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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.


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?


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.


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

12:20 AM on 04.02.2008

Hey stores. Take my money. Take it. Aw, to hell with you.

It's April, and I've got a hundred bucks put away for my gaming habit this month. I haven't bought much in the past few months, what with getting the SNES and all, the sole exception being Chrono Trigger.

So I went out shopping on Vancouver's main drag, Robson Street, with a budget in my mind, and some games on my shopping list. To wit, these games are: Professor Layton's Curious Village and Call of Duty 4. After visiting the HMV Superstore (formerly the Virgin Megastore), Future Shop, and London Drugs, I came away empty handed. That's right: none of these stores had either game. Honestly, as far as Professor Layton goes, I'm not that surprised. Most big electronics and games retailers aren't poised to appreciate weird creative games that aren't movie tie-ins and don't have "z" as their pluralizer. But why the hell is Call of Duty 4 sold out?

The mall that houses the local EB Games, of course, closes at 7pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I got there at 7:30 PM. I think it was at that point I started mumbling "Vancouver sucks!" under my breath, but then stopped, because that's something that a crazy person would do.

Now they did have some other games around, which I thought about but didn't buy. As much as I'd like to get a new game, I'm not going to pay more than I want for something I'm on the fence about. Let's have a look at what they did have in stock, and why I didn't get it:

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2

Price: $64.99-69.99
Why I Didn't Buy It: I'm not sure how much I would enjoy this game. I also am not sure whether I should go for the PlayStation3 or 360 version, although in this case, I am leaning more towards the 360 as I have a lot more friends with 360s than PS3s. Either way, the big draw for me is the split screen multiplayer and playing it with Rooo, but those sessions only happen about once a week for two or so hours, and I don't even know if he'd have any interest in that. Besides, I always want these games to be like SWAT 4, and when I hear that there are "enemy spawn points" I just sigh internally and cross the game off my list. Unless the price drops soon, or I hear incredibly fantastic stories about playing this, I don't know if I would pick it up. If I do get it, I'm going to have to borrow Rooo's Live Vision Camera so I can put myself in the game.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates

Price: $39.99 - ??? (Future Shop didn't have any price tags on it.)
Why I Didn't Buy It: This is another one that I want to play multiplayer with Rooo, but he's hesitant about picking it up until he's had a chance to try it himself. The thing is, nine times out of ten when Rooo borrows a game to see if he likes it, he tries it for a few minutes, puts it down, and then says "eh" and won't buy it. So I think odds of him actually picking this one up are slim to none, which means I'd have to play it solo, and I pretty much hate playing DS games solo.

Rainbow Six: Vegas

Price: $29.99-49.99
Why I Didn't Buy It: I must admit to being tempted when I saw this for $30 at Future Shop. I'm not sure if it has the same great co-op gameplay, though, and there's something empty and lifeless about Ubisoft shooters that leaves them collecting dust on my shelf, like GRAW and those Splinter Cell games.


Price: $39.99
Why I Didn't Buy It: I wanted something I could play right now, rather than something I would have to wait to get a group of friends around to play. I do like the idea, though, of absolutely destroying Rooo and his roommate at a trivia game, though, and I've heard that this one is much, much better than the Scene It rip off.

Call of Duty 4 (PS3)

Price: $49.99-59.99
Why I Didn't Buy It: Once again, the PlayStation3's shitty online service and the lack of people I know with PS3s rears its ugly head. Plus I'm not sure how much I like the awful R2 and L2 buttons for shooting. It seems like a game I'd be happier playing on the 360.


Price: $69.99
Why I Didn't Buy It: Seventy bucks. SEVENTY BUCKS? The game is like eight years old. Alright. A year and a half. Seventy bucks? Tell them they're dreaming.

The Club

Price: $49.99
Why I Didn't Buy It: I'm on the fence about this one. I like the idea of the short burts of gameplay, and the idea of playing for score, but I don't know if I could sucker anyone else into competing with me for scores. They only had it for PS3, and honestly, I couldn't remember whether or not there was a 360 version. It could be a surprisingly good game like Mercenaries turned out to be, but the character design looks so bland and uninspired... I do have a lot of respect for Bizarre, so should I give or take ten bucks and consider it in the forty dollar range? I don't know.

The main problem with the big budget 360 games is that they're all shooters (except for Skate), and they're all what I would call Forty Dollar Games. Games that I would pick up for about thirty bucks less, but I wouldn't pay full retail for because, frankly, I don't think I'd end up playing them for more than a week or two. Now I'm not going to go on a rant about how games are too expensive - I think that paying $60-70 for a game that you are going to sink twenty or more hours into and really enjoy the hell out of, that's fine. But for these kind of generic sounding shooters which rely heavily on multiplayer... I only get into multiplayer sometimes, and I rarely feel like devoting more than an hour or two to trying to hack through them online, unless I'm playing with friends.

So, what should I be picking up with my hundred bucks? I'll wait and see with Rooo this weekend and get some of his input. I can always order Professor Layton off of amazon... how have you people been enjoying the above games? Anyone doing the multiplayer grind with Crystal Chronicles? Think I could sucker Rooo into getting it as well? Of course, I could buy two copies and have that be my game budget for the month, but... I don't think I'm that nice.   read

1:42 AM on 04.01.2008

You know you hate them: stealth sections in non-stealth games.

Ah, Stealth. You can thank Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu for bringing this ubiquitous gameplay mechanic into popular attention. Although games like Airborne Ranger and the original Metal Gear had toyed with this mechanic in the 2D world years ago, but it wasn't until Snake snuck around guards in 3D that everyone fell in love with the mechanic. And game designers, being the original chaps that they are, ran en masse to start throwing little stealth portions in their games, regardless of whether or not stealth had any right to be in there.

The designers might claim they stuck it in to change up the pace, give players something a little different to do. But, by that logic, "a little different" means "something that they've already done to death in a dozen other games". We're not going to look at bad stealth-based games like "Alias", where the shitty stealth is an integral portion of the gameplay. Instead we'll look at games where the stealth portions seem so arbitrary and tacked on that they detract for the actual game's relative goodness.

6. Lost Odyssey

What the hell is a stealth section doing here? While on the way to Numara, Kaim and her (wait, no, his) companions are arrested, possibly for murdering dozens of Numarian soldiers, which you did do. Guilt aside, you decide to circumvent the Numarian justice system and, using Alan Tudyk's doppelganger Jansen, get past your cell's guard. Unfortunately, ever step from here on out is monitored by an eyeball shaped robot. You must dodge past their relatively slow, ponderous routines in order to get out of the jail.

