Archive for December, 2009

LttP Altered Beast (arcade): Somehow making kicking zombies in the dick unfun

Posted in LttP on December 28, 2009 by nairume

To preface this, I actually have played Altered Beast before. I’ve had a copy of the Genesis version for a while now, and it was a pretty shitty game then. I figured, hey, maybe the Arcade version was better, but never really got a chance to play it until recently. Is the arcade version actually a good enough game to be the reason why this game has the reputation it does?
Here’s a hint: It’s not.

I would love nothing more than to go Office Space on this fucker

I don’t know what is more baffling. That Sega could make a game so terrible or that it has its defenders out there that are convinced the game is actually good. Now, I could understand fans. People can be fans of something in an ironic sense, like how Manos: The Hands of Fate and The Room have their fans. Nobody actually believes that either of those movies are legitimately good films. They manifest terrible in a form that even Lovecraft wouldn’t even dream of describing, and it is that aspect that attracts people to calling themselves fans and watching them every so often. If this was the case with Altered Beast, I could understand it. What I can’t understand is why people believed back in 1989 and even all the way up to 2009  that the game was legitimately a quality title.

For the five people out there who don’t know what Altered Beast is about, it’s a game about kicking zombies and other monsters in the dick. I say this because, while you are in human form, kicking is the only option. Said kick is a low kick that often hits enemies between the legs and they often double over as if they’ve been kicked in the dick. I did the math from there.

To be serious for a moment, the game is actually about Zeus’s daughter being kidnapped by some wizard. Since apparently the most powerful of the Greek Gods isn’t strong enough to shove a lightning bolt up the ass of some pansy wizard, he decides to bring some dead guy back to life and dick-kick his way across five levels of repetitive generic scenery and random zombies and monsters. Dead Guy isn’t really all that capable on his own. He can jump, but that’s really not that useful. He makes an attempt at what you could call a punch, but its range is pitiful and enemies typically can hit you before you can land one. All that’s left for Dead Guy in his normal form is the already-mentioned kick. It has a longer range than the punch, and it can hit both tall enemies and short enemies that the sort-of-punch can’t even hit. This kick is a swift low kick that hits most humanoid enemies squarely in the baby-makers. This is the closest thing to fun you will find in this shitty game, and it isn’t even all that fun. Some how, a game in which you go around kicking monsters in the dick isn’t all that fun. In fact, it’s not fun at all. It’s got about the fun factor of being the one getting kicked in the dick. Maybe it’s some sort of innovation that Sega came up with, where you can feel the pain of your enemies or some bullshit. Not as catch of a marketing tool than Blast Processing, I guess.

So, Dead Guy is kind of worthless in combat. This is where the “Altered Beast” comes into play. You see, Dead Guy holds a terrible secret: he’s actually a furry. Of course, he is redeemed by actually being able to become his fursona, rather than just writing terrible poetry about his animal form and trying to do animal emotes on shitty furry forums.  After collecting three floating orbs after nutshotting white wolves, Dead Guy undergoes his transformation into one of five transformations depending on the level (well, there’s only actually four transformations, as Sega lazily made the final transformation a faster version of the first).

I'm too lazy to come up with a Courage Wolf caption, so imagine it yourself

So Dead Guy turns into a Wolf, Dragon, Bear, Tiger, or a Wolf again, which gains him new attacks. The Wolf Forms can flying side-kick their way across the stage, the Dragon can shock things around it, and the Bear does some sort of weird Sonic-esque spin-jump. The Bear is probably the worst form in the game. I think I’d actually rather play as human Dead Guy than as the Bear. Since the point of the games is to achieve your transformation, you can’t fight the level’s boss until you do. This is a pain in the ass, because Dead Guy is so worthless at combat that he’ll often have trouble dick kicking the damned white wolves to get their magical testicles transformation orbs. This means that you have to keep going through the terrible levels until you can finally find a white wolf that stands still long enough for you to slowly ruin his junk.

What makes the experience so horrible is just how badly handled the combat. Dead Guy’s attacks are slow. Painfully so. They also often fall short of what most of the enemies are capable of. So you are going to get hit a lot. On top of this, because there is very little recovery time after being hit, it’s very easy for enemies to juggle you and plow right through your health. This is bullshit coin-munching of the highest order. Geese Howard would probably find it to be goddamned cheap. You might be able to get through the first, and maybe the second, level without much trouble, but there’s no way you can really finish this bullshit game without either memorizing everything or pumping enough quarters into it to pay of the national debt. Fuck you Sega. The beast forms really don’t add all that much to the fighting experience either. Since boss fights start soon after you transform, and those boss fights never last all that long, you never really get to toy around with what little they add.

Almost everything else about this terrible game is quite forgettable. The music is weak.  Outside of the large sprites, the graphics are kind of lacking. The colors are dull and faded. The artwork is uninspired, and the design of the sprites themselves are fairly generic. All that really stands out are the spoken “RISE FROM YOUR GWAVE” and “WELCOME TO YOUR DOOM” segments that the gaming community has latched on to, probably in hopes that remembering only those parts will help them forget how shitty Altered Beast really is.

Oh, wait, he was wearing a Fursuit all along.

Star Ocean 4: Earth-Blowing-Up goodness

Posted in LttP on December 15, 2009 by nairume

Oh, hey, looks like we get a sort-of positive posting for a change. Granted, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is still kind of on the wrong side of mediocre, but it’s better than the shitfest that was Star Ocean: ’til the End of This Terrible Game. Man, I could go on about how shitty that game was.  In fact, I think I will. It’ll make explaining why I’m actually liking SO4 a bit easier.
So, let’s get this out of the way. Star Ocean 3 had the most retarded plot twist ever. Even worse, it was a retconning plot twist that effects the entire series. Are you folks ready?

