Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Month Overview: March 2017

 Tally:
Suikoden IV 6.5
Castlevania - Curse of Darkness 7.0
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4.0
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 5.0
Suikoden V 9.5
Shadow Hearts 9.0


 Oh boy, oh boy, after last month's rather large tally o' games, this month's paltry selection of games makes for a stark contrast. While there wasn't anything particularly awful, March gave me two new GOTY contenders from two of the franchises I mean to finish this year. I find it funny how few JRPGs I had played on the PS2, considering it's one of my favorite genres, one of my favorite consoles and a console that is renowned for its JRPG selection.


Game of March 2017:
 Brilliant, Suikoden V was brilliant. Suikoden has had, at least III and IV, the games I had played before, a rather shallow cast of characters, but Suikoden V is made up of loveable characters, memorable scenes and a fantastic plot. The gameplay's the best it has ever been on the PS2 entries, and it's a pretty lengthy game as well. Easily one of PS2's finest.

Runner-up:
 I remember seeing this game on my gamestore of choice catalog's over and over again every time I went in to buy a new game, but the cover just never did it for me. And how disappointed I'm at my past self, because Shadow Hearts is one damn fine JRPG. I love the the horror elements mixed with the quirky sense of humor, I loved the combat system and, unexpectedly, I also loved the game's pace. How the game is divided in two very distinct chapters, how it's sort of  adventure through real-life places like China and London, but with a very fantastical flair. Highly original, highly entertaining, Shadow Hearts is another PS2 JRPG unsung marvel.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Now Playing: Shadow Hearts - Covenant

 The road to #400 continues
 When I first booted up the game I look at the intro cutscene and... GODDAMN, IT'S LOOKING SPIFFY. And then I started the game and... GODDAMN, THIS GAME IS BEAUTIFUL, YO. Not only that, combat feels better, and even though it seems to run at a lower framerate, it also seems to flow faster, and the smoother animations make the combat look glorious. That said... why did I bust my butt off getting the ultimate fusion and the good ending... if this game was gonna carry over from the bad one! Dammit, Sacnoth, why did you guys make the canonical endings the bad ones!?

 As if you couldn't tell from my gushing, I adore Covenant. I just got through the first boss and I love the game. I do. I wasn't feeling Yuri's new design, looking at the art and screenshots, but it has won me over, it looks quite neat. I'm also liking Karin, since she reminds me of Orochi Leona, and I love Leona from King of Fighters.

Review #397: Shadow Hearts

 In which I get to judge the judge.
 Shadow Hearts is bloody fantastic, review over, carry on. Picking up 15 years after the story of Koudelka, Shadow Hearts is more or less a direct sequel to the events that transpired, featuring an entirely new cast of characters, enemies and locales... with the appearance of a few familiar faces every now and then. The gameplay has been redone from the ground up, becoming a turn-based RPG, but with its own twist on the formula.

 You play as Yuri Hyuga, a Harmonixer(Don't get too attached, as it will get retconned to 'Harmonizer in future games), a being that can transform/fuse into different monsters. Being haunted by a talking voice, he is told to protect a mysterious girl, Alicia, with even more mysterious powers. The bad guys want her, so Yuri must protect her, and eventually the plot has you saving the world from otherwordly entities. You know, the usual. But as generic and cliched as the plot is, the characters are very interesting, so they manage to carry the story through. You want to learn more about them, Zhuzhen the mysterious monk with ties to Yuri's father, Keith, the bored vampire and his merry reactions to everything that happens, etc. It's a very endearing cast of characters. Bonus points for the art direction, it takes after Koudelka, so there're a lot of horror-inspired elements, with brilliant enemy design and haunting, creepy locales. Even the most mundane of towns manage to look grim yet inviting. It also has a... retro charm of sorts, having pre-rendered backgrounds and simple, yet serviceable character models, it ends up feeling like a beefed up playstation 1 game!
 The game is structured in two halves: Asia and Europe. Asia is very linear, you have little control of your next destination or how your party is made up of, with very little backtracking allowed, if any. Once you reach Europe you can't go back to any Asian part of the map, but you are free to backtrack at will or indulge in sidequests, although these open up at the very last stretch of the game. One of the game's biggest drawbacks is the huge amount of missable stuff. Some events, NPCs or items have a very small window of availability, so I would suggest investigating a bit before starting the game, lest you miss anything you might want. There's no world map, sadly, so you'll select towns or dungeons from a map, not a dealbreaker, but slightly disappointing. It's also a bit on the short side, you could probably finish it in under 20 hours, it took me about 25 since I went the completionist route and had to do every single thing the game had to offer.