What's so wrong with this? At first, the only problem is that the game decides to slow everything down with a pointless cutscene each time you see an eyeballbot. The actual evasion is simple enough. In the second room, there is much less margin for error, and combined with the terrible, non-adjustable camera angles, the eyeballbots do become frustrating. Now, you don't die when you get caught by them, just sent back to the beginning of the maze, but the last three, which are closely grouped together, brought me to the point of yelling at the screen. The lack of camera control makes it just random on whether or not you trigger their alert. There are two in the south-west portion of the room that seem to be very specifically guarding something, and you have to dodge past two sightlines, one of which is always unseen due to the camera, to get there. The worst part? The really worst fricking part? There's nothing down there. Absolutely nothing. All in all, this section is so short that you can't bitch about it too much. It just had nothing to do with the rest of the game and was an annoying diversion.

5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

What the hell is a stealth section doing here? Your pal, irritating rapper OG Loc, needs to get his rhyme book back from millionaire rapper Madd Dogg, so you, being the swell and helpful fellow that you are, decide to help him out. Although you are a one-man army capable of bringing down the FBI and the entire state police, you decide to eschew such firepower for the quiet killing ability of a knife. From here on in, it's sneaking and stabbing as you make your way into the studio and grab the book. The killing is a direct borrowing of such activities in Manhunt, so the basic mechanics have been used before, and are relatively familiar.
What's so wrong with this? Manhunt was a game all about the stealth kills, so borrowing from that can't be so bad, right? Sadly, no. Just as the music game in San Andreas missed the point of what makes music games good, this stealth game has absolutely no entertainment factor. Although it functions basically like Manhunt does, it doesn't have the same great motion capture. And the environments in which stealth are used are the terrible Rockstar indoor set, so be prepared for bland, PS1-era hallways and a lot of shuddering cameras. The worst part of it, though, is that it all seems so pointless. CJ doesn't seem like a guy with a lot of subtlety, and he also already has the weapons and skill to take almost everyone down. Why does he only need to bring a knife? Why not a gun and a silencer? Yes, they want to teach you a new gameplay mechanic, but it's one that sees so little use in the game that you'll end up forgetting it an hour later. And yet, it's far from the worst offender on this list.

4. Final Fantasy XII

What the hell is a stealth section doing here? Well, uh... you're trying to get into the castle, see? And with the help of the palace servants you get in, right? So once you are upstairs, you get a fun little diversion of having to wrangle around very, very dimwitted guards, whose cone of vision is tiny. Calling a guard basically drags them to a new corner, after which they give up and stop looking for you, just sitting there. So what you have to do is get the guards parked in an order which allows you to get to the magicite you need. And that's about it.
What's so wrong with this? Though it's not a difficult stealth portion, it's just odd and out of place. The guards have no AI, and very little vision, to the point that you'd really have to want to get caught in order to fail that sequence. That does, however, make for some irritating and boring gameplay. It is very close in execution to the above scene in Lost Odyssey, but without the timing requirements. On the plus side, the camera is controllable, and the whole shebang lasts about five minutes, after which you can rejoice in never having to do it again.

3. Indigo Prophecy / Farenheit

What the hell is a stealth section doing here? Lucas, your beleaguered, occasionally possessed hero, meets with his brother at their parents grave site to have a heart to heart. And what better thing to reminisce about from your childhood than that one stealth sequence you had? In this childhood flashback, Lucas has a vision of the hangar in which his brother Markus was playing blowing up, so it's up to him to get from his house on the army base to the hanger, without getting caught by any guards. (It's past your bedtime, you see.)
What's so wrong with this? The worst offense committed by this stealth section is that it kills the forward momentum of the plot. Although it does give you some needed backstory about your protagonist and his powers, it ends up eating far too much playing time. Unlike the stealth portions above, this one is actually rather difficult, although since it's a memory, you just get confused and say "that's not how it happens" any time you get caught. A major problem of this stealth sequence is that the game's control just isn't really built for it. For stealth to really work, the game has to be thought of as a stealth game from the ground up, not have sightlines and hiding pushed into as an afterthought. It's also just a little illogical. You live on this base, and yet you are treated like terrorist number one when you are caught on the grounds. Lighten up, guys. Oh, btw, that hangar is totally about to blow up. kthxbye. (The ending of this stealth scene, where you have to convince the kids to get out of the hangar, is something else entirely - one of the best examples of games as true interactive fiction. Though it is possible to rescue all of the hiding kids, the game runs with whatever ending you come up with, and incorporates it into the future narrative, whether it's the trauma of watching his childhood friends die, or his feelings of pride for having saved their lives.)

2. The Getaway: Black Monday

What the hell is a stealth section doing here? I'm not entirely sure. I do know that every time you end up playing as the spunky teen girl Sam, it turns into a generally dull, slow stealth game instead of a thrill-a-minute shooting-and-driving game that the Getaway should be. The first stealth scene, in the gym, following a bloody shoot-out, isn't so bad. You can pretty much breeze through it, and it is a bit of a fun alternative to the hypermasculine shooty bits that normally come from this genre. And Sam is, shockingly, a non-sexualized, fun, interesting female character in an action game. Good heavens. Then, after an entertaining enough sequence of stealing a utility van to sneak into the corporate headquarters, it all goes to shittown, population: irritating.
What's so wrong with this? Yep, you will come to dread these scenes, as you are playing as someone without the means to defend herself, and the only option when confronted by bad guys or guards is to, you know, just let them kill you. Slowly. These sections highlight what is the weakest portion of the Getaway series: the terrible, terrible level design. Samey office after samey office are in front of you, obfuscating the correct path, making you run around in circles, and get generally pissed off. While this game at least has the good forethought to use the correct control style for sneaking games, it also has erratic detection from the AI, and some irritating camera movements. But this one scene, in the Scobel building, is so game-breakingly boring, long, and bad that it actually prevented me from finishing the game. After an hour of trying to maneover around guards, getting lost in the shitty level design, and then not being able to do anything about getting caught, I said "Sucks to this!" and put the game back on my shelf, never to be played again.

1. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

What the hell is a stealth section doing here? There are a few stealth bits thrown around this game, some of which come off better than others. One, later in the game, involving avoiding detection by evil robots, is actually pretty fun, but the scene in the catacombs is what moves Dreamfall to the forefront of bad stealth sections. You are in the catacombs in the fantasy side of the universe, having snuck in via a relatively harmless set of sneaking. Inside, things are different. Unlike before, where there is relatively little punishment for getting caught by these little troll guys, here, any detection cuts to a very jarring shot of a screaming, giant monster, a bit like that one at the beginning of Another World. (The game, not the soap opera.) You have to solve some odd icon-based puzzles here, all while not getting caught by the pointlessly shambling little troll guys.
What's so wrong with this? This game wasn't built for stealth. It works in the other scenes because it's generally easy, but here, it suddenly switches from a pleasant diversion to game-stoppingly awful. The controls aren't good enough for this, especially camera-wise. The AI is too good at picking you up. It ceases being fun and becomes something worse than work. When I say that the cut to the screaming giant monster is jarring, let me put it to you this way: it's freaking nerve-shattering. And the punishment of getting caught by these guys, who are frequently off-screen, and whose line-of-vision you have absolutely no means of understanding, is not just this cut, but then the pursuit by this invincible monster. So, yes, getting caught by one of those guys is an instant "load your game" scenario, it even says so in GameFAQs. Now I don't like doing a lot of things in video games, but one thing that I really, really don't like doing is going on GameFAQs to solve puzzles. But these catacombs were so annoying, with their unfair instant death and all, that after an hour of getting SCREECHED at by Growly McKillsYou, I once again said "Sucks to this!". But as the plot of Dreamfall seemed to be going somewhere, I didn't put the game away, I just looked up the solution to the catacombs, beat it, and then went back to enjoying one of the best games I've played this decade.

Next time on You Know You Hate Them: what do you get when you cross a soundtrack in need of filling, a surprisingly small music budget, and corporate shills who don't give a fuck? That's right: from listening to Avril while car crashing, to banging your drums to "B-I-N-G-O", we're going to take a look at the worst licensed music in games history.   read

3:29 AM on 03.24.2008

RPG Spotlight Contest - Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire

What the hell is it? Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire is a hybrid adventure game and roleplaying game created by Sierra Online in 1990, released on PC and Amiga. It was developed by husband and wife team Lori Ann and Corey Cole, using the venerable SCI graphics engine used in such games as King's Quest IV, Police Quest II, etcetera. While it may have the look and feel of the "Quest" games of the time, gameplay was combat and stat-based. So your interactions with environments and characters were very much in the vein of its contemporaries, with a text parser used to input commands and carry on conversations, combat was a relatively simple parry, dodge, and swing system like that used in The Immortal. You choose a thief, mage, or warrior, or create a combination of any of the three, and through combat and adventuring, boost his stats, learn new spells and abilities, until by the end of the game, you are an unstoppable burglar, wizard, or walking tank.

The game is a direct sequel to the events of the almost-as-good Hero's Quest: So You Want to Be A Hero. (Sierra had to change the title of the game for the sequel due to copyright infringement with the table-top based miniature game.) In that game, you saved the town of Spielburg from evil, restored a rightful heir to the throne, and generally become a good and loved guy. At the end, you were asked by a local merchant to accompany him to his town, which too was in need of a good savin'. This brings you to the location of this adventure: the arabic-styled city-state of Shapier. While Shapier is run by a benevolent leader, it has its share of troubles. Elementals and Djinns are ransacking the town. Its sister city, Rasier, is up to no good. Brigands and monsters roam the desert surrounding the city. A sinister darkness is looming upon Shapier, and it's up to you, the slightly unlucky and occasionally dim hero, to stop it.

The game plays out over 30 days, complete with a day and night cycle. As time passes, different events happen - disasters occur, characters arrive, and other challenges appear to confront your hero. Your character has human needs, too, and must sleep to regain health and recharge, as well as eat and drink, though he does so automatically as long as you have food and water.

Why the hell should I play it? Simply because it is one of the best, in my opinion, western role-playing games ever made. While many RPGs have brought in adventure game elements, this game is definitely heavy on the adventuring side. However, unlike most adventure games, where puzzles are arbitrary combinations of struggling with your inventory, or typing up the exact phrase that would solve it, in this game much of the puzzling is solved by judicious use of your abilities.

It's the best of both worlds.

In some ways, it's the closest that computer gaming has come to simulating a well-run D&D campaign. There is so much to do in this game that is not combat. As a thief, combat can still be avoided, as your stats can be boosted by non-combat abilities. The act of picking locks, for instance, boosts your lock picking stats. Climbing a rope helps your climbing ability, and practicing throwing rocks or knives boosts throwing. As the thief, in its purest form, is a relatively weak class, avoiding combat altogether is a valid option. Most boss fights can be avoided through sneaking (another boostable stat, and a much more pleasant term than stealth), or figuring out alternate paths around enemies. Still, you might want to practice fighting some weaker enemies in the desert just in case you end up with your back against the wall. Spells, too, can have combat roles but also may help you solve puzzles, or get items. It's nice to have a character who doesn't forget his unique abilities the minute he leaves the combat screen.

The city, too, is open to you from the start, a non-linear maze of merchants, houses, plazas, and special areas to visit. At first, navigating the city is daunting - it is relatively sprawling, and there are literally hundreds of similar doors to pass through. But you can always LOOK AROUND to figure out what street you are on, and most copies of the game now come with a .PDF of the included map to keep you from getting lost. The complicated streets of the city were, in fact, a means of copy-protection. It never gets daunting, as the game structure generally has you waking up every morning at the inn, where you are greeted by Abdullah and your Katta friends, who give you the news of the day, and are available to get some hints on where to go and what to do next.

The game offers multiple paths, areas, and solutions based on your abilities. Some quests, such as the Wizards' Institute of Technocery, a series of challenges you have to pass to become known as a wizard rather than magic user, are only open to you if you possess magic skill. Thieves, on the other hand, have access not only to the thieves guild, and its related subquests, but can also pick the locks of many doors, and can raid a few places, whether on a mission, or on your own accord (though I really, really wouldn't recommend stealing from most magic users.) You find thieves guild contacts by MAKING THE THIEVES GUILD SIGN at them, and seeing if they get what you are doing. Through this, you make a contact, who sets you on your course to steal for her. The fighter, too, has his own warrior's path,

Although it lacks the response choices of a Knights of the Old Republic game, conversations are maneuvered via asking about various subjects, as well as being able to answer "yes" or "no", and "telling" the character about events or deeds. In that way, it can be like the Zork games of old, having to figure out just what to ask, or who the character might know. You might want to ASK ABDULLAH ABOUT SHAPIER, and in his answer, you might notice several subjects that he brings up that he probably will elaborate on. You could TELL ABDULLAH ABOUT RASIER once you know something on the subject, too. The open-ended nature of the conversation system is, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the conversation systems of old adventure games, daunting. But it means that you have to pay attention, and gives you unprecedented flexibility and creativity in conversing. For instance, you can ask almost every character in the game about their name, which usually gives some backstory, about the culture of Shapier, that character's species, and themselves. Asking the various characters about their race, as well, can lead to some thought provoking monologues, as the creature proudly pontificates on their people.

