Friday, September 27, 2013

Wii Love RPGs

It's funny:  The Wii doesn't immediately come to mind when I think of a go-to console for good RPGs, but I'm starting to realize that my assessment might have been wrong.  The Wii, at least in terms of JRPGs, really seems to be more about quality than quantity.  While the system doesn't put out a ton of JRPGs, they do tend to be pretty solid.  Even more surprisingly, I tend to play through them pretty quickly once I manage to sit down with one.

Hence, I turn your attention to a game I finished some time ago (and has since been hoisted off on the Enabler):  Arc Rise Fantasia.  Although ARF (heh heh.."arf") gets a bad rap for its questionable voice talent and dated graphics, if you're able to look past those flaws, then you'll discover one of the most underrated RPGs of this generation that possesses an immersive world, challenging battles, fun combat, and characters that you'll both love and hate.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bugging out

Don't you hate it when a simple bug or glitch halts your progress in a game?  Have you ever had one bad enough to make you stop playing the game for a bit?

Well, that's the point I hit in my Nocturne journey, when I last played it a few months ago (..geez, time flies).  I'm closing in on the end of the game, and if you'll recall my last post, I was at the impasse of trying to decide which side to ally with, but having them all be terrible.

As of now, I'm pretty close to the last dungeon, but while traveling through the Yurakucho station, which has you go through a number of dark areas and different maps, I somehow got stuck in some kind of endless loop I was unable to escape from.  It was enough to make me put down the game for the day with the intent of coming back to it later that day, but well, as noted above, it's been a bit.

..I suppose in the next few weeks I'll finally bring that journey to a close.  Ever experienced a similar bug in Nocturne, or in any other game that's made you quit for a bit?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Disgaea: Decade of Backlog

You know what's a good clue that indicates a Strategy RPG's been on your backlog way too long?

When you boot it up and realize that all the characters the game allows you to rename are named after people you went to school with almost a decade ago.

Aside from being a stark reminder that a 10-year reunion's coming up for one of my alma maters, seeing names I hadn't seen in a long time (making me wonder whatever happened to my friend Nedra, who had the pet ferrets), I realized that it was high time  I finally finished Disgaea:  Hour of Darkness.  This was a point further cemented by the fact that I own at least one incarnation of each game in the series to date, but have yet to actually finish one of them.

But as a I sat down to play a game nearly a decade old, I was concerned with how well it stood the test of time:  The newer entries to the series fixed quite a few of the issues with the earlier game while also innovating on the system and looking shinier.  After being exposed to so many new games, just how well did Disgaea 1 age for me?

Not as well as this guy, but close.
Back to the Grind

For the Enabler, the Disgaea series ranks as one of her favorites, while I've always been mixed on it.  We both enjoy the humor in the series, and we both enjoy strategy RPGs, but there's a stark difference:  The Enabler has the much healthier mindset of sitting down, playing a few maps, grinding out a few levels, and maybe finishing a bit at a time.  I, on the other hand, have a single-minded obsession with trying to finish everything that a game has to offer and gleaning satisfaction out of putting it in my pile of 'finished' games, as another trophy of conquest.

Yeah.  That doesn't quite work with Disgaea.  Those of you who have played the game know that there's an endless supply of things to do:  There's the endless dungeons of the Item World, a horde of characters that you can recruit, dozens of different classes, numerous weapon options, various ways to customize them. . the list goes on and on.  Not to mention that the level cap for your characters is essentially infinite.  Reach the cap?  Transmigrate your characters back to level one with their stats and continue the process anew!  Seriously, I fear for the world if Nippon Ichi, the creators of the game, decided to create an MMO.

Only level 1098?  Gimp.
You can probably see why Disgaea got shuttled to my backlog by this point:  The sheer amount of things to do along with my desire to get my money's worth by doing everything ended up being overwhelming.  I managed to play through about half of the story, grind out a few of the optional areas, and level the main character up before finally putting it aside. 

Fast forward to to the present. .

-Subheading 2-

When I finally decided to come back to the game, I decided to forego most of the extra grinding, which left me with about half of the story to complete.  I'll have to admit I was skeptical here:  The game always struck me as more about grinding that a deep, enriching story.  Thus,With so much to do in Hour of Darkness, I was worried that the story would be sorely lacking.  I mean it's great that you can sink hundreds of hours into customizing and tweaking your army, but at the core I still wanted a good story.  So how does it measure up?  I won't waste your time by giving a long, drawn out synopsis of the story, but for me, it held up surprisingly well:

She makes a point.
And then there were bits like this:

A lot of the humor still made me chuckle (and oddly, I think I appreciated it this time a lot more than the first time I played it).  The game isn't all laughs, as the first entry in the series, at least, manages to balance both the silly humor with some darker elements -- something the later games (allegedly, from what friends have told me) eased off of.  While Disgaea is a series you play more for the endless hours of grinding and customization, but it's nice to see that the first one didn't completely neglect the story.

