Saturday, July 31, 2010

PS2 Look - Dual Hearts

Yep wrote another review. This time it's Dual Hearts but ya gotta go to Giantbomb to read it.

Lemme know what you think.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More game purchases

Considering my review output lately I really shouldn't be buying more games but ah who cares.

Batman: Arkham Asylum - Heard a lot of great things about this one and from the few hours I've played it seems all the praise is well-deserved.

Genji: Days of the Blade - Hey remember all those jokes about giant enemy crabs, weak-points, and massive damage? Well uh..neither do I.

Bullet Witch - Decided to give this another go because I'm just that kind of gamer.

Monday, July 26, 2010

PS2 Look - Drakengard

In a perfect world I would have had no reason to play Drakengard. I already read the "let's play" that covered the entirety of the game and I've heard enough people say that the game itself isn't any good. To me however perfection isn't very compelling and all it usually means is that what is perfect today will just be considered mediocre tomorrow. So despite everything I bought and played through Drakengard and somehow it is to me one of the more worthwhile experiences of the last or any other generation.

Drakengard is not a game that can be properly reviewed on its own merits. In other words this is one of those games where its enjoyable qualities are more reflective of the player than of the content of the game itself. With that in mind let's talk about this player of the game, myself. My motto has always been "play anything" and it simply means being open-minded. Otherwise I would probably have played nothing but arcade games and my gamer-life would have been sufficient but incredibly dull. The macabre is also interesting to me and if it can be used to tell different stories in the videogames I play well then it's all the better.

I already know the story right? Heck I even played a demo of the game several years ago and even then I considered it repetitive and boring. What I really should be focusing on is why I still went through this game despite going into it knowing that it isn't worth the time. Well that's a tough one and it's made even tougher by the fact that I actually enjoyed the entirety of the game. This isn't Deadly Premonition. This isn't the kind of game where though there are a number of issues it was designed with good intentions. This is Cavia at their highest level of "Screw everybody! We'll do whatever we want!" and by default I should hate this game and everything it stands for. To tolerate this game is to defy the standards we as gamers have grown to accept, to love this game is to defy logic itself. It's just as well then that I admit that I love this game.

The main character is a young man named Caim whose few lines are taunts and roars. He suffers a mortal wound so he makes a pact with a dying dragon so that they both can live. Humans who make pacts give up a part of them and for Caim it's his voice. What makes this an effective story-telling element is that Caim essentially becomes the player. The mute-protagonist is an RPG device older than time itself and since Caim only speaks in swordenese all of the expressions of frustration and anger are left to the player. He is eventually joined by a child who gave up aging, a pedophile who gave up his vision, and a cannibal elf whose favorite food is children. The overarching goal of this crew is to try and fail to stop a possessed child from releasing all of the seals placed upon their world. This leads to a climatic finale that involves giant demon babies that eat everyone, time travel, and everything goes to hell. Everything going to hell is a bit of a recurring theme to this game as even though there are multiple endings all of them can be construed as bad and things essentially get worse as the player makes progress.

Despite the contents of the story this isn't about shock value. The writer is a big fan of the more thematic elements like yin-yang, the balance between order and chaos, and though he comes off as a bit of a pessimist there is a method and an understanding to everything that happens in the story. It is through this understanding that the player is able to accept all of the things that happen to them in the game itself.

To start with the levels are a mix of air and ground-based missions. In the air the player controls a dragon and must shoot down scores of enemies until the level ends. On the ground Caim must slash so many mission targets as well as anyone in the way. Both sides of the game are very basic and despite the similarities Drakengard is not Dynasty Warriors. There are no real battles, there's no morale meter, officers to interact with, and no mission objective aside from "kill so-and-so" and "don't run out of time or die". The environments are as plain as one could imagine and though enemies try to attack if the player gets close they are just as content waiting around until somebody shows up to pick a fight.

