Just an opinionated fan of rpg's and gaming in general who likes to rant about first world gamer problems because there are so many.
My blogs mostly consist of reviews/rants of games of all generations, particularly rpg's. I try to blend my reviews with both facts and opinion so that people can see from my own experiences and decide for themselves. i will also tend to review older titles because i still believe that there are few people out there who haven't played these awesome titles and deserve to give them a chance.
Oh and as for some negative's you might point out, i don't put images in my reviews/rants because images are a pain in the neck to obtain and they never seem to work properly. Plus i can't spell for my life and my grammar is terrible.
Star Ocean Till The End Of Time is the black sheep of the Star Ocean series, does this make it a bad game? Not necessarily. I have a love/hate relationship with this game. Being a tri Ace fan and all, i love the Star Ocean series and I've come to own all of them in some form though i could never get my hands on the original second story which is a shame.
The storyline is like a roller coaster, sometimes you're enjoying it, other times it gets really boring. I enjoyed the first part of the game, then it got quite boring but then it started to get quite interesting. The main issue with this game's story comes from the infamous plot twist which ruins the players investment into the story however the plot twist is executed well enough and though it can be confusing at first, it is all explained by a certain npc but they only explain it once and after that the game expects you to realize this which can lead players to believe that there are many plot holes by the ending but there really isn't the game just doesn't explain itself well that is all and believe me, you don't know the meaning convoluted until you have played this game. When you see the ending, your face will look like this.
So all in all the plot is likeable should you appreciate the plot twist. The private action endings are probably the best in the series and aren't cut short like most of the private action endings in Star Ocean The Second Story. The private actions themselves though could have been better and there isn't much interaction between each playable character. Most private actions tend to involve boring conversations with npc's though there are some good ones. Personally I enjoyed the story for the most part but it's definitely not for everyone, I find that besides Star Ocean The Last Hope it is the most sci fi themed game of them all, though it still spends quite a long time in an under developed planet which can be a drag. In the end, the story of the game all comes down to the plot twist.
The game play on the other hand is plain and simply horrible, I tried my best to enjoy the game play since the story was good (at least for me) but most of the time i gave up because of the frustrating battle system, it is broken so expect a terrible score for game play. Let us begin the bad parts.
Enjoy the 13 minute special of Star Ocean Till The End Of Time's battle system (OK this may be a little exaggerated but it's pretty much true for the most part) my fingers hurt after this (you cannot use your thumbs, they will get tired of mashing X and O over and over).
First of all lets talk about the controls, Tri Ace thought it would be a good idea to swap the special arts buttons, so instead on using the L2 and R2 buttons, you have to use X and O, this wouldn't be so bad if they hadn't have made the X and O buttons do three things at once. Both buttons do two different special attacks depending on the range, they also do a regular attack too which costs no health to use (oh don't worry I'll get to that later). The worst part about this is how you execute each move, to use a normal attack you have to tap X or O, X is a fast attack, O is a power attack. Normal attacks bounce off enemies if they have 100% fury (I'll get to that soon too) Power attacks are slower but break through 100% fury shields and you don't get counter attacked so it's important to know when to normal attack and when to power attack. To use a special attack you have to hold down the X or O button depending on whether you want a fast attack or a power attack, you can assign two special attacks to each button (i'm not joking) and depending on the range depends on the special move you pull off.
Now this is just terrible design right here, you do not ever EVER assign 3 different actions to a single button, especially if they don't register well. there are many times where I tap the button and end up using a special and vice versa, most of the time I have to mash the button hard to make sure I get a special and even then it can mess up. I consider this to be broken game design because it doesn't work the way the player wants it to, and if it doesn't work then I classify it as broken and I usually never reward less than a 3.0 unless it is broken.
To make things worse you have cancel bonuses, for mashing the button in the middle of the move cancelling, you can get a damage bonus and a bonus to the bonus line. This is often critical to winning a battle so you have to constantly mash the button hard and even then it doesn't work very well so cancel bonuses are essentially luck, the entire purpose of cancel bonuses is that you are risking your fury to perform them leaving you open to be hit, so if you get a chance where the enemy is left open for an attack, you wont be able to hit them with full power unless you manage to mash the button quickly enough mid move to get the full effect, making game play infuriating.
Now for the Main Features of the battle system, this can get quite confusing but here goes, each character has a fury meter which is essentially their shield, their fury gauge fills up when you're stood still doing nothing. With 100% fury you automatically block fast attacks (which most enemies tend to not use making all this information pointless but i need to explain it to you so you understand) and counter them with an anti attack barrier in which you can choose to either stun the enemy or deal damage to them. There is a bonus line which allows you to get bonuses to your XP/fol (currency)/parameter recovery etc based on your performance in battle (*kill enemy in 30 seconds or less* etc) for a chance to obtain these bonuses you have to fill up the bonus line.... by doing cancel bonuses. Now do you see why i hate the controls so much? The game literally rewards you for button mashing, and i mean hardcore button mashing because you need to be hardcore at button mashing to play this game, put it this way, make sure you have a controller with stiff buttons otherwise your fingertips will hurt.
