Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Lackluster Third Act - Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel

 As I mentioned in a previous post about Atelier Rorona, I have a love-hate relationship with games developed by Gust.  When it comes to Ar Tonelico games, however, there's mostly love.  It's funny, really, because these were the last sort of games I expected to ever like.  For those unfamiliar with them, think of them as what you get when you cross an Atelier game with a dating sim with a turn-based RPG.

Sounds like a crazy combination, right?  What's even crazier is that it works.  Or at least, it did until Ar Tonelico Qoga:  Knell of Ar Ciel came along.  When you look across the Ar Tonelico games, the first entry, Melody of Elemia distinguished itself as simplistic, yet quirky and interesting enough to sustain one's attention.  The second game, Melody of Metafalica, in short, improved on just about everything from the first game (except for quirks in the localization process..).

Unfortunately, rather than further refining what made the series likable, ATQ takes a number of steps back, showing a far inferior combat system, less interesting characters, and a less robust crafting system.  While at the core, it still has many of the things that characterize an Ar Tonelico game, it is a sadly lackluster ending to a series that showed great promise.

So what happened with the third game?  You'd think that the potential of the PS3 would allow for a game of even greater magnitude.  Did trying to be more poetic by using "qoga" and "knell" in lieu of the numbered entry and usual subtitle change up things that much for the worse?

Well, you'd be surprised. . .

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Not so metal Alchemist

I have a love-hate relationship with games developed by Gust.

I hate that often, there's an annoying glitch, bug, or just poor quality control which, in the best case, serves as a minor annoyance, and in other cases, is absolutely gamebreaking: And not the type that works in your favor.  Yet, many times, there are things that I love about them which allow me to overlook these flaws:  They're (usually) aesthetically pleasing (if not in terms of sprites, than the lush background).  They have a number of interesting gameplay mechanics going for them.  Perhaps most importantly, however, they usually end up being the sort of games that you can sit down, veg out to, and play casually through -- at least in an initial playthrough, as long as you're not trying to be a super completionist.

Enter Atelier Rorona.  Like a few other Gust games in the past, this game suffers from random freezing, which can destroy hours of progress if you haven't been diligent in saving.  On the flipside, it is one of the most gorgeous games produced on the PS3.  For me, however, the beauty of Atelier Rorona wasn't in pure aesthetics, but it's relative simplicity:  Something much needed at a time of year when things get hectic for me at work.

A Delayed Acquisition

How I acquired this game is a funny story.  Originally, when it was first released, I happened to chance upon it at one of Gamestop's ever-frequent (though they'll try to convince you that they're not that frequent) Buy 2, Get 1 free used game sales.  In a previous piece, I lamented how there were very few PS3 exclusives that justified my purchase of the system:  Something that, to this day, I, as well as others, I'm sure, still struggle with, as we hope for the release of some game that makes us happy to own this iteration of Sony's console:

Not that we're pointing any fingers.

So when I came across this game, I was somewhat relieved, yet still not fully convinced that I wanted to purchase the game (even used, it was still $45 bucks).  Fortunately, someone made that decision easy for me:  The guy who snatched up the game after I had put it back while I debated a bit too long on my decision.

Pretty sure it was this guy.
It was for the best, as by the time I finally got around to purchasing it, it had dropped to $26 or so.  Patience is a virtue after all.  But enough of my acquisition story:  You're probably curious about the game itself.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Theoretical Sounds

In my previous post on Raidou 2, I only gave a passing mention to the music of the game, noting that the first game had a far superior battle theme.  What I also neglected to mention was that one of the boss themes did a good job of captivating the sometimes eerie mood the game had:

However, this isn't a post that merely reminisces about how much the soundtrack of Soulless Army  is as opposed to King Abbadon:  It's not.  Both have admirable soundtrack composed by the same person (Shoji Meguro), and most of the Soulless Army tracks find their way into the second game (Remember what I said about the Arakana Corridor in the previous post being a trip down memory lane?  You'll find the above theme playing their as the regular battle theme). 

Furthermore, while maintaining many of the key themes from the first game, Raidou 2 adds a few new ones that perfectly suit the mood of the game.  For example, there's the foreboding theme of parts of the Tento Caverns, where many of the mysteries surrounding the Tsukigata clan's ties to the supposed deity these woods are named after:

Also, even though I found Geirin's constant use of "theory" "conjecture" and "process" ungodly annoying, well, there's no denying the guy has a pretty catchy theme:

Speaking of annoyance, remember those Fiend battles I mentioned?  The ones that made me put down the game in frustration?  I also mentioned that I came back quickly.  Yes, a better part of it is sheer stubbornness.  The other part is that if I'm going to get my ass kicked in a game and come back for more punishment, it'd better be to a damn good theme:

Of course, the game also does laid back themes pretty well.  One thing that I'm glad remain unchanged between the games?  The theme of the Narumi detective agency, aptly named on the soundtrack "The Lazy Detective Agency":

Whether you're playing the first or the second game, you're in for a musical treat if you play either.  Even if you don't particularly care for Shoji Meguro's compositions, it's pretty hard to argue against the fact that he always manages to find a score that suits the mood of his games.  On that note, I leave you to reflect with this theme, played during some of the more somber turning points of the game:

Considering how bizarre the MegaTen universe is, finding music that suits the mood certainly makes Meguro a musical genius, wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

No theories were conjectured in the process of writing this post: Devil Summoner 2.

