There were a lot of little things I had forgotten to mention in myPAXposts, like the donut people roaming the queue the second morning, Ubisoft’s redefinition of the term “Flash Mob” in their promotion of Just Dance that same day, the fact that the show directories were called the “World Map”, and the Hitler meme covered in Alex Leavitt’s talk which I hadn’t been aware of until then. Most memorably, there was a certain video which was voted on while in the queue, which we hadn’t seen in ages before PAX East, but whose tune has gotten stuck in our heads many times since then. All together: “They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard!”
Elsewhere on the interwebs, thanks to fadedjae on LJ for reccing the Escapist article “Phoenix Wright‘s Objection!”, which shows just how closely the Gyakuten/Ace Attorney series mirrors (and pokes fun at) the Japanese legal system. Some of the information wasn’t new to me—mainly Japan’s high confession and conviction rates—but much of it was, and it was certainly an eye-opener.
Finally, in case you’re looking for good deals on video game soundtracks—or have one to share—I’ve started a thread on the Cheap Ass Gamer forums with comprehensive information on anything related to buying OSTs: store listings, tips, deals, sales, you name it. Please note that you must be a registered member of the CAG community in order to view this or any of the other threads in the Video Game Deals forum.
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I finally got around to beating Halo last night. Real-life things, plus the absorbing magic of Dragon Quest V, had kept me away from it for awhile. There were also the Windows issues: that I had to boot into Windows to play it (I’m a Boot Camper), and that my desk is near some very sunny real windows, which in the latter case meant that play sessions were largely restricted to evenings.
Anyway, I enjoyed it. Continuing to be led by sidekick/moral center Jiminy Cortana, I got through a tough spot I had been stuck on, the last of the overly samey bits, and even spotted a Marathon reference in a cutscene. It was all quite entertaining, and I’d like to play more in the series, but there’s the problem of most of it being console-exclusive with no mouse and keyboard support. What would be the point of me playing Halo 2 PC if I can’t play Halo 3 PC? Still pondering my options here. Part of me’s thinking that since I had no problems that one time I played GoldenEye 007 on the N64 back in the day, I should have no real issues using a controller. On the other hand, I really do prefer mouse and keyboard control for first-person games (Wii Remote and Nunchuck are good, too, but that won’t happen for Halo 3, and something tells me Natal wouldn’t be comparable). Anyway, I think I’ll be playing FPSes more often again in general. Metroid Prime Trilogy‘s already in my backlog, and there’s several PC ones that Cyrus and I’ve got sitting around as well.
Now, on to Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. I can’t say enough good things about this game. It is the best Dragon Quest I’ve played thus far, and is one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, period. The world, dungeons, fighting, music, and so on is all typical highly-polished DQ goodness, but the story is where DQV really shines. Without giving away too much, the tale is about how a boy becomes a man, and the hardships and joys that he faces along the way. The game’s centerpiece, as hinted at by the subtitle, is the hero’s wedding. The events leading up to it and the eventual choosing of the bride (probably the only part in the game where the player’s actions have any real impact on the plot—keep in mind this is a JRPG!) are a little predictable, but an absolute pleasure to take in. This is a real gem of a game, and as such, it’s a little disappointing that it’s a remake, and thus a reminder that they don’t quite make ’em like this anymore.
In the midst of all this, I got a beta code for StarCraft II! It came from Amazon, not long after word got out that some retailers would be including codes as preorder bonuses. My preorder for the Wings of Liberty Collector’s Edition was already in by that point, so I was good to go; the code was certainly a nice surprise to find in my inbox that morning.
I haven’t played all that much SCII Beta though. Well, I’ve played enough to check out some of the new units, especially the Protoss ones. However, I don’t like playing online much to begin with, so even just my feelings going in were mixed. Might mess around with it some more—but with a stronger focus on Terran and Zerg—before the beta ends, but it’s not a huge priority.
Finally, soundtracks! I’ve been on an OST buying spree, and with the number I’ve bought (and the amount I’ve spent), I think I’ll be set for awhile. Here’s what I’ve picked up:
Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter Original Soundtrack – This was pretty much what started this binge. The music was really good, and when I saw Hitoshi Sakimoto‘s name in the credits, well, then I knew why. I simply had to have this OST. Ordered from YesAsia, but they couldn’t get it, so I ended up buying it from Otaku.com instead.
