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Month: September 2009

Yep, It’s a Tales Game

Tales of Symphonia wasn’t entirely my thing: the story’s inspirations were obvious and it got convoluted at times, the cel-shaded graphics were okay but blurry (at least on the Wii, which is how I played it), and the combat was usually button-mashy. However, I liked the characters and general aesthetic, and somehow, it got its hooks into me. Thusly, when I fleshed out my PS2 RPG collection last year, I ended up adding Tales of Legendia and Tales of the Abyss to it (the 360’s Tales of Vesperia joined my backlog this year).

I’ve heard Abyss is better than Legendia, but wanted to play the older game first, since I found the premise more intriguing: a young man and his sister find themselves shipwrecked on a massive ancient ship called the Legacy. Aboard this vessel are dangers awaiting the sister, and the man sets out to save her. At first glance, and despite the presence of the clichéd large relic from an ancient civilization, it seems a novel enough premise, and the story does carry out in a unique way, especially in regards to how a certain story event and its aftermath is paced. Also, Legendia, like Symphonia, bluntly tackles the issue of race in how (and why) the game’s factions are divided as they are. The entire story takes place aboard the Legacy—making it a nice change of pace from the many, many JRPGs that require entire worlds to be traversed—and the cast of characters is charming, though a touch clichéd and/or weird at times. This is all presented in a colorful, softly-rendered world populated by chibi characters, who are occasionally shown in still, non-chibi 2D anime versions for cutscenes. As with Symphonia, the voice acting is of a decent quality (and there’s a lot of repetition when it comes to the battle audio), the music is nothing overly special but all right just the same, and the FMVs are lush anime affairs courtesy of famed studio Production I.G.


As for exploration and combat… well, it’s what I expect from a Tales game, though a step back from Symphonia. The dungeons are fairly linear, with what few branching paths there are largely reserved for items, including special items blocked off by large blobular zones that often contain more powerful monsters than the usual random encounters. Battle is still button mashy, with assignable special attacks and your supporting party members on autopilot, for the most part. AI party members’ attacks can be turned on and off at the player’s leisure, and whole tactical strategies can be applied as well. However, aside from certain boss fights, the battles are quite easy, and certain special enhancements and attacks, such as the feature that lets the player combine a character’s individual moves into one uber-move, can be outright ignored.

The meat of Tales of Legendia is fairly short: I beat it today with a completion time in the range of 33 hours. However, a lengthy postgame mode, called the Character Quests, is available once the main storyline has been beaten. I’ve barely started it, and in fact am debating whether or not I want to continue with it as Legendia’s combat’s a bit bland, but there’s still things I don’t know about many of the characters—and I’d like to know. Such is the hold that the characters in this game seem to have on me.

Special Stage: In addition to game impressions and such from this year’s Tokyo Game Show, Game|Life’s Chris Kohler has been writing an awful lot about Japanese curry lately. I’m not all that big on curry, but I do love me some katsu, and as such, these posts have me craving chicken katsu or chicken katsudon. Every. Single. Time.

I haven’t even dipped into the TGS episodes of Listen UP yet, but given the “curry bets” of previous shows, all of which were to be settled around this time, I don’t think my cravings will end anytime soon…

(ETA, 9/26: Craving fulfilled thanks to some oyakodon from a favorite restaurant; save for the mushrooms and pickled radish, neither of which I’m a fan of [thankfully the latter was all in one small section of the bowl’s edge, getting its vinegar all over some neighboring carrot sticks], it was essentially the same as the chicken katsudon I’m used to from another place, and tasty. I have some leftovers to eat for lunch today, too!)

An Etrian Odyssey Odyssey

Feeling too tired to delve deeper into the story-heavy Tales of Legendia, and knowing that Etrian Odyssey was much lighter in that respect, I finally got around to starting the latter this afternoon. I had bought a copy listed as “New” from an Amazon Marketplace seller several months ago. The shrinkwrapping was surprisingly poor for Atlus, the case had some minor imperfections, and though the manual was present and in perfect shape, the usual DS Health and Safety Guide was missing. That said, I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find a save file on the cart once I fired it up. I had never left feedback for the seller, and it’s way too late to do so now, but I did file a complaint regarding the wrongly-labeled condition of the item.

