Monday, September 28, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
I think the reason I never got around to playing Jumping Flash! 2 before was due to my fear of heights. It's so bad I get woozy just standing on a step-ladder. This fear extends to 3D videogames which makes it troublesome for me to get through quite a few of them(mainly platformers for obvious reasons). Surprisingly despite the concept and the level design I found myself not at all troubled by heights. In fact I was able to really push myself to make the game more challenging by trying new things.
The concept is very simple. As a Robbit the player must explore 11 massive levels to find four Muu Muus and then reach the exit. What makes this title unique is that everything is handled from a first-person perspective and Robbit is capable of performing three very high jumps in a row. As expected there's a lot of platforms of both the moving and non-moving variety to land on. To mix things up a plethora of enemies and power-ups await robbit. There's also quite a few bosses to contend with though for the most part they go down very easily.
First-person and platforming isn't my kind of thing. To help make it work the game offers a lot of visual feedback. Upon jumping a bar at the side of the screen gauges the player's ability to perform a second and third jump. After the second jump Robbit will automatically look downwards to show the player what's below them. This is especially handy for landing on tiny platforms and bouncing off of enemies. All of this is helped even further by the jumping & falling speed of Robbit. Though it gains some momentum if it falls for awhile it's still slow enough for the player to react accordingly. Even though I didn't so much as flip through the manual I was able to effectively pick up the game as soon as I started the first stage.
In order to make a game like this work confidence in the level design, controls, and mechanics is required. JP!2 excels at all three by establishing the basics early on so when new objects are introduced they are sensible and give enough room for the player to react accordingly. Thanks to the open-nature of the levels the player can use all manner of short-cuts in order to accomplish goals more quickly. Aside from tilted platforms(which cause Robbit to slide off) and the possibility of nearby enemies there's always enough time to decide where to go next and it's very easy to recover if a mistake is made.
Course on that same note it might also make the game a bit too easy. There's an additional mode that changes around Muu Muu locations and makes a few aspects of the game more challenging but otherwise there's only so much content to go around. On the bright side this game is at the right length to make it worthwhile for getting high scores and better times. What's also interesting is the inclusion of achievements. By accomplishing certain tasks the player can eventually unlock a mode which allows Robbit to jump six times in a row. These achievements can be simple like beating the game or they can be more complicated like "destroy 1 of every enemy in the game" or "find all of the Muu Muus in order"(since each one holds up a letter that spells EXIT). I find it funny that there are 12 of these achievements, which is the average number of an Xbox Live Arcade title.
In the end like many other games I've talked about on this blog, the future of Jumping Flash! isn't pretty. For one this game isn't even available on Sony's Playstation Network(the first game is though which is just odd). Aside from that the developer behind the game is probably no more or has moved on to something else. I'm not sure why it has to be this way since Sony could easily put together a new game. It could be on the Playstation 3 or even the PSP, feature level creation and sharing, and I don't know a deathmatch mode or something.
While there are tons of 3D platformers out there I believe JP!2 stands well and above many of them. Even without the unique concept this game understands the importance of a solid foundation and makes for a game that's easy to pick up despite the perspective and abundance of tiny platforms. It also helps that the game is at a reasonable length for players who wish to beat their high-scores or simply test out new ways of getting around.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
The Kingdom of Duhan was once peaceful but that all changed after a disaster that nearly wiped out the entire population. Now all that remains are survivors who live in fear, adventurers seeking fame, glory, or good karma, and the remains of the castle which hold many horrifying secrets. A hero without a past arrives at Duhan seeking answers and they can only be found in the depths of a dungeon that wants little more than to consume the soul of every living creature foolish enough to wander inside. It's a traditional tale with many shocking twists and reoccuring characters whose lives are affected by the hero's presence.
The game progresses much the same as similar titles. There is the single town, the single massive dungeon, and the tile-based movement. As soon as the player steps into the dungeon things become much different. While early games consisted almost entirely of walls and doorways the dungeon of TotFL is designed to resemble an actual location instead of just a maze. There are inside and outside areas, variations of walls and floors, and everything else that helps make a dungeon feel developed. While the maze-like qualities persist there are a variety of setpieces and unique objects that lend each floor personality. The next major difference is how enemy encounters are handled. In the past almost all fights were random. Here the monsters actually wander the halls and contact with them will trigger a battle.
The wandering monsters are very much a part of exploration in this edition of Wizardry since learning how they move and how to approach or avoid them is necessary to survival. Each wanderer consists of a ghostly form in the shape of a creature such as a bat, a spider, a humanoid, and so on. The shape determines what the player can expect to fight as humanoids are likely to be orcs, soldiers, ninjas, or even giants. The bats can be all manner of flying creatures or even simply just very large demons with wings. There's no set pattern for the wanderers as they will move and change direction at random. The game has a habit of not playing fair as frequently monsters will take up spaces the player needs to go, group together so the player may have to fight two or more battles in a row, and they'll even turn red and chase the player down if need be. Safe-spots in this game are rare and monsters will even go through doors if they feel like it. To further complicate things how a monster contacts the player can have an affect on the battle itself. If a monster manages to catch the player from behind not only will they get the first strike in battle but also the player's rows will be reversed. This means the fighters get moved to the back while healers/mages get pushed to the front, and since most melee attacks target the front this is a very bad thing. No matter how the player approaches a wanderer this never leads to their rows getting reversed though rarely the player can get a first strike of their own. Again this game is not fond of playing fair.
Combat itself starts off very basic. At this point the player has two other melee-based attackers and a healer so battles are very cut & dry. There's no real strategy aside from slashing things until they fall over and healing when necessary. Before long however the party system is introduced. After getting a tutorial the player is able to build a full-fledged six character party. They also have access to Allied Actions. AAs are the meat of Tale's battle system and it is only by using them effectively will the player survive. How an AA works is that two or more party members will work together to perform a specific task. For example two front-row party members can perform a double-slash which strikes a single enemy for double damage. Two back-row party members can use an AA that allows them to protect two front-row party members from melee attacks. All AAs are governed by a party level system which determines abilities by the loyalty of each party member. Raising loyalty is as simple as winning battles but it can also be raised by performing deeds that suit the party's alignment(Good, Neutral, or Evil) or through specific tasks like learning spells or disarming traps. Party levels take quite awhile to raise but they are very necessary to learning the strongest AAs. Enemies are also capable of using AAs so it's best to respond in kind.
What's interesting about Allied Actions is that most of the time each encounter can be handled through using a certain combination of AAs. Let's say there's a battle with a row of Ninjas in the front. Ninjas are capable of insta-death attacks so keeping them from performing melee damage is imperative. These ninjas are backed by a few mages who will pelt the party with spells so the player should use an AA that counters spells. The problem here is that using either AA requires two back-row party members so both can't be peformed. There are ways around this and other situations and once the solutions are figured out it becomes very easy to breeze through many encounters without so much as taking a hit. The AAs are the player's primary means of both offense and defense. On that same token however using AAs and backing up party members not protected by them with spells or other variables is just as important. Thankfully it's not usually that complicated and must encounters will be handled without a sweat.
Despite the AA system death is never far away in the Forsaken Land. In fact at times he just might come out and chase down the party. Depending on the location and time the Reaper himself will appear with the goal to possess one of the player's party members. The only way to get rid of this guy is to leave the current level but since that's rarely an option usually somebody will simply end up possessed. This status effect can be very dangerous since if the party member in question gets killed they will turn to ash. In Forsaken Land there are three levels of death. Being dead isn't too bad as the corpse is still around to be easily revived. Ash is another story entirely since if the revive fails the party member will be lost instantly. In fact while in a possessed state a particularly devastating attack could destroy a party member entirely, leaving not even the equipment to be handed off to a new recruit.
Unlike most other RPGs Forsaken Land isn't friendly about saving the game. While temporary saves can be made in the dungeon the only saves that matter in case something goes terribly wrong are made in town. Shortcuts crop up over time to help the player get back to where they were quickly but for the most part whatever boss that did them in is still quite a ways away. That means having to run to wherever it is they were at least while dealing with whatever encounters they run into along the way. While potions are readily available to return the party to town in case things go sour it doesn't take long to realize what the game is actually doing.
Progress is always held back by fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Everything that happens in the Duhan's dungeon is done in order to provoke FUD in the player. The dungeon, the wanderers, the battles, and the reaper don't mean much on their own. It is through a combination of them that the player finds themselves to be in over their head and retreating to recoup. While this is fine and all going back is not moving forward and that's no way to see the end now is it? Thus in order to succeed the player must deal with the fact that the game simply does not want them to win and that means going for long stretches of time without the comfort of saving, the knowledge of whatever rare item they've uncovered, and what remains of the spells and items they've used to keep their party in a relatively healthy state. Even if everything seems to be in order and the player is handling all of the encounters smoothly it could just as easily end through a bit of bad luck or one too many bad decisions. It's probably all just in the player's head but that just gives the game more to work with. All of the wandering creatures make sounds while they move and in some areas where there are lots of doors opening and closing it can be quite maddening just hearing all of these sounds come together. One other thing that bears mentioning is the fact that the player won't level up and gain stats unless they go back to town to rest at the inn. Sure it's another incentive for going back but again it's at the expense of moving forward. Leveling up doesn't require much in terms of grinding so it's probably best to save that sort of thing for when it's absolutely necessary(like for a tough boss).