Radiata Stories Original Soundtrack – Another so-so JRPG whose soundtrack I enjoyed semi-recently. Figured I might as well get this one, too, so I also ordered it from YesAsia. Had better luck, and currently it’s the only OST still en route.
Klonoa of the Wind 2 ~Something Forgotten Wished by the Wind~ Original Soundtrack – A long-time want. Ordered and arrived from Play-Asia.
Tales of Legendia Original Soundtrack – See note for Klonoa of the Wind 2, though the former was a higher priority.
Halo Original Soundtrack – I was familiar with some of the music already, but while playing the game, the whole OST impressed. Picked up at Amazon.com.
Devil May Cry 4 Original Soundtrack – Also bought via Amazon, but it’s not the Japanese release. Like the Halo OST, it’s published by Sumthing Else.
Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack – If you’ll remember, I recommended picking this up in lieu of the game itself. Listening to it right now; it’s damn good. Otaku.com only ships via EMS, which is expensive, so I tacked on a couple of other OSTs when I got the BoFV one from them. This was one of them.
Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ Original Soundtrack – …and this is the other. Both are ones I had had my eye on anyway. This is also the only OST I’ve ordered that I haven’t heard anything from; however, I like the composer and love the series, so I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.
I also made a set of trades over at VGMdb recently: a couple of spare DDR demo disks for copies of the Grandia 2 bonus disk (which I already had a copy of, but one that was damaged to hell) and a DDR SuperNOVA/Ultramix demo disk (which is wholly new to my collection). It was my first trade conducted through the site and went swimmingly.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Don’t know what I’m going to do today, gaming-wise; I’m exhausted, so I’m kind of iffy about putting more time into Dragon Quest V. I (finally) checked out the Plants vs. Zombies demo last weekend and really enjoyed it, so maybe I’ll get that and do some lawn defense.
For the past few years, I’ve been tying up some final loose ends in the old school JRPG space. I never set out to play everything—for instance, I’ve no plans on touching Xenogears, for an assortment of reasons—but there have been a handful of titles that I’ve slowly been getting around to. Last year’s non-port, non-remake relics were Earthbound and Secret of Mana; I didn’t like them, but couldn’t hate them, either. The former was archaic (even for the time) and sported certain horrible and frustrating bits of game design, but its charming atmosphere made it easy to see why it has garnered a fervent fanbase to this day. The latter has a clunky interface and AI, overenthusiastic animation, and a rushed translation, yet the rest holds up fairly well, and in general, the game wears its ambition proudly.
This year’s major relic is Chrono Cross, the PS1 sequel to a Super Nintendo game made by a once-in-a-lifetime “Dream Team”; a console RPG which has since become one of the most beloved of all time. With such a pedigree, Chrono Cross has a lot riding on it. On top of that, aside from executive producer Hironobu Sakaguchi and composer Yasunori Mitsuda, none of the most recognizable names from the aforementioned original game’s “Dream Team” show up here. This doesn’t bode well, but it’s unrealistic to believe that Chrono Cross would equal or even surpass its legendary predecessor, right? As long as it works, there shouldn’t be much to worry about, right?
Well, therein lies the rub. Chrono Cross doesn’t work, not as a whole. Rather, it should, it ought to, parts of it do sometimes, and it contains so many things that could make everything work, but they all fit together in the wrong way, or too much glue is used in one place, and not in another. The result is a goopy mess of wasted potential, a skunk works project that looks good on the surface, but creaks at the seams.
Some military academy sorceress battling sounds pretty good about now, eh?
This is a JRPG where the protagonist adventures with only the barest of motivations even after a few hours in, and with little to no pressure from outside forces pushing him forward; sometimes, when said pressure does come to bear on him, events then progress in a such a way that make absolutely no sense in the context of what happened even just a scene or two before. This is a tale where, whenever the central plot rears its ugly head, it starts out presenting itself in a natural and fluid way, then bombards you, via whatever deux ex machina device happens to be available, with tons of information that confuses things once again before, during, and/or after a major boss fight. This is a plot in which, toward the end, when things do kind-of sort-of make sense now, the last little bits thrown at you are absolutely ludicrous and makes you wonder what kind of crack the writers were smoking.