A good ways into the game, the universe is invaded by beings from “4d space”, intending to wipe out civilization in the region the game takes place in. The party finds a way to enter 4d Space and confront the 4d Beings. Upon entering 4d Space, they learn that their entire universe was actually a video game. Not just any video game, either. The entirety of the Star Ocean series  has been one big Massively Multiplayer Online RPG.

Yes, you’ve been playing a game in which takes place inside fucking anime WoW in space. It’s like .hack, but somehow even more retarded.

So the party confronts the lead designer of Space W0W because he thinks that the AI in Space WoW is getting too advanced and thus wants to wipe the server and start over . This is the final boss. Apparently, 500 years in the future,  game designers are high powered uber beings. This sure doesn’t sound like wish fulfillment by triAce, no sir it doesn’t. The game ends with some Descartes bullshit about “I Think Therefore I am” because the characters can think. If this is true, somewhere, Deep Blue is plotting its revenge, waiting to murder everybody who forces it to waste its talents playing fucking chess.

Seriously, though. Somebody wrote that plot twist. Somebody edited that twist. Somebody looked at it and thought it was a good idea. Somebody cleared it to be put in the game. Somebody allowed the game to be printed and sent to stores. Somebody also sold it to me for $20. Douche.

There were other things that made Star Ocean 3 shitty. It stripped out a lot of the fun elements of the previous games that made them stand out from other RPGs, and generally replaced them with inferior systems. The character designs were terrible. The main character’s name was Fate Linegod, which was only slightly made more berable in the US version where it was Fayt Leingod (which I guess is 5% less anime bullshit). When given the opportunity to make any weapon he could think of, the main character makes a sword (a weak one at that) because “lol it’s like a video game!” (HA HA HA triAce, with your goddamned foreshadowing….I hope you all burn). The voice acting was terrible. The controls don’t work nearly as well as they should (I don’t get why PS2 developers actually continued using the preasure buttons). Despite the whole point of the goddamned plot twist being that the AI was getting too smart, the actual party AI is borderline useless and they’ve largely stripped out all of the AI options Star Ocean 2 introduced. Characters with guns will run in to perform melee attacks, despite being far too weak to survive going toe-to-toe with monsters. Oh, and aside from having your HP reduced to 0 killing you like any other game, you die if your MP reaches 0 too. Somebody actually thought MP Death was a good idea. I hope they’ve been disallowed from game design, as well as anybody who shares a single chromasome with them. Can’t let any chance of that stupid getting anywhere near a video game.

I hate Star Ocean 3 and I hate triAce for making it. They should feel bad or something.
But this LttP is about Star Ocean 4! So let’s talk about why I’m actually liking it for the 30 hours I’ve put into it.

triAce knows that the fucking plot twist from SO3 renders any further game impossible to take seriously. They could even reboot the series, and you wouldn’t be able to ignore the feeling that the fucking MMO thing is still in effect, since a series reboot could be explained as a goddamed reboot of the game itself. Fuck triAce.

So, the series can’t be taken seriously any more. Thus, triAce decided that the best course of action was to go with a more light-hearted plot. Much of the game actually feels like a bad episode of Star Trek’s original series. That was pretty bad, so I guess that makes the stuff going on in Star Ocean 4 double bad. Twice more than originally expected. This isn’t such a terrible thing, because Star Trek was endearing in its cheesiness and SO4 is the same. At one point, the party even goes back in time, blows up a certain planet, and then return to the present to eventually move on as if nothing happened (at least, after Anime Kirk stops bawling about blowing up said planet). It’s all cheesy fun.

Oh, yeah, this actually brings up another good point about Star Ocean 4: it actually uses the goddamned sci-fi setting to a decent extent. Where as the past three games have largely stranded its parties on underdeveloped (re: typical RPG fantasy bullshit) and only really make little use of the sci-fi until really late in the game, much of Star Ocean 4 actually feels like it’s actually exploring the sci-fi universe that they’ve spent the past few games building up. You actually move around planets pretty frequently, and you only go to two medieval fantasy planets (at least as far as I can tell). Also, while some of the party resorts to using swords and other decidedly non-sci-fi weaponry, they at least give explainations for them beyond “lol, it’s a video game” (fuck you Star Ocean 3).

The cast seems pretty interesting this time around. Edge Maverick, the less retardedly named protagonist is pretty much anime Reboot-Kirk for part of the game, and he quickly is promoted to captain of the USS Enterprise SRF Calnus (actually a running ship name in Star Ocean, much like the Enterprise). He is joined by Reimi (the resident (s)mother hen to Edge), Faize (anime Spock, right down to the pointy ears), BACCHUS-D79 (a cyborg), and more I don’t feel like talking about.

The gameplay is also vastly improved. Skills are back (yay!), even if they aren’t as extensive as Star Ocean 2 (aw), so character customization is much better than SO3’s. Skills are often either exclusive to single characters or sets of characters, so it’s impossible to have a character learn everything. This also means that each character only gets one of the crafting abilities and one of the harvesting abilities. Because of this, you have to wait until you get a full party before you can really begin to take advantage of crafting or harvesting.  The crafting system is still kind of bullshit in comparison to what it’s been in the past, but it’s at least an improvement over 3’s. Harvesting is new to the series. All across the game, you’ll see little points where you use skills like harvest or mining to draw out resources. As your skill level improves, you can find more and better stuff.

