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5:07 AM on 10.24.2008

Siren: Blood Curse - The (Secretly) Best Survival Horror Title of the Year? (Lotsa Spoilers.)

Siren: Blood Curse, created by Project Siren and SCE Japan, doesn't have a lot of competition for survival horror game of the year.The Silent Hill games, while functional, didn't elevate the material about fan service. And Alone in the Dark had some good ideas (some shared with Siren) but evidently didn't work as a game. Siren isn't fan service; the only translated version of Siren previous to this was the translated release of Siren I, retitled Forbidden Siren in the UK, a game that achieved cult appreciation but little real love. It was hampered by a terrible translation that had incredibly inappropriate voices and accents for the characters. It was a heavily Japanese game, and yet everyone sounded like they were from Simon and the Land of the Chalk People, with perky British accents.

Here's what I mean:

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Siren: Blood Curse is, in effect, a retelling of the first Siren game. The first, which recounted the story of Japanese people drawn back to the cursed village of Hanuda, was a dialogue-heavy stealth-and-survival game. It was developed by Keiichiro Toyama, the director of the original Silent Hill. The connections are certainly there. It takes place in a single cursed town, and features decaying versions of familiar structures: hospitals, houses, restaurants. The town has a bizarre occult following, and you explore the murky depths of it slowly, frequently lit with a single flashlight. Yeah, there's some Silent Hill in there.

Heck, there are even nurses in this game. And the eponymous air-raid siren.

But, it's different. And with this version, the difference is greater. This time, you take control of members of an American TV show called Encounters, a cheap-to-produce reality show that films mysterious locations. They walk in on a brutal ritual, and see one woman get killed before they move on to the second. Another American, a teenager named Howard Wright, interrupts the ceremony, saving the girl (Miyako) but (and you've been warned before, but this is a major spoiler) thereby causing a rip in time, beginning the loop in which some characters will be stuck forever. You guide Howard, Melissa and Sam Gale, and their daughter Bella, along with several other characters, through rapidly intersecting missions as you all attempt to leave Hanuda alive.

The controls are a hybrid of Silent Hill with a brawler like Yakuza. There are combos and special finishers, but your proficiency with a weapon depends on your relative character strength. Melissa is best off with light weapons, while Sam and Sol are good with heavier ones. What it takes from Silent Hill is the feeling that your characters are awkward and uneasy in combat. Fortunately, so are the enemies. The very long delay between button input and final blow from your weapon, based on your character's strength and the weapon's weight, could downright piss off some more twitch-based gamers. I don't mind it. And then there's the sight-jacking system. Basically, you can switch through the eyes of everyone around you to see what they see. You can use this as part of the stealth component of the game, which is the strongest of any survival horror game that I've played. You use it to check the line of sight of the monsters you are trying to evade, and sneak past them while you can see, in the split screen, that they aren't looking. Once you are armed, this feature isn't particularly useful, except against gun-toting enemies who snipe from afar, or in some cases, to see where items are located, and to overhear conversations.


Shibito have a helpful tendency of staring at objects you'll need to interact with.

Another feature that may or may not be up your alley is the leading-you-by-the-nose objective system, which pin-points what you have to do on the map, pretty much exactly. You won't ever really be stuck, because it spells out what you should be doing. The hard part can be figuring out the timing and stealth required to do it. There are rare occasions when the designers, for whatever reason, drop this idea, and you have to do the usual adventure-game style room searching to figure out where to go next.

So what did this game do right? What can other survival horror developers learn from their design decisions? Let's sit back and have a look at...

What Siren Did Right:
- Structure. Siren uses its episodic structure intelligently. Think of it as Lost meets Silent Hill. You follow seven survivors, with usually two or three featuring their own interactive chapters per episodes. You never stick with one person for very long, and chapters almost invariably ends at a moment of high tension. It gets right what many television shows fail to do, which is give you enough information to be satisfied with what you've seen, and then teases you with scenes of the next episode to push you into playing further. It also helps reduce the fatigue of games like Silent Hill, wher eyou trawl through the apartment complex, school, or mall for ac ouple of hours. You might spend the same amount of time, in the end, in each location, but it's divided, keeping things moving, and fresh. Although it does feel like one large release cut into chunks, it uses the stops and starts of its twelve episodes to heighten the impact of scenes and instill a strong desire to see what happens next. Finally, along with the newest Alone in the Dark, it takes a great idea from Driv3r, and begins each episode with a smartly cut recap of the previous episode's cliffhangers, to put you in the moment while simultaneously bringing you up to speed.
- Variety. One chapter might have you hunting down shibito with a shotgun in overcast daylight. They'll fall easily, and it plays much more like the opening village scenes of Resident Evil 4 than a tension-filled scarefest. But previous to that, you were stuck in a hospital as Bella, the unarmed young girl, whose mission ends instantly if a shibito catches up to you. These sequences sound worse than they really are; there's never too many enemies, and you can count on the shibito, for the most part, to have repetitive movements. There are also escort missions, which play well and have escortable characters who will generally run away from trouble and keep out of harms way. The best are chapters that begin as an unarmed stealth crawl, and then change up gears into action as you get weapons and fight back against previously invincible enemies.
- Immersion. Japanese characters speak Japanese. American characters speak English. One Japanese character speaks broken English, while one American has somewhat functional command of Japanese. This really puts you in the location, and helps you understand the frustration of an American man who can't communicate with the Japanese person he's next to. The immersive environments, though, are what really steal the show. They're among the most detailed that I've seen outside of a Hideo Kojima game. While the texture work doesn't always hold up, the hundreds of little details, from street sights to posters and electronics, give you a scene of the era in which the village is stuck: 1976. Two locations really sell it best, the Ito household and the flooded ruins of the main street of the town. The Ito household is a fully-furnished, if decaying, well-off Japanese house from the 1970s. Every room has its purpose, from the daughter's bedroom, featuring posters of her favorite band, a record player, her guitar, to the brother's bedroom, the master bedroom, the shrine, bath, and living room. If there weren't all the now-shibito members of the Ito household shuffling around, aping their old living routine, you'd just want to stay and explore. The red-water flooded main street, with its noodle shop, poorer housing, and bobbing items, has its own set of cool locations to explore, and thoughtfully placed details.
- Intelligent re-use of locations. You do visit many of the same locations over and over again. However, you're never usually in them for too long, and the manner with which you explore them changes through the game. When you are running with Amana with Howard, blindly following her up and down rooftops, unarmed and avoiding shibito, you won't realize until much later in the game that it's the same town location that you visit the next day, during that Resident Evil 4 style shootout. The context, lighting, and action are all completely different. The hospital, too, can be totally frightening when you are isolated there, alone and defenseless as Bella, but is almost a situation that you can control when you return as one mad Mommy, smashing the hell out of shibito brains. The re-use is also part of an underlying theme of repetition in the game. Much like Majora's Mask, there is a time loop occuring here, and you do experience somewhat similar events more than once, as (spoiler here) when all the major characters of the game are converted into shibito, and Amana, sensing a time paradox, restarts the day all over again.
- Graphic design. A small point, but one worth noting; the menu design and font choices, as well as the 2D-to-3D map, are great. There's a sterile coldness to the presentation, which sharply contrasts with the muddy, grainy, decaying look of the environments. The text coming in and out of focus looks great, too.
- Reduced dialogue. Compare the youtube videos of the cutscenes from the original Siren to Blood Curse, and they show it to be a very talky game with characters that tend to spew out the expository crap that drags down much of the survival horror genre. This reworking takes a minimalist approach to dialogue, with the longest conversation in the game, a chat between Seigo and Sam in the hospital, being something that you can choose to observe with your sightjacking, rather than a cutscene. In fact, most conversations last but a few lines before something terrible cuts them off, or they realize that they should keep moving. It's one of those situations where there is almost too little dialogue, especially in the first few episodes, and most that is there consists of confused characters being herded from area to area, mostly in a blind panic. The context of the story, and of the characters is told instead both by the environments and the action that takes place therein, and the archives found automatically or by meeting set criteria. The archive stuff is much better than the usual files found in Silent Hill or Resident Evil; it consists of diaries, paraphernalia, video tapes, and phone messages that work hard to put some context and background into the characters that you play. The best is Seigo's driver's license, an item that, if you think about it, tells you who he is and where he's from (it expires in the 1970s, placing him firmly in part of the looping past.)
- A rethinking of the health conventions in horror games. There are no green herbs in Siren. There aren't any health packs, first aid sprays, or bottles of pills. Its damage system is subtle. Your character can't take too much of a beating. Three or four hits in a row from a shibito, and you are down for the count. That's the difference: they have to be in a row. Let yourself be cornered or caught unarmed from one or more shibito and you are done for, but as long as you can interrupt their consecutive hits with a few of yours, you can make it. This means that you're never stocking up on supplies and worried about not having enough health to make it out alive. You're always at "max health" as long as you aren't being pummeled. It even works in context of the game; the red water covering Hanuda supposedly heals everything, which also explains why the shibito are immortal. You can't ever kill them. You can knock them (literally) out of a level, but otherwise, they're always coming back.


Bullet hole in his heart or not, Howard's doing okay.

- Puzzles that felt involved in the world. The puzzles aren't arbitrary. You need to get past a shibito and you are unarmed. So you need to distract him or her. There are several interactive items around, and you have to figure out what to use and when. One of the best puzzles involves playing as Bella, where you must sneak past a shibito nurse who for most of her routine stares towards a door that you need to get through. The game suggests using something in the kitchen to distract her. You find an egg timer, and then can use that to lure her out of the way in order to sneak past. But even that's not necessary. You can yell to get the attention of shibito, or just run through and try to see if she can't catch up. Many of the puzzles, such as hitting a shibito on the head with a noodle shop sign, are purely optional, and just consist of easier means of defeating shibito or passing obstacles. Some reward your efforts with additional archive items. There is, below, one exception however.
- A limited number of enemies that are as much characters as you are. The generic looking nurse seen in many pictures of this game might give you the sinking feeling that this is Silent Hill Lite. It's not, and she's not a generic nurse. She's Yukie, and you find out that (spoiltown!) she's Seigo's coworker and the object of his affections. She was sacrificed during that ceremony, the one killed before Miyako, and after her death, returned to the hospital to wander. Her diary, combined with some personal affects of Seigo, fill this in. You'll get to know the police officer that patrols the town, as well as the Ito family quite well. As they can't die, you'll see them over and over, getting increasingly inhuman. The Ito family in particular is well-sketched, without dialogue or even really archive items. You can follow them through sightjacking as they go about the fractured remains of their lives, from watching the sister move about her room and scribble on her notepad, the mother move from the kitchen to the pantry, and the father as he shuffles from his den to his bed, where he lays, staring up at the ceiling. It's a very refreshing alternative to the generic zombies of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, and makes it all the more disturbing when you see Seigo casually shooting them, or in one case, ripping them apart. He knows these people.


Honest, this creepy nurse is different.