To round out the game and give the player some insight into the people of Duhan there are a variety of quests to take on. These usually involve finding somebody or something and are really quite simple. The rewards are worthwhile at least and they're a nice break from the constant sense of impending doom that the dungeon evokes. Then again some quests can trigger especially tough encounters that the player might not be ready for. Regardless the player must complete the quest if they accept it, as they can not be repeated if they are canceled. In the end though none of it will really matter because even after the land is saved another dungeon will open up, one seemingly without end and filled with beasts ever more dangerous. If nothing else the Forsaken Land tests the player's will to continue even when no reward or even a sense of accomplishment awaits them.
So why put up with it? Well I think it's simply an excellent game. The mechanics of exploration are handled astoundingly well as moving around wandering monsters is very smooth and the dungeons allow for some deviation if it means avoiding a fight. The battle system is open to a few exploitable AAs but for the most part it's extremely well done and offers some variety for players willing to try new tactics. The dungeon design in particular is spectacular. While there are a few randomized dungeons the other eight are extremely well done and feature lots of secrets, traps, and even a few hidden sub-quests and special scenarios depending on the time of day. Learning new spells at first is a bit of a hassle as everything requires materials but before too long a material shop can be used to maximize spell output. The only real complaint I have with the game is that battles can run a bit slow at times since Forsaken Land opts to use full animations instead of still pictures for all of the enemies and attacks. While this can be impressive and atmospheric it can also make some battles drag a bit. Others might not be fond of the way the game handles locks and traps. In order to unlock or disarm something the player must input a series of button presses in a few seconds. At first these start off really easy but they can get pretty complicated depending on the level of the thief or ninja. I guess it's just as well though is that at least in some cases this Wizardry title is more action-oriented than any other since exploration happens in real-time.
Most importantly I think Forsaken Land really nails the importance of a great dungeon crawl. The most important aspect is always the dungeon and through a unique method of exploration and top-class level design this game provides one of the best around. Even non-fans of Wizardry-esque titles should give this one a look as it does enough things differently to create a unique and fantastic experience. Unfortunately fans of everything that Wizardry 8 brought to the table will be left out in the cold. In fact fans of the older Wizardry titles might not be able to get into this one. Maybe they'll be better off with The Dark Spire or something(which I'll look at eventually). It's also unfortunate that the quasi-sequel to Forsaken Land never saw release in the US. If you want to give it a go just look for Busin 0: Wizardry Alternative Neo at your friendly neighborhood import store. Be warned though it looks like a far more advanced game and I bet they balanced out the more powerful AAs. Maybe this is just the kick in the arse I need to start learning Japanese.
From the makers of Way of the Samurai and The Bouncer comes Capcom's Crimson Tears. In a future where android women wear hardly anything while punching the heads off mutant zombies two teams got together with a bunch of ideas to make something terribly uninteresting. This game is a combination of two genres. It has random levels and loot to collect like various roguelikes and a battle system more akin to beatemups than RPGs. Like with most games that attempt multiple genres rarely do they ever succeed. In fact not only does the game fail on a conceptual level but the execution is not any good as well. It's best to avoid this game entirely.
Still here? Well good because I blew seven hours on this game and I'll be danged if I'm going to devote only a single paragraph to discussing it. Anyway Crimson Tears takes place in the year 2049 and features three androids looking for Abel. I'm not sure what'll happen when they find him but chances are people will die and things will explode. This is accomplished by traversing through 8 areas with 4 or more levels each.
At the start of the game and in-between areas the heroes lounge around their garage. It's here they can upgrade their combo abilities, swap characters, and store items they've bought or found. Outside the garage is a town of sorts where people whine about everything and a few shops offer various goods. Inside the garage there's also an interdimensional teleporter that sends the players's mech of choice to one of the 8 areas of their choosing.
The game uses randomized levels but really it doesn't matter too much. Each level is broken up into a series of rooms. The typical room may contain enemies, traps, treasure, or the portal to go to the next level. After clearing enough portals a boss will be fought and that's the end of that. You know how the story goes: cue the dull cutscene, introduce the next area, and repeat until the game ends. The game more or less sums up everything you need to know in the first area. Though the enemies hit harder and the areas get larger it's more a test of endurance as the player will go on until their supplies deplete.
Combat is a very simple affair. Like most every other action game of its time problems are solved by a repeated presses of the square and X buttons. The player can mix up the sequence these buttons are pressed to do combos though most of the time it hardly matters. There's a decent variety of weapons to work with at least. Most of the time the player will rely on close-range weapons like gloves, swords, and knives but guns can also be used(which annoyingly is necessary for a few enemies). There's a special attack which is handy for doing great damage but most of the time I didn't find a use for it. Every move that is made(even running around) causes the android to build heat. When heat builds up the android goes into a frenzy, moving very quickly while doing & taking double damage. This is something I try to avoid because it uses up a lot of health. Items can be used to counter the build-up of heat but it can be used to the player's advantage if handled properly.
Course as much as the game likes to emphasize combat the developers did a poor job of making it work. When it comes down to it the mechanics are competent if rather dull. Problem is of course is that like a lot of early beatemups the enemy doesn't telegraph their moves. While stronger attacks require a bit of charge time most enemies can smack the player out of anything as soon as they get close. Maybe this is supposed to be this way so the player will make liberal use of the block. The bigger problem however is the camera. Quite honestly it's terrible. Now I'm well aware I don't discuss the camera often enough when I talk about 3D games and that's maybe because I hardly notice it. In Crimson Tears however the camera is noticeable and it's godawful. The camera doesn't track enemies and there's certainly no lock-on button to keep dangerous foes within sight. The camera instead chooses to lazily shift around and what you see is what you get. This is especially aggravating with guns because you pretty much have to guesstimate what directions the enemies are coming from in order to kill them. Needless to say the combat isn't just boring but it's also badly handled.
So with that out of the way let's talk about the RPG elements. This game allows the player to level up, find special items that raise their stats, equip and level weapons through repeated use, and buy goods. There's at least one problem with each feature. Leveling is handy but it's also rather slow. At first the curve is nice but before long enemies start to give little to no experience per kill. This is rectified by moving on to the next area. It's an easy game so this isn't too much of a hassle. Still it is very annoying because some later areas actually have less enemies than earlier ones, so the exp gain doesn't feel like enough. Some of these later areas have very large rooms with hardly anything in them, which just makes them a chore to wander through. The stat-raising items are almost exclusively in one area. Convenient sure but the experience is so lousy that it seems hardly worth the trouble(not to mention the possibility of not finding any stat-boosting items at all). So in the end after spending 30 minutes or more in a single area the player might get one levelup and possibly a stat-boosting item or two. Needless to say this is terrible. The weapon-system is kind of interesting as when the player uses a weapon for a long time it levels up. There's a crafting system as well to further strengthen weapons by building new ones out of them. This is all well and good but not all weapons can be crafted into better ones. It helps to carry numerous weapons at all times since some enemies have elemental affinities and the like. It's also important because weapons can be damaged and even broken. If the player gets hit often their weapons are more likely to degrade. This is a very bad thing because the game does a poor job of warning the player when weapons are close to breaking(a little easy-to-miss status box pops up). Weapons can be repaired at the shop but it gets expensive, leaving little money for buying new weapons or even supplies.
So not only does Crimson Tears fail at the combat that represents the bulk of the game, their RPG elements aren't exactly good either. Why in the name of everything did I bother playing this game for so long? Well it's pretty easy to explain as I am a sucker. I am a sucker for everything that has to do with random loot, gaining levels, and watching numbers rise. I'm the kind of guy who puts thousands of hours into Diablo 2, Phantasy Star Online, and a variety of MMOs. I'm also the kind of guy who falls for all of these action games with RPG elements. Typically they all devolve into finding fancier weapons that behave the same way but look extra cool and do maybe a bit more damage. In the long run none of it means anything but all the same it feels like I'm making progress when I finish leveling a sword I'll never use again. I finally had an epiphany after reading about someone describing their "completed" game of Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams. I thought it was disgusting to see somebody blow nearly 300 hours into a game just to max all of the character levels, all of the weapons, all of everything else and then some. Then I look at myself and I realize that I've been doing pretty much the same thing thanks to games like the Dynasty Warriors series. Sure they might be competent games but the only reason I was playing them was to see numbers rise and watch my guys get really powerful.
I swore I'd never get into that sort of thing again and yet here I am talking about Crimson Tears. I could have just as easily dropped this game at the first or second hour and have learned enough to put together a solid opinion because really there is nothing worthy of merit to this game. Instead I put a handful of additional hours into it just because I haven't been able to kick the habit. I have failed myself by wasting time on this failure of a game and to be honest I'm a little depressed about it.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
One thing I've noticed about the games I've been playing lately is that they're taking at least more than five hours to complete. Here's just a sort-of progress report about the games I'm currently playing:
Crimson Sea 2 - So far this game isn't too bad. There's not a lot of variety in the environments and it can kind of reminds me of Phantasy Star Online in that it uses different enemy combinations and the placement of a few key structures to keep stages different from each other. I guess it makes sense because apparently there are over 60 missions.
Crimson Tears - Turns out this game is by Spike/Dream Factory. Spike assists in the development of the Way of the Samurai series and Dream Factory is responsible for that PS2 launch "classic" The Bouncer. Yeah I dunno how Capcom managed to get these guys together either. This game is the standard combination of action, random dungeons, and treasure. The dungeons are very bland and each of the 8 levels has maybe one or two unique qualities to them. Most of the time it's simply about beating up foes and moving on.
