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Onyx Oblivion's blog

2:44 PM on 11.03.2011

Onyx Reviews: Uncharted 3

Standard stone-faced hero cover #4522

It's been a good year for PS3 games. With Killzone 3 starting the year off being a high-profile exclusive back in February, and inFamous 2 kicking off the summer back in June, they've had a good run. Now, with Uncharted 3 coming to close the PS3's year, that streak of glory continues as Naughty Dog seeks their own. Naughty Dog was always a key Sony developer, delivering one trilogy (Crash Bandicoot, Jak) per generation, and following it up with a less well-received racing spin-off. (Come on, Naughty Dog, make UnKarted!) With Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog had suddenly found themselves with the challenge of outdoing what many hailed as the best game of 2009. And with Uncharted 3, they have proven that their previous success was no fluke.

Nathan Drake's latest excursion finds him in a race to find the Atlantis of the Sands, yet another ancient lost civilization. His opponent in this race is Katherine Marlowe, a woman from his past. This race will take the player on a tour of a vast array of different environments, from a cruise ship to a French chateau. Throughout this adventure, the player will experience a mix of puzzle-solving, platforming, cover-based shooting, stealth, brawling, and even a few on-foot chase sequences. Each one of these mechanics is done well, with some better than others, as is the price you often pay for variety. Still, they have been improved from the already high standards Uncharted 2 set for them.

Elena's new face kinda creeps me out.

The first thing you'll notice after the intro is how much the brawling has been improved. Think Batman, but less graceful and with more environmental interaction. It has a heavy emphasis on countering and fighting multiple opponents at once, and introduced a new melee-oriented Brute type enemy to polish your skills. And you'll need those skills, are there are a few "boss" fight melee scraps. On the other side of close quarters combat, we have the stealth. It's a basic system, focused on line of sight instead of lighting, but it functions well in the situations presented. There are many more opportunities to utilize stealth, and the game never associates detection with instant failure. The addition of silenced pistols is pretty nice, too, although you only get them twice.

Speaking of pistols, the gunplay in Uncharted has gotten better with each iteration, capping off with Uncharted 3. The default aiming speed still felt a little sluggish to me, but it is adjustable, so no complaints. Drake can still only carry two weapons at a time, a one-handed and a two-handed, and only a few clips for each, so there is a constant sense of scavenging to the combat. Thankfully, none of the guns in the game are crap by any means, with a fine-tuned balance ensuring that even a basic pistol is deadly. In fact, I found myself treating pistols as a primary weapon on many occasions, rather than a pea-shooter used in emergencies. Of special note are the grenades, which started as a motion sensor required gimmick in Uncharted 1, and evolved into the best grenade system I've seen. Any aimed toss is basically spot-on accurate, and the physics will never betray you. Grenades can be tossed back now, in a fun system that lets you take out closer enemies with their allies' grenades. Seeing as grenades are some of the most powerful weapons in the game, having a free toss can change the course of a battle.

These fire effects are brilliant in motion.

The platforming is still excellent, presenting a good portion of the game's challenge and set-pieces, while never frustrating the player. The routes are usually pretty obvious at first, with the challenge coming from timing your navigation properly as the environment will often be crumbling around you, either due to bad luck, enemies, or Drake's own clumsiness. All of this feels natural due to brilliant scripting and some of the best animation in the business. Simply put, these animations are amazing, with clipping issues rare and transitions fluid.

The puzzle solving has been given an overhaul since Uncharted 2. The puzzles in the previous game were by no means bad, but often just felt like extended platforming sequences. The challenges that Uncharted 3 presents are more cerebral, with hints and clues scattered about the room and in Drake's journal. Take too long and a quick press of the Up button with give you hints as to the method to go about solving the puzzle, but will never outright solve it for you. The only problem I have with the puzzles is that there aren't enough of them, and that's the highest praise you can usually give to this part of a game.

On the gameplay side, Uncharted 3 is the best one yet, and flawlessly blends many different genres together, while switching it up enough that it never gets stale. But on the narrative side, it is lacking in comparison, even to the original Uncharted in many ways. The main problem arises by focusing nearly entirely on Drake and Sully, ignoring the leading ladies of the franchise, and even your new ally, the claustrophobic Cutter. While it is nice to finally have Sully in the spotlight, the story lies too heavily on them. Elena and Chloe were some of the best leading ladies in gaming, and having them reduced to much smaller roles hurts the narrative overall. The ending is also very abrupt, with me not even realizing that I'd beaten the game until the trophy popped. Still, Marlowe herself is an excellent villain with clearly established motivations. The superb acting and motion capture are flawless across the board, without a single poor performance in the bunch. And the tale it tells is full of enough twists and mysteries to suck you in until the end.

That is not Helen Mirren.