Combat is much better, playing like an improved version of Star Ocean 2. Special attacks have been returned to the shoulder buttons, rather than being tied to pressure buttons, making them easy to pull off.  A new mechanic, called Blindsiding, amps the pace of battles, as well as giving you more to do. Party AI, though still lacking all the options that SO2 had, is much more reliable. Characters that are equipped with ranged weapons will now actually sit back and fight enemies from afar, rather than jumping into the mix of things. The game actually seems a bit easier because of it, since your party isn’t constantly in danger of dying. A rage-system has been thrown in, where characters who attack or are hit enough to fill up a little bar can go into a fury, where they have improved combat abilities and other perks. This is combined with the game allowing you to set your characters into two different combat styles, a defensive style that places along better with the fury system, and a more offensive style that goes more for the Blindsiding. Styles also have an effect on your characters stats. These two styles level up as you use them, unlocking better stat bonuses and other ability perks. There is a third neutral style. This one doesn’t level up, but it gives you the stat bonuses for your current levels in both styles, though you give up the ability perks. The combat bonus board has returned, and it’s much more managable. You don’t loose your bonuses as easily as you did in SO3, and there are multiple bonuses that you can get depending on how you fight.

On the down side, I hate the character designs for some of the characters. I don’t get this trend by RPG developers to design characters with busy outfits. Claude from Star Ocean 2 wore jeans, a black undershirt, and a tan military jacket. Edge of Star Ocean 4 has all sorts of different armor pieces all over him. I mean, look:

From this

To this

They try to explain Edge’s design away as being a quirk of a new type of spacesuit, but it’s just an excuse to keep with the typical anime designs. Can’t win them all, I guess. RPGs really need to go back to more simplistic designs.

The game is really pretty. Though the art direction blows the big one for many of the characters, the game’s different settings all look very neat, save for the one icey world and the alien mothership. The visual do have some minor problems. Most noteably, since everything is shiny, it’s way to easy to miss treasure and harvesting points. Honestly, if it weren’t for the automap, players would probably miss a ton of stuff and probaby even get lost pretty often.

The sound really isn’t anything to write home about. Much of the music is typical Sakuraba, so it’s all pretty interchangable. I will say that the remixes of tunes from Star Ocean 1 are pretty solid, if not really great. The voice acting is also fairly decent, especially considering how bad SO3’s turned out, so that’s a plus.

I think the best summary is that Star Ocean 4 is a mediocre but fun game that manages to at least overpower its flaws with its quality portions. It also won’t give you cancer, which Star Ocean 3 probably can’t say*.

*May not be scientifically proven.

Top Games of the Decade according to Nairume

Posted in Blurbs, Random Gaming on December 15, 2009 by nairume

10: Mega Man 9

One of the biggest criticisms of the Mega Man series is over how little they’ve changed over the years. Capcom decided to show everybody how this is hardly a bad thing by going all the way back to the basics, stripping out everything that they have changed since Mega Man 2 and creating a new game using that game as a foundation. What we get is surprisingly one of the best games in the series. For the same reasons that New Super Mario Bros Wii is also on the list, Capcom took everything that was great about the NES games, and improved upon them, rather than trying to throw in new mechanics to complicate things. Gamers that grew up on the NES, will feel like kids again after playing this. I know I did.

9: Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

I’ll be honest, I was on the nay-sayers side when Toon-Link was revealed to the world. Like so many others, I was captivated by the short SpaceWorld demo promising an evolution to the OoT-styled Adult Link. Instead, we got a toon-shaded super-deformed hero. It’s a shame that I and so many other people initially avoided Wind Waker due to the more light-hearted design, because it’s one of the most inspired entries in the series. The deformed cartoony style really brought in a level of emotion that Link and so many other characters in the Zelda universe had lacked in the past. Even though he still has no real lines (other than yelling “C’mere!”), the Link of Wind Waker (and, later, Phantom Hour Glass and his great/grandson in Spirit Tracks) actually feel the most responsive to everything going on around them. The sense of exploration that makes the series so great is probably at its best here. Even series villain Ganondorf has his best moments in this game.

8: Mega Man Zero 2

Mega Man Zero was a fun game, but it had its issues. The level structure was really linear, throwing out the open ended level selection of pretty much every other Mega Man game. It was unfairly difficult at times, and it went out of its way to punish you for actually making use of some of the game’s mechanics (the cyberelves, mosty). MMZ2 came along and pretty much fixed every single problem that the first game had. It brought back the classic level selection, was difficult without being frustrating, and didn’t punish you for using the elves mechanic. Further more, it brought in a number of new mechanics. Similarly to an achievement system, doing certain things within game will earn you different forms, which change Zero’s attributes and moves. Giving purpose to the ranking system, keeping a high rank will net you boss attacks. Finally, the chain-whip weapon gives you new ways to move around level. The game also has a killer opening sequence.

7:  Breath of Fire IV

Seldom do RPGs actually get it all right. At the very least, one area of the game will be lacking behind the rest of a game’s attributes. So often do some RPGs feature pretty graphics and fun gameplay, but kind of have a weak plot. Or incredible plots will be brought down by weaker gameplay and music. Breath of Fire IV, on the other hand, was probably one of the few RPGs released this decade that got it all perfectly balanced,  even if the game isn’t perfect as a whole. The visual style is still impressive to this day. The split plot, following around two characters who are different halves of the same being, is something that still stands out as excellent writing. The combat is simple enough to where battles blaze along, yet it is deep enough to allow you to to pull off some awesome things if you put the effort into them. An improved Master system from BoFIII brings in some significant character customization, and the dragon system is much less convoluted than BoFIII (yeah, I don’t get the love people have for that game’s gene system). The soundtrack is also only second to Hitoshi Sakimoto’s work for BoFV.

