I meant to post here not long after beating StarCraft II‘s Terran campaign, and to devote an entire post to my impressions of the story and campaign structure, but I got sucked back into Dragon Quest IX so quickly again. Also, I’m a procrastinator.
Seriously, though, DQIX is incredibly addictive. I finally saw the credits roll yesterday afternoon, and though the basic meat of the plot is relatively straightforward and shouldn’t take too long to complete, thanks to all of the other things to do, my beat time was 125:27:02. And there’s still a lot more left in the postgame! However, I’m not even thinking about that stuff right now. For the time being, I’m Dragon Quested out.
"Darlin', when I squint my eyes at you, you better listen."
What else has been going on with me, gaming-wise? As I said before, I beat the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty campaign. The missions had an incredible amount of variety compared with the original and Brood War, but in general, they also felt easier (it must be noted here that StarCraft II‘s campaign has difficulty settings; I played the entire thing on Normal). The easier, more diverse play compliments a story that, while serviceable, lacks some of the raw… je ne sais quois of the previous games. Certain things, most notably Raynor’s relationship to Kerrigan, are less ambiguous, and there is more humor and in-joking than ever before. One minor pop culture reference in particular was, while silly, somewhat anachronistic considering the setting.
Some of this can be attributed to the new structure in place for the between-mission bits. Instead of a dingy briefing room with an android adjutant, where you are a commander working with General Duke or whoever, you are an observer aboard a battlecruiser, with Raynor as your main character, a detached sort of avatar. A more human angle has been given to the story in the form of Raynor’s conversations with his shipmates and others, but in exchange, something has been lost. I’m not sure which approach I prefer.
The character models and voices are also worth mentioning. Raynor still has his smooth Southern drawl and still squints when he’s upset, but his face is no longer lean, but meaty, and he has an equally meaty build to go with it. His hair is darker as well. Kerrigan, in brief glimpses of her old human form, is more fair-skinned than I imagined her to be through StarCraft‘s crude character portraits, and I’m not too crazy about her new voice. Mengsk and Zeratul fare better, and in general, the new characters are well done.
I think I have a pretty good idea of at least some of what the next campaign, the Zerg one, might bring. It doesn’t have quite the same magic as the original (and its expansion), but StarCraft II is still damn good, and I’m looking forward to the rest.
Another thing I played recently—well, more like messed around with: Kingdom Hearts II, believe it or not. Compared to the original and even the low-key GBA spinoff Chain of Memories, KHII felt like weak sauce, dumbed down with a convoluted and contradictory story, QTE-style special attacks, and some Disney worlds that, design-wise, paled in comparison to their Kingdom Hearts equivalents. However, it did have some redeeming qualities, like the improved Gummi Ship schmup sections, a certain visually stunning minigame in the Hundred Acre Wood, and a few great worlds, like Space Paranoids, the KHII home of Tron.
My husband became curious about the upcoming movie Tron: Legacy after we saw a trailer before Inception. Neither of us had seen the original Tron, though I was familiar with its reputation as an early pioneer in the field of computer animated special effects, and so we rented it. Tron wasn’t very good story-wise, but it was a visual treat, and reminded me a lot of its appearance in Kingdom Hearts II. Wanting to show KHII‘s Tron world, Space Paranoids, to my husband, I fired up the PS2 and loaded up my starred save game. Unfortunately, I had forgotten how to travel between worlds, so I did a lot of needless backtracking before finally caving in and looking up how to do it. As I traveled through Space Paranoids—including Light Cycle and Solar Sailer rides—and recalled my experience playing through the story bits, I saw just how much of the movie had made it into the game. In this respect, Space Paranoids is no different from most other worlds in the series, but considering that I hadn’t seen Tron until now, it was neat to gain this new perspective on it.
The last couple of games on my recent agenda have been Plants vs. Zombies and Kirby Super Star. In the former, I killed lots of time in two (successful) attempts to get a couple more Steam trophies. The latter’s last and toughest minigame took me a long time and many attempts, but I finally beat it on the last day of August. I had a good time with both games, though Kirby took a little while to grow on me.