Now my main gripe about battles is the parameters, using special moves costs you health (HP) so you're hit points works essentially like magic points except that there are also magic points (MP) which you spend to use symbology (magic). the worst part about this is that if you run out of either HP or MP you die, so essentially the best tanks in the game are Nel and Peppita or anyone who has balanced HP/MP because later on in the game by the end of disk 1 enemies with deal MP damage to you which can KO you very quickly which leads to some really nasty difficulty spikes that you won't be ready for.
Now I see what they were trying to do, they were trying to find another cost for special moves instead of using mp all the time like in the first two games but the whole idea is just ridiculous and has you manage both health and magic points to keep yourself alive, meaning you have to have lots of mixed syrups or anything that recovers both hp/mp in your inventory to stay alive, you will often find yourself lacking necessary items and needing to return to town often to restock on supplies which is a bad coincidence since the final dungeon, or the dungeon just before the final dungeon should I say is long and confusing, it's one of the worst dungeons in rpg history and is almost as infamous as the plot twist itself.
Couple all this with possibly one of the worst ai i've ever encountered, the ai are like cannon fodder, they just charge in and get their ass handed to them. Relying on the ai is impossible and sadly unlike the Tales series, there is no multiplayer option. You will often have to switch control of characters just so that they don't get themselves killed, either that or do the next best thing and set them all to manual mode so that they don't move, they're more handy to you stood still than being controlled by the ai because at least you can save on healing items.
The field sections have you having to explore the entire area to fill the map, you are rewarded with bonuses, usually money or items for doing so. Dungeons are the same, there are quite a few puzzles which can be quite a bore but some of them are both interesting and frustrating at the same time such as the hauler mine cart mini game.
If i could compare the field sections of Star Ocean Till The End Of Time with any other game it would be Grandia 2, only with more puzzles.
And finally the item creation is quite possibly the worst part of this game, unlike previous games in the series, item creation is compulsory if you don't want to struggle later on in the game, basically you have to find a workshop and put in facilities for invention which is basically the new item creation. The way it works is that instead of putting a base resource in a pot for a lucky dip like in the previous games, you have to spend fol to develop ideas for a new blueprint for an item which you can distribute throughout stores, it's sort of like a mini game, you have to distribute high rated items to get the highest score but you may also have to distribute bad items because they are useful in battle.
Be prepared to see Welch's stupid face every so often to check when your items are available. Well at least it's not the Star Ocean 4 Welch *shudders*.
Once you have invented an item you keep one of the item that you invented so it's kind of like it was in the previous games though instead of using materials to create items, you use money. There is also synthesis which allows you to combine almost any item with weapons/equipment/accessories which is probably the only fun part of item creation as you get to customize your equipment the way to want to sort of like the customization in Final Fantasy X, you have 4 factor slots which you can put bonuses in like lower mp cost or bonus damage to humanoids.
The worst part of item creation is the fail rate, for each attempt to create an item you must spend a set amount of fol depending on the quality of the item, now if you want to get decent equipment then you have to spend 5000 fol each attempt and the fail rate is so high that you will end up spending over 100k fol in total to invent a single item, later on in then game it costs even more fol per attempt which makes matters worse. The worst part about it is that it's simply boring to watch your characters fail over and over and it's frustrating since you never get the item you want, and the only way to find out how to get the specific item you need to use a guide. I won't go into any more depth into this since this review is long enough but it is extremely irritating.
If you managed to survive this long then this game may still appeal to you yet, the music is fantastic as always since it's composed by Motoi Sakuraba and the moment you hear the music in the first dungeon, you know that this game is going to have an awesome soundtrack. It may take time to appreciate it but it grows on you like the story does, there are also some very unusual songs in the game, the final boss theme for example is both epic and unique with it's jazz solo in the middle. There's also a boss theme that sounds like some sort of fitness tape which is quite awkward but it's likeable and pumps you up for battle. There are also some great sci fi sounding tracks in the mix too.
The graphics aren't the best but they're pretty good, the models could use a bit of work though, Peppita looks like smashed her head into a bar and it left an awkward shape in her face breaking her nose off in the process, she seriously needs a face lift....badly. Everyone seems to have really chubby cheeks for some reason but the art style is generally appealing.
The main game is of a decent length and it doesn't end too shortly, there are 3 bonus dungeons though i haven't tried them because of the horrific game play. There is 2 player battle mode which is broken due to the battle system but it's there. There are also multiple difficulties to try if you want to have an even bigger nightmare playing this game. All in all i hope i haven't given the game too much of a bad impression, I'd say no more than £10.00 any lower is worth it.
And on a final note.... save yourself the trouble, play on earth difficulty.
Plot/story: 8.0/6.5 (all depends on the plot twist really)
Game play: 2.0
Replay Value: 8.3
Overall score: 7.2 (or 6.2 If the ridiculous plot twist bothers you)
This review was written ages ago so some parts may seem odd if you red my Tales Of Xillia Review. It was my first tales game so i hadn't played any other Tales games at the time so terms such as overlimit are pretty foreign to me at this point. I'm putting it up late so... sorry about that.
Oh and yes i'm aware that there is a Tales of Symphonia review that was posted around the same time as this. It's a bit of an awkward coincidence (i suppose i should have expected that especially considering Tales Of Symphonia Chronicles has just been released but playing through it has reminded me to put this review up) but i just wanted to put this review up whilst i can still categorize it as current gen. I guess i just wasn't thinking clearly, lets just call this a Tales day.
