One subset of games I am hopelessly devoted to are the Mario RPGs. There’s the original Super Mario RPG, of course, but my fondness is mainly for the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario games. Both series tend to be fairly consistent, quality-wise, making it hard to pick out a single favorite. I have fave characters across them all (Goombario, Vivian, Fawful, etc.), plus the level designs, writing, graphics, and music are all great. Even the most un-RPG-like of the crop, the Wii title Super Paper Mario, is a fun and engaging game, with much to recommend it.
Unfortunately, this streak has now been broken, as I have just finished playing a Mario RPG that would definitely not be in the running for my favorite—not even close. In fact, this game, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, is unequivocally the worst Mario RPG I’ve played to date.
Sticker Star by itself is unusual: it’s a 3DS game; in other words, the first and only portable entry in the Paper Mario series. I’m not sure why it wasn’t made for the Wii U instead, as that would seem to be a more fitting home for it, though maybe it has something to do with the fact that it looks great with the 3D effect cranked up. As for the game’s structure, it goes back to the turn-based battle styles of the first two Paper Marios, but this time, there’s no additional party members.
Mario is accompanied by a helper character, though: a silver crown sticker named Kersti. She is introduced shortly after the opening, where, during a festival in which a magical sticker comet receives the wishes that the Mushroom Kingdom makes on it, Bowser disrupts the activities, causes the comet to break up and disperse, and, of course, kidnaps Princess Peach. Kersti, a steward of sorts for the now-scattered Royal Stickers contained within the comet, appears before Mario and immediately blames him for the chaos. When he sets her straight, she doesn’t believe him, but changes her tune after he offers to help her find the Royal Stickers. From the very beginning, she is an ingratiating, pushy, judgmental presence in the game, and, aside from her many neutral moments, is more annoying than any other friendly character from previous Mario RPGs.
So, right away, we have Mario and the self-appointed Nagging Sticker Mom going off on their quest. After dealing with their town’s destruction, the Toads are startlingly nonplussed about their Princess being kidnapped; she is pretty much never mentioned by any of them until near the end of the game. As for the rest of the game’s characters, Peach is mostly just a goal to reach, Luigi is reduced to a background element (literally), Yoshi appears only as a sphinx, and Bowser doesn’t even speak. Recurring flunky Kamek plays a role, as do Bowser Jr., a Wiggler, a Snifit, and a few of the Toads, but that’s about it for the cast. It’s as bare-bones an ensemble as there has ever been in these games.
The quest itself starts off well enough. The battle system is basically the same as in the other games, with the core attacks involving jumping or hammering, and bonus damage for getting the timing right. However, the twist this time is that all of Mario’s moves—attacking, healing, whatever—can only be pulled off by using a corresponding sticker. There are limits to the number of stickers that can be carried at any given time (these inventory limits are expanded during certain special events, such as when a Royal Sticker is collected), and some special stickers are bigger than others, which means that space management is a huge factor in getting through the game. Aside from your typical stickers which can be picked up at stores or on the field, there are also special ones made from “Things”, which are non-paper, three-dimensional objects that appear throughout the land. Once turned into stickers, these Things can carry out elaborate super moves, much like summon creatures in other JRPGs (my personal favorite is the Soda). Of course, there are limitations when it comes to these Thing Stickers—for starters, they don’t have in-menu descriptions like regular stickers—but this isn’t a problem most of the time.
However, some of the puzzles and other situations that require stickers can be surprisingly tough to figure out. This is especially true of the boss battles, where it is far too easy to lose because you used up all your stickers and the enemy is still alive. Conditional battles, such as many of those against bosses, are nothing new in JRPGs, but when one is completely reliant on items and inventory limits to fight them, that’s when problems arise. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and pace your attacks right, Kersti will appear and maybe even drop a hint.
One of the most convoluted puzzles in the game involves a giant Chain Chomp. It’s obvious that the goal is to guide the Chomp to a specific place, but every time Mario gets within range of it, a battle is triggered. Keep in mind that all Chain Chomps are invincible in Sticker Star, and thus, attack items are, for the most part, useless. The solution to this problem is a lengthy six-step process which I had amazingly somehow figured out myself over the course of much trial and error, though it was less of an “Ah-hah!” moment and more of a “Finally” one. Given how the whole scene is set up, it shouldn’t have been hard to craft a simpler puzzle that gave the same results, but instead, one has to execute a clunky solution for which only the barest hints had been given in advance.