This is a game that commits one of the gravest crimes of game design: instead of guiding the player whenever necessary, it makes assumptions of them. It assumes that the player will go in a certain direction once heading to a new town with an open main square that happens to have several branching paths, so that the entire place can be explored before triggering the very cutscene that hints as to you why the townsfolk were talking about the things they were. That’s not a problem, but what is is that it also assumes that the player will remember every single snippet of conversation, amongst many dozens of characters and across several locations, that takes place throughout the course of the game. As such, this is a game in which a strategy guide or online walkthrough won’t be wanted merely for the optional stuff (and there’s a ton), but just for figuring out how to progress through the damned story. I don’t know how much is the fault of the localization—the PlayStation era was hardly a golden age for English translations of Squaresoft games—or the writing itself, but either way, a game like this should not have a narrative structure this sloppy.
Then there’s the battle system, which confuses simplicity with elegance, and complexity with depth. This may sound strange considering the genre, but in the Chrono Cross system, there are just too many numbers. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not the numbers themselves, but the types of numbers. There are percentages and decimals all over your average battle screen, along with blinking graphs for your Elements (Chrono Cross‘ version of spells and healing items) and your usual HP indicators. It’s a system that closely integrates turns with three different grades of physical attack, the aforementioned Elements, field effects, and summons that are both rare and borderline useless. Leveling has been completely done away with, but party members can still earn stat upgrades at the end of each battle, which kind of makes one wonder what the point of having no levels is. It’s a highly unusual and experimental battle system—par for the course for a ’90s Square JRPG, when you think about it—but suffers from the same syndrome that Kingdom Hearts II did in that the regular enemies tend to be too easy, while certain boss fights ramp up the difficulty a noticeable amount. Even with the latter taken into account, it’s possible to run away from several boss battles, including the very last one, so perhaps I’m overstating the difficulty there.
Part of me now wants to see Rinoa kick Kid's arse so hard, she'd kiss the moon(s).
And speaking of the final boss, there are two options to dealing with it, and one of them requires an item that is talked about many times, but can only be obtained by going someplace that isn’t labeled on the map and is referred to but once or twice (without any clear indicators that You Should Go There) during the regular course of the game. Using this item, well, that’s another matter entirely. Let me save you the trouble: unless you really, really like exploring, don’t bother searching for hints in the game—if you want the “good” ending, skim through an FAQ to get the details.
However, before you think that this review is all negative, rest assured that there were some things I liked about Chrono Cross. While I found main character Serge to be bland—even for a cipher—and heroine Kid a bit annoying, there were some cast members I genuinely liked, such as Norris. Certain references to the game’s predecessor that popped up early on were kind of cute. For the most part, and despite the ugliness of PlayStation graphics in general, the visual aesthetic was nice. One of the main subplots was largely enjoyable and quite touching, although a certain track associated with it wore out its welcome really fast. And speaking of music, Yasunori Mitsuda’s score was great; I went in thinking that I wouldn’t like it, as I’d been overexposed to a handful of pieces over the years, but the soundtrack as a whole grew on me.
So, in summation, don’t play Chrono Cross, especially if you’re, like me, someone who loved its predecessor to bits and would be put off by an inferior battle system and convoluted, inelegant lump of a story. Just go straight to your favorite Japanese import game music retailer and plunk down ¥3,204 or thereabouts for the soundtrack instead. That way, you’ll get one of the very best parts of the game without actually having to play it!
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer was my first “real” roguelike, and it was fantastic, but also nerve-wracking. I almost didn’t want to beat the game. It wasn’t because I was enjoying it too much, though there was some of that, too. Rather, I was afraid of the consequences I would face should I fail. Already I had died numerous times, and after every instance, I was whisked back to the starting town of Canyon Hamlet with all experience and stat boosts vanished into the aether, and all of the items and money on my person gone as well. To have this happen to me once I passed the point of no return, and with some excellent customized equipment to boot, would’ve been devastating. Such are the risks in Shiren, but it made the joy and sense of accomplishment that much sweeter once I reached my final destination.