That leads to one of the best features of this game: the writing. The characters are sharp, funny, and interesting. While much of the culture in this game is based on the middle-eastern culture of the past few centuries, the Coles spun their own world around this framework. It is populated by creatures refreshingly not inspired by Tolkien - unusual for a western fantasy RPG - and introduces you to the noble Liontaurs (half Lion, half man centaur-style creatures hailing from an African style land), the aforementioned honest and clever Katta (short, humanoid cat-like creatures with a knack for trading), and some awesome enemies like Panthaurs, (shiny black-coated man-panther cross, who are wickedly strong) and floating magical manta-ray beasts, along with some giant lizards called Sauruses, which may be more mysterious than you might imagine. The game is funny, too. It never takes itself too seriously, but at the same time, takes things seriously enough that there is gravitas to your actions and ramifications for failure. You really end up caring.

I must admit this: this game is one of my favorite ones ever designed. So yeah, there's a whole lot of nostalgia, and a boot-load of bias. Compared with this, most RPGs seem like endless menus and accumulation of stats. Trial By Fire has so much story, so much heart, so much to do... I haven't even scratched the surface of the brilliantly strange trials at W.I.T., the awesome final third of the game, and the beauty and sadness of some of the side quests.

If this game is so good, then why the hell isn't it considered a classic now? It came out at the wrong time. It was one of the final games to be made with Sierra's then-aging SCI engine. VGA games were becoming all the range, with their extended colour palette bringing an end to the ugly red faces of the EGA era. Wing Commander and the like were winning over a new generation of graphics whores, and while the art and animation in Trial By Fire may be good, they do look, well, old. This combined with a text parser when everyone was switching to mouse input, and the name change which could further alienate fans of the previous game, were all strikes against it.

Another reason could be its somewhat silly sense of humour. Not everyone likes their fantasy epics to be interspersed with Star Trek, Monty Python, Groucho Marx, and Sesame Street references. Whenever there was a good opportunity for a pun, they would go for it. Lord of the Rings types, who want enough emotional gravitas to choke a mule, may find it unpleasant.

Going back and playing it now can be a little troublesome, and not only for the trouble that it takes to get the game running on an engine emulator or DOSBox. The lack of in-game maps, quest journals, and the like mean that you are pretty much on your own to map out the world and keep track of what you are doing, which is pretty unheard of in modern gaming.


Which version should I get? It was, for a while, available as a free download off of Sierra's old website, but is sadly now not available. It is on the Quest For Glory CD-Rom anthology, which features all the manuals (a great read, by the way) and maps needed to get through the game. Plus it, you know, has the other games in the series (the original Hero's Quest, and Quest For Glory III both are pretty damn good too.) It's also considered abandonware, so take that under advisement.


3:37 AM on 03.20.2008

You know you hate them: terrible rhythm minigames.

You know you hate them. The little things that designers feel they must throw into games. Frequently it's because everyone else is doing it. Because PR people or focus testers ask for them. Or because their games are too damn short and need artificial lengthening. Either way, I am writing a short series of articles covering what I feel are some of the most annoying elements of game design out there.

Sometimes it's great to mix and match, right? Some of the best games out there are hybrids of established genres, like action/RPG or driving/dating simulation. On the other hand, sometimes these, shall we say, melanges stop an entertaining game in its tracks, like the metaphorical raisin in an otherwise enjoyable oatmeal muffin. So you spit out these metaphorical raisins, but sometimes you can't get the metaphorical taste out of your mouth, and throw the rest of the muffin away and buy some Smarties.

Right. Games. Right. So as an inaugural "you know you hate them" article, I'm going to have a look at when designers dump a rhythm game in the middle of your delicious action game or RPG. Warning: the results are raisin-tastic.

4. Rayman Raving Rabbids


What the hell is a rhythm minigame doing here? Compared with the rest of these games, Raving Rabbids has the most justification for its inclusion of a rhythm minigame. It's a game composed of various minigames, so it makes enough sense, I guess. Get some cheaply licensed tat from the seventies, throw in some button pushing... there, you got yourself a game.
What's so wrong with this? The mechanics of this game are the best in the lot, for single player. The choice of songs is of the "generic music game" variety, that is to say, songs that you'll hear in just about everything from Grand Theft Auto to Taiko Drum Master's American version. That's not what's wrong. What's busted about this is the multiplayer. Sequential multiplayer. Of the same song. For four players. Most have only tried it once. Few have finished it. Yes, you have to sit through the entire song four times as each player hammers it out. No, they weren't thinking when they made this. Yes, it's been fixed in the sequel, a surprisingly efficient Rock Band rip-off.

3. Kingdom Hearts 2


What the hell is a rhythm music game doing here? I figure the train of thought for the designers went something like this: "Okay, now who wants to play a game which crosses the most multi-belted girlish whiners of Final Fantasy with Disney? Yes, yes, ultra-effeminate teenage boys. And what do they love? The Little Mermaid! And musicals! And DDR!" It really makes sense if you think of the target market. (Alright, I don't like the Kingdom Hearts games, I must admit.)
What's so bad about this? Even I am not gay enough for... that. That's just monstrous. While the actual play mechanics aren't so bad, compared with the worst two offenders, the music is... something else. I've heard rumor that heterosexual men somehow justified playing this game by its Final Fantasy tie in, or something. How they must have felt when an already kinda girly game took a plunge into Magical Princessville, I don't know. Maybe it's just something they play through and push deep, deep back into their subconscious, like that one time after football practice.

