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Misc. News [Game Overview]
May 22nd, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

King of Fighters XII, yeah that’s still coming out. I’m having a hard time caring without Mai :hint hint: See the episode below to catch the trailer.

Explosive

Remember last week when I told you all about that Giant Bomb achievements feature? Seems I’m not doing that well. I’ve only got ‘A’s in Mass Effect, Castle Crashers, and Lost Odyssey and a good chunk of my rare achievements are World of Warcraft achievements available only to those who were playing the game way back in the day. That being said, I do have a lot of Lost Odyssey and Mass Effect rare achievements and I think I’m going to ignore the DoA 4 rare since it’s probably the anti-achievement I got for losing tons of matches.

If nothing, this has inspired me to start hitting up those achievements harder. The easy targets would be more Mass Effect, Rock Band 2, and Lost Odyssey for the S-Rank. but I think that I will be playing Fallout 3 once I finish Persona 4 next, so it might have to wait a while. That’s a respectable endeavor too, since I only have a C in the game.

It’s raining, but is it heavy?

The oddly named Heavy Rain promises to bring mature, serious gaming to the PS3. I’ve heard much about the game’s merits, mostly from Shane Bettenhousen back when he was on the 1UP crew, but I’d yet to see any footage of the game in action. Lucky for me, GTTV, or Gametrailers TV, is featuring Heavy Rain in their latest episode:

(Sorry about some of the stupidity of the interview, I don’t write the immature questions)

As the episode mentions, Heavy Rain is developed by the same folks who brought us Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophesy back in the day. That game had a narrative that quickly fell apart near the end, but was an otherwise solid piece of storytelling. Heavy Rain has serious promise not to fall into that trap.

How cool is it that if one of your characters dies it becomes part of the story. You lose control of that person and the game continues. Seriously, all they have to do is not get stupid ridiculous like the end of Indigo Prophesy and they already have me as a customer.

Wii Secrets

Guess what? You can export Miis to the DS!

The previously hidden feature doesn’t do much for games that don’t support it, but it’s crazy to learn this little secret. Pressing A, B, 1, and then holding 2 will bring up the export dialog. Useless, but cool for the future.

Do me a Solid, will ya?

New Metal Gear game announcement at E3? Seems likely. The teaser site is apparently flashing [email protected]…Seems pretty self-evident there.

The Pigs are keeping us down!

First Capcom, then Koei, and now Square Enix have restricted all Japanese travel to E3 this year citing the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic as the reason they are limiting their travel. Considering that Japan is actually facing quite the problem on its shores, you’d think that the execs would want to get out of the country sometime soon, but then again, I guess it’s the ethically responsible thing to do not to have them travel around. That being said, I’m sure the last thing Japan is doing in this case is worrying about US safety. All jokes aside, hopefully this swine flu pandemic slows down and goes away soon.

[Thanks to Kotaku and Gametrailers for the links]

M$: Lost Odyssey Review
Jul 10th, 2008 by Dan

SPOILER ALERT: This review may contain story spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Sakaguchi’s new company Mistwalker has had its share of problems. For very perplexing reasons they chose to chiefly develop for the Xbox 360 with side development on the Nintendo DS. As a result, nothing they make for the home console, no matter how good, will ever sell all that well in their home country. His first 360 game, Blue Dragon, sold 200,000 copies in Japan, which may sound good at first, but when you look at Final Fantasy XII’s two million sales in Japan, a whole order of magnitude more, it suddenly doesn’t seem like Sakaguchi is getting a fair shake. In fact, both Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey are no better or worse than a typical Square Enix game, but their sales are typically much lower, with Lost Odyssey only selling around 100,000 in the Land of the Rising Sun.

So now that I’ve more or less made it clear that LO is about as good as any Final Fantasy game, lets delve a bit deeper into it, because there are some differentiating aspects that actually out-Final-Fantasy Final Fantasy.

The Story

Some of the greatest buzz about the release of Lost Odyssey revolved around the fact that its story was penned by the famed novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu. You’d be correct to be skeptical about this, bringing in outside, famous talent does not make a great story by default. So, does it fall flat on its face? Yes and no. The actual, plot-driven story is nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s about as Final Fantasy, clichéd of a story as you can find with an evil retainer, sorcerer dude who takes over a country, blah blah blah. I was able to predict most of the twists, which was disappointing, but there the real allure to the story comes from two things: the permise and the short stories.