Tales Of Graces F is my first Tales game, I got it because I was hyped for Tales Of Xillia really and I wanted to test it to see what the Tales series has to offer, my impression can be summed up as this: Tales Of Graces F is a game that tries way too hard to get the players interest but half the stuff you've already done before. Now I'm a Tri Ace fan and Tri Ace and Namco are rival companies so I thought that it wouldn't be a bad idea to try something from Namco for a change expect me to compare this game to Star Ocean a lot.
Before I start I want to say that Tales Of Graces F has a lot of features, in fact it bombards you with features. The problem is that none of them are really inventive and in the end you realize that they are merely covering up a generic combination of features normally found in your average rpg. The titles are pretty much the same as the skills in Star Ocean but you can't assign points individually, so it works more like Final Fantasy 5's class system in a way that you learn abilities in a linear fashion but you get to choose a path with 5 abilities and you have to get them all in order. You can swap titles at any time but you have to start from the top so if there's an ability you want to invest in, and it's at the bottom of a list of useless skills, your character won't be improving the way you want them to.
Speaking of bad character management the crafting system leaves much to be desired, you only get to pick one shard to upgrade your weapon until it gets tempered which is annoying and ruins the fun of micro management. In Star Ocean you can synthesize equipment up to a certain amount of times all at once so you don't have to waste time in battles to keep managing and you can use almost any item in the game, Tales Of Graces F restricts the use of normal items and allows you to use only shards and a few other items making gathering components almost pointless, it's just a way to make money. Yes there are a few items that can dualize into completely new equips but there aren't many of them. Dualizing is just a fancy name for an incredibly slow, restricting crafting system. If you're a fan of micromanagement, this game will be a massive disappointment to you as it likes to hold your hand a lot of the time and though it can be diverse, it's not worth the effort as there is usually an upgrade of the weapon you already have by the time you've tempered your weapon enough times.
The next feature is the eleth mixer, probably the most unique feature in the game. It is simply put a more balanced version of eating food than Star Ocean which is a good thing. You can also add other items to it which either generate other items or give you bonuses. Using them costs eleth which must be recharged. There are also other items that can be used in the eleth mixer such as books which grant you effects in battle and bonuses after battle. Essentially, the eleth mixer works similar to the bonus board in Star Ocean 4 but rather than acquiring bonuses through battle, you set the bonuses yourself.
Speaking of bonus board, there is a bonus line equivalent which essentially does exactly the same thing as the bonus line in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time: rewards bonuses depending on your battle performance (kill enemy in 30 seconds etc) nothing too fancy.
As for features unrelated to battles, there are discovery points and skits which essentially go together, skits are pretty much the private actions of Tales but since there aren't any multiple endings, they don't really affect the gameplay aside from a few titles, discovery is basically a log of landmarks that you can find throughout the game and are often attached to a skit. These things give something extra to do around towns, that is their main purpose, you can also do collect quests, pretty much what you expect. They're sorta like item collect guild tasks in The Last Remnant which reward you with gald and sp.
The battle system is the most balanced action battle system I've seen which uses the cc gauge to give you a number of attacks. The problem is that you often end up doing attack, block, attack, block over and over unless you manage it. You can get bonuses to cc too by parrying and evading, I just found using up all my cc and then blocking to be the most effective, maybe I'm doing it wrong but I just want to beat enemies up wildly. You have A artes and B artes, they don't connect together well for some reason (for most characters) though meaning you just stick to either one or the other based on the enemies weaknesses, A artes depend on the direction if your control stick and you move up a branch of moves to make a combo so you can choose which attacks you want to use on the fly which is nice as opposed to spamming the same moves over and over like in Star Ocean. B artes are essentially that of Star Ocean's special artes and vary depending on the character.
There is just so much to go over in the battle system, like I said you have the eleth mixer, you also have an eleth gauge which carries over every battle sort of like trance in Final Fantasy 9 when it fills you have a chance to use as many attacks as you want like Valkyrie Profile 2's break mode and you also have a chance to use mystic artes which are essentially soul crushes yet again from Valkyrie Profile 2, what a way to combine two cool gameplay elements into one, though sadly you can't chain mystic artes like you can chain soul crushes, just a personal nitpick of mine. In the future arc, exclusive to Tales Of Graces F you get an acceleration gauge which is pretty much rush mode from Star Ocean 4 (wow tri ace must be getting mad right about now...) but it also gives off unique effects based on the character which can affect battle. The battle system is essentially the bread and butter of this game and is hands down one of the best I've seen.
Now the field segments on the other hand aren't as impressive, uninspired, repetitive puzzles litter this games dungeons. They are usually obvious but in case the player lacks common sense, there is a skit to watch which explains everything, wow way to insult the players intelligence game of course we can see that it's a moving block puzzle. On the other hand this makes the puzzles feel more involving to the characters allowing them to react towards the puzzle before them. Sometimes you feel stupid watching them but sometimes they can be humorous but they tend to be the more trivial skits. Treasure chests don't contain anything interesting, sometimes a new weapon to replace the one you just dualized to the max (which is actually rare) but it usually just tends to be a worthless item that you could have bought in a shop, or extra eleth, exciting stuff.... (yes that was sarcasm by the way). It's usually not worth going the extra mile to grab a treasure chest, some of them are even protected by passwords. If you're in town and you want to waste time finding clues for what could likely be a crappy item be my guest.