6: Shadow Hearts: Covenant

Quite possibly one of the few times that a game continues from the bad ending of its prequel, Shadow Hearts 2 reveals that Yuri actually failed to save Alice from dying at the end of the first game. On top of that, he himself is cursed at the outset to an eventual death that he knows will take him by the adventure’s end. The adventure, by the way, takes place during some of the bleakest times of the first World War. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, especially once you meet the homosexual shopkeepers who trade you equipment for gay porn or when the flamboyant vampire wrestler who moonlights as a masked superhero joins your team, but it manages to tell a compelling war-time fantasy that will keep you playing along. Also, much like BoFIV, this is one of the few RPGs of the decade to actually strike a fine balance of all of its parts, and it does it even better. The game is also such a significant improvement over its predecessor that it should probably win the decade’s award for most improved.

5:  Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Atlus tried several times before to get their Megami Tensei games recognition in the west, but it wasn’t until Nocturne hit that people started to really take notice over here. Perhaps it was the improved demon mechanics, where your demonic minions leveled up as you do,  as well as being one of the first games in the series to give you a serious level of customization over said minions. Maybe it was the introduction of the Press-Turn Combat system which has graced every MegaTen game in some form or another since, excluding the action-based Raidou games. It could very much also be the striking difficulty, being one of the first legitimately difficult RPGs in a decent while. The game also looked very pretty and had a really wicked soundtrack. Chances are, it was all of the above that finally got the series going in the west.

4: New Super Mario Bros Wii

Quite possibly my game of 2009, I had nothing but a smile throughout the entirety of this gem. Granted, very little of the game blazes new territory, yet it’s ability to mix the best elements from the best games in the series makes NSMBWii one of the strongest entries in the entire Mario catalog. Mix in fun stage design, great boss battles (in which the Koopalings make their triumphant return), and the game’s zany co-op make it a must-buy for the Wii.

3: Final Fantasy IX

You know that opera sequence near the middle of FFVI that, for so long , was considered one of the classiest scenes to ever grace a Final Fantasy? Final Fantasy IX tops that in its opening, and just keeps running with it throughout the rest of the game. After two games starring moping mercenaries that were all “serious business”, IX’s lead, Zidane, was a surprising breath of fresh air. Here, we had a charming rogue who is a part of a band of thieves that masquerade as a travelling Shakespearian theater troup, and the introduction to the character is right at the beginning of a heist to kidnap the princess of a major military power while distracting the entire populace with one of the biggest play productions yet. Several games later, and SquareEnix has yet to feature an opening with nearly as much class or charm. Zidane aside, much of the game’s cast are some of the most inspired characters in Final Fantasy history. Coupled with some of the best writing, one of Uematsu’s strongest soundtracks, lively setting, and fun gameplay, we not only have the best Final Fantasy of the decade, but we’ve got a strong contender against Final Fantasy VI for best in the series.

2: Neverwinter Nights

In the past decade, there isn’t a single game I’ve put more hour into than Neverwinter Nights. Ever since I picked it up the day after Christmas 2002, the only time NWN has not been readily installed on my computer has been whenever I’m either in the middle of giving it a fresh install or are switching to a new computer. Sure, the game has its issues. The main campaigns are kind of dull. Also, the version of D&D it’s based on is vanilla 3rd Edition, which was so bad that they actually had to relaunch an improved version (the less bad 3.5) only a couple years later. Still, in spite of its flaws, the shear amount of adventure you can have through the campaigns and the user-made adventures, as well as all of the multiplayer possibilities, Neverwinter Nights probably remains my favorite PC release of the decade.

1: Persona 4.

Most people who are going to put a Persona game on lists like this are going to put down Persona 3, largely because it came first and thus it was the innovator. I’m going with Persona 4, however, because it’s a rennovator. Persona 3 was a great game, but it had a lot of niggling issues that Persona 4 came right in and fixed right up. It’s quite telling when one of the most common comments on Persona 3 was that it was nearly impossible to go back to after playing Persona 4. There was barely two years between the development of the two, and P4 still managed to make P3 feel utterly archaic in comparison. Beyond that, the cast is significantly more down to earth and believable. The plot, though lacking 3’s impact, was a lot more involving and personal. I also vastly prefer the soundtrack.

Why is it the number 1 game on my list? Out of the tons of RPGs I’ve played and loved, I never really could go back to them until a significant amount of time passed. Even with other genres, I typically have to shelve for a good after completing them before I could go back tot hem, unless they are meant to be short and replayable.

Persona 4? I started a new file the second the credits stopped rolling and began working my way back through it all over again. This is a game that I had just put in over 90 hours, and I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to experience it all over again. That’s a damned good game.

Fable 2: Huh….

Posted in LttP on December 6, 2009 by nairume

Let’s get it out of the way: Fable 1 was seen as a big disappointment by gamers, but it was still accepted as a fun game in spite of the flaws. Developers don’t live up to promises all the time. Games fall flat of their expectations. Gamers don’t quite get what they want (but, then again, the game community is nigh impossible to consistantly please).  It happens. Good developers learn from their mistakes and tend to improve with the next go.

Somehow, Fable 2 managed to be more disappointing to me, nor was it quite as fun. Peter Molyneux and the people of Lionhead are creative and very capable developers. Though some might disagree with the label, I’d definitely place them in the catagory of “good developers.” So, if they are, in fact, good developers, why does Fable 2 not really seem to make any noteable improvements? Sure, they make little additions here or there, but very little seems to have improved either the sandbox feel or the RPG elements. In some cases, it seems as if there’s been regression in the gameplay between the original and the sequel. In others, it just feels as if nothing was really added by doing it.