For Uncharted fans, a lot of my review is basic and retreads old ground, but the same can be said for Uncharted 3. While lacking the perfect pacing and characterization of it's predecessor, it still manages to deliver one the best campaigns in linear games today, with incredible set-pieces I am trying my hardest not to spoil. And by keeping most of the previous games' events seperate or implied, it makes a fine entry point into the series for anyone. Uncharted 3 proves once again that Naughty Dog polishes a series' gameplay to a fucking shine by improving with each game. The length ain't bad, either, clocking in at 10-12 hours for my first playthrough, and your standard array of trophies and collectibles to try and entice more runs. Sadly, it appears Naughty Dog has abandoned the fun post-game unlocks and "cheats" of the first two, so no Doughnut Drake for you. Doughnut Drake, is however, in the multiplayer, which I haven't gotten to playing since the beta. But the beta was fun, so take that as my recommendation. The campaign alone is easily worth the asking price, so the solid multiplayer is just an added bonus.

/review   read

8:12 PM on 01.28.2011

Ahead of It's Time - SaGa Frontier

Ahead of It's Time

Blue, one of the 7 heroes of the 7 storylines, gets cover duty.

Release Date: March 24th, 1997

First thing: Fuck you SaGa Frontier 2 and your beautiful watercolor painting graphics. You made it a pain in my ass to find screens for SaGa. Because people wanted to post screens of you. Because you're pretty. And generally a better game, too. Jackass.

Welcome to the second review in my series. My first review was Legend of Mana. The next reviews are Gunstar Heroes, followed by The Lost Vikings.

SaGa is oozing originality. Absolutely oozing it. Which makes it a damn shame that some of these mechanics lack polish. From the 7 stories, to LP, to the massive variety of environments, to the "monster" system, to quicksave, to the general leveling. This game has more originality in 1/7th of itself than most games do in an entire trilogy.

SaGa "suffers" from the same affliction as Legend. It was too open and non-linear. But it also suffers from a few new ones. And not in a good way. Let's get the big one out of the way.

SaGa Frontier has enemy scaling.

Yes. That most hated aspect of Oblivion, Final Fantasy 8, and a few other RPGs. Now, this may turn you off immediately, but I beg you to read on, at the very least. I will touch on this later, I assure you!

140 hours of gameplay. HOLY. FUCK.

If you read the captions to the first pictures, you should have an inkling about how the game's structure. There are 7 characters to choose from, each with their own unique storyline. Blue, a mage sent to kill his evil twin, Rouge. Red, a superhero (with secret identity!) tackling an evil corporation. Emelia, a prison escapee seeking revenge. Riki, a monster collecting magic rings to save his people. T260G, an amnesiac robot searching for his purpose with the aid of a drunken swordsman. Asellus, a half-mystic (think vampires) struggling with her identity. And Lute, a musician looking for adventure with his ogre friend, Thunder. Beat all seven plots for a treat. Sadly, I have never managed to beat all of them. I will not lie to you. Actually, I only beat ONE of them. I am reviewing a game that I have not completely finished! But I still sunk over 100 hours into it. And I sorta beat it, if you count one character as beaten. So, fuck it. I'm qualified! As for Red's secret identity, he can't transform in battle until all humans and monsters are KO'd. I guess he reprograms the robots or something, despite his lacking intellect. I thought it a nice touch, as he's usually the last one standing in such scenarios, anyway. Also, these stories rarely interconnect, with one major exception. Rouge, Blue's twin, is recruit-able by some of the other characters, and functions exactly like Blue. And he says nothing. In fact, the entire game lacks in characterization for nearly all but the main squad of 7 and their close friends. There are dozens of recruit-able characters, each with very little to say beyond a presentation of a general personality and name. One of the characters is a random Slime monster than never says or does anything, and is never commented on. This is not a game you play for the deep characterization. But there is a lot of variety in what's here. From a creepy back-alley doctor, to an experimental monster, to a skeleton king, to a space dragon, to a mystic time lord, to a fucking phoenix.

CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTER! No, really. This is the character select screen.

Now, I'm going to explain the systems mentioned earlier. LP stands for "Life Points". SaGa is one of those RPGs that restores you to full health after every battle. But LP is important. Every time you are KO'd in battle you lose 1 LP. Enemies can still target the corpse in battle, to drain another LP. If a character loses all LP, they die. Forever. Perma-death. If the hero runs out of LP, it's Game Over. Restoring LP is near impossible, as it utilizes "Life Candy", and incredibly rare item that I found maybe once per character. The variety of environments is prevalent the moment you get to your first town port. You get a list of a large number of locations to visit. Each with their own quests and characters. Some quests overlap between characters, like the magic "gift" quests. (More on those later!) The game can be confusing about where to go at times, but the areas themselves are rather small, and enemies are visible on the field and can be avoided, alleviating some frustration while searching for your goal. Why some later Squaresoft titles STILL insisted on random battles is beyond my understanding. Quicksave isn't quite as simple as hitting a key. But it's functional, and allows you to save outside of town. One warning, though. Upon reloading it, it is immediately deleted. And it uses a memory block. In fact, each normal save uses 2. And with 7 characters, that's 14 blocks. PS1 cards had 16 blocks. This game requires an entire memory card!