Aside from the sticker puzzles and boss battles, the levels are standard Paper Mario fare at their best—which is the majority of the time—and minor annoyances at their worst. The puzzles which require not stickers but “scraps” of the papery world tend to be both more sensible and interesting, and there’s the usual plethora of hidden areas and treasures to discover. Some levels are more entertaining than others, and most all of them encourage repeat visits. The levels are largely plot-free, but, unfortunately, the two areas that are story-heavy feature the most tedious bits of exploration in the game.
As for the more aesthetic frills, the writing (what little there is this time around) and localization is as witty as always, the music is pleasing and catchy, and the graphics look wonderful. Mario RPGs have always excelled in these categories, so these are just things to be expected.
Given my history with the previous Mario RPGs, I really wanted to love this one, but in the end, I just couldn’t. If this was another franchise, and another set of characters, Sticker Star may be seen as a great game with a few niggling issues, but this is Paper Mario, dammit, and as such, I expect a first-class experience. Part of me wonders if the reason that this installment is sub-par might be because Intelligent Systems wanted to devote more resources to Fire Emblem: Awakening and made Sticker Star less of a priority, but this is mere speculation on my part. As it stands, I know this developer can do better with this franchise, as it has in the past. Anyway, if you’re a fellow Mario RPG devotee, you might want to check this out, but keep in mind that it’s not as good as the previous games. For everyone else, I can safely say this is nonessential.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is now the only Mario RPG I’ve yet to play. Here’s hoping it’s better…
I’d been neglecting this place, and I’m still not completely sure why.
Perhaps it was disinterest, or some medical problems I was having (I won’t get into that), or that I was fine just talking about what I was playing on Twitter or various forums. I also suspect that my approach to this blog was part of the problem, and that’s why I’ve decided to refresh the site’s look, rewrite most of the “About” page, and start posting here regularly again.
So, welcome back. It’s been too long, hasn’t it—well over a year! I’ll do my best not to let this project fall by the wayside again, and part of how I intend to accomplish that is by writing about more than just games. In other words, now that I’m no longer active on LiveJournal, this is my main blog. It’s been awhile since I’ve had one of those, too. Figure reviews and most other collecting-related posts will remain on Tsuki-board, but everything else? Here.
The new theme I’ve come up with, or rather, frankenstein’d together from other WordPress templates, is something I call Tizia, after the homeworld of Opoona, the main character of the Wii game of the same name. I played Opoona this summer; it had problems (most notably a very-bad-by-modern-standards localization), but was unique and charming. It is also probably the only game I’ve ever played where art appreciation is a core part of the world. Hell, art in general is; one of Landroll’s towns is entirely devoted to the arts, and art-related careers are among the many jobs Opoona can pursue while on this planet.
Opoona has lingered in my mind ever since I beat it, in a good way; this is particularly true of the soundtrack, which is composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto and others at Basiscape, and which I have recently finally ordered a copy of. It’s not the best game I’ve beaten this year (that would probably be 10000000), but it’s certainly among the most memorable. I’m not going to ramble on at length about it, since it’s been months since I’ve beaten it, and as such, it’s no longer all that fresh in my mind. However, it’s a curiosity worth checking out if you like charming games as much as I do.
When a game leaves that strong an impression on me, I usually do a piece of fanart. In this instance, it’s a crossover with another memorable game, Ghost Trick, which was one of my favorites from last year’s stack of playthroughs. I’ve also (and this is a first for me) posted some of my process in creating this piece at my new Redirectorium at Tumblr. Yeah, I finally broke down and created a Tumblr like everyone else. I predict that a few years from now, everyone will have moved on to the New Internet Hotness and I, once again, will drag my feet in getting there, but for the time being, yep, I’m on Tumblr.
Just added Rune Factory 3 to the ol’ backlog this week. Can’t wait to dig into this latest localization in my beloved hack-and-slash meets Harvest Moon series, but it’s going to have to wait until I’m done with Etrian Odyssey II‘s main quest—which will be very soon, if all goes well. Maybe Eternal Sonata, too. Can’t be playing too many RPGs at once.
Even with the new addition, my backlog’s looking pretty good. Looking at the pic I took in January and comparing it with the current stack, it’s noticeably smaller: by eight game cases, to be precise. I’ve only beaten half of my 2010 Must-Plays, though, and will likey have room for just one more before year’s end; I’m currently leaning towards Tales of the Abyss to fill that slot. Then, there are all the games that have been/will be, coming out this season.