Shiren is a DS port of a 1995 Super Famicom game, and a spinoff of a Dragon Quest spinoff. This latter bit is important, since the music in a certain dungeon struck me as very Koichi Sugiyama, and lo and behold, it turned out that the DQ series composer was responsible for Shiren‘s excellent soundtrack. While I was playing, it was pointed out to me that the lack of absolute permanence in death separates it from the oldest adherents to the roguelike genre, including Rogue itself. In fact, not only is death impermanent though inconvenient (for the reasons I stated in the first paragraph), but starting over again and again is encouraged. There’s not much to the main story, but to take full advantage of the game’s features and build Shiren up into a warrior worthy of taking on Table Mountain’s heights means completing various sidequests, most all of which require several cycles of restarts from Canyon Hamlet for maximum effect. These sidequests typically involve helping other people in the area, and the results can be anything from a new party member to a free stat boost.
This is a game that, much like life itself, rewards perseverance, patience, and effort. Though it’s not for everyone, for fans of tough-as-nails dungeon crawlers, I can’t recommend it enough. A Wii sequel, simply released in the US as Shiren the Wanderer and said to be more forgiving than the Shiren of old (a la Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon), came out earlier this week and has been getting good reviews so far. I definitely plan to pick it up sometime, but not right away, because, you know, RPG-heavy backlog and all.
Since wrapping up Shiren, I’ve moved on to another of my Must Plays for 2010, namely, Chrono Cross. Even before starting this game, my feelings on it were mixed. This was due to a blend of my strong affection toward its immediate predecessor, Chrono Trigger; the varied opinions on the game floating about on the internet; and the overexposure I had to Yasunori Mitsuda’s soundtrack, thanks to places like the now-defunct Gaming FM. Still, I wanted to keep an open mind, and went into the game knowing as little about it as possible.
I’m currently about twelve hours in, and am finding it to be… interesting. It has appropriated some of Chrono Trigger‘s better ideas, the most noticeable one being the lack of enemies on the overworld, and has thrown in a few cute tiny references to said previous game, from familiar lines and names to certain musical themes. There’s other throwbacks as well, but what’s most striking about Chrono Cross is what is different. Instead of time travel, the theme this time around is parallel dimensions and alternate histories, which is intriguing on its own, but I can’t help feeling that more could’ve been done with it. Maybe more will be, but something tells me that the Cross world won’t approach the depth and variety of Trigger‘s.
Another thing that’s substantially different is the battle system. A great amount of emphasis is placed on physical attacks, which are separated into three tiers, based on accuracy and power, and each one costing a certain number of turn points. The successful execution of these attacks tie into the use of Elements, which serve as both magic and healing items in this game. On top of that, Elements come in six colors, and their usage affects the overall field of battle, as well as the effectiveness of summoning, which I haven’t had a chance to mess around with yet. It’s a complex-looking system, but easy to grasp the basics of after a few hours. Unfortunately, it’s also rather dull, due largely to the physical attack emphasis I mentioned at the beginning. The generally low difficulty curve doesn’t help either.
The writing in Cross leaves much to be desired. Main character Serge is a silent hero, like Crono was before him, and I don’t have much of a problem with that. Other characters, however, are too vague about their motivations, fickle in their treatment of me, and/or generally don’t provide enough of a reason for me to care about the fate of this alternate world that I’ve found myself in. Kid in particular seems to have been designed as Cross‘ answer to Trigger‘s Marle, but she’s neither as interesting nor as fun as her predecessor. There’s also the matter of pacing, and when and how certain scenes are triggered. For example, I could explore an entire town and listen to various people discuss how to get into a certain place for no apparent reason, then go into an area I bypassed early on, only to have a cutscene happens where Kid goes, “Hey, let’s try to get into (certain place)!” Now you wouldn’t think this would be a problem, but going by the dialogue and the town’s layout, I got the impression that I was supposed to go to this specific area first, and then find out the details on how to get into the place that Kid mentioned by exploring the town.