 When not exploring, you'll be taking part of random encounters and their turn-based battles The game's main mechanic is the Judgement Ring. Want to attack? Judgement Ring. Want to cast a spell or use an item? Judgement Ring. Bargaining with a seller? Judgement Ring. Want to pick up a key item inside a dungeon? Judgement Ring, heck, even some story-related events require the Judgement Ring. This ring has sections highlighted in different colors, and you must press the X button when the marker passes through these. Depending on when you hit these highlighted sections, you'll score extra damage, extra hits or enhance the results of your spell or item... and failing to hit these sections will result in diminishing returns or even skipping your turn! It sounds tedious, but it really isn't. I had at least two different grinding sessions(Money is hard to come by! And the other time, I realized that enemies were giving egregious amounts of experience points... so why not?) and not once did I grow tired of it.
 The last two mechanics worth mentioning are Sanity Points and Malice. Malice is built up as you defeat enemies, and once it reaches a certain threshold you'll start being haunted by special bosses. These bosses are too tough when they first start haunting you, so you'll have to appease the Malice by entering the Graveyard, which is done from any save point, and defeating a simple, rewardless 1 on 1 battle with Yuri. This sounds more boring on paper, trust me. Unnecessary padding? Maybe, but it didn't bother me too much. As for Sanity Points, this is a third gauge, next to HP and MP, that decreases by 1 every turn. Each character has a different SP amount, which increases sometimes when leveling up, and can be restored by using items or by finishing a fight. If your SP falls to 0 the character enters a Berserk state, which means that you can no longer control it and that he or she won't receive experience points if you finish the fight. Frankly, it's yet another thing that sounds more annoying than it really is.

 I loved Shadow Hearts. I loved the gameplay, I loved setting, I loved the themes it touches, I loved the quirky sense of humor, I loved the entire cast of characters and I even loved its mundane and trite plot. It's not your average JRPG, it does its own thing and it loves it. I love it.
9.0 out of 10

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Now Playing: Shadow Hearts

 And now, let's take a trip back into the world of Koudelka.
 Damn, is the game ugly. I mean, the CG cutscenes are sooo dated, they look fugly, heck, Yuri himself looks as if he belonged to a different game, since other character models aren't as fugly. But y'know what? I love it. I love early PS2 games, they have a certain charm that I just love, for whatever reason.

 That aside, I played but half an hour, and I kinda like it. Not the biggest fan of the judgement ring, since I can see that mechanics growing old if I was to grind for experience points or what have you, but, on the flip side, it also reminds me a little of Paper Mario and its timing-based combat, so that's a plus. Kinda.

 I'm also liking how weird the game is. Yuri's father appears out of thin air because why not, he's also wearing a fox mask, because why not. There're also evil, talking masks, because why not, and the main bad guy was using a tiny imp with a scythe as a weapon because why not. If the game can keep this weirdness up I'm gonna be in love. I love weird.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review #396: Suikoden V

 The Sun comes out again...
 The Suikoden franchise kept straying further and further away from its roots until Suikoden V happened. Not only does it try its hardest to feel like the PS1 originals, it's also filled to the brim with winks and references to all four previous games in the franchise. And while that could end up turning this game into a shallow affair, it ends up being pretty darn great.