- The ending. (Yes, this is all going to be spoilers.) The narrative really builds at the end of the second act (episode 8) through until the ending. The second act has a very dissonant, rushed conclusion which is echoed in the final few encounters. The first time through, you play as Howard, and slowly discover that the other survivors have become shibito one by one, until you get to the nest core of the shibito. There is Bella, the little girl, turned into a shibito brain, her face insectoid. Moments after this discovery, you are shot and killed by her now-insane mother. This triggers Amana to reboot the reality, as the circle can't continue with Bella turned. The second time that you get back to this point, things are different. Bella's with you, still alive, and this time Melissa, Bella's mother, is one of the end bosses, having converted into a giant maggot shibito. Things get very Silent Hill as you play as her separated husband, Sam, stabbing her with television antennae, trying to stop her from murdering her own daughter. The nightmare scenario continues as Miyako is finally sacrificed, but turns instead of being a vessel for the god Kaiko, into a force of his undoing, due to the previous actions of Howard and Seigo. There is a fight against Seigo that at first doesn't make much sense, where he gives Howard a weapon and then attempts to kill him. Only after killing Seigo, taking the Uryan (a holy device), and then going into Space Harrier world to kill the final boss do things click into place like a decent M. Night Shyamalan film. Seigo's role had been as a sort of protector, but he wasn't strong enough to beat the God. He was the only one to return unconverted to shibito in every time loop. It is Howard who takes his place, becoming the protector. The other plot point, revealed in the strange full-motion video of a little girl eating something, is that Bella is in fact Amana. I was initially confused by this, but through the final archive items, you find out that the time loop is caused by Bella returning to the 1950s. Here's where things go off the deep end a little bit; Sam also lands back in time, in 1976, and takes it upon himself to keep the loop happening. He instructs Howard by email to go to Hanuda, while he could have stopped the entire time loop by preventing this. Sam's reasoning is that he wants his daughter to live forever, and being trapped in this loop, she will. The bizarre logic of it all makes me smile.


Howard's gonna be doing a lot of this.

What Siren Did Wrong:
- Repetitive music. The sound effects and ambient noise are great, but the chanting can get very, very old. It could have done with a few more tracks, and a little less chanting. The theme is used well for very dramatic moments, but tends to get trotted out a little to frequently.
- Not enough carrots for plot progression at times. Having reduced dialogue can be great, but you also need to know, to some degree, why characters are doing what they are doing. Seigo's mystery, as an earlier resident of the village, is fine, but you don't get much sense of what the survivors are trying to accomplish. There isn't enough narative reward to encourage continuing sometimes, as the first seven or so chapters are just consisting of the main characters being pushed somewhere, with little purpose. There aren't enough concrete goals for you to really identify with what they are doing. A short conversation for each character establishing what they're trying to do would have helped identify more with them, especially initially.
- Not following through on cliffhangers. The episode ending cliffhangers are awesome, except when they aren't resolved. The worst offender is (spoiler) the death of Sol in the second run-through. It's another gripping moment, as Sam and Sol, finally reunited, leave the mine, only to be surrounded on all sides by the shibito. And in the next episode... well, nothing really happens. You don't know until much later that Sam fell, narrowly avoiding being killed. The only clue that things didn't go so well is the introduction again of the always-pesky shibito Sol. You can only use cliffhangers so many times without rewarding the viewer for the tension they generate. Otherwise it's a narrative tease.
- Leaving character growth to the final few chapters. You don't always expect character development arcs in a video game, but the nuanced approach to structure and pacing of this game gave me hope that it would have something of a Lost style treatment of its survivors. Something out of an Indigo Prophecy or Dreamfall. In a word, no. While the characters do reveal themselves more in the final few episodes, other than their detailed backgrounds which are spelled out by the archive, there is no arc or development. They are either: dead, crazy, or running for their lives.
- One shitty puzzle. There is one out-of-place, Resident Evil or adventure game style puzzle in one episode featuring Amana. I didn't get it. I still don't get it. You basically just keep turning wheels until things pop into place. Maybe I'm missing something. Unlike all the other puzzles which were integrated masterfully into the environments, this one was awkward and intrusive.

So, that's it. It's a great game, one that left me thinking, and one which I do think I will play through again in order to get all the archive pieces, and also to see how things make more sense once you understand the broader scope of the action. I recommend anyone who is on the fence about downloading it, and who is a fan of the genre, to take the plunge.   read


5:11 AM on 10.16.2008

Sifting through my pile of shame.



So I'm almost done with Siren, which I am going to write about as soon as I'm finished, in a spoileriffic plot analysis. As is, it's one of the best games that I've played this year. So, yes. Forty bucks. Download it. It's freaky, interesting, and uses sparse dialogue and exposition, as well as reuse of locations, in a novel manner. Plus it has some of the best pacing and structure, at some points, of any game that I've played.

I've got a giant pile of shame. These are games that I've accrued relatively recently, and have either played halfway through, or stopped playing due to boredom, lack of time, getting a new game, or putting it down and forgetting where the heck I was and what I was supposed to be doing.

I put this to you, Destructoid reader: what should I tackle next? Here is my pile of shame, in all its glory:


BRAID (360)

Pros: Fun, plus I'll feel smart if I finish it, as plenty of other gamers have finished it. I also want to see what the ending sequence is like. Also, I've probably only got 20 puzzles to solve.
Cons: I've already ran through each level. And some of them are very hard. I may not be smart enough to complete this.

LOST ODYSSEY (360)

Pros: Great writing, and a good story. Oe of the few JRPGs where I like most of the characters. The combat system is relatively fun and challenging.
Cons: The game crashes to a disk read error every hour or two. I might just want to wait until I get a larger HD and get the New XBox Experience, which apparently will allow me to run games off the hard drive. Problem solved. Also, I'm on disk three, and it seems like the story has kind of fizzled out. Not sure if there is a way to view past cutscenes to bring me back up to speed.

ZAK & WIKI (Wii)

Pros: Looks fun, I get to use the Wii.
Cons: Wii games get very old, very quickly. Art style is a bit of a turn off. I feel like 29 may be too old to play this game. I feel creepy.

YAKUZA (PS2)

Pros: I get to be in Japan! The recreation of that, you know, part of Tokyo there that it's supposed to be set in is nifty. Plus the story is cool, and I like the combat system. It's like Shenmue if Shenmue were, you know, fun.
Cons: The American localization makes everyone talk like rough street thugs. They say fuck about eight times a minute. It's unconvincing and awkward, especially when mixed with local terms like "oyabun!"

FALLOUT (PC)

Pros: I can prep myself for the upcoming sequel. It's a classic, with style, wry writing, and is one of those old PC games that people like me love, and I've never played it.
Cons: Doesn't run perfectly on my PC, and it's got janky prerendered character animation that is annoying and painful to watch. Never really dug isometric games.

PENNY ARCADE ADVENTURES VOLUME ONE: ON THE RAIN-SLICKED PRECIPICE OF DARKNESS (360)

Pros: It's Penny Arcade funny, well-written, and nice to look at. Plus the character I made really does look like me. It's also a five-to-seven hour game that I still haven't finished.
Cons: The combat system is annoying, as the fight screen requires you to pay too far too much action onscreen at once. You've got to dodge attacks while trying to choose items and attacks and monitoring the combat-ready bars of each character.

OKAMI (Wii)

Pros: It's very pretty, and is one of those "you have to play this" games.
Cons: I'm not sold on playing Zelda style games on the Wii controller. Heck, I've never been good or that interested in Zelda games in the first place. And it sounds way too long.

MERCENARIES 2 (360)

Pros: Blowing things up in this game is a lot of fun. It's got some fun physics for the driving models, omst of the time, and an interesting faction system.
Cons: It's badly programmed and a much weaker game overall than its predecessor. I've played it for about eight hours and I think I might be done with it.

ENCHANTED ARMS (PS3)

Pros: It's a JRPG. For the PS3. And it was fourteen bucks at the video store. Seemed like a good idea at the time. The Penny Arcade guys liked it.
Cons: I know absolutely nothing about this game.

GRIM GRIMOIRE (PS2)

Pros: Well, it sure is weird. Beautiful, hand drawn, side-scrolling RTSes aren't a dime a dozen.
Cons: Weird didn't keep me playing Odama. And the voice acting reminds me of some lousy Fringe players that I've seen.

STRONG BAD'S COOL GAME FOR ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE: EPISODES 1 & 2 (Wii)

Pros: Homestar Runner has consistently been one of my favorite characters to quote, as well as Homsar. From what I've played of the first game, it's funny. I've got 1000 Wii points just waiting to be spent. Apparently episode 2 is much better.
Cons: Not a very well structured or paced adventure game, at least not halfway through episode 1. I'm not sure if I have enough room in my "fridge" for part 2.

WARHAWK (PS3)

Pros: It's fun, and I'm not that bad at it as long as I stay the hell away from those planes. I haven't unlocked anything in this game and I've owned it for almost a year. Plus there are trophies now. Trophies!
Cons: I probably will have to shell out extra money for the expansion to get anywhere online with it now.

WIPEOUT HD (PS3)

Pros: Pretty, and much more fun than it should be.
Cons: Not sure my ADD can take this for more than 20 minutes at a time. Not much to it.

METAL GEAR SOLID: TWIN SNAKES (GC)

Pros: I've hardly played this. Not got past that damn first room. I want to see how it stacks up to my memory of beating Metal Gear Solid in 1998. I did like that game quite a bit. Though I think I preferred Syphon Filter. Huh.
Cons: God, I hate that first room. They see me every time! Come on, Hideo! It's the first freaking room.

METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SUBSISTENCE (PS2)

Pros: I'm at Groznyjgrad, which is near the end of the game. I beat the first two. I should really find out what happens at the end of this one before moving on to Metal Gear Solid 4.
Cons: This game pisses me off. A lot. The camo system is retarded. And I'm always running out of tranqs.

P.N.03 (GC)

Pros: I got it free, and it's one of those Rez-style shooters, only instead of a wireframe man, you've got a she-spy lady who shoots guns while dancing. I haven't actually, uh, played it yet.
Cons: Not sure if this game is fun to play, or is just better to think about.

CHRONO TRIGGER (SNES)

Pros: It's fun, and I'll be all 'leet for beating the SNES version on a real SNES cartridge.
Cons: I have no freaking clue as to what I'm supposed to do next. I got some kinda Time Egg or something. Chrono's dead. And, yeah, sometimes 16-bit games with zero nostalgia have trouble keeping my attention.

EARTHBOUND (SNES)

Pros: Another 'leet game. Plus it was pretty fun.
Cons: Another game which I stopped playing and have no real idea what I should be doing. I had just cleared out the zombietown. I could consult the GameFAQs..   read


6:42 PM on 09.10.2008

Seven Things That Try Hard To Make Mercenaries 2 Suck

Mercenaries 2 is one of those games that seems to try its hardest to destroy whatever good ideas originally came with the series. Mercenaries 1 had the advantage of zero expectations, and offering a surprisingly visceral experience that had some depth with faction control, and became downright thrilling when it came time to blow things up. Mercenaries 2 has the weight of expectations, under which it nearly folds. Not only does it not exceed the first game in many key areas, it is sadly a step back for much of the new content.

So what are the seven things that really try hard to make Mercenaries 2 suck?