Aside from the very rare boss fight the entirety of this game can be summarized in minutes. What keeps people like myself playing are the curious who wish to see just how far down the rabbit hole goes. However Wonderland rewarded the curious with the strange and mysterious, all curiosity gets the average Drakengard-player is monotony and frustration. Though it's fair to say the most anyone will take from this review is the fact that I love the game it's still worth noting just how flawed it is. The camera is expectedly quite terrible, the game never really gets past hacking through legions of foes, there's minimal strategy, and the weapons tend to have absurd unlocking requirements. Drakengard goes a bit further than that however and creates some truly outlandish flaws. The most amazing one to me is the lack of proper weapon animation and mechanics. There are over fifty weapons to find in this game and for the most part they're pretty unbalanced which by this point I've come to accept. What continues to amaze me however is that a lot of the weapons have such inexplicable animations that they're completely useless in actual fights. Furthermore some of them don't register a hit until the player has completed swinging them. This stuff is so basic the only reason it wasn't accounted for is because it was done on purpose.

Bad games are usually noted for having a series of issues that if fixed could potentially lead to a good game. Drakengard does its best to turn this notion on its head as much as possible by creating issues that shouldn't exist in any conceivable fashion. The rhythm-game finale for example is something of a legend. It's like playing Final Fantasy, getting all of the ultimate weapons, getting to the final boss, and then it turns into a fighting game. Actually strike that, let's take it a step further by making this battle into one with a boss from a SNK fighting game. Drakengard essentially made less than twenty seconds of the game harder than not only its own game but most other games as well.

In a way though it's not exactly surprising. This game provides negative feedback almost constantly and whatever progress is made whether it's through story or leveling up the weapons rewards the player with the happenings of bad things. The weapon stories typically involve people dying and/or dying horribly and the game's story...well you already know how that turns out. With all that said however I still haven't explained exactly why I bothered to play through this game.

It's a game that takes pride in its chaos. It shuns the standards I've grown to accept from games and forces me to drop all pretensions and lose myself in a twisted world where all I can do is swing a sword in rage and frustration. As a result it puts me in the shoes of Caim better than all other mute-protagonist games I've ever played. The difficulty level most of the time is set to in-offensive and sometimes it just feels good to slash people for awhile cause at times that's all I can really do. This game also features quite a bit of bar-filling and experience gaining which appeals to my most basic of gaming interests. I respect Drakengard for bucking tradition at every opportunity and defying my expectations at every turn. Even when I thought I knew everything going in I was still surprised and impressed with how it all came together. The game is at least playable as well, it's certainly an improvement over some of the truly terrible games I've played over the years.

Drakengard was most likely written as a response to all of the RPGs and similar titles produced in Japan. The storyline of the average JRPG tended to revolve around young characters that changed the world for the better. Drakengard gives the impression that similar efforts are futile and those that buy into the notion of saving the world are not only ignorant but are also the first to lose hope when things change for the worse. Maybe I just appreciate Drakengard because no matter how much I work and how much money I make I can't even help those closest to me. It's a cynical outlook but I guess that's the point of the game. After completing Nier I thought of it as the counterpoint to Drakengard, a depiction of hope in a lost world. However it seems more to me that the author just didn't have the heart to admit that everything that occurs in that game was also a lost cause.

Game Rating - 1.5 stars out of 5
It's pretty clear that the expectations are all on the gamer when it comes to enjoying this game. As mentioned before there's quite a list of flaws that keep this game from approaching good. I'm not sure what the .5 in the score is supposed to represent in all honesty. Maybe it's a half a star for that this game created such unique and interesting flaws. Still on these merits I can't exactly recommend the game. The dragon-based levels are pretty enjoyable though I gotta admit, then again maybe it's because that style of game is kind of rare.