 Taking place in the Kingdom of Falena, you play as the mute hero, the Prince of Sol-Falena's Queendom. Early in the game, which means 10 hours or so into the game, our hero is subject to betrayal and exile, her sister and the Sun Run turned hostage/weapon and the entire Queendom a plaything for different political parties. It's up to the prince to gather a rebel army, save his sister and restore order to Falena. Suikoden V's story is bloody fantastic, it's smart, filled with tons of political intrigue, themes of war and some fantastic, poignant and emotional scenes peppered throughout the entire adventure. Not only does this game feature some of the best character designs in the franchise, it also features some of the most interesting, engaging and sympathetic characters in Suikoden. And there's a ton of them. One thing to be mindful of is the fact that the story is very slowly paced, heck, I was 2 hours into the game and I had seen two dungeons at most and had barely had any fights, but I think the pace works to its advantage, as it develops both the characters and the queendom of Falena very well.
 Most of the game will be spent going from town to dungeon to town to dungeon ad nauseam, it seems Konami took Suikoden IV's criticisms to heart, as towns are HUGE and filled with various NPCs or goodies to find. You can no longer turn the camera around, opting for fixed camera angles instead, which feels rather regressive, this was not a 'feature' from older games that needed to return! Still, dungeons are simple enough that the camera won't get in your way. Once you get into the dungeon expect to be assailed by random encounters, but the encounter rate is alright, so no biggie. I've heard complaints about lengthy loading times, but I felt they were par for the course.

 Combat is back to six-man parties, thank god, since there're so many cool characters that you'll want to bring as many as you can with you. As a matter of fact, there're four extra slots which can be outfitted with support characters, for passive abilities, or four extra battle characters which which you can switch during battle. Formations are a thing now, and you'll need to make the most out of these, as characters have different attack ranges and their accuracy will decrease unless properly placed on the grid. Battles are fought by turns and work just like any other Suikoden, or any other JRPG, for that matter, y'know, the usual 'attack, defend, spell, item' options are here and accounted for. Skills are back from Suikoden 3, but a bit more limited. You can only equip two of them at a time, and you won't handicap yourself if you forget about them, since the game is rather easy and skills don't make such a huge difference in battle.
 Strategic Battles are back, it is a Suikoden game after all, and they are better than ever. These take place in real time, think of it as a real time strategy game-lite, as you're basically limited to ordering which units you want to move and where. There're three basic unit types(And a few specializations), Archers, Infantry and Cavalry and each type is strong against one and weak against another, think rock-paper-scissors. There're also naval strategic battles, but they work exactly the same, only with ram ships instead of cavalry. These are pretty fun, and can get pretty exciting once you are shuffling both land and sea combat at the same time! Just remember to be careful, as characters may die permanently and thus lock you out of the best ending.

 Duels have been reworked again, once again a rock(attack) - paper(defend) - scissors(Special) affair in which you must guess what your opponent is gonna do based on the line of dialogue they spew, only that now they are timed. The limited time factor really does add to the excitement and urgency of these battles, and the animations have been polished a lot from Suikoden IV, so these duels, which I never really cared about, became somewhat of a treat. It helps that a lot of these fights felt personal thanks to how likeable, or hateable, characters were.
 Another one of Suikoden IV's issues was it short length, well, they really made up for that with Suikoden V, as it's pretty easy to sink over 50 hours. The story is pretty lengthy, and there's plenty of stuff to do besides gathering all 108 Stars of Destiny. Gathering these characters is a bit tougher this time around, as some can be missed permanently and some FAQs are lacking some of the finer details regarding how to recruit some of these. Luckily, if you search around the net you will find your answers, but keep that in mind. Also, as with previous games in the series, some characters join way too late for them to be any use, like Shoon, who is pretty cool, but by the time he joins there's only one dungeon left. You will also need to grind a bit, as you'll need to have 3 battle-ready parties to tackle the very last dungeon.

 Not only is Suikoden V the best Suikoden on PS2, it's also one of the finest JRPGs on the system. The story is phenomenal, the characters are fantastic, the combat system works great, the strategic battles are the best they've been yet, and they even managed to make me like duels. If this is fated to be the last ever numbered Suikoden game... then what a send-off it was.
 9.5 out of 10

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review #395: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

 This is what a sequel's supposed to be!
 Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 was a fantastic game at release, and nothing but a curiosity nowadays. Enter Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, a bigger, larger and undeniably better game than Pro Skater 1, but is that enough to escape the grasp of time? It's not, it isn't, it's outclassed byt every subsequent game in the franchise... but it might have more lasting power than its predecessor. 