7. Awful, awful racing levels.

One of the least enjoyable parts of the Grand Theft Auto series has always been the tacked-on checkpoint races. Check out the forum pages griping about the Catalina missions for San Andreas to read more. Those are forgivable compared to the trash that is an early mission in Mercenaries 2, which has you racing a long, long checkpoint race with a monster truck. This sounds fun enough, especially with a nitrous boosting jump command, but the reality is that the physics and collision detection programming just aren't up for the challenge. As this course, especially in the mine portion, is littered with rocks, you'll find random flip outs very frequent. If your truck lands the wrong side up, mission over, as it does the ol' GTA explode if upside down. And then you are required to use boost to clear a long jump, after which landing correctly is a matter of random luck. You may die, you may not. From then on, things get trickier, with rocket launcher equipped enemies dealing out one hit kills, and, as happened to me at the last point of the mission, a game-ending disc read error or system freeze might just make you do the whole freaking mission again. Fortunately, from here on out, the races are optional, more like the original Mercenaries, whose checkpoint races were easy asides, not game-breaking moments.

The sad part? The actual car feel, especially the handbrake turns, is pretty good. The dirt track stuff with nimble vehicles is actually really fun; take Fiona's Firebird-like car out to some of the s-curves up to the PLAV base and see what I mean.

6. Bashing.

Other sites have gone into this in more detail, but it should be said again that the machine guns are relatively pointless as, especially with speedy Jennifer, you can just run up, bash troopers with little regard for your own personal health and safety, and perform a one-hit kill. This would be balance ruining if it weren't for the relatively large supply of troops, whose difficulty comes only in numbers. It does, however, render most of the weapons, aside from C4, sniper rifle, grenades, and RPG useless.

5. The airstrikes are poorly implemented.

The airstrikes are the coolest part of the game. And their ease of use has actually been downgraded for the sequel. It was never particularly easy to call them up; you had to select your desired airstrike from a menu, call it up while standing still, and then throw a smoke, use a laser pointer, or sat nav to guide it. But now, instead of just charging you per use of each strike, you have to navigate around the map to each store to purchase new strikes. And any strike that requires you to throw a smoke signal in is questionably useful, because you have to be right next to your desired target. Seriously. Jennifer, you're pretty awesome, but you throw like a girl. And it's not until you unlock the jet that you can get the much needed laser / sat nav aiming for the strikes. So, really, what you need to do is to scour the country side and get as many targets and pickups as necessary, buy up large quanities of strikes from the store, and then use them to your heart's content.

Oh, wait, no.

You still have to worry about the new resource: fuel. So, really, you can only use a couple until you go through the outpost missions unlocking the extra fuel capacity. And then you have to keep stealing it in order to use your weapons. Fail a mission? Guess what, that spent fuel and strikes ain't coming back. Jesus Christ, Pandemic.

4. The music just isn't trying hard enough.

Mercenaries 1 had some great musical moments. The dynamic soundtracks had a knack for ramping up at all the right moments, and the John Williams-esque score accentuated the moments of intensity, isolation, and the ethereal landscape well. Mercenaries 2 seems to forgo that previous theme for a mix of generic brass battle music, which is forgettable, and the occasional Neil-Young-from-Dead-Man crazy guitar pieces (which are actually good.)

3. Everyone refers to Jennifer Mui as a man.

It seems like a small thing, but it's emblematic of greater dialogue problems in the game. As Jennifer careens around town, locals may ask "What is he doing?", or call her "el mercenario" (Which would be the masculine form of "the Mercenary", as she would be "la mercenaria.") Perhaps the developers thought that the shitty Matthias character was so charming that no one would choose the female option, and therefore didn't bother reprogramming the audio to suit the gender of your choice? Yes, it would require re-recording and providing alternative audio choices for some situations, but it's better than constantly being referred to as the wrong gender. There is much laziness in the audio design, with the most infuriating example being Fiona's constant nagging for you to return to base when you aren't engaged in a mission, but also in characters, especially Fiona again, saying the same things over and over as you pass them. GTAIV, this isn't. Heck, it's not even Psychonauts.

2. Everyone speaks English.

One of the coolest little details of the first game was that every faction spoke their own language. Russians spoke Russian. The Koreans spoke Korean. Chinese spoke Chinese. And now, it's been reduced to this: speaking English with fucking accents. Non-English dialogue helped immeasurably in setting the real-world atmosphere of the previous game. It even added depth to character abilities, as Jennifer was able to understand Chinese conversations she overheard, providing subtitles to the player. People speaking English with accents is ridiculous shit which pretty much just serves to piss players off and make the developer seem ignorant or lazy. Maybe focus testing did reveal that people love to hear "realistic" accents on English dialogue, but that would just underline the real point that focus testers are drooling morons.

1. The game isn't finished.

When you pick up the ammo dumps near your mansion base, the helicopter will frequently charge you for repairs due to a mystery attack which you can't see or prevent. Who is attacking? No one, the actual flight path between these pickups and the mansion is about 200 feet of shrubbery. The helicopter snags itself on geometry while trying to pick up about 20% of the time. Sometimes instead of flying off, it'll slowly, mysteriously sink into the ground. Civilian AI is some of the worst ever seen in an open-world game. I sat and watched a businessman twitch and rotate in a building corner for a few minute. Teammate AI is beyond braindead, with necessary companions getting snagged on objects, not leaving vehicles, or randomly deciding to kill you. If you see an enemy, they can see you, no matter what. No stealth is fine, but it reduces the usefulness of cover, sniper rifles, and, you know, strategy. Yes, Mercs 1 had better line of sight. Some missions glitch out, preventing their resolution. For instance, an early UP mission required that you place listening posts in no particular order, marking them with smoke grenades. Get to the last one, and dependent on the order in which you completed them, the smoke grenade won't trigger the appropriate result. Shoddy.

This game has been delayed for a year, and during that time, you'd hope they did more than tweak the engine. Evidently, they didn't. It's sloppy, and it's lazy. And yet... I still play it. Mostly because I like the foundations of the gameplay, and even through these Driv3r level headaches, they shine. The vehicles are fun to use. The airstrikes invite an unprecedented level of destruction. Jennifer Mui is an unusually well-clothed female character without the usual giant jugs that you'd expect. It's got a collect-a-thon mechanic which is enjoyable. And when it hits the right notes, as you're driving through a smoky, debris filled city with flaming embers dotting the sky, and the anarchic guitar tracks play, you might stop worrying about the things that make the game so shitty.

It's the best worst game of the year.   read


1:29 AM on 08.29.2008

Ys Book I & II: Yet Another Game I'd Rather Play Than Zelda.



Ah, just joking, sorta. I would love to see this series handled with the polish and charm of the Zelda games. But having got A Link to the Past fairly recently, I've got to say this: it didn't hold my attention. This has. Maybe there's more than a bit of nostalgia involved, as I didn't play much of Zelda until the SNES era.

I've been as psyched as anyone really could be about the release of Ys Book I and II on the Virtual Console. Here's a rerelease of a game that I was pretty crazy about in 1989. Back. Playable in progressive scan. And it's not the 8-bit Master System version. It's the psuedo-16 bit Turbografx-16 version, with compressed redbook audio included, as well as animated cutscenes, some voice work, larger color palette, and, let's not sell this short: the sequel integrated into the same game.

So it's a slightly alien situation of continuing on with a game that I am wholly familiar with, and knowing that it's not going to end when the first one did, but continue into a whole other game. For whatever reason, I find that daunting. It would be akin to if you were a huge Zelda fan, and finally got to play A Link to the Past. Only not quite. More like if there was a Zelda 1.5...

If you're curious why I didn't run out and get a Turbografx CD at the time, the answer is this: that piece of hardware was almost found hundred bucks, definitely out of the realm of purchase.

But I'm writing today to contrast the two versions. Even though my memory of this game is about twenty years old (my brother bought this game in early 1989, if my memory serves me, making me age 9.5 at the time) playing it through again, there is the comforting similarity of what I used to play pushed up against the jarring inconsistencies of an updated release.

Pros: The incredible soundtrack is the first thing that sticks with me about the game. As much as I don't want to be someone with a favored Japanese video game soundtrack artist (Sweet Jesus, I don't want to be that guy), if I were that guy, it would be Yuzo Koshiro. And as a kid aged 9, I didn't know who he was. I only learned his name when Revenge of Shinobi came out later that year, because he put a giant copyright notice at the front of the thing, and that game music rocked. The CD audio from the updated version is almost completely synth, which coming from the 80s might mean that it wouldn't sound much better than an SNES game. Fortunately, for the most part, they are much improved renditions, with awesome guitar and baselines, and judicious use of crappy 80s synthstruments. If only they had a sax in there...

For an 8-to-sort-of-16-bit game, there is a little bit of motivation for the characters. Nothing compared to, say, the Sierra games or Origin games of the time, but in 1989, and coming translated through Japan, it was novel to have some reason to go pick up that Silver Bell, or return a ring to someone. The translation, too, is surprisingly competent. The Sega version had its inconsistencies, but the turbografx version, while humorless, is functional throughout.

I can't tell whether this is good or bad, but the difficulty has been altered markedly for this release. I'm not sure if it's due to my playing it as an adult, but I know I never really made it through the mines in Ys on the Master System. I watched my brother finish the game, so I had a good sense of what happened next, but the level grinding was just too much. Now, though, it's easy. I breezed through the first dungeon, only having to stop and level up, or purchase a new weapon, when I was on the losing side of the "running face first into a monster" battle. I'm currently at the final tower (which is about the last half-to-third of the first game) and have only died fighting the final boss of the mines, a real jerk whose vulnerable timing is tricky to perfect. One of the reasons for the difficulty decrease is that attacking is much less finicky. The steamrolling strategy wouldn't work in the the SMS version; that required you to nick the enemy repeatedly, working down its health. Coming into full contact with the enemy would quickly deplete your health.

Cons: The deeply memorable opening theme is marred by a needless voiceover on the TG CD version. The red book audio does not loop properly; hell, it doesn't loop at all. The transition to the beginning of the track is awkward at best, and usually jarring. The character models move towards a more flat-shaded look rather than the more detailed portraits of the Master System version (yeah, that's nitpicking.)

Bosses are pretty much pushovers, as I said above.

The Book I portion of the game just feels limited, even by RPG standards of the time. While this game was a great surprise after the much, much less interesting Miracle Warriors, it was nothing compared to the scope of something like Phantasy Star, which had a couple of dozen towns, three planets, and tons of uniquely weapons. It's a town, a village, and three dungeons, one of which is huge.

The teleporting puzzles which make up most of the last half of the game can be... frustrating if you aren't the type who memorizes these things easily.

And yeah, the graphics... outside of the nicely detailed cutscenes, even in this TG version, the graphics are... serviceable. The enemies are tiny, Adol is tiny, and the dungeons are repetitive hallways. While I respect its simplicity now, someone buying this and expecting the animation and skillful graphic design of A Link to the Past, or even Phantasy Star I will be disappointed.

Check out the different handling of the music between the opening of the Master System version and the TG-CD version. The main problem with the TG-CD version should be quickly obvious.

Sega Version:
[embed]101624:14123[/embed]

Turbografx Version:
[embed]101624:14124[/embed]

Damn you, early CD voiceovers. Just damn you.