That’s about all for now. The next game I plan on starting is Metroid Prime (the Wii-enhanced version), and after that, Etrian Odyssey II. I’ve also been neglecting my Pokeymans, so I suppose I’ll have to pick up Platinum again as well. Oh, and I’ve added some more links to (where else) the Links page. On a related note, if you haven’t noticed, I’ve also made a few small cosmetic changes to the site over the past couple of months. I don’t know if I’ll do any more such tweaking, but it’s certainly not out of the question, and if you spot anything that looks out of place in the meantime, please let me know.
Remember that huge stack of game soundtracks I bought awhile ago? I’m still working my way through them. Have managed to listen to most of them, but one I haven’t touched at all is Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ Original Soundtrack. A big part of this is because, as I said before, I haven’t played the actual game. Although this sort of thing hasn’t stopped me before, this is Front Mission, and therefore, special in my eyes.
Front Mission 5 was, apparently, briefly considered for an official stateside release. However, this never panned out, and thus, fans took it upon themselves to do what very few (if any) had done before: an amateur translation of a PlayStation 2 game. Thus was born the Front Mission 5 Translation Project, which has since become the Front Mission Series Translation Project, as they are now working on patches for Front Mission 2 and Front Mission Alternative.
The group completed the beta translation patch of Front Mission 5 in December of last year, so all I would need to do is to hunt down a copy of the game and the necessary PS2 modding tools to get it to run. However, this brings me to the one criticism I have of the project. If the group’s goal is to draw Square Enix’s attention to English-speaking Front Mission 5 fans, then why make it so the patch works only on the non-Ultimate Hits verion of the game, which has long been out of print? I think a spike in sales of new copies of FM5, rather than secondhand ones, would push Square to consider an official release even more. For historical evidence, I point to Capcom, who localized the DS port of Gyakuten Saiban in North America (as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney) after noticing all the sales of the bilingual game that were coming from outside of Japan. Anyway, I know the fan translation team is well aware of this issue, and I hope they make an Ultimate Hits version of the FM5 patch a priority for future releases.
With FM5 on my mind lately, I got to thinking about what other Japanese games never made it over here that I would like to see complete translations of. There are some games that are “import friendly” in that you don’t have to know a lot of Japanese—if any—to be able to enjoy them, so those aren’t a problem. There are also those like Tales of Graces, Front Mission 2089: Border of Madness, and Game Center CX: Arino’s Challenge 2 that are still recent enough to have a chance of localization, slim though they may be. What’s left are the text-heavy titles which are on dead systems and have small cult followings, if they’re lucky. What’s left, in other words, are games like those on my wishlist.
Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand, Super Famicom – I’m cheating a little bit here with a couple of them, including this first one. You see, a fan translation of Ys V was started several years ago, but the patch is currently incomplete. This leaves Ys V as the only main-series Ys storyline whose translation has never been made available. Rather frustrating if you’re interested in the Ys canon and don’t read Japanese, but even after all these years, the patching project is not dead, so there’s still hope.
Galaxy Fraulein Yuna and Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 2, PC Engine – And now for something completely different: visual novels! My initial exposure to Galaxy Fraulein Yuna came in the form of the first OVA series; later, I saw the much more coherent second series, Galaxy Fraulein Yuna Returns. Each storyline follows the adventures of teenage Yuna Kagurazaka, who is the savior of the universe, a popular celebrity, and a regular girl all at the same time. It’s a pretty wacky series, with some amazingly good character designs, all courtesy of mecha designer and Gundam Girl artist Mika Akitaka.
Some years ago, I learned that these anime were based on a “digital comic” game series, which gave me a better perspective on the character-stuffed OVAs. However, aside from the Sega Saturn’s Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 3 these games have never been translated into English, by anyone. The Yuna games have shown up on several systems, but the first two in the series are on the PC Engine, thus, my wishlist request. A PSP collection of the first two Yuna games as well as a related title, Galaxy Policewoman Sapphire, was published only a couple of years ago, so it seems there’s still interest in these oldies, at least in Japan.
Chocobo Stallion, PlayStation – Unlike the others on this list, I actually own this game. If I recall, I first learned about Chocobo Stallion while reading some information about a different Squaresoft-related thing. The idea of a chocobo sim racer intrigued me, and I later picked up a cheap copy on eBay, only to find that this was not an import-friendly game in the least. There are no English-language guides of any sort on GameFAQs or anywhere, and, naturally, no translation patches. I’ve long had the idea to make a rudimentary guide of my own, but have yet to get around to putting something together.