Well, that's done.

After a long, arduous struggle, I've finally  finished Devil Summoner 2:  Raidou Kuzunoha versus King Abbadon (hereafter referred to as Raidou 2, because screw typing out that long title).

Let me clarify something first:  On many levels, Raidou 2 is vastly superior to its predecessor, Devil Summoner:  Raidou Kuzunoha versus the Soulless Army (hereon referred to as Raidou 1, because screw typing out that long, yet awesome, title).  The combat's been refined and polished, the demon roster and fusion options have been vastly expanded, there's access to a greater variety of equipment, multiple endings, plenty of sidequests, and a return of demon negotiation.  Yes, on many levels, Raidou 2 is a much better Shin Megami Tensei game than Raidou 1.

Unfortunately, it's not as good of a -Raidou- game as Raidou 1.

Wait, what?

While Raidou 2 is certainly an enjoyable game to play through, in the process (..I've come to loathe that word, and you will see why) of attempting to return to its MegaTen roots, the game's creators churned out a product that is superior in many ways to the first, yet loses a great deal of the spirit of what makes a Raidou game, -Raidou-.  This is a problem further compounded by a somewhat stiff translation in some parts, as well.

Read on to find out more about my experience playing, as well as why a nervous tick happens every time someone mentions the word "theory" "conjecture" and "process".

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Emasculation Quest Part 1 - Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Some time ago, I had the pleasure of finishing Ys:  The Oath in Felghana.  While the game itself is fairly short (you can probably complete the entire thing -- particularly if you've played previous incarnations -- in about 6-8 hours), I hit a few snags along the way which delayed its completion.

Namely, hubris.

Ys:  Oath in Felghana is an upgraded version of Ys III:  Wanderers from Ys.  The game originated on the PC Engine CD, and since then, has been ported to a number of consoles:  Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and PS2 to name a few.  Years later, Falcolm upgraded the engine, changed some gameplay mechanics, and pretty much remade the entire game for the PC, which was later ported to the incarnation I played -- the PSP version.  Ys III has been around the block more than a few times, in terms of ports.

Yes, even more than Lunar.

I played the game back in its Super Nintendo days quite a few times.  I knew the story, I knew the basics of which points I had to go to next, I remembered most of the bosses.  As for the upgraded and change in gameplay mechanics?  I was told that the game played closer to Ys VI:  The Ark of Naphistim.  No problem!  I finished that game (amazingly) in a weekend and had a blast.  What else could have changed?

Quite a bit, actually.

Namely the difficulty.

If you go in playing Ys:  The Oath in Felghana assuming that this a similar game to the Wanderers from Ys game you played in your youth, then you'll be sorely mistaken.  Even on some of the lower difficulties the game can be a humbling experience, but if you manage to tough it out you'll be rewarded with a game that has an amazing story, well-written dialogue, and, per norm with Falcom, one of the most amazing soundtracks ever.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Almost Got 'Em #1: Breath of Fire III

As I promised I would, I've begun going back through my game library and finding the old classics I've left unfinished. These are all titles I made it all the way to the end of, and then stopped right before vanquishing evil for good and all. There's a lot of ground to cover, but I began this journey of a thousand steps with Breath of Fire III. After about 70 hours of gameplay, reliving my favorite moments from this classic from Capcom's library (including one of "Hey, I didn't suck all those years ago! This last boss really IS hard!), I can count this one as off the Backlog.

I first picked up Breath of Fire III when it was practically a new release. I loved the first two games, the second one especially I could play for ages. With the third, I found a title which still tied in to the history of the first two games, but was a unique story at the same time. It didn't lose any of the charm the first two had, and in fact used the hardware advantages it had to add to the traditional presentation the series is known for. Vibrant colors, lively cities, sweeping adventure and subdued, subtle moments; this game had it all. I played it for dozens of hours, all the way through to the end.

Though many of those hours were spent listening to the jazzy overworld theme.

Then, in the last dungeon, I stumbled across the last boss before I was ready for her. She made mincemeat of my team and I hadn't saved in hours.

So, that was that. I turned it off and never played it again. However much I loved this game, whatever kind of attachment I had to seeing it through all the way to the end, it just wasn't worth it to me to walk through that last dungeon again. I'm sure at the time I told myself "oh, well that's an upsetting loss, I'll put this down until tomorrow." Well, tomorrow took about 13 years to get here, but it's finally arrived. Breath of Fire III has been vanquished, and it's time to move on to the next game on my list.