Can someone unfamiliar with the series go back and play these? Maybe. You have to be able to look past the ugly, ugly interface, especially the tiny game screen. Consider it in some ways an advanced level Zelda. Fighting is like jousting; you run towards your enemy, there is no swing button, so it's a matter of getting the timing right. Normally if you continue to run into the enemy, you'll damage him, but the second you stop moving, you are open to attack. Let's face it: it looks stupid and takes getting used to. But it's deeper than you might think. The best way to damage an opponent is to steamroll into him and push him for as long as possible without interruption. Hit statistics, damage, and defense are based on level and equipment. You won't damage enemies at all if you are too weak.

Personally, though... it's great to be back, and I am excited as all heck to get to the brand new (to me) Book II.   read


1:20 AM on 06.12.2008

You Know You Hate Them: Awful Licensed Soundtracks



It used to be that licensed soundtracks were a novelty: when Rock n' Roll Racing or Michael Jackson's Moonwalker bleated out their midi-fied interpretations of Smooth Criminal or Radar Love, we were amazed. It was something we could show to non-gamers: "Hey! It's that song that Dad listens to while staring wistfully at ads for motorcycles!"

The next game to come out that really showed off what could be done with a licensed soundtrack was Wipeout XL, which had a fantastic mix of Aphex Twin, The Prodigy, and Chemical Brothers, and worked seamlessly to lend an edgy futurism to the project.

And then... things got worse. Road Rash for the PlayStation was my first memory of being less than thrilled with track selections. That's about when Dragula was included in every game released, and when I first heard of The Tea Party and pre-pop Sugar Ray. From there, it was a slippery slope of soundtracks being the product of PR promoters or limited budgets, equally. Mostly, it was Whatever We Could Get Our Hands On.

Along with rumble, custom sound tracks seem to be a "last generation" feature: the idea which worked so well in many Xbox One games has been phased out of a lot of newly released games. Yes, the 360 does do custom soundtracks, but for the most part, they aren't very seamlessly integrated into the games. You can't pull in track lists from your hard drive in the game itself, and most games won't let you change songs without going to the dashboard. That and games like Dead Rising cut out all sound whatsoever when you put a custom soundtrack on. Which leads to us having to listen to crap like the following:

8. Motorstorm

[embed]90267:12204[/embed]

The Track List Worst Offenders:

Curve – "Hell Above Water"
Elite Force – "Presha"
Every Time I Die – "The New Black"
Gluecifer – "Automatic Thrill"
Hyper – "Hot Rockin' "
Kings of Leon – "Spiral Staircase"
Krafty Kuts – "Bass Phenomenon"
Lunatic Calm – "Leave You Far Behind"
Monster Magnet – "Powertrip"
Nirvana – "Breed"
Pendulum – "Slam"
Pitchshifter – "Scene This"
Primal Scream – "Dolls (Sweet Rock 'N' Roll)"
Primal Scream – "The 99th Floor"
Queens of the Stone Age – "Medication"
Reverend Horton Heat – "Big Red Rocket of Love"
Slipknot – "Before I Forget"
Spiritualized – "Electricity"
The Experiment – "Cost of Freedom"
Trash Palace – "Animal Magic"
Wolfmother – "Woman"

How Much It Hurts: This goes at the bottom of the awful licensed soundtrack list because, well, it's pretty subjective. Maybe you're one of the guys that I describe below. Maybe this really does it for you. For me, however, it's a list of Music That I Wouldn't Ever Listen To. The main promblem here is that it's a one-note soundtrack, really loud, really grating, and if this kind of nu-metal-rock isn't your think, you're out of luck. Want to listen to your own music? Well, you can't, buddy. You're gonna listen to fucking Wolfmother for another twenty times, and you're gonna like it. Maybe I'm just bitter because I bought the game for $80 and absolutely hated it. It was the first PlayStation3 game that I owned, and the only one until I got Eye of Judgment and Warhawk six months later. Needless to say, that system didn't get a lot of use in the interim. It also made me hate trying to get through Woman on hard in Guitar Hero II even more.

Who Was The Target Audience? Heterosexual men. With anger issues. Possibly?

7. Burnout Paradise

[embed]90267:12191[/embed]

The Track List:

Adam And The Ants - "Stand And Deliver"
Agent Blue - "Snowhill"
Airbourne - "Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast"
Alice In Chains - "Would?"
Army Of Me - "Going Through Changes"
Avril Lavigne - "Girlfriend"
B’z - "FRICTION"
Brain Failure feat. Dicky Barrett - "Coming Down To Beijing"
Brand New - "The Archers Bows Have Broken"
Bromheads Jacket - "Fight Music For The Fight"
Depeche Mode - "Route 66 (Beatmasters Mix)"
Faith No More - "Epic"
Guns N’ Roses - "Paradise City"
Innerpartysystem - "Heart Of Fire"
Jane’s Addiction - "Stop!"
Jimmy Eat World - "Electable (Give It Up)"
Junkie XL feat. Lauren Rocket - "Cities In Dust"
Jupiter One - "Fire Away"
Kerli - "Creepshow"
Killswitch Engage - "My Curse"
LCD Soundsystem - "Us V. Them"
Make Good Your Escape - "Beautiful Ruin"
Maxeen - "Block Out The World"
Mexicolas - "Come Clean"
N.E.R.D - "Rockstar (Jason Nevins Mix)"
Never Heard Of It - "Finger On The Trigger"
Operator - "Nothing To Lose"
Permanent ME - "Until You Leave"
Saosin - "Collapse"
Seether - "Fake It"
Senses Fail - "Calling All Cars"
Showing Off To Thieves - "Everyone Has Their Secrets"
Skybombers - "It Goes Off"
Soundgarden - "Rusty Cage"
Sugarcult - "Dead Living"
Swervedriver - "Duel"
The Photo Atlas - "Red Orange Yellow"
The Pigeon Detectives - "I’m Not Sorry"
The Styles - "Glitter Hits (J.J. Puig Mix)"
Twisted Sister - "I Wanna Rock"

How Much It Hurts: Now, there is good stuff here. Adam and the Ants, Guns and Roses, Depeche Mode and even Twisted Sister can be listenable. The problem is that the soundtrack is such a scattershot collection of tastes and genres that there's really only a handful of songs that would make anyone happy. While it could be considered admirable that they're appealing to teens and women by including, say, Avril Lavigne, there's not much else on the soundtrack for that group. It's the lowest common denominator of licensed tracks, with a little something for everyone, but satisfaction for no one. It's the complete opposite of Motorstorm and is even worse. And yes, you can go through the soundtrack options and turn off and on different tracks, and you can also cycle through your track selections. But, developers, remember this: soundtracks are much more agreeable when they're divided into genres that you can easily switch. This is one thing that, since Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar has mastered. Don't like hardcore punk? Switch the station. Here, the good stuff has to be reached by slogging through tons of crap, or by spending half an hour jigging with the menu. Probably worth it, though. And, once again, no custom soundtracks on the PS3 (the version I own). Plus you've also got the most annoying announcer since SSX 3 and Burnout 3 there to heighten your pleasure.

Who Was The Target Audience? Males 12-40, Females 14-30? Whatever looks good on a demographic report at EA.

6. Gran Turismo 3: A-spec

[embed]90267:12205[/embed]

The Track List Worst Offenders:

Again - Lenny Kravitz
Are You Gonna Go My Way? - Lenny Kravitz
Satisfied - 8 Stops 7
Stop the Rock (Mint Royale Mix) - Apollo Four Forty
Go Gran Turismo - Dave Aude
Call It Brisco (And Why Not?) - Elite Force
99 Red Balloons (Adapted from '99 Luftballons) - Goldfinger
As Good as it Gets - Grand Theft Audio
Champion - Grinspoon
Stone Free - Jimi Hendrix
Turbo Lover - Judas Priest
Def Beat - Junkie XL
Crash - Methods of Mayhem
Kickstart My Heart - Motley Crue
Never Enough - Papa Roach
Dogg's Turismo 3 - Snoop Dogg
She Sells Sanctuary - The Cult

How Much It Hurts: Perhaps it's not the track list that really hurts, but it's just the positive memories that I have of the previous two Gran Turismo soundtracks. Mostly it was the Garbage. Even if the first Gran Turismo's soundtrack was much shorter, it was full of songs that decently incorporated themselves into the game. Plus, you know, As Heaven Is Wide! Come on! These days, Gran Turismo soundtracks feature a lot of rap. Awful rap. Like Dogg's Turismo 3, one of the worst video game / artist crossover tracks I've ever heard, since the Dance Dance Revolution song. That's the standout terrible track in a sea of mediocrity. Sifting through this track list, there's no one song that inspires driving fast. No My Favorite Game. Nothing that quickens my pulse and says "Now I'm gonna brake appropriately at this compound curve!". These are games which beg themselves for uptempo songs that engage the listener, instead of leaving them bored at best, or at worst, trying to claw through the track shut off feature to eliminate Papa Roach.

Who Was The Target Audience? Boring people. Very boring people.

5. Metropolis Street Racer

[embed]90267:12206[/embed]

The Track List Worst Offenders:

Am I Only Dreaming? - Richard Jacques
Come On Baby - Richard Jacques
Don't Wait - Richard Jacques
Fallen Angel - Richard Jacques
Holding On - Richard Jacques
I Can Still Believe - Richard Jacques
It Doesn't Really Matter - Richard Jacques
Let's Get It On Tonight - Richard Jacques
Live Your Life - Richard Jacques
Long Long Road - Richard Jacques

How Much It Hurts: Now, this hits the boundary of what qualifies as a licensed track: the music was all created for this game by Richard Jacques, using studio artists. It's outright shittiness, though, and its presentation as if it were licensed tracks gives it enough worth to put on here. It satirizes the music of the area, with dance and house for the UK, pop for Japan, and awful, awful country for the United States. Words can't describe how bad the country music is for this game. Long, Long Road is one of the worst songs I've ever heard, and trust me, I've heard it many times trying to get through the grueling Kudos challenges of that game. And I love this game, seriously. It's one of my favorite games of all time, just look to your left. But if these songs were meant as satires of the genre, they failed miserably. They weren't funny or interesting, just very bland copies. Makes you wonder why they went out of their way to make original music for the game in the first place... it's a practice that they stopped doing by Project Gotham Racing.

Who Was The Target Audience? Richard Jacques.

4. Beatmania (North American Release)

[embed]90267:12207[/embed]

The Track List Worst Offenders:

Celebration - Kool and the Gang
Funkytown - Lipps, Inc.
Toxic - Britney Spears
Ska a Go Go - The Bald Heads
Stop Violence! - Herbie Hammock & His Band
And the usual Bemani incomprehensible track lists...

How Much It Hurts: Lots. Alright, I have to tread gingerly around this property, as I know there are many Bemani fans out there. But, they hate the soundtrack of this game even more than I do! Its main problem is the usual injection of cheap-to-buy party hits, obviously to make the game more appealing to a broader spectrum of gamers. As the Internet would say: you're doing this wrong. If there were a Venn diagram illustrating the number of gamers who want to listen to Kool and the Gang, and the number of gamers who would shell out eighty bucks for a piano controller, there would be absolutely no connection between the two circles. They are disparate groups. And the tracks that have been put in here to appeal to western tastes just aren't suited to the Bemani style of gameplay, and the note charts seem rushed and boring. If they'd just brought everything over, lock stock from the original mixes of the game, I think their core audience would have been much happier. It does, however, feature Jelly Kiss, which I have to include simply because it is incredible:

[embed]90267:12208[/embed]

Who Was The Target Audience? They had absolutely no idea.