Let’s start with the premise:

The main character, Kaim, is an immortal. He’s been around, as of the start of the game, for a thousand years. This factors into gameplay in a rather neat way, but also makes Kaim and his fellow immortals very compelling characters (unfortunately the only ones of the bunch). Kaim also suffers from amnesia (ugh…RPG cliché #1), but this actually informs and enhances our brand new gameplay mechanic: short stories.

What happens when you have an author write your story? You end up with short stories in your game. Depending on what part of the game you are in and what part of the map you walk by, you will trigger one of Kaim’s lost memories. These play out as breaks in gameplay as you read these expertly written short stories illustrating the various themes of the game. This is basically hell for gamers like my buddy Phil who hate gameplay interruptions like cutscenes, but for me these great little stories really flesh out the characters that would otherwise be pretty generic.

Lost Odyssey succeeds because its storytelling methods are so innovative and far-reaching. While the plot itself and its resolution is more or less mundane, the idea that these characters have literally been around for a thousand years and bring with them maturity and characterization to go with it makes for a satisfying experience.

Something should be said about the non-immortal cast though. Aside from Jansen, the rogue-ish comic relief (in personality, not in class. He’s a black mage), the mortal characters range from lame to downright irritating. The wonder twins, clear ripoffs of Palom and Porom from Final Fantasy IV, are the spunky girl that we’ve seen way too often and the shy, quiet, ANNOYING boy that comes from anime. Tolten is the whiny, un-confident, whiny (it needs to be said twice) king-in-training and Sed is just the uninspired grizzled old guy, although he’s the best of the riffraff.

Gameplay

This isn’t anything that radically different from any other turn-based RPG. You have the usual spells and techniques, with two small wrinkles.

The first of these gameplay differences comes from equippable rings. These rings that you equip can add effects to your attacks, from added effectiveness to enemy types to elements or status effects. In order to activate these effects, you must hold a trigger and time the intersection of two rings. Perfect alignment leads to higher damage or more probable status effects.

Immortals make up the next significant gameplay change. Since none of the immortals can die, according to the story, none of them can really die in battle either. If an enemy manages to fell one of your immortal characters, they will go down for about two turns, then automatically resurrect with close to half of their health. If everyone in your party happens to be down at the same time, you do lose the battle, but it’s a pretty nice to know that if an immortal goes down you can just wait it out. Tied into the immortal system is the way that skills are allocated to immortals. Partying with mortals allows immortals to “Skill Link” and learn the specialty skills of the rest of their party. These skills can then be implemented by the immortals at any time once learned, even if the mortals aren’t in the battle with them.

Like I said earlier, everything else is what you’d expect from a turn-based RPG, no surprises there.

Graphics

If you thought that Sakaguchi did some beautiful work on the PS2, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The second of his 360 RPGs and the first to feature more realistic characters (Blue Dragon’s characters were more anime-like, created by Akira Toriyama), Lost Odyssey is about the most gorgeous game I’ve ever seen. I just got a hold of a new, large, 1080p-capable television, and let me tell you, it looks fantastic. Let me also say that it’s not perfect, especially due to the Unreal engine that’s so in vogue nowadays.

As an Unreal engine game, Lost Odyssey suffers from most of the same shortcomings of other games of its type. Load times are long, framerates are far, FAR from stable. The game frequently stutters and is sometimes unstable. In my 60 to 70 hours of gameplay, I had the game freeze on me at least twice. The beauty and flexibility of the Unreal engine comes at a real price, but at least its not like the typical dark, drab, brown shooters mostly put on the Unreal engine, there are some genuinely bright and colorful vistas and locales.

Sound

A close friend of Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu composed the themes and music of Lost Odyssey, but he doesn’t do anything super-special in the score for this game. In fact, it’s more or less a forgettable soundtrack that I mostly kept turned down in favor of listening to my own music. Everything else is pretty crisp and clear, but the English voice cast is pretty boring and annoying. Lucky for you and anyone in auditory range, you can elect to listen to the Japanese voice cast, but you end up with odd lip syncing and subtitling since they are aligned to the English vocal track, not the Japanese one. This is disappointing to be in both video games and anime, since it means the subs cater to the dubs, meaning they aren’t translations, but transcriptions. The difference is subtle, but, like I said, disappointing.