 The usual suspects are back: Career, Free Skate, Single Session and 2 Player mode, but joining them are the ability to create your own skater(Male only!) as well as a create a skate park. Career Mode is made up of  8 stages, 1 less than the first game, but each stage is larger and houses 10 goals as opposed to the first game's 5. Plus, goals offer more variety instead of following a 'formula', and clearing the game will unlock two bonus levels, for a total of 10. There're more playable skaters as well, each one has two costumes, except Tony Hawk, who has 3, and a certain unlockable character that has 4!
 Career Mode has seen some slight changes besides the added goals, now everything revolves around money. You open up stages by amassing large sums of money, which is earned by performing the various different goals or finding it peppered throughout every stage. Money can also be used to buy more stat points, new boards or even new tricks to equip your skater with. The point penalty for repeating the same moves has become more lenient, so score-based goals are much easier than THPS 1's. Sadly, you still need to restart a stage if you want to review goals.

 The biggest new addition, and somewhat of a gamechanger, are manuals, by quickly tapping up and down or down and up while on ground. Manuals can be used to link various grinds or even flat land air tricks with grinds or each other. As fantastic as this addition was, back in the day, it's not 'till Pro Skater 3's reverts that you'll be able to make the most out of manual tricks.
 My biggest gripe comes with the game's ambition. Levels are a tad too large and the draw distance is a tad too short. While you won't be running into obstacles before you see them any time soon, I certainly would've liked being able to see more of what was ahead of me. Being so large also means that you'll probably have to make plenty of return trips in order to figure out where everything is and fulfill all the different goals. On the flip side, level design is really good, exploring these large levels is certainly a treat, so said revisits don't feel all that tedious.

 While Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 is held as one of the best videogames ever, I simply can't share that sentiment. It's an upgrade in every way, shape and form from the first game... but it's still not enough when you compare it with what came after it. That said, this game is way more deserving of revisiting it thanks to it's great levels, some which never made it into future games, and the variety of goals on each.
5.0 out of 10

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review #394: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

 Doing everything it can, pretending it's a superman.
 This is it. The game that started it all, the franchise, the phenomenon, the legend. Sadly, it hasn't aged very well, although it'd be more fair to say that subsequent games left it biting the dust. Welcome to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1.

 The game offers the standard selection of modes that future games in the franchise would have: Career, Single Session, Multiplayer and Free Skate. Career has you going through 9 stages, 3 of them being point-based competitions, fulfilling goals. The remaining six stages have 5 goals each: Two point-based scores you have to reach, collecting all SKATE letters, finding the hidden tape and destroying 5 of a certain item, all while under a 2 minute limit. Luckily, you don't have to complete every goal in one sessions. Formulaic? Very much so, but considering it was the first game, it's not altogether bad, plus, stages are different enough as not to make the goals feel as repetitive as they should.
 One of the game's biggest oversights is the Challenge list, as you can only review them by restarting a stage. The point-based challenges can get rather tough, as the point deduction penalty for repeating tricks is rather harsh, so if you want to 100% the game you better learn where the gaps are to maximize point gains. Increasing your stats also works a bit weirdly, as they increase as you fulfill goals, which is rather odd. Regardless, beating the game should take you between 20 minutes to an hour or so, depending on how quickly you learn the ins and outs of the game, as well as where everything is hidden. There's a small amount of unlockables to keep you invested, but not nearly as many as future games.

 Then we have Free Skate, which basically lets you skate around any level without time limits. Single Session is a timed round in which you must make as many points as you can on any stage of your choosing. Lastly, the 2 player modes contains the most basic of multiplayer modes, like Horse and Tag, but also the most memorable and you'll be seeing them again in every subsequent game.
 As far as gameplay goes, it covers only the bare essentials. X is used to ollie, and can be held for speed and a higher ollie, Square is tied to flips and Circle is tied to grabs, while triangle is used to grind. There're no manuals, no transfers, no reverts... it's only the basics. Heck, you must use your eyes to gauge how well balanced you are during a grind, as there's no balance meter! While I'm sure that at the time of its release this game was the bees knees, I can't help but feel limited since future games would add so many mechanics on top of these to make the games so much more fun and inventive.

