I wasn’t excited for E3 this year. Of the games I knew that were coming out, there wasn’t much that I absolutely needed to see more of, and my anticipation for the as-yet-unannounced was low. It turns out that I was right to skip the Microsoft and Sony press conference streams, as there was practically nothing of interest to me in the liveblogs that I read (well, there wasHalo 4, but I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers for it at the moment). The following day, I caved and watched Nintendo’s presser, but found it to be sorely lacking.
After several days’ worth of coverage, only one new game piqued my interest, and that was “Project P-100”, a crowd management action title, directed by Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya, that seems to have gotten barely any attention from the press at all. This game is similar to his earlier Viewtiful Joe in its Super Sentai aesthetic, and the basic concept of controlling a crowd that turns into weapons to beat giant villains is pretty awesome. The one thing about this game that came as a disappointment was that it is for WiiU, a system I don’t have any interest in getting. Other than that, and a welcome reminder that the 3DS Paper Mario exists and is on its way, there wasn’t anything for me.
In the meantime, I’ve been continuing on with my main personal goal for 2012: reducing my backlog as much as possible. April is the current record-holder month with seven games beaten, including one (Soul Nomad & the World Eaters) that took me nearly 45 hours, and the two Pinky:st DS titles that I reviewed in my previous post. Some highlights these past few months include the DS remake of Dragon Quest VI, massively moe and just plain charming doujin shop sim/dungeon crawler Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, bare-bones browser-based JRPG Parameters, fantastic expansion pack Tropico 4: Modern Times, and Pokemon White Version, which I’ve written about before and was top-notch all around.
There was also Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, played co-op with my Halo-detractor husband. We had a good time, playing the game with the new graphics and old soundtrack, though I have some quibbles regarding the former. The new maps are brightly lit compared to the original versions, which, along with the whole co-op thing, made the game’s scariest moment a bit less so. Also, some of the new character models were lacking, especially Sergeant Johnson and 343 Guilty Spark. More than anything, I’m now cautiously optimistic about Halo 4.
I also played a couple of platformers, namely The Legendary Starfy on DS and Ratchet & Clank for PS2. Starfy was a decent game with a lot of character, but it was also much wordier than I expected, with more cutscenes than is average for a platformer. Ratchet is not as good as its first-party brethren Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus and also has some irritating bugs. However, the weapon/gadget system at its heart is well thought-out, and the storytelling, which is similar in tone to Jak and Sly, is enjoyable enough.
There have been a smattering of others, including the two Izuna games, mystery dungeons with an emphasis on humor and fanservice, and, on the negative side, vague endings that lack so much as a credit roll or “The End” text before dumping the player into Postgame Territory. I also beat the puzzle game RUSH and attempted to play EDGE, but the bad controls and mediocre design of the latter led me to quit. Finally, over the weekend I played through Breath of Death VII, a parody RPG that resembles an early Dragon Quest and contains jokes and references that range from the silly to the sillier; despite some design quirks, it’s well worth a play if you love the genre.
That’s it for what I’ve beaten these past few months. As for what I’m actively playing right now, I’m approaching the end of “The Journey”, aka the main game in Persona 3 FES. This RPG has been unlike most others I’ve ever played, in a good way, and I hope to write about it at length later on. I’m also playing Dance Dance Revolution again (SuperNOVA 2, specifically); after a long ordeal, a couple of new, working pads arrived yesterday.
Once I wrap up “The Journey”, I plan to put Persona 3 FES aside for awhile before taking on the bonus episode “The Answer”. Right now, I’m considering starting de Blob 2 and/or Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 as my next game (or games). As usual, we’ll see.
Yes, I’m back. My main excuse for dropping the ball on this blog for so long was my cross-country move back in early April. It was quite a production, as you can probably imagine, and even now we’re still unpacking, buying new furniture, and generally settling in. Even with a bunch left to do, I feel as though life has only recently started to get back to normal. I’ve even had time to play some games.
In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do with this blog. My personal blog at LJ is pretty much dead, and I thought about moving it somewhere else, but at the same time, I’m not 100% happy with Brainscraps either. Right now, the plan is to experiment with some non-gaming posts here, making it a more general blog, just with a heavy emphasis on gaming. Thoughts and/or opinions, if anyone has ’em, are appreciated.