I've decided to leave the story for last because well it's not the greatest story ever written, in fact it's as generic as can be but at least it tries to go somewhere even if we have seen it before. Most of the plot is predictable and the characters are cardboard cutouts. Most of the character development happens almost immediately and by the time the characters are all back together you've seen it all pretty much. Yeah Asbel, we know you regret your childhood past with your father but past is past. Even way later on in the game, the characters constantly talk about past events, even in the future arc, it's like they're all burdened by their own past. I mean it's ok to have a moment of reminiscence every now and again but not throughout the entire game! They even go on about this friendship pact all game, it's as if they haven't even fully grown up yet, even in the future arc.
As for the plot itself, the game directly rips off final fantasy 9, and it's so predictable. Unlike in Final Fantasy 9 which comes basically out of nowhere, in this game you can already tell right from the start what that one characters past is. Does this have a big impact on the game? No not really unlike in Final Fantasy 9 though to be fair it did amount to be a shaggy dog story in the end, at least it developed the characters somewhat. Richard is essentially Kain from Final Fantasy 4. I'm hoping that's not a spoiler in itself but hey, his kingdom is named Barona..... that pretty much gives it away (Richard is also ironically the name of Kain's father in Final Fantasy 4). He even looks similar to Kain in Final Fantasy 4 The After Years but without armor. An interesting fact is that each kingdom has it's own variation of rule, Barona is a monarchy, Yu Liberte is presidential and Fendal is communist, so much so that they even have the hats (FOR MOTHER RUSSIA!).
Music is kinda sub-par. The battle themes are great but the area music, as much as it tries is sort of unmemorable. I find it hard to believe that Motoi Sakuraba did the music in this game. Everything besides the battle themes seems foreign to me and I'm a fan of his music hence being a Tri Ace fan. Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile have a vastly superior soundtrack to this game, which is sort of a disappointment really, I think if the soundtrack was better I would have enjoyed the game a little better than I did. The final boss theme is as generic as they come and I hate the final dungeon theme, it's so annoyingly generic especially when they play it again in the future arc. It needs to be less ominous and more dynamic like mission to the empty space in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time.
The game itself is above average in length, it ends just before it gets too long so thankfully it's not like Legend Of Dragoon (still haven't finished it), however the quality of the time that is invested isn't all good, especially in terms of storyline. The battle system makes this game, the rest is mediocre. I haven't finished the future arc yet so consider my review to be of the main game, I don't really think it's necessary to go too much in depth with it but I'm in what seems to be the final area and if it is then all I can say is that it is short and lacking interesting plot elements, they could have done more with it, if anything it's just an extra chunk of game time to add, that is all. The main villain lacks depth and they don't go far with it. There is also a new game + feature if you want to play through the game again, though personally I don't want to go through the whole child arc again, that was a huge drag.
If there's anything i'm sick of it's bad villains in videogames. Be they a world destroyer, a sadist or just a huge prick, a bad villain is easy to decipher, even moreso than a hero. Villains are very important to a game's story. I'm not really skilled at making a villain myself but i know what makes a good villain. Here i'll list some examples, i hope indie dev's will take some of these ideas and share their own because they are the cornerstone of the industry right now and if we want games to become any less bland in the future, we need to share our ideas to stop these godawful villains from appearing in videogames.
Voice is power
One of the most easily recognizable traits of a villain is his/her voice. Villains need a powerful voice to convey their dialogue. You want to make the player fear them, you want to show their superiority. Through voice this can be easily accomplished alone. If you have a strong voice, you're pretty much half way there.
Give them an interesting goal with lots of depth, conceal it with mystery to give the player a surprise
Sometimes you wonder why they are the psychotic, sadistic, evil masterminds that they appear to be. Perhaps this has something to do with their characteristics or their past. Or perhaps they have ambitions and goals that are beyond human comprehension. Destroying/taking over the world is not a goal, it is but a means to an end. There has to be a reason for willing to commit such acts. Of course everyone would like the fantasy of controlling everything but we lack the willpower and the skill to do it. There has to be a reason, a very strong reason. A villain must be extremely passionate about their goals. Either that or perhaps it is something to do with the villains past. Perhaps he/she had a bad upbringing or maybe they were experimented on at a very young age and something messed up their mind. Be creative about your villain, and make him/her as passionate about their goals as you are about them.
Ok, i think we've all experienced at least one of these at some point. Though tropes are very hard to avoid, try to avoid using them excessively and if you must use them, try to make them seem logical. If a villain teleports, they must be either a really powerful mage or... if you're going with a sci-fi setting, give them a device that allows them to teleport. Oh and don't just have them teleport instantaneously with no explanation, give them an incantation or show some sort of device and have them press a button or something. Regardless, i'm sick of seeing villains who teleport with no explanation whatsoever.
Magical barriers are less common of a trope but they are annoying because they usually come out of nowhere. If they have a magical barrier in a cutscene, why don't they have one when you fight them? I mean if a villain can easily set up a barrier in a cutscene instantly, surely they will be able to use the barrier in combat and if it's unbreakable, the villain is surely invincible and killing him off would create a plot hole.