Etrian OdysseyAnyway, the game. I’d been intimidated by Etrian Odyssey, which is my main reason for putting off playing it for so long. Not because of its storied difficulty, but because of the map-drawing mechanic. Somehow, I had gotten the impression that the mapping tools enabled players to design the dungeons, including item, event, and enemy placements. I don’t know why I thought this, as it makes no sense, but there you go. It turns out that the mapping tools are not there for design, but actual cartography. Unlike other dungeon crawlers, which automatically draw the maps for you as you explore them, Etrian Odyssey makes you do the hard work. Maps have to be painted in, walls drawn to denote borders, treasure locations noted, and so on.

All this takes place in the land of Etria, where there’s just a town, and a labyrinth of a forest. Officials in the town are rewarding adventuring guilds for exploring the labyrinth, and the player is in charge of such a guild. The town contains all the necessities: an equipment store, a guildhall to create and manage party members, a hotel to rest and save at, an apothecary for healing purposes, and so on, and then there’s the untamed wilderness of the labyrinth, filled with random battles against monsters and things to do and see.

Navigating in the towns is done entirely through menus, while travel in the dungeon takes place in a 3D first-person point of view on the top screen, and on the map grid on the bottom one. Battles are carried out in the classic Dragon Quest style: your entire party’s commands are entered in before each turn, and still images of the enemies are shown on-screen with accompanying battle effects. The difficulty of said battles lives up to the game’s reputation, and I expect it will only get harder from here. Also throughout the dungeon are treasures, odd crystals which I don’t quite know the purpose of yet, and little events that are activated either automatically, or when the A button is pressed after a prompt.

So far, I’ve completed just one mission, and found an odd loophole in the midst of it. The beginners’ mission requires talking to a knight stationed within the first floor of the labyrinth; he asks you to map out a certain area before letting you pass, in order to complete the first task of mapping said floor. However, after I’d satisfied the knight, I did some backtracking to find areas I’d been to before, but died in the middle of (the only save point that I know of so far is in town; fortunately, newly mapped areas can be saved when the Game Over screen is reached). In the middle of this backtracking, I found a place I hadn’t mapped that appeared to be within the boundaries that the knight had originally specified. I don’t know if this was an oversight, a bug, or if I really didn’t have to map the whole area, just most of it. Doubt it’s the latter, though, and a quick look at a GameFAQs doc verified that the knight wanted the whole space within the set boundaries mapped. It should be interesting to see if there are any other such quirks as the game goes on. So far, it’s got the simple atmosphere I was hoping for, and holds my interest enough to me to stick with it. Not sure if it’s “engrossing” yet, but I can certainly see it becoming so.

Special Stage: Totally unrelated, but I rambled on a bit about the Compilation of FFVII and related matters in my LJ early this morning. I hope at least some of it makes sense.

Songs You Know By Heart

The Beatles broke up years before I was born, but I know their songs and music as well as, and in many cases better, those of the then-contemporary musicians I followed in the ’90s. Not only is my dad is a longtime fan, but seeing Yellow Submarine on TV when I was about five and hearing their songs on the radio left an impression on me. Somehow, we got old LP copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour when I was in high school. In college, I dubbed a friend’s copies of Abbey Road and Let It Be. Post graduation, it was Revolver, Rubber Soul, and The Beatles (aka the “White Album”).

"Sweet Loretta Marvin thought she was a woman, but she was another man..."
"Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman, but she was another man..."
In short, I love the Beatles.

I’d heard about The Beatles: Rock Band some time before seeing Microsoft’s E3 press conference earlier this year, but it wasn’t until that presentation—and especially that stunning opening animation—that I got excited for it. The game came out yesterday, along with the remastered versions of all their albums, and I’ve got to say… I’m not so excited anymore.

Though I’ve long liked rhythm games, I’ve never played Guitar Hero or Rock Band. In fact, the only rhythm game I’ve ever played that involved real instrument simulation was Samba de Amigo on the Dreamcast, and I even hunted down a used set of the official maracas to supplement it. Guitar Hero and especially Rock Band are very cool ideas, but if I want to enjoy music, I’ll just listen to it, maybe even sing along. If I got one of those games, I’d be most afraid of the peripherals gathering dust, like my real guitar and keyboard tend to do these days. (Yes, I’ve long been musically-inclined, but I’m not one of those Luddites who believes that everyone who enjoys Guitar Hero and their ilk should pick up a real axe instead. Playing a game about music and actually performing it are two very different things.)