Now, as I said before, I’ve been playing games again recently. After pretty much stopping all my gaming in early March in order to pack and do other moving-related things (with a few, scattered sessions here and there), I picked up where I left off in Rune Factory 3 in late April. Since then, I’ve beaten it, and soon followed it up with Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes and the single-player campaign in Portal 2. I have been wanting to write about all three (well, mainly just Rune Factory 3 and Portal 2), but didn’t have the usual luxury of spacing my posts, so I’m doing the mini-review thing again. Here we go…
Rune Factory is one of my favorite game series of all time. A sublime blend of Harvest Moon‘s farm-based management (and dating) sim and a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, it is heaven for those of us who like both types of gameplay. However, coming from Harvest Moon roots, it has not been without its hiccups along the way, including glitches, translation errors, and odd bits of game design. Thankfully, the series noticeably improves with each new entry, and Rune Factory 3 is certainly no exception, as it is the most enjoyable one yet.
The premise is very similar to what we have seen before: hero with amnesia, girl in a small town who gives him a farm to work on, etc. This time around, though, said hero is half-monster, with the ability to transform into a Wooly (the Rune Factory universe’s version of sheep), and said heroine is actually likable. All of the other bachelorettes in the game are interesting as well, with personalities that become fleshed out over the course of their sidequests. By the time I was ready to propose to the girl of my choice, I had maxed out the “love meter” for nearly all of the girls, mainly because I simply wanted to know more about them. On top of that, I liked the other townsfolk as well. Overall, the character development in Rune Factory 3 is outstanding, and a standard that all future games in the series should build upon.
The game’s mechanics have received some spit and polish as well. The farming system has been overhauled for both greater flexibility and greater challenge. Likewise, crafting is no longer the headache it once was, and rare items are now used in leveling up your existing equipment, and not much more than that. Meanwhile, the story progression is set up such that you don’t have to guess your way to the next event, but the player can still take things at their own pace.
Though we have yet to see how the localized Rune Factory Oceans—sorry, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny—will turn out, for the time being, if you’re at all interested in the series but can only play just one of them, this is the one to play. Despite the occasional technical (or textual) hiccup, I wholeheartedly recommend this game to my fellow simulation and dungeon crawler fans.
In between battles, things look a bit less puzzley.
And now for an entirely different sort of RPG, but no less unique; one set in the world of a Western series, and with turn-based tactical puzzle elements. Clash of Heroes is, as I understand it, something of a departure from your traditional Might & Magic, a series which I know nothing about. Despite my ignorance, it stood well enough on its own as a single entry, and one which I found rather enjoyable.
The campaign is fairly short for an RPG—roughly twenty hours—but that’s as much as this game needs, as there wouldn’t be any real added benefits to additional grinding, what with the low level caps and hard limits on how many units one can have on the field. Each of the game’s main characters is played in turn, and each of their “chapters” progresses similarly to each other, save for the final one, what with its love of multiple boss battles in a row without opportunities to save between each one. Back at the very beginning, the tutorial stuff is handled well enough, but stumbles when it comes to explaining the unlocking and acquisition of special “Elite” and “Champion” units. As for the story, it’s your standard save-the-world fare with conspiracies and a magical MacGuffin. So, the non-battle campaign stuff is, in a nutshell, average and a little rough around the edges.
The battle system in Clash of Heroes is similarly unpolished, but quite a bit of fun. Using the match-three puzzle genre as a point of inspiration, battles take place by lining up color-coded troops into horizontal (defensive) or vertical (offensive) formations. Only the units at the very end of rows can be picked up and moved around; others can just be deleted. As in your typical puzzle game, chains can be created by pulling off the right moves, with the reward being additional actions for that turn. It’s a system that takes some getting used to (especially when doing the optional “puzzle” boards), and there are obvious balance issues with some of the units, but in general it works.
Said balance issues are supposed to have been fixed in the XBLA version of this game (I played the original one on DS), but I don’t know how much else was tweaked. Certainly, it’s an okay time-killer if you can get it at a decent price, and for me, not a bad way to add some variety to an already RPG-heavy backlog. After beating it, though, I was ready to move on.