Art of Asellus, the only story I managed to beat.

Onto the combat and leveling, the most important part of any RPG for me. I can handle a bad story and characters, but if these don't interest me, I'm out of there. This is a very interesting system, with no clear "levels". After every battle, humans randomly level in a stat, monsters transform into myriad forms with massively different stats after absorbing a dead enemy to learn a new skill, and for robots...nothing happens. As mentioned, HP regenerates after every fight. WP and JP, do not. WP is used for physical skills, JP for magic. Inns are generally free, and restore these. Learning new skills comes with practice. Use a gun, learn gun skills. Use fists, learn fist skills. Also, fists do not suck. The ultimate move is learn via good old fisticuffs. Magic works the same way, to a point. You can learn the base spells after buying only the first. But then you need to obtain the "gift" for it via a quest, and obtaining the gift for one type makes you unable to get the gift for another. Light magic requires you to go through a mirror puzzle labyrinth, Shadow magic to face shadows of yourselves, Rune and Tarot each require treks to 4 locations. Blue and Rouge have exclusive access to Mind magic's counterpart, Realm. Combination attacks can be randomly triggered by the party, with certain attacks more likely to combo than others. Speaking of higher tendencies, some characters are better at learning skills with certain weapons types than others. Monsters learn skills via absorbing enemies, with a cap to the number of skills to ensure they don't become over-powered. Time for the enemy scaling...

I am obviously a villain of some sort!

Enemy scaling is SaGa Frontier is very poorly implemented. Balance can shift between you being over-powered, to you being slaughtered in as little as an half-hour. Combine this with the fact that SaGa is a rather hard game to begin with, and permadeath, to make a recipe for disaster. In Riki's story, you are even forced into a fight with a group of Magma Slimes, which take away LP with every attack, regardless of damage, and Riki has the lowest LP of any main character. That's where I gave up in his story. This game isn't the hardest RPG out there by a long-shot, but save often and be ready for some frustration. Oh, and many of the bosses aren't scaled to you. They're often tougher. There's your kick in the groin.

It IS a cafeteria, Emelia.

Unlike Legend, I can't really recommend SaGa to most people. The game is ludicrously long, full of unbalanced difficulty, and I couldn't even manage to beat more than 1 story in 100 hours. The game suffers from incredibly poor direction and over-non-linearity. I didn't even think that phrase possible. Repetitive side-quests for each character, like the magic gifts, also drag it down. Overly difficult bosses that aren't scaled to you mean that you can easily find yourself overwhelmed when you do track down your goal. Especially Lute, the most story-free and non-linear character. Oh dear god...Lute can be in the final dungeon of his "story" within 30 minutes, getting raped by everything.

If you are willing to suffer to play something truly original, give SaGa a try. It's about $20 for a used copy online. But please, keep a guide or FAQ handy. If you like the sound of the combat, play that bitch-ass, pretty, overall-better SaGa Frontier 2 I mentioned. Combat is the same, with a linear narrative and pretty graphics. I'm sure to review that game someday, too. It was pretty Ahead of It's Time in other ways. It was also my first encounter with bitch-ass weapon degradation.

/review   read

7:10 AM on 01.27.2011

Ahead of It's Time - Legend of Mana

Welcome to my first review in what I hope to be a semi-regular review series. "Ahead of It's Time" will focus on games that were criticized in their era for some of the popular mechanics of today's games. Or just games that did things differently within their era. I currently have a mere 3 reviews in this series planned for your pleasure. Legend of Mana, SaGa Frontier, and Gunstar Heroes.

Legend of Mana's apparent flaw is in it's immense openness and lack of direction. These days, people frequently like their RPGs to be less linear, and enjoy having a large number of sidequests. Legend manages to convey this feeling of freedom without an open-world, which is a feat in itself. Gone is the traditional continent-by-continent world map structure of most SNES/PS1 era RPGs. This feeling of freedom is present from the moment you start the game. You choose your character between a boy and girl, and their starting weapon...And then, something unique happens. You are shown a giant map...And are asked to pick which section of it to have your game world take place in. The only limit being that you need a few spots of water. For the pirate ship, duh!

The game is still eye candy.

The map system of Legend is rather inventive, really. You see, you build the world around you. Towns and dungeons have been turned into artifacts, which you get through conversations and quests. Getting a new artifact will make you positively giddy to see what you've unlocked. That's right. I used the word giddy. At the start of the game, you place your house in any spot on the chosen grid. After, your world unfurls from there. You can only place new artifacts next to old ones, and the enemies are tougher the further away the location is away from home, leading to a very nice difficulty curve that expands with your map.