 There're a few levels in this game that are downright fantastic, but there're a few like Downhill Jam and the mall that are kinda bad. Luckily almost every level in this game made it into future games, so this is not the only way to play them, and later down the line they even 'fixed' Downhull Jam and the Mall by respawning you back at the top once you reach the bottom. There were a few technical flaws as well, this one time I somehow went through a ramp, lying on the Mall's top floor and made it to ground floor through the terrain, which was odd, and the camera will obstruct your view every now and then since it will veer a bit too much to one side.
 The truth is, at this point in time, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 lives on as a curiosity. A game to play only if you are interested in seeing how Tony Hawk began, as anything this game can offer, other games do ten times as good. Tony Hawk 1 is not a victim of time, as if the game was contained in a vacuum it could be considered pretty good, but a victim of itself, a victim of the very games it would spawn and be surpassed by.
 4.0 out of 10

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Now Playing: Suikoden V

 Onto the last PS2 Suikoden!
 Oh my god, it's beautiful! While not ugly, Suikoden III and IV weren't quite the lookers, but V? V is drop dead gorgeous, character models are detailed and feature plenty of soft fabric twirling behind them.

 But enough about frivolities, Suikoden V started pretty promising. The first 14 minutes have you stuck through cutscenes and they were interesting enough as for me not to get bored. I only knew they lasted that long since I saved my game afterwards!

 The fights are fun, if slightly less exciting than IV's, the camera doesn't pan around as much, which makes them less action-y as a whole and a wee bit more static. Not a deal breaker though. I heard loading times were cruel, but so far they seem moderate, what you'd normally expect in a JRPG, that said, I've been fighting with a 4-man party only, so maybe after I get two more members it will tax the loading process a bit more.

 Regardless, it was a stunning first impression.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review #393: Castlevania - Curse of Darkness

 White haired pretty boys, whips and leather... it's Castlevania alright.
 Konami was it again with Curse of Darkness, trying to prove that they could successfully bring Castlevania into the third dimension. If you ask me, Lament of Innocence got it just right, but if you go by reception alone, Curse of Darkness was the better received of the two... for whatever reason.

 You play as Hector, one of Dracula's two Devil Forgemasters, a being that can bring demon constructs into life and control them at will. Hector had previously betrayed Dracula and cause his downfall at the hands Trevor Belmont, but the other Forgemaster, Isaac, holds a grudge against him. Dracula also left a parting gift, his curse, causing chaos and strife amongst townspeople. Hector now ventures forth, seeking to beat Isaac to a pulp and unknowingly come face to face with Dracula's curse. It's not the most intriguing of tales, but I felt enamored by Hector, his plight and his dialogue. Characters speak in a faux Ye Olde English with hints of Shakeaspeare, which sounds all kinds of badass. The supporting cast is interesting enough, both in looks and personalities, and Trevor Belmont had never looked this badass before.
 For all intents and purposes, Curse of Darkness is yet another Metroidvania game: Games in which as you explore along a huge interconnected maze of sorts, you'll be faced with obstacles that can only be surpassed with the right power up or skill that you earn later throughout the adventure. However, fans of the genre might be surprised to hear that this game is rather linear, not once will you have to choose between two or more routes, and the backtracking is minimal, there're very few hurdles laying inside each area, and they only house power ups, and sometimes even less, items, instead of routes... although you'll be finding the occassional bridge between areas every now and then.

