I looking forward to buying:
- (PS3) Final Fantasy XIII (duh)
- (PS3) The Last Remnant
I own those consoles:
- Nintendo DS
- Playstation 2
- Playstation 3
- A broken Wii (fried video card ;_;)
My current favourite games are:
- (DS) The World Ends With You
- (DS) Megaman ZX Advent
- (PS2) Persona 3 FES
- (PS2) Persona 4
- (PS3) Demon's Souls
- (PS3) Metal Gear Solid 4
- (PS3) Fallout 3
- (PS3) Mirror's Edge [Platinum Trophy!]
Earlier this week, I experienced a series of wonderful nerdgasms as I reached Dragon Age: Originsí climax and ending. A tough tie for my favourite game of 2009 with Demonís Souls, Bioware has once again proven it can tell stories of vibrant new worlds better than nearly anyone else. Not only the storyline driven by many player choices was highly addictive and compelling, but rarely did I spend so much time hesitating in a RPG between characters I want to take along in battle. Sten aside, every party member felt like people Iíd be interested in knowing more and making friends with in real life.
For crying out loud, this game absolutely needs a sequel! And with a little luck, Iím guessing that with the good reviews it received all around, weíll probably get one too! However, since I like to play the whiny party pooper, Iíd like to point out a few key improvements that could be brought to make the next Dragon Age game a prouder successor to Origins. None of the following are severe issues, mind you, but itís those little things that stack up to make a difference between an outstanding effort (9) and a nearly-perfect game (10). Letís start withÖ
Making sure every class specialisation is combat-worthy
One of the countless cool aspects of this game is that each of the twelve class specialisations is deeply rooted into the worldís lore. You see your drunken dwarf friend pumping himself into an enraged state of madness and youíre like ďWhoa, I want my fighter to do this too! Can you teach me?!Ē and heís like ďYeah sure, hereís the booze!Ē.
I had watched the cinematic trailer with Morrigan turning into a monstrous spider mid-fight, so when I met her in-game I took the opportunity to make friendsÖ donít you look at me like that! Anyway, after I explored her bestial side-I mean, I asked her as a friend to teach me her shape-changing ways. On the following battle, I eagerly activated my spider form mode after I emptied my MP on spells. And waited. And waited. And stared at a progress bar. Meanwhile, my friends made short work of the remaining foes, before I finally popped into a spider.
The novelty was there, it was cool to move around as an arachnid, but I was quickly let down by the ridiculous damage and limited options this form offered. Even several levels later, when the ďimprovedĒ shapes are available, their use still doesnít justify giving up crowd-control and area of effect spells, especially in this game where enemies always attack in numbers. Coupled with the ridiculous casting time, I ended up never using my animal forms except to cross maps quickly using the insect swarm. Itís a shame, because a shifter class always has the potential to be so much fun, and the graphic models were pretty neat tooÖ
Increasing difficulty as the story progresses
Yay, another group of bite-sized darkspawn with a caster...
One thing that has frustrated many Dragon Age gamers, olí Jim included, is that the gameís battles offer sudden and severe spikes in difficulty, and I mean outside of boss fights. This ends in frustration as your friends drop down crying like theyíre hit in the face by the newest Supersoaker; you have no choice but to load your game while you realize that your approach against these apparently average monsters needs refinement.
One could argue, and I would agree with them, that breaking playersí expectations of non-boss encounter difficulty is a GOOD thing. What bothers me though is these challenging encounters stop happening later in the game, when you can petrify the enemy caster, choke the archer in a force cage and pelt the rest with a blizzard. Simply put, so many crowd control abilities are available to all three classes at that point that only monsters with ridiculous HP and defenses (read: bosses) will still be standing after everyone has exhausted their initial stamina bar.
Itís okay to move on from darkspawns to dragons (in fact the dragon fights were awesome), but I donít think itís right that I could dig in my BBQ chips bag while Ohgren cleaved through all the whelps laughing. Iíd love harder battles next time, where the game assumes you to be level 20ish and calibrates enemy stats and add difficult terrain accordingly. Itís quite silly that one can do the whole Denerim final chapter without using any of the armies it took most of the game to recruit in the first placeÖ
More romance options
This picture has bewbies and hairy creatures.
Huh oh. In before the insults asking me to go back to The Sims! Seriously though, I felt that while the romantic options available were well-crafted, ďplayerĒ characters you meet cover too little ground, personality-wise.