2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas


What the hell is a rhythm minigame doing here? Rockstar includes just about everything in their Grand Theft Auto games. Pizza delivery, classic arcade game knockoffs, sex, RC plane simulations. So why not some dancing? Though there are some other instances where CJ has to dance, the primary offender is when CJ is trying to take his girl out on a date, as pictured above. Rockstar figured, well, the kids love the DDR, right? And our game has everything, right? So let's let CJ dance! Dance with his girlfriend! We'll add voices in the background heckling you if you're bad, and cheering you on if you are good. And if you win, you can have sex. Wait. No. Not have sex. You can wait outside the damn house while something - and we're not going to say what - happens.
What's so bad about this? Go to the middle of the video above. That's what's so bad about it. You like the song "Brickhouse"? Well, you won't after this game is done with you. Dance with your girlfriend, huh? Through the whole song? Five minutes of slooooowlly scrolling button prompts? So then your girlfriend asks you to dance again. And then it's the same damn song. Again. And the whole canned responses from a crowd idea would have come off a lot better if they didn't torture you with the same hoots or heckles, over and over, while you have to randomly churn through buttons that don't relate to the music and oh my dear lord I hate brickhouse and why are you doing this to me rockstar why god I hate my life.

1. Stubbs the Zombie


What the hell is a rhythm minigame doing here? According to an interview in Gamasutra, the designers thought it would be fricking hilarious to include a dancing game in the middle of Stubbs the Zombie. They were wrong. Then again, the designers Stubbs the Zombie did a lot of things wrong. The sad part was, the game started off great. Really great. Who the hell doesn't want to play as a zombie and run around biting people? But the developers ran out of steam about a third of the way through, and somehow got it in their heads that they were hilarious. And what could be funnier... than a midget? Dancing? With a zombie? So they take a break from third person action/mauling and take a turn for the worse. The chief of police, said midget, challenges you to a dance off. Afterwards, he dies or something. It isn't really coherent or clear. Let's just say if you are at all interested in the game, you're better off sticking to the early levels and just murdering people. It gets old, yep, but it's a hell of a lot more fun than anything that happens later.
What's so bad about this? Let's just say it right here: if you feel absolutely, without a doubt, compelled to include a rhythm minigame in your game, keep it short. Really short. Preferably under ten seconds. Here, however, it's a good ten to twenty minutes of mind-numbing awfulness. It's slow. It controls poorly. It's dull. The animation of the zombie and the midget dancing are both jerky and ugly. But here is the clincher: it's so wretchedly not funny that the very concept of funny saw this one day, and then killed itself out of grief. Humour caught a glance of it and was hospitalized for severe depression. I kept having to play this part over and over until either I won, or the game took pity on me and let me continue. Either way. Ugh. The worst music / rhythm minigame I've ever played.

I'm sure there are more... me and Rooo were trying to figure out some other prime targets without luck. I've heard Zack & Wiki has an awful rhythm section, but I've never played it. What's the worst rhythm mini game you've encountered?

Just so you know, this is what a good rhythm minigame looks like:


Next time: They got stealth in my RPG! They got RPG in my stealth! That's right, I'm going to have a look at the crappiness that are stealth portions of non-stealth games. The Getaway: Black Monday? I'm looking at you.   read

7:39 AM on 03.16.2008

My Week in JRPGs - March 9-16

After not playing JRPGs for a few years, I've been getting back into them in full force. I figured that, somewhat inspired by ZargonX, I should log my attempt to hack my way through these games. Unfortunately, as I'm not playing these games via emulator and don't have a codec box, I can't do any real time video feeds of my game playing, yet. I'll see what I can do, as that would be pretty awesome.

I figure keeping track of all the games I have on the go could help me not only remember what I've been playing, but where I am in it if I should decide to give it a rest for a while. Nothing worse than coming back to an RPG after four months and not remembering what the hell I'm doing, who the heck I should be talking to, and just what freaking widget my sword needs.

So here's the deal: I'm playing quite a few games right now, and I'm the sort of ADD gamer who can't really sit still with one game for too long. Occasionally I get absorbed into a game to the point where I don't play anything else for a week or two, but usually I get bored and switch after a few hours. My time constraints are that I do have a full time job, as well as other commitments, but I usually have an hour or two free in the morning after I get home from work, and sometimes a little bit of free time in the evening before I head out. I can't really get to into these games on the weekend, because, well... I don't know if you've noticed, but it's usually never too fun for your boyfriend or girlfriend to sit and watch you play through a game. And Friday and Saturdays are usually "quality time" for me, which means going out and seeing a movie, or playing local multiplayer stuff like Project Gotham Racing 4, or Smash Brothers. I know Rooo was patient enough to watch me play Enter the Matrix for an hour and a half two weeks ago, but I shouldn't push it. One exception is Secret of Mana, which we are playing together.

Remember, mateys, here be spoilers, ye've been warned. Also, if I'm ruminating on the further plot development of a game, don't... you know... tell me what happens next. It's rhetorical.

Without further ado, or maybe with some further ado, here's the rundown on the games I'm tackling right now:

Estimated Progress: 50% through, I think. Maybe 18 hours of playing time.
Where Am I At? Just got out of the Wyvern's cave. There's... I dunno, some countries at war and junk. Jesus, I don't think I absorbed any of this.
Thoughts So Far: I just got the jokey little character hatched, and I was thinking about leveling him up (he starts at level 1 with very little attack power) but I don't know if I can go through with it like I used to. I remember in the first two Shining Force games, if you levelled up the joke characters, by the time they caught up to your main party, they got pretty powerful.
As far as this game goes, it's a bit of a letdown from the previous games. I loved the hell out of Shining Force I and II, and even Shining Force CD and GG. I was a teenager, so that might have something to do with it. Still, in the move to 3D, a lot has been lost. It doesn't help that the graphics are fairly janky during the battles, but the unforgivable part is just how awful things look on the 3D world map. I know the Saturn's lack of power and all, but the gray-looking pre-rendered character sprites (Donkey Kong Country style) are just offensively ugly. I'm not a 2D obsessive, but I do think... well... imagine what they could have done with the 2D powerhouse that was the Saturn, if they'd kept close to the original game's 2D sprites. The large hand-painted character portraits are the only real link visually back to the old games. They sure are nice, though.
Shining Force games have never been about the plot, but this one seems especially unmotivating. Maybe I'm just getting too old for these games, but it doesn't have the focus on character that the previous two did, either. And the battles are way, way, wayyyyy too easy. I miss the super difficult mode that you could play through in Shining Force II. It was a nice challenge that helped in boosting up your characters pretty fast.
All's not lost with this game, though. I do like the changes to the battle system. It's deeper, but not Final Fantasy Tactics deep. Characters get relationships with each other, providing boosts, as they help each other out through the fights. It's a nice little gimmick with no negative side effects. And the chess-style gameplay is as good as it's ever been.
Played This Week? Nope, haven't touched it in a few weeks.