One of only two worthwhile improvement I can see the game introduced is the world itself. The original Fable was often mocked for how claustrophobic its world was. When travelling, you were often just stuck on a narrow path, fenced off on both sides, just moving in a straight line. I don’t even remember there being any hills. Fable 2’s presentation of the fanciful world of Britain Albion, several centuries removed from the previous, thankfully features more variation. Instead of narrow paths between locations, you have several large fields that are full of hills, lakes, buildings, and all sorts of features you’d expect in the fields of a good Zelda-clone. There are a couple of locations that retain the feel of Fable 1’s narrow pathways, and most of the dungeons are like this, but the vast majority of your time in Fable 2 is either spent in these open fields or in the fairly open towns. In opening the world up, Fable 2 does offer a lot more in the way of exploration, even if there isn’t quite much to find around the world, it’s still nice to be able to run around the rather beautiful landscape.

The only other significant addition is that the game allows multiplayer. At any point past the initial chapter of the game, you are able to either have somebody jump into the game offline and online with either a custom helper or their own character. From the get-go, you can set how much of a share of the spoils of war your friend can take back, should they be using their own character, or you can opt to keep it all to yourself. You are also able to jump into another player’s game and be the guest in their world. Multiplayer really doesn’t change all that much about the game, which almost lead me to put this in the pointless addition section, but, then again, co-op in action-RPGs is usually pretty fun.

In the realm of changes that don’t feel like they make any contributions, the dog is probably going to be the first thing you’ll notice in Fable 2. The dog is there with you from the very beginning, largely doing nothing of importance. Oh, sure, he finds burried treasure for you, but it’s very seldom of any importance. In theory he helps out in battle, but I always found chasing his tail more immediate of a concern than his master being under attack. He is also able to help you find your next objective, but the game gives you plenty of alternatives to where it really doesn’t matter that he has that function. What’s left is just another NPC that you can interact with, but never can get to stop following you, making the hero’s more explicit adventures very awkward.

Well, you never caught a rabbit, so...

Did you know that you can have children? Of course you do. You played this months ago. Peter Molyneux wouldn’t shut up about it when he would gush about how you could start a family. It’s one of the game’s main “features”, yet, after having four children, it became painfully obvious that there wasn’t any purpose to procreation in Albion. Before a certain point in the game, they are locked as infants. After said point, they jump from being infants to instantly being old enough for middle school, no matter when they were born. As infants, there’s really not much interaction to be done. They are in their crib, they cry or giggle whenever you do anything around them, and that’s about it. When they become children…well, it’s roughly the same thing. They act as any other NPC, outside of expecting you to have brought them back a gift every time you leave the house. That’s it. They don’t grow up, leading lives of their own, and have you to become Grandpa/Grandma Hero. You can’t teach them anything. You can’t really take them on an adventure and have them be of any use. Honestly, outside of a single quest which only triggers randomly, your children hardly leave the area of their home if you don’t take them anywhere. Effectively, all they really serve the purpose of is being a novelty and unlocking an achievement. As an amusing aside, while the game does have contraceptives for safe sex, pregnancy can only happen if you’re married, making extra-marital sex almost completely safe…if you ignore the STDs that don’t actually do anything, that is.

You still can't do this

Almost meaningless addition number 3 is that the real estate portion of the game has been expanded to where you can now buy businesses and change around the prices of items. The same can be done for any house you buy and put up for rent. The only purposes this really serves is earning you more money, making shopping less expensive, effecting town economy, and making you either purer (for lowering rent) or corrupt (for getting more money out). Perk 1 is kind of meaningless, since, once you have enough money to buy buildings, you pretty have enough money to buy everything you’ll ever actually need, thus all your money is really just there to buy more buildings. This ties into perk 2. Yes, you can buy a shop to lower the item cost. However, with the money it costs to buy shops with the expensive items, you could have bought the expensive items to begin with. Town economy just deals with what you have available, but I never quite saw anything better become available in a town with a better economy. It also nets you more money, but, again, money is kind of pointless at that point in the game.

Purity/Corruption is a pointless addition itself. Previously, you had a good-evil system that changed how you looked and how the people of the world viewed you. Apparently, Lionhead liked the idea so much that they decided the game could use it twice over. Thus, on top of Good/Evil, you now have the Purity/Corrupt system. Why they didn’t go for an ethics (re: law/chaos) system like any other game wishing to do more than just morality is beyond me. Purity and Corruption don’t really seem all that different from Good and Evil in concept, and the game really doesn’t seem to be able to make much of a difference between them either. Good acts tend to also make you purer, while evil acts tend to corrupt you. As such, you’re never really going to find yourself as an Evil but Pure individual and the only way to be Good and Corrupt is if you happen to eat a ton of meaty foods (as, apparently, eating meat is a corrupt action). Once again, it doesn’t really add anything significant to the experience, other than another stat that you have to watch.

One major change that I felt was a step backwards was the way the game handles its sidequests. Previously, the game had a billboard that you had to travel to to check on to see what was available. Upon selecting a job, you could  choose to boast about how you would complete it, adding on extra conditions to the completion of the quest. In a game that was rather on the easy side, this both added a bit of extra challenge to the RPG aspect, as well as made the sandbox aspect of the game more enjoyable, as it would improve your standing in the world if you lived up to your boasts. This is completely gone in Fable 2. Now, you’ve just got a list of quests in your questbook that automatically updates whenever something new becomes available, and boasting is completely out. Now you simply do the quests and get your rewards. Since you can’t really fail quests still, the added challenge of the boasting would have been nice.

There’s one addition to the game that I’m rather unsure on what to classify it as, though I’m definitely not a fan. Instead of gaining money from combat, the main (and only) way to really earn money before you start earning income from your business deals, are doing little sidejobs represented by reflex-based minigames. On one hand, they kind of detract from the RPG-side of the game. On the other hand, they feel somewhat like they add to the sandbox-side of the game, giving you more to do than adventuring or being a business mogul, though the gameworld doesn’t actually reflect it if you become a master craftsman at whatever the job is. They are actually a pretty decent way of scoring a lot of money early on, as it doesn’t take long to gain ranks and better payment. In a way, they actually kind of break the game, as it is possible to earn enough money through them to begin to start buying out and renting properties, thus earning a sizable income early on to where you never have to worry about equipment.