Rune Factory 3 was my last “must preorder” of the year, but there are many more I’d love to get at some point. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is chief among these, of course, but Epic Mickey looks really good, and recent positive press for Sonic Colors have renewed my slight interest in that game; on a similar note, Goldeneye‘s reviews have got me interested in that title at all. Even the new Super Mario All-Stars collection is pretty tempting. Strange that the Wii has so many top-notch games this holiday season, but the only reasons I have to complain are time and money. Otherwise, I’m happy to see all this Wii love.
Also, what's up with the SyFy Kids branding?
There’s not really anything left for me on the DS front until next year, when I’m looking forward to Ghost Trick, and awaiting US release dates for Ace Attorney Investigations 2, Dragon Quest VI, and (hopefully) Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2. The same goes for other platforms: Portal 2 (it would be crazy not to play this) and Duke Nukem Forever (it would also be crazy not to play this, but for obviously different reasons) on PC, Rune Factory Oceans on Wii, and… I can’t think of anything off the top of my head for 360. Then there’s the sequel to my favorite Wii game, de Blob: The Underground, which I only just learned recently is multiplatform like whoa, and have been, since its unveiling, incredibly skeptical about, for gameplay-related reasons.
de Blob 2‘s presence on non-Nintendo platforms seems to be a symptom of the motion control onslaught that’s been happening as of late. Sony’s PlayStation Move isn’t something I’ve followed all that closely, but I haven’t heard much bad about it. Kinect is a different beast altogether—even though I don’t plan on getting one, I have been curious about this controller-free device. Microsoft’s thrown a lot of money at marketing the thing, but at the same time, there’s been this caginess, first with the price, and more recently, with the review embargo, which was only lifted once it went on sale. Given the few reviews I’ve read, it’s not surprising: Kinect was made to be divisive. It does some things amazingly well, but lacks in other key respects, and the general takeaway is that it’s an amazing but unrefined bit of technology, plus you need a lot of space just to use the thing. Me, I’m still skeptical about what the Kinect holds in store for future games that aren’t Dance Central sequels. The Wii and the Move are both capable of sophisticated types of motion-enhanced gaming (my favorite being first-person games—finally, precision that can rival a mouse!) and can offer solid experiences with simpler ones because they involve controllers. Microsoft’s early investments have paid off very well before, but it remains to be seen whether this will be the company’s latest success, on the scale of Xbox Live.
In the meantime, there’s a shit-ton of games to play, catch up on, and keep an eye out for. Just like last year, it’s a great time to be a gamer, even with those ever-present backlogs.
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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!
Beat Devil May Cry 4 last week. Not the best game in the series, but certainly had its high points. All the hallmarks were there: bishies, hot chicks, gothic interiors, death metal songs that play during battles, and occasional violations of the 180° rule when moving from place to place. Unlike the others, Dante is not playable for much of the game. Instead, the player takes the role of Nero, a young man with similar fashion sense and slightly less campiness than Mr. Sparda. He also has a glowing arm, which can be used to grab far-off enemies and unleash brutal attacks on them. These attacks vary depending on the enemy, reminding me of Quick Time Events, though not in the traditional sense. As such, Nero is a fun character to play. Dante controls much the same as always, and is also tougher to control compared to Nero, due to the lack of Glowing Hand.
Although Rune Factory Frontier is mad addictive, this is what I'll be playing today!
As for Rune Factory Frontier, I’m still plugging away at it, and passed the 100-hour mark this weekend. All that has been ever said about JRPGs and linearity doesn’t quite apply to the Rune Factory series. Yes, there is a single storyline and a set progression in terms of unlockable areas, and no, you can’t fully customize your hero character, but everything else is wide open. There’s tons of things to do—farming, fishing, crafting, cooking, and much more—and like any good Harvest Moon, there’s also a wide range of girls to hit on, and eventually, marry. It’s rich and immersive in a way that JRPGs traditionally aren’t, and despite the glaring flaws, I’m as hooked on Frontier as I was with its DS brethren. Can’t wait for Rune Factory 3‘s localization (please let this happen!).
Apart from games themselves, I’m getting a little weary of CAG’s forums again and am ready to take another hiatus from them, largely due to the fact that there’s hardly any humor in them. This seems to be a problem with many gaming forums, where games are Serious Business and there’s little to no room for levity. Perhaps this also explains why Shimrra won Best CAG Blog in this year’s Cheapy Awards, even though his regular Daily HaHa posts are mainly just images ganked from the likes of 4chan. Humor is in very short supply amongst gamers, it seems.
Anyway, looking forward to PAX East at the end of this week, and have been going over my options for what to see and do. Meanwhile, I will be playing Cave Story. On my Wii.
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.