But playing through it gave me reason to stop and take stock of why this gem never really caught on. It did well enough in sales and reviews, and as I've previously stated, it's at least as fun as some of the best-selling games of today, but Breath of Fire III tends to get lost in the shuffle when talking about the great RPGs of the Playstation-era. So before I get into my personal experience with going back and enjoying my adventure with Ryu and the gang again after all these years, let me begin the first part of this post with a different topic.

Timing a release.

More important than you might think.

And that's just one example.

When you're releasing some new media, you want to make sure you don't do so at a time when something similar, and possibly superior, is also hitting the market. You want to offer something unique to the world, at least for awhile. You want to be the thing that everyone tries to copy; the first of a new wave of pop singer, the first comic character in a string of gritty reboots, the first fast food restaurant to offer a new and exciting way to kill yourself.

Narrowly beating out Wendy's lard milkshake.

The worst thing to be is something released almost simultaneously. At least the hordes of copycats which invariably follow a success can ride the coattails of the initial wave of public interest for awhile. If you come out with your media at the same time as something else which catches on more easily, that's the end of you. It was the poor timing of this nature that gave us a world where Garbage succeeded instead of Republica, where 30 Rock graces television sets instead of Studio 54, and where Armageddon is remembered as "that meteor movie" instead of Deep Impact. Although to be fair to Deep Impact, it predicted that there would be a black president, whereas Armageddon predicted that Liv Tyler would be a solid leading actress, and so far only one of these predictions has come true.

He's hoping he can reach a middle ground with the meteor.

Of course, there's one more form of bad timing. The kind that happens when you release something in the same category as something else which was SO big, and SO popular, and SO pervasive in the market that fans aren't going to be happy with anything less than more of that same thing. Instead of drumming up interest, this monument to a genre actually hinders your success, because people take a look at what you have to offer and say "well that's nothing like that other thing we like." Fans don't expect you to reinvent the wheel, they expect you to be the exact same wheel as the wheel they already own and have driven the last hundred thousand miles on.

With that in mind, let's talk about Capcom's first post-Final Fantasy VII RPG release, Breath of Fire III

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

David and Ayn talk BoF3

As David puts the finishing touches on his Breath of Fire III post, he and I discuss ending plot points.  Be warned, spoilers lie below.

David 10:06 pm
One thing I realized while thinking about the game that I didn't even really realize while playing;
Myria has absolutely no henchmen.
The only thing that keeps you from getting to her are natural physical barriers.
The only recurring villains in the game are the crime syndicate, and you've killed their main muscle and their boss by around the halfway point.

Ayn 10:25 pm
If you think of it.
That's pretty damn impressive.
Well she does have one henchman.
As well as deception.
Who needs henchmen when you pretty much have the world fooled that you're a benevolent goddess?

David 10:38 pm
I suppose that's true.
It's quite a big step down from the Dark Dragon Empire and the Church of St. Eva though.

 Ayn 2:55 pm
I still maintain the Dark Dragon Empire was the coolest.
It's just a damn shame BoF1 was early in the series so they didn't have the time back then to properly develop it.

David 2:56 pm
It still did a better job of exemplifying what a big deal Myria was.

Ayn 2:57 pm
In 3 she had..

David 2:57 pm
Moreso than her first line of defense in BoF3, sand.

Ayn 2:57 pm
Sand is serious business. Fuck that desert.

David 2:58 pm
The desert wasn't as bad as I remembered it.
Granted I had a map this time.

Ayn 2:59 pm
Pretty sure in the world of BoF3, Myria made sure all the cartogrophers were killed along with the brood.
Hence a desert as the first line of defense is brilliant.

David 3:00 pm
So really her first line of defense was keeping people lazy and ignorant.

Ayn 3:00 pm

David 3:00 pm
I may have seriously underestimated how cunning Myria was here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Playing in style.

A short post for reflection today:

While Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm was the only fighting game on my backlog (I'm not necessarily counting Soul Calibur IV, or SSB Brawl), if I was going to play any fighting game, it'd be using this controller:

The buttons being on Bright's hand can't be coincidental.

... Heck, I'd even play an RPG using this, because there's no shortage of RPG protagonists that wouldn't benefit from a well-timed Brightslap.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Revisiting Gaming Goals from January..

So in an earlier post this year, I mentioned that my gaming goal for this year was to completely wipe out my non-import  PS2 backlog.  Have I been successful in that endeavor?

..Well, that's kind of a funny story, but the short answer is "no".  The usual obligations have impeded that progress somewhat (oh, pesky job, you always stand in my way), but I've also been sidetracked by games on my other consoles as well (which I also need to write about, I know).  Rather than lament my progress (or lack thereof), let's present what I still have to go through, and what might be hampering my progress there. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Final Fantasy 13.

Well.  That was unsatisfying.

It's currently October 5th as I'm writing this.  When I started this entry, getting as far as that first, tantalizing line of the post, it was September 21st.  Yesterday, I even made it as far as having a full blown out introduction to this post, but was unsatisfied.  So I'll give it to you in short.