Excessive monologue is the fastest way to put people to sleep and the quickest way to make me laugh. If you're going to add any type of monologue, keep it minimal, don't go overboard. Villains need to get straight to the point whilst mocking their opponents and questioning their reasoning for opposing them. Of course during the final confrontation you can give away all your plans but likewise, don't go overboard, keep it brief and get straight to the point, let the hero talk and just sit there grinning as they talk about justice for like half an hour. once they're finished get ready to piss in their coffee before pulverizing them.
Creative dialogue, use complex words, i.e expand your villain's vocabulary (and your own) to enhance their dialogue and give them memorable quotes. Metaphors help too, try to make it as flamboyant as possible
My avatar fits this perfectly, you may not be able to see the dialogue due to the poor quality but it's good (yes it's a comic not a videogame but it's based on Warcraft so i thought it would be relevant).
What makes a villain memorable is his/her dialogue. Villains need an expansive vocabulary to show their superiority over the filthy heroes. Great dialogue also gives them more appeal to the player. Just because they're villains shouldn't make them any less likeable than heroes, they need charisma, they need charm, you don't want them to be remembered for being a nuisance, you want them to be remembered for being a great villain. Don't be afraid to be flamboyant with your words, make it so the heroes can't comprehend, make it so that it keeps the player guessing, a complex vocabulary can make monologues much more enjoyable and harder to decipher. Have them taunt the heroes with their superior vocabulary. The point is, words speak louder than actions. You could have a clown with a chainsaw who is completely mute or a charismatic butler who just happens to have a hidden agenda and uses his strong words to puzzle the player.
Give them a role and have them play it well
Is your villain up close and personal? Or is he/she a a backstage villain, sipping their cup of tea as they watch the heroes suffer from afar? (if you do this, make it logical, actually don't do this, i'm not talking about backstage villains, i'm talking about watching the heroes from afar. It happens so many times where the villain is looking through a magical mirror where he/she can see the heroes suffering at their hands).
One backstage villain i really hated was Rowen from Resonance Of Fate, probably the most boring villain ever written in video game history, i hated pretty much every backstage scene with him and Sullivan, god they were just terrible, please kill it with fire.
Enough of that, lets talk about how to make a good backstage villain. First, make sure they have some connection to the plot, perhaps they are the leader of the guards who attacked you earlier... or perhaps they are just a pathetic lapdog who serves the real villain. Secondly, they need to formulate some sort of plan, they need to recognize the damage and the threat that the heroes pose to their ambitions. They need a way to snuff them out and quick, keep conversations brief and keep the villain enshrouded in mystery, you could just have them call their subordinates to eliminate the heroes for them but perhaps you could do something more creative. It's all about building suspense, don't leak too much, just make sure the player know that the villain is there and that he is coming for them.
Finally they should be doing something off camera. Surely they can't be sitting on their throne all day, they must have better things to do. A true villain is always active be he/she in the players face or not. They should be working on achieving their goals, not sat around letting their minions do it for them. If they are truly passionate about it, they will do it themselves, even if the villain is lazy.
If they are up close and personal, be sure to have them make the best of their time in the spotlight, occasionally actions speak lounder than words with these types of villains, but be sure to let the hero know how pathetic he/she is, master the art of mocking young padowan... uh i mean sith lord.
Don't be a sore loser
There is determination and then there is just being a coward, if the heroes are beating you to a pulp, don't teleport away, keep fighting to the death. Perhaps add a plot twist mid battle to interfere or have the villain defeat the heroes but leave them to suffer whilst walking off camera like a boss rather than finishing them off. When a villain is defeated, don't be afraid to have them admit defeat, even villains can have honor. No matter how close to your goal you were or how determined you were, dying honorably can help emphasize your ambitions, make the hero regret their actions through words, tell them that they made a huge mistake and that your ambitions were their only hope or tell them that you'll be waiting for them in hell, haunting them every night. Just don't run away.
There are two villains who fall into this catagory. Gaius from Tales Of Xillia and Grazel from White Knight Chronicles both make their escape as the heroes are about to finish them off. Nobody likes a coward, villains are no exception, running away from a fight is dishonorable and it just makes you appear to be a weakling in front of the heroes, you definitely don't want that do you?
lets play spot the difference... if you can spot the difference between these two images... you win a point...
And just to wrap this up, allow me to present to you the worst villain in a video game ever:
Grandia 2 gets everything right in an RPG and is one of my favourites in the genre. Great story, great gameplay, great soundtrack and great characters what more could you ask for? Though it falls a bit short of a masterpiece, it's still is an amazing game in it's own right and any JRPG fan should play it asap.
This image is relevant don't ask why...
The story of the game is nothing new to todays standards, the funny thing is, if you've played Devil May Cry 4 (of all games) you pretty much have the plot summed up to a T, sorry if I spoiled it for you but it's true, Devil May Cry 4 directly ripped off this game's plot. Basically you play as Ryudo who just happens to be the most sarcastic main protagonist in rpg history (and the most badass), i'm sick and tired of all these "heroic" protagonists in games that want to protect everyone right from the get go. Thankfully Ryudo's character was a nice change from the typical cliché main protagonist, he's a geohound (a mercenary) and all he cares about is kicking ass and getting paid. Due to this attitude, he has earned a bad reputation amongst the populace but he doesn't care, i mean why should he? Who cares what some peasant has to say when you're a geohound? They'll only crawl back to you when monsters start invading their town eh? Anyways, Ryudo gets a message from the church to go on a mission, and Ryudo being a total atheist is skeptical at first but as long as he gets paid, he doesn't care.
