Well, let's see, I've got a ridiculously sized game collection, spanning from Coleco to Wii, with much of what's in between. The Super Nintendo was the height of awesome for me, and I still break it out once in a while to relive those memories.
I'm also a fairly big RPG nut, recently been playing WoW, may god have mercy on my soul.
I've got all three "current-gen" systems, and love them all for various reasons.
Sure everyone's playing God of War III right now, but what if you were thinking. "Gee, I sure wish I could play a game similar to this, with fewer topless Spartans, and more crucifixes?" For those of you not too proud to admit it, Amazon has the game you've been lusting over.
Dante's Inferno is available today for the low price of $38.99 for both the PS3 and the 360, which is good if you're a greedy bastard who doesn't like to part with your money. This deal only lasts until tonight however, so don't let sloth get the better of you, lest you end up envying those who acted faster. Buy one for yourself, or be a tremendous glutton and buy as many as you can, just don't be surprised when you face the wrath of gamers scorned after they find out where you live.
Q Block is a neat little Flash toy that lets you create 3D pixel art similar to the look that's being used in From Software's new project. It's from a completely unrelated developer, but cool nonetheless. You can browse the ones that people have already created, and start building by clicking the EDIT> button.
Press the Clear button, and you'll be presented with a blank white canvas, floating in space. Clicking and dragging around the screen will rotate the object, while the three buttons in the upper left determine what happens when you click on a block. Paint will color the block to the selected color, Attach will add another block sticking out from the side you click on, while remove will unsurprisingly remove one.
This method is a little unwieldy for filling large areas quickly, but it's perfect for rotating, making small adjustments, and tweaking the look of something. For large areas that you need to fill quickly, click the "Show Canvas" button.
This will display a 2D canvas that you can paint and erase on, as well as showing your different layers available. Draw on this canvas and it'll be shown in 3D back in the main area. You can copy layers, clear layers, and even extrude something through all the layers. When you're finished, hit save, give your creation a title and list your name, and that's that, it'll give you a permanent link to the file so you can share it with all your friends.
One major theme that tends to come up when talking to gamers is the question of "Why don't they make games like they used to?". It's not really a bad thing, but it's mostly attributed to the nostalgia of the games they played growing up. I'm sure some day someone will look back and ask why they don't make shooters like Halo anymore. So what does this have to do with anything? Well, Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, is a throwback to the 16-bit era of RPGs. The aesthetic definitely gives off a feeling of Squaresoft's later SNES games such as Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger and the similarities don't stop there.
Bel Lenora has a loose definition of 'wolf'...
In the 16-bit tradition, battles all take place on a battle screen away from the main maps. Characters wait to act using the classic ATB system and then select their actions from a cross menu. As in Chrono Trigger, characters who fight together will learn combination skills that can be used when both characters are at the ready and have enough SP. One new addition to the battle system is that positioning is important. When you order Kairu to attack with his sword, he will only be able to target enemies that he can actually get to. If he is too far away, he will move as far as he can, then need to pause to 'recharge' for a short moment before continuing his move. Of course, this works the same for enemies. Holding L allows you to move a character to a new position while giving up their current turn. Since the battlefields occasionally include obstacles and different paths, it's entirely possible to have a character stand in the way and take the physical hits for casters in the rear.
Anyway, enough on the mechanics. On to the review.
As stated before, there's a huge wave of nostalgia that comes from seeing the sprites and menus when you start the game up. It looks like it could fit in on the SNES 14 years ago, and that's exactly what the developers were going for. The story is competent, about a boy, Kairu, who is born without Magic in a world where the last person to be born under such conditions ended up trying to destroy the world. He ends up sealed away in a cave by his adoptive father who has no choice but to give in to the paranoid will of the people. When exploring the cave, Kairu finds himself transported to a strange new world and his adventure begins in earnest.
The battle system has some nice touches, with the positioning aspect bringing a slight bit of freshness to the old ATB system. The characters, although somewhat cliche, are fairly likable, and all seem to have distinct personalities through their writing, which has had few typos so far. The dual screen setup is used to decent effect, with a world map and quick overview of party status taking up the top screen while outside, and a list of battle members with status effect display taking its place during combat.
....and again... and again... and again...
The Bad For a game that is trying to evoke the feelings of classic Squaresoft RPGs, it seems to be lacking substantially in the music department. Black Sigil was originally developed on the GBA before being moved to the DS, and some of the sound quality still shows. The graphics match, but the composer is no Uematsu or Mitsuda. The battle theme in particular seems strangely slow, opting for a military-style drumbeat and strings that don't really give a sense of urgency to combat. The battle theme for FFVI and CT were both very upbeat, so it seems strange that a game trying to emulate them would go off in such a different direction. The music isn't completely bad, but it's simply passable. Nothing that will have you humming in the near future.
