third one.