3. Donkey Konga (North American Release)

[embed]90267:12193[/embed]

The Track List Worst Offenders:

All The Small Things - blink-182
Bingo
Campfire Medley
Dancing in the Street - Martha and the Vandellas
The Impression That I Get - The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones
I Think I Love You - David Cassidy
The Loco-Motion - Little Eva
Louie Louie - The Kingsmen
On the Road Again - Willie Nelson
Right Here, Right Now - Jesus Jones
Rock Lobster - The B-52s
Rock This Town - The Stray Cats
Shining Star - Earth, Wind And Fire
Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing) - Louis Prima
What I Like About You - The Romantics
Whip It - Devo
Wild Thing - The Troggs
You Can't Hurry Love - The Supremes

How Much It Hurts: I can see enjoying the bongos in Oye Como Va. Heck, even Queen's We Will Rock You has a memorable percussion element, even if it's not, you know, at all bongo related. But bongos to... On the Road Again? Or Jesus... Jones? I don't want to hear the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones ever. Not ever. And not while I'm trying to hit the bongos, which, by the way, for the most part produce "wacky" sound effects rather than a pleasing bongo noise. I do like music games, and I do like hitting drums, even with my lack of coordination. The worst, and I mean, absolute worst though, has to be Bingo. That's right, B, I, N, G, O. B, I, N, G, O. And Bingo was his name. O. It wasn't even a well written song to begin with, and it's not one that has any place in any music game, ever.

Who Was The Target Audience? Kids? Parents? The easily pleased? (That would explain Dancing in the Streets, I think.) I think, however, The Stray Cats clue us into the truth: these are cheap licensed tracks that get a lot of party play. Nintendo wasn't going to spend a mint localizing this one with A list tracks because it was always going to be a niche title. But, good lord, BINGO?


2. Taiko Drum Master (North American Release)

[embed]90267:12209[/embed]

The Track List Worst Offenders:

"ABC" – The Jackson 5
"American Girls" – Counting Crows
"Are You Gonna Be My Girl" – Jet
"Girls & Boys" – Good Charlotte
"I'm a Believer" – Neil Diamond
"Jimmy Neutron Theme" – Bowling for Soup
"Killer Queen" – Queen
"Lady Marmalade" – Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa and P!nk
"Love Shack" – B-52's
"Material Girl" – Madonna
"My Sharona" – The Knack
"Slide" – Goo Goo Dolls
"That's the Way (I Like It)" – KC and the Sunshine Band
"The Impression That I Get" – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
"Toxic" – Britney Spears
"Tubthumping" – Chumbawamba
"Walking on Sunshine" – Katrina and the Waves

How Much It Hurts: Is this track list worse than that of Donkey Konga? On the plus side, it contains neither Campfire Medleys nor Bingo, but you have to put this in the context of the Taiko, the ancient Japanese drum. Admittedly the whole premise of the game doesn't take its cultural cachet too seriously. The localization of the game effectively captures the bizarre, frantic backstory of the game, where pretty much everything, including inanimate objects, has a history, motivation, and a personality.

But... but... the tracklist. It's so completely incongruous to the surrounding material. It features some Shitty Soundtrack Staples, like Toxic and The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, neither of which lend them selves in any way to the booming thunder of the taiko. It also features the worst band of all tiime, KC and the Sunshine Band, and their runners up, the ironically named Good Charlotte. For this, they pared down the actual tracks from the Japanese version that, you know, work with taiko drums. They also got rid of the anime themes, which might be for the best, depending on your fondness for that.

Awful, awful, awful.

Who Was The Target Audience? People at weddings? Those with a lack of imagination? The minds behind the track selection for bad romantic comedy trailers? Walking on Fucking Sunshine my ass.

1. Crazy Taxi

[embed]90267:12210[/embed]

The Track List:

"Way Down The Line" - The Offspring
"Americana" - The Offspring
"All I Want" - The Offspring
"Ten in 2010" - Bad Religion
"Them And Us" - Bad Religion
"Hear It" - Bad Religion

How Much It Hurts: At first I was sure that either Donkey Konga or Taiko Drum Master would make the cut as the worst track lists in memory, but then... this. At least both have tracks that don't drive nails into my skull. Things that I like. Both have a range of classical songs that balance out the shit. They don't have... The Offspring. Over and over. The Offspring. I hate The Offspring. And even worse than The Offspring is post-Smash (which, once past the rampant overplaying of the mid-90s, I can recognize as being an alright album, even if I never want to hear it again) The Offspring.

And The Offspring on repeat during any extended play session of this game would lead you either to insanity, or to just turn off the television's sound and listen to your stereo. Given that the above is the entire track list for the game, you're going to hear those songs a lot. Oddly enough, though, I have no memory whatsoever of Bad Religion during my playing of those games. Which isn't really much of a loss.

Who Was The Target Audience? Family members of The Offspring? Fans of the Offspring? Those guys in college who hang out at Irish pubs and are taking business classes or Police Tech?

Previous Entries in You Know You Hate Them:

Stealth Sections in Non-Stealth Games
Rhythm Mini Games   read


3:43 AM on 06.11.2008

Games You Aren't Ashamed to GameFAQ It All Up Ons

I don't like cheating. I'd like to think that most gamers out there prefer to avoid using strategy guides, FAQs, and how-to sheets on getting past games. I'm not a competitive gamer. I'm not really up for trying to get my name up on leaderboards, or out to win every achievement. But there is one side of me that is strong and proud: I want to figure stuff out on my own. I like getting stuck in games because it means that there's a challenge. Challenges are good. I like a game that tests me, especially intellectually. For the longest time, the idea of consulting GameFAQs on a game I had not yet finished was almost sacreligeous. I had a voice inside me telling me that I shouldn't read up on how to get something done, because I was smart enough to figure it out on my own.

And sometimes I did. I'm pretty proud of myself for beating Tomb Raider without outside interference, as well as Portal (alright, not a huge challenge, really, but hey, you gotta boost up your self-esteem where you can.)

At some point, though, this policy of not looking stuff up can derail my progress in games. If I get grumpy and quit playing something because I am brickwalled at a certain point, am I really getting my $40-70 worth out of the game? And what about games where the basic play methods aren't always apparent?

Take Vagrant Story, for instance. I got this game in mid-summer 2001, and played it for about six hours, before encountering a boss I could literally not do damage on. I tried it for a few hours, said screw it, and then moved to Colorado for school. It wasn't until many years later that I found out that I hadn't been using the crafting system right; there was a very specific series of things you needed to craft in order to get a weapon capable of killing this boss. This information is not readily apparent from the manual, in-game help, or other aids, it's just something that you have to figure out on your own to get.

So my own pride for not looking things up actually stopped me from getting anywhere in this game. I guess my rationalization is this: if I start looking up one thing, then aren't I just going to lean on the FAQ from there on in and stop trying to figure things out on my own? I had little faith in my resolve.

Here I am, a few years later, and I've mellowed a little. Yes, I prefer to defeat bosses and solve puzzles with my own brainpower, but I'm also realistic in my gaming ADD. I'm only going to play a game for so long before giving up. The trick is to balance out the time that the developer intended for you to solve this puzzle yourself and not getting so tired of the game that you stop playing it altogether.

Here are my personal rules of conduct regarding looking things up:

1. Ye Shall Try To Figure It Out Thineself, But If Ye Realizes That Ye Hasn't Played the Game in a Few Weeks Because Ye Is Stuck, Thou Shalt Check GameFAQs.

2. Consulting Thine Friends Isn't Really Cheating. (This is pure rationalization.)

3. If Ye Game Is Of The Obscure Japanese Variety Where If Ye Forgets One Little Thing Early On In Thine Game And It Willst Fucketh Things Up For The Rest Of It, Ye Shall Be Granted Permission To Read Up On Game Mechanics But Not The Walkthrough Or Boss Strategies.

I have to remember that it is my game, and I can enjoy it how I choose. But much of the enjoyment for me is solving puzzles, so I'm conflicted. Commandment 1 is my way of dealing with that: any game that I'm not picking up because of a brick wall is open season.

Also, I don't consider anything wrong whatsoever with mucking about with FAQs regarding games that I've finished, although the amount of times that I've messed around with a game after finishing it is limited to say the least. I don't know why I don't consider asking a friend about how to get past something. I guess it seems more chummy, and probably because I can't keep bothering the same person about how to get past something without him or her getting mad and telling me to check an FAQ. My one rule about that, though, is that they either have to be there in person or on the phone. Asking people online is still cheating. (Yes, it's irrational.)

Here is a look at some other games where I did end up cheating, and a brief rationalization why:

Game: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Platform: Xbox
Rationalization: This was a case where I didn't even start playing this game until about six months after I bought it. And when I did, I realized I wanted to finish it. The story is that good. Fortunately, the gameplay elements of this experience are fairly breezy, to the point that I wasn't having much problem getting in between story segments. Except for the catacombs. I've mentioned it before in my write up on stealth games that this is one of the worst examples of stealth mechanics in a game. I knew basically what I had to do, but it would have required several hours of dealing with shitty game design to bypass. So I just said screw it, looked it up on GameFAQs, and moved on. I don't regret it.

Game: Warhawk
Platform: PlayStation3
Rationalization: As this isn't a narrative experience, I don't feel too bad at all about this one. I was so hopelessly behind everyone else in the game, and just generally awful at it that I realized there was no harm in checking up some strategies, and beefing up my knowledge of what the hell everything does. The manual isn't exactly heavy reading, and poorly covered the basics of the game.

Game: Metal Gear Solid 3
Platform: PlayStation2
Rationalization: I'd stopped playing this game altogether. With the new game coming out, I had a sudden desire to see what the hell was up with Naked Snake and all the other odd folks in this game, so I figured I'd go back and try it again. I'd done so a few months earlier, to no avail: the fenced area before the lab I had to go to was impossible to me. And yet, after an hour or two reading through FAQs, I breezed through it in about five minutes. Let me put it this way: my save file was from mid September 2006. It'd been almost two years that I'd been stuck at this part of the game (before the mountains). I had figured that you were supposed to get through this game without killing or tranquilizing anyone, and had been playing it as a purely sneaking game. Coming back to it, and after reading the FAQ, I realized that I could go through as much as I wanted with the Mk22, and that that damned dog was cannon fodder. This goes back to my third point, about Japanese games whose hidden goals can be difficult to grasp on your own. (Alright, this might be a personal thing. I've always had a hard time grasping the intricacies of Japanese games, especially JRPGs.) The game bugged me so much about being invisible that I'd assumed that was the way you had to play it. Nope, heck, you can even go through the game murdering everyone. I don't know why it happens to me with Japanese games specifically, but I get so intimidated by them, not understanding the unstated goals, and thinking that I have to be super careful or else I'll get The Bad Ending, the slap in the face to anyone who considers themselves an educated gamer. It turns out that there was so much I didn't know. Putting TNT into the armory and food camps. The ideas behind food rotting. How it implements survival skills. And this was after playing through Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2 unaided (though, I'm pretty sure I played through those "wrong").