Yes, I finally finished Final Fantasy XIII.  I've been struggling with this post because I don't want to bore you all with reading yet another take on a game there are thousands of posts on.  Look, I get that bashing just about any Final Fantasy game after the widely loved 7 (or, if you're particularly snobby, any Final Fantasy made after the SFC/SNES era) is pretty normal, so I definitely don't want to add to the already tired discourse bemoaning the fate of the series and how things were better "back in the good old days".

Back when we had to trudge through the snow for 15 miles to get our copy of FF.
I want to be clear that the game has a number of great things going for it.  I liked the combat system:  It was intensely fun, if at times frustrating.  Like any good SE game, the graphics are gorgeous, the enemies, even your rank and file fodder, look amazing.  It has a protagonist that doesn't need to be smacked:  Hell, if anything, she does a lot of the smacking for you!

Look, I know most of you reading this have probably read the reviews and criticisms of  Final Fantasy XIII.  While I don't want to rehash them, I'm sure you want to know what gives me a lukewarm reception to the game.  It wasn't the extreme linearity (save Gran Pulse).  It wasn't the combat system (I mentioned that I liked that).  It wasn't the lack of towns (because, while this was a peeve, given the story and the world, it made sense). It wasn't Vanille saying "what went wrong?!" in an annoying voice as I lost to her Eidolon yet again.

What it comes down to is this:  Final Fantasy XIII is, I repeat, not a bad game.  It's a game that squanders its potential.  While the story is convoluted, the lack of development on the part of the supporting cast, as well as the somewhat mediocre development of certain protagonists leaves one feeling unattached to the entire proceedings by the end of the game.

I wanted to care by the end, but frankly, I just didn't give a damn.

Sigh, even as I type this, I'm hardly inspired to continue on.  Oh well, let's get on with it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Priorities: We have them.

Where yet another IM conversation between me and David is substituted for a real game post:

It's Friday, and I'm sitting a stone's throw away from finishing Final Fantasy XIII, while David has finished the infamous Desert of Death in Breath of Fire III.   Gamewise, the only things that obstruct our paths to the finish line?  My absurd desire to max out the ultimate weapons while I have one of the easier farming opportunities available to me and David's obsession with the fishing minigame.

Oh.  And that pesky thing known as work.

Ayn 10:16 pm
    Alright, just need to plug in the rubrics on these papers, but at least the first class is done.

 David 10:16 pm

 Ayn 10:16 pm
    Now I can treat myself to FF13 if I want.

 David 10:16 pm
    I was trying to do some reading but I couldn't concentrate.
I decided if I can finish my Legal Writing assignment for Tuesday, I'll play some BoF3.

 Ayn 10:18 pm
    Good call

 David 10:19 pm
    Which isn't to say I don't still get distracted after every question I answer, but at least I'm actually doing the work instead of looking at words on a page and not absorbing anything.

 Ayn 10:27 pm
    This may help you get your mind in the game.

 David 10:27 pm

 David 10:31 pm
    It's such an addictive little minigame, another thing that sets this game apart.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What exactly ARE we looking for?

Nearly a year and a half after release, I'm finally standing at the end of FF13.  As I was in the midst of debating whether to just finish the damn game or go crazy with sidequests and farming (for you FF13 experts out there, you all know that finishing off the last boss means you axe one of the better gil making opportunities), the following conversation came up between me and David in relation to Final Fantasy.

Ayn 5:07 pm
   I think it's going to be worth mentioning that RoF and FF13 came out within 2 weeks of each other.
   Yet I finished RoF far before FF13.
   And really, I don't think FF13 is a bad game.
   I think it's actually quite good.  Just maybe not what most people expect.
   I will say that it has me paying attention to combat more than most FF games.
   Hmm, maybe that's it.  I'm going to raise the question of "For all the people that hate FF13, ask yourself, what exactly are you looking for in FF now?"
  To recreate your favorite experience from <insert favorite FF here>?  Chocobos?
   I mean honestly..

 Ayn 5:09 pm
   Part of what I like about FF is that each one has its own different experience, mostly.  You know?

 David 5:10 pm
   I guess I hadn't looked at it that way. I guess I hadn't looked at it that way.
   Most of my complaints about FF games ever since VII is that they try to reinvent the wheel with each one.

 Ayn 5:10 pm
   That's really what each FF is about
   If you want the same ol'
   Play Dragon Quest.

 David 5:11 pm
  I suppose that's equally valid.

 Ayn 5:11 pm
   Is that they try to reinvent the wheel, or..

 David 5:11 pm
   It's certainly not what gamers expect.

 Ayn 5:11 pm
    They try to reinvent the wheel AND don't always stick with what worked in the previous ones

 David 5:11 pm
    That's definitely a factor.

I'll likely raise this question again, but for those of us in general who have grown up with the FF series:  What are you really looking for in a Final Fantasy game?

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Forgotten Gem.

