Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Archile's Grab-bag: Last one o'the year Edition.

 It's that time of the year again...
  Dragon Quest VIII: A game I've been meaning to play for a while now. I could've waited for the 3DS port, which added new characters... but I felt like the 3DS was a bit underpowered to run the game as smoothly as the PS2, and I didn't much care for the new characters, so might as well get this version!
  Brave Fencer Musashi: When I was younger I ached to play this game for a loooong while before finally being able to satiate that need, and when I finally did, for one reason or another, I didn't finish it. Regardless, it was a neat little game that I want to play now, so that, I will.
  Tony Hawk's Underground 2: Oh, yeah! My favorite Tony Hawk game!... which isn't saying much, actually, considering that I had only played Pro Skater 3, 4 and a demo of 2. Regardless, while I spent much, much more time playing Pro Skater 4, Underground 2 was the most memorable to me. It had the best mechanics, the most memorable levels and skaters and a ridiculous story tying it all together. I've longed to play this one again ever since I decided to get back into Tony Hawk, so I'm stoked to revisit it.
  Pokemon Sun: It's frigging Pokemon. I've tried to avoid as much information as possible, something which was impossible with Facebook vomiting the new reveals on my face, as well as videogame news outlets putting explicit thumbnails next to their titles. Why? Because I wanted to replicate the feeling of newness I felt when playing Ruby and Pearl for the first time, two generations that took me by surprise, since Internet wasn't such a big deal and I stopped reading videgoame magazines for Ruby's release and I didn't care much for the fourth generation and bought Pearl on a whim.
 Regardless, I watched a single trailer, and man, oh man, I wish they would use this game's engine for a proper, teen or adult-themed JRPG. It looks SO beautiful, I feel it's somewhat of a waste on a Pokemon game. Shin Megami Tensei 3D's games could definitely use a facelift.....
 Pandemonium 2: I kinda bought this on accident, since I actually wanted to get the first one first... While I've known about the Pandemonium games for a while now, I never really cared about them, but for whatever reason they piqued my interest this year, so I decided to take them for a whirl!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review #354: Silent Hill - Homecoming

 I'm coming home alright... to Silent Hill.
 I was wary when I first approach Homecoming, after all, it's probably got the worst reputation out of the non-Japanese Silent Hill games. While it's mostly considered an average game, it's also been called buggy, wonky, out of place and a few other less fancy adjectives. Before starting the game, I was already pretty sure that I was gonna like Downpour more. I was wrong.

 In this installment of this revered Survival Horror franchise, you play as Alex Shepherd, coming home after spending a few years as a soldier abroad. But things have changed at Silent Hill's neighboring town, Shepherd's Glen, people are missing, smog covers the air and Alex's younger brother, Joshua, has gone missing. Spanning a trip that will take Alex into Silent Hills, Alex will find out much more than what he bargained for, unearthing the secrets behind Shepherd's Glen and its connection to the Order. One thing to take into account when playing Homecoming is that it kinda borrows more from the movies than from the previous games, which is a bit of a rather huge mistake. Sexy(?) bobble-head nurses return here, for the third time, because they are the popular incarnations of the monster, and Pyramid Head returns as the 'Boogeyman'. To be fair, you can sorta explain the Boogeyman as Pyramid Head being more of a 'monster type'. Y'see, kinda like how most SH games have a Nurse-monster or a dog-monster, well, Pyramid Head and the Boogeyman could belong to the same family.
 One of the beautiful things about the Japanese Tetralogy of SH games is the amount of care and detail that goes into designing monsters and how they relate to whichever character's psyche brought them forth. Here, while I will praise the monster designs, most of them anyways, they are just here to be here without them representing anything, which is kinda disappointing. Regardless, this repertoire of monsters is much, much better than Downpour's stiff humanoid-esque enemies. The Atmosphere also took a hit with this game. Silent Hill has always been about implying horror without making it overtly-explicit, not so here, it feels more like an American Horror movie than anything, filled with gore and blood inflicted upon human victims. Not that the game's atmosphere is bad, au contraire, the game manages to be creepy and unsettling. making the player feel tense and jumpy, which is fantastic, but it's an undeniable different tone than what came before.