My Rating - 5 stars out of 5
As I said before I love this game so it's obvious my score will reflect that. Its appeal is more due to the kind of person I am and the kinds of games I play however. It could be that I enjoyed this game as much as I did due to the games I played around the same time. Sure those may have been decent and even great but they were also bland and predictable. Drakengard might have just come around at the right time to fill a particular hole that was open only at that particular moment. Still for now at least I guess this rating suits my view of the game just fine.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What's to blame for the lack of updates?

Yeah I know I should be talking about games I've played through lately but uh...nope not in the mood. Lately I've been playing Smackdown Vs Raw 2010. I'm a fan of the series because of one major factor, the customization. Being able to create characters and then watch them punch each other is where I get all of the fun out of these games. Admittedly I'm a bit disappointed in this version because there are no options for Women to wrestle Men(and vice-versa).

Whoa now don't give me that look. I just happen to get a kick out of watching say...Lady GaGa choke-slamming the hell out of Pepsiman, Zangief, TRON, or hell even myself. I hear it's possible in SvR 2009 so maybe I should track that down as well.

Other than that there's not much else going on. I beat Dual Hearts and Drakengard so maybe I should review them fairly soon. There's some other things I want to talk about but uh..I don't know if I should even bother.

So whatever I'm going to scour the internet for new characters I should create in SvR 2010. I'm not really in the mood to actually play some games at the moment.

Monday, July 12, 2010

X360 Look - Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War

The worst part of the videogame review process is getting inspiration. It shouldn't be hard at all, I play a game and then I write about it. But no writing isn't merely about content, it's also about flavor, form, and a bunch of other things I just made up thirty seconds ago. Coming up with all the fluff is the hardest part for me as I have to get all of that out of the way before I can talk about whether or not I think a game sucks. It took many things to inspire me to write about Bladestorm. A few days ago I watched a bird fly to the top of a tree, earlier this evening I watched a cat play around with a ball, seemingly unremarkable occurrences such as these provided me with just enough to write this review. By contrast Bladestorm offered me no inspiration, which is a bit strange since it's the entire point of this piece.

This is not to say that Bladestorm isn't a bad game. It's just lacking in things that would have given me inspiration. There's no passion, no emotion, none of those other -ions that I pretend to ignore when I think about games that I've played. It's a slightly altered re-telling of the Hundred Years War where nobody actually dies and the sole purpose of the player is to participate as they see fit to keep the war going for as long as their interest remains. It's a game where both sides are played for fools and the player merely works with whoever offers the most money or the most fame. There are no life-or-death situations, no grand sacrifices, and there's never any feeling of the pain and destruction that is usually involved with war. In the end this game comes off as more of a re-enactment of the war than the actual war itself.

All that said this isn't a bad game in the slightest. To start off the player creates their mercenary, gets some basic training, and from there they fight battles on the sides of both France and England. The battles are constant, lands fall in the hands of both sides daily, and really it's all rather meaningless. The player's only goal is to participate in battles and gather enough fame to be granted the opportunity to participate in more important battles that unlock the next difficulty setting as well as new unit-types, equipment, and so on. In short this game is a grind-a-thon.

The goal with any good grind-a-thon is to keep the player's interest and Bladestorm accomplishes that through one of the most entertaining battle-systems I've seen in the genre. Wait what is the genre for this game? I'm guessing it's real-time strategy, heck it's the closest I've come to playing a game of this sort. Anyway when the player enters battle they find themselves alone and severely outnumbered. Both the French and English forces carry on without the player if left alone and they will trade strongholds via combat until the day ends (each day lasts about 10 minutes and most battles end after 2 to 5 of them day). The player is handed a mission where they must take over such-and-such stronghold before the deadline. Each battlefield consists of dozens of strongholds and if the player wants they can take over as many strongholds as they like before going after the specified one to collect their reward.