The main thing that interested me about The Beatles: Rock Band anyway was the singing bits, since I love to sing along with the songs (when no one else is around, of course. I don’t have much of a singing voice). However, I was never all that big on karaoke, which this game would essentially turn into as a result. If I hung out with people on a regular basis that were into the sort of experience Rock Band is made for, then I suppose it would be a worthwhile purchase, but I don’t. In summation, I’m sure The Beatles: Rock Band is an awesome, awesome game if you’re into that sort of thing, but as it stands, I’m happy enough just cranking up the tracks of theirs I’ve got ripped to iTunes and imagining how I would cover “You Won’t See Me” given the chance.

The remasters, on the other hand… hell yeah, I so want those.


Just when Retro Game Challenge had distracted me from Tales of Legendia to the point where I’m on the very last challenge, along comes a game I’ve played before, several years ago, practically begging for me to play it again. It happened during a weekend last month, when my husband and I sought to spend some time together on a LAN game of StarCraft, via Brood War; instead of playing against each other (since I am, admittedly, a bit better than he is), we decided to do the Diplomacy thing against a bot. The bot player was too good, and we quit. I can’t remember if I suggested that he play StarCraft’s main campaign—a great way to learn the game’s basics—or he decided to on his own, but watching him do so arose in me feelings of nostalgia, and after downloading and installing the latest patch, I started up a new game myself.


The story of StarCraft is an epic one about three races, and told across multiple planets: the many Terran colonies, the Zerg’s ashen world of Char, and the Protoss homeworld Aiur. Much of it makes for your standard boilerplate sci-fi stuff, with humans caught in the middle of a struggle between alien races, one of which is a hivemind, and the other a noble, idealistic people who love their homeland. There’s also the Xel’Naga, a precursor race that (according to the manual, select bits of which I read for the first time ever during this playthrough) functioned for the Zerg and Protoss in much the same way as the unnamed aliens who sent the Monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey; of course, they’re talked about from time to time, but never seen, as they were gone a long, long time ago. And of course, no discussion of StarCraft’s story is complete without the characters; there’s Kerrigan, of course, but also Raynor, Duke, Mensk, the Overmind and its Cerebrates, Aldaris, Fenix, Zeratul, and, my favorite of the bunch, Tassadar.


The lore wasn’t the only reason why I wanted to play the game again. There’s also the missions themselves. Each of the three “chapters” focuses on one race at a time, where the player takes on the role of a Terran Commander, Zerg Cerebrate, or Protoss Executor. As for why I said earlier that these missions are a great way to learn the game, it’s because not everything is given to you at once. The missions start out simple, with hard caps on the types of units and structures one can create, but gradually become more and more complex. Mixed in with all this are a few infiltration missions, where the player controls a small detachment of troops to navigate an interior space with (which are always, by some quirk of chance or design, Terran facilities). These missions, particularly the one in the Protoss campaign, require just as much strategy as the regular RTS ones, and make for a nice break from said regular maps whenever they occur.


While the gameplay is as engrossing as ever, it’s remarkable how well StarCraft has held up in other areas. Graphically, this flat, sprite-heavy game has aged very gracefully, and the same can be said for the voice acting and music. If there is one spot in which StarCraft obviously shows its age, it’s in the CG FMVs which play between certain missions. The animation is smooth in that particular “old 3D computer animation” way, and the character models, especially those of the Terrans, are just as dated. As a technical aside, I had some stuttering starts whenever an FMV would play; not sure if it’s a codec issue or if it’s something else about my Mac Pro, but it’s likely another consequence of StarCraft’s age.

Anyway, I devoted many hours and a fair chunk of the past couple weekends playing those thirty campaign missions in StarCrack, and I loved every second of it. Even the very tough last Terran mission, which, while not driving me absolutely bonkers like it did the first time around, still had it’s fair share of challenges. Even that infiltration mission on the Protoss side, in which everyone in my party had died by the time I reached the goal, save for the one unit who mattered. Even though I have to play through two-thirds of the game to get to my favored Protoss in the first place (it didn’t help that the Zerg are my least favorite to play). And even those early Zerg missions, where I had to do without that race’s better flying units, but along the way and afterwards gained insight into how and why to use Zergling rushes. It’s StarCraft, and it’s awesome, and that’s the only reason I need.

Postscript: After beating StarCraft this past weekend, I finally went back to Retro Game Challenge today and beat that. Tales of Legendia, which I’ve been away from for too long, awaits me tomorrow.