 The gameplay has been subject to much debate. At face value, this is your average Silent Hill game, equipped with a Flashlight, which aids in exploring but alerts enemies, and a Radio, which alerts you about enemies, you are to traverse the foggy(Smoggy in this case!) streets of Silent Hill, as you fight or avoid monsters and solve puzzles. But as soon as you dig deeper you'll begin to notice that the game has a rather heavy focus on combat. Alex, being a Soldier, is skilled in battle, being able to dodge in four directions, jump back on his feet after a knockdown, perform weak and strong attacks and even charge them! It received a lot of flak for it, but, me, personally, found the combat to be rather fun, if repetitive, once you get the hang of it. And the sooner you learn that the Knife is the best weapon in the game the better. Damage might be pitiful but its speed is so fast that most enemies rarely get a chance to get a hit in!
 But the game's biggest offense has got to be the menu system, which is all kinds of bad. For starters, in order to toggle on and off your flashlight, you've got to go through a menu. Seriously. Secondly, L1 access the Healing/Key Items menus and R1 opens up your armament menus. Having two inventories is one inventory too many already. But the menu is so clunky that it's pretty easy to accidentally unequip whatever weapon you were using. I sorta understand why they came up with this idea, since they expected players to switch weapons depending on the opponent, I mean, at first, it makes sense, tackling a Nurse with an axe will prove to be tough, but the axe works wonders on the Needler, a creature that is hard to fight with the knife.... Until you learn that spamming the knife's four hit combo is a surefire way of killing most enemies, since their AI's can't deal with the spam!

 I also noticed that sometimes Alex wouldn't dodge in the direction I was push, which became unnerving at times. Plus, it's not uncommon for the camera to get obstructed by scenery when fighting enemies. Lastly, this might be a nitpick, but I absolutely abhor having ammo capacity on my guns. I understand that the focus was on melee weapons, but seriously? An ammo cap!??

 It may seem like I hated Homecoming, but nothing is further from the truth. I had a blast playing the game. As a horror game it succeeds in being scary, it succeeded in keeping me tense and worrying about what could be around the corner, so bonus points for that. Sadly, it falls a bit short when it comes to living up to Silent Hill's legacy... but it's something I can live with. Combat might be repetitive, but I liked it. The environments arrested my attention and the story kept me entertained the whole way through, even if the voice acting left a bit to be desired.

 If you are against non-Japanese Silent Hill games, then you're better off avoiding this game, as this game does nothing to change your mind, as a matter of fact, it will probably make you hate them even more due to how careless they were with a few of SH's concepts. That said, if you can forgive them for that, the game is relatively fun and scary... as least until you learn how to spam the knife.
 7.5 out of 10

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Now Playing: Silent Hill - Homecoming

 Am I even in Silent Hill?
 First and foremost, this is a list of all the games I've started without finishing(yet):
 Ain't pretty right? Not only that, I'm in the middle of my Guardian's Crusade playthrough.... but, dammit, Silent Hill comes first! And sure, I might have one of my toughest academic tests yet this Friday... but, dammit, Silent Hill comes first!

 Anyways, I just cleared the hospital level-thing and... Movie Nurses, which are a variation Silent Hill 2's nurses... No bueno. And Alex gets impaled by Pyramid Head's giant cleaver. No. Flipping. Bueno. At all.

 Leaving these tiny-but-not-that-tiny details aside, the game's been doing a good job of setting up an unsettling, creepy atmosphere. Just like the slightly off-putting voice acting from the second game, the robotic, inexpressive character models help make the characters feel... uncanny, which really helps set a creepy tone. So bonus points for that unintended effect! Then there's the gameplay itself which works relatively fine all things considered. Having a dodge-counterattack mechanic feels slightly fresh for a survival horror, and I'm not against having more options when fighting. Clunky controls and mechanics should never be part of how a survival horror game works.

 To sum up, I'm liking the game, and I've little to complain about besides how little care they took when borrowing creatures from previous games.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Now Playing: Guardian's Crusade

 And here we go again, tests be damned!
 There's something to be said for my sense of good timing, or lack there of. Y'see, the academic semester is coming to a close, which means I'm gonna be kinda swamped having to study for both tests and exams. So I decided to begin another game, a time-consuming JRPG at that! Making good decisions feels good.