Final Verdict

Final Fantasy XII was a pretty far departure from the typical Final Fantasy fare, with real-time combat, a different loot system, and a shift away from the more recent Final Fantasy narrative style. In a sense, Lost Odyssey is the true Final Fantasy XI. If that’s what you’re looking for, pick this game up. The concept and characterization of the immortals is spot on and the short stories really do flesh out the game’s story and make it stand apart. Lost Odyssey isn’t going to blow you away with its gameplay and story, it’s just gonna fill that RPG-shaped hole in your heart, especially if you only own an Xbox. While a bit lengthy for a rental, it’s more or less a one-playthrough event, so rent or buy used if this sounds appealing. It’s definitely a good game that’s worth playing if you can get your hands on it and love JRPGS.

Game Overview Editorial: Difficulty in Video Games
May 8th, 2008 by Dan

You’re playing through an RPG. You’ve gained five levels, found some sweet equipment drops, minimized the use of your precious items, and then it happens. You come up against a behemoth of a monster. Your party is decimated, your progress lost, your controller tossed through the screen.

Does this even begin to sound familiar to anyone? It’s like modern gaming, in an effort to bring in an even broader audience, has started to dumb down our video game experience. Think back to the last four, at the very least, Final Fantasy games (not counting XI). Aside from side quest bosses who are geared to be a challenge, how often did you even find yourself remotely challenged in these games? I honestly don’t think I worried much about save points in any of these games (aside from when I was hunting the harder mobs in XII) at all. There was none of that between-save-point stress and worry that a game with any difficulty might throw at me. I just go on through the game, breezing through the fights and find myself at the final boss, sometimes taking more than one try to kill him, but, more often than not, just breezing through him too.

It’s not just RPGs either. Think back to Mario Galaxy. The only challenge in that game came from the green stars where the developers were given free range to punish players into some of the toughest, most fun challenges possible. Even The Legend of Zelda isn’t safe. The last two console installments, The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, were among the easiest games I have ever played. Sure, their stories were epic and fun, but the bosses were jokes compared to past Zelda games. They dealt close to no heart damage, they had hyper-predictable patterns, and they were just plain not challenging. I don’t think that I’ve evolved much in skill as a gamer since about the sixth grade and I definitely remember more challenge in both Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past when I played them (late to the game, I know).

There is hope. Mistwalker’s latest RPG for the Xbox 360, Lost Odyssey, will actually make you hope that a save point is imminent. The enemies will brutalize you if you mess up. It seems odd that I’m actually hoping for a game to punish me for screwing up or not leveling up, but I just can’t take a game that doesn’t even challenge me in the slightest. I consume games mainly for story, this is true, but I don’t want the story-telling to come so easily that I might as well be watching a movie or reading a book. It can get frustrating when a game is difficult because it’s broken or the computer cheats :cough: Mario Kart Wii :cough:, but it’s also tremendously satisfying to spend an hour bashing your head against the wall trying to defeat a boss only to finally get it down and win with just a sliver of health left.

This is why I look forward to the day when I will be able to devote more time to Persona 3: FES. The short time I spent with the game already almost beat me in a random encounter and I’m sure that an actual boss will own me several times. I fully believe that a game should punish you for making a mistake and I already know from experience that Persona will wail on me for being an idiot.

There’s certainly a market for casual games and casual gamers out there, one only needs to look to the Wii to see that fact with obvious clarity, but surely it wouldn’t be too difficult for developers to go out and actually make a game tough for players. The inclusion of difficulty levels, even with the fact that it means more work, will satisfy me. Here’s hoping that we see harder games in the future.

Game Overview Special Tuesday Edition: Obsessive 100%
Apr 22nd, 2008 by Dan

If any of you clicked over to Leigh’s post at Sexy Videogameland about obsessively completing games, then you already know where I’m about to go with this post. If you didn’t, here’s yet another link.

Call it a personality disorder, but I have an obsessive need to unlock the full 100% potential for video games that I enjoy. I know what you’re thinking, if he’s gotta include the “enjoy” caveat, it’s not really obsessive then, is it? Let me tell you, that caveat did not come easily. It took years of mental conditioning to be able to realize “Hey, I want to play too many other games to go at this pace on such a crummy game…” Once I did finally realize that forcing myself to 100% complete a game that, honestly, wasn’t worth it, I’m was able to log off of Gamefaqs and get onto another game that will eat up my time. You see, since I’m a university student, I do have more time to play than 9-5ers, but I don’t have as much time as when I was in high school because of classes, exams, homework, and trying to maintain a social life (kids, stay away from World of Warcraft).

