My Christmas break was longer than expected, thanks to the bad weather, but I’m back home now and catching up on crucial tasks, like changing the look of my Backloggery. While I was away, I finally became the Champion in Pokemon Platinum, started and beat the iPad version of Plants vs. Zombies, picked up a couple of PS2 games in decent condition at Gamestop of all places (a new Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love—it was the last copy and had a beat-up outer box, but the game case itself is sealed— and a used Baroque), got a DS game on sale at Best Buy (Picross 3D), and started Rune Factory 3 and the aforementioned Picross 3D. Upon returning home, yet another new game was added to the pile: Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a Christmas present that I wasn’t able to open until last night. There are other late gifts, but I’m not sure any games will be among them; this might be a good thing, given the current state of my backlog.
When I wrote last January’s backlog report, twenty-two game cases stood on my desk shelf. Counting Metroid Prime Trilogy as three distinct titles, this meant a total of twenty-five games. This year, there are twenty cases and twenty-one titles—World of Goo is currently sitting, unplayed, on one of my hard drives—but the number of RPGs is as unwieldy as ever. And yes, I still haven’t played Rogue Galaxy.
Speaking of which, there were three other 2009 must plays that I didn’t get around to: Nocturne, Persona 3 FES, and Tales of the Abyss. I did play the others, and, save for Chrono Cross, greatly enjoyed each one of them.
Here are my must-play games for 2010, in no particular order:
• Rogue Galaxy – Because, seriously, this is starting to get ridiculous.
• Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 – Might start this one later in the week, actually.
• Final Fantasy Tactics A2 – It’s been awhile since I’ve dug into a tactical RPG.
• Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – Like FFTA2, a game I had intended to play last year.
• Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
• Ratchet and Clank
• Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja
• World of Goo
• Professor Layton and the Curious Village
How many of them will I get through, or even just start? Stay tuned.
My annual roundup, where I post brief impressions of all the games I played in the past year will be up shortly. Also, I will start keeping my annual Beaten Games tabs here from now on (I’ve got a post at the CAG forums’ current Completed Games thread I might use, too). As for the old tabs, they will be migrated here along with most all of my other game-related posts from LiveJournal; having seen this past year how ad-heavy that site has gotten, I feel this would be for the best. Anyway, more to come…
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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I haven’t started up a new JRPG since beating Digital Devil Saga 2—mainly because of certain real-life obligations that I had been putting off and needed to take care of. That’s not to say I haven’t been gaming. Along with some Planet Puzzle League and DDR, I completed Wario Land, getting all of the treasures (and the best ending) for the first time, and have been slowly progressing through Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament. Also, most recently, I’ve gone back to Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon.
Yesterday I beat Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon, despite being tired and feeling generally sluggish. Managed to get through the last wing of the dungeon and the final stage all right, partially because I had finished a particularly tough optional dungeon and gotten a really sweet reward from it that served me well for the endgame. There is a decent amount of postgame content, but some of it requires a ton of grinding (and therefore, way, way more dungeon crawling) and even though I enjoyed the game a great deal, I need a break from it for awhile.
Yeah, Chocobo’s Dungeon is very good indeed. Though I’ve played dungeon crawlers before (most notably the excellent Dark Cloud 2), I’d never touched an actual roguelike/mystery dungeon game before this one. Although Chocobo’s Dungeon eases some of the pain of dying in ways which are more forgiving than your average “true” roguelike—dying in a dungeon still means you’re stripped of your loose items and cash, but here, you at least get to hold onto your equipped gear and accumulated experience—it is still not without challenge, and has given me a taste for the genre. In this sense, much like how the Mario RPGs lend a lighthearted, but not stupidly easy, approach to traditional JRPGs, Chocobo’s Dungeon seems to do the same for roguelikes.
One of the game's titular dungeons.
The story is one which I covered somewhat in my previous post, but I’ll rehash it here again, while giving some additional details. Chocobo is the partner of Cid, a treasure hunter. While after a treasure called Timeless Power, they get whisked away to the realm of Memoria, and the town of Lostime, where the Bell of Oblivion regularly makes the townsfolk forget the past with each ring. Not long after Cid and Chocobo’s arrival, an egg drops down from the sky, and a green-haired baby hatches from it. Strange events follow, and Chocobo gains the ability to enter randomly-generated “mysterious dungeons” generated from the Lostime inhabitants’ memories. Some dungeons are required to progress through the story, but many more are optional, have strict rulesets, and forbid the use of outside items, even equipped ones. These “special rule” dungeons are often insanely tough and always require careful planning, but the rewards gained are typically very useful and range from the opening of new type of stores to the acquisition of new jobs. More about the latter as we go on…
Navigating and fighting in these dungeons is a breezily-paced, yet entirely turn-based, affair; every move forward on the map, every use of an item, every attack—all of it takes up turns. As such, moves have to be planned carefully if one doesn’t want to be creamed by the monsters who inhabit these dungeons. In addition, there are both harmful and beneficial traps and treasures scattered throughout the floors, many of which are hidden or unidentifiable without using certain moves or items. Being randomly-generated, the dungeons largely consist of simple tilesets, but at the same time, this being a spinoff of the Final Fantasy franchise, they’re made to look as detailed and appealing as possible.