If you character is a man, you have the choice between:
- The cynical distant woman
- The superficial gentle woman
- The libidotastic elf
Otherwise, as a woman character, you get the wonderful choices of:
- The unassertive comic relief
- The superficial gentle woman
- The libidotastic elf
Why stop it there? Wouldnít Ohgren make a great romance option for females? If you have helped him on his sidequest, you must have seen how the little guy fancies bed play! Why not break a taboo while at it? Your male character could be in his later adventuring years, being the perfect gentleman with Wynne near the campfire! *GASP* Thatís right! Old people have sex too! Iíve never seen romance between older people represented in a video game before, hereís your chance to do another inovation Bioware!
I couldnít possibly close the topic of romance without speaking of Alistair, so here goes: besides my opinion that he is a clear candidate for a closeted homosexual, the heated debates regarding this subject only point to the fact that male gay characters that arenít either flaming queens or hairy bodybuilders are severely underrepresented in video games. You know, for example like regular gay persons in the real world. Oof. Sorry, I didnít mean to shatter your illusions like that.
In short, if the next Dragon Age episode shows improvement on these last three elements, it would make me so happy I would promote Bioware to Greater Deity in my personal pantheon, where theyíd get to sit next to Atlus!
In the recent months, my patience has been wearing out. Other PS3 owners certainly must have felt itÖ ďI bought a Sony console, where the hell are my new high-quality role-playing games?!Ē Yes, Iíve played through the wonderful Fallout 3, but thatís a year ago already. The last title I purchased in an attempt to become addicted to a console RPG was Cross Edge, and let me tell you my expectations werenít met. This is probably a rant better left for its own blog post, but Iíll just say Iíve had my fill of slow, overly complicated battle systems, especially when itís the only thing a game has to offer.
When would I get to be happy again with my PS3? Looking at top sales charts, all I could see was shovelware, family-friendly games; not an ounce of new, not an ounce of challenge. I prayed for a new release that would surprise me, that would make me sit on the edge of my chair for dozens of hours. When I fell into despair, a few moments after I abandoned my console and subscribed once again to WoW, Atlus pushed the cookie jar off the fridge and sent it crashing onto my head. From Software had baked a new, savoury cookie!
Enter Demonís Souls, a game that shatters any expectation you may have of an action-RPG. The first comment Iíve heard about that game is that it can be compared to the Diablo games. This couldnít be further from truth, actually. I think Iíll use this shallow, inadequate comparison to express my deepest love for Demonís Souls and tell her why Iíd rather spend the night with her and not her supposed ďrivalĒ from the Blizzard family.
Letís start with the gameís atmosphere. In Diablo, itís dark alright, but you donít really fear the dark. Some foes are going to emerge from the darkness, screaming or moaning, but you can face them with the assurance that they cannot kill you with the unbalanced attacks, field-clearing magics and stockpiles of instant-healing potions at your disposal. In Demonís Souls, you are simply a guy that can thrust and swing with a weapon, that has managed to tediously memorize a single spell with trainingÖ and youíre stuck in a world where a single demon can jump from the darkness to your right and take half of your health bar away in a single swipe! Trembling, you tread carefully, because this room might very well be the one where your horrible, unforgiving death occurs.
In the second instalment of Blizzardís famous dungeon crawler, you have a stamina gauge, but all itís really used for is limiting the time during which you can keep running. Once youíve exhausted your stamina, you can jump into a fray of twelve monsters and take them all down Ö after all, itís not like swinging a 6-feet iron sword is any trouble. On the other side, stamina is very consistent in Demonís Souls. Simply swinging a weapon takes effort, and repeatedly hitting on your opponentís raised shield is going to get you tired in few strikes. Once youíre tired, your blows have no strength and you have trouble soaking damage with your shield, so you better stand back defensively. Oh, and besides leaving you quite open to a deadly ambush, running ahead is a sure way to tire you and hamper your fighting abilities.
I fondly remember running around as a Barbarian that dual-wielded gigantic axes in Diablo 2. The bigger the weapon, the stronger you were; that was about it. But applying Demonís Souls consistency to this too, the fighting style comes with a hefty cost. It takes you a few moments just to start your swing, leaving you wide open for a rapier or scimitar in your chest. Parrying with an axe in the off-hand is ineffective, soaking little damage. What are you going to do against those archers with the two weapons in your hands? You know that your halberd will glance off walls in narrow tunnels, making you totally ineffective? You intend to roll out of that mageís firestorm in heavy armor?
This is one of the things that please me most about this game: thereís no ďone wayĒ to go for all situations, everything is consistent and realistically balanced. Itís a brutal logic that will certainly anger someone who was looking for a game where he could kick ass like Chuck Norris with swords. This is certainly also going to hurt Demonís Souls sales, but I for one welcome the change in my challenge-less gaming life. This game is, as VG Cats so vehemently expressed, for old-school gamers who killed the robot masters and saved the f@#%& princess.
