Archive for the LttP Category

LttP: The 1st Great DS Rundown

Posted in Blurbs, LttP on March 11, 2011 by nairume

Oh hi there. I forgot this was a thing. So, in the past year, I’ve kind of done some hardcore LttP gaming, both with my finally getting a PC upgraded to the point of playing anything made since 2000 and with my DS reigning as my biggest non-PC time sink (well, outside of grad school as well). So, let’s run through some quick DS related LttP thoughts:

 

Sands of Destruction: Holy shit this game is bad. I hate everybody involved with it, which is even worse since the pedigree behind it is supposed to be good. I mean, you got that guy that did the scenario for Xenogears, which JRPG nerds still are convinced is the bar for JRPG scenarios (it’s not, but it is better than most), and he’s done an amazingly unique story (You are a bunch of people out to destroy the world). You got guys that designed the Grandia battle system, otherwise known as the best JRPG battle system from a game that wasn’t made by Atlus. You’ve got Yasunori Mitsuda, who has composed some of the most beloved game tracks in the genre. And you also have a style that is similar to the Playstation era of RPGs, which J-nerds still consider to be the best (it’s not). So what the fuck happened? Seriously, I want to know. The soundtrack is terrible. The battle system is criminally awful. Everything about the writing is an absolute trainwreck. This game pretty much gets nothing right.

 

Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia: Remember when Symphony of the Night pretty much coined a whole new subgenre of gaming? Of course you do. How can you forget when Konami refuses to let you forget that they did by making the same damn game….what is it…..six times now. Sure, they slightly vary up the gameplay and you get a whole new castle every time, but it is all just feeling so tired by now. I think the worst part is that, Circle of the Moon aside, they can’t seem to let go of the stupid “Collect all of the Mcguffins to unlock the whole castle just like SotN!” formula. We get it, SotN is awesome. Let’s have something else now. Yeah, I’m not bothering with Portrait of Ruin. I’m tired of this formula.

 

Metroid Prime: Hunters: Woah, am I back in 1998 or something? This feels like a shooter from that era. Not that it’s a bad thing, but if I want Quake, I’ll play Quake. And I don’t want Quake.

Nostalia: Victorian-Era Steam Punk Skies of Arcadia. That’s what this game wants to be….and it pretty much is. Just not as good. While SoA was made better by its obvious influences from classic 16-bit era JRPGs, this one doesn’t seem to do as well of a job with touching those influences up enough to make the game not feel incredibly dated.

Soma Bringer: Why didn’t we get this again? Seems like American audiences would have eaten it up. It’s like a water-color hybrid of a Mana game and Diablo.

Disgaea DS: You can feel the lack of effort NIS put in this, as well as the bitterness that they’d have to lower themselves to working on a dredded Nintendo console instead of getting to shit out more crappy Disgaea spinoffs on the PSP. So, yeah, this is Disgaea. Again. Nothing to see here folks.

Henry Hatsworth: HarumphHarumphHarumphHarumphHarumphHarumph GOOD SHOW

Tetris DS: That the game has been long out of print and few more people will be able to enjoy its near perfection is almost enough to make me shed a manly tear. Almost. But not really.

Civilization Revolutions: OH GOD WHO PUT CIVILIZATION 2 ON A PORTABLE? MY FREE TIME IS FOREVER GONE. YOU MONSTERS.

LttP: Star Ocean 4 Continued, More Planetary Destruction than Previously Thought.

Posted in LttP on January 14, 2010 by nairume

Star Ocean 4 is finally finished, at least in the sense that the final boss (all three million hit points) is down. tri-Ace just loves to throw in a ton of post-game content, so I’ve got plenty more to play around with before shelving the game. So final thoughts:

I hate part of the cast, partially because Japan loves to cram anime tropes where they really shouldn’t go and parts of this game came out worse for it. Reimi is supposed to be the overly/obsessively protective sister character who is also the impossibly shy lover. I hate this when it happens in shows, and I hate it even more here because she’s always slowing the game down whenever she’s like “NOOOOO EDGE THAT’S TOO DANGEROUS!” or “NOOOO EDGE DON’T EVEN ASSOCIATE WITH OTHER WOMEN!” If this only happened during private actions, it’d be just short of acceptable, but this shit should not be going on during important plot scenes. Goddamn it Japan.

Meracle is a cat girl. Granted, she’s a throw back to a character that was in Star Ocean one, who was pretty much the same character. However, that character never went around during important scenes doing cat things. Meracle does. Goddamn it Japan.

While Aurmat never left the active party once he joined, the actual character himself was pretty annoying. He’s the typical “RAAA IMA WARRIOR WITH A DARK PAST LEAVE ME TO MY SELF DESTRUCTION RA!” He carries a scythe and calls himself death incarnate. His last name is also Thanatos. He’s also got some sort of super-cancer body that will kill him eventually, but it gives him superhuman strength. He’s also the leader of a military division in the anime-Vulcan army. Apparently, they are perfectly fine with having self-destructive cancer victims leading men into battle. Goddamn it Japan.

Serah was another mainstay in my party, as she’s an awesome healer. She’s also retarded. No, seriously, she has serious mental issues. Several characters even find themselves commenting on how they hope that she’s faking it. That’s actually kind of sad. Uh….goddamn it Japan?