Game: Final Fantasy Tactics
Platform: PlayStation
Rationalization: Because I got to Wiegraf in his demon form and got absolutely destroyed. Then I put the game down in 1998 and didn't pick it up again until 2005, where I decided to play through as guided by an FAQ. I didn't know what to equip, what level to be, what jobs to take. The sheer mass of everything I could do choked me, and evidently, I made all the wrong decisions. It's the double-edged sword of open-endedness. Either you get it or you don't, and I didn't figure out for myself the best way to play the game. So my thickheadedness with JRPGs combined with a game whose ability, power, and job descriptions were brutally murdered in translation meant that I never really got to enjoy what is known by some as one of the best strategy roleplaying games out there. As a footnote, I played through the game for about five hours following the FAQ and then got bored and played something else. Stupid ADD.

Game: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
Platform: PC
Rationalization: I'd finished it before. Wait, no. My brother finished it before using the Brains path in 1992, and I watched the ending. I got to the labyrinth that is Atlantis as a 12 year old and promptly got stuck. My brother Nick manages to generally be better at games than me then, as well as now, and got through it by himself. So when I found out about VMScumm working on the Mac, I realized that i could load up my laptop with Fate of Atlantis, what I thought was one of the best adventure games ever made (even if I hadn't finished it), so I... er... copied my old 3.5 disks of the game onto my laptop, yeah... (Alright, I downloaded it. But I do own a legit copy of the game somewhere.) At any rate, I got stuck pretty fast on puzzles that I had solved years ago. And I just wanted to go through the game again, see what there was to see, so I figured what the hell, and implemented a "if I can't figure it out in 30 minutes" rule on myself to speed through the game. I got most of the things on my own, save for some really obscure puzzles, right until the end, where I just wanted to see the ending. Adventure games are brutal sometimes.

Game: Secret of Mana
Platform: Super Nintendo
Rationalization: I wanted to keep playing in multiplayer. Multiplayer Secret of Mana, especially 3-players, ranks in my heart as the single best console multiplayer experience of my life. As soon as I get my multitap I'm gonna kidnap someone to make them play it with me and Rooo. But as it is, we were having a grand time getting through it two-player. But then we hit a brick wall for about half an hour. We'd cleared out Gaia's Navel (linty!) and the game offered no clue as what to do next. We talked to Jemma. Went back to the water palace. Nothing. I had a flashback to being in this same situation back in the early ninetees playing a borrowed copy of the game. But my brain wasn't releasing all the details. "I think... we have to talk to someone and trigger a cutscene." I told Rooo, but I had no idea who. So yeah, GameFAQs time to keep the pace of the game going. Turns out there's a random person you have to talk to in order to open up the Awesome Music Temple Place.

So how many people read up all about a game that they are playing? How many try to figure it out for yourself? What games made you throw your hands up in defeat?

And when do you admit defeat? Do you give yourself a time limit to figure stuff out? Ever look something up only to get mad at yourself and think "Aw, I was so close to figuring that out myself!"

Right now I'm playing Lost Odyssey sans guide, figuring that there's not too much to the whole thing that I can't figure out on my own. Do you let your own stubbornness regarding not cheating end up stopping you from finishing games like I do? Heck, I'm halfway through that damned Still Life and not getting any further because of some ridiculous recipe puzzle. And if I ever want to get anywhere in Final Fantasy XII, I'm probably going to at least check out some How To guides on getting those stupid Gambit things working.

***

In something completely unrelated, my friend Vince took a picture of my boyfriend Rooo at an Erykah Bad Dudes concert. The perspective reminded me of a certain game, so I summoned my lackluster photoshop skills...

  read


5:19 AM on 05.22.2008

Gamespot Advertising Gets a Little Niche-ey

The Penny Arcade Adventures review causes some interesting items to come up in the keyword-based advertising that comes up in Gamespot.



The latest Adventures in Lolo cheats? HOLY HELL! That bitch Lala is gonna get her ass saved now that Lolo is buffed out with the hella 1337 cheats. I am so gonna burn through those dozens of puzzles now. Maybe those dawgs over at alottoolbars are gonna hook me up with some puzzle solutions, what what.

Upon further reflection, though, the bit under that is another interesting piece of advertising. I am not sure how gloating really helps with your business plan. I hope your face gets broken, jerk.

As a complete aside, I think I will be downloading the Penny Arcade game. A good story is usually good enough for me, and knowing that it's turn-based rather than a Kingdom Hearts clone that I thought it would be gives me some comfort. Anyone tried it yet? Good? Bad? Worthwhile?

The first thing that I'm getting next month, though, is D, D2, and Enemy Zero... I'm gonna put my Saturn to some good use.   read


11:51 AM on 05.10.2008

On Finally Getting a Wii, GTA IV, and Why Street Fighter The Movie: The Game isn't that bad.


I'm going home and controlling some Kylie Minogue! Take that, Oscar winner Raul Julia!

So, I did it. I went and bought a Wii. It looked like I wasn't even going to get one, what with the six I saw at the "Real Canadian Superstore" being sold out by the time I got back. But the clerk there recommended that I go to Mostly Music in scenic Port Coquitlam, BC (known as the town that gets all Predatored and Aliened up in Aliens Versus Predator 2: Bad Lighting). This store claims to have the largest used video game collection in Canada, and, well, I don't quite agree. But they also have Wiis. Expensive Wiis. The reason that they have them in stock is that the purchase price for their Wiis are $319.99, or $299.99 if you purchase 2 games. Given that Wiis retail for $269.99 normally, that's quite the mark-up that they got going on.

But I purchased two games, got the Wii, and figured that if I skip two dinners out this month, it'll all work out. The two games I got are pictured above.

The Wii

Stuff I Like: Connected online very easily, and I didn't have to wade through hours of installing and bullshit like with the PlayStation 3. And I love that virtual console. I love it. Yes, I know you guys like your emulators and all that, but I'd rather be playing my games on a TV, and not, you know, stealing them. Plus they're all coming out in progressive scan, and I don't have the video sync chop that I get playing my SNES on my HDTV (where the screen tears while scrolling sometimes).

My experience so far with actual Wii games has been limited, but I did enjoy my first two hours of No More Heroes, but I'm not entirely won over with the motion controls yet. I have to see more of it in action, and get used to it. I do like the split between the nunchuk and the wiimote, though, as it means I can play games at a more natural position.

I like the Miis, too. I do like all the sharing and stuff you can do with it. The Wii has a very inviting front end interface, especially compared with its competitors. Why each 360 blade other than the marketplace is essentially identical is beyond me. And don't get me started about that damn crossmedia bar in the PS3.

Stuff I Don't Like: Other than the usual friend code stuff, which you all know about and have formed your own opinions on, I have one other major gripe with the Wii. Its composite sound out is overamplified which causes some marginal audio clipping on the Wii menu. In the first second or two of the Wii menu music loop. I can hear faint distortion on the Wii menu, and apparently it's also there in other parts of the Wii menu screens and in Twilight Princess.

Thinking that maybe my television speakers were oversensitive to clipping (I never noticed it on Rooo's TV), I finally got some new speakers for my stereo and routed the audio output from my tv to that. Still some clipping, but not as bad. I could use the NeoGAF solution of a level reducer, but that's one of those overcomplicated solutions to small problems that those guys seem to love. I just find it weird that this problem hasn't been talked about too much. I know that I have to monitor audio outputs as part of my job, but you'd think that it would bug everyone.

Now that I've got my game systems hooked up to a real stereo again, rather than TV speakers, I've been thinking to myself... why didn't I do this years ago? I used to hook up my brother's SNES to a stereo system all the time. Did I forget how great it sounds? The giant leap in sound quality between the two? The incredible immersion? I just listened to Okami's soundtrack for a while, enjoying the real sense of space and separation between the instruments. Awesome.

Okami


Stuff I Like: I've never actually played this before, so it was great to experience it for myself. Honestly I was a little hesitant about purchasing it, just because I don't know if I can devote the time necessary to finish such a long quest. And I am really bad at Zelda games. Like horrifically bad. I played through one and a half dungeons in Ocarina of Time and said "fuck this" after getting hung up on some block pushing puzzle in a tree. Maybe it's because I grew up a Sega kid, but I never got into these games. And I will see how long I can last with Okami, but I think that its music, mood, and style have a definite appeal.

I seem to have problems not just making straight lines (which I understand now is simply because I'm moving the darn controller too slowly!), but also making solid and continuous lines. As I've only put an hour and a bit into the game, it's too early for me to really get a grasp on it, but like the review on this site says, it's worth putting effort in to learn.

Stuff I Don't Like: The funny thing is, I don't notice the graphics as much now as I did when I first saw the game on Rooo's PS2 a couple of years ago. I don't know if I'm just used to it now, or if there's some sort of graphical difference between the two versions, but I'm really not blown away. Yeah, the art style is nice, but... I don't know. The look isn't moving me. I feel terrible saying it, because I certainly respect the design. But now I'm looking at the bare environments, the 2D shrub sprites, and being all snotty about it. Maybe I need an injection of wonder and awe.

Street Fighter The Movie: The Game



Stuff I Like: Alright, I'm going to say something. Something controversial. Something appalling. And I might just save most of this for a more detailed look at the game. But from going back and playing both recently, I am going out on a limb here and am going to put for the record that I think Street Fighter The Movie: The Game for the Sega Saturn is a better game than Mortal Kombat. Yes, it's based on a terrible film. Yep, it's ugly and plays nowhere near as well as its animated brethren. It is but a sickly cousin that should have been drowned at birth. But it still retains the Street Fighter moves, for the most part, which already makes it markedly more entertaining than the irritating controls of the Mortal Kombat series. Plus the all-star cast... and you can beat a digitized Van Damme! That's way better than beating on Midway's secretary dressed up like Olivia Newton John in the Let's Get Physical video.



Stuff I Don't Like: Zangief looks kinda scrawny. And my Saturn's AV out cable is getting flaky, cutting off the sound sometimes. Looks like it's time to find a new one.

I'll spare you my Grand Theft Auto IV thoughts because I don't think that they're any different than the vast majority, although I might knock it down to an 8 out of 10 so far for some narrative shortcomings (Niko getting upset about killing a guy, and then taking a shotgun to drug dealers with no questions asked the next mission) and some awful, awful slowdown I experienced in my very first car chase, on my PS3. Still, great game, but Jeebus if game sites and magazines don't hand out 10s like they are rainbow leis at a pride parade.

So, since then, I downloaded Ninja Gaiden, Contra 3, River City Ransom, Blazing Lasers, and Super Mario Brothers 3 for the Wii, as well as getting Zack and Wiki with a gift certificate I got. I'm saving Zack and Wiki for later, in my pile of shame, because I've just got wayyyyy too many games on the go right now. Also picked up a Classic Controller but haven't had a chance to use it yet.

Damn work and social life!   read


10:11 PM on 04.30.2008

On Shield Bashing, No Gay Bashing, and Sneaking in Metal Gear Solid Online. Also, GTAIVPS3VS360.



Alright, alright, I admit it: I was rather glib in my initial impressions of the Metal Gear Solid Online Beta. After some more time with that game, my heart has warmed to it. Especially since it has added one new feature, and I've mastered another.

In general terms, what I do like about it is that it isn't another shooter. I got very annoyed about it trying to play it like one. The physical interactions with other players do put it on a different level, admittedly, though, one that isn't entirely functional. There is much to do in MGS Online, but not all of it is useful.