Segagaga, Dreamcast – A translation of this navel-gazing RPG/sim is the dream of every English-speaking Sega fan ever, and as with Ys V, is an actual project that has been ongoing, with occasional updates. Started in 2006, the project lead is still pushing forward with it as of September 2009. Will it ever see the light of day? Let’s hope it does!
Although I play a lot of stuff published by Square Enix, prior to Radiata Stories, I’d never played a tri-Ace game before. Squeenix games developed by studios like Jupiter, Level-5, or others, sure, but for some reason, never tri-Ace. I’m familiar with their reputation for shiny graphics and generally average games, though, and Radiata Stories in particular seems to be a polarizing title.
It is a very pretty game, with appealing graphics that border on painterly, and—unlike many other games where brown is the dominant color—are pleasing to the eye. Similarly, the soundtrack is quite good; certain tracks would always get stuck in my head over the course of my playthrough. This being Square Enix, the localization is also solid, with nary an annoying voice to be heard.
The underlying mechanics are also, for the most part, excellent. The battle system is one of the best I have ever seen in an action RPG. This is a much more immediate system than your typical one a la Tales or Kingdom Hearts, where AI-controlled party members’ capabilities are individually tweaked through menus. A menu is still used here, but everything goes through the main character, Jack Russell (named after the dog breed?). Once Jack is able to lead his own parties, he can issue commands to individual members or the whole group, and even call them into special formations. These commands can be learned in various ways over the course of the game, and like with a lot of battle systems, you’ll come to rely on certain actions more than others. Battles themselves are generally easy, and whatever genuine challenge gets thrown at you isn’t of the frustrating kind. As for navigation, for the most part, I was able to get around just fine, with the final dungeon being the most annoying place in a world that lacks them.
Where Radiata Stories falls apart—oddly enough, given the title—is in the storytelling. It starts out promising, with Jack leaving home to go to Radiata Castle, to join an order of knights. This initial part of the game is plot-heavy, but by the time Jack takes up residence in the town surrounding the castle, the player finds that they now have a lot more freedom… or so it seems. Here, the game’s quasi-open world feel expands even more; in addition to the regular day and night cycles, Jack can now take on odd jobs, make friends, and freely explore most of the city and world. However, unlike a lot of open world games, story events in Radiata Stories can’t be started at your own pace; instead, they will be automatically triggered after waking up or—more annoyingly—after arriving at home to save your progress (and naturally, you can’t do so until whatever cutscene that happens is over, if they allow you even that). About the save system: there are a few temporary save points throughout the world which pop up during story events, but permanent ones only exist in one place at a time, which is always in Jack’s living quarters. You can see how this can be problematic.
Aside from pacing concerns, the story itself has its share of cracks. Though most of the characterization is great, Jack himself isn’t handled particularly well. Certain aspects of his personality change too quickly, even given the tale’s brevity; it leads one to believe that Jack is either naïve or fickle, or both. The meat of the plot, once the game gets around to it, is somewhat confusing. There are two branching paths this story can take; the ending I got was unsatisfying, and what I’ve heard about the second one didn’t sound all that hot either.
Despite its great battle system and beautiful visual and aural aesthetics, I can’t really recommend Radiata Stories. Much as I prefer to play games for the actual game parts, a competent narrative (whenever narrative of any kind is called for) does contribute a lot to the overall experience. While the story does try to break away from certain JRPG clichés in an admirable way, it interrupts the open world flow of the overall game when it isn’t wanted, and on top of that, doesn’t make a good enough case for its own importance. Radiata Stories is chock-full of promising ideas and approaches, especially for a JRPG, but in the end, it doesn’t deliver as well as it could have.
I apologize for the lack of posts lately; it’s been a busy holiday season. Since I last wrote here, I’ve beaten Radiata Stories, read most of the holiday issue of Edge (purchased in large part because I wanted to see why they gave Bayonetta a 10[!!!]), did the Christmas thing (Ratchet & Clank was my sole game gift, but just everything else I got was great), played a lot of Planet Puzzle League, started playing the DS port of Chrono Trigger (which is excellent), played with pets, did the New Year’s thing, bought my first game of 2010 (Forza Motorsport 2, Platinum Hits version), came back home, ordered pizza, put stuff away, and now… here I am again. Oh, and I played the Torchlight demo this afternoon; good stuff, but I have a tendency to drop Diablo-style games after awhile, so I won’t be getting this one, at least not right now, even though Steam’s $5 sale price expires after today.