 Anyways, onto Guardian's Crusade! This is a game I've longed to play ever since I could remember. I think I first heard about it on an 'Xpert Gamer' magazine which also covered Legend of Legaia(A fantastic JRPG, by the by), and I was captivated by the image of Knight and Baby. So a decade goes by and lo and behold, here I am playing said game!

 What can I say? There's something about these old PS1-era JRPGs that I just adore. The simple, blocky graphics, the melodic tunes, the simple-but-effective turn-based combat systems... I just love them. Guardian's Crusade might just be a tad to simple for its own good, but considering I've only sunk one hour... I'm remaining hopeful.

 One random tidbit to end this entry with: You actually start at level 1! I hate it when RPGs have you starting of at level 5 or whatever, I LIKE LEVELING UP, DO NOT TAKE LEVELS AWAY FROM ME! Even Final Fantasy VII, my favorite RPG ever, starts you off on a higher level. So yeah, the game gets bonus points for that,

Review #353: Tony Hawk's Project 8

 Ain't no quarter pipe high enough... if you catch enough air.
 Welcome to Tony Hawk's first foray into the HD generation, at least as far as Playstation is concerned. Project 8 followed the trend of slightly tweaking what worked and piling new features and mechanics upon the old. It worked for Neversoft all throughout the Ps2 era, but would it work in the then-present day?

 For this installment they went with an entirely new concept for the series: A fully interconnected world. Selecting stages was a thing of the past, now it was up to you to go from zone to zone. I will grant it that it was an idea worth exploring, but, but I feel like it didn't work for the franchise. Part of what made Tony Hawk's games so darn good were the ridiculous, off-the-wall thematic stage designs. Sure, here the different zones have their own themes, like 'Suburbia', 'Fun Park' and 'Hilltop', but in their effort to make it feel cohesive the stages lost the ability to have entirely different concepts, like a Zoo stage, a carnival stage, an airport stage and so on. Now you get different kind of towns and skate parks, alongside a factory and a fun park for variety's sake. On the flipside, the world of Project 8 is very colorful and vibrant, so it makes the monotony more tolerable.
 Another point of contention, for me anyways, were the missions themselves. While it's easy to see that they have the same sense of humor they've always had, it's hard not to feel as if they went a bit lazy this time around. I will praise the structure for letting the player choose the difficulty in the form of complexity. Sometimes a mission consists of doing 10 tricks in 2 minutes, but you can attempt to go for 20 tricks instead to earn the Pro trophy, or go for 30 for the Sick one! It's brilliant and it works perfectly. That said, there's way too many 'spraypaint challenges', which consist of grinding, wall riding or manual-ing through certain sections. These are peppered all throughout every zone and they fill like needless filler missions. There's few standout, unique missions, so you'll be doing a lot of the same on slightly different environments. That said, the 9 or so Pro challenges are always fun, and each area has a 'Classic' mission with a few objectives(Collect SKATE, collect COMBO in a Combo, earn certain scores and complete some silly missions) that harken back to the older games which were always interesting and add variety, because even though objectives repeat(Like gathering those 8 letters), the hiding spots and combos required are always different, unlike the main objectives. Trust me on this.

 Figuring out how to do a few of these can also be a bit annoying. The Spraypaint challenges being the biggest culprits, since there tends to be a lack of hints pointing you to where you should be grinding/manual-ing next. And there also happens too many 'ragdoll' missions, which are rather finicky to pull off and are never fun. Never.
 Now that's out of the way, let's get into the nitty-gritty: Gameplay. If you've been playing the games, even if on and off skipping a few games, there's something that you'll notice immediately: The physics have changed. Skating around feels slightly heavier than before. It's not a deal breaker, and while it's jarring at first, take into consideration that the seven past games have used the same physics, but you'll get used to them in no time. As previously mentioned, this game only piles even more mechanics on top of the older ones. Flips, Grabs, Manuals, Special tricks, grind, wall-plant, getting on-and-off the board, stalling... every single mechanic from previous games are back, so veterans and returning players will feel right at home. I'd also like to mention that the game features a relatively deep tutorial that's very short, but straight to the point, and teaches you every basic skill that you'll need to play the game. Well, most of them...

