I'm a college student who recently decided to practice writing in the hopes of becoming a video game "journalist". Still have a lot of work to do on my writing skills, though, but that's why I'm practicing. Feel free to crush my hopes and delusions of grandeur by ripping apart my posts like a kid being handed a present on Christmas. My pride is indeed very fragile ;_;
My backloggery. - by the way, this site's pretty good for keeping track of what games you've played, own, wishlists, etc.
Star Ocean: First Departure (PSP)
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: October 28, 2008 (US)
In the year 2007, Square Enix saw fit to remake two games that many people may not have had the chance to play; especially considering one of them was never released in the states. Star Ocean: First Departure and Star Ocean: Second Evolution are remakes of the first two Star Ocean games for the PSP. Not having played any game from the series, I figured I’d start with the first game and work my way up. After beating the first game, I had made up my mind - that’s never going to happen. Never.
Star Ocean: First Departure is the worst role-playing game I have ever played. The only role it played was to annihilate any passion I could have had for the series or RPGs in general. The game is soulless, a waste of potential, and is completely unenjoyable. The story fails to amount to anything, the characters have zero personality, the gameplay is absolute level grinding torture, and the presentation is horrifyingly somber. Everything that is wrong in modern Japanese RPGs today can be summed up in Star Ocean, and there’s nothing more painful than having to experience it first-hand.
There was a glimmer of hope in the early hours of the game, however. While the story travels the predictable “save the world” path with a few young kids somehow becoming the heroes, the setup was certainly different than usual. There’s a highly contagious disease that quickly turns everyone in the world to stone; a seemingly unstoppable crisis. Just before the world ends, two people from the future land on the planet to tell the heroes that the only cure is to take a DNA sample of an evil being far in the past. It’s not often that you witness such a tragic situation so quickly in an RPG, so it creates a real sense of urgency, as though you had every reason to save the world…it’s just that the game’s so terrible, it’s not worth witnessing how it ends.
The first thing you’ll begin to notice is how empty the world is. While towns are beautifully designed, there’s nothing in them except your typical NPCs, who might as well not even exist. They have nothing worth contributing, and while they usually never do in RPGs, their dialogue is so terrible that it actually makes me angry (their quotes range from complaining about weather to growing senile for having nothing to do – very interesting stuff, right?).Towns in Star Ocean are depressingly devoid of any soul; devoid of any sort of characteristic or charm that makes them different. The only purpose they serve, besides to go from one scripted event to the next is to occasionally break the pace from dungeons that are just as soulless. The world map is typical; long grassy fields, forests, mountains, and snow that anyone could expect from a RPG. Everything about the world is so painfully generic; it physically and mentally hurts to play it.
And speaking of pain, the second thing you’ll notice is the level grinding; the sheer brutality, the torture of it. Grinding is what you’ll be doing for the majority of the game. Grind for levels, grind for money, grind in order to beat bosses, grind because there’s nothing else to do, grind because that’s the only thing to do. There is nothing fun about grinding in Star Ocean – it’s a chore and it’s mind-numbingly annoying. There is nothing fun about the battle system, even if it initially showed some promise with its action RPG mechanics, because battles can usually be won by spamming attacks and tossing in an occasional special attack. I can’t remember a single enemy I fought, either. It’s hard to tell what the enemies actually are, and since grinding is so monotonous, everything becomes a blur.
The worst part of the entire game is the amount of back-tracking the game forces you to do. Not only do you get to run around in circles in a lifeless uninspired world, but you also have to deal with the ridiculous encounter rate, fighting…whatever it is you’re fighting for dozens of hours, slaving away until you can beat a boss and move on. When you realize it, this is all Star Ocean is: repetition at its absolute worst, and a game of zero substance. Console RPGs are already so demanding of your time and patience, so developers should at least go out of their way to make the right choice by making the experience fun. Star Ocean has failed in that aspect in every conceivable way, having utilized an outdated formula and ruining even that with grinding slavery and exhausting backtracking.