Anyways he makes his way to the village where he makes his first sarcastic remark about a group of church girls ask for donations. Ryudo then makes his way to the church and interrupts a songstress in the middle of the song, he then begins to encourage her in a sardonic tone and she gets angry and tells him to leave, Ryudo makes another sarcastic remark when the priest walks in, who just happens to be the guy who hired Ryudo. The church guy doesn't seem to show any offense to Ryudo's sarcasm statement, though he does show a sign of contempt towards Ryudo but Ryudo doesn't care because he is a geohound and all he cares about is gold. Anyways he gets his job to protect the songstress, Elena who is put simply an innocent do gooder and a theist, essentially the polar opposite of Ryudo, who mocks her throughout the game which is quite amusing at times. Ryudo sets off to a strange tower but something goes wrong and Elena gets posessed by some kind of demon and they have to go to the St Heim capital which is miles away to visit the cathedral which sets up the initial plot.
One of the things I like about the story I might add is that the characters, though detached somewhat are developed rather well, specifically Elena, Ryudo and another character that I haven't mentioned but not only that, I also like how they implemented the humor in the game as they keep it separate from the more tragic/important events in the game (which most games fail to do) so that the game can be funny at the right moments, I think they implemented the humor perfectly and it wasn't laugh out loud humor either, it was more so Ryudo's sarcastic comments to everyone and Skye's (Ryudo's sidekick) comments towards Ryudo and their banter between each other once one of them steps out of line (gotta love those two). This game has some very surprising scenes, Ryudo's actions in particular are rather questionable at some points which makes the game rather unpredictable and another character, Milennia can be rather unpredictable at times too, these are the things that make the game's storyline enjoyable.
I forgot to mention, the face sets are somewhat hilarious and help illustrate the characters emotions well.
One of the Grandia series' most memorable features is it's dinner scenes which work similarly to skits from the Tales series as they are occasionally funny and offer additional character development. In Grandia 2, dinner scenes can be accessed by spending the night at the inn. Some dinner scenes are missable and you will be required to backtrack to differrent towns if you want to see all of them (which thankfully gives some incentive to backtrack). Be careful though, as there are many points of no return in this game so you will have to make sure to backtrack to each inn with every plot interval before progressing with the plot.
On another note, since i have my capture card up and running i can make video's again, i will make use of this by adding video's to some of my reviews to provide relevant examples of a games features, or just to show some gameplay footage. I have done this in my previous reviews, however i only used footage from my old video's. Now that I'm able to make new video's i am able to add video's to my reviews easier. I believe video's will give people a good picture of what the game is like and how it plays.
Now on to the gameplay, Grandia 2 uses somewhat of an active time battle system that is very much like Final Fantasy X-2 in which you wait to make a move and wait for the move to be used but there's a twist, enemies and allies can be intercepted from the atb bar through the use of cancelling, this can be very satisfying when pulled off and can make even the hardest of battles seem way too easy. Combat feels very laid back compared to most games and if you can master the cancelling, you will pretty much beat just about every enemy in the game easily, nevertheless the combat is really fun and the battle theme is just amazing, so much so that you can't wait for the next battle. Essentially, Grandia 2 is a simple and somewhat easy RPG that anyone can pick up and play, though it's lack of a challenge may be slightly off putting to the hardcore RPG player, I myself managed to enjoy it as I decided to challenge myself to with battles flawlessly and for doing so, you aren't rewarded with much but you get a different victory theme and win quotes to commend you which is satisfying in itself.
Character management is simple and easy. By fighting battles you are rewarded with special coins and magic coins. These coins can be used to learn and improve your characters skills. One of the things i like about this is that Grandia 2 gives you total freedom of your characters growth whilst keeping is simple and easy to grasp for newcomers. Sadly this does come at a price, if you watched my game play video then you will have noticed that Ryudo dealt a whopping 2000 damage on an enemy early on. This is because i upgraded flying tenseiken to it's maximum potential. Once a move is fully upgraded, it's cast time is lowered drastically and it's power is increased also. This is a problem as you can simply invest your special coins into a single skill very early in the game and curb stomp every single enemy you come across with a single skill. I'm guessing the game expects you to spread your special coins between each character and ability, though it's nice that they added the freedom of building your character but it can lead to some extreme exploits early on.
Even worse is that some characters have attacks that are so powerful, it renders their other attacks near or completely useless. Ryudo is one of the characters to have this due to his moves being horribly imbalanced. Though there are skills which can be used for cancelling which can give the game a little more variety. Most of these overpowered skills can only be obtained during the end game but some characters such as Elena can learn theirs really early should you choose to invest points into it. Another thing that leads to imbalances is that the game literally throws items and gold at you, half of them you won't even use and if you have tonnes of gold, you can buy most important items from the shop. There are tonnes of hidden treasure littered all over the map so if you are a completionist you will have to search every nook and cranny to find them.
