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Month: July 2009

Game Progress: In the Grip of Nostalgia

I haven’t been doing much gaming lately, as I’ve been feeling under the weather. Because of that, I’ve put off beating Digital Devil Saga 2 (though I started playing again this weekend and hope to wrap it all up shortly); I like being fully awake and non-headachey for RPGs, especially those I’ve never beaten before. I did start Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament, but am currently stuck on a part that, again, I want to be in a clearheaded state to play, otherwise I just know that I’ll never get through it. Oh, and I gave up on Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, convinced that Sonic Team hates me.

Not wanting to put any more time into DDS2 yesterday, and not wanting to touch Klonoa, last night I dug out the GBA I bought awhile back and the cart of Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 that had arrived not too long ago. Back in the day, when my sister and I were kids, the only way we could play many games was through our friends and cousins. However, my sister did get a Game Boy as a gift at some point, and her small library of games included Kirby’s Dream Land, The Lion King (which stank), and Wario Land. Kirby is good, but I’ve no desire to play it again, as the games which followed in the series give me my nostalgia fix well enough, even though I’ve no particular attachment to said games.

On the other hand, I have never derived such satisfaction from later Wario platformers, so instead of giving more of those a chance, I went right back to the source, which I hadn’t played in at least fourteen years. Playing through a handful of levels last night, what I was most amazed by was how much I’d remembered. This wasn’t a case where I could get through every single level easily, knowing where every single enemy and hazard was. Rather, familiarity was at work. It’s like going back to a place which hasn’t changed much over the years and being able to pick out even the most insignificant landmarks. Only thing is, here, the landmarks are things like Wario’s pith helmet, the Sugar Pirates, the item blocks with the eyes on them, the skull doors, the 10 coins, the bottles which give Wario special abilities, and the ways in which they and many other elements all come together.

So yeah, it’s a real nostalgia trip, unlike any other I’ve ever had, probably due to the length of time since I last beat it and now. The one thing that’s bugging me at the moment is a small crumb caught between the GBA’s screen and the glass layer on top of it, which I won’t be able to get rid of without a special type of screwdriver (I’m looking into borrowing one). Funny thing is, even though I can be picky about things like that, so far it hasn’t lessened my enjoyment of Wario Land.

Game Progress: Oh, Sonic Team

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.

Dungeon Hero C

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.
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?
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.

Chocobo Comparisons, Part One: Facing Worlds

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
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
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 (