The characters have no personality and are just as worthless as the NPCs in those lifeless towns. Roddick is the sword-wielding cape-wearing blue-haired blue-eyed stereotypical hero of Star Ocean, and accompanying him are his childhood friends, two people from the future, an obnoxious brute, some scantily clad catgirl, and some minor or optional characters. Everything the characters say feel like something they’d have to say in order to progress the plot. While they do have their speech patterns to identify themselves from one another, they lack any psychological or philosophical depth; anything that identifies them as people. While the game provides optional cutscenes in towns to allow Roddick to interact with the characters, their dialogue is very predictable, and you don’t get anything of interest out of these scenes. There’s nothing to like about these characters or even anything to be able to identify them with, and seeing as how you’ll be spending the entire game with them at your side, you’d expect quite a bit more.
So what about the story? Did that not have some sort of promise? The world ended due to a disease that turned everyone to stone, and that seems like a pretty dire situation. Well, a small town gets decimated (with little build-up to make you care) and you learn where the big bad enemy is. That’s about it. It’s upsetting that even though the world ended in Roddick’s present, the rest of the game gives absolutely no sense of urgency; you’ll just be back-tracking the entire time, fighting a ludicrous amount of random battles, and hating every minute of it. The world does take a turn for the worse near the end, but by this point, there’s no reason to care about anything anymore. Even more so, thanks to what an NPC says before the final dungeon: “Eh, I’m used to living in this dump by now. It starts to grow on ya after a while.” What a nice way to compliment the efforts made and countless hours wasted getting this far. The game should seriously end here. No resolution for anything - let it end on this note: an NPC who doesn’t mind that the world is in shambles. I know it’s unfair to ridicule the story for this, but I felt absolutely defeated at this point that I would’ve gladly accepted any ending to get it over with.
The final dungeon is literally empty; it’s a futuristic tower full of clean rooms that look exactly the same, with a few treasure chests spread throughout (oh, and the horrifying encounter rate, can’t forget about that!). The lack of thought and effort seems like a perfect analogy for the game. Of course, this is all assuming anyone would ever manage to get far enough in Star Ocean to see the final dungeon. I’m the unfortunate soul who did. Oh, and you save the world in the end. Sorry, I spoiled the game.
Japanese role-playing games have been long overdue for a major overhaul, and Star Ocean: First Departure is the reason why it needs to happen. It’s the epitome of wasted potential; delivering a seemingly decent story concept, and ruining it by sticking to basic RPG mechanics that are no longer acceptable. Even though the visuals have been patched up, it's easy to see it for what it is - one of the most tedious, abhorrent, and unmemorable games of its genre. From a person who has played and beaten plenty of RPGs for the past sixteen years, I would never recommend Star Ocean to anyone. It’s a terrible, awful game, and I’m sincerely awed that I can motivate myself to play another Japanese RPG after beating it.
Bayonetta (PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360)
Developer: Platinum Games (360) /Sega (PS3)
Released: October 29, 2009
Faced against countless waves of vengeful angels, the powerful, sexy Bayonetta swings her body around more elegantly than a Cirque du Soleil dancer while punishing each of her foes in the most over-the-top ways. But does the game Bayonetta deliver the “non-stop climax action” it promises?
Yes it does - Bayonetta is a balls to the wall action-packed game that picks up the ante from the very beginning and rarely slows down, with plentiful amounts of combat, numerous weapons and attack combinations to use, while the cutscenes in-between carry the flow. It’s not without some flaws, but there was certainly truth to the excitement this game delivers.
The very first thing Bayonetta gives you is an incredibly epic battle, setting the stage for the rest of the game. This provides an early chance to experiment with what the gameplay has to offer, and in the very next battle, you’re given a chance to learn what you can really do with a quick tutorial. Bayonetta can pull off plenty of moves from the beginning, with a large list of various attack combinations in her arsenal, witch-time to slow the action down, and torture attacks, which use her witch-powers to literally torture her enemies with various tools. She is given more weapons to play with later, ranging from whips, swords, nunchakus, laser guns, and more. These weapons diversify an already long list of attack combinations, making combat both creative and intense. There’s a large variety of enemies and bosses to kill, and each of them do things differently to keep the action mixed up. The real fun of Bayonetta is when you've mastered the mechanics and are dishing out all sorts of unique attacks and running circles around your foes. There's plenty more surprises along the way, as well.
The drive; the motivation to kick ass in Bayonetta, is how the game grades your performance. Each battle is graded with a medal, ranging from the poor “stone” medal to the perfect “pure platinum” medal. At the end of each chapter, you’re scored on these medals, and the better you do, the more halos, or money, you get. These halos can be cashed in, and you can purchase items to help you out, accessories, weapons or techniques to make Bayonetta even more flexible in battle, or treasures, which add some cosmetic features. These purchases are quite expensive, so simply put, you’re better off with the more effort you put in.