 The exploration aspect also leaves something to be desired, while exploration is encouraged in the form of diverse rewards of varying degrees of worth, the world of Curse of Darkness is rather... boring. The game quickly falls into a rut of 'Walk through the hallway killing everything in your way to enter the circled/squared arena-type room, kill everything there and enter the next enemy-ridden hallway. Rinse and repeat'. It can get pretty repetitive, and the different areas are not all that different from one another, so there's not a whole lot of visual variety to keep things looking fresh, eventually every hallway will start feeling like every other hallway you've already been through,
 They did improve upon Lament of Innocence in some ways, however, like adding a leveling up system, which makes combat feel more meaningful since you are always striving towards something. Combat's a very simple affair, you've got a weak attack and a strong attack that can be used to finish your weak-attack combos with flair. Hector, being a Devil Forgemaste, can also summon a single Innocent Devil, a familiar of sorts, to aid him in battle, with different spells to support Hector or damage the enemies. Hector can also dodge around and even parry enemy attacks, which feels oh so satisfying to pull off. By the way, making the 'open door' button and the 'strong attack' button the same button was a terrible idea, so avoid fighting near doors.

 Another improvement upon Lament of Innocence is the huge variety of weapons types that Hectore can acquire. There're swords, axes, spears, knuckles and 'special' varieties, each with their own combos. Not only that, even among types there're sub-types, like one handed or two handed swords and then rapier type blades that behave entirely different from each other. Not only that, some special weapons have a few unique strong attacks, and some have unique effects, like slashing kanji out of thin air, and sometimes, even longer weak attack strings. There're a ton of weapons, and they each reflect on the character model.
 Weapons and armor are not made in this game, but rather crafted. The crafting system is pretty easy to use, just gather the correct items, press start, choose combine, pick what you want to craft and wallah! Some material can only be gathered as enemy drops, and some material can only be found by stealing it from an enemy. Stealing can be simple or challenging depending on the enemy, for you see, each enemy has a different window of opportunity for you to steal from them. You must be locking onto the enemy that you want to steal from and then wait for them to enter the right state: Some enemies need to be doing their special attacks, some enemies only expose themselves AFTER a certain attack and some must be popped up into the air. As previously stated, some enemies will give you more or less trouble than others. Honestly, the drop-rate is generous enough, but if you truly want to keep your equipment updated, you will need to incur in stealing occasionally.

 Then we have the Innocent Devils, the monsters you can summon to aid you in battle. They're smart enough to be left to their own devices, but you can switch to a more manual mode in which they'll only use basic attacks unless you tell them to use a specific special attack. Keep in mind that Inoccent Devils run on hearts, which double as both their HP and currency for their special attacks. Running out of hearts, which can be replenished by gathering them from enemy drops, will temporarily leave the Innocent Devil unusable until you gather a certain amount. You can have about 7-8 of them with you at a time, but can only summon 1.
 Your Innocent Devils(ID) can evolve into different forms, each with their own look and special skills, depending on which weapons you use, which is a fantastic idea that promotes trying out different weapons. What's not so cool is that there're about six obstacles in the game that require specific abilities from specific evolutions or evolution paths, with not a single hint as to you needing them. How should you have known that there's an evolution path for the bird-type ID that leans an enhanced glide ability? How should you have known that you need a very specific battle-type ID to get through a single obstacle? It's a bit cheap, and it's a bit of an insult to the player and his time, because raising devils is not as easy or fast as crafting weapons, so experimenting with ID branches is not all that fun.

 In what is a Metroidvania staple, finishing the game lets you play as a bonus character, Trevor Belmont in this case. As is to be expected, Trevor gets no story, no cut-scenes and loses the ability to use items or level up. Trevor, however, is more of a glass cannon, while you can find items that will raise his stats, Trevor's base stats are already rather high, so he will make short work of enemies... as long as he doesn't get hit, since he'll never be able to take as much damage as Hector, and even if he could, he can't recover lost health by using items. Not only that, Trevor has his own unique way of playing, Hector can't replicate his whip-based style, and since Trevor can't use IDs... he gets Castlevania's traditional sub-weapon ensemble: The knives, the axes, the holy water, the cross and the stop-watch, alongside each respective 'Weapon Crash' for massive damage.
 Is Curse of Darkness better than Lament of Innocence? I don't think so, not at all. Does it improve upon it? In some ways, yes. It doesn't feel as Casltevania-ish, but it can stand on its own two feet. There's a lot going for it, even if I don't think they got every aspect right, there's quite a bit of fun to be had with it, from the interesting and alluring cast of characters, to the diverse weaponry waiting to be tried out.
 7.0 out of 10

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Now Playing: Castlevania - Curse of Darkness

 What a horrible night to have a curse.
 It's no secret that I love me some Castlevania, and Curse of Darkness is pretty much the only Castlevania I've yet to play. And maybe the gameboyvanias. And while I did play Castlevania 64 I didn't play Legacy of Darkness... BUT I DIGRESS, Curse of Darkness was one of the very few Castlevania games I hadn't played, so I had to. I had to.