Rounding out this post filled with strange genres is the sequel to gaming’s most beloved first-person environmental puzzler black comedy. This is—so far—the only big new “hardcore” game I have been interested in this year, and thankfully, it lived up to the hype. In this return trip to Aperture Laboratories, test subject Chell once again has to deal with the artificial intelligence GLaDOS and solve her way through chambers and corridors filled with endless amounts of Science. A chatty supporting player, the orb Wheatley, is along for the ride this time, and as in the first game, the environments are characters of their own.
Having gone through the original Portal twice (as well as the tough fan-made Flash Version Mappack after playthrough no. 2), I didn’t have as much trouble thinking my way through the environments in this sequel, even with a handful of new gimmicks thrown into the mix. The one time when I did take a hint to move forward, it was to a problem whose solution wasn’t very obvious; also, it was given to me in a natural manner in-game, reflective of the immersive approach Valve has (once again) employed in this world. There are some things in the environments that either feel gamey or don’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things, messing with the immersion, but they are few. Still, though, I feel that the original Portal did a slightly better job in this area. The wonder—and dread—that I felt playing through Portal were strong enough that I can still recall them; I had no such strong emotional reactions with Portal 2, save for a certain pair of moments, both of which were not driven by the overall environment, but mainly just the audio.
I don’t know if Portal 2‘s bigger, shinier, more mainstream approach is responsible for this less immersive experience, but I do feel that it has contributed to the lowered difficulty curve. There were certain puzzles in Portal that required damn good timing, and there’s quite a bit less of that this time around. Timing is still important in certain instances, but even then the game is more lenient, asking you to rely more on your own cleverness. Going through each individual area has become less about accomplishment and more about seeing what happens next.
Portal 2 is very good indeed (or at least the single-player campaign is. As of this writing, I haven’t done any of the cooperative stuff), but gaming magic is not something that can be easily replicated, especially in a sequel. If you loved the original and wouldn’t mind a longer sequel with more story and fewer mentions of cake, there is much to like in Portal 2. However, it’s a bit like StarCraft 2 in its polished approach, and it’s missing of that intangible something that made its predecessor go beyond the realm of “very good” and into “classic”.
Special Stage: Because of the move, I didn’t make it to PAX East this year. Instead, the plan is to go to PAX Prime, and indeed, we’re all booked for that trip and ready to go. There, we hope to witness the fourth “season” of Canon Fodder. The Season Three roundup is here, and sadly, not as entertaining a read as past summaries, mainly because there’s video attached this time.
P.S. to Kotaku (and various other gaming news outlets): There is no dash in “Square Enix”. None. I don’t care how silly or serious the article is, you’re embarrassing yourselves (not that that’s hard for you all). I’ve read way too many press releases, visited way too many of their sites, and bought way too many of their products to know for a fact that there is no dash in “Square Enix”.
This afternoon, I’ll be boarding a plane to California for a personal trip. What this means is that, for the past week or so, I’ve been tying up some loose ends beforehand, so I wouldn’t have to deal with them when I got back. The usual errands notwithstanding, this has meant returning to the final, postgame stratum of Etrian Odyssey.
One of the monsters I didn't fight.
I had originally begun tackling it last year, immediately after beating the main quest. Unfortunately, the most advantageous stat boosts required me to restart with new characters at Level 1, and thus, a lot of grinding was required. I took up the grind again earlier this month, and eventually maxed out the five stat-enhanced characters I had created way back when at Level 70. When my party was strong enough to venture into that last stratum again, around Level 60 or so, I began mapping it out thoroughly, finding it an even more devious bastard than the snippets I had seen last year. In the end, I never got through the whole thing due to some insanely tough bosses that I would’ve had to have defeated. Still, I’m glad that I got as far as I did, even though I had to spam the items and abilities that cut down on random encounters after maxing out my party and building up my cash hoard, as fighting monsters was a waste of time by that point.
In general, the plan was to be “done” with Etrian Odyssey so I wouldn’t have to take it along with me, but I also wanted something new to play on this trip, since Pokemon Platinum by itself would get a little boring after awhile. Thus, I ordered Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, which I’ve had an eye on ever since its release. (It’s also, I believe, the first Ubisoft-published title I’ve bought since Grandia II for the Dreamcast, which says more about my tastes than the company’s games.) Yeah, another RPG, but with more of a strategy and puzzle bent from what I understand. I’m looking forward to playing it.