When the action does slow down, some of the flaws in Bayonetta become present. One issue that has been quite feverishly brought up is the condition of the PS3 port, which does have some framerate loss. Allow me to say that the PS3 version is very much playable, and these issues have been blown out of proportion. Besides a select number of cutscenes, approximately 3-4 battles, and one part of one chapter, the framerate does not interfere with the gameplay in any considerable way. There’s also the issue of less vibrant colors, but considering the fast pace of the game, you probably won’t be noticing the minor details. However, the game was indeed built specifically for the 360, so if you are given the choice, then there’s not much reason to get the PS3 version. If you don’t have that choice, then the PS3 will still run a perfectly playable, enjoyable version of Bayonetta.
Another issue is the story, which might as well have been there for the sake of being there, for the sole purpose to carry the game along. This is not exactly a game played specifically for story, but it feels very meaningless. The characters may be likable, they have their own kicks to keep things going and the concept and setting can be interesting, but it’s pretty much forgettable by the time the game’s over. Things happen, things go bad, and things get better. It’s rather trite. One redeeming quality is that you have chances to explore and observe your surroundings, and books can be picked up and read to provide some background history on the locations and themes. It’s a nice touch to what is otherwise a rather mediocre story.
Like QTEs? Well, Bayonetta throws a few of them that are out to get unsuspecting players. As noted, you’re graded on how well you do in each chapter, but dying is a severe penalty. Missing a QTE means death, so an unprepared player will suffer if they died in a QTE. The nice thing is that if you did die, the game allows you to continue just before that QTE so you can do it properly next time. However, there’s still that penalty, and it feels cheap. There aren’t many QTEs throughout the game, but they're around, and they’ll get anyone who isn’t paying complete attention at all times.
There are a total of five difficulty modes in Bayonetta – very easy, easy, normal, hard, and “non-stop climax” mode. Very Easy and Easy are a bit too easy, Normal provides quite a challenge, and I’m sure the harder difficulties can spank Bayonetta about. These difficulty modes can be adjusted at any time before each chapter, however, making it convenient if you can’t handle the punishment. When you finish the game, you'll probably want to spend some additional time playing through the difficulty modes, as there are a number of things to unlock.
Overall, Bayonetta does live up to the hype and brings plenty of fast-paced, exciting and tense action. Most of its’ problems can easily be overlooked and forgiven depending on how the game is approached. There are plenty of enjoyable qualities in Bayonetta, so if you’re in the mood for “non-stop climax action”, Bayonetta will make it worth your while.
Imagine you are a video game developer. How would you feel about trying to develop a game for a complicated video game console to develop for and receive no recognition or any financial awards from your games no matter how successful they were? In April of 1980, Jim Levy and former Atari programmers David Crane, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller, and Bob Whitehead founded the first third-party software developer company for video games - Activision - in response to Atari's negligence to their video game developers. While Activision is still going as a developer and publisher to Call of Duty and Guitar Hero, I'd like to share some brief early history on the company responsible for some of the best games on the Atari 2600.
History In the beginning, Atari's coin-op division were the iron-fist rulers for releasing arcade cabinets that made far more money than it took to build them. While the Atari 2600 was available in 1977, it didn't share as much of the success the coin-op division had, and the software developers for the home console division were not making nearly as much money as the coin-op division. However, when Space Invaders was released in 1978 and subsequently ported to the 2600, the home console division began to take over. Many new software developers were answering ads in newspapers to obtain jobs at Atari. While there was plenty of stress for developing games, the new hires could be a part of an important time in video game history by joining the all-powerful Atari, earn some big cash and be acknowledged for making good games. Or so they thought.
In the early years of the home console division, software developers were not allowed to publish their names on the video games they made. Atari feared that developers might be auctioned from their competition if they released their names, as the Fairchild Channel F was actively competing with the Atari 2600 at the time. In addition, the software developers wouldn't make any real money off their game. A game would be published, fly off the shelves, Atari would rake in the cash, and the developer for that game would receive, at most, a pat on the back for all his hard work. In addition, both the home console and coin-op division felt that Ray Kassar, the new CEO of Atari (a replacement from founder Nolan Bushnell) didn't appreciate their hard work. While some people may not have liked Bushnell, he did have a love for video games - Kassar, however, was a normal businessman, and didn't involve himself very much with the hard-workers below him.