The world map. Not shown: Pirate Ship, Giant Dragon Thing

Legend is not a game driven by it's main narrative. In fact, I wasn't even sure there WAS a main narrative. If you can overlook that, and just dive into the game as it is, you'll be pleased. The game has many different questlines, with many different characters. Many of these questlines are deep enough in narrative, that you may confuse them for the main quest. The goals of quests can run from a dungeon romp, to dragon slaying, to getting students to go back to class, to learning a silly language to try and sell lamps to giant teddy bears in order to help a a man get laid, to tracking down a serial killing thief, to wandering through a graveyard of abandoned toys, to stopping two kid mages from taking over a town with pumpkins, to going to the underworld to help reunite a pair of street performers, to saving penguin pirates and their walrus cap'n from being turned to stone. That's merely a handful of the memorable quests this game offers. This game has everything you'll need. I could easily write a full-on essay on the quests of this game. From humor to drama, from the ridiculous to the serious. You're bound to enjoy one of the questlines immensely...Just be sure to return home and talk to your pet baby cactus after each quest. When you leave, he'll scribble down his naive thoughts on your adventures in his diary. Always worth a laugh! The game isn't shy or melodramatic about death, either. The serial killer questline is the largest narrative in the game, full of twists and great characters. One could consider that the main questline, in a way.


Now we come to Legend's combat. It's real time, and plays a bit like an old school brawler, but is so much more. You have many weapons to choose from. Swords, Axes, Two-Handed Swords, Two-Handed Axes, Knives, fucking nun-chucks, fisticuffs (gloves), spears, and staffs. Each of these has a very large list of skills that can be discovered, as Legend has an unusual skill learning system. You use [] and X for basic attacks...But /\ and O are where the game starts to show it's depth. You start with basic moves like lunging and jumping, and as you use them, they'll combine into other skills. For example, using Crouch and Jump will result in you learning High Jump. And it builds from there. Using High Jump with Retreat (a backdash), will result in learning a Back Flip. Using these moves and a weapon will result in learning a skill. Using a spear and Lunge will result in a powerful forward strike, basically. It's rather well done, and results in combat building itself around your playstyle. Magic and skills are assigned to the shoulder buttons. Magic works by holding down the button to play an instrument imbued with a spirit. Charge it for a wider area of effect and more power. There are many unique shapes to these, so magic, while infinite, must be used strategically. It's a fun little system, easy for anyone to pick up and play. No random battles, either.

Yes, that's a chocobo. Yes, it is your pet.

The customization in Legend...You'll spend a lot of time at home if you want to get most out of the game. You can forge weapons, plus make your own magic instruments...and golems. You can make robots. You can make AI routines by hand. You can dye them different colors by using fruit from your giant, and incredibly well animated for the PS1, talking tree. This fruit can even be used to temper weapons, making them stronger. Or you can buy some metals and just forge a new blade. Sadly, you can't ever change the appearance of the main character. But the pet raising...Onto this great little feature. Nearly every enemy in the game can be your ally. All you have to do is be willing to put the time in to get the egg. After doing a fun little minigame where you distract the cute little half-hatched monster egg with fruit and then ambush it, you'll return home. The egg will hatch into one of a handful of critters, depending on the type of egg. If you try hard enough, you can even get dragons as pets. They'll help in combat, and even if the AI is dodgy (PS1 game, you see), standing next to them will usually trigger a helpful effect.

What if I told you I was a telepath? What then?!

Co-op fans will be pleased to know that you can import other main characters from other save datas for a friend to play as via a semi-secret house in Domina, or just set it so that your friend controls your current AI partner at any save point. Good fun with friends, in my experience.

That's about all I can say about this game. When it was released, it's open-ended nature was considered a negative. In today's gaming world, I believe this would have been received much better. The game received, and still continues to receive, a lot of hate from more traditional JRPG fans. For me, this ended up my second favorite game ever. It's unique, and not too hard to find used for a decent price on the 'net. But the Playstation Store release is incoming.

Those looking for a more serious, epic narrative should stay away. Those longing for the thrill of exploration, and a large number of short, but memorable, quests...Check this out. The game will be arriving on the Playstation Store within a few months. But if you can get the original disc for a reasonable price and still have a decent PS1 collection, do it. The game could read and interact with the save datas for Final Fantasy 8, SaGa Frontier 2, and Chocobo Racing to unlock a few neat things. Like the Chocobo pet with FF8.


I'm still new to Dtoid's BBcode, and this review was transferred over from my review on The Escapist, so I had to remove a lot of the code that didn't work, and I don't know Dtoid's equivalent code.   read

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