 It baffles me how lukewarm Lament of Innocence's reception was, as I felt that was the perfect way to bring Castlevania into 3D, whatever the case may be, Curse of Darkness had been better received, so I was wondering what all the hoopla about it was. And I still do. Don't get me wrong, I'm an hour into the game and I'm liking it, but not as much as Lament of Innocence, even though this one brought Weapon types into the mix.

 Oh glorious weapon types, there're 5 basic types: Sword, Axe, Spear, Knuckle and special, and it seems like there're subtypes among weapons, since the foil and the short sword have entirely different movesets. The combat is rather fun, although a targeting feature would've been welcome as I've hit the air more times than I would've liked. Landing 'Final Attacks' feels very crunchy and rewarding, so props to that.

 Curse of Darkness is pretty alright so far, but nothing too special or noteworthy. I'm not the biggest fan of 'Collect them all' mechanics', besides Pokemon, Digimon and Shin Megami Tensei, so I'm not digging the Innocent Devils and their evolutions, but I guess every Metroidvania needs its gimmick.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review #392: Suikoden IV

 I pirate I was meant to be.
 So, it was Suikoden's fourth entry, so they had to do what any franchise has to do when it reaches its fourth entry, just ask Assassin's Creed, so they took to the seas. It's... it's an interesting experiment, although not an entirely successful one. So did this JRPG series survive their adventure into the seas?

 Sadly, we're back to a silent protagonist, whom we'll call Lazlo. Lazlo is training to be a knight alongside his friend Snowe and a few others. What should've been a simple patrol goes wrong and the True Rune of Punishment makes its way into Lazlo's hand. But Lazlo, being a silent protagonist, is more or less an accessory to this story of war, pirates, high seas and political intrigue. It's a decent plot, with a rather quirky pacing which will probably have a varying degree of success. Y'see, the game does a few... interesting things. For instance, the first 4-5 hours of the game are spent stranded on the sea, jumping from ship to ship and being a victim to the quirks of fate. It fits the story, but it won't appeal to everyone. Then there's the scene in which Lazlo and company are left stranded on a deserted island, and you must survive for three or four days... which means repeating the same mundane task of gathering food and supplies. It's not even hard, you just have to walk from place to place. FOUR TIMES. It's repetitive, it's kinda dull and it kills the game's pace... but it fits perfectly, since your characters are stranded, and instead of turning it into a cutscene of 'some times passed' you get to play it. I liked it, but your mileage will vary.
 The game's set on the 'Island Nations', about 12 Islands or so separated from each other by sea. Instead of having a traditional world map, your means of transportation is your ship, and you must travel from Island to Island. It sounds like an interesting setting for a JRPG, and it is, but the ship moves VERY slowly, even while holding the R1 button, and random encounters are very plentiful. Early in the game you'll come across a character that can transport you to Island you've previously visited, but every now and then you'll be forced to sail manually since the story demands it. In order to enter towns you must touch the vicinity of their harbors, but it's kinda wonky and it's easy to be repelled and sent sailing sideways due to annoying invisible walls. It's hard to describe without you playing it first-hand, but it can get pretty vexing.

 Another issue comes in the form of the size of the world. It's kinda huge, and thanks to the sailing speed, it takes a while to explore... but it's as huge as it is barren. There's only about 12 Islands, and they are very, very small. Some consist of only 2 different screens, which is kinda disappointing. When it comes down to it, deciding to design the game around this very naval theme was an interesting idea, but they couldn't pull it off just quite right. Exploring the waters of the Island Nations is kinda fun at first, but you'll grow bored of it halfway through the game.
 Strategic battles have been changed, no longer are they boards, and no longer are battles automatic, now you fight with ships! Before each fight you can outfit your ships with different characters to enhance their resistance or change the type of cannonballs they carry. Certain elemental cannonballs beat other elemental cannonballs, so you don't receive damage and they do, the same elements cancel each other and elements without direct-relation ignore each other and both combatants receive damage. It's really fun, although you ought to be careful since characters might die on this battles, and that would lock you out of the true ending.