This past Christmas, I managed to finish Crimson Gem Saga for the PSP.  I've been intending to write about it for some time, but I just never got around to it.  The usual elements of work and life got in the way, but let's face it:  I've written about plenty of games since December, with many of them coming after Crimson Gem Saga.  So what was the hold up?

David's previous post references a problem Breath of Fire III had:  It was released at a time when there were plenty of RPGs coming out on the Playstation, thus it was really unable to distinguish itself.  In some ways, Crimson Gem Saga is similar for me -- the other games I've posted about here were just better games.  However, while Breath of Fire III was an above average game that was overshadowed by other mammoths such as Xenogears and Final Fantasy VII, Crimson Gem Saga manages to be a decent game, just not exceptionally stellar.

Thus, until now, I struggled to really come up with anything to say about it, other than "Yeah, it was a decent enough game".  Crimson Gem Saga is a game that, when released, remedied (to an extent) the lack of quality RPGs on the Playstation Portable.  Yet as the PSP's library has expanded, it's become easier to forget, and the flaws of game balance and an unfinished narrative prevent it from being more than a mere blip on the radar.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On to the next. . .

After months of picking at it and finishing a quest here and there, I've finally finished Final Fantasy Tactics A2:  Grimoire of the Rift.  This post isn't focusing on my experiences with that game (which deserves a lengthy -- and mostly positive -- entry on its own) but rather the crossroads that I'm at.

See, FFTA2 occupied my DS for so long that it kind of became like that one friend that crashes on your couch for what's initially 'a few days', but a few days become a few months, and before long, is one of those regular fixtures in your home that just always seemed to have been there.

Given how long my DS stays in standby mode, this is pretty accurate.

But like any houseguest (at least ideally), FFTA2 eventually left.  Unbelievably enough, my DS backlog is down to a mere 5 games.  Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure which of the following I should tackle:  Dragon Quest VI, Dragon Quest IX, Hotel Dusk:  Room 215, or  Megaman Zero Collection.  Yes, I know I said 5.  The fifth is Shin Megami Tensei:  Strange Journey.  I popped that game in for a few moments the other day, had my ass handed to me by some random pseudo boss fight that I died to last time and promptly remembered why I put it down in the first place.

So I'm at a bit of an impasse.  I have a choice between action, visual novel/mystery, and grind-happy RPGs.  While admittedly, the prospect of listening to this over and over again has me leaning towards Dragon Quest IX, I haven't made a definitive decision yet.  While David and my best friend, Nick, may help me come to a decision on this, if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments.

Preferably before the Pub Polka theme sways me more than it already has.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Worst Ninjas You'll Ever Meet

I mentioned a few months ago that one of my bridge games of choice was Naruto Shippuden:  Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.  I've since finished the game, twice over:  Once while attempting to unlock everything so I could transfer things over to the Enabler's PS3, and another time when we both discovered that UNS2 was one of those rare selections that doesn't allow for inter-PS3 transfers (thanks, jackasses).

Although it was a frustrating process to go through again in some ways, a few good things came of this.  For one, it allowed the Enabler, who hadn't seen much of the Naruto: Shippuden anime to get an abridged version of the first 120 episodes in under a few hours.  It allowed me to become slightly more proficient at the game.  But most importantly, it spurred an important conversation point between us where we agreed on one point, which ultimately changed the focus of this point merely from a comparison of two Naruto games, to this:

With very few exceptions, the ninjas in Naruto are the worst ninjas you'll ever meet.  Due to its masterful presentation, Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 unintentionally does a great job of highlighting this. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Breath of Fire slash Dragon Age

"Even with its handful of new features, Breath of Fire III breaks little new ground. Die-hard RPG fans may find it entertaining, but those looking for something new in this increasingly static genre will come away disappointed."
- Joe Fielder, GameSpot, 5/14/1998

"[...]any way you slice it, here's the fantasy RPG you've been waiting for, the one that will keep you up late at night, bleary-eyed, because you have to see what happens next. Like the best fiction, Dragon Age will sweep you up in its world, so much so that when you're done, you'll want to experience it all over again."
- Kevin VanOrd, GameSpot, 11/3/2009

Somewhere along the line, I can't help but feel like we lost our way.

Here. Right here is where we lost it.

The Breath of Fire and Dragon Age games present two similar stories with one very important difference. In Breath of Fire, dragons are a misunderstood, oft-persecuted, and ultimately greatly beneficial race. of which the main character is always a member. In Dragon Age, fuck dragons.

This fucking guy.

Other than that, when I look specifically at the third entry in the Breath of Fire series, there's a lot of similarities to be found. Both feature silent protagonists who are members of an ancient but dying order. Both have Camp modes where you can get meaningful dialogue from your teammates, or just be reminded what you're supposed to be doing. Even the supporting cast is pretty similar. Each team has a big, imposing-looking guy. Each one gets the blonde supporting lead/love interest. There's even two crazy redheads to go around.

Also the mostly-naked sorceress.