This game is probably the one I've spent the most time with so far. It's actually very addictive thanks to the RPG-esque sub-systems. This is a bad thing for me because I've been trying to get away from games that rely on these things to keep people playing. Basically I feel compelled to play simply to watch my numbers rise. Unfortunately the game-mode I'm looking forward to can't be accessed until after the game is beaten. This special mode basically sets the player's level at 99 and forces them to enter a huge dungeon with no equipment or items. This sounds like a interesting mode since it really gives off the roguelike vibe.
Midway Arcade Treasures 2 - I'm a fan of Midway's first arcade compilation but I'm not so sure on this one. There's a handful of truly bad games in this set and some just happen to be far worse than I remember. I'll have to give it some more time.
Kuon - If I had known this game was going to be closer to the older Resident Evils than Silent Hill I'm not so sure I would have picked it up. Luckily the only things that actually carry over from old-school RE are the relatively useless knives and the limited saves. The controls are much better. Haven't gotten far at all in this one though cause it's a Survival Horror title and I prefer to play those at night. Problem is I work nights and the last thing I need after a long one is to stress over getting eaten by demons.
King's Field The Ancient City - I played through this game before but that was a long time ago so I forgot practically everything. It still holds up rather well though fans of fast-paced action will hate this game. The pacing is practically glacial and even turning around can take a long time. Still though it's probably the most accessible of the series.
Shadow Tower - First thing I did when I started this game is fall off a cliff and die. No really I did a half-step to the left and fell to my death. On top of that I died three times just trying to find the first savepoint and then died a couple more times on a pair of skeletons. This game is very rough, unfriendly, and clearly doesn't want to beaten. I'll give it a go anyway cause I enjoy pain.
Wizardry Tale of the Forsaken Land - I'm nearing the end of this game and let me just go ahead and say I love it. That's all for now.
Shadow of the Colossus - This game still holds up very well despite the somewhat dated presentation. The framerate isn't really much of a bother either. Haven't gotten too far though as mostly I've just been goofing around and exploring the world.
Nightshade - I'm only up to the 4th stage on this game(beaten it before) so I'm curious to see how it'll turn out despite what I thought of it in the past. I can tell right now though that the levels run too long and the three bosses I've faced kind of stunk. It has more content at least and the basics of Shinobi have been carried over nicely but I don't know.
Silpheed: The Lost Planet - Like most launch PS2 titles Silpheed got a bad rap. I'm not sure what people were expecting but I guess with Treasure at the helm it must have been Radiant Silvergun 2 or something. Regardless S:TLP isn't too bad. The scoring system is based on how close the player is when they destroy an enemy. This system was also used in that XBLA/PSN release of 1943 but in Silpheed it actually works. Otherwise I'm not sure what else to say.
Gradius V - Whoo boy I stink at this game. Currently on normal difficulty the farthest I can get is stage 4 which is less than halfway through the game(note that as expected of the genre I'm not using continues). It's obvious I won't be imitating any of those high-level plays on youtube anytime soon. Anyway this game is still pretty good. I need quite a bit more time with it though.
Monday, September 14, 2009
To put it bluntly if you're reading this you're not playing Raiden 4. I've already talked about the Raiden Fighters series which is absolutely fantastic. Thing is though you're probably wanting more and if so I don't blame you. Thankfully UFO interactive decided to throw away a bunch of money so gamers like us can get a copy of R4 in America. While some may scoff at the $40 pricetag --especially since they got Raiden Fighters for $20 earlier this year-- it's still a good value and a worthwhile pick-up for 2D shooter fans.
Forget everything you know about Raiden Fighters because it doesn't really apply here. While RF provided numerous tricks, techniques, and secrets for achieving the highest possible scores, R4 keeps it fairly simple. Scoring is mainly based around how quickly the player destroys an enemy. From the swarms of little ships to large battlecruisers all of these foes can give up to five times their point value if destroyed quickly enough. Obviously this requires a bit of memorization to know where to be when the next ship spawns as well as the reflexes to dodge the seemingly endless parade of enemy fire. There's a special missile attack performed by letting go of the fire button for a couple seconds and then pressing it again. This volley of missiles is great for when enemies first appear and it gives out bonus points for every missile that hits. Aside from a secret or two in each of the seven stages there's not much else to worry about in terms of scoring. It also helps if you don't die or use bombs because both of your stocks can be worth quite a few points at the end of each stage(along with medals collected by destroying lots of stuff). This is important because this game is very difficult. It's definitely harder than any o the RFs thanks to increased rate of fire, longer stages, tougher bosses, and a second loop that drastically speeds up enemy bullets(that is if you can even get there the honest way).
This change of direction might be more appealing to some fans of the genre. I understand there are gamers out there who couldn't care less about amassing some ridiculous score via memorizing everything. Some just want to know the basics and then rely on their reflexes to carry them through the game. All of the ships in this game are unique in what kind of attacks they do. Some ships fly in, fire a couple shots, and then attempt to strike the player from the side, others just float lazily around the screen firing waves of bullets, and so on. Once the player understands the basic enemy attacks it can be a pretty smooth ride. The bosses on the other hand are very rough as their spreads are fast and ferocious. Sometimes all it takes to dodge them is by being in the right spot but others can have the player all over the place. It's nothing shooter fans haven't already seen but R4 does it just as well as any other title.
Along with standard features like additional ships(DLC though) and a Boss Rush, R4 also has the double-play mode. If you owned Raiden III on the PS2 and/or saw VTF-Ino's Ikaruga double-play modes you'll know exactly how this works. Essentially a single player controls two ships. While there are advantages to having more firepower it can become quite an ardous task keeping both ships out of trouble. Regardless it's a neat feature and certainly worth a shot if you've mastered everything else the game has to offer.
There's really not a lot I can say about this game that really helps it stand out. As far as I'm concerned it's definitely an improvement over Raiden III as the ship feels a little bit faster and yet nothing in terms of challenge or intensity is sacrificed. There are some good ideas like the a sound effect whenever an enemy bullet shaves a ship(as in getting close enough to touch the ship but not destroy it). It's good as sort of a last-ditch indicator for avoiding death and allows the player to take just a little bit of attention off their ship. Early on one of the challenging aspects of learning a shooter is being able to follow enemy fire from where it appears to where it'll hit. Giving just enough freedom to concentrate on other things goes a long way here.
Despite the additional bonuses the 360 port brings like a couple of new stages and different enemy arrangements it's still one 2D arcade shooter for $40. We've grown to expect these titles to appear on Xboxlive Arcade or not at all. It's a bit of a shame really cause despite the genre and niche appeal these games readily go for full-price in Japan. If we're going to have any chance at seeing releases from the likes of Cave or otherwise in the West we'll have to be more accepting of higher prices. Maybe there are ways to soften the blow like Collector's Editions or some other bonus to make up for higher than expected prices but that'll depend on how this game fares at retail.
All that said I don't want to hear any complaining about how the West never gets any 2D shooters if everyone picks this game up years or even months from now for less than $20. That's the cost that comes with supporting the genre. It's a great shooter no matter what and if you're willing to put the time into it I'm sure the investment will be worthwhile. The wonderful thing about 2D shooters is that despite their length it'll take potentially hundreds of hours to actually master one. Then again I don't know. Some people prefer to go through a hundred different stages over the course of many different games instead of repeating the same 5 to 8 stages over and over again and accomplishing little if anything in the process. Even if you're not a fan of the genre give it a rental at least as it just might grow on you.
Then again you could also try Raiden 3 as it's really cheap now and it'll give you a pretty good idea of what R4 is like. I didn't find R3 very enjoyable though so whatever.
In about a month the long-awaited Way of the Samurai 3 will arrive on our shores. Niche titles such as these are important to gamers like myself. I'm not saying I can't enjoy the blockbuster mainstream experiences that are being put out these days but those will always be around. Without support games that fall outside of the norm are going to fade away. But enough about all that let's take a look at the actual game.
Way of the Samurai 1 takes place during the final days of the Samurai. A Samurai by the name of Gabriashi(or whichever name you prefer) arrives at a tiny settlement filled with bitter rivals and hopeless romantics pining for a return to the good old days of wandering around with a katana at their side. Through a bit of diplomacy and maybe some killing Gabriashi will carve a place in history via multiple endings. As a true master of the Samurai way he can also attempt to get the best ending.
Unlike most games saving the land isn't about cutting up enough people until all of the bad guys are dead. In fact solving most of the various situations Gabriashi runs into is handled by putting away his sword and using the right words. This ties into the unique method of progression the game has. The game world itself is quite small and broken up into multiple areas. All of these areas have scenes that can be witnessed depending on the time of day. Time only moves when either the play views a scene or they enter/leave an area where a scene would take place. It's confusing at first but it becomes very easy to grasp since the game is very short.
One of the more interesting aspects of WoTS1 is that it isn't a long game. After viewing and/or participating in a handful of events the final battle will play out. We're looking at maybe an hour to two hours of actual game time. To add to this the player is free to leave the settlement and the game at nearly any time. This can be done if the player feels they are not going to get the ending they're trying for or they've found a particular weapon they don't want to lose.