Demonís Souls make no compromise. You learn from your mistakes and other playersí, via the warnings they engrave on the ground and their bloodstains that show the last seconds before their trespass. As you advance cautiously in the worlds of Boletaria, you know that other players are also sitting tight in their living rooms. You can even witness their ghosts fight unknown foes ahead of you, warning you briefly of the cost of carelessness. There is a sense of being surrounded by the other people playing this game, yet this is mostly a single player experience. Itís a groundbreaking first in the industry, I believe, and to me the gameís originality of concept and consistency of execution just screams ďAtlusĒ. I must say Iím at a point where Iíll buy any game they release simply because I will be certain itís AAA material.
Yes, Iím blinded by passionate love. I LOVE YOU ATLUS!
Many good things have been said of Bethesda's latest gem amongst RPGs, Fallout 3, and indeed the game delivers with an immersive world, an improved character growth system and the well-implemented VATS. After thirty hours of saving innocents and solving problems across the Capital Wastelands, I finally reached the end of my wonderful (and first) journey in the Fallout universe. As much as I enjoyed playing through this outstanding piece of art, I have been very frustrated by a few key elements towards the end of the game. Scenario slips are often considered unimportant in many other games (such as the much-praised Gears of War series), but I think that it splashes mud on my gaming experience when we're talking about any kind of serious RPG. I make the following rants because as a fan of RPGs since Final Fantasy IV on the Super NES and an occasionnal D&D dungeon master, I believe every scenarist in a role-playing game should stay clear of the following mistakes:
Deus Ex Machina'ed Ending
Until the last moments of the game, the player has pretty much total freedom in his actions, having choice between a good, evil or neutral behaviour in any given situation, which in turn brings a reciprocal consequence. The ending, however, is vastly different. The purification machine that the player must activate in order to cleanse all the water around Washington D.C. has suffered heavy damage and must be activated immediately, or it might not work later on. The catch is, the computer that starts the machine is inside an irradiated sealed room, and while you can easily open the hatch to reach it, for some reason you cannot be let out of the contaminated room once you enter it, even if someone is there by the switch outside. Why? Is it because radiation would spread inside an abandoned place? So what if all the water's clean!
The real joke is, shortly before that last chapter, you meet a character named Fawkes who is incidentally highly resistant to radioactivity and walks willingly in a place that inflicts over 40 rads/sec, which is many times as much as the radiation in the cleansing device room! You may choose to recruit Fawkes as your sidekick (he is very powerful I might add), and you even get the conversation option that asks him to head into the toxic room in your stead (he did it once before, after all). He answers something along the lines that he wants you to be the hero. What?! You'd rather ask your friend to commit suicide than go yourself and not be affected by the radiation at all, just for the (false?) modesty of not wanting to be a hero? Fawkes, you're such a mean jerk!
So what's Fallout 3's moral of the story? In order to be a hero, you HAVE to be dead. It doesn't matter if you have 85% radiation resistance, or if a radiation-immune friendly super mutant is next to you, you HAVE to get in there and NO, you can't get out because... the hatch can only open once *cough*. I am frustrated by this outcome (I guess it shows), because I feel totally robbed of my victory since I had to die even if it didn't make any sense at all. I guess I should've played an evil character, because that one is probably going to walk away just fine from the adventure (rich and famous, too!). Onto my second point of frustration:
Shallow, invisible sidekicks
A moment ago I mentionned Fawkes, your friendly neighbourhood super-mutant which accompanies you if you have good karma. Immediately after you recruit him, you may head back to the headquarters of a group that has been in a war with super-mutants to continue the main quest. Guess what, nobody notices the eight foot monstruosity that follows you around like a dog in there. He isn't shot at, you don't have to stop by the gates to explain his presence or defend his existence, nobody cares at all.
Now I understand that having a sidekick in Bethesda's free-roaming single-player RPGs is a new thing, but it's something they should have thought throughly! If the player character is accompanied by NPCs, they gotta also have their own impact on the world, it's how the player gets attached to them (or hates them - see Yuffie). In Fallout 3, it feels like they're just some kind of disposable automaton with a health bar and swappable weapons, none of them having any sidequest related to their own past or personnal objectives, which is truely a shame because some of them seem to have a nice personality set for them through their few introductory dialogues.
In conclusion, I believe those two points are something Bethesda should work on for their next RPG hit. Those flaws do nothing to alter the countless qualities this game has, and I enjoyed playing Fallout 3 as much as anyone else did, but I felt that these issues needed to be mentionned to balance out the "automatic game of the year! it's from bethesda!" opinions. They may be kings of the free-roaming roleplaying games, but roleplaying games consist of more than freedom in choices...
This is my first blog article, thank you dearly for reading it, I will gladly accept any civil criticism!