Then there’s the big one: Deputy Director Shimada. I’d find a picture of him, but his girth would probably fill the screen. He is easily one of the worst and most improbable characters ever produced by Japan. I can’t stress it enough that Shimada is an important head in Earth’s military program. Further more, he’s a head figure in Earth’s military in a time of great crisis when SHIT NEEDS TO GET DONE. Instead, Shimada is a fat blob who open bitches about how anything the rest of the cast does hurts his chances at promotions. Oh, and that his steak isn’t warm enough. Seriously asshole? Earth is mostly a radioactive wasteland, humanity is on the brink of destruction, and there is an intergalactic menace that wants to destroy the universe, and all you can think about is eating steak (where did he get steak on the goddamn moon anyway?) and your position within the military ON A DYING PLANET. I honestly don’t know what’s worse, that Japan thinks such a person could exist in the military in such a scenario or that Japan thinks that his ass wouldn’t be discharged faster than he probably can put away a ham sandwich. I’m not even going to dignify this with a “goddamn it Japan”.

The rest of the cast is okay. I think I said my thoughts on Edge last time, Lym is pretty original as far as lolis go, Bacchus is a killbot, Myuria has breasts, and Faize is anime-Spock. Also, this game has a member of the Kenny family in it, though he is only an NPC. I have also decided that there is a correlation in the quality of a Star Ocean and the prominence of the first family of Star Ocean. SO1 had a Kenny as a party member, and it was great. SO2 had a Kenny as the main character, and it was fuck awesome. SO3 didn’t have any Kenny, and it was dog shit (and that’s probably being unfair to dog shit). SO4 has a Kenny as an NPC, and it’s above average.

The plots kind of a roller coaster. It starts out with a fairly strong premise, but quickly gets bogged down with terrible anime tropes. It’s like a cheesy episode of Star Trek, just with said terrible anime tropes. By the end of the game it moves into the territory of cheesy Star Trek movie, just with….you know. The last portion of the game returns to the strength that the opening had, even if it is ridiculously drawn out.

The game play largely got better as it moved on. Combat became even faster, and the bonus board got to be even more fun to manipulate. Plus, I love what they did with the synthesizing skill. It adds more customization than any previous Star Ocean ever had. I do have issues with the item creation system as of the end game. While the system itself is fine, you never really get to take advantage of it and make anything significant. The stuff you can make with it during the first half of the game really isn’t that much stronger than what you can just buy or find. Worse than that, the vast majority of the stuff opened up during the later half that you’d actually want to use require materials that can only be found during the extra dungeons that don’t open up until after you already beat the game.

By the end of the game, I think I really started to enjoy the game’s soundtrack. It’s far from Motoi Sakuraba’s best work, but it was fairly catchy. Plus, I really loved the remixes from SO1 and SO2. I also mentioned last time that the voice acting was decent. This largely remains the same, though I hate Reimi and Serah’s voices with a burning passion.

The game still looked nice throughout the rest of the experience, though I think I found myself hating the shininess even more. It got so bad at times that it was actually managing to obscure enemies. Not fun.

The level design also significantly improved after the much hated Cardianon Mothership. The final dungeon even managed to be one of the few times a teleporter dungeon was utilized without being obnoxious.

In the end, I think SO4 might finally have warmed me back up to tri-Ace. They’ve still done much better in the past, and they could have done much better this time around, but they finally managed to make a game that wasn’t bogged down in horrible and gimmicky elements that bog the game down and ruin the experience. They didn’t even acknowledge Space-WoW, which I definitely appreciated. I think even they want to leave that terrible twist in the festering black hole in which it resides.

PS, that black hole is Star Ocean 3. Sorry, I had to get one more dig in.

LttP: Devil May not be able to Play Correctly

Posted in LttP on January 13, 2010 by nairume

While the internet is presently gushing over Bayonetta, it dawned on me that I’ve not actually played Devil May Cry in any of its prior forms, outside of a demo of the okay DMC4. This is probably something I should have fixed and was quite very much intending to do. Thankfully, a friend had a copy of the PC port of DMC3, which I’ve heard is the best in the series, and I finally have a computer capable of running things that came out after 2005. So, what are my LttP thoughts on what is supposed to be one of the finest action games of last generation?

Well, I’m sorry to say that I can’t deliver on them when I’d like. Why do you ask?

Oh, that's why

Devil May Cry 3 is really not a game that can be played with a keyboard and mouse. I’m sure somebody out there will probably read this, stroke the scruff on his neck, and scoff that he played it perfectly fine with one. No, this is not perfectly fine. Its awkward. In fact, it’s so awkward the only way the experience of playing the game could be any more awkward is if Dante was played by Micheal Cera.

So, you are probably now thinking, “Well if it can’t be played with a keyboard all that well, use a gamepad! You’ve written about 360 games, surely you can use a 360 controller.” Well, the game apparently doesn’t support it, or at least in any manner capable of playing.

Ubisoft ported Devil May Cry 3 to the PC in the middle of 2006. Two Thousand and Six In the Year of Our Lord A Fucking D. The 360 was released in November of 2005. By the end of release weekend alone, the 360 sold enough to make it to where its standard USB controller was instantly one of the most available computer compatable USB controllers on the market, not to mention in homes. Seriously, the minute the 360 was released, any and all PC developers with brain one should have known that they needed to support it, even more so when porting console games that practically require a console-styled controller. Ubisoft apparently doesn’t have brain one. The 360 controller, along with what is apparently a long list of other controllers, wasn’t supported at release. Ubisoft’s idea of fixing it was to release a patch that included a controller config tool. Of course, Ubisoft is so incompetent that the tool doesn’t actually recognize the 360 controller.

The patch actually does allow the game to recognize the 360 pad. However, the catch is that the analog sticks are reversed, making the right stick move Dante and the left stick control the camera. I take back what I said before, this is more awkward than playing it with a keyboard while Micheal Cera kills demons.

So, in the spirit of wanting to at least see where Bayonetta’s origins lie, in the hopes that it clicks better for me, I’ll attempt to press on with the terrible keyboard controls. I’m just going to use this as further justification to shy away from Ubisoft.

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.

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.