 Project 8 introduces a new mechanic: 'Nail the Trick'. This mechanics is not covered by the tutorial but will be explained throughout a few missions. While they could've done a better job explaining it, once you get the hang of it, which might take some time, it's incredibly easy to do. Basically, you jump, while the SPECIAL gauge is filled, tap both L3 and R3, and you get to spin and twirl your board around. Trying to spin it in another direction while the board is not properly aligned will cause you to fall and lose your combo, though! To be perfectly honest, I never used this mechanic unless a mission required it, but it's an interesting idea and adds some variety for potential combos.
 As per usual, the game features a character creator. Unlike what's usual for the franchise, however, this time around it sucks. It's incredibly restrictive and limited. You have to pick between 6 or so 'archetypes' and then you only get a very few faces for each. Your character will look ugly and there's no way around it, and it's the character you'll be forced to play throughout the career mode! While in Tony Hawk 4 you had to earn your stat upgrades, now you enhance them by using them. Want to jump higher? Jump a lot. Better grind balancing? Grind a lot. It's a good idea, but I don't think it suits the franchise well, leveling up every stat felt like a never ending chore, so in the end I just forgot about it and played without going out of my way to raise my stats, I wasn't aiming to clear everything on the hardest difficulty setting anyways.

 While the Skate Park creator is gone, the offline 2Player mode is back and the usual suspects are back: Trick attack, HORSE, Free Skate, etc, so there's nothing to complain on that front. The music however... Music in Tony Hawk's games has always been amazing, but the OST in this game has a few stinkers... luckily you can customize which songs you want to play and which ones you don't. Hilariously, my biggest complaint is probably with the game's intro. The first time you play the game you'll be forced to endure a presentation that seems to last forever. I JUST WANTED TO START THE DAMNED GAME GODDAMMIT! On subsequent runs, however, you'll only be forced to sit through the Activision and Neversoft presentations, the latter which is egregiously long, but at least you'll be able to start skating sooner. Thank god.
 The fact is that I enjoyed my time with the game immensely... but the fact also remains that almost any other Tony Hawk game is more fun than this one. The levels are much more appealing and fun, missions are more varied, the character creator is better and, personally, I enjoyed the old physics better. Project 8 is not bad, far from it, but I'd rather play my PS2 Tony Hawk games.
 6.0 out of 10

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Now Playing: Tony Hawk's Project 8

 Because I'm smart and felt the need to start yet another game.
 Tony Hawk was one of the most prolific franchises back in the day. While I was a casual player at best, I loved the heck out of Tony Hawk 4 and Underground 2... I did dabble into Tony Hawk 3, PS2 version, and didn't like it too much though. Sidenote: This is one of the busiest months of the year, when tests, projects and exams start piling up... and I decided to start another game. As if I didn't have enough stuff on my plate already. As if I didn't have about 10 games to finish already. I'm so smart sometimes!

 Regardless, Project 8, what're my feelings on it? Well... Mixed. Firstly, and more importantly, the Open World aspect... I kinda like it, and kinda don't. I think having a huge environment full of interconnected skate parks is interesting. But I also miss the themed, closed-off environments from the previous games. The other biggest change lies in the games physics, it seems like they were going for a more realistic, heavy feel to the game. Jumps are lower and last shorter, skating around seems a bit slower as well, and comboing tricks lacks some of the... snappiness from the previous games. Whenever you linked tricks together you'd get both visual and audio cues, so you knew that stuff was happening, this time around you only get the visual cues, having more subdued sounds when tricks get strung together.

 There's also the character creator which, quite frankly, stinks. You get limited 'styles' of characters, and then you only get a very few options to customize your character's looks. Its very underwhelming. I've already opened up two areas(The skate park and the main city-thing) and the goals so far have been rather drab and dull, and the spray paint challenges can be a bit of a pain to figure out where the game wants you to go next.