In 1978, Warren Robinett released a game called Adventure, a ground-breaking video game for its' time for having complex graphic/gameplay mechanics with several different rooms and the ability to pick up objects to advance through the game. However, Adventure was best-known for having the first easter-egg, the message "Created by Warren Robinett". Robinett thought of it as a signature to put on his work, but putting his name on his game could have gotten him fired. He hid the easter egg extremely well and never let anyone from Atari knew. Easter eggs inspired future video games by having secrets players could find out, but the idea of putting a name on a video game was no longer going to be taboo.
At the time, software for video game consoles were published exclusively by the companies who made the consoles. That is, Atari was the only publisher for games on Atari consoles. If a software developer wanted to develop a game for a console, they had to be hired by the makers of that console. This method was rendered obsolete when four Atari programmers left Atari and joined up with Jim Levy, a former music industry executive, to found the company known as Activision. Activision began as a company in 1980 and almost immediately began developing games for the 2600, but Atari was extremely opposed to this. After all, no one had any business developing games for THEIR console other then themselves. Activision faced legal actions and a slew of lawsuits, but they ultimately prevailed. Atari developers left the company as soon as they saw Activision's success, as there was money waiting to be made for them. Imagic was the next big third-party software developing company, and more companies soon followed. Eventually, Atari did begin giving their respects to their developers, but it was too little too late, and Atari lost a lot of money in the end. Third-party video game developers would become commonplace in the industry afterward, and much of it was thanks to the first step made by Activision.
Activision later went on to buy the struggling Infocom, the company well-known for publishing the early text-based adventure games like Zork. After that, they became focused on developing other types of software, and changed the company name to Mediagenic. Throughout their history, they acquired a number of smaller third-party companies, and the company is still around today as a subsidiary of Vivendi, under the name Activision Blizzard.
Games Activision's early Atari 2600 games were some of the best games made for the console, and possibly some of the best ever made. If you owned, or own an Atari 2600 console, chances are you have/had some of the games from Activision.
Boxing (1980) by Bob Whitehead
While this may not be Activision's most popular game, it's a personal favorite of mine, and it is good. It's as you'd expect - you box the opponent, be it a computer or friend, and you win by scoring the higher number of punches. Its simplicity is the reason why the game is so fun. Playing with the Atari joystick will cramp your hand fast, but it's worth it.
Kaboom! (1981) by Larry Kaplan
Kaboom! is considered one of Activision's key games for it's addictive gameplay. There's a mad bomber going around dropping bombs, and it's your mission to catch them using the paddle controller. The speed of which the mad bomber drops the bombs all over is insane, but it's addicting to play over and over again, even with the high difficulty.
Pitfall! (1982) by David Crane
David Crane's Pitfall! was one of the first platformers ever made, became a major success at its' release, and is probably Activision's best-known title. You control Pitfall Harry by moving to the right, dodging logs, swinging across vines, and grabbing treasure along the way. There's a 20 minute time limit, but it doesn't hinder the experience.
River Raid (1982) by Carol Shaw
This game is one of the first vertical shooters and is just as fun to play today. You control a fighter plane and shoot at various obstacles in the way, like tankers and jets. Occasionally you'll need to pick up some fuel as well. The game's excitement comes dodging everything while maintaining your speed as you go.
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (1984) by David Crane
Pitfall Harry is back in this excellent sequel with improved graphics, music (!), and gameplay. No more time limit, either. Pitfall II is a platformer on a much larger scale, with numerous paths and places to go. Pitfall II is possibly the best Atari 2600 game, since it offers an experience like no other 2600 game has.
Reflection Can you imagine there not being any third-party software developers for video games? Imagine no Capcom, no Konami, no Square-Enix - imagine if they all had to work as a part of, say, Nintendo - it just wouldn't work. Thankfully for Activision, this didn't happen. Also, it's kind of funny hearing that Atari sued Activision for making games on their system looking back at it. I can see why they did that, but imagine if Atari won - no third-party games ever, perhaps?
I'm sure that a group would have eventually come to make third-party games, but Activision was the first to do it. And yet, Activision is just one of the many chapters in the ever-growing history of video games.