Seeing as how I've already gotten ahead of myself a reminder is in order. The player is alone and severely outnumbered. That changes quickly because as a Mercenary the player is a master of several arts of war and is capable of leading a squad with the push of a button. This squad can consist of something as mundane as a dozen guys with swords but squads can also include archers, cavalry, ninjas, and even magicians because hey it's a videogame. Taking control of a squad is easy enough but using them effectively depends on their relationship with enemy squads. For every squad in the game there are squads that they are stronger as well as weaker than. For example archers can handle cavalry quite easily but they tend to be no match for the fleet-footed scouts and fencers. Since we're looking at rock-paper-scissors the most basic strategy is to avoid the rocks while focusing on the scissors. Taking an enemy stronghold merely requires that their defenses be brought down by defeating squads and then defeating the base commander when he makes his appearance.

To complicate things further battles between squads isn't merely about getting close and watching both parties hack away. Each squad has access to a handful of skills that can shift unfavorable situations their way. A great swordsman is usually weak to cavalry but they have a particular sword swing that can destroy mounts pretty handily. The lady fencers tend to have the disadvantage when dealing with most other melee units but they can charm a fair number of enemy units to even things out somewhat. This sort of depth is greatly appreciated since having a squad for every situation isn't always possible. Also as the player is the leader of their squad other squads have leaders as well and if they're defeated then the squad will disperse and retreat. Sometimes the most effective way of dealing with a squad is to have the player temporarily leave their own to assassinate the enemy squad leader before rejoining and continuing on. While the player is alone they have access to skills that serve best as quick and dirty ways to finish off lone units as well as break away from crowds.

Another factor that shouldn't be discounted is squad level. A grind-a-thon isn't complete without some form of experience to gain and in Bladestorm all squads can be leveled up. As the difficulty increases so do the enemy squad levels and the player can quickly find themselves obliterated even if their low-level squad is supposed to have the advantage over the high-level squad. Level-ups grant the player skill-points so that they can upgrade their squad through increased stats as well as improved skills. As is the case with similar games it's always best to fight squads that are of slightly higher levels. To give the player something to do with all of the money they make limited-use squads can be purchased which is great because they can be instantly summoned in the middle of any battle, banners that work like power-ups to raise abilities for a short time, and equipment to boost the player's weapon and armor strength(and offer a bit of customization because nobody wants to wear the same clothes for 50 or so hours).

The best aspect of this game is in the fights between squads. There's so much nuance and room for creativity that the player can come up with many solutions for every encounter. Sure the most obvious solution tends to be loading up on the most effective units and abusing abilities but the game's open-ended nature proves to be most rewarding for those willing to experiment and put themselves at risk. All of the tools are there for the player to get into some memorable battles and this is a necessity considering the amount of time it takes just to see the credits roll.

All of this is left up to the player because unfortunately the game has no reason to create memorable battles on its own. Even the historic battles that were pivotal to the actual war are little more than regular battles with an indefinite time-limit. Sometimes there's a particular location to protect or invade but before long it simply becomes about taking over strongholds until the player has had enough and chooses the end the battle themselves. On one hand this is welcome because there are no escorts or strongholds where you lose the battle if you fail to protect them. But in the end it all comes off as rather un-fulfilling as there never seems to be any motivation to perform admirably in battle. It's definitely one of those games where you get out of it what you put into it and for some gamers that just isn't enough.

As for myself the main reason I kept playing was I continually holding onto the vain hope that it would actually end. Sure there is a new difficulty available after the credits roll but said credits come after one of the most anti-climatic battles I've seen in a game. I strode into the enemy's base, defeated the base commander while the King of England wasn't looking, and I won...well I guess I only won the battle. Dynasty Warriors games are known for their large body-counts and warriors capable of killing tens of soldiers with a single swing but through all the chaos they sought an end. Bladestorm seeks to continue the chaos for as long as the player is willing to stand but without any sense of finality there's no reason to put forth a serious effort.