I also picked up the issue of Edge that’s currently on the US newsstands, because that’s what I do nowadays before a long trip. It’s the June issue with Little Big Planet 2 on the cover. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have every Edge cover appearance of LBP by this point, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if I’m missing one or two. Something interesting I’ve heard about LBP2 is that the gravity is adjustable, which might mitigate my one major turn off from the first game: the floaty animation. You can bet I got sick of seeing all those Edge covers (and stories) real fast after seeing the original LBP in motion for the first time…
Anyway, that’s all for now. See you again in a little over a week!
I’ve been playing a lot these past few weeks. First off, there was the WiiWare version of Cave Story, which I started the day it came out, and beat the week after PAX East. Save for the uneven “new” soundtrack and sound mix, it’s much the same as the freeware version, which is to say fantastic. I did a straight playthrough of the game, pretty much identical to my first one, save that this time I went after the Spur, a crazy awesome weapon. I want to replay it again sometime soon for certain secrets that I missed, mainly the ones that will unlock “Hell”.
Another game I’ve beaten recently, albeit one that I’ve been playing for much longer, was Rune Factory Frontier, the first and only non-handheld entry in the Rune Factory series, and also one devoid of any Harvest Moon branding, at least in its English-translated form (doubtless because the publisher on this one is Marvelous/XSEED instead of Natsume). Frontier is a direct continuation of the original Rune Factory, and is as deep, engrossing, and flawed as its DS predecessors.
Here's some of my Runey notes. Really.
The major flaws this time around come courtesy of the Runey system. Unlike previous games, where runes can be collected to replenish action points both on the farm and in dungeons, said runes are dungeon-only. On the main character’s homestead—and in the surrounding town—live Runeys, color-coded creatures whose presence determines how fast and well your crops grow. Redistributing Runeys from area to area for good results is a finicky bit of business. First off, although Runeys have a set food chain, and certain types like certain areas more than others, it’s difficult to figure out how it all works; from day to day, some Runeys will decline or die off for no apparent reason, while others multiply. Secondly, there are only two ways to check the Runey level for the entire town, one of which is by talking to a specific person, and the other is by looking at a certain device in a fixed location. It would’ve been much more convenient to have an item in order to look up Runey levels whenever I wanted to, but such is not the case. That being said, I wound up keeping a pen and paper close by whenever I checked on Runeys, which was roughly every few (in-game) days at times.
Runeys—and constant loading screens—notwithstanding, this is the best Rune Factory yet. It feels like it moves at a slightly slower pace even though the actual in-game clock is the same (where one minute is equal to one real-life second), probably because it can be tough to figure out how to trigger the next round of story events, but these sorts of games were never meant to be rushed through. The farming, dungeon crawling, crafting, cooking, and so on are extremely well balanced, and can be challenging without being frustrating. The localization gets the job done, though I could’ve sworn I saw a bit of kanji slip through at one point, and the voice acting is good. The graphics are some of the most lush that I’ve ever seen on the Wii. The simplicity and charm that defines the series is in ample supply. In short, if I had to recommend a Rune Factory to someone, it would be Frontier.
I’ve also been playing a little more Pokemon Platinum, which, if you recall, I started on the way to PAX East. There’s not much to say here other than it’s a Pokemon game, though I am very much enjoying the aesthetic upgrades from Ruby, which I played last year (and speaking of Ruby, I’m still debating whether or not to import my Pokemon from that game). It’s very samey, though, but I kind of expected that. The current plan is to mostly play the game whenever I need to kill time, such as while doing laundry. As such, I expect to wrap up with the main quest several months from now.
After beating Rune Factory Frontier, I took a break for a little while, then started Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. Rather, I tried to start it. The difficulty caught me off-guard, as well as the system where some of your experience and whatnot can be carried over to a new game, and after a couple of tries, I quit. This after an aborted attempt to start the game some months ago. Well, the good news is that the fourth time was the charm, and I am now over ten hours in. The battle system is different, but very awesome, with its SRPG-esque character movement tactics making for some really interesting fights. Dragon Quarter has other quirks, too, though they don’t fit so much in the “awesome” column as the “it is what it is” one—from the character design to the fact that the game ends when a certain slowly and constantly upticking meter gets to 100.00%. Very strange game, but I’m having fun.