Magic works in a similar fashion, though to use it you need to equip magic eggs. Magic eggs work similar to materia in Final Fantasy VII but on a larger scale. Each egg comes with a variety of spells which can either be used to harm enemies or buff your team and other effects. Learning spells is slightly more linear as you cannot learn the best spells in the game right from the get go, you first need to upgrade the base spell to it's maximum. In other words to obtain burnstrike you need to upgrade burn to it's maximum. However you could instead choose to upgrade a new spell such as wow which boosts your attack power. Doing so unlocks differrent spells, some spells such as hellburner are harder to obtain and require you to master a combination of different spells to unlock.
Thankfully the magic system does not fall into the same traps as moves and for the most part it is balanced. However there are a few issues, mainly with the buffs. Buffs are completely useless in Grandia 2 as they only give you +1 to each stat. Seriously, what's the deal with that? Also, buffs are easily substituted by nuts which you can find all over the place and require no mp cost to use. Buffs are a complete waste of your time in Grandia 2, unless you use them repeatedly. Overall the magic system, despite having it's imbalances is a vast improvement over it's predecessor which follows the same magic system as Final Fantasy II which was horrible due to the massive amounts of menial grinding you had to do to level up spells. Oh god it took foreeeeeeever to learn spells in that game.
I think we can all agree on this one...
Out of battle, the towns are filled with NPC's in which the characters all interact with, it's great to see some proper interaction between the characters and random NPC's (especially Ryudo) instead of the NPC's just talking to you as you walk away rudely and it's nice to see that the ending itself is interactive and allows you to communicate with NPC's, it's as if the game knows what it does right and focuses on it's strongest points rather than trying to improve it's negative points and yes, this game does have a few negative points, though they aren't major negatives. For starters the game is ridiculously linear, i counted 5 points of no return in the entire game and it revolves around going from place to place, blocking off areas as you go on, there is no backtracking to and from certain area's, it's kind of annoying sometimes, especially when you want to train up and you can't because you simply can't go back.
Only 3 areas on the map? Are you serious!?
There are also dungeons where you simply can't leave which would be rather aggravating if the game was hard but fortunately, Grandia 2 isn't really frustrating, I never got a single game over in my whole play through it was just way too easy but I had fun nonetheless, just don't expect a challenge in this game, you won't get it. Another issue I noticed is that the game froze on me twice before entering a battle, it might just be the PS2 version though.
The last one is a nit pick of mine, I find that Grandia 2 doesn't have enough characters, I mean the characters that are there are fine and all but if just feels like there's something missing and with one character sharing a body with another, it can feel as if there isn't much interaction at some points as there is only a maximum of 4 characters in the party at a time which means characters can annoying leave the party immediately and don't return for a long time or ever. by the end of the game, you have 3 characters to work with, and they just happen to be the 3 main characters, i think they should have either removed half the cast or added more since the other half of the cast seems to be scrimping for some basic interaction, kinda sad really since this game focuses on character interaction.
On the bright side, the voice acting is fantastic especially considering that it is a sequel to a poorly dubbed game. The voice acting makes every scene in this game feel extra emotional and even though some scenes may seem cliché to today's standards, the way that they are portrayed is excellent. it's soundtrack is really great, especially the battle themes and the field songs, even some of the event music is really good though the cave theme with the annoying ticking noise is kind of repetitive. Overall though I would say it's a great soundtrack and the battle themes are especially satisfying if nothing else, I will openly say that i purchased this game just for the battle theme itself as it is definitely one of the best battle themes in an RPG ever.
In any case, Grandia 2 is a fantastic RPG that every JRPG fan should own. If you're new to RPG's there couldn't be a better place to start as Grandia 2 has a very simple learning curve and storytelling which doesn't follow the generic flow of most JRPG's and offers an interesting and entertaining experience, despite a few flaws.
Replay Value: 9.5
If you haven't already guessed i'm a Kirby fan, how did i get into the series? i played Super Smash Bros Melee, and i enjoyed playing as Kirby, then I played Kirby Air Ride and Kirby And The Amazing Mirror was the first traditional Kirby game i had played and it was awesome.
Now i'm not a big fan of platformers, especially the ridiculously hard ones such as Super Meat Boy which i feel lack substance and serve only to provide a challenging experience for the player, (i also feel many other indie platformers are the same to be honest, note to indie devs, stop making your games so ridiculously hard! sorry). The Kirby series is the only series where i can tolerate the platforming as it integrates more action into the gameplay through the use of copy abilities, plus the games aren't too punishing yet they can throw unexpected obstacles at you which can throw you off. I also like how the games reward you with collectables, they often lay out obstacles to throw you off, they sometimes even trick you, sometimes the item requires a certain copy ability to obtain, it really adds to the backtracking and replay value to the games.
Kirby And The Amazing Mirror is slightly different from the rest of the series in the sense that it's completely open ended, though this can tend to be confusing at times, it's cool that the game lets you freely explore different areas whilst putting barriers in your path which can be bypassed usually when using different abilities or simply by exploring other routes as the map is linked together in a web like fashion which connects each zone together through platforming segments. You could, for example end up fighting a boss in a later zone before a boss in an earlier zone. There are collectables all over the place as is standard for the series though they often vary from standard items such as maxim tomato's and batteries (which you use to call other Kirby's via cell phone, i'll get to that later) to collectables such as alternate skins and even extra lives as well as sound test music, but to use sound test you have to unlock it in the same fashion.