 When it comes down to it, I do like Project 8, it's been rather fun so far, but the new physics are not my cup of tea and the missions seem to be lacking a certain spark that previous games had had. So, as much as I like it, I would rather be playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. Regardless, I must've played an hour at most, so there's still time for me to learn to like the new physics and for the missions to get more creative.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sequels that got it Wrong: Bleach - Dark Souls

 Let's take a trip back to 2007...
 ...way back when Bleach was still good and going strong, I was in love with fighting games and had recently gotten my brand new Nintendo DS. Bleach - The Blade of Fate was right up my alley, as a massive fan of both the genre and the anime, plus, Treasure's pedigree was almost immaculate up to that point.
 To say that the game delivered would be selling it short. The simple control scheme lent itself to the console perfectly, and if you had trouble inputting the special attacks there was always the touch-screen shortcuts to rely on. The game's mechanics were simple and addictive, so much so that I dabbled in the Online competitive scene as well as tried my hand at making long, intricate combos(Soi-Fon was my girl!), add to that a fantastic roster that had every character that you'd want, as well as the fact that most of the cast was properly balanced. Sure, joke characters like Kon and Bonnie were downright useless, but why would you want to play as them? And while Byakuya could be a bit of a pain thanks to his powerful attacks and quick recoveries, it was nothing a good player couldn't overcome.

 Sure, the game wasn't perfect. Some special attacks, particularly the Medium variations, were unusable on 1 on 1 fights due to the long start-up times, and the addition of cards was a part of contention for a few players, and I regret admitting that I was part of the snobbish 'no cards allowed' crowd, or the fact that players using the 'Simple Input' mode had an advantage when it came to blocking, but in the grand scheme of things, the game was fantastic.
 Turns out, it took about a year for The Blade of Fates to reach USA. and in the meantime Japan was already enjoying the sequel, Dark Souls. There were videos online, and man, oh man was I hyped! Hollow Ichigo now sported his very own unique moveset! Kon was turned into a Ryu/Ken clone-parody! Hitsugaya's Bankai now looked like it did on the manga and anime! Not to mention the new characters, Izuru! Kira! Matsumoto! Ikkaku! You could even play as the Hollows! I needed this game in my life.

 And then it came out.... Well, y'see, The Blade of Fate was a fantastic game because it could be played competitively and most characters, barring Joke characters, stood a chance against any other character. But... it seems OUR version of The Blade of Fate was rebalanced for the North American market, as the original Japanese release was a bit of a mess... When it came to Dark Souls' turn, we got the exact same build Japan got, albeit with new bugs, and it wasn't pretty. Byakuya got nerfed, which was a good thing, but he was still a bit too good. Ichimaru Gin wasn't particularly strong back then(Mid tierish) but he nerfed into a pale shadow of his former self, still usable but unjustly nerfed. Other characters got off better, Ichigo definitely got slightly buffed, Renji as well, which sounds fair enough... until you get to Orihime and Ishida. To be fair, Ishida could be annoying on the previous game, but he wasn't too strong, in this game they nerfed his ability to spam arrows, which was fair enough, but they also nerfed his damage making him trash. Orihime now takes 0.25 more damage than other characters and deals a pathetic amount of damage, making her useless. And humans can no longer flash-step on air, which makes them sitting ducks, although at least they can flash-step into combos
 And to add insult to injury, the previous game had two joke characters: Kon and Bonnie. They were useless and wouldn't stand a chance against any other character. 1 Joke character is already pushing it when it comes to serious fighting games, so 2 Joke characters was one two many. Sure, they gave Kon an entirely new moveset, but he deals little damage and takes a whole lot more, but that's not the worst of it.... The worst of it is that they added an entire new slew of Joke characters. There's a 'Shinigami Nurse' character, who deals pathetic damage and takes extra damage, a 'Kid', who deals pathetic damage and takes extra damage, a tiny hollow, which deals pathetic damage and takes extra damage... notice a trend? There's also a new 'toy'/Compact Soul that takes Kon's moveset from the previous game, Hanataro, who actually HEALS the enemy and a Generic Shinigami, which at least I can understand why you'd want a generic Shinigami as a character, but doesn't excuse the fact that he sucks. That makes it six new joke characters for a total of eight. EIGHT useless characters that are only there to pad out the roster, eight useless characters that could be taking up slots for other more valuable characters.