It wouldn't be much of a Samurai game if the player didn't get to swing some swords around right? The controls are simple to grasp while the sword is sheathed. There's running, jumping, and a handy kick that can be used to break enemy defenses or easily grab items. By un-sheathing their sword the player will not only make themselves open to attack but they will be able to respond in kind. One attack button serves as a series of basic strikes which can be used to do slight damage or to create openings for more powerful attacks. The other attack button is used for a multitude of powerful special moves. Blocking is also available though the guard can be broken by certain specials or deflected by a regular attack. Timing a block at just the right moment causes an awase. The Awase is a powerful technique as it causes the enemy's attack to pass harmlessly through the player, leaving a large window of opportunity for counterattack. To add to this there's a small chance that the player can learn to awase attacks without even touching the block. Given enough time the player could become practically invincible.
To balance this out the game offers somewhere in the range of nearly 100 weapons and each of them have their own set of attacks(though several of them can share attacks). Not all of these are katanas either as there are different types of swords, maybe a club, possibly a magic staff, and even a saw. Finding these weapons depends on the difficulty setting and they can have stats applied to them like increased maximum HP, offense, defense, and durability. Each attack that is performed can build heat. When too much heat is built up the weapon will lose one level of durability. A weapon with no durability is useless so that means using restraint when fighting and avoiding a constant series of attacks that enemies block or awase(though the player can also break their weapons to render them impotent). Upgrading stats can be done by either the swordsmith or via rare item drops.
It's important to remember though that all stat bonuses and mastered awases are tied to the player's currently equipped weapons. If they die the game immediately ends and they lose that weapon along with any others they're carrying. To avoid losing weapons the player can finish their current game by leaving the settlement or getting an ending. These weapons are stored at the warehouse to be used for future games. It may seem a bit counterproductive to have weapons sitting on a shelf instead of being used and upgraded but that's a risk that has to be accounted for if the player wants to have really powerful weapons. Everything can still be seen and unlocked even if the player sticks to the lowest difficulty setting.
At the time this game was unlike most anything out there and today it still holds true. The adventure game aspects are handled well despite the shoe-string budget presentation. There's a lot of variation in the scenarios and quite a few characters to interact with, annoy, and maybe even kill. Whether the player wants to experiment or goof around there's plenty of ways to make sure no two games are alike.
While the better endings downplay the importance of combat the system in place is still really good. The button-commands for performing moves are simple and allows the player to focus on creating openings and doing punishing combos. Even when surrounded by multiple foes the player will only have to contend with one at a time. Multiple enemies can be struck at once but this is risky as it doubles the sword's heat. This game can be very tough on the harder difficulties as aside from food lying on the ground there's no ways to heal the player during a fight. Couple this with some of the more devastating attacks and a player could get destroyed and the weapons they spent a long time on would be gone. There's a lot of risk to this system but as we've grown to expect the reward is usually enough to make it worth the trouble.
Like with other Acquire titles there are tons of unlockables and even a handful of codes. The main character can be dressed using a combination of outfits and faces or the player can input a code to choose from any of the other characters in the game. Bonus features can be unlocked by acquiring points. Every completed game assigns a number of points depending on the player's rank. This ranking and number of points can be determined by the ending, how many foes they kill, how much money they have, and the difficulty. This is another good way to promote multiple playthroughs so players can really get the most out of this game.
Overall I think it might be worth checking out. It's certainly cheap and if you can get into it you might be more interested in checking out the sequels. As far as the newest entry is concerned I definitely recommend reading this forum thread.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Urban Reign is Namco's only stab at the beatemup genre that I know of. Released late in the PS2's life this game is a 3D Brawler similar to titles like Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance, Spikeout Xtreme, Final Fight: Streetwise, and The Warriors(which all seemingly happened to come out around the same time-frame). Where Urban Reign differs from those games and practically the rest of the genre is that instead of having stages where the player treks through a variety of locales beating people up as their paths cross this game is broken up into about 100 stages made up of fights between 1 to 4 people. It sounds overwhelming but these encounters last maybe a couple minutes at the most making it a very easy game to pick up and play.
In a city where crime is rampant and gang wars threaten the innocent, one man in a snake-skin jacket can make a difference. You know how the story goes. There's the corrupt mayor, gangs from both China & Japan, a woman who fights in an outfit that shows off her perfect breasts, and even some ex-army dudes for variety. Luckily Namco threw in a handful of secret codes that unlock all of the characters & stages so you don't have to bother with the story mode if you don't want to. Personally I'd recommend it because the story mode is one hundred stages long and even though that's less than four hours it's still a long time with the same character.
No matter what you decide you'll find that the cast of Urban Reign is well-equipped for brawling. These guys offer something for every style of fighting whether the player is looking for a good striker, somebody with excellent comboing ability, a more technical fighter, or just some monster. While many characters share moves and styles there's still varying stats to give them a bit of uniqueness. Furthermore some have a particular weapon they're good with.
My biggest problem with 3D beatemups is that a lot of the time they lose the ease of play that makes standard beatemups so entertaining. Sometimes the player has to lock-on to the enemy, get into some stance, memorize a bunch of silly combinations, and just make this complicated setup to punch a single foe a couple times. Urban Reign avoids this entirely by using a combination of context-sensitive moves and simple button commands to make fighting a breezy yet still immensely satisfying affair. There's one button for strikes(punches, kicks, etc) and by holding the d-pad up, down, or forward the player can attack the head, body, or legs. Another button is used for grabs and it works the same as strikes as it can also target different parts of the body. There's no jump button but there is a run which can be used to perform slides, jump-kicks, and so on.
The one button players should really get used to however is the dodge button. There is no blocking in this game. Instead the player must effectively dodge attacks while evading grapples. Dodging strikes is easy since the player can just mash the button to dodge entire strings of attacks. Grabs are a bit more complicated though as not only must the player hit the button but they must also be holding the d-pad in the direction the opposing grappler is going for. Luckily the timing here is pretty loose so it's not too hard to break out of grabs. Special attacks however can not be dodged.
The special attacks come in four flavors. There's the one that hits all surrounding enemies to knock them away, a single powerful strike, a combo string that does great damage(though it can be countered by another special), and a charge move that gives the player a special ability for a short time. All of this is handled by a special gauge that rises and falls due to different factors. Like most fighting games this gauge will rise when the player gives and takes damage. Special moves can drain it but more importantly attacks that the opponent dodges cause the player's gauge to drop. The last thing the player needs is an enemy to dodge all of their attacks and then they respond with a special that wipes them out.
Rounding out the abilities of the player and their foes are the context-sensitive actions. Depending on the position of all parties certain attacks can be used. While attacking one enemy and another approaches the player can switch directions to perform a certain combination to push them back. When two characters approach one other they can do a double-team attack on them. However the one character can perform an attack that hits both of them if properly timed. There's more options like grabbing an enemy out of the air, evading a juggle combo with a very timely dodge, and so on. Despite everything going on the game is never bogged down by unnecessary combinations and it doesn't take much work to get fun out of the system. There's even a lock-on button just in case.
While there are other factors involved like weapons and the surroundings this is essentially all the game is about. There's no stealth missions or anything that involves not beating the heck out of someone. Since the stages are so short -- as I stated earlier all stages have 1 to 4 opponents -- the focus is on fighting with style. Like many other recent games it's not simply about surviving. To really master Urban Reign the player has to get a handle on the scoring system through a large number of factors. Beating the enemy quickly is a good thing but getting through fights without taking a hit is even better. Sure one could use the strongest characters for an easier time but weaker ones offer a higher bonus. There's also difficulty settings to further round this all out. It's a great system since it adds a layer of depth that will keep gamers interested long after the thrill of hitting someone repeatedly is gone. There's also a mode that plays more like a straight-up fighting game but as you know that's not really my thing. All the same it's a nice addition.
Even without that extra bit of depth in scoring the fighting system is still excellent. It's expected of course since this game is by the people behind Tekken but it applies so well to a beatemup format. Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law even show up as playable characters which makes me wonder why Namco doesn't just use the Urban Reign system for the "Tekken Force" modes that have popped in various console Tekkens.
There's a lot to love about Urban Reign and unless you're not a fan of the genre I can't imagine avoiding this title. Even your friend who doesn't play these kind of games can easily get involved thanks to the excellent controls. Definitely pick this up anywhere you can find it.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
While some gamers may complain about the over-abundance of shooters available on consoles today I'm starting to wonder why nobody said anything about all of the 3D Action games put out during the last console generation. I guess I don't particularly mind since for the most part I find them enjoyable and each title has their nuances and slight differences that separate them from everything else in the genre. Needless to say despite the lack of positive reviews I picked up Konami's Nanobreaker and gave it a go.
As the story goes an island colony was built to house people who had undergone a number of nanomachine treatments. Apparently somebody forgot to do their firmware updates or were browsing porn sites without antivirus protection and the main computer went berserk. Somehow this causes the entire island population to mutate into these giant freaks. The army doesn't stand a chance against them so the corrupt government sends in a cyborg with a dark past to make things right. Our hero Jake must kill a lot of stuff, do some frequent platforming, deal with his rival, and protect a scientist. There's a map in this game but it's not good for much outside of finding the next destination as this game is very linear.
Like most 3D Action Heroes Jake is capable of jumping, running, and dodge-rolling. Eventually he gets the abilities to double-jump and glide though this just means more platforming. His jumps are very stiff and he can only change direction in mid-air off of his double-jump. While Jake has a fairly lengthy health meter he has few ways to restore it aside from the rare drop and bathing in his enemy's blood. This is rather annoying as entering a boss fight with little health is never enjoyable.