Dieting never really did any good for Kirby...
The level design and art design are both great as always, usual standard for a Kirby game. If you've played earlier installments, you know what to expect but on a more open ended layout. As each area is connected to each other by mirrors, there really aren't any levels, there are 9 zones on the map and each zone has several platforming segments, it is simple as that, however some areas on the map can be hard to access/blocked off, you'll have to check your map often to see where you have to go.
So many paths.....
The game play has made some minor improvements from Nightmare In Dreamland (the remake from Kirby's Adventure for the NES) but partly due to the limitations of the Game Boy Advanced, it still pales in comparison to Kirby Superstar though i still don't see the reason why the abilities were mostly returned to their standard forms (beam loses it's dash barrage and charge up attack etc) though there are a few new abilities into the mix such as Mini Kirby and some abilities were altered such as sword which allows Kirby to use his final cutter attack from Smash Bros. Even cooler is that HAL decided to add some Smash Bros cameo's. Occasionally you will fight Master Hand as a mini boss who drops the smash ability for Kirby which gives Kirby his smash bros move set.
Final Cutter can now be done using the sword.
The game's difficulty just happens to be a tad harder than most Kirby games. The open world can often be confusing to navigate, as the game is not split into levels it is hard to tell whether or not you are making progress and you will often end up in other levels you didn't plan on entering. The bosses can also be pretty tough in this game, particularly the last boss which is quite long and can be quite hard.
Thankfully my ai pals came to the rescue
The music is rather upbeat and quirky, typical fair for a Kirby game. I must say that i never got tired of the rainbow route music (the main hub area that connects the entire map) it is so upbeat and jolly that you will never get tired of hearing it. Overall the music is kinda so-so for Kirby game standards though it does have arguably the most memorable soundtrack... but that's probably just me because it was my first game. Nevertheless, the music definitely isn't bad and you never get tired of hearing the same beats over and over and my god will you have memorized every single song by the end of this game, particularly cabbage cavern's theme (originally appeared in Kirby's Adventure in the forest area), god that song is so funky... and it plays for pretty much half the game, the other half is the rainbow route theme, of course each area has it's own theme also, but by far the most memorable ones have to be two i mentioned.
Kirby And The Amazing Mirror is also the first in the series to feature 4 player co-op... if you have 4 Gameboy Advances and 4 copies of the game. I never got to use this feature though regardless of how many players you have, you will start the game with 4 Kirby's, you control one of them, the rest are ai controlled unless you have a friend with you who can control one of them. The best part about Kirby And The Amazing Mirror's co-op is you can go separate ways, you're not bound together on a single path, you can follow your own path and make your own adventure. If you get stuck you can just call, yes literally call your friend via cell phone and they will instantly teleport to your aid. This works with the ai too. This concept makes me think HAL could make a Kirby MMO someday... or perhaps online co-op, that would be sweet.
Everything's more fun with friends!
Overall, Kirby And The Amazing Mirror offers a great introduction to the series and fans of the series who haven't played it will find something new in it, though it is often overshadowed by the vastly superior Kirby Superstar and Kirby 64, this game deserves praise nonetheless. Oh and if you enjoyed The Great Cave Offensive from Kirby Superstar, this game is a must have as there are tonnes of treasures to be found but this time round, treasure chest contain unlockable items, as well as standard items plus it is very open ended with lots of secret areas.
The Last Guardian was a very anticipating read for me, Medivh is an iconic character and it very enigmatic and eccentric, i've always wanted to read up on his character and this book gave me the chance to. Sadly this book did disappoint me a little, though it was a great read, i felt a lot of it covered other characters, this novel is essentially the closest you will get to a warcraft 1 novel which is a good thing and despite seeing less of medivh than expected, it gave me a good insight on azeroth in it's early days and some background behind Warcraft: Orcs And Humans.
The main issue i had was the lack of development towards Medivh's insanity, it felt very abrupt and was lacking in consistency, for the most part Medivh only has a few outbursts (i only counted two for the whole book) which readers could easily be misinterpreted, thinking that he is just very sharp spoken rather than having multiple personalities. in fact he only has one personality and that is of an eccentric hermit with high intellect with a loner complex. I wish that they explored more of Medivh's alter ego but the book doesn't until the very end.
I also felt that a lot of the book took place in areas outside of Karazhan, Medivh's home, i think if the book focused more on Karazhan and Medivh it would have made for a more interesting novel.
The book does describe the surroundings well however and the other characters are likeable, Medivh is still a great character all round but he just didn't receive enough attention. Sadly most of the attention is driven towards Khadgar who is an excellent character in the Warcraft series, though i do like how Aaron Rosenberg portrays him more with his witty personality, He is still a great character in The Last Guardian. Others such as Lothar and Garona appear also though their main appearance is near the end of the book, i personally never really cared for any of these two characters though, Lothar is just too goody goody and Garona... well she's just a total bitch.
Overall i think The Last Guardian is rather lacking in the characters but in terms of the descriptions, it is rather deep, you will easily be able to portray an image of Karazhan after reading this book. I would personally recommend it as though it's characters (besides Khadgar) aren't really fleshed out, the descriptive writing is excellent. It could have been a lot better than it was though.
So if you're looking to read upon the events of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and haven't played the game, give this book a read as it will give you a heads up. It was a good read overall.