Now of course no one would confuse the teen-friendly Breath of Fire III with the more adult-oriented Dragon Age: Origins, but for the point I'm trying to make, their similarities are enough to warrant the comparison. As far as the differences in graphics and gameplay, if Dragon Age had been published in 1998, it might not have looked or played terribly different from a Breath of Fire game. Yet as you can see from the reviews up there, the attitude towards DA:O was that BioWare was shipping the Second Coming, whereas Breath of Fire III was generally received as "yeah, it's not bad, if you're into that kind of thing."

Rapture only available through DLC.

So let's do a quick comparison of these two titles and try to answer the question; was Dragon Age: Origins really that much better, when accounting for advances in technology, than Breath of Fire III, or have our standards as game buyers just dropped to the point where we think it was?

Friday, August 26, 2011

He's ok as long as he's not the leading man.

I have finally come to terms with Vaan and realize that he is a good choice of a character in Final Fantasy.

Hold on now.  Before you take up your pitchforks in rebellion, or ask David to commit me to a mental institution, allow me to elaborate.

Over the last few months, I've played through the story mode of the second Dissidia game, and short bouts of Final Fantasy Tactics A2:  Grimoire of the Rift.  Rather than cringing every time Mr. Painted-On abs took the screen, I was chuckling at his appearances.  It wasn't until a particular conversation with David yesterday, after a stint with FFTA2 that it hit me:

I was able to tolerate, and even like Vaan this time around because he wasn't the main character of either game.

While it's extremely popular to dislike Vaan due to Final Fantasy XII, in reality, he is a solid character that shines most as a supporting character.

To explore this idea more fully, we're going to take a brief look at FFXII, while also looking at his appearances in other games.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Soulless Machine.

Earlier today, David and I had a conversation.  Since he's too busy to draw anything and my artwork sucks, here's the conversation:

David 9:38 pm
I feel bad for not writing anything in so long.

 Ayn 9:39 pm
You're Jewish, not Catholic.  Get over it.

 David 9:39 pm
You're right.  Jews get guilt from other people, not ourselves.
Primarily mothers.

 Ayn 9:40 pm
I really feel like most PS3 RPGs lack..

 David 9:40 pm
You can only get that from handhelds these days.

 Ayn 9:40 pm
See, I've had some 360 RPGs that have that.
Arc Rise Fantasia had it, too.
Baiten Katos as well.

 David 9:41 pm
I still haven't played that.
Though I did finally find a copy of Tales of Symphonia.

 Ayn 9:41 pm
In some weird, twisted fucking way, even Unlimited SaGa has it.
The devoured, corrupted, twisted souls of child soldiers, anyway.

 David 9:41 pm
Probably because it drains your own.

 Do you share the same sentiment?  Have a hard time getting into your PS3 games?  Let us know in the comments section.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Land Cursed by Nostalgia.

Much like Hollywood, the gaming industry has realized that profitability does not rest in creating new, innovative games that try something original, but instead constantly rebooting a franchise, or remaking a beloved entry of a certain title.  Sometimes, this works out beautifully.  Other times, it is met with disastrous results.

For you, it was the day your childhood was ruined.  For Universal studios, it was Tuesday.
Despite these mixed results, the gaming industry continues to pump out remake after remake, because let's face it, nostalgia sells:

Over, and over, and over again.
However, when it was announced some years ago that Lufia II would be remade for the Nintendo DS, I was  ecstatic.  The Lufia series (or Estpolis, for you purists) remains one of my all-time favorite RPG franchises (excluding the ill-fated Ruins of Lore, which fortunately, I barely played), with many people ranking Lufia II as one of the all-time best SNES RPGs out there.

For many fans, however, enthusiasm turned to caution, then outright alarm as the details of the game emerged.  This would not be a "remake" so much as a "retelling" of the game.

Strike 1 - They're messing with the story!

Furthermore, this would not be a turn-based RPG:  Instead, it's an action RPG.

Strike 2 - Lufia as an action RPG?  Blasphemy!

As screenshots became available, fans saw most of the cast had undergone..significant changes.

Strike 3 - You've ruined the timeless qualities of beloved characters!

Yes, fans had ample reason to have misgivings about Lufia:  Curse of the Sinistrals.  Reactions about the game have been mixed, with some people enjoying the change, and others loathing the bastardization of one of the greatest SNES RPGs released and the desecration of their childhood memories.  As an avid fan, I was quite pleased with the game.

I'm writing this, however, not to tout the merits of the action game or pick apart the changes in the story -- we'll save that for a later post.  Instead, I'm making the argument that the character changes are actually a good thing, and in many cases, are more in line with each character's overall personality.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kingdom Hearts: Death by Spin-offs

You know, I think I'm done with Kingdom Hearts.

No, not the first game in the series -- I'm not so horribly backlogged as not to have finished that game.  I did that in a fairly timely manner.  I actually enjoyed the game.  I mean the series.  I just can't take it anymore.