Estimated Progress: 1/4 through, about fifteen hours.
Where Am I At? Just past the Opera House scene, in Setzer's airship.
Thoughts So Far: This game is usually in my bag along with the DS, as it's something I can play if stuck somewhere and really bored. In this past week, I navigated through the town of Zozo, which isn't quite as irritating as I remember. I'm not sure if I'm playing better, or if this version is slightly easier. I had Gau, Celes, Locke, and Edgar with me throughout, and we swept through them without much difficulty. I had to look up what Celes's Runic command did, as I couldn't for the life of me remember. And then, after checking that out, I remembered why I never used it. Does anyone? Maybe for some bosses or nasty encounters...
The clock puzzle, I seem to remember, stumped me for a couple of days as a 15 year old. I may have been functionally retarded at the time. Or I missed a couple of people who I coudl talk to to narrow it down. Either way, after doing some elimination math in my head, it took me only a couple of guesses before I got... a chainsaw! Hey hey! Now I can do even more damage with Edgar (I can't remember which car I've named him after currently)... though even with his starting tools, he never was a slouch. I got Celes to wear some lovely matching earrings, as she's my magic tank currently.
Oh yes, I also picked up some Espers for the first time, still haven't had an opportunity to summon them. I remember the effects being preeeetty nice for a SNES game at the time.
So, that Opera scene. I cheated (maybe?) by writing down the instructions before hand, I wasn't going to try and memorize it. This was another scene that I remember as being much harder, and more dramatic. Evidently this version has improved voices during the opera scene, but... it's not really all that noticeable. It's still ridiculous croaking. Best scene in a Final Fantasy game ever, guys? Er... right. I'm voting for getting gang-banged by musclemen in VII.
Played This Week? Yep, for a few hours, actually.

Estimated Progress: Not sure. I'm twenty something hours in and level twenty-five.
Where Am I At? Just got to that Bjork-with-bunny-ears girl's hometown. She was all pissy about meeting up with her old acquaintances. Can't say I blame her, they're kinda dicks. She-dicks.
Thoughts So Far: I definitely think I need to spend some time levelling up again, as I'm getting pretty clobbered by those panther things hanging out outside Bunny-Bjork's hometown.
I'm trying to keep up with hunts, and things seem to be going smoother now that I've unlocked a few more of those limit breaky things. Overloads. Critical attacks. Whatever you call them. Still, I tried the one that you had to get to by knocking all the trees down into the flood water, and those guys wiped the floor with me, even with that little Banghra guy helping me out. Worrisome.
So, yeah, grinding. I find the voice acting is a little distracting, but mostly because the recording sounds compressed, or of a generally low quality. It's always slightly fuzzy. Vaan seems pretty equivalent to Herbie (er, Tidus) in terms of a kinda whiny anime protagonist, but the supporting cast isn't bad. The writing gets on my nerves sometimes.
Oh, yeah, I just ran into that little dork brother of the Emperor. He wanted me to... uh... do something. Or go somewhere. Seems like a good idea. I should pay attention, but every time they start saying "Marquis" my eyes cross and my mind wanders.
I'm starting to "get" the license board, but I'm still not liking it. I dislike it less than my general loathing of that freaking sphere grid,
Played This Week? Nope.

Estimated Progress: I have absolutely no idea. I think I'm in the mid-50s floor wise.
Where Am I At? In a giant maze, ie: anywhere in the game. Just got some new girl to replace Mitsurhootzit-senpai-or-something, after rescuing her from a boss. She'd been trapped in the alternate dimension for a while, after being locked in the gym overnight by some jerks at school. Some mysterious stranger stopped me, Junpei, and... uh... the other one from getting our asses kicked in the back alley by the station. I'm thinking that I'll be seeing more of him.
Thoughts So Far: This game is so not letting me hook up with dudes. First this hyper guy always wants to hang out with me, so I was like, alright, I'm going to see where this goes. And then he starts rambling on about his crush on a teacher, and how he's going to ask her out. I keep warning him not to, be he goes and does it anyway. They started dating. Christ, it's like my old high school, only less creepy because she's not a man and in her 50s, dating my 15 year old friend Jennifer. But I digress.
Having given up on him putting out, I joined the swim team, only to end up in a pity party for the whiny guy whose ass I beat at swimming, all because he's got some physical problems. Needless to say, that didn't go anywhere either. But hey! I just met up with a really, really, really effeminate French boy who runs the fashion club. Maybe if I hang out with him enough, Junpei will leave me alone about dating that friend of ours, the cute one with the bow.
I like some parts of this game a lot, while others leave me a little cold. The graphics are decent enough during the fights and the real-world locations, but the dungeons themselves... well, they remind me of something out of Die Hard Trilogy. I understand that they're working within the limitations of randomly generated dungeons, and this is a sort of a JRPG-meets-Diablo hybrid, but perhaps a little more work should have gone into the level design, especially since you end up spending a lot of time in there. The monster designs, too, are a little weak. I've already seen the same ten or so monster types in three different variations. Some of them are good, like the giant steel guys, or the lion with the ball and chains attached to them, while others, like the mayas and cupids, are bland. And they're all wearing frilly party masks, which I got sick of in Bioshock months ago.
The sense of familiarity you get with the characters is great, though. The teen life simulation aspects are probably my favorite part of the game, which surprises me, as I'm not usually into that crap. I still don't care that much about the overall plot arc, but it's somewhat distracting. I just like hanging out with the various people you can be friends with, helping them out, getting to know them. I'm impressed with the scope of social groups you can belong to, and how you have to balance your time so that everyone likes you, and no one feels alienated.
I should also mention that I really do like the graphic design of the menus, fight scenes, and cinematics. It's a slick and stylish game, when it wants to be, which makes the grungy dungeons stick out even more. The music, too, for the most part is great, with the strong, strong exception of the awful rap that plays in the dorm, "Move your body, don't you hurt nobody!"... it'd be slightly less awful if it didn't have that shitty effect going on to lower the rapper's voice.
The voices are toned down from some anime annoyingness, with the worst exception being the awful, awful voice actor that they got for the principal. He just sounds so very creepy, and even in my quest for man-love, I try to steer my guy away from him. It could be his flowing, girly hair, but mostly it's his prissy CBC radio voice.
Played This Week? Nope.