Our cyborg friend arrives at the island with a plasma sword as his sole weapon. This impressive blade is notable for its combo abilities. Through different combinations of square, triangle, and the R1 button his sword can perform a variety of attacks that causes the blade to change shape. By performing a lot of combos and spilling a lot of blood Jake's limiter will turn off. What this means is that his attacks will do more damage and some of his combo finishers gain additional properties. For example in one combo he swings a scythe to finish it. With his limiter on he has a chance at slicing one enemy in half with the finish. Without the limit not only is the slice guaranteed but nearby enemies caught in the attack will get destroyed as well. The sword also has access to a grab move to snatch enemies from far away. With proper timing a snatch can be followed with a critical swing to instantly destroy most enemies. This doesn't work on every enemy yet it's required for some bosses. As a supplement to the sword the player can access a number of booster abilities over the course of the game. Early on he can only boost his snatch/critical swing but as he progresses he can gain new boosts that up his defense for a limited time and access to special weapons. Booster abilities require power to run and that power is usually gotten off of the blood of his foes.
All this talk about blood is getting annoying right? Well that's just because Nanobreaker is a very bloody game. The game's scoring system actually revolves around how many gallons of blood you're able to spill from the mutants. This is also tied to restoring health and boost since for every 2,000 gallons of blood the player gets a partial restoration of one or the other. To add to this for every 10,000 gallons of the blood the player will recieve an increase in their total health or boost. In a pure visceral sense it's always a thrill to slash monsters until they explode into fountains of blood that paints the walls red(or any other color you decide on in the options). Getting more blood off of enemies is as simple as doing a lot of combos.
The enemies are fodder for the most part. While they have a range of attacks most of the time they seem more apt to group together so that the plasma blade can go through more of them at a time. The game mixes it up decently enough by throwing in larger foes that can't be snatched, tough guys that can really wear the player down, and little guys that are hard to hit. Knowing when to switch from horizontal swings to vertical swings is important since depending on the enemy the right swing can do more damage. Various appendages can also be sliced off which is handy as it can limit the attack abilities of some foes.
The bosses come in many shapes and sizes and quite a few of them have some sort of gimmick the player will have to figure out if they're going to succeed. Usually this gimmick involves the snatch but sometimes certain spots or objects will have to be destroyed before the weak point is revealed. There are also fights with more human-like bosses though these guys have exceptionally weak A.I. and can be beaten simply by baiting them to perform attacks that leave them open to countering. A lot of these guys can hit really hard though and without a method of healing during boss battles it only takes a handful of mistakes to get a game over.
To put it bluntly this game has too much platforming. After awhile it does get old watching enemies explode but surely the level designers could have done better than throw in a bunch of platforms to jump off of and onto. The controls aren't exactly suitable for platforming either since without any ability to move while in mid-air there's no wiggle-room for error. At first these areas are mercifully short but in the last fifth of the game that's pretty much all the player will do. Thankfully these final areas are broken up by mutant encounters. Then again at least there aren't a bunch of lame puzzles. Now that's something I'd love to see less of in 3D action games.
In another case of me putting it bluntly the camera in this game stinks. During gameplay a map is shown on the upper corner that also serves as a radar for keeping track of enemies. It's useful sure but I think it put there intentionally to sort of make up for the camera. While the camera can be re-centered with the R3 button it doesn't do much good for when the player loses track of enemies or bosses.
The snatch is also very annoying to use effectively. It locks on to a enemy you're facing. If you're facing more than one well tough luck. Over the years I've played enough games with shoddy 3D mechanics that dealing with this has become second nature(sort of like playing those awful 3D Sonic The Hedgehog games) but if I was anyone else I would hate this move. It's especially bad cause in two areas the scientist needs to be protected from constantly spawning enemies. She's running around getting slapped to death and sometimes when I try to snatch a foe off her I snatch her instead. Best part is I can do the critical attack on her..ugh.
Nanobreaker also suffers from a lack of good checkpoint and savepoint placing. At first it isn't so bad but at times if the player dies -- which 99% of the time it'll be a boss fight -- they'll end up a ways back and have to fight through a bunch of foes to reach the boss again. Annoyingly whatever blood bonuses they acquired during this time will be lost as well. I understand that due to the way health works the game doesn't want the player to be stuck in a situation where they're at the boss with little health but throw in some sort of "retry boss" option or leave health items near where the boss is encountered. Actually the game does this a few times which makes it all the more infuriating because they know to put it there but for whatever reason they just don't care. The lack of savepoints is inexcusable simply because that last fifth of the game I mentioned earlier has none. There's not even a savepoint before the final boss. For crying out loud it was bad enough I had to retry this guy four times but between him and the entire rest of that last fifth of the game I was up until 5:30 am last night.
The mechanics in this game are slightly off as well. What I mean specifically is when enemies attack the player. Usually this is fair and handled well but for some attacks it feels like even it the attack looks like it doesn't quite hit it'll still damage the player. It's usually nothing serious as it mainly applies to regular enemies(which aren't much of a threat). To add to this smaller enemies seem to be a little more difficult to hit than they should be. But I guess that's due to them requiring vertical strikes to deal with at times. The game makes it all too clear whether or not attacks will connect.
I should also point out that this game feels entirely too similar to Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness. As you're already aware these are 3D Castlevania titles also available on the PS2. All three games feature a lot of combination moves done through the usage of square & triangle, silver-haired protagonists, poor jumping controls, and so on. If you've already played either of the other two games I can't say there's a whole lot you'll be missing out on if you skipped this game. I guess the blood is nice but some exploration or maybe some more abilities or enemy varieties would have been been good. Nanobreaker is probably the best of the three in terms of game design but some people might get more value out of the other two since they feature rare drops, lots of things to level-up, and Curse of Darkness also has that very clever stealing subsystem. You could just avoid all three games entirely though and probably be better off for it.
Regardless Nanobreaker accomplished enough for me to spend the 6 to 8 hours needed to complete it. There's a score-attack mode, a harder difficulty, and even a couple playable characters to mess around with if I choose to go back. The time I spent on this game would have been better off elsewhere but somehow Nanobreaker proves compelling enough to get me to put up with all of its faults. It's gotta be all the blood. Actually I probably just have very low standards. If they replaced Jake with some cyborg woman in a really tiny outfit I'd probably still be playing this game.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
One of the major reasons I started this blog is that I have a serious problem with getting rid of games before I spend at least a significant amount of time with them. I'll buy a stack of new titles, put five minutes into each of them, and throw them in a closet somewhere or on ebay. At least with this blog I have to put in a serious effort in order to make any claims about the game's quality. With that out of the way here are my latest pick-ups:
Shadow Tower - I guess it's some first-person action RPG ala King's Field by From Software.
Crimson Sea 2 - Shooter Action game by Koei. I played a bit of the first one on the Xbox and enjoyed it but somehow it became a victim of my serious problem.
Midway Arcade Treasures volume 2 - Sooner or later I was going to get around to picking this up. Luckily an opportunity presented itself.
Nightshade - The sequel to Shinobi PS2. I've played through this game before but I figure if I'm going to take another look at this game it's best not to do so off of memory. Besides it was only $4.
Rising Zan - Some kind of Cowboy Samurai guy or something. I've heard a lot of things about this game yet I'm only just now getting around to checking it out.
Jumping Flash! 2 - Can you believe I've never played a Jumping Flash game? Well I'm going to fix that and see what all the fuss is about.
Crimson Tears - Some action game by Capcom. I don't remember reading much of anything on this game so hey why not?
Monday, September 7, 2009
While the first-person dungeon-crawler genre has never truly died there hasn't been a game to cause any sort of resurgence until Etrian Odyssey. Sure the character design looks innnocent enough but the game itself was a pretty brutal affair thanks to elements like the powerful FOEs that stalked the hallways, the all-powerful bosses, and even the chance of an unlucky encounter. The success of this game spawned not only a sequel but it also caused a number of other developers to pursue similar titles. It's still a drop in the water compared to the numbers the average FPS does but all in all it's still impressive.
Concerning myself however I didn't really get anywhere in Etrian Odyssey 1. I guess I didn't have an eye for party building, my tactics weren't sound, or I simply didn't have the patience for it. Whatever the case my time with EO1 was short but I was left with the knowledge that sooner or later I'd eventually have to rectify that. In the end I settled on the sequel despite the fact that it would probably be more difficult and more complicated. It helps that EO2 is still fairly easy to find while the original is apparently only available on ebay for almost twice as much as it originally retailed for.
EO2 involves something regarding Yggdrasil or the World Tree. A town has sprung up around this massive tree and adventurers from all over the world come to solve the mysteries and test their mettle. These adventures are organized by guilds and the name of mine is guild ABBA. Guild ABBA can be composed of up to thirty members from up to 13 different classes. From there five members can be organized into a party of three in the front & two in the back(or vice versa).
The 13 classes in EO2 represent possibly every character archetype you can imagine. Though the names change the concept remains the same. Party-building is one of the most important aspects to success in EO2 as this game rewards the committed. Unlike some games you simply don't pick a class, give them a few minutes of training, and suddenly they're killing bosses in one hit. Putting together a strong party member requires a lot of patience and getting similar results with an entire party isn't just multiplying the effort by 5. Each party member must have strengths to cover for the other member's weaknesses and it's not as simple as putting three fighters in the front and a mage & a healer in the back. Experimentation is key at times and when faced with a tough boss it may be wise to try new classes.
Each of the classes is governed by their skills. Initially each class is given three points to distribute as they see fit. A number of skills just raise stats but others are tied to numerous abilities. With each levelup a single point is doled out. Using these abilities effectively requires commitment. Most skills have up to ten levels and making them effective will require sacrificing access to other skills. No matter the class there's little benefit to raising up a bunch of skills at once. It's important to distribute these points properly since the only way they can be re-distributed is if the player makes the party-member rest(which costs 5 levels of experience).