What did me in?  Was it the horrible camera that still hasn't been fixed so many games later?  The Disney characters?  The metrosexuals in black leather?  The countless spin-offs?  The fact that the main character looks like a refugee from one of the worst SE releases on the PS2?

I can't be the only one who sees the resemblance Sora has to this guy.
A little of each, honestly, but the game which finally put the nail in the coffin was the latest entry on the PSP:  Kingdom Hearts - Birth By Sleep.  Before I incur the ire of the countless Kingdom Hearts fans out there, allow me to clarify some things:  Birth By Sleep is not a bad game.  In fact, it is one of the more respectable entries in the series (particularly after dealing with 358/2 days).  Combat is smooth and fun, it provides a unique variety in characters, giving an incentive for multiple playthroughs.  It is rife with enough minigames to pass the time.  Most importantly, it fills in some important blanks in the Kingdom Hearts mythos, thus providing some explanation for what happened in the previous installments.  Any avid and invested Kingdom Hearts fan should be able to find something to take away from this.

Unfortunately, the only thing I was able to take away from the end was a headache, and a nervous tick that activates whenever someone mentions the words "heart" and "friendship".

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Almost Got 'Em

In the dank and smoke-filled Stacked Deck Club in the grimiest neighborhood in Gotham City, a special table is set in the back. Though the establishment's usual patronage is almost exclusively men of shady backgrounds and ill-repute, not even the toughest, most hardened of them venture near. At the sound of cards shuffling, tapping against the table, and being doled out for a poker game of questionable legality, the patrons try to avert their eyes and pretend they're not paying any attention. Truth be told, they could not be more terrified. For at that table, five of the world's deadliest criminals have gathered to tell each other a tale.

Poison Ivy. Two-Face. Killer Croc. The Penguin. The Joker. As the cards fly and the night grows thick, thicker than the cigar smoke heavy in the air, one-by-one they tell a story. A story about how once, they came close to taking home the biggest prize of them all. Victory was so close, their fingers practically closing around it, the taste of it on their lips, before it was maddeningly pulled away. This is the night they tell each other the story of how they came so close, so tantalizingly close, to finally killing Batman before he grasped triumph from the jaws of defeat. This is the night they talk about how they almost got 'im.

As the other three watch Poison Ivy enter, the Joker stares through the television and into your soul.

Almost Got 'Im was one of the most highly critically acclaimed episodes of the even more critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series. One of the few episodes to feature almost every major character (Catwoman, Detective Bullock, Commissioner Gordon, and Harley Quinn also guest-star), it shows the story of being beaten by Batman from the viewpoint of the villains, and throws in a few good twists involving the Dark Knight himself.

So what does this have to do with video games?

It's the inspiration for the series I'm going to be posting here. As I mentioned in my last post about Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, there is a plethora of games I've played and given up on. Some of them, however, I came so close to the end of that it makes almost no sense as to why I stopped without beating them. I reached a point where the final boss was arm's reach away and then . . . nothing. And I'd never play the game again.

That's why, in the weeks and months to come, I will dig up every single one of these abandoned titles and play them again, from scratch in most cases, and get through them all the way. I've already done one, which I'll talk about now, and then give you the list of the rest of the cases where I left a game right on the verge of finishing.

Replace the girl with a copy of Xenogears and you get the idea.

This is the story of the games that got away.

This is how I almost got 'em.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Final Fantasy Superfriends

When I first heard the rumblings of Square-Enix creating a fighting game based on Final Fantasy, I thought someone was playing a joke.  Even when factual evidence of this game's existence and development came to light, I was still skeptical:  I figured that yet again, this was another episode of "Wouldn't it be cool IF" where the company was once again showcasing the power of all the cool things they could do with the Playstation 3, much like when they teased us with that tech demo of Final Fantasy VII years ago.


However, as time went on, I soon discovered that Dissidia:  Final Fantasy was eventually going to be a very real thing in our world.  Even more surprisingly (given the quality of the screenshots) it was going to be on the PSP.  When these facts began to slowly sink in, I became fearful.  Why, you ask?

Need I say more?

The last time Square-Enix attempted something remotely resembling a Final Fantasy fighting game, it produced interesting results, to say in the least.  Ehrgeiz was not a bad game, per se, it was just a faux Final Fantasy fighting game.  The original game, developed by the creators of Tobal No.1 and published by Namco included a cameo by Cloud and Tifa.  When Square ported the game over to the Playstation, additional characters (Yuffie, Vincent, and most notably, Sephiroth) were added in.  These characters had no impact on the story, despite so many of them being there.  They oddly felt out of place, as if they were just copied and pasted in:

Like this.
While Ehrgeiz was not a terrible game, it was nevertheless a forgettable one.  Thus understandably, I was a little skeptical of Dissidia.  In spite of the stellar graphics, as to be expected of any Square-Enix game, my cynical gaze viewed it as another sad attempt to milk the Final Fantasy franchise for all that it was worth.