Wrapped up in all this is a new take on the Job System, the classic Final Fantasy trope that has appeared in many of the series’ games. For those not familiar with jobs, they are essentially entire ability sets, separated out according to the job title; thus, you have black mages which specialize in harmful magic, and knights which can pull off various physical attack moves. Chocobo’s Dungeon doesn’t have the wealth of jobs that are in, say, Final Fantasy Tactics, but there are still a good variety of them, and they are all different enough from each other to recommend certain ones for certain dungeons.
Who is that masked moogle?
So, the dungeon crawling and battle system is meaty and addictive. How about the rest? Getting around in the world is fairly easy overall, though the entire game is plagued by those much-loathed loading screens. There’s a decent crafting system to improve upon weapons bought and/or found in dungeons, as well as fishing and gardening sidequests which don’t have to be messed around with much and have some good payoffs. Overall, the graphics are all right, with some particularly nice aesthetic touches lent to the monsters, which are mostly unique takes on classic Final Fantasy baddies such as Bombs, Lamias, and Tonberries. Animation, particularly in cutscenes, is passable; oddly enough, the mouth positions in particular seem to be part of the overall movement cycles, and I highly doubt matching lip movements was a concern, even in Japanese. For most of the game, I used the Classic Controller; the quick item menu option in the dungeons would only work half the time, if that, but otherwise the controls were all right. However, for the minigames in the Mog House, the Wii Remote was required. I didn’t play these much, and the best one was Pop-Up Duel, which looks to have been directly ported from the earlier DS title Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, where it wasn’t so much a diversion than a big part of the overall game. Speaking of Chocobo Tales, the script in Chocobo’s Dungeon is much better than the former game’s, with none of the forced humor, and a greater focus on drama. Finally, the soundtrack is nothing short of wonderful, consisting largely of inoffensive arrange tracks of classic Final Fantasy tunes, ranging from the familiar (the classic “Prelude”) to the unexpected (FFXI’s “Tarutaru Male”, among others).
In general, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon is a solid second-tier Final Fantasy spinoff, and a game well worth checking out for RPG-starved Wii owners, and those wanting a good dungeon crawler in particular.
First off, apologies for not posting in awhile. I had some computer problems to deal with, mixed in with some real-life stuff along the way. On top of that, I’ve also been enraptured by two excellent RPGs.
Serph, the hero of Digital Devil Saga
Right now, it seems like I’m nearing the end of Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga, and I know that’s the case with Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon (aka Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon: The Labyrinth of Lost Time). I started the former first, taking an initial dip into the one franchise which occupies my backlog more than any other, then the second afterwards, wanting something more lighthearted in tone to balance against the darker game. However, although they are certainly very different games in atmosphere—not to mention style, as Digital Devil Saga is your standard turn-based affair and Chocobo’s Dungeon is a roguelike—I eventually noticed that these two have far more in common than meets the eye in terms of story.
Digital Devil Saga centers around Serph and the group of fighters he leads, the Embryon. They live in the desolate Junkyard where tribes fight one another for the right to go to Nirvana; all this is overseen by the Karma Temple, which is headquartered in a tall, towering structure at the center of the environs. Serph’s world begins to change when a mysterious girl with strange powers emerges from a cocoon-like thing in the middle of a battlefield. He and the rest of the Junkyard’s inhabitants gain the ability to transform into the beastlike Atma, and little by little they start to see their world in a different light.
Chocobo’s Dungeon centers around a chocobo named, er, Chocobo and the group of friends he makes. He finds himself in the idyllic town of Lostime where residents live happily without memories; all this is overlooked by the Bell of Oblivion, which resides in a tall tower in the center of town. Lostime begins to change when a mysterious boy with strange powers emerges from a speckled egg which comes out of the sky. Chocobo gains the ability to enter Mysterious Dungeons enabled by lost memories, and later, change into Job forms. Little by little, the townsfolk start to see their world in a different light.
Chocobo, the hero of Chocobo's Dungeon
It’s important to note here one very crucial distinction between Serph and Chocobo: while Serph begins the game as a part of the Embryon and the world at large, Chocobo is a complete outsider, having been magically whisked away to Lostime during a treasure hunt in a desert. There’s also the matter of complexity, as Digital Devil Saga’s story is a bit more sophisticated and unpredictable than that of Chocobo’s Dungeon. Indeed, the foreshadowing in Chocobo’s Dungeon is fairly easy to interpret for this JRPG vet; I suppose that its overall light RPG trappings have much to do with it, despite the hardcore nature of the gameplay (more on that in a later post). As for Digital Devil Saga, I haven’t been able to figure out what exactly is going on, and am as curious to know more as the characters themselves.
Still, I could’ve never anticipated that these two would be this similar as far as their basic plots go. Much has been said of JRPG plots and how cliched they can get after awhile, but there generally tends to be a significant amount of variation between them (for some reason, this seems to be most true of strategy RPGs, but I digress). In the case of Digital Devil Saga and Chocobo’s Dungeon, the similarities don’t bother me in the least, as the actual meat of the games are vastly different, and that’s what I play RPGs for in the first place. I hope to have Chocobo’s Dungeon beaten this weekend, but will probably continue to play the game afterwards, depending on whatever post-ending content there is. Likewise, I’m going to try to wrap up Digital Devil Saga sometime next week. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see if the plot similarities continue on through these games’ endings.
Chocobo source art from Neoseeker (neoseeker.com).
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