Anyway, I’m sticking with Chrono Cross, just to see where it all winds up, and also to see if my experience will improve any.
Special Stage: First up, some sad news: P.S. Triple’s run on 1UP officially ended last week. No new strip, just a goodbye message, and a reminder that the iPhone apps are there if anybody wants ’em. I’ll miss the adventures of Triple and the others, especially X-Locks and most especially Saygah, who I’ve since made my avatar on CAG. I’ve also been working on a piece of Triple fanart, but it’s not done yet; knowing me, it might be awhile. Anyway, thanks for the fifty strips you did bring us, Micro Magazine and Mission One!
Gus Mastrapa’s piece “21st-Century Shooters Are No Country for Old Men” is a lamentation of being a thirtysomething FPS gamer in a landscape dominated by youngsters. I haven’t touched an online multiplayer FPS in at least five years, but I can totally see where Gus came from in his article. The most remarkable part of this piece was the comments section. On GameLife, whenever there’s this many comments on a piece, it usually means there’s a good old fashioned flamewar going on. However, the comments here are from other adult gamers, like Gus, who have encountered teenagers and college students on virtual battlefields, and all the frustrations that can ensue. They shared their own stories and gave tips for how to enjoy oneself as an older FPS player. Great stuff all around. If you don’t want to wade through it all, there’s a follow-up piece here, highlighting some of the best comments and emails Gus got.
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Last week was a quiet one, gaming-wise. I beat Digital Devil Saga, as I’d intended, and though the final boss was a bitch to beat, the ending has me very much looking forward to its sequel. I intend to start that sometime this week. The only other game I played to any extent was Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. It was the only non-RPG left in my console/handheld backlog and I needed to break things up a bit, so I popped it in the Wii yesterday.
Right now, there isn’t much to say except that it’s most certainly a Sonic Team game, and not in a good way. While the Sonic Team-developed 3D Sonic games since the Dreamcast era have been rightfully derided for their sometimes imprecise controls and cameras from hell, the non-Sonics that the team has made have generally ranged from pretty good to really good, and have included the likes of Chu Chu Rocket, Samba de Amigo, and Phantasy Star Online. Thus, I went in giving Giant Egg the benefit of the doubt. That, and the game has a kickass soundtrack, which I’d purchased and started listening to a long time ago after hearing some tracks on the now-defunct Gaming FM.
Giant Egg turns out to have many of the same problems that have plagued the Sonics, and some unique to the game. The camera can be player controlled, and is fine most of the time, but is frequently too close to the action during fights against larger enemies. The platforming is a little flaky when trying to be precise, and double jumping while holding eggs is especially annoying when the platform is a narrow one on top of a crate.
Speaking of the egg holding: the main mechanic of the game involves rolling, growing, and generally manipulating eggs. To start rolling an egg, one need only approach it. However, this simple approach backfires whenever Billy loses control of an egg by falling off a short ledge or doing a quick turn. There’s also been a few times when I bound up to a high place using a device that requires a held egg and said egg reaches the top safely without Billy, which means I have to run around to find another egg and try it again. This annoyance over the egg control isn’t restricted to wanting to roll, as not wanting to can be just frustrating. For instance, one level required me to stand on top of an egg by jumping on it, which ended up being harder than it sounds. The game also grades you, using the total time elapsed per level as one of the metrics. With the fidgety controls and sometimes hard-to-reach collectables, my average score so far has been a low one.
What’s most annoying is the part I’m stuck on now, in one of the mandatory levels. It’s a pirate-themed one, and my task here is to aim a cannon and shoot myself out of it to reach the next round of platforming. One of the locals even gives me a tip when I talk to them (which reminds me; it seems that Billy can’t talk to characters without letting go of the egg), telling me to aim just slightly above a certain flag. I try doing this many times, and always end up drowning in the water over and beyond my target. Talk about your cheap deaths. I eventually gave up for the evening and started plowing through one of the postgame challenges in Chocobo’s Dungeon instead.