Estimated Progress: One third, perhaps?
Where Am I At? I just cleared out the zombies from Threed, and met up with the nerdy inventor guy from up in that England-type area. I think that I had some sort of caves to progress through to get to the next glowing point? The nerdy kid's UFO crashed, and I have to fix that too. Aw crap, my mind's blanking on where to go next, ever since I started playing Chrono Trigger.
Thoughts So Far: This is a very odd game. I can see why it was so popular, though. It's weird. Very weird. The writing reminds me a bit of the "Sideways Stories from Wayside School" that I loved as a kid. A knowing narrator that constantly breaks the fourth wall, bad puns, strange and random interjection. It does skew younger, but it's written for kids without being patronizing, and I still have a random chuckle or two at the downright bizarre dialogue.
Oh yeah! I know where I am! I just got to the Saturn village! How could I forget? Rooo was obsessed with the Mr. Saturns in Smash Brothers, and I had absolutely no idea to what they referenced. Now it makes some sense.
My favorite scene so far is upon returning to the hotel in Threed, and having the music sound off and vaguely distorted. It turned the familiar place of the inn into something dangerous, but didn't make it cheap... the messed up music was enough of a cue to me that I saved before exploring more, and getting abducted.
Some of the bosses in this game... pretty hard. I had to go level up for a while before trying to beat that mole guy. When I finally did level up enough, I plowed right through him with a couple of well timed PSI Flashes, but it was close. I'm glad to have more party members, because like the Phantasy Star games, your inventory size is tied to how many people you have in the party. I never knew what to bring and what to give to my sister.
Oh yes, the calling home mechanic. Classic. I didn't understand the importance of it until I was getting towards a boss fight and got destroyed because Ness / Telsa kept thinking about his Mom. Little whiner.
Played This Week? Nope.

Estimated Progress: One fifth through, maybe. Haven't even got the dragon thing yet.
Where Am I At? Just cleared out the temple with the masked guys and the awesome crazy percussion instruments. We'd spent some time beefing up our magic skills so that we wouldn't get totally obliterated by the rushing wall enemy, which worked out well. That is a fairly tough fight. I'm still being bossed around by that knight guy, I seem to remember him getting taken out eventually, but I could be wrong. It's been years since I've played this game.
Thoughts So Far: We so need a multitap and another nerdy friend. Two player Secret of Mana is still pretty damn awesome. Seriously, I know I've ranted on about it before, but it's a fairly simple concept, and it is executed nicely. Though even in its single player mode, it wasn't a bad game... I was waiting for it, too, since I got close to finishing its predecessor, Final Fantasy Adventure, a year or two before.
The music, while great, uses a bit too much of the sound chip, I think. This can be evidenced by it cutting in and out when you use your weapons to attack, at which point it loses much of the awesome sounding percussion. It gets a little choppy and unpleasant during these times, but returns to its soothing state as soon as you've dispatched everyone.
Fucking rabites. And death chairs.
This game highlights some of the differences that me and Rooo have in tackling RPGs, as he definitely likes to level up as much as humanly possible, and stock every kind of health or mana aid out there. We ended up spending thousands on those mana seeds, so that we'd be nicely prepared with lots of offensive magic. Fortunately, me and Rooo like completely different kinds of weapons, so while I'm usually going for the spear, he's always wanting the boomerang / chakra thing, or, you know, a useless weapon like the pole arm. I guess that's for the best, as we don't end up clamoring for the same weapon too much.
Why don't they make games like this anymore? Is it because Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles bombed? That only failed because it was too damn complicated getting four people together with GBAs and link cables. And because of the ugly art style. And a slightly unfriendly user interface. The bucket carrying part, that wasn't too bad, actually, if you had it going with four people. But I only made that magic combination of luck, GBAs, and nerds happen once in my life. Was a pretty great four hours though.
Played This Week? Nope, though I am making sure to book some Secret of Mana time Friday night.

Estimated Progress: Maybe halfway through the first disc. Maybe. Nine hours.
Where Am I At? Just got off that airship, after finally getting through that freaking stealth portion with the eye robots that get all pissy if they see you. I didn't like that part of the game. At all. I don't like stealth. I didn't like this game mechanic when it was in Final Fantasy VI and I don't like it now. I know it's just supposed to be a brief and amusing diversion, but it just pissed me the hell off. Especially since I knew there was some great treasure to the south of those two eye things next to the ladders. I just knew there was something great there, but the lack of a, you know, working camera rendered these things nigh impossible. Don't put freaking stealth in your game if you can't look around. Christ on a stick. (Actually, I'd just prefer it if you didn't put stealth in your game at all.)
After that, I got to Namara, scoured the usual pots and pans for items, made some rings, and then had the game crash on me. I went back, did all that collecting again, found some toys and all that for annoying kids, played tag with white faced anime ear girl a couple of times, remembered a couple of dreams, and discovered some treasure out by the canals.
This town is pretty huge. I then went to the Crimson Forest to get some crystal fragments for the whiny loser at the art store. He needs motivation. Very specific motivation. 19 crystal fragments. I only found six, so I guess he's going to have to go without his crystal fix for a while. I've seen Rooo play a little ahead of this part, so I know that I'm about to meet Palom and Porum in a minute, and have a two hour cutscene featuring way, way too much crying. (PS: Rooo totally cried during that scene.)
Thoughts So Far: The Dreams are much better than I thought they'd be. Well written, engaging. The reoccurent theme of the mortality of young girls wasn't there in The Talkative Mercenary, but in pretty much every other story I've found, yep.
I could totally cosplay as Gongora, the most bearish RPG villain ever. Oh, wait, I need hair. Stupid hair. Is it me or does he... you know... not like the ladies?
"Kakanas's Subordinate Bunz" kept me laughing for a good half hour. I'll bet he has subordinate bunz. I'll just bet. Actually, no need to guess, what with his tight David Bowie pants. He's sorta like a cross between David Bowie in Labyrinth and Heihachi Michima.
Sometimes, in games, when you characters do things that are so completely arbitrary and boneheaded, it makes me wonder. Jensen's seduction of the queen was one such thing. I got that she was playing along with him, but what the hell was he thinking? I'm not a big fan of having an annoying party member who constantly gets you into trouble. These sort of characters piss me off, pretty much ever since I saw What About Bob. I freaking hated Bob. Jensen, don't be Bob. And what kinda name is Friedh? Fried H?
I've noticed that the music seems to cut out sometimes on my 360, but not on Rooo's. This can be followed by the game crashing and getting a disk read error. I might try cleaning the lens on my 360, I also cleared out the cache. Hopefully one of these things will prove to be the solution needed.
Played This Week? Yep.