Another major complaint is that the encounter rate is simply brutal. Walking from one town to the other on the overworld is a long string of battles that will take a serious toll on your HP. One minor complaint is that there doesn't seem to be any battle transition. The screen simply fades out and fades back in on the battle screen. No fuzzy screen, swishy spiral, or silly "vrrrrt vrrrrt" noise to warn you that battle is coming. It shouldn't seem like much of an issue, but when you're used to something like that being there, it's jarring when it's not.
The TL;DR Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled is an attempt at a classic SNES RPG in 2009. The aesthetic is matched almost perfectly, but the music leaves one wanting. The Chrono Trigger ATB v2.0 system makes an appearance here, modified to be more dependent on character positioning. The story is decent, though cliche, and the encounter rate is brutal. Little touches like a battle transition are missing, and the use of dual screens is passable.
Black Sigil is a bit hard to find, as it doesn't seem to be stocked in any stores physically, but it can be easily ordered off of Gamestop.com or Amazon. Published by Graffiti entertainment, it retails for $29.99.
Ever have one of those days where nothing seems to go right? You lose your car keys, dog throws up on the new rug, your dad gets his soul taken away to become one of the Einherjar by the Valkyrie Lenneth....wait, what?
Well even if you haven't, you can experience part of that situation by jumping on today's Amazon deal. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume for the Nintendo DS is available for the low price of $19.98. It features a mix of tactical combat and the same combo-driven battles of Profiles past. There have been some complaints that the difficulty can be brutal and unforgiving at times, but you can't just waltz into Valhalla after all.
Haven't bought Fallout 3 yet? What, are you waiting for the actual nuclear apocalypse so you can get the full experience? Or maybe you're just saddened that you didn't manage to get one of the collector's edition boxes when they were first available. Well in that case, does Amazon have a deal for you!
The collector's edition with the lunchbox and other goodies is on sale for a wonderful $49.98, but if you truly want the full Fallout 3 experience, the Amazon exclusive Survival Edition with the vault boy bobblehead AND PipBoy Clock is available for $109.98
As an interesting thing to note, the standard edition of the game is listed at $49.99, so you're actually saving money by ordering the collector's edition.
Well, here I am again, doing pretty much the same thing I did last year around this time. Things are a bit more spread out among the systems this time, as the last year has seen me end up with both a 360 and a PS3. This was also a ridiculously tough decision to make, as so many amazing games came out this year. That makes 2 years in a row filled with great releases... can 2009 go for the trifecta? As before, everything is in alphabetical order, because it's easier that way.
If you don't like the wall o' text, then the TL;DR version is once again at the bottom.
Anyway, without further ado, here we go.
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin Advance Wars has been a consistently good series for quite a while now, but it also came with a certain aesthetic. Sure there was a war going on against some evil force, but the main characters were plucky, bright-eyed and generally seemed to be having a good time, regardless of who shot who, and what blew up what. Days of Ruin was admittedly a bit of a shock when it was first announced. The world was destroyed, the colors were darker and toned down, and gone were the big happy grins of Andy, Sami, and Max. However, the strategic gameplay was tighter than ever, so even with the brownification, Advance Wars managed to crank out another exceptional entry into the series. WiFi multiplayer made it even better, since you could take on friends across the country and world. Now if only they'd do something about those friend codes...
Burnout Paradise Burnout Paradise was actually the first game I bought after buying the cursed PS3 from BahamutZero. I had been a fan of the earlier Burnout games, and the idea of being able to perform crazy stunts and just drive wild around the city really sounded appealing. This game was amazing fun, and it still manages to get my attention once in a while. The amount of support from Criterion is wonderful, and it's one of the few games I'm looking forward to paying more for in the upcoming year as the paid DLC comes out. This is how DLC is supposed to work, and everyone else needs to take a look at this.
Disgaea 3: Absense of Justice There's something about the Disgaea games that keeps me coming back time after time. Sure, it looks like a PS1 game, but the game mechanics are as solid as anything out there. There are so many things to tweak as you work your way up towards building a ridiculously overpowering army, and the randomly generated stages and ridiculous level cap means that Disgaea 3 is a game that you could play for hundreds of hours and still not be done with it. Some major improvements come along with the great Disgaea gameplay to make this one a keeper.
Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard Note: I loved the original Etrian Odyssey. The music was great, the visuals were good enough to convey what was going on without becoming too tiresome, and the challenge was way up there. When Etrian Odyssey 2 was announced, I was ready to buy it right there. The original game wasn't perfect though, and EO2 manages to address a few of the biggest flaws. More map making tools are available, so intrepid adventurers have an easier time of drawing maps that make sense, gone is the nearly useless BOOST gauge from the original, replaced with special Force skills for each class, and a few new classes join the mix, making party building full of even more choices. If you're a fan of the old school dungeon crawl, you can't do much better than this.
Fallout 3 I had played the original Fallout games long ago and had a great time with them, so I was a little cautious about what might come from Bethesda's work on the series. Add to that, the fact that I completely hated Oblivion and the forecast wasn't looking good for Fallout 3. However, when I finally got a chance to play it, it was clear that some definite work went into making it more than just "Oblivion with guns". I love the V.A.T.S. system, have a great time with all the different places I can explore and things I can find, and just generally enjoyed my time in the Capital Wasteland.
Left 4 Dead I'm a big fan of zombies and zombie movies in general, but as I've stated before, FPS is not my genre of choice. Valve however, is doing their best to make me into an FPS convert by releasing amazing games year after year. Every campaign I've played through on Left 4 Dead has been nothing but amazing fun. Playing with friends is even better, and when everybody has their headset on auto-talk, it's a good laugh to hear someone yell out "Oh shit!" or screaming for help when something invariably goes wrong. This is a game where you have a great time even when you lose, and anyone with a close group of friends should give it a try together.
Lost Odyssey Lost Odyssey was something that I picked up on a whim shortly after I got my 360, because there was still time before the release of Tales of Vesperia. I am certainly glad I did. It brings back the old school turn based battle gameplay that SquareEnix is too hastily abandoning, while removing some of the stupidity that came along with it. The fact that all spells cost multiples of 5 MP, and I never end up with a max MP ending in something like 7 or 9 makes it utterly streamlined, and never makes me feel like I got completely gypped by a level up. Little things like characters who can learn skills from others by fighting with them, a defense level for people in the back that lowers as the front gets pounded, and an amazing cast of characters (especially Jansen), only serve to add to the awesomeness of one of the best RPGs of the year. Whoever is in charge of the universe, please take the money from SquareEnix and give it to Mistwalker.
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis Mana Khemia was sort of an oddball. Released on the PS2 when most companies had already pretty much abandoned the thing, it was an RPG set in the Atelier Iris universe, and set at an Alchemy school at that. The game plays out as the characters go throughout their school weeks, earning enough credits, dealing with school problems, and being harassed by rivals, all while telling a story about the main character and his friends. The great Alchemy system from the Atelier Iris games is back, and the battles are as fun as ever. Mana Khemia is a definite indication that 2D is still just as good as 3D, and Gust delivers beautiful sprite-work as always. If you missed it the first time, you could do a lot worse than picking up the PSP version, due out soon.
Metal Gear Solid 4 Say what you'd like about Snake being old, or about the game being more cutscene than gameplay, but it's hard denying that MGS4 wasn't one of the most amazing experiences to come out this year. The convoluted storyline of the MGS universe was finally tied up, new characters and old favorites joined up, Johnny Sasaki got his chance to shine, and with some of the most epic boss fights in the series, Kojima managed to put Snake to bed in a manner that was not only satisfying, but fun. Here's hoping that he makes good on his promise that the Solid series is over though, since there really isn't anywhere else to go left.
Tales of Vesperia The Tales of... series seems to be rather hit or miss at times. Tales of Symphonia was great, Tales of Legendia, not so much. Add to that the fact that half of the games don't even make it across the ocean, and it's a series that really needed to have a good game for its first current-gen outing in order to stay relevant. Luckily, Tales of Vesperia is a great entry into the series, further expanding on the battle and skill system of Tales of the Abyss, and bringing item creation along for the ride. The story was great, the characters were likable, and Yuri managed to walk the line of a troubled hero without coming off as idealistic or cheesy.
Honorable Mention: The World Ends With You Square Enix has been lacking these days. Infinite Undiscovery has a horrible name, and gameplay nearly as bad, and Last Remnant, while somewhat better, is nearly unplayable unless you install it to your hard drive. However, sometimes they manage to pull out something completely amazing, and that's what you end up with in The World Ends with You. An awesome concept, an interesting and fun battle system, and oozing with style, these are the kinds of games S-E should be focusing on.
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice
Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard
Left 4 Dead
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
Metal Gear Solid 4
Tales of Vesperia