I've warmed up to the level design, and in fact, am really digging the "factory" style level, with many open hangers, rooftop hideouts, etcetera. I am a little let down that the tranq guns are so underpowered: it takes four solid hits to knock anyone out, which means that you're going to have to be sniping for a long time, while one bullet to the head is an instant kill.

The graphics? Some levels look good, but I have found that some of the buildings look "lego blocky", which I think is due in part to how your characters respond to the environment. They've sacrificed authenticity to make each level a large playset, which unfortunately means a lot of squares, chunky railings, and right angles. There are many vehicles dotted around the city map, but, shockingly, you can't crawl under them which seems like a huge oversight in the MGS universe. As for the vehicles themselves, they are crude looking, a bit too PS2ish for me to be really pleased with them. Overall it's not a bad looking game, great in parts, but isn't a huge step forward that I was imagining, and not as immediately impressive as others that have been released in the past year.

Here are some highlights I took from the beta:

Shield Bashing

Yes, the shield is my new favorite weapon in Metal Gear Solid Online. The riot shield carried in MGS2 and such is not only a solid defense, but a great non-lethal offensive weapon. Since absolutely no one was using it, ever, it was also one that people didn't know how to react against. You just keep on marching towards them, shield in front, crouching so that they can't shoot at your feet, as they frantically fire at you and back away. If you catch up to them, smash them in the face with your shield. One hit usually knocks them off their feet, and you can continue hitting them until they fall unconscious, at which point their inert body is your plaything.

Yes, you can pat them on the stomach, lift them up and use them as a personal shield, or quickly kill them with your stun knife. Or you can just pull them around for a while and keep dropping them. It's all fun, light-hearted, and reminds me of the best of Metal Gear Solid 2.

That isn't to say that the shield is an unstoppable weapon: just dive around the guy with the shield and hit him from behind if he's coming towards you, or sneak around him and shoot him from his soft, vulnerable rear. Easy. But its rarity as a used weapon (it replaces your primary weapon, so you'll be without any machine guns or sniper rifles) means that not everyone knows how to deal with it. The shield is also pretty much useless in open spaces as an offensive weapon, with only the small, confined levels suited for its CQC abilities.

No Gay Bashing

Voice chat support on the PS3 has always been a big ball of mystery for me. While I have actually, honestly got it to work in Burnout: Paradise with little problem, every other game (IE: Warhawk) will just have short cuts of conversation, people asking "Hello? Hello?" and irritating clicking sounds. This one is no different. So everyone is communicating using the canned phrases in the online beta. You know what? I like it better that way.

Yes, yes, it's archaic, and my dislike for 12 year olds yelling at me is deeply rooted in the fact that I'm not very good at video games, and that I'm old. But it's nice to play a game online without being screeched at, called "gay" or a "faggot", having to quit due to everyone telling racist jokes, etcetera. I'm sure it'll be ruined later, but for now, it's a nice online haven.

Sneaking Mode

Yes, it's a bit of a crib from Splinter Cell. But the Sneaking Mode is pretty damn awesome. Three teams, red, blue, and snake. Red and blue rack up points by killing each other or snake. Snake racks up points by holding up or knocking out red or blue guys and stealing their tags. Not only is it a nice preview for how Snake is going to play, but it's really fun. And I'm absolutely terrible at playing Snake. (Good at killing him, though.)

I'm still not entirely sure how I should be approaching holding up guys, but I was never great at it in Metal Gear Solid 2. I'm just not a sneaky guy. Still, I think with practice, even a terrible stealther like me will get the hang of it.

***

So I'm still debating the PS3 or 360 version of Grand Theft Auto IV. I think that for these sort of games (3rd person), I'm going to side with the PlayStation controller, but I do like the idea of a more functional online experience. Then again, I have a deep and passionate hatred for the general public on XBox Live, so... I don't know.

And the PS3 version has like seventy less P than the 720P 360 version. Those Ps are pretty important, you know. Gotta max out your P. On my 34" HDTV, I don't know if it would make much difference. Right now I'm leaning towards the PlayStation 3 one, but I'll wait and see how bad the 60gig models like mine are faring with it.

I went back and played San Andreas for a few hours the other day... dear lord, Las Venturas is an ugly, ugly design for a city. Some parts are sub GTA III... you can tell it was the last thing that they worked on, and there's a certain lack of effort there.

Explosives and traffic pileups never get old, though. Alright. Now I'm officially excited for the new one, I admit it.   read


3:43 PM on 04.26.2008

Incredible Times With the Metal Gear Solid Online Beta!

Here, in pictures, is my incredible time with Metal Gear Solid Online yesterday! Needless to say, I'm going back for more. Exciting, different, radical, it's a game like no other online shooter in which you shoot people in deathmatches and tactical games.


Here I am assaulting the blue team base with my Nikita missiles. Those jerkfaces don't know what's coming!


Check out the poly count on this close-up. I'd say I've seen photo-realism before, but this takes the cake.


Man! I totally got owned there!


Just when you think you've won the battle, the enemy comes in for a regrouped assault, making me wait in the trenches for another fifteen minutes.


As a "hacker" you must crack the code in order to infiltrate the base and win. Watch out for "website crashes" or else you'll be forced to start over.


Just like in the offline game, helpful comments steer you towards your goals.

MAN! What an incredible game...   read


1:41 AM on 04.11.2008

Are you getting better or worse at games as you get older?

We're getting older. One day, before you know it, you'll be walking by O'Douls pub on Granville street, and see kids with their Fallout Boy haircuts and, for some reason, see that half of them are dressed like zombies, and you'll say to yourself: "I am so not a bright-eyed youth any more."

And that's okay. We all grow older. There's good things about it, too. For instance: I'm almost done paying off my 2004 Mustang GT, which most of us couldn't have afforded as a teenager. (Except for you rich jerks with nice parents.) I have an apartment with no parents around. I can afford to buy more than one video game system at a time.

There's one thing that's been on my mind recently, as I age: am I getting better or worse at video games?

Better

Evidence: Deus Ex for the PC.


Use your stealth powers... in the face!

I received Deus Ex as a Christmas present in the year 2000, at the tender age of 20. I installed it on my then-pretty-good Athlon Thunderbird PC with a half-decent Matrox card. Unfortunately, it didn't run great at the time. While I loved the ideas behind the game, I remember that it was a constant source of frustration. The game was pushing you towards being stealthy and non-lethal, but at the same time, was pretty stingy with its ammunition, especially non-lethal stuff like tranquilizer darts and stun prods. The very first mission, in the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, I remember taking me hours upon hours. I couldn't do it without getting caught and killing dozens. I did keep on playing it until I eventually got very stuck, without ammo, and hemmed in by the pretty good AI. Then when I wiped my system and reinstalled everything with a better video card, and couldn't reinstall Deus Ex, the disk had reading errors.

Deus Ex lay on my computer desk for the next seven years, until a few weeks ago, whereupon I had learned of the freezing trick for getting a scratched CD to work. I tried it with a copy of Blue Stinger, and hey, it works. I put it in the freezer overnight, let it thaw out in the fridge for an hour, and the disk worked. Stressing and contracting the surface plastic expands the scratches, so they obscure the disk less, or something. Anyway. I installed Deux Ex on my much faster PC, and tried it again. The Statue of Liberty? No problem. Playing it on the "realistic" difficulty level, too. Getting stealthily by all those guards wasn't a big deal at all. I'm more methodical. I save often, check nooks and crannies for any datapads left around, and then hotwire the security systems to make them do the work for me. Maybe it's that I've got more experience with the stealth genre now. Or just more experience with video games in general. I also am not so impulsive, and I've realized that game designers, especially in these open-ended PC worlds, almost always give you a back-door option that is intrinsically easier. BioShock taught me the joys of letter machines and others do the work for you. The game is well-designed in letting you be as sneaky as you want, something I just didn't get at 20.

That being said, I am at a pretty hard point in the game - tracking down the Ambrosia shipment means going into a room with half a dozen soldiers, not easy to do if your goal is to not kill anyone. Gas grenades ahoy, I think!

Evidence: SpellCaster for the Sega Master System.


1989: Freaky hard. 2007: Pffft. No problem.

This Castlevania-crossed-with-Shadowgate action / adventure hybrid stumped me as a kid. My brother purchased it in 1989, as it was billed as being a follow-up to Phantasy Star in Electronic Gaming Monthly or Video Games and Computer Entertainment. It wasn't, but it was still good. But I couldn't play it. I was terrible at it. The action sequences were just too hard for me. Now, by that time I was almost 10. My running and jumping skills were fine, but decoding the boss battles was a little more than I could handle.

Cut to 2007, and I'm on vacation back at my parents house in Ottawa. I hook up the old Sega Master System, and give SpellCaster a try. Admittedly, I'm using the six-button Genesis asciipad and not one of those shitty Sega Master System controllers, but this game is easier. Much easier. Yeah, I have GameFAQs to lean on for the slightly incomprehensible adventuring portions, but the boss-battles were not the challenges they once were. What has changed? I've learned to look into all the magic spells available. There are plenty there that do lots of damage, or heal you completely. Save your magic for the boss, use your strong attack magic, and you can pretty much just sit there and destroy him. I didn't consider that possibility as a kid. Now they're toast. Also, it gave you a flying spell you could use to get past the worst of the platforming sections, which, given my abhorrence for precision jumping, came in useful.

Worse

Evidence: Mega Man 1/2 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.


Pretty much what watching me play Mega Man looks like.

I used to be not bad at these games, not bad at all. I remember renting Mega Man 2 with my friend Lee for his Nintendo, and destroying it pretty quickly with him. And that was without even knowing the best combinations of weapons to use with what boss - he didn't have a Nintendo Power subscription.

Now, going back and playing the Mega Man games on the XBox collection, I'm finding myself really, really bad at these action / platforming sections. I fall all the time. Seriously, all the fucking time. While the bosses are much easier than they use to be, getting there takes me hours. I have vivid memories of getting through the Elec Man and Fire Man stages fast, but now... it's just brutal.

Evidence: Wonder Boy in Monster Land for the Sega Master System.


About as far as I can get in this game before throwing controller down in disgust.

This side-scrolling Zelda II style game was great for the time, with one caveat: you couldn't save your game. Ever. Imagine a six hour quest, with difficult bosses, upgraded weapons, etcetera, where you can't save. It's nuts. I believe that my brother bought this with his own money, or received it as a birthday present in 1987 or 1988.

But I got pretty close to beating it. My brother Nick (11 or 12) beat it. I used to not mind the idea that I would be sent back tot he beginning of the game if I died (though you could get extra lives).

I try playing it now, and I can't make it past the second boss. Maybe it's a lack of desire. Maybe I'm just not as good as I used to be. Maybe I'm so out of the rhythms required to be good at these games. I know that I'm absolute shit at most platformers now, but it was a skill that I once had. Is it because I'm getting old?

(Note: My dad finished Super Monster World. He was 40. So there you go.)

Sorry for not writing for a while, my core writing time has been taken up by Professor Layton and that freaking Curious Village. Honestly, though, love the game... definitely the best DS game I've played. I don't get why people hate the music, though. I guess I have a soft spot for accordians.   read


3:25 AM on 04.03.2008

My Week(s) in JRPGs - March 17 to April 1.