There’s also a “change” they included that I kind of felt went entirely to waste. One of the most infamous features that was planned for Fable 1 was that, for example, if you knocked an acorn down from a tree, it would grow into a tree over time, reflecting that the world of Fable was constantly in motion. It was missed when it didn’t turn up in the final game, and it’s also why what this game does feels nothing more than a gigantic cocktease. When you return to your childhood home after leaving it in the initial chapter and growing up, you find that it has changed based around your previous actions. The game then brags to you about how every action you take has an effect on the future, making it seem as if this long desired feature from the first game has finally been realized. It is readily apparent early on that this is not the case, time is still very much frozen in Albion, and there’s really not anything that causes any permanent changes that reflect your actions. Then the game decides to throw in an event that skips the story forward a decade, with you effectively being out of the picture. Upon your return, the cocktease begins anew. You find that the town that you sailed from to begin your separation from Albion has changed depending on if you made an investment or not. Either it is still the shanty town, full of rogues and other less-than-desirable individuals, it was before or it has become a respectful town, full of nice houses and happy families. You venture out into the world to see what else is changed, only to find that the rest of Albion is pretty much the same as you left it, with the only exception being any of your children that you sired before leaving have now grown from babies to school aged and a single monestary has become a little bigger (and, even then, it’s only the building and not the actual group itself). All the NPCs and general townspeople you knew before look exactly as they did as you left them. Even the NPCs that were children before you left for a decade remain the same as they were before. Feeling satisfied that the game has cockteased you twice on the subject, it goes back to having no real sense of progression of time.

Other changes that don’t fit in with either discussions include the ability to choose your gender or the switch from bows to guns. Gender is something that should have probably been there to begin with, and the only difference it makes is that you are the one that gets pregnant. Guns really aren’t all that different from the bows of Fable 1. If it wasn’t for the different gun types having different rates of fire, range, and reloading speeds, it’d largely be a cosmetic change. You get scarred from dying, but since you rarely ever die and are typically clothed, you’ll probably completely miss this feature. Your leveling also doesn’t factor into your aging, which is a minor plus.

Something else bragged about the game is about how little non-interactive cutscenes there are. However, what this amounts to is that you are just able to move the camera around during events and walk around whenever there is any exposition or background events. While you are generally locked out of doing anything else, as the game effectively freezes your action interface, you are occasionally able to respond to events with an expression or two. This aspect is rarely ever used, however. It is a rather pointless addition, however, since the game is also a bit buggy, there is the possibility that the game can actually forget to take you out of custcene mode, freezing you from being able to interact with anybody outside of emoting to them, meaning you can’t actually enter combat or anything else. Plus, since the game autosaves pretty frequently and you are unable to keep backup saves….do the math.

Aesthetically, I’ve already mentioned that the game looks nice. I’m actually willing to say that it looks impressive. Outside of the game’s dungeons, the world’s different locations all have a very fairytale feel to them, making them very nice to explore. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the artstyle of the characters, they all look good and animate very smoothly. The sound is virtually the same as Fable 1’s. It’s the same fanciful music, with the same cheesy generic british accents. Character development doesn’t seem as interesting, but, at the same time, I think it’s virtually the same as before. Some how, combat feels like it’s taken a hit. Spellcasting doesn’t play as simple as it used to, and ranged combat is more trouble than its worth if you’re not sneaking around.

Now, I know I’ve  just spent a great deal of time complaining about Fable 2’s many flaws. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad game. Like its predecessor, it’s a competent action-RPG (at least when it’s not throwing game ending bugs at you) and the sandbox elements are at least a distraction, even if they are fairly pointless. There’s also a sizable amount of content to keep you playing long enough to where you’ll never feel ripped off. While I probably wouldn’t have payed $60 for it, I could easily see people who loved the first one being perfectly cool with that pricepoint.  Ultimately, my biggest complaint is that, outside of a couple of areas, the game really doesn’t feel like it made any improvements over the original, when there was plenty to be made.

I hope Fable 3 will actually attempt to try some significant new ideas, but who am I kidding? They’ll just throw in a horse that you can teach tricks, attatch to a carriage, and make money money giving people rides, and we’ll eat it all up.

Blue Dragon: Late first impressions

Posted in LttP on December 4, 2009 by nairume

While I understand the dislike certain people have towards the game, I’m kind of surprised that Blue Dragon doesn’t have more fans. It brings together Hironobu Sakaguchi, Akira Toriyama, and Nobou Uematsu together for another JRPG extravaganza. You all remember what happened the last time those three worked together, right?

They remember

Plus, the game is practically Final Fantasy 5, and people love that game. Then again, throw in a class system, and it seems rpg fanatics will eat that shit up like it was crack. I can’t complain myself. I actually love toying around with class systems, so I’m having some fun with this game so far (and that being part way through the first disc). The game also came free, so that’s definitely helping.

To get the negatives out of the way, I can’t help but feel disappointed at the general tone and setting. This is almost entirely because I read the first manga (Ral-Grado) that was put out to help promote the game, and that largely did its own thing. Thus far, the Shadows don’t seem nearly as interesting, nor integral to the plot. I’m sure that they start to factor in more eventually, but thus far they’ve been annoyingly silent. Of course, since they ARE the basis for the class system, I guess I can’t complain too much.

Aside from that, the game seems….childish, almost to the point of self-mockery. Probably the first thing players will notice in this regard is that the generic and recurring weak enemy is dubbed the “Poo Snake” and it looks exactly as its described: a snake head sticking out of a pile of poo with limbs.