Closing Thoughts

It's highly unlikely that I'll revisit Hour of Darkness any time soon:  I still have the second, third, and fourth games to finish, and with each game being an improvement over the last (at least, from the bits that I've played of each), as well as yet another game on the horizon, it's pretty hard to justify taking a step backwards when the new game in a series takes you so many steps forward:

..But sometimes, it's a giant leap backwards

Friday, September 6, 2013

On What a Good Crossover *Should* Do.

If you've been following our blog (first, thank you), then you've probably gleaned at some point from my previous posts on the Super Robot Taisen series, and Another Century's Episode that I'm a big fan of crossover games.  A previous post on Chaos Wars should also make it clear that I get particularly annoyed when such games squander their potential.  So it should really come as no surprise that when Project X Zone was released here that I snatched it up on day one.  I've been playing it off and on since purchase, and subjecting those close to me to the witty dialogue (such as Nick, who shares my enthusiasm, and yells "Mayyyyyyonaise" when Soma from Gods Eater Burst is mentioned), as well as some of the flashier attacks (such as the Enabler, who patted me on the head, said "that's nice dear", and went back to playing Class of Heroes 2).

It should also come as no surprise that the game has inched closer and closer to my backlog.  Now, in the past, David and I have offered various reasons on how a game ends up in the backlog.  Work, exhaustion, one's desire to preserve the enjoyment of a game like a fine wine, and a host of others.  However, Project X Zone ended up in the backlog because it succeeds in doing one of the most important things a good crossover should do:  Motivate you to explore the source material.

Although PxZ lacks a certain depth compared to other games in the SRPG genre, the gameplay is decent enough to keep one playing (at least in small stints), but the interaction between characters is strong enough that, even if you've never played the games before, you might be intrigued enough to want to try them.

Thus, thanks to PxZ:
  • I finally picked up Gods Eater Burst for more than a few minutes.
  • I ended up running through Super Street Fighter IV a few times.
  • Played through a few stages of Namco X Capcom.

And that says nothing of all the other games that it reminded me to get back to in due time.  How does this one manage it so well?  Well:

The Setting

As I noted in the Chaos Wars post, setting up the story for a crossover is a tricky thing.  The Super Robot Taisen series, and to an extent, Sunrise Eiyuutan simply combine all the characters from various worlds into one cohesive world and storyline.  Games like Chaos Wars and Cross Zone create a hub world, dump all the characters in there, then proceed to let hijinks ensue.

PxZ takes the middle road.  You have the parallel worlds thing going on here to explain characters that otherwise couldn't reasonably exist in the same world (such as bringing in characters from Sakura Taisen or Valkyria Chronicles), but in other cases, there are characters who exist in the same continuum (Tekken, Street Fighter, and Resident Evil characters, for example).  The list is much longer, but given the massive roster of the game, this should give you an idea.

So certainly, while much of the game is spent traveling across dimensions, at the very least, you'll usually have a set of characters familiar with the surroundings, rather than the entire group of unknowing people thrown into a locale far away from any sort of civilization they know:

Well, maybe not quite this extreme.


The big problem with a game like Chaos Wars is that there was a ton of squandered potential.   The characters interacted from those within their own series well enough, but barely with each other.  The Chaos Wars specific characters interacted with everyone to an extent, but they were so flat that it made trudging through the story even more of a pain.  See, a good crossover should help to answer the age long question of "what would happen if x, y, and z walked into a bar?"

Maybe not quite as predictable.

The other factor at play here, however, is that the character personalities are amusing enough that, even if you haven't played the games before, you're not left totally in the dark.  Even when you are with some of the game specific references, somehow, this entire cast of characters (at least in my playthrough thus far) manages to somehow be cohesive.

That, readers, is no small feat.

Concluding thoughts

In the end, Project X Zone comes in and out of the backlog because in a lot of ways, it's doing its job.  Really, companies who opt to do a joint venture like this, be it a fighting game, RPG, or SPRG stand to gain from it when they do it wisely:  After all, if you make the crossover appealing enough, most dedicated fans will likely seek out the source material, rather than avoid it altogether.

Never seek this one out.  Ever.