I guess this would be the kind of game that works best when the player involves themselves in one battle a day but with that kind of output one can never expect to even reach the credits. Bladestorm offers many different side-quests and jobs but the jobs are mostly worthless and the side-quests aren't exactly what one considers a side-quest. Sure they don't take place within the bounds of the actual war but a lot of the time the player isn't allowed to progress until they have completed something seemingly inconsequential like escorting a merchant or finding just the right piece of wood. A filter would have done wonders here since it would have allowed the player to focus on either side-quests to better outfit their character or main-quests to move the story along.

Then again I guess that really doesn't matter since all things in this game come to a non-ending. Joan of Arc is never burned at the stake, Prince Edward doesn't die of illness, and John Talbot isn't killed at the final major battle of the Hundred Years War. They all stick around to lead squads and fall again and again to the player's pikemen squad. This is in my opinion the most damning aspect of the game. The player is more than capable of taking on the roll of anyone in an army but all of the named-generals stick with one type of squad, they never show anything that would make them close to a match for the player and what it comes down to is a complete lack of dynamic-play. Beyond the attacks with multiple squads there is little else for the player to adapt to as even the most powerful of generals are one-dimensional in their strategy.

Despite all of these faults Bladestorm remains a compelling and well-developed game. It's unfortunate that a sequel may never materialize as all of these problems can be easily fixed given the time and ambition. I would definitely recommend it if you're looking for a time-sink but have tired of MMORPGs, Action-RPGs, and well...Anything-RPGs. It doesn't get anywhere beyond that however so for those looking for something memorable that they'll talk about for years they're better off looking elsewhere.

Game Rating - 2.5 out of 5 stars
As I said earlier the weak generals and overall sameness of every battle is what holds this game back from greatness. Almost every general is a cavalry unit and those fall easily to pikes as well as bows. Their only challenge comes from the fact that usually they're so high-level that they can defeat the player in a couple hits. The game also tends to give too many advantages to the player. Morale is a key part of battle since after doing enough damage or collecting special items the player becomes invincible for a short time. This can be easily abused to the point where I went entire days without a scratch. I could ignore this aspect to maintain balance but enemy generals are capable of doing it as well (though they're incapable of doing it properly since I've watched them ignore me or the base entirely to pound on some troops in the outskirts).

My Rating - 3 out of 5 stars
As I admitted earlier I spent a good 50+ hours on this game so there is obviously something there that kept me playing for such a long time. The squad-system is really good and though battles are predictable I was finding new squads to play around with or new strategies to try to get through them faster and with less losses. I would have given a higher rating if the game had just given me more of a reason to care about the on-going war. The Dynasty Warriors franchise eventually got me into reading the Three Kingdoms due to the depth of its cast(despite the many artistic liberties Koei took) but with Bladestorm I was supposed to be attached to a bunch of people that talked about nobility, justice, and all that other junk but all it did was leave me uncaring and empty.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What's that sound? That's right it's the sound of games being bought.

First off cut me a bit of slack here because for once I've been putting forth the effort to complete some games. I finally beat Bladestorm after nearly 50 hours and I'm already making great progress in Devil Summoner 2. Granted that's hardly a chip in my ginormous backlog but whatevs it's not like I have deadlines or anything.

Duel Hearts...or is it Dual Hearts? - Yeah I already forgot the title of this game so it's off to a promising start. It was cheap and I think that was the sole reason I bought it.

Transformers 2004 - I couldn't come up with a better title for this game but from what I've read it's actually pretty good. I guess this version is based off of the Transformers Armada series which I remember despising due all the annoying kids and their minicons. It was also cheap. Apparently I should consider focusing this blog on bargain bin titles since it seems like that's all I buy.

Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance - I may as well admit that I love this game. No really I LOVE this game. I have the Xbox version already but no Xbox so I had to buy this game again cause I can't go without my Beatdown fix. It's not a particularly good game but uh there's something about it that...would be best saved for a review.

I've also been playing Drakengard. Despite everything I've seen and heard about this game it all did little to dissuade me from giving it a go. It certain lives up to the expectations I'll say that much.