Equipment is another very important factor to consider. EO2 uses a crafting system of sorts where the shopkeeper adds new items when the player brings back certain materials and sells them. These materials are found off of the corpses of defeated foes and is for the most part the only way to upgrade equipment. This is good though since defeating monsters also means experience, which ties into everything quite nicely.
The sole dungeon is divided into five Stratums with five levels apiece. Progress is usually tied to finding the stairs that move the party onwards and upwards but bosses and special tasks can crop up. While the game offers a temporary save the only way to protect against party death(which is game over) is by saving in town or via special portals. Thankfully shortcuts can be found which helps make exploration much easier. The levels are usually organized in a maze with all manner of traps, special properties(like ice that causes the player to slide from one point to the next), and dead-ends with treasure or something not nearly as good. There are also harvest points where the player can collect materials(several of which can not be found from monsters) though that's limited by the number of points put into harvesting skills. There's also the risk that harvesting will trigger an ambush by monsters(though it's more likely there to keep low-level adventurers from abusing harvest with no chance for repercussion). The map is especially handy in that it keeps track of every space the player walks in but also allows them to draw in walls and indicate certain objects as they see fit. If the party is killed off map data can still be saved which can be useful.
The dreaded FOEs make their return in EO2. While most encounters are of the random variety the FOEs stalk the halls and running into them will trigger a battle. The first one you'll run into will likely just be sitting around. Others will wander around in set patterns, still others will suddenly appear and chase the party down. Since most of them move one space for every space the player moves it's in the player's best interest to outmanuever these monsters and avoid getting into random encounters when FOEs are following them(since FOEs will move one space for every turn in battle). While these creatures offer some unique materials they are for the most part optional and unless the player manages to defeat them early on the rewards aren't really notable.
In battle utilizing skills properly will make all the difference. Most battles in EO2 will end in just a couple rounds with the right skills. While there are quite a few defensive skills(especially for classes like the Protector) it's obvious that skills that either do tons of damage or prevent the enemy from attacking are more useful. Despite that the game does a fair job at making every class viable and offers a lot of options for players interesting in trying a variety of tactics.
While in town the player can accept quests. These quests typically involve retrieving items, defeating certain enemies, or possibly something different like making a map. The only problem with these quests is that the rewards stink. Most of the time the reward is a one-time use item and little else. Some extra money would have gone a long ways towards making these quests worth the trouble of completing. It's possible there's a special reward for completing every quest but I lost patience with them long before.
EO2 also has a schedule which effects the time, months, and days. For the most part however time doesn't mean anything aside from finishing a few quests. Whenever a month passes all defeated FOEs and bosses will respawn in their respective places. After a certain point this opens up the best option for gaining experience at a rapid pace. Although resting at the inn is the only quick way to move the days along it's still far easier to do than sit in a dungeon and grind out the levels slowly. Bosses are worth a lot of experience and late in the game most can be taken out in a couple rounds. To add to that some of them drop special materials that are worth a ton of money. This is especially useful when the player has retired their party members. This causes the party member to be replaced by another one with half the level but with more skill points and another level of experience to attain before hitting max..provided the party member was max level when they retired.
Sadly with the way this system is organized there's no real benefit to exploring the dungeons. Since all of the equipment is based off of monsters and harvest points the player can ignore everything else and rush through the bosses. While the open-nature of the game can also provide for players who wish to challenge the FOEs at all times it still doesn't do much for the dungeons themselves. Some players like myself will opt for the path of least resistance and rush through the dungeons only worrying about equipment upgrades and experience when the boss is being troublesome. The treasure lying around the dungeon tends to not be very useful and there's no reason to challenge the FOEs after a certain point as they don't give experience and the materials they give out are for equipment that's probably much weaker than the stuff gotten from some random encounter on a higher floor.
Due to the short battles there's really not much in the way of round-to-round tactics. In fact winning is more about applying a formula than decision making. With the right combination of party members, the right skills, and the equipment and experience to back it up there's nothing to worry about. Even the battles that manage to last for more than are due to a number of abilities that prevent the enemy from either attacking or damaging a party. I guess maybe this isn't a bad thing but it's just not for me. If I reach the final boss of an RPG I expect an epic encounter that relies on adapting to situations properly as they come up and using every last resource in order to get that win. In EO2 the final boss can fall just as easily to abilities that bind its attacks as any regular encounter. I expected the rules to be bent slightly with the supposedly all-powerful but I guess with a game that rewards commitment it would be unfair to the player if the boss was immune to the skills they put the most effort towards.
In a way EO2 manages to come off as repetitive. Though each of the levels in the dungeon have their own quirks and ideas the battles are just the same on the 23rd level as they were in the 1st level. This is not an uncommon trait in RPGs I'm well aware but when I'm still using the same skills on the same types of enemies it quickly becomes apparent that I'm wasting my time. If I want to efficiently play EO2 I should focus on collecting money/exp from bosses, materials from random encounters/harvest points, and just ignore the rest. While the dungeon levels strive for variety once I got past them I found no good reason to ever go back. They might as well have just been gimmicks because in the long run they don't make up enough of the game to mean anything(especially since there's a major shortcut for practically every level).
Etrian Odyssey 2 is a good game. In fact in many respects it is a truly great game. However I simply didn't find it compelling. The main reason I even stuck it out despite the boredom is to make up for the fact that I didn't make any progress in the first game. At first it was fun exploring the dungeons and discovering hidden treasures but when I realized I should be taking a more hands-off approach to focus on party building that's when it fell apart to me. The way I see it dungeon-crawlers should emphasize the dungeon first and foremost. It shouldn't be the monsters wandering the halls or the big bad guys at the end. The dungeon should be the reason why the player's will is broken. The monsters can certainly add to that but it can't be an immediate effect. Through enough monsters, puzzles, mazes, and the constant fear of death the dungeon will eventually overcome them. The dungeon in EO2 never beats the player, it's usually the FOE, the boss, or an unlucky ambush. Even then unless they're not saving they'll never lose much progress as there are so many convenient ways to get back it's simply not an issue.
With all of the advances in gaming hardware and the games that go along with them some developers have found a greater interest in exploring titles that hearken back to earlier times in game design and mechanics. A handful even went a step further by making games that mimic old 8-bit titles right down to the graphics and sound.
Retro Game Challenge is loosely based on the Japanese television show Retro Game Master(or GameCenter CX if you prefer Japanese titles). In this show a Japanese comedian named Shinya Arino is given a time limit of about one day to complete a variety of classic videogames. Retro Game Challenge is based on a similar concept as Arino himself gives out challenges to complete for eight different games. Unlike the TV show none of these games were available before in the real world and instead they've all been created specifically for Retro Game Challenge.
The presentation is very interesting as the player assumes the role of their younger self and it's back when the Famicom(NES) was the biggest thing around. A younger Arino sits beside you and offers commentary and reactions to everything you do in the games. A lot of the presentation's appeal is in nostalgia. Everything from buying gaming magazines to find out secret codes to blowing in cartridges is faithfully recreated.
The games themselves emulate 8-bit consoles and most of them are based off of some popular real-world game or at least share similar concepts. They're faithful recreations but thankfully not too faithful as they don't emulate the sprite flicker and bad game design that plagued a lot of early titles. Each game has four challenges that must be completed before the player can move onto the next game. These challenges are typically very simple and if the player gets stuck there's usually a handy cheatcode or a guide to help them along. Since the games span multiple genres they're pretty easy so that players who aren't masters of every genre have a good chance at beating each game(the cheats help too). But enough about all that let's get into the games themselves.
Cosmic Gate - Namco fans will quicky point out that this game is a Galaga clone. The player is restricted to left and right movement and a single cannon that fires two bullets at a time. Enemy ships swarm in a formation while firing away at the player before taking their spot at the top of the screen. After all surviving ships reach the top of the screen they'll attempt to take the player out in coordinated attacks. Progress is simple in that the player must destroy every enemy ship to reach the next stage.
Cosmic Gate is no mere clone however as it adds enough variation to make it worthwhile. The sole powerup in the game is a powerful shot that fires every third time the player fires a shot. This powered shot will not only destroy an enemy ship but it will also pass through and destroy any enemies behind them. Destroying more than one enemy with a single shot tacks on a multiplier and long lines can equate to big points. Every few stages the player can destroy falling asteroids of various sizes for bonus points and the occassional 1up. Warpzones can also be triggered by fulfilling certain conditions. These are handy for skipping multiple stages and thus leading to the game being completed more quickly.
All in all it's a pretty good game I think. It's not as difficult as the arcade games but there's always a good challenge in going for better high scores. On the other hand non-fans of Galaga will find little to enjoy here.
Robot Ninja Haggle Man - This game is an interesting mix of action and platforming. I'd say it plays closest to titles like Bubble Bobble and the like. As the RHNM you have to rescue the princess by killing everyone and their boss in each stage. The stages are wrap-around so that if you keep moving forward you'll go in circles and each enemy must be destroyed before the boss appears(though you can sometimes trigger the bossfight early by opening certain doors). The RHNM has access to an infinite supply of shuriken that can stun most enemies, a jump he can use that'll destroy them, and by grabbing three scrolls he'll recieve aid from a friend.