I'm not joking

This is not the only scat-based humor the game holds, as enemies will occasionally drop piles of poo that you can search for items. Aside from that, the monster design largely seems to be goofy Dragon Quest rejects, which is not to say that they are bad, though I imagine those who are sick of Akira Toriyama will probably be groaning pretty quickly. Even the characters themselves make the game feel like it’s not taking itself seriously. Shu, the protagonist and bearer of the titular Blue Dragon, rarely has any more to add to the conversation than screaming “I WON’T GIVE UP!” and I don’t even wish to get into how obnoxious Marumaro is at times, though I think the dancing and singing scene with his family is definitely the critical mass of annoying that the game has displayed this far. At times, it seems like Kluke and Jiro are the only sane people in a mad world gone Dragon Ball. From what it seems, MistWalker was probably pushing the game towards being fairly self-aware of the lunacy of everything (another connection it holds with Final Fantasy 5), but they went a little too far and the game skips over self-aware and moves right back into the realm of annoying.

Jiro's shadow, Babe the Blue Ox, is not pleased

The pacing of the game’s plot also feels kind of terrible thus far. I’m over ten hours in, and all the party has really accomplished is that they’ve saved a village from a disease and they’ve made it back to the village that they were trying to return to from the beginning. The villain himself has popped up a few times, but it doesn’t seem like the party has really interacted all that much with he or any other antagonizing force. This has largely left the game feeling like you’re spending more time just wading through one dungeon to get to the next one, than really doing much to further the plot. MistWalker’s next project, Lost Odyssey, did this to a point, but it didn’t feel nearly as pointless upfront as Blue Dragon has felt. It could actually be this that answers my original question. The game’s initial act is so weak that I could understand people wishing to just shelve it. Supposedly, the game begins to pick up after a while, so I’m going to press on and see if this holds true or not.

The game does have several saving graces. As mentioned, the game itself largely plays like Final Fantasy 5 (unsurprising, considering that was the last Final Fantasy Sakaguchi was heavily involved in). There’s a class system, where you can freely switch around classes, learn abilities, and then mix and match to your hearts content. The classes are all pretty basic, you’ve got your fighter, white mage, black mage, monk, knight (defender) and theif/ninja (assassain), as well as several support based classes. Though Blue Dragon lacks the number of classes that was featured in FF5 or Tactics, it makes up for it by including a large number of abilities to equip to your characters, giving you plent of options. Several of these abilities can also be used on the field to interact with the monsters walking around. This is another saving grace, there are no random battles. Though monsters can jump out of nowhere to surprise you, you always have the option of running. Further more, said field abilities can be used to your advantage, be it by setting up traps, repelling them, attracking them, or just running through and beating weak enemies on the map, Earthbound-style.

Another neat feature is that the game allows you to pull the right trigger, effectively pausing the field, let you examine all of the monsters within range, and then selectively pick which ones you want to engage. You can even opt to engage multiple parties, throwing you into a string of battles where you don’t have a chance to rest, but you get a roulette of bonuses for each additional battle. Another fun use of this system plays with the fact that monster don’t always play nice with each other. If you pull the right monsters into the combo, you might find yourself against two monster parties that break down and fight each other, letting you pick off the survivors in the end.

Other minor things that are really nice is that the game actually features the classic styled worldmap that’s largely been forgotten in recent years. Further more, for those who don’t want to directly backtrack to previous locations, the game lets you warp back to locations that you’ve found and unlocked teleport terminals to, and you can access this feature just through the party menu. While I can’t say I like the style of the game itself, it does a pretty nice job of creating fantastic and interesting locations at times. I am currently going through a valley where there are living murals painted on all of the walls, some of which are friendly and others are not so much. The game also looks kind of nice, though its visuals are nothing spectacular, and might have been improved with some cel-shading.

The two things I’ve probably not talked much about are the game’s soundtrack and the combat system themselves, as there really isn’t much to say about either. Uematsu hasn’t done a bad job with the game’s music, but nothing really stands out, except for the boss theme that I’m kind of on the fence about at the moment. I don’t want to call it his worst work, but it’s easily his most forgettable. Thankfully, he was able to be on his game for Lost Odyssey, where he did a much stronger job. There’s really not much to say about combat so far, either. It’s basic turn based, neither moving fast enough to be great nor slow enough to be annoying. The only thing that really stands out about is that  you can charge the strength of your attacks at the cost of you having to wait for them to execute. I can’t fault the game for this. Though the combat isn’t interesting, it also meams there’s nothing horribly complicated about it, making it easy to jump in and play.

So, after 10 hours of playing, I’d have to say that it’s not a bad game if you can get it on the cheap. If you can get over the obnoxious elements and the slow start, there’s a fun game beneath it all. While you could do better as far as 360 JRPGs go, there’s nothing wrong with settling for this one. Of course, my views could change upon completion, so expect a follow up post eventually.

Johnny-Come-Lately/The New Kid in Town

Posted in Blurbs on December 3, 2009 by nairume

So, I’m kind of cheap. Well, cheap is probably not the best way to describe  it. Gaming can be quite the pricey hobby if you are constantly getting new stuff. Further more, with the shortening length of games and the higher price, it’s getting harder and harder for me to justify spending $50-$60 on something I’ll have finished in a week. This is probably the reason I am overloaded with tons of mediocre JRPGs that my friends keep telling me I’ll never finish. I’ll prove them wrong….someday….

That’s beside the point. Unless its “guarenteed” to last long enough to get a ton of game time out of it, chances are that I’m playing it well after you have played it, beaten it, discussed it, and probably felt as if you might have been a little ripped off after walking out of Gamespot after trading it in. It’s not even a recent phenomenon, either. Outside of a brief few minutes at a friends house, I didn’t play Final Fantasy 7 until 2000, and that was probably typical for me back then.