So in general, it’s okay (and the soundtrack is still great), but I’m not too crazy about the aspects which have carried over from Sonic Team’s more annoying works. That’s pretty much all for now; this week, I’ll start Digital Devil Saga 2, and maybe Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles with my husband. I’m also looking into getting more cheap non-RPGs for my console backlog; Klonoa: Dream Champ Tournament and the original Ratchet & Clank are two that I’m looking at. Anyone have other recommendations? WiiWare/Virtual Console recs are fair game as well, since I got a 2000 Nintendo Points card for my birthday and have 200 spare points sitting on the Wii itself. I’m setting aside most of the points for World of Goo, but have no idea what to do with the rest right now.
My friends, we are gathered here today to pay tribute to one of the most underrated soundtracks in a video game series famous for its music. While Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy soundtracks are a gateway drug for many a budding game music fan, lost in the shuffle somewhere between “One Winged Angel” and the opera sequence from FFVI is one of the composer’s most consistent, accessible scores. I speak to you of the one, the only, Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack.
Almost as sexy as his soundtrack.
Final Fantasy VIII is one of the black sheep of the main FF series, as it contains many significant and drastic alterations to the traditional formula. Sure, many of the familiar Final Fantasy tropes are there, but the act of drawing spells from enemies, coupled with the Junction system, earning gil via a salary, upgrading weapons, and other quirksâ€”not the least of which is a sometimes nonsensical and bewildering story of romantic dreams and time compressionâ€”didn’t earn it many fans. I myself disliked it a good deal until I played it a second time, in it strictly for the gameplay and armed with a greater awareness of Junction’s nuances. During that second go-round, not only did I have more fun, but I also noticed that the music was pretty damned awesome just about all the time.
Which brings me to today’s meeting. Final Fantasy VIII’s OST is one that, for me and likewise many of you, marks the pinnacle of Nobuo’s work on the series. FFIX, though enjoyable, was largely homage, like the game itself, and Uematsu-san hasn’t composed a full Final Fantasy score since then. The sheer depth of variety on the four-disk soundtrack is astounding, and remarkably, it’s all held together quite well by variations on a few key themes, notably the epic “Liberi Fatali”, the lovely “Eyes on Me”, and the melodic “Fragments of Memory” and “Ami”. The battle themes are wonderful, with Nobuo’s signature touches all over them blended with the types of sounds that one would be hard-pressed to find in any other FF gameâ€”the techno-informed “The Man With the Machine Gun” is a fine example of this, as is “Force Your Way”, which features a driving electric organ-led intro.
Outside of the incredible battle themes, there are many other things to enjoy about FFVIII’s music. Take “Roses and Wine”, a soft, dreamy piece with the type of repetitive melody that Nobuo does so well. Or how about “The Spy”, which wouldn’t sound out of place in FFVII… save for the 70’s-style funk coursing throughout. There’s also “Slide Show Part 2”, a better and more polished take on ragtime than FFVI’s “Spinach Rag”, and the snare drum-heavy “SeeD” and “Overture”, which serve FFVIII’s military academy settings very well.
Of course, I’m sure you’ll all agree that any discussion about FFVIII’s music is incomplete without talk of “Eyes on Me”, the award-winning song famously performed by Chinese superstar Faye Wong. While the likes of “Aria di Mezzo Caraterre” and the severely overperformed “One Winged Angel” may be more favored in the eyes of certain fans, “Eyes on Me” reigns over them in my opinion. Not only can I never get sick of it, but it is also remarkably easy (and fun) to sing along to. I’ve heard that this song, unlike the rest of the OST, isn’t available on iTunes, which is why the Society recommends purchase of an authentic hard disk copy from your favorite Japanese import shop.
While we’re at it, I hope everyone in the Society has by now heard Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec, simply one of the finest game music arrange albums available? Many of the best FFVIII tracks are performed by an orchestra on this album, lending an even greater aural depth to what were already amazing pieces (however, as with the OST, “Eyes on Me” is noticeably absent in this album’s iTunes iteration). And let’s not forget what Nobuo’s rock band, the Black Mages, have done with FFVIII’s battle themes. Their versions of “Force Your Way”, “The Man With the Machine Gun”, “The Extreme”, and especially “Maybe I’m a Lion” come highly recommended.
Okay, so I’m a little biased; “Maybe I’m a Lion” is one of my personal faves.
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