The doors are interesting in that each of them are colored. Opening a red door for example will cause all of the red doors in the vicinity to open as well. Aside from sometimes spawning powerups the doors can also be used to kill enemies. This concept was actually used in the old Namco title Mappy which I think is interesting. Like with many titles the player can gain lots of bonus points for defeating multiple enemies at once. Jumping on a lot of heads without touching the ground adds multipliers as well as killing a number of enemies with one well-timed door opening. As the player progresses the enemies will become faster, harder to stun, and eventually even fire projectiles. The bosses aren't much for the most part as they usually go down in one hit and behave like regular foes. There's a strict time limit in place to keep things moving. Oh and before I forget you can take two hits before dying.
While there isn't much to this game in terms of variety it's still very playable and can be quite entertaining. This is another title worthy of my recommendation.
Rally King - This overhead racing game is similar to, well I don't know what it's similar to as I didn't play a lot of racing games in the past. Like every other game in this compilation the goal is simple. By dodging puddles(or other slippery substances), passing rivals, and effectively using the drift and drift boost the player can reach the top spots and win. There are walls and holes to slow you down and the player loses energy for every collision they make.
The drift boost is what it is. Drifting is done by letting go of the gas while turning and after drifting for enough time the car automatically takes off with a serious boost in speed. This can be dangerous if used improperly and unsuccessfully performing the drift boost will also slow the player down. Randomly vehicles that replenish energy or add bonus points will appear and some tracks have special routes that are worth a ton of points if the player can find them. The concept is effective and the controls are decent but I just don't care for this game. Maybe it's the genre itself but I got bored of this one long before I completed it.
Star Prince - Here we have a 2D shooter with all of the requisites. There's the ship with multiple weapons, enemy ships that attack in formation, larger ships with heavier firepower, bosses at the end of each stage, and lots of background objects to destroy. This game is clearly patterned off of the popular Star Soldier series. Star Soldier is known for having among other things a ton of objects littering the ground that the player can destroy for bonus points.
Star Prince is perhaps the most creative of all of the games in this compilation when it comes to scoring. Aside from simply destroying enemies and objects the player can collect a special bonus by finding six secret letters that spell PRINCE. There are technical bonuses for destroying certain objects at the same time, a certain mid-boss doles out huge points if he's destroyed before he transforms, and by shooting powerups enough times they'll explode and every enemy on-screen will be destroyed with a multiplier tacked on for each of them. It's quite a bit to absorb but since the game isn't very difficult it's easier to focus on scoring over survival. It also helps that there are only four stages in the game so memorizing the key scoring areas isn't too much trouble.
Star Prince also has access to a shield. By holding down the fire button a shield will absorb most bullets. After the shield absorbs three bullets it will fire off a powerful blast while the player is temporarily invincible. It's useful certainly though against the final boss it isn't much use and colliding with ships will cancel the shield. All in all this is a nice effort though it is lacking compared to the games it's inspired by. Still one could do much worse.
Robot Ninja Haggle Man 2 - Like most sequels this game takes the basic concept of RNHM 1 and expands upon it. The levels in this game are larger, multi-scrolling, and feature more enemies. To balance it all out there are more advanced tricks for the player to take advantage of. Fans of the first game will find a lot to like here.
Rally King SP - This version of Rally King is actually sponsored by some noodle company(which is also apparently the mascot for all of the magazines Arino keeps buying). Aside from some changed colors and an advertisement between each stage this game is the exact same as Rally King. Obviously this is poking fun at some "Special Edition" games that don't add anything new but are instead plastered with ads and are exceedingly rare.
Guadia Quest - Fans of Dragon Quest will have this game figured out immediately. This is a traditional overhead JRPG with random encounters, a few large dungeons, and so on and so forth. There's not a whole lot that separates this game from DQ. There are recruitable monsters in this game but aside from adding the occassional attack every few rounds there's not much else to them. It is very accessible at least and it accomplishes what it sets out to do. I don't really care for this game though. It's decent and all that but I was always a bigger fan of Final Fantasy 1. I kind of wished they cloned that game instead.
Robot Ninja Haggle Man 3 - Unlike most sequels this game actually changes up the game design entirely. There are a lot of similarities to action games like Ninja Gaiden & Castlevania and there's even some exploration elements similar to titles like Metroid, Rygar, Goonies II, and so on. RHNM still has his trademark shuriken but this time whenever he gets close to an enemy he slashes them with his sword. The sword is more powerful but it can leave RNHM open to attack(especially from behind).
This game adds a healthy selection of powerups. Like Castlevania's candles and Ninja Gaiden's floating objects everything from health to nuts to special weapons can be found. The nuts can be used to buy gears which are then equipped to add extra functions. Some of these are used for progressing(like the ability to jump higher) while others make RNHM better suited at combat. Some of the shops are difficult to find however.
There's a heavy emphasis on platforming in this game. RNHM has a very long health meter in this game but he can die instantly from falling into any of the numerous pits. In fact the placement of enemies at precarious locations and the way RNHM falls after taking damage are tailored towards making pits his worst enemy. The game takes advantage of bizarre mechanic in that even if the area he's in looks like it's directly above another area if it resembles a pit he will die. To make things a lot less frustrating RNHM can look around him whenever the game is paused to spot dangerous situations. Unfortunately this does little to account for the Ninja's worst enemy and that is birds. While the birds in this game don't have Ninja Gaiden's movement patterns they are quick, annoying, and very deadly near pits.
Despite all of the pits and deaths that come with them progress is never overly hampered. There are mid-level checkpoints and all purchased or found gears are still in the player's possession. Granted the score gets reset and the nuts are dropped by half that doesn't mean much when the game is filled with respawning foes and objects. Aside from having some lame bossfights this game is very good.
With Retro Game Challenge the whole really is better than the sum of its parts. Very few of these games can stand on their own and when compared to some of the titles they're inspired by it's not even a contest. If you're interested in Retro Game Challenge for one or two games you'll find yourself disappointed that they simply don't stack up to the similar games you played when you were younger. The main things all of these games are lacking in is variety and challenge. While there is challenge in beating highscores there's not that much there in simply beating the games. The lack of variety becomes an issue since unlike arcade games these titles don't have enough of a difficulty curve to make reaching those end levels very thrilling. A lot of assets are re-used in terms of sprites and they exhibit the same behaviors in stage 8 as they do in stage 1.
That's to be expected though considering the overall direction of the game. Retro Game Challenge isn't directed towards masters of the arcade game or the RPG veterans. This game is for anyone who picked up a controller back when the NES was popular. This isn't the game you buy your kids to get them away from Call of Duty as they simply won't be impressed by it. RGC revels in its usage of 8-bit atmosphere and it's just not a good choice for introducing people to "retro" videogames. It is a however a thoroughly pleasant trip down memory lane and manages to skim past all of the terrible elements that made up some of our earliest games. Heck it might even inspire someone to buy an NES or dig one out of their attic and really relive the olden days.
Though a sequel was released in Japan the chances of it reaching our shores is very slim. The publishers of the original RGC cite the lack of sales as their reason for not bringing over the sequel. While I can't say I'm too surprised considering the concept I still think it's a damn shame considering that Retro Game Challenge is a very nice piece of work and a worthwhile pick-up for fans of the old-school.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Here we have another launch-era PS2 title. Eternal Ring is from what I can gather a sort of experiment. What I'm basically saying is that the purpose of the game is to test a bunch of new ideas and maybe in a future game it'll all be worked out. It's sort of expected out of launch titles and tends to frequently happen with new genres or ones the developer hasn't attempted before. An experiment can still be a great game but Eternal Ring isn't even a good one.
The story involves a young man with a mysterious past. His goal is to find a powerful ring and well none of that actually matters. The game is a first-person action-RPG though it actually plays out more like a first-person shooter. Upon arriving the player must flip switches, fall into holes, explore different environments, and kill monsters. It's standard fare and Eternal Ring does little to differentiate itself from similar games.
At first the hero is limited to a sword that he can hardly wield. All he does is poke monsters to death and this can be very annoying since monsters come in all sizes and shapes. Time actually has to be spent arranging the hero so that he's properly facing the monster he wishes to poke. This gets old very quickly as despite the discovery of new swords the Hero never learns how to wield them with any sort of effectiveness.
After a short time at least the hero finds his first magic ring and the magic system comes into play. The player is able to equip up to five rings at any time and switch between them when needed. There are a lot of rings to collect and build and they cover practically everything you could imagine. Whether you need to throw a fireball or a tornado, casting a healing spell or cure poison, the ring system has you covered...
...That is provided of course that you know how to make them. Monsters in the world of Eternal Ring commonly drop gems. These gems can be taken to a wise old man to be crafted to make new rings. How this is accomplished is by using some combination of six gems the player can make a ring. All of the gems have various elemental affinities and varying levels of strength. It's a very deep system and can be rewarding for those willing to work with it.
The level design in this game is hopelessly bland. I understand the appeal of labyrinths, mazes, and getting lost but all the same everything in this game looks like the developers took the basic templates and stretched them out as far as they could. There are several empty hallways and rooms, long corridors for no reason, and generally just a whole lot of nothing.
I guess when the level design isn't any good that's because the developers focused on the combat. Unfortunately the combat simply isn't any good. I've already mentioned the impotent way the hero handles his sword and this makes every melee fight an ordeal. Since a frontal attack is suicide your best option is circle-strafing. If that doesn't work you can perform a flower-patterned circle-strafe(move backwards and forwards while circling). Doing all this for every single monster quickly becomes tiring. Many enemies can take several hits to defeat and if a second foe joins the battle somehow you're usually better off retreating. Thankfully magic can be very useful unless you go through half of your MP pool to kill a single monster. While using spells is more effective it still doesn't make the combat anything compelling.