 As for the new characters, some of them... felt kinda lazily made. Izuru, Kira, Menos Grande, Grand Fisher and the Screamer Hollow all reuse animations between their Normal, Special and Super moves, which looks incredibly cheap. Probably shouldn't have used their budget on trashy, useless joke characters instead of paking polished animations, huh? It's particularly disappointing with Izuru who's got one of the silliest run cycles I've ever seen on a videogame. Ever. At least some of the new Characters are fun to play, as cheap as Kira's animations feel, he is fun to use. Kon might be a useless joke character, but he is amusing to look at, Hollow Ichigo is probably my favorite of the new movesets, as he uses Zangetsu by throwing it around, Don Kan'Oji is a bit situational with his mechanics and specials, but all his animations look great, Matsumo and Kukaku are fantastic new additions and Ikkaku is easily my favorite new character, they even got his Bankai into the game!
 As far as mechanics go, my complaint is merely a subjective one: In the previous game you could use Flash-step to go through Reinforced Special Moves, which I felt added a lot of strategy and mind games to the game. Use a Flash-Step gauge to dodge an incoming attack? Save them up for Reinforced Special Moves? Or maybe use them up on your combos. This time around I feel as if using up your gauges on Reinforced Special moves is more of a no brainer, since they can't be dodged, which is something I personally didn't like as much. They also removed Masked Komamura, which isn't a big loss since he was a clone of Komamura, but if you're gonna have 8 joke characters, why not keep a clone? At least he stood a chance against the rest of the cast!

 But that is as far as my subjectivity goes, because, on a technical level, the game is objectively bad. How about all the glitches? One of the stages is actually missing graphical layers. How the **** did that pass by the testers? It's doubly baffling since this is one of the returning stages, and they screwed it up! Then there's the lot of graphical glitches related to color palettes. There's a few that are inaccessible due to some kind of glitch, it's specially egregious with the Menos Grande which only has 4 accessible color palettes. Or take good ol' Mayuri, with whom a few color palettes makes it so that his arm and face glitch into other colors when using certain animations. But there's a particularly nasty bug, which is very frequent on Survival Mode but which can happen on any non-competitive mode(Unless someone picks 'Random' when selecting a character) in which the game will try to pair you up against '?', rumor has it that it used to be a character that was scrapped, and then the game will freeze.
 Bleach - The Blade of Fate was such a well polished, finely tuned fighting game that it makes it sad to see what a mess Bleach - Dark Souls became. Extra work went into the previous game to make sure that it was a superior product than the Japanese original, but no such care went into bringing over its sequel, which could've helped ignore some of its most glaring flaws, like cheaply made characters. But the saddest bit about this game... is that at the end of the day, I'll always pick this game over TBoF due to the fact that it has more characters, since I just play casually against the CPU to waste some time.

 Bleach - Dark Souls is a sequel that got it wrong.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Month Overview: October 2016

Siren - Blood Curse 7.0
Castlevania - Lords of Shadow 2                         8.0
Resident Evil - Revelations 7.0

 Halloween's come and gone and as per usual ever since I began my university life... it wasn't what I wanted out of the best holiday ever. Ever. Regardless, I got to play most of what I wanted. Siren was decent but slightly underwhelming, Revelations wasn't as fantastic as I was led to believe... but Lords of Shadows 2 was way better than it deserved to be.
 Then there's also Corpse Party - Blood Drive, I just hit chapter 4 and I already hate the damn thing.

 Game of October:
 I'm a bit conflicted, still, with Lords of Shadow 2. There's plenty of things that other games of the same genre do better, like combat. Devil May Cry is much more stylish and creative and God of War is much more refined. And the exploration can get tedious. But when I think about the game as a whole, I had a blast. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what made the game so engrossing for me, but the fact is that it was and that I wouldn't mind returning to the world of Lords of Shadows another time.

 To be honest, while I rated both Siren and Revelations pretty favorably, I gotta say... I don't think either game was very memorable for me. The reason I picked Revelations over Siren is... Raid Mode. The silly, cheap bonus mode which reuses environments from the main story mode, but damn, is it addictive!