Where do I draw the line? Mainly wherever it’s going to just take too much time to be worth it. I loved Final Fantasy X, but when the game asked me to dodge lightning something like one hundred times in a row to get an ultimate weapon, I said screw it. My party was tough enough that I wouldn’t need that one ultimate weapon just to kill Sin. If it wasn’t, I would train up and make do. There were other, less time-consumingly stupid sidequests that I could go waste my time on.

The advent of the Gamerscore on Xbox Live! has brought up some really interesting issues too. Before achievement points and worrying about increasing my Gamerscore (I know it’s low, but I don’t have the time to be a real achievement point whore), I honestly never worried about fully completing an action game or a music game. I’ll tell you which achievements I can resist though – Guitar Hero 3’s asininely stupid ones like playing through the career mode on a controller instead of the guitar (really? play through on my controller for ONLY 15 achievement points), winning 500 matches (grind, anyone?), or even playing through a song on expert with the sound settings turned down (no sound in a MUSIC GAME?). The Rock Band achievements are much less idiotic. Fully completing cities, completing career modes, achieving milestones in the World Tour mode, these are all acceptable to me.

My first Xbox 360 JRPG introduced a new dastardly trick to entice me to get full completes on games that don’t deserve it. Lost Odyssey, mind you, is not one of them, but my progress to the end of the game has been halted by the achievement point list that includes optional bosses and leveling up all the characters in my team. It’s definitely brilliant because those side quests, in other RPGs, usually include neat story details about the characters that you wouldn’t see otherwise, they give you sweet weapons and armor, and they also satisfy my need to fully complete an RPG that I love.

Just because I’m able to resist these urges more and more nowadays doesn’t mean I’m fully out of the woods. I was trying to burn through MGS and MGS2 to complete the series before MGS4’s launch in June, but now that I’m on MGS3 and June’s far away, I’ve taken it upon myself to hit up Gamefaqs to find out where all the Kerotans (strange little frog thingies that you have to shoot) are and all the different types of food so that I can get a whole bunch of sweet bonuses after I complete the game. Persona 3: FES launches today, but will be in Gamestop waiting for me tomorrow, and I have no idea what I’m gonna do about all the Social Links. After reading Leigh’s article, I convinced myself that I should just play the game naturally, but then I went and watched the 1UP show and learned that the Social Links that you max out contribute to your ending. How could I not try to max them out and get the best possible ending now?

I will admit that part of my completionist nature comes from the fact that I have a lot of games on my plate and I want to get to them all. If I can beat them all 100% the first time through, then I don’t have to play them again to see the stuff that I missed. People usually ask me about this when they see me browsing Gamefaqs or another walkthrough when playing a video game, either asking “Why don’t you just finish the game if you can?” or “Why are you looking at the guide? Why don’t you figure it out yourself?”

The answer to both has to do with enjoying the storylines of games oftentimes a lot more than the gameplay. If it’s a good game, I want to see as much of it as possible, so I bother with the sidequests to learn more about the characters. Anyone who has ever wandered through the Phoenix Cave in Final Fantasy VI knows how incredibly moving (maybe this is just me) it is to see Locke passionately search for the one thing he has heard can save Rachel. Most people, I like to think, were moved when (SPOILER ALERT) the Phoenix failed to revive Rachel (/SPOILER ALERT). It’s little touches like this that go to flesh out just why Locke is so committed to protecting Terra and Celes once he meets each woman.

If it’s a bad game, heck, I just want to be done. I don’t care about figuring out the strategy to kill a poorly designed boss with a character I don’t give a damn about. I don’t care about figuring out the proper path through a bland Zelda-ripoff temple. It’s just not satisfying since by that point I’m playing the game only because I like to finish what I start.

Adventure games are the exception to this. I oftentimes love the game, I’m just not willing to try and figure out how I’m supposed to use the chicken with the tree to save the monkey in the swamp. The game type just asks you to think too much like the designer to complete mentally unnatural and unintuitive tasks. Yahtzee makes some good points about Adventure game design in his review of Zachkand Wiki that I totally agree with.

In the end, I guess I’m not that bad about obsessively completing a game, but when the design is just so well-done as to encourage the player to do it, I honestly can’t resist. When you have a screen full of little glass windows to smash open for Super Smash Brothers Brawl, who can resist the urge to just go for the unlockables? Those trophies and stickers are also so cool…

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