Finally: the backlog update! Since my January 3rd post, I have beaten five of the pictured games, started (but have not yet finished) two of them, bought and beat two, borrowed one (which I’m still playing), added one to the backlog (Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard), and currently have one on preorder (StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Collector’s Edition).
Counting Metroid Prime: Trilogy as “one”, January’s photo showed 22 games, and now, on the shelf above me, there are 16 of them (not counting the preorder). I’m making progress!
Comments Off on The Quarterly (Plus a Week and a Half) Progress Report
There’s been a lot in gaming press, blogs, and messageboards lately about how Japanese RPGs are stagnating. With the arrival, en masse of high-quality Western RPGs on consoles, history is repeating itself. Remember what happened when console gamers discovered what good first-person shooters and built-in modding/customizing tools were like? Halo was not a big deal to those of us who had previously played everything from Wolfenstein 3D onward, and Little Big Planet looked nice, but was it really going to revolutionize things when powerful—but not overly intimidating—modding tools like UnrealEd were old news?
Anyway, like I said, there’s a lot of whining about how JRPGs have gone downhill, and some people think that the best way to fix them is to, generally, make them more Western. Such homogenization isn’t the best approach (and wouldn’t make the core JRPG consumer base happy), but what is? While some JRPG series (most notably Dragon Quest, Tales, and Pokemon) soldier on with high-quality, well-received main entries, other games have been seeking different approaches. There’ve been some novel experiments (Valkyria Chronicles, The World Ends With You), but more commonly, we’ve seen a lot of hybrids.
Hybrid RPGs are not easy to pigeonhole, and they’ve always kinda-sorta been around in one form or another, but the past few years have really seen them come into their own. For evidence of this, RPGamer’s Best of 2009 Awards is worth a look. While more traditional RPG fare took the top prizes, many genre blends popped up in other categories: SRPG/shmup Knights in the Nightmare, RPG/microgame mashup Half-Minute Hero, dungeon crawler/farming sim Rune Factory Frontier, and so on. The phenomenon isn’t limited to Japan, either, one of the more recent examples being the Western-developed puzzle RPG Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, likewise mentioned in the Best of 2009. Clearly, RPGs mixing with other genres is a growing trend, and going by the quality of the hybrids I’ve played so far, it’s one that I personally would like to see continue.
One of the original hybrid RPG stars has been, not unexpectedly, Mario. First in Super Mario RPG, then in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games, the portly Italian plumber’s RPG adventures intermingle with the precise jumping and timing that define his platforming exploits. The Mario & Luigi series in particular adds an extra layer of challenge by having you control both Mario Bros. on the field at the same time, and eventually, special moves become available that can only be pulled off when the two are together. The second game, Partners in Time quadruples the party when Baby Mario and Baby Luigi join their older selves on the quest. This was also the first game in the series to appear on the Nintendo DS (the original was on the Game Boy Advance), occasionally reserving the top screen as the babies’ domain, with special areas only they can explore, for when they aren’t riding piggyback on the adults.
The latest Mario & Luigi game (and the last Mario RPG ever made that I had left to play), the Fall 2009 release Bowser’s Inside Story, is likewise on the DS, but this time, the party is reduced to three: Mario, Luigi, and perennial bad guy Bowser. The basic plot is that the Mushroom Kingdom has been hit hard by a disease called the Blorbs, which causes the local Toads to swell up into obese giants. Meanwhile, Bowser is, yet again, planning to kidnap Princess Peach when, along the way, he eats a strange mushroom which causes him to swallow up the Princess, Mario, Luigi, and half the Kingdom. Mixed in with all this is the delightfully mad Fawful, Cackletta’s henchman from the first game who comes back as a full-fledged villain here. While Mario and Luigi explore Bowser’s body to try and find a way out, Bowser commences on his own journey. What comes out of their adventures is one of the strangest symbiotic relationships the Mario canon has seen yet.
The hallmarks of the series are all present—the platforming, the special moves, the hidden items, the funny script, and so on—but a third major element has been added to the mix of RPG and Platformer: Minigames.