 Despite all the focus on sailing, you will have to go through small dungeons every now and then. Sadly, you are restricted to four-man parties, which is kinda disappointing considering the huge amount of playable characters. Battles work more or less just as they did in 3, but without skills. They follow the traditional turn-based scheme and characters can equip different runes, which translate into the spellsets they will bring to battle. There're also combo-attacks between related characters and a new 'Rush' command that heals the leader and performs AoE damage. All in all, it's fun, if nothing out of the ordinary. You'll also engage in 1 on 1 duels every now and then, which work like rock-paper-scissors.
  As per usual, if you want to, you can gather up to 107 different characters to join your cause. Some will aid you in battle, some will give you perks inside your ship and some... do nothing. In this front, the game feels rather weird, since every now and then you'll be able to recruit characters in bulk, a lot of them are given to them for free, and some of them don't do ANYTHING at all. It's as if they didn't know what to do with them or how to spread them. It doesn't help that the game is very short, if you don't indulge in sidequests, you'll probably be able to finish it in under 20 hours.

 Suikoden IV is rather... quirky. It has some very fun moments, it has some quirky moments, it has some weird design choices but it also has some original ideas... it's a mixed bag of elements that don't mesh too well together, but when they work, they work. Some of its worst features try to drag the game down, but it's better parts make it fun to play despite it all.
 6.5 out of 10

Monday, May 1, 2017

Now Playing: Suikoden IV

 Suikoden Black Flag?
 Since Shadow Hearts 1 hasn't arrived yet, and I need to play something instead of, y'know, studying for tomorrow's test, I decided to start Suikoden IV.

 The new water-ship motif is interesting to say the least, it feels very... I want to say unique, but it actually brings back memories of Assassin's Creed IV - Black Flag, guess the '4' in the title is no coincidence! But I digress! What I meant to say was that among JRPGs, this water motif makes it rather unique, particularly since the characters aren't pirates, but knights!

 I know this one is considered the black sheep of the series, but having played little over 30 minutes, I rather like it! The downgrade to four-man parties will probably be disappointing once I more characters though! I'm digging the battles, however, spells come out much faster. I also like the fact that you start off at level 1, I hate when RPGs have you starting out at other levels!

 All in all, I'm feeling hopeful, Suikoden IV seems fun.

Month Overview: April 2017

 Tally:
Suikoden III 8.0
Tony Hawk's Underground 2 9.0
The Hobbit 6.5
Transformers - Devastation 7.0
Vexx 6.0
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland 8.0
Sonic Heroes 2.5
Koudelka 8.0
Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam 4.5
Star Wars Episode 1 - Jedi Power Battles 3.5
Super Bust-a-Move 4.0
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 6.0
Wild Arms 5.5
Dead to Rights 8.0
Bionicle 3.0
Wild Arms - Alter Code: F 4.5


 Boy, oh boy did I play a LOT this month. plenty of stinkers, like Sonic Heroes and Jedi Power Battles, but also more than a fair share of fantastic games. I'm well on my way to finishing the entire Suikoden, Wild Arms and Tony Hawk franchises this year!


Game of April 2017:
 Tony Hawk's Underground 2 is so good. SO GOOD. The amount of tools you are given in this game makes playing around a blast. It also has some of the best levels in the entire franchise, as well as, probably, my favorite goal-set-up of any Tony Hawk game, letting you clear things at your leisure as you unlock more characters and the such. I can't get tired of Underground 2, it did everything a Tony Hawk's game should do right.

Runner-up:
 It's surprising how well this game has aged, considering it's a third person shooter on a console. The action is plentiful, and there's a ton of ways to make dispatching enemies look exciting. I can't wait to get a hold of the sequel-prequels!