There’s a lot I want to write about, and plan on doing so throughout the month. For now, though, a backlog update. I usually do these things in the spring, but I figured that it would make more sense to move these posts to the beginning of the year, which is when I’m setting my gaming goals and starting the year’s Beaten Games Tab anyway. So, yes, I have a lot of games to play. Again. And I think Rogue Galaxy is now in its fourth or fifth year of having gone unplayed.
With that said, here’s my must-play games for 2010:
• Rogue Galaxy – For obvious reasons.
• Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story – The other DS RPG I brought with me to play over Christmas/New Year’s. Sadly, I haven’t gotten around to starting it yet.
• Chrono Cross – Sometime before March, or PAX East, at least.
• SMT: Nocturne and SMT: Persona 3 FES
• Tales of the Abyss
• Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
• Halo – I’ve had this in my PC stack of shame for years. Figure it’s about time I pop it in and see what all the fuss is about.
Out of my twelve 2009 must-plays, I managed to beat eight of them, gave up on one due to annoyance (Billy Hatcher), and never touched the final three (the non-Digital Devil Saga MegaTen games). Not too shabby, methinks. And while I’m at it, here are all of the games I beat in 2009. If all goes well, the 2010 Beaten Games Tab will be posted on my LJ account tomorrow.
More later, including my annual Roundup. Stay tuned…
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So, we went home for Thanksgiving, then it was off to the Caribbean for a long-needed vacation; we got back on the 5th and quickly settled back into old routines. My husband brought his DS and some games for the trip, though the only one he touched was the excellent Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. He put some more hours into it over the course of the trip, though he still has yet to finish it.
Me, I didn’t bring my DS, or any portable system. Having been playing a ton of games during my year of mostly-unemployment, I needed a break. Any games I played were of the non-video variety at my parents’ house—the local paper’s Universal Sudoku and Wordy Gurdy, mainly. Also, as we don’t watch TV here, we saw some Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! and naturally, we all played along. Slight non-sequitur: Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek are definitely getting on in years, but Vanna White still looks fabulous.
Neither of us touched games at all once the vacation part of the trip got underway, though I did read more of the copy of Edge (issue no. 208) I’d asked my husband to pick up shortly before we left home at the start of all of this. As is typical, some of the articles were interesting (the TGS wrap-up, also the cover story; the columns and retro features, as usual; etc.), and others just made my eyes glaze over in a “I don’t care about this; why am I reading this?” sort of way (the Ninja Theory interview). The Inbox section concerned one of those topics I totally don’t give a shit about: story in games. This is the sort of thing I generally look upon with eye-rolling, as I do with the “games as art” validation-seekers, because most of the people arguing tend to miss the bigger picture. I still haven’t read the article that sparked this whole brouhaha, but I got the basic gist of what it was about from readers’ letters. However, out of all the mail and forum posts that were printed, I agreed with the last one the most, as its author really seemed to get it. Here’s an excerpt: Also, (Clint) Hocking speaks as if the entire gaming community is composed of MMOG, RTS, and FPS players… (T)he gaming market is broad and diverse, and there are many genres that simply don’t lend themselves to interactive storytelling and some that lend themselves better to linear storytelling. The highly popular Ace Attorney series couldn’t exist without linear storytelling, and yet it provides the unique experience of interactively exploring a set narrative, something that just cannot be achieved with other media. Bravo, Jose Bonilla; I couldn’t have said it better myself, and though you didn’t win Letter of the Month, I’d send you a DSi if I could.
Anyway, we’re back, and have spent the past week catching up on real life, as well as console gaming. Assassin’s Creed II is being played nearly every night by my husband; the meta-narrative gets twistier and twistier, while the controls continue to annoy. Meanwhile, I’ve started Radiata Stories, my first tri-Ace game. It’s one of those quirky types of RPG, and features things like nearly two hundred possible party members and a restricted sort of freedom. Of course, I plan to write more about it later. Oh, and a certain weird “bug” I kept noticing in Tales of Legendia might actually be my controller’s fault, as I think it briefly happened again in Radiata. What happens is that sometimes, usually right after a save file is loaded, my controlled character will just start randomly walking, usually to the right. It’s not bad enough that I feel the need to replace my controller, but fortunately, I have a new DualShock 2 still in the packaging if it comes down to that. Still, as I’m not 100% sure that I saw that same oddity in Radiata, it might really be a Legendia bug after all. We’ll see.