After spending time playing through this game, however, I was pleasantly surprised.  While Dissidia is filled with its share of flaws and has a somewhat laughable story, it manages to combine fighter and RPG elements to create an experience that, while likely not winning it game of the year status, nevertheless manages to create a *fun* experience that will offer fans of the Final Fantasy series hours of distraction.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Backlog Begins: Nocturne

Since this is The Backlog, where we discuss playing the games we never had the time or inclination to before, it seems only appropriate that every now and then those problems resurface and bear discussing. After all, this blog is nothing if not a venue for the pursuit of discovery and intellectualism, where you'll find only the tip-top of class and sophistication.

Man, when are they gonna get to Sephiroth's theme?

Several weeks ago, I sat down to play Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, the first offering of the SMT series for the PS2. In the time since then, I've made it somewhere around, and this is just estimating, a fifth of the way through. I've had more than enough time to make it further, I just . . . haven't.

But that's how this whole thing gets started. That's why I've got more than a dozen games I've played, some of them extensively, but still have no idea how they end. You get into a game, you even like the game, but when it comes down to it the distractions which pile up and take you away from it just prove too great to overcome. No matter how fun something is, if you find yourself having to put it down and then try to get back into it again a few days later, over and over again, sooner or later you're going to stop trying.

This isn't the fault of the game. Nocturne is actually very engaging as JRPGs go. It's challenging, like all of the SMT games I've played so far, and with much more freedom to roam than the Persona series allows. The characters have been developed enough thus far that I'm genuinely curious to see where everyone ends up. It's got me wanting more, but things keep coming up, and each setback seems to put me further and further away from the finish line.

It's just . . . it's so FAR.

So what this post is really about, though I will discuss the game, is how a backlog begins.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Unlimited Frustration.

Before I begin by saying anything else, I want you to watch the following clip:

Did you take a good look?  Seriously?  What you just witnessed was an absolutely gorgeous opening to a PS2 game.  From the opening, I hope you realized the quality of art, the diverse characters, the lush and breathtaking scenery, and frightful foes to overcome.  When you first place Unlimited SaGa for the PS2 into your system, this video is the first thing that greets you.  Based on the video alone, one is promised an adventure of epic proportions and intrigue (Seven Destinies!  Seven Wonders!  Unraveling the mysteries of the world!).   My experience with Unlimited SaGa certainly gave me many of those things.  The graphics push the limits of the PS2.  The musical score, like many SaGa games previous, is diverse and memorable.  The quests certainly are diverse and intriguing.

However, Unlimited SaGa also gave me a few other things:  Anger, sleepless nights, and pleas from dear friends to just put the game down and walk away.  At more than a few points, the trio of friends who had to suffer through listening to me play through the game (Nick, the Enabler, and David) came very close to staging an intervention.  Fortunately, I finished the game before it finished me.

Let me state this clearly:  Unlimited Saga is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating experiences on the PS2 you will ever come across.  A convoluted game system, obscure mechanics, an over-reliance on chance, and a disjointed, abrupt narrative prevent the game from being realized as a shining gem in the PS2's library.  Although it is a rewarding game for those who can figure it out, attempting to figure out the game is the challenge in itself.

Read on if you dare:  After all, misery loves company

Friday, May 6, 2011

Odyssey in the Truest Sense: Etrian Odyssey

A funny thing happened on the way to the Nocturne.

I haven't forgotten about the reader poll which voted Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne the next game for me to remove from my Backlog. It's just that since that poll went up, several things have happened which stymied my progress. A few were legitimate - planning out my second anniversary, preparing for an upcoming move - a few others - replaying Tales of the Abyss, watching every episode of House starting from Season One - maybe less so.

But I have to find out if it's lupus.

However, just because I wasn't playing the games I wanted to play doesn't mean there wasn't some backlogging going on. Following Ayn's post on the concept of Bridge Games it felt only appropriate to bring up this little-title-that-could which has been kicking around in my DS for the past few months.

Like most of my handheld games, this one alternated between sitting idle on my shelf or idle in the DS itself. Unlike the others, there was a little more story to how I obtained it than "saw it on the shelf, bought it on a whim." Late last year, a member of the  BlueGartr community with a veritable warehouse of video games to choose from decided he wanted a little extra spending money. So from his great throne, he deigned to let a few of us mere collectors bid on items from the vast trove in his personal arcade.

An arcade which actually exists and has this painting in it.
I ended up getting about a dozen games from him, but when I ordered the first two Etrian Odyssey games, he told me that his assistant - because he owns so many games he needs an assistant to keep track of them - had already sold off one of them. No big deal, I figured, since my local GameStop had the one he had sold. I told him to just switch my order for another game on his list, only to find out he'd made a mistake - the one I'd just bought was the one he still had available, the other was the one he'd just shipped out. Well, now I was determined. Three GameStops later and one 18-mile walk later, I'd gotten my hands on the original Etrian Odyssey.

I went through a lot worse to get Luminous Arc.