What really pushes me over the edge is this game's flagrant abuse of mechanics. To put it simply all I have to say is enemies can attack you through walls. No I do not buy the idea that a goblin can throw a stone through several feet of solid rock to bean me over the head. How exactly does one miss something like this? I can't very well toss a fireball through walls so why should the enemy get to? Even if the other aspects of this game held up I'd still knock the heck out of it for screwy mechanics because this is just plain idiotic.
All in all this game is a complete waste of time and you're better off with something like the old PC game Heretic or maybe one(or both) of the Hexen titles. These are readily available on Steam for a low price and they resemble Eternal Ring in concept but are just all around better games. While you lose the ring-crafting system you could just oh I don't know buy a junior scientist kit or do some math homework. As a fan of the King's Field series I expected something similar in Eternal Ring and all I got was a disappointing mess.
This is going to be very cool. There's not a whole lot I can say about Data East right now but from what I've played their output is pretty solid. I'll do another post on this compilation when the list of games is finalized.
Good Old Games.com is a site where you can purchase older PC games online. The UI is manageable, the prices are great with frequent specials, and most importantly the games actually work. The biggest problem with playing many older PC games is that they were designed for obsolete hardware and end up requiring some random ram nobody's ever heard of. As a bonus some games come with extras like wallpaper, soundtracks, and so on. It's probably not something you couldn't already find on the internet but it's still a very nice touch.
Right now you would do well to check out the Interplay special as there's a buy 1 get 1 free sale going on. This includes lots of classics like the Descent series, Freespace, Fallout, and many more. The Might & Magic 1-6 Collection has also been released which is a bargain at $10.
Of course I just found out that my laptop is so fried it can hardly run any of these games. Such a waste. As it stands I have to figure out whether I want a new PC, a J-360, a PS3, or an HDTV.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
With Way of the Samurai 3 hitting our shores in the near future I decided to check out the first two games to see how they hold up as well as put together thoughts on what I'd like to see changed or improved upon and see how the upcoming game compares. As you can tell by the title of this update however this isn't the case. Samurai Western is developed by Acquire. If you haven't heard of them do know that they were the ones behind the Tenchu series and eventually went on to do the Tenchu-esque Shinobido as well as the Way of the Samurai series. Wow a developer who makes nothing but Ninja and Samurai games. Can't ask for much more than that right?
In another tale of East meets West a young man from Japan heads out to find his missing brother and wacky hijinks ensue. Okay I just put that in there cause hardly anything really happens. There's a corrupt mayor with a huge nose, a dopey sheriff(who is a fat black dude with an afro..yikes), a saloon owner who forgot to wear a dress that covers the top half of her butt-crack, a mysterious stranger, an art-obsessed frenchman, crazy midgets, and so on. Despite the colorful cast they do little to make this adventure very interesting. Furthermore the hero has zero charisma. All you ever hear from him is speeches about Samurai honor and wanting to kill his brother. It is my recommendation that if you pick this game up you mash the start button through every cutscene and skip them all.
The concept of this game is simple. You're the lone Sam Rye and you have to face off with hundreds of guys with guns. How you accomplish this is also simple. Your sword is capable of deflecting bullets and sending them to the enemies that fired them. There really isn't much else to this game and despite running at over 20 levels you'll soon discover that there's little variation outside of the concept I just described. In each area you slash through several foes until eventually the level ends or you trigger the bossfight. There's no goalposts to run through or arrows to lead you to the exit. Heck the game doesn't even point out which enemies are the ones that'll end the stage. There's one stage where you actually have to reach a goal and another where you disarm bombs by slicing them up with your sword. Outside of these two stages you just kill people until the game decides you're done.
Killing people is extremely simple. Despite your lack of gun you have more than enough options to get close and run outlaws through. To start with the game has an experience point-based system. When you complete levels you get exp. With each levelup you earn three points to distribute among HP, MP, POW, & DEF and you also unlock new swords and accessories. All equipment is leveled up through the collection of gold & silver coins. The swords come in five stances and these affect the style of play. If you go with dual wield for example you become basically a whirlwind of destruction as two swords are more likely to deflect shots and few enemies can stand such an assault for long. These stances also come with a Master mode. What this does is it adds a particular ability but gives a major disadvantage as well. For example dual-wielders can become invincible but every attack they make drains life. Master mode is tied to your MP and when you max it out you can trigger Ultimate Master mode. This mode basically turns the game into something like Pacman. All of the enemies go down in one hit and even deflected shots will cut foes clean in half. Couple this with an exceptional running speed, invincibility, and the ability to do super combos on bosses and levels become no problem. To keep UMM running you have to keep killing foes, which depending on the location can either be very easy or extremely difficult.
Accessories do more than just make your Sam Rye look goofy. By equipping them you gain stat bonuses and if you acquire certain pieces you can create an accessory set. For example if you wear a pirate hat, a pirate cape, and a parrot you get a major bonus to a couple of stats. It's a nice touch though once you start unlocking other characters you'll find that none of the accessories fit them very well.
The controls to this game are surprisingly simple. Deflecting shots is as simple as swinging your sword though I tend to favor the dodge move. By tapping R1 and moving in the right direction I can not only avoid bullets but also pull off a counterattack that does double damage. As a bonus if a multitude of shots are dodging in the row you'll see "Hot dang!" pop up on the screen and nearby enemies will stomp their feet in frustration or look perplexed, leaving them open to attack. Jumping is always handy and jump attacks are easy to perform though for most stances you don't swing in mid-air, which can be extremely frustrating for enemies on slightly higher ground.
That's pretty much the entire game in a nutshell. Once you learn the basics you'll soon discover that's all you actually need to get by. There's no great train robbery and you're not going to be riding any horses or doing any showdowns while the tumbleweed rolls by. The game has maybe 7 or 8 environments and all of the levels are split among those. The foes you face aren't terribly creative and most really aren't all that threatening. The major exceptions however are these little fat guys that throw dynamite or roll bombs. Explosives do a ton of damage to the player and since they can be damaged while on the ground getting surrounded by dynamite after being knocked down is a guaranteed death. Other than that the only real worry is possibly being juggled to death by several guys with machineguns. Besides if things aren't going you way you can always trigger master mode to get away for awhile.
There's a scoring system in this game and at the end of each level you're handed points for a variety of conditions. Taking damage means you lose points but by doing combos, kill-combos(enemies you slice up while in UMM), not getting knocked down, and playing skillfully you can get some impressive scores. It's a fairly well done system though unless you're really into the game you'll probably only beat the high scores to collect more unlockables.
If the player wants to make the game a real challenge they have access to two additional difficulties but what they can also do is add extra goals. What these do is that they create conditions for the player to follow like beating the level without grabbing anything(wait I didn't mention the grab? well that's cause it's useless), without getting knocked down, under a certain time limit, and without using master mode or stuck with it for the entire level. Breaking any of these conditions will kill the player instantly. Adding these in however can unlock some additional bonuses as well as double or even triple the experience gained from beating the level.
This can be quite an ordeal due to the shoddy level design though. Most of the time stages are pretty bland and are little more than an arena for you to cover in blood. The one real exception is the coal mine stage. There are a lot of cliffs, bridges, and generally things to fall off of. In fact towards the end there's a long vertical shaft that can lead to many headaches. If you're going for the Ultimate Master Mode challenge in this stage you'll soon find that there's nothing worse than missing the last enemy and falling all the way to the bottom. Thankfully all of these challenges are completely optional. It still doesn't excuse the level design but I guess it's just as well when the focus should be on killing people and not intricate platforming or figuring out mazes.
The mechanics for this title are a bit too sound I think. When attacking enemies there's no grey area about which parts of your attacks are fatal. If your sword doesn't touch them, they don't bleed. This can be infuriating depending on the stance as some enemies are likely to be placed on top of crates or other objects where most standing strikes will miss them entirely. Thankfully there are other options to take them out but some kind of projectile would have been nice. A second player can actually join in as a gun-man but that requires a friend or random person you hired off the street to play videogames with you.
The framerate is probably the worst thing about this game. It starts off at 60 fps and that's great but it can drop to as low as 10 or even 5 fps and that's really bad. This is of course due to the number of enemies and the complexity of the environment(don't forget the special effects!) and the framerate will jump all over the place. Over time this game gives me serious headaches but I guess I can only blame myself for that as I'll spend quite a few hours playing this game at a time. The levels are short enough that this shouldn't be a problem and maybe it's just me but eh there you go.
If you're a fan of unlocking this is a good title to pick up. Every other level-up you unlock a new accessory or weapon, hidden wanted posters unlock new characters, and so on and so forth. If you're the type of gamer that plays games simply to unlock everything this is definitely worth picking up. On the other hand I did pay $8 for this game so I'm liable to be more favorable towards games I get at cheap prices. I guess in the end I'd consider Samurai Western a game you can do without. It can be entertaining and its simplicity makes it easy to get into but it really does nothing exceptional. There are a few things I haven't really talked about in this game either. For one there are moves that can be performed while grabbing someone or something and I didn't really talk about the other weapon stances. I consider this another point in the game's favor as it is open-ended enough that there's multiple ways to play through it. Hopefully in the future I'll get a hold of more games by Acquire as open-endedness seems to be their style in game development.