Why bother writing about it then? Well, I figure that since most people played through a lot of the games that I’ll be discussing back when the hype from release was still there. Just as a new car, there’s just something appealing to new games. There are always going to be issues with a game/car, and you’ll recognize them, but that new car/game feel will make you just a little more willing to overlook.

With me, the hype passed in the time the game has been lingering on shelves. Plus, I’m not paying as much, so I don’t have to try to tell myself to ignore problems with a game. It’s all about perspectives, I guess, and this is just to offer a different take on it. Who knows, I’ll probably end up saying a lot of the same things that you’ve all said and heard, at which point I guess it’ll just prove that the stuff that you thought when you played it was right on the money.

So, how ’bout those games? I should probably get to ranting and raving. Bioshock’s up first.

LttP: Bioshock- I was excited about this one

Posted in LttP on December 3, 2009 by nairume

As far as I was concerned back in high school, all my friends didn’t know what they were talking about. This “Halo” game was proclaimed by them to be the best FPS ever. I scoffed at them and went back to running through her corridors, because System Shock 2 was more fun than their pathetic game of marines and brutes…okay, I’ll quit with the SS2 jokes.

Cortana who?

Yet another game I came a little lately to, System Shock 2 grabbed my attention harder than any other game at the time. Here was a FPS that seemed to have an interesting plot and seemed to actually be something more than “You are a space marine, there are aliens/demons, go kill.” There were people you interacted with (sort of) and gameplay that extended beyond simple  shooting and key hunting. Of course, had I played Half-Life, this might not have seem that spectacular, but I play games late, damnit.

Of course, you can probably imagine my excitement when I heard that the team behind System Shock was going to make a spritual sequel (awesome), using an improved graphics/game engine (double awesome), and set in a stylish 50’s setting (holy crap, sign me up!). I watched the game intently, savoring each new bit of art or info that came out. The minute that the demo was announced as being available, I downloaded that hot piece of data and played it until I probably had the whole thing memorized.

Then the game came out, and money was (unsurprisingly) tight. I had other stuff that had either come up or was going to come up. Plus, I started fencing around that time, and the sport of legally stabbing the other person is not a cheap one. Bioshock sat on the shelf. The price dropped, and I still put it off. It would drop again, and I’d longingly look at it, and decide to pass it up until later. The game is now $10 at Blockbusters, and a buddy refused to see me pass it up any more. With the requirement that I play through the game entirely while he was there, it was mine to keep. Thus began my all nighter with Bioshock, two years after the fact.

Was it worth it?

I’m not quite sure if the whole thing is exactly what I wanted. Yes, I wanted a new System Shock, but it really doesn’t feel all that new. Strip away the pretty graphics and the new settings, and it’s practically just System Shock 2 with a stripped down interface and a new hacking minigame. Certain elements of the story seems a little bit rehashed. The Even the Splicers of Rapture don’t really seem all that far removed from The Many mutants that plagued the Von Braun. The same ghost visions are still around, as are the scattered audio logs of the locals. Of course, since it obviously is using SS2 as its foundations, it largely kept most of the existing flaws, as well as adding some new ones.

You really don't want to tell him about the cancer

Not Your Tennessee William's Big Daddy

While guns were available in the demo, they didn’t come until near the end, and you never really had enough ammo to play around with them. Perhaps it’s for the best that they didn’t give players enough time to mess around with the gun aspect of the game. They never seem to be accurate enough to warrent using anything other than a shotgun. Further more, the only enemies that it ever seemed like you needed guns to take on were the Big Daddies and the final boss. While this wasn’t a problem to be found in SS2, what was found in there that this shares is the over abundance of ammo and money, which really kills the suspense of running low on ammo. Of course, since you rarely need to use it, it’s even worse in Bioshock, since you’ll almost always be fully stocked.

The character customization also seems to fall flat in comparison. It’s still handled similarly, where you get points to spend towards upgrades. However, where you originally only had enough upgrade chips in SS2 to flesh out one development path, Bioshock gave me enough Adam to where I bought everything there was to offer (and I played the path that was supposed to give you less!). Granted, you can’t equip every upgrade available, but the game gives you plenty of slots to where you can have most of the meaningful o

nes equiped. Further more, since you are given a group of slots for each different development path, you really can’t avoid being a jack-of-all-trades.

Plasmids are the new Psi-Attack. They’re flashier, play around more with the physics, and probably give a little bit more amusement than before. However, setting somebody on fire and then electrucuting the water they jump in to put out said fire is only fun for so long, and it stopped being fun after the demo already gave me my fill of that toy. The rest of the little oddball things you can do with plasmids are no different. There’s a little bit of creativity to be had, but it runs dry quick enough to where you’ll be right back to the same old abilities. The game doesn’t really give you that much room to play around with, so why bother?

What? Did you expect me to put the line here?

Bee Plasmid: Good for a Wickerman joke or seven

Lastly, there really isn’t much replay to be had here. There are different endings, but it really doesn’t feel like there’s that much of a difference in terms of saving or harvesting the little sisters. Plus,  there’s no real way of making a significantly different character to directly change how you go through the game, nor is there any form of co-op to at least add the experience of doing it with a friend (both of which gave System Shock 2 some replayability). Even if you’re playing for achievements, you’ll end up getting the vast majority in a single playthrough. After putting your ten hours (if that even), that’s all the game really has to offer.

In spite of all of those flaws, I had fun going through the game and it was at least half as fun as its foundation. The plot was fun to witness, I enjoyed the cast, and I think the setting might have been even better than a spaceship gone to hell. I’m glad that I waited, though, as I really couldn’t have justified the full price.

Chances are, if I’m still running this blog in a few years, that’s when you’ll all hear me talking about Bioshock 2.