My second attempt at keeping a log on my progress with the giant pile of JRPGs that I'm working through. As you can see, I only tackled two of the games on my list, although I probably should note that you could also add Golden Sun and Suikoden to the list but I really only played both for about an hour each in the past couple of months, so I wouldn't really worry about them.

Without further ado, here are my exploits for the past two weeks. The Chrono Trigger bit is loooooong... feel free to skip.

As always, remember, plenty of spoilers.

Chrono Trigger



Estimated Progress: Half-way through? Maybe more. I know it's a short game.
Where Am I? When you last heard from Modus (Crono) and his crew, they'd just entered the End of Time, with the strange man waiting at a lamppost for us. Also open was the opportunity to fight Lavos, which upon loading the game, I figured I might as well try for. So, Lavos is a collection of every boss fight in the game, huh? That's what it seems like as I chopped through his many forms. At first, he was ridiculously easy, and I just used the same strategies that I did for the bosses the first time around. And then I fought a couple of bosses I'd yet to encounter - a bit of a spoiler for myself, perhaps, but what the hey. I was surprised enough that I could mow through a few more with no problem. The third boss in from where I was at in the game, though, eventually killed us. I can't remember exactly what the form was, but it was a fairly easy victory for Lavos. Needless to say, I wasn't ready to fight him.
So there were portals open now to Prehistoric Times, back to the year 600, the Proto Dome in 2300, and the village of Medina (I think? Funky and cold?). I thought about heading back to the past, but figured that I needed to get everyone back to our time. So I headed to the village of Medina, a weird monster-ran village where everyone was dancing around a statue of the big baddy, Magus. The village isn't particularly friendly, though. Pretty much every monster guy I talk to ends up fighting me, and I have to graciously slam their ugly monster faces into the ground. Possibly not the best behavior for a guest, I admit. Everyone is enjoying their magic powers, except for Aygo (Robo) who didn't get any. What with being a robot and all. So, Modus, Fabia (the girl), and Aygo go next door, to this human guy hiding in a cabin. He seems unusually located, but still offers to sell us stuff. I buy, and then we head into the cave. Ah, Final Fantasy caves. That is to say, this area seemed very Final Fantasy-like. I run a big sweeping path through the place, getting to the whirlpool at the end quickly. The boss there is dispatched easily, no match for our skill.
From there, we are unceremoniously ejected from the water spout, and sent flying back to the village where the game started. From there, I find another time portal thingie, and head back in, which pushes me back to the End of Time. From there, I head back to the year 600, why, I can't quite remember. There I find that the kingdom is in a big kerfuffle with the monsters to the south, and everyone is talking about a new hero kid walking around. There's lots of wounded soldiers, and the cook is acting like kind of a dick because he's pissed off with his brother fighting down south. I go to the bridge, and see soldiers getting their asses handed to them. I can't go and fight with them, for some reason, although I'm pretty sure at this point I could easily destroy the enemies there. No, I have to go back, convince the cook to do his fricking job, cart that food back to the bridge, and then finally fight wave after wave of skeletons. Easy enough. Then I have to fight a zombie boss, whose legs and head are separate creatures. Still, not too hard, though I think he did end up killing one of my people. The bridge cleared, I make my way to the two available towns to see if I can find the hero. Everyone's talking about him, but he's not there. They also mention a frog hiding out in the forest, so I check that out. Tigra, the frog knight, is there, but he feels cowed by the new hero everyone's raving about. I go out to the mountains, and find out that the hero is actually some scared kid who found the hero medal. Then I get some flashbacks to the frog, who was previously human, watching his knight friend get totally owned by Magus and his floaty friend.
Some more fighting, beat a boss, get the sword part of Masamune. I take that back to the frog man, stopping by way of the hero's house to watch him get totally scolded by his dad. Little dork. Take everything back to the frog, and I get both parts of the sword. By deciphering the clue on the sword, which is helpfully explained to me by Aygo, I realize that I have to bring it back to that guy by the village of Medina. Christ, that's a lot of time hopping. I do that, and he says he can fix it if I get some of those red rocks that haven't existed for thousands of years. Taking the cue, I know that I just need to go on one more ride in the whirlpool, and head to the Prehistoric Era.
Fabia, Ignis (Lucia), and Modus all get prehistorical on people, fighting through some jungle areas and meeting a new friend, Agila (the cavewoman there.) There's some partying, some dancing, and then I'm told about a hunting ground I can take everyone on where I can some rare loot, d00d. I go to what I think is the hunting ground, but is actually a valley that I need to go to much later. I'm curious about why the enemies are so difficult, but press on until the end, where I find... nothing. Nothing but an oddly glimmering red star which I figure has absolutely nothing to do with something later. So I go back to see Agila, and this time, we end up needing to get our time-travelling pendant back. Stolen by some dino-jerks. I follow the footprints back to their tower, eventually, and then get instantly bugged by this maze.
I realize eventually you can fall through a variety of holes as dug by the little burrowing guys, so I try foolhardily to get every damn little treasure chest out there. No luck, I can't figure out how to get into one of the entrances, and I'm tired of fighting the same damn enemies over and over. I give up, and then slaughter the big dino-boss, and get my pendant back. Agila stays in her time, but I get the impression I'll see her again soon.
Back in the year 1000, I get the sword fixed, with the help of Aygo, in a very vintage-90s cutscene.
I take that back to the year 600, give it to Tigra, who decides to quit his whining and help out. We all head over to Magus's hideout, which ends up being a very NES looking castle. (The outside view of the castle isn't exactly a graphical highlight of the game, even if it's detailed.) Then I do some rummaging around inside, fight Slash and Flea (oh, I get it.) before tackling big floaty Ozzie. Easy-peazy, Japanesey, especially with the Tigra-Aygo-Modus Delta attack.. From there, I launch an all-out assault on Magus, who turns the tables by triggering some kinda time thing. Not exactly sure what happened there, but it wasn't good. I end up back in Prehistoric times, Agila joins me, and then Rooo points out where the actual hunting grounds are. Oh. So I go do some fighting there, kill a Nu thing, and then go back to that place where I found the red star before - which turns out to be good ol' Lavos coming in for some killin'. From there, I confront the king of all the Dinos (for some reason). After besting him, he whines a bit, and then... uh. I think somehow I end up in 12,000 BC, in which the world is covered by an ice age, and snotty intellectuals float up in the sky. I meet a brother and sister, get arrested by their bitchy Mom, charge up my pendant, and then narrowly escape, the portal back to that time being sealed.
And that's about where I am now. I went around looking for magic-locked chests in a couple of time periods, got bugged that I couldn't upgrade Agila with magic (She's from a time before magic? Pffft. Whatever.) and then went back to the Proto Dome time. I was challenged to a race again, which I lost at the last second, ugh, and got a race log. Oh, Square games, always making me do shit I don't care about, like future car racing or Blitzball. Anyway. I went back to the place I remembered a magic-locked door from, the dome with the depressed villagers. No luck getting to the door - I can see it, but can't reach it. I'm trying to remember if I saw another one around there. I'll do some more exploring soon.
Thoughts So Far: It reminds me of an action-RPG that has turn-based combat almost imposed on it. I could see the whole game working relatively well as a Secret of Mana action RPG, not much would really be lost on it. The combo system with your characters is my favorite part of the relatively simple combat system, reminding me of some awesome combos you could get going in Phantasy Star IV. The game works best due to, and I think is so fondly remembered because of the myriad little adventures included in it. Instead of having one overreaching goal with which you are handed irritating roadblocks, the game seems very episodic, with interesting little chapters, each with their own goals. Only after defeating Magus did the forward momentum of the plot start to lag. I know what I'm supposed to do right now, but going back here just isn't too exciting. And I have to find the right damn door. I see one. Why can't I open the stupid thing? Why? Oh well. I'll figure it out.

Lost Odyssey



Estimated Progress: One quarter of the way through? Onto disk 2 now.
Where Am I? Last we left our heroes, we were in Numara, and I was looking into getting some crystal fragments for a whiny artist. I decided to bite the bullet and go west, which I knew would lead me to about two hours of crying. I was right. That's a whole lot of crying. Kaim is reunited with his daughter, and grand-children, Palom and Porum. Most of the direct control during this sequence involves stick gathering and flower-picking. It cuts back to some very Final Fantasy XII / Tactics style scenes involving the conniving (yet kinda hot) Gongora and the noble prince. The prince gets attacked and kills that one mustached guy, but then you see that, wait, the mustached guy was actually killed by a giant snake, who either is Gongora, or is controlled by him, or something, as evidenced by his big laughing head being super-imposed over the snake. Anyway. Back to funeral time, and the ridiculously dressed funeral coordinator bosses around the kids for a while until, in an actually rather poignant scene, they burn the ties binding them physically to their mother, who floats off to the sea. Lets hope she doesn't get snagged on some rocks nearby, or the kids are gonna have a nasty surprise in a few weeks when they investigate what the seagulls are pecking at.
Mack, being a child, gets into trouble by running away. Unfortunately, there is no option to "shrug your shoulders and move on", so I have to go save him from the spooky forest. I stop by Numara first, find a couple of dreams, buy some items, and then experience the joy of the game crashing. I find the dreams again, find a third dream, rebuy the items, get my skills all linked and in order, save and try to leave Numara again. The game crashes again.
I leave the game for the night, and come back to it, working my way through the forest, my progress halted by three more irritating crashes. The worst seems to be when the Kelokons (or however you write it) call for help - frequently when they summon aid, the screen freezes and then gives me the unreadable disk error.
Before wrapping up the crimson forest, I decide to call Microsoft to see about getting my older 360 serviced. I'm told that the extension to the warranty only covers the Red Rings of Death, and then the ever-so-helpful support guy told me how to clear out my cache, which I've already done before. Oh well. No luck. I go back and attack the final boss of the disk, an epic fight against... Mack! Unfortunately, my strategy of making everyone attack him results in his quick death, so in attempt 2, I stumble around with status effects until I find the one that works. Porum's rescued, flowers grow, and then... insert disk 2! Which Rooo is still finishing up with, so Lost Odyssey is on hiatus.
After ejecting the disk, I notice that it is a little dirty. Hm. I'll try cleaning it, and there's always the freezer trick, which recently resurrected a copy of Blue Stinger and Deus Ex. Oh, the freezer trick.
Thoughts So Far Makes me wish I had a newer 360. This unreadable disk shit is annoying. I'll clean the disk and get a DVD lens cleaning disk too, just to make sure that that's not a problem. I would like this game a whole lot more if it didn't crash, or the music didn't randomly halt.
As for the game itself, well... I like the stories. The three that I found were good, especially the one about Myna. Myra? The Letters from a Weakling one. The combat is great, but the stalling is getting so distracting that I rue it. Plus the frequent random encounters do take a little too long.

So that's it. No Lost Odyssey for a little while, or at least, until Rooo is done with Disk 2. Going to try to finish Chrono Trigger and go back to Earthbound and Final Fantasy XII.

I'm not sure if I'm happy with this format. Too long winded... just trying something new. I am thinking about getting a RCA-to-DV box and directly recording some gameplay, cut down on the writing and just bringing you the highlights and videos of my actual gameplaying, which would be a heck of a lot more interesting. The box is less then a hundred bucks on the eBay..   read





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