Special Stage: Had a lot of internet to catch up on once I came back, and have read even more since then, so here are a couple of the more interesting links. First off, there’s word of a new, serious gaming periodical on the horizon called Killscreen. I don’t know if I’ll get a subscription, but I love this sort of thing, so maybe. Second, Kotaku isn’t one of my favorite sites, but they do some good posts on occasion, and this time around, there’s two I’d like to share: Achievement Chore, the true tale of a housewife with a huge Gamerscore, and the 2009 Gift Guide, which includes suggestions from the sublime—I very much second the recommendation for the Cloud Strife and Hardy Daytona set, though their description of it leaves much to be desired—to the bizarre.
My first experience with the Ys series was last year, when I downloaded and played the TurboGrafx version of Ys Book I & II via Virtual Console. I found the game to have its share of quirks, but overall, an enjoyable experience. Much the same can also be said of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, the sixth game in the series (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll be referring to it as Ys VI from here on in). Like other games in the series, Ys VI has appeared on multiple platforms. It was originally a 2003 PC game. Two years later, it was ported to the PS2; a year after that, the PSP; and a mobile version is currently in the works. This review is of the PS2 version.
As in previous Ys games, the hero of the story is the red-haired adventurer Adol Christin. This time around he boards a pirate ship, only to fall overboard during an attack on the open sea. He winds up in the Canaan Islands, a land cut off from all others by the surrounding Great Vortex, where he meets the Rehdan priestesses Olha and Isha. The story goes from there, and although there are references to people and events from past Ys games, playing them is not a prerequisite, as the main tale in Ys VI stands well enough on its own.
The bosses are impressive, in that particular Ys fashion.
Ys VI certainly shows its age. Textures are lush, but the tiling is obvious on an place like a field. FMVs are similarly lush, but have a similar so-obvious-that-it’s-CG sheen, and the character models in these movies range from tolerable (Adol) to hideous (Olha and Isha). Its status as a port is also clear from the slight jaggies on some of the still anime character art—especially on the brusque bishonen Geis—which would be perfect on a game developed specifically for the PS2. Animation is simple, and many of the characters don’t do much other than rotate their entire bodies, if they move at all. The soundtrack goes all over the place; most of it is all right, but there’s also a badly-executed techno track and on the opposite end, a boss battle theme that is Ys music at its finest. As for the non-musical sounds, the omnipresent voice acting isn’t very good (to put it kindly), some of the sound effects are similarly weak, and the mix is uneven at times.
However, all of this is mainly window dressing. The real meat of Ys VI lies in its dungeon crawling and hack-n-slashery. Adol, the one and only playable character in the game, has a set of quick moves and attacks, as do his foes, making grinding a fast-paced, enjoyable experience. Aside from one particularly tricky jump, all of his moves and abilities are easy enough to pull off, and (fortunately, as the default setup is a bit odd) the controls are completely customizable. Among your usual bits of equipment are three special swords that Adol obtains during the course of the game, each one with a different moveset and elemental magic ability. Each of these swords can be swapped in on the fly without having to go to a menu screen, a feature that makes otherwise plain battles more interesting. As for the enemies, a good variety of them can be fought, and the bosses in particular make for fun, and sometimes tough, battles. And though finding out where to go next in the story can be a little tricky at times, and there is a fair of backtracking, moving from place to place doesn’t take very long, and the larger dungeons can be easily escaped from by using a certain key item. All in all, the battle system and exploration aspects of Ys VI are quite enjoyable, and any potentially tedious parts are made to be as brief as possible.
Ys VI is one of those games that is not for everyone. The graphics and sound are those of a low-budget game with high-budget aspirations—a description which is certainly apt here. Also, though there are a few sidequests and hidden areas to explore, the game is fairly short, which might put off those RPG players who like lengthier experiences. However, the action is meaty, often challenging, and a lot of fun. Gamers who are willing to forgive the game’s aesthetic missteps could certainly find a lot to like here.
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