Estimated Progress: An eighth? Not very far.
Where Am I At? At the end of time, for the first time. Got some magic unlocked for every character. I'd just returned from the future, with all that post-apocalyptic shenanigans going on. Rescued my little robot friend, and then left glasses girl behind while I mopped the floor with the enemies. I've been deliberately engaging in every fight possible to beef my characters up, and they do seem to be reasonably ahead of the curve when I get into fights. Since there was a path opened up to fight Lavos, I figured I'd try that. Didn't work out too well, though I found that I was able to defeat two bosses that I haven't even got to yet.
Thoughts So Far: I can see why this game is so well loved, as with Earthbound. It has story segments almost out of an adventure game or something, and seems to be relatively open-ended, for a JRPG. After receiving a warning that I shouldn't steal that guy's lunch at the millennial fair the one time I tried the game on an emulator a few years ago, I'd figured that there was a lot you could do in this game to influence later outcomes. I hope that it doesn't have some random thing that you should or shouldn't do, or else you'll end up not being able to get the best magic or power in the game. I was angry enough when Rooo told me that I wasn't going to get some great item down the road because I opened up a pot under Rabanastre in Final Fantasy XII. How the hell was I supposed to know that?
Anyway. I liked the trial scene, and my behavior was innocent enough to not be found guilty, at least. I ended up breaking myself out of jail and exploring that whole area, including getting a guy out of a guillotine and climbing down a wall to get a good sword (which I found in a chest twenty minutes later anyway, but hey, it was the thought that counted.)
The combat system... I like it. I still haven't found the line-based attacks too useful, as it seems too hard to get the enemy lined up enough to make it worth while, but maybe that comes with practice. I seem to be abusing the rocket and fire twirl combination attacks with regularity. The princess girl seems pretty useless.
This game does make me want to keep playing, even if the narrative appears aimless at this point in time. Yes, there is some imperative: stop Lavos, but there doesn't seem to be much driving the short term at this moment. Could just be a narrative lull though. I haven't died yet, but I think I'm a few levels ahead of the curve. I'm expecting it to get harder later, of course.
Played This Week? Yep, a couple of hours.

Let me know your thoughts on this format. I assure you that I won't bring up games I haven't played that week, and I'll try to keep things on course. They'll be shorter from here on in, as I can only play two or three different games a week.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated for sure. Or your best written erotic fan fiction on the featured titles. Oh yeah. That'd be great.   read

5:08 AM on 03.12.2008

Name Entry Screens: Spawn of Satan, Or Pathway to Creative Bliss?

I can't resist it. Every time an RPG offers me the chance to rename one of their precious characters, I have to go for it. I admit it. I usually break the narrative of the game with either random, bizarre, or knowingly idiotic choices.

(Above: Science has proven that 85.4% of all user-inputted names are vulgar, with the remaining 14.6% evenly divided between fursonas and anime characters.)

It's always been a little stressful coming up with a name for a character. At least, though, we are past the Final Fantasy I and Phantasy Star II days of being saddled with four letter names (which in itself suggestive obvious abuses) and can now, depending on the game, use anywhere from eight whole letters to half a freakin' sentence to title our characters.

(A quick aside: my friends, who are generally more imaginative than I, have done some interesting things with game naming over the years, from naming every member of an RPG the same thing, to, as Rooo once did, name Link "Zelda", which in itself results in a remarkably more nuanced (yet Fight Club-esquely bizarre) narrative. The worst infraction I do these days is always name Link "Lunk" to just piss off Rooo with my terrible choice of character names.)

(Above: Players during the 8 and 16 bit eras frequently found letter constraints for character naming limiting.)

So when I started picking up playing Japanese roleplaying games again last year, I realized that I had no idea what I should call my characters.

I can't go the high fantasy route anymore. I can't come up with an original, but appropriate sounding name that works within the game universe. If I want something that fits well within the context of the game, shouldn't I just leave the names at their default? I'm tweny-eight years old now, so I can't really go back to the names that I used as a teenager. As a young teen, I would name characters after other video games and fantasy characters I loved, like Skeeve (from the Myth books), or Frungy (the sport of kings from Star Control II).

One of my good high school friends at the time liked to name his characters after all his friends, as he did in Final Fantasy II. He was the hero, his sister was the summoner, and the rest of his friends filled out the ranks. I was a little miffed as being stuck as the frickin' spoony bard, Edgar.

Around the time of Final Fantasy III, I realized that I wanted to name them after my own creations. I was playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons at the time, so I figured I'd simply name all the characters after the D&D characters I'd been using. That's where I'd come up with Drolf, Koobert, Kleeve. I stuck with this naming convention for about five years, right through until Final Fantasy X (though in that case, I think I renamed Tidus "Herbie" because it just felt right).

When I did start getting back into RPGs again, last year, I ended up starting up a lot of them in front of Rooo. I horrified him when I went to rename a summon in Final Fantasy VIII, especially when I ended up calling Ifrit "Toasty", Shiva "Frostess", and Quetzalcoatl "Flappy", as I had been in the habit of doing in the past. He is very protective of the Final Fantasy universe, and didn't like seeing me deface it. My retort was that they let me rename the characters, so I am darn well going to use that privilege, whether my creations were worth it or not.

That set up my current naming trend, which was mostly created to spite Rooo. I decided with Shining Force III that I was going to name all my characters after cars, one way or another, which resulted in some pretty good names. For that game, I went with "Dart", "Dakota", and "Durango", which coincidently were all Dodges. I've stuck with it since then, through Final Fantasy VI Advance ("Versa" and "Cobalt" make a great couple), Tactics Advance (Somehow the hero seems better as "Panoz"), Earthbound ("Telsa" is a good name for an electricity weilding kid, right?) and now Chrono Trigger, featuring the scrappy "Modus", the lovely "Fabia", and everyone's favorite rocket spewing robot, "Aygo".

For some reason, I eschewed my naming convention for Persona 3, and just called my main guy "Johnny". I don't know why. I'm not sure if that's any more or less immature than my other naming choices, but I respected the game and wanted to keep it personal.

For some reason, sticking with high fantasy names when I play something like World of Warcraft isn't as big of a problem. I name those characters as I would a Dungeons and Dragon s character, that is to say with a modicum of self-censorship.

How do you feel about naming your characters? If you have the option, do you use it? How do you feel about non-fantasy naming in massive online games such as World of Warcraft? Does it piss you off when you are PVPing against a MisterBean or CamilleToe? Do you consider renaming Cloud, Squall, and Tidus near heresy?   read

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